Software Learning Curve Poses Challenges For Vendors and MSPs
Utah managed services provider Pro IT Team is the quintessential “Mom & Pop Shop.”
Veijo Jones and his wife Robin Raines had been talking increasingly seriously about folding three clients left over from an old tech consulting business into a new recurring revenue MSP.
One day last winter, they pulled the trigger.
“He came home one day and said, ‘guess what, I bought this really cool software,’” Raines said.
The couple had licensed one of the MSP space’s most popular – and sophisticated – IT services management platforms.
We decided not to name the specific vendor to avoid unfairly portraying any tool as more difficult to use.
Facing subscription costs and realizing they wanted to get serious about their business, they incorporated shortly thereafter.
In the year since, the IT services startup they operate in addition to Jones’ day job has grown to seven customers.
But despite Jones’ background repairing computers, and managing networking and telecom for timeshare resort properties; and Raines’ history as a trainer and product manager for large tech firms, learning to use the software has been no easy task.
“I feel fairly confident in my ability to create a ticket, follow a ticket, close a ticket, create an invoice,” Raines said. “I can create a knowledge base article but my main tech person does not; he’s still on the novice level.”
And it was no easy road getting this far.
“What happened was, he installed it…I can’t remember if we had just one license,” Raines said of her husband. “It was just him using it. It wasn’t working.”
“He would come home every day and sit down and try to figure out this software and he was really frustrated,” she said.
Across the board, MSP toolset vendors said that minimizing such frustration by reducing complexity and making their increasingly sophisticated products easier to use by service providers, large and small, is a top priority – and a constant challenge.
“I hear that story a lot,” said Zeshan Raja, director of partner success at Continuum, which is not the vendor of Pro IT Team’s software.
“Certainly, every new partner is unique with their needs,” he added. “We’ve done a lot of investment in the resources that we make available to our partners.”
Recently, Continuum has been making improvements to its customer success operation, Raja said.
Under that company’s onboarding regimen, new customers spend 90 days working with an onboarding team, before being handed off to a regional team.
Those onboarding teams fall into three types, depending on whether the new customer is a startup that needs to configure the solution from scratch, an existing IT organization migrating from another vendor’s platform, or an office equipment or telco service provider.
“We see MSPs from different ends of the spectrum,” Raja said. “Maybe they’re transforming their business from break-fix. How we approach them is different.”
Continuum’s onboarding process extends beyond the technical, to sales and marketing.
One unique feature of Continuum’s onboarding is the necessity to familiarize service providers unaccustomed with how to use the vendor’s network operations center (NOC).
“It’s not just a platform, it’s a business model,” Raja said. “We help partners to adopt our business model.”
“We feel that after the first 30 days, you should understand the core functionality of our product; you should get agents set up and deployed,” he added. “Learning how to leverage the NOC, I think that’s really where the learning curve is.”
The fact that their vendor’s software was designed to support scalability was among the selling points that appealed to owners of Pro IT Team.
“I think the salesperson did a fantastic job,” Robin Raines recalled.
“He had been looking at a few of the others,” she said of her husband’s toolset shopping. “He had in his mind, ‘this is the way I want it to work.’ When he got on the phone with the salesperson, the answer was always ‘yes.’”
But for a new business like theirs, the first experience with the powerful new software was overwhelming.
“As you look at the admin side, there’s so many things that I’m like ‘wow, where do I start,’” Raines said. “It took us months to figure out very small things.”
The owners took advantage of the extensive assortment of training materials, webcasts, and individual sessions with their implementation manager.
But when putting things into practice, it’s still easy to get tripped up by a single, arcane configuration error.
Take, for example, the process for emailing invoices to customers.
A tiny configuration issue means the difference between a customer receiving the invoice in their email inbox, or the invoice ending up in spam, unseen.
Ideally, Raines said, vendors would offer some sort of a “quick-start” onboarding package, where small businesses like hers could learn only what they need to get up and running quickly.
The walk-through’s could include little hints about known pain points, like the common configuration trap for the invoice emailing feature.
“One of the things we said was, we just want to get tickets going and a few little things,” Raines said. “We want to be able to monitor and be able to invoice.
“We have no employees, so the whole employee module is not important to us.”
“What are the things that will get me off the ground the fastest,” she said. “If you’re one or two people, you’re doing everything.”
MSPs can choose later when to invest time to learn and build out other functionality, Raines suggested.
Raines concedes that as they’ve gained experience with the vendor’s instructional resources, they’re learning hacks, like following along with tutorial webcasts and using them as demonstrations to configure their own software.
Several major MSP solutions vendors offered statements about how customers should think about the learning curve for their tools:
Dave Sobel, Senior Director of Community – MSP, SolarWinds MSP
“MSPs should be looking for tools that help them onboard, with solutions that help them get up and running quickly.
A metric to look for — time to agent deployment.
Solutions that help get to deployment faster have an easier learning curve.
From an RMM, new users should expect to get quickly to the ability to deploy agents and control machines remotely.
Next, MSPs should expect some customization of alerting, ensuring that the information is useful.
Good RMM solutions will have low ‘noise’ levels outside of the box.
Generally, the last step will include leveraging automation.
From a PSA, there is more of an investment.
Focus on getting basic ticketing setup, allowing for work to be tracked and billed.
From there, more workflows can be added.
MSPs should expect that systems will need to be tailored to their own businesses when used.
The most effective MSPs are the ones who invest in setup and management, which becomes easier over time.
Tools providers who focus on ‘ease of use’ will help reduce this investment.”
Frank Tisellano Jr., General Manager for VSA, Kaseya
“Learning a new product always takes time, and the learning curve is different for everyone.
Our goal at Kaseya, is to get our customers up and running as smoothly and quickly as possible, which is why we have a dedicated team of onboarding experts and an extensive set of customer resources including Kaseya University, Kaseya’s Automation Exchange, live and on-demand webinars, whitepapers and more.
VSA is a robust platform that benefits from a dedicated time investment because it enables our customers to unlock the power of all the features and functionality built into the product.
Our customers tell us, time and again, that the powerful scripting capabilities in VSA are unmatched, and that the time needed to learn and master the product is well worth it.
With regards to BMS, its key differentiator is its ease of use.
On average, BMS customers are ramped up and firing on all cylinders within a week because the product is so simple and intuitive in nature.”
Walt Mykins, Vice President of Client Services and Operations at Autotask
“We find that clients who take advantage of our implementation and training resources fare best – meaning they come up to speed quickest and have higher product adoption.
Our Implementation Managers, who have each implemented hundreds of clients across a wide range of MSP businesses, provide an onboarding plan that covers the basic mechanics of importing data to various workflows that ultimately lead to the efficiencies and service levels the client is seeking.
We also have a wide range of training that’s available including live training events, hands-on labs and webinars.”
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