keep up with the cloudChances are, your clients are already spending a fair amount of time in a virtual environment, whether at work, at home, or out on the road. Through Apple, Google, Amazon, and a variety of other vendors, consumers are increasingly more familiar with cloud services, and many are bringing those solutions to work with them.  That familiarity not only makes it easier for workers to adapt to the latest solutions being introduced in the office, but it drives awareness and demand for more cutting edge technologies and services.

Today’s web-connected population is more comfortable with IT than ever before, with a majority of the workforce well versed in computers—including those that started using them as toddlers or at an elementary grade level . That familiarity continues to knock down the walls that used to exist between end users and solution providers, as the consumers of cloud continue to bring new technology discoveries to their employers. If management decides that these systems make sense and move forward, they don’t always involve their managed service providers in the planning stage.

In rare cases, companies may actually implement and deploy cloud services without the knowledge of their MSP. That may involve something as innocent as adding a lead generation application for the marketing team, or a web-based call recording service for the sales or customer service departments.

Those may turn out to be costly decisions for clients without a clear understanding of their network and security controls, creating major headaches for the provider that knew nothing about it. With public IT cloud services expected to generate $72.9 billion annually by 2015 (according to research company IDC), these situations are sure to escalate and continue to threaten provider/business client relationships.

Of course, when businesses make changes or add new programs into their corporate infrastructure without the advice or support of their providers, it can jeopardize data security, reduce system productivity and add preventable maintenance costs. Those issues can be lessened with continual client communication and solid SLAs, requiring the business to notify or consult with their MSP partner before making any additions or alterations to their computing environment.

When business clients do bring their technology (or application) ideas and needs to their provider, it’s a great opportunity to discuss the following factors, such as:

  1. Business need: is it a priority investment or distraction?
  2. Long-term cost/value: are there other expenses associated with this service, immediate as well as in the future?
  3. Security risks: will it compromise data and network protection or industry compliance?
  4. Scalability: if corporate-wide, can it support the company’s employees in 3-5 years?

Communication is just one factor in keeping a handle on your clients’ cloud needs and capabilities. Vendor management may play a bigger role, giving providers greater control over the IT infrastructure to prevent interoperability and security issues that can occur when multiple companies gain access to a single network. Without this responsibility, MSPs may find themselves left out of key cloud technology business decisions.

Vendor management should be presented a valuable service, and providers need to make sure their clients don’t see it as a power grab. Its benefits should be stressed, as MSPs assume the stress from negotiating with and directing multiple suppliers. That coordination leads to greater customer service levels and improved communications, especially when large projects or ongoing support is involved. By assuming vendor management responsibilities, MSPs are also in a better position to protect their clients’ infrastructure and meet their industry compliance requirements. It also gives them greater control of the network, allowing them to block or remove rogue and unapproved cloud applications.

Of course, consultation services and professional advice are real differentiators for any MSP business, allowing them to successfully support the continually changing needs of their clients. Some may refer to this type of “control” in a negative manner, but when it comes to selecting new technologies and delivery systems (such as cloud services), it’s a service that many SMB organizations truly appreciate.

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