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5 Ways to Improve Your MSP Service Level Agreement (SLA)

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5 Ways to Improve Your MSP Service Level Agreements (SLAs)

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How to Deal with Ticket Overload: MSPradio Episode 16

Posted August 1, 2014by Nate Teplow

Episode16-autotask

Tickets are the lifeblood of an MSP, however, they can also be the downfall of an MSP. Managed Services Providers deal with A LOT of tickets on a daily basis; so many that they can eat up a lot of your technicians' time. Finding ways to effectively monitor, remediate and complete tickets is one of the key components of maintaining profitability.

On this episode of MSPradio, we chat with Rich Akullian, Business Development Manager at Autotask, to talk about how MSPs can be efficient and effective with their ticketing systems, and leverage them to grow their business and improve profitability.


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Episode Transcript

Nate:                       Hey everyone, welcome back to another episode of MSP Radio, I’m your host Nate Teplow. We have a great episode lined up for you today, great guests, great topic.

                                    Before we get into it, you guys know the drill by now. I’ve got to remind you to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes. If you search for MSP Radio you can find us there and subscribe. For any android users or people who just are against Apple and the iTunes Store, we are also available via the Stitcher App again, search for MSP Radio on that app you can get episodes straight to your smart phone.

                                    Also want to remind you guys to follow us on Twitter. Use the handle @Follow Continuum and let us know what you think of the show with the #MSP Radio.

                                    So getting into today’s topic, we’re talking about tickets. And not the good kind of tickets, not tickets at the ballgame, but support tickets.

                                    I know MSP’s are overloaded with tickets, they get requests every day and minimizing these tickets will really help free up your time, your technicians’ time and ultimately that’s time you can funnel back into your business and use that time to increase your profitability and work on some better business initiatives than sifting through a bunch of support tickets.

                                    So we are joined here by one of our ticketing partners from Auto Task. I’ve got Richard Akulian on the line. Rich, how are you doing today?

Richard:                 Doing great Nate and you got my last name done right the first time, I am really proud of you. I do a lot of these things myself and I always have the hardest last name so I am glad to be here and thanks for having us here on MSP Radio. Of course, great partner at Continuum over here and all of that.

Nate:                       Yeah. I know, it’s great to have you on the show and glad I got the name right. We’ve got some difficult ones here on the show so it hasn’t been the hardest one.

Richard:                 Nice. So yeah, but to be here, good to talk tickets, especially the good ones, not the ones that you get from the cops, the ones that are going to make our clients money.

Nate:                       Yes, exactly, exactly. So Rich, just to kick things off, do you mind giving us a quick elevator pitch on Auto Task and tell us a little bit about what you do there?

Richard:                 Absolutely. So at Auto Task, coming up on five years now at Auto Task for me, Auto Task has been an IT business management platform built in the cloud, born in the clouds since 2001. Recently acquired by a great investment partner that’s going to allow us to really ramp up the scale of what we’ve been doing out there and what we are trying to offer to our partners, a lot of new things coming with UI that we are excited about; user experience as well.

                                    But at Auto Task, we are an IT management business platform, IT business intelligence. Overall its business intelligence and our system has ticketing built into it but it also has all of those other functions that you guys are out there doing every day; project management, contract management, time and expense and of course billing and what we would like to say is that we’re going to be that one pane of glass so you guys aren’t having to go out there and look at two solutions to get one answer.

                                    And by doing that, we are able to give you guys all that different intelligence that you guys need because we are going to be your service system as well as your billing system and it’s always great to have the alignment there because your time is your money and we want to make sure that you guys are getting every dollar for every piece of work that you guys do.

                                    So we can talk a little bit about that a little bit but what I do over here, we run a lot of webinars and what you guys do at Continuum with MSP Radio and trying to enable your partners, we do that at Auto Task as well and we’ve done that a lot in the past with Continuum of course. And we like to bring life building content so I like to host that and then also I work with our community a lot.

                                    I mean it’s getting out there on the road, extending over partnerships with Continuum’s or the world and going out there making sure our customers have every opportunity to be successful because if your customers are successful and you can help make them that way, then they aren’t going to leave you and so that’s what I’m about over here at Auto Task and that’s what our solution is about.

Nate:                       Yeah, that’s great. It sounds like you keep yourself busy over there.

Richard:                 Try to keep busy, try to keep busy just like yourself. There’s a lot of MSP’s out there that we are all trying to help and there is lot that we can do to help them so you lose some sleep trying to do it but it’s worthwhile at the end of the day if you can make some more success, why not and feel good about it? Especially with our company being global and we work in, we call it Follow the sun type model in our lifecycle of our software development but it’s also with our marketing and our sales, with our everything.

                                    We need to be up all the time because especially as IT service providers, managed service providers, you guys are on all the time. Your client systems don’t get a break, they don’t get vacation so you guys have to be up so we have to be up and I am proud to do that for you guys.

Nate:                       Yeah, that’s great. Same here, I am dealing with the same thing and it feels great to help out our partners. So on that topic of helping out MSP’s, I wanted to get into a little bit more about ticketing and sort of outline the ticketing issue for MSP’s.

                                    In your opinion, what do you think makes an efficient ticketing system and why is it so critical to MSP success?

Richard:                 Yeah, absolutely. Now as you guys are having tickets come in or work orders or even if you don’t have a ticket system in place and you guys out there taking different requests from people out there. I know that I was an independent service provider right when I got out of college and my biggest deal or my biggest problem at the end of the month was going to get my money because often I was taking requests through email, I was taking requests via phone but where was I documenting those? I really wasn’t.

                                    And at the end of the month, it was really easier for me to go additional work for a client rather than go and trying and compile those bills and compile those work orders and compile everything into a place that I was able to report what I actually did for my clients.

                                    So your tickets are ideally going to be what is going to allow you guys to report and what you guys are doing for your clients and how quickly you can take a work request order from your client and get that into your service pipeline. So of course with our integration between our platforms, we are able to do this really quickly because as soon as a ticket or an alert pops up, we are actually able to automatically open up the ticket and start the workflow that’s going to allow you guys to complete that ticket and put that cash in your pocket because that is your work, that is your time, that is your resources, that is your full inventory right there, it’s your time that you guys have.

                                    So how quickly can we get from acceptance of a ticket the completion of a ticket to billing for a ticket? And that’s really what Auto Task and the Continuum relationship is going to do for you guys, is make the process go as smooth as possible, especially with some of the things that Continuum has in place such as [Benock 07:16] and all those different offerings that they have. Now we can really start to tell a story on really successfully dealing with a lot of client issues as quickly as possible and not having to really scale up our own internal heads but by having the different places to go and push those tickets as well to get them completed.

Nate:                       Yeah, absolutely. I mean, tracking and reporting on the things that you are doing throughout whatever period of time is incredibly important to business success. I know just even on our marketing team, we use Salesforce to track everything we do and we have different items or different activities we are working on and what we can do is actually tie all of our activities to revenue via Salesforce.

                                    And I think the same thing applies to ticketing, you can go back and look and report on the tickets you are working on and closing out and what are getting hung up and causing issues, that’s so you can find out where your successes and failures are as a MSP.

Richard:                 Absolutely. And within Auto Task and with some of the integration points that as it up with Continuum, we have… SLA’s are a big deal with us and that’s what we talk about a lot. We try to do a lot about our partner enablement and teaching them how to build and actually deliver on your service level agreements.

                                    And I always talk about service level agreements just like restaurants. I mean when you go to McDonald’s or you go to a high-end restaurant, they have different service-level agreements with you on how long you expect to get what you are paying for.

                                    But again at the end of the day, when you go to McDonald’s, you are buying a $5-$7 meal and you expect to have it in a couple of minutes and you expect it to be okay. You expect it to be decent for that time but if you go to a really nice restaurant, you know you’re going to give them 30 minutes, 45 minutes to prepare that really nice steak or that nice piece of fish that you bought because you know that’s how long it takes to cook something really nice and you know you are willing to pay for something really nice.

                                    So as an MSP or an IT service provider, you are going out there, your clients are looking at you in the same type of way. I mean how quickly are you going to deal with their issues? And if you’re going to be really cheap, it might take a day for you to respond or two days to be able to respond and you might not have the expertise in-house to do it really effectively.

                                    But if you are becoming that trusted advisor that outsourced IT department which Auto Task and Continuum like to talk about, I mean you’re going to have that better relationship with your clients and you’re going to have a higher communication level with them on when your tickets are actually received and you acknowledge that you have them in, when are you going to be able to get that done, how often are you going to give them updates on it?

                                    And the communication with your clients becomes really important here. But that takes a lot of time and with the systems that are set up within Auto Task and Continuum, we are actually able to go out there and once you receive a ticket, you are able to send out and automatic notification. Once you’re able to move on to maybe inhabit a resolution time and place and when you think you’re going to do it, you can send out an automatic notification.

                                    And when you actually complete that ticket, the best thing is you can send that automatic notification from Auto Task and send out a survey and you can send out a survey that’s going to be hooked right into your CRM and so then now nothing starts to fall through the cracks because your clients, especially if something went wrong, if something went wrong maybe you have, as you grow, you have 50 technicians, 100 technicians out there. How can you keep your pulse or keep your finger on the pulse of business when you are trying to deal with those big picture items in the business without having a system that’s going to connect your service, your sales and your actual responses from your clients on how your service was.

                                    So with Auto Task, we also like to try to have different options in place for you guys to be able to manage all of these tickets coming in and be able to deal with the ones that need to be dealt with first.

                                    If you use an SLA, it’s going to have you guys determine priority in your technicians the server priority based on the business need rather than what is easy for them to accomplish next because we all know there’s people out there, especially technicians that if they’re just being bogged down with many tickets they close, they’re going to take those password resets all day and leave pending installs and the big problems for their other partner, the other technicians out there and you guys want to have visibility into that.

Nate:                       Yeah, that’s a great point. Thanks Rich.

                                    And just thinking along the lines of this, so with the ticketing solution, it’s not just as simple as buying it and just pressing “play” and letting it go, you do have to set up some logic. There is a lot of things you have to configure to happen automatically but there are initiatives you have to push when you get it to set up these logics and make it work the way you want it to.

                                    Where do you think MSP’s are falling short with their ticketing systems and how they are using them?

Richard:                 So that’s a great question Nate. And that’s one thing that I sometimes struggle with and like to really encourage is that implementation up front. Making sure that your system is set up to run your business the way it needs to run it because it’s not a turnkey. Your business is complex. Our system and Continuum’s system has a lot of different pieces that you guys can use out there but we want to make sure that we are taking your business needs and putting it in the right appropriate place within Auto Task like are we setting up workflows that are going to save these persons for these 20 accounts or on a different SLA than these other 20 accounts? And should their tickets take priority because they’ve got big budget account with us, they are paying for additional SLA’s?

                                    How are you guys determining what the priority of your tickets is? And that priority and that automation of that priority is really important because if you have a dispatcher, what happens when that dispatcher is on vacation? Do they get to take a vacation? Is there anyone else in the company who knows all the different little pieces, all the little different nuggets of information you have to know with all your different kinds out there to make sure that you are taking care of the VIP clients or taking care of specific issues? What happens when your employees go on vacation that know all the process?

                                    Well Auto Task is a system that is going to make sure that process becomes institutional knowledge rather than isolated knowledge and we’re going to make sure that that process and those priorities are set by the person who is the business owner other than the person who is running the managed services department.

                                    The person who has an eye on the big picture of the business is going to be the person setting up those rules. And we want to make sure that people are doing that up front. We want to make sure that you guys are spending time in the implementation process because it isn’t a turnkey and we realize that. And we’ve lost a lot of clients that came in and thought we were a magic elixir. We are not a magic elixir but we can be if you guys put in the time and allow us to put in the time with you guys.

Nate:                       Yeah. It sounds like the time you put into it the more you get out of it.

Richard:                 I think that’s it with life but it’s all about that preparation. I mean when you go and buy a house, often you don’t walk in the house and it’s exactly what you want in the first place. You have to go in, you have to set up your bedroom, set up your bathroom, do all the things that are going to make it work for you because we want you guys to have the best experience possible. We want your technicians to have the best experience possible. Because if your techs enjoy not necessarily enjoy but no tech enjoys putting in their time.

                                    If we make it easy for your technicians to put in their time or just as easy for them to put it in as not put it in, such as by giving you the ability through our email parser to respond to an email on a ticket, and add in your time, or to hit record on a stopwatch on a ticket, we put in a bunch of different things that we wanted, that we know will make it a little bit easy for your technicians to store their time. Because if your techs store their time, you have accountability, you have visibility and you have the ability not only to understand how long it’s taking you to complete a project but how long you should be billing for that project.

                                    Because if you are billing out there, I know I was doing a ton of work for my clients that were not making me money. I wasn’t factoring in drive times, I was in factoring in times on the phone, I was in factoring in a lot of different things and when you start to look at the technician of yours and saying he is only being able to bill 20 hours a week, where is that other 20 hours going? How can we free up some more of that other 20 hours to be away from admin work, away from that different busy work and putting them on the work that matters; the work that’s going to put money in your bank account?

Nate:                       Yeah, absolutely. So hate to cut you off Rich but we’ve got to take a quick commercial break here.

                                    Coming up next we’re going to talk a little bit more with Rich about solving this ticketing issue, how to minimize tickets as an MSP so you can focus that time back on your business.

                                    So again, taking a commercial break and we will see you guys in a minute.

Paul:                        We know it can be tough to stay ahead in the managed IT services industry which is why we are launching Navigate 2014. It’s a user conference dedicated to helping MSP’s find the path to success in managed services.

                                    We’ve pulled together an information packed agenda with speakers from all over the country including keynote speakers Paul Chisholm: former CEO of mind shift technologies and Peter is there: a two-time winner of America’s Cup.

                                    This is the event to attend if you are an MSP.

                                    We ask you to join us this fall in Boston from September 21 to the 23rd for Navigate 2014. To find out more or sign up, simply visit the website www.Continuum navigate.com

                                    And now back to our program with Nate.

Nate:                       All right, welcome back everyone from our commercial break here on MSP Radio. I am your host Nate Teplow and we are chatting here with Rich from Auto Task. We’re talking about tickets, how to effectively use a ticketing system and how to free up your time as an MSP as a business owner even as a technician to focus on some real business issues rather than just filtering through these tickets.

                                    So Rich, just getting back into this, if I am an MSP, I get a ton of tickets every day. I am sick of it, I get inundated with these tickets, what is one of two things I can do to reduce the number of tickets that I get and free up more of my time?

Richard:                 Well, and again Nate that’s a good question. And I always hear that some types of questions around that, especially when you’re looking at an integrated solution like Auto Task and Continuum together because they are going to be those hard disk errors, those things that are not things that you probably even have to touch or those things that are going to go out there and run a script and fix a patch on different things out there that are going to be something that you’re going to want to go for but you don’t necessarily want your technicians, to have them stuck up in their cues.

                                    So at Auto Task of course, we have the ability to put in different types of cues so you can actually filter when you set of the integration and that’s a really cool stuff with the API-based integration that we do have with Continuum and we’ve got some enhancements coming on that that we will talk about a little bit.

                                    But you are actually able to go in there and to say what types of tickets are actually going to make it into the queue for your technicians. And technicians are often very good at fixing and working through methodically, all of the different problems that they are confronted with but which ones are they working on first? And that’s something that you don’t want to have to choose.

                                    So as I was talking about before, we are actually able to go and set up based on SLA event… Next SLA event you and see if we can go and sort your tickets like that. So you can really be working right down the list and that’s going to keep you in line with what the business needs and then also you know, let’s make sure that we’re not getting duplicated tickets in there.

                                    And if it is a ticket that you guys worked on or did not have to work on because of course, something that was able to be patched by Continuum, now all of a sudden you are able to take that information, really easily, put it over to the bill or have that documentation available at work even if you did not actually happen to touch it. And that’s what the automation tools and the business management tools and IT management tools like an Auto Task and Continuum will continue to allow you guys to do.

Nate:                       Yeah, absolutely. And another important point is allowing yourself to assign tickets to technicians. A technician, are your employees as an MSP business owner, your employees are probably your biggest expense. And you want these employees to be focusing on the bigger business issues and the ones that require more technical know-how than just going out and closing basic tickets or doing some pretty basic patches, things like that. So you can easily assign them the bigger issues, the one that they are better utilizing their skills for through this ticketing system it sounds like.

Richard:                 Yeah, and that’s a great point there. I mean, with the setup that you guys can actually do during the integration setup or building in some workloads from Auto Task, if there is those level one or high-level different types of tickets out there that you guys have and all those tickets are going to go in a specific person in your organization, let’s take a step out of the process. It doesn’t have to be a dispatcher there, it doesn’t have to be assigned to them by someone manually because you know it is going to go there eventually anyways.

                                    So when you guys are setting up different types of work types are different… If you guys are setting up clients appropriately and maybe someone’s an account owner for 50 different clients out there, if it’s a ticket by them that person enables it, you can set up all those different types of filters which are going to automatically push the tickets into the queue of the person was going to be working on it. Let’s take that one layer out. Anything that we can do to eliminate a click or eliminate step, that’s important, that’s time and as we been pushing here today, time is your money and I mean we appreciate you guys even giving us the time to listen to this podcast today.

Nate:                       Yeah, same here. Always appreciate people listening to the podcast and hopefully they are finding it entertaining. So why don’t you to get into the Auto Task-Continuum integration a little bit. I know we have touched on it at a few different points during our episode here but can you give us a little high-level overview of what it is and how it helps our mutual partners?

Richard:                 Yeah, absolutely. So with the integration, as we have been discussing here is that Continuum is going out there and is recognizing all the assets and everything that you guys have out there deployed for your clients out there.

                                    Now Auto Task is going to be assistant is going to be a collector of this data with your account, with an account centered focus on taking all the individual users and if you are hooking it up right with Continuum, you are actually able to bring all these configuration items right into your Auto Task and you can see that John Smith is president of F&B Bank and he is over there and he’s got a Windows 7 machine. It’s got this chip, it’s got that, whatever it is.

                                    And so now when a ticket comes in from Continuum, from that user and that’s actually being pushed into a Auto Task, now that’s going to be able to be opened up right under that guy so now we recognized that your technician actually has all the configuration item and site configurations that he needs to be able to start working on that ticket as quickly as possible.

                                    So the integration is going to allow us to not only not miss any work, because all the work that you guys are going to be doing with the monitoring side with Continuum, is going to be fed into Auto Task it is going to be your building platform and to collect and build and role of all that information in your reporting platform from an aspect profitability from these clients.

                                    But now we are able to actually get the information that you guys need to have your technicians to have, get it in their hands as quickly as possible and once again with that sorting by SLA [next to that do the 22:45], the right work at the right work at the right time and they are doing it as quickly as they possibly can because they don’t have to go out there and send out another email now to John and say, “Hey John, what computer are you on? What computer are you using? What software do you have on there?” They don’t have to go and look for a spreadsheet that has this information. They don’t have to go and look for different systems to try and find the information they need because it’s all in one place because of the way that they have set up the Continuum and Auto Task integration.

                                    And because it’s coming through an API-based integration we are able to have it be really tight.

                                    And there’s a lot of new pieces of the integration that are coming out that I wouldn’t even want to fully touch on myself because I know the people that Continuum were building it and we are going to be doing a webinar coming up that I know Annemarie and the team over there have some really cool stuff to share. So we don’t even want to spoil some of the new stuff that’s coming out but really, high-level, our integration is going to allow people to capture all the work that they do, capture all the monitoring, get all the reporting that they need, have all that configuration item data pushed into Auto Task and make sure that they are getting the right work to the right person at the right time.

                                    It’s a great piece and especially with Continuum’s noc as well, that’s a different piece that makes it a little bit more unique because now we are able to take on a little bit more work and not have to turn down any work if we don’t have the expertise in-house because Continuum has got all that expertise through their noc.

                                    So there is a lot of cool pieces there. I know our customers have been really successful with it, especially a lot of our bigger partners. I think there was something like 30% reduction in ticket volume, which is something that we were looking at by people when buyer partners when they combined up our systems so a lot of really cool stuff going on in that place of business.

Nate:                       Yeah, I know it sounds like… I mean 30% is definitely a major improvement if you are freeing up 30% of your time every day, think of all the new initiatives you could work on even if it’s just going out and stopping by a client’s place of business and just checking in on them. I think that goes a long way in building goodwill and if you are spending less time in the office or even your technicians, having them go out and talking to your clients, I think that goes… It’s much more valuable for you than having them sift through tickets and support.

Richard:                 Absolutely, absolutely! I mean I always say like when I meet someone on the road or someone acts like, “What… I am already doing my billing.” I am already at the end of the month, it takes me eight hours, it takes me 10 hours, I am doing it and it’s getting done and they always say, “Why would I pay for system like Auto Task?” Or, “Why would I do that?” And I always sit there and say, “I love that you want to do the work. I know how you feel and I have been in your shoes at one point.

                                    I was sitting there but I did not want to do the billing. I did not like that part of business. I would rather have all of my work be done and then a system like an Auto Task or especially now that we are combining up with Continuum, now all of a sudden the work that I did that I am billing out 150, $200 an hour, whatever I am building out at, that’s the work that I want to do, that’s the work that I went to school for, that’s the work that I studied to be good at.

                                    I did not study to be excellent at how to bill someone or how to put an invoice together. That’s what our expertise was and that’s what you are expertise is out there for a lot of you so let’s just free of that time for you guys if we can because with a system like Auto Task, you’re going to be paying on a price per user per month with our status based system.

                                    I mean if you are saving even one hour, that’s paying for your system if you’re able to go and turn that one hour into a billable hour because people need your expertise out there. You guys are very, very needed and especially as we have been just sort of reporting it as Auto Task community live, I mean technology spends and IT spends out there are only going up. And your ability to go out there and service these clients, that scale is going up because the work of one person now is equivalent to probably the work of 10 people a couple years ago and especially when you have the right systems in place. And you know where the resolutions are.

                                    So definitely exciting stuff there with what we are seeing on the time-saving to the integration and especially using those IT solutions in the right way.

Nate:                       Yeah, no, that is great. And I think you bring up some great points there. A lot of great stuff with the integration. We are definitely going to be talking about it more as Rich mentioned. We would be having some webinars coming up in the future months so stay tuned for that.

                                    Rich, thank you so much for joining me here on MSP Radio today. Any last words or thoughts you want to add in here for our audience?

Richard:                 No. Just thanks to Continuum MSP radio for having us. We are excited to be at Navigate coming up and I believe in September in Boston. So excited to see the Continuum community continue to grow and just excited to be a part of it from the Auto Task side so thank you for having us.

Nate:                       Year. That’s great. It’s a pleasure having you on the show and again, can’t wait to see you at Navigate that you just mentioned.

                                    So thank you everyone for tuning into MSP Radio this week. Again, subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, search for MSP Radio and again you can also use the Stitcher App if you are an android user, search for MSP Radio you can find it there.

                                    Follow us on Twitter @follow Continuum, tell us what you think of the show using the #MSP Radio and thanks again for tuning in everyone. We will see you next week on MSP Radio!

Nate Teplow is a Sr. Marketing Programs Manager at Continuum, responsible for overseeing Continuum partner communication initiatives, partner success campaigns and helping drive increased adoption of the Continuum platform. Nate's experience spans inbound marketing, content strategy, marketing communications and B2B lead generation. A proud Miami Hurricane alumni (whose football team is finally BACK), Nate enjoys staying active, traveling to new places and performing A/B tests.

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