Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Rethinking Tools - Part 4: Switching to Autotask

As part of our year-end procedure, we are re-evaluating what we sell, who we partner with, and which tools we use.

The first post in this series is here.

The second post is here.

The third post is here.

Now we turn to the most important tool of all: Our professional services administration tool.

This is the most important tool because it's part CRM, you use it to handle payroll, you do billing out of it, you manage clients with it, and you work all of your service tickets through it.

Effective January 1, 2009, KPEnterprises (Sacramento's Premier Microsoft Small Business Specialist) is using Autotask to manage our company.

The Past

As with the decision about delivery tools, we started looking for a PSA tool several years ago. And, at the time, the most mature tool in our space was ConnectWise.

In a previous life, I was the Site Manager for PC Software Support at HP's Roseville, CA plant. I managed a staff of 25 people who handled tech support for 5000 employees and contracts. Along with that, I managed the backup tape rotations, the Unix (HP-UX) helpdesk, the internal memory store, and the remote access program for people working from home.

In that operation, we used Remedy software for managing tickets. Naturally, when I started looking at ticketing software, I looked at Remedy. But Remedy is not designed for managing all the pieces of the business. It's over the top in terms of managing tickets, but was clearly not the choice for running a small consulting shop.

After poking around and talking to other SMB Consultants, we settled on ConnectWise.

ConnectWise is an excellent tool. It helped us control our technicians' time as we grew, helped us document all of our processes and procedures, and helped us bill clients in an efficient manner.

But ConnectWise is no longer the only game in town. Today there are other good alternatives, including tools with more advanced features.

If you don't have any tool: You need to move as fast as possible to get a PSA system. And, yes, any good system will be good for you.

Many of the promises from the PSA vendors are identical because the core functions will save you a TON of money. Time tracking for clients and employees is the most important function. Having a tool designed specifically for that is critical. And, truth be told, it doesn't matter what it costs.

In other words, anything that provides the core functions of practice management is spectacular.

So, rule #1 is get something. Now the question is, which one.

Why Autotask?

We like Autotask for several reasons. It has a modern interface that is easy to use and extremely well documented.

Autotask has an excellent, mature CRM system that manages quotes very nicely. You CAN use an external quoting system, but it is not necessary as the quoting system built into Autotask works well. It even creates "equotes" that clients can access, with links to external web sites, marketing materials, etc.

Autotask has an excellent, mature project management module that truly integrates every function your company will perform around projects. This includes project integration with team management, material costs, scheduling, etc.

Autotask has a great reporting module that is very flexible and powerful. You won't need to pay a third party to develop a module for getting usable reports here! For example, within the project module, there are 23 default reports. And you can easily create additional reports about just about everything you can think of.

One of the cool features we are looking forward to is the "Community" link right on the top of the Autotask toolbar. I hope someday we'll tease our technicians into clicking on that and learning more about the wider world of being a technical professional. It's easy for the younger, less-experienced techs to see this as a job and not a profession.

There are many other features, of course.

Technical support has been spectacular. Friendly, easy to get to. Both our transition rep and "standard" support channels have been very responsive and timely. Note: We did this transition in three weeks, so timely response was critical to our success. So far, tech support has been perfect.

For us the bottom line is: Autotask is extremely powerful at a reasonable price. In our opinion, it is the most mature product on the market today. Every feature works well, as far as we've seen.

We are very excited about moving to the next level with Autotask.

Changing Tools

In my Managed Services In A Month series, I mentioned that the choice of a practice management tool is "perhaps the most irreversible decision. It's not completely irreversible. But holy smokes, what a pain that would be."

Well, it's not as bad as I thought.

Autotask did a great job of working with us to provide training, to help set up the database to our specifications, and to transfer all the critical information from ConnectWise.

As with any major database migration, not every little bit came over, and not everything was exactly where we expected it to be. But we went in with the attitude that "This is a major undertaking. We all need to be patient with the process. And if we all keep a positive attitude, it will work out great."

That has proven to be true.

The guys and gals at Autotask did a spectacular job of getting us onboard on a very short time schedule. In fact, I think they didn't believe that WE would be able to make the transition in such a short time. But, hey, once we made up our minds, we just proceeded to the new goal.

Here's the most important thing to remember about such a change:

Once you understand the mentality of a PSA system, then the migration is very manageable. Tickets are tickets. Time entries are time entries. Agreements/Contracts are agreements/contracts.

Each of these is handled differently in the different systems, of course, but that's 99.9% a training issue and not a technology issue.

- - - - -

Change Happens

I know a couple of people will have coronary events when they read this blog post. We've been ConnectWise fans for a long time. Truth is, we still are. It's just no longer the best tool for us.

Let me answer everyone's first question up front: No. Nothing "happened." There was no event. Nothing blew up. No one yelled or screamed or cried. Arnie and I are still friends.

The world just keeps turning.

We re-evaluated our finance tool.

We re-evaluated our service delivery tool.

We re-evaluated our products and line card.

Now we've re-evaluated our PSA system.

As you might have guessed, we are re-tooling our business for 2009. And we're not done yet!

Our business (meaning YOUR business -- the I.T. Consulting Business) keeps changing all the time. I've been telling you for years that you need to keep your eye on the 3-year plan and the 5-year plan. You need to set goals, and you need to take action to move yourself and your company toward those goals.

Did I mention that we're very excited to be starting the new year with Autotask?



  1. I'm on the floor speachless...

  2. Wow. This is really interesting.

    When we did our evaluation of PSA software, a large reason we chose ConnectWise was that all of the companies I would term "best of class" in the IT services industry used ConnectWise. In my HTG group, 10 of 12 companies use ConnectWise. One used AT, and one used a home grown system. Both have since converted to ConnectWise.

    How do you get over not having your data on your server? I know you read the newsgroups and the horror stories about Autotask...

    It will be interesting to read your blog throughout 2009 to see how it plays out!

  3. Thanks for answering my comment with a blog post :)

    EMR Group

  4. WoW! Karl shakin it up at the end of the year... this one really took me by surprise.

    Our company also uses Autotask and while they have had their growing pains in the past (Tom), this last year or so I have really been impressed by how fast they have matured the product, from usability, features & functionality, UI, speed, etc. The Autotask team is great as well.

    As a PSA, they have historically seemed much more open to integrating with whatever your RMM tool of choice may be.

  5. Tom: I went through the same process three years ago and came up with Connectwise as the answer.

    This year I believe the answer has changed.

    I'm not sure what's to get over with regard to not having the data on our server. That's the future, baby.

  6. Jeff: You almost spoiled my announcement! I didn't want to delete your comment, but I also didn't want to respond to it.


  7. Ouch. I'm guessing Arnie is gonna be at your doorstep with the knife in his mouth in 3..2..1..


  8. Karl, one of the reasons that I love coming to your blog, listening to your conference calls, and listening to you talk at conferences is that you are very open minded and not set in your ways. If something better comes along, you are open minded enough to see it as an opportunity.

    We all need to be open to other ideas and products so that we are able to stay current with our businesses.

    Thank you Karl!

  9. Karl, I never thought the day would come when I would hear you change to AutoTask :-).. When I was looking at a PSA tool, I settled on Connectwise because it seemed a better option and the biggest thing for me was that the data is stored on premis.

    I do wish you luck with the AutoTask, and look forward to reading some more posts as to how its going.

  10. So...why did you switch?

    You mentioned a few things Autotask does well, but Connectwise does those as well. I tried Autotask but was so frustrated with the speed and amount of clicks to do anything that I'm close to spending the money on Connectwise.

  11. Wow this one really took me by surprise. It's like Tiger Woods dropping Nike :)

    I have tried AutoTask myself and the #1 reason why I didn't like it was the amount of pop up windows that you have go through to do anything. I'm not sure if that has changed now.

    Good luck and please keep us posted with the transition.

  12. For all of you folks who currently use ConnectWise based on an evaluation and purchase decision made some time ago, one thing to keep in mind is that we live in a very dynamic world. You, among all people, should be sensitive to the pace at which technology changes.

    Autotask Corporation is a software company dedicated to serving the IT service industry. It's all we do. We're not a solution provider that developed a piece of software to sell to our friends. We have a huge development team here in the US and in China so that we can code 24 hours a day, and we have terrific financial backing that has allowed us to continue to invest in our infrastructure. And we have a robust customer service department focused on ensuring the success of our users.

    In the past year alone we have made some huge improvements to the UI, the performance, the feature set, and the other products with which we integrate.

    And, because we are a hosted solution, we can roll out these improvements very quickly and seamlessly without downloads, patches, updates, installs, conflicts, back-ups, etc.

    Change is scary for everyone -- even if it's for the better -- and inertia is a very difficult thing to overcome. We commend Karl for taking stock in his business operations and making the changes that he feels will position him for growth. And we're delighted that all of our hard work over the past year has earned his business.

    Karl joins 25,000 other IT service pros who also believe that our hosted software represents a great solution today, and the best bet for the future.

    If anyone reading this hasn't seen Autotask recently, we'd be happy to arrange for a personal, one-on-one demo at your convenience.

    -- Bob V, CMO
    Autotask Corporation

  13. Congratulations on winning Karl’s business, Bob. ConnectWise knows that’s it’s not easy to gain the confidence of IT services companies making this huge decision. That’s why we’re pleased that our user community grew by over 30% to over 2,000 companies during 2008, including many that are upgrading from other PSA solutions to ConnectWise. Over 20% of the companies that selected us this year contacted us after getting referrals from our existing partners. And all of them had a choice of running our application at their location or ours.

    Competition is good! It makes both of us better. See you on the playing field.

    - Santo Cannone, ConnectWise

  14. I thought AutoTask didn't integrate with Zenith. Speaking with Zenith, they said their API for AutoTask is at least six months away and only ConnectWise is supported now.

  15. True, they're not completely integrated yet. That just makes Zenith's job that much harder.

    My understanding is that they're working hard on this and that all sides believe they would benefit from a fuller integration.

    Just another bump on the road of life.

  16. Hi Karl - how about an update after month 1?
    We are AT users for 2 years & I'm looking at moving the other way? How are you coping with all the things which AT doesn't do & the speed of navigation around the interface?

  17. Fair enough, Edmund.

    The transition is going very well.

    So far we haven't found anything that worked in ConnectWise that doesn't work in Autotask.

    In most areas, we don't have all the experience we need to make a full evaluation. But for all the things we use regularly, we're very happy.

    As for speed, I think there's a perception issue. At times, I wait a bit for a window to open. But when you take a step back and look at the time it takes to walk through creating a contract or invoicing a client, both of those processes are noticably faster in AT.

    And I'll tell you this: You couldn't possible switch the other way and be up to speed in 30 days.

    January was a busy month, and I was out of town the entire last week. So I still need to learn a bunch of stuff in AT.

    So far, it's doing a great job for us.

  18. Hello everyone,

    Karl, I want to congratulate you on making a switch in your PSA software. At Tigerpaw, we’re well aware of the challenges involved in doing so – you are a brave man.  For everyone else considering a switch, I encourage you to consider Tigerpaw. We’ve been automating IT companies for 25 years. We are THE ONLY complete, end-to-end solution. With Tigerpaw, you have full CRM (contact management and scheduling), opportunity management, a complete quoting and proposal generating system, a massively robust service and contract management module, serialized tracking, bar coding support, document management, and the best inventory control in the business; all in one program – all in one SQL database. All of our code is written and our support performed here in the US, at our headquarters, and we average less than 3 minutes response time on our #800 support line. In addition, we don’t make you designate a “champion” and restrict your support to that one person; everyone in your company can call for support. Couple that with expert engineering, a CONCURRENT LICENSING model, a SQL database that sits on YOUR server, and the fact that you own your software and aren’t stuck paying rental fees until you die and you’ll see that we’re committed to your success. With integrations to Level Platforms, Kaseya, and N-Able all in final beta plus real-time integration to Exchange Server and Networkfleet, we are a compelling company. Our biggest failing has been simply flying under the radar for too long. But as many of you can attest (by having seen us at over 15 industry shows last year), that is changing. In fact, I look forward to meeting many of you at Robin Robin’s boot camp in April!

    James Foxall
    Vice President, Tigerpaw Software (

  19. This is useful as my team and I are currently evaluating Autotask and ConnectWise. Perhaps I missed something. While I certainly appreciate all the positives associated with Autotask, I didn't understand the real business case behind the switch? Also to the group, ConnectWise purports to have a hosted option now. I would appreciate a reaction from anyone who's tried it out.


  20. I was wondering how has it been now that it has been close to 3 months using Autotask. We are looking both at Connectwise and Autotask just wondering what your toughts were now that you have been using it for a while.


Feedback Welcome

Please note, however, that spam will be deleted, as will abusive posts.

Disagreements welcome!