In an interview last year with Business Reporter, part of the Daily Telegraph newspaper, a major broadsheet in the UK, I outlined my thoughts around how small and medium sized businesses can mitigate risk and reduce downtime by investing in the right technologies. Here are some of my insights.
This is 2017 - why do we still have so many major technology breakdowns these days?
I think we have to be realistic, and perhaps a little sympathetic, to the trials and tribulations that the people responsible for commercial IT estates have to face on a daily basis. In the oil and gas industry, the same products can be in use and remain unchanged for decades - with good reason. PRTG, as an example, changes almost every week! Maintaining interoperability between the myriad products out there is a tricky task.
Having said that, with the right products, a positive attitude and sufficient preparation (especially if you are "sweating your assets", as Finance Directors might put it), much downtime can be avoided. Crucially, running production systems on hardware devices that are outdated, or have been superseded by more modern systems, increases the requirement to know the health status of each component. This puts the IT guys in a position to react before an outage occurs.
You would almost certainly sign up to a breakdown service if your car was 10 years old and had 200,000 km on the clock, so if your aim, as an SMB, is to save money by not buying brand new hardware, you need to make sure your early warning system fits the bill, at the very least.
Downtime costs money, that's clear. What sort of figures are we talking about for small to medium sized businesses?
It really depends on what you do and what exactly has gone wrong. One mustn't measure the cost of downtime only in terms of hard costs, but even these alone can amount to hundreds of thousands per day at the top end of the SMB scale. For a starting figure, multiply the seated cost of your employees by the hours they are unable to work, then factor in other related costs such as replacement, repairs, employee overtime etc.
If you provide a service but can't due to downtime, would you incur penalty clauses with your customers? How many orders might you lose to competitors whilst you are down?
Think about your reputation and customer goodwill too - if a Twitter power user happens to want to buy your product on the day your web server goes down, and tweets his dissatisfaction out to his 250,000 followers, you suddenly have a very serious PR issue on your hands, to add to the hard costs you've incurred.
Is this all the IT guy's fault then?
It's easy to lay blame at their door but, to be honest, it's likely to be more of an attitude problem. SMBs often demand far too much of their IT guys, often expecting them to work mini-miracles with a budget that is entirely insufficient. IT is seen as a necessary evil and an expensive cost-centre rather than what it could be, which is a source of true enablement. It's an important area of the business that, if used properly, could just give you the edge over your competition.
So, what can be done in practical terms?
If you take away the mundane, day-to-day tasks and issues that normally fill an IT Manager's day, he then has the time to think strategically, to become more innovative and be a positive contributor to the company's success. A good network monitoring tool does this; it allows the IT guys to finally take back control. No-one likes to be taken by surprise by a disk failure in the IT room. Believe me, they'd much rather be dreaming up technology-based ways of making your company more successful than constantly fighting fires.
Network monitoring is about providing clarity and insight into what is a hugely complicated entity. It is about sourcing the right data, crunching that data and then presenting it in a format appropriate for the person consuming it. But, most importantly, it gives you baseline metrics; it allows you to make informed decisions based on real facts. This means you can save money by replacing only what truly needs to be, plan effectively for growth and then only buy what that growth requires.
What sort of things can you monitor?
Whatever you like, pretty much. Alongside conventional IT (servers, printers, Wi-Fi etc.), we can also create sensors for such things as building security systems or fridges. The "Internet of Things" is turning the world upside down by giving previously inanimate objects a digital heartbeat. This makes monitoring more and more important. Our product is even used to check the salinity and temperature of the sea water in a prawn farm!
How many sensors will I need?
It depends on the size of your business and how many things you want to monitor but probably hundreds, if not thousands. Don't worry, our pricing structure reflects the fact you will need lots! Why not download a free trial and find out?
What sort of challenges should we expect in the future?
Technology is not getting simpler any time soon - quite the opposite in fact. The cybersecurity landscape is also struggling to keep pace. Just recently, we saw the first major DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack using hacked CCTV cameras and baby monitors! Many of the world's largest websites, such as Twitter, Netflix and Amazon, were temporarily taken offline.
Organisations have, not only a corporate responsibility, but also a moral obligation to know exactly what is going on within their network at any given time, so they don't unwittingly become part of this sort of thing.
So how do we act?
SMBs need to focus on their core business whilst entrusting and empowering the right people to source accurate information, regardless of where your IT is, and make the right decisions for your future.
Want to know more?
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