Thursday 29 March 2012

Some Thoughts on the Changing Times in SMB/SME Information Technology

Need a reality check?

It is pretty obvious that things are changing big-time in the SMB/SME space. More so in SMB than anything.

Indeed, the writing has been on the wall since Microsoft introduced the Microsoft Small Business Specialist to encourage small IT shops, single contact business types, to get certified.

We upped our rates the day after my exam was passed and we were welcomed into the SBSC program. The program was an excellent incentive to change my perspective on the way we did business, the services we provide, and the level of excellence we wanted to pursue in our business.

Microsoft has since pushed the bar one step up with the introduction of a Competency. The only way an IT firm can capture one of these competencies is to have at least two Microsoft Certified Professionals on staff along with the requisite exams within that program and the Microsoft Partner Program.

Microsoft’s Cloud endeavours are pushing the SMB IT service provider further up against the wall. The SBSC program is looking to be finished while the Elephant squeezes as many SMBs into Office 365 (or in our case we set up OWN hosted Exchange with a huge Value Add by us) and thus virtually eliminate the small IT shop.

It is in Microsoft’s best interest to operate this way on so many fronts.

We have come across so many Microsoft server product deployments that were so botched up, unprofessional, no Standard Order of Procedure between all systems, backups not functioning or failing, and so much more that it stands to reason that Microsoft push the SMB envelope into their own house.

This is not to say that _everyone_ that provides IT services in the SMB space falls into the above category.

But, dollars to donuts the folks that are providing excellent IT Solutions to their SMB/SME clients are _not_ the ones currently crying about Microsoft’s push to the Cloud and front-line billing of the client.

The push to the Cloud is one of the reasons we have been pushing so hard into Hyper-V Failover Clustering.

Somewhere along the line our business model will shift from the SMB focus we now have into an SMB/SME focus on On-Premises IT Solutions that are built more on the Microsoft Stack than the SBS/Premium Add-On stack.

As I commented in Vlad’s blog post linked above:

Reality is such a harsh mistress (twist on Heinlein’s Moon is a Harsh Mistress).


A keen eye and hard work will always be rewarded. :)


Note the last sentence.

The ones that we don’t hear complaining about all of the changes are the ones with raw knuckles working themselves into a new Value Added Relationship with their clients. Or, they are working themselves into an entirely new market segment and product line.

The economic downturn over the last few years took care of a lot of small time IT Solution providers. The push to the Cloud will take of a lot more out of the picture too.

In the end it is up to us to work our way through all of the mush to discover the diamond in the rough. From there we can work it into something that folks will want to purchase to make their business better.

And that is the goal, the vision statement, the ultimate way: We develop IT solutions for our clients that make their businesses and business processes run in a vastly superior manner.

Philip Elder
Microsoft Small Business Specialists
Co-Author: SBS 2008 Blueprint Book

*Our original iMac was stolen (previous blog post). We now have a new MacBook Pro courtesy of Vlad Mazek, owner of OWN.

Windows Live Writer


Anonymous said...

"We develop IT solutions for our clients that make their businesses and business processes run in a vastly superior manner"

What does that mean? You've gone from geekspeak to bizspeak. You need to leave the IBM consulting lingo to the big boys. It reminds me of the IBM commercial from a few years ago, "What do you actually DO here?". Consultant couldn't answer with anything of value.

Doesn't matter how many Microsoft certifications you have because there are plenty of shops that will still managle everything they touch (whether SBS or any other server). You don't need a cert to be good BUT you do need a certain level of years in the saddle

Philip Elder Cluster MVP said...

Yeah, "Business Principles" was one of the categories tagged to this particular post. :)

Given the number of years "in the saddle" that particular question is actually quite easy to answer.

It means that we take all of the tools whether hardware and/or software and demonstrate to the business owner(s) how they can improve the way they do business.

And yes we have seen some big IT houses go into smaller businesses and make a real mess of things. Sometimes they make mistakes in their hiring process too. :)



Anonymous said...

Chainging times indeed!

I have no problem with Mocrosoft billing the client, it's the poor commisions paid the the MSP/IT provider that I have issue with. I also use Vlad's service and can honestly say that our clients with on-site exchange servers have had far greater reliability, uptime and configuration changes completed quicker than hosted/cloud services.

Does moving to the cloud for the cloud's sake make good buisiness sense?

If IT pros see flaws in the cloud methology which actually hamper the client's business, should we still be moving to the cloud?

Just about every cloud tecnology I have seen has worked out more expensive then a well setup and maintained in-house system.

Clients only have so much of an IT budget so if the cloud technology cost's more, there's less to spend on us...the integrators.

I feel a change in the industry (that i'm trying hard to embrace!) but I'm just not sure that it's a change for the better.

Paul - an uncertified geek that fixes certified geeks cock-ups ;)

Doug H. said...

As primarily a buyer of IT services, I will offer my perspective:
- Certifications provide both a starting point to evaluate skills and a way to differentiate when other things are equal. It's just like interviewing two candidates for any job and one has a university degree and one doesn't. It doesn't determine that one person will definitely be better, but it's an indication of skills and achievement to help classify candidates.
- Successful IT professionals can propose technology solutions that solve business problems and improve processes. Since every business is unique, the solution isn't cookie cutter.
- Technology is changing so fast, and there are so many options out there, that nobody can be an expert of everything, so an IT pro should be both committed to continuous learning. as well as know when to say that something is not their area of expertise.
- There are lots of small shops out there that aren't that good at what they do. If some of them went away, those shops remaining would make more money and the customers would get better solutions. In David Papp's recent book, IT Survival Guide ( he actually advocates a certification for professionals that do IT assessments, recommendations, etc. as that type of training isn't covered by vendor and product-specific training and certifications.

A few other comments about the comments:
- I'm sure cloud hasn't peaked yet, but server virtualization and clustering should provide many new on-premise opportunities. In the tech journals I read, I see as many mentions of "private cloud" nowadays as I do cloud.
- O365, on the Enterprise plans anyway demands a knowledgeable IT pro to administer it. A lot of features aren't in the Web GUI and instead demand PowerShell knowledge. If your selling this, you should be able to collect more than just what Microsoft kicks you back in residuals!