I was fortunate to be in a CEO peer group for many years, and one of the most memorable lessons I learned was to periodically ask the questions “what is the worst thing that could happen to the business”, and its more sinister corollary, “what could put us out of business”.
I’m not talking about something like running out of money, that’s a common concern for nearly every small (and sometimes large) business. I’m talking a self inflicted event within your walls, or a seismic shift in the marketplace that blindsides you.
No one likes to think negatively, but I found exploring unwanted possibilities could sometimes bring clarity and/or change to our company. Many businesses — many successful businesses — have had a “near death experience”. For those who are fortunate enough to survive “near death”, this can become a powerful opportunity to strategically re-position the business. As Andrew Grove famously observed; only the paranoid survive.
True story. A few years back I met with a prospect whose whole business was supplying real estate data to its customers. I was floored when I asked him “what’s your DR plan?” and he said, “what’s DR?” I explained that DR was short for disaster recovery, at which point he told me he had no plan and wasn’t sure if he backed up his data effectively…at a minimum, he had never tested his back ups. But he said if they ever lost their data, his firm would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get it back because it’s their whole business.
For this firm, the worst thing that could happen might be losing their biggest asset: data. While that IT Manager may indeed be able to spend his way into recovering his data, he may not. So for that firm and the IT Manager, should he wish to continue his employment, there should probably be a better strategy to protect their data.
Here comes Uber
That’s an easy one. But what about the monsters lurking that aren’t so obvious. Take for example, the taxi business. Do you think pre-2009 anyone in that industry was asking the question, “what can put us out of business?” And if they did, was the answer something mundane along the lines of, “the city raises our medallion prices”, or, “there’s a prolonged strike”? Do you think someone wondered, “what if someone develops a smartphone app to capitalize on extra driving capacity among ‘regular’ people, sources drivers, and routes them to passengers in near real time by their location – and also optimizes pricing to match supply and demand”? Didn’t think so.
And that’s the thing! Did any of us, let alone the taxi industry see Uber or Lyft coming? Or 3D printing, or the cloud? Sometimes the signs are there and we choose to ignore or not believe them (remember Kodak?). Sometimes our lack of imagination and creativity prevent us from seeing what the future may hold. Our world is only going to evolve faster and faster; disruptive forces will escalate and whole industries will continue to be reshaped or even eliminated.
Moving in the right direction
For IT service firms today, the cloud – and specifically the public cloud – represent the biggest threat to their traditional way of doing business.
The model of selling equipment and then taking care of it on a break-fix basis is running on fumes. True, many of these firms have shifted to more of a recurring model, but they still might be servicing on-premise hardware and software. We are reaching the point where the next refresh cycle is where the lines are being drawn between old and new, between on premise and cloud. Between cloud and public cloud.
As recent as a couple years ago, there was great fear and loathing for public clouds, and that is clearly no longer the case. The adoption of AWS, O365, and Azure has blown away many hesitations to move workloads into a public cloud. What customers have found is that you can in fact trust Microsoft to run your infrastructure reliability and securely.
If you accept that the world is moving to public clouds, then where does it leave you as an MSP? It could leave you with great opportunity if you are willing to evolve your practice and guide your customers into a different model. Or it could leave you asking “what happened?” Don’t miss out and get left in the dust.