Brad Schow, VP, Consulting Services, ConnectWise, says successful implementation of professional services automation (PSA) takes a combination of art and science. A firm foundation for PSA ROI starts by understanding a managed services provider business’ maturity, how to increase productivity today and the best way to improve their operations going forward — as well as the right technology to help them reach their goals.
Schow, a former MSP and part of HTG, a consulting, coaching, and peer group organization that ConnectWise acquired in 2018, has worked with hundreds of businesses and watched them leverage PSA tools to grow.
“In general, people buy PSA tools because they want to be different. They’re looking for success,” says Schow. “But what success looks like, especially when a business is smaller, can differ. They may focus on operational efficiency, but they aren’t thinking like an MBA would about financial statements and business health.”
When they first implement professional services automation, MSPs may simply duplicate the current way they’re operating. “They aren’t necessarily automating processes, but they’re making things better because they’re tracking them.”
On the other hand, some MSPs new to using PSA tools want to turn on all possible features right at the outset. “They’re not necessarily ready for that or the changes they’ll need to make to their internal operations,” says Schow.
An MSP that discovers through PSA ticketing and service data that their gross margin isn’t where it needs it to be, for example, needs to correct that issue before turning on Campaign Manager and collecting more leads. “That could create more work but less profitability,” Schow says. “It’s important to master the fundamentals first and then layer on peripherals and added functionality.”
Start with Core PSA Features
Schow says most MSPs begin with PSA features that help their businesses with services delivery, such as ticket tracking, time tracking, setting up agreements and ensuring time is properly billed to them. There are a few reasons this may be a good place to start. “Some MSPs find that they aren’t as consistent as they thought they were,” he says. “Agreements on paper may look like they’re doing the same thing, but when they set up the details, what’s covered and what’s not, they find they’re not consistent.”
Even though, in this case, duplicating what the MSP is currently doing is more complex than it needs to be, it’s sometimes not practical to make immediate changes throughout the organization. “We start there then work toward a simpler system,” he says. “We help users understand that business maturity is less complex, not more.”
Once MSPs build core PSA features into their operations, the next hurdle to cross is integration with their accounting software. “It’s the start of more useful business insights,” Schow says.
Start Small with Data
New insights from data is a significant benefit that PSA tools provide, but it may take time to adapt processes and build a culture around data-based decisions. “It comes down to business maturity again,” says Schow. “Before PSA, MSPs operate in ‘muscle and feel’ mode. They work hard and make the best decisions they can. Rolling up their sleeves and working hard may have seemed good enough, but a PSA tool provides hard data that managers can compare to acceptable performance levels and hold employees accountable.”
Schow says, for example, one report users can run on ConnectWise Manage is “time to time entry.” It shows how long it takes for technicians to enter time once they close a ticket. Managers can see which employees are complying with procedures — and which aren’t.
Managers may be tempted to fill their dashboards immediately will all types of numbers and data, but, says Schow, “It’s a big mistake to try to focus on all of them. If you create a dashboard with many numbers, pretty soon those numbers don’t mean anything. Pick one or two success factors and focus on getting them right.”
Work with a Vendor that Takes Your Business Maturity into Account
Before you commit to a PSA tool, Schow says to set goals you want to reach by implementing professional services automation and ensure the PSA vendor will help you achieve them. “No one wants to invest in PSA and stay the same. They want to grow,” says Schow. Unfortunately, some PSA vendors will install their tools to mimic an MSP’s current operation, taking a set-it-and-forget-it approach.
The vendor should, instead, base implementation on your business’ current operations and on improving processes and behaviors that will support growth. ConnectWise makes the added investment to support users through peer groups, user groups and access to consulting teams.
Plan on an Investment of Time
As a new user, it’s also important to recognize that you won’t just flip a switch and suddenly improve productivity, efficiency, and profitably. PSA implementation that leads to business growth and success requires an investment of time and resources. “PSA is something that you have to manage and maintain,” Schow says. “The more time you can devote to understanding your PSA tool and the more resources you can dedicate to properly leveraging it, the more value you will get out of it.”