When smaller businesses look to cut costs, they commonly take shortcuts that are risky to their bottom line. They may go out of their way to avoid upgrading dated hardware, buying software licenses, or increasing bandwidth. In some instances, they layoff in-house IT support, or avoid hiring new help, even as the business grows. This often leads to a very cranky and disgruntled “IT guy” with a bad attitude as he or she runs around the office putting out one fire after another – feeling overburdened and underpaid.
Operating even the most basic data center today means recurring operating expenses that aren’t affordable for most small-to-midsize businesses.
Unfortunately, SMBs just have to accept that keeping their data center alive and kicking means significant overhead and expenses. That’s just the way it is.
Or is it? There are actually several ways to reduce data center infrastructure costs without sacrificing the efficiency of your network, server, and applications, or the sanity of your IT guy.
Rent, Don’t Own: A data center needs experienced people and a virtual, always-on, 24/7 staff of administrators, networking experts, database specialists, systems managers, and dedicated IT personnel monitoring the network. From an economic perspective, it’s simply more logical to “rent” these workers rather than hire permanent employees.
Keep Things Remote & Energy Efficient: According to a study published by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the fastest-growing sources of U.S. energy consumption are data centers. This is due to the increased power supply required to run and cool a data center. Hardware sprawl is also a problem contributor, as most businesses have space limitations and lack the available room for any additional hardware.
Both of the aforementioned cost control measures can be accomplished by outsourcing data center operating expenses. Outsourcing isn’t a dirty word. Managing IT on your own is difficult and far from cost effective. Outsourcing the day-to-day IT management responsibilities through a Managed Services Provider is a strategic way to improve the efficiency of operations and dramatically cut costs.
Is it any surprise that more and more SMBs today are tapping into the full spectrum of outsourced managed services to empower their business processes and reduce overhead? Are you?
Click, Click, BOOM – You’re in Business But Is Your Technology Ready?
It’s a fast business world. Brilliant business ideas can be conjured up at some hipster-filled vegan coffeehouse, a website is thrown together, and poof… in no time at all there is a living, breathing, small business venture accessible from anywhere in the world.
But as your head hits the pillow at night, with visions of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg dancing in your head, understand that many obstacles will greet you on your road to entrepreneurial success. A fresh innovative idea is merely a start. For every successful startup like Groupon, there are even more that have faltered. Some great, even revolutionary, business concepts that just faded into obscurity; leaving behind nothing but tales of what could’ve been and insurmountable debt.
Failed business technology is often a big reason for this. Many startups think big but tend to operate small-minded to keep overhead and costs down. They then find themselves completely unprepared to meet the demands of growth, particularly when it comes to their IT infrastructure. There is no one-size fit all approach to how to manage technology for optimal efficiency, uptime, and profitability. Especially given the challenges of limited budgets and the need to keep overhead down.
So exactly how do SMBs make sound decisions regarding their technology infrastructure? Choices that are cost-effective enough to get their business off the ground and running without screwing them over once it truly takes off?
Combine On-Site and Off-Site Support for the Best of Both Worlds
Over 45% of SMBs have no dedicated in-house IT staff and no contracted IT consultant regularly monitoring and managing their technology. Roughly only 7 percent of SMBs have a full-time onsite IT technician on payroll. The rest rely on third-party on-call IT companies who appear only when technology goes haywire and disrupts business. These on-call companies can sometimes take a day or two to even show up, which means issues aren’t resolved in a timely and efficient manner. And did we mention they’re expensive?
Most SMBs say they simply can’t afford full-time in-house support. Even those who do budget for it face overwhelming challenges. They often experience a revolving door of on-site help who leave for a larger company and better salary once they’ve beefed up their resume. And those hires that do remain loyal often feel as if they have no reliable help and become overworked and frazzled as the business and their responsibilities grow. Discontent may even set in if wages aren’t raised proportionately to the added responsibilities, or if they grow bored of doing the same mundane repetitive work everyday.
But today’s SMB has access to technology that won’t drain resources. In particular, the evolution of cloud computing and managed services can either automate or re-assign a lot of the day-to-day caretaking of technology to remote employees, leaving onsite support available for more meaningful and potentially profitable projects.
Better yet, it saves money on equipment costs.
Whenever possible, a mix of on-premise and off-premise IT support is the best way to make your technology scalable and prepared for growth.
Small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) tend to have a more difficult time managing IT than larger enterprises. Despite being as technology dependent as larger enterprises, SMBs have tighter budgets and fewer resources to devote to IT management. This leads to a more reactive “break-fix” approach to their technology that never does any smaller company or organization any good.
Here’s what break fix most often leads to. If the burden rests on the shoulders of hourly or salaried in-house IT support, and they’re too busy putting out fires all day, then their skills and talents are essentially wasted.
If there is no in-house tech support, and many smaller companies and organizations don’t have even one onsite “IT guy”, SMBs are commonly taken for a ride by some of the more unscrupulous on-call IT consultants.
Although “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a popular saying, it should never be applied to the management of business technology. The cost of downtime can crush any barely surviving small business. The combined impact of lost revenue, lost productivity, and lost brand reputation is a severe hit that many SMBs aren’t built to withstand.
It pays to be proactive, not a reactive about technology. This requires a cultural shift from how IT has commonly been handled in the past. Say goodbye to manual, yet necessary, processes and hello to a better way for businesses to meet their technology needs – a smarter and more cost-efficient way.
Three Steps To Better Manage Your Business Technology
Be Proactive – More often than not, it’s the things that aren’t caught early on that turn into costly business disruptions. For instance, many of the hardware, software, and application failures that cause downtime occurrences are preventable; they’re just not detected and addressed early enough.
SMBs today have the advantage of using a Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) tool to help their existing in-house support staff get a grip on their workload.
A RMM tool, combined with an outsourced 24/7 Network Operations Center (NOC), monitors your technology all day and all through the night via one comprehensive interface that is even accessible with a mobile device. This kind of around the clock monitoring transforms technology management. Problems can be nipped in the bud with an alert and prompt ticket resolution before they turn into major issues that disrupt day-to-day operations.
Automate/Schedule Mundane Tasks – Free the in-house support staff from everyday manual maintenance and monitoring by automating a broad range of IT security and monitoring tasks.
Get More From Your In-House Team – If you have any in-house IT support, you’ve likely hired some incredibly skilled and talented people who would be more worthy contributors to your company or organization if they weren’t always so tied up fixing things and performing monotonous tasks. With RMM and NOC solutions, SMBs can put these individuals to work on projects that matter. They are freed-up to work on concepts, strategies, and application development that better serve your customers, employees, and suppliers, truly giving business a competitive advantage.
Inquiring SMBs Want to Know… What’s the Difference Between a Help Desk and NOC?
It’s no secret that any growing small-to-medium sized business must monitor and manage its business technology in the most cost-efficient way. The tricky part is figuring out how to do this without sacrificing the overall experience of the end-user. End-users can be clients and customers or employees. Both rely on the efficiency of a firm’s network, servers, and applications, and the availability of the company’s data center.
Thanks to the evolution of managed services, it’s actually possible these days to reduce costs, which strengthens IT support and infrastructure. It’s just a matter optimally integrating all available resources.
It’s a Staffing Conundrum for Most SMBs
Most SMBs tend to be short staffed. This isn’t just another reference to the many SMBs with little to no onsite tech support. While that’s true, and problematic, it’s actually all operations that tend to be short staffed.
Small yet growing companies and organizations aren’t just short on tech support; it seems like even their administrative assistant needs an assistant to keep up. Customer support and sales teams are also overworked, and often hindered by having to understand and troubleshoot tech problems when they have no tech expertise whatsoever.
There is no, “Hold for a moment, Sir. I’m about to transfer you to our tech support team.” There is no tech support team.
This is where managed service providers (MSPs) step in to save the day. MSPs help SMBs better manage their technology to achieve greater ROI (Return-on-Investment). One way they do this is by augmenting a SMBs existing on-site staff with the remote support of a 24/7 Network Operations Center (NOC) and Help Desk.
What’s the Difference Between a NOC and Help Desk?
This question is asked a lot because it’s really not uncommon to see both referenced interchangeably, which leaves many to assume they are one in the same. They are not. Here is the easiest way to distinguish between the two.
NOC: Most of the work performed by a NOC focuses on the network and systems. The NOC can almost be viewed as a mission control center. They monitor and manage an IT network. A 24/7 NOC typically monitors the network and system security, performance, and backup processes.
Help Desk: The Help Desk is more customer-oriented. The Help Desk has interaction with the end-user, or someone representing the end-user, to directly respond and resolve technical problems as they arise. Customers or employees can typically reach the Help Desk by clicking a support icon, emailing them, or dialing a toll-free number.
Do the Help Desk and the NOC Interact?
Although the NOC and Help Desk are different, they do work together, along with any in-house tech support, to provide cohesive tech solutions to end-users. The Help Desk typically has three tiers of support and may sometimes have to escalate tickets to the NOC for resolution.
This open communication, and ease of escalation, improves the end-user experience and serves as a proactive cost-efficient approach to managing SMB technology.
Understanding Managed Services and How They Benefit SMBs
Small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) receive a lot of calls each day from slick sales people peddling the next technology trend that’s going to save them money and revolutionize how they do business. They’re all too quick to caution that if you don’t listen to them, you’ll fall behind the times, and eventually be swimming in a sea of debt and out of business.
No doubt you’ve heard, or you’ve at least read about, the benefits of managed services. Managed services refer to clearly defined outsourced IT services delivered to you at predictable costs. You know the exact IT services you’ll be getting and what you’ll pay for them. There is no surprise sky-high bill for services rendered. So are solicitation calls that pertain to managed services worth listening to? We think so. Then again, we’re in the managed services industry. There may be a bit of a bias here.
How Managed Service Providers Work
Managed service providers (MSPs) use remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools to keep an eye on their performance and overall health of the IT infrastructure that powers your business operations.
Your MSP should have a 24/7 Network Operations Center (NOC) that acts as your mission control center. If the monitoring alerts them to any issue with your servers, devices, hardware or software, they respond quickly to resolve the issue.
Additionally, the NOC performs regular systems maintenance such as
Automated tasks like the cleaning of temporary files
Applying tested security patches as required
Installing virus and Malware protection
System backup and disaster recover/business continuity processes
Additionally, your MSP should give you access to a Help Desk that services your customers and employees – speaking to and working with them directly as if they’re part of your staff.
This proactive maintenance, stabilization of your IT environment, and rapid as-needed remediation helps SMBs control technology costs and better serve the end-users who rely on their technology.
Is Managed Services Better than Other Ways to Manage IT
We find that far too many companies have no real perspective about how much IT management costs them. Let’s review some of the alternatives to managed services.
Hiring In-House IT Support
Typically, a firm with anywhere from 20-60 employees may feel that one person can manage their technology. Understand that this one full-time employee can demand a significant salary since they’ll have to be proficient with desktop, server and network support, and interact with both end-users in the Help Desk role and management. They will likely be overworked and vulnerable to error or oversights that may prove to be costly. And what happens if they’re out sick or on vacation?
The Break/Fix Mentality
The majority of smaller companies take this route because they feel as if they’re too small for a more sophisticated 24/7 approach to IT management. They also feel pressure to direct all resources on the product or service, not behind-the-scenes operations. They decide to use on-call IT techs when broken technology has already disrupted business. The on-call team’s response time and overall lack of familiarity with your systems extends downtime and proves to be a much more expensive resolution to IT management. It’s reactive, not proactive, and it’s a costly mistake too often made.
This is why many SMBs today feel that managed services are the most cost-effective way to support their IT infrastructure and the best way to get more bang for their buck.
Are Managed IT Services Right For You? A Few Things to Consider
How do you get a small business to recognize the value of manages IT services? In the start-up environment, we encounter an eclectic bunch of personality types. There is a reason people become entrepreneurs or C-level execs. When we meet the owners or decision makers at smaller companies and organizations, we can tell right away why they’re where they are. They’re visionaries. They’re risk takers. They’re competitive. They want to be in charge.
Therefore, they aren’t always quick to place the fate of their business technology in the hands of a third party. They’ve come as far as they have by being in control and they’re hesitant to give up that control. But we’ve learned a few things along the way.
For example, the Type A personality is highly independent but also very competitive. So we tap into the competitive advantage that managed IT services gives them.
The Type B personality is creative and doesn’t like static routines. But their ears perk up when they hear terminology like “cutting-edge” and we can then paint the big picture for them once their listening.
But anyone we do business with has to be committed to the efficiency, security, and stability of their business technology to see our value proposition. And they have to recognize that managing their IT infrastructure is an investment they cannot take lightly.
So here are a few things we commonly have to address before any deal for managed IT services is signed.
Is my business large enough to even consider managed services?
There is an old adage that size doesn’t matter (ahem… we’re talking about in a fight) but SMBs must always think big to get big. The truth is, any company, regardless of its size or the number of people they employ, will run more efficiently if its technology is monitored, maintained, and managed properly.
These are facets of your operations that drive profitability and give our Type A personalities that competitive edge they crave. And they can rest easy whenever business is booming because their technology is built to sustain their growth. That’s the big picture that our Type B personality can appreciate.
How is making another IT investment a cost-savings move for my business?
There are still many SMBs who feel a greater focus and investment should go towards their core operations or marketing and sales. They only worry about technology when it breaks, figuring they’ll just call a service technician to come to the office and fix whatever the problem is. Or buy some new hardware at Office Depot.
There are some very obvious flaws to this strategy.
You’re paying way too much when it’s way too late – An issue that was likely preventable with early detection has escalated into a full blown business disruption and that on-call technician likely charges a high hourly rate, on top of hardware replacement costs, and may not get to your site right away. Being proactive rather than reactive to technology issues is important.
Don’t forget productivity killers – It’s taking your employees too long to boot their computers. Servers and applications are running slowly. Employee devices are full of Malware. Non-technical employees are running around troubleshooting tech problems. If you see this, your present approach to IT management is killing employee productivity and your bottom line.
What happens internally is noticed externally – Don’t think for a second that customers or clients don’t notice outdated or slow internal technology and mismanagement. If your site or applications are down often, run slowly, or your customer service rep tells them “I’m sorry, our system is down”, they’re noticing and it’s hurting your business.
When all is said and done, professionally managed IT services will give you a competitive edge, guarantee your business is always leveraging the newest most cutting-edge technology, and enhance your relationships with customers and clients – all while reducing costs.
Downtime is bad news for any business whether big or small.
A recent two-hour New York Times’ downtime occurrence sent Twitter ablaze and their stock price plummeting.
Google going down for one to five hours resulted in lost revenue up to $500,000 and decreased overall web traffic by 40%.
We know what you’re thinking. Holy crap, Google makes $100,000 an hour? Yeah… insane, huh?
While the hourly cost of downtime for a small-to-medium sized business won’t be nearly as large as that astronomical Google figure, downtime is often more detrimental to smaller companies. Smaller enterprises are more susceptible to downtime and are neither large nor profitable enough to sustain its short and long-term effects.
Downtime Leads to Unhappy/Unproductive Employees
Even the happiest of employees become dissatisfied when they can’t perform basic day-to-day job functions or properly service customers or clients.
While some employees may use downtime as an excuse to lean back, put their feet up, and comfortably collect their hourly pay, we’re talking about those employees who come to work to actually work.
And don’t forget your IT guy or tech crew. They can’t necessarily sit back and twiddle their thumbs when downtime occurs because they’re typically taking the brunt of the storm. They will ultimately grow tired of the daily routine of having to put out fires and having neither the additional manpower nor resources to change things for the better.
These things lead to high employee turnover and the expenses that come with training and re-training a revolving door of employees.
Downtime Leads to Customer Dissatisfaction
Customers and clients grow weary whenever critical components of your operations – or the services they either expect or pay for – cannot be accessed.
Nearly 50% of customers will move on to a competitor if they encounter downtime of five minutes or more. These customers represent significant lost revenue.
While some suggest this is a bigger problem in the retail sector, other types of businesses are impacted as well. Have you ever clicked a link from search engine results only to quickly bolt when the page didn’t load, you couldn’t complete an online transaction, or you were greeted with a “Technical Difficulties – Be Back Up Soon!” message?
Did you give up on finding what you were looking for or did you wait it out? You did neither. You went back to Google and found someone else offering a similar service or product that satisfied your yearning for instant gratification.
Downtime Ruins Your Reputation
One of the most commonly overlooked consequences of downtime is the hit your company’s reputation takes online. In this age of social media, one person’s bad experience is broadcast to dozens or even hundreds of followers. Bad news spreads faster than ever and has lasting repercussions.
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” — Warren Buffet.
Protect Your Bottom Line
The challenge for small businesses has always been how to minimize single-point-of-failure downtime using their limited IT resources. This is why downtime kills so many small businesses. They can’t prevent it and they can’t react quickly enough.
Thankfully, there are end-to-end business continuity solutions available today that integrate Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) software, 24/7 access to a Network Operations Center (NOC), and advanced backup and disaster recovery solutions to alleviate this issue.
Not only do these methods minimize downtime and get businesses back up and running quickly, but they can reduce the cost of technology infrastructure maintenance by as much as 80 percent.
It’s time that small businesses stop being victims to the silent killer that is downtime.
Is That a Business Continuity Plan in Your Pocket or a Bunch of Jargon?
Technology is full of difficult jargon. To further complicate things, certain terms are often used in a different context between one publication or service provider and the next. An example of this is the usage of backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity. These terms are commonly used interchangeably, often resulting in confusion. In an effort to alleviate some of this confusion, let’s describe each physical process. You will see an overlay among all three, although they are each different processes.
Backup – In IT lingo, the most basic description of backup is the act of copying data, as in files or programs, from its original location to another. The purpose of this is to ensure that the original files or programs are retrievable in the event of any accidental deletion, hardware or software failure, or any other type of tampering, corruption and theft.
It’s important to remember that the term “backup” refers to data only and doesn’t apply to the physical machines, devices, or systems themselves. If there were a system failure, disk crash, or an onsite physical disaster, all systems would still have to be replaced, rebuilt, and properly configured before the backed-up data could be loaded onto them.
Disaster Recovery – Backups are a single, albeit crucial, component of any disaster recovery plan. Disaster recovery refers to the complete recovery of your physical systems, applications, and data in the event of a physical disaster like a fire; hurricane or tornado; flood ; earthquake ; act of terror or theft.
A disaster recovery plan uses pre-determined parameters to define an acceptable recovery period. From there, the most satisfactory recovery point is chosen to get your business up and running with minimal data loss and interruption.
Business Continuity – Although backup and disaster recovery processes make sure that a business can recover its systems and data within a reasonable time, there is still the chance of downtime from a few hours to many days. The point of a business continuity plan is to give businesses continuous access to their technology and data, no matter what. Zero or minimal downtime is the goal.
Critical business data can be backed up with configurable snapshots that are instantly virtualized. This allows files, folders and data to be turned on and restored in seconds. Bare metal restores of hardware, where an image of one machine is overlaid onto a different machine, is also utilized along with cloud replication for instant off-site virtualization.
Many businesses also keep redundant systems and storage at a different physical location than their main site as part of their business continuity process. They may also outline procedures for staff to work remotely off-site. Some businesses or organizations may go as far as to have printed contact lists and other critical data stored off-site to keep their business moving if a disaster wipes out power and their ability to access anything electronically.
This should clarify the differences between backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity solutions. Choosing what works best for your business will come down to your current IT infrastructure, your budget and how much downtime you can reasonably accept.
8 Cold Hard Truths for SMBs Not Worried About Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity
The foundation of any successful business continuity solution is the ability to retrieve data from any point in time from anywhere. When the topic of data recovery and business continuity comes up, you get the feeling that many decision makers at smaller businesses and organizations wish they could channel their inner six year old, simply cover their ears, and sing “La, la, la. I Can’t Hear You. I’m Not Listening.”
Everybody thinks bad things only happen to other people. Just because we hear about a fatal car accident on the morning news, doesn’t mean we fixate on that news when we ourselves get into a car and drive to work.
So no matter how many times the owner or executive of a small to midsize business (SMB) hears of other small businesses being crippled by hurricanes, tornados, fires, or flooding, they aren’t necessarily overcome with fear to the point that they feel an urgency to take action.
Sure, they may think about backup and data recovery solutions a little more that day, but not enough to initiate immediate change or reverse a lenient approach to their processes.
If you fall into this category, here are eight cold hard truths to consider
It isn’t natural disasters or catastrophic losses like fires that take down small businesses but something far more sinister – malware. Cyber attacks through malware have grown exponentially in the past four years. Malware is hitting everything from PCs to Macs to mobile devices and it’s inflicting damage.
Over half of the small businesses in the U.S. have experienced disruptions in day-to-day business operations. 81% of these incidents have led to downtime that has lasted anywhere from one to three days.
According to data compiled by the Hughes Marketing Group, 90% of companies employing less than 100 people spend fewer than eight hours a month on their business continuity plan.
80% of businesses that have experienced a major disaster are out of business within three years. Meanwhile, 40% of businesses impacted by critical IT failure cease operations within one year. 44% of businesses ravaged by a fire fail to ever reopen, and only 33% of those that do reopen survive any longer than three years.
Disaster recovery solution providers estimate that 60% to 70% of all business disruptions originate internally – most likely due to hardware or software failure or human error.
93% of businesses unable to access their data center for ten or more days filed for bankruptcy within twelve months of the incident.
In the United States alone, there are over 140,000 hard drive crashes each week.
34% of SMBs never test their backup and recovery solutions – of those who do, over 75% found holes and failures in their strategies.
It’s critical that small businesses review their backup and disaster recovery processes and take business continuity seriously. Given the vulnerabilities associated with the cloud and workforce mobility, the risk of critical data loss today is quite serious and firms must be truly prepared for the unexpected.
There has been a lot of hype about cloud computing transforming the way small-to-medium sized businesses do business. Proponents of the cloud say that cloud computing has leveled the playing field, allowing SMBs to finally compete with bigger companies despite their limited financial resources and staffing.
Still, many are apprehensive to make the jump. They’re hesitant to give up control and they fear the cloud will expose them to greater security risks. Moving to the cloud definitely requires a leap of faith, but a recent ComScore study, completed on behalf of Microsoft, suggests that those who are froggy enough to take the leap (sorry) have no regrets once they do.
In fact, more than half of those surveyed wish they had adopted it earlier and feel that the benefits far outweigh their initial worries.
What are those benefits?
Enhanced Privacy and Security
According to the study, 94 percent of companies who’ve adopted cloud services believe they’re now more secure than they were before, thanks to the cloud’s spam management and up-to-date systems and antivirus protection.
Less Downtime and More Confidence
61% of those surveyed reported fewer instances of downtime since their move to the cloud. Even those who still experienced downtime events felt that they were shorter in duration and that full recovery could be achieved much quicker.
93% indicated that they were more confident in their ability to fully recover after an outage. Comparatively, 73% responded that they felt the integrity of their data in the cloud was stronger than previously, which is interesting since data integrity has often been the biggest worry about the cloud.
Any company striving to be more “green” will appreciate the environmental benefits of moving to the cloud. A recent six-month study conducted by the Berkeley Lab found that moving 86 million U.S. office workers to the cloud resulted in the use of 87% less energy, leaving enough leftover electricity annually to power a city the size of Los Angeles for twelve months.
Cost effectiveness and greater ROI (return on investment) are the most important factors in getting CEOs and major decision makers to support shifting to the cloud. A Rackspace commissioned study conducted by Vanson Bourne, found that 62% of respondents felt that adopting cloud computing strategies freed up money that could be reinvested in other operations like marketing, customer service, product development, and expansion into new markets.
While there is a competitive advantage that can be realized by moving to the cloud, those who are still apprehensive should migrate to the cloud at a pace they’re comfortable with. Once they implement cloud monitoring, and understand it a bit more, most SMBs grow more comfortable with the cloud and expand their use of it.