By Shawn Freeman
Most companies will focus on their sales, marketing, and balance sheets, but forget the infrastructure that keeps the operations running—and that oversight can get expensive quickly.
When the worst happens and you’re faced with hardware failures, after-hours IT support, system upgrades, vendor audits, or recoveries from hacking and viruses, it’s no wonder that the average IT outage costs $5,600 per minute; for larger companies, this can mean losing up to half a million dollars every hour. Even after the outage is fixed, the hidden costs of distracted employees—who can take more than 20 minutes to refocus—continue to add up.
Including an IT road map in your business plans can certainly help minimize the impact of worst-case scenarios. More importantly, though, it’ll prepare you for the necessary updates and maintenance that can prevent those scenarios from happening.
Why companies don’t prioritize IT
IT is one department where “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” just doesn’t work. Unfortunately, that adage is pervasive in business. We frequently have to tell clients that their critical hardware is out of warranty. They insist that it still works and that because they have their data backed up—which, given the lags between backups, is often incomplete anyway—there’s no reason to spend money on upgrades.
This shortsighted approach assumes that an unplanned outage only and temporarily results in data loss, and that’s simply not the case. Having to replace the hardware can come with a number of problems that reach beyond data. If the hardware isn’t stocked locally, a business could be down for an extended period; if the hardware does happen to be in stock, the price for it could be significantly higher than it needs to be. Add up the emergency labor costs and lost time, and you’re suddenly negotiating a business disaster.
Technology, unlike dreams, can’t operate on hope, so neither should your strategic decisions about it. IT planning and upgrading takes commitment—from the process itself to the initial application to efficient implementation. Always being “too busy” to use a new and more productive tool in business is akin to pulling a cart with square wheels when someone is trying to show you round ones.
Building your IT road map
The more your company grows, the more comprehensive your IT budget becomes. Whether you plan to launch a new e-commerce website or invest in new computers, an IT road map can help you achieve your goals by anticipating your needs. It will also allow you to understand the scope of your risk exposure and increase your business’s efficiency.
Follow these tips to create a strong and dynamic IT road map:
1. Understand your history
Review the last year of your IT activity and your relationships with any vendors. The more you can understand about your past, the better you can prepare for your future.
This review should focus on two factors: processes (what you did and why) and finances (how much it cost). For the processes, consider whether you had any problems, what kinds of services you received, what you loved versus what caused you stress, and which needs your current solution didn’t meet.
For the finances, put all of your IT expenses into a spreadsheet to see which are constant and which are not. This information will help you project costs for the next year and delete any unnecessary services. Make sure, too, that you set aside a budget for crisis response, which can be based on previous experiences. Never assume your IT will function perfectly all year.
2. Separate needs from wants
You may want to shower your staff members with iPads and smartphones, but unless their current tools aren’t cutting it, that money could be better spent.
Often, boring investments—like replacing a four-year-old server—pay big dividends in peace of mind, even if they don’t get everyone excited. Consider moving your data to the cloud to reduce server costs and free up money for more proactive projects. And while you should always prioritize maintenance in your budget, exploring new business processes and opportunities for growth is essential.
3. Measure the ROI
After you’ve analyzed your past expenses and separated your tech needs and wants, figure out which investments on your list are paying off and which are sunk costs.
IT investments—such as faster hardware that improves employee productivity or a streamlined online experience that attracts more customers—can be hard to measure. If you can’t quantify a specific application, make a note of it anyway. In this way, you’ll have a concrete measure of the diversity of your expenses and be able to assess their importance to your business. Most importantly, don’t automatically balk at high upfront expenses—some IT investments appear pricey, but will save you money over time.
4. Anticipate future upgrades
As you prepare for the future, consider when you will need upgrades and plan for them. Some question you should ask when doing so are: How old is the equipment? How often do after-hours emergencies happen? Would changing the provider agreement save the company money? A good provider should help you evaluate your current position and work with you to create a plan that manageably distributes costs without putting you at undue risk.
5. Manage changes
Once you determine the changes that need to be applied to your current IT structure and outlook, you need to strategize methods for implementing them.
Some people are inherently skeptical of change, and few, if any, want to take time away from their regular duties to upgrade systems. Framing your changes as investments by demonstrating their value to the business and to your team’s work will foster this transition and help keep your team excited about the long-term possibilities of the upgrade. Additionally, never underestimate the importance of buy-in from your team on software choices, especially when those choices will affect how they perform.
Don’t let unexpected IT issues grind your operations to a halt. Building a comprehensive road map will not only bolster your company’s infrastructure, but it will also mitigate your worries. A little planning really does go a long way.
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Shawn Freeman is an entrepreneur and founder of TWT Group Inc., an IT services company in Calgary, Canada. He founded TWT to make IT simple instead of infuriating, believing it should be the easiest part of anyone’s day, and the company now services more than 100 clients.