Managed Tablet Services: Real Recurring Revenues or Pure Hype?

I'm not suggesting that tablet computers represent a big managed services opportunity. But I do believe MSPs will need to adjust their service level agreements (SLAs), customer contracts, and mobile device management (MDM) efforts to include tablet devices and smart phones going forward. The latest evidence: HTG Peer Groups, a member organization that includes scores of VARs and MSPs -- is ramping up to support Apple iOS, the core operating system for iPhones and iPads.

In an enewsletter announcement last week, HTG stated:

"HTG is pleased to announce that we have created a plan to enable our members to engage with the Apple Consultants Network (ACN) and become trained in supporting IOS in the marketplace. We’re excited that Apple is working with us as a strategic partner and that we will be training our members to support iPads attaching to corporate networks. Exciting days are ahead as we become mobility specialists in our local markets."

By the Numbers

Some folks think tablets are a passing fad. I disagree. Apple has sold roughly 30 million iPads. At MSP-centric conferences, iPads are everywhere. But so far, only about 6 percent to 8 percent of tablet sales involve SMB customers, according to AMI Research. And over time, tablets will also catch on with your SMB customers -- especially those who have mobile sales forces and road warriors.

That's a small figure. But it's poised for lots of growth. Hence, HTG's decision to get VARs and MSPs trained to support iPads on corporate networks. Also of note: HTG is working with the Apple Consultants Network. No doubt, Apple has a mixed history with the channel -- and recent months haven't been kind to some Apple solutions providers.

In recent months, Apple Stores have been promoting small business solutions directly to end-customers. And Apple apparently is partnering up with OnForce -- an online marketplace for IT service providers -- to farm out SMB customer support. Along the way, Apple walked away from some channel partners.

What To Ask Your Customers

Still, the tablet trend is undeniable. And Apple dominates the tablet market. So MSPs need to include tablets in their broader mobile device management (MDM) strategies. The key topics worth discussing with customers:
  1. Are tablets popping up in your workplace? How will that trend evolve over the next three to six months?
  2. Which applications and business needs, if any, drive your company's need for tablets?
  3. How do you evaluate and source your tablets?
  4. Who ultimately owns the tablets -- your company or your employees?
  5. How are you managing company-owned tablets vs. employee-owned tablets that are used for work?
  6. How are the tablets secured?
  7. How is business data backed up and safeguarded?
  8. If a tablet gets lost do you know (A) how to track it (B) how to potentially wipe the hard drive and (C) how to potentially get the tablet back?
  9. Which of your current server and cloud applications would you like to access via tablets?

Questions to Ask Yourself

And for MSPs, here are the key questions you need to ask within your own company:
  1. Which mobile devices do your customers already have in place?
  2. Which mobile devices do your customers plan to purchase in the next three to six months?
  3. How can you roll those mobile devices into your broader managed services engagements?
  4. What security, storage and remote management solutions can you leverage to ease mobile device management?
  5. What type of premium can you charge for mobile device management?
  6. Are there opportunities to wrap tablets into hardware as a service (HaaS), leasing and other recurring revenue engagements?
  7. How will you help your customers to move seamlessly between traditional PCs, emerging mobile devices, on-premise applications and cloud applications?
I know I raised a lot more questions than I answered. Plus, I likely missed a boatload of questions that you have on your mind.

Regardless, you can't ignore tablets. I'm not suggesting big recurring revenues await you within the tablet market. But tablets represent a fast-growing market segment that warrants your attention.

 
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