PSA 101: Deploy for Today, Plan for the Future

For IT solution providers already using ticketing, CRM, and time-tracking applications, the value of using a PSA (professional services automation) system may not be clear. But those who’ve made the investment can attest that having those features listed above — and more — all in one place, makes it much easier to automate business processes and build a more profitable managed services practice.

InProfitability this month’s issue of Business Solutions magazine, three PSA vendors discuss, “Why A PSA Solution Should Be A Part Of Every IT Provider’s Business.” The points made in the article I found most compelling were some of the tips shared with ITSPs after they purchase a PSA solution. Here are a few highlights:

  • MSPs should have realistic expectations about what value the solution will bring to the business, and commit enough time, energy, and resources to the deployment. A PSA “champion” should be designated to act as a conduit between employees and the vendor, and existing client data should be properly prepared for migration to the new tool to minimize transition headaches.
  • “I think one of the biggest things businesses need to keep in mind when implementing any type of new software is that it’s a process,” says Mark Sokol, director of marketing at ConnectWise. “You really need to understand that a PSA is a very powerful tool, and that getting up and running can sometimes be stressful, but after you are fully implemented, you start to see significant improvements to your business almost immediately.”
  • A common mistake that MSPs can make is to deploy a PSA to meet what they think might be their future business needs. Flexibility is important, but the solution should meet your current business needs while being able to grow with you and cope with increasing complexity. If you implement something too complex at the start, it can create inefficiencies and higher monthly costs.

Do you have any PSA implementation tips you’d be willing to add to this list? How about any pitfalls you think those just getting started should watch out for? Let us know!

Posted in Business Applications | Tagged , , ,

Don’t Be Fooled By BDR False Positives

Data BackupAs a managed services provider, it’s a given that you need to rely on multiple IT automation tools to perform your job. But, keep in mind that these solutions need to be validated from time to time, too. MSP business co-owner Andy Harper learned this lesson the hard way after a financial services customer’s server went down last year. “We were regularly backing up their data to a well-known BDR vendor’s appliance and were expecting a two-hour recovery time,” says Harper. What the MSP discovered instead was worse than the initial crash and only complicated matters.

“The BDR vendor’s automated alerting system had been giving false positives, indicating successful backups over a week and a half period, when really there were errors that should have created an entirely different alert,” he recalls. “This, combined with a glitch with a recent software update to the BDR, which caused the bare-metal recovery process to take considerably longer than when we tested it, meant the data recovery time stretched over the whole weekend rather than just a couple of hours on Saturday morning.”

Following the incident, Gaeltek added a step whereby an engineer would manually check each customer’s backups, but this proved to be a major time drain. The MSP eventually researched and found a new BDR vendor with a more reliable monitoring history.

However, no matter how good you think your BDR solution is, it’s a good idea to perform a data restore from time to time to verify that everything is working properly. In a VMware or Hyper-V environment, this check can be performed remotely with minimal disruption to the end-user. And, it’s one more activity that separates the value of a managed services provider from a freemium cloud provider service. Be sure to check out the rest of Gaeltek’s story: “Sell Cloud BDR You Can Count On.”

Posted in Disaster Recovery | Tagged , , , , , ,

The Smarter Way to Provide Cloud Education

Any IT cloud3service provider (ITSPs) who’s been selling cloud services longer than a week can attest to the fact that there’s a lot of confusion and wrong information about the cloud that has to be dealt with before one can discuss specific cloud services and costs. Some ITSPs think that the only way to educate clients is to do it all themselves. If you look at many of  the “free” educational resources available, which are loaded with self-promotional marketing collateral, it’s easy to understand why many resellers feel this way.

Ingram Micro is taking action to help ITSPs resolve this issue. Earlier this month, the value-added distributor and cloud services provider produced its first in a series of webcasts that contained no vendor endorsements. Even the moderator of the webcast, Jason Lambert, Field Technical Consultant – Microsoft Azure, Ingram Micro is introduced as “a field technical consultant for a leading cloud service provider.”

In Lambert’s 51-minute “Cloud 101″ presentation, titled “What the Cloud can do for your Business!” there’s no mention of Ingram hosted services or any of the myriad of cloud services on Ingram’s line card. What the presentation does contain is a detailed explanation of the cloud in laymen’s terms. For example, when explaining private, hybrid, and public cloud offerings, Lambert uses the analogy of a home (private cloud), condo (hybrid), and hotel (public) to illustrate the differences.

The webcasts can be viewed via a web browser or downloaded and viewed offline using the free WebEx ARF Player (which also has the ability to covert files to WMV or Flash SWF formats).

For Ingram partners, there are a couple of additional benefits worth noting. First, you can sign up for Ingram’s Partner Enablement program (free) and invite customers and prospects to attend the live webcast presentations. Those watching the event live can submit questions to the presenter to clarify/address anything they didn’t understand or that wasn’t covered during the event. Plus, Ingram shares the registration details with the partner who referred the attendee to the event for follow-up afterwards.

The webcasts are happening a couple of times a month and topics include: business continuity and disaster recovery (today at 10 am PST) , cloud-based business phone systems (Nov. 12), security, virtualization, RMM, and more.

Check out and discover for yourself all the free resources available that can simplify your job of educating customers and prospects about the cloud, so you can shorten your sales cycles and close more deals.

Posted in Platform

Embrace the Growing Demand for Hybrid Mobile Solutions

Integrated Solutions International (ISI) has been in business since 1992 and since its inception has specialized in mobile communication solutions ranging from field sales and field serISI Logovice to route accounting and transportation & logistics. If there’s one conversation VP of Sales Mike Sweeney has gotten comfortable with over the years it’s explaining the long-term value (i.e. TCO) of rugged devices over consumer-grade technology.

“But after years of quoting those stats like scripture and seeing that clients were becoming less and less convinced, we had to admit the inevitable — the world was changing. “Five years ago, the UPS and FedEx delivery people had the coolest technology, but today consumers are using the coolest technology, and they’re demanding to use that technology at work. Service providers have to continuously embrace new technology, adapt, and innovate.”

ISI spent several months talking to a few of its closest customers to get a deeper understanding of the products and offerings they were most interested in and to determine how it could adapt consumer products to its business model.

After gathering enough feedback, ISI developed a turnkey, hybrid solution that’s platform-agnostic and device-aware. ISI accomplishes this by adding a software layer to its mobile solutions that delivers capabilities such as “self-healing” and “intelligence.” For example, ISI’s customization enables mobile devices to recognize installation problems (e.g., unintentionally downloaded file, corrupt file, wrong version of the software). “Do you think a delivery driver is going to be able to deal with a SQL error or a bad index error on a handheld?” says Sweeney. “The software should be smart enough to deal with those issues in the background. And it should be designed so a user can be trained in 5 minutes.”

This intelligence layer is especially important when it comes to implementing consumer devices (i.e. BYOD), which lack some of the features built into rugged devices. For example, one of ISI’s recent installations entailed developing a solution to enable smart phone cameras to capture and decode driver’s license bar codes. “A rugged Motorola device would have already had this functionality built-in, but iOS and Android devices do not,” says Sweeney.

With 30% revenue growth in 2013 and 50% revenue growth projected this year, it’s clear Sweeney’s paradigm shift from “rugged only” to selling solutions that support rugged, hybrid, and consumer mobile devices is in line with customers’ needs. You can read more about ISI’s recipe for success by checking out “The New Mobile Sales Mantra: It’s Not One Or The Other — It’s All Of The Above.”

Posted in Business Applications, Business Process | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Identify Your Most Profitable Customers, Business Practices

After years of helping customers solve various IT and business problems, it’s easy to become an IT “jack of all trades.” This was the situation break-fix VAR turned MSP Onsupport found itself in 2008 when the recession hit. As new business opportunities became harder to come by, the service provider knew it had to make some difficult choices.

risk_profitDespite the loss of some large clients during the recession, many of Onsupport’s SMB clients still needed its consulting expertise. “Unlike the 1,000-plus employee companies that occasionally needed outside IT support for specific projects, the 25-to-250-employee SMBs needed ongoing IT and consulting support,” says Randy Steinle, voice president of Onsupport. “Also, with SMB clients we worked directly with the business owners and other top executives, which made it possible to develop closer relationships and have higher-level business discussions, which is what we do best.”

The next step in Onsupport’s evolution entailed identifying its most profitable technology solutions and services. “When we began this exercise six years ago, we had 30 IT specialties, and today we have five,” says Steinle. “It’s been a gradual process, but consistent profit growth has followed every decision.”

The litmus test Onsupport uses to determine which technologies/ specialties to keep includes three criteria:“We look for IT solutions and services that require proactive management, fixed contracts, and recurring revenue,” says Steinle. In other words, Onsupport made a firm decision to turn away from one-off IT projects and to focus instead on building a managed services and IT consulting practice. For existing lines of business that were deemed to be not part of the MSP’s core business, it figured out a successful strategy for discontinuing those services and practices, too.

The result of Onsupport’s business decision has been year-over-year profitability growth of 100%. You can read more about this MSP’s business transformation by reading “Create Stability, Profitability With Managed Services” in this month’s issue of Business Solutions magazine.

Posted in Business Process | Tagged , , , , ,

Why Data Recovery, Not Backup, Is Where Your Focus Should Be

HDD Disk Error Message

Notice there’s no mention of calling your freemium cloud service company for help mentioned in this Windows message.

Even if I didn’t cover the BDR space, I think the message of backing up my data would be ingrained in my mind. After all, advertisements from backup vendors appear everywhere – mostly due to the prevalence of freemium cloud offers. A hard drive crash two weeks ago, however, reminded me of another important truth that more VARs and MSPs  should be using to their advantage: data backups lose their value if they can’t be recovered in a timely manner.

Here’s a quick synopsis of my situation: My hard drive started acting as if it was running a data backup, Adobe PhotoShop, and InDesign all at the same time — lots of freezing up, lots of noise, and extremely frustrating. A “helpful” Windows message informed me I had a hard drive problem and should back up my computer right away. It was too late — there were too many bad sectors, and restarts and AV scans offered no relief. It was time to implement the recovery plan. And, that’s when I was reminded of an important IT truth: free cloud services offer no help when it comes to the recovery plan, and that’s where a VAR/MSP can differentiate itself and justify its more expensive service.

I had to wait two days for a replacement hard drive. Fortunately I have a second computer that I can use to access my business email and all my data, but not every customer would have that same luxury at their place of employment.

After the hard drive arrived, there were big decisions to make:

1. Do I attempt an image recovery from my latest good backup, or should I pull out the system recovery disk, do a fresh install, and then do a file recovery from the cloud?

2. Despite using image backup software and a cloud backup, I ran into several glitches along the way, including a corrupted user account (caused by stopping a slow data recovery and moving to plan ‘B’) and problems transferring my EFS certificate.

The bottom line is that I lost a good 8 hours of time getting everything set up and working properly. Even though I didn’t lose any data, it would have been way more cost-effective — even for a one-man shop like myself — to be on a managed services plan rather than attempting this feat on my own. I can only imagine the economies of scale for a 10-person shop that suffered a server failure.

Keep that in mind the next time a prospect tries to pit you against the latest free cloud backup service. When you move the topic away from backup — and onto recovery where it belongs — paying for your services is really a no-brainer.


Posted in Disaster Recovery | Tagged , ,

Take a Firm Stance on Selling Bundled IT Solutions and Services

One of the biggest sales challenges VARs and MSPs face is walking the fine line between being flexible and being firm. The former entails being accommodating, whereas the latter usually entails telling a customer ‘No.’

During one of my interviews at a recent trade show, the topic of saying ‘No’ to customers came up with Ben Barber, the healthcare account manager at ProTech, and IT service provider that’s been honored by Ingram Micro for its industry leadership and cloud services success. Like other MSPs, ProTech wrestles with the issue of when to be flexible and when to be firm.

Barber shared with me a new strategy that ProTech put in place a while ago that’s yielding positive results. “Like many MSPs, we offer various bundled solutions, which typically include BDR, email archiving, spam filtering, and AV,” he says. “Sometimes a customer will try to get us to itemize our offering, so they can pick and choose certain components they want. For example, a customer may say, ‘I’ll go with your email archiving and filtering, but I just want the local backup part of your BDR, and we want to use our own AV solution.’” In the past, ProTech would often give in to such requests, but over time it came to regret those exceptions. “What typically happens is that the customer forgets to renew the AV licenses that it wanted to manage itself and it picks up a virus that causes all sorts of problems that the customer then expects us to resolve at no extra charge,” says Barber.

When ProTech decided to put a stop to itemized selling, Barber recalls that some customers were initially taken aback. “They would say things like, ‘Are you saying that you don’t want our business?’” says Barber. “I’d say, ‘Yes, we want your business, but if you don’t purchase our complete solution, you’re not going to get what you need, and we won’t be able to monitor and service you as effectively.’” Barber admits that the decision not to itemize did cause ProTech to walk away from some business opportunities. However, more than half of those who walked away came back within three months – usually after experiencing an IT problem that caused several hours of downtime.

Not every client comes back after you tell them ‘No’ to their request. But, if you help them realize that you’re making a decision that’s in their best interest – not just yours – it will work out in your favor more often than not. And, for those that still don’t want to work with you, chances are that they are the same ones that would have been the neediest and least profitable anyway.

Posted in Business Process | Tagged , , | Leave a comment