IT Support Blog for Small Business Owners

Avoiding “Surprises” in IT – A Case for a Network Assesment

Posted by Michael Silverman on Thu, Oct 31, 2013

 

Avoid IT Surprises

Last week, we discussed some of the common surprises resulting in unplanned business disruptions and/or IT expenses?  If you missed last week’s blog, we discussed four categories of unplanned IT surprises.  First was hardware and whether you’ve ever discussed age and end of life timelines for your servers, desktops, switches, routers, and firewalls.  Second, we recommended frequent communication—with your IT team or managed service provider—about equipment capacity and the current status and future plans for your business.  We then focused on whether or not recurring agreements of varied types are actively managed: domain names; SSL certificates; and hardware/software maintenance agreements.  The fourth category of “surprises” was unexpected labor expenses and upgrades driven by external audits.

Not every business is confronted with all of these surprises, but as you’ll see in this week’s blog, an understanding of their root causes will help any company, large or small, develop practical strategies to avoid them. 

The variables can all feel and seem overwhelming to manage, but they don’t have to be.  The root causes lie in two broad areas: the inherent conflict of proactive and reactive IT services provided by the same individuals; and secondly, the inability to step back and look at the big picture.  For most businesses, user issues trump anything else occurring in IT.  Without some type of consistent proactive maintenance strategies, user issues, unexpected outages and investments, become the norm.  IT professionals become limited in their ability to step back and look at the big picture.  Without ever stepping back to assess your IT systems and processes, surprises will absolutely be out there. And they will multiply and then trip you up at the most inconvenient moments.

As I work with small and mid-size businesses, my message regarding IT is that it’s all about expectations.  If expectations of an IT environment are clearly defined, then the surprise of “What just happened, and why?” is replaced by the planned procedure for “What steps do we take when this documented issue arises?” So how does one get to this point?  It’s a two-step process. Quantify, then plan.

Quantify

First off, IT should be driven by business objectives and strategies.  It’s understood that many business innovations originate within IT, but your business strategy must be clear.  Business strategy drives IT priorities and investments.  Is your strategy in writing?  Have you shared it with your IT staff? Has your provider ever asked you for it?

Then you need to quantify your technical infrastructure.  Do you have your inventory documented?  How old is it?  Are there end of life issues looming in the near term?  Are software licenses documented?  Are you in compliance with software license agreements?  What’s your strategy for upgrading key line-of-business applications?  Do you know when your domain name registrations expire?

Finally, don’t overlook your IT operational practices.  What activities consistently occur daily, weekly, and monthly?  Are these activities auditable? Do you ever leverage a second set of eyes to insure that what’s expected actually occurs?  When was the last time server backups were tested or a disaster recovery test occurred? 

If you haven’t been asking any of these questions of yourselves, expect to be asked by potential clients or an auditor—maybe even your accountant.

Planning

Once you’ve quantified your “IT world,” planning becomes easy.  I typically leverage three types of planning tools: an IT Risk Assessment; a 3 year budget; and, based on the specific client need, a summary of IT objectives.  The Risk Assessment is primarily the lead document that summarizes all of the quantified information about your IT environment, documents open questions, quantifies the level of risk, and identities short and longer term remediation activities. 

The Risk/Network Assessment then blends with your business strategy to result in prioritized activities and the associated budget.  It’s a living set of documents that becomes the ongoing roadmap for you, your management team, and your IT staff and outsourced partners.

 

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Topics: IT Support, Budget, IT capacity, IT spending, risks

How To Save Money On Your IT Solutions

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Wed, Jul 31, 2013

IT Solution ExpensesThere are two faces to IT investments and costs.  As a business owner or as an IT manager, you can look outside of your IT department and consider what areas in your business need more control, perhaps a better process, or more consistent deliverables. You can also look inside your IT department and ask yourself where can you save money and get better results.  This week, let’s take a look at inward facing or internal IT costs.

Here’s a few ideas on how you can maximize your results from your internal IT expenes.

Consider migrating some or all of your IT solutions into the Cloud

You have seen the Microsoft ads on TV regarding the Cloud or you own an Apple iPhone and you see the ability to save your pictures and emails into Apple's iCloud.  The Cloud is here to stay and can become a big part of your company’s IT strategy.  There are two major types of cloud operations: Cloud storage and Cloud based applications. All companies need to store documents. If they go with physical solutions like hard drives, backup tapes etc., it can get very expensive, very quickly. Cloud storage allows you to store all your documents off site, often at a fraction of the cost of physical storage solutions. Beyond that, you will have access to your documents as long as you have an Internet connection.

Cloud based applications come in many varieties, with the most popular being based around the office suite, or a hybrid of storage and application. Solutions like Google Drive which takes Google’s office suite and combines it with a storage and sharing solution, is completely
based in the Cloud. The goal of Google Drive and other solutions, like Microsoft Office, is largely to provide a platform that enables easy collaboration and sharing at a fraction of the cost of more traditional on prem solutions.

Integrating Cloud based solutions can often times save you a ton of money, not only in operating costs but also long-term maintenance. As these services depend on a data connection and not sheer computing power, you won’t have to replace your machines in order to upgrade to new software. This means lower costs all round for the small business owner.

Deploy or outsource a Voice over IP Phone System

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has been around for a number of years and many companies, large and small, have integrated it into their offices. Because VoIP uses an Internet connection to send and receive phone calls, there’s no need for expensive cabling and switchboards.  Aside from lower overhead, many VoIP providers offer calling rates at a
fraction of what most conventional dial-tone providers charge. So, companies that make lots
of long-distance calls can really benefit with VoIP.

While many businesses have integrated VoIP solutions, most don’t go beyond that. If you use a fax machine, did you know that you can either digitize that and eliminate the fax machine, integrate it with most modern email programs or use your VoIP connection to transmit fax data.

If you have a sales force who is constantly on the road or giving presentations, why not look into a Web conferencing system. Many systems, like Cisco's WebEx, allow users to hold conferences and share documents or presentations without having to leave the office.

Outsource your IT support to a Managed Service Provider

While this may seem counter-intuitive – why would a company want to pay to save money? Managed Service Providers (MSP) usually charge a monthly fixed fee and offer a full service solution that aims to keep your IT systems running. Through preventative maintenance and proactive management ensuring systems are running, IT costs are often reduced in the long run. Beyond that, the chances of a major service outage are drastically reduced. Should anything happen to your business MSPs can have you up and running more quickly allowing you to minimize potential downtime losses.

There are literally thousands of ways you can save money on IT and maximize your resources, and often experts like us can help you extend savings even further. So, why not give us a call and see what we can do. Also, stay tuned for part three of this article, covering how to save money on tech systems that your customers interact with.

 Unchain Your Office

Topics: Budget, Business IT, Business technology, Managed Service Provider, VoIP, cloud save, Cloud. Savings from the cloud, voice technology, businesses operating in the cloud, Cloud-Office 365, Office 365

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