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.
Brad Horsley is the CTO of Choice Solutions, an MSP who was featured on the cover of our October 2012 issue. Horsley’s company has been a ConnectWise user for more than three years. We sat down with Horsley to talk candidly about the strengths and weaknesses of the ConnectWise PSA software Choice Solutions uses. 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.
ConnectWise offers its product in a SaaS, on-premise, and hybrid model. ConnectWise did not release any information about its pricing. Horsley’s company has used only the on-premise version of ConnectWise for the past four years. “When we first purchased ConnectWise nearly four years ago, we bought 50 licenses, and we haven’t needed to add any more since then,” he says. “We paid one flat fee per person, and then we pay an annual fee of around $2,000 for support, maintenance, and upgrades.”
Here are the technical requirements of the on-premise solution:
Min. server requirements include: Windows 2008 R2 (standard or enterprise), SQL Server 2008 R2 Standard or Enterprise (I Dual Core 2.20 GHz 4MB L2 Cache with
6GB Memory, 50 GB free disk space after OS install and Updates, RAID 5); Web server (I Dual Core 2.20 GHz 4MB L2 Cache, 6GB Memory, and 30 GB free disk space after OS install and Updates, RAID 5)
Virtual server support: VMware ESX 3.5 or 4.0, VMware ESXi v4.0, VMware vSphere 4, Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 or Citrix Xen Server (6GB RAM, I Dual Core 2.20 GHz 4MB L2 Cache)
Min. client requirements includes: Windows Vista OS, 1 GHz Intel Pentium D processor, 3 GB of RAM, 1024x768 resolution, and 50 MB of free disk space.
Internet Browser: Internet 8.x
It should be noted that even though the SaaS model of ConnectWise 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
One of ConnectWise’s claims that separate it from its competitors is the fact that ConnectWise made major investments into LabTech Software (remote monitoring and management [RMM] software) and Quosal (quoting software), which gives its users a “single pane of glass view of data from all three software applications.” Horsley confirmed that one of the primary reasons his company chose LabTech Software for its RMM solution was to have that experience, and he believes the claim is true. “If our RMM tool detects that a backup doesn’t perform properly, the RMM automatically creates a ticket in our PSA software,” he says.
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. Horsley summed up his experience with ConnectWise’s CRM with, “The only hesitation I would ever have recommending this product is with an MSP that has more than 50 employees and is getting to the point in their growth where they need more sophisticated integration with marketing tools. For example, if we purchase a prospecting list to add to an email campaign, we have to manually format the file to meet ConnectWise’s requirements before we can import it into their marketing tool. We’re getting to the point where we’re starting to do enough marketing that we need a more robust marketing tool than what ConnectWise currently offers.”
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.
Horsley explains that ticketing is a key reason his company uses the ConnectWise PSA. “What really makes this module effective is its integration with our RMM,” he says. “Any time our RMM detects a failure event, such as a failed backup or server approaching memory capacity, the ConnectWise system automatically opens a ticket that’s associated with that customer’s record, which makes it easier to keep track of and prioritize customer issues.”
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. Horsley’s company uses the ConnectWise project management module and didn’t have any complaints. “This module includes a project board that allows us to manage projects using ITIL [Information Technology Infrastructure Library] and other project management best practices,” he says.
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.
Horsley had a few frustrations with his PSA’s reporting in the past. “ConnectWise offers an embedded Crystal report module, but it produces only canned reports,” he says. “We can’t put our branding on the report, and it has very limited functionality.” To get around this issue, Horsley’s company purchased Crystal reporting software and hired a Crystal reporting consultant to build reports for his company. “We’re now in the process of migrating over to ConnectWise’s SQL reports, which can be output to PDF, Word, or Excel and offer much more flexibility. Had I known then what I know now, we could have skipped the Crystal reporting workaround altogether and gone straight to SQL database reporting,” he says.
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.