One of the most common questions we are asked as advisors in IT is what new technologies have come out that will help our clients run their businesses better. While we are usually keenly aware of new technologies in the IT space, the important part of that question isn’t the technology part, but the better business part. Part and parcel to determining what technologies to apply to any business is an intimate understanding of how the business works and, as well, where it doesn’t work.
When considering the best IT path for our customers to follow, we are often beset by several challenges, ranging from budget constraints, overly adventurous decision makers that like to adopt every new technology, and occasionally internal dysfunction within the client’s organization. We’re also sometimes challenged by our successes in keeping the systems running well, in that a sense of confidence begins to build that things will continue to chug along swimmingly.
I’m here today to dispell that myth.
This stuff breaks. It may not happen often, but it will happen. I used to sit down with new clients back when I was the first person to see them, and often it would be just myself or myself and another person from the company and four or five people from the prospect we were visiting. After the obligatory greetings and business card swaps, I’d open with the following statement: “Before we get started, I just want to let you know that anything we design for you will eventually blow up in your face.”
It never failed – a few folks nodded and continued to play with their Blackberry or doodle, while one or two would give me a quizzical look and wondered why I would say such a thing. Well, I said it because it’s true. The relationship we have with a our clients is one of extreme trust and faith – we act as business advisors, HR support, and occasionally psychologists in addition to wearing our IT consulting hats. There is absolutely no point in discussing “five nines” of uptime – what matters, and where we really earn our keep, is in reducing the frequency and impact of downtime.
Some folks in our business call downtime discussions “disaster recovery”. I’ll leave that term to FEMA. Some call it business continuity – I like that description better, but I’m old, and unlike Starbucks, I don’t get paid by the syllable. It’s simple. You need a Plan B for every Plan A.
When a new technology comes out, the first thought for early adopters is “What can this do to make my life better or easier”. Our first thought is “What happens when it breaks?”
The “Cloud” is no exception. It sounds wonderful – things that used to have to be kept on a network or a file server now can be someone else’s problem. The office walls are removed because people can work from anywhere. Almost Utopian, right?
Not really. Just ask a Blackberry this past week. The Blackberry service is a great example of something that is incredibly useful when it works, but because of its dependency on extra components in order to function, is beset by more ways to fail. A standard Microsoft Exchange Server can talk directly to iPhones, Androids, webOS and Windows Mobile phones with nothing in between them but internet and cell towers. Blackberry requires an additional intermediary server or ISP redirect as well as the Blackberry service itself. More components, more ways to fail. Great functionality while it works, but it won’t always work – which is why our clients were prepared with access to Outlook Web Access and other ways of getting to their e-mail.
Another great cloud service is SPAM filtering – you can reduce the load on your internal servers, and give yourself a failsafe for your local e-mail server simply by having a service like one that we provide which collects mail, filters out the bad stuff and passes on the good stuff – and even holds on to it and provides temporary e-mail if your server or internet connection goes down. Unless, of course, the SPAM filtering service breaks. So we need a Plan B for the Plan B.
Having a good Plan B doesn’t stop with internal and cloud based services. Take a look at the team you work with. If you were to leave for 3 weeks, would you be confident that someone else could cover for you and do every bit as good a job? How prepared is your team to make decisions as you would if you were there? We’re currently in the process within our own company of making sure that every task we do has at least 2 people that are capable of doing it. Interestingly, the biggest eye-opener in this process is in defining the seemingly endless list of things that we do, and how some of us are likely to resist defining what we do for fear that we’ll be viewed less as artists and more as laborers.
For Network Depot, 2012 will be a year of working with our clients to expose every area of our clients’ businesses where there is no plan B, and using technology where applicable, local or cloud, to provide for that redundancy.
We’ll be moving a bunch of our clients to redundant (dual-WAN) internet connections to provide addtional bandwidth during good times and failover during outages.
For companies that have their own IT staff, we will be providing tools and eyes to share information and insight they wouldn’t get without us.
We’ll look at ways to make telecommuting more possible as travel and space challenges increase, and of course will look for ways to keep employees productive in cases where the connection to the office breaks.
I could go on … it never stops.
But isn’t that the whole point of Plan B?