Kickstarting automation

Marc-Andre Tanguay, head of automation at N-Able, discusses how MSPs can kickstart their automation journeys.

Today, some MSPs regard the concept of automation as a difficult pill to swallow. While it’s a smart approach which can help increase efficiencies and improve revenues, there is an overriding fear that it will take away jobs. But the aim of automation isn’t to replace staff – instead, MSPs should be looking to adopt automation to fuel growth. Large IT companies continue to attract the most skilled staff, while MSPs sometimes struggle to fill positions. Automation is a solution to this problem, reducing MSP staff workload by automating mundane and repetitive tasks. What’s more, by freeing up time, MSPs can improve their business offering.

Automation isn’t a clear-cut technology that MSPs can simply plug-in – it is a technique. As the official definition describes it, it’s all about ‘creating and applying technology to monitor and control the production and delivery of products and services’. It involves writing scripts and policies, building monitoring solutions that will preset checklists, the configuration of management and approvals, and more.

By adopting automation in the right areas of the business, MSPs can better allocate their staff to more interesting jobs, saving them cash in the long term. Currently, many MSPs simply don’t have full visibility over the recurring issues they face day in and out. Part of this is down to a lack of staff communication, which results in the same issue being fixed by different members of the team—wasting time and resources. But overall, it’s about inefficiencies, and some of these can be fixed with a simple shift in approach.

New skills = new opportunities

According to a recent McKinsey report, the focus to increase automation has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. This puts pressure on IT departments that need people with the right skills to develop, manage, and maintain automated environments. IT professionals will need to start building the skills that enable them to access employment – and MSP communities are no exception.

Upskilling doesn’t need to be complex or challenging. MSPs already have experience on server, desktop, and enterprise apps – so by learning one or two automation languages such as C or Python, they can decide which elements require automation.

The MSPs that are gaining a competitive advantage are the ones that realise the potential of improving skills within their department. For many MSPs, the focus remains on manual mundane processes—but for the MSPs that want to grow and remain competitive, this focus needs to change. Automation can satisfy many basic incident requirements, allowing team members to focus their energy and billing hours on the clients and services that deliver more critical and strategic value.

Identify areas where automation makes sense

If you take a look at your daily workload you will see a number of simple, repeatable tasks that are the same from one customer to the next. These easy to identity similarities present a perfect opportunity for automation. Examples include ticketing, self-service and workflow triggers.

Firstly, ticketing is spoken about a lot in regard to automation because it’s an easy place to start. By identifying what tickets are and what services they are for, you can start to see if it’s possible to find a process for automating these tickets. Secondly, self-service can stop the tickets before they even get to you. Teams can build out articles based on FAQs which can be recommended based on keywords the user is typing before they input their request. This prevents clients from sending basic tasks to the IT desk whilst addressing the issue quickly. Finally, setting up workflow triggers and checklists are a great way to streamline manual processes. A checklist could be created and referenced to illustrate how to perform certain tasks. This backs up tasks with instructions on how to do complete it – enabling your team to spend less time thinking on monotonous tasks and spend more time on strategy and innovation within the business.

Of all the benefits of automation, the reduction of frustration is the one your team will notice most. When work processes are being conducted manually – particularly in highly reactive environments such as the financial and retail sectors where IT issues need to be resolved quickly – we have less or even no time for creativity and innovation. By addressing these issues through automation, not only are you creating a business that is efficient and effective at addressing client needs, but you’re also creating a more positive work environment.

This in turn improves staff satisfaction, increased productivity levels, and stronger customer retention. The future environment is an automated one, and it’s time for MSPs to join the club.

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