Service Integrators, Managed Service Providers and other companies are implementing cloud services or consuming products as a service today. I think it is imperative to highlight that these two are different things but commonly confused and labelled with cloud..
A cloud is defined by key characteristics; on-demand self-service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity or expansion, and measured service.
‘X’ as a Service is often used in productisation of cloud services (IaaS, PaaS & SaaS). This trend brought about various other offerings which do not meet the characteristics of cloud but as commonly sold as a ‘cloud’ pitch. BaaS (Backup as a Service) and DRaaS (Disaster Recovery as a Service) are two services, that are just that services, that do not meet all the characteristics of cloud but are generally productised as a cloud item.
Cloud is becoming a service offering for many small/medium services integrators and companies wanting to get into the market. To be successful within the marketplace you need to be able to differentiate yourself from the competition.
Before you start to think about how to do this? You first need to understand what your competition is. Your competition may be existing, or you may be opening a new realm to your business of people you haven’t competed against before. The competition will be determined by the market segment in which you have chosen to play. Cloud services bring a wealth of opportunities with it and you need to consider these carefully.
Your market segment may be driven by customer demand, or potentially a new vertical you have chosen to go after to procure more business. If it is driven by customer demand then service offerings will generally be easy to define. If you are targeting a new vertical, ensure you do sufficient market research to find opportunities before you invest any further!
Now that we have covered at a very high level the basics, and you have an idea of what your service offerings are going to be, I will try and highlight some basic things you can leverage to differentiate yourself from competitors and offer value to prospective customers. I will cover these offer with some very basic headings for common service offerings, and provide thoughts with each.
These are merely a guide and I strongly recommend you engage with someone who can assist you in defining these further for your business.
“X” as a Service
When building out an ‘as a Service’ offering, customers are sometimes forgotten as they move from a high touch model where your business is constantly trying to sell to them to a low touch model where you invoice them and they pay you with no personal interaction.
‘as a Service’ product offerings contain the one item that is commonly missed ‘Service’. If you are a service integrator or a managed service provider, this is a great area to differentiate as it allows you to add your IP and/or skills into the offering rather than having a vanilla offering like everyone else.
Your business might have specialists in certain fields that can add a lot of value to ‘as a Service’ offerings without knowing it. Simple items that can add value to the service offering is documentation. Providing monthly, quarterly and yearly reports to the customer is a great personal touch that customers do appreciate.
Remember ‘most’ companies will be moving to cloud platforms for financial reasons. If you were to save them money with a cloud service, maybe you can up sell them other services your business offers? Being able to provide value back to the customer will strengthen relationships and keep that annuity revenue coming!
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
Infrastructure as a Service is the base of most clouds and probably the hottest area of competition. If you are planning on offering IaaS, the market is tough and you need to work out how to capture the market to ensure your offering is successful.
A great way to do this is to be very familiar with your customers environments or to have expertise and consult with customers to provide recommendations for transitioning to cloud. IaaS is typically a bottom dollar discussion, any provider that can provide a suitable price will win.
Providing consultancy and recommendations to the business that may result in right-sizing the customers environment and reducing their footprint in the cloud can potentially save them money. Money savings will be well received by the customer, and will typically be reinvested into cloud to consume other services and provide more business value.
An example of this from experience; Customer was transitioning from an on premise environment to the cloud and had no disaster recovery in place. An initial assessment was done and pricing provided on resources required. During transition, after right-sizing the infrastructure, the customer was able to replicate the environment to a secondary cloud to provide disaster recovery for the business. The overall solution was delivered back to the business at a cheaper price than originally scoped.
Backup as a Service (BaaS)
I have seen many different examples of BaaS in the real world, none of which I really consider a suitable ‘cloud’ offering. BaaS is commonly being packaged up by an MSP (managed service provider) as a new brand on an existing service they provide today. Most MSP’s leverage an on-premise product to move stuff to a cloud environment (IaaS platform or the providers storage platform). This sort of offering is being targeted at people who may currently use tape or just do not want the overhead of managing backups. I see this a limited market offering as it generally involved a CapEx by the provider and limits them to a particular backup product (customers might not appreciate this, on the other hand it is ‘a service’). Another alternative but also may be utilized in the previous offering is deploying ‘agent’ based products and leveraging them to backup to the providers infrastructure.
Thinking outside the box here, what if you could offer something that was vendor agnostic and allowed you to broaden the scope of customers you targeted? Being able to leverage an object storage platform would fill this use case. Most backup products these days are able to leverage object storage (storage available via an API) to backup too. Amazon S3 is the most common, many products are surfacing that can offer similar or compatible API’s for consumption. Whilst this would involve a CapEx by the provider (if not reselling AWS or another product), if designed and implemented correctly, it can align with the key characteristics of cloud and provide efficiency for the provider and new consumption models for the client.
Transitioning an ‘X as a Service’ offering to align with the key characteristics of cloud may provide efficiencies for the service provider but remove the customer interaction in the process. You need to consider your business model carefully when going down this path and work out what is best for you.