Tag Archives: it management

Don’t let IT people manage your IT

A couple of years ago I accepted an offer to work in Advertising.  Having a background in Information Technology (IT) and Accounting, it seemed like an odd career move, but it was a good one.  The trade off was that I would learn a lot about mass marketing, and the agency would get me to restructure them profitability and growth.

One of the early projects I tackled was getting the IT infrastructure under control, which I want to discuss here.  Although originally I was reviewing expenses. My methodology was to look at a couple of expense line items each month, bringing them under the microscope. The first line item I looked at was equipment leasing.  It was a chore to find the documentation for each lease but eventually it sorted out.  The results though were disturbing.  It turned out we were paying for equipment where not only had the lease already run its course, but also for equipment that died years before and been thrown out.  Cancel the pointless leases = $8,000 straight to the bottom line.

My opinion on the reason why this had occurred, was that the agency’s management had abdicated its role in managing the  businesses IT.  No one wanted to know about IT, because it was technical.  IT support got outsourced and the technical guy had no boundaries or objectives set.

My firm belief though is that IT is just like legal issues or tax issues.  You may not understand the detail, but you still need to understand the big picture and give clear instructions or you are going to get burnt.    However after 6 years of running IT services business, I found that almost no-one in the SME space actually manages their IT.

So, no more excuses: The first step in managing your IT, is to do three things.

1.    Build an Asset List.
2.    Put together Asset Boxes.
3.    Build a Network Notepad.

Build an Asset List
You need to know what you have first and almost anyone can do this.  Have a whole lot of stickers with numbers on them printed up, and go through every room in your office placing stickers on each piece of IT, whether its being used to write proposals or used to hold up a bench (dead stuff).  Taking off my accountant’s hat and putting on my entrepreneurs hat, I define an asset as anything that would piss me off, it went missing.  Monitors are normally a separate asset from the computer, but keyboards and mice are just consumables.  I consider my portable business card scanner (sweet) as a separate asset as I connect it to different computers.  Software generally doesn’t get treated as a separate asset as it belongs to a single computer.  Make sure you record the master list of what Asset ID  belongs to which asset.

Put together Asset Boxes
Most people like to keep the boxes that come with the software or hardware comes with because the colours are pretty.  Get over it.  As soon as you have a couple of computers running, life becomes a lot more complex and you can’t afford to waste the space (or the time looking for lost things).  Buy some box files and put the Asset Id and description on the back of each one.  Then stuff those boxes full of all the relevant junk for each Asset, including software, manuals and licenses.  You want software and serial numbers in the box for the computer, not separate.

Build a Network Notepad
The network notepad is a live document that details everything you need to know about what you have.  I like to start with a drawing of the network that shows which cables connect to which objects in the network.  It’s great for representing what you have and potential problems.   Get your IT person to do it for you, as he is sure to have network mapping tools that will break the back of the job.  The next part of the Network Notepad is have a list of every computer or appliance on your network, and for each appliance all the relevant details; Its Name, its Serial No., its Asset ID, its location, its purpose, its manager, the administrator username and password.  This stuff is critical because if your IT support person leaves you in the lurch, your equipment can quickly become a boat anchor or door stop if you can’t log into it.

Once this is done, you have the basics of managing your IT.  The next step is figuring out where you want to go, and finally, how to get there.

So don’t let IT people manage your IT.  Sure, leave the execution to them, but remember they don’t care about your profit, your customers or your brand.

Sticky Labels

Instead of writing some amazing strategy insight, I thought Id pass on a simple tip that will save you time and frustration when dealing with your computer.

When I started an IT Services business called Edion in 2000, we had one spare computer used for centrally storing and sharing all our stuff. This file server quickly mutated and grew. Two years later it had its own room and had become a number of files servers, a firewall, a web server, a mail server and a variety of computers and routers used as a test bed by my network engineers. Apart from our electricity bill going through the roof and being introduced to the necessities of cooling the environment, we now has a mass of cables to deal with.

To the techo’s, the solution was simple. Every cable was labeled at both ends with a code number. These code numbers were kept on a table in the server room that allowed anyone to quickly figure out what cables were up to. All cables were marked, including Ethernet, power and USB cables.

Now my current office (and home) are no where near as a complex environments, as I pretty much just have to look after myself. However I have noticed that no matter how many spots I have on the power board, I always have one too many items that need plugging in. Underneath my desk is generally a mess as I regularly pull things out and swap them around. Murphy’s Law dictates though, that that whenever I pull a plug out (to make room for something else), I will always pull out the wrong plug and bugger something up I have been working on. I will then bump the back of my head as I quickly scramble back up to see what damage I just caused myself.

The solution to this problem is a variation on what my tech’s used to do. I have one of those $49 dollar label makers. Every time a pick a new appliance ; Computer, Printer, Phone charger, Monitor, Thermal label printer, Bluetooth charger, Camera charger, External Hard Disk, ADSL Modem, USB Hub etc) I put a label on both ends of the cable, indicating what the cable for . Eg “Printer”. This means that when I scramble around in the shadows under my desk, I can still change the right plugs, without having to unscramble the spaghetti.

The bonus is that when I find a powersupply or charger in a box, I know immediately know whats its for. My wife also finds it handy as stashed behind the CD player in the kitchen, we have a tangle of mobile phone chargers, some of which are for phones we still own.

So, not an amazing strategy insight, but instead maybe, a useful tip on managing your IT assets and preventing data loss.

I Hate Favours

Since I have been getting up on my high horse lately about quality executions, I felt compelled to rant a bit about favours.

I hate favours.

Favours drive me insane, because mostly they are not favours at all.  So what do I mean? Consider this experience of mine…

One of my IT services companies had a rack mount server ( a skinny little computer 1 inch high, that belongs in computer racking).  This computer ran a variety of services for us, a couple of websites and our email system.  The computer was kept at an Internet Service Provider, which means it benefited from a high bandwidth internet connection.  Because some of my staff were mates with staff at the ISP, and had helped them out on occasion, they did us a favour.  The favour was they “hosted” the computer for free.  A saving of around $2,500 pa.

Now I didn’t like this favour , but couldn’t put my finger on exactly why.  My staff though I was mad wanting to pay for hosting the computer, and argued heavily against changing the relationship.  Because I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what I didn’t like about the arrangement and had the other usual distractions, I let the situation run.  Right up until the moment that our computer was disconnected without any warning.  What happened was that the IT manager at the ISP ran out of space, and needed our slot.  Since we didn’t have a contract, he pulled out or box, so that he could keep a paying customer happy.  This “pulling” of our server was of course  very bad thing, and caused heartache, stress and problems for the best part of a week.  The billable time chewed up fixing the situation that was worth well over the $2,500 we hadn’t paid.

Now this isn’t the only issue I have had with favours.  So here’s 10 reasons why I don’t like favours.

1.    Nine times out of ten its not a favour at all – you are actually just bartering services.  Have you ever had someone say to you “Hey, I helped you out last week!”.

2.    Favour means service without the same quality you would get as a customer.  Have you ever had a plumber mate do you a favour and fix your plumbing at cost, only to be left with no water in the bathroom for a week?

3.    Favour means you lose the right to complain about poor service.  See above.

4.    Favours don’t come with enforceable warrantees or contractual arrangements.

5.    Favours don’t generally come with trade practices act protection.

6.    The person doing the favour, may not be authorised to do it.  I have had some really angry customers when they found out they were no longer going to get free web site hosting in return for giving a staff member free drinks at their bar.

7.    The person doing you the favour leaves, and all of a sudden you have an urgent mess you need to deal with.  Which helped cause the ISP problem I initially talked about.

8.    The favours have real commercial value so you end up have to keep track of the favours anyway.    I have provided lead to a colleague who generated $100K profit out of it.  In return they bought me a $12 lunch.  (No more favours for him!).

9.    The person doing you the favour may compromise you down stream.  Think any politician in the last decade whom has been done a favour by Brian Burke.

10.    The person doing you the favour may have a specific agenda for doing you the favour.  Think about the guy that gives you free service then wants a testimonial in return.

Now I am not the grinch, and not someone to cut off my nose to spite my own face, and agree that some favours are easy and no-brainers .  However If its more than just a replacement cup of coffee, think carefully about how the favour could play out.