Reflections a year after my taping of Vladfire ….
There are many names for people and businesses who do what I do.
- IT consultant
- Trusted advisor
- Outsourced IT vendor
- Value added reseller (VAR)
- Value added provider (VAP)
- Managed services provider (MSP)
- Channel partner
- Solution provider
- God (on our good days)
- Those idiots (on our bad days)
The names we choose for ourselves and that others pin on us say something about how we approach our jobs, how our clients treat us, and how we are treated by our industry partners, such as manufacturers and other service providers. As our industry and our environment continues to evolve, we may see some shifting between roles and perhaps some more pronounced conflicts of interest.
Until recently, it seemed that the approach that many if not most of us were taking was along these lines:
Technology is very complicated and it’s hard to get things to work right. We are going to stand with our clients to fight a common enemy: the hardware and software manufacturers whose buggy and poorly documented products are a beast to install and maintain. Talent like ours doesn’t come cheap, so we have to charge hourly rates in the neighborhood of lawyers, accountants, architects, and other highly-compensated white-collar professionals. And let’s face it: the work is labor-intensive, so the bills can be high sometimes. But we have our clients’ interests at heart and we strive to ensure that they are not overspending on technology. Although we may show up as vendors in our clients’ QuickBooks charts, we think of ourselves more as partners. We strive to earn the title of “trusted advisor.”
The demand for our labor is a bit unpredictable, but the more we work, the more we earn. So when our clients ask us to jump, we ask “how often?” The key to our success is making our clients always ask for more.
A few years ago things started to change. Hardware and software got more stable; products now break and become obsolete much less frequently. Cheap broadband service and remote management software allowed us to stay out of our cars and in front of our desks, and to have our work done for us while we sleep. For many IT service providers, the mindset started to shift:
Technology is easy if you do it right. What used to cost us $X to provide now costs only Y% of that. But our clients shouldn’t care what it costs us, as long as they get the level of service they’re accustomed to. So if we keep charging them $Z, we can make a lot of money.
We are locked into a flat monthly rate for a lot of the services we provide, so the more we work — that is, the more hours we have to pay our employees for — the less we earn. So when our clients ask us to jump, we ask “is this necessary?” The key to our success is to serve more and more clients while holding our costs in check.
Either way, it used to be that we loved and hated and then loved again the hardware and software manufacturers. Loved them for making all these wonderful products, hated them for making them so hard to use, loved them for keeping us indispensable. But now they’re starting to encroach on our territory and it’s got some of us nervous. Microsoft has already started providing support services to the consumer market, and they just announced a partnership with one of the leading managed services software platform vendors. Dell went even further — they bought an MSP software vendor outright. What does this portend?
Imagine a world in which your local IT consultant no longer had to keep your antivirus software up to date, install patches and hotfixes, monitor your log files, manage your backups, load new software versions, answer your staff’s basic questions, and generally keep your system in tip-top shape. Imagine a world in which all of these services came with the hardware and software, much like oil changes and roadside assistance come with a BMW.
For some IT consultants, that world is scary. “What will be left for us to do?” they ask. “Why would those manufacturers hurt us like this, when we’ve been so good to them all these years?”
For me, that world is paradise. If I never had to spend one more minute thinking about monitoring, patching, malware, backups, slow computers, and error messages, I would jump for joy. Because all that stuff is unproductive. It is overhead. It only matters when something goes wrong. It is neither fun nor rewarding. Think of how valuable I could be to my clients if I didn’t have to spend any of my time worrying about these banal issues and instead I could help them:
- find new technologies to support their business
- streamline their business processes
- train their employees
- communicate more effectively
- manage information better
- please their customers
- make more money
- spend less money
- work less
- be happier
I don’t care too much who helps me get to that point. If it’s Microsoft or Dell, fine. If it’s another IT services company rather than a hardware or software manufacturer, fine. If there’s another consultant out there who eats infrastructure for breakfast and wants to be my partner, fine. The point is that I’m not threatened by what’s going on out there. I just wish they would hurry up.