What to do if you inherit a poorly managed network

Far too often we hear stories of managed service providers (MSPs) that have taken on a new customer, only to find out the reason they have the business is because of issues with their last IT provider. They’ve gone into the office of the new customer to find switches in every room to split the one jack in the office into 3 or 4, the server cobbled together from workstation parts, and a home router trying to serve 100+ devices. This is scenario is far too common, especially in the SMB market.

The problem is it can be a real challenge to get the customer to understand just how bad the situation is and what it’s going to take to get it up to a responsible level. Here are two steps you can use to help explain what is going on:

Step one: define the starting point

startingpoint.jpgThe starting point document is going to outline what you know and what you do not know, for example:

  • Current issues being experienced
  • Obvious issues found on visual inspection
  • List of what you need to find out

Step two: make sure your customer agrees to a few points

Establish some basic ground rules, such as:

  • The current status of the network is sub-normal, and issues will continue until it is resolved
  • Determining the real status of the network will take time and investigation
  • Remediation will take time and money
  • Work is on a time and materials basis until the network is up to a manageable level

Once everyone agrees to the process, it is time to roll up your sleeves and find where all the gremlins are hiding. I am not going into the details of a discovery process since you probably already have one, but here are nine key things to look for:

  1. Physical Devices and Network—Where is everything, how is it connected, and do you have working credentials for all devices? Keep in mind they could have hidden switches in the ceiling and walls—and, yes, I have seen this.
  2. WiFi—Track down all the SSIDs and find all access points. Rogue access points and WiFi networks can be a serious security issue not to mention the fact that they interfere with the rest of the WiFi network.
  3. Users—Find out who all the active users are supposed to be. Compare that against domain and local users on devices. In addition, check for old email addresses for inactive users. Are there admin users utilized by the previous IT provider?
  4. Servers—What services are on each server? What users have access to which services?
  5. Backup—Where are the backups, are they working, are they properly configured, and can you access them?
  6. Cloud Services—What services are utilized, what users are using which services, do you have admin access, and what security is in place?
  7. WAN Connectivity—Who is the ISP, what class of service is installed, what incoming ports are open, and where are those ports routed?
  8. Warranty/Useful Life—What devices are under a current warranty? What devices are at the end of their useful life?
  9. Support Agreements—What devices, services, and software licenses have support agreements? Who covers those agreements?

agreepoints.jpgWhen you have this information or lack thereof, you can approach the customer with a list of things to request from their employees as well as the former IT provider. Once that is collected and added to your discovery, you can present your customer with your full assessment.

This assessment phase is where you should make the customer aware of what you have found during a more thorough and detailed study of their network, where you present an estimate of how much it will cost, and how long it will take to remediate. The assessment should include a quotation to cover time and materials, but more importantly, it should include a detailed description of the issues found and what problems bringing the network up to your standards will resolve. It is helpful to express these as benefits to the customer regarding how it will improve their business. Saving them money or increasing productivity are common ways to express this.

Step three: Beginning the work

After that, it is time to get to work again. You have reviewed the assessment with the customer and they have approved the work to begin. The order in which you prioritize the remediation is a matter of opinion, but I believe it is important so here is the order I would place them in.

  1. Security—The last thing you want is for a breach to occur because the old IT provider or former employee still has access. So get the obvious security vulnerabilities sorted as quickly as possible.
  2. Data Integrity—Make sure the backups are configured, running and that you can restore from them.
  3. Reliability—Stabilize the physical network and devices that are actively failing, as necessary to increase uptime and productivity.
  4. Performance—Replace devices, services, and network infrastructure, as necessary to improve performance and productivity.

Remember, during the remediation process, all work is still time & materials based.

What now? The network environment is now up to your standards, and you have everything documented. Now is time for the celebratory meeting with your customer to update them, deliver their documented network binder and discuss the plan going forward. The network binder, in my opinion, is an essential deliverable. It is a physical representation of all the work you had to do to get the network up to standard.

This process documents and sets expectations for your relationship with the customer moving forward. It explains what is covered and, more importantly, what is not covered under your managed services agreement. It includes information like engagement procedures, business hoursresponse times, and SLAs. Setting expectations is one of the best way to avoid future disputes and often to resolve them if they come up.

All of the work above is designed to make it possible for you to deliver a solid managed services plan to the customer with little risk to your profit margin. Executed well, inheriting a poorly managed environment and fixing it can be a benefit to the customer and a long-term revenue stream for you.

Additional Reading

Eric Anthony is principal of customer experience at SolarWinds MSP. Before joining SolarWinds, Eric ran his own managed service provider business for over six years.

You can follow Eric on Twitter at @EricAnthonyMSP

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