Working in the Internet industry is never dull. The rapid pace of change is relentless, with new technologies, new competitors and new customers appearing on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. Every so often though, it's good to stop and think about where you've come from and how much progress you've made over the years.
Last week Claranet won 'Managed Services Provider of the Year' at the Data Centre Solutions Awards. Winning awards is always nice, but this one was particularly good because it was based on independent votes from the industry, our customers and other people and organisations. I've also just started my 9th year working for Claranet, so these two things combined made me stop and think about the Claranet I joined compared with the Claranet I continue to enjoy working for today.
When I joined in 2006, Claranet was well known in the industry as a pioneering Internet Service Provider (ISP), particularly for Claranet's flat rate dial up Internet access. Sometimes I speak with people who still have the perception that Claranet is solely a provider of internet access for individuals and small businesses. In reality we offer much more, but this traditional customer group of individuals and small businesses, who take connectivity (and some other small scale services), are still catered for, though this arm of the business operates under the name of Claranet SOHO (Small Office & Home Office).
Over time, Claranet's visual identity has changed with its business strategy.
Around 2000 Claranet's founder and CEO Charles Nasser (who still owns the company today) decided to take the core Claranet business in a different direction, focusing on the business market. We stopped advertising in Internet Magazine (remember that?), stopped advertising on the tube and started focusing on building relationships with business and not-for-profit organisations. Claranet gently slipped back from public view, yet our reputation for high quality, reliable internet access remained, which is a great testament to the work done at the time. Effectively we moved our focus from a B2C model, to a B2B approach.
Up until 2006, Claranet had been doing very well selling Internet service 'products' to business. Products are generally standalone goods that have features and benefits but generally don't involve a lot of service (think shampoo, corn flakes and ice cream and typical consumer products).
Claranet realised that to continue to be successful, we needed to switch our focus from the 'product' to the 'service'. A service focuses much more on the outcome the customer wants to achieve. To guarantee that we began building Service Level Agreements (SLAs) into our offerings, which act to define the expected availability and/or performance of the service.
In addition to focusing on the service outcome, a service requires some level of 'management', where the service provider performs tasks which previously the customer themselves might have carried out.
Finally we began to build up our service portfolio so that we could offer multiple services to our customers, often in a complementary way, allowing them to achieve specific business goals.
Over the following years, Claranet's managed services portfolio has expanded greatly, from simple connectivity and hosting services in 2006, to the present day where we are able to offer complex application management and communications services, and where Claranet's portfolio is considered industry leading by independent judges such as Gartner.
To mark this shift in direction, Claranet began to describe itself as a Managed Services Provider rather than an ISP. I remember sitting through numerous meetings with customers, analysts and journalists and each time we used the term MSP we generally got a blank look, it just wasn't a term which was commonly used. Today, everyone wants to be an MSP! I can't say we invented the term, but we must have been one of the first to use it.
Despite the huge growth in the size of Claranet and the size of our portfolio, there are a several attributes that have stayed the same since the very start back in 1996. We're still a privately owned business, we're still humble yet hugely passionate about what we do, but above all else we always remember that our customers completely depend on us, and always come first. That's the definition of service, and why we win awards for it.