When managing small business IT, it pays to heed the old axiom, business leads, IT follows. It means technology should never be used for technology’s sake. The needs of the business come first and foremost.
1. Use IT to provide value to your customers
If IT doesn’t add value for your customers, what’s the point? Technology should allow you to either, lower costs, provide better customer service, or develop new products and services your customers need. If deploying new technology doesn’t do one of these, don’t bother.
2. Don’t buy more complexity than you need.
Efficiency is found in simplicity – fewer moving parts. Don’t buy feature-laden software if simple software gets the job done. However, you should take care to analyze and anticipate your needs so you don’t under buy. A good tactic is to plan for a progression of features or capabilities that match your expected growth. Choose software that is easily upgraded and allows you to use your existing data with new versions or modules.
3. Apply technology only if it improves a process
A manual process is often the most efficient. Don’t spend 200 man hours implementing a technology that will save you 8 man hours a month. Any technology should also add customer value over and above the manual process.
4. Monitor capacity, performance, and health
Don’t just set it and forget it. There are too many inexpensive management tools that will allow you to monitor your systems and alert you in time to avert a disruption of service. Something as simple as running out of disk space can cause a service outage that takes days to recover from.
5. Be proactive
Monitoring your systems also allows you to collect data that can be used for trend analysis. For example: By knowing the rate of increase in your disk space usage you can predict when you will need to add capacity and plan accordingly.
Replace your equipment before it wears out or becomes unreliable. Practice “lifecycle management.” Budget for computer replacement every 3 to 5 years. For example: if you have 40 computers, consider budgeting to replace the 10 oldest of them each year. Keep this replacement schedule up, and you will never have a computer more than four years old again.
6. Plan for contingency
Hardware fails. Users screw up. Viruses are always a threat. It’s prudent and cost-effective to use redundant disk technology on your server, but you don’t have to go crazy trying to build fault tolerance into all your systems. FOr example, if you have 20 computers, having a spare ready to go costs only an additional 5% of your total computer costs.
That is a very cost-effective way to increase availability. I’ve worked with large companies that will spend days trying to source parts and repair a computer while the user cannot work. Why not have a spare that’s ready to go immediately. Once repaired, the old computer can be used for a spare.
7. Provide operational structure
Define the processes you will use to manage your information technology just as you would any other business process. Use a regimented approach to performing the tasks needed to complete the processes. For example: backing up your data requires a number of specific steps. Write them down, perform them at the same time every day, and train more than one person to do them. Plan how you will update software and apply patches. Create processes, document them and develop a routine.
Organize your data into a simple hierarchy of folders according to projects, security clearance, or department. Create this structure before files are scattered all over the server with no rhyme or reason for where they go. This will save time for your users, managers, and IT support.
8. Train users
Your users don’t need to know how to use every little bell and whistle of a software application. If they help them do their job faster, they will learn them. Train them how to use their hardware and software to complete the business processes they are responsible for first. Teach them about Internet safety and help them organize their files and data.
9. Hire professionals to do the technical stuff
Find competent and reliable professionals to help you plan and maintain your systems. A good professional will want to understand your business, your customers, and your plans for the future. Once you have a good technology partner, you can focus on your business and customers.
Information technology supports your efforts best when it is reliable, predictable and efficient. The best way to improve all three is to simplify.