Incorporating IT into your business goals
What if one of your main goals as a business owner is to work more outside of your office, maybe on the road touring the US or sitting on a beach enjoying the sun? Do you know if you will not only be able to connect to the office but be able to do so securely? Working in the nice warm sun won’t be so pleasant if someone hacks into your connection and uploads malware. This is why IT needs to know ahead of time your plans so they can help you have peace of mind that you are secure when you are reviewing those reports at the beach or in the middle of the woods in your cabin.
Maybe one of your business goals is to have your employees work more efficiently? Often times there could be applications that could help boost your employee’s productivity. IT would help with making sure that the applications will be able to run on your IT environment as well as help roll out these applications. Collaboration tools are a hot topic in business today for good reason. There are many tools such as Slack or Teams to look into. None of these tools however will be useful if your staff is not trained to use them nor your IT trained to support them. Make sure you consider a realistic training schedule for everyone involved.
In addition, there are other things to keep in mind when you are setting your business goals. The rate of change is important to plan for. For instance, if you are opening one additional office the rate of change will be slower than if you decided to open five additional offices during the same time frame. Slower changes can often be managed with existing solutions while rapid change may increase costs to accommodate. It’s important to choose the IT strategy that allows for the appropriate rate of change. This is also called ‘scaling’. The ability to scale a solution is an important factor in evaluating its value.
Cloud computing for example is typically more expansive compared to on-premise solutions in relatively static environments. It is a great tool for saving money in highly dynamic environments. Changing from one strategy to the other is a slow and expensive process so it’s important to have the right plan from the beginning.
Contracts for cloud computing, software support, licensing, and more should be reviewed with IT yearly. Many contracts will have a renewal clause that keeps them in place if you do not cancel them 90 or even 120 days in advance. Don’t wait to tell IT that you no longer need a service like phones or Internet at a location. Unneeded software or support can also eat up a budget needlessly.
Another concept to discuss with your IT department is “tech debt”. Any computing solution will have some limit to its service life. Oftentimes these limits are sudden and come without warning. For example, Microsoft will retire Windows versions at regular intervals. It is vital for security that these older versions of Windows be replaced before then. This is not a yearly cost and may sneak up an organization.
You must consider hardware age too. It’s no secret that hardware becomes less reliable the older it gets. Typically servers have a useful life of 5 years. Switches, firewall, UPS backup batteries, and other equipment all ages and need to be replaced. A rock-solid network can suddenly start to have all kinds of reliability issues and additional costs if its hardware is not kept current. This sudden increase in costs is often referred to as tech debt.
Regulatory compliance is another area of planning that often gets overlooked. Business owners often see compliance and security as “ITs problem”. Industries, trade associations, governments, and other entities are all expecting organizations to follow stricter cybersecurity standards. Often times IT is not qualified to assess these needs nor is even aware of them. It’s important to discuss potential compliance issues with IT and get them thinking in that direction. For example, many small manufacturing shops were completely caught off guard when the Department of Defense extended NIST 800-171 requirements to include downstream supply chain partners.
Without advanced warning from management, IT can find itself unprepared to comply with new security regulations. This risks missing out on new business opportunities or worse, losing existing contracts. The best time to consider compliance need, both future and current are at the network design phase. It is often far more difficult and expensive to ‘fix’ what could have been built right the first time.
If business expansion is one of your top goals, IT must be involved in the process. Any kind of expansion of the business will require new hardware and software. Sometimes expanding can be easy but oftentimes it’s not. When expanding, businesses find out that their current computers, software, etc won’t be compatible with the new system(s) and this will require more time and money to remedy.
It’s also possible that hardware might not be available as easily today as in the past. Supply chain shortages have hit IT hard. It can sometimes take weeks or even months now to get servers and other infrastructure. Departments requiring CAD computers are at high risk of hardware delays. The video cards needed for CAD systems are in extremely short supply and will likely continue to be so throughout 2022.
In addition to discussing business goals with your IT support, it’s also a good idea to set expectations with them. These expectations can include service level agreements, downtime windows for maintenance and upgrades, or resiliency requirements. No system is invulnerable. Outages of some kind are almost inevitable. Make sure you set the expectation with IT of how long you can afford to be down and if data needs to be recovered, how old can the data be in order for it to be usable?
These two metrics are referred to as RTO and RPO respectively. Typically a small business might run backups once a night. That would mean that if data loss occurred at 3:00 pm that all data lost between the previous day’s backup and then would be lost. Would that be acceptable to your organization? Make sure your IT team knows the answer to that question.
Lowering the RTO and RPO is always desirable but limited by cost constraints. It’s most important to define the minimum needs and communicate that clear in writing to IT. Adjust the budget to account for the RTO and RPO costs.
Other costs depend on management expectations too. Support turnaround times depend largely on helpdesk staffing level as well as the tools they have available. System downtime tolerance both for maintenance and unexpected events must be clearly communicated. High availability solutions can greatly reduce downtime but come at a significant cost. It’s also possible that some systems are too important to cut costs protecting while others are not as critical.
Therefore, it is important that business owners work with their IT support to go over their future goals and make sure that their business’ IT systems will be able to support the goals of the organization.
Need help with planning your IT goals for this year? Give us a call at (773) 570-9935.