This month’s MSP Minds webinar saw hundreds of IT pros attending, all coming together to hear from Dave Long, Director of Operations at Cage Data in Connecticut, USA, and James Clowes, IT Manager at Dynamic Bradview Roofing in Brisbane, Australia! If you missed the full webinar, you can catch it right here, or keep on reading for our highlights!
Automation – ‘Money in the bank!’
For James, the benefits of automation start with cost-savings. “If I can increase my productivity by not having to handle repetitive tasks day-in-day-out then that’s money in the bank. The less I’m having to log into a customer system, it frees me up for the bigger things like rolling out upgrades. If I’m automating tasks, then that’s also less staff I have to hire, so more money available to buy things like new computers.”
Dave agrees that it’s all about increasing productivity. “As you shift from a break-fix model to managed services, you’re asking yourself, how many systems can I manage as me, a single person? If I’m managing them all manually myself, then not that many. But if I start automating policies and procedures across a client of systems then suddenly, I’m a lot more productive and can get more done in a day.”
Dave also shared his thoughts on the risk landscape for IT professionals, that with more cyber-attacks and compliance regulations to keep up with, automation for onboarding new clients and getting their systems up to scratch makes things a whole lot easier.
The Automation Mindset – “no point hoarding knowledge when you can share it around!”
Both our guests agreed that automation isn’t something you need to be an expert to get started with. James’ advice was to start with the simplest things, like Windows updates, which are as easy as a checkbox item on Atera. You can also leverage scripts and automation built by those with more in-depth knowledge around coding, such as Dave!
For James, automation showed its worth this year, when his head office burnt to the ground back in February. He shared with us the dramatic story of how they lost everything and had to rebuild from scratch. Without automation, this would have been a whole lot harder, especially as the team had to reinstall everything twice, once for the temporary machines, and then again for the permanent replacements.
If that wasn’t enough drama for one year, just weeks later – COVID-19 hit, and the business was thrown into lockdown and working from home. Automation meant that remote working, installing software across the business multiple times, and handling these crises was a more manageable process.
Dave shared his own automation mindset, and how being able to automate tasks makes it so much easier to move from break-fix to managed services. “While previously, you might have had to think “how much do I charge for this task or this update”, with automation it’s easy to make it all built-in. You can charge one amount, and then as you reduce the time you’re spending on tasks, you’re increasing the money coming in, and the number of clients you can take on. The Atera ‘by technician’ pricing model helps with that, too.”
Automation is also fantastic for building better relationships with clients. Dave feels he can give a client more of his time, grab a coffee, and chat about the next quarter because he is confident that systems are running on their own. If a service stops in the meantime, Atera can start that service back up again with auto-healing scripts.
James also highlighted how customer reports help to build transparency with each client, showing them exactly what’s going on inside their systems, the systems that are patched, the free disk space, updated antivirus, and more. Even when the reports show that there are problems, these are sales opportunities, or benchmarks to improve from. That’s what keeps you honest and communicative with your client. Love it!
How to get started – “Look for the easy wins!”
If you’re looking to get started, check out Dave’s latest blog on the Atera website, part 3 about how to use PowerShell to start leveraging automations. You can also head into Atera and look at the threshold and IT automation profiles. “Start with self-healing capabilities,” suggested Dave. “No one wants to admit it, but we all have servers that are running legacy applications and will just crash. It’s super easy to create a script that will automatically fix those problems so that there’s no need to login and manually do it every time it happens.” Dave’s advice is to start on your threshold profiles, and just take a look at what servers you have, and what you’re spending the most time on. Then work from there to find a solution. Is it a checkbox you can click that’s already offered within Atera? Is it a simple script you can build yourself? If not, can you ask the community for help.
James was on the same page here, encouraging the Atera community to look for the easy wins. “Check out your ticket queues and ask yourself, where are the tickets coming from? Are you doing 50 password resets a month? Look for the problems, and then see can you solve these with automation. Be honest with yourself about what you can build from scratch, and then lean on 3rd party tools or external support if you need them and you aren’t a scripter yourself.” One resource recommended by both our MSP pros was the Atera shared script library, which has 193 scripts, and more coming next week!
Inside James’s Automation toolbox
- Atera: Atera has automation options built-in, and patching was the first thing James set up and has seen great benefit from.
- Team Viewer: This is James’ recommendation for Remote Support, for when he needs to jump in and help a customer.
- Chocolatey: This one got James’ rave review! “I never want to let go of this! I deployed Microsoft Edge to all my staff in 10 seconds over lunch, and I didn’t even need to tell them it was going to happen. I love it!”
Lastly, James’ most used script is CATE – Clean all Temporary Files which empties everything temporary in Windows 10.
Inside Dave’s Automation toolbox
- Office365 & Active Directory Modules: “I live all day in these, and 90% of our tickets have something to do with these. So, these were the first PowerShell modules I got used to. I have scripts for things like resetting passwords, creating new users, etc.”
- Powershell Gallery: A great resource for discovering new functionality. Helped Dave to do tasks like enabling work from home without needing to go on-site.
- VSCode or Powershell ISE: This is now loaded onto every Windows computer since Windows 7. Great help if you’re writing PowerShell scripts.
- Network Warrior Book: Dave also loves his trusty copy of the Network Warrior Book! Have you read it?
As for Dave’s most used script, he’s recommending Adam the Automator’s awesome employee onboarding script that can help create new accounts and user folders, sync accounts to office 365, and more.
Automating in Atera – Our Final Word
We had such a blast chatting to these guys about their automation expertise, and we encourage any of you to lose the fear and jump right in, even if you’re a newbie when it comes to scripts and automation.
When it comes to Atera, Command Prompt and the PowerShell console allow you to write scripts really easily and manage devices in the background without having to login and interrupt the user. If you’re looking for inspiration or want to help build confidence, check the Atera script library. When you find a script you want, you can simply clone it into your library, and you’re ready to run it to devices or add it to your automation or threshold profiles.
Looking for some easy quick wins? We recommend these top three automation choices:
- Patch management that can be set up to run automatically on your own schedule
- Third-party software patching through either HomeBrew for Macs, or Chocolatey for Windows
- Scheduled reports that can be emailed your customers automatically to your customers, or created on-demand
It’s official – you don’t need to be an expert to get started with automation!
If you need any help or have any more questions, please do get in touch. Until next time!
Check out the full MSP Minds #3 recap: