Cross_Armed_Business_ManNot that long ago, I met with a company for an introductory meeting about their technology.  This company was a mid-sized organization in the travel business, with around 50 people.  We discussed their technology and their high level of frustration with IT.  As we began to dig deeper, they made it known that they had about 25 servers, and that several of them where Novell servers.  Wow!

If you are not in the IT business, you might have read right past this and thought nothing of it.  For those of us in IT or with some business IT savvy, two big alarms just went off.  First, the ratio of servers to people is 1 server to every 2 people.  Second, Novell Netware is very old and outdated, and is difficult at best to support.

This is just one example of an organization that is far out of the range of what I would consider IT best practices.  In all likelihood, it is this gap between where they are with IT and best practices, that is causing most of their issues.   I have seen similar examples over and over.  Sometimes it is over-complication like this example.  Often it is the exact opposite, where technology is not treated with the importance, consistency, and strategy it deserves. In thinking over the technology reviews, I have done in the last year or so, there seems to be a pattern.

Here are the 6 Most Common Business IT Pitfalls:

1. Proliferation of Servers. We might as well tackle this one first, since we are already on the topic.  The story above is not the only instance, where I have seen this problem.  In general, whether physical or virtual a company of 10 to 25 users typically should not need more than 5 servers and often can do with just 1 or 2.  A company of 25 to 75 users should not need more than 10 and often can do with 2 to 6.  This applies to both physical and virtual servers.  There are lots of exceptions to this rule, but most companies are  not one of those exceptions.

2.  Old Software.  It works, so why should I replace it or upgrade it?  This is a common question.  Upgrading is difficult, expensive, and requires change which people hate.  The main reason to replace and upgrade your software is support.  Eventually you will have to, or you will find yourself in a situation where you just can’t get help when something catastrophic happens.   This is a very bad place to be.

3. Failed Backups. Pay attention to backups.  The question is not IF I will need it, it is WHEN will I need it?  Just last week, I met with fairly large consulting group whose backup had been failing for 3 weeks.  I have met with others who had been dutifully replacing tapes every day for over a year and the backup simply had not been running.  At the very least, make sure someone in your company is trained to verify backups, or pay your IT company to monitor and test it.

4.  Bad Security Practices. IT security is boring, and in many of my conversations with owners and managers, they think it is not applicable to them.  This is just not true.  If you are connected to the Internet (who isn’t) everything is important from your passwords to your firewall, and everything in between.  If you store credit card numbers, use web banking, or have personal information stored on your computers (who doesn’t), it is even more critical.

5.  Old Equipment. This is probably one of the most common issues.  I hate to bring it up, because most people assume that because I am the IT company, I just want to sell them hardware.  This could not be farther from the truth. I make very little on hardware.  However, hardware is the platform on which our people work every day.  Best practices say to replace PC and server equipment every 4 to 5 years.  Some say more often.  If your people lose 10 minutes waiting for their technology every day for an entire year, it costs you a whole week for every person. It’s far more expensive than planning a replacement schedule and following it.

6. Typewriter Syndrome. Fix it when it is broken does not work anymore.  This may have worked for your typewriter 20 years ago, but with the interconnected web of the Internet and technology, it is no longer an option.  PCs need regular updates to remain virus/spyware free.  Servers need monitoring to prevent failures and downtime.  Technology can be planned, budgeted, and consistent.   The risks and hidden costs are just too high to approach it any other way.

Most of these issues are resolved by using a disciplined IT strategy that includes proactive updates, adherence to best practices, help desk and reactive issue support, plus strategic and budgetary planning.

If you feel like you are being led down the wrong path, or experiencing some of the painful symptoms of these mistakes, get a second opinion.  Make sure that opinion comes from someone who has experience with business IT for an organization your size.  Keep it simple, be proactive, and partner with someone who knows business IT best practices!

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