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Avoid Getting Hit By An IT Tornado…

Knowing what not to do when starting a new endeavor in your small or medium-sized business can save you lots of time and money.

Starting up an internal IT department or assigning that responsibility to a single individual is no different.

In this article, I’ll show you four IT-related areas that you’ll want to cover to keep ahead of the game.

1. Identify an Internal Point Person for IT

Most SMBs don’t have the budget to hire an IT person. By default, there is either no one given operational responsibility for IT or it is informally tossed around to various people like a hot potato.

It’s not surprising that non-IT people don’t want this responsibility. But leaving it unaddressed, ignored and informal makes matters worse because it forces everyone to be involved to some degree.

Every company — no matter the size — should have IT as a fundamental operational area and discipline within their business. This means they should have a person responsible for it. When it comes to importance, IT is not much different than accounting. But you never find a company, no matter how small, that doesn’t have someone responsible for it.

The person responsible for IT does not have to be technical or know how to “do” IT. But they do need to manage IT operations.

Many times, this falls to the financial controller or CFO due to the costs related to IT. The most important thing is that the person knows what the role entails and what areas of responsibility they have.

Fundamentally, the IT “manager” should have operational responsibility for business critical elements such as:

  1. Development of a basic IT strategy that is mapped to overall business goals
  2. Development of an annual budget for IT based on a strategy
  3. Managing third-party technology vendors
  4. Assuming the role or designating a single “gatekeeper” for managing all requests for IT services and support
  5. Conducting annual or semi-annual reviews with business leadership and key IT vendors to ensure an IT strategy is being followed and modified as necessary
  6. Ensuring the company follows a standardized approach to IT (g. standard desktops), project management, and gathering requirements (for new software, etc.).

2. Involve IT Early

One theme we continually run into is companies not involving IT soon enough — or at all — in business decisions. Many areas of IT have led times that cannot be shortened regardless of how loud you might yell. The result is key business goals that are missed, which has a direct negative impact on the business.

Some examples we commonly see are:

  1. It’s Friday afternoon and the office manager casually mentions the new employee starting on Monday that will need to be “set up.” Adding a new employee (user) requires planning and lead time for any equipment that must be ordered, additional software licenses, email and other systems setup, etc. The lead time to order a new workstation alone is often 2-4 weeks. Giving IT at least 30 days’ notice ensures the new employee will have a machine to work on.
  2. It’s Monday, February 8th, and the owner says the company is opening a new branch on March 1. The space is already leased. The furniture, painting, and prep have been scheduled. Ten new employees will be starting on March 1 in the new space and will need access to systems. We already know the problem we may be facing with getting all the machines in on time from #1 above. But the bigger problem is Internet service in the new office. Not only do you have to find out what Internet service options are available at the new address, but once a business-class Internet solution has been decided upon, it typically takes 30-45 days to get the service in place after documents have been With only three weeks’ notice in this example, the company may have a new office with no Internet for 1-2 weeks. Being productive with no Internet service is difficult.
  3. The marketing department hired a new vendor to provide a customer relationship management (CRM) solution. The vendor will also be developing custom capabilities for the department. If IT is not involved in this decision, the company discover some unfortunate surprises: the vendor’s new solution does not work with existing software, they have horrible support, their software is using outdated technology, the CRM doesn’t meet compliance requirements, etc. No one wants to be in the position to say “I wish I had known about this six months ago.”

Moral of the story — always involve IT as soon as possible and let them opt out if they aren’t needed.

3. Avoid Consumer-Grade Anything

In the IT world, there is a big difference between business-grade solutions and consumer grade. Many companies avoid business-grade solutions due to the higher cost. What they aren’t factoring in is the costs related to downtime due to failed equipment, higher support costs to maintain and manage the equipment, and overall lack of features, functionality, and business security requirements.

When added up, these costs are always higher than the cost difference between business-grade and consumer-grade solutions.

A common example we see includes running to Best Buy to purchase critical equipment, which might include:

  1. A Linksys network switch
  2. A laptop for a new employee
  3. A Cisco router
  4. A Netgear wireless device

All of these items are critical infrastructure components for the company and purposely not built with all the robust capabilities a business requires. They are built with homeowners in mind, making these extra capabilities unnecessary.

IT should be involved up-front in the decision-making process. They can make recommendations based on specifications that meet business needs while also meeting the quality requirements of IT for features, security, and support.

4. Keep Support Agreements up to Date

Many companies take a “buy it and forget it” approach to their critical equipment.

Virtually every piece of technology a company purchases should come with a warranty and support agreement from the manufacturer.

These support agreements are typically 1, 2 or 3 years in length. If the support agreement is allowed to lapse, IT staff will not be able to get the support they need in the event of an issue, which is not an “if” but a “when” proposition.

A great example would be the company firewall support contract. The renewal notice is sent to the office manager and after a year or two of use, they have no recollection of the device and ignore the email. Consequently, the firewall support contract lapses. Then, when the firewall goes down, IT is brought in to fix the issue. They call the manufacturer to get help and are told they cannot provide assistance because there is no support for the unit. What should have been a 1- or 2-hour outage now becomes a week while everyone scrambles to get the support renewed. This is a significant negative impact on the business.

Keeping an inventory of all IT assets, along with their support renewal dates, is tedious. But not difficult and will pay dividends in avoiding painful, unnecessary outages.

IT is Critical for Businesses of All Sizes Today

Having someone in charge of IT operations that can provide oversight in all these areas, even if delegating it to their IT vendor, will avoid a business tornado. If you don’t have anyone in charge of your IT, don’t hesitate to contact us here at Fluid IT Services. We’d love to talk to you about what would work for your specific business.

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