The Case for Technology Assessments
An independent assessment can provide firms with the information required to maximize their technology investment.
Every firm wants to make sure it’s getting optimal value for every dollar it spends— especially when it comes to technology. Unlike in other areas, the average manager doesn’t feel sufficiently qualified to analyze, appraise or determine whether the technology solutions being proposed internally or presented by an outsourced provider are cost-effective, meet the firm’s needs, and will deliver what’s expected. Over time, such decisions accumulate, bringing the entire networking system to its current state.
This situation can be complicated by staff turnover, where key employees familiar with the existing system depart, leaving little or no documentation for new staff to use, or where the firm has used one outsourcing company and then switched to another while keeping the same equipment.
An assessment is recommended whenever:
- An existing system has been in operation for more than three years.
- The firm wants to know whether its systems are secure.
- A new system has been installed and has been in operation for six months or more.
- The service provider for the existing system has been unchanged for the past three years.
- A change to the firm’s IT system is being contemplated. (The assessment can help evaluate the proposed new solution.)
Assessments are based largely on a firm’s individual priorities and concerns. However, all assessments examine common elements as well. These include, but are not limited to:
- Server configuration. An evaluation of how the server is set up, how it interrelates with other servers, configuration issues, security issues, performance optimization, and additional reviews based on the specific role of the server.
- Network configuration. An evaluation of the overall network architecture, including spam and antivirus configuration, network set-up, firewall rules, network policies, switch configuration, Internet access speed, and DNS configuration.
- Desktop configuration. An evaluation of the desktop configuration as it relates to the overall network, desktop settings, desktop policies, performance, and desktop management strategy.
- Peripheral configuration. An evaluation of the IP structure for printers, scanners, copiers and other peripherals used on the network.
- IT staffing. An evaluation of the IT staff complement or the work effort of the outsourced IT company against a standard set of procedures recommended for proper network operation.
- IT budget. A benchmark of the IT spending for the firm against industry norms.
- Documentation. An evaluation of the currency and completeness of the IT policies and procedures that govern the operation of technology. Also a review of existing network documentation and recommendations for augmentation.
Think of a technology assessment like an accounting audit. Each year, accountants review the firm’s financial statements to ensure its books are healthy. In much the same way, a technology assessment reviews the firm’s technology to ensure its infrastructure is healthy.
Here are some examples of issues that have been uncovered during past technology assessments. These are real examples from firms just like yours:
- A firm believed its backup strategy was sound. Each morning, a tape was inserted into the drive and then replaced the next morning when the tape was ejected. It turned out the supplier had provided an incorrect tape format, causing the drive to automatically eject the tape about a minute after it was inserted. The firm hadn’t actually backed up any data in over five months.
- A firm had a password-protected firewall, but the firewall’s password was inadvertently published on the company related website, allowing anyone to access the firewall or infiltrate the system.
- A firm believed that forwarding messages to Gmail would allow it to back up its Exchange mail system. The security risk associated with using a public system for the storage of private client data was identified, leading to the firm making a better decision about the backup of its Exchange data.
- A firm’s primary server was 99% full. At 100%, the system would have shut down. This issue was identified during the assessment, thereby preventing system failure and the resulting downtime associated with full repair.
- A firm’s antivirus system was out of date, allowing over 70 viruses to infect its Exchange server. The issue was identified and preventive action was recommended.
In each of these cases, the firm in question believed its systems were well maintained and well managed. The assessment helped them to improve their overall system and identified risks associated with the management of their technology.
An independent assessment is valuable because:
- It identifies any technical vulnerabilities in the infrastructure.
- It provides recommended courses of action to repair any identified issue.
- Repairs can be completed by internal IT or by the existing outsourced provider, thus existing relationships are not disrupted.
- It provides firm managers with the information they need to make technology decisions in simple language they can understand.
- It helps managers understand their technology staffing complement and budget expenditures relative to other firms in the industry.
- It provides firms with technology peace of mind. They know that, once the triage work is completed, their systems will be in good shape until the next major change.
Assessments should be conducted every three years.
If you are a small or medium-sized business with little time to review your technology infrastructure, consider an assessment. You may have things revealed to you that you were completely unaware of. At a minimum, an assessment will tell you exactly where things stand with your current network, making the right decisions obvious.