An open letter to ConnectWise

For the last year, my company has been wrestling with a PSA – Professional Services Automation – tool named ConnectWise. Despite a year of effort – on our part and theirs – the tool has not worked effectively for us. What follows is my “last straw” email to ConnectWise.


Hello,

I think there was a bit of a misunderstanding, so please read the following email carefully and if there is any misunderstanding, call me directly so that I may clarify.

We have had it. We have been trying to make ConnectWise work for over a year, and it simply does not work for us. Let me clarify that I am not saying that when I double-click the icon, the program doesn’t fire up, although that has been the case at times. I mean that yes, your software has features and yes, technically, it could meet our needs, but it is so convoluted as to be nearly impossible to use effectively. We have been using ConnectWise for all of our client ticketing and timekeeping for over a year now, and it has been a miserable experience. It’s not that we don’t know the product or haven’t used it; we know it all too well and it’s time to step back and reexamine our position.

Not a week has gone by where either I or my operations manager were not cursing ConnectWise for one thing or another. I have been an IT professional for twenty years. I have used a computer since elementary school. I have served clients ranging from individuals with home computer problems to Fortune 10 corporations.

And never before have we felt such displeasure or disdain for a software solution.

Today I heard about the new features coming in 2015, and, with the exception of the new email features – which I admit do sound nice – they are a blatant attempt to catch up with Autotask’s new UI announced earlier this year. While a convoluted, complex, buggy UI has been a cause of much consternation among my staff, it does not end there. On the backend, we have experienced extremely poor performance. During the first several months of using the product, the desktop performance was ungodly poor. We were told to just use the web version. While this worked for my techs, it did me absolutely no good as my primary job functions required access to the sales, marketing, finance, and accounting interface features, which are not available on the web version. After the 2014 release, which admittedly improved performance, we still experienced other poor performance issues. Any attempts to update multiple activities take several seconds or sometimes even a minute to process, and when dealing with multiple activities throughout the day, day after day, these add up, especially when clients are on the phone and you’re waiting to get something done.

This leads me to another concern: The “ConnectWise way” of doing things seems to just assume that things are going to run slowly and take a long time to complete. It’s no wonder Arnie Bellini claims we will increase profits when it takes an extra 5% of time just to create and close a ticket entry! As someone who has historically run lean, mean, and with high profit margins, I cannot stand this cumbersome overhead that ConnectWise has added. Let me point out that I did not say ConnectWise is too “robust,” but when the lady on the phone suggested that was the problem, I decided to take the path of least resistance and just go with it. ConnectWise is too convoluted, cumbersome, and clunky. When experienced IT personnel who have been in the industry look at the screen to create a new ticket or “agreement,” and say “what the f— is that,” you don’t have a “robust” solution, you have a needlessly complex one.

There are other things that just do not align with our way of thinking. ConnectWise staff think nothing of using a “block time/one time” “agreement” to create a monthly recurring contract. In the language we use, using the phrase “one time” to describe a recurring contract is not just stupid, it is wrong. Similarly, it makes no sense to us that one would need to mark time as “billable” in an “agreement” where the client won’t be billed for it, yet that’s standard ConnectWise practice. Similarly, we call them contracts, not “agreements.” Don’t ask me why, but that has just rubbed us the wrong way from day one. We call them contracts, out colleagues call them contracts, and our clients call them contracts – in our world, they’re contracts. On that same note, we have clients, not customers – there is a difference.

Along those same lines, ConnectWise seems to assume that we will have a dispatcher, yet we do not. We’ve never needed to dedicate someone to this, as my staff have been intelligent and trustworthy enough to monitor and take tickets on their own. For a presently small organization such as ours, the additional overhead of a dedicated staff member just to handle dispatch is simply not practical.

Our onboarding process was rough, to say the least. There was a chasmic disconnect between us and our implementer, who did not seem to grasp core concepts to our way of doing business, such as a retainer. Note: in case this is a foreign concept to you, this is where someone pays us an amount of cash which we then work against until exhausted, at which point the retainer is replenished. This is a very common practice among professional services firms, yet our implementer appeared to have no concept of what we were talking about while trying to create these. At our implementer’s advice, we created several departments and roles and other things that we simply do not need. Our processes can be simply broken down into internal, sales, and support. We did not need so many departments and work roles and work types, and their creation simply caused confusion, wasted time, and billing errors (which we were still sorting out as of our last billing cycle).

Among this list of things that are just plain sloppy was a delinquent customer status which displayed a popup, informing the resource that the customer was far behind on payments, and to “offer to transfer the call to Rosanna.” There’s no Rosanna with us, but we assume there is – or was at one point – one with ConnectWise, and she lives on in the templates you’re supplying your customers.

Later on, when I asked about contractor accounts, I was told by my account rep that there was an option to use a contractor account, but that we really should use something called StreamlineIT because it was “exactly the same only cheaper.” With an offer like that, why would I ever choose a contractor account? Simple: because they’re NOT exactly the same. Only after setting up one of our contractors with a StreamlineIT account and finding out – In typical ConnectWise fashion, after several hours of troubleshooting and several confused clients – that it was because of this that invoices on which he worked were watermarked “for reference only.” Again, sloppy. Nobody selling your services should be telling your customers that two products are the same when they are clearly different.

Back to terminology again for a moment. I know you like to refer to us as “partners,” but we are not. We are not even your clients. We are your customers, and we are not happy. I would recommend you look up the definitions of these words in hopes that an understanding would bubble up to the top, but it is clear that the ConnectWise culture is set in stone and, again, it does not fit with ours.

Your mobile app… I’m going to save everyone’s time here and just say it’s a complete, utter joke.

Believe it or not, I could continue on for quite some time, but I would hope that, by this time, I have made my point.
Admittedly, given that ConnectWise is either the largest or second largest (it seems to depend on the day and who you ask) PSA in your space, obviously there are firms out there that use and love your product, and I am not denying this. However, we are not one of them. Due to the factors I’ve outlined, among others, it should be clear now that we are not a fit – something we have had to invest considerable time and money to discover.

We have done our part. We have made every effort to make ConnectWise work for us, to the point of even changing how we did business in an attempt to make it work for us, and that is just plain wrong. Your tool should work for your customers, not force them to bend to your methods.

At this point, we are making plans to move to another PSA. Prior to signing up, we were told that should we decide to leave, we would be provided with a MSSQL backup of our database. We would sincerely appreciate your cooperation in providing us with that at this time so that we can examine the data and prepare to import it into another system. We are hoping to migrate to another system by the end of the year, and would hope to terminate our agreement with ConnectWise at this time.

Thank you for your time, your understanding, and your assistance with this.

Peter

Peter Nikolaidis
CISSP, GCFE, GPPA, GSNA, SCA-UTM
Paradigm Consulting Co.
MA:617.517.2940 * NH:603.676.7119 * VT:802.234.6368

http://pa.radigm.com

A Horribly Wrong Attempt at Doing it Right

For several years, I have made it a practice to have separate email addresses (aliases) for separate purposes. This has made it easy for me to dispose of addresses when I no longer needed them – usually when I no longer wanted to receive emails from parties to whom I’d given the addresses. This also makes it easy to detect, and shut off mail from, companies that add you to their spam lists. Examples include online stores that I’d buy from (store_name@example.com), annoying realtors (city_i_want_to_buy_in@example.com), and addresses I’d use in a variety of online forums (online_dating_profile@hotmail.com). If you own your own domain name, or have a good email provider, this process is generally fairly simple.

Recently, I noticed I wasn’t getting any emails from Meetup.com. I’d just unsubscribed from a bunch of groups and changed others to not email me anymore, and since I hadn’t hosted any events in my group for some time, I didn’t think anything of it. As I’ve spent most of the last couple of months traveling, I did not miss the deluge of notifications of activities I wouldn’t be able to participate in anyway.

Separately from this, I had stopped receiving emails from American Express. I did not really notice this until I attempted to reset a password and never received the confirmation email that was to allow me to make the change. I sent myself a test email, and got it immediately, so I figured it was an issue on their end. As an alternative, I had Amex text me the confirmation code I needed, and promptly forgot about the email problem.

I also stopped receiving emails from Amazon.com, telling me my order had been received. But since I was getting text alerts of the package shipping and delivery status, I felt like I was still in touch with Amazon, so I didn’t think anything of it.

Finally, my financial advisor needed me to sign some electronic documents, and they kept emailing me, telling to sign them. I kept waiting for the forms, coming via Adobe’s document signing service, and they never arrived. Then I started to do some simple math and realize that we had a problem.

So I began to pay attention to this problem and troubleshoot it. My personal email was hosted at a budget hosting provider, and then forwarded to a Gmail account. I would send test emails to myself, and they would show up. I checked my junk mail folders, and searched everywhere, but could not find any recent emails from Amazon, Amex, Meetup, and other vendors, yet my tests came through! Why? Now that I was aware of the problem, I had to know, so after I’d exhausted all the troubleshooting I could do myself, I opened a chat session with my hosting provider. The results were astounding.

But first, a little background information. DNS – Domain Name System – is the service that translates somewhat human-friendly Internet site names, e.g., nikolaidis.com, amazon.com, and example.com, into computer-friendly numbers, e.g., 74.207.233.119, 72.21.194.212, and 93.184.216.119. There are several types of DNS records, and one of them is SPF, short for Sender Policy Framework. This began as a proposal several years ago to allow for some sort of authentication of email.

Most people probably do not realize that, in most cases, it is quite trivial for anyone to send email as just about any address they want, and unless the mail servers’ administrators take deliberate action, there’s nothing stopping this. This means that I can quite easily send an email to you as support@amazon.com, telling you to click the link below to reset your password, and if you are gullible enough to do so, steer you to a phishing site where I steal your credentials. SPF is an attempt to combat email forgery, but allowing owners of domains to set up authorized lists of email servers that they can send email from. If the owner of the domain configures this, and the receiving mail server actually checks it, this can be an effective way to authenticate the sending server and allow or reject the email, based on its validity.

Back to my budget host. A couple of months ago, supposedly to comply with an ICANN regulation (which I do not buy for a second), my host made a change that enforces checking of SPF records. To prevent spoofing of emails, they will not forward any email for a domain that has an SPF record unless they are authorized to do so. This means that if I am not Amazon.com, my host will not forward emails claiming to be from Amazon.com. So far, so good.

Some mail systems have the concept of an alias, which is one way of saying “anything addressed to bob@example.com goes to robert@example.com.” Another way to accomplish this is to set up an email forwarder, which is another way of saying “any emails that come here for bob@example.com we will forward on to robert@example.com.” If the difference seems trivial, it can be. Essentially, forwarders are usually used to send email to a different mailbox or server, whereas aliases are both local to the same account on the same server. So if bob@example.com and robert@example.com are on the same server, you’d normally use an alias, but if Robert wanted his email to forward off to a Gmail account, he’d use a forwarder.

Here’s where things get stupid.

My budget host supports email aliases by using forwarding addresses only, not aliases. I would normally make up a forwarder for each purpose, and have that forwarded to my Gmail account. My host’s recent attempt to comply with a supposed ICANN directive means they will no longer “forward” an email unless the SPF records match. Since Amazon does not have an SPF record, saying that my email host is authorized to send email for them – why would they? – my host will not forward my email, which has landed in my mailbox, to my own external mailbox. “Okay,” I said, “I’ll set up a new, local account on my host, and have my forwarders forward to it, and then check that mailbox separately.” Nope, that won’t work either, as this is still considered a “forward” and my host won’t do that.

What?!?! When I heard that, I was astounded. Essentially, this host, which is a large, tier 1 hosting provider, has just killed the idea of aliases altogether. Their suggestions were for me to have Amazon set up an SPF record for my host mail server (Uh… no, you level 1 idiot, Amazon is not going to grant me the honor of sending email as Amazon to every one of their customers who wants to receive email from them), and for me to simply set up a new mailbox for each address I want. I have over 100 email aliases. So they want me to set up and check over 100 mailboxes now? I think not!

This is a case of good intentions gone horribly awry. I can only hope my host realizes the level of idiocy they’ve fallen to in their attempt to make things better. In the meantime, I’m moving my email to the one that we use and resell at work, which does not have this well-intentioned, yet stupid, restriction. As a result of my not receiving emails from Meetup.com for several weeks, I never got the email telling me that my dues were due again, and as a result, I lost control of my favorite Meetup group, which I’ve run for the past year. Fortunately, one of my fellow members pointed this problem out promptly and I was able to renew my subscription and reclaim my group. This is a relatively minor consequence, but it does not take a long stretch of the imagination to see more serious consequences coming from emails being unanswered for several months.

On the plus side, I realized that I was still receiving emails from Plenty of Fish, so I was able to use this as an opportunity to delete that forwarder. Advice to those of you who use online dating: avoid PoF. Trust me, eHarmony and OKCupid are better.

My journey through life, with stopovers in biking, coffee, martial arts, philosophy, and technology.

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