IT Support Blog for Small Business Owners

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

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.

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

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

Is Your Computer Support Guy Treating You Like A “Bad Date?”

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Wed, Oct 02, 2013

IT Support NerdIs your computer support guy treating you like a bad date?

  • Not returning your calls fast enough…
  • Constantly missing deadlines…
  • Not fixing things right the first time…
  • Never following up on your requests?
  • Promises made and not kept?

It just amazes me how unreliable and arrogant some IT services companies are…

When you call them for help, you end up talking to their voice mail. When you finally get them on the phone, they make you wait hours – even days – before they actually get your problem resolved. Sometimes it never seems to get fixed and it’s easier to find a work-around or simply fix it yourself than to call your IT provider!

Even then, a lot of them take longer than they promised, nickel and dime you over everything and, as a final insult, they act like they’re doing YOU the favor! Every time you call your IT service company you are guaranteed an invoice, but not necessarily a resolution.  They often use their techno speak to confuse you, and respond when they feel like it, its never about your requirements and more about their schedule. 

You don’t need a computer nerd to act like a bad date; what you need is a new approach to your IT support.  The old Time & Materials approach is no longer effective for your growing small business. I spend most of my time speaking with our clients and prospects; the vast majority of business owners I speak to already have an IT service provider relationship in place, however, the business owner is exasperated with how poorly their IT provider is treating them.  You need IT support but you don’t need an unresponsive Time & Materials provider, there is a better way, a new way. 

There Is A Better Way to Receive IT Support for your Business

By changing your IT support approach from reactive (where you are waiting for a problem and then reactively calling your IT support guy to solve an issue) to proactive (where you rely upon a new IT support company to proactively manage your IT computer systems and software.  This new proactive approach can actually reduce the frustrating breakdowns and bring your network back to a reliable and highly available network you once had.

Better yet, the proactive approach can be purchased as a monthly fixed fee that you can budget for and rely upon to solve all of your network issues.  As the owner you no longer have to balance the cost of a potential T & M service call vs. accepting the IT frustration of a lingering IT problem.

With this new IT Support approach your IT Support provider is financially incented to get your network running so well that he never has to stop everything and be interrupted by an unexpected problem in your network.  Imagine an IT relationship with your new IT solutions partner where you both are working together for a mutual goal; a 100% percent available network, no downtime, no problems, happy and productive employees.

This new approach is called IT Outsourcing, or perhaps you have heard it called a Managed Service; the IT solutions company is called a Managed Service Provider (MSP.)  You can outsource your workstations and servers, or your Wide Area Network and your Local Area Network, your disaster recovery systems and even your phone system.

There is no longer a reason to feel like your IT support is a bad date that never ends, you can find an IT Managed Service provider that will treat you like you felt on your first date with your significant other: goose bumps! There is a new way and a better way to purchase your companies IT Support.

Want To Learn More: You can sign up for a one-hour webinar and learn how Managed Services might help your company lower your IT costs, improve your network and application availability and make your employees more productive! Learn how IT Managed Services can improve your business!

What a Business Owner should know about the Cloud

Not Ready To Watch a Webinar yet?

If not, I’d at least like to give you a copy of my new free report, “6 Essential IT Outsourcing Strategies For Your Business.” Even if you aren’t ready to watch a webinar right now; this report will give you some important strategies for you to consider regarding your IT.

 6 Essential IT Outsourcing Strategies

Topics: IT Support, Business IT, IT Outsourcing, IT Solutions, Managed Service Provider, Disaster Recovery

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