Why technology teams are key to service provider success

Without a strong project management plan in place, a cloud services business that wants to diversify into security services might as well be asking its team to colonise Mars, says Craig Fulton, chief product officer at ConnectWise.


Johannesburg, 03 Aug 2018
Craig Fulton, chief product officer, ConnectWise.
Craig Fulton, chief product officer, ConnectWise.

Imagine being on Elon Musk's team when he proclaimed: "Let's build a colony on Mars!" Jetting off to and settling on another planet is a daunting, seemingly impossible task. And it probably is, without the right people and plans in place.

But Musk is one of the world's most successful entrepreneurs for a reason: he approaches every impossible task by breaking it down into smaller, manageable chunks of work and perfecting one before moving on to the next. First, build a rocket. Then, build a rocket that launches. Then, build a rocket that launches and comes back. You get the idea.

More importantly, Musk understands that building a rocket is a completely different animal to building an electric car: the processes, procedures and skills he uses to build a car will not likely work for the rocket. For Craig Fulton, chief product officer at software company ConnectWise, IT service providers should adopt this same approach when diversifying their services if they want to be successful.

"We see many IT service providers fail when they treat new services the same as existing services. They market them the same way, sell them the same way, service them the same way. Yet, cloud services are completely different to security services and should be treated as separate divisions within a business, supported by dedicated technology teams."

Jack of some trades

Fulton says the most successful service providers are those that build formal tech teams around individual services, with each team having their own processes and procedures, depending on customer expectations.

"A cloud services provider can't just add security services to its offering and expect to do things the way they always have. In the past, it was possible to be a jack of all technology trades. But now that the industry has become so broad, with many niche verticals, it's impossible for one person to know how to do everything," says Fulton. "Yet, we still see cloud services organisations, for example, branching into security services and expecting their existing teams to deliver and support those services. It won't be long before they start experiencing growing pains and losing revenue because they don't understand how the service works and end up undervaluing it, or worse, causing damage to the customer because they don't have the right skills."

Project management 101

The 'tech teams framework', he says, gives organisations a way to organise themselves so they can grow smartly as they expand into different technology service offerings.

When launching a new service, Fulton says organisations need to implement 'project management 101 principles'.

"Start at the beginning. What's the go-to-market strategy? How will you productise it? How will you support it? What will the service levels be? What are the hours of support? How will you bill it? And, most importantly, are you engaging with your customers and target market to ensure that you're aligning the service to their needs? Pilot it, test it with trusted customers, fix it, then launch it."

Skills first

Before organisations can answer these questions, they need to put the right tech teams in place to ensure they can properly deliver and support the service. Sometimes, Fulton says, organisations are forced to offer new services and will need to bring in new skills; this is when organisation is key.

"Someone who has dedicated their life to understanding desktop infrastructure and support may not have the skillset for Internet security or cloud infrastructure," he explains. "In this case, the organisation will need to bring in those niche skills and then grow the broader tech team from there."

He adds that team members who offer operational and business support, like sales, marketing, billing and even some technical roles, can span multiple teams. He calls these "matrix teams", but notes these team members need to fully understand the different nuances of each service.

Of course, some skills are as rare as hen's teeth in the industry. In such cases, organisations could consider partnering with a solution provider that has invested in those specific skills, and can provide customers with better performance and availability than if the organisation were to build an in-house team from scratch.

Have your cake and eat it

Without a strong project management plan in place, a cloud services business that wants to diversify into security services might as well be asking its team to colonise Mars.

Fulton says it will be hard to gain momentum and everyone will be going in different directions because they're overwhelmed and there's no alignment.

"But, as soon as you lay a framework over it and break it down into small, consumable pieces, it doesn't seem so impossible anymore. Get good at one thing, like perimeter security, and then move on to the next, like risk assessments. Before you know it, you've achieved the goal and are deriving value, and revenue, from your new security service."

It's the smart way to scale a business, he says, as long as organisations put the processes and procedures in place early to avoid growing pains.

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