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MSP Business Benefits of IT Process Automation

A recent report found that MSP leaders estimate engineers spend 39% of their time on manual tasks. That stat is just another example of why we think scripting and automation are MSP superpowers.

Of course, automation for automation’s sake isn’t good business. The key is knowing which processes to automate to improve your business’s efficiency. Building that understanding starts with IT process automation (ITPA) basics.

In this article, we’ll explore IT process automation in depth, including what it is, why it matters, and provide practical tips to help you implement IT process automation to improve your business.

What is IT process automation?

IT process automation is the practice of automating IT workflows and tasks to improve operational efficiency. 

Simply put, IT process automation enables computers to do things so humans do not have to, and typically involves using scripts or tools to automate a series of steps. For example, a remote monitoring and management (RMM) platform may automatically open a helpdesk ticket after it detects a high CPU utilization on a server for more than 5 minutes.

Areas where IT process automation can be beneficial include:

  • Help desk ticketing
  • Patch management
  • Issue remediation
  • Employee onboarding/offboarding
  • Failover and disaster recovery
  • Asset discovery and inventory
  • Alerting
  • Backups

How does it work?

IT process automation is really just simple business logic enabled by different tools and technologies. Typically, ITPA software will monitor a system or systems and execute a workflow when a triggering condition is met. Using our helpdesk ticket example, the basic IT process automation logic would look something like this:

  • Monitor CPU utilization on Server A
  • If Server A’s CPU utilization is equal to or greater than 100% for more than 5 minutes…
  • …Then open a support ticket and set the priority of the ticket to high

Depending on the specific workflow, the logic can get significantly more complex, but the core concept remains. ITPA automatically responds to a tigger by taking a series of actions.

The four essential business benefits of IT process automation

For MSPs, remote management and ITPA go hand-in-hand as key enablers of running a profitable business. Remote management enables you to get work done without deploying a technician to a site. IT process automation goes a step further and enables you to get work done with little or no human involvement.

There are many ways we could slice the value of automation, but it boils down to these four benefits:

  • Increased operational efficiency. Computers are better at executing repetitive tasks than people. Automation enables you to be productive even if all your technicians are asleep. That’s a pretty compelling value proposition.
  • Fewer errors. People forget things. They make typos. They don’t follow up. Automating your IT processes to avoid these incidents reduces errors in your business workflows. For example, simple reminder emails if a ticket is open too long can help keep your ticketing system tidy and prevent an important issue from slipping through the cracks. Even better if you can automate solving the problem before the client even notices it.
  • Better customer service. Faster responses and fewer errors helps create happier clients. Happier clients tend to do more business and make more referrals. Win/win.
  • More productive technicians. If technicians waste time on repetitive tasks, they have less time to focus on the things that help you run a more successful, profitable business. Additionally, enabling and empowering techs to do work they find more rewarding and valuable (read: not mind-numbing repetitive tasks), reduces the risk of burnout.

ITPA vs. RPA vs. BPA vs. DPA

We all know there’s no shortage of automation buzzwords, especially in the MSP space. Other forms of automation, like robotic process automation (RPA), digital process automation (DPA), and business process automation (BPA), all overlap at least a bit with ITPA, but have different focus areas.

Here’s a quick breakdown to help you keep things straight:

  • ITPA focuses primarily on automating IT workflows
  • RPA uses bots to automate routine tasks based on a specific set of rules
  • BPA aims to automate end-to-end business processes
  • DPA focuses on automating processes — typically with low code/no code solutions — that involve multiple applications

Scripting languages for IT process automation

If you can code or are an MSP that uses ChatGPT, you can probably automate a few IT processes yourself. Frankly, one-off scripts that solve a business problem is often a fan favorite among MSP professionals, as they typically emerge from a specific business problem and provide a quick and repeatable solution.

You can use just about any programming language for automation, but the three scripting languages below are some of the most popular. Coupling them with native scheduling tools like Windows Task Scheduler or cron (for *nix systems) can go a long way.

PowerShell

The Windows PowerShell Integrated Scripting Environment (ISE). (Direct link to image)

If you manage Windows machines, PowerShell is a great IT process automation tool in your arsenal. It offers a wide range of pre-built cmdlets that enable you to manage and query Windows systems programmatically. One of the best scripts in the Syncro script libraryMonitor – Other RMM solution installation — is written in PowerShell.

If you want more examples of PowerShell scripts that can help you automate repetitive tasks, check out 8 Ways to Supercharge Your MSP With PowerShell Scripts.

Bash

An example bash script. (Direct link to image)

Bash is the default shell on many Linux systems. The same syntax often works in other *nix shells, even when Bash isn’t the default shell. The takeaway is simple: if you manage Linux systems, Bash scripts can be a huge time saver.

Python

Sample Python code in Visual Studio Code. (Direct link to image)

Picking up Python is a little more complicated than PowerShell or Bash because it isn’t typically a default shell on a system. However, it has a fairly easy learning curve and is highly accessible. If you want to get a bit more complex with your homegrown automations, this powerful scripting language might be right for you.

That said, before you jump into writing a full-blown program, consider checking out what existing platforms and tools can do for you. Which leads us to…

Tools for IT process automation

Dedicated IT process automation software and tools can take your ITPA efforts to the next level. For example, Microsoft Power Automate is a powerful tool for various workflow automations in organizations that heavily use Microsoft platforms. Platforms like Chef, Ansible, GitHub, and GitLab also enable plenty of developer-focused automation capabilities.

However, for MSPs looking to get the most bang for their automation buck today, RMM and professional services automation (PSA) tools are still the most practical solutions. These tools enable the automation of repetitive tasks and hook those automations into the tooling MSPs are already using to manage their business.

RMM enables automation on endpoints

Assets listed in Syncro’s RMM. (Direct link to image)

RMM capabilities are the cornerstone of remote management for MSPs. RMM agents provide access to multiple capabilities, such as remote access and backgrounding tools. They also provide a mechanism for executing scripts and other scheduled—or automatically triggered—actions on endpoints running an RMM agent. For example, we can use Syncro to create a ticket based on CPU utilization, as described earlier.

An example automation in Syncro that creates a ticket based on high CPU utilization. (Direct link to image)

PSA enables automation of back-office processes

PSA capabilities enable MSPs to automate the backend of their business. As you might expect, PSAs are a common way for MSPs to automate workflows. Reminding clients when they are behind on an invoice is a textbook example of a potential PSA-enabled automation that can benefit MSPs.

An automated invoice reminder in Syncro. (Direct link to image)

How to identify automation opportunities

Automatically opening an RMM alert — which is one of the many scripts available in the Syncro script library — is a great example of an IT process that MSPs can automate.

(Direct link to image)

Many MSP leaders have technical backgrounds, so it can be easy to geek out about what you could automate. However, as awesome and prevalent as automation is today, not everything needs to be automated. The key to effective automation is to implement it for the situations that drive value. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for every business, but you can use some rules of thumb to identify where it’s is likely to be the most beneficial.

Specifically, processes that meet all (or most) of these criteria are typically good candidates:

  • Not digitized. If a process is being handled manually but shouldn’t be, or can be optimized via automation – do it.
  • Has a rule-driven, predictable outcome. If the process follows a pattern, you can probably create a set of instructions for a computer to follow.
  • Prone to human error. Typos, mistakes, and missed steps can create business problems that automation can help solve.
  • High volume or time consuming. If certain tasks are eating up a meaningful amount of valuable time, it might be time to automate them.
  • Doesn’t require human judgment. Sometimes you want human oversight (e.g., escalated helpdesk tickets). For situations where this isn’t necessary, take the burden off the human and put it on the computer.
  • Creates business bottlenecks. If the process is slowing things down today, that’s a good reason to automate it.

If you examine your current operations closely, you’re likely to find some good examples of how you can leverage these principles and benefit from automation. For example, many MSPs have improved their workflows and clients’ security posture with automated patch management.

How Syncro helps MSPs get IT process automation right

An overview of scripts that have run or are scheduled to run in Syncro. (Direct link to image)

Syncro, the all-in-one integrated MSP platform, supports robust automation capabilities that help MSPs run a more profitable business. The platform integrates RMM, ticketing, and PSA functionality to provide MSPs with the power to implement IT process automation for all their clients. Additionally, Syncro’s flexible scripting capabilities provide MSPs with an easy way to run their own custom scripts across multiple endpoints.

If you’d like to see how Syncro can help you automate IT processes in your business, sign up for a free (no credit card required) trial today!

Jillian Ho-Lung