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MSPs need to stand their ground against mobile operators

With larger mobile companies now muscling in on cyber security, MSPs need to stick to what they're good at

Success can be tricky. Publishers can find that their hotshot young novelist, once they make the bestseller list, signs with a bigger rival for their follow-up. Small record labels see their unexpected breakout star seduced away by a big label with an even bigger chequebook.

Managed service providers (MSPs) could see their cybersecurity contracts – and more – disappear in much the same way.

IT security has become a boardroom priority, thanks to the success of those who seek to undermine it. High-profile breaches against the likes of Uber and Equifax have companies worried they may be next. Ransomware attacks have taken down the websites of universities, hospitals, logistics companies, and even government departments – today, no one is safe.

This, of course, is great news for those who provide cybersecurity. It is no longer an afterthought, but instead, an absolute necessity for all businesses. C-level executives want to know that they are secure against attacks, what they might lose if there is a data breach, and how they can recover if things go wrong.

But like the big label or book publisher looking to steal a cash cow from its rival, vendors from other sectors are challenging MSPs' role as provider and expert. One of the biggest threats to the MSP is one they may not expect: the mobile operator.

The threat from operators

Mobile operators already have an in-road by providing connections and data services to businesses, most likely as part of an all-in-one managed service that includes devices. These operators are looking at how they can sell additional services to maximise their revenue.

But why would mobile operators seem a good choice for cybersecurity? It's likely that they are already securing the devices they provide, which makes selling further security services easier. They can also position themselves as security experts, with years of experience in defending their own networks from attack.

Operators are moving into this space because they need to diversify their business. The mobile connections that form the core of their business are increasingly commoditised, with little to differentiate between providers. The difference in coverage between operators is often negligible, and data speeds won't improve much until 5G technology is mainstream. Operators need to offer their customers a better deal to keep them loyal, but it's tricky to do this with their core business without cutting further into their profit margins. Additional services are an attractive way to increase revenue from each customer.

The general shift away from desktop computing to mobile devices also helps operators. If more and more devices are portable and have built-in mobile connections, businesses are more likely to turn to the providers of these connections to make sure they are secure. And if one business is securing the majority of devices your business uses, then it makes sense to choose them to secure all devices.

Once operators are providing cybersecurity, it's a much shorter step to manage all devices for an organisation, and not just the mobile devices they provide.

Fighting back as a trusted advisor

With massive corporations looking to muscle in on their territory, how can the plucky MSPs stand their ground?

One thing MSPs have on their side is first-mover advantage. MSPs are already embedded in a company – they just need to make sure that they become indispensable. Mobile operators are, by comparison, generally not well-liked, with the likes of Vodafone receiving fines for their customer service, and only a quarter of customers willing to recommend them to friends and family. MSPs can use this to help keep their customers onside.

MSPs can also bundle their services in an attractive way, as mobile operators do. So rather than billing customers separately for each part of the service provided, they can provide a single cost for a number of services, with perhaps discounts for bigger bundles. By giving this choice, MSPs can be seen as providing value. Itemising each service offered can feel like they are being nickel and dimed.

MSPs also have the advantage of being smaller. Mobile operators have no way of offering a personal service – they're just too big for that to be possible. It's very possible, on the other hand, for a customer to get to know an MSPs' support staff well and have an easy-going relationship with their account manager. Again, by nurturing this relationship, MSPs have a far better chance of keeping their business.

But the most important thing MSPs should be doing is ensuring that they are seen as trusted advisors by their customers, and not simply as the people who fix the techy stuff. So as an MSP, you are not only providing a backup service, you are helping the customer decide what needs to be backed up, whether it should be on-premises or in the cloud, and what data regulations need to be followed.

The relationship between the mobile operator and the customer is never going to be a partnership – it will always be one of vendor and customer. MSPs, on the other hand, can have a very different relationship, one they need to nurture in order to stave off the threat from other sectors.

Dave Sobel is senior director and MSP evangelist at SolarWinds MSP

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