IT security & services
12 min read
22 August 2023

8 expectations IT leaders have from their MSP or VAR

Kelly van der Horst

95% of Managed Service Provider (MSP) or Value Added Reseller (VAR) customers have switched MSPs or VARs when unhappy with the service they received. Meeting customer needs and expectations is therefore crucial to MSPs and VARs, though the expectations of IT leaders have changed. MSPs and VARs are no longer solely a vendor of IT products and services, but have become important business partners to organisations. The role of MSPs and VARs is changing. One of the reasons for this changing role, are their customers’ changing expectations.

The role of IT in organisations has changed as well – basically every organisation relies on it to some degree, and many of them heavily do. Organisations are transforming into digital businesses that move quickly and agilely, implementing technologies into all aspects of the organisation to deliver optimal value to their customers.

This changes what the IT leaders of these organisations need from their MSP or VAR, as they need to contribute to achieving organisational goals, realising growth and enabling innovation – thus, a critical role.

The extra mile has become the new standard

Many MSPs have already adapted to this, creating new expectations for others to uphold. What many MSPs and VARs have marketed before as ‘going the extra mile’-services, have now turned into expectations – the new standard. And meeting these needs is vital for the success of an MSP or VAR.

So, what do IT leaders expect from their Managed Service Provider?

  • In-depth expertise and skills
  • Extensive knowledge of the market & customer
  • Custom(ised) services and solutions
  • A transparent partnership
  • Great attention to security & compliance
  • Adaptive methodology and mindset
  • Around-the-clock availability
  • Adding additional resource management value.

Expectation 1: In-depth expertise and skills

Let’s start with an obvious one, because one of the most important reasons to outsource anything is to utilise external expertise, or capacity you may not have internally.

But nowadays, this goes beyond purely the knowledge of the technological systems the MSP or VAR implements and manages. The workings of the partnership between an organisation and their MSPor VAR are changing and shifting more and more towards an extension of the own IT department, instead of an entire department that operates separately, externally. And just as you would want to hire the best people for your IT department, IT leaders are getting more critical about who they’re getting into bed with.

Having a fixed offering of services and products and being good at offering it is no longer enough. IT leaders expect expertise on multiple levels and multiple technologies, and for their MSP or VAR to be informed on the latest developments. More and more it’s expected that the skills are there to not only find and implement new solutions, but especially developed and customise them for the customer as well.

What does this mean for an MSP and Var?

These high expectations regarding the knowledge and skillset, require a special kind of mindset from the MSP and VAR. They can’t rely on solely having and hiring people with knowledge of existing technologies anymore. They need to develop a culture that embraces learning, creation and innovation, and an open mind.

This could implicate that MSPs and VARs will expand their business externally as well, building networks and making more use of external knowledge and talent around the globe, to expand their learning capacity and “crowdsource” knowledge for their customers.

Expectation 2: Extensive knowledge of the market & customer

Each company has a different culture, challenges, internal technological skills, and a different way to operate. And the market in which the company operates, is different from all other markets as well.

Today, IT leaders expect MSPs and VARs to (get to) know all of these aspects that makes their market, and their company, unique. Before even partnering with an MSP or VAR, many require them to be experienced with the current state and developments in their industry. They need to know what’s going on; the state of IT in their specific market. As Sriram Thiagarajan, CIO of Ancestry said in an article by TechTarget:

“We need to keep up with things as they change, and we’re relying on [the MSP’s] knowledge and skills as the industry moves ahead”.

And during the partnership, the MSP or VAR should always stay informed on the goings-on in their customers’ organisation.

What does this mean for an MSP and VAR?

MSPs and VARs need to look outside their own organisation and market, and into those of their customers. This probably means that some investment in market research and acquiring market insights is required.

Furthermore, time needs to be invested in getting to know the organisation and needs of customers. Not just beforehand, but building a relationship to continually stay informed.

Another way to go about this, is by specialising in specific markets. You can see already see many MSPs reacting to this expectation in this manner. Some specialise departments, others their entire business, to completely focus on specific verticals and completely immerse themselves in their market, in order to cater to them as well as possible.

Expectation 3: Custom(ised) services and solutions

You know the technology and solutions. You know the customer, and the market it operates in. Now make sure that those elements are perfectly aligned.

MSP or VAR customers expect that their unique needs are a priority. A selection of standard product and service packages won’t cut it; the deep understanding we talked about earlier needs to be put into action. They do not only expect the best, but it should also be tailored to their organisation, their goals, their processes and their challenges. Whether that’s achieved by creating an ultimate mix of different technologies and services, customising them to align to the organisation perfectly, or developing something new – or all of the above.

What does this mean for an MSP and VAR?

You can’t just get by offering the same products and services to every customer. There should be a great focus on the possibility for customisation, and on a flexible mindset. Don’t just rely on what’s already there, but on what could be there as well. If a customer needs something you don’t currently offer, they expect you to find it for them (or even develop it), or they’ll take their business to someone who does.

In order to do so, we already see mergers between many MSPs or VARs to create a larger knowledge base over a greater variety of verticals and technologies, and expand their offerings. Though another way would be to get this expertise externally, and partner with other organisations to for instance obtain the developing power to build custom solutions or expand the product range.

Furthermore, it’s recommendable for MSPs and VARs to focus on offering highly adaptable solutions from vendors that constantly innovate and collaborate on their solution, such as Workspace 365.

Expectation 4: A transparent partnership

With IT being such a crucial part of any organisation, IT leaders are not going to just ‘let go’ of everything the MSP manages and just trust it will be fine. Not only do MSPs and VARs  have to earn that trust, they have to prove it as well.

IT leaders don’t just want to hear everything is going great – they want to see it. They want to know what the MSP or VAR is doing, about the states of their systems, and what the results of their efforts are. That’s why more and more IT leaders are asking for tangible ‘evidence’ of the MSPs or VARs performance, most preferably though data.

What does this mean for an MSP and VAR?

MSPs and VARs have to have a good overview of what they’re doing for a specific customer – and why, in order to explain why they made certain decisions and do things a certain way, if asked. Systems must be in place to track the results of their efforts.

This requires both good internal and external communication. First of all, it’s best if the customer has one point of contact within the MSP or VAR, with whom they deal with every time and who keeps track of the customers’ projects, satisfaction, etcetera; an Account Manager, for example.

Secondly, efficient internal communication needs to happen at the MSP or VAR, to make sure that such an Account Manager is completely up to speed, and all this tracked information from different people and departments is collected, united, organised, accessible and ready to be shared with the customer.

Expectation 5: Great attention to security & compliance

You could call cybersecurity a ‘hot topic’, though the truth is that it’ll probably never cool down. In this digital age, technology is everywhere, hackers are getting smarter and privacy and data regulations are getting stricter. The security of an organisation’s systems is vital – often even to its survival, since data breaches and hacked systems can have dire consequences.

With more and more organisations integrating technology into every aspect of their business, this security has also become more complicated. Increased security concerns is one of the top reasons for IT budget increases in 2021. That’s why security demands are one of the leading reasons companies seek out MSPs, with Managed Security Services taking the number 4 spot in Managed Services spend. Companies expect MSPs to support them in creating an advanced cybersecurity strategy, effectively maintaining it, while giving clear insight into how and where their data is being stored.

What does this mean for an MSP?

Every MSP should have in-house expertise on cybersecurity. The expertise to seek out the right systems and solutions, the expertise to monitor them, and the expertise to advise their customer on how to keep their digital business safe.

Furthermore, as we discussed earlier, the MSP of today is a business partner, not just a supplier. This could mean that companies will increasingly expect them not to only provide and monitor systems, but to assist in coaching and training employees on cybersecurity as well. This entails that MSPs should not only have the in-house expertise to implement, monitor and advise, but also to transfer this knowledge to others.

Also, with security threats coming from around the globe and hackers not working nine to five, neither should you. If security threats of breaches to occur, MSPs can’t just wait until office hours start again to fix them. We’ll get further into this around-the-clock availability later on in this article.

Expectation 6: Adaptive methodology and mindset

The market and consumer expectations change rapidly. Organisations need to be more agile than ever to keep up or stay ahead. What works today, may not enable you to win tomorrow. In order for an MSP or VAR to become a long-term business partner, they need to do the same.

Therefore, there’s a growing need for continuous improvement and innovation. MSPs and VARs should both enable this, and embrace this in their own business as well. MSPs and VARs are now expected to continuously innovate, improve their products and services and search for the new and the best. They should proactively anticipate developments and contribute ideas, instead of just making changes when asked and lagging behind events. As Rajeev Ronanki, Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer of Anthem said in an article by TechTarget:

“Agility drives everything for us, and we work to ensure the MSPs fit into that model. They need to be adaptive”.

What does this mean for an MSP and VAR?

In order to cater to digital businesses, MSPs and VARs need to become digital businesses themselves. Contradictive to what some may think, being in the business of digital does not a digital business make; it’s so much more than that.

It’s about innovating and failing quickly, and learning from failures. It’s about letting everyone in the organisation contribute ideas, and encouraging learning and development. It’s about using technology in every possible aspect of the business, in order to improve all business processes, facilitating efficient collaboration and to stay ahead of the curve.

Expectation 7: Around-the-clock availability

As mentioned before, hackers won’t wait for office hours. And neither will system failures, downtimes, crashes and other calamities.

Companies hire MSPs or VARs to make sure their systems are being taken care of. All the time. So when problems occur, they expect their MSP or VAR to be fully committed to resolving them and restoring systems – whether it’s 9 A.M. or 9 P.M.

What does this mean for an MSP and VAR?

“Not a nine to five mentality” just got a lot more meaningful. Leaving the office at the end of the day with nothing other than an answering machine for calls until the next morning is not done. As an MSP or VAR you hold a big responsibility to your customers and their business, and you’ve reassured them their IT was in good hands with you. Now make sure it is. There should always be an after-hours (emergency) service available, with people ready to fix any occurring problems.

Expectation 8: Adding additional resource management value

IT is more than just systems to help people do their work; the role of IT is so much bigger now. It’s there to streamline processes, increase productivity, improve information- and data sharing, you name it.

Something all those things have in common, is that they free up time, money and manpower to spend on important matters: the things that add value to the business, such as creation and innovation. In fact, a survey by Apps Associates showed that 86% of IT decision-makers said that an MSP partnership would permit IT to focus on critical corporate initiatives.

As a business partner, MSPs and VARs are expected to actively contribute to freeing up these resources. To spot processes that can be done more effectively, data that can flow more freely, and advise and implement IT to realise this.

What does this mean for an MSP and VAR?

MSPs and VARs need to get more involved with their customers’ business than ever before. You should no longer just be an expert in IT, but an expert on how IT can improve one’s business too. Besides technology, MSPs and VARs need to elaborate on strategy as well. Expanding the range of services and expertise, and offering a more holistic approach and partnership to their customer.

Final thoughts

Many Managed Service Providers need to drastically rethink the way they offer their products and services, in order to meet expectations. Their customer is no longer just that, but they’ve become long-term partners that expect a two-way street of collaboration and knowledge sharing. In order to accommodate this, MSPs and VARs need to transform and embrace the new way of doing business.

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