After working in the IT Managed Services industry for over 18 years, particularly in medium and small business markets, I’ve come across businesses of all shapes and sizes. The underlying goal has always been simply to keep business processes up and running. If an IT instance is broken, new business leaders understand very easily that they need the support to fix it as quickly and efficiently as possible. This line of thinking is apparent, and it doesn’t take clients long to figure out.
The questions I’m asking and the tips I’m suggesting are those items that may not be as apparent because they don’t occur regularly. They don’t slap you in the face, like a check printer breaking during end-of-month payroll. Nevertheless, they do happen routinely, and if they aren’t considered, could bring your business processes to a halt.
Tip 1: Who is Your Wingman?
Now if you happen to be an IT professional starting a new business for yourself, you can possibly ignore this tip, but if you’re like most people, you either know a little bit about IT (possibly, you’ve built your own computer at home), or you don’t know a hard drive from a stick of RAM. In both circumstances, you need informed decision making. And if informed IT business decisions sound intimidating, it’s because they can be.
You should find yourself an IT consultant who can assist you when making choices that relate to your business. There are plenty of third party options out there. Some are worth more than others. What is most important is to find a professional who is willing to tell you what they do and do not know. I’ve never met an IT Systems Engineer that knew everything about everything, although I have run into plenty who claim to.
That said, you could be at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding if their help is worth your salt. My advice is to pay attention to recommendations, verify your IT support vendor supports the technology you already use and make sure they follow through with services they promise. A good IT service support provider will make everything else here much easier.
Tip 2: Do You Have a Backup Plan?
If your assistant quits, what happens? I imagine the answer is that additional work is about to land on someone’s lap and most likely, that’s you. This isn’t the end of the world, but your productivity is going to go down until counter measures are enacted to pick up the load your assistant has left scattered in their wake. The most obvious answer in your current predicament is to hire a new assistant.
But how do we apply this to the world of IT? What IT dependent processes are most critical? Consider everything your employees are doing on a day-to-day basis and how dependent those functions are on the technology being used. Once you have those identified, it’s time to consider what could break those services.
I’ll give you a couple of examples. Many new businesses these days rely on offsite or cloud services. So, what happens if your business experiences an internet outage? Depending on your business, this could be a minor inconvenience if experienced for only a few hours, or it could make things very difficult. A second example is to consider your data. Data takes many forms. It can be a cluster of documents saved in folders, or it could be a single database containing multiple bits of information vital for your business to process everyday functions. Where does this data sit? What happens if this data is deleted, corrupted or otherwise becomes incompatible to use? Do you only have one copy of it? This type of situation can cause disaster, and I’ve witnessed it multiple times across clients.
So, I cannot express the importance of reviewing key IT functions within your business and figuring out how necessary a backup plan is if any given service or data point fails. Once you understand the necessity, it’s time to figure out options. This part of the process can vary greatly and it’s generally best to involve an IT professional who can help you identify your options. Backup plans usually cost more money to implement, and the more protection you provide yourself, the more it’s going to cost.
One last consideration is to reevaluate your business processes routinely. Everything changes and upgrades over time, and how you do business will slowly change whether you like it or not. For this reason, remember that processes should be reexamined to verify whether previously implemented plans are still protecting your business.
Tip 3: Don’t Let It Get Moldy
I used to work at a video rental store when I was a kid. A brand-new chain installed a new outlet store in my hometown. It was a fun job. The perk of watching movies before they were released to the general public was super fun. For the year and change that I worked there, everything was new with lively colors, including our uniforms.
Fast forward 12 years, after being in town for a few days and in need to kill some time, I strolled into my old workplace. The experience was nothing like I remembered 12 years earlier. Shelves were dirty, advertising materials were coming off the walls, and candy end caps were crammed in every place they could be. It just felt dirty and cramped. I walked away thinking, “Management set up this store and never considered its curb appeal from then on. It’s just a money maker.”
I see the same behavior with IT environments, both with software and hardware. A lot of money is spent initially to get a business going. Once the machine is in full motion, management gives little thought to continued upkeep of systems to keep in compliance with outside standards. The goal becomes, “Let’s run this horse until it’s dead.”
Many IT support providers won’t support this type of client environment. It’s vital to keep software and hardware systems renewed and compliant with current vendor support standards. This keeps processes running more smoothly, and in a disaster recovery situation it’s always easier to restore a supported product rather than one that is end of life.
The two irritations and push back I get from clients on this point are:
- Renewing hardware and software routinely costs more money.
- Renewing more often means business processes change more often, which is frustrating.
Both of these are understandably meaningful arguments, to which, my responses would be:
- Future expenses should always include an annual technology budget.
- IT is an industry which demands improvement over time, and change is inevitable. The best way to deal with change is thoughtful planning to help users and administrators through the transitions.
Tip 4: Is Anyone Truly Secure These Days?
It’s true, there is no amount of investment that will completely remove security risks from your company’s environment. However, “not paying attention to the security of your environment because it’s not important to you” is wonderful news to those who would love to exploit you.
Insurance companies exist to provide coverage in the event businesses become victim to cyber-attacks. It happens, and I’ve seen it happen multiple times. In fact, the market for business extortion has increased over the years. Hackers are becoming more sophisticated with their attacks and are going further and further to prevent you from recovering. Their goal is leverage. And once they have it, you’ll have no choice but to pay. And paying a ransom will not even guarantee your survival in an attack on your environment.
Now that I’ve done my best to illustrate the alarm you should feel, I’ll go on to say that cyber security is a very large topic. There is no way I can point out exactly what investing in cyber security will mean for your environment. Cyber security covers many areas of a successfully operating business.
To provide some examples, you’ll find it in the hardware you purchase for your environment, and services provided by that hardware. Cyber security comes in the form of software options as well. And both technologies can be backed by 24/7 surveillance of your environment using both hardware and software options. Most importantly, employee education is a form of cyber security. Large companies with impressive security and firewall systems have been attacked successfully due to single employees who were not exercising best practices. Thus, even giants have fallen.
When you ask yourself the question, “Am I secure?” it’s best to speak with an IT professional to review your business model, understand budgets and implement security components where most needed. And verify that your users are following guidelines too!
Tip 5: Where Are You Going? Do You Even Know?
I would imagine that with most new business owners, simply staying afloat is central to their focus. They may not even know if they’ll still be in business five years from now. It’s a very tumultuous place to be in. Although, after a certain amount of time of being successful, I’m sure the business predictability will even out.
Once there is time to catch your breath, it’s generally a good idea to review your business model and if the IT solutions you are using are the best choice to push your bottom line. A very common thought process I have noticed is that people prefer to do “business as usual.” The routines of “business as usual” can help responsiveness for day-to-day functions, but it’s a good idea to step back usually at least once every two years and review your IT environment, and if it’s helping you get the job done.
Technologies available to push business are always evolving, and its good practice not to get stuck in a rut of doing the same thing. In fact, in some cases I have seen businesses continue to pay for an old IT solution where more reliable, accessible and cheaper solutions existed. The reason many of these companies don’t upgrade is because they simply aren’t aware of the options. Ask yourself routinely what you aren’t doing that could help your business move forward.
The five tips I’ve illustrated are not a step-by-step process. In truth, they are each a stepping stone. Your business is valuable, and the technology used to drive it should be respected. Technology offers an exciting world with new ways to empower your business. Continued focus on these tips and routine communication with your IT support provider will give you and your team the best chance for success.