TALK TO PROFITABLE, fast-growing MSPs and you’re likely to find that they’re serious about employing standard processes, using standard tools, and selling standard solutions. Why? It increases efficiency, deepens expertise, and makes scaling the business easier.
“Whenever you can standardize, you simplify the business,” says Daniel Wang, chief automation officer at Intelligent Technical Solutions, a managed service provider serving the Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Chicago areas. “You make it easier for employees to follow, and you have that [economy] of scale.”
Lack of standardization is why so many MSPs struggle to grow, says Wang, who is also CEO of startup MSPbots, a Chicago-based robotic process automation (RPA) company. “They just keep fixing the same problem over and over,” he says.
They also make that process harder than it needs to be. Consider a flow chart for solving firewall problems, says Paul Dippell, CEO of Service Leadership, a consulting and benchmarking firm serving IT solution providers. “If all your customers have Cisco firewalls, that flow chart and everything downstream in your operation from that flow chart is all the same.” Add a second firewall, and your flowchart doubles in complexity.
In addition, MSPs that support a hodgepodge of hardware and software often need more staff, and higher-skilled, higher-paid ones at that, to meet SLAs, Dippell says. “They do solve more of the huge number of problems coming in because they get smarter people. So customers are happier, the employees are happier … but they go broke.” This usually leads them to standardization, he says.
There are hurdles to embracing standardization. “It's hard because you have to find what really works,” says Michael Kahn, founder and executive partner at PCDataNet, a managed service provider in Elgin, Ill.
The IT industry’s speed of change is a hurdle too, Wang says. After you’ve defined a process, made sure it works, and trained employees to follow it, your RMM or PSA vendor may release a new version and you have to start over, he explains.
According to Dippell, MSPs are often hesitant to dictate to clients what tools to use or force them to change out equipment. Overcoming that reticence is essential, though.
“Imagine you allow the customer any brand of laptop, any brand of desktop, any brand of server, any brand of firewall, any brand of router,” he says. “The number of different processes you'd have to write is effectively infinite. The best practice is rabid, disciplined, exceptionless standardization of the hardware and software the customer runs.”