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IT documentation as vital as backups for MSPs

IT documentation, explored recently in contributor Esther Shein’s feature, has proven to be a vital yet sometimes neglected aspect of running a managed services business.

For Jonathan Broyles, senior systems engineer at CisCom Solutions, a managed services provider (MSP) based in Louisville, Ky., maintaining documentation is as crucial to MSPs as backups. “If you don’t have a good backup or if you don’t have good documentation and the customer calls you because of a disaster in the middle of the night, you’re in [trouble] right there,” he said. “It’s not a place where I ever want to find myself.”

That being said, Broyles has seen MSP environments that range from having little or no IT documentation to excessive documentation “in some form or fashion.” IT documentation is “one of the things I think everyone in the industry probably realizes [they need], and they preach about how important the documentation is. But do they practice it? I couldn’t tell you that.”

CisCom, which has about 30 employees, adopted IT Glue’s documentation software shortly after Broyles joined the company in June 2015. At the time, the MSP had minimal documentation, Broyles noted, adding that he had had to shoulder-tap managers and co-workers for the information he needed, such as passwords to log into customer networks. “There wasn’t really a lot of documentation at that point in time. So [we] identified we needed a documentation solution, and we then investigated IT Glue and [several other products].”

Broyles said CisCom was interested in finding an IT documentation product that would integrate with ConnectWise, its professional services automation software, and LabTech Software, which CisCom uses for remote monitoring and management (RMM). “[IT Glue] allowed us to start having a unified platform … that is going to be pulling in information from … our RMM and ticketing system and then … create more customized documentation that fits a particular need,” he said.

While ConnectWise provides similar functions, IT Glue has more powerful features, he added, including a “pretty sophisticated tagging system.” Techs can use the software to pull up customer-specific information from one page, “which really has power for existing technicians as well as technicians on their first day.”

Deploying and setting up the IT Glue software was easy, particularly because CisCom had no IT documentation system to migrate from. Building a culture around documentation presented more of a challenge. CisCom, however, had a compelling rationale for getting its staff to adopt a new documentation culture: If a staff member was “run over by a bus tomorrow,” what knowledge do they have that would have to be either recovered or recreated? “Granted it’s a morbid way of looking at it, but it has allowed us to build this culture of, ‘Hey, things change. Now we’ve got to update documentation,'” he said.

Since adopting IT Glue, CisCom has created roughly 10,000 pieces of documentation, “all of which has significant value to us,” Broyles said. Its employees use the software “pretty much by default” now.

The benefits of having IT documentation software like IT Glue may not instantly be apparent to MSPs, said Phill Claxton, COO of IT Glue, based in Vancouver, but over time, MSPs will realize time savings, efficiency gains and the security of having a depository of important information – all of which enables MSPs to scale their businesses.

Claxton also pointed to one of IT Glue’s capabilities for inviting customers into the tool to share information, which he said offers a way for MSPs to differentiate themselves from competitors. Broyles, who is now a member of IT Glue’s partner advisory council, said these capabilities have allowed CisCom to save time by providing customers with step-by-step instructions for resolving minor issues on their own. “Sometimes there are incidents … where it would be great to be able to send a customer a piece of documentation that is step-by-step with photos and words and all that jazz to help them work on their own time to be able to solve the issues,” he said.

Claxton also said IT Glue will roll out a gamification feature in its software in the near future.