IT in Your Business Plan

Identify what technology is critical to your production. Some questions to answer are:

1. What software do you use to create data?
Some examples of data you might generate with software are emails, voicemails, work orders, invoices, appointments, employee applications, proprietary drawings, financial information, security video, vendor information, and so on. 

 2. What software will you use to track production and resource flow?
Some common examples of this kind of software are Microsoft Excel, Simply accounting, Microsoft Dynamics, and Sage ACCPAC. 

3. What reporting do you need from your production data? How is that report being generated, and how does it get delivered to the people or departments that need to see it?

Hardware, Software, and Services Specific to Your Business

  1. Once you have identified the various software you need, contact the software vendors and find out what hardware and network recommendations they make. Also find out what support the vendors offer if their software doesn’t behave the way you expect.
  2. Avoid using wireless networking technology unless you have a specific need that requires it.
  3. Once you have identified the hardware you need, contact the hardware vendor and find out if they offer warranty services that meet your requirements for downtime. An example of a downtime requirement might be no longer than 8 hours, or one business day, and is dependent on how much it costs you to have production halted.

 

Cost, Value and ROI

  1. Determine an estimate of how much an hour of downtime of your production technology costs. An example of this is your average utilities and property costs per hour plus your labour cost per hour, which gives you a base minimum cost. Add to this any opportunities you think it may cost you which are potentially very valuable if, for example, your phones don’t work and you can’t answer a new client’s potential call or that email notification about a new tender available to bid on doesn’t come through because your email system is down.
  2. Look for added value from your vendors. A good example of this is finding a backup solution within your budget that satisfies your core recovery requirements. One of the three vendors you get a quote from maybe also offers a free hardware replacement every three years and has a 24/7 help desk available for support. It’s this type of added value that can help you pick a vendor as a supply partner and get the most out of your investment.
  3. Qualify and if possible quantify what you expect as a return for your investment in each technology. An example of qualifying this would be expecting your backup system to mitigate the risks of data loss. An example of quantifying the same backup system would be stating it must meet a 4 hour recovery point objective. This means it must prevent you from ever losing more than your 4 most recent hours of modified data, and it must meet a 24 hour recovery time objective, implying it must be able to recover all that data and have you back into production within 24 hours of a failure.

 

Testing & Evaluation

  1. Don’t buy any software that doesn’t offer a trial version. Don’t install any software into production until you’ve given the trial a thorough evaluation.
  2. Price out hardware, software and services at three different vendors. Price can vary drastically between different providers, so it’s worth your time to be thorough in your purchasing policy.
  3. In particular when you are purchasing turnkey solutions, for example a Point of Sale system that includes tills and servers, make sure you are dealing with a vendor who is in their comfort zone. To ensure this request references from other businesses that your potential vendor has installed the same solution in that are also in your industry. You do not want to be a vendors’ guinea pig on a new solution unless they are offering you a significant discount to be involved in a pilot program. Conversely you don’t want to be the smallest client they have either thus ensuring you get the responsiveness and attention you need.

From when you create it to when it gets archived try to identify your data cycle and opportunities to use information technology to improve the process. Collaboration technologies such as Microsoft Lync, Microsoft Exchange, and Microsoft SharePoint offer very interesting technologies to efficiently move your data around until it matures. Many alternative solutions exist including software as a service (SaaS) options such as Google Business Apps.

Questions to Consider:

  • How do you communicate with your vendors, your accountant, or bookkeeper?
  • Do you have business resources such as vehicles or board rooms that need to be booked by staff and have usage data available for reporting?
  • Do shared contacts and calendars offer your business any advantages?
  • Do you need to be able to search other email boxes in the company?
  • Do your voicemails need to go to your email as an attachment?
  • Are there meetings or conferences you need to attend that are not geographically convenient that you could use video conferencing for?
  • Do you need access to your production data from multiple locations?
  • Do you want your email and calendar on your phone and on your laptop and on your desktop at the office?
  • Do you need someone on your team to be able to see and edit your calendar or vice versa?

Backups

  1. This is an area where technology can be very useful. It is far easier to duplicate digital data than manual duplication of hard copy.
  2. Determine what your Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and Recovery Point Objectives (RPO) are. RPO is the amount of data you can stand to lose if a failure occurs. An example of this would be, if there is a failure, you want to lose no more than the last 24 hours of modified data. If your backups run every night and they finish at 11:00PM, and you have a failure at 10:59PM, you could potentially lose your most recent 24 hours of data, which would then have to be recreated or re-entered. RTO is when a failure occurs, how long does it take until your production is back up and running with your data restored up to the RPO. An example of an RTO might be 4 hours, and is often dependent on the amount of data you have to recover.
  3. Backing up is only half of backing up! Your backups should be verified on a regular basis, which means extracting several production files from the backup, opening the files and verifying they are the same size and contain the same data as the originals currently in production. An unverified backup is an unreliable backup.
  4. Plan a 3 phase backup for all critical production data.
  • Leverage local Redundant Array of Independent Disk (RAID) technology to protect yourself against hard drive failure.
  • Decide what software and hardware your backup solution requires to meet your RPOs and RTOs.
  • Implement offsite backups of production data for disaster recovery. Think of this third step as fire and theft insurance for your data – i.e. not something you will use often for recovery but critical to have when you do need it. There are many solutions to meet this need ranging from rotating tape drives or external USB enclosures to fully managed over-the-internet backups to remote geographically disparate data centers.

 

Maintenance or Break/Fix

Decide if it makes more sense to approach preventing downtime from a proactive perspective or a reactive one. This is typically decided based on the numbers determined in the Cost, Value and ROI section of this library which should reflect your hourly cost of production downtime. If your downtime cost is high, it makes sense to perform preventative maintenance and proactive monitoring to prevent failure, instead of waiting for failure and then fixing the breakage as fast as possible. An often overlooked and important component of this is the stress factor. When you are unable to meet client deadlines or act on new opportunities because your production technology is down, how does it affect your stake holder morale?