This post was originally written by Robert Crane, Microsoft MVP
One of the most common flaws I see with resellers and their cloud strategy is that they themselves simply don’t use the solutions they are attempting to sell their customers. That firstly limits their opportunities, secondly it limits their revenue and thirdly is raises questions in the clients mind (rightly or wrongly) as to whether they really know IT.
Let’s take Office 365 for example. Here SharePoint is clearly one of the most important pieces of the solution. SharePoint has been around since before 2000 and has been included will all versions of Small Business Server since 2003. Yet, most resellers literally have zero knowledge on the product. This lack of knowledge is exposed when they try and implement a product like Office 365 because SharePoint Teams Sites and OneDrive for Business are central to the Office 365 storage solution.
To truly understand a product like Office 365 you need to use it and use it as part of your business, every day. This of course means making an investment in learning and directly implementing the product. Yes, there may be other industry solutions out there that can solve a business need but can you re-bundle that specific product knowledge and sell it to clients? You can with SharePoint, Yammer, Skype for Business and so on.
Even if you don’t go the Office 365 route, what about products like Mailchimp, IFTTT, Evernote, Zapier, YouTube, Facebook, Bascamp and so on? The list is endless. Most IT Pros and resellers I come across are still wondering why paper flyers aren’t flooding them with business and are yet to implement social media for themselves. They are using the same technology they have been using for years because they are familiar with it, not because it makes them more productive, simple because it is what is familiar. In today’s exponential technological age that is a very dangerous place to be.
By experiencing the challenges in implementing and developing new solutions for yourself you get a much better understanding of how to craft something that can solves real world business problems, which In the end is what IT pros and resellers should be getting paid for. Simply buying an off the shelf, industry solution may improve your own business but it doesn’t expand any opportunity outside your business does it really? However, using something like SharePoint to solve an internal business challenge has an impact inside and outside the business because SharePoint is a now such a common platform.
Simply maintaining the IT status quo won’t cut it any more, IT pros and resellers have to be able to solve real business needs for their customers. In many cases this means implementing customised solutions, and that means development work. This may even mean some coding! Shock horror! However, the concept of the dominance of software in IT is not new, Marc Andreessen highlighted it back in 2011 when he wrote:
My observation is that this is where most IT Pros and resellers fall down, they don’t have the development skills. Yet a skill is something that can be learned, it is does not have any restrictions that prevents an IT Pro or reseller actually learning it, except in their own minds.
Cloud platforms like Office 365 provide a raft of tools for solving many business problems. However, they are not something that is just installed, they are tools to be used in crafting a solution. It is in this crafting that the real revenue opportunity lies, yet most IT Pros and resellers remain oblivious to this fact. Like the customers they support, they have the tools they need to solve their business challenges and generate additional revenue, yet many choose to ignore them because they are not willing to invest in the skills required. I’m not saying it doesn’t involve effort. I’m not saying it won’t be challenging. What I’m saying is that unless you are aiming to play in the high volume transaction game, you really don’t have any choice any more.
Therefore, because IT Pros and resellers are not skilling up on the platforms they are selling, their customers are using and discovering these same resources for themselves and building the required skills independent of their IT Pro or reseller. This is therefore fast relegating the IT Pro and resellers to work that is easily commoditised or automated, which in the end spells redundancy for them. Don’t believe in the ‘Uberisation’ of IT? Not doing so would be another fatal mistake.
Let me use you my own example here. Many IT Pros and resellers scoff at me when I tell then I use a spreadsheet to run the finances of my business, however that is because they assume that I’m using a spreadsheet in the same rudimentary manner they would (probably just summing up cells). They have no comprehension of the sophistication and automation that I have built into my financial spreadsheets. They have no comprehension of the advanced skills training that provides me in a product that is probably on the desktop of every business user. Those skills therefore give me the confidence, experience and opportunity to provide a raft of Excel services to customers for which I generate revenue. Sure, I could use an off the shelf accounting package but the opportunity benefits I deride from using Excel to an advanced level far outweigh and cost saving an accounting package may provide.
What you can achieve with Excel along is mind blowing but let me ask you, do you use Pivot Tables? Named ranges? Table lookups? Macros? I have found few who do and that’s therefore the opportunity I’ve identified I can fill and make money in the process. Now extend that opportunity out to products like SharePoint, Yammer, Power BI, Skype for Business and so on. The more I use each of these, the more I learn, the more I improve the way I do business but critically the more opportunity I have to resell those skills. Don’t even get me started on the Azure opportunities IT Pros and resellers are missing out on.
Most IT Pros and resellers have free access to all the products they provides to customers internally but yet few ever embrace them, yet alone implement them. In today’s fast paced markets this allows customers to surpass those who are supposed to know and once that happens, why do you need IT Pros and resellers? Simple, you don’t, and that’s what I see happening today.
Use it or lose it should be your mantra if you are an IT Pro or reseller. Skill up or fade away. It’s that simple.