To deny that our dependency in technology keeps rising every year is to be living in a perfect state of denial. If we spent 2 minutes reviewing all the impacts information technology has had in our lives, we can clearly see how dependent we have become. If you don’t believe me just try living without your smart phone, your computer, and internet connectivity for a month and you will see.
The evolution of technology has not only played an important role in our personal lives, but also in the way we do business. Let’s put a simple example, ten years ago a company could easily go without a website. In today’s business environment, not having a website will seriously put in question the reputation and even existence of a company.
As business operations become more dependent in technology (phone systems, emails, websites, business applications, credit card transactions, web conferences, remote employees, and more) the ability of the business to deliver services in a timely manner is proportionally related with the ability of keeping systems running smoothly and around the clock. This, at the same time is directly connected with the capacity to satisfy customers’ needs. In a globalized business environment, competition is no longer limited by the national frontiers of a country, but instead, by the ability to compete in a fast and hyper competitive business environment where seconds and customer satisfaction make all the difference.
Not having reliable IT operations could make the difference between acquiring, retaining a customer, or losing it. Here is where reacting to problems instead of working proactively will create the opportunity for customer dissatisfaction and open a chance for a competitor to gain a new customer. Embracing a reactive approach will not only create an opportunity window for a competitor but will also have a negative impact in the brand, the reputation of the business, and the moral of the employees.
How does it look?
Diagnosing and detecting reactive IT operational models is not a difficult thing at all, as long as we are willing to be honest with ourselves, it can be spotted very easily. Here, we give you 3 basic traits that will help you identify if your company technology is following a reactive (also known as brake and fix) IT model.
The simplest way to know if your technology operations are running on a reactive/brake and fix approach is if you have to call your technology consultant or managed service provider every time there is a problem. If every time your business internet links fails or a server crashes you have to call your computer “guru”, then make no mistakes, you are in a reactive operational model.
If you have never heard of systems’ patch management from your IT consultant or s/he has never called you to perform system upgrades and/or maintenance, then here is another sign to believe that services are being delivered in a reactive manner.
If you have never received a call from your IT company telling you that they are noticing a performance deviation or an anomaly in one of your systems, then make no mistakes, you are operating in a reactive approach. Systems are not exempt from issues and if they are not detected when they happen then this is a clear example of reactive operations.
Why it happens?
It is very simple, it occurs because it is easier to detect problems when they happen than to have to imagine an array of possibilities or problems before they occur. Although most people will agree that prevention is in most of the cases the best solution to many of the problems that we face, very little prevention work is done to prevent issues from happening or reduce their likelihood of occurrence.
Being proactive requires a large amount of dedication and knowledge to effectively imagine an array of logical and potential problems that could happen. It also requires a large investment in time and resources to place action plans intended to resolve problems that have not occurred yet. In business, sometimes it is hard to quantify the tangible value of prevention because when properly done, issues are prevented and do not bubble to the surface. As a result and very often, preventive work is seen as a waste of resources and time.
Sadly, very often businesses realize the importance of preventive work after a disaster strikes, but in some cases and even worst, the negative impact and consequences of working re-actively can go unnoticed for a long time, thus causing serious and long lasting damage to an organization.
How to stop it?
First of all, let’s set the right expectations and be aware that if the business has been operating in a reactive model, changing to a proactive approach will take some time. Walking towards a proactive approach is something that happens gradually, not overnight. All those years of breaking, fixing, and firefighting has filled your IT infrastructure with hacks, patches, and band aids, and all of that needs to be corrected before you are able to effectively implement a proactive approach. Here is a list of the best practices and phases that I have personally put together while turning around various organizations from reactive operational models to proactive models.
Understand what is happening. When you go to the doctor you are not given a pill right away or recommended a surgery on the spot – at least good doctors don’t do that, but of course it happens. As in medicine, the most important piece of information to effectively diagnose the potential cause of an illness is to collect and understand the symptoms. Your consultant or information technology managed service provider should spend a good deal of time asking questions and collecting data as to the most recurrent and severe problems that are affecting your business. Specially, the IT consultant should put special focus on those areas that are most disruptive to the business in terms of revenues, profits, customers’ satisfaction, brand/reputation impact, and employees’ productivity and moral.
Stabilize the patient. Once all the major deficiencies and problems have been detected the second step or phase should be what I call: stabilizing the patient. This means, that the focus should be on correcting the problems that are hurting the business the most and putting together an action plan that will address such problems in a way that is sustainable – please fix them once and for all so “break and fix” can truly be a thing of the past. You should start focusing efforts and resources on the most recurrent and disruptive problems that directly impact the business. Be aware that these efforts are not supposed to take the profits of the business down the drain, but instead, should be carefully aligned with the needs of the company. If there are many problems to correct, brake them in cycles of work and spread them across quarters and even years if necessary. What is really important is that from this point forward every step must be sustainable and should be corrected once and for all.
Standardize the IT infrastructure. As you make plans to stabilize the systems, it is important to normalize the infrastructure and reduce the complexity as much as possible. Lack of standardization will drastically increase the complexity of the infrastructure, thus requiring a different range of skills and knowledge to effectively manage it – and of course, this will have a direct impact in your cost and operations. Failing to effectively manage the infrastructure and understand how it works, will automatically impact the capacity to identify potential problems that could arise. As a result the business will not be able to completely change from a reactive to a proactive approach.
Establish monitors, controls and procedures. While progress is made it is important that check and balances are put in place to make sure that once an issue has been corrected the infrastructure does not decay. It is important to put control mechanisms in place to raise accountability as much as possible. Failing to do so, will result in a waste of time and resources because all that has been corrected will deteriorate if not carefully protected. After systems have been standardized, performance baselines must be collected and monitoring alerts should be implemented to detect deviations and anomalies in performance. All performance deviations must be analyzed and not ignored to prevent issues from becoming a problem.
Keeping IT operations running proactively.
Based on my experience, changing from a reactive to a proactive IT operational model is a lot easier said than done. Turning a non-performing/reactive organization to a model that is more stable and predictable not only takes time, resources and commitment from engineers and technicians, but also from business leaders and personnel. Decisions should not be based on gut feelings, emotions, or assumption, but instead, they should be made base on facts. It is understandable that we want results and action right away, but reacting to situations without a clear understanding of the problem, will put the company back into a reactive approach.
Finally, management and business owners should not be evaluating IT output or value based on the numbers of tickets closed or the number of times the managed service provider is called to fix an issue and the issue is corrected. Instead IT value and IT output should be valued by the time that elapses between system failures. So if you are paying your consultant or managed service provider and things never brake, do not assume that they are not doing anything and you are wasting your money. If things are not braking this is the best prove that a lot of work and knowledge is being put into your systems to keep the business running around the clock. It means that you have hired the right consultant or managed service provider.