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Business Modernization from COVID-19: Service Desks, Automation and More MSPs

Remember when your customers had offices filled with workers and everyone had a PC on their desks? Remember when people met in person and the computer room in the basement hosted all the servers?

Most systems integrators (SIs) and value-added resellers (VARs) had a viable business with support staff onsite taking care of people and systems. Most SIs and VARs did a blended delivery, where only some of the support was delivered from a central service desk. Their livelihood was to sell hours in different packages. The Microsoft Office experience was delivered through local Exchange and SharePoint servers -- though, of course, many customers had made the switch to Microsoft 365.

It was a mix of offsite and onsite, and that worked out well for most. The ones with most of the services onsite had, of course, a much lower margin than the ones that leaned more offsite with processes handled by a skilled service desk.

But then came COVID-19, and since March nothing has been the same. Our customers no longer have staff working onsite and meetings are held digitally from the comfort of our homes. Customers are also less interested in having staff from external companies running around in their offices.

A significant consequence of COVID-19 was that all partners with a workforce of onsite support engineers had to let people go. That is always a tough decision. But when you need to choose between saving your company or keeping redundant staff, the choice is often easy to make, although it might be emotionally hard.

Perhaps we can see a distant light at the end of the tunnel even though we are not yet in the clear, as the pandemic is entering another wave. But our society has changed, business life has changed, and some of the changes mean that our businesses need to also change.

I think that this is a great opportunity for SIs and VARs to reposition their businesses and make a giant leap into something that is more modern and better-positioned for the new normal. That means that you should absolutely not go back to sending out support engineers to your customers because most, or at least a significant portion, will work from home. And to be honest, the profitability was never good, anyway.

Instead, take the opportunity to ramp up your service desk. One common mistake is to add lots of people to a service desk. My advice is that you should instead automate lots of tasks by having great support systems. That will keep your headcount down and profitability up. It starts with a system for support-ticket handling, where customers don't need to contact you by phone. Instead, they should be able to resolve lots of tasks via self-service. If they need to speak to an agent, you should encourage them to do it over chat or e-mail, as that will help you better balance your agents' workloads and increase both customer and employee satisfaction.

Taking care of servers and applications should also be done by a centralized team that might be part of the service desk organization. If you are a larger SI or VAR, you might want to split into several teams where each and every one is specialized on a certain area like servers, communications or apps for certain verticals. My advice for smaller partners is to be careful to split into multiple teams, as that always drives cost and you will need to be at a certain size for it to make sense.

This is also a golden opportunity to decommission your customers' server rooms and move workloads to Microsoft Azure. Because your customers' employees are mostly working from home, it is paramount that you enable remote access at scale, which is so much easier and more cost-efficient when you have everything in Azure. The new Azure-based Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) is a great example of new technology that enables remote scenarios.

Taking your customers on this journey will be great for your business and will also future-proof your customers, as they will be much more agile and can more freely add apps delivered as Software as a Service (SaaS). This starts with a high-level discussion between senior salespeople and probably the CIO/CTO at your customer, and you need to make sure that you're well-equipped to have discussions like this.

The goal should be that all your customers get their workloads in the cloud, preferably Azure if you're a Microsoft partner, and that you service all users from your service desk without sending out support engineers. If you make this journey, you will be rewarded with higher margins and -- because you're no longer an SI or VAR, but instead a managed service provider (MSP) -- this will significantly increase the value of your company because buyers love a business with recurring revenue so that they can sleep well at night.

Posted by Per Werngren on November 05, 2020