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N-Able Exec: How MSPs Can Win Through Automation, Specialization

Processes, people and tools are the three areas to focus on for MSPs investing in automation and standardization to improve revenue and lower costs, says David Weeks, senior director of partner experience at N-able.

MSPs enlisting automation to eliminate wasteful business operations and unlock improved service delivery isn’t just a way to improve the bottom line. It’s also a way to improve customer service and increase an MSP’s valuations.

That’s according to David Weeks, senior director of partner experience at N-able, formerly known as SolarWinds MSP. Weeks broke down how MSPs can think of their automation strategy during CRN parent The Channel Company’s Best of Breed Virtual Event Series. Weeks provided three areas for MSPs to focus on when approaching business operation automation and specialization: processes, people and tools.

For MSPs’ existing processes, Weeks said they need to look at how work is managed in the company. From security to data center services to cloud services, they must determine which services are reactive and which ones are proactive.

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Automating time-consuming front- and back-office processes can provide some quick wins, but automation to standardize business processes can create a long-term benefit for how an MSP interacts with customers.

“Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to improve that overall customer experience,” Weeks said. “And when we start to standardize how we deliver that service, we get an improved mean time to resolution, which is a benefit not only to the customer but it’s more profitable for you within the business.”

On Weeks’ second focus area—people—he said MSPs should invest in training and team structures that result in specialized employees. Better time management and an employee with a thorough understanding of a product or service means MSPs can respond faster to customer questions and concerns. “If we overload them [employees] with multiple areas that we want them to manage, it’s hard,” he said. “They become a generalist and we don’t get the expertise out of them.”

And lastly, in the area of what tools partners should invest in, Weeks told event attendees that sometimes less is more. “Less products and services can mean more employee expertise and specialization around what the [MSP] does offer to customers.”

Experimenting with different tools and constant migration can get expensive quickly and result in customer frustration when an already effective process changes. Specializing in tools can benefit partner-vendor relationships. “You have buying power with the vendor; you can talk about volume and you can start to negotiate the way that you want,” he said.

What’s more, when MSPs are ready to talk mergers, acquisitions and venture capital or private equity investments, efficiency in those three areas matters. “Overall, the valuation to your organization continues to increase, whether in the eyes of an acquiring company, a merger or a PE or VC for making an investment in your business,” Weeks said. “These are areas that they look at that we see on a regular basis.”

In an interview with CRN, Kelly Yeh, president of Chantilly, Va.-based Phalanx Technology Group, had more to say on Weeks’ points.

MSPs offering remote monitoring and management (RMM) systems need to tune them to avoid overloading engineers, said Yeh, whose company provides cloud migration, security and networking, among other services. For smaller MSPs, agility is key.

“If your systems require so much input from a small staff, you will actually bleed utilization,” Yeh told CRN. “Billable time is key when small and growing. Plan for the future but don’t slow your growth by over-processing your team.”

And regarding partners over-experimenting with new products and services, change can actually cause attrition, he said.

“Clients, employees, partners will all bemoan any new changes to your business, he said. “Changing for change’s sake can cause you to lose core people or business. The systems have to make sense, you have to take time to ensure you have buy-in, and you have to sell why it’s beneficial to accept these changes. If not, you may lose business that these platforms were meant to better service.”

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