There is no Margin for Error in Azure it’s Strictly Bill Room

Nick Booth finds some inspiration in what Microsoft partner Astel Systems has been doing to deliver cloud services

As a copy writing hack I helped devise a Microsoft partnership event once. Strictly Ballroom was just coming into fashion, so we thought that rather than lecture people about the importance of partnership we’d speak to them through the medium of dance.

The ‘It Takes Two to Tango’ evening was a tremendous success, I hear. (Shame they didn’t invent the writer, but hey ho).

As dance partners led each other around the room, the themes of team work, consent and mutual respect were re-inforced. Afterwards, the fired up resellers all clambered into their BMWs with a renewed sense of purpose, determined to sell more kit.

The days of instant gratification are long gone, sadly. These days, you’re selling services, which is a long commitment. No more jumping into bed, installing your kit and then scarpering for the exit. No, it’s a lot more complicated now. There is a lot of handholding involved and aftercare. Still you do get the stability of continuing revenue streams.

The problem for many IT resellers turned service providers is that billing is far more fiddly and complex. There are so many moving parts to keep track of. The variables include licensing, CPU usage, memory, storage and anything else that can be monitored by a machine and mismanaged by a human.

Sadly, many resellers haven’t entirely made the transition to service provider. There are certain giveaways, like the fact that they try to keep tabs of everything on a spreadsheet, rather than a modern, sophisticated, all seeing billing system.

It’s here that the telecoms dealers are way ahead of their rivals in the channel, the IT resellers. Telecoms dealers are used to managing billing systems that have an omnipotence that makes Blockchain look like an abacus.

This is why Astel Systems, founded on telecoms billing expertise forged at Logica CMG, has been going great guns in Microsoft’s channel. If they held another ballroom dancing event, all the other dancers would clear the floor and watch founder and CEO Alkesh Singh doing the Charleston all over everyone else’s cloud efforts.

Astel carried off the glittering prize of the Microsoft South Africa MD’s award at the Microsoft Cloud Partners Event in 2017. So they must know what they’re doing.

Observers of Astel’s dancing style will note that it is a very economical mover and yet it covers a lot of ground. That’s not an easy one to pull off. It achieves this as a consequence of its GlobillCSP system, which captures everything in its minutest detail.

While other Microsoft cloud partners are stiffly moving across the rows and columns of Excel, Astel can tap out a rhythm that Azure will syncopate with.

Spreadsheets can never tell the whole story. “Many Microsoft cloud partners are underbilling by as much as twenty per cent,” says Singh. The problem is that with Azure, everything moves so quickly and it’s hard to keep up.

“The cloud service providers have underestimated the cost of support and operations,” says Singh. 

GlobillCSP is an end-to-end operations platform that helps Microsoft CSPs (both direct and indirect partners) efficiently manage their customer lifecycle. CSPs use it to rate customers’ Azure usage and bill for cloud services.

Benefits include: reduction of new customer onboarding time by up to 50%, completion of the entire billing process for 10,000 customers within 30 minutes, and the ability to generate offers, promotions, quotations and trials quickly.

The cloud has confused a lot of people, as there’s a lack of clarity. “It’s been a struggle for many in the channel to provide on-premise licencing to cloud. We take away the fuzziness,” says Singh.

At this point, another dancer cuts in and takes over. His name badge says he is Paul Wrench, UK General Manager and Global Operations Director.

By necessity, Microsoft took the generous step of undertaking a cost transference in order to motivate the channel, Wrench says. This handed resellers of Azure and 365 services bigger margins, but unless they keep on top of them those profits will be whittled away.

“Microsoft copied the wholesale telco model, but there is a pain point if you don’t keep up.  It will bill you for your use of the platform but it’s your responsibility to identify all the costs correctly,” says Wrench.

There’s a lot of steps to keep up with. Licensing, CRM, Office 365, and all the new microsteps that the cloud has introduced - units of CPU, storage and memory usage.

One amateur cloud service provider was losing £4,000 a month - its arms were doing one thing, but its feet were all over the place.

Companies typically can spend 100 man hours a week managing their customers. Astel claims it can make you cover the same ground in a fraction of the time. This can net each Microsoft partner a prize of up to £100,000 in savings.

For now Astel is a loyal partner to Microsoft. But soon it could find itself dancing or skipping the light fantastic on other platforms. A bravura performance.

Judges, your marks please!

This was last published in January 2018

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