What MSPs could learn from Netflix

Posted by Ron Miller on Mar 4, 2014 11:32:00 AM

3981669264_8c3bec3db4_bWhen you look at Netflix, a growing streaming media company, you may think your MSP business has little in common with them. But you could learn a lot from how they've organized their IT department and what they consider important.

It's not easy to transform from traditional IT, racking and stacking to a service business, but MSPs have a head start in this regard over traditional IT because service is already embedded in what you do.

As a business, it's your job to service your clients and you don't have to worry about all of the politics that might be a part of an in-house IT shop, but that doesn't mean you can't learn a lot from a progressive company that is redefining how to run a modern IT services business.

Consider what Netflix has done and see how you can incorporate these techniques into your business.

Use cloud services

Netflix embraced the cloud from the beginning using Amazon Web Services to give it the ability to scale. And boy did they scale. They are now are the largest cloud service in the world, serving over a billion streaming videos a month at last count. 

Neither your business nor that of your clients very likely requires that kind of scale, but isn't it nice to know that when you need that extra computing power, it's there? And you don't have to worry about building it out yourself in your own data center, especially in cases where it may only be a temporary need.

And of course, it's not just infrastructure, it's also platform and software. I met Netflix CIO Mike Kail at BoxWorks in San Francisco a couple of years ago, and he was there as a Box customer. He understood that using cloud services frees up his staff to concentrate on improving the core business experience. And as MSP, that should be your goal as well.

Use open source

Netflix makes use of open source tools, many of which they create themselves to enhance the cloud services they are using. This gives them more control and by open sourcing these tools, they don't have to support them alone. They have a community of people helping them maintain the software. 

Netflix doesn't have a huge IT staff, perhaps 125 or 130 people, so trying to maintain these tools themselves would be a huge challenge. And as an MSP, you can make use of open source tools too, whether you create them or you contribute to them or just gain some expertise to help your clients take advantage of them.

Use analytics to understand your customers better

Netflix has developed an amazingly granular set of analytics to learn more about its customers' viewing habits to make better viewing recommendations. It has claimed it has mastered the idea of personalized content by providing an interface with suggestions on what you might like based on your prior viewing habits. 

You may not have the tools that Netflix has, but chances are you have plenty of data about your customers. If you can learn to take advantage of that data, at the very least you can begin to deliver a better experience based on what you know about them. 

Understand the changing role of IT

Finally, Kail and the IT team at Netflix have a clear understanding that the role of IT is changing. His company uses cloud services because as Kail said in a recent interview on CXOTalk, he wants his team focused on improving the entertainment experience, not on building and maintaining the infrastructure and services that are readily available in the cloud.

In other words, he doesn't want them maintaining hardware and dealing with patches and the latest malware. He wants them concentrating on the core business, and as an MSP, that should be your role too. You want to make it as easy as possible for you clients to concentrate on their core business while you worry about the technology resources they need to supplement that business. 

Netflix is a great example of a modern IT organization. It's still a relatively small business with around 1,400 employees, but it accounts for one third of internet traffic at any given moment to deliver its content. It can do that because it uses its resources intelligently and takes advantage of the cloud, analytics and open source to run a leaner company focussed entirely on delivering the best customer experience possible.

And that should be the goal of any MSP too.

Photo Credit: jennypdx on Flickr. Used under CC 2.0 license.

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