How MSPs can support SME customers through tough times ahead

By Mike Puglia, Chief Strategy Officer, Kaseya

The UK’s SMEs face high inflation and challenging economic conditions after coping with post-pandemic supply chain challenges and Ukraine war disruptions. Even before the BoE’s latest forecast of 13.3% inflation, SMEs expected to lose business as consumers and businesses rein in their expenditures, with Mastercard’s Strive Business Barometer revealing that 42% of SMEs see inflation as the biggest threat. If the pandemic taught us anything, it was the importance of technology to stay in business. Restaurants shifted to online orders, gyms offered virtual classes and doctors relied on telehealth to treat patients. MSPs can leverage this digital transformation to support customers and help them grow their business. The Strive report also found businesses using technology are more optimistic about the future.

The opportunity is there for MSPs

Managed service providers (MSPs) should view the challenges facing SMEs as an opportunity. Their main role is to proactively manage SMEs’ IT infrastructure so that they can focus on business growth. MSPs have a more important role than ever in ensuring they are supporting their customers fully through the current uncertainty, while making sure that all the processes and systems they are delivering run at optimum levels of efficiency. Security is another major opportunity. With cyberattacks on the rise and constantly evolving, SMEs are turning to MSPs to help navigate cybersecurity as many understand the impact an attack can have on the business.

Automation, for example, can serve to streamline tasks and increase efficiencies, which is especially important during times of economic pressure and stretched budgets. When it comes to pricing, MSPs should offer flexible plans that benefit customers and guarantee long-term customer commitment, making it a win for both MSP and customer. Understanding clients’ needs should enable them to provide the services they need to overcome the current difficulties. This may include add-on services that improve their cybersecurity, password management or implementation of the technology that SMEs will need to help power their growth.

Considerations for MSPs

MSPs can also streamline service delivery to automate complex business workflows such as services provisioning, administration and support. By selecting an integrated IT and security management platform, MSPs can solve several critical challenges and enhance their businesses. These solutions bridge the gap between multiple platforms, applications and systems, improving transparency, reducing errors, facilitating greater communication between departments while improving processing speed. Additionally, MSPs can automate to streamline execution of security policies and backups, configuration of new network devices and servers, and take care of patching.

These integrated product suites reduce headaches associated with vendor fatigue and managing multiple vendors by completely commercially integrating product offerings. Technical integrations for automation also increase technician efficiency and allow staff to devote more time to places where they can add value through expertise. Intelligent integrations also give rise to utilising software to its fullest potential. And finally, suites that are priced right help MSPs with limited budgets continue to operate successfully.

Additionally, inflation is expected to increase costs for hardware, office leases and more, significantly impacting MSPs’ expenses. MSPs will need to maximise productivity by implementing automation and streamlined service delivery measures to eliminate manual processes like patching and reporting to allow technicians to focus on higher-level tasks that move the business forward, which, in turn, helps improve retention in an IT market with very low unemployment.

Automate patching to increase SME security and transform efficiency

MSPs need to remind clients that although it is a familiar process, neglect of patch management is all too easy, with potentially very damaging consequences. Application vulnerabilities, frequently caused by lack of patching, was identified as one of the most common causes of data breaches in 2022.  When it comes to patching, consistency is key, with most completing this automated task every 30 days.

All organisations, including SMEs, use third-party software on their endpoints. Many know about the vulnerabilities that make the news and affect Windows and Mac operating systems, but not patching other systems can account for the vast majority of vulnerabilities released by cybercriminals yearly. This is the biggest blind spot affecting SMEs that need to realise that patching only their operating systems isn’t enough to ensure tech stack security.

It takes 15 days on average to patch a vulnerability that is being used in active attacks, according to data collected by Google’s Project Zero. The challenge is even more daunting for SMEs, which struggle for resources and talent. The result is that hackers manage to discover and exploit vulnerabilities before such organisations patch them.

Further use of automation to benefit SMEs

One of the most common examples of streamlined service delivery is service desk automation, which businesses can employ to receive and organise queries, emails and customer grievances. It works well with routine tasks such as IT-related on-boarding and off-boarding, password-resets and data management. Automating and streamlining has many benefits including lower operational costs, reduced errors, quicker detection and response, and improved service-levels for end users. It provides a leaner and a more standardised IT infrastructure.

Time to take the initiative

In a period of high inflation, potential recession, global supply chain difficulties and geo-political friction, MSPs’ SME customers are likely to be nervous about extra expenditures and where they should invest for the future. However, many see investment in technology as the route to growth, despite all the current challenges. One of the biggest places in which SMEs can realise return on investment is in technology, which ultimately drives efficiency during periods of economic downturn. In this context, MSPs need to take the initiative, reminding SMEs of the ever-growing scale of cyber-threats and of the immense opportunities to streamline security processes. But to do so, MSPs will need to enhance their own technology stacks and take on a more proactive advisory role to their customers.

By offering customer-specific advice, technology and services to SMEs, MSPs can ensure that their customers become more secure and efficient during uncertain times. This will enable MSPs to become trusted partners for the longer term, protecting their customer base through an exceptionally tough period while sustaining their own revenues and growth.