The Gartner Hype Cycle, with its floridly named peaks and troughs, is a good indicator of not only how new technology is accepted into the market, but also who is talking about the technology. At the ‘peak of inflated expectations,’ when the hype is greatest, is when commentators and ‘influencers’ discuss the technology and its impact on the market. It’s not until much later, at the ‘plateau of productivity,’ where those who will actually be affected by the technology really start to worry about it.
Managed service providers (MSPs) are not worried about artificial intelligence, digital assistants, or quantum computing—at least, not yet. They may have one eye on how they may have to adjust to these technologies in the future, but the present has enough headaches already. And these pain points have often fallen off the radar, thanks to falling down the ‘trough of disillusionment.’
Managing a network of 20,000+ representatives from MSPs and their partners around the world means getting insight into what is genuinely keeping an entire industry awake at night and what opportunities are most exciting to them.
Cloud is a topic that many people grew entirely sick of quite some time ago. Nearly 50,000 people have downloaded a Chrome extension that replaces the word “cloud” on any web page. Cloudwashing, a term to denote the overuse of the word cloud in meaningless ways, dates back to 2009. But for MSPs, cloud is still very much a live topic.
Every customer needs to figure out what moving to the cloud means for them. What should be kept on premises? What are the options for backup and recovery? What does it mean for bandwidth and connectivity? Private cloud or public cloud? Moving to the cloud isn’t a one-off decision that, once made, never has to be revisited. As companies grow, they need to evaluate their cloud provision and ensure it’s working for them. Cloud is not a buzzword for MSPs, but an ongoing essential part of the service they provide.
Big data leaks and new strains of malware grab the headlines, but for MSPs, security is about day-to-day practical steps to keep businesses safe. Is every device protected? Is there any legacy software on the network, such as Windows Server 2003, that could be vulnerable? One of the most important tasks an MSP undertakes for its customers is ensuring every device has the most recent patches, rolled out without disruption.
Even though security is a worry for businesses, end-users see it as a burden they would rather ignore: reusing passwords, using their own unprotected devices, avoiding updates, downloading unchecked software, and clicking risky links. While security researchers uncover the latest tricks being used by cybercriminals, MSPs are hard at work trying to ensure that basic security protocols are followed. Security issues worry MSPs for another reason. While successfully protecting a business gets them no kudos, even one issue can have a huge impact on their credibility.
Complexity & Efficiency
MSP tools are getting better at making MSPs more efficient and automating tasks. At the same time, IT estates are becoming more complex. Like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, MSPs may find that while their efficiency means they can run faster and faster, the world is moving just as fast around them, leaving them in the same place.
MSPs without doubt need to invest in automation and will have one eye on emerging technologies such as AI, but these technologies will have to mature before serious money is invested. The smart MSP is instead looking at standardising their product offering for easy replication and automating basic tasks such as self-healing resets. This will allow them to deal far more easily with the increasing complexity of IT estates.
Complexity for MSPs is partly being driven by the internet of things. IoT is, in some ways, already here, but its main impact is yet to be understood. For MSPs, it undoubtedly means more devices to maintain, more security risks—and their responsibilities now go way beyond the desktop and mobile device.
IoT is a worry for MSPs because while there’s a great deal of hype over what it is capable of, the current reality is that devices aren’t patched nearly as often as they should be, and more devices that used to be ‘dumb’ are now smart—TVs, security cameras, speakers, and so on—and are therefore now part of the IoT estate. MSPs are asking if they should be supporting these devices, and if so, what the cost to their customers should be.
Much of the hype—and scorn—around IoT is around individual devices being connected and just how useful or useless that can possibly be. But the data created by IoT devices will help MSPs maintain their customers’ IT estates, allowing them to build solutions that mean their customer can make better, more informed decisions about their business. A great deal of cynicism around IoT comes from thinking of consumer applications—what good is a connected kettle? —but the more sensible and valuable commercial implications of IoT means that MSPs can expand into new verticals, such as manufacturing and healthcare.
Futurism & Reality
What an MSP might regard as ‘trending’ in the industry is quite different from what is often trending for commentators and in headlines. They are required to deal with the realities of now, rather than what the future might hold. Every investment needs to be measured, rather than speculative.
That’s not to say they’re not interested in future technologies, but for MSPs, this technology needs to be matured to get their attention. Before technology reaches a certain level of maturity and gains the proof of effectiveness that goes with it, MSPs aren’t seriously considering it. They do, however, need to be prepared to deal with customers that are embracing these trends. For MSPs, cutting-edge technology isn’t something that necessarily helps their business, but rather something to prepare for and deal with.