As a successful managed services provider (MSP), we have a portfolio of satisfied customers and a team of skilled employees to serve them. For efficiency, each employee likely specializes in particular customers, and everything runs smoothly on a day-to-day basis. But what happens when a team member is sick, takes vacation days, or—worst of all—quits abruptly?
If the knowledge for serving a certain customer only exists in that employee’s head, customer will be left in the lurch in the event of an IT emergency. That’s why robust documentation is critical to the long-term success of your MSP. Following IT documentation best practices will pay enormous dividends. In this article, we’ll examine the many benefits of comprehensive IT documentation and standard operating procedures (SOPs), as well as how to get started creating them.
What is documentation and why is it important?
Put simply, documentation is a systematic survey of everything an IT team needs to know to do its job. SOPs are step-by-step guides for performing common — and not so common — tasks that can be passed on to current and future team members. An IT operations manual should contain all the important information pertinent to running a company’s computer and network systems.
Properly maintaining technical documentation comes with a multitude of advantages, including:
1) Continuity of service
An MSP employee may be out sick or on vacation, but their customers still need service. Even worse, a team member could quit with little notice, leaving no time for them to train a successor. If the employee has kept well-organized technical documentation guidelines, these situations are much less of a problem. Other team members can quickly step in and address the customers’ urgent needs with the help of documentation and SOPs.
2) Efficient training
Anyone who has had to onboard new employees knows that training requires patience and takes up valuable time. An SOP document optimizes the process by enabling new team members to largely teach themselves the ropes, only consulting supervisors when something is unclear. Of course, some hands-on training is essential, but many basic tasks can be learned simply by studying SOPs. This means more efficient training for the new team member as well as more available time for the supervisor to focus on their own roles and responsibilities.
3) Higher quality of service
Technicians who “wing it” with no documentation to back them up are more likely to make mistakes. As today’s networks become increasingly complex, relying on memory is no longer enough. SOPs reduce errors and provide a general rubric for employees, leading to greater customer security and satisfaction.
Without adequate documentation, all team members will naturally perform tasks in their own ways, some being more efficient and effective than others. SOPs systematize the best way to do things, helping deliver consistent results.
5) Increased security
Exhaustive documentation is particularly important when it comes to security procedures. Companies dealing with sensitive data, such as those in healthcare and finance, are required to document their processes to ensure they are following security protocols. But regardless of industry, every company deals with at least some sensitive data, and thus every company will benefit from codifying security best practices in an operations manual.
6) Facilitating growth
If your MSP decides to open a branch office or expand, having written procedures will be key for getting the new office up and running as soon as possible. Documentation and SOPs are key to maintaining a business that can operate at scale.
What does good IT documentation look like?
Quality IT documentation is characterized by three things: comprehensiveness, clarity, and currency. To be as useful as possible to the reader, SOPs should cover every likely scenario that a technician might encounter, and IT documentation must be comprehensive in including every element of a network. Anything omitted will cause an informational void that could lead to problems down the road.
An IT operations manual should include an inventory of all company hardware and software, including records of software licenses and updates. It should set forth information policies (how customer privacy is protected), security policies (what passwords are acceptable and how often they need to be changed), internet policies (which websites are accessible and which are blocked), and hardware management policies (how often hardware is replaced and how old machines are disposed of). Backup and recovery policies should be documented as well. Administrative credentials and passwords should be stored in a secure, encrypted format.
Next, SOP documents should be written clearly so they’re easily understandable. This simplifies employee training and yields faster response times in emergency situations. Use plain language, avoiding jargon where possible. Including screen capture images for each step is particularly helpful, providing users with a visual guide. For more complex scenarios, consider screen-capture videos (screencasting).
Finally, to ensure that guides are both useful and relevant, documentation must be regularly updated as systems change. MSP employees should be instructed to always update SOPs whenever they create a new procedure, install hardware or software, or add an additional network drive. Outdated documentation is almost as useless as no documentation at all, and employees should make it a priority to keep SOPs up-to-date with current policies.
How should technical documentation be organized?
Technical documentation can be created manually and stored either physically (such as in paper binders) or electronically. Storing documentation digitally is preferable, of course, as it’s searchable and easy to update. Storing documentation in the cloud is a good option, as it will make SOPs accessible to offsite and remote team members.