A Closer Look–Dell Managed Services for SMBs

Last April, I participated in Dell’s Managed Services launch for SMBs. At the event, Dell had a couple of customers on hand who were both very satisfied with the service. Later in the year, Dell asked my colleague Sanjeev Aggarwal and I to conduct a Dell-sponsored research study to learn more about how Dell Managed Services was working out for a broader group of early customers. This project was very interesting one for me because I’ve been looking at how managed services and cloud computing can benefit SMBs for quite some time.

Dell’s goal for this study was to get a better understanding of why SMBs are turning to managed services and why they chose Dell. Most importantly Dell also wanted to quantify time, cost and productivity benefits that customers are realizing from using Dell Managed Services. For the research, we conducted both in-depth one-on-one interviews with Dell Managed Services customers, and we also fielded a Web-based survey.

Next week, on February 25, I’ll share with you the key highlights about what we learned in our research during a webcast, “How to Solve Your IT Management Dilemma.” During the webcast.  I’ll discuss key study findings, including:

  • The business and IT demands that small and medium businesses are facing.
  • Why they are turning to managed services.
  • The measurable results that customers are getting from Dell Managed Services in terms of time and cost savings, and productivity gains.

For example, on average, respondents’ annual downtime decreased by more than 50% after deploying Dell Managed Services, and 89% say the service is freeing up time so that they concentrate resources on more strategic business requirements.

The webcast which will also feature Tom Myers, President, The Myers Group, Inc., one of Dell’s Managed Services customers, talking about his first-hand experience with the service. Jim Roth, Director, Dell Small and Medium Business Services, will provide participants with links to the two research papers that document the findings in detail.

By the way, in my post last year about the service, I also suggested that Dell should come up with something a bit less clunky than “ProManage Managed Services” as the name of this solution—and I’m happy to report that they’ve done this. Based on results from this study, it also looks like Dell Managed Services is helping to lift the IT maintenance and management burden off SMBs’ shoulders, giving them more time to focus on running their businesses.

What are Managed Services, and Why Should You Care?

(Originally published in Small Business Computing, September 25, 2009)

Technology insiders tend to throw around technical terms and business jargon, assuming people outside the industry understand what it all means. By its nature, technology vocabulary is often confusing and complicated, and insiders often add to the confusion by over-complicating things. To help add a sense of clarity to the confusion, each month, Laurie McCabe, a partner at Hurwitz & Associates (a business consulting firm), will pick a technology term, explain what it means in plain English, and then discuss why it may be important to you. This month, Laurie takes a look at managed services.

What are Managed Services?

Managed services let you offload specific IT operations to a service provider, known in tech parlance as a Managed Services Provider. The managed service provider assumes ongoing responsibility for monitoring, managing and/or problem resolution for selected IT systems and functions on your behalf.

Managed services providers can offer services such as alerts, security, patch management, data backup and recovery for different client devices: desktops, notebooks, servers, storage systems, networks and applications. Offloading routine infrastructure management to an experienced managed services professional lets you concentrate on running your business, with fewer interruptions due to IT issues.

Managed services providers usually price their services on a subscription basis. Depending on the services they provide, pricing is usually based on the number of devices, with different packages priced at different levels. Some provide customer support onsite when required. Basic services often start with a monitoring service, which notifies you of problems, which you resolve on your own. At the upper end of the spectrum, service providers offer fully managed services that cover everything from alerts through problem resolution.

Typically they perform an initial assessment of your current IT environment and management requirements to help you decide what services and service levels you need.

Why Should You Care?

Just like larger companies, small businesses need technology to operate efficiently and to compete effectively. But as reliance on IT grows, the resources to support an increasingly complex IT environment may not. In many small businesses, IT resources are scarce, and can be quickly overwhelmed with the day-to-day responsibilities of keeping the IT infrastructure that the business depends on up and running.

If you fall behind in keeping up with things such as backups, patches and security, the odds are that you’ll face an IT outage or another problem down the road that will negatively impact your business. For instance, if your e-mail server, customer relationship management system, financial application or network goes down unexpectedly, you face substantial productivity and revenue losses as a result.

MSPs act as an extension of your IT department, taking care of routine IT infrastructure monitoring and management around the clock—freeing up your IT staff to focus on higher-value projects. By proactively monitoring and maintaining your systems, an MSP can help you avoid many technology problems in the first place. Should an issue occur, an experienced MSP can troubleshoot and resolve it more efficiently.

Unlike traditional outsourcing situations, where you surrender complete control of your IT assets, you decide what you want the service provider to take care of, and what you want to handle. You retain full visibility into the process and management of your systems. In addition, the MSP subscription model gives you more expense predictability than a consultant-type time and billing model.

What to Consider

MSPs offer a wide range of different services. Many focus on managing specific areas and functions, such as storage and related management services, or desktop management and help desk services. Some provide management services for server hardware, operating systems and middleware, but limited support for applications such as e-mail. Many provide onsite services as required, but may have limited regional or local coverage areas.

If you are looking for more comprehensive services, including alerts, monitoring and management services for a wide range of client, network, servers and applications, Dell offers ProManage-Managed Services for SMBs. The service offers small businesses a choice of service levels, priced on a per-device, per-month basis. Most services are provided remotely, but Dell and its channel partners supply onsite service when required.

With so many different types of MSPs and offerings, the MSP label can be a confusing one. So, when considering managed services, think first about your requirements. How satisfied you are with the level and quality of support that you have today? Where are the gaps, pain points and inefficiencies in IT infrastructure management? How do downtime, outages and other problems impact your business?

With these requirements top of mind, evaluate MSPs that map to your IT, business and budget requirements and provide a flexible, proactive approach that can adapt with you as your needs evolve.

Managed Services: Dell’s Next Disruption?

What do you get when you combine an industrial-strength managed services platform, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) desktop management solution, and a hardware vendor that transformed the PC and server industries with its direct, Internet sales model?

The answer is Dell’s ProManage Managed Services, which is built on Dell’s Silverback and Everdream acquisitions, web-based technologies, and Dell data center expertise.  After a year-long pilot in Dallas and New York, Dell announced the nationwide rollout, which offers SMBs web-based, standardized services on a pay-as-you-go basis (full details at http://tiny.cc/IxZlA)

Back in the day, Dell made it’s mark in the industry and transformed the PC and then the industry-standard server market with its direct, build-to-order business model. By streamlining supply chain, inventory, ordering and manufacturing processes, Dell gained enormous cost and efficiency advantages over competitors with inventory-laden two-tier distribution models. Dell’s ability to pass cost savings on to customers, and give them a faster, more consistent buying process ended up revolutionizing the hardware business. Over the years, of course, competitors streamlined their own operations and sales, and Dell lost many of the cost, pricing and time-to-market advantages that had set it apart in the PC and server industry.

Today, however, Dell is aiming to bring many of the same business model principles to a messy managed services market that has plenty of room for improvement. While SMBs increasingly depend on IT to run their businesses and stay competitive, they are also increasingly overwhelmed by complexity of the systems and solutions they depend on. Dell estimates that for every one dollar SMBs spend on hardware, they spend two dollars to manage it. Even so, most struggle with outages, security threats, data loss, inadequate desktop support and other issues because their small or even non-existent IT staffs can’t keep up with the care and feeding their systems require. 

While SMBs can turn to VARs for help, not all VARs can provide proactive, 24/7 services and expertise across a myriad of different applications and devices, or provide consistent support for customers with multiple locations. Consequently, most SMBs remain stuck on the treadmill of firedrills and break/fix, without little time left to think about how they can put IT to work to help the business survive and grow in this tough economic climate.

ProManage Managed Services addresses this problem with subscription-based, proactive 24/7 services designed to lift the IT maintenance and management burden off SMBs’ shoulders and help them spend more timing running their businesses. Current offerings include:

·      Alerts, for 24/7 remote monitoring of networks, severs, PCs, mobile devices and applications—including non-Dell brands. If a problem occurs, Dell alerts he customer or their channel partner so they can repair before it causes serious harm.

·      Resolution provides the monitoring above, plus proactive remote repair. Dell notifies the customer and/or partner of the problem and flxes it. If Dell can’t fix it remotely, it will send a local Dell or certified partner onsite for the repair. During the pilot, Dell indicates it resolved over 90% of problems remotely.

·      Management supplements alerts and resolution with 24/7 help desk support (for a wide range of SMB applications), additional security features, asset tracking and management and assessment services. With this offering, Dell also provides a designated account team.

The service model is flexible, requiring no upfront investments or long-term contracts.  Customers can add additional services or devices (pretty much anything with an IP address) at any time, and scale down with just 30 days notice. Dell also offers additional services on a pay-as-required basis to help with more random issues that may crop up.

While ProManage Managed Services will set off alarm bells in the channel, Dell is encouraging partners to participate. First, Dell Silverback partners can sill offer the Silverback platform to customers—with Dell pledging a hands-off approach. Other partners can operate as sales agents, garnering 15% in recurring revenues for selling through Dell’s managed services. Dell promises to keep these partners in the loop via regularly scheduled customer status meetings and reports. This should appeal to VARs and others that simply don’t have the resources to build out their own NOC, or want to supplement their main focus (such as business applications) with additional services. In the future, Dell says that will provide another option for an integrated co-delivery approach, with details to be announced towards the end of the year.

That said, the direct model and improving operational efficiencies are a large part of Dell’s DNA. Dell has always been a business model innovator, focused on providing price performance and consistency, and giving customers a better shopping and buying experience. With ProManage Managed Services, Dell is again taking a similar approach. As with its hardware business, partners are welcome, and can play a vital role, but are not the lynchpin in Dell’s formula.

While the launch was a great start, Dell must keep the volume level high to get and stay on SMB radar and get partners engaged. On the customer front, it needs to develop an ongoing campaign to enlighten SMBs about ProManage Managed Services, fueling it with the types of tangible proof points and measurable benefits that propelled Dell Direct in the early days. Dell must also keep a close pulse on SMB requirements, and continually test, refresh and refine its offerings in to meet market requirements. (After typing it so many times, it also occurs to me that Dell should come up with something a bit less clunky than “ProManage Managed Services” as well!) From a partner perspective, Dell needs to do a better job of communicating how partners can benefit from each of the options,  and evolve their services around them. 

While it won’t reinvent the managed services model overnight, Dell is setting the stage to reset SMB expectations about IT service and support, and in my opinion, it’s about time.