Here’s a typical technology woe that could face any micro business or SME in Malta, any day. Our resident IT help-desk buff Steve Hall advises.
Business organisations have always depended on the productivity of their human resources to be profitable. Increasingly today human resources depend on information and communication technologies to be productive. Pulling the plug on an office desk reduces the human resource behind it to a huffing and puffing pyrotechnic spectacle. This phenomenon is of course not exclusive to Maltese companies but Malta does (as always) offer a number of uniqueness’s of its own in this area too.
JustInTime is a ‘typical’ consulting firm with three staff members. Justin secures new business and oversees the operation of the firm, John provides the actual client services and manages the subcontractors and Julie coordinates office facilities.
What goes wrong
Justin’s email hasn’t been working very well lately and today it isn’t working at all. Julie has also been having difficulty accessing the office files. Julie calls their Internet Service Provider and explains the problem. The ISP concludes that the internet connection is fine and that the problem must be on JustInTime’s office system.
John, who is the most tech savvy of the three takes matters into his own hands and begins to investigate possible causes. Justin who is expecting a rather important email is getting anxious to get the problem sorted and decides to call in a specialist to resolve the issue.
The Malta angle on the IT woe
The short local distances are a blessing in these situations, but even though the specialist team happens to be only a few blocks away, due to contractual commitments with other clients they won’t be available for another five hours. That’s five hours of more lost productivity!
Justin leaves the office to meet with clients, John too leaves the office to catch up with subcontractor progress and Julie remains in the office. After contacting a few friends she finds someone who can be there within the hour. The problem gets solved and productivity levels are restored.
But, the SME’s IT woes just keep on repeating themselves
The following week Justin isn’t able to send an email message, Julia can’t print and John is on an overseas assignment. Julia calls the IT specialist who worked on the system last week but isn’t available this time around. I think you can see where this is going.
And now for a real solution…
Your business depends on technology more each day. Issues crop up for sometimes the oddest of reasons. The challenge is to minimize unscheduled productivity destroying issues. The solution is to routinely check for symptoms that lead to critical issues and remedy them before they unleash their worst.
As with all other things that need doing, there’s two ways to get around this one: You can either do it yourself or you can hire a specialist to do it for you. If this decision was an easy one for you to take, read on.
The ‘Do-it-yourself’ option?
At the outset, if you have the skill-set necessary to identify the symptoms leading to critical issues, then you really should be in the business of charging for it rather than using it to keep your own systems in order. In that case, wouldn’t your time be better spent running the business? Get your technical staff to focus on the technical issues and keep your focus on expanding the business.
Or the ‘outsource to a specialist’ option?
Hiring a specialist firm to keep your systems in order is rapidly becoming standard practice for many organizations of varying sizes. This method of system support referred to as IT Support Outsourcing is being provided by an increasing number of IT Support Service Providers world-wide including Malta.
Service Level Agreements and what you need to know
Engaging an Outsourced IT Support Service Provider is done with a clear objective -to maintain your system in a productive, stable and secure state. By defining Routine Pro-active deliverables (note the capital R and P) in the form of a Service Level Agreement (SLA) the provider will identify and remedy the symptoms that lead to critical issues resulting in unscheduled downtime. It is these unscheduled issues which are the highest cause of productivity loss in business organizations world-wide. The provider will pre-empt possible critical issues and schedule downtime when it least impacts your productivity.
What your SLA should include
The essential deliverables to define in your SLA are:- Issue response time, Data backup verification, End User Support and Checking for System Updates.
Taking your SLA to a higher level to ensure you’ve got what it takes to recover, a Disaster Recovery Plan is indispensable. The DRP is crucial for the larger organizations where a total system wipe-out caused by fire, flood or equipment theft could result in bankruptcy. Less essential but equally important to the smaller organizations, the DRP is updated on a regular basis to ensure that the organization’s system could return to productivity in the shortest possible time.
Selecting a suitable Support Service Provider
How do you know you’re getting the support you’re paying for – and when you need it? Start by asking questions based on this article to get a feel for the providers’ skill-set.
Do not go into any issues specifically relating to your system during your first meeting. Sign a non-disclosure agreement with the prospective provider before disclosing any information about your installation. Try to get a reference from one of their existing clients, but bear in mind that they may not be in a position to divulge this information in order to maintain the confidentiality of their clients. If they do so freely consider how comfortable you would feel being used as a marketing lever without giving consent. Ask if they currently service clients in the same line of business. If you’re an industrial operation for example, this may work to your benefit since they would already be familiar with your business needs. On the other hand if the nature of your business is highly confidential, this may be reason to exclude this prospective provider.
Costs are naturally going to fit into the evaluation equation at some stage but I needn’t jog your memory on how to go about this do I?
Photo: Gege Gatt
For more on how to get your SME’s IT running (all the time, not just some of the time), contact: