Cruise Control – The Dangers of “Set And Forget” IT Systems

Without a doubt, “set and forget” is one of the most frightening phrases any serious IT professional can hear.  It’s one of those throw away lines that non-IT people casually use in a conversation about hardware and software solutions when it turns to the nearly always thorny subject of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

Total Cost of Ownership

Actually, before I go any further, let’s take 30 seconds to make sure that we understand what this means in the wonderful world of grown up Information Technology. TCO refers to the hard earned lucre that you’re going to have to part with once you’ve bought some software or hardware. It’ll be used to cover support costs, maintenance or upgrades, bespoke package changes, training, productivity losses during transition and so on.

It’s a bit like having to inflate your tyres or put oil in the car. TCO is simply the time, effort and money that goes in to making sure your car keeps moving in a generally safe and comfortable manner.

This stuff goes along way to helping us understand why people so often think of IT systems as a cost.

“We’re gonna crash, Clyde”

Having got that out of the way, let’s get back to setting and forgetting. For the sake of continuity, I’ll stick with the automotive analogies.

So, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of cruise control. It’s not that I don’t trust it, it’s simply that I’ve always driven my car myself, so I’m quite comfortable maintaining an appropriate speed. But I do understand that it makes life easier for some people, so I’m happy to endorse this particular technology and its use.

However, like all technologies, we must ensure we’re aware of its limitations, and cruise control has one that has been known to be over looked, which is of course that it doesn’t do corners.

That’s right, YOU HAVE TO STEER THE CAR YOURSELF!

Cruise control helps us travel the highways and byways with minimal effort, but when there’s a change of direction or circumstances, we need to adjust the direction of the car so that we can continue in the required direction.

Setting and Forgetting

Just like roads, businesses don’t (ok…shouldn’t) travel in straight lines. They twist and turn, adapting to subtle changes in the market, suppliers, staffing, legislation and a great many other contributory factors. IT systems however tend to be somewhat less pragmatic, and, just like a car on cruise control, they continue to travel the same unwavering path.

So, should we metaphorically fall asleep at the wheel, when we wake we may be lucky enough to find that the road has been straight and pothole free while we were away in the land of nod.

We may however find that we’ve missed a junction and we’re now many miles from where we’d like to be. It’ll cost us a little to get back on track, but there’s no real harm done.

Or we could wake to find that there’s a bend in the road and our only viable option is to quickly ensure we’re buckled up, brace for impact, and hope that it doesn’t hurt too much.

Annual Service

Roads are rarely straight for very long, so we regularly correct our course. Similarly, only the simplest of simple enterprises continues without change, so IT systems need to be adjusted accordingly.

A regular health check will ensure that your IT systems will continue to travel in the right direction. You service your vehicles regularly to ensure they stay on the road, so why not apply the same logic to your computer systems?

So just one more cautionary note. You know that noise that mechanics make? It’s the “you’re not going to like it, it’s going to be expensive” noise, they make by sucking air through pursed lips.

That’s a noise you NEVER EVER want to hear that from software, hardware and support providers when they come to assess the wreckage.

Perhaps then, a few little regular adjustments, like an annual service, will ensure that your IT continues to operate efficiently and effectively, and heads in the same direction as the business that it serves.


Today’s Top Takeaway

Look after your kit and your kit will look after you.


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How Usable Are Your IT Systems?

You know, I never really gave it any thought.

That’s the typical response coming from owners and managers when talking about the usability of their IT systems. Of course, if you were to ask whether the systems can solve the problems or produce the information that they’re supposed to, you’d get a slightly more informed reply.

But usability…?

“It Works, Doesn’t It?”

Yes it does…probably.

Getting bang for your buck from an IT system is something that’s hard to measure, particularly when looking at internal systems, so the fact that a particular piece of software does its job is usually enough to convince someone that it’s usable.

Sadly, functional capabilities and usability are two very different things and when it comes to a fight between the two, it’s not a fair one. Resources are spent on functionality first and poor old usability is left begging in the street for whatever scraps it can find.

Back Pain

But it’s OK, humans, being the infinitely adaptable creatures that we are, take usability issues in our stride. We learn the limitations, often via the tried and trusted path of repeated trial and error, and then we learn to live with them.

So that would be kinda like that dull ache in your lower back then: the one just to the left of your spine. It’s there constantly, reminding you that you should probably see someone about it, but it’ll be OK, you’ll mention it the next time you see someone.

The trouble is, that someone is often the friend you talk to in the kitchen when heating up your leftovers. You both agree that you should get a referral from your doctor to see a specialist, but the moment you hear that word, the dollar signs appear before your eyes and you quickly decide that you’ll stick with the status quo.

Whatever You Want

Of course, not all of the IT systems are left to wallow in self pity. Websites, the poster boys of corporate software, are primped within an inch of their lives.

Why?

Because points make prizes!

There’s a clear correlation between the performance of a website and sales revenue, so we spend big on making sure that everything is easy to access, aesthetically pleasing, the number of clicks required is small, performance is fast and so on.

Btw…I’m acutely aware that I’m not practising what I preach currently. I will though…promise.

Odd though that this is done with such fervour for the great unwashed because they might spend a few dollars with us, but we care little for the welfare of those tolerating the systems we have internally, and they cost us a fortune.

Time and Money

And there’s the rub. Staff costs are a huge drain on corporate resources, so we should be maximising the usability of internal systems to ensure that users can do their work efficiently, effectively and without those twinges of pain we all ignore as best we can.

If we did, we’d find that they were happier in their jobs and that they could achieve more, and this is without doubt a good thing.

Why?

Because when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune find their mark, the last thing we need is IT systems getting in the way.

So, is it about time that you saw that specialist?


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Is Your Business Playing IT Whack-a-Mole?

Do you have an IT strategy or do you deal with issues as and when they arise?

If this question were to be posed to a random cross section of small to medium enterprise, it’s reasonable to suggest that the split would be around 50/50. Certainly, anecdotal evidence would suggest this to be the case.

Sadly, there seems to be little by way of supporting evidence.  This report in ComputerWeekly, which dates back to 2003 would indicate that a meeting in the middle is about right. Of course, this is over 10 years ago, but nothing has really changed in the way that SMEs deal with their IT systems since then, so 50/50 will do for now.

Who’s Spending What?

There are approximately 2.1 million businesses in Australia, with 12% having 5 or more employees. Most of these will have IT needs of some sort and yet only half of them are giving any real though as to how IT can help shape their business.

That leaves 125,000 businesses who are playing it by ear, tactically spending money on their IT needs when problems present themselves.

This is hardly ideal and certainly not what one would call good business practice, but one can still be a little sanguine in the face of rampant, random IT spending, and say that at least they’re investing in it to some extent.

Who’s Not Spending What?

Optimism aside though, not all of the 125,000 will be playing IT “whack-a-mole” buying software and hardware when they get an itch. A significant portion of them will be “set-and-forgetters”. These are the companies who bought something some years ago and who have had no real issues since then, or who have always done things a certain way.

I can only assume they’re content with how things are.

If only they knew what they were missing out on.

Why Do You Need a Strategy?

No one can accurately predict the future, although many will have a good go, and this ignorance should be a compelling motivator for making a good solid plan. Technology change, business changes and the miserable spectre of business interruption are just about inevitable, so when they do arrive we should be in a position to deal with them in the best possible way.

If one is to embrace the opportunities presented by the technological revolution, systems today need to be designed and implemented in a way that means they’re agile, flexible and portable. Similarly, should the proverbial hit the fan, we need to have disaster recovery policies in place to ensure minimum disruption.

The alternative is to leave it to luck, but I don’t think that quite qualifies as a strategy.

It’s Never Too Late

You wouldn’t buy manufacturing equipment, hire staff, take out a lease or spend money on marketing unless you had a business case to back it up and it was part of your over all strategy.

So why would any one spend many thousands of dollars annually on IT without having the same level of commitment to understanding how it fits in to your organisation?

And yet here we are, with tens of thousands of businesses throwing money at something they have little understanding of and no real plan for its use.

Perhaps now is the time to talk to someone who can help you maximise your investment.


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