I’ve bought Professional Services Automation software. What next?

Technical Support

Frustrated EngineerIn my MSP eBook “Mistakes MSP’s Make – The Five Most Important Mistakes IT Managed Service Providers Make Which Cost Them Time and Money” one of the biggest mistakes I suggest IT Managed Service Providers (MSP’s) might make is not implementing Professional Services Automation (PSA) software.

Put simply, PSA software enables you to bring order to chaos within your IT business. It becomes your business operating system — the central repository for information across all areas of your business, from Service Desk to Sales to Finance. It allows everyone in your business to sing from the same hymn sheet. It allows you to move away from the vanity of turnover to the sanity of profit. It enables your business to work with the right employees and clients. And more.

In my mind, any IT businesses worth its salt needs a PSA solution if they are to grow in a scalable and sustainable way.

But — and this a huge but — a PSA tool is not a cureall. The act of buying a PSA system is not going to solve all your worries as an IT business owner. For that you need a PSA tool and something else – an implementation plan.

The PSA system hasn’t worked!

ExcusesI’ve heard from many IT businesses who have implemented a PSA system, and then a few months later and a few pounds or dollars less in the bank, dumped it and exclaimed “It doesn’t work!”.

I sympathise with these IT businesses. When my own MSP implemented a PSA system, it was a challenge. Why? Because I was changing the established processes and systems within my business, and doing this is painful because it takes time. Time is something most IT businesses do not have – which ironically is often the reason they’ve bought a PSA system in the first place.

Finding the time to implement change is difficult within any business, but especially within smaller IT businesses. In a company with 5 employees or less, where the business owner is often the Senior Technician, HR service, Marketing Manager and head Salesman, trying to find the time to implement a PSA system feels nigh on impossible.

For many of the IT businesses I work with, where the business needs to achieve something but it’s going to be impossible for the business owner or anyone else within the business to find the time to do the task, I suggest they outsource the work.

Outsourcing the implementation of your PSA tool is a step too far for many IT businesses. PSA companies such as Autotask offer full locally based implementation packages with their product, but for many businesses that feels too uncomfortable. “My business is unique” or “They aren’t an MSP, so they won’t understand how I want to use the software” are two common objections I hear from IT businesses. The other objection, of course, is cost. Some people object to paying extra to have a tool setup for them when they’ve already paid for the license. Of course, it often costs more in the long run to not get assistance with an implementation, but many MSP’s don’t realise that until they’re ready to dump the product.

So the MSP buys the PSA tool because they know they need it, but they don’t implement it properly because it’s too painful to do so – either in terms of time or money. They hobble on in this way for months until they reach breaking point and throw their hands in the air and declare that it doesn’t work for them.

And so they are back to square one – needing something to help them organise their IT business and bring order to chaos.

Why you need to make a commitment to a PSA implementation

ConsistencyWith all that said, there are thousands of IT Solution Providers and MSP’s who do use a PSA system and it has radically changed their business for the better.

How have they achieved this? Simply put, they’ve made a commitment to implementing the PSA properly.

That commitment might be to undertake a project to migrate their most mission critical system – quite often the Service Desk – from a legacy system to the PSA tool. It’s my experience that when the Service Desk is using a PSA tool in anger, then the rest of the business follows suite. A PSA system isn’t Microsoft Office. It isn’t a piece of software you install and start using – it takes planning, which is why PSA Vendors like Autotask offer dedicated implementation teams to work one-on-one with clients to achieve this.

But if you choose not to work with the Vendors implementation team — for whatever reason — you can make commitments to implement the PSA product in other ways.

Attending Peer Groups

You can learn from your peers. There are thriving User Groups across the world, and here in the UK there are large Autotask and ConnectWise User Groups that you can freely attend.

In the UK, US and further afield, Autotask have started group implementation so that you can attend sessions with your peers. You might even choose to do this in addition to a formal implementation. Attending these groups gives you a more generalist session which helps you learn more about the broader features of a PSA tool.

Using Free PSA Training

You can commit to sending your staff on training. It’s in the PSA Vendors best interests for your whole business to engage with the product, and for it to become sticky. Therefore they offer free on-line training as well as in person events (I’ve written before about the Autotask Accelerator events here in the UK).

Working with 3rd party Experts

If you want to find out how other successful MSP’s are using PSA tools, then you can hire them directly to show you the ropes.

Worldwide, there are a large number of Autotask Certified Consulting Partners (CCP’s) who have implemented Autotask within their own business, become experts in how it is used, have passed an exam to prove their expertise, and now work with other MSP’s to help them not only implement their PSA product, but also provide ongoing support and assistance too.

Here in the UK we’re spoiled with some of the best Autotask CCP’s in the world. Gareth Brown at Sytec has helped many MSP’s implement Autotask from scratch. Bruce Penson at ProDrive is an expert on how to use Autotask to reduce costs and increase profitability. Emma Barker at Blue Logic is a worldwide expert on both Projects and Sage integrations. These are folks who know as much about PSA products as the PSA Vendors themselves – and can prove it works for their businesses.

How the PSA Vendors can improve

Where the PSA Vendors can improve is in making it easier for new customers to take baby-steps into using their products. Bite-sized training that allows users in specific roles to get up to speed in how to do the things that are important to them.

Autotask New UI Announcement
Mark Cattini announces new Autotask UI at Community Live! 2013

The interface of modern PSA tools also needs to change. For instance, Autotask has an intimidating user interface (UI) that can overwhelm some people. If you’re a Helpdesk engineer, then seeing details about sales and finance might be a distraction. If you’re a Sales person, then you want to sell and the PSA tool needs to help you do that. Sales tools such as OnePageCRM give a glimpse at how the future should look – helping users focus on the next action they need to take rather than leaving them confused.

I was excited to hear Autotask CEO Mark Cattini’s announcement at Autotask Community Live! in Barcelona last October that Autotask will be getting a full User Interface overhaul in 2014. I suspect this overhaul will make the product easier to implement and use for everyone. Watch this space.

Conclusion

The bottom line is, a Professional Services Automation tool *can* help make your business scalable and sustainable – but only if you’re prepared to make a commitment in time and energy to implementing it.

The PSA Vendors offer options to help you and your staff become adept with their product, for it to become sticky within your organisation — it’s in their best interests to — but even if you choose to ignore these options, there is a thriving 3rd party market of experts who you can hire to give you bespoke advice and guidance.

One of the biggest mistakes an MSP can make which costs them time and money is to NOT use a PSA tool, but it can also be a mistake to implement one without a proper plan.

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