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The importance of platforms and how MSPs can take advantage

Dave Sobel discusses Google's rebranding of G Suite to Google Workspace and how MSPs should focus on which platform they offer customers, not just operating systems.

Dave Sobel is host of the podcast The Business of Tech and co-host of the podcast Killing IT. In addition, he wrote Virtualization: Defined. Sobel is regarded as a leading expert in the delivery of technology services, with broad experience in both technology and business.

For this week's video, Sobel digs into the platforms offered by Microsoft and Google and how solutions providers need to offer their services higher up in the stack, rather than just selecting what operating system they provide customers.

Transcript follows below.

I was asked by a Patreon about my thinking on Google's recent rebranding of G Suite to 'Google Workspace.' The Patreon was focused on the positioning -- was Google betting on a younger workforce preferring Google products over Microsoft 365? Was a focus on better UX and simplicity going to drive those younger workers and SMBs to the product?

Great question. The rebranding itself is fine, and I'm no brand expert, but I think Google Workspace is a better name than G Suite.

As I mentioned on the October 6 episode of the Business of Tech, Microsoft and Google are both focused on their subscription bundle, and each wants to ensure that consumers and businesses are both consuming their services on a monthly recurring revenue basis.

That said, let's discuss the idea of locking in the platform, because that is what is at stake here -- and why platforms matter in general.

Importance of the platform

Quoting Harvard Business Review, 'by building a digital platform, other businesses can easily connect their business with yours, build products and services on top of it, and co-create value.

The success of a platform strategy is determined by three factors:

  1. Connection: how easily others can plug into the platform to share and transact
  2. Gravity: how well the platform attracts participants, both producers and consumers
  3. Flow: how well the platform fosters the exchange and co-creation of value.'

For those of us in technology services, the operating system has generally been the platform we've built businesses on recently. It was hardware prior, for sure, and just like all things, you moved up the stack. This is why Windows was so critically important to most solution provider businesses in the aughts because everything plugged into that platform, and so if you managed that platform, you were keeping the castle.

Then came the smartphone and disrupted that. It's easy to see. Where Windows was once 95% of the market, it's now around 36%. Android is the actual dominant operating system.

Each company involved in this battle is moving to deliver more, because delivering just an operating system isn't enough. Thus, they look to deliver business solutions as the platform; and enter Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace.  

Microsoft, Google and even Zoom

Here's where this also gets interesting, because a dark horse has entered this race due to their lucky positioning when the pandemic hit, and that's Zoom. Zoom has released Zapps, which are apps you can use within the platform to improve productivity and create engaging experiences.

Don't think I am saying that Zoom is the same as Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace. It's not -- but it is in the important piece. The value of M365 or Google is not in email but in the business process on top of it. 

If a platform is connection, meaning how easily others plug in, share and transact; gravity, how well it attracts participants; and flow, how well it fosters exchange and value, you can see how video collaboration is becoming so key to that platform. Will we spend more time in video chat or in email? It may seem like a silly question, but it's not.

Let's pause for a moment here and understand the value to the vendor that builds a platform. This is a fantastic place to be, because not only do you sell your core platform, any business who plugs in will also act as your sales team because they've built on top of you. The platform itself acts as a marketing agent because of that gravity element.

Take Zoom as an example. It spreads because it's valuable on its own, and in becoming a platform, those who now sell virtual events within it act as those sales agents. If your virtual event charges to attend, you're also paying Zoom for its use. You're paying for those tools around it.  It makes you significantly more sticky and embeds you much further into your customers.

This is also why the 'workplace platform' is so critical, and why Microsoft and Google are fighting over it. There's a reason Google Meet is popping up in every Google product.

For technology services companies, take a moment and think about this for why your tools providers want to be your 'platform.'

If they position themselves as the connection for plugging in everything with that mythical single pane of glass, the gravity by trying to pull everything into their systems, and flow by showcasing the value they provide. All makes sense, and when the operating system was the platform you generated more value on, this made total sense.

Now, here's the reason solutions providers care

If you've been thinking about 'infrastructure' for your career, the valuable piece of the infrastructure you care about is now that business layer. It's M365, Google Workspace, Zoom, that collection of platforms. Helping customers unlock that value requires technical skills -- and as one of my Patreons observed in a chat, consulting related to policies and procedures is of equal importance to technology, and providers may need fewer sys admins and engineers while needing more policy writers and trainers.

Spot on! Policy writers and trainers are business results people, and this isn't technical skills but business ones, and it's unlikely owners are converting sys admins into these roles.

This is the need for cloud management -- M365, Google Workspace, Zoom, everything here is cloud/SaaS, and the tools you have relied on in the past aren't helping much.

Here's my concern -- providers have a potential skills gap and a technology gap at the same time. Sure, those who solve this problem will do exceptionally well. That said, vendors have an opportunity to make this easier, and so far, I have not identified someone who has.

We're not going to wait for vendors to solve this problem

My action plan for services companies is to get smart about their platform of choice, and it had better not be at the operating system level, and it also should not be your internal platform. Your choice right now is about which platform you support for your customers businesses.

Microsoft is something of a lead and obvious choice, and I get that for many providers. I'm quite high on Microsoft from a strategy point of view. I don't want to be dismissive of Google, however. There are waves of students graduating that know Chromebooks as their device of choice, and that means their platform is Google Workspace. A platform could be Salesforce -- if you're playing above the infrastructure level at all, you're building businesses here.

The key is picking one, and then running with it because just like you wouldn't be building a business on TCP/IP as the platform, you need to be moving well above operating systems entirely.

The water level has risen well above that, and those below are drowning. They may just not know it yet.

About the author
Dave Sobel is the host of the podcast The Business of Tech, co-host of the podcast Killing IT and authored the book Virtualization: Defined. Sobel is regarded as a leading expert in the delivery of technology services, with broad experience in both technology and business. He owned and operated an IT solution provider and MSP for more than a decade, and has worked for vendors such as Level Platforms, GFI, LOGICnow and SolarWinds, leading community, event, marketing and product strategies, as well as M&A activities. Sobel has received multiple industry recognitions, including CRN Channel Chief, CRN UK A-List, Channel Futures Circle of Excellence winner, Channel Pro's 20/20 Visionaries and MSPmentor 250.

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