Don't Build Your Business On a Shaky Foundation
It Pays to Start (and Stay) Structured In Your Organization’s Tech, From Startup to Enterprise
Over the past couple of decades, I’ve helped businesses of all shapes and sizes with their IT needs. This includes watching with pride as clients grew from startups to medium-sized, as well as from medium-sized to small enterprise. Another unique point of view that has been part and parcel of my practice is watching or being asked to step in during or following periods of explosive growth (be that in terms of revenue/sales growth, strategic acquisitions, or developing a product line and reputation that in a sense) becomes an almost instant gold standard in the industry.
Oftentimes, organizations that have grown their revenues into the tens of millions or billions per year forecasted that growth to some extent. Sometimes, not.
An unfortunately high number of organizations, despite their size or (sometimes exponential) growth, retain the mindset that has held since their early days. Allow me to illustrate, if I may.
“[W]e aren’t a Fortune 500, we’re a small business..”
Perhaps a business started out 10 years ago by ordering an internet connection, running to the store for a consumer grade router/WiFi/network switch combo device. Things worked. At some point, a robust ERP, accounting, or other system required a server be purchased. Someone, perhaps internal to the organization, but not formally an IT person, ordered in a server and had the ERP or accounting specialist install the software and database. Things continued to work.
Fast forward a few years and a few dozen employees, and that single server meant for your ERP or accounting database is now serving files, printers, the Exchange e-mail, maybe even your company website, exposed to the world. Remember the inexpensive consumer grade firewall/router that doesn’t get very frequent updates, and never was intended to be hardened to be used in a business environment? That is all that is sitting between the sole server holding all of the organization’s critical and proprietary data.
Someone along the way points that out, a discussion is had, and while it is acknowledged that perhaps something stronger should be put in place, it’s really not a great time to do it, or the spend is put off to future quarters, but never revisited. Something unthinkable happens due to a flaw in a device meant to protect a home of four people rather than a business entity of several dozen.
While I’ve heard many explanations for why things weren’t properly architected and managed by experienced providers with decades of combined experience from day one, the overwhelmingly common theme tended to be along the lines of “we aren’t a Fortune 500, we’re a small business”. The harsh truth is, many of these were small businesses, made of 100 employees and countless millions in annual revenue ago. There is often a dire overlook in properly equipping, managing, and refreshing information technology systems as a company grows, as long as it (mostly) works. One day, something just stops. At that moment, stakeholders often realize that they don’t know what they don’t know — but gain a good sense of what has grown into an out of control avalanche — when calling a professional in on an emergency basis.
[Y]ou aren’t a Fortune 500, but you sure haven’t been a startup in a very long time.
The internal person that was the “unofficial IT” person left a couple of years ago for another opportunity. Nobody knows crucial information such as administrative passwords. No one is particularly aware that various departments have had no responsive technology provider and have “gone rogue”, pulled network cables that dangle down the outside of the wall, want and purchased more consumer switches when new employees started, purchased a single copy of a high-end software (and others saw it laying there and went ahead and installed it on their machines, putting the organization out of licensing compliance and at great potential liability).
The backup system that the unofficial IT guy set up before he left hasn’t been operating for months or years. Suddenly that is a major problem because database corruption or ransomware that made its way in via the (overlooked, years-behind on security patches) Exchange e-mail server that’s been managing to work acceptably since the inception of the company. The backups, you are told, are your last hope to regain even basic functioning of the organization.
The entirety of what you and countless others worked tirelessly to build is now on the edge of instant extinction. The thing is, you aren’t a Fortune 500, but you sure haven’t been a startup in a very long time. A healthy working relationship with a seasoned business technology professional not only prevents the unthinkable — that relationship helps stakeholders understand the need for reasonable spend, and avoid building an unimaginably great business on the shakiest of foundations.
An ongoing relationship with an IT managed services provider, staffed with seasoned systems engineers and architects is vitally important. From assessing the organization’s current business technology stance, and preparedness, making recommendations and improvements, to becoming a trusted partner to help set realistic and reasonable CapEx and OpEx spends every year, there are two other very tangible benefits no organization of any size should be without. The opportunity to focus on what it is that you do to make your company exceptional, and resting easier knowing that all of your tech is properly managed, documented, maintained, and constantly monitored.