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December 12, 2012

Guest Blog: Cheers to your IT health!

Thomas Coles, managing director for MSM Software, writes for CBR about how businesses are failing to realise their IT systems may be in poor health.

By Cbr Rolling Blog

Computer health

Photo Credit: Jo Farias

In today’s challenging climate the quality and efficiency of business software is more fundamental to success than it ever has been in the past. However, many organisations do not fully understand the health of their existing software, data, IT projects and systems.

This I fear is placing organisations at great risk. If a system is failing, if it breaks or a key member of staff is no longer able to support the system – how does the business cope?

Organisations are placing themselves at danger because they do not truly understand the health of their systems, and whether they are capable of handling the day-to-day requirements of a business on a long-term basis.

There are also concerns around critical in-house systems being hastily completed due to time pressures, which places businesses at risk from the very on-set of system install. As a result, essential aspects of the system can be omitted – to the complete ignorance of the organisation; unaware of the heightened danger of system failure and the potential chaos it could cause.

Furthermore, according to a study by London Chamber of Commerce , 50 per cent of businesses have lost data due in part to insufficient systems. The same study also showed that 90 per cent of all companies that suffer a major data loss go out of business within two years.

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These statistics underline the need for increased support of company-wide existing systems. It is fundamental that businesses understand the efficiency of their existing technology, have a sense of clarity over what is working within their organisation, and the areas for improvement.

In my own experience this doesn’t always seem to be the case and it is an extremely risky strategy. If an organisation’s technology suddenly fails, it can introduce unexpected panic, confusion and turmoil into the company, which could have huge repercussions in terms of lost sales, revenues, custom and reputation.

Undergoing a check-up
Organisations must stop gambling on the capabilities of their existing systems. Plans must be formulated and put in place which enables them to better understand the health of their software and make an accurate comparison of the system with best practise.

By carrying out a technical audit a business can document how the system is working, how it’s likely to perform in the future, and can gain an analysis of the stability and security of an organisation – which is critical to long-term planning.

This insight into the current health status of existing systems can enable a business to understand its reliability, areas of improvement and also where the system is performing well, and what value the business is getting from its investment. Having this knowledge at hand allows a business to rectify weak points within the system and provides opportunities for efficiency and productivity improvements.

There are also some essential security benefits to documenting a health check; it can provide critical information to support personnel when analysing the system at a later date. This is especially critical if key staff members leave the organisation as it provides a valuable record of the systems state of health.

The regularity data is archived and backed up should also be documented to ensure security measures meet the needs of the organisation. These actions will contribute to the disaster recovery plan of a business because it will provide foundations for understanding and assessing whether current processes meet the organisations on-going and changing needs.

A second opinion
A software health check can enable businesses to identify strengths, weaknesses and potential improvements of a system. However many organisations don’t have the required in-house technical experience to put in place an effective software health check.

When this is the case outsourcing can be the best approach to consider, as it presents a key way of introducing change into business culture through outside innovation. Outsourcing is often defined by external firms being contracted to deliver on-going management and delivery of a defined set of services to a prescribed level of performance.

This can bring many benefits; firstly it introduces a fresh pair of eyes which aren’t too close to the system. A fresh perspective from an outsourced team carrying out the audit may therefore be more likely to unearth problems and opportunities. The experience a supplier brings from previous health checks can also prove advantageous.

Where to take the prescription?
Following the health check an organisation will have decisions to make about the future of its existing software, IT project or system.

Unfortunately, some organisations have found themselves stuck with a legacy system that is simply not fit for purpose; in my experience, businesses may believe that if an IT system is created by a third party then the business is stuck with that provider to support or fix the system should it fail. This is simply not the case, and organisations should be aware that there are options available to them when considering on-going support of existing systems.

Selecting the right partner for on-going support is critical. Choosing wisely will lay the foundation for a range of additional benefits to be delivered once business critical support objectives have been met.

To good health
Businesses have been in the dark over the health of their existing systems for too long and this can introduce great risk. Those organisations that do undertake software health checks will have a better grasp on the current status of their business critical systems and what are the most vital and necessary actions to improve its performance and longevity. This information can also aid long-term planning immeasurably.

Those in the dark over the status of their systems however will always be nagged by doubts and concern – is this the day something goes wrong? This is not a healthy situation for any company.

Organisations that are confident in the efficiency, performance and quality of existing systems will be assured in the knowledge that there is a solid platform in place to achieve long-term technology innovation.

Thomas Coles, managing director for MSM Software

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