Few people would argue against the statement that one of the tenets of IT Managed Services is scalability.
An IT Solution Provider or Managed Service Provider (MSP) should be able to scale their business to serve more clients without necessarily adding additional staff every time they win a new client.
For instance, one service desk engineer can manage dozens or even hundreds of client servers or workstations from his desk, using remote monitoring and maintenance (RMM) tools. Another service desk engineer can simultaneously help multiple end-users through remote desktop and online chat facilities.
Building a scalable setup is the key to any MSP business growth.
But how can you grow your business and serve even more clients without adding more employees to the mix?
Let’s look at how an MSP can grow their business by using automation.
What is MSP automation?
My definition of automation is the use or introduction of automation tools into a process.
Traditional automation has seen the use of robotics in engineering factories, or equipment being used to do repetitive jobs.
But for IT Managed Service Providers, I see three broad types of automation being useful.
- Condition-drive automation – for instance, checking for a system component and then taking an action based on whether that component exists or not.
- Repetitive task driven automation – adding a user to a domain group, setting the power profile on a device, etc.
- Data-driven automation – powerful custom scripts for automation tasks and script checks.
The bottom line is that automation should be able to help you deliver 25-50% improvement to your service capacity without increasing headcount.
Sounds interesting, right?
To help you understand the practical application of automation for MSPs, let’s take a look at some real-world ideas.
The old adage “What can be measured, can be managed” is front and centre when it comes to automation.
At present, MSPs typically use tools to monitor devices in their client's infrastructures. The MSP is alerted if one of those devices breaches a condition and the MSP staff then start to remediate the issue.
For instance, if a server runs above 80% hard disk drive capacity, the MSP will be alerted and they will look to free up disk space.
Automation means that instead of the MSP being alerted when a disk exceeds 80% capacity, a script will be kicked off that will look to delete files and reduce that disk drive usage to below 80%.
Think of how many tasks your service desk engineers are currently responding to that could potentially be automated in this way?
Has your Remote Monitoring & Management (RMM) tool ever alerted you to the same server backup failing again, and again?
Quite often, your engineers will fix these problems in isolation. A good MSP will try to look for trends and patterns in issues, and see if they can spot an underlying problem that can resolved.
Data-driven automation takes this idea one step further.
Computers are very good at highlighting trends.
While each of your engineers may not spot the same backup on the same server failing multiple times a month, data-driven automation will spot this and look to remediate the problem. Is the issue due to the backup running at the wrong time of day, during a busy period? Perhaps the backup hardware isn’t running the latest software and a known-bug is causing the backup failures.
Data-driven automation can spot these trends and resolve them.
Repetitive task-driven automation
Ask any service desk which issues they find the most mundane or boring, and you’ll find the same culprits being brought up again and again.
- Resetting passwords.
- Adding users to a domain group.
- Setting power profiles on devices.
... and more.
These are repetitive tasks that can, and I’d argue should, be automated.
Manually completing these tasks often means connecting to a machine or service and walking through a series of steps. Often, your engineer has to wait for that step to complete before proceeding.
Task-driven automation means that your engineer can input a set of variables (for instance, the user account, the domain group to add the user to, etc) and then the automation will go ahead and complete the task.
- A computer doesn’t mind waiting for a task to finish.
- A computer doesn’t forget a task is running.
- Unlike a human engineer, a computer doesn’t get bored.
Repetitive task-driven automation can free up your engineers' time and abilities to be used on higher-level issues where they can add more value.
Outside of the service desk, there are an equal number of manual tasks which are bugbears for MSPs:
- Managers are frustrated with timesheet approvals.
- Finance need to manually attach expenses on client invoices.
- Project teams need to manually populate project plans based on new orders.
Your choice of Professional Service Automation (PSA) platform will dictate how much automation is available to you to remove these bugbears. For instance, Harmony PSA recently wrote about why they’re aiming for a touch-free work to cash cycle.
Rather than replace humans in all of these scenarios, repetitive task-driven automation actually frees up their time to do more interesting things.
I’ve outlined three different types of automation that I can see being used within an MSP.
Automation should be able to help you deliver improvements on your service capacity without increasing your headcount.
Start looking for the opportunities to scale your MSP business further through automation.
Automation is Managed Services as we’ve always known it, but evolved!
About the Author: Richard Tubb is probably the most well-known face within the British IT Managed Service Provider (MSP) community. His track record speaks for itself, as he launched and sold his own MSP business before creating a leading MSP blog and consultancy practice. As the former owner of an IT Managed Service Provider (MSP) business, Richard understands the challenges IT business owners face every day and can help you to overcome them while retaining what's left of your precious sanity. Follow Richard Tubb on Twitter or LinkedIn