In this episode, Richard speaks with Chris Timm, the go-to expert for all things
PSA (Professional Services Automation) from Sondela Consulting on How to Implement a PSA Tool.
Chris helps MSPs align their business processes with their PSA tool and he’s here to tell us how to avoid the biggest mistakes MSPs typically make when using a PSA tool.
An Interview with Chris Timm
Chris ran a managed service provider (MSP) business in London until he was headhunted by one of the major MSP vendors – Autotask – to help them establish what is now a thriving and successful UK office. In 2006 he branched out on his own as Sondela Consulting and offers training and consulting services to MSPs to help them to get the best out of their PSA tools.
What are PSA tools?
In IT, we tech folks do love an acronym, and for anyone who isn’t familiar with this one, it stands for professional services automation and it’s really a business management platform or business management tool. Think about it like a mini ERP (enterprise resource planning — yet another acronym!), something that you’re going to manage your entire business through, not just your service desk. If you’re wondering if your MSP needs a PSA Tool at all, read Professional Services Automation. Does my MSP need a PSA?
“You’re going to manage your CRM (customer relationship management), your sales, your project management, and the entire business through it, right the way through from cradle to grave. Once you get that customer as a lead, you’ll manage all of those opportunities and create the service desk tickets, manage the lifecycle of the customer all the way through to billing. It’s a complete platform for your business.”
How to Implement a PSA Tool – The big mistakes people make!
Not Having the Right People in Charge
So with your PSA tool playing such a pivotal role in the running of your business, it’s vital that you learn how to get the most from it. However, there are certain mistakes that Chris sees MSPs making all the time with their PSA tools.
The biggest mistake, Chris explains, happens during the implementation process, typically due to a lack of understanding of the tool and what it can actually do for the business.
Of course, time, or a lack of it, is a factor too. Business owners don’t have the time or the resources to focus on implementing their new PSA tool so they often pass the task on to the Service Delivery Manager or someone on the service desk.
The problem then is that while the Service Desk Manager does a great job of implementing the service desk elements of the tool, he then falters because he doesn’t have visibility of the business as a whole.
Buying a PSA tool can be a significant financial investment so Chris advises investing the time needed to implement it properly, which starts with assigning the task to the right person; “it really needs to be somebody that that has that visibility and knows and understands the business as a whole, not just the particular area or the department that they’re working in.”
Neglecting Staff Training
Another PSA pitfall, according to Chris, is businesses failing to get their staff on board.
He says, “they don’t tell their story, what it’s used for and a lot of the time, especially when it comes to entering time on tickets, the service desk guys might think that the business owner is using a ‘big brother’ approach to track what they’re doing during the day”.
There can be a real lack of buy-in — people don’t really understand what it’s for and so they don’t engage with it. And of course, the lack of engagement means that the business doesn’t reap the full range of the tool’s benefits.
Not Asking the Right Questions When Choosing a PSA Tool
Given that your PSA tool is effectively the business operating system, the hub that everything else connects in to, it would make sense for people to consider how their chosen tool might integrate with the other tools they’re using in their business (for example, finance and invoicing tools), but Chris finds that this isn’t often the case. In fact, they might even be resisting a PSA tool precisely because they have various other tools they’re already using to run their business.
Chris says, “very often, they are doing a lot with those tools, and I think having to then learn a whole PSA tool and a whole new way of doing things is really confusing for a lot of companies.”
Often, the PSA tool is the last purchase. They perhaps start with an RRM tool, and then, of course, bring on an accounts package, documentation platforms and so on. And then they get a PSA tool in an attempt to make everything more efficient. But suddenly they struggle to integrate everything.
For Chris, the ideal scenario would be to choose the PSA tool first, taking into consideration every function you might need your chosen tool to perform and making a purchase based on that. And if he were to start an MSP business from scratch again, that’s exactly the approach he’d take.
However, if you’re reading this too late and you’ve already invested in a PSA tool, there’s no need to panic. Chris is keen to point out that most of the big tools, such as IT Glue and all the RMM tools, already have built-in integration for most PSA tools. And for those that aren’t integrated, you can use a tool such as Zapier to complete the integration and have everything working with a couple of clicks of a button.
He adds, “if you do have these other tools such as IT Glue or an RMM, it’s really important at that point to make sure that you understand what information needs to come in from both of them. What do you want to push from IT Glue into AutoTask, and what do you want to push from AutoTask into IT Glue? Then, just make sure that you map your accounts correctly in each one of those tools”.
Should MSPs Stick With the Same Vendor for Their PSA Tool and RMM Tool?
Most of the MSP vendors seem to be getting to a stage now where they’re not only producing a PSA tool, but they’re also producing their own RMM tool. For example, Autotask bought CentraStage, for their endpoint management and ConnectWise bought LabTech. So should you go with the same vendor for your PSA and RMM tools?
Chris is in two minds. On the one hand, he says, having both tools from one vendor can be a great idea, but he does wonder whether PSA vendors should focus on what they’re good at.
Either way, he’s convinced that vendors “should talk a lot more together and make the integrations better and the PSA tool should allow third-party vendors to integrate better into their product”.
He continues, “we’ve mentioned AutoTask and ConnectWise and I know that they both have RMM tools. And actually, both of those tools integrate with each other’s products really well.
There really isn’t a need for anybody to buy Lab Tech from ConnectWise or buy the tool from the same vendor. There’s no reason why you couldn’t use ConnectWise, Harmony or any of those other tools and use Datto RMM as well.
The integration works on all of those platforms, and even if it isn’t quite what you wanted it to be, a lot of them have APIs (application programming interface), so you can absolutely develop that integration yourself. There are also tools that I mentioned earlier on, for instance, something like Zapier, that allows you to do a lot of those integrations yourself.”
The Future of PSA Tools
“I really think they’re gaining a lot of ground in this industry with that tool, certainly from what I’ve seen, and from working them quite extensively. I’ve seen a lot of people liking what they do, and they are very, very different. They’re built very differently to the other PSA tools from the big players out there.”
And while Harmony was once aimed at bigger MSPs, they’re now being used by a lot of smaller MSPs quite effectively.
Another great PSA tool for smaller MSPs — maybe one or two-man companies — is Atera which Chris says is the perfect example of a PSA tool that’s actually an RMM tool as well; “they’ve kind of built both of them; they haven’t acquired somebody and integrated in, they’ve actually built a tool specifically to be a PSA and RMM tool all in one”.
How to Implement a PSA Tool – The Right Time to Bring in a PSA Tool
Some of you will be wondering whether you need a full-blown PSA tool right now, or whether products such as Avast’s RMM tool with a built-in service desk element will do the job just as well.
Chris isn’t sitting on the fence with this one. He says these PSA-lite tools are “great at the service desk if you want to do that service delivery for your customer and you want to be able to create tickets, they’re great tools for that. But when it comes to using it as that business operating system that we were mentioning earlier on and to achieve efficiencies for your business, then I would say that those aren’t really the right tools to use in that particular instance.”
So when is the right time to move on from a system like that to a full-blown PSA tool?
Chris reckons that’s down to the growth of the company, and it’ll be of huge benefit as you scale up.
“What it’s going to give you is that visibility across the board in your business, so anyone from sales is going to be able to see what service desk is doing, they have that visibility where they can see all of that. And then it makes you much more efficient when it comes to billing as well. You can start to create those tickets at that time, then just click a few buttons and it generates an invoice.”
However, he sees the benefit for smaller businesses too and says that even one or two-person operations can increase their efficiency with a PSA tool.
“I remember the days when I used to sit down and enter time in a standalone service desk product on its own, then I’d come to the office and have to enter all of these invoices.
I’d spend hours trying to figure out what was going on, but as soon as I put a PSA tool in it just saved me so much time. It went from me using my entire weekend to do the billing to literally half an hour because everything was captured properly. That made me so much more effective and so much more efficient as a company.”
How to Implement a PSA Tool – Getting the Most From Your PSA Tool
If the biggest issues people have with their PSA tools are linked to understanding the functionality, difficulties with implementation and finding time to do it all properly, is bringing in a third party expert the best way to solve the problem?
Absolutely! As Chris says, a third party “can have that objective view on your business, and look at every single department and really understand how they work and are going to use it, and where the handoff comes from one department to the other”.
And while some PSA vendors can send people out to help MSPs, many of them don’t have experience of running an MSP business. To get the most from your PSA tool, you really need someone like Chris who understands the tool and how to implement it AND knows how an MSP business works.
Which is one of the reasons that Chris is still running a small MSP alongside Sondela Consulting. He says “it’s about being able to say to customers, ‘Look, I am you, I’m doing this every day, I’m running an MSP business and I really understand what your pain points are, so I can come in and help you and work with every department. I’m looking at the entire business from start to finish. I’m going to sit down and spend some time with every single one of those departments.”
While vendors are excellent, there’s no substitute for having that concrete experience of running an MSP — which is exactly why Chris does what he does, and how he does it so successfully!
Want to get in touch with Chris? You’ll find all of his contact details in the show notes.
Mentioned in This Episode
- Sondela Consulting
- Chris on Twitter: @Tegwin or @sondelaconsult
- Chris on Facebook
- Chris on LinkedIn
- Ninja RMM
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