Previously, we examined why MSPs should move on from manually documenting systems, in favor of automation. Manual documentation comes with far too many of its own challenges to justify a status of being the preferred method of documentation. In its own right, automation has identified itself as the more efficient option several times over. However, that does not mean making the switch from manual documentation to automation is so simple.

Once an MSP starts its planning for putting automation in place, the obstacles come into view. Where does one start? MSPs can look towards building or buying automation where they can. However, it’s no yellow-brick road. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the options and challenges ahead.

Building a software development team. Hiring systems engineers is tough already. It can be nearly impossible to hire full time software developers to write scripts that take advantage of available application programming interfaces (APIs) of services. Many MSPs have chosen to go down this path, though not all can afford it. To execute just the first phase of a data integration project, companies can spend thousands of dollars, not to mention the time and resources spent looking for the right talent, with IT software developer salaries hovering around six figures. It’s a pricey option, but one to consider if you have the ability to do so. 

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Unifying and keeping up with the data. Unfortunately, MSPs don’t have the luxury of choosing the platforms they support. Many of these competing platforms have no interest in unifying visibility across other systems for the MSP. They’re simply not incentivized to play nicely with one another. For example, Microsoft Azure has no incentive to speak the same language as AWS or Google Cloud. It’s critical for an MSP to see across all the systems they manage, regardless of brand or corporate ego. Any automation in this space requires the creation of compatibility among the different platforms and keep up with their every changing API specifications.

Building a data team. Apart from these obstacles, once the data is collected, how can the dots be connected so MSPs can see a positive ROI over time? Consider this: once all of a system’s users are captured, further logic has to be written to determine which groups they belong to and what level of access and licensing they have. MSPs need a data-centric team to transform the raw information that’s been collected into knowledge to deliver on the promise of automation. Integration into the PSA to drive tickets and alerts so service delivery can act and help further secure and protect their customers. Reports need to be developed to drive vCIO services and account management to strengthen and extend customer agreements. All of these tasks are required to extract true value from the investment.

What’s on the horizon

Some vendors into the channel are beginning to understanding the above challenges MSPs face when it comes to the lack of visibility into their systems. We’re beginning to see point solutions emerge from the big providers – for example  system documentation from AWS and Microsoft Office 365. Even if it’s a siloed dashboard at the very least, it brings back multi-tenant data and alerting.

Human-intelligence centered documentation platforms like IT Glue and IT Boost both have some level of automation. They’re incorporating automated data collection of users, network devices, domain, and SSL expiration tracking. This is a valuable first step, but they haven’t yet ventured into correlating data and driving deeper insights. Data-centric platforms like Liongard’s Roar have emerged to focus squarely on aggregating data over time, to bring actionable alerts across the ever-growing number of systems MSP manage.

Again, IT doesn’t stand still. There’s always something new as users are added and let go, systems are upgraded or discarded. Automated system documentation can help MSPs maintain their sanity and keep track of all the thousands of changes and chaos that can occur. MSPs will soon see the benefits outweigh challenges and costs of implementing automated documentation systems.

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Photo: Alexander Supertramp / Shutterstock

Vincent Tran

Posted by Vincent Tran

Vincent Tran, CISSP is COO at Liongard, an automation platform which enables MSPs with visibility beyond the endpoint and into critical on-premises apps, the network stack, and cloud services.

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