Friday, July 26, 2013

Monitoring Removes the Mystery of What is Happening on Your Network

Monitoring Removes the Mystery of What is Happening on Your Business Network

Monitoring is so significant as far as system reliability that even if you didn’t practice maintenance the reliability of your business systems will be noticeably improved.  With monitoring you have an early warning system.  Microsoft has devoted a considerable sum of resources to build into its operating systems “sensors” that detect and record thousands of events occurring on your computer. 

For instance, you can know who accessed a file and when it was accessed.  You can find out what changes were made to your computer system  and when these changes were made. You can know when applications like viruses install on your computer.  Even hardware performance can be monitored for any decrease in performance. There are so many events that can be monitored that the possibilities are practically endless. Even so, in order for this kind of monitoring to be effective, you need to decide what is going to be monitored and enable the monitoring.  Even more important is that someone needs to be paying attention.  What good is computer monitoring if the alarms are blaring and the lights are flashing but no one is paying attention. 

Unfortunately, most small businesses don’t have anyone monitoring their computer systems.  And, certainly, they don’t have monitoring set up or enabled.  This is truly a lost opportunity to vastly improve system reliability.  Wouldn’t you rather be warned that your computer is on the verge of collapsing or would you rather one day come to work and your computer won’t work without any warning?  Monitoring can make that kind of difference!

So, why are most small businesses not monitoring their network and systems?   

Because small businesses hire computer repair techs who make their money by repairing broken computers.  Let’s be honest, if you only pay a computer tech when your computers are broken, what is the financial incentive for the tech to prevent computer problems?…none!  What most small businesses lack, that most larger companies have, is full time salaried computer experts. For large organizations the computer tech’s raises and bonuses are predicated on reducing computer downtime.  If that tech wants a raise, then he better make sure the computers are always up and running.   

So what is the answer for a small business that can’t afford to pay the $90,000.00 salary to get a dedicated salaried computer technology expert who has the incentive to make sure the computers are always up and running?  Here is what you need to do… you need to find a tech support vendor that can be hired on a flat fee basis to do everything including maintenance, prevention and unlimited tech support.  Yes, UNLIMITED TECH SUPPORT is the key!  The unlimited tech support for a flat annual fee means the tech support company has the financial incentive to prevent computer breakdowns.   If the tech support company gets paid a flat fee, then the more computer crashes occur the less per hour the support company makes.  It is like having your very own tech expert on a salary!

So where do you find that kind of tech support company?  

Do an Internet search for “managed services” and you will find one in your area.  How expensive are “managed services”?  Honestly, these kind of businesses do NOT operate like Joe’s Cheap Tech Support.  So, don’t expect to get Walmart prices.  Yes, you may pay more for the expertise they bring.  But, your company will save money in the long run by increased productivity in having computers that work all the time as well as perform better and faster.  And, you get the added bonus of an expert who is on your side.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Reducing IT Costs: Save Money by Managing Change or Change Will Manage You and Your Company

Reducing IT Costs: The Five Pillars of Computer Dependability and Longevity that Save Your Company Money

Part Three: Managing Change

Remember the adage that the only thing in life that is constant is change itself.  That adage equally applies to the life of computer systems.  You company’s computer systems are not static.  They are under a constant barrage of change: new Windows updates, application updates, hardware additions, software installations, configuration changes, virus infections, and the list goes on and on.  In the previous Pillar “Variety is the Wrong Spice” I delineated the challenge of reigning in the complexity of hundreds of products and thousands of product configurations and all the unpredictable results of that multitude of combinations.  Now add change to that cacophony of infinite combinations and you have a potential recipe for disaster.  That is why managing change is so important to keeping IT costs under control and assuring system dependability.  

I want to emphasize that your business computer technician needs to “manage” change with YOUR full support.  Computer system changes should NOT be random or ad-hoc.  Employees should NOT be allowed to install software, add games, or change system settings on a willy-nilly basis.  If that is the case, then you have abdicated any semblance of control over your business systems.  It is possible that you have turned over your computer systems to your employees for them to use as their own personal entertainment centers.  And, if you have, then you’ve opened the door to software installations that may cause instability in your business line of applications, hardware additions that may not play nice with your business systems, and an increase incidents of virus infections.  This will increase your business IT costs that may escalate out of control. 
 Document all changes made.  The main reason for this is to assist in any troubleshooting of problems that may have been caused by the change.

So, YOU the business owner have the responsibility of taking back control of your business computers systems.  Stop treating those computers as discretionary gadgets used for entertainment.  Treat your business computers as production line equipment.  You’ve made a significant investment so protect and properly maintain that investment. 

First step is creating a company policy that prohibits employees to install software or make system changes.  That responsibility will fall to designated “system administrators”.  As far as the average employee, what you are doing is removing the responsibility of caring for the computer system and thereby the responsibility for when their computer crashes and all the consequences thereof.  You are allowing your employees to focus on their jobs. And, that is what you are really paying them for…right? 

By limiting the number of people who make any kind of change to your computer systems it is much easier to keep track of the changes that were made and thereby if any change may have caused problems in the system. 

Next step is to set up a systematic approach to making computer system changes by your designated “system administrators”.  

  • Schedule the changes on a regular day of the week, or otherwise communicate each time changes are made to the computer systems.  This way all employees can know that day of the week as “Change Friday” and if that employee notices some unintended consequences of the change that escaped testing they can let you know.  Otherwise, the employee may think it is some random happening.If you have standardized your systems, then you can test any new hardware or software on one system.  Then that one system can act like the “canary in the coal mine” before rolling out that change to all systems. 
  • If your computer systems are not standardized, then you will need to methodically roll-out changes in groups of computers rather than all at once.  
  • It is best to document your Change Management policy.  Even if that policy fits on one page.  That way everyone knows who is responsible for what and sets the appropriate expectations. Then make sure that policy is clearly communicated to everyone who uses the business computer systems. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Reducing IT Costs: Why Variety is the Wrong Type of Spice

Reducing IT Costs: The Five Pillars of Computer Dependability and Longevity that Save Your Company Money - Part Two

In your pursuit of reducing your business IT costs, the recipe not only includes avoiding the “lemons”, but also avoiding too much variety.  When you dig a little deeper you will discover that your computer system is not one product designed by one manufacturer.  Even when you purchase, let’s say, a Dell computer what you are really buying is: a motherboard manufactured by ASUS, a processor manufactured by Intel, memory manufactured by Kingston, a hard drive manufactured by Seagate, an operating system manufactured by Microsoft, etc.  Essentially, what Dell does is bring these various parts manufactured by different manufacturers and assemble them into a computer.  But, even Dell knows you can’t take various parts with different technologies, features, and versions and throw them together and expect them to work nicely with each other.  Dell does extensive testing with combining these different technologies before assembling them into a computer. 

Now extend this scenario to a business network.  You have computers from different manufacturers like Dell, HP, or Lenovo.  On these computers you have different operating systems such as Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 2008 server or Macintosh.  You also have a variety of devices such as printers, switches, broadband routers, network firewalls, etc that are all manufactured by different manufacturers and some have new technology while others have older technology.  Installed on your computer you have a variety of software such as browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, etc), accounting software (QuickBooks, SAP), office suites (Microsoft Office, Open Office, Word Perfect), customer databases (ACT, Goldmine), inventory tracking software (Fishbowl), and antivirus software (Symantec, McAfee, Trend Micro, etc).  And, all this software has different versions.  With all this variety how can you be assured they will play nice together?

In add to this plethora of software, hardware, and devices, is the fact that most computer products can be custom configured in a multitude of combinations.  In fact it is this complexity of numerous configuration settings that keep many a computer tech employed.  One misconfigured setting can cause your whole business network to stop functioning.   With this ever increasing complexity of product and configuration settings comes an ever increasing chance that things can go wrong causing outages and service disruptions.  So, how do you combat this trend? 

According the IT Process Institute one of the most effective ways to control IT costs is to simplify and standardize the configuration of your business network.  Practice “Less is More”.

Below are some ideas on how to do this:

  1. Remove or disable any application or software on your computers that do not have a business use.
  2. Prevent employees from installing software on your business computers
  3. Buy computers from the same manufacturer and buy the same model.  Have the same operating system and software on all computers.

Standardization will greatly simplify the maintenance of your business network.  Below are some reasons why…

  1. Standardization goes a long way in effectively managing change in your network and computers systems. (See The Five Pillars of Computer System Stability and Reliability – Change Management)
  2. Standardize to avoid compatibility problems. The more software and hardware you have, the more often you’ll encounter conflicts and errors that are hard to isolate and fix.

Part Three: How to save money by managing change