By Eric Muth

Founder, Support Adventure

In our last newsletter, we spoke about procedural documentation making a difference between a business which runs itself and a business which constantly requires the staff to receive input from their superiors about how to do their jobs.   This is a key lesson for many businesses whose owners wish to liberate themselves from the day to day need to be closely involved in managing their staff.

In this article I will talk about an even more problematic issue which I see businesses struggling with: technical documentation.  Having worked for 6 different MSPs and other businesses, I have seen different sorts of technical documentation which range from an absolute mess of info to very well organized sets of data that tell us everything we need to know about a client’s systems in an efficient way.

Nothing wastes so much of a technician’s time as poorly compiled technical documentation, so this is an issue that is very important to emphasize:

Lack of good technical documentation is the most common reason for escalation.

Plain and simple.  If you hire an outsourced remote technical support provider, like my company, then the stresses and successes of the contract are more than anything likely to be dictated by this one key truth.

Although it might be already clear to you, I’ll say it once very explicitly:
As remote technicians we rely on good documentation of your clients’ systems in order to be able to help your clients in most situations.

What might be obvious to a technician who has been on site and sat at the clients’ desks can be a complete mystery for us working remotely.

As a golden rule of technical documentation I would suggest the following:

Technical documentation needs to be organized consistently throughout your whole organization.

In my experience, free form documentation systems where the technicians are free to improvise documentation labels are the worst.  In these types of systems when, for example, someone’s e-mail isn’t working, a technician goes to the client’s records and scans endlessly to find e-mail admin credentials which could be labelled any of the following:

Office 365, Hosted Exchange, E-Mail, Admin Portal, Outlook info, admin(@)clientdomain.com, On-Premises Mail Server, etc….

…making it nearly impossible to find information in a reliable way.

Under intense pressure from a client for a so-called urgent issue, upon seeing a mess of let’s say 25 documentation items, with varying names and in categories as mentioned above, the technician may choose to contact a senior engineer who is known to have the client’s information in his head.  The senior engineer will then quickly locate the mislabelled record he produced and criticize the front line technician for not finding his bit of poorly labelled wisdom.

As front line engineers, a part of our job is to decode the transmissions of wisdom that are broadcasted from our colleagues in the server rooms without asking them questions which will irritate or distract them.  However, in order to not waste countless hours of staff time I would urge every IT Support company to implement a documentation system in which information about clients’ systems are updated and labelled in a consistent manner so that every time we know where we can find the information we need to complete our task promptly or discern quickly whether it is missing.

Overall, the right culture of documentation is something which needs to reach all levels of your staff (remote, on-site, in-house, and outsourced). Not insisting on the high standard of compliance and accountability in this area will make sure that your tech support business eventually becomes chaos, with arguing staff members, unhappy clients, and problems which can’t be fixed all being something you can expect as your company scales its operations or replaces leaving staff members.

In my experience the senior technicians who spend the most time on-site are the ones who are the worst in documenting their knowledge and activities.  I’m not sure why this is, but some senior engineers seem to think that they are above the culture of technical documentation.

Recommendation: IT Glue

The best tool I know for this is called IT Glue and MSPs who are not using it should definitely consider it as it is a product that inspires good documentation and a possible next step for giving their technicians the opportunity to document what they know about clients’ systems in a methodical way.  I have on-boarded one of my major MSP clients to this system and the difference between searching for information on the old system and the new system is quite dramatic.

I won’t go into great detail about this system, but in short: it’s organized, searchable, logical and intuitive.  If documentation is a concern of yours, I would urge you to find out more on their website: https://www.itglue.com/

Conclusion: Create a culture of documentation to avoid future problems

While IT companies with substandard documentation might be able to hobble along in the short term, future expansion, staff attrition, and changing roles of staff members will certainly highlight any lack of documentation in the future and cost your team a lot of time or your business a lot of money.
In short, I would strongly encourage all MSP owners to work hard to create a culture of documentation and hold their staff accountable to it.

One analogy I always use when explaining the necessity of good backup systems to clients is the dentist analogy.  Everyone is keen on brushing their teeth once they lose a tooth to decay, but tend to ignore the necessary duties until that time.  The same applies to documentation.  Imagine the frustration of losing an important client because the information you need to help their issue is not documented and only known by a staff member who is unavailable.  Doesn’t that make you want to take steps to get your documentation better today?