It’s common to hear MSP pundits claim we’re entering varying ages of the channel’s evolution, just as we hear from tech experts that we’re entering a new era of computing or technology.

Last year, we heard ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini explain we’re entering the third age of computing.

  • First was the age of the smart, connected business.
  • Second was the age of smart, connected people.
  • Third is the age of smart, connected things.

As automation, cloud, data, and integration continue to affect every industry, the value and capabilities of MSPs are shifting as well. Businesses need help sorting through the overwhelming number of tech choices they face.

So as MSPs evolve in response to the third age of computing, what era of managed services are we in?

We’re in the second age!

Larry Walsh, CEO and chief analyst at channel analyst firm The 2112 Group, says the second age started when MSPs moved beyond the break-fix model to provide remote monitoring and management as standard practice.

This move “revolutionized the channel’s value proposition” while also boosting profitability, Walsh told ChannelPro Network.

Part of the MSP evolution was also due to the wider shift to cloud computing, says Bellini, leading to increased demand for simplicity and automation.

AVG agrees we’re entering the second age of managed services. If the childhood stage of the channel was offering a reliable service and proving the value of IT outsourcing IT, adolescence—the second stage—is helping businesses achieve their goals.

“First-generation players were technically led and offered services to meet a perceived need. They typically delivered remote management and monitoring, security, networking and backup to a predefined service-level agreement (SLA),” says the security software provider.

Now, using RMM and other SaaS tools to provide remote management and automation is standard practice. To innovate, MSPs must provide business value beyond the day-to-day tasks—they must become trusted business advisors and strategists.

AVG says some examples of trusted business advisor services include:

  • Customized SLAs
  • 24/7 help desk options
  • Integrating cloud and hosted services
  • Simplifying the cloud transition

Walsh and AVG agree the second age moves MSPs beyond the break-fix model to services that help the client solve business problems.

But is there more?

No, we’re in the fourth age!

Joe Panettieri, co-founder of channel publication ChannelE2E, says we’re in the fourth age of the MSP, which focuses on the Internet of Things, big data, and end user experience.

According to Panettieri:

  • The first age, from 1995-2000, featured MSPs shifting from VAR models to IT services with more predictable revenue streams.
  • The second age, from 2001-2007, saw RMM and PSA tools emerge.
  • The third age, 2007-2013, featured many MSP software acquisitions. PSAs and RMM tools become firmly integrated into MSP operations.

Now, themes of the fourth age include the shift to the cloud, leveraging third-party data centers rather than MSPs creating their own, big data applications, and managing machine-to-machine computing.

The next age?

Panettieri was reluctant to predict what the fifth MSP age would look like. But Autotask’s 2017 Metrics that Matter report included interesting statistics that hint at trends MSPs can begin, or continue, to take advantage of.

  • IT service providers are managing more devices. 63% said they’re managing 50% more devices than 2016.
  • They’re using automation to better manage those devices.
  • Automation is increasingly being used to improve efficiency in customer service, invoicing, and selling.
  • With more devices in the workplace, the demand for IT services provider is increasing.

“Business technology continues to evolve,” the report sats. [The Internet of Things] promises to be a game changer in terms of connected devices in the workplace, making ITSPs even more in demand. Prepare to make the most of these opportunities by investing in the talent and systems you need to meet increased demand and scale your business.”

These trends are evident in the recent merger of Autotask and Datto, says Panettieri. “The early MSP market involved remote monitoring and management of PCs and servers. But now, it’s all about safeguarding and optimizing customer assets.”

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