Why service providers need network analytics – Part 2

In part 1, we considered the desire of managed service providers, third-party maintenance providers and value-added resellers to speed up their offerings. As competition grows, it is natural that the speed of delivery becomes an ever more important differentiator in sales. The ultimate ambition for providers in this respect is to move from reactive break/fix models to a proactive offering. Having discussed the reasons for this emphasis, we will now will look into an important way in which network analytics will help service providers achieve this goal.

Uniting the big data ecosystem for service providers

Data is everywhere Data is the currency on which digitalization runs – it is ever growing in quantity and quality, across all parts of the network. More and more devices become available all the time, all collecting ever greater volumes of data. At the same time, new technologies are always developing that can harvest and harness this data for the benefit of the business. Service providers cannot expect to increase their efficiency without it.

Why is this so important to MSPs, TPMs and VARs? The key point to remember is that data quantity and quality will directly impact customer experience, and there is no greater driving force for business success than excellent customer experience. We already know how fierce the competition is amongst the service provider industries, and in this environment, every advantage becomes crucial in the race to stay ahead of the competition.
There is data available in every part of the network, and all of it can be used to gain an advantage. Taking on increasing responsibility for their customers’ IT services, MSPs, TPMs and VARs are well positioned to take advantage of this fact, as a revenue source of its own and as a means of becoming more familiar with the workings of their customers’ businesses. Further, each of these industries will already likely have a familiarity with the appropriate technology requirements, because of their break/fix backgrounds. With readily available, high quality data, these vendors can switch from hardware break/fix and replacement to a solutions-oriented delivery. This importance applies to consultancy as well. Does the network data suggest the business is growing? No problem – the vendor has already spotted this for the customer, and can advise accordingly.

The big data industry will bring in revenue of over $65bn in 2018.

The Big Data Market: 2018-2030 – Opportunities, Challenges, Strategies, Industry Verticals & Forecasts (SNS Telecom), 2018

 

At the foundation of any big data project must be a comprehensive monitoring solution that is able to integrate easily with other tools, such as application and log monitors. Utilizing APIs will enable the vendor to unite their toolsets, and the customer can work in an open environment with the vendor’s offering and whichever other tools they may desire to use. No two customers are the same, and so it is critically important for vendors to deliver a flexible offering that plays well with others. This maximizes data collection and customer satisfaction – competition is so great that an unhappy customer will always have other options available. Therefore, data can easily be pulled from all available sources without the creation of silos, so ensuring the quantity and consistency of data.
Holistic network analytics and management Customer experience depends on service delivery, which can only be guaranteed when the network is performing at its best. Through utilizing the insights provided by network analytics to maximize network uptime, vendors can help customers achieve their business goals – when the network performs, so does the business.
Every business is different, of course, and MSPs, TPMs and VARs all operate differently. However, each requires its full business functionality and potential to pull in the same direction. A comprehensive network analytics system can link the tools already in play, and the enhance provision for the hardware and assets that they cater for. A move to service provision will not remove the physical aspect of digitalization – the devices and components that make up customers’ networks will continue to need maintenance. The diversity of equipment needs a unified management hub, and network management and monitoring connects all of the dots. Hardware maintenance will not go away, and the data analytics available from insightful network analytics will increase equipment efficiency.

When considering third-party maintenance services, 78% of IT managers were influenced by the ability to employ equipment for its entire useful life.

5 Signs Third Party Maintenance is Poised for Growth (Curvature), 2016

Digitalizing and enhancing service and maintenance operations with unified, all-in-one network monitoring increases efficiencies and therefore customer service and value. Monitoring the entire IT suite enables vendors to introduce greater automation that might help fix issues without needing to dispatch an IT or network engineer. It also provides the foundation for the next generation of technologies that aim to augment engineering performance – machine learning. Data will only increase, and machine learning algorithms are designed to meet this challenge.

Presently, machine learning is still a developing, rather than a mature, technology. However, even at the most basic level, machine learning is already helping service provider vendors save money and increase efficiency through automation of chat assistance. For example, SupportBots LLC estimates their machine learning-fed chatbots can save MSPs more than $600 per month for each technician answering customer tickets.

Even amongst those service providers that already boast predictive maintenance solutions, hardware expenditure has often been considered nonstrategic and therefore an easy target for cost-cutting and downgraded significance. However, with the growth in the value of data, the network is now recognized for its overall importance to business revenue – all IT investment will now impact revenue. As a result, leaders of both service vendors and customers are searching for solutions to increase network uptime and productivity.

In 2016, 71% of MSPs offered network management, with another 28% planning to do so.

5th Annual Trends in Managed Services (Comptia), 2016

A holistic approach to asset maintenance and overall business operations are both necessary if vendors and their customers are to gain the full value of big data. This is especially crucial for TPMs, which traditionally have only supplied hardware maintenance. It is also only possible with a comprehensive strategy for maintaining and enhancing the underlying network. Without network-layer insight provided by network analytics, vendors will be unable to deliver the service demanded by customers and the growth demanded by the C-suite.
Stay competitive in the face of OEMs One of the biggest threats to service providers comes from the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) themselves. A common technique employed by OEMs is the ‘fear, uncertainty, doubt’ (FUD) method of discrediting the service provider’s offerings. This revolves around varied tactics that question a service provider’s qualification to offer support, compatibility or configuration, amongst others. There are truths in some of these questions – the OEM built the equipment to begin with, after all. Further, many hardware providers are attempting to use their existing scale and IT knowledge to move beyond their original hardware offering to compete with service providers that might utilize the same product families. Telcos, for example, are particularly active in this area, and are looking to grow beyond basic voice and data services.

Many telcos and independent software vendors are moving downmarket and eroding the MSP marketshare.

Five Trends to Impact Managed Service Providers in 2018 (CloudJumper), 2017

In the face of competition that questions the very legitimacy of a vendor’s offering, a fully integrated network monitoring and management is all the more necessary for proactively monitoring devices, components and ports across a network. A vendor that can actively demonstrate its ability to manage, monitor and enhance equipment not just from one OEM but many – and across the entire IT suite – will maintain an edge over the OEMs and independent software vendors (ISVs) that might focus on just one product family.
In the age of the customer, it has become essential that software offers an intuitive user experience. It is now possible for many IT employees, who may not necessarily be considered technical experts, to assist with the collection and processing of data from their networks. This development further reduces the necessity of relying upon the OEM or ISV for functionality, because access to data analytics is now more democratized. Utilizing and offering network software that is more intuitive and requires less technical knowledge gives service providers the opportunity to empower their customers like never before. Technical and hiring costs will drop, too, with fewer required network engineers.

The lines between sales, marketing and customer success are blurred. In the accelerating business world, growth is so dependent upon the seamless collaboration of people, channels and technology that there can be no distinct separation between each. The same applies to the IT data that forms the foundation of all growth. Service providers that can offer a unified IT service will hold an advantage over competitors with less complete solutions – and by ensuring everything remains connected and performing, network analytics software is at the heart of this unity.

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