The managed IT services market is arguably undergoing its most dramatic changes since its inception nearly 20 years ago.
The need for businesses across all industries to be digitally connected—particularly in the SMB market—is rapidly increasing, and the onset of cloud computing, a widening skills gap in the IT labor force and unrelenting cybersecurity threats are forcing service providers to re-examine their core competencies and find new means of optimizing service delivery and scaling profitably.
This article is the fourth in a series that explores how these new market dynamics are impacting managed services providers (MSPs) and IT solution providers (ITSPs).
In the first installment of this series, we explored why managed security services will be one of the top MSP growth drivers in 2017 and beyond.
In this article, we’ll take a deeper dive into several key requirements, challenges and opportunities presented by security-as-a-service offerings in the MSP space.
Since the advent of the Internet, we’ve spent the last 20 years becoming digitally connected and integrated through a vast global network of businesses, devices, tools and technologies.
These changes have transformed the way information is delivered and consumed—and have also left the small- and medium-sized business (SMB) market more vulnerable than ever before.
Cybercriminals and their attacks are becoming increasingly widespread, technically complex and difficult to detect—and attackers have found a way to exploit the SMB via ransomware.
As far-reaching attacks like WannaCry receive national media coverage, SMB owners are beginning to accept that it is now mission-critical to have a meaningful security strategy in place.
The reality, however, is that SMBs are largely ill-equipped to protect themselves from the growing variety of viruses, malware, phishing attempts and other malicious activities that cybercriminals are employing today—and as such, they’re seen as easy targets in the eyes of the attackers.
Managed services providers (MSPs) that can offer true vulnerability management, detection and remediation services to their customers are poised to solidify themselves as trusted advisors—and to tap into significant new revenue streams while building long-term value with their clients.
When paired with core services like remote monitoring and management (RMM) and backup and disaster recovery (BDR), security enables service providers to offer a complete end-to-end IT management platform and act as the true one-stop-shop that today’s customers are looking for.
To effectively deliver these services, the right blend of personnel, technology, and processes and education must be in place—and with enough capacity to scale and support the complex nature of today’s attacks and threat landscape.
The combination of these three pillars forms a solid foundation on which MSPs can build and deliver robust security services to the small business market.
Intelligent Security Software
The detection and isolation of any technological anomalies, suspicious behavior or infected machines are central to any cybersecurity strategy—and that starts with comprehensive software.
The longer it takes to become aware of an attack, the more deeply and broadly that attack will penetrate; and as time passes when attempting to remediate and resolve the issue, the risks and damages associated with that attack also increase.
With a combination of monitoring tools, anti-virus, anti-malware, firewall, threat management and other technologies, MSPs can leverage a ready-built security suite that offers effective defense against many types of ransomware and other security threats.
It’s also worth mentioning that if security technologies and services act as a frontline perimeter to protect against outside threats and attacks, then BDR is the last line of defense that an MSP can leverage to minimize damage and restore critical systems following a successful attack or breach.
By regularly backing up data to a protected appliance and building additional redundancy via cloud replication, providers can ensure that applications and information will remain accessible even when security systems and processes fail.
As such, it’s important that an effective integration between security, BDR and other systems is in place.
Human Intelligence and Services
In the managed IT services market, any software is only as effective as the human resources that are supporting it—and security is no exception.
Security experts and specialists can be highly expensive resources, but service providers must ensure they have access to the right personnel in order to respond to alerts, issues and threats that arise within client businesses and networks.
This need only further highlights an already growing skills gap in our market, where the demand for technical specialists, engineers and other human resources has become far greater than their actual availability (we discussed this skills gap at length in a previous article in this series).
Security expertise and specialists demand an absolute premium, and many are out of reach for the typical service provider; this will force MSPs to carefully consider which resources they should hire and maintain in-house, and look to strategically outsource and leverage third-party providers to augment and extend their capabilities as needed.
Additionally, it’s essential that MSPs work with their customers to develop strong incident response plans and process documentation that ensures all parties understand roles, accountability and required actions following any data loss incident or breach.
This includes identifying mission-critical vs. non-critical systems and information, plans to restore systems and data should any downtime occur, and more.
Such processes play a critical role during an actual incident, and are another example of a valuable offering that MSPs can deliver services atop the technology and software solutions they’re providing to customers.
User Training and Education
While technology alone will play a critical role in the detection and remediation of any security-related risks or incidents, end users themselves must also act as a line of defense and understand the role that human behavior plays in a successful IT security strategy.
The simplest path for hackers and cybercriminal to tap into a network is often through its users, whether via a malicious email, imitation of a legitimate URL or other social engineering attack.
As such, ensuring that all employees are properly trained on how to identify and isolate any potential threats is critical—and a study by Wombat Security Technologies and the Aberdeen Group confirms that behavioral training and employee education can reduce the risk of a security breach by 45 to 70 percent.
This is yet another area where service providers have an opportunity to present themselves as educators, trusted advisors and more than just software vendors.
Delivering ongoing training, building process documentation and coaching end users can help SMBs remain vigilant and aware of emerging threats and risks to their businesses; knowing how to identify and flag a suspicious link in an email, for instance, might be the difference between avoiding or falling victim to an attack.
These services can also help ensure client retention and stickiness, as the SMB increasingly relies on the MSP for their knowledge and expertise in addition to software tools and infrastructure management.
The goal of these training programs should be to increase employee awareness and education, test users’ understanding and knowledge of processes and best practices, and provide up-to-date information about current threats and emerging or zero-day attacks.
It’s also worth noting that security training should not be focused solely on web-based activity or email threats—physical workplace security, keeping a clean desk, password management and a number of other factors should be considered as well to protect as much of the office environment as possible.
Bringing Managed Security Services to Market
Today, security technology and breach remediation are no longer confined to traditional endpoints like servers and desktops.
The sheer complexity and variety of attacks being carried out are forcing SMBs to find new means of protecting the entire office and avoiding uninvited access to corporate data and applications.
This evolution has created myriad opportunities for service providers who can deliver the right combination of software, services and education to these businesses.
The key to success lies in the MSP’s ability to effectively leverage and align these three pillars, in order to provide an effective technology platform and perimeter defense.
Making the right hires and leveraging third-party personnel and resources is also necessary, as is building a strong framework through which to educate customers and train end users to ensure processes and best practices are followed.
Understanding and integrating these pillars into your managed security services offering will ensure you’re able to capitalize on the tremendous opportunity presented by the growing SMB demand for cybersecurity services.
As the SMB continues to be seen as an easy target with weak defenses, and cybercriminals and their attacks continue to innovate and work to avoid detection, now is the time for MSPs to build and deliver these offerings to market.
This is your chance to capitalize on a well-understood and increasing problem in this market, and an opportunity to redefine your company’s offerings and capture market share—expanding your portfolio of offerings and earning the business of the customers you have longed to win.
Michael George is CEO of Continuum Managed Services.