The Werks is an IT related commentary bringing you the unvarnished truth steeped in a vat of reality. The information contained herein is the opinion and rantings of a 30+ year veteran of the IT industry. This will hopefully give you helpful knowledge untainted by any specific vendor focused kool-aide. Occasionally, you may find that this collection of brain droppings will also give you the laugh you needed to make it through another day locked in the IT gulag. Read-on, brave soldier!
Understanding Managed Services and How They Benefit SMBs
Small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) receive a lot of calls each day from slick sales people peddling the next technology trend that's going to save them money and revolutionize how they do business. They're all too quick to caution that if you don't listen to them, you'll fall behind the times, and eventually be swimming in a sea of debt and out of business.
No doubt you've heard, or you've at least read about, the benefits of managed services. Managed services refer to clearly defined outsourced IT services delivered to you at predictable costs. You know the exact IT services you'll be getting and what you'll pay for them. There is no surprise sky-high bill for services rendered. So are solicitation calls that pertain to managed services worth listening to? We think so. Then again, we're in the managed services industry. There may be a bit of a bias here.
How Managed Service Providers Work
Managed service providers (MSPs) use remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools to keep an eye on their performance and overall health of the IT infrastructure that powers your business operations.
Your MSP should have a 24/7 Network Operations Center (NOC) that acts as your mission control center. If the monitoring alerts them to any issue with your servers, devices, hardware or software, they respond quickly to resolve the issue.
Additionally, the NOC performs regular systems maintenance such as
Automated tasks like the cleaning of temporary files
Applying tested security patches as required
Installing virus and Malware protection
System backup and disaster recover/business continuity processes
Additionally, your MSP should give you access to a Help Desk that services your customers and employees – speaking to and working with them directly as if they're part of your staff.
This proactive maintenance, stabilization of your IT environment, and rapid as-needed remediation helps SMBs control technology costs and better serve the end-users who rely on their technology.
Is Managed Services Better than Other Ways to Manage IT
We find that far too many companies have no real perspective about how much IT management costs them. Let's review some of the alternatives to managed services.
Hiring In-House IT Support
Typically, a firm with anywhere from 20-60 employees may feel that one person can manage their technology. Understand that this one full-time employee can demand a significant salary since they'll have to be proficient with desktop, server and network support, and interact with both end-users in the Help Desk role and management. They will likely be overworked and vulnerable to error or oversights that may prove to be costly. And what happens if they're out sick or on vacation?
The Break/Fix Mentality
The majority of smaller companies take this route because they feel as if they're too small for a more sophisticated 24/7 approach to IT management. They also feel pressure to direct all resources on the product or service, not behind-the-scenes operations. They decide to use on-call IT techs when broken technology has already disrupted business. The on-call team's response time and overall lack of familiarity with your systems extends downtime and proves to be a much more expensive resolution to IT management. It's reactive, not proactive, and it's a costly mistake too often made.
This is why many SMBs today feel that managed services are the most cost-effective way to support their IT infrastructure and the best way to get more bang for their buck.
Are Managed IT Services Right For You? A Few Things to Consider
How do you get a small business to recognize the value of manages IT services? In the start-up environment, we encounter an eclectic bunch of personality types. There is a reason people become entrepreneurs or C-level execs. When we meet the owners or decision makers at smaller companies and organizations, we can tell right away why they're where they are. They're visionaries. They're risk takers. They're competitive. They want to be in charge.
Therefore, they aren't always quick to place the fate of their business technology in the hands of a third party. They've come as far as they have by being in control and they're hesitant to give up that control. But we've learned a few things along the way.
For example, the Type A personality is highly independent but also very competitive. So we tap into the competitive advantage that managed IT services gives them.
The Type B personality is creative and doesn't like static routines. But their ears perk up when they hear terminology like "cutting-edge" and we can then paint the big picture for them once their listening.
But anyone we do business with has to be committed to the efficiency, security, and stability of their business technology to see our value proposition. And they have to recognize that managing their IT infrastructure is an investment they cannot take lightly.
So here are a few things we commonly have to address before any deal for managed IT services is signed.
Is my business large enough to even consider managed services?
The truth is, any company, regardless of its size or the number of people they employ, will run more efficiently if its technology is monitored, maintained, and managed properly.
These are facets of your operations that drive profitability and give our Type A personalities that competitive edge they crave. And they can rest easy whenever business is booming because their technology is built to sustain their growth. That's the big picture that our Type B personality can appreciate.
How is making another IT investment a cost-savings move for my business?
There are still many SMBs who feel a greater focus and investment should go towards their core operations or marketing and sales. They only worry about technology when it breaks, figuring they'll just call a service technician to come to the office and fix whatever the problem is. Or buy some new hardware at Office Depot.
There are some very obvious flaws to this strategy.
You're paying way too much when it's way too late – An issue that was likely preventable with early detection has escalated into a full blown business disruption and that on-call technician likely charges a high hourly rate, on top of hardware replacement costs, and may not get to your site right away. Being proactive rather than reactive to technology issues is important.
Don't forget productivity killers – It's taking your employees too long to boot their computers. Servers and applications are running slowly. Employee devices are full of Malware. Non-technical employees are running around troubleshooting tech problems. If you see this, your present approach to IT management is killing employee productivity and your bottom line.
What happens internally is noticed externally – Don't think for a second that customers or clients don't notice outdated or slow internal technology and mismanagement. If your site or applications are down often, run slowly, or your customer service rep tells them "I'm sorry, our system is down", they're noticing and it's hurting your business.
When all is said and done, professionally managed IT services will give you a competitive edge, guarantee your business is always leveraging the newest most cutting-edge technology, and enhance your relationships with customers and clients – all while reducing costs.
Downtime is bad news for any business whether big or small.
A recent two-hour New York Times' downtime occurrence sent Twitter ablaze and their stock price plummeting.
Google going down for one to five hours resulted in lost revenue up to $500,000 and decreased overall web traffic by 40%.
We know what you're thinking. Holy crap, Google makes $100,000 an hour? Yeah... insane, huh?
While the hourly cost of downtime for a small-to-medium sized business won't be nearly as large as that astronomical Google figure, downtime is often more detrimental to smaller companies. Smaller enterprises are more susceptible to downtime and are neither large nor profitable enough to sustain its short and long-term effects.
Downtime Leads to Unhappy/Unproductive Employees
Even the happiest of employees become dissatisfied when they can't perform basic day-to-day job functions or properly service customers or clients.
While some employees may use downtime as an excuse to lean back, put their feet up, and comfortably collect their hourly pay, we're talking about those employees who come to work to actually work.
And don't forget your IT guy or tech crew. They can't necessarily sit back and twiddle their thumbs when downtime occurs because they're typically taking the brunt of the storm. They will ultimately grow tired of the daily routine of having to put out fires and having neither the additional manpower nor resources to change things for the better.
These things lead to high employee turnover and the expenses that come with training and re-training a revolving door of employees.
Downtime Leads to Customer Dissatisfaction
Customers and clients grow weary whenever critical components of your operations – or the services they either expect or pay for - cannot be accessed.
Nearly 50% of customers will move on to a competitor if they encounter downtime of five minutes or more. These customers represent significant lost revenue.
While some suggest this is a bigger problem in the retail sector, other types of businesses are impacted as well. Have you ever clicked a link from search engine results only to quickly bolt when the page didn't load, you couldn't complete an online transaction, or you were greeted with a "Technical Difficulties – Be Back Up Soon!" message?
Did you give up on finding what you were looking for or did you wait it out? You did neither. You went back to Google and found someone else offering a similar service or product that satisfied your yearning for instant gratification.
Downtime Ruins Your Reputation
One of the most commonly overlooked consequences of downtime is the hit your company's reputation takes online. In this age of social media, one person's bad experience is broadcast to dozens or even hundreds of followers. Bad news spreads faster than ever and has lasting repercussions.
"It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently." -- Warren Buffet.
Protect Your Bottom Line
The challenge for small businesses has always been how to minimize single-point-of-failure downtime using their limited IT resources. This is why downtime kills so many small businesses. They can't prevent it and they can't react quickly enough.
Thankfully, there are end-to-end business continuity solutions available today that integrate Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) software, 24/7 access to a Network Operations Center (NOC), and advanced backup and disaster recovery solutions to alleviate this issue.
Not only do these methods minimize downtime and get businesses back up and running quickly, but they can reduce the cost of technology infrastructure maintenance by as much as 80 percent.
It's time that small businesses stop being victims to the silent killer that is downtime.
Is That a Business Continuity Plan in Your Pocket or a Bunch of Jargon?
Technology is full of difficult jargon. To further complicate things, certain terms are often used in a different context between one publication or service provider and the next. An example of this is the usage of backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity. These terms are commonly used interchangeably, often resulting in confusion. In an effort to alleviate some of this confusion, let's describe each physical process. You will see an overlay among all three, although they are each different processes.
Backup – In IT lingo, the most basic description of backup is the act of copying data, as in files or programs, from its original location to another. The purpose of this is to ensure that the original files or programs are retrievable in the event of any accidental deletion, hardware or software failure, or any other type of tampering, corruption and theft.
It's important to remember that the term "backup" refers to data only and doesn't apply to the physical machines, devices, or systems themselves. If there were a system failure, disk crash, or an onsite physical disaster, all systems would still have to be replaced, rebuilt, and properly configured before the backed-up data could be loaded onto them.
Disaster Recovery – Backups are a single, albeit crucial, component of any disaster recovery plan. Disaster recovery refers to the complete recovery of your physical systems, applications, and data in the event of a physical disaster like a fire; hurricane or tornado; flood ; earthquake ; act of terror or theft.
A disaster recovery plan uses pre-determined parameters to define an acceptable recovery period. From there, the most satisfactory recovery point is chosen to get your business up and running with minimal data loss and interruption.
Business Continuity – Although backup and disaster recovery processes make sure that a business can recover its systems and data within a reasonable time, there is still the chance of downtime from a few hours to many days. The point of a business continuity plan is to give businesses continuous access to their technology and data, no matter what. Zero or minimal downtime is the goal.
Critical business data can be backed up with configurable snapshots that are instantly virtualized. This allows files, folders and data to be turned on and restored in seconds. Bare metal restores of hardware, where an image of one machine is overlaid onto a different machine, is also utilized along with cloud replication for instant off-site virtualization.
Many businesses also keep redundant systems and storage at a different physical location than their main site as part of their business continuity process. They may also outline procedures for staff to work remotely off-site. Some businesses or organizations may go as far as to have printed contact lists and other critical data stored off-site to keep their business moving if a disaster wipes out power and their ability to access anything electronically.
This should clarify the differences between backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity solutions. Choosing what works best for your business will come down to your current IT infrastructure, your budget and how much downtime you can reasonably accept.