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By Mike Herrington

It’s an awesome thing to have an IT guy that knows your business. They can solve problems faster, they know the background and understand why things are happening. They even understand some of the personalities involved and can respond accordingly. Knowing all about the network makes them better at their jobs. They have all the data in their head they need to do their work.

Here’s the challenge:  What happens when that guy quits, gets sick or is out of the office?

There are a multitude of systems that still need maintenance. Things continue to break. There may be a complex networking of firewalls and switches and a stack of servers that need managed. There are accounts with multiple vendors and programs, software licensing on all machines — and a ton more.

The problem is that every password, every IP address, every configuration and every nuance of your network is in your IT guy’s head. Nobody else knows about it — or if they do, they have bits and pieces. There isn’t a way to gather the data you need. It’s a mess.

This could potentially have a huge impact on your business.  The worst-case scenario is that you have an outage before a replacement solution is in place. Then you have a new IT guy that doesn’t know anything about your network trying frantically to piece the puzzle together. The downtime your business experiences in the meantime is costly.

Don’t let it happen to you. Here’s what to include in your IT documentation and how to ensure a smooth transition:

Write “IT” down. Regardless of whether your solution is with in-house IT or an outsourced managed-service solution, they should be carefully documenting the environment. IT changes rapidly, so the documentation should be kept up to date in real time. When passwords change, the documentation should be updated. When systems are swapped out, the documentation should be updated.

In addition, this documentation should be available to business owners and executives at all times. It should be kept in a format that is easily accessible and written in plain English and not technical jargon.

Here’s what needs to be included:  Location (physical) and IP address of all network hardware. This would include servers, switches, firewalls, wireless, NAS devices and network printers.  It also needs to include instructions on how to connect to and manage each of these devices, including needed usernames and passwords.

It should also include information on all software used on the network and how to install and administer it. If there is a repository with software installs on the network, that should be noted along with specific instructions for configuration.

There should be knowledge-based articles that detail solutions to common problems on the network. This helps eliminate reinventing the wheel for problems that have already been solved.

There should be documentation that identifies any key software applications not housed onsite, such as Office 365 or other SAS platforms. They should include login information as well as administration instructions.

Notes on active directory are also helpful. This will help IT know how to assign permissions based on roles and manage network access as employees are hired and let go.

Backup policies should be well documented. There should be notes on what software is used for backups, how they are tracked and how IT is notified if there is a failure with backups.

Solutions for remote access to the network should also be documented. Whether you use a terminal server, VPN or a secure remote gateway there should be documentation on how to access and administer these solutions.

There should also be a detailed IT inventory that allows you to know the current location and status of all your hardware assets at a given time.

  IT guys don’t always keep the best records. You don’t want all the important information about your network in one guy’s head. A quality managed-service provider will document your network. If you are currently engaged with one, ask them to see the documentation they have on your network. If they can’t produce any, that should be a huge red flag.

Hold your IT guy accountable for documentation as part of his job. This will ensure smooth transitions and limit downtime when he decides to take another job or you decide to change solutions. Get it out of his head and down on paper. As part of your overall IT strategy, this helps eliminate risk to your organization by ensuring that you could carry on no matter what happens.

Mike Herrington is the manager of business development at i.t.NOW.