The Biggest IT Mistake Businesses Make
There is a common and costly mistake I see companies make when it comes to IT. The reason that so many companies make this mistake is that on the surface, it seems logical.
This mistake is something we commonly see, as we do IT assessments for small and mid-sized organizations. During these assessments, we review virtually everything: software, hardware, workflow, cybersecurity, websites, infrastructure, and IT support (whether on staff or outsourced). In the process of doing these assessments, we see quite a lot of dysfunctional IT. Sometimes, it is way off the mark, sometimes there is just one key element missing, and other times it is many little things contribute to the failure.
Just in recent months, we have seen systems about to be compromised with hackers actively working to break in due to failure to follow best practices. We have seen high-risk and very slow servers from 2003 being used for critical data and creating serious worker slowdowns. We have seen old Windows 7 and Windows XP systems in use with little or no awareness of the risk. We have seen users taxed by slow and inconsistent systems in a myriad of ways.
All these things are just wrong and potentially very risky, but none of these are what I classify as the “Biggest IT Mistake”. Before I reveal what, I believe is the biggest mistake, I do have to warn you, that it appears to be self-serving. Despite that, let me assure you, I have my hat of objectivity firmly on, and I think once you hear my reasoning, it will resonate.
The number one “Biggest IT Mistake” for organizations in the SMB market, which I would define as those with roughly between 10 and around 200 technology users… drumroll please… is relying on two or fewer people for IT Services. It doesn’t sound that dramatic does it? Before I go too far, let me say that I know there are exceptions, but this applies to MOST of the companies we meet with. This could be direct hire of one or two IT people or working with an outsourced IT company, where you only really get input from one or two people on their team.
Why you might ask? The best way to understand that is to understand just what it takes to manage IT well:
1. Multiple Roles – IT requires a broad group of skillsets. Think about it, the person who is good at helping people with day to day computer problems is probably not the same person who will be good at advising you on long-term strategy. For instance, the helpdesk person is probably not the right person to help advise on ERP software selection. IT support even in its simplest form, you need someone with these skills: helpdesk, proactive services, advanced services (servers and firewalls), and someone at the advisory level like a CIO to plan and design new solutions. These skills are rarely all available in a single person, and if they are, that person is likely to find another opportunity quickly and move on.
2. Tech vs. People Skills – There is a place for IT people who really do not communicate well, but most often it is in a large company with very narrow tasks that don’t require lots of interaction. In a smaller organization, every team member must communicate well and wear multiple hats. Finding and building a team of IT communicators is not a task for the faint of heart.
3. Process – I cannot emphasize this enough. You cannot run a good IT department without clear process. Who handles day to day problems from computer users? How are the problems submitted and tracked? If the problem represents a security threat like a virus or hack, who reviews the incident? How do you track inventory? When do you cycle it? How do you manage updates and maintenance? Who verifies backup? How does it get tested? How often? I could go on. A prescribed process needs to be in place to make sure these things are done, done efficiently, and done regularly.
4. IT Management Systems – So many organizations try to run IT without the proper systems in place. To manage things right, you need a system that automatically patches and updates all your stations. You also need a monitoring and alerting tool to tell you when something is not right on your servers, switches, and other critical equipment. You also need a ticketing system for people to submit trouble tickets and track how they are being handled. You also need remote management software, that allows a technical person to access any system on your network with the click of a button. These are the basics, and without them IT falters and struggles to fill the gap. There are also vulnerability testing tools, behavioral monitoring software, and many more security related tools that are needed depending on circumstances.
5. Measurement – The real quote from Peter Drucker (it is often misquoted) is “What’s measured improves”, and this is never truer in IT. To efficiently run IT there are many important KPI measurements. Just one is response time to trouble tickets. Tracking these and setting performance goals around response makes all the difference in getting people the help they need in a consistently, timely manner. Good IT management requires establishing strong KPI.
6. Continuing Education – As we all know, IT is constantly changing. To keep up there needs to be a strong education focus. Quarterly goals for education, passing vendor certifications, and a regimen of reading about innovative IT changes is key. Without a process for learning, IT people often continue doing what they know, which becomes dangerous over time, as outdated solutions are implemented.
7. Exposure – To stay sharp, an IT person benefits from seeing a broad spectrum of IT needs and solutions. This comes by working with a diverse group of IT professionals, and by being exposed to a broad number of organizations and situations. Working with a team of IT people on a variety of projects, equipment, software, and circumstances helps develop exposure.
8. Management – You may have already picked up on this, but IT needs to be managed. Processes do not emerge on their own. Diligence in education does not just happen. IT done right requires strong leadership certainly with IT savvy, but also someone who is process and accountability driven.
Once we see the whole picture and have a vision for what it takes to run an effective IT department, it becomes evident why the one or two-person solution just does not work. When we break the rules and do it anyway, the result is a reactive IT department, who is scrambling to keep up rather than being stable and innovative. IT simply takes more than one or two people to perform well, and effective IT Management is a team journey of continuous improvement.
Scott Hirschfeld is the President of CTaccess, an Elm Grove IT support company that has been helping small businesses stop focusing on IT and getting back to doing business since 1990. Under his leadership CTaccess provides the business minded approach of larger IT companies with the personalized touch of the smaller ones. Connect with Scott on LinkedIn.