Thursday, January 30, 2020

Intelligent Spend Management Supports Better Decision-Making Across Modern Business Functions

Transcript of a discussion on how a data-rich view of spend patterns across corporate services, hiring, and goods reduces risk, spurs new business models, and helps develop better strategic decisions.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: SAP Ariba.

Dana Gardner: Hi, this is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you’re listening to BriefingsDirect. Our next thought leadership discussion on attaining intelligent spend management explores the findings of a recent IDC survey on paths to holistic business processes improvement.

We will now learn how a long history of legacy systems and outdated methods holds companies back from their potential around new total spend management optimization. The payoffs on gaining such a full and data-rich view of spend patterns across services, hiring, and goods includes reduced risk, new business models, and better strategic decisions.

To help us chart the future of intelligent spend management, and to better understand how the market views these issues, we are joined by Drew Hofler, Vice President of Portfolio Marketing at SAP Ariba and SAP Fieldglass. Welcome back, Drew.

Drew Hofler: Thanks, Dana. It’s great to be with you again.

Gardner: What trends or competitive pressures are prompting companies to seek better ways to get a total spend landscape view? Why are they incentivized to seek broader insights?
Hofler: After years of grabbing best-of-breed or niche solutions for various parts of the source-to-pay process, companies are reaching the limits of this siloed approach. Companies are now being asked to look at their vendor spend as a whole. Whereas before they would look just at travel and expense vendors, or services procurement, or indirect or direct spend vendors, chief procurement and financial officers now want to understand what’s going on with spend holistically.

And, in fact, from the IDC report you mentioned, we found that 53 percent of respondents use different applications for each type of vendor spend that they have. Sometimes they even use multiple applications within a process for specific types of vendor spend. In fact, we find that a lot of folks have cobbled together a number of different things -- from in-house billing to niche vendors – to keep track of all of that.

Managing all of that when there is an upgrade to one particular system -- and having to test across the whole thing -- is very difficult. They also have trouble being able to reconcile data back and forth.

One of our competitors, for example -- to show how this Frankenmonster approach has taken root -- tried to build a platform of every source and category of spend across the entire source-to-pay process by acquiring 14 different companies in six years. That creates a patchwork of applications where there is a skim of user interfaces across the top for people to enter, but the data is disconnected. The processes are disconnected. You have to manage all of the different code bases. It’s untenable.

Gardner: There is a big technology component to such a patchwork, but there’s a people level to this as well. More-and-more we hear about the employee experience and trying to give people intelligent tools to make higher-level decisions and not get bogged down in swivel-ware and cutting and pasting between apps. What do the survey results tell us all about the people, process, and technology elements of total spend management?

Unified data reconciliation

Hofler: It really is a combination of people, process, and technology that drives intelligent spend. It’s the idea of bringing together every source, every category, every buying channel for all of your different types of vendor spend so that you can reconcile on the technology side; you can reconcile the data.

For example, one of the things that we are building is master vendor unification across the different types of spend. A vendor that you see -- IBM, for example -- in one system is going to be the same as in another system. The data about that vendor is going to be enriched by the data from all of the other systems into a unified platform. But to do that you have to build upon a platform that uses the same micro-services and the same data that reconciles across all of the records so that you’re looking at a consistent view of the data. And then that has to be built with the user in mind.

So when we talk about every source, category, and channel of spend being unified under a holistic intelligent spend management strategy, we are not talking about a monolithic user experience. In fact, it’s very important that the experience of the user be tailored to their particular role and to what they do. For example, if I want to do my expenses and travel, I don’t want to go into a deep, sourcing-type of system that’s very complex and based on my laptop. I want to go into a mobile app. I want to take care of that really quickly.
If I'm sourcing some strategic suppliers I certainly can't do that on just a mobile app. I need data, details, and analysis. And that's why we have built the platform underneath it all to tie this together.

On the other hand, if I’m sourcing some strategic suppliers I certainly can’t do that on just a mobile app. I need data, details, and analysis. And that’s why we have built the platform underneath it all to tie this together even while the user interfaces and the experience of the user is exactly what they need.

When we did our spend management survey with IDC, we had more than 800 respondents across four regions. The survey showed a high amount of dissatisfaction because of the wide-ranging nature of how expense management systems interact. Some 48 percent of procurement executives said they are dissatisfied with spend management today. It’s kind of funny to me because the survey showed that procurement itself had the highest level of dissatisfaction. They are talking about their own processes. I think that’s because they know how the sausages are being made.

Gardner: Drew, this dissatisfaction has been pervasive for quite a while. As we examine what people want, how did the survey show what is working? What gives them the data they need, and where does it go next?

Let go of patchwork 

Hofler: What came out of the survey is that part of the reason for that dissatisfaction is the multiple technologies cobbled together, with lots of different workflows. There are too many of those, too much data duplication, too many discrepancies between systems, and it doesn’t allow companies to analyze the data, to really understand in a holistic view what’s going on.

In fact, 47 percent of the procurement leaders said they still rely on spreadsheets for spend analysis, which is shocking to me, having been in this business for a long time. But we are much further along the path in helping that out by reconciling master data around suppliers so they are not duplicating data.

It’s also about tying together, in an integrated and seamless way, the entire process across different systems. That allows workflow to not be based on the application or the technology but on the required processes. For example, when it comes to installing some parts to fix a particular machine, you need to be able to order the right parts from the right suppliers but also to coordinate that with the right skilled labor needed to install the parts.
If you have separate systems for your services, skilled labor, and goods, you may be very disconnected. There may be parts available but no skilled labor at the time you need in the area you need. Or there may be the skilled labor but the parts are not available from a particular vendor where that skilled labor is.

What we’ve built at SAP is the ability to tie those together so that the system can intelligently see the needs, assess the risks such as fluctuations in the labor market, and plan and time that all together. You just can’t do that with cobbled together systems. You have to be able to have a fully and seamlessly integrated platform underneath that can allow that to happen.

Gardner: Drew, as I listen to you describe where this is going, it dovetails with what we hear about digital transformation of businesses. You’re talking not just about goods and services, you are talking about contingent labor, about all the elements that come together from modern business processes, and they are definitely distributed with a lifecycle of their own. Managing all that is the key.

Now that we have many different moving parts and the technology to evaluate and manage them, how does holistic spend management elevate what used to be a series of back-office functions into a digital business transformation value?

Hofler: Intelligent spend management makes it possible for all of the insights that come from these various data points -- by applying algorithms, machine learning (ML), and artificial intelligence (AI) -- to look at the data holistically. It can then pull out patterns of spend across the entire company, across every category, and it allows the procurement function to be at the nexus of those insights.

If you think of all the spend in a company, it’s a huge part of their business when you combine direct, indirect, services, and travel and expenses. You are now able to apply those insights to where there are the price fluctuations, peaks and valleys in purchasing, versus what the suppliers and their suppliers can provide at a certain time.

It’s an almost infinite amount of data and insights that you can gain. The procurement function is being asked to bring to the table not just the back-office operational efficiency but the insights that feed into a business strategy and the business direction. It’s hard to do that if you have disconnected or cobbled-together systems and a siloed approach to data and processes. It’s very difficult to see those patterns and make those connections.

But when you have a common platform such as SAP provides, then you’re able to get your arms around the entire process. The Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) can bring to the table quite a lot of data and the insights and that show the company what they need to know in order to make the best decisions.

Gardner: Drew, what are the benefits you get along the way? Are there short-, medium-, and long-term benefits? Were there any findings in the IDC survey that alluded to those various success measurements?

Common platform benefits 

Hofler: We found that 80 percent of today’s spend managers’ time is spent on low-level tasks like invoice matching, purchase requisitioning, and vendor management. That came out of the survey. With the tying together of the systems and the intelligence technologies infused throughout, those things can be automated. In some cases, they can become autonomous, freeing up time for more valuable pursuits for the employees.

New technologies can also help, like APIs for ecosystem solutions. This is one of the great short-term benefits if you are on an intelligent spend management platform such as SAP’s. You become part of a network of partners and suppliers. You can tap into that ecosystem of partners for solutions aligned with core spend management functions.

Celonis, for example, looks at all of your workflows across the entire process because they are all integrated. It can see it holistically and show duplication and how to make those processes far more efficient. That’s something that can be accessed very quickly.
Longer-term, companies gain insights into the ebbs and flows of spending, cost, and risk. They can begin to make better decisions on who to buy from based on many criteria. They can better choose who to buy from. They start to understand the risks across entire supply chains.

Longer-term, companies gain insights into the ebbs and flows of spending, cost, and risk. They can begin to make better decisions on who to buy from based on many criteria. They can better choose who to buy from. They can also in a longer-term situation start to understand the risks involved across entire supply chains.

One of the great things about having an intelligent spend platform is the ability to tie in through that network to other datasets, to other providers, who can provide risk information on your suppliers and on their suppliers. It can see deep into the supply chain and provide risk analytics to allow you to manage that in a much better way. That’s becoming a big deal today because there is so much information, and social media allows information to pass along so quickly.

When a company has a problem with their supply chain -- whether that’s reputational or something that their suppliers’ suppliers are doing -- that will damage their brand. If there is a disruption in services, that comes out very quickly and can very quickly hit the bottom line of a company. And so the ability to moderate those risks, to understand them better, and to put strategies together longer term and short-term makes a huge difference. An intelligent spend platform allows that to happen.

Gardner: Right, and you can also start to develop new business models or see where you can build out the top line and business development. It makes procurement not just about optimization, but with intelligence to see where future business opportunities lie.

Comprehend, comply, control 

Hofler: That’s right, you absolutely can. Again, it’s all about finding patterns, understanding what’s happening, and getting deeper understanding. We have so much data now. We have been talking about this forever, the amount of data that keeps piling up. But having an ability to see that holistically, have that data harmonized, and the technological capability to dive into the details and patterns of that data is really important.
And that data network has, in our case, more than 20 years’ worth of spend data, with more than $13 trillion in lifetime of spend data and more than $3 trillion a year of transactions moving through our network – the Ariba Network. So not only do companies have the technologies that we provide in our intelligent spend management platform to understand their own data, but there is also the capability to take advantage of rationalized data across multiple industries, benchmarks, and other things, too, that affect them outside of their four walls.

So that’s a big part of what’s happening right now. If you don’t have access into those kinds of insights, you are operating in the dark these days.

Gardner: Are there any examples that illustrate some of the major findings from the IDC survey and show the benefits of what you have described?

Hofler: Danfoss, a Danish company, is a customer of ours that produces heating and cooling drives, and power solutions; they are a large company. They needed to standardize disparate enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems across 72 factories and implement services for indirect spend control and travel across 100 countries. So they have a very large challenge where there is a very high probability for data to become disconnected and broken down.

That’s really the key. They were looking for the ability to see one version of truth across all the businesses, and one of the things that really drives that need is the need for compliance. If you look at the IDC survey findings, close to half of executive officers are particularly concerned with compliance and auditing in spend management policy. Why? Because it allows both more control and deeper trust in budgeting and forecasting, but also because if there are quality issues they can make sure they are getting the right parts from the right suppliers.

The capability for Danfoss to pull all of that together into a single version of truth -- as well as with their travel and expenses -- gives them the ability to make sure that they are complying with what they need to, holistically across the business without it being spotty. So that was one of the key examples.

Another one of our customers, Swisscom, a telecommunications company in Switzerland, a large company also, needed intelligent spend management to manage their indirect spend and their contingent workforce.

They have 16,000 contingent workers, with 23,000 emails and a couple of thousand phone calls from suppliers on a regular basis. Within that supply chain they needed to determine supplier selection and rates on receipt of purchase requisitions. There were questions about supplier suitability in the subsequent procurement stages. They wanted a proactive, self-service approach to procurement to achieve visibility into that, as well as into its suppliers and the external labor that often use and install the things that they procure.
By moving from a disconnected system to the SAP intelligent spend offering, they were able to gain cohesive information and a clear view of their processes -- consumer, supplier, procurement, and end-user services.

So, by moving from a disconnected system to the SAP intelligent spend offering, they were able to gain cohesive information and a clear view of their processes, which includes those around consumer, supplier, procurement, and end user services. They said that using this user-friendly platform allowed them to quickly reach compliance and usability by all of their employees across the company. It made it very easy for them to do that. They simplified the user experience.

And they were able to link suppliers and catalogs very closely to achieve a vision of total intelligent spend management using SAP Fieldglass and SAP Ariba. They said they transformed procurement from a reactive processing role to one of proactively controlling and guiding, thanks to uniform and transparent data, which is really fundamental to intelligent spend.

Gardner: Before we close out, let’s look to the future. It sounds like you can do so much with what’s available now, but we are not standing still in this business. What comes next technologically, and how does that combine with process efficiencies and people power -- giving people more intelligence to work with? What are we looking for next when it comes to how to further extend the value around intelligent spend management?

Harmony and integration ahead 

Hofler: Extending the value into the future begins with the harmonization of data and the integration of processes seamlessly. It’s process-driven, and it doesn’t really matter what’s below the surface in terms of the technology because it’s all integrated and applied to a process seamlessly and holistically.

What’s coming in the future on top of that, as companies start to take advantage of this, is that more intelligent technologies are being infused into different parts of the process. For example, chatbots and the ability for users to interact with the system in a natural language way. Automation of processes is another example, with the capability to turn some processes into being fully autonomous, where the decisions are based on the learning of the machines.

The user interaction can then become one of oversight and exception management, where the autonomous processes take over and manage when everything fits inside of the learned parameters. It then brings in the human elements to manage and change the parameters and to manage exceptions and the things that fall outside of that.

There is never going to be removal of the human, but the human is now able with these technologies to become far more strategic, to focus more on analytics and managing the issues that need management and not on repetitive processes that can be handled by the machine. When you have that connected across your entire processes, that becomes even more efficient and allows for more analysis. So that’s where it’s going.

Plus, we’re adding more ecosystem partners. When you have a networked ecosystem on intelligent spend, that allows for very easy connections to providers who can augment the core intelligent spend functions with data. For example, for attaining global tax, compliance, risk, and VAT rules through partners like American Express and Thomson Reuters. All of these things can be added. You will see that ecosystem growing to continue to add exponential value to being a part of an intelligent spend management platform.

Gardner: There are upcoming opportunities for people to dig into this and understand it and find the ways that it makes sense for them to implement, because it varies from company to company. What are some ways that people can learn details?

Hofler: There is a lot coming up. Of course, you can always go to, or and find out about our intelligent spend management offerings. We will be having our SAP Ariba Live conference in Las Vegas in March, and so tons and tons of content there, and lots of opportunity to interact with other folks who are in the same situation and implementing these similar things. You can learn a lot.

We are also doing a webinar with IDC to dig into the details of the survey. You can find information about that on, and certainly if you are listening to this after the fact, you can hear the recording of that on and download the report.

Gardner: I’m afraid we’ll have to leave it there. You have been listening to a sponsored BriefingsDirect discussion on intelligent spend management through the exploration of the findings of a recent IDC survey. And we have learned how payoffs to gaining such a full and data rich view of spend patterns across services, hiring, and goods include reduced risk, new business models, and better strategic decision-making.

So a big thank you to our guest, Drew Hofler, Vice President of Portfolio Marketing at SAP Ariba and SAP Fieldglass. Thanks so much, Drew.

Hofler: Thanks, Dana. I appreciate it.

Gardner: And a big thank you as well to our audience for joining this BriefingsDirect Modern Digital Business Innovation Discussion. I’m Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host throughout this series of SAP Ariba-sponsored BriefingsDirect discussions. Thanks again for listening, and do come back next time.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: SAP Ariba.

Transcript of a discussion on how a data-rich view of spend patterns across corporate services, hiring, and goods reduces risk, spurs new business models, and helps develop better strategic decisions. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2020. All rights reserved.

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Monday, January 27, 2020

How an MSP Brings Comprehensive Security Services to Diverse Clients

Transcript of a discussion on how a UK managed services provider developed the right mix of security strength and ease-of-use using Bitdefender Cloud Security for Managed Service Providers.
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: Bitdefender

Dana Gardner: Welcome to the next edition of BriefingsDirect. I’m Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host and moderator.

As businesses move more of their IT services to the cloud, reducing complexity and making sure that security needs are met throughout the migration process are now top of mind.

For a UK managed services provider (MSP), finding the right mix of security strength and ease-of-use for its many types of customers became a top priority. Stay with us now as we learn how Northstar Services, Ltd. in Bristol-area England adopted Bitdefender Cloud Security for Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to both improve security for their end users and to make managing that security at scale easier than ever.

Here to discuss the role of the latest Bitdefender security technology -- and making MSPs more like security services providers -- is John Williams, Managing Director at Northstar Services, Ltd. Welcome, John.

John Williams: Hello.

Gardner: What are some of the top trends driving the need for an MSP such as Northstar to provide even better security services?

Williams: We used to get lots of questions regarding stability for computers. They would break fairly regularly and we’d have to do hardware changes. People were interested in what software we were going to load -- what the next version of this, that, and the other was -- but those discussions have changed a great deal. Now everybody is talking about security in one form or another.

Gardner: Whenever you change something -- whether it’s configurations, the software, or the service provider, like a cloud -- it leaves gaps that can create security problems. How can you be doubly sure when you make changes that the security follows through?

The value of visibility, 24-7
Williams: We used to install a lot of antivirus software on centralized servers. That was very common. We would set up a big database and install security software on there, for example. And then we would deploy it to the endpoints from those servers, and it worked fairly well. Yet it was quite a lot of work to maintain it.

But now we are supporting people who are so much more mobile. Some customers are all out and about on the road. They don’t go to the office. They are servicing their customers, and they have their laptop. But they want the same level of security as they would have on a big corporate network.

So we have defined the security products that give us visibility of what’s happening. It means that we don’t have to know that they are up to date. We have to manage those clients wherever they are on whatever device they have -- all from one place.

Gardner: Even though these customers are on the frontline, you’re the one as the MSP they are going to call up when things don’t go right.

Williams: Yes, absolutely. We have lots of customers who don’t have on-site IT resources. They are not experts. They often have small businesses with hundreds of users. They just want to call us, find out what’s going on when they see a problem on their computers, and we have got to know whether that’s a security issue or an application that’s broken.

But they are very concerned that we have that visibility all of the time. Our engineers need to be able to access that easily and address it as soon as a call comes in.

Gardner: Before we learn more about your journey to solving those issues, tell us about Northstar. How long have you been around and what’s the mainstay of your business?

Williams: I have been running Northstar for more than 20 years now, since January 1999. I had been working in IT as an IT support engineer in large organizations for a few years, but I really wanted to get involved in looking after small businesses.
People appreciate it when you make an effort. They want to tell you that you did a good job, and they want to know that someone is paying attention to them.

I like that because you get direct feedback. People appreciate it when you make an effort. They want to tell you that you did a good job, and they want to know that someone is paying attention to them.

So it was a joy to be able to get that up and going. We have a great team here now and that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning -- working with our team to look after our customers.

Gardner: Smaller businesses moving to the cloud has become more the norm lately. How are your smaller organizations managing that? Sometimes with the crossover -- the hybrid period between having both on-premises devices as well as cloud services -- can be daunting. Is that something you are helping them with?

Moving to cloud step-by-step 

Williams: Yes, absolutely. We often see circumstances where they want to move one set of systems to the cloud before they want to move everything to the cloud. So they generally are on a trend where they want to get rid of in-house services, especially for the smaller end of the market, for customers who are smaller. But they often have legacy systems that they can’t easily port off the services from. They might have been custom written or are older versions that they can’t afford to upgrade at this point. So we end up supporting partly in the cloud and partly on-premises.

And some customers, that’s their strategy. They take a particular workload, a database, for example, or some graphics software that they use, that runs brilliantly on servers in their offices. But they want to outsource other applications.

So, when we look at security, we need software that’s going to be able to work across those different scenarios. It can’t just be one or the other. It’s no good if it’s just on-premises, and no good if it’s just in the cloud. It has to be able to do all of that, all from one console because that’s what we are supporting.

Gardner: John, what were your requirements when you were looking for the best security to accomplish this set of requirements? What did you look for and how did your journey end?

Williams: Well, you can talk about the things being easy to manage, things being visible and with good reporting. All those things are important, and we assessed all of those. But the bottom line is, does it pick up infections? Is it able to keep those units secure and safe? And when an infection has happened, does it clean them up or stop them in their tracks quickly?

That has to be the number one thing, because whatever other savings you might make in looking after security, the fact that something that’s trying to do something bad is blocked -- that has to be number one; stopping it in its tracks and getting it off that unit as quickly as possible. The sooner it’s stopped, the less damage and the less time the engineers have to spend rebuilding the units that have been killed by viruses or malware.

And we used to do quite a lot of that. With the previous antivirus security software we used, there was a constant stream of cleaning up after infections. Although it would detect and alert us, very often the damage was already done. So, we had a long period of repairing that, often rebuilding the whole operating system (OS), which is really inconvenient for customers.

And again, coming back to the small businesses, they don’t have spare PCs hanging around that they can just get out of the cupboard and carry on. Very often that’s the most vital kit that they own. Every moment it’s out of action, that’s directly affecting their bottom line. So detecting infections and stopping them in their tracks was our number-one criteria when we were looking.

Gardner: In the best of all worlds, the end user is not even aware that they were infected, not aware it was remediated, not having to go through the process of rebuilding. That’s a win-win for everyone.

Automation around security is therefore top of mind these days. What you have been able to do with Bitdefender Cloud Security for MSPs that accomplishes that invisibility to the end user -- and also helps you with automation behind the scenes?

Stop malware in its tracks 

Williams: Yes, the stuff was easy to deploy. But what it boils down to is that we just don’t get as many issues to have to automate the resolution for. So automation is important, and the things it does are useful. But the number of issues that we have to deal with is so few now that even if we were to 100 percent automate, it wouldn’t make a massive savings, because it’s not interrupting us very much.

It’s stopping malware in its tracks and cleaning it up. Most of the time we are seeing that it has done it, rather than us having to automate a script to do some removal or some changes or that kind of thing. It has already done it. I suppose that is automated, if you think about it, yes.

Gardner: You said it’s been a dramatic difference between the past and now with the number of issues to deal with. Can you qualify that?

Williams: In the three or four years we have used Bitdefender, when we look at the number of tickets that we used to get in for antivirus problems on people’s laptops and PCs, they have just dropped to such a low level now, it’s a tiny proportion. I don’t think it’s even coming up on a graph.
When we look at the number of tickets we used to get in for antivirus problems, since we have used Bitdefender they have just dropped to such a low level now, it's a tiny proportion. It doesn't even come up on a graph.

You record the type of ticket that comes in, and it’s a printer issue, a hardware issue. The virus removal tickets are not featuring high enough to even appear on the graph because Bitdefender is just dealing with those infections and fixing them without having to get to them and rebuild PCs.

Gardner: When you defend a PC, Mac or mobile device, that can have a degradation effect. Users will complain about slow apps, especially when the antivirus software is running. Has there been an improvement in terms of the impact of the safety net when it comes to your use of Bitdefender Cloud Security for MSPs?

Williams: Yes, it’s much lighter on the OS than the previous software that we were using. We were often getting calls from customers to say that their units were running slowly because of the heavy load it was having to do in order to run the security software. That’s the exact opposite of what you want. You are putting this software on there so that they get a better experience; in other words, they are not getting infected as often.

But then you’re slowing down their work every day, I mean, that’s not a great trade-off. Security is vital but if it has such a big impact on them that they are losing time by just having it on there -- then that’s not working out very well.

Now [with Bitdefender Cloud Security for MSPs] it’s light enough from the that it just isn’t an issue. We don’t get customers saying, “Since you put the antivirus on my laptops, it seems to be slower.” In fact, it’s usually the opposite.

Gardner: I’d like to return to the issue of cloud migration. It such a big deal when people move across a continuum of on-premises, hybrid, and cloud – and be able to move while security is maintained. It’s like changing the wings on an airplane and keeping it flying at the same time.

What is it about the way that Bitdefender has architected its solution that helps you, as a service provider, guide people through that transition but not lose a sense of security?

Don’t worry, be happy 

Williams: It’s because we are managing all of the antivirus licenses in the cloud, whether they are on-premises, inside an office where they are using those endpoints,  or whether they are out and about; whether it’s a client-server running in cloud services or running on-premises, we are putting the same software on there and managing it in the same console. It means we don’t worry about that security piece. We know that whatever they change to, whatever they are coming from, we can put the same software on and manage it in the same place -- and we are happy.
Gardner: As a service provider I’m sure that the amount of man hours you have to apply to different solutions directly affects your bottom line. Is there something about the administration of all of this across your many users that’s been an improvement? The GravityZone Cloud Management console, for example, has that allowed you to do more with less when it comes to your internal resources?

Williams: Yes, and the way that I gauge that is the amount of time. Engineers want to do an efficient job, that’s what they like, they want to get to the root of problems and fix them quickly. So any piece of software or tool that doesn’t work efficiently for them, I get a long list of complaints about on a regular basis. All engineers want to fix things fast because that’s what the customer wants, and they are working on their behalf.

Before, I would have constant complaints about how difficult it was to manage and deploy software on the units if they needed to be decommissioned. It was just troublesome. But now I don’t get any complaints over it. The staff is nothing but complimentary about the software. That just makes me happy because I know that they are able to work with it, which means that they are doing the job that they want to do, which is helping our customers and keeping them happy. So yes, it’s much better.

Gardner: Looking to the future, is there something that you are interested in seeing more of? Perhaps around encryption or the use of machine learning (ML) to give you more analytics as to what’s going on? What would you like to see out of your security infrastructure and services from the cloud in the next couple of years?

The devil’s in the data detail 

Williams: One thing that customers are talking to us about quite a bit now is data security. So they are thinking more about the time when they are going to have to report the fact that they’ve been attacked. And no software on earth is perfect. The whole point of security is that the threat continually evolves.

At the point where you’ve had a breach of some kind, you want to understand what’s happened. And so, having information back from the security software that helps you to understand how the breach happened -- and the extent of it -- that’s becoming really important to customers. When they submit those reports, as legally they have to do, they want to have accurate information to say, “We had an infection, and that’s it.” If they don’t know exactly what the extent of it was – or whether any data was accessed or infected or encrypted without having that detail -- that’s a problem.
So the more information that we can gain from the security software about the extent, that’s going to be more important going forward.

Gardner: Anything else come to mind about what you’d like to see from the technology side?

Williams: So automation is important and that artificial intelligence (AI) side of it where the software itself learns about what’s happening and can give you an idea when it spots something that’s out of the ordinary -- that will be more useful as time goes on.

Gardner: John, what advice do you have for other MSPs when it comes to a security, a better security posture?

Williams: Don’t be afraid of defining the securing services. You have to lead that conversation, I think. That’s what customers want to know. They want to know that you have thought about it, and that’s at the very full front of your mind.
We meet our customers regularly. The first item on the agenda is security. We like to talk about where they are, what's the next thing that they can do to make sure they are doing everything they can to protect the data they have gathered from their customers, and to look after their data about their staff, too, and to keep their services running.

We go meet our customers regularly and we usually have a standard agenda that we use. The first item on the agenda is security. And that journey for each customer is different. They are starting from different places. So we like to talk about where they are, what’s the next thing that they can do to make sure they are doing everything they can to protect the data they have gathered from their customers, and to look after their data about their staff, too, and to keep their services running.

We put that at the top of the agenda for every meeting. That’s a great way of behaving as a service provider. But, of course, in order to do that, to deliver on that, you have to have the right tools. You have to say, “Okay, if I am going to be in that role to help people with a security, I have to have those tools in place.”

If they are complicated, difficult to use, and hard to implement -- then that’s going to make it horrible. But if they are simple and give you great visibility, then you are going to be able to deliver a service that customers will really want to buy.

Gardner: I’m afraid we’ll have to leave it there. You have been listening to a sponsored BriefingsDirect discussion on how reducing complexity and making sure security needs are met throughout a process of cloud adoption is the top of mind for MSPs.

And we have learned how Northstar Services in Bristol-area England has adopted Bitdefender Cloud Security for MSPs to both improve their security for the end user and also making managing security easier than ever.

Please join me in thanking our guest, John Williams, Managing Director at Northstar Services, Ltd. Thank you so much, John.

Williams: A pleasure.

Gardner: I’m Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host for this ongoing series of BriefingsDirect discussions. And a big thank you to our sponsor, Bitdefender, for supporting these presentations.

Lastly, thanks to our audience for joining. Please pass this along to your IT community, and do come back next time.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: Bitdefender

Transcript of a discussion on how a UK managed services provider developed the right mix of security, strength, and ease-of-use using Bitdefender Cloud Security for Managed Service Providers. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2020. All rights reserved.

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