What if following an initial sale, your customers could procure extra services without you having to lift a finger? Welcome to the world of self-service IT, says Joe Murray, Channel Director at essensys.
The consumer technology experience has considerably raised the enterprise benchmark over the past few years and organisations are by now fairly used to being able to access pretty much any application on-demand via the cloud. As a result, there is now also a growing trend in self-service IT, whereby services and broader functionality, such as telephone setups, device features enablement and bandwidth upgrades, can be dynamically provisioned and automatically delivered at the click of a button.
First of all, there is the fact that businesses have gradually grown disillusioned by their experience dealing with large, expensive and complex IT systems from different vendors. There is an overwhelming desire to simplify and consolidate IT where possible and of course, move to a more flexible and cost-effective opex model. This suggests that IT staff, as well as other employees, value being able to pay for things when they want via the cloud and furthermore, they certainly applaud the simplicity of provisioning services and additional functionality by themselves.
Consumers and workers alike have become increasingly used to a ‘right now’ approach to application delivery in their daily lives. The explosion of app stores and ‘always on’ cloud services mean that workers expect applications to be available at the simple click of a button.
Self-service for Business?
The most commonly known type of self-service mechanism in corporate IT is the enterprise app store. However today’s increasingly sophisticated orchestration and automation technologies are really pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and this means that multiple services and more granular functions can also be provisioned in a self-service fashion.
A good example of this would be an office increasing its own bandwidth allocation within a simple-to-use interface in order to accommodate a sudden rise in demand. We see this quite frequently; sometimes because of a legitimate business need, sometimes simply because the tennis is on! Picture this: during Wimbledon, traditionally the busiest time for networks each year, applications grind to a halt whilst streaming of the games becomes very pixelated. Having to upgrade the bandwidth is still in most cases an incredibly elongated paper-based process, whereas customers expect to go on a system and immediately increase capacity.
And at a more granular level, employees could self-provision security groups on a wireless network (say to prioritise internet usage from a meeting room or track traffic from a specific group of users), or hunt groups on a telephone system.
What’s in it for the channel?
Self-service means one big thing for the channel; less effort and more money in. Or to put it another way, maximised sales efficiency.
The most obvious advantage is that revenues can be grown with zero additional effort. Generally, in order to release the potential of a self-service platform, a set of core IT services will be sold initially, so revenues will be seen straight away. After this, customers are able to buy additional services through micro-transactions. No red tape, no additional sales teams or overheads… just a gradual build in revenue with minimal work and higher margins. And in our experience, once a business has felt the benefit of that additional service, they rarely dial back the features they have provisioned or upgraded.
Self-service business IT makes a fairly unambiguous case for driving new revenues and dramatically enhanced customer experiences, but nevertheless, for many it still offers a new and uncertain proposition. For these people I would simply say that this is the way things are going. Traditional sales models are unlikely to die off overnight but they’re undoubtedly declining. Smart channel players should prepare for the transformation and carve themselves a slice of the self-service market early on.
The Channel Future?
I sometimes hear battle-hardened salespeople ask: “but if customers can self-provision and manage their services, where is my part in all this? Isn’t this eroding the value that the channel delivers to customers?”
We all know that today’s customer has a wider array of information available at their fingertips at the investigation stage than ever before. As such, they are usually much further down the purchasing path than they once were by the time they’re engaging with IT resellers.
The real value to be offered therefore is by channel players who will focus on acting as in-depth product and solutions experts at this later stage of the buying cycle, smoothing deployments and delivering a more consultative approach. Re-occurring, high-margin micro-purchases must be made easy throughout the customer lifecycle and this can only happen through self-service platforms. The channel has the opportunity to unlock most value in the self-service world and be at the forefront of a timely IT renaissance.
There will always be a need for businesses who stay close to their customers to advise on the big decisions. Initially onboarding customers to your services, for the foreseeable future, will require a traditional sales approach.