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Acer America Corp. is a computer manufacturer of business and consumer PCs, notebooks, ultrabooks, projectors, servers, and storage products.


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March 15, 2022 | Esther Shein

AI for MSPs

Artificial intelligence, the next frontier of automation, will be a business imperative for channel pros who want to become more agile, innovative, and competitive.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE is cutting a wide swath across nearly every industry, and managed services is no different. AI-embedded tools are being touted for their ability to help MSPs automate repetitive functions and boost productivity. For many MSPs, though, AI is still a nascent and abstract concept. Nevertheless, it is a business imperative if they want to become more agile, innovative, and competitive.

While MSPs broadly understand the value of AI, “there is still a good amount of unknown and probably some more hype than reality,” says David Tan, CTO of Syosset, N.Y.-based CrushBank, which developed an AI-based IT help desk application. There needs to be more education on how to harness and leverage the tools, he says.

Some MSPs have dipped their toes in to take advantage of automation. Georg Dauterman, president of New York-based Valiant Technology, is partnering with an MSSP that has built some AI technology “to allow us to offer more powerful security services to our clients.”

The MSSP is helping Valiant build a SOC SIEM and integrate it with the firm’s PSA tools to provide a single view of the network. That way, when alerts come in that the system indicates should be investigated, they can be remediated more quickly, Dauterman says.

Advanced cybersecurity is an area where AI can be very beneficial to MSPs by proactively identifying and neutralizing threats, agrees Rahul Joshi, CTO of CSS Corp, a customer experience and technology services provider with U.S. headquarters in San Jose, Calif.

The emerging category of AIOps uses AI and automation to enhance IT operations. For instance, AIOps can help MSPs with alert and incident correlation by combing through large amounts of data to determine what alerts are false and which ones need attention, Tan says.

And in the case of one CSS customer, “we have achieved a 60% reduction in TCO … [and] 99.999% availability across web-hosting platforms through enhanced observability and controllability” enabled by their AIOps platform, Joshi says.

MSPs can also utilize AI for text analytics, sentiment measurement and analysis, and correlation, says Tan. CrushBank, for instance, aims to boil down huge amounts of data to a consumable amount. “Our tool sits between that help desk technician and the MSP and the service ticket,” he says. “So if an end user has trouble connecting to their VPN, they send a ticket to [the] help desk.” But because the MSP’s technician supports multiple companies with different apps and systems, they may not know how that particular VPN is set up and have to search for information.

CrushBank’s tool will proactively look at the ticket and automatically send knowledge-base articles with support tips as well as historical information on other tickets from the same company and how an issue was fixed, Tan says. This saves time “by not having to sift through 10 different systems to find information.”

The Learning Curve

Implementing AI tools is fairly straightforward, according to Tan. “All the magic and power is in the training … the challenge is feeding the system and marking up the data” to teach a system how to prioritize alerts. This typically requires a lot of data to provide examples of high and low alerts as well as false and positive alerts for quality and diversity of data, Tan says.

The biggest challenge with AI for MSPs is the cultural change—making the leap from traditional operations management to modern operations management, says Gerry Miller, CEO of Cloudticity, an MSP in Seattle. “Moving to the cloud requires a dramatically different level of thinking, and then if you add a different [method] of operations, that’s a double whammy for most organizations.”

The tools use different terminology, which requires trust and education, Miller says. It’s an evolving process for MSPs to wrap their heads around the types of AI services and tools available, “and if you’re a traditional MSP, that evolution will not take place overnight. That’s a leap our industry will have to take.”

ESTHER SHEIN is a longtime freelance tech and business writer and editor whose work has appeared in several publications. She has also written thought leadership white papers, customer stories, and marketing materials.

Image: iStock

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