It was one of those conversations that changes my perception of my business and an industry in minutes.
A client who owns an IT company was discussing his strategic model. “I can’t continue to serve the SMB market like we have for much longer. Qualified, certified technicians require compensation packages that cost me six-figures. Small businesses won’t be able to afford what it costs to send them out to an office just to fix common PC and server problems.”
Computers- Can’t live with ’em…
The small business IT world is changing again. Twenty years ago we began using computers for specific tasks- writing a letter or bookkeeping. Fifteen years ago we began seriously communicating via email. By 1999, everyone in the office had to have a PC or access to one just for company communications.
Ten years ago we began expanding our usage to include scheduling, shared files, calendars and contacts. Five years ago we started pushing that content to our smart phones and added instant messaging. Now, for most of us, even minutes without our electronic tether is enough to start your heart racing with anxiety.
Office technology is more expensive, but at the same time has shrunk in terms of its real cost. The expense of buying or repairing a computer is nothing compared to the expense of an idle employee. For the fully loaded cost of a $35,000 worker, buying a new PC every year is cheaper than 2 days of total downtime.
Like many business owners, I have been resistant to the subscription/service model of computing. While we don’t have an “IT guy” per se, we have sufficient computer skills in our office to handle backup, routine maintenance, upgrades and troubleshooting.
So far I’d looked at the various service models with a gimlet eye. Managed services, terminal services, remote monitoring, and virtual desktops all require that I change my thinking from a capital asset model (buy a PC and use it until it fries) to paying monthly for updated and current software that I don’t really “need.”
Many of my smaller clients are still on XP and Office 2003. Most use Office 2007. Only a few, as of mid 2011, have converted to Office 2010. In a subscription/service model you would presumably have to update constantly. I hate the idea of the Big Brother from Redmond locking me in to every change he wants to force down my throat.
Subscription IT Services
The issue that is coming isn’t whether you can afford to stay current, it is whether you can afford not to. It isn’t about having the latest stuff, whether you need it or not. It’s about bringing your company to a halt.
An employee downloads a virus. The latest service pack locks up your accounting package. The server crashes, the backup is corrupt. For many small service companies, that is essentially being out of business. You call your local IT company and scream -“Get out here and get me running as soon as possible!”
But he doesn’t know what caused the problem, or how long it will take to fix. He hasn’t seen your system in months. He may have to trace your previous changes, or unload things you did while he wasn’t looking.
In the meantime, his technicians are committed to those customers who pay to keep their systems current. He reaches into their systems nightly to take care of routine issues. They represent his recurring revenue, and have far fewer problems. They’ve paid for the right to be prioritized.
His technicians are too expensive to just have hanging around, as in a firehouse. They aren’t the Maytag repairmen. They are fully booked, and it is difficult to commit one to an occasional customer for an indefinite length of time.
What would you do if the answer was “Sorry, we can’t get there today. Maybe tomorrow, or the next day at the latest?”
I’m not sure that’s the best answer. Like it or not, we are going to be choosing IT providers like we do phone companies. They will be long term relationships, tied into our businesses directly, and it will be a pain to move from one to another.