Changing IT service providers:
I am asked about the transition process almost daily. Changing IT service provider is definitely a task most companies dread, and often try to avoid 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. Here are a few thoughts to help you reduce the turbulence caused from technology change.
Change in general:
Owning a successful business is tied to embracing change. We cannot escape it, and even if we have a component that will / should not change; such as, grandma’s secret recipe or great customer service, the manner in which we deliver, support, measure, market, and sell does change. As a business matures and over time, changes are a necessary part. What worked before will not work as the organization changes. Leaders must embrace change to succeed.
Technology requires even more change:
Every couple of years technology experiences large changes; which means that technology will almost always be the most rapid changing component of your company. In short, what worked yesterday is probably not great today, and definitely will not be in your best interest for tomorrow.
We cannot wait till crisis and failure to change technology:
When it comes to technology most leaders wait for a point of current failure until they will 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 wait until the brink of bankruptcy before you evaluated your fiscal operations? No, yet technology is too often missed. Why is this?
Fear, uncertainty, and doubt:
None of us like these three words, and most do all we can to avoid them. IT and fear go hand in hand. Things we are dependent on, but we are not in control of puts us at dis ease. We need to learn enough to gain control and leverage this power for our benefit.
Understanding what needs change:
Change does not mean new PCs! I will often hear from a leader that they changed PCs a while back and it did not make a difference. That is like having an old car that has lots of problems, changing the tires and expecting a new car. You need to understand that there are multiple facets of technology that all need to be evaluated and changed on a regular basis. Like most things, knowing which yields the most benefit is critical. The areas to evaluate are:
- Equipment – the workstations, laptops, tablets, smartphones, monitors, keyboards
- Infrastructure – servers, SANs (data storage), back end systems, databases, switches, routers, power
- Security – firewalls, authentication, anti-virus, anti-malware, anti-spyware, who has rights to what, audit and access reports
- Business continuity solution – backup, failover, redundancy,
- Approach – IT is a necessary evil, we do the basics, we do a little more, we have strategic meetings with exec management to leverage our technology investment
- Operations – ranging from complete as hoc to managed, tracked, budgeted and evaluated
- Connectivity – how we connect, redundancy, bandwidth, remote access methods
- Location keep infrastructure in- house, outside hosted, or outside cloud
- Applications – what applications are you using, are there upgrades, what other needs do you have, what changes are there in the industry, what do clients and vendors demand
- Support model – we wing it, you do it, another person with other key responsibilities dabbles in IT, in house full time, team of full time, outsource ad hoc, outsourced managed service, remote help desk, combination,
You need to look at all aspects of your business- some are front office, your specialty where you make money, and some are back office, tasks/operations needed to support your front office. There is a strong theory in business that any time not spent on your font office robs potential, after all it is where you make money. Any tasks that are not your forte need to be evaluated with open honest approach as to why you are doing so vs outsourcing them. Often we think we can do things better than others, but we stand to gain if they can bring efficiencies to our back office needs.
What we have works for us:
Remember what works for a company at one stage, starts holding the company back at another. I see companies that had a single IT support person 20 years ago and still have the same person or type of support. The logic being that it worked before, and since the company has not changed that much why not keep it the same. You need to understand how the problem has changed. Put it this way, back 20 or so years ago, what tools and knowledge did you need to maintain a car? Most mechanically minded people could do the basics, but that has drastically changed. The amount of computerized equipment, specialized diagnosis instruments, etc. have made it so we are forced to take them to specialist. Technology is no different. A generalist does not have the ability to handle all of the necessary components well. Technology has simply changed.
What is the cost of not changing?
Efficient vs dilapidated tools yields a delta in performance. We all know this, but for some reason most of us do not take the time to evaluate what this really means to us.
That delta adds up and over time becomes staggering. How long can you expect your business to excel when you are being held back? From what we have learned from our clients, putting better solutions in place yields at least a 10% improvement in efficiency and business. Our clients tell us that they generally see double digit improvements so using that knowledge in reverse, bad technology is costing a company at least 10%. How long do you wait to improve your company?
How to go about it:
You do not have to be a mechanic to properly use a car, but you do need to understand 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 many leaders miss.
Commit to measure:
There are a plethora of quotes around how improvement is tied to measurement but it is so true. Ignorance is no excuse. Businesses that focus on measurement and improvement tend to progress faster than those who go with the flow. Everything in your business has an impact on results, employees, training, system, process, technology, etc… Embracing this is an overwhelming first step but essential to consistent and predictable growth.
Commit to learn:
Companies that only focus on their core ability (CPA, attorney, HVAC, Plummer, doc, etc.) because that what matters most tend to stall growth wise. Why? Being great at your profession/trade does not address all of the needs of the business. True business leader skillsets need to be fostered and grown. And to move into the 20s generally requires operational acumen to start waking up.
Leaders are often blind to the real technology state:
Leaders often have the newer systems, if they need help they can almost demand it of others, they get priority service, they 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 clandestine manner.
To get the real effect you need to dig into the organization, spend a little time asking questions, observing work flow and work a rounds, get candid information from managers and employees.
A quick story about a company of about 30 employees: The office manager was somewhat handy and ended up being the go-to for the office. She was not afraid, so she oversaw IT and IT support for the company. She was that model employee who did everything she could to help the company. She worked late, when there were problems, tried to fix and then work a rounds to get things done. The owner depended on her a lot, she is what enabled him to take vacations and get out of the office. When we interviewed him, all things were great, he had no major problems. When we spoke to her we learned the real truth about technology. The amount of time she spent working around poor systems, incompatible software, juggling backup devices and such was killing her. She did not want to raise it to leadership because she was a get-it-done type of person, but was considering leaving to a larger company because she should not have to deal with these problems. She longed to just do a great job at what she was hired for, not deal with Microsoft and Dell problems.
How to help:
Have you ever tried to interview someone for a position you did not know a lot about? How did you know if their replies were spot on or not? You can judge attitude, character but without help other expertise you are blind. Because of that scenario, most of us do not engage when we should because we are exposed. Which leads to getting help.
You may need expertise that is outside of your organization. Seek help – strong leaders know when to reach out and get the resources needed to move forward. Engage a few companies, interview them, ask about how they approach technology. Ask what they measure and how they do so. If you are not looking to “partner” with a technology company, ask if they would be willing to consult. If you are upfront, most will be honest with you. State that you want them to help you put together your own internal programs to yield better results than you are currently attaining. If you are determined to do most of the technology in-house, you owe it to yourself to make sure you have proper leadership in place to achieve the best possible results.
Warning – if you have an internal IT support person, they will most likely fight this tooth and nail. They will tell you they can do it all and that you are wasting your money. If technology holds all of your company/client data and enables your business, you owe it to ownership to get a second opinion. This is too critical to trust it all on one person’s interpretation of technology.
- Create a list with all of the items listed above in the “understanding what needs change”
- Review each of these areas and make executive decisions on how you want to address the needs.
- Create measurable components for each one
- Assign someone to create the monthly report
Do not be afraid of change. Create a plan and process to deal with change.
Until next time – I wish you the best