Hardware

Train consulting clients to monitor their own systems

You can't possibly keep tabs on all the PCs in your consultancy network, so train users to monitor systems themselves. Susan Harkins suggests which tasks to teach them and explains how this exercise can help build your relationship with clients.

 IT isn't just technical nuts and bolts. As a consultant, you spend at least part of your time building trust with your clients and their employees. They don't have to be separate issues though.

One way to build trust and get technical tasks done at the same time is to train clients. Now, you can't train them to do everything, but you can teach individuals how to monitor their systems and keep things running smoothly. In short, teach them how to do the following tasks for themselves:

  • Run a full virus scan every day. If the software runs the scan automatically, show users how to check the log to make sure the software actually ran the scan as scheduled.
  • Check virus software to make sure it's running and its definitions are up-to-date.
  • Check backup files to make sure the process was successful.
  • Check for Microsoft patches and updates. This teaching process will depend on update settings.
  • Check for security breaches (if a firewall is installed on the local system).
  • Clear temporary files and downloaded program files.
  • Defrag the system regularly.

These are just a few things that the average user is certainly capable of handling. With a checklist and some basic training, users can monitor their own systems and save you the trouble of performing these tasks. Teaching users how to monitor their systems displays trust and confidence, and both go a long way toward building a good relationship with your clients. Perhaps most importantly, users will learn a bit about their systems and learn to recognize when they should call you for help.

Are there any items that you would add to the list? If you have trained clients to monitor their systems, how is it going? Post your thoughts and experience to the discussion.

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About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

11 comments
david
david

On the surface this sounds great. However, you are advising consultants to "leave money on the table" as they say. With the advent of tools like Kaseya, a consultant can offer managed services just like the big dogs. This opens new recurring revenue streams without increasing the workload leaving time for projects. In this economic downturn consultants have a path to increase their income which is recurring without increasing their workload significantly. It sure is nice to know that each month I have $KK dollars coming in and still have time for projects and marketing. I deliver everything mentioned and more plus complete monitoring of workstations and servers detecting when they are down and for what reason, etc., even being able to automatically restart services like Exchange until I can get to it and resolve the problem. Kaseya pages me on critical issues so I am calling my clients alerting them to problems and the solutions that are in process even before they think about calling me and sometimes before they even know they have a problem. The investment in the tool is well within the range of what an individual consultant can afford especially if you consider leasing the tool, making you instantly profitable. You can consider deploying it yourself if and when it makes economic sense. There is a drawback... you must be willing to embrace the mindset shift from break/fix to preventative maintenance. I have found this to be extremely difficult for many consultants, but once embraced, income increases exponentially while workload increases by an hour (usually less) per week per 100 workstations. If you want to see more check out http://hasslefreeitservices.com/modules/wiwimod/index.php?page=services4

reisen55
reisen55

I am an advocate of an office champion able to diagnose and fix easy things, such as cable replacement, bad switch etc. Drive mappings are a big issue sometimes. And here I can (and should do more of) account documentation. This list above, however, chills me to a degree. Most on this list are either issues I handle through proper software configuration, time of event and remote control access. Particularly backups. I am responsible for restoration of systems, inclusive of server, workstation, and corporate data and I do not want that responsibility in anybody else's hands. I automate whenever possible so that I do not have to worry much, but this is again under my control and, as I tell my clients..... If I am doing my job right, then you will not see me very often. Think about it for a moment. If I am an on-site consultant continually putting out fires ... why is that so? Some consultants may purposefully create fires so they can put them out and send out that all important invoice. I often have to work with or around my clients based on their level of expertise. Many do not convert easily to my methods so I have to adapt my methods to suit their individual office situation. You cannot bludgeon a staff into a way of work and for the simple reason that they already HAVE A JOB and one job is often enough. It is not in their job description to manage a computer network. That is what they pay me for and I do it efficiently.

ssharkins
ssharkins

I agree on the network monitoring -- my list was for local systems only.

reisen55
reisen55

In so far as local problems, I am advocating by contract an office champion for 2009, a dedicated staffer who knows those little nasty solutions, such as an unplugged cable, what lights mean and the structure of the network fault points. I have to share several systems on micro-switch connections because of additional systems added over time, and here - if the switch goes out (and I have physically taped power into position and screwed the switch to the wall so it cannot be moved or kicked) ... if 2 computers are out, perhaps the switch itself is at fault. Little things like that. And nothing more for they have their own, complex jobs to do. Ever fill out an insurance form and submit that!!!!! I respect their jobs too, do not overburden them and, to a degree, have even spoiled them rotten.

ssharkins
ssharkins

Whatever works. :) It sounds like you've developed a good system and rapport with your users.

shawn.anderson
shawn.anderson

Your article caught my attention as it deals with monitoring. Your checklist was perfect. It's one thing to have your anti-virus scans and your backups run daily, but if you don't check your logs and event manager for errors then you're setting yourself up for some pretty serious pain. I've been doing systems management for over a decade, and one aspect that has flummoxed me is how expensive it is to actually license and deploy monitoring software. One product that you may want to try out is Admin Arsenal. I work for Brisworks, the company that makes Admin Arsenal, so my opinion is going to be less than unbiased. But your list of things to teach your customers is right in line with why we built AA. Keep it simple to learn and simple to use. Teaching your customers the simple things to maintain their environment also empowers them to make better decisions, which in the long run make your job easier to perform. Great post. Cheers, Shawn Anderson www.brisworks.com

ssharkins
ssharkins

Thanks -- I agree, training users has many benefits, and as you mentioned, it certainly makes the admin or consultant's job easier. I think my main concern is that users become familiar enough with their systems that they notice when something isn't quite right. I don't expect them to know what to do -- I just want them to know to call! :)

StealthWiFi
StealthWiFi

Every User from small to large companies not just Consulting clients should be doing this. The admins job is not to baby sit, people use a car and there expected to keep it clean, same principal. A simple checklist with a schedule and even a nice looking little binder with more detailed info when needed comes in handy. This helps the user's build confidence and a realationship with you. Even the most anti-tech user can get these simple things done with perhaps a little creativity on your part and practise on theirs. This will help them feel empowered and not at the mercy if "IT" and may even help them over there fear/dislike of tech. Cheers,

clarv02
clarv02

Almost 100% of our clients are on Small Business Server, which has some great tools built in for monitoring, and sends a daily comprehensive server report via email. And if they use 3rd party backup software, it also has the ability to email logs daily. I charge our clients .25 hour per week for regular monitoring, which involves daily review (takes about 1 minute per day) of server performance reports and backup logs. Then once a week I remote into their server and check other things like Windows updates (using WSUS which is a free tool), UPS status, anti virus status, etc. I give them the option of receiving the same monitoring emails that I do - some want to and some don't. But they trust me to know what I'm looking for and I really don't think most of them will catch things that stand out for me. Now I do like to empower them to do as much as they are comfortable doing, but that does not include most of the things that are listed here.

ssharkins
ssharkins

What sorts of tasks do your users do for themselves, if any --you mentioned that you do like the idea of empowering them, so just curious what your list looks like.

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zaragoza424zar

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