The top 10 questions you should be asking your IT manager

For many business owners, the IT department is just an annoyance.

It’s something there to get the job done. That usually means a business owner will set up an IT department, hire a manager, and then keep them out of the loop. This is a mistake.

Given the amount of IT support needed for a business to run, it’s not enough to just ignore the techies. You need to start getting involved.

The only problem – a lot of business owners don’t know the first thing about managing IT. They might know the basics, like the fact you should be using back-ups, or that you should be on the latest operating system. But not much apart from that.

This is why you need a set checklist of what to ask your IT manager. You already know these things are important, but you need to know how to get the ball rolling.

We’ve put together 10 questions you need to ask your IT manager to make sure everything’s on the ball.

You don’t need to have too much background knowledge – just go in armed with these questions:

1. ‘How does stuff work?’

It’s all too tempting for a company founder to simply ignore what goes on in the IT department. To leave it all aside and trust the manager or chief technology officer knows what they’re doing.

Most of the time, if you’ve hired the proper person, that’ll be fine. But it’s not enough. You need to actually get involved with the IT side of the business. You need to do this for two reasons: to actually get a handle on what’s happening, and to see if the manager is bluffing their way through the role.

AVG security advisor Michael McKinnon says you need to spend an hour or so talking with the manager about a specific topic, and then ask them: “How does this actually work?”

It could be a particular IT system, or security feature. Maybe it’s the backup system. You just need to get an idea of how the clock ticks. Ask specific, practical questions about how the system works. And while they’re explaining it, test them. Probe them with more questions.

“Sift through the rubbish and figure out if you’re being told the truth or not,” he says. “You need to make sure things are being done properly.”

And remember: if the IT manager can’t explain this process in simple language, then they don’t understand how it works. You’ll figure out pretty quickly if that’s the case.

2. ‘How are you keeping our business secure?’

Online security is paramount to succeeding in modern business. There are too many hacks of Australian companies – even SMEs – to ignore the problem.

Most businesses would ask their IT managers about specific problems. But McKinnon says this is the wrong approach. Instead, he argues, you should ask them a more open-ended question: “How are you keeping our business secure?”

“Managers will get much better answers with this, rather than asking specific questions like, ‘are we doing backups?’ Any tech person would say ‘yes’ to keep their job.”

Instead, McKinnon says if you ask an open-ended question about security, the person in charge should be able to detail several ways the business is kept secure.

If they can do so, you should also ask for details. Keep in mind you should be asking about things like backups and customer data, along with any company-specific ways you capture confidential information – especially credit card information.

“I know for some managers this is difficult if they’re not technical. And sometimes employees can use that to baffle managers.”

“But you need to resist that as much as you can. If the tech jargon is coming out, just drill down, and get to the bottom of the question.”

Bonus: You should definitely ask if customer data and credit card data is kept separately, which can be a big help if your company is ever attacked. In any case, the current guidelines suggest you should be doing this already.

3. ‘Are we syncing our budgets?’

Usually a business will allocate a certain portion of the company’s budget to IT spending. The IT manager or chief finance officer will then spend that money on upgrades, new equipment, or even new people. It sounds like a good plan.

But according to David Markus, SmartCompany blogger and head of IT services firm Combo, this isn’t the most efficient way to allocate your budget.

Instead, he says you need to ask your IT manager how you can better align the goals of the IT department with the overall business plan.

“If you have a business that plan that envisages 30% growth over three years, where is the IT plan that says you need systems to support that development.”

“A lot of people have an IT manager who they think is strategic, but instead is tactical, just running around installing and patching things.”

“What you need is a strategic thinker who doesn’t just do the technical, but thinks about strategy in the long term.”

4. ‘Are we being as efficient as we could be?’

For a lot of business managers, IT is just about the bigger and the best. When it comes to technology, they think price point is the ultimate goal.

‘Just get the best equipment, and get more of it,’ is the usual mentality.

But Larry Bloch, the chief executive of NetRegistry, says that’s not the way to go. You may be overspending half your IT budget on useless upgrades. He suggests it’s time to have a chat not only about cost, but efficiency.

“You need to ask about your approach to IT from an efficiency perspective. Are you just building IT in your business because that’s what you’ve always done, or is there a different approach?”

You may need to downgrade systems, or even spend a lot more money. The idea is to improve productivity, not worry about cost.

“It’s worth stepping back and just deciding whether you need to be doing things in a different way.”

5. ‘Do you have the right resources for what you’re doing?’

Every business would love more employees if they’re getting swamped. But as David Markus points out, in IT this can be important considering how much of a business now runs on technology.

As Markus says, this comes down to getting the right skillset.

“You need to get your resources right. If you don’t, you’re just not going to progress. You’ll have people who can’t deliver projects.”

“Not every manager has the time to do training and manage reactive work. Getting your resources lined up so that you don’t always have to do that is important.”

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