In this candid dialogue, I have the opportunity to quiz Andy Smith, DeepNet’s Head of Tech Advisory, and gain insights into the heart of what truly drives the unseen, yet crucial, parts of an IT operation. We touch upon the often undervalued 'invisible' tasks of IT management and explore how these translate into business success. We also focus on the more client-interactive areas such as strategic planning, proactive problem-solving, and the seamless integration of technology. Andy shines a light on the silent yet significant ways an effective IT service provider contributes to a business's day-to-day functions; achieved by ensuring DeepNet’s ongoing self-development and evolution of IT standards.
Good IT services are often the IT services that you can't see.
Alan: So, you mentioned some “behind the scenes” aspects of our work. I'm curious to get a sense of these key areas from your perspective.
Andy: Definitely. Well, the first one, it's a bit of a cliché in the IT world. When IT i's running well, it's virtually invisible. That's our aim, because technology isn't the core function of most businesses. Whether you're a supplement company, a winery, or a service provider, your main objective is to make good products or provide excellent services. The technology is there to facilitate that. So, it's not about making technology visible, but rather making it blend seamlessly into the organization. The risk here is that it can be taken for granted and strategic investments can be overlooked because everything seems to be working well. But the reason it's working so well is because of the time, effort, and proactive activities we've put in, so that it just becomes part of the background for the everyday operations.
Alan: So, if an MSP isn't doing a good job, how does that become apparent to those involved in operations and strategy?
Andy: When technology hinders rather than enables you, it becomes evident. This is often why new clients reach out to us. Their current IT infrastructure isn't working for them; it's more of an obstacle. And the solution isn't just about fixing or replacing broken things. That's where strategy comes into play. For instance, instead of spending $20,000 to replace faulty servers, you could migrate these to the cloud. You pay a fixed monthly fee, but you never have to worry about them going down again.
Alan: Absolutely. Now, I'm trying to think of specific areas where we're doing those sorts of invisible tasks that you mentioned, that might be taken for granted. Any specific examples?
Andy: Sure, network monitoring, security management, infrastructure management, performance optimization - these all are part of what our infrastructure team does daily. With the help of a Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) platform, we're on top of things all the time, resolving issues before they even become noticeable to the client.
It's all about keeping the IT aspect of the business invisible, letting it smoothly support operations without becoming a roadblock. Every complex system does need a steady pair of eyes and consistent care to keep running smoothly, and that's where our team shines. We're always there, always watching, and always making sure things are just as they need to be.
Strengthening Security with Strategic Planning and People-focused Education.
On the other hand, strategic IT planning and security management are part of my team's responsibilities. Security is particularly important because a malicious actor can disrupt an otherwise smooth-running operation. This requires us to harden the technology against threats and also work with the people in the organization because they can also be targeted. Until we can 'install antivirus' in people's brains, we need to meet with them, train them, and educate them about best practices, like how to use email safely and what threats to be wary of.
People are often contacted and persuaded to act against their best interest. Education is a way we can combat these threats by preparing our team to handle such situations.
Asking 'what is the right technology?' is not the most effective question.
Andy: Another cornerstone of our work at DeepNet is strategic advisory and planning. It's a key differentiator in a world full of MSPs. Any good service provider should be able to offer you strategic services because there are many correct solutions, but the quality of the question determines the quality of the solution.
Asking 'what is the right technology?' is not the most effective question. The better question is, 'what is the right technology for you?' and even better, 'what is the right technology for your business now and in the future, one that will enable your business plans for the coming years?' This is a key question to ask. If you're setting up a new production facility, for example, we need to consider what technology can best enhance your work. Should we invest in printers, or would iPads with a signature solution be more efficient? Making the right investments requires an understanding of both business priorities and technology. The goal is to leverage these two to ensure our clients can excel in their passion. While technology is not the end goal, it is an essential enabler. Therefore, choosing the correct enabler is critical to success, and that's something we can advise on.
Alan: That makes sense. In my experience, I’ve dealt with so many organizations where the quality of their systems heavily impacts their ability to provide a good customer experience. It’s almost like a barrier or a puzzle for their employees, and it’s utterly frustrating as a customer. So for me, it makes total sense that our technical advisory is helping the client first understand and then select the right technology and infrastructure for their organization to thrive.
Andy: Indeed, this work requires not just technical expertise but also business acumen, which is a rare combination. However, we can extend this skill set within our organization by developing and using technological standards. We analyze what a good organization looks like based on these standards, such as what constitutes good wifi. We then measure our clients against these benchmarks, which helps us identify the crucial areas that need improvement.
These determinations are the output of a framework that we’ve developed based on the collective experience of our industry & technical knowledge. As a team, we’ll identify specific domains that appear to be under performing, these then become our focus. We start looking into what the issues might be, how we can plan to resolve them, what solutions might work, and the budgetary considerations.
Alan: Absolutely love this approach!
Continuous Refinement and Improvement of Our Standards.
Andy: We're also working on refining our roadmap process to consistently and objectively measure against what our collective experience says is good. This analysis keeps our work consistent, enables more team members to perform this work, and serves as a useful tool for our clients. It gives us a way to show them what we're doing behind the scenes. We provide them with a comprehensive list of areas we've evaluated, and they can see and understand where they're performing well. We revisit this evaluation regularly to keep things up to date.
Alan: It seems to me that by taking a sample audience or an example from our different industries or clients, and then finding the best practices from those, we're essentially maintaining checks and balances on the quality of our work.
Andy: Sure, we all sit down as a group and debate it. For example, you get a group of high-level technical people in a room and throw a controversial topic on the table, such as whether or not to use Linux in an organization. One side may agree while the other side may disagree. However, we debate it and eventually come to a high-quality answer. This answer is then delivered to the clients, this system delivers consistency and visible value to the clients.
Key Considerations When It Comes to IT Spend & Budgeting.
Alan: What would be some key points where we've noticed clients miscalculating their IT budget? Are there any quick wins versus long-term or hard versus soft savings?
Andy: A key area is the lifecycle management of software and hardware. When an employee leaves, it's important to turn off their software licenses and possibly recycle their hardware. Lifecycle activities are often a huge problem in organizations and can be a big challenge for MSPs.
Andy: Right-sizing software, reviewing contracts, and performing lifecycle analysis can result in significant savings. Many of these cloud platforms should be negotiated to get a better deal. This involves contract negotiations and ensuring licenses are cut and re-provisioned to somebody else when someone leaves. These are areas where we see a lot of low hanging fruit.
Conclusions - Alan:
We agreed that strategic thinking, solving issues before they arise, and smooth tech integration are key & that a top-tier MSP doesn't force tech to the forefront, but lets it blend seamlessly with the organization's needs, bolstering security and efficiency. It's not just about having any tech, but the right tech for your business's now and future.