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To better serve customers' new, varied needs, resources must be redirected, processes and protocols must be adjusted, and MSPs must remain nimble as the situation evolves.
March 20, 2020
Sponsored by Kaseya
Our realities have all been turned upside down by COVID-19, a.k.a. the coronavirus. Life has been disrupted in ways unimaginable a few months, or even weeks, ago, and they are likely to remain this way for an unknown period of time.
At the same time, life must go on. And MSPs must play an essential role in helping that continue.
All of your customers are scrambling to adjust to this new way of life. Some of their businesses are going to face massive slowdowns if they’re not forced to shutter completely, at least temporarily. Meanwhile, other clients are going to lean on their IT services harder than ever to remain productive during this crisis. MSPs are already in the remote management business, so social distancing will come easy, but it’s going to be a whole new thing for many customers.
To better serve their new, varied needs, not to mention keep your own operations running as smoothly as possible, resources must be redirected, processes and protocols must be adjusted, and MSPs must remain nimble as the situation evolves. Here are six things you can do to prepare for and cope with what’s underway … and what’s to come.
Working from home means more work for MSPs.
To minimize transmission of COVID-19 (coronavirus), organizations able to have their employees work from home will do so. For some businesses, this may merely increase their VPN usage or require a few new sets of credentials and access for particular employees and systems.
But for other operations, shifting work off-site will be a massive, unexpected transition. For example, school districts, colleges and universities will be relying on remote learning at unprecedented levels they neither anticipated nor designed their systems for.
Even for companies that already embraced remote working and that have processes and systems in place, there’s a percentage of workers who haven’t taken advantage of the model before. They won’t have VPN clients on their laptops–if they have laptops at all. New credentials may need provisioning, new apps may need installing, and new hardware or virtual servers may be required.
There is also going to be a massive learning curve for many new to remote work, which will result in a flood of support inquiries. Folks contacting tech support are rarely in a great mood to begin with, but there will be a higher percentage than usual of people panicking that things aren’t working or that they’re not doing things correctly.
Recommendation: Stagger staffing for better coverage as more off-hours work is likely.
Recommendation: Automate as many routine tasks as possible to free up resources for emergency developments.
Current systems will be taxed to the max.
When key business systems experience a massive increase in usage, there will inevitably be some hiccups and bottlenecks. MSPs must be vigilant with their performance monitoring to minimize disruptions.
As MSPs see usage spiking they should be proactively increasing capacity and bandwidth in consultation with their clients to prevent outages or spotty service. It’s better to get ahead of things and beef up their service levels than deal with complaints about crashes and sluggish performance.
Recommendation: Monitor usage rates for signs of potential overload.
Recommendation: Check in with key clients to discuss their expected needs.
A crash course in cloud computing will be required.
Customers already leveraging cloud computing and storage may need to increase their utilization of these service, but others that have stayed on the sidelines may find themselves forced to jump on the bandwagon in a hurry.
There will be a steep learning curve for these organizations, so you should be prepared to serve as a trusted advisor, trainer and teacher during this transition. Recommending appropriate services and onboarding employees is a key value-added benefit MSPs can offer.
Recommendation: Proactively assess and recommend changes to current cloud services or the need for new ones to manage the increase in remote work.
Customers will need help locking things down.
As the economic impact of social distancing and quarantining takes hold, business will be laying off or furloughing employees. Those workers once had access to various internal systems and servers, and credential and access management must be handled appropriately.
Departing users will need their access either turned off or restricted, depending on the situation. Yet, at the same time, some employees may have critical data and files kept locally or on personal cloud-based or server-based storage, to which clients will still need access.
Prompt your customers to begin cataloging these things now, so a plan can be put in place to manage any upcoming downsizing. You should have a comprehensive accounting of every system with a unique set of credentials, along with who currently has access. No one wants a bitter former employee causing problems on his or her way out the door.
Recommendation: Stay in frequent contact with clients about personnel changes and credential management.
Recommendation: Help clients transition to centralized data storage solutions.
Clients will need help defending the castle.
With everyone relying on digital communications to shop, work and remain connected, it’s inevitable that cybercrime will see a major boom during this time period. Hackers will be poking, prodding and testing every port and protocol they can find. Cybercriminals will take Dark Web shopping sprees for stolen or leaked personal information, credit card info and credentials to see what they can get away with.
MSPs should be proactively offering services to clients that can monitor and prevent some of these attacks. Internal systems access and traffic will now be highly irregular due to employees working from home or on split shifts to minimize transmission of the virus. The usual flags for irregular network activity and access will likely increase but will continue to require investigation.
The lines between “home” and “office” will blur even further, so more personal internet usage on company-linked computers is inevitable. Scared and angst-ridden employees may also be less vigilant than usual. Phishing scams exploiting these fears may cause some workers to be more cavalier about clicking links in emails and social media while using their work devices.
Recommendation: Increase Dark Web monitoring and scans for APTs and footholds.
Recommendation: Revisit backup and data recovery protocols and capacity, adjusting as necessary or prompting clients to add these services.
Implement redundancy for clients … and for you.
Things are likely to get worse before they get better, and that means key personnel catching the virus or having to attend to loved ones who have it. MSPs need to help their clients and themselves on two fronts.
First, there shouldn’t be any single points of failure when it comes to staff. No lone individual should have key passwords, credentials or authorizations to critical systems; there should be fail-safes in place in case someone is out of commission.
Second, your staff should be as cross-trained as possible to be able to work with and manage clients they normally don’t touch. If one of your staff members becomes unavailable, it should be as seamless as possible to transition supporting that account to another employee.
Recommendation: Document critical account information in a centrally available knowledge base, including automating network discovery and diagramming.
Recommendation: Create a “buddy system” so there’s adequate institutional knowledge of each account.
Recommendation: Audit client credentials for every system to ensure there are secondary employees with access.
Stress Takes a Toll
While there is much to do to prepare for and manage the issues your clients will face, don’t forget that your staff (and you!) are under an unusual amount of stress during these uncertain times. Our jobs aren’t the only thing on our minds as we deal with managing our kids now home from school, maintaining an adequate supply of essentials and processing the constant flow of news reports.
Give people the time and space to attend to personal matters, to grieve the loss of routine, to feel sad about scuttled plans and isolation. Whether we know it or not, everyone is under an extreme amount of pressure that we’ll all handle a little differently.
Want to learn more about how you can better prepare your MSP for COVID-19? Listen to our Connecting IT Podcast and see what else you can do.
Jim Lippie is GM & SVP Partner Development, Kaseya.
This guest blog is part of a Channel Futures sponsorship.
Read more about:MSPs
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