You've heard the sales pitch: Managed services providers (MSPs) can focus on IT maintenance and support, freeing up corporate IT to focus on innovation. But is it time for MSPs to focus a bit less on maintenance and far more on innovation? I sure think so.

At some point, I think the vast majority of IT -- even small business IT -- will increasingly resemble cable network infrastructure. Generally speaking, your cable service stays on, your end point (a DVR or cable set top box) works, and centralized servers take care of everything. You don't really need somebody to make sure (A) your cable signal arrives to your house nor do you need anyone to monitor that set-top box.

Of course I'm oversimplifying the situation -- but I'm doing so to make a point: Most of the real IT innovations happen out on third-party cloud servers these days. During Synnex National Conference a few weeks ago, CEO Kevin Murai predicted that SMB networks would eventually be reduced to routers, switches, printers and end-points. Not very sexy, but he certainly sees continued opportunities ahead for MSPs.

Here, I gotta say: I think the smartest MSPs are dabbling in software development now, and trying to figure out how to build some of their own intellectual property in the next year or so. I've raised this point before, and I've heard from a few more MSPs who are now considering a path toward cloud application development -- even if involves small pieces of code that tie together multiple third-party apps.

Meanwhile, N-able Senior VP of Sales Mike Cullen has previously said MSPs should focus on IaaS (infrastructure as a service) and private cloud opportunities. Back in May 2012, he told me the IaaS opportunities involved managing:
  • applications
  • runtimes
  • security and integration
  • databases
  • servers
  • virtaulization
  • server hardware
  • storage
  • networking
When moving into IaaS for public clouds, Cullen says partners still have an opportunity to focus on managing:
  • applications
  • runtimes
  • security and integration
  • databases
  • the rest of the IaaS public cloud stack is managed by the IaaS provider.
In some ways, those are innovative steps. But it doesn't get the MSP to the ultimate stage -- developing, owning and offering its own intellectual property. Back in July, I mentioned the growing trend of MSPs becoming software companies. When looking at the highest valuation MSPs, I suspect that trend will accelerate.

Basic IT maintenance is becoming old school. Get beyond it.