“You’ll miss me when I’m gone” is a phrase I've heard various (older) family members say to me, usually as I roll my eyes at the latest bit of wisdom they've decided to impart.
However, it’s apt for business IT. In the last couple of weeks we've seen how a seemingly small 'software update' resulted in a broad outage of NatWest’s banking systems. It even led to an unheard of step: bank branches opening on a Sunday.
If, like NatWest, IT is at the heart of your business then what are the implications of such a problem if it happens to you? What should you do to maintain reliability?
IT has become a hidden service that we take for granted. The internet, once derided as a fad, is now a key service in our lives. From shopping and booking travel to connecting with friends and researching school projects, it’s essential.
What’s more, people have started to view broadband as a basic human right, almost in the same league as water, food and sanitation. This is the level to which the internet has risen in just over 15 years. It demonstrates how important IT is to our everyday lives.
If you run a business then this trend will have spread into your world too. It was not that long ago that IT was the preserve of the accounts department who used it to process payroll. But today it’s used by every member of staff for almost everything they do.
If your business depends on IT, do you give it the attention required to keep it beating at the heart of your company? There are four simple steps you can take to make sure your IT provides good service – day in and day out:
1. Buy the right equipment
I recently visited a prospective client who wanted to set up a call centre. Staff would use their computers as the base from which to make calls and update their customer relationship management (CRM) database. They told me they were planning to buy refurbished (second-hand) computers to keep costs down.
My advice? If you plan to base your company on a database that requires reliable IT, second-hand equipment is a false economy.
That doesn’t mean you have to buy super-expensive business computers. But most well-known brands offer PCs with a three-year warranty and next-day help if you need it. What’s more, buy business-grade IT, not computers designed for domestic use. There’s a difference – and it could mean you get a PC that lasts four years instead of two.
2. Monitor your systems
There are many free or cheap services out there that can monitor your systems for problems like low disk space, a failing networking connection or high memory use. These services are simple to install and can be combined to create a single web page that puts a green, amber or red dot next to each IT asset to show its status.
3. Audit your equipment
This one’s easy. The main aim of auditing is to stay ahead of the IT age curve. A computer’s average lifespan is three to five years, so it makes sense to look at replacing each computer once it’s four years old. If you don’t know how old your equipment is then you can’t make that assessment.
The simplest approach is to note the purchase date of all assets in your business. Then rank them in order, newest at the top, oldest at the bottom. If any computers are over five years old, replace them immediately. Put any over four years old on a list for replacement soon. Keep updating your list and you’ll stay on top of your hardware replacement (this helps spread the costs too).
4. Take security seriously
I see too many companies that don’t take their IT security seriously. They think staff will self-manage things like spending hours on Facebook or emailing friends from a work computer. Of course, they don’t – so you need to manage this through a policy or software.
Internet security is a large and growing problem. Simply going to the wrong website can result in malware, spyware and unwanted software ending up on your computers. Stop this, and you’ll significantly reduce the chance of system failure.
Following these simple steps will help ensure your IT systems stay working to the best of their ability: as a vital business tool that helps to generate revenue. As my old Gran always used to say, "you'll miss me when I'm gone".
Craig Sharp is Managing Director of Abussi Ltd
According to research, 2.8 million emails per second were sent in 2010. Given that incredible figure (I wonder who counted them all), it’s no surprise that email overload is an ever-growing problem.
You probably know the feeling. You start work in the morning by opening your email. It takes an hour – or more – to deal with all the queries in your inbox. And then you seem to spend most of the rest of the day replying to replies to the email you sent first thing. Confusing, isn’t it?
My own data indicates that almost half of us in the UK receive 50 – 70 emails a day. Some people receive 180 or even more! For all the noise about social media becoming the communications channel of choice, the numbers show that business email isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Yet most of us need less than half of the email we receive. Just think of all the pointless one-line replies, the emails you were copied in on out of politeness and, of course, the newsletters, the special offers, the junk, the spam you have no intention of reading but which still takes time and effort to sort through and delete.
Email overload takes up people’s time and causes stress. But there’s another reason businesses need to address this problem: money.
On average, we each lose an hour a day because of ineffective email use. At an hourly cost of £20, that’s about £4,200 of lost productivity for every single person a year. Does your business really need that in the current economic climate?
Many companies are waking up to this. Volkswagen has taken an extreme route, deciding that the best way to give its people some respite is to block out-of-hours email altogether. Fine, but doesn’t that just move the problem to the next morning rather than solving it completely?
You can do a lot with better planning. Cut down on the number of unnecessary emails you send and be realistic about replying. Take a stand against the culture of replying instantly to everything and instead develop a system to help you identify which emails are important, which can wait, and which should go straight in the bin.
Together, we can put an end to email overload. And the work starts right there, in the folder marked ‘inbox’. If you’re willing to give it a go, I can help: my company, Mesmo, is running Clean Out Your Inbox Week – and it starts today!
Together with fellow email expert Marsha Egan I’ll be offering hints, tips and online tools to help you get on top of your email. We’ll explain how to get rid of email noise, what to do to prioritise emails and why email etiquette matters.
It’s completely free and you might even get the chance to win a prize! To get more information and take part, head over to my blog.