While business dashboard systems have long been available to aid managed service providers in monitoring and managing the IT environments of their clients, there is a growing number of these systems on the market that are offered as tools for monitoring key business indicators within MSP organizations themselves.
Generally speaking, a business dashboard is a software-based information management tool that utilizes a visual interface to present, in a readily readable format, real-time views of key performance indicators (KPIs) and other data generated by the operations of a business. Their purpose is to provide users with the ability to, as necessary, either aggregate or drill down into this data, allowing for faster, better, and more profitable business decision making.
Dashboards have been widely used for well over a decade by MSPs to compartmentalize the massive amounts of KPI data coming from the IT environments of multiple clients, notes Charles Weaver, CEO of the MSPAlliance, the Chico, Calif.-based industry association and certification body for cloud computing and managed service professionals. “Dashboards give the MSP a high-level view of the large volume of data generated by their customers,” says Weaver, “and then [the MSP can] quickly zero in and resolve issues.”
In addition to using dashboards to track data regarding client network traffic, CPU usage, latency, etc., MSPs are also using specialized dashboards to track performance and profitability KPIs within their own businesses, such as those related to service delivery, technician productivity, and client profitability.
A growing number of vendors, such as ConnectSmart (www.connectsmart.com), BrightGauge Software (www.brightgauge.com), and Shockey Monkey Inc. (http://shockeymonkey.com) now make dashboard-based business intelligence/information systems specifically designed for internal benchmarking and data tracking within MSP organizations. In this arena, “Dashboards should give you a summary indication of performance in your business,” says Larry Cobrin, director of MSPCFO, a financial analytics and consulting firm in Fairfield, Conn.
Features-wise, an MSP dashboard should present actionable information that is easy to read and understand, according to Cobrin. Exactly what types of information this includes depends upon the needs of the individual MSP. “Some MSPs will be focused on cash flow, and should have information about late payers, while others may have solved their cash flow issues and are more worried about which clients have less-profitable agreements,” says Cobrin. At the end of the day, though, “The point is that a good dashboard will tell [the MSP] what they need to know about their business.”
The MSP dashboard works as a tool for more efficient, and ultimately more profitable, management of the MSP by helping its managers find out where problems exist.
“Most MSPs are pretty well-run, but they all have opportunities for improvement,” Cobrin says. For example, “Are there a few underperforming clients? Are some of your agreements underpriced? Are all your engineers equally productive? A good dashboard will highlight this information,” he notes, “and allow a manager to spend his or her time on the areas that have the most room for improvement.”