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MDM Evolution: From Managing Devices to Managing User Experience

This guest blog was written by Dave Sobel, director of community for GFI MAX.

The services evolution has driven change in the IT channel for years. Many solution providers started as resellers, where the opportunity for profit came from markup on physical equipment. As the market in physical equipment matured, margins shrank and many discarded their reseller roots and began to focus on providing the services that their customers needed.

In time, those new service providers began exploring ways to make their organizations more efficient and more profitable, and managed services emerged as the leading business model to meet those goals. Managed services transformed the way solution providers did business by combining alignment with customer needs, productivity and efficiency gains, increased margins and business stability.

Today, the services evolution continues as mobility and the cloud add a new complexity to managed services. In a traditional on-premises deployment with a focus on devices such as desktops and laptops, most of which are physically close, this is a natural and understandable engagement model. However, once mobile devices are added to the mix, including smartphones and tablets, the number of devices that need to be managed increases dramatically. Additionally, different devices have varying levels of complexity, and many consumer devices play a role in business environments whether IT administrators like it or not.

At this point, device-focused management presents two major problems. First, consumer devices are traditionally marketed as, and designed to be, "easy to use," resulting in an end user perception that their management is also straightforward. Where there is a perception of "easy to use," it becomes a much more difficult sales proposition for a provider to demonstrate the value of fees for each device. Managing a single device might very well be "easy" in theory, but managing devices in aggregate in a consistent manner is much more challenging. Add the complexity of the large ecosystem of devices, carriers and infrastructure, and service providers are faced with significant loads to manage. The proliferation of devices can cause customers to overthink how they manage their IT environment, cherry-picking devices for management and excluding others in the name of cost savings. This introduces unneeded complexity to the management process and completely undermines the ultimate goal of managed services to align customer and service provider interests.  

The second challenge presented by a device-focused management model is that it excludes the various cloud systems that are now key components of the solutions that end users are demanding. In a device-based billing and engagement model, accounting for cloud systems is problematic. By focusing on the user, providers can alleviate much of this tension and realign the end customer and the service provider's interests. However, this requires much more than a simple billing model change. Rather, service providers need to focus on the user experience in order to increase the value of the services being provided. User experience is not just about the devices a user employs, but about ensuring that their data and applications are delivered in a consistent, reliable and secure manner. It's not enough to simply ensure the user's devices work; a service provider needs to ensure that the user is able to effectively use those devices and systems.

There are a number of questions that an MSP should be asking regularly to create a positive user experience. Is their data available at all times? From anywhere? On any device? Are the user's systems and applications available? Can the user effectively use them in as many environments as possible? And additionally, is this data secure? Are corporate policies being enforced? Is the end user and their company aware of all the required data protection laws that apply?

This is the heart of the user experience. Delivering consistent, easy-to-use, secure access to data and systems while managing the complexity of devices, systems, applications and multiple vendors, including cloud systems, is a challenging task. Placing devices at the center blurs the focus and lessens the value of the service provider's offerings. 

A resounding chorus of "This sounds hard" may cause some MSPs to avoid preparing for this next stage in their industry's evolution, but if managing user experience was easy, it wouldn't command higher pricing and deliver enhanced profit. In mystery, there is margin, and by embracing the user and their experience as the center of their business, service providers will continue to evolve alongside their customers' needs, ensuring their own success in the future.

Posted on March 17, 2014 at 5:27 AM


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