The overarching goal of any managed service provider (MSP) is to update a client’s assets, mitigate threats and vulnerabilities, and identify inefficiencies in need of upgrading or removal. The advantages of choosing an outside partner are many:
- Controlling costs
- Adding predictability
- Rapid adoption of new technologies
In this instance, the major benefit is also an impartial perspective. Within any organization, a certain amount of groupthink sets in. Problems that seem intractable simply because they’ve persisted for a long time are often less daunting to outside actors taking a fresh look at them.
However, when a business chooses to contract with an MSP to fill some or all of the gaps in their IT infrastructure and operations, the process can be fraught with potential difficulties. Any time two different firms form such a close partnership, there is a risk that lines of communication will be scrambled, expectations will go unmet, and neither party will be entirely satisfied with the outcome.
That’s why it is crucially important to follow a systematic and well documented procedure to ensure a smooth, orderly, and universally understood onboarding process for outsourced IT management. The entire undertaking is quite complex, with extensive checklists, milestones, and key performance indicators to attend to, but here is high-level overview of a successful onboarding framework:
Initial Meeting and Planning
The very first step is to get the major stakeholders in a room together (either in person or virtually via videoconferencing). This is the moment to discover what everyone’s goals and expectations are. Discussions should cover the scope of the client’s needs:
- Do they need just a few basic services or a fully-staffed IT department?
- What is the state of their current IT infrastructure and network management?
- How quickly will onboarding take place and how long will the arrangement last?
These initial meetings are all about setting up open and active lines of communication, which are critical to avoiding misunderstandings and developing a roadmap and schedule that aligns with the client’s needs and budget and that will result in minimal interruption to their operation.
In addition to debriefing the client, the MSP should make arrangements to directly investigate the company’s current assets and protocols to compare them to established industry standards. Deficiencies, especially in relation to security, that many SMBs long considered acceptable or even customary, should be highlighted and overhauled.
Data Collection and Analysis
After the initial meet-and-greet and broad strategy sessions have been completed, it’s time for the MSP to collect some hard data about the client’s operation. At this stage, it will begin developing a comprehensive report that details the client’s complete IT system, including deficiencies, strengths, budgetary limitations, risk factors, and opportunities for growth and improvement, as well as:
- A complete map of their current network
- Maintenance records
- Recent uptime and data logs
- All relevant business documentation
- An audited inventory of all IT assets
- Contact lists and corporate hierarchy charts
- Passwords and access codes
- A list of all active vendor contracts and licenses
That information is used by MSPs to identify specific security or business continuity threats (e.g. unpatched vulnerabilities, outdated software or hardware, poorly enforced access controls, lack of backup and recovery solutions, or insufficient preparedness for remote work).
In addition to issues requiring immediate remediation, the MSP should be considering longer-term concerns that it will be addressing, such as improving the efficiency of the company’s core operations and rooting out waste (e.g. manual data entry, data silos that cannot communicate with each other, and redundant systems and duplicative work).
The final report produced in the evaluation stage should be reviewed by the client, revised if necessary, and then signed off on by all parties. The master onboarding plan will then move into the implementation stage. Infrastructure changes will begin, and any service on an unsupported legacy platform will be migrated.
Regardless of whether the process is a total overhaul or minor upgrade, care must be taken to preserve all of the company’s data assets. Incautious planning, moving too quickly, and failure to deploy backups can result in costly and embarrassing data disasters.
Many MSPs will also ask the client for permission to install Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) tools. Particularly now that a pandemic is making onsite visits less practical, remote solutions are serving a vital role in helping MSPs stay connected to their clients and provide rapid response as issues arise.
For smaller companies with limited needs, the total onboarding process can be completed in a manner of days. Some companies choose a weekend when they are not operational to get everything done so that employees are minimally affected.
Larger projects can take several days or even weeks, though beware of never-ending processes. If over a month has passed, milestones aren’t being met, and the onboarding still hasn’t reached a satisfactory conclusion, something has potentially gone wrong and it may be warranted to initiate a pause and reevaluate the process.
Assuming things are on track, however, the final step in the implementation phase is educating and training the client’s employees on proper use of their new IT equipment, procedures, and management structure. At that point, the onboarding is officially concluded and the MSP can move into an ongoing support role.
Understanding and Communication are Key
Above all, a seamless onboarding process for an outsourced IT management depends on good listening skills. The details always matter, but in the rush to collect data, create a plan, and deploy it, the broad goals and expectations of the client need to be kept top of mind.
A deep understanding of their specific business and industry, as well as their particular short-term needs (e.g. customer acquisition, revenue generation, up and cross-selling opportunities, regulatory compliance, data transformation, cloud migration, etc.) will ensure that the onboarding process is designed and executed in a manner that protects their interests and furthers their goals without adding new roadblocks.