Marc-Andre Tanguay, Head Automation Nerd at N-able & Callum Baker, Technical Director at Dufeu, dicuss all things automation and why MSPs need to measure their success.
Automation has often been thought of as a way to replace human labour, and as such, it has often taken human form. Talos was a giant bronze man who defended Crete. The Golem was made of clay but shaped like a human. Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian mythology all contain tales of mechanical or animated people. Frankenstein, arguably the first science fiction novel, was again about creating an automaton—albeit one with more humanity than expected—and you can barely move in future-set fiction for robots, from Metropolis to C3PO.
MSPs may not be creating actual robots, but they should be thinking along these lines when building automation into their business. If they were creating automatons, how many would there be?
It’s fairly self-evident why any business should automate, but it’s worth considering exactly why MSPs should do it. After all, many businesses have, from the luddites onwards, been plagued by fears that this is a way to replace staff. This is not our approach.
MSPs should be using automation to scale their business and dedicate more time to training. Staff with less experience are often those stuck performing rote tasks—by automating those tasks, staff is free to learn new skills and be more useful to the business—rather than hitting the same buttons day in and day out.
The more that staff move away from tasks that are necessary but rote, the more they can become more customer-oriented, increasing one-to-one conversations with clients instead of rushing to close as many tickets as possible. A client being locked out due to a forgotten password is a problem that cannot be ignored; it must be solved—but if it can be automated and that time used to solve more complex issues requiring human input, the result is a better relationship with that customer.
It’s not enough to just automate; however—MSPs need to measure their success. And that’s where thinking about automatons as well as automation comes in.
How to measure automation
At Dufeu, we’re confident in calling our automation programme a success. We’re saving at least 30 minutes per day per staff member. We haven’t aimed to revolutionize how we work, but instead have looked for quick, easy wins to build on.
What does this 30 minutes per staff member mean in practice? It means we’re saving at least 131 hours every year, roughly equivalent to one full-time staff member who doesn’t take holidays or weekends off. Dufeu is not a huge company—we are less than thirty people all told—so this is a huge, measurable benefit to the business.
Let’s face it, as nice as we are, people don’t really care about the human touch when it comes to basic IT tasks. I don’t want to speak to a someone, I just want a password reset. I don’t want someone to talk me through basic first-line IT support—an automated script can walk me through switching things on and off and similar basic fixes. They do, however, care about the human touch when things are seriously wrong—if there’s a major outage or a cyberattack, your customers will want to know you’re on it, and they’ll value being kept abreast of the situation.
Automation for MSPs is about taking care of the simple things so more complex tasks can be addressed.
Where next for automation?
This is potentially only the start of our journey with automation. As we create more automated workflows, we will look to strike the right balance between where automation will benefit the customer, versus frustrate them. It’s important to remember the other parts of automation in our lives and how we feel about them to give us an idea of what makes for “good” automation. For example, most of us are happy a lot of our bills are automated, saving us time. But ask someone trying to navigate an arcane automated phone banking system if they like automation and they’ll give you a different answer.
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As we automate, there will be choices to make about what to do with the time that’s freed up. Do we do more for our existing customers, look to take on new business, or offer new services? Automation is a no-brainer—the real questions are how far do we go, and what we do with the results?