IT Support Blog for Small Business Owners

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.

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

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

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

Did You Budget for Increased IT Support Costs This Year?

Posted by Michael Silverman on Mon, Feb 03, 2014

Windows XPLast month, I blogged about Technology Management strategies and how to link good IT management back to a predictable IT budget.  This April brings not only its usual tax day, but, crucial for IT management and business continuity, the end of support for the Microsoft Windows XP operating system.  Unless you’re in the minority, look around, you’ll see Windows XP desktops or laptops.  So what’s the end of support for XP have to do with increased network management costs?  It means you’re going to need to upgrade old computers or risk unplanned downtime due to an exploited unsupported operating system.

Microsoft has stated that “after April 8, Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) customers will no longer receive new security updates, non-security hotfixes, free or paid assisted support options or online technical content updates.  This means that any new vulnerability discovered in Windows XP after its ‘end of life’ will not be addressed by new security updates from Microsoft.”  IT security is a leap frogging game between those desiring to attack a computer or network and those tasked with protecting it.

The graphic below illustrates the typical IT management strategy for protecting a computer or network.  Security systems are designed to prevent attacks, but what happens if an attack is not detected? Computer systems can screech to a halt and valuable data can be lost.

IT Virus Detection, Response, Prevention 

For years I’ve expressed to clients that someone needs to be the first to get a new virus, or be the victim of a software security flaw before patches or updates can be introduced.  About four years ago, one of my clients was one of the first to get hit with a new virus.  It was identified by Symantec two days prior and the virus definition update, the response, had not yet been released.  Fortunately, there were good monitoring controls in place and we were able to limit the damage until Symantec got us the interim software release.  The net effect was limited downtime and minimal loss of productivity.

Now let’s fast forward to April 2014.  You’re a small business, say 40 employees, all with Windows XP desktops.  One of your employees innocently goes to a web site with a corrupt display ad designed to exploit a Windows XP flaw.  It attacks their computer and begins spreading throughout your network.  What might you expect?

  • IT Productivity could drop to a crawl; 40 employees times $100 an hour burden rate will cost the business $4,000 an hour.  Can the technicians eliminate the issue in an hour?  Probably not; could take a couple of hours just to identify the root cause.
  • Do you have a solid business continuity plan addressing these kinds of issues?  If you have a remote worker strategy leveraging Citrix, you might be able to get partially back in business in a few hours; now maybe up to $20,000 in lost productivity.
  • The IT team says, “We’ve got no choice but to upgrade to a supported operating system like Windows 7 or Windows 8.”  Ugh, now you’re hitting cash flow.  The upgrade could cost $6,000 to $12,000 to purchase, but how much longer to deploy it?  Couple of days to get everyone back on-line? There’s $60,000 in lost labor, but what about lost business?
  • Maybe your computers are too old to run the new operating system.  Now you’re spending $32,000 in new computers, another couple of days lost labor, $60,000 plus labor to deploy the new machines, and more lost business.

Get the picture?  It’s just not worth it.  The pennies saved while everything works can cost you thousands without any advance notice.  Talk to your IT support company, IT consultant, and your peers.  The gamble just isn’t worth the price.

And it’s not just Windows XP.  Every piece of technology linking your network exposes you to some degree of risk as it reaches its end of life.  Do you have an IT strategy or lifecycle management plan in place to mitigate these risks?  Want perspectives?  Check out my recent blog about technology management or just drop me a line.  

 

Request A Free Network Assessment

Topics: IT Support, Windows XP, IT Productivity, IT Strategy

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

Advantages of Proactive IT Support vs. Reactive Break/Fix Service

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Sat, Oct 12, 2013

Reactive vs. Proactive IT SupportMaintaining a well-performing, predictably available IT infrastructure for your company is obviously important.  Access to your business applications, customer data, and your financial information are critical for the success of your business.  If the computers and other IT hardware that deliver access to that information for you, your employees, and your customers fail, it will negatively impact your business.  Customers and employees become frustrated, and your bottom line suffers anytime you have IT problems or outages.

The truth is that avoiding IT issues is only possible if you are proactively monitoring your IT hardware.  Staying ahead of potential problems, and correcting issues before they ultimately result in outages, is the key to maintaining availability and performance.  The concept here is truly no different than engaging in regular, proactive, and disciplined checkups…just like we do with other items in our lives.

We go to the doctor for regular checkups with the hope that if a symptom of a medical problem is detected, something can be prescribed to remedy the situation before a major medical issue occurs.  We bring our car in for regular maintenance, changing the oil, checking engine fluids, and checking performance of the vehicle with the hope of avoiding a major breakdown on the road, or a major mechanical problem. 

In both of these cases, a lack of scheduled checkups or maintenance, “reactive management” if you will, could lead to serious problems: a heart attack can result from undetected high-blood pressure, or a clogged artery that could have been easily detected and rectified ahead of time; low oil levels, or dirty transmission fluid which could lead to a vehicle breakdown, could have been easily addressed ahead of time.  And the resulting “cost” of addressing these issues without taking the disciplined proactive steps, could be astronomical: a major heart attack or a blown engine is nothing anyone wants to experience...and though these “real costs may be difficult to quantify, we all know they are significant”.

The same theory applies to IT.  There are “technical” things that can be done, “proactively” in the background, which will identify potential problems….much like regular scheduled checkups or maintenance.  Those technical things can in many instances correct the problem, or at the very least, tell you what needs to be done in order to rectify the issue and avoid an outage.  Things like disk drives that are performing poorly, and if not addressed, will fail.  

Viruses that are detected, can be removed; new viruses that have been identified in the market place, that your infrastructure can be protected from ahead of time so they never become an issue.  Conditions in back-up routines that indicate a future failed back-up; computer processors that are being overburdened or are aging, that will ultimately fail.  Events like these, and many others, can be proactively managed and addressed by an IT support provider, so an end-user or customer has a much higher likelihood of not facing a “hard down” outage.

The difference with IT, however, is that this can only be done effectively if the infrastructure is being monitored and managed twenty-four hours a day.  IT hardware is susceptible and vulnerable around the clock…conditions are just that dynamic.  Someone, or more specifically something, like IT management tools, should be looking at your IT hardware all the time to give you the best opportunity to avoid any downtime for your business.  IT outages are much less likely, and much less painful from a business perspective, if potential problems are addressed ahead of time, rather than when a complete failure occurs. 

We all know that when an outage occurs, it’s too late.  That’s when the fire drill begins, and there is panic to get a vendor out immediately to fix something…often times something you are not even sure what it is…and what if a replacement part is required, and it’s not immediately available.  Employees are aggravated with their inability to do their job.  And most importantly, customers may be impacted negatively…orders may be lost, and your reputation may be put at risk in your specific market place.

Needless to say, when there is an IT outage, the pain is an acute…a heart attack or a blown engine if you will…and though these “real costs may be difficult to quantify, we all know they are significant”.  Taking a proactive approach to your IT support is far less costly than a reactive wait and see approach to IT support.  A first step to becoming proactive with your IT is requesting a free network assessment, its like a health fitness exam for your IT infrastructure.

 Request A Network Assessment

 

Topics: IT Support, Business IT, Break Fix, IT Outsourcing, Time & Materials

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

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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

Should you consider IT Outsourcing for your small business?

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Wed, Sep 04, 2013

IT SupportIf you’re like most small businesses, you rely on your workstations, laptops, servers and technology to keep your business running. Unfortunately, that means when your IT stops working, you and your business stop working. Anything from computer problems, network glitches, viruses, or software issues can bring your work to a halt very quickly and cost you money to fix. Even a relatively ‘simple’ problem or question could involve many hours of troubleshooting, resulting in unplanned downtime and expenses.

To keep your employees productive, you need to keep your PCs, printers, routers, servers, network, firewall and applications and other systems running like clockwork. Managing your IT technology may not be the business you’re in, but it is important for your success as a whole. Not only do you need a way to minimize the frequent tech issues that drag down productivity and drive up costs, you also need to maximize the tools and technologies that increase productivity and help your business grow.

So where do you turn if you don’t have the time to manage it on your own or the money to keep a dedicated tech team on staff? You look to an IT services provider – a partner that can give you access to your own IT team.  Also known as a Managed Services Provider (MSP), an outside MSP can take over the day-to-day management of your IT needs. A good provider can offer set-up, maintenance and proactive IT management, as well as solutions for simple, but important questions or fast-breaking problems whenever they arise.  Put simply, an MSP can give you a better way to manage your technology and support your business. If you feel outside IT support makes sense for you, here are a few key questions to ask when choosing an MSP.

1. Do they understand your business?

You want a provider who already works with businesses like yours – who knows the technology, software, and hardware you use within your industry.  An association or a non-profit has entirely different IT needs than a manufacturer.  When speaking with an MSP, be specific about your set-up, applications and your concerns. Ask directly, do they understand and already support a business like yours? Are they familiar with the software applications you work with day in, day out? Can they work with PCs, with Macs, with servers? What about mobile devices or combinations of different printers, scanners, and routers and firewalls?

2. Can they support you remotely or On-site? How fast can they respond?

While it may seem comforting to have a technician come to your office with tools in hand, the convenience and speed of remote service and support is invaluable. Remote support is faster, and more efficient.  For example, if you’re experiencing a problem, you call your provider, who walks you through some diagnostics, resets, or other procedures on the spot. This can often resolve many issues without an in-person visit. Remotely delivered support is remarkably fast. In other cases, a provider can access your systems and networks remotely (with your permission, of course). They can reset routers, change network settings, scan systems for viruses and malware, or reinstall software and handle many other problems in far less time. Why wait for a truck to arrive if you can do it now?

Just ask: What are your remote capabilities?

With that said, there will be times when you need on-site support. Such as when you’re setting up new equipment, resolving physical issues with networks, moving equipment around the office, or when problems can’t be handled remotely. You need a provider who can deploy on-site technicians promptly, wherever you happen to be.

3. Do they work nights and weekends 24 hours a day 365 days a year?

When do you most need service and help? If you are in retail, hospitality, manufacturing, transportation, or any other business where 9-to-5 doesn’t apply, you need a provider who is 24/7.  Or maybe the only time you can stop for service is outside of your working hours.  A provider who is daylight-only may provide only limited services, or slower response after regular business hours. Who has time for that? Look for a provider who keeps hours for your convenience. And who doesn’t have a slower response time or charge more just because it’s dark out.

4. Do they offer Proactive Support?

It’s always best to have a relationship with an MSP before something happens. When your network crashes or your computers go dark, that is not the time to start hunting for help. You want a resource you know, and who knows your IT environment before there is a problem.  Ask the MSP what preventative services they provide, to help spot potential problems before something breaks. This can involve scanning your computers for rogue code, troubleshooting your network, testing your network for performance issues. All to prevent problems before they happen. Can the MSP show you that over time through their proactive processes that you will have fewer issues? Ask their references if the MSP has been able to lower their IT issues over time, after all isn’t that what you are trying to accomplish?

5. Do they offer an unlimited amount of Support Desk incidents?

Beware the MSP who tells you how much support time you require in hours or in incidents and then charges additional for anything you use over their allowance.  This can lead to unforeseen monthly charges, and end up costing your business much more than you originally thought you were going to pay.  Ask the MSP if they offer an unlimited support option; ideally, if the MSP is doing their job well, there will not be a lot of support incidents.  Ask the MSP if they have outsourced their support desk. Is the support provided from a call center overseas? Do they offer 24 X 7 support? Can they demonstrate that reactive support desk issues go down over time? 

6. Has the MSP’s policies and practices been audited? Do they have SSAE16 Type II accreditation?

You wouldn’t use an accountant who was not certified, nor would you go to a doctor who was not certified, so why outsource your IT services to someone who is not certified? The SSAE16 Type II accreditation insures that an independent IT expert, against a stringent set of policies and best practices, has audited your MSP.  Ask to see their SSAE16 opinion letter; it should be issued without any contingencies or exceptions.  Don’t rely on the MSP saying hey have been in business for X amount of years, without an audit, there is no way of you to determine if they are actually operating their clients in a best practice manner. 

7. How do they charge? What do they provide?

While it may seem prudent to arrange for support on an a la carte basis, only when something breaks, that practice can be unpredictable and costly.

That’s especially irritating when the problem could have been prevented. Or a simple question could have been answered in no time. A better option, more and more common, is an all-inclusive monthly subscription fee – priced either per device or for the entire business.

Depending on the provider, this monthly fee can include whatever immediate services may be required, along with some combination of proactive and reactive services that can include performance tests, scanning for viruses and malware, along with data back-up, hosting or other ancillary services. The advantage is that the costs are more predictable, and usually nominal, no matter what issues may occur during the month (even if there’s a major problem requiring on- site service, or you need equipment replacements). What’s more, proactive and preventive maintenance can help address potential problems long before they can cause downtime or customer inconvenience.

In addition, the costs of adding more users, and additional computers are easy to predict. As a business owner, you may decide you only want added support for yourself and the select employees who manage your most critical business data. As your business grows and you bring more critical roles into your company, you need a solution that can scale with you. With a monthly subscription model, there is little uncertainty.

Is it time for you to consider outsourcing your IT services?

 7 Signs That Its Time To Call For Computer Support

Topics: IT Support, Business IT, IT Outsourcing, Managed Service Provider

What Is Your Company's IT Fitness Level? | IT Assessment

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Wed, Aug 14, 2013

Will Your IT Practices Pass The Physical?

IT Fitness Assessment

As I was preparing for a 100 mile backpacking trip with my youngest son this summer, I realized it was time for me to take a harder look at my own personal fitness. I had gained a few extra pounds, I was not in great aerobic shape, and wondered how healthy my heart was. The thought of being out in the middle of a desert in New Mexico without access to quick medical help, I knew it was time toassess my own fitness level before placing a 50 LB pack on my back and heading out to the wilderness.

After a stress test, which turned out better than I expected, and a discussion with my doctor regarding how much weight I needed to loose and a plan to get into aerobic shape; I had a 6 months of activities to complete to meet my goals. I successfully lost the weight (plus another 15 pounds after the hike.) There is no question in my mind that taking a proactive and consistent approach to improving my health for the trip was the right path to take and as it turned out, my son and I had a blast and have safely returned home with some great memories.

I am sure you know where I am heading with this... Your own company’s IT fitness level is much like your own personal fitness level.  Personally, I had let my fitness slip away and although I was not lying in a hospital bed, I was certainly not in the best shape.  IT fitness, like our own health, can get away from us because there are so many other things to focus on in a business that before you know it there could be a virus outbreak, a dead Laptop or a missing back up tape. Just like our own personal health, our company’s IT health needs a proactive and consistent approach to remain healthy and avoid disease. You need to keep an eye on your IT support!

So what are a few things you could do to keep your Company IT Fitness level in great shape?

It’s honestly very easy, the trick is in the consistency at which you do the following things. You already know that occasional and sporadic exercise will not improve your overall personal fitness, the same is true with these IT fitness principles, they will only work if you are methodical and consistent with their application.  So let’s take a look at some of the things you can do that would be at the top of my list:

IT Fitness Goal #1

Stay committed to backing up your files at least every month. Ideally, every week and also every year. I wish I had a dollar for every business owner who told me they thought their company data was being backed up.  A back up is like an
insurance policy, you don’t want to use it, but you are grateful to have it when you need it.  There are so many inexpensive ways to get your data backed up, consider your accounting data first and work through a list until everything you feel you will need again is backed up, and ideally taken off site.  Business Continuity is a function the Owner should be interested in ensuring. You can easily devlop an IT Disaster Recovery Plan for your company. 

Your Company data can be streamed off site, so if there is a fire or a flood you know you have everything in a safe place.  With the price of USB connected disk drive being less than $200 dollars, you can probably get almost all of your company data on one portable drives. Wouldn’t you sleep better at night if you knew your company data was backed up in a secure location?

 IT Fitness Goal #2

Turn on automatic Windows updates.  With so many Microsoft patches coming out every two weeks, you simply can’t afford to not keep up with Microsoft security updates.  By keeping your PC up to date, your Virus Scanning software does not need to work nearly as hard. It’s easy to do and its free, so make certain every PC has auto updates turned on.

Keeping up with your personal physical fitness is a good thing but performing safe IT Fitness can be just as important. So, let’s get going… In the next blog I will continue my list of easy things you can do to insure your Company IT Fitness is in great health and be sure to register for our August Webinar!

 

7 Signs That Its Time To Call For Computer Support

 

 

Topics: IT Support, Disaster Recovery, Business Continuity

Using Time & Materials IT Support? Are You Happy With The Results?

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Thu, Jul 25, 2013

IT Services,IT Outsourcing,IT supportYou probably don’t realize this—but even though you are not an IT expert you can evaluate the best IT support for your business, and avoid those IT companies that are never going to give you great support, no matter how much money you pay them.

This means you can choose between an IT company that truly wants you to succeed in IT rather than spend endless amounts of money fixing never ending IT issues with an IT company that simply isn’t motivated by your IT success.

Let me show you what I mean:

There are two types of IT support companies; the old business model is a Time & Materials company; here’s how it works: When you have an IT issue, you call them, they send out a technician and they fix your problem, they send you an invoice for a few hours’ work and they wait until something else in your company breaks and you call them in again, and again, and again.  You have probably been doing this for years with your IT guy; so what’s so bad with the Break/Fix model?

Honestly, as a business owner, I like the idea of paying as little as I can for IT support, I would certainly avoid hiring a full-time IT geek for as long as I could.  It seems like the Break/Fix Time & Materials approach to an IT problem helps a business owner avoid hiring their own IT employee; you get IT services on demand when you need them and you only pay for what you use in support time. Isn’t that an ideal way to keep your IT costs as low as possible?

Well maybe not; as we all know things aren’t always the way they seem.

Imagine for a moment you are the owner of the IT provider instead of the consumer of the IT service.  How do you grow your IT business and make more money? Well we already discussed that you have to wait until a client calls with a problem, then you send out your best technician so that you can solve the issue in the shortest amount of time so that the client gets the smallest T&M bill possible.  Hmmm do you really think that’s how old style IT companies approach it?

Or more likely, do they send out the least qualified technician that can solve the pain in the slowest timeframe possible so they can maximize the T&M invoice while clearing up the customers’ issue? Herein is the rub, the IT provider is not financially motivated to work as quickly as possible by deploying the highest skilled worker and searching for the underlying issue that will resolve the problem forever.  After all, for the Time & Materials approach to be viable the IT provider needs you to keep calling them--so they never search for the underlying issues that could reduce your need for T&M support! 

So what does this mean to you as a business owner?

With a closer look, you and your business are really at cross-purpose with your T&M IT provider, you each have diametrically opposed agendas:

  • The IT provider wants to maximize the time billed; you want it completed as quickly as possible. 
  • The IT provider isn’t really motivated in solving underlying causes of issues; you want the problem to never return by solving the root issue. 
  • The IT provider is motivated to send the least capable engineer and you want the most talented engineer in the company working on your network. 
  • The IT provider reactively waits until there is a problem to exploit the pain you are feeling with the IT issue, while you really need a proactive approach to IT issues, where things are solved before they become IT impacting.

It turns out; there is another IT approach that will serve you and your company much better than T&M and I will explain what you need to know to choose the best provider for your business!  Download our Free Report on the Seven Signs that its Time to Call for Computer Support.

7 Signs Its Time Computer Support

 

Topics: IT Support, IT Outsourcing, Time & Materials, IT Services

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