Friday, August 17, 2007

Russell Don't Need to Know

I used to have a client named Russ. He owned a little store front. He had one computer and called when something went screwy.

As I worked on his machine, he'd always huddle right in there with me and try to learn. But he didn't want to learn too much. When it was all fixed, he would want to know click-by-click how to make something work. But if I tried to explain that the VPN can't route between two LANs with the same IP range, he'd hold up his hand and say "Russell don't need to know."

He always drew the line very clearly. There was stuff Russell needed to know and stuff Russell didn't need to know.

I recently exchanged some information with Amy over at Mobi-Tech.

The topic was "information." How much information does the client want/need? A related topic would be what does the client deserve and what should they expect?

We both provide "Network Documentation Binders" of course. But what information gets stored at client's site and what gets stored at the consultant's site?

Remember the old Far Side cartoon.
What you say: "Oh Ginger, that was a bad thing. You're a bad, bad dog, Ginger."
What a dog hears: "Blah Ginger, blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah, Ginger."

Most clients are the same way. They're insurance brokers and lawyers and painters. Computers are not their job.

What you say: "Your WAN IP is, Bob. And we've allowed POP3 and SMTP through the firewall, Bob."

What a client hears: "Blah blah blah blah blah, Bob. And blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, Bob."

The client could try to understand you, but that's not his job.

Remember: The client has no motivation to understand you because you're here and you're taking care of things.

The only time the client needs to know this information is when you're not here or when you're not taking care of things. That's when the client needs the network documentation binder. Where else would they look for the data?

You say: "In the !tech directory of the root of the first drive on the domain controller, Bob."

Client hears: "Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, Bob."

The first thing to consider is what you need to do your job.

Of course I believe you need awesome documentation. But most clients are intimidated by it. They will only open it if they have to. Or, more likely, they'll have someoone else open it when you get hit by a bus.

Basically, clients need to know how to get ahold of you, and how to change passwords if they fire you.

The electronic answer is to store all this information in some kind of database such as Autotask. But remember that Autotask (or whatever) is your tool and not your client's tool. If all of your configuration data is on your system, then the client doesn't have it. So when you get hit by a bus, the client still doesn't have it.

We keep all information in the Network Documentation Binder. It lives with the client, the client owns it, and our job is to keep it up to date. I always say in presentations: The client owns this information. They own the server and the software; they own the router and the firewall; they even own the wires inside the walls. For goodness sake, give them their own passwords!

Here's what we keep in our systems: the bare minimum needed to do remote assistance.

  • We keep domain registration information in our system so we can reroute traffic as needed if a server goes down, company moves, etc. Great for changing ISPs.

  • We keep "device" configs such as router, spam device, firewall.

  • We keep a list of event times (when does backup go off, when does mailbox management happen, when are shadow copies made, when are virus scans scheduled?).

  • And, of course, we keep some key passwords (not all passwords).

Other documentation is either in paper format at the client's office, or in electronic format in the c:\!tech directory on the client's primary server. But 99% of it is in the paper format.

When the building starts to flood, the paper binder is all they need to take with them.

Every year we make a photocopy of that binder and it goes offsite with the client's backup tapes.

Key to success:
One of the most important things about usable documentation is to only document what you'll really use. So, we'll fill out the machine spec sheets in the binder, but we don't enter all that crap in Autotask. We can generate reports in Zenith that give us all the details instantly. All we need remotely is enough info to get into the system.

As for clients, I've heard from some partners that they put all my forms on each client's machine, update them there, and then print off a copy for the binder. I'm not sure how much that actually gets done when you have more than five clients. Real world experience tells me that that's more of an ideal than a reality.

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