Businesses of all sizes turn to managed service providers (MSPs) and solution providers to focus on their core business and quickly respond to market changes. But if their technology partners don’t invest in automation, neither party can keep pace in a competitive landscape or stay on top of cybersecurity threats.
The need for best practices and automation arose at the “Unlock the Secrets of Fast Growth” panel at the recent Channel Partners Expo & MSP Summit 2022. Being intentional about best practices and sharing them are critical to the long-term success of New Charter Technologies, which consists of 18 companies in an equity partnership. CEO Mitch Morgan said the organization has developed a tool kit to help its companies upgrade their standards and implement their own processes to be more successful. “It’s associated with business efficiency, growth, people, and client experience,” he said.
Getting automation right is a significant challenge as organizations migrate to the cloud but is necessary for maintaining and enhancing service margins in a cloud environment, said Morgan.
Fellow panelist and CIO Daniel Herrera said automation is also a key focus for TailWinds Technologies. “All your low-level stuff–automate that,” he advised. TailWinds has automated 40% of work related to new-client onboarding. Meanwhile, automated agents apply Windows and antivirus updates for client endpoints. Any machines that fail get reported, he said.
MSP and solution providers can automate many tasks. In some cases, automations are essential for keeping up with customer needs, especially when there’s a talent shortage. Low-level tasks are still important, but at the same time, MSPs can’t afford to have their own staff bogged down with minutiae. Just as customers come to MSPs to take work off their plate to focus on more strategic initiatives, MSPs need to do the same.
Automation Opportunities Abound
There’s no shortage of tasks and activities that MSPs can automate that will deliver significant efficiencies while improving the customer experience.
Keeping tabs on an organization’s entire infrastructure is not feasible with manual or semi-manual processes. By the time a problem is detected, it may be already causing significant disruption. With software platforms, it is possible to detect infrastructure problems automatically and make sure alerts are delivered to the right people so issues can be quickly addressed. Similarly, network monitoring can be automated, and even some network management can be done through automatic load-balancing. Using Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) can automatically configure many network devices.
Automatic software updates are standard today, especially for operating systems, but firmware updates are often not part of that workflow. They’re just as crucial for preventing device performance and security issues. Device vendors offer update tools that can enable automatic firmware updates. This extends to servers; IaC tools can also automate many provisioning tasks.
Keeping on top of all these tasks guarantees a high-quality experience for customers and goes a long way to improving security posture. Cybersecurity is another key area where automation is essential because it’s impossible to keep up with the number of threats and alerts coming through the security operations center (SOC). Automated security tools can automatically discover and eliminate threats thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning.
All this automation still needs some level of human support. However, the goal is to bring in people when they’re truly needed. On the panel, Herrera emphasized the need for someone to oversee automation to make sure everything is working.
“You owe it to your clients to make sure it’s still happening, but again, automate that, because, if not, you can’t really scale,” he said. “Hire somebody just for automation.”