In our last article, we discussed proactively managing our information technology systems. In this article, we are going to discuss the differences between proactive and reactive support of technology systems. Proactive and reactive support are both a part of an average day in IT. Both involve cost of some type, but that is where the similarity ends.

A proactive approach encourages planned replacements and upgrades of hardware before they become a problem. Being proactive also involves defining standards or best practices for supporting the technology systems that can be used to help us measure or grade how we are doing, and make sure that we are not forgetting things along the way. This approach encourages addressing potential problems before they occur, and allows for planned expenditures with a calmer rollout of systems.

A reactive approach typically does not involve many standards or best practices because it means waiting for problems to come up before spending any money. This means that there are typically more difficulties with the equipment and often more downtime which can lead to missed deadlines, unhappy staff, and most importantly, unhappy customers. Many people do not realize that it is often more expensive as well. In a crisis situation, the tendency is to pay whatever it takes to get it going again. You are not looking for the best solution; just the quickest solution. You have to take what you can find rather than having the time to find what fits best. In a crisis, you haven’t got the option of limiting the work to regular business hours. Most technology providers will charge a premium rate for after hours support, and often, the solution is to patch something together, pray that it holds, and rush to implement a proper, long-term solution.

So, which approach do you choose? If you are like me, you choose the proactive approach. A key element of the proactive approach is the development of standards or best practices that guide your support and decision-making for your technology resources. These standards need to include every facet of your technology resources from purchasing, to configuration and installation, to troubleshooting and beyond. For example, in the previous article, we discussed the idea of having a 5-year rotation plan for computers. A part of your plan for workstations should be to develop a standard for the type of workstation or laptop computers you purchase. This standard would dictate things like the make and model, type of processor, amount of memory, hard drive capacity, warranty and so on. In this way, you end up with a fleet of workstations that have a common set of hardware as well as a common way of functioning, making it easier to troubleshoot and support.

How does one go about developing these best practices? It is not an easy task. It takes years to develop the base of knowledge that blends vendor recommendations for how to use the hardware and software with the experience that helps clarify what actually works in the real world. Best practices combine the best aspects of vendor recommendations with the knowledge of what works. They are not set in stone, but rather adaptable as new technology is introduced and more is knowledge is gained. And, most importantly, they are documented.

Documentation is the key to a successful implementation of best practices. Many companies have best practices—or even ways of doing things—but they are often not documented. If you find yourself saying, “I need to ask Fred,” your documentation is not complete. Fred needs to write down everything he knows, review it with everyone, and together you need to decide what the best practice (and related documentation) should be. And once it is written down, schedule regular reviews to ensure it remains relevant. Well maintained, living documentation ensures that everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction at the same speed. It provides guidance for purchasing, configuring, implementing and maintaining information systems in a planned, consistent fashion that allows anyone to step in at any time and be successful.

If you are a smaller company without the resources to maintain an IT department of your own, this can be a daunting task. I encourage you to find a Managed Services Provider to partner with who can bring a team with the knowledge to create the best practices. And even if you can afford to have your own IT department, it may still be a good idea to partner with an outside resource who can supplement the in-house knowledge. The more knowledge you can bring to your best practices, the better they will be.

A proactive approach to technology does not have to be difficult, but it does take time and commitment. Allow yourself to focus on developing your business, and find a technology partner you can trust to do the rest. Contact Blue Star IT Services right away at (574) 975-0767 or info@bluestarpro.com for more info.

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