What is the Difference Between Alignment and Documentation?

To some, it can be difficult to differentiate between aligning clients with standards and best practices and documenting client environments. MSPs should consider both of these areas significantly important, but understand the difference between the two. To put it simply…

Documentation is how things are right now & Alignment is how things should be compared against your standards

Documentation –How things are
Every company should put processes around documentation. Professional services should be creating documentation so that the support desk has reference material when reactive tickets are submitted. Support desk should make note of any missing documentation throughout their day to day efforts. While doing technology alignment reviews, the Technology Alignment Manager often finds that documentation needs to be updated or created. These items should be noted and submitted to a shared list, and then queued up to be completed. At every organization, someone should be held accountable to ensuring documentation is delegated to the right team(s) and we are all actively working on completing it. In many instances, it makes sense to have someone in the Service Desk delivery area own this process as they are actively using the documentation when completing reactive tickets.

Alignment – How things should be
The Technology Alignment process is meant to continuously align clients with standards and best practices. The box and the blob (pictured below) analogy explains this in a simple way: if our standards are the box and our client’s alignment is against our standards is the blob, we want to constantly attempt to push our clients into the box as much as possible. While we know that clients will never be 100% in alignment, we continue to proactively review their environments to drive down reactive noise and notify the vCIO of misalignments. Creating, updating, and modifying standards and best practices should be a collaborative and deliberate process among multiple different functions of the MSP. Each delivery area has a unique perspective, and can offer value as we consider the standards that define our organization’s ideal client environment. 

The processes MSPs put in place around technology alignment and documentation are key to a high value, strategic vCIO process that differentiates TruMethods MSPs from the average MSP. They enable the vCIO to easily reference key information and map out a strategic roadmap that helps business owners and leaders understand technology’s impact on their business. While that is what demonstrates the value of your service to clients, it is not doable without a strong foundation of technology alignment and documentation!

Think about this: What internal processes or systems has your company put in place for technology alignment and documentation?

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3 Tips for vCIOs to Create Strategic Business Initiatives

When creatingstrategic initiatives in the myITprocess Strategic Roadmap, it is common to get pulled in the direction of creatinginitiativesthat reference technology versus plugging into clients’ business initiatives.Recommendationscan and should be a blend of business and technology suggestions, but should always reference a business case as to why the recommendation should be accepted.

Far too often, we see vCIOs fall into the trap of referencing technology without translating that back to the client’s business needs which tends to dilute the value of vCIO meetings over time. Since we should be meeting with decision makers who tend to be non-technical, these business owners and leaders need to be guided toward understanding why investment in technology is truly a business investment that impacts all other functional areas of their organization. Here are some tips to create that TruBusiness partnership that significantly impacts client and MSP success:

  1. Be genuinely curious about how technology ties into the bigger picture: A quote by Dale Carnegie sums up this point, “To be interesting, be interested.” A vCIO’s experience working with a variety of clients in different businesses can be invaluable and oftentimes cross over from one client to another. As you learn from your contacts, look for trends across clients and figure out if what was learned from one client can be applied to other clients in different industries. This can also impact vCIO efficiency and further streamline processes!
  2. Create and update a Business Canvas for each client regularly: If vCIOs put some process around regularly updating the information on a Business Canvass, this can lead to value demonstration down the road when referencing back to the starting point. Understanding a client’s goals and key metrics that drive their results, and then making an effort to impact those metrics in pursuit of their goals is highly valuable to business owners.
  3. Lean on TruMethods content and community: Between the vCIO Content in the Service Delivery Track of the TruMethods Member’s Portal (particularlyBuilding Strategic RelationshipsandStrategy & Budgeting), our weekly vCIO All Stars, and this myITprocess Community forum, there is no shortage of information to inspire vCIOs to keep thinking strategically when preparing for/facilitating client meetings!

The technology and security landscape are moving too fast for us to lose our captive audiences. Keep the client’s business in mind with each and every initiative, and they will always keep your pre-scheduled meetings a high priority!

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A Metaphor for Continuous Improvement in Technology Alignment & vCIO

How did a parking lot remind me of your Technology Success practice?

Although some people have returned to the office at this point in the pandemic, there are still many people working from home. Of the companies that are still working from home, their office parking lots have not seen nearly the amount of activity that they once did. At one point after TruMethods went to work from home, I drove past an office parking lot in town and noticed mother nature was taking over.

Some context: This particular parking lot was covered with rocks versus having been paved. Underneath those rocks? I can only imagine it was dirt. The previously predictable daily human intervention in the form of cars driving on top of it and people walking over it, along with occasional landscaping was no longer in motion since everyone was working from home. This allowed for entropy (the natural disorder of things) to take its course, and greenery started peeking through.

If you have made it this far, now it’s time to connect this seemingly random observation to your MSP’s service delivery operations. When it comes to proactive activities likeTechnology AlignmentandvCIO, we either continue the discipline which allows for it to stay clean and efficient or we fall off course which results in most of the work that went into it to unravel. The latter tends to take us back into focusing on reactive, lower value activities which permeate through the organization (similar to the weeds in the parking lot) and impact the company’s efficiency and profitability.

Here are some key recommendations that TruMethods makes regularly in order to keep proactive discipline in place as MSPs implement and continuously improve upon the Technology Success practice:

  • Pre-schedule Technology Alignment and vCIO meetings with clients. This lends itself to more predictability internally, and continuous client expectation setting. We recommend scheduling these a year in advance, but even mapping out each quarter would do the job to get started.
  • Put appropriateService Delivery Meeting Structurein place.These are meeting rhythms scheduled internally to keep the team on track and in constant communication. Form a standards committee and have them meet on a regular basis. Depending on the size of your organization, the committee could vary in size but should represent reactive, proactive, and strategic functions of the business in order to add multiple layers of perspective.
  • Regularly re-evaluate the frequencies of theSuccess Rhythms set in place.The rhythms that were determined when you started may not be the rhythms that are needed now, determine what frequencies make the most sense for you and your clients as you move down the path to proactivity.

The way to be successful is to be consistent, and keeping the appropriate disciplines in place (while evaluating/adjusting them on a regular basis) will keep you on track toward building a more successful, proactive MSP. Unlike with an overgrown parking lot, we cannot just occasionally call in the landscapers when our operations and client relationships go sideways. Keep the right disciplines in place, and your Technology Success practice will continue to thrive! 

Think about this: What other disciplines do you and your teams put in place to keep continuous improvement efforts alive in your organizations?

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Demonstrating Value to MSP Clients in a Deliberate and Meaningful Way

Have you recently taken a step back to ask yourself: “What am I doing to deliberately demonstrate the value that I work so hard to deliver to customers?” In the MSP world, “we don’t hear from them much” is simply not an acceptable way to explain an overall client relationship. 

Of course, it’s excellent when we are able to explain the reactive nature of the relationship that way. However, there needs to be pre-scheduled, proactive cycles around reviewing technology and communicating the potential ramifications of outdated policies, procedures, and practices.Clients need to hear from us!

This has always been our claim at TruMethods, as there has always been risk (and opportunity) in technical misalignments. With that said, the risk factors have exponentially increased with the current cybersecurity landscape and it is the MSP’s responsibility to tie all the risks they know about back to their client’s business needs. The key point to be made here is “risks they know about.” We don’t know what we don’t know until we do, right? That’s why proactive Technology Alignment is so crucial!

The two highest value delivery areas (in terms of client perception) in the TruMethods framework are Technology Alignment and vCIO. For any MSP, these functions are central to the results that we look to achieve in terms of operational efficiency and strategic relationship management. They are also the key to deliberately demonstrating value to clients on a long-term basis, and if done right, can even help the client become better educated on how technology can impact their overall business goals.

Here are some suggestions that can assist in demonstrating value to clients:

  • Technology Alignment:
    • Pre-schedule alignment reviews (6-12 months in advance) and be sure there’s a calendar invite sent promptly that includes the technical point of contact
    • Set an agenda for the review, include a pre-review and post-review check with a point of contact to begin and end the proactive engagement
    • Make your presence known: If on-site, take a little bit of time to talk with end users. If remote, use Slack, Teams, or email to notify end users about the review and offer technical tips & tricks.This is not meant to collect reactive issues, but could be an opportunity to train end users on how to submit tickets if they experience any issues.
  • Virtual CIO:
    • Pre-schedule Technology Steering meetings (6-12 months in advance) and send out agendas ahead of time to give the client a chance to suggest edits
    • Conductunique touchesin between scheduled vCIO Technology Steering meetings so that the owner/C-Level contact understands how the proactive process continues outside of the larger strategic meetings
    • Periodically take a moment to point out progress: Alignment score improvements, impactful changes to their KPI’s, lower ticket noise translating to better end-user efficiency
    • Translate any technical jargon into language the Owner/C-Level contact can understand, and keep it as simple as possible. After all, this isthe essence of vCIO, isn’t it? Making IT seem less overwhelming and tying it back to what will improve business outcomes directly demonstrates value.

Spoiler alert:This is an inherent side effect of properly implementing and/or maintaining your Technology Success practice. Please be sure to reach out to the TruMethods team if we need to make some adjustments or put more discipline around the process… it’s what we do!

Take in all of the information in this blog post and also think of this: What are other ways you are able to demonstrate value to clients while navigating technical and business relationships?

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3 Tactics for MSPs to Drive Down Reactive Noise

For MSPs, reactive noise is a major variable that impacts profitability. Since the amount of time spent on reactive tickets directly impacts profitability, all of the other operational functions within an MSP should work toward driving down the time spent on reactive tasks. 

Here are a few ways that MSPs can focus on proactive tasks to drive down time spent on clients reactively:

Implement Technology Alignment

Technology Alignment is a key role in the Technology Success process. The Technology Success process focuses on the importance of value-based relationships and delivering business results for customers. As the MSP market continues to mature, companies are searching for ways to stay ahead of the competition, and becoming a Technology Success Practice sets them apart.

To reduce reactive noise levels (or reactive tasks) and build more valuable vCIO processes, MSPs must build an IT strategy that aligns client technologies with their IT standards and shows them the business impact of misalignments. A Technology Success Practice has clearly defined roles and disciplined processes around technology standards and alignment. Pre-scheduled, consistent alignment visits that focus on reviewing the right categories at the right time will create a proactive relationship with clients. 

At TruMethods, we recommend designating a Technology Alignment Manager (TAM) to not only own the client environment and stay ahead of the technology, but create lasting relationships with end users since they spend time on-site. The TAM is also responsible for leading the evolution of your company’s Standards Library, which includes a compilation of different requirements, such as legal and compliance requirements, security requirements, or business-specific requirements. Standards and best practices change as technology changes, so there needs to be a process around considering what new standards will drive down reactive noise. 

Focus on Standards & Best Practices

There should be an internal focus in your MSP on maintaining a valuable Standards Library. This is not limited to the wording of the standards and best practices that uniquely exist within your MSP. Having a central location where the team can determine frequency, priority, and how the standards should be organized is essential. Considering what tickets are being submitted to the Support Desk and identifying trends that can be built into proactive standards can make a huge impact. 

If you are implementing these tactics, all of your clients will be aligned against the same standards and your Standards Library will define Your Company Way (or the end-result that your services deliver to clients). With that being said, companies that do not have a focus on evolving a Standards Library will fall behind and become more reactive as technology changes and their clients become more complex. 

Use Findings to Fuel Strategic Initiatives

There is value in doing Technology Alignment proactively, and there is added value in using the information found during the alignment process for strategic planning. Reviews should be done to assess a client’s environment and determine how well they are aligned with your company’s standards and best practices. Virtual Chief Information Officers (vCIOs) should take the information from the review, analyze the risk associated with misalignments, and use those findings to support strategic initiatives.

Projects will result from knowing what is in and out of alignment. Considering the clients’ business needs, they will be prioritized strategically with the end-result in mind and further suppress reactive noise once completed. Using a strategic planning process to drive down reactive noise over time will result in a more valuable relationship, which is mutually beneficial. Clients see improvement in efficiency as they work toward business goals, while your MSP experiences more profitability and focuses on proactive, valuable, and profitable activities!

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