3 Things You Need to Shape Your Teams into a Next-Generation AWS Managed Service Provider (MSP)
By Adrian SanMiguel, Principal Partner Solutions Architect at AWS
In the AWS Managed Services Provider (MSP) Partner Program, many of our next-generation MSPs deliver hands-on, proactive, and consultant-level support that educates and enables customers’ cloud adoption journey on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) platform.
It sounds easy enough to build a team and staff it with awesome people who can build, market, and support your managed services offering. But this actually is where things get tricky.
As a Solutions Architect at AWS who has worked in the MSP space for 15 years, I have seen many organizations operate with different constructs, silos, and even teams of specialists and appointed resources, also known as the dreaded “tiger team” that is created to figure it all out. Most of these endeavors have the of best intentions, but are hastily put together to solve a one-off problem versus having the long game in mind.
A previous employer of mine, for example, decided to turn their network operations center (NOC) into an MSP. They wanted to take a core competency of hosting and server administration and turn it into a true managed service. This was a high visibility effort that ultimately attracted a single high-profile customer.
After six months, the customer was unable to discern value from the services they had paid for, so they took their business elsewhere. Our credibility was lost, and the project folded at the cost of approximately $20 million dollars over the course of two years.
In this series for AWS Partner Network (APN) Partners, I am making specific recommendations on how you can build an MSP practice and shape your core teams (yes, plural) to ensure there are:
- Clear separation of duties come audit time (your own audit, not the MSP audit).
- Distinct owners and stakeholders for the MSP audit, meaning you can assign unique sections to each team to spread the load.
- Individuals or teams of persons who serve as the escalation point(s) for the unique teams in your MSP.
- Multiple people who can contribute. Believe me, no one person should be tasked to do all of these things; it never bodes well for the individual or the MSP.
Through my experience, I have established three absolute musts that successful AWS MSP all possess—AWS-dedicated resources, an AWS Alliance Executive Sponsor, and teams of specialists who are unimpeded to do what they do best. Without these, you cannot succeed as an MSP in the long-run.
Let’s look at each pillar and dive into the types of teams that should, at a minimum, comprise the core of your MSP organization.
#1 – AWS-Dedicated Resources
Your MSP practice should have as many dedicated-to-AWS teams as possible. Those individuals should be focused 100-percent on AWS workloads.
In our experience (and certainly my own), an MSP where everyone does everything for every cloud platform makes things incredibly difficult at scale. You will eventually get to the point where you dilute your go-to-market (GTM) capabilities because you’re spread so thin.
For example, your core Support team would all be AWS specialists (ideally), but the reality is that a bench of specialists takes time to build. This is especially true if your practice supports other cloud platforms. Over time and as your customers mature, your practice should be maturing at an advanced pace as well. You cannot realistically do so if your bench is expected to support every cloud platform beyond a 200-level, and to do it well.
Yes, there may be a pocket or two of deep knowledge, but what happens when those resources leave? Or go on vacation? Or take another role inside your own practice? This was the case in my previous example and is a real concern for your customers.
If you cannot dedicate resources to this type of effort, I recommended you create a major/minor persona for each of your core teams. A hypothetical Professional Services team is shown in Figure 1, where the major focus falls on the Specialist team. The minor focus, then, goes to the remainder of your AWS-literate teams that are not Specialists. You should walk through this type of exercise for each team that you cannot allocate AWS-dedicated resources to.
Figure 1 – 3-tier persona analysis of a professional services organization.
For this area of focus—defending the need for AWS-dedicated resources or even that of a major/minor alignment of teams—you’ll need to work with the Executive Sponsor at your company. Together, you must make it a priority to hire and staff AWS-dedicated resources in as many teams as possible, or create pathways to major/minor areas of expertise.
Yes, it will cost significantly more to have even a small staff of individuals dedicated to AWS, but it’s crucial for a next-gen MSP’s success and will laser focus your AWS offer. Without dedicated AWS resources, or at least the major/minor approach, you will have to standardize to a one-size-fits-all approach.
#2 – AWS Alliance Executive Sponsor
You do have an Executive Sponsor, right? This is the person who has the override in all business and technical matters for your practice. They likely have an engineering background and understand technology very well. They should also have the business acumen to know how technology decisions made today can impact prospects down the road for years.
The AWS Alliance Executive Sponsor is the person you would bring to an executive briefing (EBC) with AWS leadership. Most importantly, they truly know everything about what your practice is doing, where you’re going, the opportunities for growth, and how you intend to overcome key challenges.
Over the last 15 years of working with and building MSPs, I have seen organizations have an Executive Sponsor only a fraction of the time. If you don’t have one, I strongly recommend working with your senior/executive leadership team to find this person and bring them up to speed.
With this individual in place, your practice will have a strong voice in discussions with AWS and inside your practice as well. They can also lead future decisions about what you intend to bring to the market.
#3 – Specialists Who Can Do What They Do Best
Finally, your organization needs to have teams with distinct roles and responsibilities. There are six specific personas comprising successful MSPs, and I believe this alignment of resources and focus can help you build a strong MSP practice.
Focus on staffing these teams when building a next-gen AWS MSP:
- AWS Sales & Alliance
- AWS Solutions Architecture & Build
- AWS Marketing
- AWS Support & Relationship Management
- AWS Product Engineering
- AWS Professional Services
By ensuring your specialists and resources are singularly focused on their domains of responsibilities, you empower people to do what they do best, and nothing else. For the same reason that you wouldn’t ask your plumber to help with your electrical work, you wouldn’t ask your Support team to lead sales motions. Sure, the plumber may be able to figure out how to change the light switch, but it will take them a lot longer and the odds are it just won’t be as good of a job.
The key thing to remember is excellence in delivery. Just because someone could potentially do a thing doesn’t mean they are the right person to do it. As an AWS Solutions Architect and former Technical Account Manager (TAM), I can cover a lot of ground. That doesn’t mean, however, that things haven’t changed in the last two years since I’ve been away from the TAM world. Or, as my TAMs have reminded me over time, it’s best to “leave this to the professionals.”
The flip side of this is when individuals are worrying about things they can’t do or shouldn’t be doing—like sellers creating product offerings or ProServe doing marketing. If this is your reality, those individuals are taking valuable time away from their areas of expertise. Splitting their expertise into something that is not their core competency or skill set is something that can have disastrous consequences for your MSP offering.
Many of us on the AWS MSP Partner Program team help organizations do all of the above. We support APN Partners who want to build the right kind teams while exploring the all-important “why” behind these types of recommendations.
To create a successful MSP practice, we recommend the use of AWS-dedicated resources where possible, an AWS Alliance Executive Sponsor who can take the lead in decision-making, and the development of teams of specialists who are empowered to do what they do best.
If you do all of this, your MSP practice can be set up for success over the long-term. After all, this is what we observe in our next-generation AWS MSP Partners.
If your organization wants to learn more about building teams and continuing onward through the AWS MSP journey (and why your customers are in need this type of partner), please review the following materials and be sure to engage your partner development representative.
We are happy to work with APN Partners seeking to become next-generation MSPs!
For more, in-depth information, check out our AWS MSP Partner Program, which recognizes leading APN Consulting Partners that are highly skilled at providing full lifecycle solutions to AWS customers.
Check out these other stories in my series for AWS MSPs:
- Part 1: What exactly is a next-generation AWS Managed Service Provider?
- Part 3: Building an MSP’s Engineering, Support, and Relationship Management Teams
- Part 4: Succeeding with Your Next-Gen AWS MSP Sales, Solutions Architecture, and Marketing Teams
Additional resources for MSPs:
- 7 reasons a next-gen AWS MSP Partner is fundamental to your cloud journey
- Getting started with the AWS Navigate track for MSPs
- Explore MSP Partner spotlights to see how next-gen MSPs are helping AWS customers
- The business case for next-gen AWS MSPs
- Updated MSP Partner Program Validation Checklist – Version 4.1