As you prepare your business for the new year, it is a good time to take stock and evaluate last year. The first thing I recommend is to review the technology initiatives you completed in the past year and evaluate them using a couple of criteria.
Did you accomplish what you tried to do? Did you meet your goals? Did you successfully implement a new work process or software? Did you have any partial wins? Keep track of your wins and losses and celebrate the wins.
Did you finish on budget? Do you even have a budget? Many small companies use zero based budgeting and don’t plan or do anything proactively. I don’t recommend working this way, but many firms do. Take the time, put together a budget, track it and stick to it.
Improved Productivity (or reduced cost)?
The last thing I would evaluate was whether an initiative improved or hindered productivity. It is important to understand what went wrong in order to improve. Study your big wins and replicate the initiatives that went well and added to your productivity and revenue. That is where you’ll make the biggest difference.
OK, let’s plan for next year.
IT Budget initiatives to consider:
Review your inventory (or conduct one if you don’t have it) and plan to replace your old and aging hardware. I use a 3-4-5 approach, 3 years to replace a laptop, 4 years to replace a desktop and 5 years for servers and other infrastructure equipment. Is it time to move your infrastructure to the cloud? We are seeing Desktops as a Service (DaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) grow as the remote and virtualization technologies improve. We see a huge move in the industry to virtualizing the entire office including the office as well as all the technology.
- Plan your new purchases, servers, desktops, laptops, phones, tablets
- How will you repurpose old machines? Employee sale or give away is a good morale booster.
- Move to the Cloud? – DAAS, IAAS, is it time to get rid of hardware all together?
At this time, we don’t see much of a reason for any company to own and operate their own Exchange or email server. Unless you have special needs, hosted email is ready for prime time. It is affordable and reliable, what are you waiting for? Cloud based software never needs to be upgraded or patched, you can run it anywhere you have an Internet connection (which is just about everywhere) and generally it can save you money over buying standalone programs and maintenance or subscriptions.
- Cloud based software – SaaS
- Office 365 – especially for email
- Software Upgrades or maintenance
Research and Development
If you don’t plan for it, it will never happen. IT Research and Development has to planned and budgeted just like any other IT project. Sign up for Technology Blogs for your industry, take note of new developments and do some testing in anticipation of the new year and budget.
- Budget time and money for RD
- Project Process – find the bottlenecks
- Intranet – Knowledge Management
Training your people is one the best investments you can make. You can teach your staff new smarter ways to work and train your IT staff new skills and certifications. There are many free and low cost online training resources from YouTube for free to paid learning sites like Udemy or Lynda or VTC. Take advantage of these resources to improve your people.
- Budget for training
- Institute distance learning
- Develop specialized classes / in-house
- Explore / Budget online training – Lynda or Udemy, VTC
There are five main areas of focus around improving your internal processes. They range from documenting SOPs to buying faster computers. Any of these will improve the way you work and add to the bottom line.
- Documentation and content development
- Standards development and documentation
- IT and hardware upgrades
- Process improvement – finding and eliminating bottlenecks
Taking Stock – Inventory
Once a year you have to conduct or update your inventory. There are free tools out there that will crawl your network and report. Or you could bring a college student in over the summer or winter break and have them do a manual inventory on the cheap. Either way you need to know what you have and where it is.
- Conduct an inventory
- Free tools – Hardware – Spark
- Software – Express Metrix, K2, Xenworks
- Clipboard and flashlight crawling under the desks
- Document or update
Conduct an IT Assessment
An IT assessment is a great way to get started for next year planning. An IT Assessment from a trusted IT provider will help you successfully evaluate, plan and design an IT strategy and roadmap that supports your business goals as well as optimizes your business productivity. The assessment report will identify ways to reduce costs, streamline your infrastructure, improve the quality of service delivery and help you realize a faster return on your IT investment.
- Data and file / folder clean up
- Archiving old projects
- Time to consider online archiving
- Develop an IT roadmap
- Replace old / EOL equipment
DR Planning / Business Continuity Testing
Other than your employees, your data is the most important part of your business. Just backing up your data is not enough. You need to have a plan to get your business up and running quickly in the event of a technology breakdown. How long can your business afford to be down? 1 day? 1 week? 1 month? A Disaster Recovery Plan combined with cloud data backup mitigates your risk.
- Develop a DR / BC plan
- Evaluate your backup plan
- Develop a data security plan – cyber security plan
- Know your Plan B?
- Conduct a Security review
- Anti-virus and SPAM protection up to date?
- Test, test, test, make sure your contingency plans work
Review Vendors and Contracts
Review your vendor relationships. Which vendors have provided the most value. A good vendor relationship is crucial to your IT success. Your vendor partners can play an important role in deciding and setting priorities for next year’s IT initiatives. Review any upcoming contract renewals and if appropriate start your negotiations well before the contracts renew.
- Review software maintenance / subscriptions
- Check data contracts for renewal
- Conduct a vendor review, rate them / or consider replacement
Physical Office Updates
How is your physical office space set up for technology? Do you need conference phones or other AV equipment? How is your staff set for monitors, keyboards and mice? Studies show a significant boost in performance by providing your staff with dual monitors. Also monitors dim as they age. Wireless and ergonomic keyboards and mice promote employee health and reduce the risk of RSI. Give your employees the tools they need and make them as productive as possible.
- Physical design
- Network upgrades
- Equipment upgrades
- Ergonomic upgrades
Data and Telecom Review
Bandwidth is getting cheaper and faster. Every business relies more and more on connectivity to the Internet to conduct business. Conduct a circuit audit, you can probably save money and improve productivity at the same time. Hosted phones can reduce your phone cost by up to 90% over traditional premise based PBX. It is worth looking.
- Circuits adequate?
- Data needs change?
- Faxing – do I need it anymore?
- SIP and hosted phones
- Video conferencing
- Network Documentation
Web / Social Media
Is your website drawing the kind of traffic you need and expect to support your business needs? The Internet and Social Media play a huge role is marketing and running your company. Make some goals for the new year around your online presence and using social media to promote yourself or your business.
- Website update / redesign
- Content Marketing
- Blogging / Vlogging
IT Human Resources
Finally, take care of your people. They are your most valuable asset. You will see the biggest ROI by investing in your staff. Conduct annual reviews, provide good and timely performance feedback and communicate your expectations.
- Do your Reviews
- Write your job descriptions / career paths
- Plan for training
- Do you have the right quantity / quality of IT staff?
- Does your IT staff have the right skill sets?
- Have you created a career path for your IT staff?
In short, identify your initiatives, budget for them, create a plan and get to work!
If you need help planning for the new year or have questions about anything you’ve read here, Contact Advance2000.