Cloud MSP Leaders Discuss The Challenges & Solutions For Customers in 2021
We decided to end the year with something a little different by hosting a digital panel for our final webinar of 2020. We were lucky enough to be joined by a group of seriously knowledgeable cloud MSP experts to delve into the challenges and solutions for their customers in 2021.
With over 60 years of combined cloud experience, we were able to take away some invaluable insight into how 2020 has been for the market and what we can learn from it. We discussed all the common hurdles many technology leaders face like staying connected during the pandemic, as well as looking closely at what MSP customers can expect from the year ahead.
So who was on our panel of cloud and technology specialists? We were joined by; Rob Quickenden, Chief Strategy Officer for Cisilion, James Henigan, General Manager of Cloud Services for Six Degrees Group, Peter Vasey, Head of Technical Services at Modality Systems, Paul Lees, CEO of Bespin Labs, and last but not least, Graham Followell, CIO of Henley Management.
This year has been full of challenges, so we decided to kick off the call by looking at the effect the last year has had on the MSP space and exploring how the industry may need to adapt: not just from a technological perspective but from a people and culture perspective too.
Everybody has been in cost saving mode since the pandemic hit, the impact of this spreads from supplier cuts to downsizing office space – both of which have had a significant effect on the MSP space. The rise in remote working was a major high point for the market, with every business under the sun looking to move their team to a fully-fledged, secure and connected home office.
While this provided a boost in utilisation of systems like Google Workspace and Office 365, senior decision makers have found themselves questioning whether it’s a sustainable way of working in the long term. We’ve touched on trying to embed the technology before building the remote working culture in past webinars and that continues to be a roadblock. According to our panel, many organisations are still desperate to return to the office with a number of them still reliant on office desktop computers and terminals for their teams to work efficiently.
Paul Lees offered up the perspective of a fully online and remote business model. Since Bespin Labs launched 10 years ago, long before the pandemic, Rob and his team have worked remotely with great success. This has meant they were lucky to be spared the upheaval of moving from office work to home working. The contrast between how Bespin Labs has adapted to the ‘new normal’ in comparison to office-based businesses has been stark.
He’s personally seen organisations attempt a “two tiered” hybrid working model with some staff working from home and others sticking to office-based work, a major concern around this is that it results in a cultural disparity between the two groups that inevitably results in a hit to their staff retention. Without well-embedded remote culture, those working from home begin to feel distant from those in the office and may eventually leave.
Another remote working native, James Henigan, raised the point that a lack of cameras on the majority of desktop machines actually makes hybrid working quite tricky for those relying on video calls with remote clients or colleagues. It means we can find ourselves feeling very “othered” depending on whether we sit on the remote or on-site side of the fence – this is something he’s noticed in the market and is something technology leaders must seek to combat.
Interconnectivity as a service
As an advocate for 100% homebased working, Paul implores business leaders to properly transform their ways of working to accommodate remote working rather than just enabling them to connect if they choose to. He stresses that connectivity isn’t just about sending emails, it’s about bringing every element of communication with your team online instead of letting it fall by the wayside until you’re back in each other’s company. This includes that crucial camaraderie aspect, or the “watercooler chat” as he calls it.
James echoed this by highlighting that it can be very difficult to get that remote working culture right, that the very nature of back to back video calls with customers means it can be harder to stay in touch with your team. He mentions that Microsoft have trialled blocking out time in their diaries just for chatting to one another to make sure none of that gets lost. Rob Quickenden brings up the use of “breakout rooms”, where clients will have a room on Teams that’s just for chatter amongst colleagues.
Interestingly, Graham Followell reiterated this method of staying connected as Henley Management also adopted a breakout room approach, aptly titled “The Office”. This means that members of the team can drop in and out to catch up with one another between video calls to mimic that organic conversation that occurs in the office. One major caveat is that managers are not permitted to sit in the main virtual office chat, it’s designed to be a place for the rest of the business to chat freely. In his experience this has shed some of the insecurity amongst members of team who are furloughed or worried about job security.
Rob points out that the technology to enable these virtual meetings has existed for some time, but the motivation to make use of it just wasn’t there yet. Now that everything has moved online, we’re actually communicating and collaborating more than we ever did in person. People are becoming accustomed to a certain level of communication that might not have been achieved when we were all in offices on a daily basis.
However it’s not without its own set of challenges, in a sales environment fully remote working might not be the best route. Additionally we can’t assume everyone has the same home life, where they have a quiet place to work, good internet connection and otherwise comfortable surroundings – this means that for many organisations the future of work is going to be hybrid.
Taking Paul’s comments into account, we need to look at closing that gap between office workers and home workers through more than just technology - that’s the real challenge for MSPs and technology leaders.
Looking to the future
Ultimately, the working world and the MSPs that help to keep it running have had to be more agile than ever during 2020. While it’s certainly had its moments, overall the experience has moved us on as a society and opened the door to new opportunities.
Bearing in mind that many businesses may well decide to go office-less in the future, Paul highlighted the exciting prospects of running a fully remote business. Being able to hire based solely on skill, experience and cultural fit rather than having to factor location into the mix provides a lot of freedom.
This was echoed by Rob when we recalls hiring one of their best solutions architects who lives on the opposite end of the country. Once upon a time, he wouldn’t have been considered for that role thanks to his location due to the need to be in the office 3 days a week – thanks to a remote culture he’s now one of their most productive members of staff and is doing great things for them.
Coming back to Graham’s point around easing your team’s tensions around home working, it’s imperative that we adjust our management styles to build that sense of security going forward. Peter Vasey raised the point of normalising output driven KPIs rather than monitoring online activity, this is the way Modality Systems has worked for years with no issues and it seems that “work is a thing you do, not a place you go” is becoming much more commonplace. This shift in mentality is going to be crucial in further embedding the remote working ethos we sorely need to succeed under these conditions.
With the impact of Brexit, vaccines and potential lockdowns yet to be seen, one thing is certain – MSPs are here to stay and are finding new ways to support us all into finding our ‘new normal’ once and for all.
We’ve got plenty more fantastic industry experts lined up for 2021 to take part in our webinar series. If you’d like to find out more or to get involved as a speaker yourself then please get in touch with Robert Taylor.