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Next Steps for Autotask to be a Huge, Overwhelming Success

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Having a blog that has roughly 40k unique visitors a month gives me a platform to praise and rant. Today, a bit of a rant. photo credit: GDC Europe Monday Keynote Warren Spector of Junction Point via photopin (license) It goes without saying that any company that has anything but the simplest of needs will use specific industry software to meet those needs. Well, hopefully. There are companies that do everything by hand even when they have a good book of business to manage—or they take a hodgepodge of software and try to string it together….

 
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It goes without saying that any company that has anything but the simplest of needs will use specific industry software to meet those needs.

Well, hopefully. There are companies that do everything by hand even when they have a good book of business to manage—or they take a hodgepodge of software and try to string it together. When I’ve come across those companies they promise that everything is “just like we like it” but then you find them do so many manual processes and “fixes” that you can’t help but wonder how much their margin would improve with more automation.

Here at Puryear IT we’re currently working very hard to automate everything we can right now. For us, we utilize Autotask Professional Services Automation (PSA) to manage our company. It’s pretty good at many things and not very good at a few things. Its main competitors are ConnectWise (CW) and Tigerpaw, but there are certainly many other PSAs out there.

I hear complaints about Autotask because it can be complex. I’ve actually investigated other options, such as CW, but then I find users that have the exact same complaints. So it really comes down to the old Ford vs. Chevy debate in many ways. The best bet of course is to find the solution that best fits your needs and to really dig deep into it to customize it for those needs. Overall, Autotask is really a rock-solid platform on which we can continue to build Puryear IT.

Yet, there are problems with Autotask. Some under the hood and one far worse. In this blog I’m going to talk about the superficial issues and then get to the real problem.

The superficial problems with Autotask are mainly that it has a steep learning curve and some of its modules are relatively weak, e.g., it’s CRM. We use the CRM and it’s functional, but it’s a far cry from Salesforce or even Zoho.

But honestly that’s not a big deal. Or it shouldn’t be. Why? Autotask has an API so you can develop your own solution and hook into it. Great! Salesforce really is nothing but an API and a nice WebUI to hook users. (Very smart approach.) Taking that approach, we’ve automated a ton of things behind the scenes recently, from project scheduling to closing out contracts automatically when work is done. My goal is to automate all of the work an Autotask Administrator would need to do.

But there is a big problem lurking here. The Autotask API has almost fully exposed all of the areas where it is strong. The Service Desk, where Autotask shines (when properly configured), has almost every feature exposed via the API. Autotask Contracts is another very strong module and, again, just about every feature available in Autotask Contracts is exposed via the API. How wonderful is that!

Yet, if you dig into the areas where Autotask is weak, such as the CRM, Billing, User Profiles, Employee Training and Certifications, well, those weak areas are not well exposed at all via the API.

This is exactly opposite of what you would want.

One of the big wins of CW is that CW is not just a product but an entire ecosystem of solutions. There are an absolute ton of add-ons, widgets, dashboards, and other optimizations available for CW. Yes, Autotask has a partner marketplace, but compared to CW there really is a gap here for Autotask to cross.

And that gap is the API and the near silence of Autotask in aggressively supporting and pushing for its own ecosystem. If you go to the Autotask developer forums there is almost nobody there. Where is the developer conference? Where is Autotask going after big and small shops that want to automate, optimize, and otherwise add on to Autotask?

Here is a roadmap that Autotask should follow to build out a true ecosystem of users and a marketplace:

  1. Staff the Developer Forums.
  2. Actively encourage people to participate in the Developer Forums.
  3. Develop a specific support track for small ISV’s that want to build out Autotask solutions.
  4. Expose in the API where Autotask is weak! Let the market solve the problems for you.
    1. Expose all of CRM, e.g., Contact Groups
    2. Billing (yes, we know, BillingItems is exposed but it’s weird and tricky if you want to do anything other than report from it or create some BillingItems–don’t get me started about Approve&Post automation)
    3. Expose all of the User Profile, e.g., User Picture
    4. Expose all of the HR components, e.g., Certifications, Training
    5. Expose all of the Account, e.g., Billing Email Address, Billing Address

The gist of my rant is this: Autotask expose the weak pieces of your product via an API. Let the market solve where you are weak so you can focus on where you are strong.

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