The Evolving MSP

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AIOps Key to MSP Survival in the AI Revolution

P.E.B.K.A.C. If you're not familiar with this acronym, it refers to the part of the network that network engineers say is the hardest for them to manage: the user. Also known as "The Part Existing Between the Keyboard And the Chair." The user is considered hardest to manage because they're human. Unlike digital devices, they don't respond the same way to the same instruction given repeatedly. They have good and bad moods. They become distracted. They make mistakes. They are, simply, unpredictable. That's tough to manage.

As I look around at what my journalist colleagues and I are writing and presenting about current IT events, I find the pages filled with stories of artificial intelligence (AI) and its progeny, Microsoft Bing/Sydney, Google Bard, Copilot and many others. A plethora of platforms are incorporating virtual assistants to take notes for you, summarize meetings for you, call out action items to assign and more. As they do, more and more users are shaking in their boots, waiting for those AI assistants to take over for them, eliminating the need for them, replacing them with a consistent, reliable, manageable alternative. It seems everyone is starting to forget who is the programmer and who is the program.

Bringing relief to these users requires training. Ask yourself, who do you partner with today to provide end-user training? What are they suggesting your customers need? Is it enough? From the earliest days of "solution selling," we acknowledged that it was as important to identify and fill the need for training as it was to identify and fill the business operational needs. Without trained users, technology sits idle and returns nothing on the customer's investments. That hasn't changed.

Then, of course, there's Skynet. Every Terminator movie reminds us that the day will come when the machines take over. Programmed to protect the planet, they realize that the greatest threat to its continued existence is us, people. So, they commence the process of eliminating us. Lest you think the producers of this successful movie franchise are the only ones who hold serious existential concerns, I pulled back the following three quotes from an article I wrote in 2017. Important to note who is being quoted:

"I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence. First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that, though, the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don't understand why some people are not concerned." --Bill Gates

"I hope we're not just the biological boot loader for digital superintelligence. Unfortunately, that is increasingly probable. AI is our biggest existential threat." --Elon Musk

"The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete, and would be superseded." --The late Dr. Stephen Hawking

Not exactly a trio of intellectual slouches. And these opinions were issued six years ago now. If these undeniable geniuses (at least one also a suspected madman) express such concerns, we are somewhat forced to share them.

What Does This All Mean to MSPs?
Given that this column is called "The Evolving MSP" we need to examine all the potential paths our evolution might take, right?

We're also talking a lot lately about AIOps, the application of AI to help manage and support IT operations. Think of a network traffic monitor scrolling madly by on the display. To identify anomalies, you need to identify unusual patterns in the data, and do it in real time -- not possible for humans, but easy for digital devices, especially when they're equipped with machine learning (ML) and AI. So, we train the AI to recognize hazardous patterns and set it loose to find them. As it does, it learns more and more about the traffic and how to analyze it. In other words, it is constantly getting better at what it does.

I've never met any IT professional who will admit to enjoying watching network traffic scroll by on the display, nor any who will claim to be able to recognize anything going on in that data. So having AI and ML take this on for you solves many problems and frees you to focus higher up the challenge tree.

The Next Word You Must Focus On
Go to one the many IT glossaries and look up "managed service provider." Most of the definitions will sound reactive: MSPs monitor networks looking to identify problems and resolve them. It doesn't seem like they're expected to provide any ounce of prevention to prevent pounds of cure. But from my perspective, the next step in our evolution as MSPs -- or any kind of IT service provider -- is to become proactive.

Many of you are probably protesting that you're already proactive. Bravo to you! And still others are saying, "Hey, I left proactive behind long ago to be predictive." Sounds great!

I've often compared our evolution to that of the medical profession: We start out as generalists and eventually become specialists. Applying that analogy here, I'm called to think about sports medicine. There are many specialists who serve elite athletes by helping them recover from injuries promptly so they can return to competition. If you think about it, that's where our elite MSPs are today -- see the problem, fix the problem. Then there are specialists who focus on helping athletes maximize their abilities. They examine the patient to see where they can help make significant improvements, increase lung capacity, build more muscles precisely where they're needed, sculpt body musculature.

Given AIOps' ability to take care of the "grunt" work of monitoring and resolving incidents, the most forward-thinking MSPs start looking toward becoming more coach-like. They come into the datacenter or the MSP practice to identify ways to improve performance, increase revenue, drive better customer experiences and higher customer satisfaction achievements. They make customers' IT work better, faster and at lower cost.

Think about your customer's response were you to repeat what I just said to them. Implement AIOps so you can take your practice proactive, predictive and more profitable.

Posted by Howard M. Cohen on April 27, 2023