MSP Today Expert Feature
May 10, 2018

Three Reasons Why MSPs Should Leverage Automation to Drive Profits: Automation Beyond the RMM


For MSPs, tracking all of your customers' systems can be a nightmare when your team relies on manual effort to document configurations. It takes hours to compile and leaves you with only a static picture of their environments. Your documentation is the basis for your team’s ability to properly respond to and efficiently service customers. 

However, without continuous and up-to-date visibility, your team often won't see issues until the customer sounds the alarm. This reactive management forces you to fight fires with manpower, resulting in a frazzled team, distressed customers, lost time, and less profit. 

By automating the documentation of system configurations, you can eliminate hundreds of hours of manual tasks and give your team dynamic visibility into every system you manage. Here are three ways you can be using automation as a foundation to build your MSP’s profitability. 

Save Time and Money During Sales & Onboarding

During engagements with prospective customers, your team has the opportunity to showcase your expertise with thorough assessments and high-level recommendations. Since most MSPs use the same sales assessment tools, many will bring in their Technical Sales Engineer or a Level 3 resource as a subject matter expert (SME) to differentiate themselves. This means hours of manual data gathering for valuable team resources. 

It’s no wonder when the sales team announces a new customer, they’re met with groans and dread from the rest of your team. It can be a massive project when you need to decipher cryptic customer configurations, update, and document them. For some unlucky teams, the onboarding process never ends.

Fortunately, sales and onboarding doesn’t have to mean time-consuming drudgery. New automation tools, beyond the RMM, can retrieve key system documentation and configuration data. Being able to discover all the customer’s systems in a matter of minutes helps you deliver  insights fast and look like rock stars to your customers.

Rather than a one-time static picture, automation platforms can give you dynamic visibility throughout the customer life cycle. As mature MSPs have discovered, automation frees your team from manual work and drives more profitable and positive customer relationships, which allows you to cultivate your role as the trusted advisor.

Strengthen Your Customer Service Experience

Delivering excellent customer service is a critical KPI for MSP industry leaders. When an issue arises, your service desk is in a race against time to respond and resolve issues quickly for your customers. However, the typical process of sifting through stale documentation and remoting into systems to dig for basic information wastes time. Worse yet, if a service desk tech can’t find the information they need, they’ll escalate the ticket to a higher level resource as the clock runs. 

Strengthening your customer service experience starts internally with better tools to support your service desk. Surfacing critical system configuration information such as user privileges, security settings, and firewall rules through automated documentation can give every team member access to the answer, regardless of their level of experience. As an added benefit, privileged access can be constrained to the automation platform and prevent credential sprawl. 

Though existing NOC (News - Alert) tools can provide alerts and detect issues when systems are not in an optimal state, it tends to be based on high level data. Generating actionable alerts and change notifications with automation from deep configurations, such as DNS A/MX records or privileged user access, provides the NOC with informed action capabilities. 

MSPs need to know when and where configurations change, because an unplanned change can immediately take down a critical application. 

Prevent Costly Security Incidents

Without automation across the wide breadth of systems under management, MSPs lack the visibility to see the whole picture of customer environments. They miss misconfigurations and leave vulnerabilities unpatched, exposing customers to cyberattacks. These can be devastating to an MSP’s bottom line.

As IBM (News - Alert) found, the average cost to a company for a data breach is $3.6 million. According to the Breach Level Index, over nine billion records were lost or stolen in the last five years, which comes out to about five million per day.  

However, if an MSP uses automation to perform continuous discovery and documentation snapshots, it enables the ability to detect changes. Once you know the current and prior state of an environment, alerts can notify your team when something changes. This knowledge enables your team to develop best practices for configurations, helping reduce exposures and all the expenses that come with it.

Are Your Documentation Practices Driving Profits or Killing Them?

The more customers you manage, the more important automation becomes in managing IT at scale. To figure out if your documentation processes are driving or killing profits, do a temperature check. Are you managing documentation ad hoc, with processes, or using automation? 

The Evolution of Documentation Practices

Level

Documentation

What This Looks Like

Pros and Cons

1

Ad Hoc Manual

You document whenever your team has time and look only when you need to. Refreshes often are quarterly or annually cobbled together prior to contract reviews.

  • Inconsistent and incomplete picture of environments
  • Low level of confidence and trust in data

2

Managed Processes

Your team uses set processes, runs scripts, and generates tickets that trigger workflows. Team members are assigned monthly tickets to manually refresh documentation to the best of their abilities.

  • Set processes ensure consistency across customers
  • Heavy reliance on engineers to properly write and run scripts
  • Heavy reliance on the engineer’s capabilities and accuracy

3

Automated 
Documentation

You’ve integrated automated platforms in your workflow to eliminate all manual documentation tasks

  • Consistent, continuous capture of deep configuration data
  • Discovery of inter-dependent systems
  • Detection of change and drift from the golden blueprint
  • Detection of misconfigurations
  • No reliance or strain on engineers to manage system documentation
  • Reduction of privileged access and credentials sprawl


As your company matures and seeks to scale, automating documentation will become a critical component of your MSP practice. If you’re using ad hoc or managed processes, you need to understand the impact of this manual work. Ask your Service Desk Manager and NOC team the following three questions. 


 

  1. How long are documentation tasks taking you? 
  2. Do you trust our internal documentation? 
  3. Does our documentation give you deep visibility across environments and systems? 


When it comes to documentation, automation can help you track it, trust it, and use it. 

Joe Alapat is CEO of Liongard. He will be on “The Power of Visibility, Analytics, Automation & Visualization” panel at MSP Expo on May 16 in Las Vegas. Vincent Tran is Liongard’s COO.


Edited by Maurice Nagle