IT Support Blog for Small Business Owners

David S. Mulvey

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Data Backup Technologies for your small business

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Wed, Sep 03, 2014

Data BackupsThis month I am going to focus on your company’s data backups/data restoration and the importance of protecting your company data.  When you take a moment to consider the various data backup solutions, it is easy to recognize there are a number of different data backup technologies.  From traditional tapes to on premises disk and data-streaming to the cloud; it can be a challenge to figure out what you need. Let’s take a look at the three main approaches to data backup services with the hopes of helping you choose which one is right for your company.

Three common data backup media types 

When it comes to backing up your IT systems, there are three common technology media types that are used:

  • Cartridge Tapes
  • Disk Drive Arrays
  • Off Site Cloud

Some businesses use all three, while others stick to using just one or two. While each of these technologies deliver the same result - backing up your data - there are distinct differences between each media type.

Cartridge Tape data backups

Cartridge Tape-based backup is the oldest forms of data backup available to businesses, and has been in use since the 1960s.  All large mainframe data centers relied on tape for decades; from large reels, to the more modern cartridge tape assemblies.  While tape media may seem a little anachronistic, there are still manufacturers creating backup tapes.  Sony recently introduced a new tape system that can store up to 185 TB (terabytes) of data on one tape. That's about equal to the storage capacity of approximately 11,800 16GB iPads.

The vast majority of businesses using tape do so as a secondary backup.  They use another system to back up their data, and then back up this backup data onto physical tape which can then be moved off-site and stored in a safe location, should disaster strike.  When the tapes are left on-site the business loses the greatest advantage of tape, which is portability.

There are two serious drawbacks to tape data backups which must be accounted for.  The first issue is that it takes longer to back up data to tape than it does to a disk.  So if you have a lot of data to backup, often, tape is not an option because you don’t have a large enough back-up window to get all of your data on a tape. And the second issue; the tapes themselves are also more fragile and can be prone to failure, leading to corrupt data and unreadability.  This mechanical failure of tape cartridges forces a small business to always test the viability of their tape backups, otherwise, you might be inclined to use a tape for year, and when a failure actually occurs and you go to restore your data from the untested tape cartridge, you discover the tape copy is no longer viable to recover your data.

Finally, if you do need to recover from a tape backup, you are going to have to do so in a specific manner, which means it will take longer to recover your systems than using disk backups. Typically you need to read a few tapes in a specific order to recover a whole server: its applications and data.

Disk Drive Data backups

Disk-based backup solutions use a variety of sizes and styles of disk storage units to copy, archive and recover backups of your data.  The most popular forms of disk storage used are hard drives, often, connected through software into an array.  Because these systems use more modern storage methods, backup and recovery can generally be carried out far quicker than with tape systems, and can be more reliable, especially if you take care of your systems and the disks the backups are stored on.   The added benefit with these systems is that hard disks are constantly dropping in price and increasing in capacity, meaning you can fit more data on fewer devices. This helps keep costs manageable, and may result in reduced costs over time. 

Because disk-based systems are picky about their environment, it is not common to move these devices off site.  So many small businesses will deploy a disk array for local high speed copies and recovery, but in the event of a flood or a fire, the data needs to get offsite.  That’s where tape or cloud storage can come into play.  To get around this, many companies have duplicate systems. They back up to different devices which are kept off-site. This redundancy can help ensure that your data is available, but much like business insurance, it can be expensive to purchase multiple backup solutions.

Off Site Cloud data backups

Cloud solutions are becoming popular because they are inexpensive, and they help a business owner regularly get their company data out of their office.  Cloud, or streaming data backup, utilizes off-site technology to host your backups in a remote and secure data center.  Most small business solutions work with data backup service providers who host the backup servers in the cloud and the business then connects their servers via a secure network connection to the Cloud storage facility.

The biggest advantage of cloud systems is that they are generally inexpensive and much more reliable than tape.  This is because you don't need to have the systems in your office, which means you don't need to pay for the data systems and the upkeep associated with them.  Cloud systems are also less labor intensive because they can be managed by your IT service partner.  Aside from being easier to manage, backup and recovery is usually quicker with the cloud because you can set up a solution that continually backs up your data.  As long as you have an Internet connection, you will usually be able to restore your systems in a matter of hours.

While the cloud is becoming the most popular backup solution, there are some drawbacks.  You need a higher bandwidth Internet connection if you want to be able to back up while also working. This may require you to invest in a better network infrastructure.  

Each data backup technology has its place.  Each data backup approach will work, although one is often more appropriate than another.  If you are considering reviewing or creating a data backup plan and need some help you can reach out to us at ANP.  Or if you might be ineterested in outsourcing your data backup service to an IT service provider like ANP, please dont hesitate to call us.  Would you like to learn more about ANP's data backup solutions which are either in your office or in our data center, click here. ANP is also offering a 30 minute free webinar regarding data backup and what every CEO should know about thier data backup, register here. Or if you are not ready to meet or talk, you may download these two great white papers regarding data backup:

 

5 Steps To Prepare Disaster Recovery12 Little-Known Facts Every Business Owner Must Know About Data Backup, Security and Disaster Recovery

Topics: Data backup, data backup services, Data Recovery, data recovery services

Small Business IT Outsourcing Economics

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Wed, Aug 20, 2014

outsourcing economicsAs a small business owner you should evaluate if you should hire your own IT employee or consider outsourcing your IT to an IT Service Provider or Managed Service Provider (MSP).  Nine times out of ten, Owners take the more traditional approach and hire a single IT employee, and unfortunately that decision to hire one IT employee rarely works out.  If you are curious why I feel a single IT employee rarely works out take a look at this blog

Today I will focus on the economic comparison of IT in-house (doing your own IT) versus outsourcing your IT to an MSP.  Let’s consider the cost for a typical small business initial IT employee.  If we can agree on an annual salary of $45,000 for someone in the Philadelphia region with one or two years network administration experience, and we add on all of the burdened costs (Employer Social Security, Federal Unemployment, Medicare, a 401K contribution and a single persons health insurance) is it fair to add an additional 25% to the salary? Your first IT employee is costing your firm $45,000 X 25% or $56,250 a year. Of course your mileage may vary; I think this is a fair estimate and will be useful for my economic analysis.

The next set of costs is the proactive IT tools that should be purchased by your IT employee to insure you have a good result with your IT systems.  If you are interested in a more in depth look at what proactive IT effort is and why it’s important take a look at this blog. The two most important proactive disciplines that your IT employee must do are Anti-virus and Spam/Malware.  For the sake of simplicity let’s assume you can license the software for $15 per PC and Server per month for an annualized cost of $15 X 12 months or $180 per device per year.  Ideally, your IT employee has also purchased a service incident ticketing system and an automated toolset to insure your PC’s and Servers are being patched every week, but lets keep these costs outside of our analysis to keep the comparison simple. 

The IT Service Provider will have numerous service plans and pricing options. They will range from the simple and least expensive Time & Materials hourly rates, to prepaid block-of-hour plans.  Either of those approaches to IT are solely reactive in nature and don’t include all of the IT proactive disciplines that are necessary to insure your company gets a good IT result: read this blog if you want to learn more about reactive IT provider plans.  The best way to fairly compare an internal fulltime IT employee to IT outsourcing is to purchase a Fixed-Monthly-Fee, all you can consume, reactive & proactive IT plan.  These plans typically include a periodic meeting with an outsourced Chief Information Officer (CIO) to assist in budgeting, planning and reviewing the IT work that is being done on your behalf each month.

ANP’s fixed-fee plan is called Turnkey-IT and provides for everything (and more) that an internal IT employee would be doing for your firm. So let’s take a look ANP’s typical pricing model for Turnkey-IT and use it as a basis for comparison.  If a client commits to Turnkey IT for a three-year term, ANP would charge $50 per month per PC workstation or $50 X 12 months for an annual cost of $600.  A server (which in inherently more complicated than a PC) would be $195 per month or $2,340 per year. (There are additional charges to manage a Firewall or Internet connection that can vary from $90 to $180 per month, which I will leave out of this comparison for simplicity.)

Using our pricing information let’s compare monthly payroll costs of IT in-house to the monthly IT outsourcing prices and try to determine a breakeven point using five typical small business IT infrastructures.  I will project out the small businesses annual costs with 10 PCs all the way up to 200 PCs.  Choose the business size that most closely represents your company. Or better yet use my numbers and determine your own annual IT in-house and IT outsource pricing.  Our next blog will focus on businesses that have yet to hire a single IT person.

Small Business with 10 PCs and 1 File server:

 

Fulltime IT

AntiVirus/Malware

PCs

Servers

Total

In-Sourced

$56,250

$1,800

-

-

$58,050

Outsourced

-

-

$6,000

$2,340

$8,340

 

Small Business with 25 PCs and 3 Servers:

 

Fulltime IT

AntiVirus/Malware

PCs

Servers

Total

In-Sourced

$56,250

$5,040

-

-

$61,290

Outsourced

-

-

$15,000

$7,020

$22,020

 

Growing Business with 50 PCs and 5 Servers:

 

Fulltime IT

AntiVirus/Malware

PCs

Servers

Total

In-Sourced

$56,250

$9,900

-

-

$66,150

Outsourced

-

-

$30,000

$11,520

$41,520

 

Growing Business with 100 PCs and 6 Servers (need to add 1 additional IT employee):

 

Fulltime IT

AntiVirus/Malware

PCs

Servers

Total

In-Sourced

$56,250

$19,440

-

-

$75,690

Outsourced

-

-

$60,000

$14,040

$74,040

 

Larger Business with 200 PCs and 12 Servers (added 1 additional IT employee):

 

Fulltime IT

AntiVirus/Malware

PCs

Servers

Total

In-Sourced

$56,250

$36,000

-

-

$148,500

Outsourced

-

-

$120,000

$28,080

$148,080

 

Did you notice that at no time was IT in-house less expensive than IT outsourcing?  IT outsourcing for a small business is always less expensive than doing IT yourself! But I feel there is much more to this story. Remember we used a single IT employee to model out our internal IT costs? There is no way a single IT employee is going to successfully support 100 or even 200 PCs by them self. Your employees get sick, they take week long vacations; once you are large enough to have 75, 100 or even 200 PCs you and your employees are not going to tolerate having no IT support in place during your single IT employees’ week long vacation. So the truth is as you grow through 75 to 100 PCs the IT payroll would most likely double (which we did not add to our analysis.) As you grow through 100 to 200 employees IT outsourcing becomes even more compelling because your internal IT costs to successfully deliver reactive and proactive IT support will cost two to three times more than we have modeled here.

We have just compared your potential IT payroll costs versus outsourcing your IT from a simple economic standpoint.  There are even greater operational benefits to IT outsourcing: your IT Service Provider should have 20 or more IT experts, each with unique, deep expertise in very specific IT disciplines such as Routers, Firewalls, VoIP phone systems, Virtualization, Back up and Disaster recovery.  Hiring a single entry level IT employee pales in knowledge and expertise that an IT Service Provider can bring to your company when needed. When you outsource your IT, you will never have another IT sick day, or IT vacation day or even an IT employee asking for a raise or quitting with just two weeks notice.  IT outsourcing is the perfect solution for a growing small businesses that need to focus their employees and payroll on the growth of the core business and not become distracted with ineffective and costly IT employees.

I would love the chance to talk to you about your business and your IT needs, click here if you would like to meet and discuss IT outsourcing.  If you were not ready to talk, perhaps you would like to download one of our IT outsourcing whitepapers here.

Topics: IT Outsourcing economics, Economics of IT outsourcing, IT solution economics, MSP IT outsourcing economics

Building an effective IT support department and when not to.

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Fri, Jul 25, 2014

Three person IT DepartmentChoosing the right IT organization structure or the right IT organizational chart, are common issues within a growing business. They are also issues filled with many traps. I have shared my thoughts with you before this blog on the types of work that must occur in an IT department (Reactive & Proactive); today let’s talk about how you should staff the IT department to get the work done.

Gartner (an IT think-tank) has suggested CEO’s should not think in terms of an IT organization model or in other words an IT org chart. Instead, CEO’s should think in terms of an IT Operating Model. I completely agree and the reason is simple. An IT Operating Model defines IT service delivery ownership and responsibility for each IT employee. In this way the IT Operating Model is an accountability framework, not a service delivery model. Each IT employee has specific things they must deliver, and if they are delivered, the company will have a great IT experience.

Let’s break-down the IT Operating Model into employment roles that need to take place in an IT department to insure a great IT outcome:

 

  • Reactive IT Support: This is essentially anything that breaks and needs to be reactively worked on. These are Users issues, server issues and network issues. The work is never scheduled and because the issue affects IT systems it must be repaired quickly. Reactive support work always trumps all other kinds of IT work and that is why there is a second role in addition to Reactive support.
  • Proactive IT Tasks: This type of work is scheduled and planned for. Staffing it separately from Reactive support allows you to be assured the proactive tasks will actually get completed. By completing this work you can be assured that Reactive support will decline. Proactive work is focused on maintaining IT best-practices most of which is under-the-covers for all users. Work like patching, antivirus, malware, active directory policies, and managing and testing backups are all Proactive tasks. As you successfully implement a Proactive strategy, you should expect your Reactive work load to dramatically decrease.
  • IT Automation Toolsets: Ideally an IT department will purchase, deploy and actively operate an IT automation tool that will automatically insure that all Proactive tasks are completed, and will notify an IT employee when they don’t work. The idea is to automate as much of the IT Proactive drone work as possible and reserve the available IT labor for the things that didn’t work as planned. Without an automation toolset, the Proactive IT employee must do everything manually, which is boring and tedious. Without an automation toolset, ultimately the IT infrastructure will break down as IT settings begin to drift away from best-practice-standards.
  • Workflow & Service Ticketing: Once you have the team in place, you need to organize the work and manage response times and labor utilization. By purchasing a service incident ticketing product you can enable a secure portal. All of your employees enter tickets through the secure web portal. Then the system assigns the work to the appropriate IT engineer. This approach also works for the Proactive tasks; each repetitive IT task should be scheduled and assigned to the proactive engineer as the work is scheduled to be accomplished. A ticketing program also helps the IT team learn what the repetitive issues are so that the engineers can begin to become proactive and determine what the root cause issues are underlying all of the reactive incidents. Once these root-cause issues are isolated and proactively fixed under-the-covers, reactive support will go down and the User community will enjoy higher up-time.
  • IT management or oversight: At this point you have hired two ITemployees: a Reactive and Proactive IT tech serving entirely different but both necessary roles. So who manages these employees and provides oversight to insure the work is really getting done and getting done well? An IT manager will provide the oversight and the vacation and sick day coverage for the other two technicians. But the IT manager will also serve in the role of holding strategic IT meetings with the CEO and CFO of the business. The IT manager should learn and understand the executive team's business goals so that the IT department can work towards those goals. And the IT manager must also provide meaningful dollars and cents reports about the effectiveness of his department. Data like: application up-time, network availability, reactive support desk incident numbers and the average time to remediate an incident. Proactive tasks should also be discussed and reviewed. The IT manager should be able to measure the daily and weekly utilization of his team so that management cans see where the investment in IT payroll is being spent on.

From this IT Operating Model a small to mid-sized growing business could easily support 2000 + PCs and 100 servers. If the IT manager was paid $90,000 and the two IT engineers were paid $70,000 each the departments burdened cost would be approximately $310,000 annually. Or look at this another way, each PCs support is $155 a year. I would go so far as to say, if your business is smaller than 2000 PCs and you are not really interested in hiring three people into an IT department, you should consider IT outsourcing versus in sourcing. Many of our clients are never satisfied with a one-person-IT department because the balance between reactive support and proactive tasks is difficult to maintain with a single employee. That is not to say that globally it can’t be done, I’m simply stating it’s unusual for a single IT employee to be able to strike a balance between reactive fire drills and methodical proactive planning and work. Would you like to learn more about IT outsourcing or running your own IT department? Here a few links you might find interesting:

The Benefits of IT Outsourcing click HERE

Small Business Support IT Solutions click HERE

The Seven Signs to Help you Know when to Call for Help Click HERE

What A Business Owner Should Expect From Outsourcing

Topics: Reactive IT Support, IT Solutions, IT automation, IT department, Proactive IT tasks, IT Outsourcing economics, Economics of IT outsourcing

Why a Single Employee IT Support Department Rarely Works Out

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Sun, Jul 20, 2014

Single IT PersonWhen people talk about their single employee IT support department, they always discuss the things they’re not getting, the applications they can’t run, and the long time it takes to get anything supported or completed. If a business had as many gripes with an external vendor, that vendor would’ve been dropped long ago. But single person IT departments have endured as a necessary evil because they are set up as a forced internal vendor.  The problem is rarely the person sitting in the IT seat; it’s the structure in which the IT department has been set up.

From the start a single person IT support department has a monopoly on the “computer problem” – such monopolies have a tendency to produce the customer service you’d expect from a Government agency. The IT department (the single employee) has all the power, they’re not going anywhere (at least not in the short term), and their customers (other company employees) are seen as mindless idiots. There’s never a feedback loop in place for improvement.

I’m a business owner and I can see over to the other side of the fence. IT departments are usually treated as a cost center, a necessary evil, just above the shipping department and office maintenance in the corporate pecking order. The IT department never wins any bonuses or accolades when the IT infrastructure just works, but they face the wrath of everyone when email is down!

So why are millions of small business IT departments set up to fail? And why do they often underwhelm their fellow employees? One reason is they are set up using the same logic as any other department, “If I hire an employee to do a duty, everything will be fine: put a check mark next to that need, we have it covered.” The tragedy is that the single IT department comes from the mind of a non-IT manager. Often hiring one employee to cover a single business role has reinforced the small business owners behavior.

I have shared in another blog; there are essentially two types of work that must be completed for successful IT outcomes. Both of these work types compete for the attention of the single IT employee, and unfortunately, even tragically in my opinion, one type of work wins out and the department is never able to achieve and deliver  IT success.  There are Proactive and Reactive work types that must be completed. Reactive IT support, such as “my PC has a virus,” or “I need a new password I am locked out,” or “I cant print,” always take precedence over the Proactive IT support work that ensures your network runs quietly. Proactive tasks are running anti-virus updates, quarantining viruses, updating Microsoft patching, checking Active Directory and security settings.  Proactive work should be scheduled and completed in a methodical fashion.

The challenge is that as the Proactive work is deferred because the Reactive IT support is screaming to be done by the Users and the longer the Proactive tasks are deferred the more likely Reactive issues will crop up.  It is a vicious cycle; the single IT employee is doomed to fail, because he is unable to control when a Reactive service issue will occur.  By there very nature, the Reactive service issue demands the IT employees time NOW. So the proactive work goes un-done day-after-day and finally the department is smothered by viruses and a lack of patching and everyone in the company seems to have an IT issue.

I can't tell you how many times I have met with a frustrated business owner who tells me how his IT employee is not getting the job done and everyone wants the owner to fire the poor guy.  Unfortunately few owners are trained in IT practices, and had no idea, when they hired a single IT employee the outcome was almost assuredly established.  If an Owner really wants a successful in-house IT department they need to hire for both functions.  There needs to be a full-time Reactive IT employee AND an additional full time Proactive IT employee.  It’s a classic division of labor. To be fair, I should note, there are IT techs that can balance between Reactive and Proactive work and in those cases a single IT employee is going to do a great job for a small business.  Once established reactive issues no longer trump getting the best-practice proactive work completed and over-time the business will enjoy a high performance and reliable IT environment!

Unfortunately how many small businesses can honestly afford to hire two IT employees and then manage their unique job roles? It’s unlikely in my opinion (I rarely see it) and that is why there is a change in the air: it is IT Outsourcing.  The change that is coming allows a small business with 10 or more PCs to outsource their IT department.  An Owner can hire a focused IT delivery company that employs the Reactive, Proactive and managerial oversight with developed and mature processes that are remotely deliverable.  Dealing with Technology has gone from something only for the techy geeks to something much more mainstream.

You no longer need a tech person at the office to man “the server room.” Responsibility for keeping the servers running has shifted away from the small business IT department. Now you can get all the services that previously required s full-time IT employee from a local IT Service Company such as ANP.

The transition hasn’t happened over night, but it’s long since begun.  At ANP we began offering remote IT outsourced services back in 1998. The companies who feel they can do without an in-house IT department are growing in number and size. It’s entirely possible to outsource the IT department for a 10 person to 2000 employee business. I see it everyday, and once the owner and the employees see that IT outsourcing is faster, better and perhaps most importantly cheaper: they never go back to their ineffective single employee IT department.

If you would like to learn more you may download a whitepaper on small business IT Outsourcing HERE or if you would like to meet and talk about IT outsourcing you can request an appointment HERE.  Or watch a webinar regarding single person IT departments by signing up below.

FREE IT Webinar The Secrets to Running Your Small Business IT Click Here to Get Started

Topics: IT Support, Reactive IT Support, Proactive IT Support, single employee IT support department

Apple is taking a Bite out of Windows: how about Your IT Solutions?

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Sat, Jul 12, 2014

Apple is taking a bite our of windowsIs it possible that Microsoft’s dominance in the Enterprise is coming to an end? The software company VMware thinks so. They recently wrote on their blog that in a survey they just conducted based on responses from 376 IT professionals on the challenges and relative advantages of utilizing Apple products in enterprise settings. In the VMware survey, 73 percent of IT professionals reported overall employee user preference for Macs over traditional PCs; even though Apple’s desktop offerings are not as compatible with application software as their PC counterparts.

Why should a business CEO take note of this shift? Well the reason stated in the survey is that Users believe Macs are just easier to use. Why are IT professionals throwing their support behind Macs over PCs? It's not about PC compatibility: 40 percent said their decision was based on having access to Mac-only applications. Increased enterprise security also wasn't a key decision criteria, as 75 percent of respondents said Macs take just as much effort as PCs to protect. In the survey 70 percent of companies said they currently support Macs in the workplace, the ultimate decision once again came down to Mac’s perceived “coolness factor”—users think they are easier to use, better designed and possess nicer displays than PCs.

Apple has done an amazing job in the last year assuring IT managers that Macs can be brought into a Microsoft LAN business environment. Macs can be locked-down with the same level of controls that are available for PCs. So Macs are certainly enterprise ready machines, and that goes for the whole product-line from the iPhones, to the tablet iPad to all of the MAC laptops and servers.

As a business owner, do you feel it would be advantageous to allow an employee to use any device they want, as long as you can control the device while it is on your company network? I can assure you that all of the younger Generation Y employees want to use their own Apple laptops and tablets at work, not your old company Windows PC. I would say many of my employees are using their Mac or an ANP owned Apple device at work every day. I feel as if offering the option to allow your employee to bring in their own preferred device to your workforce can be an HR competitive advantage. Nine times out of ten it’s going to be an Apple device.

Personally, my business and my family were longtime Windows users; I have converted completely over to Apple devices: 2 iPads at home, 2 Macs at home and I carry an Apple MacBook Air and an iPhone. I will never go back to Windows. Overall the transition from Windows to Apple has come with some bumps and bruises but I was an early adopter. If you and your workforce made the switch today, it would be painless. There is no question that the Apple devices are more expensive, but if you can get an additional year of use out of a Laptop, the premium you paid at first becomes a huge savings over the extended lifetime of the product. I see both HR and financial reasons to migrate away from Windows and towards Apple.

While the overall sales of PCs are still much larger than those of Macs because of enterprise purchases, Apple has seen some great progress in the desktop PC world where Microsoft has not. Gartner is reporting about 2.1 million Macs sold in Q4 2013 for a 28.5 percent year-over-year increase in sales, compared to PC’s meager 2 percent growth in the same period. Apple’s CEO began talking about the “Post PC era,” last year. Here at ANP, I have seen Windows operating Systems growth decaying; PC sales are being cannibalized by Apple. But to be fair, VMware’s survey said, while many companies support Macs in the workplace, there will still be a long way to go before Macs can claim full dominance over Microsoft.

It's important to remember that with such a small sample size (376 surveys) it’s difficult to gauge whether these statistics are representative of all IT professionals. However, as a self-proclaimed Apple watcher, I believe it is fair to point out that the survey does yield some interesting statistics on the starting shift in enterprise thinking from PCs to Macs.


So while Macs might not be the right fit for your companies because of their differences from legacy PCs, it seems users want to work on an Apple Machine in the work environment. It remains to be seen whether they will ever completely overtake PCs in the workplace, but it looks like the battle for the hearts and minds of enterprise users has begun to shift over when it comes to Macs over PCs. Would you like to meet to discuss how you can begin to allow your employees to bring in thier devices to work and then lock them down on your network? ANP would be happy to hold a free seven step strategic session with you register here. If you are not ready to meet yet, please consider downloading our whitepaper called, "Seven signs its time to call for computer support." you can download that whitepaper here.

FREE IT Webinar The Secrets to Running Your Small Business IT Click Here to Get Started

Topics: IT Solutions, Apple's post PC era, Microsoft dominance, Apple in the enterprise, Generation Y employees

Reactive IT Support or Proactive IT Support: What comes first?

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Tue, Jul 08, 2014

chicken or the egg resized 600What comes first the chicken or the egg? Much like that question, IT Support is full of conundrums-questions that don’t have clear answers. Two very different and equally important types of work govern IT support. It’s so important for a small business owner to understand the differences so you can manage your company’s approach to IT and expect the appropriate IT result based upon your approach that you choose. In 30 years of IT support I have never met a business owner that understands this basic concept (because they are not IT professionals) and as a result their IT solutions suffer.

The two competing support services in IT support are Reactive IT Support versus Proactive IT Support. Reactive IT Support includes things that have an immediate work stoppage and typically require human intervention.  They are unplanned events and therefor you must react to them. For example here are a few common reactive support issues: a printer has stopped printing, a workstation has a virus, or someone cannot log onto the network. All of these require an employee or a Time and Materials tech to work on to get the employee’s machine business process back up and running again. These unplanned events can easily consume the time of an IT department. Unfortunately working on and solving reactive issues never helps you get to root-cause of the issue and so the IT support issue is often likely to reoccur over and over again. Because Reactive IT Support can be so consuming, the IT employee never has a moment to break away from the drone of reactive service support to start to look at the root-cause of their issues.

The other type of IT Support is referred to as Proactive IT Support which as the name implies is work an IT employee does before something fails to insure that all of the under-the-covers technical things are set up correctly and operating as they are meant to be. Proactive IT Support is all about instituting and insuring that Microsoft best-practices are in place on your workstations, Servers, Active Directory and other technical settings. Proactive IT Support are technical things that you do to insure that reactive tickets don’t occur, for example: Windows patching, Anti-Virus definition updates, scanning, and guaranteeing. Applying Microsoft security best-practices to Exchange, Active Directory, and your Group Policies are great Proactive IT Support topics. Proactive IT Support also focuses on your backups, are they running successfully, have you tested a back up to insure your backups can recover a file, an application or a complete server? Proactive IT Support is always planned and scheduled.  It is always proactive never reactive. Proactive IT Support is always focused on setting up a list of technical things that must be completed and checked on.

I started this blog by saying that Reactive IT Support and Proactive IT Support compete with one another.  What I mean by that is Reactive IT Support always trumps Proactive activities. Reactive business issues will always trump planned proactive IT events.  For instance if Mondays are the day that you have planned to do all Proactive IT Support for patching, and there are Reactive service issues that occur all day long, you are going to handle and remediate the Reactive service issues before you would do the planned Proactive activities. In the mind of the IT employee, they are thinking I have to get these reactive issues solved so that the employees can get back to work and they are also thinking I can delay the proactive patching one day that will not impact anything. So can you see that Reactive IT Support always trumps Proactive IT Support?

When Reactive IT support is done at the expense of not doing your Proactive IT Support, you can imagine what happens? As the Proactive work is deferred and then ignored, the number of reactive issues dramatically increases. If and only if you can get all of your Proactive IT Support tasks competed reliably and on time, only then does the Reactive IT Support begin to drop off and you have a nice and quiet network. Conversely when Reactive issues increase Proactive planned work is not completed and the network slowly drifts away as best-practices decay. As best practices drift, system performance suffers and downtime increases. It is a vicious circle.  That’s why I ask is it the chicken or the egg that comes first? So too for Reactive and Proactive IT Support, which comes first that’s a real IT conundrum.

This complex interwoven relationship between Reactive and Proactive processes is the reason why almost every single IT employee department ultimately fails. You cannot place one person in an IT role and expect them to balance Proactive IT Support (that they fundamentally understand they should be doing) and have them doing 100% Reactive IT Support every day. Over time the network will become so unreliable that the owner will throw their hands up in complete disgust because they are spending money on IT payroll and yet getting unreliable systems and unacceptable downtime.

A business owner needs to understand that there really are two competing types of work that must be done in tandem within an IT department that two people are required at a minimum to get a reliable and good IT result.  No one person can perform both roles, but two people can each be assigned a single role: one focuses on user and system Reactive service incidents while the second focuses on Proactive IT Support tasks. And ideally, an IT manager is in place to inspect that the Reactive IT Support is being accomplished on time and the manager is also inspecting that the Patching, Anti-Virus and Malware and backups are also running and up to date. So there are three people and that covers someone getting sick, taking vacations or going to training. How many small businesses can afford to invest in three fulltime IT people?  I don’t see that payroll investment until you have 100 to 200 employees, and even then the IT manager doesn’t fully understand the need for Proactive IT Support delegation.

I believe this is why IT Outsourcing is becoming very popular with small businesses.  It is simply more cost effective to outsource your day-to-day Reactive and Proactive IT Support rather than self-staffing and doing it yourself. Here at ANP we have specific engineers that handle Reactive IT Support and different engineers responsible for the planned best-practice Proactive IT Support by dividing the labor types and then having strict measurement systems monitoring quality of the work. ANP (and other Managed Service Providers) can promise to you contractually that you will have a high level of network predictability and uptime all for a monthly fixed fee because both the Reactive and Proactive IT Support practices are all being reliably delivered.

In the end, who cares if it was the chicken or the egg that came first?  What matters is you have a reliable and cost effective IT solution. By understanding the underlying forces that compete for your IT employee’s attention, you can manage your way to a reliable and predictable IT network environment! Want to learn more about how to run your small business IT department? Sign Up for our Webinar below by clicking on the box.

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Topics: IT Support, IT Outsourcing, Reactive IT Support, Proactive IT Support, IT Solutions

5 Ideas for Creating your Operational Efficiency using IT Outsourcing

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Thu, Jul 03, 2014

Operational Excellence using ITOperation efficiency is one of the key goals an owner should be working on to be competitive in today’s business climate. Customers expect instant access to information, quick service, and superior delivery. If you have not mastered operation efficiency, you most likely are not meeting your customer’s expectations and risk losing market share to your competition. I believe IT plays a huge role in achieving operational efficiency.

Operation efficiency isn’t just about reducing costs; to the contrary, it’s about leveraging all of the assets available to you as an owner. Companies who focus on solely cutting costs to improve operation efficiency usually end up under performing their competition. They become too focused with cost reduction and lose sight of adding real business value to the customer, which in return improves customer satisfaction, recurring revenue, increased market share and dramatic business growth.

The following are 5 IT and organizational best practices to help your business increase operation efficiency and deliver more value to your customers and business:

  1. Collaborate more: Work on making it easier to collaborate between employees, suppliers, and customers. Improving collaboration is a sure-fire way to boost your efficiency while also reducing costs. Using IT to integrate Voice over IP, IP video, Instant Messaging, and data and wireless provides the kind of interactive calendaring, videoconferencing, IP communications and other technologies your business needs to provide instant and easy communication with all parties. No matter if you are in or out of the office. Look for an integrated tool for unifying all of these communications methods within a single desktop application. I have described the idea of a unified desktop application here.
  2. Provide customers and vendors with secure, consistent access to information: Easy access to your IT information may be the difference between holding onto a long time client and losing them to a competitor. Do you have a secure web portal for your clients to track orders, and invoices? Do you have a portal for your vendors and clients so they can self-serve? If your company network is frequently down, sluggish, or unsecured, your competitive advantage may be lost. Your employees also need an easy virtual-private-network access to your IT network. To achieve a high level of access to IT information, your employees must be able to have access to your environment at anytime from anywhere. An easy to use, reliable and secure infrastructure provides your business with maximum agility by providing reliable, secure access to business IT intelligence.
  3. Streamline client communication: 
Communicating with clients helps keep them satisfied and can help turn them into raving fans. Few things are more important to your bottom line as satisfied clients. Integrating your phone system to your customer relationship management (CRM) application is one way to improve client communications. This integration is an easy IT solution to implement; when a client calls, a pop-up window of the customer contact appears on your employee's computer screen. Before the second ring, your employee answering the call has access to information about the client calling, such as current orders, recent returns and much more. There is no more need to ask your client what their account number is. The data is already on your employee’s screen before they answer the call.
  4. Create efficient and effective processes with your vendors: 
Vendors are critical to all growing businesses. Successful partnerships are created when you are able to integrate your company with the vendor. To do this, you will need to create efficient and effective processes that bring you and the partner into a seamless distribution channel. Operationally bringing your vendors into your IT systems via a secure virtual-private-network tunnel is a fast and inexpensive means of allowing your vendors and your company to share critical information in real time.
  5. Outsource low priority functions: 
Is it the best use of an employee's time to manage your network, security, communication systems or other non-core functions of your business? Often, a more efficient option is to outsource such tasks to an IT managed service provider (MSP). A service provider has the expertise that your business may lack, but desperately require. An MSP can provide you with instant expertise without the need to spend time or money developing that IT expertise in house. Outsourcing enables your employees to stay focused on productive activities related to your business's core functions and competencies.

IT operation efficiency is the cornerstone to all successful growing companies and is not a onetime project. Continuous review and improvement of your IT operation will help you and your company outperform your competitors and dominate your industry.

FREE IT Webinar The Secrets to Running Your Small Business IT Click Here to Get Started

Topics: IT Outsourcing, Operational Efficiency, Unified collaboration, secure web portal, virtual private network tunnel, outsource IT

7 Habits of Great Small Business Owners

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Tue, Jul 01, 2014

Worlds best ownerI came across an article in the February 2013 issue of Forbes magazine the "7 Habits of Great Small Business Owners." I find these practices to be helpful in both my professional and personal life. I'd like to share them with you in the context of this small business blog.

Do you ever wonder what makes one business more successful than another in the same industry? I believe, more often than not, it’s the leadership at the top that determines the success of any organization. The same is certainly true in your business; if there was a way to insure your business was outperforming your peers, you as the owner would likely be implementing these seven universal principles:

 

  1. Great Small Business Owners take care of themselves. What is the most important tool at your disposal? I think it’s your brain (pardon the pun). A common truism is a healthy mind leads to a healthy body. Business owners take the time to exercise, eat healthy, and do all those things that are important for their overall physical health because they know it will keep them thinking sharp.
  2. Great Small Business Owners have lives outside their business. It's important to release your work brain and give it a rest from your work. One of my favorite things to do is to enjoy the outdoors. Find whatever you enjoy. Expose your self to new ways of thinking and doing things. It’s from those new ideas that you can become energized and hopefully bring a new idea back into your business.
  3. Great Small Business Owners look forward. Are you willing to be bold in your thinking and are you willing to take chances? In order to become a great leader a business owner must be ready to go beyond current business models and market forces. It's key to focus your attention ahead on growing and building your company by looking for new ways to accomplish things.
  4. Great Small Business Owners are organized. It is one thing to be juggling lots of industry information and new ideas. However, it's entirely another thing to be systematically implementing your ideas. Are you smart with great ideas that never get implemented or are you effective by remaining organized in meeting and throughout your day, insuring that your great ideas are in fact implemented? Remain organized and your actions will define your company culture: disorganization and ineffective implementation, or structured and effective implementation.  You will define which path you and your employees walk down.
  5. Great Small Business Owners nurture relationships. Whether it's with their employees, advisor's, or with new contacts; the best business skills are the interpersonal ones that help a business owner to communicate and react to peers. Do you hunker down in your office? Are you unapproachable? Or do you have the most fun in your day talking with your team? People have the innate ability to know when they are valued. Be certain to save some of your day to walk around the office and talk.
  6. Great Small Business Owners make decisions. Business owners have to be decisive to run their business. They also understand that they may not be experts in all fields and need to consult with someone who can provide the tools to help them make a more informed decision. I am a member of Vistage, which is a CEO organization that brings 12 to 16 owners together monthly to meet and process business issues and give one another advice. I can’t begin to share the value I have gotten out of my Vistage group by helping/forcing me to be decisive at critical times.
  7. Great Small Business Owners are willing to make changes. Proactive business owners are constantly evaluating and reevaluating which parts of their company can be improved. Knowing how your company's time, manpower and resources are distributed and paying steady attention to keeping them as efficient as possible, keeps your company thriving ahead of the competition. Sometimes it just means being ready to cut the fat in order to remain competitive.

When you look around your industry, there are always just a few that truly stand out from the pack. In your heart of hearts what makes these firms stand out? Is it a talented owner/operator? Try to befriend a successful owner and see for yourself if these 7 traits play an important part of the leader's success. If you are open to learning more about IT leadership within your company follow this link.

 

FREE IT Webinar The Secrets to Running Your Small Business IT Click Here to Get Started

Topics: 7 habits of great small business owners, business owner leadership

How do you insure IT Outcomes occur when IT Outsourcing?

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Sat, Jun 21, 2014

IT Outcomes healthy or unhealthy?This month we have been looking at the outcomes that come from IT outsourcing, the last two blogs have talked about the potential business outcomes you might expect if you outsource your IT; but what about the IT outcomes? Outcome based outsourcing is the Holy Grail of IT services; achieve a healthy or unhealthy result.  Our clients would all agree that if we can tie specific business and IT results to our outsourced agreement everyone would be happier in the end.

The trick is that many IT outsourcers focus on the inputs rather than the outputs.   Consider the US healthcare system; today doctors are still incented to perform tests and procedures with few financial rewards tied to the ultimate goal: a healthy patient, I believe the same is true today in many IT companies.   Let me give you an example, today many IT companies want to sell you the business owner a “block of hours,” which is a prepaid amount of man hour labor. How does approaching your company IT with a third party and a bunch of man-hours assure you of any type of IT outcome? The truth is it doesn’t, the business owner is lured into thinking he can control his third party IT expense, but they fail to see that the money is going to fixing things, not delivering a great holistic IT outcome. As a result, that block of hours contract wastes money fixing reactive issues as they come up. The great IT outcomes are never realized because all the money goes to fixing the problem of the day and is never placed where it really matters; under the covers deep inside how your network is configured. 

As a business owner, ideally you can see the difference between reactive IT support and proactive IT support. Reactive support fixes IT things as they break and proactive support is what an IT outsourced agreement focuses in on, proactively doing the IT best practices that keep your network and IT running at peak efficiency. Lets go back to healthcare, we ultimately have two choices in our life regarding our health: be reactive and wait for an issue or become proactive and focus in and do what we are told are the healthy best practices.  You can sit in a lazy boy and drink beer and eat Twinkies and reactively get rushed to the hospital when you inevitably have a heart attack and hope for the best, or you can proactively watch what you eat, exercise and really focus on health lifestyle best practices because you know you will end up with a longer lifespan and a higher quality of life.  Believe me, the same is true with your IT, become reactive and lazy or work at becoming proactive and healthy. Yes it’s harder to be proactive, yes its time consuming to do the necessary work, but the IT results are guaranteed.

So if you can take that leap of faith with me and see that becoming proactive with your IT will insure you of a better result; then let me show you how to insure you get that great IT result with an IT outsourcer.  The IT best practices are well documented: patch your windows servers and workstations, install anti-virus software make certain it is updating and scanning, quarantine all of the files that anti virus software finds, monitor your server logs, daily monitor your back up software, test file restoration etc. The question is not what we should be doing, it is insuring that not only does it happen but also it happens transparently and with a “Service Level Guarantee.” You should look for an IT outsourcer that can produce a monthly report that shows you how effectively all the best practice work is occurring. And more importantly, when it doesn’t occur, you can ask for your money back! 

I think you should be able to go further than that; focus in on the reactive things that often do breakdown and expect a higher level “Service Level Guarantee,” on that type of work.  For instance if your cable modem goes off-line, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, your IT outsourcer should be able to notify you the device went off line within 15 minutes of it occurring, the outsourcer should be able to email you what their resolution plan is (for instance calling up Verizon or Comcast and getting a service incident opened and trying to get a dispatch time) and finally the repair and resolution time should be documented and completed in less than some guaranteed period of time.   Each of these three steps should have a contract time limit, and they should have a money back guarantee if the time performance is not met.  Investigate if your potential IT provider is willing to commit to performance guarantees, beware the small providers who don’t have the staffing to commit to a higher level of deliverables.  This is the way, you as an owner, can insure your IT outsource agreement does in fact tie IT outcomes to your payment of money each month. 

As a business owner, you can get a much higher level of IT performance out of your company infrastructure if you are willing to commit to proactively applying IT best practices, to insure you achieve the IT best practices, consider outsourcing to an experienced IT outsourcer, once you have found an experienced company, take a look at their contract and see if you can find a written service level guarantee that promises a certain level of performance or your money back.  If you shop carefully you can achieve the Holy Grail: you can tie IT outcomes to a performance based IT outsource agreement! If you would like to meet and discuss IT outsourcing click here to set up an appointment. If you are not ready to meet, click here to sign up for a free whitepaper on IT outsourcing: 6 Essential IT Outsourcing Strategies.

 

6 Essential IT Outsourcing Strategies

Topics: IT Outsourcing, Service Level Guarantee, IT Outcomes, IT outsourcer

Three Additional Strategic Outcomes from IT Outsourcing

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Thu, Jun 19, 2014

IT Business OutcomesAre outsourced IT services right for your business? Possibly, I have listed three more business outcomes that you may try to achieve when outsourcing IT managed services. You have probably heard before that the CEO should be working “on,” the business not “in,” the business.  The same is true while outsourcing your IT services, the time that is freed up for your staff and yourself should be directed to important work outcomes.  IT outsourcing can provide a strategic, cost-effective solution if your management team is focusing “on,” your business outcomes.  The business outcomes can be segregated into three areas of business operation, first are the CEO focused business outcomes, and second are the strategic accounting and operational outcomes and finally specific IT business outcomes. In this blog I will discuss the final three of seven business outcomes (the first blog describes the first four business outcomes) you can read the first blog here.

Outsource your IT to maximize Return On Investment and manage costs.

When you add up your IT salaries, annual software licenses, hardware upgrades, is it a significant cost to your business?  Most business owners will agree IT is expensive.  Owners demand confidence that their IT investments are delivering sufficient business value.  Many owners wonder if they can improve IT availability at a lower cost than doing IT themselves.  Typically an IT Managed Service Provider can lower your IT costs and improve service levels.  I have seen savings range from 30 to 60 percent annually versus doing IT internally.  The savings come from adding discipline into the IT operations, and that includes financial discipline.  You will begin to predict your IT budget accurately and control costs because everything will be documented and planned.  Do you need standardize on a single laptop model or desktop to control costs?  Should you be leasing or buying your hardware? These and many more questions will be discussed, evaluated and answered through IT outsourcing.  Look for a client Chief Information Officer as part of the outsourcing engagement; insist upon an MBA to periodically hold business conversations with the owner that can help establish a link between your personal business goals and the strategy needed within IT to achieve those business goals.

Outsource your IT to leverage IT as a strategic asset.

Speaking of IT strategy, how do you leverage your IT systems in a competitive manner?  Is it possible to look at your current IT applications and consider if you have deployed the best software to align with your business goals?  Through IT outsourcing you will have access to an IT expert who can help you evaluate if you have the appropriate applications and systems in place.  Time after time, we see business owners who recognize that their company’s IT has degraded in performance and in its usefulness to the business; the owner does not know what to do next.  As an owner you need to be ready to respond to changing business conditions, and that often means, upgrading your Line-of-Business application, or at the minimum, evaluating if your IT applications are serving you and your employees.  Many CEO’s and owners see their industry is in rapid change, we all saw in 2008 how quickly the national economy can impact our businesses. Owners need access to IT experts that can accommodate the industry or economic conditions as they evolve.  How can your IT systems that are 5 years old be serving your business properly five years later? Surely something could be upgraded, or enhanced to add additional value. If you decide to outsource your IT, make certain that the IT outsourcer will provide you with an IT thought leader, who can bridge your business strategies with your IT systems and evolve your IT department into a strategic asset. 

Outsource your IT so your business delivers first-class products and customer service.

Gone are the days of paper ERP systems and clients calling in on the phone.  Today, to remain competitive, your company needs an excellent web site, an email domain, and ideally a web portal for your prospects and clients to interact with your sales and delivery teams. You need to be able to respond quickly to customer needs and expectations. Your IT systems are an extension and a representation of your company to your employees and your customers.  Your company will be evaluated on how efficiently work can be completed. Ideally, you have automated tasks so you can provide a value-add to your clients. Hopefully you are leveraging the Internet and have a web portal so your clients have more than a phone call means of connecting with your company. Today in this globally competitive world, you need to provide your clients multiple channels to interact with your company: ANP has video conferencing, Instant Messaging, Chat, email, service ticketing and a phone call: that’s 6 different ways to interact with ANP… are you offering a client multiple ways to communicate with your firm? Don’t make the mistake of expecting that everyone is going to want to communicate in a way that you prefer! These are reasons why it might be time to consider IT outsourcing, its not just about the block and tackling of IT, an IT Service Provider can help you work through new ways to enhance your products and services for your clients. 

I need to say your mileage may vary; every company has different circumstances and will have different business outcomes.  I can state our clients are able to achieve most of these business outcomes.  ANP's clients are seeking effective business IT solutions that will help increase company: revenue, competitiveness and productivity and enable the company to scale for the long term.  If you shook your head and said, "Yes, that's us" when reading our list of business needs, then this is a clear indication that outsourced IT managed services can deliver strategic value to your organization.  Outsourced IT managed services will play an ever increasing and critical role in the small and mid-size business marketplace.  As more organizations take advantage of performance and productivity-enhancing technology and applications without the distraction and expertise required to manage them, IT outsourcing frees up valuable time for the business leaders. The question for you is not whether to use them - but how and when? Want to get started, click here and sign up for a free 7 step strategic review. I you are not ready to talk yet; you may download our free white paper on the 6 essential IT Outsourcing Strategies (found below.)

6 Essential IT Outsourcing Strategies

Topics: IT Support, IT Outsourcing, Business Outcomes, Strategic outcomes

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