My Side of the Fence

The danger isn't going too far. It's that we don't go far enough.

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Connect wise / Labtech implementation

So, you're thinking about migrating to Connectwise and/or Labtech.  First of all, if you aren't already using a ticketing system, you need to get started if you want your business to grow and be able to deliver reliable service to your customers.  Autotask, Connectwise, whatever.  

Autotask and Connectwise are the big boys in the "Professional Services Automation" (PSA) space.  My business has used them both.  We started with an internal program called "tick-tock" that was a web-based app that we wrote in-house.  As we grew we needed ever more features in tick-tock and it took an increasing amount of time to write those features.  At some point I decided we weren't in the software business and we ditched tick-tock in favor of Autotask.

Autotask was great for where we were at that point.  That was probably 4 years ago.  It's a capable platform that integrates with Quickbooks.  I'm sure that it has continued to evolve over the years but 4 years ago we were in a place where we needed help with the business process side of our IT consulting practice.  You know, "how does everyone else do this"?  My business might be unique but I ain't the only person doing this kind questions.  I went to NYC for an Autotask "bootcamp" that I was told would help.  It didn't, it was focused on how to use Autotask….which I already knew.  The AT people at that conference indicated that if I needed process help, I would have to pay their consulting people.  I was hugely frustrated.  I knew there was no need to reinvent the wheel….and that was when I ended up at Chartec.  Chartec is a story in and of itself but suffice to say that they use Connectwise which I had not heard of other than it was horrificly complicated.  Watching them work at Chartec I knew that I needed to at least investigate Connectwise.  Connectwise has documentation and templates for every part of your business.  It's all figured out.  I was sold.

So, going from AT to CW isn't hard on the ticketing side.  They'll help you get setup with departments and service boards.  In that respect it isn't bad.  The billing side – that's a challenge.  CW has something called "agreements" that you, as a business owner or exec, need to stop and get your head around.  They're complicated and integral to billing.  CW also has a larger ecosystem than AT does.  So much stuff integrates with it that you can do almost anything.  Many applications integrate at such a level that they can even update billing information in CW.

Labtech…if CW is a bit of a heavy lift LT is moving mountains.  We migrated from GFI / Maxfocus after their merger with Solarwinds.  There are several reasons for this but chief among them was my belief that Solarwinds was going to merge their two RMM products and it would be a mess.  We were also progressively unhappy with Maxfocus as it seemed that the more they updated the product the more things were broken at one point or another.  We waited years for a MDM solution from them that was never completely baked.  Support was horrid.  Normally the best place to get help was on their Linkedin page – of all places.  Labtech….everything you've heard is true.  Yes, it does nearly anything.  It is amazing.  Yes, you will need a nearly or completely full-time person to make it work.  

Out of the box, labtech doesn't do much.  You have to use the "Ignite" template if you want it to do anything by default.  What does that mean?  Well, if you're familiar at all with Maxfocus, when you install the agent it will, by default, scan the system and decide which checks it will automatically setup.  If it sees a backup configured, it'll monitor it.  By default, Labtech doesn't seem to do that but if you are using Ignite, it will….or that's the way I understand it anyway…and if you modify the Ignite template, you better document it because when you update the Ignite template it will overwrite your changes!  You'll need to get all of your engineers to do the online training.  Unlike GFI/max you can't just login and start.  I don't think we ever trained our engineers on GFImax – you really don' t need to but with LT, it's essential.  You'll end up wasting a lot of time and money if you don't.  I threw a cocktail party for the staff and the price of admission was their labtech certification.  

At this point, we've been on LT for about 7 months and I'll tell you that it will make your MSP much more effective and "sticky".  Yes, it is tough to get your head around and it is expensive but it's worth it.  Dealing with Connectwise can be a bit of a bear.  You should negotiate any quote they send you.  I made LT match my Maxfocus cost for the first couple of years.  They'll want to sell you Webroot as well and Webroot is just "ok".  Lots of false positives and the product doesn't seem well-tested.  Be warned that LT WILL NOT support Webroot.  We had an issue with Webroot crashing a handful of servers – on the same day – (which was a lot of fun) and LT's response was to send me a document on how to call Webroot for support.  They do not stand behind what they sell at all.  In fact, support is the achillies heel in the whole thing.  If AT ever wants to start picking up CW customers, they should amp up their support and advertise it.  

They do have chat support for both CW and LT and, even though the wait times have continued to increase, it isn't bad.  However, if you cannot resolve your case via chat, you might as well forget it.  It'll be days before you get a call back and many times the person on the phone seems like they might have just finished a shift at the local gas station.  Your Account Manager is generally non-responsive but your salesman will be so if you need anything you need to loop him in on any email.  Yes, their support sucks that bad.  Better off getting on the labtechgeek slack channel.

In closing I would say that if you are self-reliant and can use alternative resources to support yourself, LT & CW are the way to go.  Honestly, CW doesn't require much in the way of support.  Once you get past the agreements and some of the integration, it just works.  LT can be a bit dicier but it is the best RMM out there.  If you're a small shop, I'd forget it and go with something else.  If you're north of 5 people and your business is growing, it's what I would recommend.


Deport them all! A retrospective

Our president-elect has vowed, over the past year or so, to deport some number of immigrants, illegal and otherwise.  The number seems to continue to fall as reality settles upon Trump tower but we're still talking about millions of humans.  I've been at the sharp end of this particular stick and I'd like to share some of my recollections and thoughts:

First of all, what Trump is talking about doing – the deportation of criminal illegal aliens – is nothing new.  Ya'll that have been around here long enough will remember a federal program called 287(g).  This program allowed localities, under specific guidelines negotiated with the Federal Gov't, to place "immigration detainers" on people who had been arrested for a specific set of crimes and who were determined to be here illegally.  Under the agreement, ICE would train locally-provided officers on how to do the background research on ICE-provided computers.

In Manassas, there was some discussion about this program when I was first elected.  Jackson Miller was the main proponent but I thought it was a good idea as well so I supported it.  Jackson was hot to trot about Manassas having our own ICE program but the "best practice" for this program was to do all of this screening where you process folks who were arrested so we struck a deal with the County to have a 287(g) program at the Jail.  I think that ultimately the County and the City had their own 287 agreements but we never did anything with them – the jail was where this all took place.

To get the ball rolling, we reached out to ICE and indicated that we were interested and they came out and met with us.  That was an interesting meeting.  The ICE guys explained a lot about the program – to start with they were like "we ain't deporting everyone you can lay your hands on".  Period.  ICE was interested in deporting people who are both here illegally and who had committed a felony.  The City pushed back somewhat on including folks who were chronic offenders…10 drunk in public arrests or DUI, that kind of thing.  The ICE folks agreed with that.  We were talking about deporting illegal aliens who had committed serious crimes, sound familiar?

An interesting tidbit from that meeting: there is now and there was then this mantra around "ship their asses home".  It ain't that simple.  Many times their home country doesn't want them back.  We're like, "hey, we're bringing some of your people back" and the home country is like "you kids stop crank calling me!….<click>".  So those people with immigration detainers end up sitting in an ICE facility for some fair amount of time.  Not an argument either way, just a fact.  The ICE guys did allude to at least occasionally putting these folks on a plane and landing without permission and chasing everyone off the plane but that seemed like a pretty extreme situation.  If you think about the logistics of landing a large airplane at any decent airport, you'll agree that it's a bad idea.

The other thing to remember about 287(g) is that most of the cost is borne by the locality.  The officers who did the immigration research and processing were paid for by local taxpayers, not the federal government.  It also takes a lot of time for officers to process these folks.  I think the Chief indicated that helping process an immigration detainer took an officer off the street for four (?) hours.  We also have to house those folks for some amount of time – ICE doesn't just swing by with a bus and whisk everyone away.  Illegal aliens or not they are tried and, if convicted, served their time before they were handed over to ICE for deportation….and it could be weeks before ICE came to get them after they were notified.  After all, they have similar constraints in terms of jail space that we do.

At the end of the day, our local 287 program was very successful.  County-wide, we handed hundreds and hundreds of criminals over to ICE for deportation.  I've lost track of what the program looks like now but the Obama administration watered it down several times – first it was "Secure Communities" and then "PEP".  The upshot of both of those seems to be that the Feds removed the locals from the process and now only deport whatever people they see fit to deport.  That's too bad because the old program worked very well.  I expect that if Mr. Trump is serious about deporting illegal aliens his program will end up looking more like 287(g) and less like PEP…or maybe have elements of both.  Just remember, whatever action the Feds take, it is going to cost local tax dollars at some point.

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