My roots are in the construction industry. My maternal grandfather and my father were both home builders of considerable accomplishment. In particular, my grandfather had as many as 15 carpenters working on the payroll. And most of these carpenters did the plumbing, electrical, and painting, too. This was ‘old school’.

But the trend 20-30 years later was for the more successful home builder to hire independent subcontractors, especially for such unique skills as drywall or roofing. Then there were framers, finish and trim subcontractors, landscapers, painters, plumbers, electricians, etc. But the sign on the lawn in front of the new home still displayed the name of the builder with the various subcontractors remaining anonymous. While the subcontractor chose this path of anonymity, they gave up the overall responsibility along with notoriety. That said, they were responsible to their trade and were required to produce consistent workmanship, else they were not hired again.

In real estate 50 years ago, agents worked for a small office and worked alone. Now real estate agencies are mostly franchised, and most agents work as part of team, some split into buyer representatives and perhaps another faction of the team working for the seller. But the agent in charge of it all is the one that gets the notoriety, the monetary rewards, and the upset clients.

In the IT industry, the technician formerly wore every hat just like the early builder and their tradesmen. But now we have printer/copier people, cable specialists, developers, security analysts, web designers, server and network techs, social media experts, website hosts, PowerShell scripters, cloud architects…

But another trend in IT is to subcontract helpdesk and network operations center (NOC) to an independent firm, the Master Managed IT Services Provider (MMSP). While some have disparaged this method, I would argue that this should be the support infrastructure that clients seek when sizing up their next prospective Managed IT Services Provider (MSP). Here’s why:

1.    The client wants the option to pick up the phone and call the IT person in charge.

They might not want to speak to the tech person on night duty, but there is a different phone number for that. Instead, they want to have that one-to-one conversation with someone that they know and trust, someone with whom they’ve established a rapport that is ultimately responsible for the technical duties.

But ultimately, the client has only one ‘throat-to-choke’. And when that client wants to have a conversation with the person who took on the responsibility of maintaining their tech, they do not want a busy signal, be sent to voicemail, or end up with an unintelligible foreign accent on the end of the line.

2.    The Master Managed Services Provider performs under contract.

So does the client, and so does the MSP. Employees can also perform under a contract, but I’ve experienced situations where these types of contracts are practically unenforceable. But the MMSP is bound to the duty of the agreement between them and the MSP. The MSP can dictate the manner in which the independent contractor MMSP performs, which by law and by reputation maintains a steady balance between client expectations and MSP responsibilities.

It’s been debated that the MMSP is the ‘fox in the henhouse’ when considering the mergers and acquisitions happening all over the IT industry. I would argue that the tech(s) are also foxes in the henhouse. With the proper agreement and honor among its participants, a contractual arrangement can keep everyone pleased. Another builder metaphor: When my father was asked for a contract late in his home building career (he never used contracts), he responded to his client by extending his hand and said, “Here is your contract.” It was likely considered a binding contract because there was a meeting of the minds.

But the dynamics between the providers (MSP and MMSP) determine the quality of their relationship, which spills over to the client. To use the builder metaphor again, if (s)he hires a skilled and reputable painter, then the home will be spotless when the home buyer arrives. If the MSP hires the right Master MSP within a proper framework, then the client will be pleased and contribute to a healthy business arrangement.

3.    The MSP with an MMSP solution provides a consistent quality of service.

Some might argue that rapport is lost when helpdesk and NOC are outsourced. On the contrary, a pool of unique technicians from a Master MSP can be assigned to a specific client so that there is a familiar, reliable, and consistent customer experience. More than that, availability and scalability become factors when a client expands or contracts – the MSP can adapt to client size by enlisting more or fewer resources.

For the small business owner considering a new IT firm, they should best consider that the IT firm might be too large or too small. Too large an IT firm means a disconnect between client and provider. Too small a firm could mean a chaotic outcome and service degradation as the IT firm’s clients might grow unexpectedly. But for the IT firm that has a dynamically sized and multiple-skilled human resource pool at their disposal, then growth is scalable while the consistent quality of service is maintained.

4.    SMBs want to do business with SMBs.

If given the choice between Behemoth IT Corporation, Dynamic IT, or Puny & Struggling IT LLC, which would you want as your technology partner? Behemoth IT is represented in today’s IT industry by such giants as All Covered and their parent company, Konica. If you contract with them, will you get the attention to detail that you require? Puny & Struggling IT LLC are trying to grow their staff to meet demand by an initially good reputation, but then one tech jumped ship for a better paying job, another got in a fight with his girlfriend, and yet another tech forgot to back up a client, just before that client was hit with ransomware. An IT firm with a dynamically sized staff can scale to your needs, while still maintaining rapport. The outsourcing of helpdesk and NOC services means that the leader of the IT firm inherently has more time to spend on quality control and sealing that ‘glue’ that holds them invaluable to one another.

5.   A dynamic IT firm can put ‘boots on the ground’ – anywhere at any time.

Any established IT firm will tell you that about 95% of their remediation is performed on a remote basis. The helpdesk and NOC services account for that percentage, but what about the rest? From Wikipedia: “WorkMarket is a New York City-based company that provides an online platform and marketplace for businesses to manage freelancers, contractors, and consultants.” This means that WorkMarket vets the worker in terms of legality, criminality, and certifications. It’s a full-time job, but that’s what they do – find and scrutinize good technicians to qualify them as qualified representatives that would enter your workplace.

In conclusion:

Everything has changed. Again. What worked during former times is not necessarily what works today.

Resolute IT has been 100% cloud-based since 2009. During the prior ten years, we were a small and conventional IT firm on Cape Cod with big servers and big gas bills as we traversed the dunes in a frenzied fashion, putting out technical fires here and there. Today we’re a calm and proactive firm that can provide its services anywhere in the US in a smart, efficient, predictable, and cloud-centric manner.

RMM = Remote Monitoring and Management

The RMM software agent runs on desktops, laptops, and servers. While it’s running in the background and invisibly, it collects generic information about your hardware, software, network, updates/patches, security concerns, and user accounts. No confidential data is observed in the process.

Here are the must-haves for any RMM according to the long-standing PSA and RMM vendor, ConnectWise:

  1. Automate any IT process or task
  2. Work on multiple machines at once
  3. Solve issues without interrupting clients
  4. Integrate smoothly into a professional services automation (PSA) tool
  5. Manage everything from one control center

 *I’m using Solarwinds MSP RMM & PSA

Some clients have concerns about possible tech scams, which are valid. There have been too many unsolicited calls from people claiming to represent “Microsoft”, but instead plant malware into your computer and then charge to have them take it out. It’s a big scam and it still happens today.

One key component of the Remote Monitoring and Management solution is remote control software. With a single click, a technician can sit with you virtually to visually examine your problem situation. Other key functions include automated tasks (such as running disk utilities), automatic patching with only approved Microsoft updates, and general network health reporting about your devices and their connectivity.

When the RMM is integrated with a Professional Services and Automation (PSA) tool such as Solarwinds MSP also provides, these tools can powerful insight and capabilities for your IT support team. Sending an email to [email protected] creates a new ticket request to be approved by Resolute IT Support in its ticketing system.

In short, where we’ve been putting out fires as needed (break/fix), we can now be more proactive and take measures to prevent problems that would otherwise be likely for the future (managed services). The RMM agent and its integration with the PSA management module enable us to look at new billing methods that mean a win/win scenario for provider/client.

Managed ServicesMy first experience with a computer was when I was a building contractor in Connecticut around 1990. The Department of Consumer Protection had mandated that all construction contracts, large and small, contain specifically prescribed content provided by the state, which resulted in a 6-page document, at the least. To remedy the situation, I went out and purchased a DOS computer and a word processor program. I took the computer out of the box and didn’t move until about 4am. When I finally made it into bed and shut the lights, there were two big blue dots (one for each eye) where the monitor had been. I was infatuated.

My career in construction evolved from building to selling real estate. Of course, real estate meant more contracts and eventually a digital MLS system – I found myself immersed in a world of computers again. I always helped the other agents that didn’t ‘get it’ when it came to the computers, so they all said, “Scott, you should become a computer guy!” The rest is history.

In 1998, I went back to school. From seemingly unrelated courses, I created my own curriculum at a community college to study and then pass a new certification offered by the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). I was among the first to receive the A+ Certification, and my designation is grandfathered and honored to this day.

CompTIA A+ Certified

My first job in the computer-related field was at the 2000 US Census during 1999, of course. My job was to sit at my desk and wait until Friday to change the server backup tapes and then ship the tapes from Cape Cod to Boston by FedEx. I needed more of a challenge – I was bored to death, so I left and went into business for myself.

pleasantbay.NET was the name of the company I launched on January 1st, 2000, the day after the Y2K bug was supposed to end the world. I was doing a lot of web design back then and formed a group called Cape Web Weavers, which eventually merged with the Cape Cod eCommerce Society. Meanwhile, I was volunteering for three Unitarian Universalist churches on Cape Cod, maintaining their computers and training those in need. My reputation got around, parishioners hired me, and the money started flowing.

By 2002, I’d become involved with a local company that primarily performed computer network services for small businesses, specializing in Novell servers and networks. The owner was having health issues and was in the process of retiring, so I was there to learn, substitute, and eventually take over some of his small accounts before he sold the remaining business to a competitor of ours.

I moved into my first office space in 2003. Another member of that web design group I’d formed had leased too much commercial space just for himself, so we split it. Within six months, I’d outgrown his half-office space and moved into another unit in the same commercial complex with 750 square feet all to myself – and my new technician.

First Office

In late 2004, we purchased 250 licenses of Kaseya, the Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) tool. Kaseya remains today to be one of the most highly respected technologies in the managed services arena. But Kaseya created a problem – not a technical problem, but a business problem. I’d installed the Kaseya software agent on all of our clients’ computers and servers. And it was configured to automatically remediate problems when failures were detected or updates were required, so all of a sudden the phone stopped ringing!

I was able to regroup and put everyone onto monthly Managed Services Provider (MSP) contracts in early 2005 after setting the business up with ConnectWise, the Professional Service Automation (PSA) tool. One of my clients was a semi-retired law professor who felt indebted to me for the good work we’d done for him on his systems, so he put together a legal document for me that went on to become the boilerplate contract for many emerging MSPs during the mid-2000s.

But there was one client that was reluctant to sign on. “Nah,” he said. “Everything works, so I’ll call when I need you.” Of course, everything worked because I’d put Kaseya onto all his machines. But one day, Kaseya sent us an alarm that the single hard drive in his company’s server was about to fail. To make a long story short, the baby died in our arms. We backed up the data (there was no previous backup!) and then the drive kicked over dead. Whew… The workers were able to resume on Monday morning as if nothing had ever happened. After learning what had transpired over the weekend, the client paid the hefty emergency repair costs and subscribed to an ongoing and proactive contract.

Managed services became popular around 2005. In fact, I was on Wikipedia reading about managed services and recognized many of the other pioneers cited in the article, such as Karl Palachuk, Amy Luby and Erick Simpson. I met them all and even bought Karl’s first book about documenting a network for $20.

During this time period, I was attending conferences almost every other month: Intel Roadshows; Microsoft Partner product events and hands-on-labs; ASCII Group Success Summits; Harry Brelsford’s SMB Nation; and the very first ConnectWise Summit that’s now called IT Nation, the premier event in our industry.

After that first ConnectWise shindig, a group of us from the northeastern US formed a peer group called the “New England ConnectWise Users Group” (NECWUG). All of those guys went on to become very successful MSPs and sold their businesses for a handsome price each. I’m proud to say that I was among them at one time.

In 2008, I retired my on-premise servers and moved to the cloud. I also moved to the Caribbean. And then I moved to Sarasota in 2009. Now I’ve become established in the Clearwater St Petersburg area. So working remotely became the norm for me, especially as my Cape Cod flock needed to be tended. They’ve been a loyal bunch and I still service several with annual contracts today.

As much as I’d like to say that we’ve transitioned from MSP to CSP (Cloud Services Provider), I would quote Karl Palachuk who said, “There are still going to be wires in the walls.” True to a point, but the most innovative modern workplaces of today are filled with beanbag chairs, millennials, sofas and wireless Internet. So yes, there are stand-up desks and kiosks and shared co-working spaces, but the network remains. And there’s an enormous mass-migration ahead from traditional on-premise servers, workstations and cubicles to the massive disorder of the mobile world. Migration to the cloud is a present-day exodus. Microsoft now has over 120 million monthly subscribers to Office 365 and this trend is growing exponentially. The servers that were formerly housed in our offices are finding new homes in data centers. And the Windows Server Active Directory that was required to authenticate users within the confines of the workplace has now moved to the Microsoft Azure cloud – Azure Active Directory – to provide the same identity protection anywhere a user opens a file or accesses other company data.

And with this paradigm shift comes innovation from the old vendors, such as Microsoft and Intel. We have Microsoft Teams for anywhere-teamwork and instant collaboration using featherweight laptops powered by Intel chips that have evolved according to Moore’s Law, that is, doubling in power every two years and shrinking in such size that confounds the mind.

And we are still human. Even some computer-weaned millennials are challenged by the latest technology, getting locked out of their social media accounts with multi-step authentication and clicking on anything fearlessly, only to find themselves victim to ransomware. There is still a reason to be called a Managed Services Provider – we still have to protect the data, the privacy and the security of people while enabling them with the technology to remain productive and innovative in their own right.

Scott Abbotts | https://resolute-it.com | https://office365techguy.com

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