Guest: Bob Coppedge
My interview with Bob Coppedge of Simplex-IT went a little longer than normal, mostly because we were having a great conversation and Bob is a great guy to interview. While Bob is focusing on the business and not “in the business” he has built a successful MSP that has been around for about 11 years. Simplex skipped the break-fix phase and jumped directly into MSP work from the start. Now with over 13 employees, Simplex is still growing.
Bob has written a book, “A CEO’s Survival Guide to Information Technology”, and is working on another one due out later this year that is written specifically for MSPs. Bob’s second book with detail how Simplex has had a lot of success in co-managed IT, basically helping to augment an existing IT staff with MSP services. If you want to connect with Bob, hit him up on LinkedIn or drop him an email at email@example.com.
Watch on YouTube
Hello and welcome to MSP Voice. This is episode number 33. Fun, fun show today. I’ve got Bob Coppedge in the interview. It went a little long. It’s like 40 minutes but really entertaining. Great guy, drops a lot of really, really great information for everyone out there, so I really hope you enjoy the interview. So we’re going to cut short the Best of Reddit today a little bit, so that the episode’s not too terribly long but I do have a couple of things I want to get to.
Best of Reddit
- Guest blog post on MSP Voice.com!
Brief: H. Michael Wayland gives some tips for working with local chambers to drum up leads.
First, again, mspvoice.com is your source for all things MSP Voice. Also, we are now introducing guest content, so you may remember H. Michael Wayland from episode number five. He has now actually written an article for us on the blog here, talking about using chambers, like Chambers of Commerce, and those types of things to help you grow your profitability and to get leads and those types of things.
So definitely check the article out and take a read. If you want to be a guest contributor on mspvoice.com, just let us know – not an issue. So now let’s go ahead and get to just a couple of Reddit articles today.
- Considering transitioning from break/fix to MSP…advice?
Brief: This person wants to transition to MSP and is asking the community for advice.
This one I think is interesting just because there’s some good information here but also, if anybody else wants to help this guy out, just let us know. You can comment on this article. But basically, this person is considering transitioning from break-fix to MSP, once he gets his new practice set up. Currently working alone. “What do you recommend I get good at?” A lot of question there just in the title but basically he wants to start an MSP business. He’s doing some break-fix now, I think part-time, those types of things. So what do you recommend? And a lot of people have contributed a lot of great information.
So there’s a huge difference between break-fix residential and business MSP. You need to master providing reliable solutions and processes that keep the client running smoothly. So you’re not cleaning viruses off desktops but blocking them from coming in and making sure everything is secure so they don’t get hacked. So that’s just some advice there from justinm001. And there’s a lot more really good advice here – learning scripting and automation, with PowerShell and those types of things. And some really good different types of stuff here. A big regret of mine was starting the MSP without working for a successful one first. So I think that’s really good advice.
So before you maybe jump out and think, “Hey, I’m going to this MSP thing,” if you’ve never worked for a successful MSP, then there may be a lot of things you don’t know. So maybe go to work for one first, learn to understand the processes and those types of things. It might make it easier to break it out on your own and get you some invaluable experience. So that’s another comment. And someone here says, “Starting over from scratch. That’s the best time to start full MSP, then you don’t have to try and convert your existing customers. But unfortunately it sounds like you already have some break-fix, so you might have to convert those.” But anyway, lots of great advice. Get a lawyer – that’s another good one here.
So definitely check this post out – links in the show notes. If you’ve got some advice for this person, let him know.
- Hiring a dispatch/documentation person. Best idea ever
Brief: This person is just 2 weeks in with a new dispatch and documentation person and is seeing great results.
Next up is, I think, just another really good practical advice for MSPs out there, and this person said that they hired a dispatch/documentation person and it was their best idea ever, their best decision ever. So, basically, they hired someone to help to triage the techs in the field, making sure everyone knows where they’re supposed to be, making sure the documentation was up to date when the techs were done with the project and those types of things. He says it’s only been two weeks but already it’s just been immensely, immensely helpful. It’s freed his time up and those types of things, so definitely not a bad idea to have someone out there just to, kind of, keep all your ducks in a row, making sure that everyone is where they’re supposed to be and can answer some basic, simple, quick questions if somebody calls in and needs some help.
So some others talking about the fact that they like having a more technical dispatcher, so that way they can handle some tickets. This person here said that the lady they hired, she has administrative experience but not really all that technical. But after a week of training and two weeks on the job, she’s actually getting pretty good at some stuff. So whether you hire someone technical or not, that’s kind of a debate in here but definitely just having someone, even if it’s just you and one other tech or two other techs, having someone just always at the office or who can answer the phone, make sure everything is running smoothly, I think is a great idea.
And some of you – and maybe your spouse – may be able to do that but definitely, again, check this out if you don’t have someone that’s handling that for you now, take a read of this post, get some advice and then maybe go out there and try and do it yourself. OK, so that is our quick Best of Reddit and commercial for mspvoice.com.
Now we’re going to go into the interview. Again, this one runs about 40 minutes, so it is a little bit longer but it’s worth it. Bob is a great guy. Had a lot of fun doing this one. So thanks, and I’ll talk to you again next week.
MSP Voice Podcast
Doug: Hello and welcome. Today I am pleased to be joined by Bob Coppedge from Simplex-IT, out of the northeast Ohio area. Bob, why don’t you introduce yourself? Tell us about yourself.
Bob: Hi, I’m Bob Coppedge, an MSP from the northeast Ohio area. I’m an obnoxious, condescending man and we’re starting off on the right foot with that.
Doug: No problem. Has anyone ever told you that you sound like John Goodman?
Bob: You know, as I get older, I hear that. When I was much, much, much, much, much, much younger, I got a lot of comparisons to George Carlin. And then as I got wider and older, now I get the John Goodman thing, and now I guess he’s lost a lot of weight so I don’t know where I’m going next.
Doug: Yeah, I was just basing it off your voice, from the sound. It wasn’t anything on the looks, but definitely, when I was watching some of your YouTube videos, I’m like, “Wow, he sounds a lot like John Goodman.”
Bob: Well, you’ll probably hear from his attorneys.
Doug: I hope not. Tell us a little about Simplex-IT and your business up there.
Bob: Sure. Simplex-IT, we’re basically a pure managed service provider, MSP, been around for about 11 years. In my former life, I’ve been an IT director, CIO, a consultant for about 20 or 30 companies. And so I didn’t do the break-fix and then do the transition. In 2007, basically, I was an MSP from the beginning, and completely bootstrapped, so there’s been no investment, I’m the sole owner, whatever. We’re up to about, I think, 13 full-time, about four part-time employees. And we’ve been pretty lucky and pretty successful. So it’s worked out well for us.
Doug: So yeah. You didn’t do break-fix, but do you still have people coming to you and saying, “Hey, can you fix my computer? I don’t really want your managed service.”
Bob: Yeah, but I don’t do … Those are relatives who come to me. No, honestly, it’s one of those where that doesn’t happen – very, very rarely. Everything we look at is either managed services or “Is that a foot in the door, getting in for managed services?” That’s it. And I’m pretty open on a lot of our numbers and metrics. So we’re at the point now where about 75 percent of our revenue comes from that monthly recurring agreement. Now that includes stuff like 365, Azure, AWS and the like, but it’s that we expect to get something similar, if not more so, next month. And of that 27 percent or so remaining, probably 90 percent of that is additional purchases or projects from those companies who already have monthly recurring.
And we basically go, “If you want break-fix from us, I tell you, we will do it, but we will be ridiculously expensive and not as attentive, and let me give you all the reasons why we would not do a good job. Let me show you to these people.” Or we’ve also run into a couple of situations where we’ve taken project work, include a monitoring contract with that project work, with, “We’ll give you a discount if you let us monitor your network,” and then at the end of it, turn that into a monitoring, if not more, contract with the idea of, “Hey, and if you want to cancel it, you can cancel it, no problem.” And we’ve had very few people cancel that, after that.
Doug: So, great. You take project work and turn it into some monthly recurring revenue.
Doug: Now, I was reading your bio on your website and what it …
Bob: Those charges were never proven. Just saying.
Doug: Besides the fact that you did a long stint with an improv group.
Doug: Hey, it’s on there!
Bob: No, it is, it is.
Doug: Yeah. One of the other things I noticed was that you said, instead of working in the business you’re focusing on working on the business. So I took that to mean, instead of trying to be out there and doing the work that other people should be doing – and you’ve got a team for that now – that you’re really focusing on the business and making sure that your people are successful. Is that a fair assumption?
Bob: Yeah, absolutely. And that doesn’t happen by accident. So I am not what you would call organized from the standpoint of, I don’t have this bullet list and these are the specifics and all that. That said, I am very goal-driven from the standpoint of, I want to have those three or four goals that these are important to me this year. If you get too many of them, you won’t reach them. And one of my goals is always, “What do I want to do less of by the end of the year?” So I get back to, if there’s someone else I can pay to do that, I want to do it that way, because the alternative is, if I’m still that one person who does this thing, I can’t be doing the bigger things from the company’s standpoint and/or I will become a bottleneck, because I’m the only one who can do it, and both those things scare the bejeebers out of me.
So I right now spend maybe 10 percent of my time on the tech side and everyone here is grateful, with some legitimacy. I’m not the tech I used to be and I’m assuming that I used to be good but there’s no question my skills aren’t as sharp and all that. I’m a much better businessman (famous last words). And that’s on purpose, that I want to go that route. I don’t spend anywhere near as much time on marketing as I did and one of my goals right now – we hired our first full-time salesperson since we kind of reorganized about four or five years ago – and one of my goals is, by the end of this year – and this is one of our specific goals for the organization – is I will be spending a lot less time actually in the sales process.
Doug: That’s great. A lot of the MSPs I talk to and a lot of FCEs out there, sometimes they’re sole proprietors, they do everything themselves, they don’t have a staff and it’s that goal to get there, to be able to hire people to kind of let them take care of the day-to-day and you can focus on growing the business in terms of – whatever that may be.
Doug: Yes, definite good goals to have. So, in terms of customers, do you guys specialize in any vertical or are you just, “Hey, whoever needs IT help, we’re going to help them”?
Bob: There’s that whole growth pattern from an organizational standpoint. At first, you’re, “I like to eat, I’ll take anyone’s money,” and you have to go that route. But then after a while, you get to, “Oh well, we’re eating well enough now.” It’s almost like the levels – of air, then water, then food, and all that kind of fun stuff. We don’t have a vertical. We probably are about a third on the manufacturing side. But we’ve also got municipalities, law enforcement, safety forces, non-profits, service, financial, insurance – all over the place.
The key thing that I look for is, “Does the customer understand the value of having good IT?” as in, their business will be more productive, more profitable – all that kind of fun stuff – because then they’re going to understand the value of what we do and what we bring. If not, it’s going to be a price comparison and we will never win on price. We never will. And that’s fine with me.
Doug: And that kind of brings me to the next point. I notice that you’ve written a book, “A CEO’s Survival Guide to Information Technology.”
Bob: Yes. Please don’t read it, it’s really a let-down, once you read it.
Doug: OK, I won’t link through in the show notes on Amazon, it’s OK.
Bob: OK, good. If I was smart, I’d have a copy to wave it right now, going, “This book should not …!” No. The reason I wrote the book was, one, it’s a differentiator. When you’re talking to another MSP, I can go, “I wrote this book. Did they?” But the other was – and what makes it, I would like to think, a unique book – is I think there are a lot of CEOs out there, and in fact we hear two things that tell me – these are music-to-my-ears statements from management or potential customer management – one is, it shouldn’t be this hard.
And the second is, it should just work. And those are usually from managers or manager ownership, whatever you want to call it, who have abdicated IT. “I don’t want to know about it. Just go ahead and run it,” and all that. And geeks … on our part, we’ll just go ahead and do it. And my point, my reason for writing the book is there’s a lot of aspects of technologies that management needs to know and understand. You have to accept responsibility. Really, to leave it to the geeks is a bad idea. The poster child I use for that is the frequency of backups. We get back into that, “What’s the cost of downtime to your business?” I have no clue. I have no freaking idea and neither does any other geek, nor does any other MSP, nor does any other tech. The people who know are management and if they can’t answer that question, then how can – we’re supposed to implement the solutions – how can we know what the frequency should be? And I don’t want to harp too much on that particular point but there’s a lot more where that came from when you talk about BYOD. What’s our refresh rate for technology? All of that kind of fun. So I wrote that book as (a) the differentiator, but (b) to offer, “Here’s the stuff as a CEO you need to be more worried about.” You can’t just let the geek do it.
Doug: As you said, you need to be able to build that bridge between the two, so that everyone is essentially on the same cadence in terms of, “This is important for the business. This what we need to do from the management perspective,” and then the IT side is, “OK, how are we going to use technology to achieve those goals?”
Doug: So everyone is basically on the same page with how everything is going. So, great. Great advice on that. I’m glad you wrote a book on it.
Bob: And actually I will also say my second book will be coming out, in theory, should be May – April, May.
Doug: What’s that one going to talk about?
Bob: That one’s actually written for MSPs. We have had a lot of success. We had our largest revenue growth last year in terms of percentage and a big reason was co-managed IT, selling to companies that already have an IT organization, IT support for some reason and they actually like them. So they want to keep them. How can we build an actual managed-services relationship with those companies? And I actually spoke on it at one of Robin Robins’ producer club meetings last year and then I also did a speech at a workshop at IT Nation and I got a lot of positive feedback from MSPs about it. In some cases, it was, like, “Wow, I was doing that but I had no idea I was doing that,” or, “Yeah, we never know how to work with that.” And it actually is, in my opinion, from an MSP – and, by the way, if anyone’s listening from north-east Ohio, please stop listening. This is totally … I’m making all this up.
Doug: We’ll try to block it from north-east Ohio.
Bob: That’s all I ask. That’s all I ask. But there are ways to – and we’ve done this, we’ve done this fairly successfully – that we’ve been able to work with the existing IT departments and basically bring them in to use our toolsets to do their job and we’ll do our job in a very cooperative way. And it’s a blue-ocean area. There just isn’t anybody going after that right now from an MSP standpoint.
Doug: Yeah, because most of the people I talk to, they’re going after small businesses that don’t have IT. But the opportunity to augment an existing IT shop, existing IT department, with a set of services, so that it’s not like you’re coming in to take over their job, you’re coming in to help them do their job better.
Doug: Sounds like a great opportunity.
Bob: And that’s got to be the key thing. That is the key thing right there – I’m not here to take over your job. I’m here to make your job better. And we found where in some cases we’re able to go in and especially this works well in the manufacturing world where you see a lot of the internal IT resource, where they just grew into this job with no formal training, no expectation. They got the job because they had more than one computer at home. And in manufacturing – at least in a lot of them – you have this what we call the mantra is, “If it turned on, it’s not obsolete” mentality. And these people are just thrown into that position and they’re, like, “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to do this.” And for us to come in and throw them a lifeline and say, “Hey, we’ll actually back you up and help you and all that.” It ends up where they end up being our biggest fans.
Doug: That sounds great. So again, I’m looking forward to that book. And I’ll keep an eye out for it. So, understanding, you started this about 11 years ago, you jumped right in. You did MSP. You didn’t do break-fix first. What kind of advice do you have for someone who’s looking to get started in managed services?
Bob: First of all, don’t listen to me. It’s one of those where just don’t get either overawed or overexcited about whatever the soupe de jour is. I’ve been in IT since around 1980, so I’m freaking old, and every – oh my God – every single freaking evolution, revolution, this changes everything, this changes … When we first started doing the managed services, the first thing that was changing everything – this is a game changer – was the whole virtualization. “Everyone’s doing virtualization. We’re going to bring in … and we’re going to refresh your hardware. Go to virtualization. That’s the biggest thing. If you’re not doing virtualization, you’re going out of business, blah, blah, blah.” “OK, we’re going to do virtualization.” Three or four years later, “Oh my God, it’s the cloud.” Everybody you see, “You don’t do the cloud? Oh my God, it’s … and na, na, na.” Now it’s cybersecurity. “If you’re not doing cybersecurity …”
And the problem is every one of those insights, every one of those focuses, are legitimate. They are absolutely legitimate, and certainly, cybersecurity is one as well. But they’re also temporary, because after about three or four years, of course, you do that as a competency. Why wouldn’t you? Next slide, please. And so, if you have an MSP, for example, that is, “I’m going to focus,” and this is where I think the MSSPs are going to be interesting, to see what ends up happening, because an MSP who hangs their hat entirely on one attribute of managed services is going to do absolutely freaking fantastic while that attribute is the hot, sexy thing. But the next ones around the corner and so, to the MSP who’s just starting out, you’re, like, “Oh God, does that mean that …?” Yes, there’s the next thing, there’s always going to be the next thing. If you’re looking for technology to be stable, you were born in the wrong century and it’s going to get worse, not better.
But whatever angst you’re feeling about this high rate of the delta, your clients are feeling it 10 times worse. So there is that opportunity to be that Sherpa, that guide to your customers as long as you’re willing to … and when you look at management, especially as in management development, one of the terms is, “Let go of the vine.” You know, when you swing from one vine to another, grabbing on to the new one’s great, but you’ve got to let go of the first one or else it’s going to be awkward. And part of your resource, part of your day has to be what’s coming next. It has to be embracing that, because your competition is certainly doing it, and so are your customers. You hate those customer conversations where they say, “Hey, should we be doing this?” And you’re, like, “Well, that’s a complicated question,” which is your way of saying, “I don’t know what this is, so maybe. I don’t know, let’s buy two.”
And it also is one where we are getting more and more into the whole customer satisfaction thing. And this is on every industry, everywhere. Customer satisfaction. There are so many ways to measure that, so many ways to deliver that, so many ways to look at that and to be held hostage by it. It is the thing. I’ll tell you our secret sauce. We’re the cool guys. That’s the term we use. And I have no problem sharing that. We don’t do long-term contracts. As you said, we’ve got about 180 or so YouTube videos, we do a lot of events. We’re doing one next week with Microsoft where we’re talking about new stuff coming out and stuff that’s being … the new Microsoft 365, Office 365 and Azure stuff, as well as what’s being retired.
And I have no problem during this event telling people what sucks, what’s not good. We’ll be absolutely legitimate. We do all these things, we give all our customers access to the portals. We basically don’t hide. We make everything as transparent as possible. The reason why is because a lot of IT people actually are the stereotypical jerks, the condescending “I know better than you do,” talk down, all of that. And this has worked well for us but by paying very, very ridiculously strict attention to “How’s the experience for the customer?” Are we perfect? No. But that’s where we focus.
Doug: Yeah. You said customer satisfaction. I actually just read an article earlier this week that, yes, customer satisfaction is one score but another score that a lot of people are using now is customer experience. What’s the customer experience? Not just satisfaction. How easy is it for them to get to your support team? Do they have to search and do all this type of stuff or …? Obviously, in software, you’ve got UI and those types of things. But it’s really, what’s that customer’s journey? What’s their experience in working with you and is it easy or isn’t it?
Bob: Well, the odd thing is – and actually there’s a term called the experience economy, and it’s really interesting. And the best metaphor I’ve seen is gumball machines. When I grew up, you put a penny in, you cranked, it gave you a piece of gum that probably was older than I am now. And the entire process was simply to get a piece of gum, that was it. Now, if you see a gumball machine anywhere, they have these convoluted … where the delivery of that product, that’s what the kid put the money in for.
Doug: Yeah, they’ve got the spiral. Fancy stuff.
Bob: Exactly. Because I do a lot of speaking engagements and the like, and one of my favorite slides is one where this kid is just sitting mesmerized in front of this huge – takes up half a wall – gumball machine. The kid doesn’t want gum. He wants to see the gum move around and there’s a lot of cases where it’s the experience of that customer …
Now, nobody wants to spend 20 minutes on hold waiting for technical support, while hearing gum moving around or anything along those lines, but the experience environment is also about what’s – I don’t say the entertainment, that it makes it too silly – but knowing what the other customers want and in some cases it gets back to the studies they did with chimpanzees where they had two chimps or two fake chimps. One had fur and the other one was one made out of chicken wire, but it had milk where the nipples were. So the baby chimp could go and get food, versus the other one where it could go and get warm.
Every baby chimp went for the warmth because they wanted that experience of being warm, instead of what they actually needed was the sustenance. And in a lot of cases – dumb as this sounds – if someone – and this is not an admission of guilt from our standpoint – but if someone has a bad experience in terms of product delivery, if they otherwise enjoy the relationship with the person who’s delivering the product, they’re going to be a lot more forgiving about the problem or the challenge.
Now, in no way, shape or form does that mean, “We have really lousy techs, but they’ll treat you nice.” But it’s a combination of both because we tolerate difficulty a lot more easily if it’s done in a way that is emotionally shared, for lack of a better word, and it’s a lousy word.
Doug: And for people with a technical background, sometimes it can be a little bit more difficult because …
Bob: We suck at it.
Doug: Well, yeah, because I know that if something doesn’t work right, it’s because I probably did something wrong or I didn’t do it right. I’m willing to put up with some bumps in the road, so to speak, because I know that’s kind of how the technology works.
Doug: Whereas other people who aren’t technologists or don’t deal with technology every day, they just want it to work. They want to push the button, they want to click the mouse and just have everything work.
Bob: Which gets back to that point I made earlier about, it should just work. And that’s great, but here’s the challenge. If I go to a doctor and the doctor says, “Really, you’re overweight. You’ve got to do something about this,” the odds of them having a good conversation – “I’m going to do something” – is not based on, “Listen, you fat slob.” Actually, in my case, it would because I enjoy that kind of conversation.
But the same thing for every other profession, where we go and we take whatever our product is – whether it’s the car, the home, then whatever – we’re basically going to have that relationship with whoever the service provider is. That service provider is essentially going to judge us on how we dealt with that particular scenario, that particular situation. And part of the challenge is the technology, and one thing about us, we love to be right. We do not care if we are understood in the slightest. We love to be right and the problem is that, in the MSP, we have to have satisfaction, because the whole thing is recurring revenue. The whole thing. And actually, that does us a little bit of a disservice because it’s actually a monthly recurring relationship.
Doug: That makes sense.
Bob: And I just came up with that. And ugh! In all seriousness, though, because if you don’t have the relationship on a monthly basis recurring, you aren’t going to get the revenue, because the next person who comes in and says, “Hey, I’d like to talk to you about your IT services, they’re strictly going to say, “Cost. That’s what we want to talk about. Can you do it cheaper than these other guys, because I really don’t like them that much?
Doug: So I think you just came up with the name for this podcast so – “Monthly Recurring Relationship.” It’s going to be a good title.
Bob: There you go. There you go. And I think it could be for marital counseling… No, wait a minute that might not work well.
Doug: It could work in other ways.
Bob: It well could.
Doug: So, all that is awesome information. A couple of other quick things here, from a technology perspective. You talked a little bit about it earlier and it’s always changing. But when you look out onto the horizon, what technologies are you most excited about, or the things that are up and coming?
Bob: So, here’s the thing. If you look at the parallels and, again, I don’t want to say I’m a big-picture guy but I kind of like to look at things from different perspectives and try to see. Information technology is incredibly well named, for what we do. However, there is an emphasis. When I first started – and you can even go back further – it was the technology that drove it. The technology, as in, how can we do things faster? How can we store more? How can we display bigger? All of that kind of fun stuff, and the things that we did – and I’m talking back from about 1980 to about ’95 or so – everything was about doing everything that we used to do, but doing it with a computer.
So we did general ledger, we did accounts payable, receivable, financial, inventory, drafting, all of that kind of stuff. But it was all about just simply replicating what humans did manually and then doing it faster, stronger, whatever. So our technology skills were all about just implementing, just doing these really actually dull, boring information side of things, but with this really cool, exciting technology. For about the past 15, 20 years, it’s been blurred. Now we’re starting to do stuff with the information. Now we’re starting to take the data and say, “Well, you know, we could actually not only do receivables, but we could actually forecast. We could actually take a look at inventories and handle inventories in a much more creative way. We could distribute stuff. We can actually send … take that transformation of data, turning it into information and we can do it so that customers can know what they need, as opposed to us selling it.”
So now we see information and technology blurring together and the technology really hasn’t changed that much. I mean, from the standpoint of, a computer is still a computer, a network is still a network. OK, the connectivity has changed dramatically with the invention of the Internet and all of the connectivities and all of that kind of fun stuff. But we’re really doing kind of the same thing – with a couple of exceptions, we’ll get to that. Now we’re entering into the information age, the true information age, where now it’s going to be what we do with the data. That’s where the excitement going to come from. The technology is going to take a backseat to it. And so an example that I use is, I was – we’ll call it “working out” – but I was at a gym and I was doing laps. I do say plural – I got around more than once – and I was listening to my Android device. I was listening to the radio or … I don’t remember, and I got a pop-up device about two rounds round. Do I want to buy a pedometer? Think about that for a second. In order for that to happen, the GPS or something had to be indicating what my motion was, that it was oval. There had to be enough AI to make assumptions as to, that means I must be doing something that … And then a relationship with a manufacturer and all of that – this happened like three years ago – but all of that was all about information.
The technology was already there but somebody came up with these really cool and creative ideas, which kind of gets back to expert systems, AI, all of that kind of thing. But I think – and part of this is based because the people who are entering the workforce, effectively entering the workforce, meaning they’re not the junior techs anymore – they grew up on this. Which means they’re not fettered by all of our – the old farts – preconceived notions about how we did things and all that. And if you look at actually the development of the steam engine, for the first generation after the steam engine really started taking off, the first generation just did it the way what they used to do things, except instead of an ox they used a steam engine. It wasn’t until the next generation came round that they said, “No, let’s kick some ass.” Pardon my French. So I think the same thing is going to happen now. So over the next generation, you’re going to start seeing … You think things have changed fast. You ain’t seen nothing yet. I think you’re going to see much more creative and innovative ways of using the information for a business and personal and the blurring thereof, and all of that kind of thing.
Now, as an MSP, where do I think that things are going? I think there are basically three categories. Category number one – and I’m not sure which one is going to take precedence, so there’s probably going to be a blur of them – I really do think co-managed IT is going to take off, and not because I’m writing a book, but that’s actually why I wrote the book, is to get ahead of it and become – quote, unquote – a content leader. But I think everything ends up hybrid and that should include the support model. So that’s one. The second one, of course, is the Internet of Things, the whole concept that you’re going to have more and more non-standard devices within a network and how MSPs are going to work on managing those. And in northeast Ohio, we’ve got some really cool IoT initiatives to help manufacturing companies. And I’m literally sitting in the corner in some of these meetings going, “OK, I still haven’t quite gotten my head around how to best approach that without becoming deeply “in” with some of the IoT manufacturers. But that’s the second, and the third is expert systems.
When you get down to it, the expert systems which are essentially the devices that can make – quote, unquote – informed decisions based on data and all of that kind of fun stuff. I think those are the three things that are going to be huge in terms of IT impact for our customers. Exactly how they’re going to manifest themselves, obviously Co-MITS make sense and actually, IoT makes some amount of sense. How we get our feet through that door, I’m not sure. The expert systems, I still haven’t quite figured out how the MSP model is going to work on that.
Doug: But I would think that IoT kind of feeds into expert systems, because of all these sensors and devices …
Bob: Something’s gotta happen.
Doug: They’re all generating all this data and now you’ve got to have something that figures out what to do with all that.
Bob: Oh absolutely.
Doug: How to process it and, “Hey, if we tweak this on the production line by one degree or one centimeter, it’s going to increase production by 20 units a day and, hey, that’s profit.”
Doug: So those types of things.
Bob: Oh, absolutely. But wherever the data resides, there’s the expert system.
Doug: Great. So what about what worries you? What are you most concerned about in terms of technology?
Bob: From my standpoint, commoditization. That’s the easy one. It’s essentially, we will never be a commodity. Or – excuse me – I have to make sure that we never become a commodity because we will … as soon as the word commodity could be used to describe what you do, it’s a price war. And we will not win a price war – period. So that is the thing. And you look at that from either delivery of service, a customer engagement, however, you do it, but however, you specialize that relationship between you and the customer organization.
Doug: OK. Great. So we are now, towards the end, we’re at our rapid-fire round. So I’ve got a list of six questions.
Bob: Okay, I am 60 years old. I don’t “rapid” anything any more than I’m willing to talk about. OK?
Doug: It’s all really easy. So. OK. Are you ready?
Bob: No. Go ahead.
Doug: Apple or Android?
Doug: Mac, Linux or Windows?
Doug: Amazon, Azure or some other cloud service?
Doug: Local backups, cloud or both?
Doug: OK. Should you always virtualize?
Doug: OK. And finally, which is worse – printer support or vendor cold calls?
Bob: Calling Amish people. I will say vendor cold calls. But it’s funny because, from a marketing standpoint, I get all this crap in the mail. I get all these calls, all of that kind of things. Oh God, why don’t they leave me alone? When I send stuff out and I make calls. Then it’s a, “Hey, I’m sending you this wonderful stuff and I’m calling you with these great values. What’s wrong with you?” And it’s amazing how fast the brain will … Yeah. I mean, come on. Now, read those questions back to me and I’ll give you a really quick reason why I gave you the answers.
Bob: OK, so Apple or Android?
Bob: Apple or Android. The reason is that one of the things that I always talk about with Apple is, Apple has all of their devices, their mantra and all that is, “We will come up with one way of doing anything.” And it’s going to be a brilliant way, it’s going to be whatever, but it’s going to be very focused. So they’re great for end users from that standpoint but if you’re looking for any flexibility or to do anything truly creative or integrated, you’ve got to go with the Android.
Doug: That’s the way I feel too. So, Mac, Linux or Windows?
Bob: I want to make a living. I mean, honestly, it’s one of those where if you’re going to be repetitious in terms of however you create your delivery model and deliver and all that kind of fun stuff, it’s very hard to do that in a Linux environment because it can be so bloody different all over the place. And from a Mac standpoint, you’re going to be so … Now there are some people who do that but it’s going to be very hard to do that. So you’re left with Windows, right or wrong.
Doug: Amazon or Azure? You said, Azure.
Bob: Azure. Honestly, I’m a Microsoft shop. If I can have one stack, in terms of our being able to provide, I’m going to go with that stack. That said, there are some things … for example, Amazon has a better handle on desktop virtualization, at this point, for the SMB than Microsoft does. I expect that to change.
Doug: OK. And then on backups, you said – local, cloud or both – you said both, obviously.
Bob: Because I have a brain.
Doug: And then on virtualization, actually, you answered it differently than I thought you would, because I said, “Should you always virtualize?” and you said yes. As you mentioned previously when we were talking about technology and what the hot thing is, it may not always make sense to virtualize.
Bob: Well, and you get into that hole. Are there times where things don’t …? You basically say, “We always do it this way.” Well, of course, we don’t always do it this way, with the exception of, hopefully, respiration. But from a virtualization standpoint, you always have to get into the “What happens if the unexpected occurs?” And if something bad happens, the recovery options and the flexibility of recovery for a virtual server is so much higher than a natural, physical server that that to me is the issue.
But one of the things that I always – and I always tell this for customers, as well – is the worst time to learn CPR is when you’re having a heart attack. And so it’s important to basically have the discussion of “Here’s what our options are should this circumstance happen.” And so we can basically say – now I’ll exaggerate here or make a rough guess – if we go to a virtual environment for a single server, that may increase the hardware requirements by 5 to 10 percent.
But let me tell you about this flexibility. And this gets back to the whole CEO conversation. “CEO, for me to give you a 5 to 10 percent increase in costs, but we have this increased flexibility, which will decrease your downtime should something bad happen. Is that worth that additional investment? If no, not a problem, whatever. I will say, ‘I told you so,’ but I will do it very, very politely.”
Doug: And then, when you explained about vendor cold calls and printer support because you didn’t do break-fix, you probably don’t have to do a whole lot of printer support.
Bob: Well, did I mention I have employees?
Doug: Well, yeah.
Bob: We’re actually getting to the point … We actually started something new in December, we call them “QTs” – quarterly client training – and what we do now is every quarter we open this up – and this is our first client only of that – where we basically say, “Come on in,” and we have access to a meeting room in our building, when they allow us to go upstairs, and we will spend all day going through all of the portals and all of the technologies that we use. And it’s basically a way for us to – again, we’re transparent, we want to show you, “Here, you have access to this” – and it’s also a way for us to do some upselling by saying, “You don’t have this add-on. We’re just going to spend 10 minutes,” and my technicians all do the presentation.
So they get a nice feel for who they’ve talked to over the phone or only see once in a while. And we have T-shirts. So you’ve got to have T-shirts for these special events. And we had the five things I learned at the QCT on the back of the T-shirt, and number five was, “Don’t ever let Coppedge touch your computer.” And we put that in there for a couple of reasons. I insisted. I let the techs come up with other reasons. And we had a Star Trek theme so some of the reasons were really weird, but I said, “This is the fifth one I want in there,” for a couple of reasons. One, it’s funny. The second is I really want people to stop calling me for the tech calls because I don’t have time to do that. And I also … really, I’m not as good at it anymore. If you give me a printer support call, which I’m rounding back to your original point, I don’t know what to do with that. I know what to do with a vendor cold call. So.
Doug: Got it. Wow, so a lot of great information. Anything before we go? Any last words of wisdom that you want to pass on before we go?
Bob: Have fun. I mean, you have to. It’s contagious, but it’s one where 90 percent of the problems that you face if you’re the owner of an MSP, a high percentage, if not a majority, of the people on the planet would kill for your problems. And just be cool. Have fun. The other thing is, if anybody is interested in learning more about the Co-MITS stuff, feel free to contact me. We share what we do and all that kind of fun silliness.
Doug: Great. Awesome. Bob, it has been a lot of fun today. I really appreciate you coming on here and I think people are really going to enjoy this episode.
Bob: Cool. It was fun doing it. Thanks.