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Managed services provider hype -- can we please get a grip?

Managed services providers are not new, not revolutionary, and not getting enough respect.

Enough already! Those VARs who have known me for a while know that impatience is one of my big character flaws, or maybe it's just that I get distracted easily. Hmmm, which is it?

Anyway, it's getting awful hard to hold my tongue over the way certain factions have co-opted the dialogue about managed services providers and hold it up as if managed services is some sort of mysterious holy grail that will save the channel from certain death and destruction.

First off, let's be real: the idea of becoming a managed services provider was not invented post-2000.

What's new is the name we're calling it: Remember the term outsourcing?

What's new is that it's now possible for small businesses to participate because the costs of doing it have come down thanks to the Internet build out.

What's new is there is wonderful

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Benefits of providing managed services
off-the-shelf software out there that lets VARs and solution providers automate various infrastructure tasks so people can spend more creative time dreaming up solutions that have a higher customer-facing business value.

What may also be new to your particular business model is that this stuff takes a lot more financial discipline and business planning than a service that is more ad hoc in nature. But that's really more about business-model maturity, in my opinion.

I would also like to beg two other indulgences.

First, the dialogue about better IT management will be a lot more useful if we actually define what we mean when we talk about managed service providers, because I am under no illusion that the term will go away.

Too many people equate the term simply with network monitoring. But what we're really talking about is applying process and discipline to a certain piece of technology so that it can be run far more efficiently.

It's not all about the data center, even though most of the research I see equates it with that. Printers count, too, and desktops and all manner of "pervasive" devices that have a network connection. Yes, a network connection is the common denominator.

Second, for the sake of clarity, could all of us (vendor, VAR, distributor and journalist alike) please not equate a VAR who happens to offer some managed services with a full-fledged managed service provider?

These are absolutely very different models. The latter has absolutely made a commitment to invest in the technology platform and billing infrastructure to offer this to customers and, of course, to resellers.

Vendors need to start thinking of them -- and treating them -- more like customers.

It'll help the whole cause if we just think before we speak.

By the way, I know that as a journalist I have done more than my share to hype certain concepts over the years. Maybe this column is just making things worse.

But you can make things better by giving us some feedback. You know the drill: Either leave your comments or email me at the address below.

Business journalist and consultant Heather Clancy has been covering the high-tech channel for close to 18 years. She can be reached at

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