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Automation Nation: MSP tools focus on ease of use, integration, cloud

LabTech and ConnectWise set forth a product strategy that places an emphasis on ease of use and tighter integration of MSP tools, such as RMM software.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- When it comes to automating channel partners, ConnectWise and its LabTech remote monitoring and management component are putting the accent on user experience, integration and cloud computing.

Company executives and business partners emphasized those themes at Automation Nation, the annual conference for partners who use LabTech RMM software. The discussion is timely. Today, RMM vendors aim to counter the perception that their tools are difficult to use and don't work in concert with other important software components that service providers use to run their businesses. And they also must rise to the challenge of helping channel companies manage not only their customers' on-premises IT hardware, but also the services they use in the public cloud.

Much of the conversation at Automation Nation, held June 20 to 22, focused on LabTech 11, the latest edition of ConnectWise's RMM offering. Ease of use is a direction with LabTech 11, according to Brett Cheloff, general manager of LabTech at ConnectWise, based in Tampa, Fla. The product, unveiled at the conference, features a redesigned UI and incorporates best practices for such tasks as monitoring and patch management within the flow of the software, he noted.

"We're striving in the direction of ease of use," Cheloff said.

For example, LabTech 11 lets service providers stage patching: They can patch and test a few devices, and then roll out the patch across the customer's organization. On the UI side, the redesign spans LabTech's patch manager, computer management screen and Ignite Manager. The UI overhaul includes wizard-driven setup and at-a-glance metrics, the company noted.

The changes, Cheloff said, provide an elegant user experience (UX), but also help technicians do their jobs. He said ConnectWise has a UI/UX team that spans the ConnectWise Business Suite, which includes RMM software, professional services automation (PSA), remote control, and quote and proposal automation.

We're striving in the direction of ease of use.
Brett Cheloffgeneral manager of LabTech at ConnectWise

The goal, he said, is to "ensure that everything we design going forward holds to this whole UI/UX direction."

Ryan Green, network operations manager for SNC Squared, a managed service provider and IT consulting firm based in Joplin, Mo., cited patching as a pain point, noting that the process of going through and approving patches has been taking three to four hours each month, not including the time spent vetting and researching patches. He said LabTech 11's patch automation handles about 98% of the workload.

Green, who has been testing LabTech 11 since April, said he has used the staging capability, setting up a three-phase process in which patches are tested for a week, piloted for a week and then released into production. This eliminates the worry of having an automatically approved patch break 1,000 machines, he added.

Green also cited LabTech 11's script engine as another key development in the new release.

Integration, cloud moves

Integration is another direction for LabTech and the broader ConnectWise Business Suite in terms of both a unified UI across products and integrated functionality. The former is a work in progress. As for the latter, LabTech demonstrated a quick ticketing feature that provides a small window within the LabTech RMM software tool, through which technicians can open and review ConnectWise tickets.

Cheloff said the demo "shows how the products are coming together to solve the needs of the techs." He said the quick ticketing pilot will begin in the next few weeks.

"Our service engineers will be able to make a lot of use of that," said Bryan Napier, service operations manager at SNC Squared. He said quick ticketing will require some training, but added that engineers will see its value once trained on the feature. 

Cloud is another dimension LabTech and ConnectWise seek to address.

Arnie Bellini, CEO and chief product officer at ConnectWise, said a big chunk of IT is heading to the cloud, noting that trend of cloud-based services is developing at a quicker pace than managed services, which he said took a while to unfold and become a common partner offering.

"This trend is hitting very quickly and is moving much faster," Bellini said of cloud services.

He said ConnectWise aims to help partners launch cloud services practices. To that end, the company provides its CloudConsole -- a management, monitoring and billing tool for Office 365 and, eventually, Microsoft Azure. CloudConsole currently ties into ConnectWise's PSA, but CloudConsole integration with LabTech's RMM software will soon be piloted.  

Partners, such as Ingram Micro, are linking up to CloudConsole.

Jason Bystrak, executive director of Ingram Micro Cloud, speaking at Automation Nation, said the company has integrated Ingram Micro's Cloud Marketplace with CloudConsole. The integration lets partners manage Office 365 subscriptions without leaving ConnectWise. Ingram Micro also provides integration between ConnectWise and the Ingram Micro Cloud Service Desk for managing ticketing.

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