As solution providers migrate toward a services-oriented business model, proving their value to customers becomes more challenging than ever.
This is especially the case with managed services because so much of the work performed by the providers takes place remotely over the Web.
When customers get their monthly bill, some start to wonder just exactly what the IT provider is doing for them.
So it is critical to keep thorough records of all the work and sharing them with the customers. Autotask, a software vendor based in Rensselaer, N.Y., that develops technology to help channel companies run their business, wants to help.
The vendor this month introduced LiveReports, a tool that lets solution providers track any facet of their business operations, collect data and organize it into a report. Any data related to running the business can be turned into reports, according to the company.
Managed services shakeup comes as no surprise. Click here to read more.
"If you can think it, you can probably report on it," said Bob Vogel, chief marketing officer at Autotask.
LiveReports, said Vogel, advances Autotask's mission of helping IT solution providers manage their businesses better. Autotask's technology always had built-in reporting capability, but the solution providers previously had to ask the vendor to run and send them the reports, he said.
With the new tool, providers gain the flexibility to create ad hoc reports whenever they need them, Vogel said.
"Because this is digging deep into their data, we had to build a security layer around it," Vogel said.
Providers can set policies on what level of data users can access to generate reports, thereby preventing the wrong information from getting into the report.
Autotask's software gives users a single point of access to all key business functions, such as managing projects and customer relationships, recording billable time, invoicing, and scheduling, assigning and keeping track of service calls.
Possibly the most valuable feature for solution providers is tracking time spent by their technicians on specific customer projects. With that information, managers can make sure the customers are billed for the work and also make workload-balancing decisions to reduce idle time and prevent burnout.
For managed services providers, who take over some or all of the IT functions of their end-user customers, the ability to analyze business performance is important.
Providers might find they are spending too much time with a customer and not charging them enough, in which case they may want to renegotiate their service contracts, said Vogel.
In other cases, providers may decide to add services for a customer based on what the customer is already paying.
NGEN L.L.C., a $2 million solution provider in Washington, plans to evaluate LiveReports to run reports the company can share with customers, said Jamie Kustak, the NGEN's business manager.
NGEN started using Autotask's technology about two years ago, after concluding it was losing money as a result of poor record keeping, she said.
Open cases with clients sometimes would be forgotten about or they would not be prioritized correctly. In some instances, NGEN wouldn't bill customers for some of the work performed, Kustak said.
The company realized it needed to automate its billable time records, which is what it accomplished by deploying Autotask's software.
"We do feel like we're capturing more billable hours now," Kustak said.
Are managed services a threat or opportunity? Click here to read more.
As a result of the automation, NGEN can spend more time evaluating customer needs and make proposals to address those needs, she said.
"Sometimes we're so reactive in what we do and we don't take the time to look at our clients and their service needs," she said.
NGEN has been making a transition into managed services, in some cases completely taking over the IT departments of its clients.
As companies such as NGEN get more entrenched in managed services, they will rely more and more on Autotask's technology, said Vogel.
To reach more providers, Autotask has partnered with managed services platform providers such as Level Platforms and N-able Technologies to market the technology.
Autotask's technology captures the data from the managed services monitoring software to open support cases and notify technicians of issues needing attention.
"We want to be the platform that solution providers can use to run their businesses," said Vogel.