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Autotask revealed a number of technology updates at the company's recent partner conference, and one of the most enthusiastically received arrivals was a new user interface for an MSP ticketing system.
While the Autotask ticketing system UI, set for release next year, may seem a bit obscure compared with product rollouts such as Autotask Endpoint Backup, it's not difficult to see why partners applauded this particular development. Managed service provider (MSP) technicians spend a lot of time looking at ticking systems, so a solid front end is a welcome sight. But it's not all about looks -- a good UI can boost efficiency and lead to improved overall business performance.
"A good UI is extremely important," said Brendan Morse, senior research analyst with the Managed Services and Network Document Solutions advisory practice areas at InfoTrends, a market research firm. "It takes a user-friendly UI to effectively leverage service automation and analytics for streamlined workflows. When you have thousands of tickets to bill for, adding just one minute to a ticket adds up to a lot of time quickly. This leads to higher costs, possibility of missing out on revenue, revenue recognition backlog and even unhappy customers."
MSP ticketing system: Checklists and timelines
Among the new additions to the MSP ticketing system UI, part of Autotask's professional services automation (PSA) product, is a Ticket Checklist feature that lets service providers create lists of subtasks or steps technicians should follow and complete in order to close a ticket. The system also includes a Service Level Agreement (SLA) Timeline that provides a graphical display of the history of a given ticket.
"The checklist function was an answer to prayers," said Micah Thor, president at Tech Guru, an MSP in Minneapolis. "I was very excited about that." He noted that Tech Guru will be implementing the new feature as soon as it's available.
Thor said he and his company had been looking for a straightforward way to standardize processes and make sure technicians follow through on them on a consistent basis. The creation of preinstall checklists is one area in which the new feature could come into play. Each client has its own standard installation of applications common to every employee plus a small number of one-off items, Thor noted. The Autotask ticketing UI could be used to create custom checklists for each customer.
"Having a checklist in place for every client for their installation will really help with their accuracy," Thor said.
Thor also cited the new SLA Timeline view as a benefit of the new interface. According to Pat Burns, Autotask's vice president of product management, the timeline provides a visual rendering of the sequence and status of predefined SLA objectives. In a sense, plotting SLA objectives on a timeline tells the story of a service incident in a "single gesture that is easily understood by a human being," Burns said.
"That is really going to be a powerful indicator for account management purposes," Thor said, adding that MSP ticketing system users will have an at-a-glance view of a ticket's lifespan.
Thor said his company has been using Autotask's PSA software for more than 10 years and deployed the company's remote monitoring and management (RMM) product earlier this year. He said the use of the integrated PSA-RMM has saved the company 100 worker hours in a 90-day period. The savings stem from automating formerly manual remediation processes, he said.
Thomas Clancy Jr., founder and CEO of Valiant, an MSP based in New York, is also looking forward to the new UI.
"I have been very excited about it for quite a while," he said, noting that he has been tracking the development of the new UI since its early wire-framing stage. As with Thor, Clancy also identified the checklist and timeline features as benefits of the new Autotask ticketing interface.
The UI developments are scheduled for release in the first half of 2017. Customers participating in Autotask's Limited Release group will receive the release two to four weeks before the company ships to the general population, Burns said.
UI becomes a priority
Autotask is not alone among PSA and RMM vendors in focusing on UI design. Indeed, user experience was also at the forefront at June's Automation Nation annual conference for users of LabTech's RMM software. LabTech 11, the latest version of the RMM offering, includes a redesigned UI and incorporates best practices for monitoring, patch management and other tasks within the flow of the software.
Brendan Morsesenior research analyst, Infotrends
Morse suggested it only makes sense for vendors to focus on UI, even while they pursue tighter integration between PSA, RMM and other MSP software components.
"While much of the talk is around integration, PSA vendors have continuously made UI a priority and should in the future," he said.
In addition to unlocking efficiency gains, UI improvements can also help a vendor win over younger workers. Morse, citing Pew Research, noted that Millennials recently became the largest percentage of the U.S. workforce.
"It is a mistake for any vendor to not account for this reality when they design and test any UI," he said.
UI design can also contribute to vendors' platform integration plans. Morse said many RMM and PSA offerings are moving toward becoming all-in-one platforms.
"On one hand, this is great; on the other, it can be overwhelming," he said. "Both the vendors and MSPs need to focus on how they will leverage these advanced platforms, while ensuring the UI is simple and intuitive."
Vendors such as LabTech and Autotask, however, are investing in user experience (UX). ConnectWise, for example, employs a UI/UX team that covers the ConnectWise Business Suite, which includes PSA, LabTech RMM, remote control, and quote and proposal automation.
At Autotask, president and CEO Mark Cattini said his company has tripled the size of its design team in recent years, noting that the group has a specialization in UX. Burns said bringing those skills to the MSP ticketing system UI was important, given the central nature of the application to the overall Autotask software suite.
"It is really the atomic-level entity in the system," he said, adding that ticketing interacts with other Autotask software components. "It's the starting point for everything else that happens in the system."
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