Can MSPs Deliver Apple's Simplicity, Elegance?

During a conversation yesterday with Ken Vanderweel, director of product marketing for Nimsoft, we discussed the flood of Wintel (Windows on Intel) VARs moving into the managed services market. In my opinion that's a good thing -- and a bad thing.

I worry that many MSPs will repeat some of the mistakes they made during their days as break-fix specialists for Microsoft Windows. Don't get me wrong: Microsoft has done a lot of good for the IT market. Windows NT, Exchange Server, SQL Server and other Microsoft platforms freed customers from expensive software that was locked to proprietary hardware. And those platforms created opportunities for VARs and independent software developers.

But I wonder if enough MSPs will push beyond their Microsoft roots, to develop simple, elegant and powerful online services. Or, stated more directly: Can MSPs apply Apple-like quality and polish to their online services?

This is more than a technology conversation. Visit any Apple Store, and you're immediately greeted by informed, educated, well-trained service professionals who can answer nearly any Apple-related question you have. If they don't know the answer, they'll likely walk you over to the so-called "Genius Bar," where true Apple experts meet one-on-one with customers -- all day -- to assist their needs.

If I was an MSP, I would bring my entire staff -- technology, sales, marketing, EVERYONE -- to an Apple Store, so that they can begin to see "great customer experiences" first-hand.

Consumers In the Driver's Seat

I'd also spend considerable time at consumer-driven events -- like CES, and I'd begin to examine how simple consumer user interfaces can be applied to online services like storage, video conferencing, TelePresence and the like. And I'd keep a close eye on Google Android, a forthcoming platform and user interface for mobile devices.

Or visit local college campuses, and mingle with current Computer Science students. Don't ask them what they are studying -- instead ask them what Web sites they're visiting, what devices they're using, and why. Along the way, you may find some clear hints about how you should design your next-gen Web 2.0 systems.

Somehow, try to balance sophistication with simplicity. And don't always go with the slick user interface. A prime example: Generally speaking, slick user interface designers are the only people who complain about Craiglist's rudimentary, text-heavy site design. The vast majority of users get used to it and consider it just fine.

The bottom line: It's fine to celebrate your Microsoft and Windows heritage as you move into the MSP world. Millions of Windows customers will embrace managed services. But it's no longer just a Windows world. Your Web site, online services and even face-to-face support need to include simplicity, elegance and a great user experience.

Go hang out at an Apple Store if you're still not sure how to define a "great user experience" to your staff.
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