The things we depend on most are often things we cannot control in business [and in life] and this can make us very uneasy. It’s no surprise, then, that for most leaders – IT and fear go hand in hand. So much of our business success relies on the functionality and efficiency of IT and yet we think we have little control of it.
Over time as businesses mature, changes are a necessary part of growth. What worked in the past likely will not work as the organization matures. And whether or not your business is changing, technology is. In fact every few years, technology creates major changes that can’t be ignored. In short, what worked yesterday is probably not great today and definitely will not be in your best interest for tomorrow.
When it comes to technology most leaders have to be at a point of failure to force them to consider change. That is not healthy for the business. Would you want sales to completely stop before you looked at that department and approach? Would you allow your business to almost go bankrupt before you evaluate fiscal operations? No. Yet, IT is often dealt with looking in the rear-view mirror.
Why? Fear and avoidance of things we may not fully understand.
Most business leaders do not have the time, experience or aptitude to be an expert in this field and therefore lack confidence in the area.
If a critical part of your business is not healthy, what impact do you think it has on the entire organization? How long can you expect your business to excel when you are being held back?
In case it is not obvious, technology is a critical part of your business.
We need to push through the fear, find the help if necessary and take control of all factors necessary for our success.
How Do I Approach IT?
You do not have to be a mechanic to properly use a car, but you do need to understand a bit and frequently look at the dashboard. There is no default dashboard for how well technology is working for you, but you, as the leader, can ask for and insist you get key metrics that help you make decisions. I am sure you look at financial, sales, and efficiency information. Technology is another must that most miss or simply assume is running smoothly.
What Am I Looking For?
We must understand that there are points that need to be considered. It is more than your internet connection and a copy of your files. It is keeping systems efficient [so your staff can be productive], understanding how data moves through the organization and keeping the data [your business intellectual property] safe, among other things.
Most great leaders have continually looked at keeping systems efficient, but unfortunately it typically only registers as making sure systems are up and running. The difference between running and efficient is tremendous. It’s difference between having 3 not so great employees – who basically fog a mirror and cash their check or 3 great ones – who anticipate client request, create documentation and systems and have the same vision as you.
So, what are the metrics to measure?
Track how much time is spent on each system & how often they are used. Also, track the daily status on how systems are protected.
Budget can be tough, because most companies do not have a realistic and written budget. “The cheapest we can get by with” is not a budget. You need to know what it really takes to support your company with technology. Research what the industry average is for your particular business model and vertical. [If you do not know this, how do you know if you are over or under paying?]
You should have inventory with ages of all systems and when they will need replacement. Running until they fail causes business disruption. If you try to run them to the ground, the last couple years you beat out of them you kill your employee productivity [and often morale].
You need to know where support time is being spent. Most IT people hate keeping documentation and tracking time, but how do you know what problems, people and systems are taking an unreasonable portion of resources? How do you know if the support guy is really working to be efficient or has become a master of feigning busy?
You need to track IT personnel period. It does not matter if they are internal or external, what are they putting time against? You should also track the time employees spend dealing with IT problems, distractions and work-arounds. You may unveil that your employees spend 20% of their time playing tech support instead of doing their job. Consider how much this costs you. You may argue it’s cheaper than an IT consultant, but the value in a Google fix is subpar and will require jerry-rigging later, plus their neglecting their assigned duties. This creates a productivity black hole and will cost you tremendously.
Is documentation current and accurate? Seriously, stop laughing. This needs to be organized and clear. Amazingly, we have found less than 5% of prospective clients have an accurate network diagram [the graphic that maps out the systems as a 30,000 foot level]. This is not some complex document. Light bulbs go off when business leaders actually look at an accurate picture. Risks and exposures become really evident when you can see the pieces that do exist and the ones you “just believed” were there are not.
User Support Request
You need to track user requests. Not on yellow sticky notes. Though they are pretty, they are not really helpful when you need to understand what is happening. It’s essential to understand what systems and which users cause the most problems as well as where are you wasting money and what would be cheaper to replace or eliminate.
Keep your world secure. You [hopefully] have purchased AV, AM, mail/spam filtration services and Firewall systems. But when was the last time you actually saw they were working properly? When were they updated? Are they working properly? They are often “in place” but not working properly, which exposes you to surprises and negative business impact.
When was the last successful back up and did it get all of the critical data? Do you know what and where that data is? How quickly could you recover that data in the event of a failure? Do you have a business continuity plan or just a copy of your files? Ensure you have a clear system for recovery.
How many updates and patches are missing from key systems? Microsoft and other software vendors are constantly adding updates, fixes and patches to make the systems more secure and function. How far behind are you? What exposures are being left open? These are all things to be taken into consideration and updated.
How to know it’s time for a change
I am asked about the transition process almost daily. Changing your IT service providers is definitely a position most companies dread and often will try to avoid it at all costs. Odds are every 3 or so years you will find yourself in some form of IT transition. The sooner you embrace it and move through it, the better off your business (and sanity) will be.
Consider the following to help you reduce the turbulence and your blood pressure:
- Have you had the same “guy” for over 10 years?
- Do you pretty much depend on one consultant?
- Have you kept changing – every 3 years or so?
- Has your business grown or downsized 20% or more?
- Are you spending time distracted with IT problems instead of helping your clients and employees succeed?
- Do you have a person who is part timing technology and support?
- Do you have a written technology plan?
- Do you know the real time it would take to recover your systems in failures?
What does it truly cost if I don’t evaluate our IT?
Efficient vs. rundown business tools create a gap in performance. We may know this in theory, but for some reason we do not take the time to evaluate what that truly means to the business’ bottom line.
That delta adds up and over time becomes staggering. I am sure you have looked at what a different rate of return means to your investments over time. Consider the two very similar.
Businesses that focus on measurement and improvement progress faster than those who go with the flow. “What get measured, gets done” – Tom Peters.
Every facet of your business has an impact on your bottom line. Embracing this truth is overwhelming at first, but it is essential for predictable growth for your business. A company that focuses solely on its core ability will likely remain a small entity, because of its focus on the trade. In fact it may grow, but likely will stall due to the inexperience of leadership and lack of systems and processes. Being the best CPA is not being the best business leader. It is very hard to break the ceiling of 10-15 employees without an established understanding of leadership and business systems. It requires an entirely new set of skills to be grown and an appreciation for the impact it has on the overall success of the business.
Speaking of costs, have you considered how long you should keep bad employees on the hook?
Unfortunately, all leaders and employers have had employees who did not meet expectations or the job requirements. I am not referring to employees who have made obvious mistakes like destroyed client relationships or failed to show up. Instead, I am focusing on the mediocre employees who fly under the radar costing us revenue without even knowing it.
We tend to keep these types around for years. We make excuses for them and take blame for them. Every once in a while we see flashes of poor performance or mistakes and think, “well most of the time they’re OK.”
Training systems and process need to be in place to help these people either consistently hit the target or help them find a place where they will do better. We hurt our other strong employees when we allow this performance to affect the whole company.
Where am I going with this?
Like mediocre employees, mediocre IT is rampant in organizations. Many of us are just getting by at best. They hold the whole organization back a little here and little there. It is so constant that you do not even recognize it; it is just the way it is. It’s time to take responsibility and challenge the idea that average is good enough to raise our overall success.
How do I evaluate our current IT status?
Depending on your situation, you may be able to avoid change at this time. So take the time to assess your position first.
First step is to simply calculate the cost of the current approach to your business. This can be very hard for leadership, because often how you experience technology usage vs. the rest of the company is different. But, this leaves leadership vulnerable on the back end.
Leaders often have the newer systems and if they need help they can almost demand it of others. They also get priority service and often get to fly above the real turbulence. The problem is that the staff’s efficiency and ability to get work done is impacted which hurts the overall business performance. Overall business performance reduces value and profitability which then hits the leaders, but does so in a concealed manner.
Next step to get the real effect is to dig into the organization, spend a little time asking questions, observing work flow and workarounds and get candid information from managers and employees. An internal survey may do the trick, but it really depends on the organization.
Here is where you will find tangible value in redesigning your IT approach. Once you have been in the trenches and better understand the usage of technology in your business, you can begin to fill in the holes and decide if your solution to IT support and service is appropriate.
If you find that your approach it is not the appropriate solution, that’s when you begin researching options available to you and that best fit your needs. You can speak to us at NENS at any time about what it means to be a NENS client and how our approach can alleviate your business from IT stress. Even if we are not the best fit for you we can point you in the right direction. Feel free to call 781-933-9300 or email us firstname.lastname@example.org.