Technology is critical to the smooth and profitable operation of most small and medium businesses, and I’m proud to have chosen this industry in which to advance my business life and career. I have chosen a profession that requires a desire to master multiple disciplines, a commitment to learn and understand evolving technologies, experience and sound judgement on accurately weighing the risks of any change or undertaking, and the desire to communicate effectively with the clients you are trying to serve.
My interest in technology has let me to 25 years of experience in a diverse industries such as aerospace and semiconductors. Each time I took on a new subject area, I gained insights into how things worked and how they interacted. For example, the experience I gained with semiconductor factories (fabs) gave me a better understanding of computer networks that served as the factory’s nervous system and are now the foundation of the internet. My experience with flight testing helped me to develop a better understanding of risk management. My experience with machine control gave me invaluable insights on how to troubleshoot complex systems.
Technology can be difficult and trying but also extremely gratifying in the satisfaction I receive when everything works, when goals are achieved, and ultimately when people’s lives are improved.
And yes our lives have immensely improved in a very short time. Everyone is now able to carry virtually all the world’s information in their pocket through the combination of smart phones and the internet. And they can have this on virtually any place on earth including jet aircraft that fly at over 30,000 feet. It is well worth the effort, and I can say I have had a small part in it.
Those of us who build, connect, and maintain these systems have a great honor and a grave responsibility. We need to keep our clients current so they are not held back by technical obsolescence, but at the same time minimize their risk exposure to immature solutions. We must protect their data against loss and theft and protect their businesses from cyber-attacks that can come from anywhere in the world.
It’s a daunting challenge that motivates me to start each day. I truly love it.
So when I see others in my industry fail the client, I can’t help but feel remorse and sometimes anger. Time and time again I see companies that pay good money for IT services, and yet are beset by downtime, security breaches, and lost productivity.
When IT works correctly, your company’s productivity is greatly enhanced. When it fails it can bring a company to its needs.
Here are the real reasons behind IT failures that I’ve seen over the years:
No process: A reputable IT company should have a written procedure to facilitate each and every business scenario of their client. For example, when an employee is hired there should be a procedure to set up their computer, email, share drives, and any applications they may need. When they leave there should similarly be a process in place to disable all accounts, remove any company data from mobile devices, and to archive their email.
There should be a procedure to proactively maintain a network including scheduled site visits to ensure the customers network is healthy and secure, and to be available for the company’s staff to ask questions of their IT support tech and for that tech to establish a rapport with the company.
In addition a purpose-built “ticketing” system that tracks all customer issues is crucial in ensuring that nothing falls through the cracks; that each issue is worked until it is resolved.
Finally, the client should receive an emailed copy of every issue that their IT support company works on so they know when any issue has been resolved.
Poor vendor selection: To a large degree, an IT firm is only as good as the products they deploy to clients. And the IT world is littered with the remains of failed IT firms like CompUSA, Gateway Computers, and Sun Microsystems. The quality, stability, and support offered by technology can be of vital importance to the smooth operation of a small or medium business.
While any product can look great during a demo, it’s performance in the real world may be quite different. And a poorly performing product can have real implications for a companies employees and it’s bottom line. A poorly performing product could include a laptop that breaks as a result of the slightest impact, an email system that allows malicious emails to get through, or a backup system that fails when it’s time to restore.
And when problems do arise, and they will, a vendor that answers their phone or email and response quickly will make the difference between a problem relegated to a blip, or causing a major disruption to a business.
Incompetence: The IT industry is not regulated. Anyone can claim to be an “IT Expert” and the lack of a coherent set of standards makes it difficult for any business to determine if an IT company is competent.
And incompetence leads to downtime, security breaches, and potentially lost profits.
So how should a business go about determining the worthyness of an IT firm. Here are a few good checks to perform.
- Industry certifications: Are they certified by their vendors such as Microsoft, Cisco, and firewall companies like Fortinet or Watchguard? These show an investment of time and money to gain the knowledge to properly install and maintain the products they deploy?
- Partnerships: Can they list the companies that they have established partnerships with? Can they tell you how long they’ve partnered with each? High vendor turnover is detrimental to successful performance in the field.
- Testimonials and references: Can they produce testimonials from clients that they currently work with, and will they allow you to contact them?
Indifference: When you need your IT company are they therefor you? Do they answer their phones live? Can they quote a guaranteed response time and standards for uptime, and average problems per seat per month?
A good IT firm will do the groundwork necessary to prevent problems and downtime for your employees. But when problems arrive, quick response and accurate diagnosis and closure is critical.
Condescension: Businesses that outsource their IT do not maintain the expertise to do it themselves. They have made a business decision to purchase IT services as needed rather than to try to staff and maintain that expertise in house.
It’s important that the funds spent on technology advances the objectives of the business. For this to happen, their IT provider must have an understanding of the goals and future plans of their client in order to recommend suitable technology investments. They also need to be able to articulate the benefits of these investments in plain English.
Beware of an IT firm that spends more time selling than listening.
Technology is the life blood of almost any business that exists today. The selection of an IT support company can make the difference between a significant boost in productivity and improvements in execution, and lost productivity and frustration. Any IT firm should dedicate themselves to the idea that the purpose of technolgoy is to help people.