More often than not, buying tools is a difficult decision to make.
The more complex and job-focused that tool is, the more difficult it is to estimate its ROI over its useful lifetime. In our case, the first tool in which we invested was Autotask, a Web based professional services automation (PSA) software.
In the early days, like most startup technical support companies, we used some combination of Excel and Word to record our billing time and keep track of client needs. We knew this was not the way to go forever, so when it came time during business expansion, we started looking for a tool.
I vividly remember two factors that led us toward Autotask.
One pointer was a helpful business contact we made at a New York based IT company. During one of our conversations, he really encouraged us to get a PSA. He stated that in-house development would be a large undertaking and the online services were very good.
The second motivator to purchase was something Autotask said themselves when we were looking. In essence, the company stated that most service companies see somewhere around a 30% increase in billing just because of using the tool.
I was skeptical of that claim.
Sure enough, after a couple of months of ramping up on the software, we were tracking time more accurately and being more efficient with billing.
The 30% increase claim was quickly confirmed!
I suppose two things helped us become successful with the new tool. One thing is to evaluate a few options and not rely on one recommendation.
Most importantly, however, you need to actually use the tool and spend the resources to leverage it appropriately!
For us, Autotask continues to be improved and we continue to go deeper with the features to build a great operations infrastructure.
My first phone call at AIE I still consider my most critical.
The goal was to learn in one conversation what took someone else years to learn through the school of hard knocks; we wanted to leverage the knowledge base of someone, specifically in our industry, who could help us navigate our new venture. We found a graduate of Wheaton College who had built a successful managed services company in New York City. He was an unknown, but we felt he would be open and willing to assist.
One phone call later and we had three gold nuggets in our hand.
The first was to build a business based on predictable (recurring) revenue. The second was the belief and practice that you can never hire early enough. Lastly, he shared that we had to invest in a software tool that would become the bedrock of our company—citing endless benefits and ROI.
So, we went on the hunt for our line of business application.
At first, tight cash flow had us looking at free options in the marketplace — a mistake I have seen repeat itself. Whenever I decide to “save” a little money, it always costs more time and effort. And in this case, although it proved to be a decent CRM, SugarCRM lacked the modules necessary to run an effective IT operation. A short time later, a friend—and colleague in the IT space— handed me a 2-day pass to a conference for technology companies.
Jackpot! Countless vendors were showcasing their industry software tool-sets while gallivanting on-and-on about their company’s successes in the IT marketplace. Even better, I was able to engage other IT colleagues to understand what they use to successfully run their IT businesses.
I realized walking away from the conference that we had to change or get left behind.
Become an MSP or else. The world of IT support was already years into the WWCOaaS (Whatever-We-Can-Offer-as-a-Service) model.
Mild joking aside, the foundation for a successful MSP is having the right people, tools and processes in place to support your client base. So, we ventured into a lengthy vetting process to find that professional services automation tool—ultimately landing on Autotask. Since that time, there are several areas of improvement.
One, we are more efficient.
We have captured more billable time, more effectively benchmarked, met SLA performance. We can track project status more easily and customize the details surrounding each contract—all helping improve the performance as a company.
Two, we have more predictable income.
With this level of consistency and certainty, it allows us to properly staff, plan our resources, and project future changes to the business.
Three, our client satisfaction rate remains very high.
Our systems allow our customers to interact directly with our engineers, track all support requests through a central repository, and analyze customer feedback through surveys—all leading to improved customer satisfaction.
Because of all this, we are more profitable.
Having a metrics-based approach helps us discover growth opportunities, increase staff efficiencies, and focus on areas that are more profitable.
And, as many more clients looking to move their budgets from CapEx to OpEx, our service model can meet their needs and operate through one, fully integrated system. I’m glad we invested in the right tools early.