There is an old saying in business, “If it isn't written down, it didn't happen.”
That really is a very good lesson in the importance of good documentation. The legal system is based on evidence, auditors pour over real numbers to assess the financial state of businesses, and detectives assess the innocence of transactions by finding gaps in the written record. Metrics, saved in the cloud, remembered for years by computer disks, presented in charts or graphs, tell the running story of business success.
For most of the history of business, documentation was an intensely labor centered activity. Rows of clerks bent over heavy logs and ledgers is the vision of Dickensian misery that colors the connotation of the word "documentation" even today.
Modern business methods automate many documentation and recording functions. Modern auditors rely on digitally recorded transactions. The availability of management software and extended accounting software systems has brought about a sea change over the last 20 years. The documentation function in business has become, in almost all cases, the responsibility of information technology and the IT professionals in the organization or through external partners.
But what happens when your in house IT people don’t document anything? What happens when the keys to your increasingly complex IT environments are locked in the head of a technician that is looking for a new job on average every two years? What happens is your business suffers and often your employees too.
When you outsource your company to a Managed Service Provider or MSP this can complicate the issue because like employees not all MSP’s are created alike. They all sell you on the fact that they will document your systems but few rarely do and even fewer allow you to access that documentation.
At PICS ITech we have invested heavily in documentation because we want anyone that answers our phones or responds to a service ticket to be able to get to the documentation they need to support our clients.
We concentrate on two main types of documentation:
- Structured documentation: usernames, passwords, machine configurations and vendor information etc.
- How-to procedural documentation: Adding a User, Installing the ERP client etc.
In addition to keeping good documentation we also need to make sure that we have good auditing in place to track changes and keep documentation up to date. All of our managed service customers documentation is available to our staff as well as to our clients staff - on-line and in real-time.
The folks at Tech Republic have some good hints on improving your documentation.
Whether you are using an outside firm or in house IT resources it is critical that you have good documentation. Recording and documentation of procedures are usually not as easily automated. Documentation of security procedures is especially important. Having up-to-date records of every security task ensures not only that tasks are completed in a consistent and repeatable way, but permits the transfer of institutional knowledge as time passes. The methods used by one responsible employee, when not recorded, can become a private fiefdom not serving the corporate interest. If something happened could those procedures be performed by someone else? Continuing documentation of how things are done is a vital function that should not be left to chance.
If you are not seeing good documentation from your outsourced IT provider, maybe you aren't getting all that you should be from the relationship. Here are some more things you might want to inquire about during your next client meeting.