Managed service providers (MSPs) come in many different shapes and sizes—from break/fix to pure managed services. They can be tiny family-run startups or large, established companies employing multiple techs. Within each business, the services they offer fit on a spectrum that ranges from reactive to proactive; for many, this spectrum represents their business journey that is completely unique to the business.
No MSP is purely reactive or purely proactive—in reality, every MSP is both. There are MSPs that are 90% reactive and 10% proactive. There are also businesses that are 10% reactive and 90% proactive. This can change depending on an MSP’s vertical, size, maturity, as well as a host of other factors and characteristics.
First of all, we need to define what we’re talking about. Reactive business models or reactive tasks refer to responding to requests that come from customers to resolve things gone wrong in their environment. With an extreme or entirely reactive program, everything’s an emergency. And if everything’s an emergency, nothing’s really an emergency. If you’re fighting fires all day long, then you’re not really able to plan or prioritize your work. Some common characteristics of a reactive program are:
If you’re a one-man shop and you’re just focused on fixing problems, then the most important thing to do is to fix problems. Also, when you’re a business of one, you don’t have to think about proactive models and workflows and strategies because it’s really just what you do as a business of one.
As your business grows in size and maturity, you may find that, under a proactive program, you’ll be more effective in setting your customers up for success. But as you grow, it becomes a lot harder to build those proactive tasks out. Having a strategy, workflow, and system in place becomes much more important because it’s about more than just you, it’s about your entire team and your business.
On the other side of the spectrum, proactive tasks—or a proactive workflow—is all about trying to prevent problems from happening. In this case, while you may be reacting to an alert, you’ll be doing it before the problem actually affects the customer. As a growing MSP, a proactive program means less chaos, much more organization, as well as other marked benefits, like improved time to resolution, higher number of cases resolved, and more understanding of billable hours. Common characteristics of a managed or proactive program are:
One of the things we like to do in product management is visit customers onsite. We walk a mile in their shoes to really see what’s happening on the ground in their business. During one of those trips, there were MSPs literally down the road from each other, servicing the same vertical. The MSPs were the same size, used similar toolsets, had similar business models, and similar pricing. Looking at the businesses from the outside, you would almost think they were the same. But inside, they were very different.
One of them was primarily reactive, and one of them was primarily proactive. The reactive business mostly focused on resolving tickets. The other MSP was actually focused heavily on trying to make sure that things weren’t going wrong in the first place. They had much more predictive alerting, they had policies and maintenance schedules that they were following, and did a lot more to try to get ahead of things. They saw they had a higher device consolidation ratio to the technicians. They had more profitability for their business.
One of the first steps in the process is to take a look at your tools and the processes you are using them for. If you broadly rely on non-software tools, like using email as your main way to manage your customers’ issues, you may want to re-evaluate your options. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t use email at all, but if it’s where everything you have is housed, things could be missed. Things come into email that are not business-related, and clutter will absolutely confuse that particular issue.
What if you use Excel or online spreadsheets to manage what’s going on with your customers? Or track technician’s time? By not automating these processes, you are opening your business up to human error and could be creating more work for you (and your techs) in the long-run.
When it comes to your software tools, choosing the best fit for your business is key. Even if you are a small operation and aren’t looking to spend a lot of money, it’s important not to be wooed by free tools. Most free software tools aren’t configurable and don’t grow with you, so you do more work bending your workflows and processes to fit the tool. That could cost you in the long run. Conversely, springing for an overly configured “bloatware” tool could be larger and more complex than you need. This can impact your efficiency and, therefore, your bottom line. You could be saving energy, time, and—most importantly—money by investing in specialized tools to help you do the job.
So often, we hear MSPs and break/fix hybrid shops asking themselves and each other “should I invest in a PSA or RMM tool?” The answer is: BOTH! Having a PSA and RMM integrated together is the perfect end-to-end solution for MSPs. The PSA handles the business side of things, and the RMM handles the technical implementation and delivery: tracking, planning, resolution, and execution. They are two sides of the same coin, two parts of similar workflows. RMMs manage everything from AV to automation tasks to network discovery and inventory and much more than that, while the PSA side is a coalescence of ticketing, time-tracking, billing, knowledge management, technician management, reporting, and invoicing.
There’s a lot of value in thinking in terms of a holistic approach, but PSA as a whole helps you reduce errors, omissions, and inaccuracies in your business. Whether that’s not understanding which of your customers are profitable, not understanding which technicians are doing the best work, prioritizing issues properly, or measuring your SLA and ensuring you meet your commitments, your PSA helps protect you from all of those things and makes sure you’re delivering the best service possible.
When you have your RMM and PSA working seamlessly end-to-end, you’re getting even more value for your technicians and your workflow, and ultimately, your business. Putting your RMM and PSA together in a meaningful integration is going to give you better quality of service, reduce errors, and better automation. The result is spending less time on administrative tasks and more billable time providing service to your customers. Let’s take the end-of-month billing process for example. Some folks who don’t have an integrative system report it can take a whole week to do their billing at the end of the month.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could adopt mostly flat-fee billing? Your RMM system knows how many workstations and servers you manage, and it knows most of what you’re going to be billing for. Especially if you have a 100% fully managed business model. So, automating that billing based on that data is a no-brainer.
The advantages to having an integrated system are apparent in all stages of workflow. With integrated RMM and PSA systems, you service workflows at the point where they start. Let’s say you’re in your RMM system, troubleshooting an issue. You can update the ticket right from there; that’s value. Likewise, if you’re in your PSA system, you can get data that came from the RMM system without having to switch back and forth. You’re able to service your workflows from the point of inception. Doing so will save you time, it will reduce waste, and that will affect the bottom line at the end of the year.
Not only are PSA and RMM an integral part of your service offering, but having those two sides of the coin together and merged is where you really see the value. An integrated system is essential to your success.
Additional reading :
Ashley Bono is senior product marketing manager at SolarWinds MSP
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