A mid-sized packaging manufacturer called me in once for a consult. The COO told me, “We think our IT company is doing a great job, but we’ve been with them for 10 years and we want you to just double check everything for us.”
Easy-peasy! I started where I always start: with the server backups. A business can lose a lot of things and survive, but for most businesses, losing all the data on the server means lights out. This particular company had a server with a tape backup machine.
With pride, the COO told me about how religiously he swapped out the tapes every single day. He took one home with him each night for extra safety and he had been doing so ever since the machine was installed 8 years ago.
I took the most recent tape, put it into the server, and tried to load the contents.
The tape was blank. No data.
I took the next tape. Blank. No data.
In fact, every backup tape they had was 100% blank.
All the client’s efforts, the nightly ritual, taking a tape home for safekeeping, had been for nothing. The client had no backups, and at 8 years old, a server long past the end of its life.
How as the client to know any better? IT is one of the most critical jobs in an organization and operates on trust. Generally, IT is invisible until something goes wrong, and only then do companies discover if their IT has been doing all the right things.
So I want to offer you a quick, simple, non-technical 5-step plan that anybody can carry out to check if your IT is healthy. If you perform these steps and receive a couple of emails with the right responses from IT, you’ll be good to go. However, if anything doesn’t line up, you’ll know it’s time to start asking some hard questions.
Find out if backups are working
You don’t need a bunch of complicated nightly reports or logins to figure out if your backups are working. The simple way to find out is to email IT and ask them to get you a file from a week ago. That’s it. Here is a template to make it even faster:
Will you please restore file X from 7 days ago? I need to see what I said originally in the document vs. how it reads today.
If your IT responds with the file, great, backups are working!
Check for active warranties on critical equipment
Good backups are nice; however, if you don’t have any equipment to run the backups on, you’re still out of production for days. Having up-to-date warranties on the equipment that runs your business will save you from long outages if something does die. The equipment that needs to be warrantied for most organizations is your server(s) and your firewall.
The type of warranty is also critical. HP offers warranties that range from “we will get you back up and running within 8 hours of the report 365 days a year, 24 hours a day” to “we will get you back up and running in 3 business days.” One means that on Christmas Eve you’re back up by Christmas Day; one means that on Christmas Eve you’ll be down for the next 6 days!
To check on your warranties, here is another template to use when contacting IT.
I want to check on the status of our critical warranties. Will you please let me know the following:
- a) When does the warranty expire on each of our servers?
- b) When does the warranty expire on our firewall?
- c) If either of those fail, how fast does the warranty get us replacement equipment?
Test your after-hours support plan
If your equipment goes down after hours, who will respond, and how fast? Is that person competent? You may think you have 24/7 coverage, but if that means 24/7 access to voicemail with a callback “sometime later,” you don’t want to discover that during the critical extra production run you’re doing on Saturday afternoon.
So, test it! Select a lazy Sunday afternoon and pick up the phone. Call your IT and see what happens. If it goes to voicemail, tell them you’re having an emergency and you want a callback ASAP. See how long it takes.
Ask when you last reset the administrator password for your network
This test is as easy as the rest, and as telling. The administrator password should be reset on a regular schedule, every 3 to 6 months. This is the password that would allow a bad actor access to everything in your company, so it needs to be locked down tight.
Here is another email template.
Will you please tell me the date on which we last changed the master admin password for our network?
Finally, find out if anybody is needlessly suffering
I’m amazed at how often folks will tolerate using very slow equipment. Sometimes I’ve seen workers with computers that take 5+ seconds to load each screen, and you can do the math on how much time that wastes each year. We need each of our employees to have computers that load programs quickly, and if they don’t, IT has fallen down on the job.
So one more quick email template, this time for all staff:
Will you please let me know if anybody’s computer is running slowly? I’m looking for any systems that are taking 3 to 5 seconds to load orders or new pages in our accounting or CRM software.
That’s really it. You can have a good handle on the health of your IT in minutes by asking a few critical questions.
If you want to know more, please reach out to me! I’m always here to help. Zac@itassurance.com