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The danger zone; when your best IT person is the problem

Article by Simon Heath on Aug 8, 2019

Identifying pain points and doing something about those pains are two very different things. Once you know there’s a problem it’s easier to avoid it and push it to the bottom of your to-do list than to actually fix it. For many small professional service firms IT pain points are nagging doubts. An unsettling feeling that something is wrong, but without the correct information or skills needed, they’re not easy to fix. It’s why your IT support can often get deprioritised and in doing so, slowly become a bottleneck to your business. The result of that, however, is that eventually bottlenecks become unbearable and things begin to break down.

A common IT bottleneck happens around your IT star: the person responsible for the IT and systems of your company. They’re typically someone who understands you and your clients inside and out. They know every tech quirk and fix. From outages to data loss and even to the mundane broken laptops and faulty keyboards, they’re always on hand to solve any IT issue. They are, in short, your superstars, and so it’s easy to focus on other things that need your attention like servicing clients and developing business. Plus, for most directors and leaders, IT isn’t their expertise or speciality, so when you trust your IT support, it’s easy to push any nagging doubts to the back of your mind, happy in the knowledge that it’s all being taken care of.

But this is the exact point that unnamed pain starts creeping in as bottlenecks begin to form. These, in turn, hamper your ability to grow and succeed as an organisation, because the truth is this: having one-star player is a dangerous move. They become stretched as they’re pulled in multiple directions for those very same mundane tasks, and projects are inevitably delayed. They’re only one person, so they haven’t had the time to standardise procedures and documentation that allow for training and delegation. Without a process, routine tasks like revoking access for ex-employees are pushed down the to-do list, in turn opening your business to risks and data leaks. Everyone needs a holiday and so when your star player eventually takes time off, it’s a fraught and nervous experience as masses of knowledge and expertise leave the business with them. If they happen to be out of the business for an extended period of time, you lose crucial information and the ability to get the right information to the right people at the right time, impacting business decisions and the capacity to scale.

If knowledge is power, and your current knowledge is stored in one individual’s mind, you can find yourself in a remarkably weak and vulnerable position with far too many eggs in one basket. With 64% of companies increasing their IT budget to replace existing outdated IT infrastructure and practices, it’s a problem many are taking seriously, recognising the urgent need for change.

In this situation, as the business leader, it falls on your shoulders to do something about that bottleneck. However, it’s a problem you’re not sure how to approach when it isn’t your area of expertise. If you find yourself in this position there’s an easy list to work through to establish how healthy, professional and consistent your IT is, enabling you to begin framing the problem and finding the solution.

1. Start to document essential information so you have a permanent record of the state of your IT. It will allow business owners to make quicker, more informed decisions.

2. Create documents for all your key processes and provide checklists alongside them. This will ensure simple and basic tasks are carried out effectively and efficiently to a consistent standard. It will also allow you to delegate tasks and share the workload.

3. Create Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) – in other words, your company’s way of doing things. It will allow fee earners in your business to concentrate on servicing clients as opposed to finding workarounds for IT functions.

4. Ensure you have the right system in place to store all your documentation, mitigating risk. The best systems control access while also auditing to maintain version histories and usage.

5. Set up a knowledge base so authorised employees can self-serve on tasks.

6. Maintain and develop a central repository that can be shared with partners or other providers should you decide that you’ve outgrown your current IT infrastructure.

The risks of relying on one IT superstar are high and the ensuing potential for data and information to walk out of your business is a scary prospect, as that unnamed and unidentified pain suddenly flares into a very obvious and apparent business problem. Perhaps understanding the pain and prodding a little at the bruise is the safest option after all.

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