The case for automation to enable efficient, effective and proactive IT management seems unassailable.
By applying IT automation to core IT functions, you can save a significant amount of time and money. Did you know that 40% of the time spent fixing a problem is analyzing and isolating the root cause? At the same time, 75% of most IT budgets simply go towards maintaining the status quo and keeping existing systems running.
What is automation, you may ask. It is really anything that allows an MSP technicians to be more productive by, for example, being able to repair a problem in a fraction of the time it took before. In addition, since many issues are fixed quickly, Mean Time to Recovery (MTTR) improves and many problems are cut off at the pass and resolved before they impact end users.
Enterprise Management Associates’ (EMA) primary research has determined that MSPs and IT groups that implement automation reap many benefits, including reducing time spent on deploying or managing by 50% on average for updating patches and applications, and by an average of 83% for installing and maintaining virus and spyware systems.
Automation improves margins by freeing up your staff to spend more time on higher value engagements with clients, including new services.
Not Just Automation. Policy-based Automation.
However, we need to be clear that savings at this level usually requires something beyond ‘automation.’ It requires robust ‘policy-based automation.’ In fact, EMA’s #1 step toward implementing IT automation is to establish role-based policies.
Policy-based automation provides MSPs with preemptive control over their clients’ IT environments. Discovery, audit, software deployments (including third-party software), patches, antivirus updates, backup, and more, can all be automated based on defined policies that make sense for your company and your clients.
Supports Super-size Scaling to Increase Margins, Customer Satisfaction
Without policy-based automation, you cannot afford to meet a customized desired ‘end state’ for each of your MSP clients. To do so would require you to hire technicians at a rate that would restrict your ability to increase margins. Without policy-automation, you could also never significantly reduce the time it takes to onboard a customer, never mind the human error that can be introduced with these many variations.
But with policy-based automation, every client can be handled as an individual entity. Industry-standard best practices can be recommended as the preferred option – but not forced on clients when they are not the best approach for that client’s unique business or IT infrastructure needs.
Furthermore, each client may want different ‘end states’ based on groups of users, servers, laptops, etc. There could be scores of variations within one client environment. With policy-based automation, once the desired states are expressed via processes and policies, the automation ensures that client environments are kept within all stated parameters – and technicians are notified of any exceptions.
No system will ever be totally ‘set it and forget it,’ but policy-driven automation means that you can onboard and manage more clients – and tailor their service agreements more finely – without needing to scale your tech staff at the same rate. Needless to say, managing clients with the same level of staffing will drastically increase margins.
So What’s Stopping MSPs from Adopting Policy-based Automation?
While the case for policy-based automation seems clear, there are a few reasons some MSPs might be cautious about implementing it.
- Automating Poor Process is Wasteful
To implement policy-driven automation is to assume the existence of policies. More to the point, to assume the existence of good policies which reflect best practice processes. And it’s hard to get out of a reactive environment – with all your techs’ time taken up in fighting fires – and find the time to create these processes and policies.
The good news is that MSPs can start small in one corner of their IT management world. For example, start with antivirus updates, or backup. This isn’t to imply that those functions are small functions; they are critical functions. But the policies behind rolling out antivirus updates or initiating backups tend to be less complex than, say, software management.
As your team gains more experience and more confidence, it will be easier to create – and automate –standard operating procedures (SOPs) for other activities, such as patches, imaging and more.
These SOPs can become the basis for standardizing your clients’ processes over time. Again, armed with both policy-based automation and your SOPs, you can both recommend best practices to your clients as well as easily accommodate all necessary deviations from these practices.
- Noise in the Machine
You know what’s worse than no policy-based automation? Badly implemented policy-based automation. The automation has to be rock solid, or it will create more problems than it solves. False positives mean that technicians are spending their time responding to phantom problems. Even worse is when there isn’t an alarm and there should be one. Then, the first time you know of a big problem is when your client informs you of it.
This is when the strength and experience of your software partner becomes essential. Do your homework and check references as usual. But don’t just ask about ‘automation.’ Ask about ‘policy-based automation.’ Ask about specific use cases and how the solution’s automation capabilities supported the MSP to scale faster, increase margins, free up staff time.
Automation can be like a Super Power, making everything simpler and easier. Look for solutions that go beyond simple remediation to make sure that SOPs and policies are routinely enforced; remediations and all access and alterations are recorded; and that reports and dashboards are up-to-date and real time.
Interested in what you should be automating right now? Check out this Automation Checklist.
*This blog was originally posted on MSPMentor.