As the demand for managed hosting services continues to increase, the industry’s requirements of the systems used to operate their businesses have become increasingly more complex.
Managing and maintaining multiple systems, while providing the level of integration and reporting functionality required by various departments and customers, burdens the IT staff with job functions that are not core to their organisation’s service offerings. This is according to Strategix Business Solutions managing director Jaco Stoltz.
Many hosting and managed service providers have experienced tremendous expansion in both their service offerings and customer base but are still using the same systems, laden with heavy customisations, to support a demanding service. The systems have required heavy customisations over time to accommodate both changes in the industry and service offerings, plus the growing demand placed on them by their customers.
Stoltz says the demands include real-time views of the data center environment, plus the ability for customers to manage their account at multiple levels via Web-based interfaces including – adding new services, paying their bills, and communicating with customer service representatives.
“Microsoft Dynamics AX provides us with a single system that handles ordering, billing, inventory management, tracking, purchasing, and support, giving us a strategic advantage over our competitors,” he explains.
He says there are many different types of hosting companies that are categorised as Hosting or Managed Service providers. “Traditional hosting and managed service providers will typically have a variety of clients and their service offerings may include shared hosting, managed dedicated servers, and application hosting. Historically, many hosting and managed service providers start as a local ISP or collocating one, or many, Web servers in a Telco data centre to provide their hosting services.”
“As their businesses grew, hosting companies began to build out their own data centres to have better control of their infrastructure. This white paper will focus on hosting and managed service providers that offer a variety of hosting services and maintain one or many data centre locations.”
What is Customer Life Cycle Management and why is this important to the Hosting and Managed Service Provider Industry? The purpose of the customer life cycle is to define and communicate the stages, through which a customer progresses when considering, purchasing, and using products, and the associated business processes a company uses to move the customer through the customer life cycle.
Although the sales and provisioning cycle for a hosting customer can happen very quickly, the life cycle of that customer can last indefinitely if the customer experience is managed effectively.
How can an ERP system effectively manage the customer life cycle? Managing the customer life cycle with an ERP system enables each employee to reach across multiple departments within an organisation to effectively manage the customer experience. This is accomplished with a real-time information flow from Sales to Operations to Billing to Finance. Sales and Marketing are able to work together to tightly manage marketing campaigns segmented by customer profile, on-demand industry services, or on-hand inventory allowing quicker to market and provisioning turnaround times.
In addition to the marketing function, sales has access to all prospecting data, faster sales cycles, in-depth knowledge of service offerings, intuitive quote building tools, and access to real-time provisioning estimates. As the customer moves through the sales process, the sales group is capturing valuable server environment and setup information, which will be available to the provisioning and support group during the setup phase.
The ERP system allows the provisioning and support group in-depth views of the customer’s environment including detailed technical specifications, role specific contact information, billing cycles, payment type, and payment status. Billing information is used by the support and billing group to maintain tight controls on slow-paying and aging customer pay cycles. In addition to collection features, the billing department utilizes system-generated billing processes, flexible billing options, and payment terms.
“Enhance your customer’s experience throughout your organisation, give your front line employees powerful tools – modules for technical support, sales and billing. Give your top level management the ability to measure departmental inefficiencies and identify areas that require process improvement,” says Stoltz.
“By implementing an ERP system designed for the Hosting and Managed Service Provider Industry and integrating this system to tie into core business applications such as a 3rd party Provisioning and Automation software, hosting companies gain powerful insight into their operations. These powerful set of modules available in Microsoft Dynamics AX manage the entire customer life cycle and address each operational need of the Hosting and Managed Service Provider Industry.”
“This level of business management takes you beyond billing or customer management software. Strategix understands the unique workflow required to operate a hosting or managed service provider. This level of expertise has made it possible for Strategix to provide a powerful business solution for this industry with Microsoft Dynamics AX,” he concludes.