Internet Service Providers increasingly face the challenge of differentiating themselves – it’s never just about the price. Providing access solutions and making it profitable is difficult but many companies are finding that having a range of value added services and products is the way ahead.
Clear visibility of service, automation, communication, speed and accuracy are just some of the qualities you would expect from a good ISP partner, not to mention membership of the ISPA, the Internet Service Providers Association. ISPA membership shows agreement to the ISPA UK Code, meaning consumers and partners can have added confidence in the ISP’s commitment to good business practice.
A good starting point ought to be to look outside of the immediate Comms Channel and look at issues that are affecting UK businesses. After all, there are over 5 million businesses in the UK, with 99% of those being SMEs. This is where channel bread and butter lies. According to HM Government’s Information Security Breaches Survey 2015. ‘Protecting a business against cybercrime or data theft is the fastest growing risk facing SMEs today’. Security then is something that needs addressing, and this is where forward thinking ISPs can offer a distinct advantage to partners.
The Information Security Breaches Survey revealed 74% of small businesses and 90% of large businesses had a security breach in the past year, that could cost a company anything upwards of £75,000 to £310,000 according to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport; a statistic that should send alarm bells ringing throughout the entire UK SME base.
Ed Vaizey, Minister of State with responsibility for digital industries summed it up nicely at this year’s Reform Conference in July as he spoke about Cyber Security. Vaizey said, “Good cyber security underpins the entire digital economy – we need it to keep our businesses, citizens and public services safe.”
The formation of the UK’s cyber watchdog, the Computer and Emergency Response Team, established in March of last year to support critical national infrastructure companies to handle cyber security incidents, shows a well-established adoption of cyber security strategies at the highest national level. But what then of SMEs?
Interestingly, the Information Security Breaches Survey showed a fall in the number of SMEs affected by cybercrime, which suggests they are investing more in security prevention. But whilst SMEs might be improving staff training, establishing firewalls and securing virtual private networks, though this is a step in the right direction, these measures alone are not sufficient to protect against the growing scale of cybercrime. SMEs remain vulnerable to the cybercriminal market, estimated to be worth £27bn pa in the UK alone (The Cost of Cybercrime – Cabinet Office).
Whilst 44% of small businesses have increased their information security spend in the last year, 32% of respondents to the Government survey revealed they had not carried out any form of security risk assessment at all.
Dave Tindall, Managing Director of Talk Straight, a hosted security supplier, says that should come then as no surprise to the channel.
“Now is the optimum period to ensure as many of the country’s estimated five million SMEs are protected against cyber-attacks with safe, affordable and future proof security services. An ISP offering managed hosted services would be an advantageous choice for a partner to make.
An ISP that understands the costly and damaging impact a breach can have to businesses is a good indication they have a keen sense of commercial awareness. And commercial awareness is key here. Your ISP is the one giving support to you and your client, before, during and after installation. That means they will have a clear idea of the markets to operate in; a clear understanding of what information you will need to sell security services and a clear understanding of the importance of service delivery and customer support.
The question here then for partners, is identifying an ISP with the aforementioned attributes, one which will secure you a long term, lucrative partnership.
An ISP with an integrated cloud based security solution shows you are dealing with a forward thinking business, likely to provide partners with solutions that are one step ahead of the competition, so always in demand.”
The Right Focus
Brian Iddon, Venus Business Communications Director, says his company is differentiating themselves by focussing on what they are best at and providing superior connectivity with superior customer support.
“This allows our reseller network to sell value added services and products with a strong core network proposition. Our market research shows us that customers are looking for quality at good prices with high levels of customer support. We provide fibre optic leased lines at highly competitive prices: we have recently launched our 10 gigabit circuits, an industry first. Importantly, we create reseller opportunities in a range of market sectors, priming resellers, so they can offer a cutting-edge core product. Being in constant contact with the market allows us to understand and predict future demand that focuses our services and presents reseller opportunity. Most recently, multi-use buildings and the need for back up fibre connections, rather than ADSL, in mission critical environments have been two market-led initiatives.
Venus Business Communications has a growing reseller network based on a partnership working approach. A good ISP partnership comes from understanding each other’s business needs. Venus recognises that we need to support resellers as they take our products and services to market. We regularly obtain feedback from resellers and look at market conditions, developing packages and discount programs accordingly. We provide excellent customer support with each reseller having a dedicated account manager and have transparent pricing. In addition, we focus on making our network the best it can be, delivering the best connectivity reliably at high speed with large numbers of points of presence so we can connect to premises. We select the data houses we connect to carefully as well as maintaining control over the quality we provide. We also host events to grow the market and generate new potential business for resellers. Importantly, our resellers support us as we support them. It’s not a one way street, it’s a relationship based on trust where we work together to get the best out of the partnership with each other.”
‘ISP’s constantly face a challenge of differentiating themselves and a lot are struggling to do so,’ according to Mark Curtis-Wood, Head of Network Services for distributor Nimans.
Inevitably the larger ISP’s have shifted their focus to be on the consumer market to own the pipe so that they can push a lot of associated services down it. The danger is that with the majority of ISP’s this has been to the detriment of business customers. All the focus has been on the consumer and in most cases it has impacted the network.
From a reseller’s point of view they have to be cautious putting all their eggs in one basket with one ISP provider. This is why we always advocate having multiple ISP’s and picking the best fit for a particular solution and bringing everything together.
Dealing with a managed service provider who can pull all ISP’s together is always going to help. Inevitably it still comes back to whoever owns the pipe has a huge advantage and owns the wallet share in most cases. ISP’s are having to adapt to this by building additional margin stacks but the way I see it most ISP’s have core skills in one area but not across the board. They don’t always understand the needs of the traditional telecoms market as many come from an IT background.
Can they necessarily deliver? … no. What makes a good ISP provider is someone that can deliver multiple products and services very well and there are very few that can.”
What Resellers Want
Jody Kennedy, CTO at Olive Communications says ISPs play a key part in today’s telephony solutions.
“Today’s business communication solutions and the flexibility they demand are heavily reliant on ISPs delivering highly reliable and resilient connectivity.
The challenge is that the ways in which organisations and business users are consuming the ISPs services are ever changing and evolving at a rate that some ISPs are unable to keep up.
The way in which ISPs will provide the best services and be successful is by partnering with business communications providers who understand market demands and who are already delivering flexible front-end solutions powered by ISPs.
It is not easy for ISPs, as inward facing organisations with a focus on the delivery of a specific service, to work with its customers to ensure that the services they deliver do bring the necessary cross company, supplier and customer agility, business now require, to the table. ISPs are recognising the value of partnerships, with the right channel partners, can bring to their party by driving successful deployments using more and more of their services across their joint customers.
Businesses should engage their ISP through their business communications solution provider as part of their entire connectivity requirement. Our customers have only benefitted when they have reviewed their end to end requirements prior to committing to technology. They have understood their cultural and business processes and the opportunity available to them, which has empowered us to help them piece together a total package to meet their requirements. Many businesses that have chosen to go direct to an ISP have suffered as a result of a lack of business expertise and initial consultancy to fit their business process to a technology.
A frustration that typically manifests itself is when our customers have approached us with concerns about the technology that is out there at the moment. ISPs play a vital technical role in understanding the capability, bandwidth, reliability and resilience available and at Olive we specialise in helping our customers to understand their needs first, incorporating the technology from strategically placed ISPs to ensure that above all, the customer receives applications and solutions that work for them.”
Patrick Lincoln, Founder and Director of Solution IP says that as a reseller, the first thing they look for in an ISP partner is a company willing to work closely and personally with them to meet their clients’ individual and unique needs.
“We are a customer driven company, and finding partners who we feel synergy with in terms of how we work, and the core values that drive us, is vital. Key to this is being able to feel complete confidence in the services we go on to offer our clients, so having a partner who has top level support in place but who has also invested in the pre-sales process is very important. Our own service proposition is that of an end-to-end, consultative service. We also pride ourselves in being able to recommend only the most relevant solutions to respond to a client’s particular business objectives. With this in mind, we therefore need adequate support from our ISP throughout the entire customer journey process.
Entanet is a good example of an ISP who understands our needs on this score. When tackling a new potential project, they work with us throughout the sales journey to help design the actual sales solutions. Their input is invaluable at this stage, and they often help us to draw up tailored network designs. We also collaborate with them on specific campaigns, for example, if we are targeting a particular geographical region with a marketing campaign, they ensure we can price our solutions competitively or offer alternative solutions if access to fibre is limited in that area.
Gamma will also provide this sort of support to us, and often get involved in conference calls with clients and on occasion face-to-face meetings to talk through technical solutions on larger scale or higher profile projects. This high-level, collaborative pre-sales support immediately gives us credibility with our clients and helps to cement our reputation as a trusted provider in the field. It also gives us confidence which we can then pass on to both potential and existing clients. Working in this way also means we can offer tailored, bespoke solutions in the true sense, which again is one of our main USPs as a company.”
We talked to a very different set of suppliers for this article instead of the usual big name ISPs. It’s important to hear directly from distributors and especially resellers on what they look for in an ISP. Two questions; can a big name supplier deliver the first thing that reseller Solution IP looks for in an ISP partner – a company willing to work closely and personally with them to meet their clients’ individual and unique needs? Are Nimans right when they say very few ISPs can deliver multiple products and services very well?