Friday, October 12, 2012

SOP Friday: Monthly Maintenance Scheduling and On Site Visits

[Side Note: This is the 75th article in this SOP Friday Series. My how time flies. See the whole index at www.sopfriday.com.]

One of the most important pieces of our business has always been the "monthly maintenance" of client machines. The MMC (monthly maintenance checklist) is primarily used for servers, but you can have an MMC for storage arrays, printers, or anything else you need. Over the next several weeks we'll address the monthly maintenance checklist.

Background: You should run a "Monthly Maintenance" procedure on every contract client every month. If you have a Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) system, then your list of chores is very short. That's because many things are monitored 24x7 in real time, such as disc space. But you will still need to go to the client's office, shake their hand, look at their server, test the backup, and do some kind of checkup. This is partly tune-up and partly client relations.

Process: For starters, you need a monthly maintenance checklist. That's a list of things you will monitor or do every single month as part of the preventive maintenance that makes managed services work. If you need a place to start, check out my good old 68-point checklist. It's free at www.SMBBooks.com (see the Free Stuff page).

Once you have your standard checklist, you will refine it for each client. Clients have different backups, different databases, different network setups. So their checklists need to be customized.

You will need to execute four things every month with regard to monthly maintenance jobs: 1) Execute the monthly maintenance checklist at each client; 2) Revise all monthly maintenance checklists as needed; 3) Make sure the revised MMC is published appropriately and "ready to go" for the next month; and 4) Each MMC must be filed away for future reference.

Obviously, you have a serious time crunch here. No matter whether you have ten clients or a hundred, you need to execute the MMC every month. Someone needs to maintain a calendar so that MMC visits are spaced properly (Clients look puzzeled if you show up on the 27th of February and then again on March 1st). This scheduling might be done by the office manager, but is more likely to be done by the tech department. If your PSA (professional services administration) software can create a recurring ticket, then simply have it create one new MMC ticket per client (or per server) each month.

It's a good idea to keep a calendar of when MMCs were executed at each client so you can look back very easily. You almost never need this information, but it's handy when you do.

The revision process is very simple, but needs to be done! If you skip it, you just create more work down the road. Revisions include things like noting that the c:\ drive is too full for logs, so the logs have been moved to the d:\ drive. If that happens, the checklist needs to point to the right place. Normally, revisions are little things like that. Occasionally they are major, such as a new backup procedure.

In a perfect world, the checklist will be updated as the last item on the checklist. But if the tech is onsite, then it will likely wait until he gets back to the office. The problem there is that checklists tend to get thrown on a pile because something more important comes up. If that happens, you need to set aside a date or deadline to get them updated. As for "publishing," I simply mean that the revised document should be posted on your internal SharePoint site or uploaded to the PSA. We publish these in .pdf format so that they can be accessed and printed off from any computer, including a customer server with no Word program installed.

Finally, you need to file away your MMCs. You might file them all together for one month, or put each one into the appropriate client folder. Which you choose depends on which you think will be more useful down the road. You will need to refer to these when you are looking for problems across clients and when investigating something with a specific client. For technicians, having them all in one place is probably easiest. For billing and client relations, having each client's checklists in the client folder works best. You decide.

All MMCs should be executed by a certain date. They should be updated and published by a certain date. And they should be filed away by a certain date. Every month. No exceptions. Determine who will be responsible for each of these schedules and develop a process.


Documenting the Monthly Maintenance Process

As with all processes, you need to start by defining how your company schedules client maintenance. Then write it out into a procedure. Finally, you need to implement the procedure and train the staff.

To the technicians, all of this simply appears as a series of service requests that need to be scheduled. But to the service manager, these are key client "touch" opportunities. This is particularly true if the client is on a managed service contract. Since most of your patch management and monitoring takes place automatically every day, you might be able to do all of these in a very short period of time for each client. But I recommend that you resist doing it completely remotely.

First, you (meaning you - the service manager) need to have face to face contact with each client from time to time. Never forget that this is a people business. All small businesses are people businesses. And as the face of your business, even casual contact with a client is good.

Second, many backup systems require you to be on site to verify that they are operating properly. You can look at logs - and even do a restore - remotely. But you can't see whether they're rotating discs (tapes) properly, or tracking jobs in the backup log.

In the next few articles we'll go into detail about the monthly maintenance process. First we'll look at what it is exactly, and why we do it. Then we'll step through a sample MMC.

Questions welcome.

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About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at SmallBizThoughts.com.

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Next week's topic: Why We Do Monthly Maintenance

:-)

Still the best Quick-Start Guide to Managed Services: 

by Karl W. Palachuk 

Now only $39.95 at SMB Books!

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