The “IT Guy” small businesses rely on to keep their servers humming and repair their PCs could lose his job if he doesn’t adapt fast enough to the new world of cloud software and services.
But how should the IT professional adapt? There are at least two paths – grow big or go niche. Here are two options for scaling an IT services business.
Upsize: Cloud Server Manager
Servers are moving to the cloud because they are cheaper to operate, easier to “install” and can scale on demand. The cost of maintenance is also far lower. Businesses will pay much less to operate a cloud server than a physical server in their office.
While IT professionals can no longer charge a call-out fee for upgrading or replacing servers, they can sell management services that take advantage of the latest technologies in cloud servers. Although a management fee is not likely to be high per business, it should be relatively profitable because all the work can be done remotely and concurrently across a wide number of customers.
The best cloud server managers will need to offer quality advice. The leaders in this market are innovating at an astonishing rate, with new features released almost monthly. Companies of all sizes need an IT Guy who can translate these technical features into actions that improve performance or cost effectiveness.
There are few professionals working with small business today who have these skills. It’s a big opportunity.
Examples: Bulletproof Networks, HubOne.
Upsize: Cloud Software Broker
The boom in cloud software presents three opportunities for businesses – it can save them a lot of money by making them more productive with the same or less staff; increase their revenue by making staff more efficient at their jobs; or give them a competitive edge over rivals by opening up new fields of work.
The volume of cloud programs hitting the market is so great that it’s nearly impossible for a business to evaluate them and pick a portfolio of best practice apps. A cloud software broker could save a business a lot of money by doing the evaluation themselves and selling their recommendations through consulting.
Aside from consulting fees, some cloud programs also offer rebates for every year that the customer keeps using the software. Unfortunately these rebates are not very large given the low cost of most cloud software, so an IT Guy needs to consult to many businesses before seeing a strong recurring revenue from these trailing commissions.
Examples today: Rype, Cloud Sherpas.
There are three good options for specialist players.
Specialise: Industry adviser
Cloud software brokers specialising in an industry can generate a strong reputation for defining best-of-breed apps. This often comes down to knowing how an accounting firm likes to categorise its clients and projects, or how a builder tracks contractor costs for a building site.
Some cloud apps will perform better for these specific use cases. Businesses will pay more for targeted advice.
Examples: TradiePad, MyCFO.
Specialise: Mobile and broadband consultant
What is the most frustrating part of IT? In my opinion it’s the arcane topic of networking. It’s impossible for most businesses to diagnose why their network isn’t running properly or how to fix it.
The network has expanded with cloud services. A consultant who can advise on the best type of internet connection with the best internet service provider, the right configuration of wireless network and router that matches the office layout, and how to separate voice traffic from data to support crystal clear IP telephone calls, is worth their weight in gold.
A logical extension is for a consultant to include a IP telephony service that routes calls over the internet instead of copper.
Businesses generally pay much less per call for an IP telephony service and enjoy big-company features such as auto-attendant and integrated messaging.
Consultants need to understand the bandwidth requirements of individual cloud programs to make sure a business is paying for no more bandwidth than necessary. Cheaper and larger connections with the NBN will make this less important but for many businesses the NBN is a long way off. They need help now.
Specialise: Cloud or mobile apps developer
It’s a big step from server maintenance to software development. But there’s a big need.
Smartphones and especially tablets are a greenfield for developing apps that can improve productivity. The biggest opportunity are obviously industries with a large number of employees in the field, whether that’s sales, trades or consultants.
Salesforce.com’s Force.com has proven popular as a platform for quickly developing apps. Google App Engine and Microsoft Azure are also in the mix.
Examples: There are plenty of companies developing mobile apps but there’s room for many more.