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Automation

IT Automation and Why Should You Use It?

The hottest word in IT is automation. More and more companies are using automated technology to speed up repetitive tasks, improve consistency and efficiency, and free up employees’ time. But what exactly is IT automation, and is it worth making changes so you can include it in your IT department or company? By looking at all the facts, options, and benefits, you can make an informed decision and maximize the potential of IT automation for your team.

What is IT Automation?

IT automation is a set of tools and technologies that perform manual, repetitive tasks involving IT systems. In other words, it’s software that carries out information technology tasks without the need for human intervention. IT automation plays an essential role in proactive service delivery, allowing you to provide faster, more effective technology services to your clients. It can also create, implement, and operate applications that keep your business running smoothly.

Businesses today are increasingly turning to IT automation as a method that saves time and improves accuracy, among other benefits. IT automation can apply to a number of different processes, from configuration management to security and alerting. Regardless of what type of technology services you offer—whether it’s managed print services, value-added reselling, internal IT, or managed services—there’s always room for automation within your company.

What Are the Benefits of IT Automation?

Being a time-saver is where IT automation offers the most benefits. As Information Age reports, employees lose an average of 19 working days per year to repetitive tasks like data entry and processing—things that could easily be automated.

By handling redundant tasks automatically, IT automation eliminates the need for techs to spend hours creating tickets, configuring application systems, and performing other tedious functions. As a result, your team can turn their attention to higher priority tasks. And while that will probably come as a relief to your employees, that’s not where the benefits end.

Automating repetitive tasks allows your team to handle more, which enables you to bring on more clients and reduce the need to hire additional employees. In other words, IT automation means you can do more with less.

Technology professionals that use IT automation tend to see a weekly billing average in the 40- to 100-hour range, meaning the automation software performs that many hours of human labor per week. Breaking that down, it translates to the work of one to two and a half full-time employees. Unlike employees, the automation system performs at a fixed cost and never takes a holiday or sick leave. It’s always doing its job.

Of course, we’re not suggesting that IT automation should replace human employees. Rather, it helps employees perform their jobs with greater power and accuracy. It pushes the boundaries of what your team can achieve.

Another benefit of IT automation is simply your peace of mind. As an entrepreneur and/or a manager, it can be hard to hand over all your IT tasks to an employee, and trust that they’ll get the job done. You may feel the need to remind them or check in regularly to see their progress, and that in itself can take up time. With IT automation, all of that is taken care of, which means you can turn your attention to higher pursuits.

Many IT automation systems handle everything from one platform, which greatly improves organization and cross-department visibility. You’ll be able to access all the information you need quickly and seamlessly from one location. And you’ll be able to check in with other departments via a few simple clicks.

You’ve heard that consistency is key. A good IT automation strategy allows you to provide a consistent customer experience. By monitoring workflow, it also ensures that no steps are missed in the delivery process. Since everything is handled automatically, IT automation also cuts down on response times, leading to quicker customer interactions and a more efficient process from start to finish. Needless to say, consistency and a high level of accuracy really are key to satisfying customers, and an improved customer satisfaction rate means more business for your company.

What Are the Risks of Not Automating?

Even if you haven’t yet made the decision to automate, you can safely assume most of your competitors already have. Automation is quickly changing the face of the IT world. In a 2017 study by Smartsheet— which surveyed approximately 1,000 information workers—65 percent reported using automation in their daily work, while 28 percent said their company plans to start using automation in the future. Clearly, if you’re not currently using IT automation, you’re already falling behind the competition.

Companies using automation have discovered that it saves significant time—and that time translates to money. As an example, let’s look at the time an average IT department pours into reactive tickets. If we assume that a technician creates 20 tickets a day, that’s about 100 tickets per week, or 5,000 per year. If automation would allow a tech to save three minutes per ticket by saving them from manually re-entering information, and the billable rate is $125/hour, that translates to $31,250 a year in savings—per technician. Imagine the difference it could make to your bottom line if all your technicians were leveraging automation.

Which Tasks Should You Automate?

If you’re considering automating a certain task, that task should meet the following criteria: It can be resolved consistently through documented steps; and the solution can be performed without accessing the user interface. Once you’ve decided which tasks to automate, the next step is to decide which automation systems to implement.

How to Automate IT

The prevalence of automation in the IT industry today means there is a plethora of tools available to help you make the switch. Here are some of the most effective automated system solutions for IT teams.

RMM

RMM (remote monitoring and management) is a software that allows you to monitor devices, networks, and client endpoints remotely and proactively. Like most IT systems, RMM tools are basically automation engines that can reproduce processes and solve cause and effect situations.

A bonus of RMM software is that it can monitor client devices and detect issues proactively. RMM will then create a ticket for the issue, and your tech team can address it before the issue even comes to the client’s attention. RMM also allows your team to manage more endpoints, greatly increasing productivity.

PSA / Workflow Rules

A PSA (professional services automation) is a system for automating business management tasks. By establishing workflow rules, or automated, repeatable processes, you can program the software to perform certain tasks, like reminding clients of contract renewals or license expirations.

Using workflow rules can greatly simplify the process of managing tickets and service tasks. When it comes to workflow, there are three basic types to focus on for service delivery:

  • Status workflow sends a notification when a ticket status changes to a specific value.
  • Escalation workflow defines the steps to be taken based on the conditions of a ticket.
  • Auto resolution workflow keeps tickets from piling up by creating auto-closure timeframes for alerts that are informational or historical.

Many companies benefit from combining PSA and RMM solutions. For example, based on the real-time alerts you receive in your RMM software, you can automatically generate and manage service tickets in your PSA software, and thereby respond to customer needs more quickly than ever.

Whether or not you need to ticket everything that the RMM software generates is a highly debated topic, but it all comes down to the idea of information. With the right data, you can predict problems before they occur and simplify the troubleshooting process. You’ll have all the info you need about each client, and you’ll be able to see supported devices, service history, and other details. Perhaps best of all, you won’t waste time hunting around for that information. You can simply pull up the ticket and find everything you need, which translates to a faster turnaround and the ability to quickly move on to the next client.

Remote Support and Access

Remote support and access software can integrate with RMM and PSA solutions to help you rectify tech issues, track time and activity onto a ticket, and quickly find that information later while auditing. In effect, remote support and access acts as a bridge between you, your end users, and their devices. Provided the endpoint is online, this software allows you to deliver fast and secure reactive services. Remote support and access can help you both work directly with a customer and remotely access unattended devices. It’s a way to solve issues more quickly from a remote location.

Marketing Automation / CRM Capabilities

The average marketer spends nearly one-third of the work week completing repetitive tasks, according to a study conducted by HubSpot. Those tasks include gathering and organizing data, emailing clients, building landing pages, and managing lists. With a marketing automation tool, you can greatly reduce that number and free up your marketers to spend their time and energy on more high-level tasks.

Marketing automation can help you easily build emails and landing pages, score new leads for sales readiness, and access and understand your marketing metrics to accurately measure the success of your efforts. The best marketing automation software integrates with your PSA tools for centralized information you can access quickly.

With an automated CRM (customer relationship management) system, you’ll be able to set reminders for your sales team, alerting them to complete tasks like following up with prospects so they can move steadily through the sales funnel, and close deals on track.

Quote and Proposal Automation

Also known as a CPQ (configure, price, quote) tool, quote and proposal automation imbues your sales process with greater visibility and accountability. Think of it as a second brain for your sales team—empowering you to turn leads into happy new clients.

With pre-defined templates and pricing models, you’ll achieve a high level of consistency across your sales team. You’ll also save yourself the time of manual calculations, especially if you offer clients the same markup with each quote—and you’ll eliminate the risk of making a costly miscalculation.

Plus, pricing integrations allow you to find and incorporate hardware pricing in seconds, without taking the time to manually check different sources and pull the results into your proposal.

Document Your Automation

After successfully implementing IT automation software, your work isn’t done. It’s important to also document your automation campaign, for a number of reasons.

For one thing, documentation will help significantly when you need to train new team members. And if one of your staff takes a vacation or sick day, clear documentation ensures the rest of your team will be able to quickly fill in.

Documentation will also help your clients see the value of your services. As they assess whether your service is cost-effective or not, a deciding factor can be the efficiency with which you run your business. If you’re using industry-leading automation to run the most effective business possible, that gives you a competitive advantage. And if you’ve documented your automation from beginning to end, you’ll have a record of improvements and stats you can rely on to help inform clients of your company’s high standards.

It’s also important to be aware of the new capabilities automation brings. For instance, if you can tell a client that you proactively monitor for low disk space on their servers and workstations, and that you’ll automatically free wasted drive space to avoid system outages, you’ve already made an impression.

The main point to get across to clients is that your team is constantly looking for ways to provide more proactive and efficient IT solutions. When used and communicated effectively, automation can be key to achieving that element of trust that leads to delighted clients and fulfilled team members.


This article was provided by our service partner : Connectwise

Active Directory

Three Active Directory Automation Scripting Tips Using PowerShell

Active Directory is one of the most common products I see being automated. After all, it’s the perfect candidate. How many times do new users have to be created, group memberships changed, or new computers added? Employees are coming and going all the time, and the actions to perform these tasks are the same—every time.

Microsoft® has an Active Directory (AD) PowerShell module that allows anyone to manage AD objects and write scripts to tie various tasks together. However, with PowerShell expertise, we can create scripts that go past just finding users and groups. We can automate any task you can think of in AD.

Find All Effective Members of a Group

AD has a great feature that allows you to add groups to other groups. This cuts down on the number of repeated group assignments you have to make, and makes AD much cleaner. However, when navigating to a group in the AD Graphical User Interface (GUI), you can only see the members in that immediate group. You may see others, but you’ll have to look at the members of those groups over and over again.

It can become a pain when you want to see all of the affected user accounts, but we can solve that using a PowerShell code and a recursive function.

To find members of a group with PowerShell, use the Get-AdGroupMember cmdlet. This command returns all members in just that group. However, a property on each of those members is an AD attribute indicating if it’s a user, a group, etc. That way, we know what kind of object it is. Knowing this, we can build code to look at each of those members, check to see if they’re a group, and if so, run Get-AdGroupMember again. If not, we return the member.

We need to use a recursive function—a function that calls itself, forcing it to find user accounts nested deep inside of various groups. By using a recursive function like this, a user can be nested ten groups deep, and we’ll still find it.

An example of how this can be done is below. This function can be called via Get-NestedGroupMember -Group MyGroup.

function Get-NestedGroupMember {
[CmdletBinding()]
param (
[Parameter(Mandatory)]
[string]$Group
)

## Find all members in the group specified
$members = Get-ADGroupMember -Identity $Group
foreach ($member in $members) {
## If any member in that group is another group just call this function again
if ($member.objectClass -eq 'group') {
Get-NestedGroupMember -Group $member.Name
} else { ## otherwise, just output the non-group object (probably a user account)
$member.Name
}
}
}
Easily Find Inactive Group Policy Objects

The next tip is finding inactive Group Policy Objects (GPOs). Especially in large organizations, GPOs can get out of hand and run wild unless controlled. Sometimes there ends up being dozens of GPOs created that aren’t doing anything at all. Rather than picking these out one at a time via the GUI, we can build a simple script to find them all in one shot.

There are two ways to define an inactive GPO. This GPO could have all of its settings disabled, or it could not be linked to an organizational unit. We can create a script to find both of these types. First, we’ll pull all of the GPOs in the environment:

$allGpos = Get-Gpo -All

Once we have them all, we can then filter those GPOs by the ones that have all settings disabled:

$disabledGpos = $allGpos | Where-Object { $_.GpoStatus -eq 'AllSettingsDisabled' }
foreach ($oGpo in $disabledGpos) {
[pscustomobject]@{
Name = $oGpo.DisplayName
Status = 'Disabled'
}
}

Next, we can find all GPOs that aren’t linked to an organizational unit. This is a little trickier, but nothing we can’t handle using the code below:

## Create an empty array
$unlinkedGpos = @()
foreach ($oGpo in $allGpos) {
## Gather up all settings in the GPO
[xml]$oGpoReport = Get-GPOReport -Guid $oGpo.ID -ReportType xml;
## Only return the GPOs that don't have a LinksTo property meaning they aren't linked to an OU
if ('LinksTo' -notin $oGpoReport.GPO.PSObject.Properties.Name) {
[pscustomobject]@{
Name = $oGpo.DisplayName
Status = 'Unlinked'
}
}
}

This script will return a list of GPOs that look like this:

Name Status
---- ------
GPO1 Unlinked
GPO2 Disabled
GPO3 Disabled
Find How Long Ago a User Reset Their Password

For my last tip, let’s figure out how long ago a user’s password was set. More specifically, let’s write a small script that will allow us to find only those users that have had their password set within a configurable amount of days.

This small script uses the Get-AdUser command and filters the users returned using the Where-Object command. In this example, we’re looking at the passwordlastset attribute for each user that is greater than 30 days ago.

$daysOld = 30
$today = Get-Date
Get-AdUser -Filter { enabled -eq $true } -Properties passwordlastset | Where-Object 
{ $_.passwordlastset -gt $today.AddDays(-$daysOld) }
Summary

We’ve just skimmed the surface on what’s possible when automating with PowerShell and Active Directory. By leveraging Microsoft’s Active Directory module and stringing together commands with PowerShell, we’re able to come up with some interesting scripts.

 

HIPAA

HIPAA Compliance — It’s the law…

As an IT Managed Services provider, we’ve heard it all…. I mean, who wants to take on another initiative that is as ambiguous and costly as HIPAA Compliance. Besides, your staff don’t have the time to take on more roles and responsibilities.

There’s only one problem though. These rules and regulations are signed into Law. That means, you are breaking the law. So, where does that leave us? Well, there’s 2 options: 1) Roll the dice and hope you don’t get audited/fined when PHI info is lost/stolen 2) Have someone like NetCal help you be compliant quickly and easily.

You see, we are forced to understand/implement the compliance requirements because as a Business Associate, we are also liable for our client’s non-compliance. We’re in this together and we got your back. It’s actually not as bad as everyone thinks. In particular, we know which items are important to focus on and we know how to get your business in compliance via best practices, trainings, templates, etc…

NetCal will perform the following tasks for you:

1. Perform HIPAA, MACRA, and Meaningful Use Risk Assessment
2. Write your Policies and Procedures
3. Train your Employees
4. Maintain your documents in a web portal
5. Provide support in the event of an audit

High-level Summary of Tasks Needed

1. BAA signings
2. User Training
3. Risk Assessment
4. Create HIPAA Policies
5. Perform IT Discovery and Vulnerabilities list
6. Create Recommendation and Security Plan

Technology Teams

Defining the Value of Technology Teams

Technology Teams are made up of a lot more than just the service technicians working with your customers. Every Technology Team is made up of a combination of people that account for every step of the Customer Journey. Sales, finance, even marketing…they’re all a part of your Technology Teams and enable you to reach your clients, making their jobs and lives a little easier and helping you stay ahead of technology.

Technology Teams are formed to deliver a unique set of solutions and services. Within one company, multiple Technology Teams can combine to form a resilient Technology Organization. ConnectWise provides a tailored experience to fit the customer journey by turning the ConnectWise suite into a platform of microservices. Building on the foundation of the Solutions Menu, we will focus on Technology Workers.

Building Value

As a business with your sights set on current and future success, you have to find ways to build resiliency into your business. A key way to do this is by building out multiple Technology Teams to continuously increase and diversify the value you offer to your clients. The more you can do to cover their needs, now and into the future, the more you’ll be able to serve the needs of your current customers and attract new ones.

Get Specialized

So why not just have one big team in your company, with every resource managing all of the information they need for each customer’s needs? Every Technology Team is going to have a unique approach to solving customer problems, whether in sales, services or billing, and you’ll want to have people dedicated to making sure those unique approaches are supported. Instead of overwhelming your team with the heavy load of understanding everything about every one of your customers.

No one can be a master of everything, so allow your Technology Teams to focus only on expertise in their specific area. By dividing your business efforts to focus on each specific Technology Team, you’ll be more efficient, your team will feel more in control, and your customers will feel like you really understand their needs.

Take the Lead

Once your Technology Teams are leading the way in meeting your customers’ varied—and growing—needs, they’ll be responsible for guiding your customers through every part of the customer journey.

Mastering each step of the customer journey for each Technology Team enables them to provide excellent customer service, laying the groundwork for long-term relationships that keep your customers happy and loyal.

Where to Start

Fortunately, you’re probably already doing this without realizing it. Do you have a list of services you offer? Those probably line up pretty nicely to some of the Technology Teams already. Now you’ll just need to conduct a gap analysis to find out what you’ve got covered and what still needs to have resources put toward it.

A gap analysis looks at your current performance to help you pinpoint the difference between your current and ideal states of business. Get started by answering these three deceptively simple questions with input from your team:

  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we want to be?
  • How do we get there (close the gap)?

Keep working toward full coverage for every Technology Team your customers are looking for, and seeing every client through the steps of the customer journey and before long, you’ll be meeting and exceeding your business goals.


This article was provided by our service partner : Connectwise

Vendor management

Top 3 Questions SMBs Should Ask Potential Managed Service Providers

It can be daunting to step into the often unfamiliar world of security, where you can at times be inundated with technical jargon (and where you face real consequences for making the wrong decision). Employing a Managed Service Provider or MSSP is often in the best interest of small and medium businesses (SMBs).

In a study performed by Ponemon Institute, 34% of respondents reported using a managed service provider (MSP) or managed security service provider (MSSP) to handle their cybersecurity, citing their lack of personnel, budget, and confidence with security technologies as driving factors. But how do you find a trustworthy partner to manage your IT matters?

Here are the top 3 questions any business should ask a potential security provider before signing a contract:

1 – Are you an established and reputable managed service provider?

Okay, this is one that you’ll probably research before reaching out. Look at how long the company has been in business and who their current clients are. Are you confident that they can anticipate the unique technology needs of your business?

2 – Have you worked with other organizations who have technology needs like mine?

You will want to work with MSPs who understand your business and are able to make technology decisions based on your unique needs. Make sure they have a solid track record with other businesses of your size. If your industry has particular compliance concerns or makes heavy use of specialized programs, make sure they have experience with other customers in your industry. 

3 – What does your menu of services offer? 

Make sure they round out these services with key security offerings. To make sure they have basic IT security controls in place, ask them about industry buzzwords like asset inventory, patch management, access management, continuous monitoring, vulnerability scanning, antivirus and firewall management. The specifics of their answers aren’t as important as a confident, well considered plan. 

Security-minded MSPs’ will make sure your software and you web surfing habits don’t provide cyber-criminals with backdoor access to your systems. They will make sure your network is secure, and they will install antivirus on all your computers. Bonus points if they are forward-thinking enough to include Security Awareness Training. Make sure you understand the services that they offer, and ask if any of these services have extra costs. 

While these are not all of the questions you should consider asking a potential service provider, they can help get the conversation started and ensure you only work with service providers who meet your unique needs service providers who meet your unique needs.

  1. Ponemon Institute. (2016, June). Retrieved from Ponemon Research: https://signup.keepersecurity.com/state-of-smb-cybersecurity-report/
  2. Ponemon Institute Cost of Data Breach Study: (2017 June) https://www.ibm.com/security/data-breach
Managed Security Services

Ransomware Variants an MSP Should Watch Out For

We can all agree that ransomware is one of the biggest and most destructive threats managed service providers and their clients have faced in recent years. Currently, there are well over 120 separate ransomware families, and there’s been a 3,500% increase in cyber criminal internet infrastructure for launching attacks since the beginning of 2016. And nearly 90% of MSP report their clients have been hit by ransomware in the last year. But, in spite of these numbers, nearly 70% of MSP still aren’t completely confident their clients’ endpoints are secure against these insidious attacks.

Know Your Enemy

In addition to maintaining up-to-date endpoint security that uses real-time analysis to detect zero-day attacks, it’s important to know your enemy. Cybersecurity provider Webroot recently put together a list of the top 10 nastiest ransomware variants of 2017. You’ve probably heard of the big, newsworthy names that made the list, like WannaCry, NotPetya, and Locky, but here’s a few more MSPs should watch out for.

  1. CrySis
    CrySis attacks by compromising Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). RDP is a common method for deploying ransomware because criminals can get into admin accounts that have access to an entire organization. First detected in February 2016, CrySis took some time to spread, and really came into its own in 2017.
  2. Nemucod
    This ransomware variant arrives via phishing emails disguised as a shipping invoice. Nemucod downloads malware and encryption components stored from hacked websites, and would have most likely been the worst of the phishing email attacks for the year, had Locky not resurfaced in August.
  3. Jaff
    Like Nemucod and Locky, Jaff uses phishing emails to spread. It also uses similar techniques to other successful ransomware attacks, including Dridex.
  4. Spora
    This ransomware is distributed by legitimate websites that have been compromised with malicious JavaScript code. The sites display a pop-up prompt to visitors, instructing them to update their Chrome browsers to continue viewing the page. But when the unsuspecting user downloads the “Chrome Font Pack”, they get the infection instead.
  5. Cerber
    Cerber also uses phishing and RDP, but unlike some of its colleagues, it distributes ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS). This “service” allows aspiring cybercriminals to use pre-packaged ransomware tools as they choose, while the Cerber author gets a 30% cut of any profits made.
Keeping Your Clients Safe

There are a number of steps an MSP can take to keep clients safe.

  • First, educate your clients. Be sure to teach them how to spot suspicious emails and how to check legitimacy any time an email seems a little off. We also recommend implementing an end user cybersecurity training program.
  • Second, keep applications and plugins up to date, and make sure your clients are using reliable cloud-based antimalware, web filtering, and firewalls.
  • Third, use your operating system to your advantage. Set up Windows® OS policy restrictions, disable auto-run, disable VBS, and filter executables from emails.
  • Fourth, ensure your clients run regular backups, set up offline air gap backups with multiple copies of each file, and maintain up-to-date business continuity measures.

This article was provided by our service partners Webroot & Connectwise.

Microsoft

Four Pillars of the Modern Partner Creating Thriving Cloud Business

 

Guest Author: Matt Morris – Matt Morris is a Partner Technical Strategist & Cloud Business guru in the One Commercial Partner group, where he leads technical sales readiness, and strategy for one of Microsoft’s largest distribution partners. Prior to his current role, Matt worked in enterprise technology sales, software development, and solution architecture roles at Microsoft and other technology firms. He has experience with mid-market and large enterprise organizations across a variety of industries as well as the public sector. He helps customers understand and implement high innovation and transformational technology solutions in the areas of analytics, cloud computing, and developer tools and platforms.

According to IDC, by 2020 IT cloud services revenue will exceed $500 billion. As a part of Microsoft’s One Commercial Partner organization, I know firsthand both the tremendous opportunity cloud computing presents our partners and the complexity that opportunity can pose. So, as you prepare to join us at IT Nation, I want to share a series of cross-industry partner resources that will help you evaluate the benefits and risks of cloud computing, and provide best practices to help you successfully transform your business to capture the largest possible share of those dollars.

 

Is the cloud right for my business?

Nearly 80% of customers are deploying or fully embracing cloud technology today, according to IDC. It’s clear many clients are hungry for the cost-savings and flexibility the cloud can provide, but finding the right pace and model for cloud adoption is challenging for many partners. In The Booming Cloud Opportunity, IDC analyzes the scope of the opportunity and how you can take advantage.

How do I grow my business with the cloud?

No one knows your clients like you do. Your hard-earned expertise solving clients’ challenges is the perfect foundation for a cloud-based practice. You know the solutions your clients want, without compromising their security or increasing long-term costs. More importantly, your clients chose you for a reason. Whether you’ve mastered a particular technology, specific vertical, or business process – your unique expertise can be scaled with cloud solutions to make you more profitable. Whether you’re looking to start gently with an SaaS solutions like Office 365™, or to dive into IaaS or PaaS with Azure™, evaluate your revenue potential with your Office 365 Revenue Modeling Tool or check out the eBook, Differentiate to Stand Out.

Will I need to change my sales & marketing for cloud solutions?

The next challenge is communicating the unique value you offer, particularly when 65% of B2B purchase decisions are made before ever engaging sales. The Modernizing Sales and Marketing Guide distills the best practices other successful partners have implemented. From developing a listening culture and understanding the customer journey, to building the right marketing assets to communicate how you solve customers’ real business challenges, this guide will help you grow your practice.

Am I ready to expand my practice into the cloud?

Changing your business model seems risky, even when you know that it’s critical to long-term success. So, before deciding to wait a little longer, see what it would take to get started. Some cloud services, like Office 365, can be implemented quickly and painlessly. If you have cautious clients, expanding into a hybrid blend of on-premise and cloud solutions might fit. The key is to create a strategy that allows you to leverage easily deployed cloud components to drive services revenue today, while developing your own specialized solutions to turn your unique expertise into a repeatable product over time. Get started with Optimizing your Operations.

However you choose to implement cloud services, my goal is to help you strengthen both your bottom line and your relationship with your customers. Long-term profitability is the result of helping your customers achieve their goals, growing revenue while reducing churn. Our last resource, Delivering Customer Lifetime Value closes the loop.


This article was provided by our service partner Microsoft.

Cisco Umbrella

Cisco Umbrella Has Something New for MSPs

The threat landscape continues to get more sophisticated and complex. In a continued partnership to help MSPs protect their clients, Cisco is excited to announce a new Advanced Cisco Umbrella package specifically designed to help MSPs deliver even deeper protection.

As part of the Cisco Umbrella rollout for MSPs Advanced, centrexIT has become an early adopter. centrexIT, an award-winning Managed Services Provider in Southern California, stands out in the IT industry with a unique take on information technology and business alignment. Although their clients engage with them to support their business technology, network health, cybersecurity, and more, centrexIT’s most important metric isn’t how well the technology is working. It’s how to make their client’s lives easier, more productive, and ultimately make them more profitable. A large part of that goal in 2018, and beyond, is practicing good cybersecurity management.

“We value people over technology,” says Eric Rockwell, CEO of centrexIT. “And that commitment to our Culture of Care in turn leads us to focus on providing excellence in service while using technology that meets the highest of standards.”

That standard is even higher when it comes to security — especially in the face of the many high-profile breaches in security that have taken place throughout the tech industry over the past few years.

“Without following the standards for good cybersecurity controls and adhering to applicable regulations, you’re at a much higher risk of your information being breached — and that’s what you’re seeing on the daily news,” Rockwell says.

Cisco plays a major role in helping centrexIT protect their clients. As long-time partners with Cisco, centrexIT was given the opportunity to be the first to adopt Cisco’s latest security features.

“centrexIT is in the process of transitioning to a Next Gen MSP — an MSP with an MSSP (Managed Security Services Provider) practice,” Rockwell says. “We’re expecting huge growth in our MSSP line of business next year, both from existing MSP clients buying MSSP services as well as non-MSP clients buying MSSP services. Our focus on quality and security will only continue to grow as our clients keep demanding it.”

With the company’s growth and the Culture of Care at the forefront, the centrexIT team was more than ready to adopt the latest features.

“We’re using the new Cisco Umbrella features such as file inspection with anti-virus (AV) engine, Cisco Advanced Malware Protection (AMP), and custom URL blocking to help further protect our clients,” Rockwell says.

File inspection provides centrexIT with even deeper protection. When Umbrella receives a DNS request, it uses intelligence to determine if the request is safe, malicious, or risky — meaning the domain contains both malicious and legitimate content. Safe and malicious requests are routed as usual or blocked, respectively. Risky requests are routed to our cloud-based proxy for deeper inspection. The Umbrella proxy uses Cisco Talos web reputation and other third-party feeds to determine if a URL is malicious. With the advanced package, the proxy will also inspect files attempted to be downloaded from those risky sites using anti-virus (AV) engine and Cisco Advanced Malware Protection (AMP). Based on the outcome of this inspection, the connection is allowed or blocked.

Through custom URL blocking, centrexIT has even more control over information being accessed and in discovering potential security threats. Custom URL blocking gives MSPs the ability to enforce against malicious URLs in a destination list. It provides the flexibility to block specific pages without blocking entire domains.

These new security features are a huge plus for centrexIT and its clients. They help fulfill its core value and meet its key metric, says Rockwell. “At the end of the day, our client’s lives are easier and they’re at peace because they know we’re working tirelessly to care for them and keep their information safe and private.”

MSP

Overcoming the MSP Stereotype in 5 Steps

Some of the best clients on any technology solution provider’s radar might already have an in-house IT resource, and while you’re busy building relationships with the right people to get that contract signed, that in-house IT person may not know you exist until the deal is done. The uphill battle to finding success with that first in-house IT client? The MSP Stereotype.

What IS the MSP Stereotype?

As crazy as it seems, there’s an unofficial caste system in IT that revolves around career paths and specialization. Most IT professionals start out in desktop support to learn basic concepts, then move on to application support for a deeper understanding of business-critical applications. Their time in troubleshooting opens new doors to managing the systems or networks those applications rely on.

What About MSPs?

This general path leaves out the traditional MSP, who some IT pros see as a failed desktop support specialist. Every time an MSP says they’re “concentrated on making money, not learning some new technology” it reinforces the stereotype that MSPs are peddling half-baked fixes, useless hardware, and needless up-selling. It’s a mentality that gives the entire community a bad name, and overcoming it is the key to building a healthy, long-term relationship with your clients’ in-house IT.

So how do you overcome the bias / bad press? How do you avoid being undermined and build a mutually beneficial relationship?

5 Steps to Overcome the Stereotype

1. Find Their Passion

Make time to meet with in-house IT staff. Take them out to lunch or drinks, and assure them you want to help. Find out what part of IT excites them. If they’re passionate about troubleshooting and the instant gratification it brings, give them first refusal on break/fix issues with an agreed upon SLA. If strategic planning lights them up, give them a voice in those meetings. In other words, give in-house IT a chance to redefine their roles and responsibilities.

2. Build Credibility

Provide in-house IT with credentials for their assigned technicians/engineers. If your team has a slew of certifications and/or years of experience, let your client’s in-house staff see for themselves. Be prepared to handle objections. Some IT pros believe in certifications, while others think certifications are useless. Address objections calmly and professionally. At the end of the day, it’s about winning trust. It won’t happen overnight, but making efforts early help you both better understand what you’re walking into.

3. Collaborate Often

With a solid understanding of what the in-house IT staff is passionate about, take the time to collaborate with them on the direction of their account. In-house IT will understand why you have standards to uphold for supportability and consistency –give them a chance to voice preferences before options are finalized. Involving them as much as possible will do wonders for your long-term relationship.

4. Communicate Decisions

As an MSP, you bring recommendations and options for clients to decide on. Which means you likely have more access to your client’s decision makers than their own staff, including In-house IT. Decisions get made multiple times a day, but top-down communication is often a problem. Treat In-house IT the way you’d want them to treat you. If you get out of a meeting where a decision is made that could impact In-house IT, let them know the decision and, if possible, the logic behind it. Face-to-face will go a long way, but a simple phone call works too.

5. Maintain Trust

The problem with stereotypes is that you need to constantly prove you’re different. Doing the 4 steps above get the ball rolling, but you can’t slack off. Stay actively engaged with your client’s In-house IT to remind them you’re constantly looking out for their best interests.

Many MSPs already understand the benefit of clients with in-house IT. You get an extra set of hands without any of the overhead. You get an advocate when you’re not in the room, and a champion for your team and business…if you simply overcome the MSP stereotype. Invest the time to nurture your in-house IT relationships and they’ll help you build a stellar reputation.


This article was provided by our service partner : Connectwise

MSP

The Evolving Role of the Managed Service Provider

Nearly every enterprise has at least one relationship with a managed service provider today and it’s very likely that relationship has evolved over the years. Get ready, it’s changing again and very much to the advantage of the enterprise.

Managed services has its origins in the beginning of the tech market when companies would turn to a reseller to not only integrate but manage the finished solution. Reselling begot hosting in the late 1990s as the Internet began to crossover from government system to the foundation of our lives, as it exists today. Hosters played two key roles: granting individuals and companies access to the Internet and renting server rack space so corporate applications (mostly web sites) could have a point of presence (POP) on the Internet.

This business evolved from rack hoster to rentable IT admins, who took on the tasks of managing the hardware, OS and increasingly the middleware and applications that ran on those servers. The hosting market was a lucrative and relatively well protected space until cloud computing came along. With the introduction of Software as a Service, applications could now be delivered and managed directly by the software provider themselves. Salesforce led this new market disruption in typical innovator fashion by targeting smaller firms, with lower enterprise-grade expectations and line of business budgets. By the time SaaS started penetrating the enterprise market, its multi-tenant, highly scalable deployment model and new pay-per-user business model was hard for hosters to match and the fight was on.

Public cloud platforms added to the competitive threat by extending the SaaS basics to hosted applications. Now both application outsourcing and the core business of hosting were under threat. A surface examination of these developments might lead you to conclude that the days of the managed service provider were looking pretty gloomy but that’s actually far from the case. It’s simply another evolutionary point in the business life-cycle. While the volume of traditional hosting and application outsourcing opportunities diminish as more applications shift to SaaS or cloud platforms, we aren’t making a binary shift and nor are we getting a free ride from a management and monitoring perspective. Look a little deeper and you’ll find that a large percent of corporate workloads don’t easily fit onto cloud platforms, can’t be cleanly replaced by SaaS and won’t go through such a binary change. In fact the definition of an application is shifting and, for most businesses, already have.

Take, for example, the common business process of eCommerce. Is that a single application? For most companies, absolutely not. It’s a workflow that blends together multiple applications including ERP, CRM, commerce, machine learning, mobile and web, content management and many other elements. And if your company has been around more than 10 years it’s highly likely you have some pretty customized elements in that mix. And it’s a workflow we are constantly refining to stay competitive, improve customer satisfaction with and adapt as end users shift from web-centric to device-centric. So given the changes we are seeing in applications and the shift to cloud that is taking place, what is the end result – a highly blended mix where certain elements are shifted to SaaS, others moved to cloud platforms and others that can’t make the move but must continue as part of the mix.

According to Gartner, Inc., by 2018, more than 40% of enterprises will have implemented hybrid data centers, up from 10% in 2015. Given that we need to accelerate the evolution of this blended model to keep pace both competitively and with our ever-changing customers, what’s the best use of your limited development and IT staff resources? You will pick up some bandwidth as the management of SaaS apps shifts to the SaaS provider and of the infrastructure below the elements you can shift to cloud platforms. But the integration, evolution, security and need for more agile UX improvements all remain. And whether you put your applications on hyper-scale public clouds like Azure or on more localized offerings such as those provided by most MSPs, you still have to manage the Cloud Handshake.

Looking at your task list and cross-correlating this with your IT staff bandwidth, you’ll likely draw the conclusion that managing the Cloud Handshake falls low on the priority list. And this is exactly where the managed service provider can add the most value. And exactly where their business models are evolving. As pointed out in this white paper from Hosting.com, the future of the managed service provider is in managing the blended IT environment. The reality is that your deployment portfolio is evolving to a mix of in-house, hosted, SaaS and multiple cloud platforms. And managing this mix isn’t your core competency and shouldn’t be your priority. MSPs are evolving their business models towards managing this mix so you can focus on the things that are unique to your business.