If you’re an IT solutions provider that’s considering selling managed services, it won’t be long before you’re ready to trade in your Excel tracking and ticketing system for something more robust. Many of the PSA offerings on the market today include modules for project management, resource management, CRM (customer relationship management), and knowledge management. Most MSPs will agree that the time and project management savings from a PSA alone are worth several times the cost of the software.
It should be noted, however, that selecting a PSA solution is a serious commitment. Once you make your decision — even if you find out a few months later that you’d like to investigate another PSA — it’s probably not going to happen. Because of the long learning curve and time investment required to adequately compare PSA products, we found successful MSPs who have many years of experience working with their respective PSA solutions.
Dale Walls is the president of Corsica Technologies, an MSP who was featured on the cover of our August 2012 issue. Walls has been an Autotask user for the past seven years. We sat down with Walls to talk candidly about the strengths and weaknesses of Autotask. What follows are notes from our conversation, which will help you make a more informed decision as you consider a PSA for your business needs.
PSA Price, Delivery Model Considerations
Like many products we’ve evaluated — especially software products that are often bundled with maintenance and update fees — pricing is a tricky subject. Not only that, but you should avoid using price alone to determine your PSA buying decision. You’ll see why by the end of the article. But, here is what we do know about the pricing for the three products we analyzed.
Autotask, which is a SaaS-based PSA, starts at $55 per user per month for its Essentials Edition, which is the version of its PSA used by most small business MSPs and/or those just getting started with managed services. For a higher monthly fee, the vendor bundles its most commonly purchased extensions and add-ons in its Premium edition and even has an Ultimate edition for MSPs requiring more customization, a development sandbox, and direct developer support.
It should be noted that even though the SaaS model of Autotask carries monthly recurring fees and appears to be more expensive than its on-premise counterparts, you need to factor in that SaaS products don’t have the costs associated with server acquisition, the maintenance, licensing, and data backup costs you incur with on-premise PSA.
Integration Can Make Or Break Your PSA User Experience
Walls was quick to express the importance of RMM integration. “We use N-able for our RMM software, and any problems detected by N-able are automatically dropped into our Autotask system as a ticket,” he says. “Autotask also acquired a quoting software company a couple of years ago called VARStreet, and the quoting process is very integrated as well.” Your key takeaway here is to ensure that whichever PSA platform you chose, your RMM tools are as tightly integrated as possible (or you require).
Key PSA Features To Look For: CRM, Ticketing, Reporting, And Project Management
The needs of your business might differ slightly from those of other MSPs or VARs becoming MSPs, but there are some core tools no IT provider should be without. The following are the core components of a PSA that you should be aware of when making your selection.
CRM — None of the three MSPs felt there were any advantages of using a standalone CRM such as Salesforce.com over what was included with their PSA. However, Autotask is set apart here due to its integration with Salesforce.com for customers who have already invested in Salesforce.com and don’t want to switch.
Ticketing — Ticketing is another core component of a PSA solution, and it’s where many of the efficiency gains are realized. A ticketing module helps MSPs manage the complexity of assigning technicians, who have varying billing rates with projects that require varying skill sets to complete. Walls listed ticketing as the number one feature with Autotask. “One of the newer features in the ticketing module we like is the stopwatch feature, which makes it easier to track the billable hours for our techs,” says Walls. “It also allows us to track block hours and overages, too.”
Project Management — Project management allows users to organize projects into phases, track time and material at each phase, report on work in progress, and perform profitability analyses. With regard to Autotask’s project management, Walls shared, “We don’t use Autotask’s project management module. We use SharePoint instead because we found it to be simpler and more flexible when we started using Autotask seven years ago. In all fairness, Autotask has made improvements to its project management module since then, but we haven’t reviewed them to consider a change in our processes at this time.” Also, at Autotask’s recent partner conference, considerable changes to its project management were announced for an upcoming release.
Reporting — All three of the MSPs relied heavily on the reporting capabilities of their PSA — not only for internal purposes, but also for their customers. Because MSPs often can detect and correct their customers’ IT problems before customers are even aware of them, reports that describe such incidents are a good way to help MSPs justify the value of their services to their customers.
Walls’ only complaints with Autotask’s reporting was during the times when he needed to create customized reports. “If a customer wants a customized report, there are a lot of manual steps you have to go through to create those reports,” he says. “For example, even though the interface looks similar to an Excel spreadsheet, you can’t copy text from one cell to another. Also, there is no wizard to use when creating reports; it’s just not intuitive.” However, once he creates a customized report, which can take between one and two hours, Walls is able to save his customized report template, so that future customized reports can be generated much more quickly.
Clearly, there’s a lot to consider when selecting a PSA. Generally speaking, all three of the reviewed software packages offer more functionality than many MSPs will even use. Your tough decision will most likely be based on the features you need right now and the pricing and delivery model with which you’re comfortable.