Managing IT Support in your business
IT support in business can easily drag you into the abyss if not managed properly. Knowing where the line is between “doing computers yourself” or commissioning IT support is crucial in running an efficient business.
And without discipline and perspective, keeping IT working for at least some of the time can easily drag you into the abyss.
Below outlines the pitfalls to watch out for when striving for a working IT system that must somehow become a productive contributor to your business.
IT is the most perfect example of the concept of opportunity cost (what other more productive activity could you be doing with your time and money).
From the perspective of business, IT is the terminology used to define anything to do with the hardware (physical equipment), software (programs that run on the hardware), digital communication, the systems used for their interaction and the processes of human interaction chosen and performed to make all this stuff deliver a contribution to your business to make a profit.
If you are at the start up stage of deciding on and sourcing a basic IT resource for your business then the summary Start-up IT task list below might be of some help.
Basic start-up IT task list
1. PCs – research, choose, test and confirm.
2. Source relevant required software.
3. Purchase or download required software.
4. Choose and purchase anti-virus software.
5. Set up emails.
6. Understand and learn the software you will be frequently using.
IT can disproportionately soak up your time and weekends if you allow it. This is particularly true for Sole Traders and small businesses.
Even when everything is running smoothly, there are those constant confounded software updates that can either delay work or even break systems.
Having a little knowledge of what is going on and the procedures you must follow is prerequisite to running any sort of business (unless of course, you plan to set up an IT Support business where a whole lot more knowledge is obviously required).
Defining the line for IT support
Knowing the line between what you and your staff are expected to know and what should be provided by IT Support (either internally or externally) will determine the level of unproductive distraction in your business.
Having a clear definition of where this line is will therefore reduce the risk of you or your staff wasting time on IT problems that deliver no solutions and will also enlighten you as to when to spend money on external or skilled internal IT Support.
This understanding will enable you to estimate a realistic IT Support budget and also know more accurately the true cost of your current IT arrangements.
Below is a list of the basic skills you will require to at least have a functioning business using IT
Ability to type
This might sound trivial and even weird but it’s very much worth a mention. It is one of those oddly invisible things within the office environment that has a big influence on staff efficiency.
Most people type with two figures – stabbing erratically at the keyboard and then repeating the process two or three times in order to rectify typing errors. Panel beating words like this is wasting millions of business hours in this country every year.
Touch typing will greatly increase efficiency for you and your staff in the long run. If you do not touch type then spend 10 minutes a day learning.
Spend no more than 10 minutes day. Do not let this get in the way of your other activities or act as an excuse to delay setting up a business. In the long run, touch typing will greatly increase productivity.
It is amazing how in this modern age of the keyboard, a practical skill such as touch typing is not taught at schools. The irony is that most kids can tap at the speed of light when it comes to mobile texting.
Simple IT tips that will save your weekends
Know how to switch on and off a computer properly
For example: Do not switch off the computer when Windows is in the middle of an update. It can be unforgiving.
Know your backup regime
You must have a backup regime in place and a procedure and the discipline to run it.
IT support on tap
Have reliable and quick response IT support in place. This might be a proficient individual you can call at a moments notice to provide advice or an internal or external IT Support team.
Remember: a phone call is quicker than two days of random tapping on the keyboard and name calling of the dumb revolving washing machine icon gazing back at you.
Aligning software skills with practical needs
Know your generic use software
Generic use software is software that is used no matter what your business. For example, document editing software such as Microsoft Word and spreadsheet programs such as Microsoft Excel can be found equally in a housebuilding business to an engineering company or retailer.
If you do not know enough about these packages to be functional then a basic training course can save you time and help build confidence. But again, don’t let this get in the way of your business setup or development activities. Work this in parallel with your other tasks.
Other software can be semi-specialist such as accounting software like Sage or Quickbooks or design packages such as Adobe. Some of this software is frequently used like accounting, logistical or ERP software and others less frequently.
Be wary of investing time in learning infrequently used software that is not core to your business. It might be more efficient to employ an outside provider or freelancer to do those jobs quicker and better than you can.
Other software will be specific to your industry and will be frequently used in either helping to manage the business or be fundamental in delivering a service to your customers: for example, the SolidWorks package within an engineering company.
You would either know these packages well or employ people or commission freelancers to use this software.
Defining your optimum strategy for semi-specialist software
You have to choose which of the following three options will best suit your circumstances: no knowledge, entry level knowledge or in-depth knowledge.
You can choose to keep a safe distance from the workings of your accounting package and instead leave it to a bookkeeper to enter and manage the books; then leave it to your accountant to tidy and audit the accounts.
No knowledge still requires you (or your bookkeeper) to know how to link or provide the accounts to your accountant. And you as the business owner is still responsible for these choices and ensuring they are delivered.
Entry level knowledge
This is a literal description in that you learn and know how to accurately enter information into your accounting package. Most people use a bookkeeper to do this.
Some software packages (designed for tradespeople) enable easy entry of jobs, purchasing, invoicing and payments into the PC or mobile.
Knowing your way around the books, including the management and financial accounts from the perspective of a business owner (rather than an accountant) is likely to give you a good insight and perspective of what is going on.
This is more relevant if your role is more about running the business rather than carrying out its reason for being (e.g. servicing customers or making products).
Obviously, a deeper understanding of accounting will be required in order for you to understand what you are looking at. More on accounting here
The ability to at least run reports off the accounting package and have some understanding of what they are telling you is strongly recommended.
And remember that as time passes and you continue to ask questions then a good insight into the financial aspects of your business will naturally evolve.
When your business reaches a certain size then reports will be ran for you by your accounts team; either at your request or as part of the procedure. Understanding these reports is still crucial.
For example: knowing that the VAT bill is being paid on time or seeing a cash flow issue on the horizon due to a potential big order might determine the business stays in business.
IT skills best left to specialist support
Unless you are already an expert regarding these aspects of IT then it is far more cost-effective to leave the following to an expert.
- Networking: both internal (e.g. LAN and routers) and connections to the outside world.
- Security and VPN.
- DNS connections.
- Email setup (although simply adding users to a basic system can be done without support depending on the setup).
- CRM GDPR compliance confirmation (including confirmation of software support). Holding data is now far more complicated and demanding on time due to the delightful thoughts of governments.
- Telecommunications setup and networking.
Sourcing good external IT Support
Generic list of questions to ask when sourcing IT support.
- Contract arrangement options.
- References: Ask for three.
- Average Ticket time from initiation to conclusion.
- How long in business.
- How many on the team.
- Future plans for the business.
- Any particular specialisms.
- Current client mix.
- Client demand mix.
Assessing a potential external IT Support provider through its Support Ticket performance
The Support Ticket is often the terminology used by IT Support or Web hosting companies and it is the name given to the support request by the client. This is usually entered into their system and can often be automated via a web porthole (an online form you complete as a request for support).
Remember that time is money and having a system or part of a system down when running a business will cost you money, customer goodwill or both. Assessing and monitoring an IT Support service from the perspective of Support Ticket performance is therefore crucial.
Measuring Support Ticket efficiency
From your perspective there are three important performance indicators to look for when sourcing and comparing a potential external IT Support provider. In reality, these are likely to vary depending on workload but you can still seek averages.
If the potential IT Support company cannot answer these questions then in that is a clue.
Ask for the following averages for the most recent 12 months.
The time from:
- Support request to review response.
- Response to commencing the work.
- Commencing work to solution.
- Summary of request to solution.
Support request to review response
“We respond within an hour of the Ticket being raised,” may simply mean you receive an automated acknowledgement via email.
It is important this is clarified when assessing a potential IT Support provider. A “review” response simply means someone at their end has looked at the ticket and reviewed your request – and has therefore at least considered its urgency.
This means a method of priority has been applied to your ticket. If your whole system is down then this will take priority over another ticket simply asking advice on how to delete an icon on the desktop.
Response to commencing the work
This is the important bit. From your prospective, you simply want to know the average for the last 12 months the IT Support company took from receiving Tickets to starting work on client problems.
Commencing work to solution
This is likely to be the big variable because how long it takes to deliver a solution depends on the problem.
Your potential IT Support provider may respond with a similar answer. If so then that is a good sign.
If the potential provider tells you that most solutions are found within a few minutes or an hour then it might mean shallow experience due to the type of clients and issues the IT provider as had to deal with to date. If this is the response then further detail as to experience might be required.
Current client mix
Does the IT support company have one or two big clients that keeps their business going and will always take priority or is there a good mix of businesses similar in size and expectations as your own.
Client demand mix
This can be a searching question that may expose potential future issues as regards the IT Support company’s demand on its time v any profit generated to keep it efficient.
If the IT Support provider has a demanding client or has fallen into the trap of over servicing one of its clients then because it is not you then you will be the one being starved of attention.
To avoid being the runt in the puppy litter, you need to ask the question: which is your biggest client in time – and profitability. They should be the same otherwise you may need to dig further.
Advantages of having an IT Support contract
The advantage of a contract that is paid monthly is that it allows you to budget for your IT Support requirements. It also enables your provider to budget and plan its resources.
If you feel you are not yet ready for this commitment then instead check your accounts books at the end of a year and see how much you paid for IT Support on a project by project basis for that year.
When you first set up a business, you may require some IT support to get your system going. This obviously depends on the type of business. Once you are up and running then support should be minimal; unless you are unlucky.
A word of caution. Failing IT has two costs. The cost to rectify or repair the problem and the disruption to your business. A healthy and well-considered IT system will also minimise the risk of data loss. You have to decide how much of your overhead budget you are willing and able to allocate in order to minimise the impact of IT disruption.
Remote connection support
IT Support can remotely log into your PC or network in order to determine an issue and hopefully solve it.
Sometimes a visit is required either to install and setup hardware or when the fault is identified as a hardware issue or the PC for example requires extensive software work back at the IT Support premises.