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From MSP To MSP Tools: Pia Develops AI To Automate Processes

Joseph F. Kovar

‘Machine learning reads the ticket, the AI picks up the right package, and then someone can just click “next.” Think about the bouncy ball when we’re learning songs as kids. Next, next, next. That’s what it does. You’re not going to your document management system. You’re not going to your password management system. You’re not logging into your servers. It all happens from the PSA, because that’s where we integrate,’ says Tim Coach, Pia’s global channel chief.

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Tim Coach, Pia’s global channel chief
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Applying artificial intelligence to the help desk as a way to automate the manual processes MSPs currently employ can go a long way to move expensive technical employees away from routine tasks and concentrate on more mission-critical functions.

That’s the word from Tim Coach, global channel chief at Pia, an Australia-based developer of AI-based automation for IT service desks, who told MSPs at this week’s XChange March 2023 conference about the importance of automation for helping control costs and retain key employees.

XChange 2023 is part of The Channel Company, which is also the parent company of CRN.

[Related: GTDC CEO Vitagliano: Distributors Are Evolving To Be ‘Ecosystem Orchestrators’]

Pia started as an automation tool developed by one of Australia’s largest MSP, VITG, or Virtual IT Group, which about seven years ago went into hyper-growth mode after acquiring 14 other companies, Coach said.

The MSP developed the software over a three-year period as a way to bring automation to its own processes, and then ran it in-house for a couple years before deciding to bring it to other MSPs, Coach said.

VITG saw several issues impacting MSPs and their clients that were ripe for solving with artificial intelligence, including issues related to transferring the knowledge needed to employees, ensuring tasks are done with consistency in mind, and providing clients with faster response times, Coach said.

“The reality is, we don’t have enough people,” he said. “Right now, we have a labor shortage. [And] technical talent is even more difficult.”

The next big shift for the IT industry and for improving MSP efficiency will be artificial intelligence, and in particular intelligent process automation, Coach said.

AI for MSPs should focus on capabilities that help MSPs control labor costs, which is what VITG did with Pia, which is an acronym for predictive intelligent agent, Coach said. Pia integrates with professional services automation platforms to provide a fully-functioning automation, he said.

“You don’t build it,” he said. “You don’t maintain it. You just use it. Oh my God, think about that. I don’t have to take a ton of time to maintain the solution that I brought from a vendor that said it would fix it but then didn’t fix it. Instead, it just moved the work. That’s not actually AI. That’s not helping you out with your labor costs.”

Instead of a technician getting a help desk ticket from one of multiple sources, reading the description, and spending time to track the issue with people to ensure that they have the needed information, Pia reads the description and uses machine learning to take action, Coach said.

“We have 60 packages already built and ready to go today. … Machine learning reads the ticket, the AI picks up the right package, and then someone can just click ‘next.’ Think about the bouncy ball when we’re learning songs as kids. Next, next, next. That’s what it does. You’re not going to your document management system. You’re not going to your password management system. You’re not logging into your servers. It all happens from the PSA, because that’s where we integrate.”

Since Pia was launched in late July, it already has 350,000 endpoints, Coach said.

“We see eight times faster ticket resolution,” he said. “Why is that? Because your techs aren’t all over the place. They’re simply clicking through. So think about your dispatcher. Think about the person who answers your phone. Think about anybody on your staff [clicking through] and getting to the point where the actual tickets that need help are going to the actual technical people.”

Pia is not looking to replace an MSP’s technical people, but to help realign them for more critical tasks on a more consistent basis, Coach said. “We want you to use them to build your relationships,” he said.

Once Pia is in place, an MSP will see a 20 percent to 30 percent reduction in labor, Coach said.

“You get that back. What does that mean?” he said. “Direct numbers to your bottom line profits. And of course, a 40-percent improvement in retaining your staff. Why is that? Your staff needs to be happy. ... Let’s make your life better so you can keep your highest investment.”

James Payne, CEO of J&S Technology Solutions, a Hampton Roads, Va.-based MSP, told CRN that the Pia concept is worth looking into. However, Payne said he is wary of any technology touted as AI-based.

“I am a bit overwhelmed with AI and business intelligence,” he said. “I’ve heard this so many times in so many places. We have this AI, we have that AI. It’s hard to know what’s real or buzzwords, but I’m looking to see exactly what AI has to offer for us in the future.”

That said, AI that can help MSPs be more efficient is worth looking into, Payne said.

“As an MSP, I have a lot of tools,” he said. ‘Sometimes I feel like the old plumber who has a bunch of wrenches, all of which can turn a bolt. But what are the best tools? I feel like some of the AI applications will help us with better decision making and taking advantage of finding the right tools that can help us use fewer human resources and things of that nature.”

Joseph F. Kovar

Joseph F. Kovar is a senior editor and reporter for the storage and the non-tech-focused channel beats for CRN. He keeps readers abreast of the latest issues related to such areas as data life-cycle, business continuity and disaster recovery, and data centers, along with related services and software, while highlighting some of the key trends that impact the IT channel overall. He can be reached at jkovar@thechannelcompany.com.

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