Taking it to the edge
Another emerging element discussed in the report was the topic of edge computing, with Ingram Micro Cloud suggesting that the edge computing market was set to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34 per cent between 2021 and 2024.
For partners, there will be a need to expand service at the edge, according to the distributor, which suggested it would be crucial for partners to identify instances where edge computing can help resolve their customers’ existing network problems.
“At present, cloud struggles to support the data-intensive and low-latency requirements of emerging applications,” the report noted. “Alternatively, edge computing helps reduce latency issues that arise when handling large amounts of data.
“What’s more, those customers that invest in edge computing now will build out infrastructures that give them a head start on accommodating 5G,” it added.
Going forward, Ingram suggested, partners will have to look beyond public and hybrid cloud strategies to offer their customers content delivery networks (CDNs), telecommunications, colocation data centre edge fabrics and domain-specific converged edge infrastructure.
Here’s where the security play comes in, according to Ingram.
“As network perimeters expand outward, an organisation’s attack surface likewise broadens, and it’s here that partners will find a third area of critical importance to their efforts at equipping organisations for remote work,” the report said.
Ingram suggested that organisations moving to hybrid cloud were struggling to meet security and compliance requirements, particularly as intrusion and attack incidents surge.
For channel partners, the issue becomes doubly complicated in that they are increasingly the targets of hackers, a trend that has been somewhat exemplified recently by the latest wave of supply chain attack activity by the Russian nation-state actor known as Nobelium.
In such an environment, partners are in a position to advise end customers on the adoption of more security measures such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), threat detection and response, security operations centre (SOC)-as-a-service, risk management, threat intelligence and backup and disaster recovery, for example.
It also means partners can define and execute their own response plan when hacked as well as investing in cyber security education for their own employees, the report suggested.
“Now and over the next few years, remote and hybrid work environments will generate new customer pain points and require innovative holistic, preventive solutions,” Ingram said, “The elite partners will be those capable of predicting changing customer needs with intelligently bundled solutions to power the work-from-home experience.”
The makings of a ‘modern’ MSP
Forming another pivotal part of the channel’s next chapter, according to the distributor, is the long-evolving chronicle of the IT service provider.
For the past two decades, two separate trends have recast the role of the service provider, the company claimed. The first of these is the evolution of a reseller’s role from simply shifting product into something much more complex, involving the implementation of holistic digital solutions made up of disparate tech vendor products and services.
The second trend, according to Ingram, is that over time, B2B buyers have come to expect the same excellent customer experiences enjoyed by B2C consumers.
“The result has been to push VARs ever closer toward the role of the MSP and to force MSPs to evolve beyond their function as the ‘IT guy,’” the report said.
With these trends in mind, Ingram pointed out that as COVID-19 has supercharged digital transformation and driven up cloud adoption, the opportunities brought on by the shift to remote workspaces have created an opening for MSPs and VARs to become “proactive change agents” and strategic partners for their customers.
“In this new landscape, partners who lack skills and resources around automation, cloud acceleration, customer and employee experience, e-commerce and marketplaces are swiftly being sifted out from those primed to control a burgeoning managed services market expected to reach [US]$492 billion by 2027,” the report stated.
“In today’s rapidly changing channel, the MSPs that make the cut will have to become channel-first experience builders, specialised strategic partners and ecosystem drivers.
“Rather than merely providing adequate IT services upon request and putting out fires when they arise, the MSPs most apt to survive will take on a far more active role in their customers’ success,” it added.
Examining the customer experience
So, how should partners make sure they’re on the winning side?
Well, Ingram suggested that a good starting point would be with the customer experience, as the sales team transforms into the “customer success army”.
In tomorrow’s channel, the distributor suggested, conversations with customers will have transitioned from a purely technology-focused dialogue to one focused on building an overall business experience.
Part of this conversation around experience is likely to involve introducing the customer to the latest billing practices – a sometimes-overlooked element of a strategic partner play.
“MSPs will take the lead in guiding their customers away from transactional and project-based billing and toward the subscription and consumption-based models being adopted in the SaaS and cloud space,” the report noted.
“Customers invariably prefer the small, regular payments of the latter models to the large, sporadic payments of the former—and the added convenience is often key to building long-lasting customer relationships,” it said.
Moreover, to provide the best possible user experience, more MSPs are expected to adopt the latest professional services automation (PSA) software to automate and streamline their billing and reconciliation processes.
In looking for ways to enhance their customers’ experience, modern MSPs should also aim to boost the skill sets of their customers, the report suggested. As part of this effort, service providers should try to constantly communicate with their customers about the latest best practices.
“One way to do this effectively is by offering ongoing IT training focused on emerging trends that cover everything from edge management and accessibility to remote cyber security,” Ingram said. “They can also designate go-to contacts from their customers’ teams to receive specialised training.
“These go-to contacts will be able to pass on newly learned skills to their colleagues while also helping keep MSPs informed about their organisation’s evolving needs,” it added.
More generally, Ingram Micro Cloud suggested that the ‘modern MSP’ is becoming a specialised strategic partner, evolving past the break-fix model of IT support and is instead all about being a partner that continuously keeps an eye on emerging pain points and is ready to educate their customers on the most cutting-solutions available.
“This requires MSPs to upgrade their own skill sets, so they can become specialised MSPs with greater domain expertise in the technology and industry verticals,” Ingram said. “Technology verticalisation is the first step toward fulfilling the role of today’s more specialised strategic partner.
“In an era of public, hybrid and multi-cloud, the need for cloud and cyber security expertise has taken on new importance. Customers will look to their service providers for assistance, especially since eight out of 10 IT professionals name their internal team’s shortage of know-how as the chief obstacle to their cloud transition. To fill the gap, MSPs will have to invest in cloud certification and in clearing audits in the cloud."
“Upskilling in key industry verticals will be equally important in fulfilling the MSP’s role as an expert strategic partner. And with 500,000 MSPs worldwide, the competition is growing,” it added.