The Six Pillars of a Web Solution Provider Practice
I’m often approached by MSPs, VARs and other solution providers who are looking to do the right thing for their customers but aren’t thrilled about the prospect of getting cloud application license revenue that is a fraction of their pre-cloud product revenue. True cloud applications are fundamentally much lower cost to produce, deliver, and support, and as a result the license margin revenue for a channel partner is indeed typically much lower.
It makes me wince when people say that the only way to combat this is by increasing volume (e.g. gain more customers to balance out lower revenue per customer), because at some level those additional customer wins for some, imply customer losses for someone else. We’d much rather see all of our partners benefit from the rising tide of demand for cloud applications.
And since the term “cloud” has been co-opted to describe a wide variety of technologies, I’m going to refer more specifically here to web applications that are delivered over the internet and accessed in a web browser.
Become a web solution provider
Powerful web products are going to help you deliver lower cost base-level solutions to your customers. Those customers are then getting more for less. As a result, the key differentiator for solution providers is whether they have the capability to deliver strategic value and capture some of that freed budget.
How can you do this? Become a web solution provider by building a practice around helping customers move their business – including applications, infrastructure, processes, and mindset – to the web. I’ve started a list of focus areas to consider below. This may involve growing new skills and restaffing a bit but the payoff will be that you’ll embrace the waves of innovation driving us all toward an IT world that involves nothing but the web.
1. Vendor management
Even in a 100% web world, no vendor is going to singularly provide all of the applications, infrastructure, and devices that your customers need. Individual applications are easier to deploy and administer. Use the resources afforded by this increased simplicity to engage with more vendors and bring together complementary products into a comprehensive solution. The spread of app marketplaces make this job easier, but the web solution provider stays aware of what’s available to match customers’ needs.
2. Mobile administration
As more applications and data become centrally hosted, smart phones and other mobile devices allow business users great flexibility in how, when, and where they work. Web solution providers are getting in front of this and help customers create a strategy for how they’re going to manage mobile devices – remote wiping, password policies, lock policies, and data sync tools for the web applications in use.
3. Security & compliance management
As web applications become a bigger part of your clients’ business, you can help them with their strategies for maintaining appropriate access control and minimizing security vulnerabilities. Start by centralizing usernames on a company domain. An increasing number of web apps offer support for OpenID which allow you to construct a single sign-on experience and avoid proliferating accounts and passwords across a number of vendors. This is one reason Google is requiring that the apps in their marketplace support OpenID rather than ask for a username/password.
From there you can centrally manage password complexity policy and forced reset policy and even affordably implement 2-factor authentication. You can manage data retention policies and incorporate web solutions for archiving, auditing, and discovery.
4. Business analytics & intelligence
One of the great things that web applications offer is tight visibility into how end users are using them. Integrated click-by-click analytics tools can give great intelligence into usage patterns and can help you help your customers optimize strategies for communicating with employees, team productivity, information sharing, and more.
5. Innovation consulting
The web application delivery model lends itself to rapid iteration and delivery of new features. Often customers don’t have the time to keep up with this. By paying attention to and trying out these features as they get delivered by vendors, web solution providers can pick and choose the ones that best align with their clients’ needs. And then they can be the face of innovation by driving user adoption.
6. Custom development & scripting
I also get questions from prospective partners on how they can retain their customer relationships once they’ve adopted web applications served up directly by a vendor. They should work with vendors that are channel friendly and facilitate these relationships. But beyond that, one of the best things a solution provider can do is provide services such as those above to help their customers take full advantage of the web as a better way to run their business.
Jeff Ragusa is the SMB Channel Lead for Google Apps. Monthly guest blogs such as this one are part of the annual Talkin’ Cloud platinum sponsorship.