17 Jan 2012

Is MNS a ‘Hotty’ or a ‘Notty’? 10 Questions to Ask Your Consultant.

The cyclical nature of trends in the

17 Jan 2012

The cyclical nature of trends in the imaging industry never ceases to {amaze} amuse me. There’s fresh buzz beginning to sprout that “MPS is dead and MNS is what’s hot!” So the question is whether MNS (managed network services) or ITS (IT services) is a ‘hotty’ or a ‘notty’?

I can’t believe how many emails I’m seeing informing me of new MNS programs I just have to buy! Like moths to a flame, some “consultants” are hot on the trail of this new buzz — quickly turning their marketing engines to full volume in order to hock their ‘solutions’ for your problem du jour. It seems to me this is a similar craze that swept the industry when I was first recruited to join an independent office technology dealer, Kearns Business Solutions, in 2003.

You remember when everything began moving from analog to digital and hitting the wire for the first time, right? At the time, the so-called “expert consultants” were predicting that if you didn’t start or acquire an IT company you’d be out of business in [X] years.

Counter to the trend, we launched a longer term strategy to increase our focus on process-driven excellence as our engine, but fueled the engine with customer-centric passion. Over the course of five years, we invested significant capital in building infrastructure, expanding internal capabilities and sharpening the story we told our customers. During this time, I was amazed and humbled by the caliber of the team I worked with. We didn’t just want to help customers with their tech-problems, we made their lives better and more enjoyable.

While it’s true the dealers of the day needed to increase their ability to actually hold a conversation with the propeller-heads their customers had hired as IT managers, that decision scared a lot of dealers into over-spending. While I believe MNS and ITS are key components to any managed service providers arsenal, I would be willing to bet you that simply adding a “solution in a box” isn’t going to address your key motivators. More specifically, you are going to get drug through the mud if you aren’t careful about who you listen to for advice.

Here are a few questions you should be asking about your prospective MNS or ITS consultant:

  1. Has your consultant actually built and/or managed an IT-centered practice?
  2. Can your consultant carry on a conversation with a CIO or CTO about the day-to-day business and long term strategies?
  3. Does your consultant actively participate in any reputable, IT-centric associations (CompTIA, HDI, AIIM, AITP)? If so, how many?
  4. Take a quick look at their LinkedIn profile; are they part of an IT-related groups?
  5. Does your consultant understand the jargon (ERP, PSA, RMM, per-seat billing, infrastructure, architecture, cloud, etc.)?
  6. Does your consultant actually read any of IT-related media (CIO, InformationWeek, MSPMentor.net)?
  7. Does your consultant think a helpdesk technician is nothing more than a service tech without a truck (instead of an ambassador of customer goodwill and dealer profitability)?
  8. Does your consultant understand that IT has many sub-disciplines that require varying degrees of expertise?
  9. Is your consultant selling you a packaged program or shedding light on how your unique needs can be met?
  10. Is your consultant telling you more about what they’ve done for other people than what they will do for you?
Of course there are many ways to approach a go-to-market strategy for MNS or ITS. But before you spend a small fortune on costly consultants, here are my three recommendations that could save you a ton of money:
  1. Scout out and join an IT association’s local chapter: By doing this, you can sit quietly in the back and watch everything that’s going on. Pick out a few strong participants and offer to buy them all the coffee they can drink if you can pick their brain.
  2. Reach out to some of the software companies in the industry: I’ve been very impressed with some of the quick-start webinars these companies provide. Sure they are trying to sell you their software, but sitting through a few of these webinar series will give you an entirely new appreciation for what you are planning on stepping into.
  3. Understand the business model: While you may be thinking you are hiring a consultant to show you what you don’t know, don’t let them make a fool of you either:
    • Is it profitable or a distraction? Do your homework and understand where you expect to make money?
    • Who’s buying this? Where’s your market opportunity?
    • How will you support this in scale? Will you build or partner?
There are some great consultants to work with out there, and there are some snake-oil salesmen. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but after 15 years helping guide companies in their alignment of people, process and technology I hate seeing good people getting bad advice. Look hard and choose wisely. Meanwhile, I’ll be here working to shine a light into those dark places.
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  • So true Ken. “How to be selling MNS by later this week” has become a big bandwagon consulting specialty. It’s low hanging fruit in a sense because it is a whole new, complex and largely foreign arena (MNS) to many dealers. Yet they’re all being told they need to get there to stay competitive but aren’t given a lot of great options for accomplishing it because it’s really not as easy as just buying a little MNS company or deploying a “NOC in a box” program and you’re making piles of money. Far too much messaging out there that “it’s easy if you listen to me.” It’s not easy and it’s not something you’ll be successful in with a “dip your toe in the water” approach either. Just because a consultant knows their acronyms doesn’t mean their counsel can transform your business.  

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