Downtime. An excellent concept in your personal life, but not a pleasing one when it is associated with the technology that keeps everyone going.

Merriam-Webster defines downtime as a “time when you are not working or busy.” We all love a weekend with lots of downtimes. But when that downtime involves idling or crippling business, it tends to make us sweat.

So, let me ask you a few questions about downtime at your place of business. When was the last time your company experienced an interruption of technology resources? How often do you experience that kind of downtime? Daily? Weekly? Monthly? Is it unexpected or planned? What are your contingency plans for continuing business when the technology you depend on is unavailable? How much money is lost when business is halted by technology problems? If you are scratching your head trying to figure out the answers to some of these questions, have no fear. You are not alone!

Technology has so infiltrated our lives that we take them for granted. We often forget the complexity of those systems, and what is required to keep them running smoothly. Something like sending and receiving email seems so simple on the surface, yet it involves many layers of communication across multiple computers, servers and networks. Information Technology is a complex ecosystem with many individuals, complex systems that all interconnect and communicate with one another. How we choose to manage those systems can be the difference between success and bankruptcy.

So, what do we do?

Click and pray? Wait for the technological Armageddon to end our business? Run around with the technical equivalent of a fire extinguisher putting out fires? Let’s not. Rather, let’s take a proactive approach to managing our technology, and take control of it rather than letting it control us. Ah, you say. He’s just using metaphors to hide his real goal. Sell more technology! My answer? Yes, I am talking about spending money. Spending money in a planned, proactive way that helps maintain stable, dependable, smoothly functioning information services. Let’s look at an example.

Many of us try to equate the lifetime of a computer to that of a typewriter. When you bought a typewriter, you could expect ten years or far longer out of it. In fact, I still see some of the old IBM electric typewriters from the 80s, and they work fine. We often try to do the same thing with computer technology, and that simply is not possible. Technology changes rapidly. My three-year-old computer is four to five generations old already. The programs that worked fine on my computer three years ago do not function as well after upgrading to the latest version. Also, I have three years of “road miles” on the operating system of the computer that makes it slower and less efficient. All this combined means that the longer I use my computer, the slower—and more frustrating—it becomes. Ever heard someone say, “I turn on my computer, then go get coffee while it starts?”

By proactively replacing our computers, we can help eliminate problems before they happen. I recommend a 5-year rotation schedule for standard use computers and a 3-year rotation for computer-aided design (CAD) and other high-end computing. By proactively replacing computers on this schedule, age-related problems are reduced, and we have a predictable schedule for expenses. Fewer problems, and more likely spending. Sound right?

This same approach can be applied to all of the network technology in your business.

All technology has a functional life span.

Some shorter, and some longer. When you try to push beyond the useful lifespan, you usually end up with more problems and this usually leads to money being spent in a random manner. Unless you work in the information technology industry, knowing how to manage your technology can be a terrifying proposition. This is where a good Managed Service Provider (MSP) can add significant value.

An MSP is different than your traditional technology company. An MSP becomes your IT department, and partners with you to make educated decisions about the technology in your business. Many companies play at being an MSP, but few are doing what it takes to be a good MSP. Here are a few things to consider when looking at technology support:

  1. Assigned engineers: To be effective, a technology vendor needs to know your network in (almost excruciating) detail. Without assigning one or more engineers to your network, it is not possible to make sound decisions on how to support it now or in the future. Require assigned, dedicated engineers for your support.
  2. Assigned consultant: The new catch phrase is Virtual Chief Information Office or vCIO. A vCIO is a dedicated technology specialist who performs the same task for you as a CIO or Director of IT would. A vCIO is not in sales. That is the role of an Account Manager. A vCIO provides supervision of the assigned engineers, long-term planning and budgeting, interaction with third party vendors, learns to know your business—its history, your long term plans, annual trends—partners with your managers and other leaders to find better ways to do business. Has your technology vendor provided a dedicated technology consultant?
  3. Standards or Best Practices: Does the technology provider have an established, proven list of best practices to guide the proactive support of your network resources, or are they just reacting to the problems as they arise? Best practices are a combination of manufacturer recommendations and real-world experience that guide the development of a stable, reliable network. Do they ask to meet with you on a regular basis to review the information technology plans, budget and other related activities, or do you have to initiate all contact? Proactive management requires a commitment to you and your business beyond that of just reacting to problems as they arise. Have you seen that commitment from your technology vendor?
  4. Tools for Success: Your technology vendor has assigned engineers and a vCIO to your account, and they have a set of best practices to guide them. Great! Now, what tools do they have to help them get the job done? A good technology vendor will have established centralized services that provide a common platform for supporting their clients. These systems include monitoring and remote management software, virus and malware protection, patch management, backup services, and so on. By creating a standard set of tools for all of their clients, a technology vendor can better and more efficiently support each client. Ask your technology provider to share the tools they are using to support your network, and ask if those tools are the same for all of their clients.

A proactive approach to technology does not have to be difficult, but it does take time. Allow yourself to focus on developing your business, and find a technology partner you can trust to do the rest.

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