Top 10 Tips for Business Owners 

These are our top tips for managing IT in your business. We have distilled the experience of managing IT in businesses for over 35 years into some quick and simple advice. We hope it stimulates your own thoughts and approach, if you need any help, you know where we are. 

Its all about relationships 

Its easy for us to tell the state of IT in an organisation when we first start working with a company. Invariably if the business staff and the IT staff have a strong relationship, the IT will be good. If the relationship has broken down, so will the IT. Technology management is first and foremost about people management. Too many companies focus on the technology. Ultimately the technology is there to support what the people in the business need to do. It needs to make them more efficient and it should just work in the background and never become the focus of attention. 
The critical relationships are shown in the diagram. Even if you are a one man band and have to be all three business roles, you need to be able to have relationships with each of the three IT roles. 

Always use an IT Support Company 

I can hear the protests already........"You would say that wouldn't you", but there are solid business reasons for following this advice, so please bear with me. Lets look at the alternatives: 
Employ an IT Manager 
This perennial favourite seems like an automatic reaction every time a company gets to the size where they consider they can afford the salary of a dedicated IT person. However your business needs IT input at several different levels.  
You need the services of an IT Director to help you create an IT Strategy that will support and enhance your business strategy. You need the expert advice that will help you avoid mistakes and get the right IT in your business. 
You also need an IT Manager to implement the plans you have created and manage the hardware, software and most importantly the staff in your business on a day to day basis. 
You need expert technical advice. By now you have probably got a complex network and a server, which will require expert configuration, management and support. 
You also need basic day to day services. Someone to support your users with their basic IT requirements and climb under the desk to resolve PC issues when required. 
The point is, that's four very different skill sets. You don't get that in one individual. Especially not for the salary you are offering. An IT Director will not fix things under the desk, a support engineer can't advise you on strategy. 
No matter what size your company is, you need access to all these roles to run your IT successfully. You can get this with the right IT Support company, you can't if you start employing IT staff. 
Employ an IT Department 
So you already have four IT staff and cover all the roles mentioned above. Lets add into the mix, their careers and aspirations. In a business like yours the staff will not get the opportunity to gain the experience, training and qualifications that they can get working in an IT business. There is a very high likelihood that they will leave you before 2 years have passed. 
Utilise a Relative 
The worst option of the lot, yet remarkably common for small businesses. Take all the reasons already mentioned and add the facts that they have a day job so they are never available when you need them and the day job is their priority, so you are not. 
A great long term relationship with the right IT Support Company will beat any of these solutions hands down, because they can provide staff to fill any of these roles when you need them. Their staff do get the career progression they need. You are the company's priority because you are their customer. Always use an IT Support company (but make sure you choose them well). 

Always buy the best IT you can afford 

This one seems so straightforward, yet it is forgotten so much during the buying process. Consider you are buying a laptop. You can buy a cheap one for £250 or you can buy a more expensive one for £400. When you compare the specifications you can see that the more expensive one has a faster processor, more RAM and a solid state hard drive. This means it boots 3 minutes faster than the cheap laptop. Just three minutes, that's all. Now if you consider that you will boot your laptop at least 7-8 times per week, that adds up to about 17 hours per year, waiting for your laptop to boot. If your time costs £15/ hour, that is £255 per year. If you charge your time out at £50/ hour that is £850. Either way the price of the "cheap" laptop is now £505 or £1,100. 
The thing is, the better laptop does everything faster, so 17 hours saving is just the bare minimum it could be as much as 100 hours per year.  
The second laptop will most likely last longer too. Most hardware is replaced because it can no longer run the latest version of your software. with a better processor, and more RAM it is better placed to keep running your upgraded software systems into the future. 
Always buy the best IT you can afford..............because ultimately its cheaper! 

Design, don't drift 

Within your business, you automatically ensure that you have a Business Strategy and Plan. Do you take the time to make sure this is closely linked to a Technology Strategy and Plan. Without careful thought and planning you are simply buying a random collection of IT equipment and software. This may or may not work efficiently together. As the Business Owner you are the most important person in this process, you can delegate or outsource everything after this stage, but it is vital you are fully engaged in the design of the IT in your business. Design it from the top down, but build it from the bottom up.  
Don't buy hardware and then expect the software you need to run on it. Carefully choose software that will integrate and enhance your existing business processes, then buy the hardware needed to run it. 

Beware of building barriers 

When you design the IT for your business make sure you don't inadvertently introduce barriers to great performance. When you have a problem, you need quick access to your IT resource. 
When your staff call the helpdesk, you need to be sure they get what they need immediately. Make sure the phone is answered promptly, you don't get put into a 15 min queue, you don't get faced with a complex call routing system, the phone isn't answered by admin staff who "log the call". The call should be answered in 5 rings by an engineer who can work on the problem, well at least 95% of the time. 
For more serious problems you need an engineer to get to site as quickly as possible. Make sure you use a local company to avoid making this harder than it needs to be. The same applies to your senior IT staff, if you need access to them you don't want to wait weeks to get an appointment, they need to be close so they can just jump in the car. 

Check the service before buying 

With any technology the service is as important as the product. Consider the equation: 
Good Product + Terrible Service = Expensive Product 
It is vital that you check out the service associated with your new technology before you buy it. In the case of an important Business system, it will be expensive to buy, there will be an expensive project to get it installed, there will be expensive and disruptive training to help your staff use it and you will probably have to buy expensive hardware to run it on. 
If you go through all this and then find the support is rubbish you have a major and expensive problem. You may have to wait ages to get through to the support team or worse are only allowed to email them. It may take them 24 hours to respond, there may be language barriers or time differences to contend with. 
Every minute spend checking out the support service before making your decision is invaluable. Ask for contacts in existing customer companies so you can call and ask them enough questions to convince yourselves the service is as good as the product. 

Prevent, don't cure 

"Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them." 
Albert Einstein 
Our maxim is "what you do before the disaster, determines how quickly you recover after it". Business continuity is a very big business in its own rights and much of it is beyond the reach of small businesses. There are empty office blocks full of desks and computers owned by business continuity companies, ready to be used when their customers suffer a disaster at their own offices. 
However we do advocate that small businesses should consider the risks they face and make sure they have the right things in place for when things do go wrong. Bearing in mind that things always go wrong at the worst possible time and they always involve several things failing at the same time and a big dollop of bad luck. It is worth considering the following questions. 
Do you know which systems and computers are critical to your business? 
Do you know how long you can operate without them 
Do you have tested measures in place to ensure you can get them back up and running within that time? 
Do you maintain your technology to keep it running at its optimum. 
Your IT Support Company should be prompting you to get plans like this in place because after all as your technology partner, it is in their interest to get you back up and running as fast as possible. 

Compatibility is King. 

Technology is complicated enough, your job is to keep it simple and give yourself the greatest chance of it working reliably. Be consistent, buy the same hardware where possible, buy the same operating system each time and get everyone using the same version of Office software. You will be amazed how much better your technology will work together. 

You can never have TOO much RAM. 

Well, obviously you can, but.......we've never seen anyone suffer by adding more RAM to their computer. We have noticed recently that more and more computers are running slowly with 4Gb RAM. Upgrading to 8Gb has resolved the issues and we now try to ensure all new computers we sell have at least 8Gb. This often means buying one with 4 and upgrading it before it goes out of the workshop.  

Avoid Techies like the plague 

Obviously this last one is a bit light-hearted, but if you are a typical business owner, you probably have experienced those feelings of dread when you realise the person you are talking to can only speak binary! Techies are experts at all matters technical, but this often means there isn't room for some of the other softer skills like communication or relationships. You may even have witnessed techies locking horns in a meeting, testing each other locking out everyone else in the room until a decision is made: "You are worthy" or worse still "You are not worthy"! 
They also have a vested interest in confusing you, its how they gain their power and often how they keep their jobs. If you have to deal with a techie, make sure you keep asking questions, drilling down until you are happy you understand the issue. 
Good techies are able to speak "business" as well as "tech" and they are worth their weight in gold but until you come across one your best bet is to avoid them and let us manage the interface on your behalf. 
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