These days it’s hard to find a business that does not use computers on a daily basis. From communicating with clients to creating management information, computers make businesses more efficient. Even the more traditional "one-man" trades such as window cleaning and gardening, might benefit from faster, easier, and more accurate, billing, scheduling, and marketing etc, that computers can provide. They free up time, either to service more customers, or for leisure purposes – the so-called work/life balance.
There are many different types of computer: desktop, laptop, tablet, and even smartphone. And then there are the bigger beasts, the servers and, for big enterprises, the mainframes.
Although many small businesses still use locally installed servers, "the cloud" now plays a large, and undoubtedly, increasing role in business, due in no small way to a faster and more reliable Internet. But the cloud does not in itself provide as many advantages as you might think. Many companies are finding that the overheads of managing IT systems have not gone away. In fact adding cloud services into the mix often leads to increased complexity and therefore IT becomes an even bigger headache.
To provide staff with access to the servers and services they need, whether local or on the cloud, the business needs to have networks, either hard-wired or wireless – usually a combination of both. For very small businesses this might be a simple WIFI or Ethernet connection to a broadband router; for larger organisations, more elaborate infrastructures are required.
As you might expect, IT gets quite complex quite quickly and it is only a matter of time before something goes wrong. And when it goes wrong it can rapidly go from nuisance to catastrophe. How would you cope if, one day, all your customer records were gone, or none of your staff could login?
So how do we cope with this inherent instability in IT systems?
There are a number of ways of skinning this particular cat. Bigger firms directly employ one or more specialists, whose job is to continually monitor the company network, local servers and cloud-based applications. They look for telltale indications that something is going out of tolerance and take steps to correct things before they get too bad, often fixing problems even before users know anything is wrong.
The other role for the IT department (or person) is to maintain an awareness of new developments in the IT industry and to ensure that the company is able to take advantage of these as well as taking steps to protect against failings and defend against vulnerabilities that might have been discovered elsewhere in the world.
The problem for the small business is that while the hardware may be cheap, payroll is not. Ideally, you need at least two full time (or one full-time and one part-time) staff, to cover holidays and other absences.
It is, of course, possible to task one of the existing staff with "looking after the IT" and this may often be perfectly feasible in a simple environment. But what if a fault occurs while this person is busy dealing with an important business need, i.e. doing their normal work?
Another cost-effective solution is to outsource the job to a competent IT specialist, who can take on responsibility for ensuring your IT needs are met, both in terms of ongoing support and whose knowledge can help you to get the most from the technology available. After all, you wouldn’t normally expect a small business to service the company fleet itself or do all the legal and accounting work. You may even find that using the specialist to supplement your internal staff, covering for absence or providing additional expertise, works better for you.
If you think you need help to manage your company's IT and are not sure how, give us a no-obligation call to discuss how we can help.
About the Author:
John Sanderson is the Chief engineer at the IT Department, a division of Clantec Solutions Limited,
helping individuals and small businesses with their IT challenges.