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3 essential aspects of MSP automation
Tools such as robotic process automation and cloud-based services help service providers relieve employees of mundane work, but adopters must navigate deployment challenges.
MSP automation has been a cornerstone of the industry from its inception and has only grown in importance as partners seek a competitive edge through higher efficiency.
Logically, an MSP based in Portland, Maine, offers a case in point. The company was an early adopter of automation technology, starting more than a decade ago with scripting to handle simple tasks and later implementing more advanced technologies that fold in intelligence, said Joshua Skeens, the company's COO.
As Skeens explained it, Logically had no choice but to be an enthusiastic consumer of automation technology because it's critical for running leaner operations and providing better, faster service.
"We're always looking at how to be more efficient, so we're automating wherever we can, from back office to sales and marketing to our front-line managed services work," he said.
Skeens said automation maturity is a competitive advantage, and he's not alone in that assessment. Many MSP leaders have expressed the same sentiment, noting that automating their own internal processes as well as those that serve their clients is an essential task to remain in business and boost margins.
"It is vital to drive automation in the way we're serving our customers and how we operate the business," said Peter Lyons, vice president of managed services for Presidio, a digital solutions and services provider headquartered in New York. "You have to be looking at leveraging automation everywhere. It's critical for our growth strategy."
Brian KlingbeilChief strategy officer, Ensono
A 2022 MSP study from OpsRamp, an AIOps company in San Jose, Calif., supports such assessments. When asked about which key capabilities of an IT monitoring offering are critical to winning deals, 52% of respondents listed automating routine tasks -- making it No. 1 on the list ahead of hybrid IT monitoring and faster incident resolution. The report noted, "Automation may be challenging for MSPs but doing it right is their ticket to winning more business."
Here are three automation aspects to consider:
1. Types of MSP automation
Presidio, in the past 18 months, has undergone a large re-platforming, which has helped it bring in more automation tools to support a host of tasks, Lyons noted. Those tasks include triaging issues. By removing the human element, automation has helped Presidio deliver better results, such as faster mean times to resolution.
Lyons and other executives said they use robotic process automation as well as automation tools offered as part of technology suites, such as IT systems management software. They said cloud providers' automation tools make up a significant portion of their automation portfolio.
Mission Cloud Services, a cloud MSP based in Los Angeles and an AWS Premier Consulting Partner, uses a variety of AWS services in its automation approach.
"Services like AWS Step Functions, Amazon AppFlow, AWS App Sync, Amazon EventBridge and AWS Lambda enable extremely powerful automation," said Jonathan LaCour, CTO at Mission. "No-code and low-code automation platforms also continue to progress, and there's a lot of automation opportunity there as well."
Automation, LaCour said, supports several business goals, including saving customers time; driving service-level agreements; deploying well-tested, repeatable offerings; and creating internal efficiencies.
2. Benefits of MSP automation
Skeens pointed to network discovery automation tools Logically implemented to scan clients' networks and produce status reports on their environments' health as a prime example of how automation advances both the company's efficiency and its capabilities.
"We can be much more efficient, much more accurate, and we can respond quicker in many cases with automaton," he said.
Ensono CSO Brian Klingbeil and COO William Flannery shared a similar take, explaining that the Downers Grove, Ill., MSP is well within its automation journey and has been automating both internal processes and those serving its clients. They cited multiple benefits of automation, including lower costs to perform tasks, increased efficiency and improved accuracy.
"Those benefits, though, are multipliers," Flannery said, stressing that automation and those benefits, in turn, create better services for clients and better experiences for their own employees, who shed repetitive tasks for more engaging, higher-value work. Automating service requests, for example, frees engineers from entering data and instead lets them solve the needs at hand.
"One of the main benefits you get [from] automation is improved employee satisfaction," Klingbeil added. "Automating away the things that require brute force effort makes things better for employees."
Others made similar observations. "[Automation] frees up employees to be more strategic in nature, to do more high-value work and create a relationship with customers," Skeens said.
Relieving employees from low-value tasks combats burnout and allows time for innovation, training and relationship building, according to industry executives. That lets the company easily add services and scale without adding staff -- a key consideration given the challenges of hiring tech and security workers.
3. Challenges of MSP automation
Despite the proliferation of and praise for automation, MSPs cited challenges in maturing their automation programs.
They noted difficulties in finding the talent required to implement, secure and maintain automation within their enterprise. They also encountered issues when readying processes for automation -- no one aims to automate a problematic process -- and using automation to further broader transformation.
Another challenge: identifying the areas in which automation can make a difference.
To that end, Mission relies on its service delivery and internal R&D teams to collaboratively "identify friction points that could be addressed with automation, across both our consulting and cloud managed services," LaCour said. "Customer feedback is also critical for finding areas where automation can be beneficial." He noted that the company's customer success, product, and engagement teams work to discover customer pain points.