Real SMB IT: The 2 Basic Building Blocks of Improving IT Service Reliability

September 28, 2009

As a C level executive, General Manager, or Owner of a small to medium business, too often we leave any talk (possibly even thought!) about our investments in technology assets and staff until the time something breaks.

And that is unfortunate!

Cambridge MA based Forrester Research identifies that 80% of businesses identify that their Information Technology (IT) is between “somewhat” and “critical” to business.

Yet still we often live with the mind set of; out of sight,out of mind. (at least until it breaks!)

Question: Have You experienced some of these symptoms?

Consistent and regular failure of your IT infrastructure? Maybe the Internet dies regularly, E-Mail seems to fail more often than it is working, people cannot log in to their workstations or cannot access the servers they need?

Or perhaps this one; You are paying IT staff or suppliers;

And yet…..

You are usually wondering what they do all day?

These are often symptoms of that out of sight,out of mind tendency that we all can have.

Fortunately it is relatively easy to begin changing this mind set without becoming a PhD in Computer Science!

You can change it simply by starting a regular conversation with your Information Technology Management team or supplier on the these two basics of IT service delivery blocking and tackling.

1) Is It Written Down?

If critical information exists only in the brain of one person, that person is a disaster waiting to happen. All IT assets and services must be documented.

That does not mean that you need 500 page manuals on each of your servers! Think of the assembly instructions for some piece of assemble it yourself furniture. As brief as can be while still maintaining all the critical information and relationships among the pieces.

Consider these documents a road map or cheat sheet of how each piece of your IT infrastructure supports and depends on other pieces. This documentation should remain fairly technical, the goal is not to have your grand mother be able to rebuild it (unless she was a computer expert of course!) but it should be explicit and clear enough that any individual with skills in that technology environment can use that documentation as a baseline to either rebuild,or keep moving forward.

As an example; if you are a manufacturing concern, I am quite confident that every time an operator for a particular machining tool leaves, that you are not going back to the machine vendor to re-train a new operator. You have the operating procedures and instructions both for training , and for operator substitution.

Why would you not do the same with your IT infrastructure?

2) Give Me The facts Please!

Our second tool in this basic blocking and tackling is maintaining records and reporting on all issues and requests that have affected your IT service delivery.

At it simplest, in your discussions with your IT Leadership; how many things broke last week? and most importantly, do we know why it broke? And how long did it take us to fix it?

You also want to know how many calls for help and service that your IT staff are dealing with. This should include everything from helping fix that corrupted Marketing presentation, to why that particular person is having trouble printing in landscape mode.

Using my same machine tool example, if that tool is failing regularly, you need to know why. And if regular operator issues are occurring, again, that can begin to point out trends or the requirement for improved training.

The SMB Takeaway

If you only talk to your IT staff or suppliers when things have broken, you will not be successful in monitoring or improving your IT service delivery and IT infrastructure reliability.

Without having to learn techno-speak, just beginning to ask these questions on a regular basis will begin to demonstrate what is happening within your IT organization.

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Photo Credit Leo Reynolds via flickr

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