IF YOU DO SOMETHING 10 times a week, that’s probably a task you should automate, advises Bill Stucklen, former MSP and CEO of Stack Advisors, a ConnectWise consultancy. Yet because many MSPs are using only a small percentage of the functionality in their RMMs, they are missing out on automation opportunities.
While most MSPs are doing basic automation like pushing out some patches, “you’re supposed to be lowering risk for the customer … and you’re supposed to be lowering noise levels” of tickets and alerts for yourself, says Gary Pica, president of TruMethods, an MSP consultancy in Moorestown, N.J.
Dealing with “noise” is expensive too, he adds. “Anytime you have something that can’t be solved on your support desk, and it has to be escalated to either your field engineer or to a professional services person, that’s really expensive for an MSP.” Plus, Pica says, “You’re spending your time solving problems instead of working with the customer on giving them advice and being strategic.”
State of Automation
Automation starts with offering standardized solutions, says Matthew Zaroff, senior business consultant at Visionary 360, a ConnectWise advisory firm. “If you [don’t] do that, you can’t automate,” he says. “It’s not scalable.”
Good processes are required as well. Pica says, for example, that while you may have cybersecurity tools in place to protect your client’s PCs, you still need a process that automates network scans to detect when new devices have been connected. Otherwise, those machines are vulnerable.
Once you have standards and processes in place, you need to understand your RMM’s capabilities, advises Stucklen. “What are the level of scripts I can do? Most of these RMM tools allow you to execute PowerShell. There are a lot of individuals out there [who] know PowerShell.”
Another simple step is categorizing tickets and alerts. Pica recommends doing this monthly to identify where the “noise levels” are coming from. From there you can write a script to handle certain tickets, like those for backups, enhance a process to reduce the number of tickets it produces, or both.
For example, Pica explains, when a backup alert comes in most techs run through a checklist that might begin with restarting the service. “By the time they get through that checklist, maybe they’ve eliminated half to three-quarters of the issues before they get to the couple that really are a problem.”
A better approach, Pica explains, is to write a script that restarts the service automatically every time a backup alert appears, and then goes on to steps two and then three in the checklist if that doesn’t fix the problem. “So now, instead of having 10 tickets, you would only have five tickets,” because the others had been resolved automatically. The tech, moreover, wouldn’t have to do the first four steps on the checklist either.
Stucklen encourages teams to think proactively about ticket remediation as well as categorization. For example, your techs may take a routine series of steps when software updates aren’t properly applied. “If I can repeat those steps 20, 30 times and have the same positive outcome every time, that’s a great example of something that can be automated for remediation.”
Here are some other underutilized automation opportunities:
Proactive alerting. Stucklen says that while MSPs may have automation around standard maintenance, “the MSP space in many ways is still very reactive versus proactive.” A proactive approach to failed email attachments, for example, would first analyze if lack of user training is the issue or if settings or the size of the attachment are to blame. “Is there a way to monitor the mail flow … so that you are alerting yourself of a failure before the bounce back comes.”
Patching. While many MSPs use their RMM to automate Windows patch updates, Josh Peterson, CEO of ConnectWise consultancy Bering McKinley, says that others “are afraid of letting the RMM make the decision to roll those patches out. It’s a missed opportunity.”