Most IT consultants should have migrated their business operations to emphasize managed services. Unfortunately, many clients still live in the much more stressful, inefficient, and disruptive break-fix world. When meeting a prospective client and working to ensure the organization's ownership values IT investments as a means of powering business operations and injecting cost efficiencies, telltale signs (which are not foolproof laws) often reveal whether this is the case.
No receptionist desk
Organizations that once maintained a full-time receptionist but no longer staff the position because they were forced to eliminate the role due to cost-cutting requirements are likely to have reduced spending in other critical areas, too. These firms often possess neglected IT infrastructure as well.
Such clients often suspect they're due for an overhaul and fear systems failure is imminent. Some may already be experiencing unplanned outages and business disruptions due to unmanaged servers, obsolete network equipment, and aging desktops.
No consultant can correct years of technological mismanagement and neglect quickly and easily -- returning to a reliable baseline of operation requires far more than just implementing a managed services contract. You're challenged to document the older infrastructure, explain the deficiencies, and recommend corresponding replacements and upgrades to help break the costs into more manageable stages.
Generic white box PCs
When I encounter white box or generic computers, a host of issues are almost always present, too. Microsoft Office and even server OS software is frequently licensed improperly. Free consumer-grade antivirus applications are often deployed in violation of the manufacturer's licensing terms. Residential-grade routers are often the sole link to the Internet (more on that later). Backups often aren't in place, haven't been working, and were never monitored.
Generic computers usually indicate the organization's ownership is resistant to making reasonable IT investments that are necessary to ensure proper business-grade equipment is in place and intended product lifecycles aren't exceeded. That's how the generic systems ended up being deployed in the first place.
Before turning the attention to costs and expenses associated with upgraded equipment, you need to resolve any bugs first.
Consumer-grade routers on a business network are never a good sign. I've lost track of the number of times customers have complained of poor wireless performance, the lack of remote (VPN) support, and bad network performance, only to discover the business was running off an $89 router that a consumer might purchase from Target.
Organizations that must secure their systems, empower reliable wireless networking, and enable optimal performance need better. No business or nonprofit should deploy anything less than an entry level business-class router; this is especially true for any organization possessing credit card information, protected health information, or sensitive client or business information. You must explain the logic and justification of deploying a business-grade firewall that supports running perimeter-based gateway security services and enabling intrusion prevention, an often arduous and uphill battle.
Analog phone system
The presence of an antiquated analog phone system at a prospect's site isn't necessarily a sign the client doesn't value or understand the importance of basic IT investments, but it is worrisome. The client has been working with an incapable IT provider that didn't bother pointing out the potential efficiencies of switching to VoIP, or the client didn't make such an investment because they couldn't afford it. Your challenge becomes clear: assist clients who are desperate to implement technology upgrades.
When analog phone systems are found mated to outdated T1 data circuit contracts, sometimes you must identify opportunities where the client can reduce costs and free up funds for investments in other areas. By replacing the obsolete telephony system with a VoIP platform and a more cost-effective broadband connection, it may free the client of hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month needed to upgrade servers, network equipment, workstations, and software applications.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.