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Faced with stiff competition from rivals that puts downward pressure on margins, solution providers are paying a lot more attention these days to their internal processes. After all, every step saved lowers operating costs in a way that drops directly to the bottom line.

In addition, more control over their operations also means they are capturing more of the time they spend serving customers, which enables solution providers to increase revenue by more accurately billing for their services.

To meet that challenge, many solution providers have embraced professional services automation (PSA) platforms, such as those from ConnectWise, to improve their overall profitability. Now ConnectWise is turning that PSA platform into a cloud service.

ConnectWise CloudConsole, announced Nov. 13 at the IT Nation 2015 conference, is a cloud services management and billing tool for IT service providers that is hosted on Amazon Web Services. At the moment, the ConnectWise CloudConsole only works with Microsoft Office 365. But in 2016, ConnectWise will add support for other cloud applications and services, including the Microsoft Azure cloud, according to CEO Arnie Bellini.

The ConnectWise CloudConsole is intended to help solution providers stay relevant in the age of the cloud by maintaining control of how cloud services are used and consumed, Bellini said. Now that Microsoft has created a Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider program under which its channel partners take ownership of Microsoft cloud services, Microsoft Office 365 was the most logical place to apply a PSA platform in the cloud, he explained.

ConnectWise is deliberately blurring the lines between where a PSA platform ends and remote monitoring and management (RMM) platforms begin. For that reason, ConnectWise is working on tightly integrating its PSA software with the LabTech RMM, ScreenConnect and Quosal software it owns within the context of a ConnectWise Business Suite of software.

ConnectWise is not requiring solution providers to use its RMM or any of its other software modules. The platform includes open APIs that can be used to integrate the company’s PSA with any other RMM platform.

However, over time, all the company’s software will share a common user interface that will lead to a level of integration across its software that solution providers will provide a superior user experience that will increase their overall efficiency, Bellini said. For example, ConnectWise is already working on adding support for GPSes that can be used to automatically capture where technicians are located and the optimal route they should take to their next jobs.

ConnectWise has some 7,000 solution providers using its PSA software and 5,000 solution providers using its Labtech RMM software. But only 1,000 of its customers are using all its software offerings. The bigger challenge is getting more solution providers to embrace PSA. Bellini estimates that only about half the solution providers in the channel are using some type of PSA software. On the plus side, ConnectWise is seeing about a 10 percent increase in terms of its customer base every year, Bellini said.

Perhaps, most significant is the fact that the solution providers that do use PSAs are among the strongest and healthiest companies in an IT channel where the margin for error is getting smaller each day.

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for more than 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.