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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

Managed services in the SMB channel

What is the current state of managed services in the channel?

Techaisle’s SMB global channel partner research shows that in the US 71% are currently offering one or more managed services solutions and another 18% are planning to offer managed services within one year. Techaisle believes that the channel is at the beginning of a migration from generalist to specialist firms that will play out over the next few years. With that in mind, it is fair to ask, how widespread is managed services delivery today?

Figure below, taken from Techaisle’s US SMB Managed Services Channel Study illustrates the proportion of channel partners that currently offer managed services to SMBs. Unsurprisingly, 100% of MSPs report that they do so. What might be more surprising is the extent to which channel members with other core business models provide managed services to their SMB clients. Roughly two-thirds of VARs and SPs, and 80% of SIs, offer managed services to SMB customers. IT consultants are less likely to do so, but here, too, one-third of firms are already using managed services delivery to support SMB clients.

techaisle-us-smb-channel-managed-services-current-planned-resized

Above data demonstrates that there has been and continues to be substantial take-up in managed services as a business delivery model outside of MSPs. This will help to build SMB customer awareness of the benefits of the approach and comfort with managed services as a delivery model. It will also have a positive impact on the channel generally, as experience with managed services helps build channel familiarity with recurring revenue models which will be important in other important channel business areas, such as cloud.

Comfort level with – and profitability of – managed services

Clearly, SMB channel members of many types are investing in developing managed services capabilities. This trend begs the question, to what extent are these firms benefitting from these investments?

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SMB cloud and MSP channel business by the numbers

A strictly “by the numbers” review of the state of the SMB channel in the US paints a portrait of a well-balanced but fragmenting industry. Techaisle’s survey of SMB channel partners finds that revenues from products and services are approximately equal, and that services revenue are being derived from transactions that do not include products as well as from product-inclusive deals. SMB channel respondents report that 58% of revenue is attributable to services-led contracts and that a similar proportion of revenue is derived from recurring sources, vastly different from 2012, 2013 and 2014.

It is worth noting that while measures of this type provide a very useful benchmark for channel partners, some interpretation of the benchmark data is necessary. For example, the proportion of business attributable to services is only part of the issue that SMB channel management is wrestling with: what kind of services (for example, managed PCs or device maintenance?) is an important consideration in evaluating the impact of a channel services revenue stream.

Similarly, growth in services revenue is not necessarily a proxy for progress, as it can result from simple reductions in product revenue rather than effective transition to a business model properly aligned with the market as a whole. Techaisle believes that SMB channel partners that are looking to be part of the “managed services” channel should be targeting just over 20% of services revenue derived from managed services in 2016, and more than 40% by 2018.

The revenue growth expectations are also interesting. Although 63% of SMB channel partners are expecting revenue increases in the next one year, the scenario is quite dismal for VARs as compared to MSPs. 54% more VARs than MSPs are expecting their revenues to remain flat and a percentage of VARs are expecting their revenues to decline by an average of 30%. Even some MSPs are expecting their revenues to decline by an average of 20%.

However, the overall optimism for growth provides some insight into how and where the channel is growing.

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Technology sprawl driving SMB and Midmarket IT Staff increases

Techaisle’s SMB and Midmarket Managed Services Adoption Trends research shows that contrary to popular belief IT Staffing within SMBs is growing and the percent of businesses with full-time IT staff has increased for 50-999 employee size businesses and even the average no. of IT staff has tripled for midmarket businesses in 2015 from 2010.

Today’s SMBs are heavily invested in an ever-widening portfolio of technology initiatives. For example, on average, US SMBs have current active initiatives in 5.1 technology areas, and midmarket businesses are working in an average of 10.3 different areas – each of which (like cloud or mobility) involve multiple discrete activities.

Techaisle’s SMB survey trend illustrates the IT staffing impact of this expanding IT solution activity. Figure below presents statistics on full-time IT staff from 2010 and 2015. It demonstrates that small and midmarket businesses have sharply different approaches to coping with IT solution sprawl. In businesses with 50 or more employees staffing levels are increasing dramatically. In this segment, not only percent of businesses with full-time internal IT staff has increased in the last five years but the average number IT staff has tripled.

techaisle-smb-midmarket-it-staffing-levels-resized

In microbusinesses with 1-19 employees, the trend is exactly the reverse: these firms are unable to keep pace with IT expansion through internal IT staff, and have moved to other approaches to cope with sprawl and complexity. Data indicates that only 4% of microbusinesses have full-time internal IT staff. In the next tier of small businesses (20-99 employees), 28% of firms have outsourced IT, vs. just 23% relying on full-time internal IT staff; the balance report that they depend on part-time internal IT staff (18%), internal non-IT staff (14%), or that “nobody manages IT” (17%). It is easy to say that this last group is courting disaster in an increasingly IT-centric world, and there is certainly truth to that assertion – but the findings are reflective of the cost and complexity associated with delivering a corporate service that is proving to be very cost- and labor-intensive.

The trend towards increased IT staffing levels also reflects the growing importance of technology within SMB operations. As Figure below illustrates, nearly 75% of businesses with 1-9 employees, and nearly 100% of those with 500-999 employees, consider technology to be “somewhat” or “very important” to their business success, and this importance is rising. 26%-47% of SMB respondents believe that their companies are more dependent on technology today than they were a year ago.

techaisle-smb-midmarket-technology-dependency-resized

IT is trying to move away from implementations to more strategic roles. But for that SMBs require expertise, skill-sets, time to research and identify appropriate technology. When IT vendors mention simplifying IT for SMBs they couch it as a means of helping SMBs because they lack IT staff (which data demonstrates is far from actual reality). The growing number and penetration of SMB IT staff themselves are asking for simplification of technology due to inherent sprawl and complexity of technology.

The phrase “sprawl and complexity” describes two linked problems for SMBs. Sprawl is apparent in the wide range of technologies included within current solution portfolios. The compounding issue, though, is that SMBs are not just dealing with more technology, but with more complex technology. This in turn is driving SMBs to hire more IT staff.

Consider the figure below, which reflects the attitudes of IT-responsible managers (ITDMs) within SMBs. Asked to describe their opinions regarding IT complexity, the most common response is “IT vendors should simplify technology.” Frighteningly (or embarrassingly) for suppliers, the second most common response is “we are ignoring” potentially-useful technologies, followed by observations that technology-related pain points are increasing, and current technology is more difficult to understand than previous-generation solutions.

techaisle-smb-perceptions-it-complexity-resized

There is a clear set of messages for suppliers in this data.

  • There is no status quo of "lack of IT staff"
  • IT staffing within SMBs has undergone a change. “We have simplified technology because SMBs do not have IT staff” is the wrong messaging
  • Simplification is required to ensure that SMBs actually embrace new products and their growing IT staff is freed-up to focus on strategic business issues
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SMB managed services adoption increases amidst acquisition challenges

SMB Current and Planned adoption
Techaisle’s SMB Managed Services adoption study (US, UK, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, China) shows that a substantial and rapidly-growing segment of SMBs across different geographies are using some combination of managed services to support IT and business requirements. Drilling into the US data, 40% of SMBs are currently using one or more types of managed services, increase of 21% from a year ago. Take-up of managed services within micro businesses is relatively low but doubles within the 10-19 employee size businesses. Techaisle survey data also shows that confusion around what managed services is and how they work has a negative impact on take-up in this segment, reinforcing the importance of education to building acceptance within this market.

Managed services usage rates are far higher within larger SMBs. Firms with 20-499 employees, who are trying to scale IT faster than can be achieved through in-house staff, are very avid users of managed services. Larger midmarket firms, where managed services is often a means of augmenting current staff (to deliver on niche specialities and/or to cover standard tasks so that in-house resources can move on to new initiatives), are also heavy users of managed services.

As impressive as these figures are, the ranks of managed services SMB users are poised to swell further within the next 12-24 months. Survey responses from companies with 1-9 employees indicate that the proportion of very small businesses using one or more managed services will double during this period. Growth within other SMB e-size segments will be less dramatic, but aggressive nonetheless.

The combination of increased reliance on technology as a key element of business success (as shown in the study), burgeoning complexity and cost constraint has created a “perfect storm” for use of managed services. SMBs are not just dealing with more technology, but with more complex technology.

SMB Managed Services acquisition challenges
A question exploring the issue of “what are the toughest challenges faced by SMBs when purchasing managed services” in the Techaisle SMB Managed Services Adoption Trends survey found four broad challenges: 1/ identifying solutions that address operational support requirements, 2/ selection of qualified providers, 3/ presenting a valid business case to senior management, and 4/ available funding.

The primacy of these issues changes with employee size:

  • Microbusinesses (1-19 employees) struggle most with finding appropriate suppliers – MSPs who understand and can work with companies that lack internal IT resources.
  • Small businesses (20-99 employees) struggle most with providing a valid business case to management. These firms are on the line separating the “managed services as a replacement for in-house staff” approach of microbusinesses and the “managed services as a means of augmenting IT management” approach of larger SMBs. At least in some cases, management considers outsourced services to be an either/or proposition rather than an “and” and needs help in understanding why a mixed approach to IT service delivery makes both technical and economic sense.
  • Available funding is the key issue for smaller midmarket (100-499 employees) businesses. These firms are pulled between the need to keep pace with IT opportunities and requirements (as defined by larger competitors) and the need to watch cash flow very carefully (as is the case with small businesses).
  • Larger midmarket firms (500-999 employees) are challenged primarily by identifying solutions addressing operational support requirements. These companies have specific needs and require complex solutions. It’s telling that it is also a challenge for these firms to find qualified suppliers and to develop a business case that can be absorbed by senior management.

SMB's use careful evaluation of supplier and platform
Techaisle’s corresponding SMB Channel Partners trend study (survey across several countries) and The State of US SMB Managed Services Channel study shows that the percent of US SMB channel partners offering managed services has increased to 71% from just below 70% in 2013.

There is a tight connection between managed services supply and demand. The interaction between SMB buyers and the firms that supply managed services is important to the vibrancy of the managed services market. The SMB Managed Services Adoption Trends explored some of the key issues in supplier evaluation and managed services sourcing. Once a relationship has been struck, SMBs and managed service providers need to connect effectively through the managed service delivery platform. Survey results indicate that there are five key elements that are integral to a compelling platform and SMBs use an average of 3.2 factors for MSP evaluation criteria.

SMB MSP fragmentation and coming channel transformation
Techaisle believes that the channel is at the beginning of a migration from generalist to specialist firms that will play out over the next few years. The variety and depth of managed services will make it difficult for non-specialists to keep pace with MSP specialists. Techaisle survey trend data clearly reveals that SMB channel partners have hit a point of fragmentation: they can be all things to all people today, but not in 2018. On this topic and more in Techaisle’s channel subscription services consisting of:

Related research areas

  • SMB Channel Trends
  • The State of SMB Cloud Channel
  • The State of SMB Managed Services Channel
  • The State of SMB Virtualization Channel
  • The State of SMB Mobility Channel

and corresponding SMB coverage:

  • SMB Cloud Adoption Trends
  • SMB Mobility Adoption Trends
  • SMB Managed Services Adoption Trends
  • SMB Virtualization and Converged Infrastructure Adoption Trends
  • SMB Collaboration Adoption Trends
  • SMB IT Decision Makers: TDM vs. LoB
  • SMB Big Data Adoption Trends
  • SMB Security Adoption Trends
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