Summary: Documentation is a time-consuming process, but an absolute necessity to ensure all IT functions and equipment is tracked. Hear from Dave Hodgdon and Lonnie Cherry of PCG IT on how and why to document. Listen or read more to find out about IT documentation.
Mike: It's the Tech Tuesday, all powered today by Portsmouth Computer Group; PCGIT.com is where you can find them on the web. You can also find them in the Portsmouth and Dover, and also with new locations in the Manchester and Portland, Maine, doing very, very well. And our good friend Dave Hodgdon and Lonnie Cherry join us both in studio today for Tech Tuesday.
Dave Hodgdon: Tech Tuesday.
Mike: Yeah, the guys are here. Good to see you. How are you? How's the summer been so far for you, Dave?
Dave: I had a little visit to the lake.
Mike: Isn't it great? It's just beautiful weather.
Dave: Yeah. Think about how hot it was and I woke up this morning at 6:30, it was like 67. Crisp, clear —
Dave: — Beautiful morning.
Mike: Beautiful weather. People say, "Oh, it's too hot. It's too hot." You know what? I'll take . . . it's easier to find ways to stay cool than it is to stay warm in the winter.
Dave: Hit the ocean. That's a good way to stay cool. I just love walking my dog on the beach, the beautiful time —
Mike: What beach do you go to mostly?
Dave: Pretty much down at the end of Cable Road, Janis Beach area.
Mike: That's in Rye, right?
Mike: Yeah, yeah. Do you go to the beach Lonnie at all?
Lonnie Cherry: Sometimes. Sometimes.
Mike: You prefer beach or lakes?
Mike: Yeah, me too.
Dave: I'm a beach guy, but I just love the ability to go to the lake and just stay in the water. You don't stay in the water up here, you get in, you get out.
Mike: Well yeah. Beach water temperature right now is about 67. Lake water temperature's like almost 10 degrees warmer.
Dave: Good stuff.
What is IT Documentation?
Mike: Well, good to have you guys with us again. It's a Tech Tuesday, Portsmouth Computer Group powering up the station here on WGSN. Today we talk about documentation, documentation, documentation. Record it, write it down. What are we talking about Dave? Documentation.
Dave: As with any business, I think you've got to have an idea of what's going on. In our world of technology, documentation is critical in order to manage the network, in order to assist the user's ability to know what the equipment is in place. And your landscape is always changing. And if you're not updating, what's in place, who's using what, what software vendors you're using it, it can become a mess. And we've noticed that as we bring on new clients, the previous vendors documentation is just not what should it be. So, we've been investing in many things to help automate documentation because it's not exciting to document per se, that a guy wants to write down everything because it's always changing.
Mike: Yeah. So, documentation, Lonnie, are we talking about just naming the computers and whose computer it is or more than that?
Lonnie: Oh, definitely more than that. We're talking about asset tagging, we're talking about taking a snapshot of what the network looks like, getting all the information for devices that are on that network, making sure that we make it easier for us to troubleshoot and find problems and discover changes. Because that's one of the huge things, if a change happens on the network, you may not know what change happened. And with some of those automated documentation tools we can actually see in real time those changes that were made and be able to fix what was changed.
Mike: So, give me something reasonably easy that people would recognize as far as documenting something on their computers or on their network on system that they may not even think about.
Lonnie: Probably one of the easiest things is asset tagging your equipment.
Mike: And what does that mean?
Lonnie: Basically, what you do is you label your equipment, usually typically with a number label, and then you keep track of that number in a table or a documentation like an Excel spreadsheet or something like that. And that corresponds with the user that has that piece of equipment. And you can easily track who has what equipment based on their asset tag numbers.
Mike: And where that computer is in the business?
Lonnie: Where that computer is.
Mike: What it's being used for?
Lonnie: Yeah, location of that computer.
Dave: Yeah. We find that that sheet, Mike, is fabulous at it because it tracks what the CPU is, what the memory is, the warranty, the operating system. And you know how you love Windows 10. I know you're on it.
Mike: Well, like I said, I got the two laptops at home and I got a desktop and I got four computers hanging around. So, I have, let's see . . . one's on Windows 10 and three are on Windows 7.
Lonnie: Well, you're getting there.
Dave: The reason I brought that up is that asset tagging is each one of our businesses, we run the report of what's in place and with the end of life Windows 7, we're able to pull up that list, tell the customer these need to be replaced or these qualify to be an upgrade. And warranties are very important. You want to set up to the key equipment like the firewall, the switching, the servers. You got to know that documentation because if there's ever an issue and you don't have that documented who the vendor is, where the warranty is, that that can make the engineer Lonnie's life . . . You're just chasing. You're in a rabbit hole.
Documenting the Network
Mike: So, when you say, guys, "document the network", what does that really mean? Is that just labeling the network?
Dave: Well, it's a lot more. It's the information of the network, so it could be diagrams, it could be the information about the particular software vendor. It could be the configuration of the firewall.
Dave: It could be who their internet provider is. It could be who the copier vendor is. It could be the alarm people. Anything that touches that network, you need to know who it is, who touches it, who's responsible, what the phone number is. Is it under warranty? And the day to day time-savings as an organization of having proper documentation, our team is able to serve you better. We're not just scratching, looking, "I have no idea. I have to go look. Let me go check with Lonnie and let me check with Steve".
Mike: So, can I compare it to what you're talking about to my phone. I just went to my phone and looked under the settings under general. It tells me the name of the phone, the software version, the model name, the model number, serial number, all that stuff.
Dave: All that stuff and our software would automate and pull that. So, say if you lost your phone and there was some specific stuff, we would have that information.
Lonnie: PCG uses a number of tools to automate that process so that we can drink in that information in real time. So, if changes happen on the fly, like if your firewall's configuration changes, we can see what configuration changes happened. And in a lot of cases, they're more readily fix a problem or troubleshooting issue that that may be caused by a virus or someone getting into your systems for a malicious attack, all that stuff. It saves us time. And it actually saves the client money because we're able to troubleshoot in a timely fashion.
Who’s Responsible for IT Documentation?
Mike: But is it Portsmouth Computer Group that documents systems and networks, or do you require the business owner to do that?
Dave: Well, there's a certain step we want from them. There's a baseline we ask them, "Please provide us your internet bill. Please provide us a list of your users. Tell us who your software vendor is." A lot of times it takes effort to get that from them. Once we get that, we kind of call it their playbook. It's their Bible. This information for each customer is individual to them. It's encrypted, it's all theirs.
But the more we can feed into this system, we as a team, there's 20 of us that I don't need to have to go ask Lonnie, "Hey do you have the warranty on this?" I go to Janell, "Did you renew this thing?" I go over to Dan, "Hey, what's the firewall configuration?" If we do our job and we document as a team, we work better.
Lonnie: Our goal is basically that anybody who shows up at your organization will know the same information as your lead technician.
Mike: So, it's very valuable that companies invest in documentation. It's a key.
Lonnie: Absolutely key.
Dave: It's a key. And from our stand we are investing, Mike, to automate it because think about to have to manually always go around and catch stuff. It's time consuming. So now there's tools that we've invested in that go into the network and allows us . . . what's the word I want to . . . it's almost like a spider. It's going in there and it's figuring everything out and once those crawlers are in there, it takes the information back to us into our systems. And as things change, it updates it. So, say if you put a new machine and the old one goes out, the new one comes in.
Dave: You got a new ISP and you got to take the old stuff out. Put the new one in. And there's a big buzz word in internet called a static IP. Think of that as your address at your home, that if you change your internet and you don't tell us that you've got a new internet provider with a new static IP, it'll break your network, that you can't get in and out of it.
Mike: Static IP, is that your IP address? Is that your address?
Lonnie: Yeah, essentially it's the address that your device has that tells everything on the network, who it is and where to find it.
Dave: I kind of looked at like in your home address and my address is 63 Cable. If I just say Cable Road and they're driving up and down, they have no idea where to go it. It's specifically where they're going to hit you right there.
Mike: Sure, sure.
Dave: But this automation is really is . . . I'd say the last two years is really from, all IT is just stepped up. And you got to think about it from my fleet of cars, when I show up there, they know what each car's doing. You go to your medical offices, if you just show up each time they don't have your records. It takes time to figure out what's going on.
How Long Will Documenting Take?
Mike: Is this a long process to document everything in the system?
Lonnie: Not with these tools actually. With these tools it takes a little less time for us to get the information that we need to properly service our customers. And we're starting to find actually that it's one of the things that sets us apart from our competitors.
When we take on new clients and stuff like that, it's sometimes hard to get information. That's the client's information. These clients think that these things are happening for their organization and they're not. They're not at all.
Mike: And the real key is to keep these things updated, right?
Dave: We use the big buzz word "on-boardings" when we take a new client on, Mike. You got to know anything and everything that's possible because we have no idea when they're going to call in, "I need help on X". Well, if we don't have that information on a particular software vendor of this quick bucks person, "Oh, I get support from this person".
Mike: Sure, yeah.
Dave: No printer configurations. When you're dealing with multiple sites, it becomes a little more complicated. So, the more we can gather, the better we'll be able to help that customer in a shorter period of time.
And that's all what IT is. They want it now. And imagine if it takes us two, three hours to figure out something, they're not happy compared to having that information and then, within a few minutes, able to help solve them. And it is a team effort that each time someone works on something, Mike, if they find something new, it's important for them to update it.
Dave: And we're also telling our customer, "If you know of something you need to update", because we're giving them access to our IT solutions that do the documentation. We're allowing them to update it too, because it is a team effort.
How to Automate Documentation
Mike: And documentation can be automated?
Dave: Absolutely. Yeah.
Mike: And do you guys initiate the automation?
Dave: Yes. Yes, absolutely. And that all goes through onboarding. There's probably what about seven or eight tools that we're using that are collecting various things.
It costs money to document, but imagine me wasting Lonnie's time for five, six days trying to collect all this stuff where he puts this . . . as you're like the network detective, you got other information that goes out there and gathers all this stuff.
Mike: Well, I can imagine and if something happens to the system, or the network of the software or the hardware, the first thing you need is your documentation. What do you have? What did you have? That's where you need to start, with that information, right?
Dave: Just kind of like what happened, what originally was the issue? Oh, let's kind of go backwards. And then that helps them solve the problems. And that's what we do.
Lonnie: And if you think of it from a business perspective, we're helping them out too. Especially the ones that are required to provide information for audits and stuff like that. We have that information readily available for you. So, when it comes time for audit season, "Hey, you need X, Y, Z. Here you go. We have it all for you in one room."
Dave: It's more goes to the cloud right there. We need to, it's just as important to automate what they have up in the cloud too, Mike. It's just not what's on premise but what's out there, because ultimately we need to support the customer what's in the cloud, whether that's their line of business applications, it's as yours. They're 365. That the passwords is a huge thing for people to . . . if he can't get into the equipment, we're hosed.
Mike: You can't help them. You can't help them. All right. Lonnie and Dave joining us Tech Tuesday from Portsmouth Computer Group. Always good to see you guys. Thank you for coming in again.
Lonnie: Thank you for having us.
Mike: Enjoy the summer. We're halfway through the month of July, my favorite month.
Dave: You know what's nice? The Patriots are almost in town. It's that time of the season.
Mike: Almost in town. And check it out, we're all in part powered by Portsmouth's Computer Group, PCG IT with convenient locations, in Portsmouth and Dover. Brand new in Manchester and Portland, Maine. Thanks guys. Have a great Tuesday.
Lonnie: Thank you.
Dave: My pleasure.