Building an IT Operations Manual – Client Documentation

Richard Tubb

My blog post entitled, “How to Create an IT Operations Manual for your Business”, generated quite a bit of feedback from IT companies, with the most common question being “Where should I start?”

For the micro IT companies, even a “one man band” – my answer on where to start would be to document your client's IT infrastructure.

By doing this, you afford yourself a number of options.

Firstly, it enables you to become more efficient on a day-to-day basis. If you’re like me and have the memory span of a goldfish then having the information about a client site to hand massively reduces the amount of time spent trying to remember usernames, passwords and IP addresses. Even if you have a good memory, having that information to hand is re-assuring as a sanity check during intense and complex troubleshooting jobs.

Should you want to take a holiday, you can hand your client documentation to any suitably qualified Technician, ideally a peer who you’re building a long-term Strategic Alliance with, and they’ll be able to manage any support issues that arise.

If you take on a new technical member of staff, by having good client documentation you’ll empower them to get on with their job supporting your client's network rather than continuously having to ask, “How is this Router setup?” or, “What’s the password to the Firewall?”. They feel better about not feeling like a nuisance and you and your colleagues aren’t interrupted as often.

Plus, while we all assume it’ll never happen to us, if you’re *unable* to work because of illness or emergency, then being able to hand your client support requests to someone else in a hurry – and knowing that they have all the information they need to do the job – is essential for peace of mind.

Documentation basics: What goes in an IT operations manual?

So what information do you need to document? Ideally anything and everything. The more documentation you have about your client sites then the more information there is to help anyone supporting that site.

But as a basic I’d suggest you capture the following information for all your clients:

  • External IP addresses, Remote Domain Names, Remote Web Workplace Logon Credentials, VPN details – basically, the information any technician would need to remotely access a clients site to undertake support.
  • Internal IP addresses and DNS settings for Servers, Routers and Switches – the addresses of all the important hardware internally, enabling any technician to have a basic understanding of the infrastructure.
  • Domain Administrator, Router, Firewall, Switch and critical Local usernames and passwords – the credentials any technician will need to logon to servers, PCs and network hardware to undertake troubleshooting steps.
  • Firewall Configurations and Router Port-Forward notes – which ports are open externally and which applications, servers or devices use them internally? If email or a remotely accessible tool stops working, a technician will need to know this information to enable troubleshooting.
  • EMail and Web-Host Control Panel credentials, Third-Party Hosting Contact details – Email and websites are seen as critical by all business clients. Document how email is configured (especially if your client is still using a POP3 setup), where websites are hosted, and how a technician can logon to any email or web-hosting control panel to being troubleshooting steps. Most importantly, document contact details for any third parties hosting these services – at the very least a technician can call them up and simply say, “It’s not working”, and then work with them to figure it out.
  • Backup Configuration – What is backed up and to where? Who is in charge of backups at a client site? How can a technician find and restore data that is urgently required by a client?

Keeping information on hand

If you’re running a PSA tool, then you’ve got the ability to record this information in a uniform fashion in a central location already.

If you’re running a CRM system, then create a record for each of your clients and start recording this information within that record.

Even if you drop this information into a secure Excel spreadsheet in a Dropbox or Windows Live Mesh account, enabling you to access it from both your office as well as client sites, you’ve made a good start.

Once you have the basic client documentation recorded, you’ll start to spot opportunities to record more useful information.

Things such as DHCP ranges, printer configurations, third-party application settings, off-site backup configurations and many more.

The more you document, the more efficient you become – and the more easily you can delegate work both internally and externally.

Richard Tubb is an IT Business Consultant who works with ambitious IT companies who want to grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way.

You can email him at [email protected] or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.