Would-be MSPs need to invest in the right technology

Those looking to increase their managed service business need to invest in the right technology solutions or face spiraling costs and risks of failing to meet SLAs

One of the big themes in the market at the moment is around product consolidation as customers move away from  numerous point products to make life easier, using as much of a united suite as possible under a single management platform.

The same challenge is out there for resellers as they start to try to use technology in their own businesses to underpin their push into managed services.

The danger is that many have tried to use existing systems to manage customer accounts, billing and sheduling engineering time and are now at the point where those are creaking under the pressure. To go forward without investing in a proper tool will cost more money and as a result some channel players have stalled in their transition to become more of a managed services player (MSP).

One of the common problems is that the initial approach to becoming an MSP has involved using a service desk solution as a management tool. That thinking to a degree is sound with the thought process being that if the technology can help an IT department deal with calls from across a business for help then it could do the same for a reseller's customer base.

"No one wakes up and looks for a platform they look for point solutions and a lot implement service desk systems that are designed for a corporate IT environment," said Mark Banfield, vice president of international sales at Autotask.

Service desk issues

But the problem with the service desk approach is that it is designed for a specific environment, and that is not the MSP world.

"The problem comes when you have 200 customers and you need to schedule work for the engineers to go and service those users and the tools you are using are built to service just one company," adds Banfield .

It has taken a bit of time for resellers to get a clear picture of just what tools are available for them. Also the vendors operating in the managed service tools market have also been developing their suite over the past couple of years to provide solid a monitoring and process management technology.

Now though things are at a stage where resellers can invest in a platform that will enable them to start to build a managed services offering that has a tight grip on costs, so they can work out how much each customer relationship is really setting them back, and work towards the goal of securing a strong recurring revenue stream.

Mark Cattini, CEO of Autotask, has been in London this week talking to resellers and customers about the options in the market and believes that the time is right for more would be MSPs to lean on technology to achieve their ambitions.

"It is all about customer experience and people who have invested in customer experience have changed industries," he said.

One of the challenges for those wannabe MSPs that have stuck things together with tape and string is that they end up wasting too much resource on keeping that system together and lose out on time that could be spent focusing on customers.

"The platform is there so the MSP can concentrate on the things that matter," added Cattini, "It gives the service provider the chance to demonstrate what they can deliver for their customers."

"Many people have outgrown their existing system but have to provide a set of services at a fixed cost and they need a better understanding of how to do that," he added.

The benefits

With the growth in interest in becoming an MSP the knowledge around what firms like Autotask can offer is increasing and the idea of the technology sellers becoming the technology buyers is not as unusual as it was a few years ago.

"We don't need to evangelise about managed services and we see a surge of interest," said Pat Burns, vice president of product management at Autotask "What they need is a system the best allows them to execute on that model."

One of the firm's MSP partners Mirus IT Solutions, has been using the software and is expecting to recoup thousands of lost income as a result of having a better handle on the billing side.

Even though it is a long-standing MSP it annually reviews the tools it uses to try to ensure it has the best technology in place to support where the business is heading in the next three to five years. As a result it recently upgraded its employee management tool.

"We are seeing massive benefits and will be getting thousands back a month from being able to be on top of the billing. We were missing when a customer added a new member of staff, which we should be charging for the service, or forgetting to do that and having to catch up after six months," said Mirus IT managing director Paul Tomlinson.

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