It’s a phrase I’ve heard various (older) family members say to me at varied times; mainly when I’m rolling my eyes at the latest bit of wisdom they’ve decided to impart. However, it’s perfectly apt for business IT. In recent days we’ve seen and heard about how a seemingly small ‘software update’ at NatWest resulted in a company-wide outage of their banking systems, leading to the unprecedented step of opening branches on a Sunday. If – like NatWest – IT is at the heart of your business then what are the implications of such a problem if it happens to you? How can you take steps to avoid them? What should you do to maintain reliability?
IT has become the hidden service that we’ve just forgotten about and we take it for granted. The Internet, once derided as ‘a fad’ is now a key service in nearly all our lives from shopping to booking travel, from connecting with friends and families to researching school and college projects. But…………..people have started to consider broadband as a basic human right, in the same league as water, food and sanitation. This is the level to which the Internet has risen in just over 15 years. It demonstrates that IT is so important to our everyday lives.
If you run a business then this trend will have spread into your world too. It was not that long ago that IT was the preserve of just the Accounts Department who used it to process payroll. But today it’s used by every member of staff for everything they do internally and to communicate with people externally. Engineering companies have PC’s linked to machines which churn out widgets, insurance companies provide e-quotes and architects issue CAD drawings and 3D images of what’s to be built. However, SME’s often fail to take steps to ensure this ‘beating heart’ of their business receives the attention it needs to remain reliable and dependable.
Four simple steps can be taken to ensure at the smallest scale, IT is providing good service day in and day out:
1. Buy the right equipment
On a recent visit to a prospect who was looking to set up a Call Centre where the staff would use PC’s as the base from which they would make calls and update a CRM database, I was told “..we are looking to keep costs low so I plan to buy refurbished (second hand) PC’s..”. I advised that if you plan to base your company around a database and system which relies on IT then it would be false economy to by second hand.
Buying the right equipment does not mean always buying expensive PC’s but most well-known brands (HP, Lenovo, Acer) all offer PC’s with a 3 year warranty that provides next day access to a qualified engineer that’ll come to your premises and fix a failed PC. Moreover, buy business grade IT not home IT – There is a difference and it’s worth the extra few £££’s to get something that will last 4-5 years rather than something that fails after 2.
2. Monitor your systems
This sounds complex, but it’s not. There are many services out there that are free or cost a small monthly fee and which monitor your systems for such problems as low disk space, not connecting to the local network or high memory use. The services are simple to install and can be pulled together on a single webpage that puts green, amber or red dots next to certain IT assets to show how they are doing. Clearly the red ones need immediate attention.
Services such as GFI or CentraStage can be taken on a free trial for 30 days and can offer you a glimpse of how your IT is operating (or not). It may be the first time that you’ve seen an overall image of your IT assets before.
3. Audit your equipment
Sounds simple, and it is. The main thing you are trying to achieve is keeping ahead of the curve in terms of IT age. The average life of a PC is between 3-5 years and so it is recommended that you start to consider replacement after 4 years. If you don’t know how old the equipment is then you can’t make this assessment.
The best approach is to note down the purchase age of all the IT assets in your business and then rank them in order, newest at the top and oldest at the bottom. Any PC older than 5 years should be replaced immediately; Any PC older than 4 years should be put on a list for replacement in the next 6-12 months and so on. Keep updating the list and keep on top of IT hardware replacement.
4. Take security seriously
Too many SME’s don’t take IT security seriously. They think that staff will ‘self-manage’ things like spending hours on Facebook or emailing their friends from a work PC. They don’t, and so a policy or software to manage this is required. Internet security is a big problem, and growing. There is Malware and other unwanted software that can come into your system just from browsing various Internet sites, and stopping these will significantly reduce the possibility of some sort of systems failure or virus.
By following these simple steps you can ensure that your IT systems are working well and to the best of their ability, operating as a vital business tool and helping generate revenue. As my old Gran always used to say ……………“You’ll miss me when I’m gone”
Find out more about Craig Sharp and Abussi
Craig Sharp is the MD of Abussi IT, who provide Small Business IT Support in Birmingham