At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, IT services providers scrambled to try and set employees up to work from home. As much as possible, they tried to do this remotely. Many providers have already realized it’s possible to onboard devices and users remotely. However, I’d like to discuss whether it’s possible to remotely onboard an entire customer—not just a few users or devices. You may be surprised to know the answer is yes and that some providers are already doing it. Those who do it well see significant reductions in the cost of onboarding. So how do you onboard your customers remotely?
Step 1—Set expectations
First and foremost, make sure your customer agreements are detailed so each party knows what to expect. In this case, you want to detail how you will handle the remote onboarding process. In most cases, you’ll need at least a technical contact at each client site to provide basic assistance to the MSP. The other element that should be included is time. The MSP should be able to estimate the time it will take overall as well as for their employees to assist.
Use a tool to scan as much as you can of the remote environment. It is amazing what you can find just by getting your agent on a single device at a site. Have your onsite resource take pictures of any server closets or items that may not get picked up on a scan of the environment. Review this information and compile a network map as best you can, filling in any gaps with additional questions to ask during the next virtual meeting. Your goal is to find all the devices, applications, cloud services, users and vendors that exist around their IT environment. Asking questions to get details comes in step 3.
The next virtual meeting with the client is where you will ask all you’re the questions that your assessment phase uncovered so you have a good idea of the environment before you start. Once you have enough information, build out a deployment plan for the following:
- Documenting everything (should be at least 50% done from step 2)
- Deploying remote support, monitoring software, backup services and security offering
Now that you have deployed your basic monitoring and are collecting data, you can identify and fix any urgent issues. Much of this phase involves configuring all end points so that they are as similar as possible with regard to configuration to make them easier to support. Setting configurations, deploying software and other tasks like this are ideal for your RMM tool to handle. You can also begin identifying items that fall below your standards for inclusion in your service contract and propose updates. Once any updates are approved and there is equipment to replace, make sure you receive the devices and set them up as much as possible in your location before shipping them or taking them to the client. Avoid person to person contact if possible but when necessary, follow all government and recommended guidelines for working during COVID-19.
The final step includes verifying that all your managed services offerings are deployed to all devices, that backups and security elements are in place and working, and that everything is documented properly. Once complete, you can inform the client that onboarding is done, and they are now under your managed services agreement (assuming that your onboarding phase is considered project work).
Because this onboarding process means you spend significantly less time in front of the customer, it is imperative that you keep them in the loop at all times. At minimum, send them weekly status reports or have weekly status meetings via teleconference. Also, make sure you are not over-using their internal people without explicit permission to use their resources. You do not want the business owner getting upset because you are keeping people from their day jobs.
It is important to continue gaining new customers and getting them onboarded as quickly as possible even during the current crisis. Who knows, you may find a way to make remote onboarding so efficient that it becomes your new normal. Onboarding can be a complex and long task, getting it done efficiently and correctly benefits both the client and the MSP.
Eric Anthony is the Head Operations Nerd at SolarWinds MSP. Before joining SolarWinds, Eric ran his own managed services provider business for over six years.
You can follow Eric on Twitter at @operations_nerd