Investing Smart in IT

Here are eleven tips on managing and planning your IT equipment and software investments.

1.  Consider redundancy in all your purchases. Having two servers running that perform the same functions makes a tremendous difference when equipment crashes or eventually wears out. For example, if you have only one server performing all your network infrastructure functions and it just dies, the Internet and all your files might be inaccessible until you purchase a new server, and restore all your settings and data. On a properly configured network with redundant servers, you might barely notice if one of them fails completely.

2.  For some equipment, you may not have it in your budget to buy a complete backup system. For any such device, have spares on hand of the most failure-prone or critical components (like hard drives and power supplies). For the system itself, once it's gotten a few years old, start planning to buy its replacement before it fails completely or otherwise goes obsolete. That way, you avoid the costs of downtime. Also, it is much easier to transfer data and functions from an old system to a new one when the old one is still running.

3.  If you're considering moving to "the cloud", you probably will eventually reduce your hardware maintenance costs and enjoy more versatility, which are probably the major benefits you're expecting to achieve. But, ensure you plan for a significant transition period, which may incur substantial costs. Also, you should plan thoroughly to understand how your applications will work differently; in some cases, virtually everything will be different, requiring retraining for all your users. And, you may find that certain features and functions in your current system will no longer be available.

4.  Don't jump on trends. Having the latest technology is great is you need it, but buzzwords are just words. Every new IT product or system you install should address a need that couldn't be addressed before the new technology or system became available, or wasn't within your budget. Or it should otherwise provide a quantifiable improvement worth the investment.

5.  If you buy the cheap edition of hardware or software, expect to get what you paid for. In other words, don't be surprised if you're disappointed.

6.  For major components, ensure you understand whether and how the manufacturer's warranty fits in to your risk management and fault tolerance plan. For more on this, see the J.D. Fox Micro article titled What Warranty Should You Get?

7.  Consider the security implications of every aspect of your system, including (and especially) data stored outside your facility. The vast volume and value of data that can be stolen, corrupted, or wiped out (maliciously or by accident) from your IT system, and the fact this can happen instantaneously, means you cannot ignore security.

8.  Don't use pirated software. If you do, you put yourself at risk of civil penalties, and won't have recourse from the original publisher for support if things are not working right or if you have to reinstall or move it to another system.

9.  Avoid buying software through retail channels, such as direct downloads from the manufacturer or boxed software at the office supply store. If you do your research, sometimes you can find the same software at lower prices through different channels, such as volume licensing or subscription programs. But, don't buy from seedy-looking websites offering software at ridiculously low prices either.

(For more on tips 8 and 9, see the J.D. Fox Micro article titled What a Business Manager Should Know About Software.)

10.  Ensure your IT system is properly managed. Someone needs to monitor your equipment to make sure fans don't fail causing overheating, your configuration information is controlled, changes are logged, the system is secured, data backups are being performed, etc. If your management plan is to call someone when things stop working, then you don't have a management plan. Without a management plan, errors and outages are more likely, and recovery from these failures can cost more than you thought you saved by not having invested in consistent management.

11.  Plan every change thoroughly. Articulate your investment goals, risks, and training requirements. Determine how you will mitigate each risk, and even how you can back out of the change completely if things go wrong. Ensure you have a trusted advisor that understands your operational needs and has a thorough knowledge of technology and the tech industry. Nearly all of the most monumental project failures you'll learn about in any business course or read about in the news involve IT projects, and it is most often due to failure to plan properly.

Hopefully this sheds light on some of the ways a good IT professional approaches—or should approach—management of your IT system, and will help you make the best decisions going forward. For help implementing these tips, contact J.D. Fox Micro.