The cloud is great for users, but for services providers, it presents new challenges. Being a services provider has historically meant providing, well, services: design, support, backups and a great deal more. The more services you provided to a customer, the more revenue you’d earn.
That worked in the past, because most on-premises products offered so many options.
But today’s cloud products are different. They’re clearly defined services.
Take Office 365; essentially, it is what it is. To be sure, options exist, but not nearly as many as we had with yesteryear’s on-premises products. To a large extent, the up-front design work, configuration and other decisions of the past have flown out the window. As for all that value we used to offer? It’s pretty much gone, too. So what do we do now?
At Perspicuity, our solution has been to “productize” the customer’s migration to the cloud. We do this by focusing our customers not on technologies, but outcomes. In fact, as far as our customers are concerned, all migrations to the cloud are the same, they cost the same, and they deliver the same outcomes. That’s a buying notion our customers like, in large part because it’s very similar to their reason for wanting cloud services like Office 365 in the first place. Where they find technologies complex and often confusing, they see outcomes as clear, straightforward and easy to understand.
Productizing cloud migrations is a true win for both sides. It gives Perspicuity a way to add value for our customers and grow our business. It also gives our customers a straightforward way to work with us — and an appealing way for them to migrate to the cloud.
Of course, from a services provider’s perspective, migrating to the cloud is anything but simple. Consider email migrations, where every source environment is unique. Some customer environments are out of date, others are unreliable, while still others have become too costly to support. With no two migrations exactly the same, how can we offer a flat fee?
The answer is through volume and averaging; that is, by taking the rough with the smooth. We know up front that some migrations will be easy, and others will be hard. It mostly averages out. Also, thanks to
our extensive experience, if we find a source environment that’s in such a bad state, we can’t start our fixed-fee engagement process, we can either work with the customer to stabilize their environment or, if they aren’t ready to make that investment, just walk away. The latter happens, but it’s incredibly rare.
Typically, when a customer engages with us, we first take them through a consultation on the cloud journey. For example, for a client that had an out-of-date email system, we showed them how we could get them up to date with not only email, but also all Office applications. Then we walked them though the migration to Office 365, explaining what would be involved and, most important, what the final result would deliver. We emphasized the fact that they would be moving from an email setup that was unreliable to one that would be highly reliable.
Once that’s done, we discuss other aspects of the project, such as security. For example, when employees leave or are dismissed, how does the organization want to prevent them from taking valuable data? Another common topic is collaborating with documents. Here we’ll ask: Is there a way to make collaborative work easier, faster, and with a “single version of the truth”? For our customers, these conversations are engaging, interesting and often exciting.
New opportunities open up on a regular basis, too. We began with a productized service for Office 365, and early this year, we added a similar service for SharePoint Intranet. Sure, many clients want intranet features with their own branding, look and feel, security and other unique functions. But once again, we’ve been able to put the complex jobs together with the simple ones, allowing us to offer a fixed price for a fixed outcome. That’s our way of productizing SharePoint Intranet.
Customers like it, too. SharePoint offers so many functions and features, projects had a way of running out of control. We’re able to help by letting customers take a strong, solid first step into SharePoint — without spending huge amounts of money and with a clearly defined outcome. Today’s cloud customers don’t want vague. Instead, they want clarity on what they’re going to get, how they’re going to get it, and when it’s going to be delivered. By productizing the cloud, we give them the same buying and delivery experience they get when they’re buying a cloud service in the first instance.
To be clear, productizing the cloud does not eliminate the human element. There’s still plenty of creativity involved in creating the customer’s deliverables. The goal isn’t to put your developers out of work, but to channel their efforts in to developing IP, creating better outcomes for a large number of your customers.
Another benefit of productizing the cloud for us is working with channel partners, especially in sales. We see customer-facing partners as a fundamental way to get more feet on the street. So we’ve developed a concise engagement model for our channel partners. And we’ve found that by working with partners, we can service more customers and grow the business more quickly and in a more measured fashion.
Our channel partners are clear and open with their customers about working with us. These days, trying to white-label or pretend to be part of another company when you’re really not is perilous. It’s far better for our partners to be honest and say, essentially, “We’ve brought in experts to help.” Our customers understand and are happy with the arrangement.
Microsoft is helping, too. The company recently launched a program aimed at bringing together big resellers and small specialists, and we’re getting involved. This program will let us continue to specialize on a handful of technologies, develop our expertise, and focus on what customers care most about — their outcomes.
Ben Gower is the founder and CEO of Perspicuity, a U.K.-based IT services provider specializing in Microsoft technologies.