IT is always developing - sometimes by evolution, and sometimes by revolution - but recent events have pushed that process into overdrive for key areas of communications and management of IT infrastructure. This goes well beyond technology, with fundamental impacts on how business is done, and how we balance our work-life activities.
The question is, are MSPs ready?
Teleworking - either from home or work hubs - has been discussed for decades. Its prospects improved with technical developments such as better internet connectivity, and managerial policy decisions such as hot-seating and hotel desking. But take-up was slow, for reasons associated with social isolation, relationship building, technical limitations, security and, bluntly, the need to monitor employees’ productivity levels.
Such considerations were swept aside by the coronavirus. Suddenly there was no time for conservative and hesitant approaches - workers had to isolate and do it quickly. Employers had to ensure business continuity under totally different and difficult circumstances.
The “new normal” has turned “would like” into “must have”.
According to a recent research report commissioned by LogicMonitor on the future of the MSP industry, 90% of MSPs surveyed had a business continuity plan in place by June 2020, and 94% were working remotely. However, more than half of the MSP professionals surveyed felt only ”somewhat confident” in their organisation's ability to withstand an unanticipated crisis (such as a pandemic or natural disaster), and close to 10% had minimal or no confidence. This means that close to two-thirds of organisations had what might be called ‘restrained’ attitudes, at best, to their readiness.
The LogicMonitor report interviewed 183 MSP executives - managers, team leaders, general managers, VPs, and directors - in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and New Zealand. The goal was to understand how MSPs evolve over time, and to ascertain their views on IT automation, cloud migration, and business continuity in the face of a crisis. While the survey took place in the midst of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the authors believe that the trends revealed were already in play long before the coronavirus hit.
Before the global pandemic, only 14% of MSP IT leaders consistently worked from home. This quickly ramped up to 94%, a massive imposition on IT connectivity and management systems in only a matter of days, with close to 80% saying that their entire workforce was working remotely. Only 15% of those employees had done so by their own choice.
Key issues faced by IT leaders were - and for some, continue to be - internet connectivity (48% of respondents); strain on networks due to the number of individuals logging on remotely (51%); dealing with co-workers logging in through VPNs (42%), lack of access to required hardware (29%), and the security, or lack of it, of teleconferencing software (27%).
Key to these changes is the nature, extent and rapid adoption of cloud technologies, whether public, private or hybrid. 47% of respondents were expanding their use of cloud, and 35% were investing additional funds in IT infrastructure monitoring. Productivity tools, such as Zoom, Office 365, and Slack, were subject to increased spending by almost half of respondents, and a quarter were looking to invest in AI and machine learning.
What to do
Don’t panic! Despite the rapid disruption to work practices and mounting pressure on business management, there are solutions.
One of those is automation: the use of software and integrations to make routine tasks more efficient and less manual. This is already an important component of MSP management with, according to the study, 93% of MSP decision makers saying there has been an increasing focus on automation in the past three years, and 97% saying this trend will continue for the next three years.
There are some concerns, of course, such as upfront cost and the time required for implementation. But compare this with MSP IT leaders’ perception that overall costs will be lower and automation can liberate their time to focus on more strategic tasks and initiatives, and suddenly the investment becomes more acceptable.
Other suggested solutions include cloud monitoring products to address concerns about the efficiency of remote hardware and its ability to support remote workforces. To give confidence in this, such monitoring needs to be flexible and rapid, and preferably has “single pane of glass” functionality. Software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) is also a consideration.
Overall, what were once lower-profile technologies, such as video conferencing, have risen to the top of the pile of concerns. Uptime is vital, monitoring is essential, and an understanding of the changes to work processes - which in many instances may very well be permanent - are all issues that MSPs need to deal with effectively and rapidly. Never before has flexibility been more important, and there are solutions that will help you do that.
Further information on the LogicMonitor report and MSP automation and monitoring systems in general can be found at https://www.logicmonitor.com/resource/future-of-msp-industry.