The MSP 9to5: Meet Ollie Strickland, Bitstream

We were interested to see what it was like to operate on a day-to-day basis as an MSP, so we talked to Bitstream founder Ollie Strickland about what his day looks like, what obstacles Bitstream’s had to overcome, and how they manage it all.

Every morning, Ollie Strickland, founder of Bitstream Consulting wakes up with a plan for what he thinks he is going to do that day; many days he is wrong.

Meet your friendly neighborhood MSP: Bitstream’s backstory

manages IT environments all across the southeastern United States from its headquarters in Atlanta, GA. In Ollie’s case, that means being responsible for the entire computing and telecom environments for every one of his clients, the majority of whom (roughly 80%) are big time automotive companies.

Everyday MSP hustling

Founder of Bitstream, Ollie StricklandMost car dealers operate between 7am and 8 or 9pm six days a week and do over $150,000 in sales on any given day. That means that any IT downtime can be extremely expensive, and isn’t something that those companies can afford to tolerate. Bitstream’s job is to make absolutely certain that their systems do not falter.

On a typical day, Bitstream will deal with computer and printer failures, software installations, email creation and deletion, and new equipment installations. Some of these things the company knows about in advance and can prepare for… some of them they can’t. All of them need to be addressed as quickly as possible so that the client can move on with business as usual.

All of this comes together to mean that after a fairly routine breakfast time, Ollie’s day is subject to change at the drop of a hat.

So how does Bitstream balance the high demand of maintaining an IT system with the need to be timely and also work to expand its own customer base?

Ollie offers two favorite words: “automation” and “standardization.” Unlike many competitors, when Bitstream onboards a new customer, they don’t simply assume management of the existing IT infrastructure; they scrap the whole thing and implement one that they’ve built themselves from scratch. That means that if something goes wrong, Ollie and co don’t waste time trying to reverse engineer an unfamiliar system; they instead have an exhaustive understanding of all Bitstream managed systems. Having every IT environment built upon the same streamlined framework means that they all operate more smoothly and with predictability.

Automation is a little bit more complicated:

There is so much that computers can’t do – build relationships, generate original content, come up with new ideas. You need humans to do all of those things, so let’s really optimize on the things we can use computers for – running all the more formulaic tasks so that we can focus on the creative ones.”

says Ollie Strickland.

How to get your work done without doing it yourself

Ollie’s three top tips for getting automated:

  1. Outsource, outsource, outsource. Ollie uses services like Zendesk to manage his customer service and Panorama9 to monitor his clients’ IT environments for states that have the potential to develop into real problems. He also considers Panorama9 to be an invaluable software patch management system.
    Zendesk makes interfacing with Bitstream’s clients easier and more seamless. It has a direct ticketing option and a self-help portal so that Ollie and his team are spared from having to intercede on problems that clients can fix themselves. Panorama9 tracks the health and status of every device in the IT ecosystems that Bitstream builds for its clients, so that Bitstream gets warning about IT issues and can address them before the client has to call and issue a complaint.
  2. But the real advantage emerges when these two cloud services are coupled. Panorama9 fills in knowledge gaps and injects time-saving information about IT infrastructure right into the Zendesk ticket. Example – in the past, we wasted time daily asking clients to provide private IP addresses of devices they needed assistance with; now that data is just part of the ticket. The users don’t need to know a thing about IP addresses; and they shouldn’t have to,”

    Ollie Strickland adds.

  3. Invest more time now to save time later. Developing its own IT ecosystem and implementing it for all new clients is a big time investment for Bitstream, but the payoff in time saved once the project is completed is orders of magnitude greater. Standardization lends predictability and allows for process that can scale and be repeated across the client base.
  4. Expect some emergencies. Ollie structures his commitments with plenty of cushion, so that when big issues come up, Bitstream can deal with them immediately without getting derailed.

Ollie is all about maintaining a smooth-as-possible forward momentum. When he first graduated from University of Georgia with a degree in computer science, the dot com bubble had just burst and IT jobs were scarce. Instead, Ollie had to take on a sales role at a telecom.

That seeming obstacle (being thrust into a career path he hadn’t wanted) became an asset when Ollie not only sold the telecom products, but then volunteered to act as voice and data vendor for his customers, performing many of the cutovers himself. Learning to cold call and sell telecom also made him fearless with sales operations. Ollie laughed,

If you can survive walking into hundreds of businesses and asking them to change their phone service, you will later find it an absolute joy to sell your MSP services.
It’s all about moving forward. Avoid all the obstacles you can and find advantages in the one’s you can’t.”

Bitstream generally wraps up its day at around dinnertime, but there are no guarantees. The only true rule is that the job must get done; the client must have operational systems. Everything else is secondary.

I save 2-4 hours a day just by using a few key software services. Those hours translate to more time directly servicing clients and more time finding new ones.”

Ollie Strickland, founder of Bitstream Consulting.

How to to do it for yourself

Want to make your own operation as smooth and efficient as Ollie’s? Here’s how to implement Ollie’s efficiency tips from above in your own work day.

  • Seek out services that make your life easier and add more value to your business than they cost. Consider the financial/labor investments you’d make in each product compared to the money and time you’d save. If you’re an MSP like Bitstream, check out the two that Ollie recommended: Zendesk and Panorama9.
  • Develop standard operating procedures and implement them across your entire client base. Also standardize hardware and software; make your choices and then take an exhaustive approach and achieve mastery over them.
  • Document emergency procedures, and simulate them in a lab environment. This is an investment you won’t regret it when it comes time to use them in a production scenario.

Thanks, Ollie, for taking the time to tell us more about your best practices. As you can see, automating your IT processes is the way to go!

To learn more about how Ollie automates his IT systems using Panorama9 and Zendesk, check out our case study.

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