What do we need to do to our IT environment to appease banks and external investors?
Why do the world's largest companies spend so much money on ensuring their IT systems are robust and recoverable? It is, of course, to ensure that they don't suffer embarrassing disturbances as we are seeing this week at the NAB. Even a delay in standard processes is frowned upon by government agencies and other organisations. My observation is that this is becoming more of an issue in the small and medium business sector today, but is not being addressed well enough yet.
The example I observed this week is of a logistics company that once received orders by phone, fax and email, converted those to paper requests or radio verbal requests and passed them to the drivers. Twelve months ago, they gave the drivers handheld devices and ticketing became automated from the client straight through to the driver. Sounds great, but if the system fails the drivers stop instantly for lack of instructions.
Clearly this business needs to review its system recovery in light of the new application in place, but it came as no surprise to me that they hadn't done this.
Over the past three years, IT systems have become more embedded in our day-to-day processes than ever before. However, the IT advisors have not really kept up with the need for fail over and disaster recovery systems and planning.
So let's look at how this happens...
1) Request from business unit for improved software system.
2) Software firm advises on project.
3) Budget is assigned for development and set up (hardware is typically out of scope).
4) Hardware is required but is seen as a threat to software budget which is already stretched.
5) Minimal hardware is purchased.
6) System goes live.
7) Problems are ironed out.
8) Celebration begins.
By now the business has spent more than it ever envisaged on the implementation and is heartily sick of change in the IT area. No one dares to bring up the old thorn of redundancy, backup or recovery and so the system runs unchecked until performance issues (with the under-specified equipment) or a disaster occurs. This is the point where we typically get called in to fix it!
Of course, there are savvy businesses out there that plan for the full cost of a system's implementation, but rarely will the consultants tell the whole truth for fear of losing the job before it starts.
As the business owner or manager you need to be aware of the pitfalls of the industry where each party in the implementation space wants to get the premium share of the project budget and will actively deny the cost of other components of the project.
So as you grow and invest in your business, an external eye from an investor or a bank may pull you up on these issues to ensure you are running a robust business. Your alternative to waiting for that embarrassing day is to prepare by having your system's performance, fail over and recoverability audited regularly by an independent body. As well as ensuring that all plans for upgrade include the system required to run as well as the systems required for a full recovery in a timely manner.
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David Markus is the founder of Combo - the IT services company that ensures IT is never an impediment to growth.