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IT Briefcase Interview: Simplicity, Security, and Scale – The Future for MSPs

August 7, 2023 No Comments

with Antoine Jebara, co-founder and general manager, MSP Products, JumpCloud

The modern IT landscape can be particularly challenging, especially for small and medium-sized businesses that have limited budget and staff. Whether to help with IT management or to defend against sophisticated attacks, organizations are increasingly turning to managed service providers (MSP) for everything from cloud storage to threat detection and response. JumpCloud’s Antoine Jebara, co-founder and GM of MSP Products offers his perspective on developments in the MSP space, what successful MSPs are doing to stay ahead of threats and challenges, and what the future of AI means for IT and those managing it.

Q. Thanks for taking time to talk, Antoine. Can you tell us how are MSPs managing their tech stack, especially given that businesses seem to be allowing different kinds of device types or even some hybrid around BYOD?

Historically, vendors tend to lock their users into a specific ecosystem. Microsoft particularly has been incredibly effective with this strategy, where you have to be vertically integrated with all Microsoft products to get the best price or for all of the features to work. What’s changing is that MSPs are moving away from that legacy approach of being locked into a single vendor. MSPs and their clients are demanding freedom of choice.

MSPs are looking for flexibility, for a stack that can manage macOS, Windows, Linux devices; that can integrate Google Workspace or Microsoft’s Productivity Suite; that can scale up without adding headaches; and that can get employees up and running without friction. Today’s stack usually involves a foundational layer—often an open directory layer— that allows easy integration with various types of third-party solutions. This approach makes the most sense from a management perspective, from a user experience perspective, and most critically, from a pricing perspective by allowing MSPs to keep things secure and scalable.

Q. What are the biggest challenges for MSPs in this overall environment?

Well, it’s a particularly interesting landscape for MSPs right now. As I said earlier, users no longer want to be stuck with just one vendor’s offerings. They want the freedom to choose from a wide range of options that suit their specific needs. This puts pressure on MSPs to adapt and find ways to provide more flexibility and choice to their customers. There’s always difficulty in convincing customers to switch to new solutions. That’s not always an easy task. Sometimes it’s more effective to address the customer’s current pain points and gradually introduce them to alternative options. MSPs need to show their customers the benefits and possibilities of new solutions in a way that makes sense to them.

Managing security and compliance is another particularly difficult challenge for MSPs. With so many different tools and solutions tailored to different customers, it can get pretty complex to manage, especially when you consider how many attack surfaces that creates. MSP administrators juggling multiple connections and layers—usability, security, and billing– find out quickly that relying solely on documentation platforms to keep track of everything may not cut it. Finding a way to simplify the audit process while still offering flexibility is crucial.

And of course, there are always business pressures—which I’d argue are intensifying—from stiff competition from other MSPs to managing revenue at a time of rising licensing fees.

With that said, more and more companies are outsourcing their IT to MSPs. The opportunity ahead of the MSP market is massive. I think that there’s a good chance that we’ve barely scratched the surface on how influential MSPs will be in the lives of current and future companies.

Q. What are the biggest trends you’re seeing in the MSP space right now?

I can think of two pretty big ones. First, the MSP market is experiencing extraordinary growth in large part due to the increasingly complicated IT and threat landscape. The space is evolving so quickly. For small and medium-sized businesses, I think that now, it’s a pretty common assumption that keeping your business protected from different threats while remaining productive isn’t something that most SMBs can handle on their own. So MSPs will continue to grow as IT continues to get more complicated and threats increase in frequency.

Another thing we’re seeing is that MSPs are turning into MSSPs or partnering with MSSPs to ensure deep security coverage. Most MSPs can get a baseline understanding of their customer requirements, and for those who need more advanced security, they can leverage an MSSP. It allows the MSPs to scale and focus on core offerings while integrating deeper security like incident response or forensic analysis.

Q. How are MSPs handling the new workplace? With distributed workforces the norm, what kind of added burden does that put on the MSP and how are they managing it?

With today’s hybrid and remote workplace models, MSPs often find themselves with a number of tools or point solutions they’re trying to manage on behalf of customers. So Customer A is using this, Customer B is using that, and MSP admins have to manage these different tools and connect these tools to different companies. It gets complicated really quickly. Then you have the usability layer, the security layer, the billing layer, and admins have to rely on documentation platforms to keep track of what’s happening, who has access to what, and all kinds of complexity. It’s overwhelming to manage so many tools or solutions, and our research consistently finds that admins would prefer a unified approach to managing the employee lifecycle.

Simplicity is key. You need simplicity and flexibility. So MSPs are looking to get a real-time comprehensive view across all companies around what’s deployed. The end goal is to manage these deployments efficiently, across identities, access, and devices. Get that and you have an advantage over your competition, you’re able to do more with fewer people, you’re able to save on costs of vendors, and improve security because of this simplified system.

Q. What are your suggested best practices for security for MSPs? What recommendations should they be making to their clients?

Remote work has rendered the traditional security perimeter obsolete and so making sense of today’s security landscape means MSPs should consider the following steps:

– Keep the focus on zero trust: The phrase has been bandied about, but ultimately, a zero trust framework ensures that every user, every device, every application is never trusted by default before access is granted even when they are within a trusted network or have been previously verified. This should be the goal for IT security.

– Consolidate tools: MSPs have to secure every access transaction, a task made incredibly more complex when they’re juggling multiple point solutions. Centralizing IT management eliminates much of that risk. Unifying user identity gives MSPs greater control over—and insight into—the IT landscape.

– Adopt passwordless authentication & MFA: While there are IT resources that continue to require password-based systems, adopting passwordless authentication with built-in MFA where possible helps solve a number of the current challenges with user authentication.

Offer end-user security training: Providing clients with a comprehensive and recurring training and education program allows all stakeholders to remain alert and informed about security threats and responses—and keep their organizations secure. 

Q. What are the most effective ways to establish trust between an MSP and a customer?

It may sound obvious but you’d be surprised how many MSPs seem to miss the mark: MSPs have to be customer-centric. You have to develop a solid understanding of customers’ daily challenges and their objectives to establish yourself as an irreplaceable and critical partner. Listen to what your customers’ business objectives are and be willing to demonstrate how your service offering aligns with their goals. This is a continuous effort and not a one-off one, make sure that you are keeping that alignment in place through QBRs and regular update calls and show that you are responsive to feedback by implementing improvements to your processes that improve customer experience.

Q. What do you see as the future for AI in managed services?

Over the past year, the pace of innovation in AI has been incredible. It’s brought about significant improvements and has the potential to disrupt many markets, including automation-led IT management. What’s important to note, though, is that the full automation of workflows in certain settings will likely take some time, especially in the areas of security and compliance. Over the shorter term, I think AI will be used to augment human capabilities rather than manage full automation. Humans will still be in the driver’s seat for the foreseeable future

For MSPs, the pace and impact of AI breakthroughs require them to stay informed about the current and future landscape of AI. MSPs also have to develop a clear strategy that accounts for both the positive and negative impacts that AI may have on their workforce, business offerings, and clients over the coming months and years.

Given that MSPs can manage a broad portfolio of IT responsibilities, it’s no wonder that the market is estimated to grow to $355B by 2026. To capitalize on that growth, MSPs should remain focused on delivering value, creating effective client communications, and establishing relationships built on openness, flexibility, and mutual support.

As co-founder and GM of MSP Products at JumpCloud, Antoine’s role is to drive JumpCloud’s MSP vision and strategy and continuously tailor its offerings to cater to the needs of partners and their customers. Prior to joining JumpCloud, Antoine was the co-founder and CEO of MYKI, a growth-stage startup focused on decentralized password & 2FA management for MSPs, which was acquired by JumpCloud in February 2022.

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