Boosting MSP Productivity by Reducing Tool Overload

A typical MSP technician works with dozens of different tools every day. Most technicians create routines and checklists and automate their work as much as possible, yet if they take a quick break to think about the amount of time they spend dealing with various tools, they may be dismayed. Instead of productive time doing something useful for the company or just having some free time to have fun, they are spending cycles on updating, configuring, verifying, diagnosing, and fixing a wide variety of software.

Understanding Tool Overload

To name a few tools in the MSP toolbox, remote monitoring and management tools, antivirus, firewall, backup, help desk system, service automation system, and a variety of productivity and collaboration tools like Microsoft 365 or Slack. There are multiple studies of context switching being a productivity killer. A technician has to change context multiple times daily, depending on their task.

Switching between tools is not only a risk to productivity, but it can also lead to numerous mistakes, ranging from misconfiguration, which can lead to performance issues for customers, like running all backups of all systems at the same time, to critical configuration failures, which can lead to customers going offline and forcing technicians to go on-site to fix the problem.

We are all human; we all make mistakes. I still remember when I was supporting a bunch of small companies as an MSP back in my university days. I had to come to fix a server that went down because somebody with root privileges ran “rm -r” in the wrong folder. By the way, the memory is painful, as the company used a tape device to back up, and neither their IT guy nor I could get the backups working.

Multiple tools with different UI, policies, and design philosophies increase the “surface of the possibility of a mistake.” Not to mention, a significant tool update requires going through training or reading the documentation.

Therefore, comes “tool overload.” This is a state that is not realized by many. They are getting used to dealing with multiple tools and don’t see how much time they spend and how many avoidable mistakes they make.

Reducing Tool Overload

There are many ways to do it, and most MSPs start with automation and standardization. Whatever is possible to automate with scripts is automated. What is impossible or too complicated to automate is put into checklists and standard operating procedures (SOP) documents and forced on technicians to follow.

Automation is excellent and extremely important to stay competitive in the MSP market as customers’ infrastructure grows fast. MSPs need to catch up by being able to manage more workloads. However, automation has one serious risk — the wrong script run on multiple workloads quickly creates a lot of damage.

Therefore, automation should be tested in sandboxes and monitored in a production environment. Having various tools to automate leads… You guessed it right: more chances to fail and more complicated scripting. Yet again, tool overload plays a nasty role in making automation cumbersome and less reliable.

Thus, the solution that goes hand in hand with automation — reducing the number of separate tools, choosing integrated tools or using integrations. The most effective integrated solution would offer the same UI for various devices, the same policies, the same configuration, preferably one agent, and a standardized interface for scripting and automation.

Getting on the path of reducing tools and simplifying business processes for most of the MSPs I was talking to led to building their own technology stack and getting to a higher operational maturity level.

Evaluating the benefits

Before taking on the endeavor of replacing the familiar tool with something else that would allow for the reduction of tool overload, it is important to define the metrics of success and set reasonable goals for the project. Here are a few metrics that MSPs use to evaluate the success of the project:

1. Time waste reduction. Measuring the time technicians spend before and after implementing new tools and integrations. Some MSPs prefer to measure time per ticket; some measure the total time spent between different tasks — handling customer tickets, onboarding new customers, and performing regular maintenance. Some MSPs go even deeper and classify the types of tickets and look at the time reduction for different kinds of tickets — like backup and recovery, security incidents, network issues, and performance incidents.

2. Reduction of mistakes. Measuring the number of issues or time spent resolving problems caused by human error may be challenging, and many MSPs do it based on the expert evaluation or tracking activities of technicians for a few days before and after the implementation of new tools.

3. Reduction of training time. This one is huge for growing MSPs and MSPs with a high churn of employees. Reduction in training time due to consolidation of tools allows to scale faster by hiring new employees and hiring junior technicians right out of college (who are we kidding, there are not enough IT pros anymore, and MSPs higher right of high school…).

Another hidden benefit of standardization, integration and reducing the number of tools used is having more “generalists”—technicians capable of executing various tasks. Instead of having “a backup guy” and “a security guy,” MSPs can have people able to handle a more extensive scope of functions, reducing the wait time to get an expert allocated in case of a customer issue.

Executing tool overload reduction

I hope you are convinced now that reducing the number of tools is good; let’s look at how many MSPs execute it. Based on numerous conversations, the process that works for the most looks like this:

  1. Audit the tools you use. Start by listing everything a technician does and when they use the tools. Then, estimate the time it takes for them.
  2. Identify redundancies. Look for the tools that could be integrated or managed together. Review the vendors with the integrated tools available, and check if their integrated solutions can replace your technicians’ tools.
  3. Prioritize. Based on the time spent and issues raised because of various tools, prioritize which devices should be replaced on integrated first. Often, replacing everything at once makes little sense, as the overhead and cost are prohibitive. Based on the experience of others, the first candidates are backup and security.
  4. Test. Implement the tools in a subset of the infrastructure and test how it works with your customers before rolling it out to everybody.
  5. Educate. After the choice is made, educate the team. Get vendor certifications. Build a checklist to verify the technicians’ competence to handle new tools.
  6. Deploy. Roll is out to all customers. The faster customers access standardized infrastructure, the faster you realize the benefits and see the improvements.

If you have been in the managed service business for a while, chances are high that you suffer from tool overload without even suspecting it. It is easy to overlook, as you see your technicians busy, customers happy, and everything seems fine. However, if you look into it, you will realize there is an opportunity to reduce mistakes, reduce overhead, and increase capacity to onboard and maintain more customers if you lessen the tool overload.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *