Client office or data center relocations are possibly the most dangerous projects IT consultants ever accept. When you consider the myriad ways such projects can go so badly and irrevocably sideways, the job should lead to feelings of anxiety.
So why would we even want to take on the task? Because overseeing clients' office moves ensures that you don't end up looking incompetent, untrustworthy, and generally inept.
Proper planning is key to success
While it's no big deal if the wrong desk chair is placed in the wrong cube, or the kitchen wastebaskets are unpacked to the conference room, email must begin flowing as soon as possible. Internet access must work as soon as users begin plugging back in. VPNs must be relit super fast.
Thus, network routers must be reconfigured quickly using new and certainly complex IP settings. Telecommunications circuits, too, must be prepped properly long before the move. And none of those tasks can be completed in a hurry. Coordinated, meticulous planning is required.
Here are steps IT consultants should take to minimize confusion, errors, and omissions:
- Build a project plan that lists interdependencies. For example, if the client has tapped another contractor to install cabling, note that your office can't begin connecting client desktops to the network until the cable installer has not only run new Ethernet, but properly terminated and labeled every line.
- List responsible parties when building that project plan. When noting the above dependencies, do it by name. Don't just list ACME Company as being responsible for the cabling -- enter the ACME Company representative's name (and the rep's phone number) who promises the task will be complete.
- Record every important task. From migrating telecommunications services to determining who will actually break down and move server racks, create line items for every important step. This way you ensure the client doesn't think your office is responsible for contacting the telecommunications provider to coordinate the T1 migration, when you're thinking the client is going to complete that task, and the movers don't leave empty server cabinets in the old data center thinking your firm was going to move them when you thought the movers were going to move those cages.
- Note day, date, and time within all plans and email messages. I've made the mistake of building complex spreadsheets that list the date a project (telcom demarc extended, server rack installed, etc.) will be completed. That's not sufficient information. You need to also list the day, date, and actual time by which that task will be complete. This is particularly true for office and data center relocations when multiple parties (movers, cabling contractors, telecommunications consultants, alarm installers, and painters) compete for the same spaces at the same time.
- Always perform at least two walk-throughs. When you first hear word of a client office move, travel to the new location with the client. Ensure everyone agrees as to where network equipment will be placed, where network printers will be deployed, etc. Ensure sufficient electrical service and Ethernet drops are in place. The second time you perform a walk through at the new site (which ideally should be at least a full business week before the move is to occur), ensure any remaining electrical or cabling work has been completed.
- Keep an eye out for the client's telephone needs. Frequently clients fail to budget sufficient voice lines. Be sure that, for every data line that's being run, an adjacent voice line is included, too (or that the client is aware a telephone jack won't be available at a specific location).
- Consider a Gantt chart. While you might not require the complexity of Microsoft Project, Tom's Planner provides an easy and free (in beta) Web-based method of tracking interdependencies, responsibilities, and task distributions and schedules.
What not to do
You also need to be aware of what not to do in these situations. Here are real-world lessons:
- Do not let movers move laptops, desktop computers, servers, or other network equipment. Your office needs to provide clients that service when clients move offices or data centers. Movers aren't HIPAA compliant; they could drop and jar stuff, and they stack equipment in weird ways.
- Do not pack battery backups, keyboards, mice, cabling, or other similar items without labeling the container in which they're packed with the end user's name. Such items quickly become lost or misplaced when not contained together in redeployment sets.
- Do not forget to pack peripherals together. Always physically label users' desktop computers, monitors, docking stations, and other equipment. There's no other way to ensure Betty receives her adjustable-stand monitor instead of Bobby's fixed-stand display.
- Do not install and set up equipment at the new location until movers have completed their work moving in furniture. Make sure the client confirms the movers have actually placed desks, credenzas, and shelving units in the proper locations.
- Do not neglect cabling tasks. Insist on cable installers having labeled wall jacks and punch down blocks prior to moving in to a new location. It's no fun sharing a server room, while you're sweating to quickly install rack upon rack of servers, while telcom guys are toning lines in the same cabinets.
Client office moves don't have to kill you. With proper planning, you can ensure relocations proceed smoothly. Fail to properly manage such projects, though, and you could lose a client. If that prospect doesn't scare you, I don't know what does.
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Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.