Even for smaller companies, IT has become the information nerve centre, with an ever-increasing number of more complex tasks needing to be managed. Core competences such as work and communication infrastructure and server management have had to expand to cater to a new way of working – more flexible, more efficient, always available and uncompromising in safety and reliability. Today, IT is the enabler of information flows in all departments, providing business solutions for digital contract management, remote collaboration, marketing and sales tools, digital personnel files and so on. With the expansion of its tasks, IT’s budget has grown – as well as its impact on overall company performance. Or to put it differently: managed efficiently, IT can be a crucial lever for business success and profitability.In this interview, Konica Minolta experts Jaromir Sponar, Microsoft MVP, Business Consultant, WEBCOM a.s. and Mattias Hagelin, Solutions Area Manager, IT infrastructure / ITS Presale, Konica Minolta Business Solutions Sweden AB, will provide their view on how and where managed IT services can play a role in the IT strategy of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
What changes in demand, particularly from SMEs, have you observed? Is the medium-sized IT customer today different from a customer five years ago? If yes, in what way?
We see that SMEs are becoming increasingly open towards cloud services. Compared to five years ago, they are far less hesitant when it comes to outsourcing IT services. Security used to be one of the main points of concern SMEs had about cloud and IT services. And this is understandable, as information security is of existential importance for those companies. However, this hesitation is undergoing a gradual shift as they recognise the significantly higher security standards and compliance with legal regulations for data security.
In a globalised competitive context, SMEs also see the necessity of becoming more efficient in their processes to be able to stay competitive in our global economy. This in turn means a stronger allocation of internal resources to value-adding business functions and not having their resources bound up in repetitive maintenance, for example. Dynamic market developments and the incorporation of new business models are additional factors that are pushing SMEs towards more flexible solutions. We see growing demand for pay-per-use models without having to worry about upgrading to the latest software or hardware every two to three years or so.
Is this increase in flexibility the main argument for managed services? Where do you see the great advantage of outsourcing in particular?
As Mattias just mentioned, particularly with regard to quickly changing markets, flexibility and scalability are key. Shifting towards managed services also translates to a shift from investments in IT infrastructure to operating expenses – from capex to opex. Or, to put it another way, from “owning it” to “using it”. However, working with a strong IT services partner enables more than just this shift: it opens up a whole realm of services which would be very resource-intensive and complex for many companies to set up for themselves with their limited in-house resources. This can be a wide range of new or optimised business services, from contract management solutions to accounts payable, digital invoicing, enterprise search or document management, to name just a few examples. Sharing the load, a strong and reliable partner and in-house experts can together accelerate internal processes and increase efficiency within the organisation.
With all of these services, our specialists ensure the highest level of security and GDPR compliance. And we are instantly available to provide support if anything comes up – ensuring all services run reliably. This is particularly important to our SME customers, as interruptions can lead to production outages. These can – in a worst-case scenario – drive these organisations to the brink of bankruptcy.
With such a wide range of possible solutions, how do you ensure your customer truly gets what he needs? Like the most suitable IT infrastructure, for example?
For us this topic clearly starts with listening to our customer as a crucial first step in order to truly understand what they want and what their specific needs are. This does not mean just going through a briefing, but gaining a picture of the customer’s specific situation. This is then further detailed in a full company and company environment audit. We visit our customers and carefully analyse their set-up and current existing infrastructure. After this, we evaluate what services and solutions make the most sense in order for them to obtain the desired outcome. Only after these steps do we design a tailor-made combination of services and solutions to achieve a crafted solution which perfectly fits the situation. This can, for example, be a hybrid cloud system that brings together the benefits of both an on-and off-premises solution.
This sounds quite sensible – yet rather theoretical. Can you provide us with a concrete example?
Sure, we are just finishing the implementation of a special solution for the BE-GE Group in Sweden. As an international supplier for the automotive industry with production facilities in different European countries, the BE-GE group has to fulfil very strict contract conditions and schedules. Ensuring a continuous flow of production is therefore crucial – delays in delivery, for example due to a system failure, would lead to severe contract penalties. Therefore, absolute reliability was key. Protecting and having the process-critical data on premises is highly important to the customer as well.
Through a single point of contact, BE-GE wanted to have their complete IT needs covered by one reliable long-term partner who takes clear responsibility and truly knows where to put the emphasis to tailor a holistic cloud solution to their exact requirements. And this is what we delivered for the customer, with a hybrid cloud solution in a pay-per-use model which exactly fits their needs of local hardware, close to production, with externally managed systems and backup. Having exactly met the customer’s needs, we are now working together on rolling out solutions for other company sites.
Is this also your approach when it comes to managing business services? Or is it different, as it involves other stakeholders?
At Konica Minolta, we generally follow this strong collaborative approach with our customers. This means we do not simply offer them our portfolio and have them choose an option that could work for them. Instead, we analyse their needs together and adapt our solutions to meet their requirements to the fullest extent. Having a close relationship as a valued and trusted partner for our customers far beyond just the implementation of products is what we strive for at Konica Minolta. In fact, this understanding and long-term mutual trust are particularly important in the field of business solutions.
Take a solution for accounts payable, for example. Our service helps to reduce errors to a minimum through automating processes which used to be manual, repetitive and very labour-intensive, while providing the highest levels of security for sensitive financial data. Yet, every company already has solutions and administrative processes operating, which means we have a different starting-point and face different challenges. We learn this starting-point from our customer and analyse it together with the relevant stakeholders from their side. This, of course, involves employees from the specific departments, in this case, accounting. This collaborative and comprehensive approach helps us to implement a highly efficient digital invoice management system that truly matches the customer’s needs.
More generally: Are there limits when it comes to where outsourcing is a useful approach?
We experience that some SME customers are still hesitant at the beginning, particularly when it comes to outsourcing business critical infrastructure and processes. Some see it as handing over control of existentially vital tasks to a different company and have doubts about whether an external partner would dedicate the same level of care and responsibility as someone from within the company. When they get to know us closer, however, they quickly realise that for us at Konica Minolta, there is no “us versus them”, but that we are as dedicated to the long-term success of the project as they are. We become one team. Therefore, when it comes to the limits of where outsourcing makes sense, it is not a question of business-critical or not – but of what makes sense for the specific company with its particular set-up and needs. And this is something we analyse and evaluate with them individually.
How do you think managed services will develop in the near future, say in the next five years?
We strongly predict a convergence of all our services in this field, no matter if IT infrastructure, SaaS, information or document management. All core business functions are driven by IT today – and companies are starting to realise how much time and resources it uses up to have different vendors for each function. One IT platform without changing interfaces or digital silos or barriers will become an essential asset for business efficiency and a competitive edge. We at Konica Minolta started to see this development early on, which is why we are already able to be this one single point of contact for our customers for all IT needs. We have a service and trouble-shooting infrastructure all around the world which can help our customers on- or off-premises quickly. We deliver solutions which can be integrated with existing legacy systems and deliver a holistic package for all IT needs.