The Weakest Point of Most IT Organizations

RunbooksThere are many arguments for and against outsourcing and managed services. However, there is one compelling reason — and perhaps the weakest point in most IT organizations — that is not often discussed. Many decades in technology have shown me a universal IT truth: no one likes to do documentation. Yes, there are people whose job it is to do documentation, and all I can say to them is “thank you!” For the rest of us engineers, programmers and technicians, documentation is like eating our vegetables when we were kids: everyone told us it was good for us (and we even knew it was good for us) but we did it kicking and screaming. As it turns out — for that very reason — documentation is one of the most overlooked benefits of managed services.

Years ago when I worked as a managed service provider (MSP) I noticed a big challenge many organizations faced: documentation. It was never something anyone really liked to do, and it wasn’t usually someone’s job to do it. It was something extra they had to do. So as much as they wrote down, still more would be left in their heads. And when people left, that knowledge left with them.

The Dreaded Audit aka You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Each engagement I did as an IT service provider and MSP usually started with an audit. Yes, it was not cheap, but I had to take an inventory of everything, understand systems, dependencies and requirements. Bottom line was, if I was going to keep it up and running and plan for the future I had to know all these things. It was a time consuming and costly effort, but well worth it in the long term. It gave me a sense of where they were and what steps we had to take to make their use of technology more efficient and more effective. The end result was a set a documentation that accurately represented their environment, something they didn’t have before we started.

When it comes to hiring an MSP you may be thinking about cost savings and efficiency, but you will find that having good documentation of your environment is an unexpected benefit.

Legacy Knowledge Loss Through Attrition or Why Did We Do That?

I don’t know about you but I can barely remember what I did yesterday, let alone last month or last year. One of the lesser understood selling points when I started in the MSP business in 1996 was what I called legacy knowledge loss through attrition. What does this mean? The first question I’d ask when I did my initial audit was “can you share with me any documentation you have on your environment?” The smaller the organization, the more likely the response would be awkward silence, or “we don’t really have much, talk to ______.” There was always one person who knew (most) of what was going on. The human run-book/change-log/change management database (CMDB). The person who was guaranteed to be on vacation when something broke and no one else new anything about it.

Every time someone leaves your organization knowledge is lost. It might be a password, an arcane process which only he or she knows, but more likely it’s history. Knowing why you did something in the first place very often helps you understand how to fix/change/upgrade it or when to leave it alone. And it’s not just about people leaving. It stifles professional growth. My father gave me some great advice years ago: “Always make sure you’re not the only person who knows how to do something or you’ll be stuck doing it forever and you won’t get promoted.” Lack of documentation can be holding some of your employees back in reaching their full potential.

One MSP To Manage It All

When you manage your own technology in-house you are not only in the business of building and delivering a product or service. You are also in the business of running an IT organization. This is not just about managing workstations, telecom, networks and data centers. It’s also about hiring, training and managing tech personnel. That’s a business in and of itself. Which brings us full circle to the value of outsourcing and managed services. MSP’s are in the business of running IT organizations so they have to be good at those things.

And one of them is documentation.


This post was brought to you by IBM for MSPs and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit IBM’s PivotPoint. Dedicated to providing valuable insight from industry thought leaders, PivotPoint offers expertise to help you develop, differentiate and scale your business.