Managed services IT support closes the cloud skills gap

Digital transformation for all businesses is inevitable and a matter of survival. Most companies in the throes of transitioning their traditional processes into an automated data-centric operation look to the cloud as an essential piece of the transformation puzzle.

One-fourth of senior IT decision-makers named the migration of data from on-premises environments to the cloud as one of their major initiatives for 2022, according to a survey on technology spending intentions by Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), a division of TechTarget. Along those lines, 32% of respondents viewed advancing the use of next-generation technology as their highest priority for 2022, while 26% said they’re concerned with ensuring data sovereignty, privacy and compliance. All three cloud-related priorities require IT professionals skilled in cloud computing. Yet companies trying to keep pace with the speed of digital transformation struggle to find and hire the internal expertise required to develop and manage complex cloud environments.

“Most of the skills traditional network engineers have employed are not necessarily translating directly to the cloud,” said Dave Sobel, who hosts the podcast The Business of Tech, co-hosts the podcast Killing IT and wrote the book Virtualization: Defined. He recommends that companies consider managed service providers (MSPs) as a viable hedge against the cloud skills shortage. “Your MSP is delivering a service, not people,” Sobel explained. “You specify what you need, and they figure out how to do it. That removes you from having to continually skill everyone on your team in every needed skill.”

In this video, Sobel further details the benefits of managed services IT support: Services and costs are based on outcomes, not time. Providers have access to advanced cloud tools that may not be affordable to an organization. As an adjunct to a company’s internal IT team, MSPs assume a portion of the operational risk. “And that,” Sobel said, “gives you skills, reach and expertise beyond your four walls.”


Dave Sobel: I’m Dave Sobel, and I’ve spent the last 20 years of my career thinking about how small and midsize companies can leverage technology. I’ve delivered IT services to those small and midsize companies, and I’ve helped deliver software to the companies who deliver those IT services. Now, I spend my time thinking about the way the market works, what benefits there are and what risks companies face.

I’m all in on the cloud. This isn’t revolutionary, and it’s not some forward-looking statement either. I’ve been an entrepreneur more than once. And when I launched a business in 2002, I had to buy a lot of software and servers. I launched a new business in October 2019, and the world could not be more different. Everything was provisioned with clicks and subscriptions, rather than purchases and installations. Now, I have the benefit of a career in IT services; so for me, the deployment, configuration and security were all ingrained. I may not be a field engineer, but I know the questions to ask and the requirements. I did a lot of that integration myself. Many of you are also all in on the cloud. We’re seeing it in the massive growth numbers across software as a service, infrastructure as a service and platform as a service as traditional on-premises infrastructure is migrated to the cloud and delivery as a service. But, there’s a problem — and it’s around skills.

Most of the skills traditional network engineers have employed are not necessarily translating directly to the cloud. In fact, the biggest key issue with leveraging the cloud is the different skills required. This lack of skills can be pretty devastating. Data from Accurics: A review of hundreds of cloud deployments showed 93% of reviewed infrastructure had misconfigured cloud storage services. A majority of deployments had “at least one network exposure where a security group was left wide open.” A survey of 937 IT professionals by Netwrix notes top reasons for cloud security problems: lack of IT staff, 52%; insufficient budget, 47%; lack of cloud security expertise, 44%; and employee negligence, 38%.

Cloud also layers in more vendor complexity. Sure, you’ve offloaded a lot to increase capacity. But you’ve also stretched your team because there are more vendors to manage and more services to deliver. And you’ve changed the complexity of what you do. This all comes in just as the labor market is ever-tightening. IT unemployment is far lower than the regular market. And that market isn’t exactly easy to find new people. You can certainly upskill your own staff. Aren’t they already overloaded? So, what to do.

If you’re not familiar with the idea of a managed services provider, I’m going to introduce the idea to you now. These are companies devoted to the idea of delivering IT services, who want to make sure their offerings align with your needs. In a traditional consulting relationship, you trade money for time. You hire a person or an organization to help you out, paying for them by the amount of time they spend working on issues. Now, this actually creates a misalignment of needs. As a customer, you want outcomes — uptime, management of services or delivery of help desk-style services — and these are best measured against the outcome, not the time spent. In fact, billing for time when dealing with outages is actually counterproductive. A provider would charge more money the longer an outage goes — which is exactly what you, the customer, don’t want.

For managed services providers, the services are designed to be around outcomes, not time. Want help desk services? Pay per month, per user or per device. Want backup? Pay by the device. Need monitoring? Pay by the system. And all are designed to deliver a defined set of services. Now, this works in a cloud world, too. If you need help managing your cloud, no problem — hire a managed services provider. Need someone to monitor your cloud configuration? Again, leverage an MSP. In fact, the core idea is very much in alignment with what you would need for any relationship because core to the premise is the idea of measuring based on those outcomes.

So, what are some of the benefits? Your MSP is delivering a service, not people. You specify what you need, and they figure out how to do it. That removes you from having to continually skill everyone on your team in every needed skill, and instead lets you focus on the areas you have the need to keep those skills internally. You can go deeper on the areas you need to specialize in for your own industry, putting your people on things like business process. Your MSP can offload areas you don’t specialize in. Don’t have steep security expertise? No problem, you can use your MSPs. Want to hire business process expertise but not help desk engineers? No problem, offload the work you don’t want to specialize in. Your MSP gets economies of scale. For most organizations, you’ve got a single environment and only a limited view of things. MSPs see tens or hundreds of customers, and they get the ability to scale up. Tools that aren’t affordable to you are much more affordable to them — and you get the benefit. Your MSP assumes a portion of your risk. This is key too. There’s a lot of risk out there now in managing environments. One of the key benefits of working with an MSP is the ability to share that risk. You can define who’s responsible for what in the relationship and determine how that risk is shared.

Your MSP watches the technology market, your company’s core competencies generally, not IT. You have to know the intricacies of your industry and how technology impacts that market, but you may not be able to watch all of the larger trends. Having an expert to leverage brings that extra experience and their deeper vendor relationships. That’s real value. And here’s the best part: They make you look better. The core value of a managed services provider is becoming part of your team. And that gives you skills, reach and expertise beyond your four walls. They help you solve the complexity you’re dealing with every day, and they’re gonna help you hit your goals. Your budget only goes so far, and this is a way to extend that. Thanks for listening.

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