These days, the IT industry-wide transition away from the traditional break-fix model and towards a more proactive, ongoing maintenance style of network and computer support is all but complete. In fact, it's getting harder to find an IT service provider that isn't using an MSP model as their primary business offering. For today's multi-cloud, multi-site, multi-environment networks, that makes perfect sense.
As the usage of IoT technologies grows and the need for bring-your-own-device support rises, MSPs are often struggling to accommodate the monitoring and care of an ever-expanding number and range of devices. That leaves many with an unpleasant choice: either they have to raise prices to bring on additional staff to handle the workload, or they have to institute device caps on their service contracts that may push some customers away.
However, they can also opt to deploy a range of process automation technologies that can help them to deliver high-level support to an almost unlimited range of devices and systems. To elaborate, here are the three most important areas where process automation can help MSPs the most.
Firmware Tracking and Updates
For the average MSP, the automation of software updates is something that's already handled by centralized update servers. The major MSP software solution providers like SolarWinds, ManageEngine, and Kaseya all include such functionality. Their implementations, in large part, rely on the fact that software vendors often follow some standardized update protocols which allow their management to happen under a single piece of software.
But firmware updates, on the other hand, are a much more elusive target. Since they happen at the hardware level, they're most often handled manually. And attempts to centralize them are stymied by a fragmented system of manufacturer tools that defy centralization. But using RPA, MSPs can build custom solutions to automate firmware update processes by stitching together as many individual firmware utilities as required. Doing so can save countless on-site visits and the man-hours that go with them.
Application Deployment and Management
Another area where RPA could deliver excellent time and money savings for MSPs is in application deployment and management. In the past, those tasks would either be handled manually or via some scripted deployment tools, but those solutions still require a fair amount of customization and attention to make sure they remain running and working efficiently. Today, MSPs can leverage the power of RPA and containerization as a replacement for those less-efficient solutions. All it takes is a software virtualization solution like Docker for containerization of apps and an RPA system to manage deployments, and you have an instant software management system that does most of the work for you.
Network Management and Traffic Shaping
One of the most important – and time-consuming – things that MSPs do for customers is to manage their networks to keep data flowing freely and as fast as possible. Today, this is accomplished mostly through QoS implementations, especially in highly virtualized environments. But QoS alone isn't always enough to do the job, especially when dealing with large and complex multi-site networks. Under those conditions, MSPs also have to make manual routing changes to respond to conditions in real-time.
However, that's not the most efficient way to handle things. Instead, MSPs can turn to a whole new generation of automated network management hardware and software to do the job for them. There are already a variety of network load balancing appliances that can detect and react to network conditions and make appropriate routing changes based on either pre-programmed automated routines or more sophisticated AI-powered engines. Experts see these solutions as the future of network management, and for MSPs, the faster that future arrives the better.
Automation Is the Future of MSP Services
Between the rapid development of automation technologies and the increasing load on MSPs who have to manage diverse networking environments, we find a perfect confluence of events. If there was ever a case of a solution evolving to fit a particular moment, this is it. Really, anyone that aims to deliver best-in-class IT support has to start integrating automation today if they hope to keep up with an industry that's moving forward in that direction at breakneck speed.
What's critical for them to remember is that automation technology won't rob an MSP of the personalized touch that so many try to deliver to their customers. If anything, it will do quite the opposite. It will help them to deliver value to their customers while freeing up employees to work on more important customer-facing tasks. That will lead to better, more efficient services that generate more revenue and happier customers. In short – the holy grail of every MSP.
The solutions available today are just the beginning. In the near future, a great many more MSP functions will be candidates for automation, ushering in a new era for the industry as a whole.