The last 20 months have irrevocably changed the technology landscape, thereby altering customer demands on partners. In a recent survey by Allbound in conjunction with JS Group, participants were asked how the pandemic has changed the future of work for their clients. Overwhelmingly, respondents cited three major categories:
- The need for 24/7/365 support
- Increased security and compliance needs
- Giant acceleration of cloud adoption
As one respondent put it, “Crisis-driven IT infrastructure is here to stay.” This statement highlights several potential gaps for partners and their customers alike, such as finding resources in a newfound remote workforce and their IT support partners evolving to address customers’ changing needs.
So, how can partners meet the challenges of tomorrow’s workforce for their customers?
Recruitment, security, and transparency
“Customers are all adapting to a hybrid working model permanently in many sectors as well as providing a greater work/life balance for their teams,” says Mitesh Patel, managing director at Fifosys. “In addition, many are facing the same recruitment challenges as MSPs, where staff are dictating their terms for working arrangements in the office. This new model brings a number of challenges that MSPs need to adapt the service delivery model to, ensuring that clients demands can be met.”
According to Patel, operating a 24/7/365 model is key and is now being more frequently utilized on a large scale. Getting more visibility and control of your customers’ home network and working environment is essential to ensure services can be delivered.
In addition, delivering more self-service options, standardizing the user setup, and enforcing policies are needed. This should be done or tackled in isolation from the customer, and these challenges should be shared with them. Transparency is key.
Security is another prominent factor. One of the big elephants in the room is the increased security and compliance needs around the use of home equipment, mobile and BYOD, and public internet services. WFH remains the most significant attack vector for businesses and is very misunderstood in the market.
“We have been putting together an advanced offering to all existing clients with an enhanced security stack,” shares Michael Goldstein, president at LAN Infotech. “This includes XDR security client, managed SOC, dark web scanning, enhanced anti-phishing software, and local device backup. We have also enforced that all clients commit to employee security awareness training and quarterly phishing campaigns. All new MSP clients have the above options as our standard offering.”
The transition to a remote or hybrid work environment has also brought a rise in concerns regarding the wide range of endpoint devices connecting to network resources.
“More than 40% of people who once worked 40-hour weeks in an office are expected to continue home office working,” says Shannon Hulbert, CEO of Opus Interactive. “This distributed workforce results in more endpoints to manage, and it drives the demand for cloud-based services that can be accessed from anywhere. The push for cloud-based [solutions] drives distributed workloads that enable the customer to define workload, storage, process, and compute where it makes the most sense for latency, security, compliance, and price. And that means hybrid everything.”
According to Hulbert, this includes hybrid and multi-cloud strategies, as well as long-term storage strategies that move the data as it ages and grows, and Kubernetes/containers that take the hybrid and multi-cloud approach down to the application development phase. We’re talking complex solutions from multiple vendors, each of which comes with its own training, marketing enablement, and sales support.
“All this to say – we’ll need more people with more skills, in a world where retaining talent and finding skilled staff is getting more challenging every day,” continues Hulbert. “That’s where it pays for MSPs to partner with vendors that can offer a wide range of services – so they continue to serve as the trusted advisor to their customers without having to specialize in any one workload area. [This means] partnering with vendors that have already adopted automation that enables seeing, delivering, and managing more with less.”
So, the takeaway here is that it’s essential to look for partnerships that enable your team to deliver reliable end-to-end solutions for enterprise workloads that deliver where, when, and how it needs to be.
Overall, we need to look at the last 24 months and utilize findings to guide the future. The challenges with customers, and thereby partners, can be brought down to a lower level of stress by making sure all remote workers are coordinated with BOTH the business and the IT of their companies. One cannot work in a silo any longer.
The Times They Are A-Changin’
We also asked our MSPs about how the three trends from the survey have changed their business, delivery, and service models over the last 20 months.
The big themes? Security, networking, global collaboration, expanded delivery models, and supply chain.
“We have launched seven new security products, two cloud telephony solutions, and completed 70 cloud migration projects in the last 20 months,” says Patel. “This trend is going to continue, and we see this as the new norm for many sectors. Although a significantly challenging period, it has enabled us to stay ahead and drive the opportunity to help and support many more businesses.”
Since LAN Infotech’s central vertical are law firms, they have always provided 24/7/365 support. In the past 20 months, clients have been more willing to pay the after-hours rate, whereas in the past, invoices were always up for debate – a happy turn of events.
“Security demands have moved at an exponential rate,” says Goldstein. “Customers are more willing to spend the extra money to ensure that their data remains safe. We have implemented many new features in our stack and will also be adding vulnerability scanning, cloud assessments as well as compliance as a service.”
Cloud growth for the company has increased over 500% as Windows 365 and Azure Virtual Desktop have given customers the ability to have 24/7 accessibility to their applications. For business owners, that means no new hardware plus higher security from anywhere at any time.
Companies have also continued to evolve their service offering based on customer needs. Opus Interactive, for example, does lots with high-compliance workloads, so security and compliance are an area they have invested quite heavily in over the years (HIPAA, PCI DSS, FedRAMP, SOC 2, etc.).
“What we’ve seen in the past 20 months is a more informed buyer that is asking about security and compliance and how those pertain to their investment into hybrid and multi-cloud strategies. Which enable them to place workloads where they perform according to specific guidelines for scale, security, and cost savings,” says Hulbert. “Where our investment has been as a result is in automation – all the ways we can enable our customers to have access to the visibility, expertise, and scale they need, affordably.”
Brian Wrozek, chief information security officer at Optiv, emphasizes the need for 24/7/365 support. Like everyone, Optiv had to deal with pandemic-specific challenges like supply-chain interruptions, backup for sick personnel, and ever-changing quarantine rules. Because of these, the need arose for changing how the company accounted for the unique variety of challenges with people working from home or non-traditional locations.
Wrozek also cites the need for increased security and compliance.
“There needs to be an accelerated adoption of zero trust, especially around identity and access management (IAM) and data protection,” says Wrozek. “There also should be the automating of low-risk exception request submissions and approvals, plus responding to third-party risk questionnaires, and more transparency and quicker time to publish compliance status beyond standard SOC-2 report.”
Wrozek also says that cloud adoption needs to be fast acceleration as well. This involves:
- incorporating cloud and cloud security training into annual performance review KPIs
- being more open to alternative security solutions (particularly those designed specifically for cloud environments that improve data visibility)
- adjusting incident response procedures to account for interacting with third-party stakeholders
- finally, conducting exercises accordingly
“To truly combat these challenges for our customers, we need to focus more effort on the secure software development lifecycle,” says Wrozek. “This means incorporating additional ways to build and automate security directly into the code, expanding our asset management database, and building stronger working relationships with Dev-Ops teams.”
To meet these challenges, partners need additional training, sales and marketing enablement, and technical resources.
- Adjust training and education approach
- Don’t assume everyone already knows how to use all the new collaboration and cloud tools
- Use easily consumable training solutions that coincide with the risk or threat activity at hand
- Repeat key awareness messages often and make it easy to find help on demand
- Take more calculated risks with new technology specific to remote work and cloud solutions
- Be selective where you draw the line and find creative ways to enable innovative collaboration tools
- In some cases, this may require shifting mindsets away from denying the request to one where more GRC oversight is used instead
- Don’t wait to switch to a new security technology that offers greater functionality or allows you to reduce your vendor footprint
- Leverage your internal lessons learned (successes and struggles) and share these experiences with customers
- Customers appreciate the transparency, and it builds long-term trust in the relationship as we are all going through this transition together
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