What is availability reporting? Ask this question to five different managed service providers (MSPs) and you’ll hear five different answers. These differing opinions come as a result of what constitutes availability—what’s important to one client isn’t important to another.
Monitoring and measuring the IT services that MSPs provide is an important activity to ensure availability levels are being consistently met. In a very competitive market, process automation is key for MSPs. The more an MSP can streamline and improve efficiencies, the more productive they become, keeping staff levels to a minimum, while making services affordable and competitive, fueling the possibilities to increase the number of service offerings to the customer base.
In today’s always-on environments, maintaining availability is essential. For example, 79 percent say they’ll retry an app once or twice. There's only a slim 16 percent chance of them retrying it more than two times. Put another way, it's 84 percent likely that the business will be lost, probably to a competitor. While systems and applications continue to become more complex to support, reliance on IT is at an all-time high and getting higher.
The MSP market continues to be very much a growth market. According to the Market Research Future website, the global managed services market is expected to reach $245 billion by the end of 2022 with 11% CAGR during forecast period 2016-2022.
How Do I Show Service Availability?
With MSPs offering both hosted and RMM (remote monitoring and management) services, the underlying reason why clients engage with MSPs can vary widely from not having their own staff to wanting fixed-cost monthly management to separating legacy from core business applications.
If you’re a managed service provider, how can you best prove that you’re managing—or exceeding—client expectations?
This proof comes in the form regular service reviews. To facilitate this discussion, an availability report is normally compiled and discussed. This report provides management with timely and accurate information illustrating the services that the MSP provides to the client.
The report should be made up of four sections:
- Management summary
This provides a high-level preview of the services provided, along with clear indicators of service-level agreements (SLAs) and whether they were met over the measured period.
- Visual aid
Straight-forward graphs and tables that illustrate the management summary and are easy to interpret. They may indicate why a service level may not have been met.
- Service improvement
This section provides service details from the measured period, depicting how the MSP can work with the customer to make improvements to the service, ultimately benefitting the business.
- Breakdown of details
These are the nuts and bolts that would be used at a technical level.
Availability reports form the foundation for the next measurement period. By following this versatile, four-tiered approach, the report also becomes more useful to a broader range of staff.
Availability reporting should clearly state the measurement period and provide the basis for all calculations shown. Additionally, it should translate specific IT availability into a language that the business can understand. This is measured under the heading of service-level agreements, so any report produced should clearly indicate these SLAs and, more importantly, show where service availability deviates from agreed services levels.
For example, clients are not normally interested if the CPU on a server has been running at 99 percent busy for 60 minutes, but they do care if this impacts their response times, or worse, causes an application to be inaccessible to the user community. In addition, clients are not overly interested in positive notifications; they want and need the exceptions to be highlighted.
What Are the Benefits of Availability Reporting?
So, what benefits can managed service providers expect from well-implemented availability reporting?
- Centralized, automated management reporting
Regular availability reports should be able to be produced automatically within minutes and should not consume hours of time for technicians or management—this is dead time.
- Optional, self-service reporting to the client base
Helping clients to self-serve not only saves time but also gives a powerful impression that MSPs are fully transparent.
- Increased client satisfaction
Increased visibility paired with reports that are easy to read and understand leads to a closer working relationship with clients. Well-produced reporting should act as reason to get around the table with clients—the more you talk to clients, the closer the working relationship you will have with them.
- A way to analyze past trends in order to illustrate continuous improvements
MSPs often neglect a continuous improvement process. By reporting on what has happened, which action was subsequently taken, and what has been put in place to ensure that similar future outages impacting SLAs don’t happen again, MSPs can demonstrate a strong proactive approach.
- Custom-made, ready-to-use templates
Even with differing client requirements and services being provided, they are all still variations on a theme. It’s far easier and faster to change an existing report than to reinvent the wheel from the beginning each time.
Can I Automate Availability Reporting?
With MSPs looking after many different clients in disparate sectors, running a variety of applications across a mixed set of platforms, consistent and concise availability reporting can be hard to put together. Availability reporting, and therefore availability monitoring, needs to be flexible in order to meet diverse client requirements. Having the ability to tag any piece of hardware, operating system, or an application metric and use it as part of a measured SLA is important as MSPs strive to create individually tailored client availability reporting.
Outside of the regular, structured availability reporting comes real-time exception reporting, normally directly from installed monitoring and management solutions. These solutions should help minimize, or in some cases completely eliminate, manual monitoring checks. Studies have shown that as much as 80 percent of manual checks are actually checking things where the results turn out to be positive.
MSP support staff manage hundreds—even thousands—of alerts managed each day, so keeping this number to an absolute minimum should be the goal. Effectively managing real-time notifications can help you quickly identify situations that could potentially break service-level agreements.
By reporting today’s performance metrics and analyzing past trends, availability reporting connects MSP and client goals to ensure optimal availability.