10 point I.T. Health Check
Information Technology and computing in general … possibly the fastest moving aspect of the modern world. Much of the equipment we are using right now will be outdated and slow within 4 to 5 years simply because of changing demands and new approaches. Programmes and processes constantly evolve to increase efficiency and productivity. But older hardware struggles to keep up.
We need a simple strategy which will help us stay in control of our I.T. and computing requirements. Without a plan we can end up wasting endless man-hours trying to cope with systems that don’t quite deliver what our businesses need. This may be due to outdated hardware, incorrect software and poor implementation.
Here are building blocks of a future-proofed approach to I.T. suitable for any small and medium-sized enterprise [SME]:
The four-year plan
This is an area where we can be “head-in-sand”. But we have to face the fact that computers and servers have a predictable productive period that lasts 4 to 5 years. That is frighteningly short! After this time equipment becomes less reliable and may be struggling to cope with changes in software. Businesses may not notice they are losing efficiency caused by faltering I.T.
There are two approaches which will give any business a smooth transition as technology and requirements change. Both approaches require a proper audit of the existing I.T. plus projections for future needs.
- The first approach is to simply save [and ring-fence] 20 to 25% per year of the cost of upgrading the entire I.T. infrastructure, and to plan a wholehearted upgrade every 4 to 5 years. This should be a fixed event … “hard coded” … into our diaries.
- The alternative is to make yearly rolling upgrades and replacements of the oldest and least efficient hardware … typically replacing the oldest 20 – 25% PCs each year. The possible downside of this is that there can be some incompatibilities between the oldest and newest equipment.
It takes discipline, but either approach will spread the cost of keeping up-to-date.
Making the correct choices when buying computers, servers, laptops, networking, software and services can have a huge effect on productivity and efficiency. For example, some businesses have a server, yet don’t need one. Others would benefit from a server but don’t know how to choose a suitable product.
Outsourcing the procurement process [i.e. choosing what to buy] is often the best way forward since I.T. professionals can analyse the particular business processes and needs and then match equipment and software to those needs.
Reliability and Continuity
Reliability comes down to a number of factors
- Purchasing of the right hardware and software
- Maintenance … not random, but according to a schedule
- Avoiding system infections and intrusions
- Having a backup and a disaster recovery strategy … and testing it
- Replacing end-of-productive-life equipment
New strategies … e.g. Cloud
We have all heard the term “The Cloud”. This simply refers to moving some of the services and applications we use daily to a secure on-line location. “Cloud” is just one of many changes that are taking place. We need to keep up to date with these and implement those that are going to make us more efficient and profitable.
Decisions about which aspects of the Cloud we use can get very “misty” since there are so many competing products and services. We would encourage you to be properly advised as to which types of cloud services will be useful to your business and also to take guidance as to which vendor to use. Our advice about the Cloud … is to take advice!
Expertise … internal/external
A clear-minded approach is needed here. An honest evaluation of the internal I.T. knowledge and skills must be made.
Is there a member of the staff who has the skills and interest to look after the I.T. needs of the company? Is that person being taken away from their primary role to deal with I.T. issues? Do they have the skills to keep the company I.T. running efficiently?
In most cases SME’s don’t have a full time “I.T. bod” as part of the staff. However there is usually at least one person who has above average interest in I.T. and who can cope with small day-to-day issues … and will have that written into their job description.
Nevertheless, outside expertise and assistance is required for many tasks, I.T. projects and installations. The company supplying these services will usually offer ad-hoc support on an hourly basis, or contracted monthly support for routine maintenance, plus helpdesk.
Data & Security
A vast subject, but let us just mention:
- Backups. On-site, off-site and regularly verified
- Intrusion protection. Firewalls, perimeter DNS filtering
- Protection against malware in all its forms
- Legal requirements to protect client data
Curtail hidden costs … fix, not patch-up
A casual approach to PC niggles and daily I.T. issues can actually be bringing an unseen burden on a company’s profitability. Even a single slow PC is costing the business hour-by-hour in the form of lost productivity for that employee.
It is important to not let computer issues drag on unfixed or poorly corrected. Multiply this across the workforce and it can be having a major effect on profitability.
Also have a plan and procedure for reporting problems, and a routine for getting them fixed.
We all know it. Regular servicing and maintenance gives a car longer life and less chance of random breakdowns and emergencies with costly repairs. The vehicle is also safer!
We’ll not spell this out … you can see where the analogy is heading. Suffice it to say that disaster recovery is always more costly and disruptive than proactive maintenance. And sometimes the disaster in “non-recoverable”!
The starting point. Although our last point, an I.T. audit is where a good strategy begins. A true assessment of the existing I.T. infrastructure along with analysis of the specific business procedure will be an invaluable guide to decisions in the long, medium and short term.
An audit is also important for business start-ups … before anything is purchased. Years of struggling with the wrong setup can be avoided by getting some expert advice up-front.