NEWS: Global Mentoring Solutions is now part of the Sherweb family. Click here to read more about the acquisition.

There is no better time than now to reflect back on the major channel events of 2013 and take some time to ponder what’s ahead for managed services providers. Few areas of the tech industry have seen as much action as the managed services space this year, between vendor and provider consolidation and a myriad of new tools and players.

Of course, some of the biggest changes for MSPs are internal, process and portfolio shifts that lead to greater profitability by reducing operational expenses or allowing companies to increase their revenue. These trends continue to improve provider opportunities and their ability to expand to new markets, helping extend the many advantages of managed services to a multitude of small and mid-size businesses. MSPs that employ effective tools and best practices, and monitor the inclinations of their peers and industry leaders, will likely be in a much better position to capture prospective clients. That’s why it’s so important for them to track the latest trends and evaluate how each will affect their own business, as well as the operations of each client.

Based on my observations and conversations with industry insiders, the managed services focal points for 2013 include:

1. Cutting-Edge Process Efficiencies: never has the speed and quality of customer support been scrutinized so closely. With a growing number of MSPs vying for contracts, managed service provision is quickly becoming a “buyer’s market.” High quality, cost-effective support is critical since businesses are so reliant on their technology today, so portfolio and service gaps are magnified.

While line card needs may vary, the more “cutting edge” options MSPs offer for support, the better their chances for securing new business and maintaining their current list of clientele. For example, video chat, instant messaging (IM), text and mobile apps can help increase communication between end users and the technical team, improving responsiveness and customer satisfaction.

Other productivity gains can be realized from tightening the integration between PSAs and other managed services tools, as well as accounting, quoting and other back-office applications. By streamlining and automating the processes that take place between these systems, MSPs often see substantial reductions in their labor costs as well as “human errors.”

2. Continued Growth of Cloud Solution Options: this recurring trend shows no signs of abating.

While the latest CompTIA research shows that 90% of companies claim to employ at least one web-based solution, a vast majority of their systems remain onsite (or physically loaded on a device). Organizations often start their cloud transformation with non-business critical applications and, after significant testing, begin to move their more important systems offsite.

Mobile technology and remote workforce growth continues to fuel the demand for this web delivery method, and the adoption rate for all three is expected to remain high for years to come. That’s why MSPs must focus their cloud efforts on solving the biggest needs of their clients, assessing the gaps and filling them with the most cost-effective solutions available. Regardless of security concerns and other negative feedback, businesses continue to adopt a variety of web-based solutions and providers should be involved in the acquisition and support processes—whether consulting or providing it all.

3. The Mobility Evolution

It’s not just about apps and email access anymore. Mobility is quickly moving into the next phase, where providers aim for an advanced level of “user experience” with the solutions they build and deliver. UC integration adds an extra layer of business value to the equation, giving employees the ability to better manage work calls while simultaneously accessing the information and systems to maximize their productivity. With a vast majority of businesses pushing their employees to use mobile technologies, it’s sure to be a great opportunity for MSPs.

4. Industry Consolidation

While this was the topic of one of my most recent blog posts (How Will Vendor Consolidation Affect Your Managed Services Business?), mergers and acquisitions have not been limited to the supplier side of the channel. So far this year, a number of prominent managed services companies have been acquired by not only peer organizations, but by vendors and telecoms and managed print suppliers.

For example, just last week Synoptek agreed to purchase FusionStorm’s Managed Services business.  MSPs must pay attention to how these acquisitions affect their markets and make changes to counter any actions by newly-leveraged competitors. When peers receive an influx of capital or gain access to new tools or other valued resources, they can quickly change a weak foe into a formidable opponent.

5. Discussion around the Internet of Things

Why would I emphasize a future technology opportunity as a trend? Managed services providers, as stewards of their clients’ networks and systems infrastructure must be looking 3-5 years ahead. Several vendors already discussing Internet of Things (IoT) fits is a concept that describes how the Internet will expand as physical items such as consumer devices and physical assets are connected to the Internet. Key elements of the IoT which are being embedded in a variety of mobile devices include embedded sensors, image recognition technologies and NFC payment. As a result, mobile no longer refers only to use of cellular handsets or tablets. Cellular technology is being embedded in many new types of devices including pharmaceutical containers and automobiles. Smartphones and other intelligent devices don’t just use the cellular network, they communicate via NFC, Bluetooth, LE and Wi-Fi to a wide range of devices and peripherals, such as wristwatch displays, healthcare sensors, smart posters, and home entertainment systems. The IoT will enable a wide range of new applications and services while raising many new challenges.