by Scott M. Lewis
Another housekeeping item is cleaning up your users and active directory. Everyone faces staff changes, client cancellations, and adding or removing printers and copiers. Sometimes little things can become big things if not correctly addressed before an upgrade. Cleaning up your active directory by removing old users helps you to optimize security and reduces the risk of corruption creeping into your active directory during an upgrade. Such clean up may include your Exchange server. Removing old mailboxes and archiving old mail helps in the Exchange server’s performance and reduces migration time if you are upgrading Exchange. Another area of focus, especially if you have software applications that manage their own internal security, is cleaning up or removing users from those applications (e.g., Office 365).
Upgrading your systems is also an excellent time to harden security throughout your network and server farms. Consider adding additional security devices, such as DarkTrace or Bandura Threat Intelligence Gateway, to monitor and block internal and external internet threats. This is also a great time to run in-depth security scans to mitigate unknown security gaps following the upgrade. The industry is starting to change its position on passwords and how often you should change them. Now might be a good time to review passwords, force some password changes, or implement multi-factor authentication. Remember to do so for all service accounts. At this point, you may be thinking: Why would I want to add all this additional work to an extensive system or software upgrade? Depending on the scope of your upgrade and the systems impacted, you may not want to. However, the system will be offline anyway, so the timing may be perfect. At the very least, run in-depth scans of your system to make sure the ship is tight and secure.
Now that we have discussed the role that computer system upgrades play in your business, let’s talk about budgeting. For many small businesses, system upgrades are not included in the budgeting process. Recurring technology charges may include copier leases, phone system leases, or hosted applications with system upgrades evaluated and approved individually. Computers are now an integral part of your business. In today’s competitive and data-on-demand world, how would your business work without your computers?
With that said, what percentage of your total revenue should go toward IT systems, support, hosting, and applications – as well as copiers, phones, etc.? There are all kinds of surveys and suggestions regarding this question, but the real answer is it depends on your technology reliance (which, let’s face it, increases every year). As a baseline, companies with a low reliance on technology can expect to spend 2-5 percent on technology needs. Businesses with a medium reliance can expect to spend 2-6 percent, and companies with a high reliance, 5-7 percent. These guidelines don’t mean you should be wasteful. You need to be smart and focus on your (actual) anticipated technology expenses. However, be honest with yourself, and less is not always better. These numbers are just a guideline. Manage your expectations with what you are willing to invest in your company’s growth and reliance on technology.
When it comes to technology budgeting, it is crucial to categorize your needs, and the list can be long. However, I try to break expenditures into three main categories and subcategorize expenses from there:
- Budgetary items – these are recurring expenses, such as copier leases, payroll, consultants, end-user support, and software maintenance. They are technology items you need to run your business, combined with fixed charges.
- Growth items – typically less critical than budgetary items, these are items your company needs to improve work processes, streamline workflow, and improve efficiencies. Examples include add-ons to current software that maximize data flow, reporting, and business analytics.
- Transformational items – these expenses may involve changing core software, increasing security, and developing a new website or customer portal. They also may include expenditures for research and development or play a role in your longer-term business strategy.
When it comes to IT budgeting, make sure that all items are connected to specific business goals and objectives. Sometimes IT managers increase their budgets beyond what is needed without tying proposed expenditures to specific business directives or needs. In some cases, such decisions can take money away from other areas of your business that need to be addressed or that could improve your business.
Employing an IT audit that drives strategic planning around technology can provide invaluable insight into your actual needs so that you can focus on other areas of concern. Having executed hundreds of IT audits and strategic plans, I have found that what IT managers spend time and money on is interesting, often with little or no business-impact expectations. The basic rule of thumb is that business should drive your technology needs, not the other way around. IT is a supporting and enabling function that should drive the business forward by implementing relevant technology resources.
Through all this discussion, let’s not forget the human factor. The goal of IT should be to empower your people to do more, solve problems, increase data flow, and streamline work processes. In some cases, upgrading software and hardware can feel like a hampering process because employees want to get their jobs done and go home. However, with every job comes paperwork, and streamlining work processes puts people in the position of doing paperwork only once. Soft-cost dollars that are lost through ineffective software, convoluted work processes, and documentation delays can cost your company money and create morale issues for your staff.
This brings us back to upgrading software and hardware. The entire process is evolutionary. With every new upgrade, your speed and workflow should improve, and the power of new technologies can drive your business to new highs. Although it may feel more comfortable at the outset, not upgrading your hardware and software can hurt your business, and catching up is always more expensive.
Scott Lewis is the President and CEO of Winning Technologies Group of Companies, which includes Liberty One Software. Scott has more than 36 years of experience in the technology industry and is a nationally recognized speaker and author on technology subjects. Scott has worked with hundreds of large and small businesses to empower them to use technology to improve work processes, increase productivity, and reduce costs. Scott has designed thousands of systems for large, medium, and small companies, and Winning Technologies’ goal is to work with companies on the selection, implementation, management, and support of technology resources. Learn more about Winning Technologies at www.winningtech.com or call 877-379-8279. To learn more about Business Manager 365, visit www.businessmanager365.com.