Episode 75: MSPs as Technology Partners: Leading Organizations to Digital Transformation Success

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Matthew Bookspan04/11/2024

Digital transformation has become an imperative for businesses of all sizes looking to compete and thrive in an increasingly technology-driven world. However, for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), executing digital transformation initiatives can be uniquely challenging. From budget constraints to limited in-house expertise, SMBs often struggle to keep pace with technology innovation and mounting cybersecurity threats.

To delve into these challenges and opportunities from a Managed Services Provider (MSP) point-of-view, we spoke with Matthew Bookspan, CEO of Blacktip, an MSP based in Orlando, Florida.

With clients spanning construction, finance, healthcare, and other industries, Blacktip supports organizations at various stages of their digital transformation journeys. Matthew shared valuable insights on everything from security best practices to governance in the age of AI.

Meeting SMBs Where They Are on the Digital Transformation Journey

Digital transformation looks different for every organization. When working with SMBs, Matthew and AvePoint Chief Brand Officer, Dux Raymond Sy, emphasized the importance of "meeting people where they are" instead of pushing a rigid framework.

With the influx of technological advancements available in the market, there's a need to prioritize and think thoroughly about what needs to be adopted versus what makes sense to wait. Rather than forcing specific collaboration tools or device policies, Blacktip enables digital transformation within the context of each client's business needs and user comfort levels. They focus on listening first and tailoring prescriptive recommendations to drive adoption and business value instead of chasing "buzzword" technologies.

Whenever there's a significant technology change, Matthew thinks it's critical to consider the impacts, especially around user training and understanding. "We can configure all sorts of things all day long. We can make all sorts of magic happen for all our clients. We can use the platform in lots of beautiful ways. However, how do we ensure that translates to something meaningful and purposeful for them?"

Matthew further believes that technologists must remember that just because something new comes out doesn't necessarily mean it's better: "We have to question that ourselves."

Security and Governance Best Practices for SMBs

While digital transformation comes packed with promise, it also introduces new cybersecurity and governance challenges – especially for SMBs with limited resources.

To establish the right governance approach, Matthew thinks it is incumbent upon the technology partner to be prescriptive and say, "Here is what we believe is the right approach based upon your business needs."

When working with customers, Blacktip breaks it down into three key elements:

  1. Modern Work: The "collaborative side" encompassing tools like SharePoint, Teams, Viva Engage, and more.
  2. Modern Security: Security components like Microsoft Defender.
  3. Modern Management: Solutions for deployment, device management, and automation like Intune and Autopilot.

As a key best practice, Matthew highlights leveraging conditional access policies to ensure data protection without hindering user productivity and collaboration. Setting Microsoft Secure Score as a benchmark is another practice SMBs can use to gauge improvement.

This practical approach also applies to hybrid work environments. While enterprise IT teams often take an all-or-nothing stance on Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, Blacktip IT enables secure options for both corporate-managed and personal devices. As Matthew noted, you must "understand where they are and what they understand" to craft policies that balance flexibility and control.

Complementing Technologies to Maximize Microsoft 365 Platform

According to Matthew, truly optimizing digital workplaces requires leveraging capabilities to maximize the full use of the platforms their clients are already paying for.

"We look at easy integrations that bring a lot of value. Are there additional tools that could live on the platform? How can we build on top of what our customers are already paying for, and how can we leverage that further?"

These technologies can be native Microsoft tools like Power Apps, Power Automate, etc., that help remove cumbersome processes by automating and streamlining workflows. It can also be a third-party tool deeply integrated with Microsoft technologies, where Blacktip's partnership with AvePoint comes into play. "When it comes to a backup solution, a management solution, or a governance solution, we believe that AvePoint has built an amazing set of products."

Navigating Governance Challenges in the AI Age

Especially for SMBs who handle multiple clients and projects simultaneously, AI-powered capabilities like Microsoft Purview and Copilot for Microsoft 365 hold the game-changing potential to automate tasks, gain insights faster, and unlock new sources of business value. However, they also introduce new compliance and governance challenges.

According to Matthew, the data foundation fueling AI tools amplifies existing security vulnerabilities. If core permissions, access controls, labeling policies, etc., are not set up correctly, Microsoft 365 Copilot could surface highly sensitive data to unintended audiences. A few examples he noted included:

  • Improperly configured sharing settings enabling "anyone links"
  • Lack of controls around external sharing – e.g., a user sharing documents externally without the owner's knowledge due to open permissions
  • Failure to restrict AI data sets like excluding specific SharePoint sites from Microsoft 365 Copilot indexing

Organizations must ensure their data foundation is robust, strong, and secure. Additionally, Matthew discussed the emerging need to coach users and prompt AI tools properly to derive maximum value while avoiding pitfalls. He compared the learning curve to adopting any new technology, stating proper change management and training will be vital to driving adoption.

But he believes this also goes back to governance: how do you protect the data so it's not only a win for Copilot but also cybersecurity?

This is where AvePoint's Policies and Insights come in handy for Blacktip. From an insights standpoint, Blacktip IT can see all the data being shared and be able to send that report back to their clients. From there, they can quickly show and act on the risks that need to be cleaned up and the sensitivity of the files that need to be changed. Matthew says, "It's just a phenomenal tool to understand what's out there."

According to Matthew, these AvePoint capabilities serve as fundamental "parachutes" protecting clients as they digitize operations and adopt modern tools like Copilot for Microsoft 365. Intelligent policy automation also saves clients from relying heavily on error-prone manual governance.

KeyTakeaways for SMB Digital Transformation

As small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) navigate the digital transformation journey, it's crucial to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Solutions must be tailored to align with each organization's unique industry, risk tolerance, existing technology stack, and user needs. Before layering on advanced innovations like artificial intelligence (AI), SMBs should focus on streamlining and securing their technology foundation. Tools like Microsoft Copilot are built on top of an organization's data, so ensuring a clean and well-governed data environment is essential.

By seeking out technology partners that take a prescriptive and personalized approach, SMBs can confidently navigate the complexities of digital transformation, leveraging the latest technologies while mitigating potential risks and ensuring long-term success in an ever-evolving digital landscape.

Interestedin learning more about how Blacktip helps SMBs execute digital transformation securely? Visit their website today.

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