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MSP Technology

Differences Between RMM, PSA, ERP & Ticketing Systems

Managed Service Providers have a fun kind of business. It’s not so much the technology they get to play with, but rather the business operations themselves. In many ways, an MSP is similar to a hedge fund. They purchase resources (technician labour) at an acceptable ‘raw rate’; they package it up with reporting mechanisms and then on-sell it as a managed service.

From the outside, it might look like a cash cow business, but those times are long gone (if they ever existed).

 

The Problem with MSPs

Many aspects complicate this simple business idea. The biggest challenge is common to most businesses; that none of the employees are as driven and motivated as the business owner/CEO. You can try to incentivize staff just as many do today, but although money is an incentive for some, it can soon cause problems, too.

  1. Your team is paid for 100% of the hours they ‘work’ yet you’re never able to invoice all of those hours.
  2. If a team member is ill, they’re still paid, but you cannot on-charge this to your customers.
  3. If a team member is ill, you must find the necessary resources to do their work while maintaining consistent service levels for all clients. You can hire more staff, but then you’re lumbered with additional overhead when your staff member returns. Keeping that additional resource busy can prove too difficult.
  4. You need to up-skill your team regularly. Google is inadequate in this regard.
  5. You must maintain a dynamic library of information about each team member’s knowledge and skills to ensure you’re deploying the right resource for each job.

 

Customers

Then there’s the other side of the equation – your customers. The following list of variables is challenging for an internal Service Desk, but when you add the complexity of multiple customers, they’re particularly difficult.

  1. Different SLAs
  2. Different requirements
  3. Different processes
  4. Different company structures
  5. Different infrastructure/structure
  6. Different passwords (hopefully)

Both of these groups – internal and external – create inefficiencies for the MSP, and these cost money.

For those with a strong operational or process background, this comes as no surprise. Usually, it’s the most significant driver in an MSP’s profitability, compounded further by a competitive employment market (leading to higher remuneration for the technicians), plus added competition from overseas players.

 

The Solutions

As an MSP, it’s easy to feel the industry is always trying to sell you something. The truth is, vendors within the tech industry want to empower businesses.

Large businesses outside the MSP space are getting in on the act, too, with telcos, printers and cloud providers all vying for a slice of the MSP action. Likewise, the gig economy has given rise to freelancers offering remote service via Freelancer, Upwork and other talent portals.

Many of these new players lack the necessary experience in the MSP market to know what it takes to run an efficient, profitable and unified services-based business. Indeed, the core elements that comprise a successful MSP business are often interchanged and drawn on randomly without a true understanding of their role or relevance.

In the MSP space, three acronyms are familiar – RMM, PSA and ERP. But which ones do you need, why do you need them, and what value does each one bring to the business? Do you need them at all, and how are they different to a ticketing system?

First, though, let’s address the term, ‘value’. While there are many interpretations, a reliable definition is this:

Value = Experience / Cost.

You could run a small MSP business without RMM, PSA or ERP solutions; scraping by with a spreadsheet, RDP/VNC and some sweat and tears. You might achieve the bare minimum, but if you value your team’s time as well as your own, you’ll soon discover the cost of labour is far more expensive then a correctly implemented toolset. Likewise, for example, you could build a house with a hammer and a handsaw, but it would take longer and cost more.

 

Available Tools

Let’s look at each of the tools in turn, beginning with ERP. It’s not specific to the IT industry, but it’s important nonetheless.

ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning)

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) – is the father figure of business suites. Key ERP’s power and appeal is it provides end-to-end process and operational management, allowing the business to have a ‘Single Source of Truth’ (SSOT) where stakeholders can have a 50,000-foot view of what the company is doing, and how it’s performing.

Unfortunate most tools in the MSP industry don’t use the ERP concept as a blueprint, and this impacts the success of their customers. ERP evolved from another acronym, MRP (manufacturing resource planning), used in the manufacturing industry. However, as manufacturers evolved and modernised, MRP vendors added their own modules and deployed their solutions across other industries. Thus, it became ERP.

ERP tools come in many flavours, but seven core modules apply to modern MSPs.

  1. Procurement – Purchase Orders & Inventory Management
  2. Production – Tickets
  3. Accounting – Creditors & Debtors
  4. Human Resources – Team Proficiency & Team Availability
  5. Governance
  6. Customer Service
  7. Sales – Product sales
RMM (Remote Monitoring & Management)

Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) has received much attention in the recent years, due mainly to the acquisition of some of the larger RMM platforms by PSA providers.

RMM tools have three main components:

  1. Remote control
  2. Remote execution
  3. Monitoring

The issue with RMM platforms is that although they do the monitoring (a critical element), they don’t do it particularly well.

The idea behind an MSP using a monitoring system is that the MSP is aware of the issue before the customer is, and is working to fix it (or has already fixed it) before the customer has cause to mention it. Unfortunately, RMM tools are not sufficiently agile to recognise issues fast enough.

Before we each had a computer in our back pocket (smartphone), another one in our hand (tablet), and one in our bag (laptop), a system that monitored the status of a customer’s device every 5 – 15 minutes was acceptable. Those days are long gone. Today if a web page takes more than 5 seconds to load, we lose patience.

Ticketing System

There are many ticketing systems on the market, and each one delivers a single core function – ticket creation. The idea is simple; all the information about an issue or request is right there within the ticket, available for auditing in the future.

Customer – Contact Information > Location Information
Tickets – Create a ticket > Action the ticket > Close the ticket

A ticketing system works fine for a smaller IT department, or even an MSP that doesn’t need to account for resource consumption (time). They only require a record of what was done.

Some MSPs don’t see the value in using a ticketing system, instead opting to use email or spreadsheets to manage their tickets. Others use a cloud-based Contact Relationship Management (CRM) system to log tickets, but like the aforementioned approach, it’s extremely limiting.

One such limitation is the ability to report on all the aspects of your operation that can build efficiency, reduce waste and grow profits.

PSA (Professional Service Automation)

Many in the IT industry misunderstand Professional Service Automation (PSA); confusing it with a ticketing system. PSA is a product category in its own right, and it performs a very different function to a ticketing system.

A ticketing system is a small but significant subset of a PSA solution. There are multiple areas where PSA shows its real power and delivers its value proposition. Here are the modules commonly found in a complete PSA platform:

  1. Procurement – Purchase Orders & Inventory Management
  2. Production – Tickets
  3. Accounting – Creditors & Debtors
  4. Human Resource – Team Proficiency & Team Availability
  5. Governance
  6. Customer Service
  7. Sales – Product Sales
  8. Customer – Contact Information & Location Information
  9. Tickets – Create a Ticket, Action a Ticket & Close a Ticket

As you can see, a good PSA solution is actually an ERP solution. It provides the highly coveted Single Source of Truth. This point alone reveals the tremendous value in a PSA solution, and it doesn’t receive enough credit for that.

PSA provides ticket automation, along with basic business process automation. It will generally also provide integration with external tools for inventory management, procurement, network monitoring and remote connectivity.

Although third parties provide some of these tools, they usually interconnect tightly with PSA, allowing for an SSOT solution and reducing (if not mitigating) the issues created by disconnected systems.

If you’ve ever worked in an MSP or IT department with teams of people using multiple tools, you’ll know how negatively it impacts the effectiveness and efficiency of your people. Double entry, human error, miscommunication and a lack accurate reporting are just a few of the issues that arise.

If you’re not convinced, consider an 8-hour workday of a few members of your team, and jot down how many times they’re double-entering data, connecting (logging in) to devices and searching for information in multiple locations.

Combining multiple functions or applications into one solution isn’t unique today. Not long ago, we had to use one product for email, another for our calendar, and our to-do list was a notepad on our desk. Now it all happens in Outlook or G Suite.

Look at your smartphone. What once required multiple channels, touch points and activities now occurs on a single device. Think of all the things you do with this one device, each of which once required a separate device or physical process:

  • Phone calls
  • Banking
  • Weather
  • Video
  • Photography
  • Video and image editing
  • Calculations
  • Navigation
  • Music
  • Voice recording
  • Shopping
  • Project management
  • Health monitoring
  • Transport procurement
  • Language translation
  • Ticketing for events and travel
  • Knowledge (Google)

The fact is, once we experience the benefits of a single solution, we can never go back.

Our Approach To Solving These Challenges

We’ve been an MSP to some of Australia’s busiest and most demanding clients for the last 18 years, including taxi companies and fast food franchises. We believe we’ve solved all of these challenges with our solution, ServiceTree, which takes knowledge and process and automates them.

If you’d like to see how ServiceTree brings all these elements together in one package, reach out today.

 

Categories
Business Practices MSP Technology

8 MSP tools you can’t live without

Overseeing IT infrastructure is becoming more and more complex. Technology is no longer just a computer at each person’s desk and a company network. It’s integrated into just about every business-as-usual process. Each department is constantly identifying new technologies that will improve their operations and make them more effective.

Additionally, businesses are more at risk than ever before. Cybersecurity is at the forefront of typical business challenges. In simple terms, it means that managed service providers are dealing with more intricate and delicate infrastructure and end-user systems than ever before. Because of this, MSPs must prioritize the right tools for their ecosystem.

The MSP Ecosystem

The MSP ecosystem is evolving. The IT toolbox that techs use has had to adapt to the needs of the companies they serve. The service desk must have MSP planning and control solutions that make it as efficient as possible. System management should be simplified wherever possible.

The fact is, however, many MSPs didn’t initially have an ecosystem that served these needs because most of them didn’t set out to be MSPs. Initially, they were more project-based IT providers – offering break-fix solutions or acting as VARs. Due to changes in the market and a more stable revenue model, they chose to transition.

For most MSPs, the most challenging aspect of this transition was creating an ecosystem that functioned well. Identifying the best MSP tools was and still is difficult. And beyond selecting the right tools, there was the need to develop proficiency with them and the features that they offered. Deciphering what is a must-use tool can sometimes lead to costly mistakes, in time and money.

To save you from these pitfalls, here’s a list of tools every MSP needs – whether individually, or within a single integrated solution:

1. Recovery And Backup

Technology isn’t perfect. Systems get hacked. Glitches and faults occur. Even if an MSP has robust security technology and regularly checks for random errors and other issues, problems can still happen. When they do, MSPs must be prepared. They need a backup tool that will aid them in disaster recovery. This tool should be able to back up large volumes of data, and restore it faultlessly when required.

2. Security

Technology isn’t foolproof when it comes to combatting security threats. The companies that MSPs serve will still be at risk of hacks and other malicious cyber attacks. But even if it isn’t perfect, security technology can still do a very good job most of the time. Intrusion detection systems, VPNs, and firewalls allow MSPs to support the infrastructure and minimise security breaches.

3. Virus Protection

Data, applications, and the devices that house them are valuable. If something goes wrong, it can be costly on multiple levels, and it can tarnish a brand’s image, too. Clients depend on their MSPs to prevent this from happening. With viruses, trojans, spyware, and other malware circulating the internet, MSPs must embrace software that protects against these threats.

4. Patch Updates

IT systems must be updated with patches to ensure their integrity. Unfortunately, when patches are rolled out manually, they take time and cost money. MSPs can mitigate much of the cost by centralizing their patch deployment and management regime and automating the process where possible.

5. Remote Access

Remote access allows MSPs secure access to desktops and servers on a small scale, to troubleshoot a client’s technical issue directly on the device.

6. Remote Monitoring And Management

To compete and survive in the market, MSPs need to embrace RMM. Without it, technicians spend too much time on the phone and out on site. RMM allows them to stay in one place and manage and monitor all IT infrastructure on a continuous basis. With an RMM solution, tasks and oversight are not only centralized but also streamlined.

MSP tools can have control over everything from virtual machine management and database administration to application and server monitoring. In short, RMM is the tool that allows MSPs to provide the solutions that they promise to clients in the most reliable and efficient way possible.

7. PSA Software

Professional services automation software is used by professional services firms in many different industries. However, IT is the one professional service that can’t survive without it. The functionality of PSA software is unparalleled—there’s just no other software that offers the efficiency and structure that PSA does.

The most robust solutions allow MSPs to integrate automation into project and document management, as well as invoicing and scheduling – among many other tasks, processes, and systems. PSA software can also integrate with CRM and ERP systems, providing MSPs with more oversight than they’ve ever had before. PSA software is the most cost-effective way for MSPs to manifest their own success stories, and to save time and become more effective with their processes and services.

8. Integrating Tools

Individually, PSA and RMM are tools that MSPs must have. They deliver many features and options that make operations run smoothly. To level up further, you integrate the two.

RMM is effective on its own, and so is PSA software. But when they’re combined, MSPs get the RMM oversight of customer systems plus the PSA’s automation maintaining tidiness across all services, including the helpdesk, customer histories, invoicing, and so much more.

In the end, the goal is to achieve as much automation as possible while remaining reliable and accurate. PSA/RMM integration does just that. Without PSA, tasks are executed manually, and without RMM, the MSP misses out on significant efficiency and savings.

Human errors fall right off, too, manifesting as real cost savings.

Integration of the two systems provides the MSP with a single source of truth (SSoT) – usually accessible via a dashboard. Data is only entered once, and SDMs don’t have to switch back and forth between platforms to run their operation.

PSA/RMM integration brings enhanced efficiency and reliability – two things every MSP needs to compete and win new business.

If you’d like to see how ServiceTree brings all these MSP tools together in one package, reach out today – we’d love to show you.

 

Categories
Business Practices MSP Technology

Understanding and Choosing PSA Software Wisely

Automation has become a buzzword – it’s right up there with artificial intelligence and digital transformation. But it’s more than just a go-to phrase for professional services firms. It’s becoming the way forward.

Professional Services Automation allows lawyers, auditors, and IT consultants to keep up with client expectations and stay ahead of the competition. It enables them to reduce costs and increase profits. And it’s for this reason that, when choosing PSA software, these companies need to understand what automation is available, where it’s going, and how to implement it effectively.

 

What PSA Software Does

At its core, PSA software automates certain tasks in professional services businesses. These tasks fall under labour utilization, project management, reporting, project documentation, billing, and time recording functions. At its most basic, PSA software could provide timesheet systems for a task such as expense reporting. At its most complex, the software could be an entire customer relationship management suite.

The goal of PSA is to allow management to get a better view of operations so they can increase profitability and efficiency through better business processes.

In 2017, SPI Research conducted an end-user survey that found a significant return on investment with PSAs when it came to the following key performance indicators:

  1. Enhanced profit margins
  2. Quicker invoicing and staffing workflows
  3. Greater resource utilization rates
  4. Reduced project cancellation rates
  5. Reduced revenue leakage
  6. A higher ratio of under-budget and on-time project deliveries

The study created a model 172-person professional services firm. They found that if the firm invested roughly $200,000 in PSA software—both the software license fees and the cost of implementation—they could expect a combined savings and revenue of about $23 million.

This type of PSA implementation would likely be the most comprehensive available, meaning that it would offer robust features and be integrated with the company’s payroll, accounting, and customer relationship management systems.

 

The Future Of The Professional Services Automation Market

The PSA market is beginning to take off. More and more professional services firms are starting to realize the full potential of automation systems. In 2017, the PSA market grew to be worth over $700 million.

Over the next five years, industry experts expect the market to grow at a compound annual growth rate of nearly 12%. This means that by 2022 the PSA market will surpass the billion-dollar value and reach roughly $1.2 billion.

The reason that this growth is occurring, though, goes beyond the fact that leaders in professional services firms are seeing that there’s a lucrative return on investment associated with PSA software.

Excitement about PSA can be tied to several changes in these industries. One is the need for greater mobility. Service consultants’ needs are more effective when they’re no longer tied to their desk, and PSA software is starting to free them up. Additionally, more and more firms—especially start-ups—need more flexibility and systems that scale. PSA solutions offer this.

And finally, there’s the simple fact that automation, in all of its capacities, is a growing trend across every sector.

 

What To Consider When Choosing PSA Software

While professional services firm leaders know that they need to integrate PSA software into their processes, it can be difficult to make a choice. The variety of software offerings is vast and intricate. Different platforms offer countless features. They come at disparate prices.

The truth is that even though comparing PSA platforms is a challenge, it’s not impossible. Company leadership can find their ideal platform by looking at four metrics.

 

The Mobility Of The Platform

Professional services consultants, such as tech support teams, need mobility. They work with customers in different locations and they need to be fully equipped at all times. Therefore, when professional services leaders are reviewing PSA platforms, they should prioritize three capabilities: Collaboration features and tools, ease of access, and mobile clients. Additionally, it’s important to verify that the vendor supports the operating system that’s used on the firm’s existing devices.

 

The Analytics Offered And The Usability Of The Dashboard

Data and analytics are of rapidly growing importance. Data can be used to more effectively serve clients, improve employee satisfaction, direct resources to where they’re most needed (or most lucrative), and increase profits. Good quality analytics will also stop leakage in the business by spotting resource loads and operational bottlenecks.

Today, analytics (also known as BI – Business Intelligence) is essential for strategic business decisions. PSA platforms understand this, and it’s why they tend to offer more complex reports and real-time dashboards. They help managers to have total oversight of the operation, and of individual projects, departments and clients.

It helps them choose between profitable and not so profitable projects, and tidy up any loose ends that team members have missed. When it comes to choosing which one, though, you should ensure that the out-of-box dashboard is easy to use and that it won’t be necessary to employ a data scientist to set up the dashboard or understand the outcomes.

 

The Deployment Model

Different deployment models have different pros and cons. On-premise, SaaS/on-demand, and hosted will all work well depending on each individual firm’s needs, current infrastructure, and budget. These need to be weighed against each other when looking at a PSA platform. Firms need to see what fits into the budget and identify how much functionality is required.

 

The Current ERP And CRM Platform

Professional services firms usually have existing CRM and ERP systems put in place. If the firm purchases a PSA platform without checking to see how integration with these systems works (if at all), they could end up running siloed pieces of software that create more work than it’s worth.

When the PSA platform is integrated with an ERP system, it can automate project billing—which is often a task that can create significant problems for firms—as well as automating DSO tracking and vendor-specific objective evidence.  When the PSA platform is integrated with a CRM system is allows management to have deeper insights into contract and account specifics, the quoting process, and the transfer of sales into active projects.

The trouble with this approach is that the core system that runs the business becomes something of a Frankenstein solution assembled in a piecemeal fashion. A much better approach is to implement a fully integrated 360-degree solution that includes ERP and CRM functionality natively.

ServiceTree is PSA, ERP and CRM all rolled into one, and it’s been designed that way from the very beginning. Naturally, we’re very proud of our system, and as an MSP ourselves, we believed it was the only way to go. We knew from working at the coalface, what an end-to-end solution would look like and what it needed to do, so that’s exactly what we built.

If you’d like to see what ServiceTree could do for your business, reach out today, and we’ll be happy to answer your PSA software questions.