Projects the key to MSP success

The advice from the boss of longstanding MSP Circle IT is to increase the amount of projects to gain higher value business

A couple of years ago the path to becoming a successful managed services player seemed to be fairly clear and involved developing and then standardising an approach that could be rolled out to customers of all shapes and sizes.

Having made an investment in the management tools and chosen which vendor pieces of the jigsaw to put in place for backup, security, email and so on all the MSP had to worry about was getting customers on board and getting its agents installed on their systems.

The hard part seemed to be all about the process of establishing a managed services model and transitioning staff and customers to a different way of selling and buying technology and support.

But a couple of years down the line and a catch up with one of those at the vanguard of the original wave of MSPs provides an insight into what makes a successful business work in 2015.

Roger Harry, CEO of Circle IT, has been in the MSP space for several years and has appeared regularly at channel events to talk to other partners about how his business works and to provide advice about how they can change their operation to become one selling services.

Two and a half years ago when he took to the stage at a Kaysea event, supported by MicroScope, his advice to partners was to establish a model that was standardised and then look forward to watching the monthly recurring revenues grow as more customers signed up.

Although that is still a major part of his business the focus has shifted since that event and if he had one word to share with those looking to make it work as an MSP then he would urge them to think 'projects'.

For him it started at an event where he was talking about being an MSP in South Wales and telling the story of his business when he was approached over coffee by someone who worked in further education. One thing led to another and a project was struck to supply that customer and then again when the contact moved to another role in Milton Keynes.

As a result of increasing project work with the public sector and enterprise customers Circle IT has had to invest in its own operations to make sure it can deliver the value to those customers. "We have very highly skilled people who are not generalists," adds Harry, "Staffing is more around the project staff and support...what we are expected to deliver is significantly different now".

At the low end of the MSP market there is a danger that it is becoming commoditised and as a result getting harder to stand out from the crowd, whereas projects require investment in time and people and can provide much greater returns.

The ambitions for Circle are to develop even further its projects business and build on the education and council deals that it has sealed in the past couple of years and increase its high value pipeline.

For those MSPs starting out on the services journey the advice is not just to rely on the standardised approach but to deliver some form of expertise that will make the business stand out from the competition. While the traditional services are still in demand there are also plenty of opportunities for customised support.

For Harry, who has been banging the drum on managed services from the start, the latest advice gives an indication of how the market is maturing and how it will be those that have really invested in service delivery that will gain the revenues.

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