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.
Elizabeth Elder is an IT manager, consultant, and certified PMP (project management professional) at Choice Technologies, an MSP that was featured on the cover of our February 2013 issue. Elder is the Tigerpaw Software expert at her company and has been using this product for the past nine years. We sat down with Elder to talk candidly about the strengths and weaknesses of Tigerpaw. 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.
Tigerpaw Software sells its product as on-premise only. One thing that stands out about Tigerpaw’s pricing is that it uses a concurrent licensing model, which means that if you have 30 employees who will be using the software, but no more than 20 will ever be using the same module at the same time, then you only need to purchase 20 software licenses for that particular module. Additionally, your sales reps, who use only one or two modules from the PSA software, will pay a lower licensing fee than your project managers, who will need access to everything. According to Elder, the cost per user can range from $250 to $750. In addition to that one-time fee, there is an annual fee for maintenance and renewals, which is approximately 20% of your one-time licensing fee. Tigerpaw also offers users a monthly payment option, which starts at $89 per user per month.
Here are the technical requirements of the on-premise solution:
Min. server requirements include: Windows 2003 Standard OS, 3 GHz single core processor, 25 GB free disk space, SQL Server 2008 Express;
Virtual server support: Hyper-V, Citrix XenApp
VMware ESX Server (3.5, 4.1 or 5.0), ESXi
Min. client requirements includes: Windows 2000 OS, 1 GHz Pentium processor, 512 MB of RAM, and 500 MB of free disk space
Updated system requirements can be found at:
Before concluding the price discussion, it should be noted that even though the SaaS models have monthly recurring fees and appear to be more expensive than their 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. Indeed, the SaaS-based offerings feature 128-bit SSL data encryption; separate, dedicated databases for each customer; and so much server redundancy that outages per year are measured in minutes, rather than days.
Integration Can Make Or Break Your PSA User Experience
Tigerpaw has a list of eight RMM vendors on its approved integration partner list (Continuum, Dell PacketTrap, Ipswitch, IT Control Suite, Kaseya, LabTech, Level Platforms, and N-able). However, Elder’s company uses GFI MAX for its RMM, a vendor not currently on Tigerpaw’s approved integration vendor list, which causes a few extra manual steps for the MSP. “Our quoting software is integrated into our PSA the same way the other PSA vendors integrate with their quoting software partners,” says Elder. However, for every problem detected by our RMM, such as a failed backup, we have to manually copy that event into our ticketing system, which takes approximately 30 seconds per incident. It’s not that it’s a major time drain, but it’s always better when manual data entry can be reduced or eliminated.”
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. Elder listed Tigerpaw’s CRM module as the PSA’s number one feature (followed by its ticketing module). “It allows seamless customer interface by anyone in the company,” she says. “Anyone at our company can know how many locations a customer has, the primary points of contact, sales quotes, open tickets, emails sent to the customer, and the customer’s inventory.” Tigerpaw’s CRM also includes the capability to create, track, and analyze marketing programs.
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. Elder says, “Ever since we started using Tigerpaw nine years ago, the ticketing functionality has been an absolutely necessary addition to our workflow. The ability to search tickets, record time by technician, and integrate with our accounting system makes the ticketing module a huge asset to our company.”
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. “During the execution of a multilocation project, it is difficult for the other team members to use the Tigerpaw project module,” says Elder. “For example, if you have a project with a customer that has five locations, and all locations will be impacted by the project, there is currently no way to associate that service with a single master project. You have to create five service orders. It would be much better if you could associate all service orders for the same customer into one project. To manage multiple location projects, we reference the other service orders within the internal comments field. It is a simple solution but it is not helpful for any kind of earned value calculations, not to mention the potential confusion or human error in not seeing the internal comments. To ensure that doesn’t happen, I have to personally follow up with other team members to confirm their work was completed and then to confirm the task was completed in the project management module.”
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.
Elder’s only complaint with Tigerpaw’s reporting was tied to the PSA’s knowledge base. The Tigerpaw knowledge base uses plain text only, according to Elder. “If you want to share images, you have to create a separate document attached at the bottom, but only one attachment is allowed per knowledge base item. When distributing company materials, we like to present a common look and feel, and while that could be done via the knowledge database through the linking at the bottom of each page, the presentation is lacking.” Elder’s company uses a wiki through SharePoint’s site to share information. (Note: Horsley’s company also found ConnectWise’s knowledge base to be lacking and instead integrates with SharePoint to overcome these limitations. Walls did not use Autotask’s knowledge base in the past — he also uses SharePoint — but, he recently started using Autotask’s knowledge base, and he’s planning to use it more often in the future.)
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.