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Volume 30, Issue 1

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Thursday, 23 June 2016 00:00

The Upside to Downsizing: How Outsourcing IT can Bolster Business Continuity

Written by  BRYAN GREGORY

Businesses that are facing pressures to cut costs and reduce staff often look to their IT department first when deciding which sectors of their organization to downsize. While some companies are under the impression that an on-premise IT department can provide better support to their end-users, outsourcing their technology needs may prove to be more efficient and cost-effective than they think.

Today, businesses operate within a world almost entirely reliant upon technology, and it’s imperative that organizations are prepared for unforeseen disasters, technology failures, and the day-to-day maintenance an IT environment demands. Unfortunately, many businesses fail to develop and implement an established business continuity strategy, especially those companies that are dependent upon an in-house IT department to serve their technology needs.

Transitioning from an in-house to an outsourced IT solution can provide a number of benefits that extend beyond reducing expenditures. Here are methods and best practices to effectively outline how businesses downsizing their IT department can actually improve their ability to effectively reduce downtime and maintain business continuity by outsourcing their IT needs.

Downtime, Data Loss, and Disaster Recovery

On average, businesses experience approximately 14 hours of downtime per year, and midsize companies lose more than $91,000 annually due to the resulting disruptions in their operations. These numbers may seem incongruent, but downtime affects more than end-user access to networks and devices. When daily operations are disrupted, it can affect employee productivity, business growth opportunities, client relationships, and more. Every aspect of a business suffers when it cannot function to its full capacity, and companies should be proactive in developing, implementing, and testing their business continuity strategies to ensure the well-being of their organizations as a whole.

Gregory InfographicDowntime can occur in a variety of forms, and it can be difficult to determine where and how these interruptions take place. Downtime can accumulate via delayed loading times, hardware and software malfunctions, system outages or maintenance, natural disasters, inattentive or malicious end-users, network breaches, and a plethora of other issues that can have severe consequences for a company’s bottom line.

According to Gartner, 40 percent of downtime is caused by application failures, 40 percent by end-user error, and 20 percent by system failures or environmental impact. If, for example, a business experiences network compromise due to a careless employee and lack of sufficient system monitoring, the organization will likely incur a variety of both tangible and intangible costs. The company will be faced with fees that accompany system repairs, opportunity loss, IT staff overtime to remediate issues, and even legal penalties if the business failed to abide by compliance or security standards in the first place.

A business’s network should be functional 99.9 percent of the time, which is the equivalent of about five minutes of downtime per year. While it may be difficult for an in-house IT solution to guarantee this consistency, outsourcing those needs will likely facilitate system availability a majority of the time.

Data loss is one of the most detrimental effects of a technology disaster because it can halt business processes and can put a company at risk for legal ramifications. For small businesses, 64 percent of IT professionals claim a data loss event can mean the end of their business depending on how the incident is handled. To ensure operations continue, 71 percent of IT professionals claim data recovery must be achieved 24 hours after the loss occurs. To accomplish rapid recovery, a business must have an established disaster recovery plan in place to restore and secure this information, a task often ignored by in-house IT departments.

The most effective way to safeguard against data loss is by implementing a highly redundant data back-up solution, and the decision to outsource IT may provide businesses with more resources and expertise to develop and manage such a system than an in-house IT solution could provide. Essentially, data continuity enables business continuity, but in a study released by CloudBerry Lab,

one-third of enterprise organizations do not back up their business’s data. This is disconcerting because a company cannot continue its operations without the necessary information it needs to perform its daily tasks. For example, if a law firm’s servers are impaired, and it loses access to client data, the firm will likely be unable to continue working on cases and may suffer damages to its current and future client relationships. This could leave the organization at a standstill and potentially result in an extended recovery period during which its reputation, or the establishment as a whole, may not survive.

An in-house IT department may be able to make multiple copies of an organization’s data, but those copies will likely be stored on-site and the correct systems may not be in place to ensure these duplicates are updated regularly and securely stored.

Outsourcing such needs will generally allow data to be stored off-site, possibly in another region or state. This is especially relevant in the case of a disaster that damages a business’s on-premise technology. If a hurricane strikes, a breakin occurs, or a business’s critical servers are rendered useless, the data stored on these servers becomes useless as well. However, if redundant copies of the company’s information are hosted on servers outside of the affected area, the business can easily restore that information and continue operating as if it were unaffected. In this case, an in-house solution with on-site servers would likely put a business at a disadvantage as it could take days or weeks to restore the data, if it could be restored at all.

Proactive Support and 24/7/365 monitoring
Businesses that decide to downsize their IT staff and outsource their technology needs are often concerned their IT support will suffer as a result. Companies may fear the absence of on-site IT resources will lead to delays in service response and insufficient support of their IT environments. However, outsourcing these functions of their business can instead provide proactive maintenance, enhanced network reliability and performance, standardized processes, and a breadth of technology and information resources that will work to minimize downtime and ensure business continuity. An on-site IT person may seem like a more accessible resource, but one individual, or even a few IT techs, cannot manage all of a company’s IT needs to the same degree as the team of professional IT experts a business gains when it resorts to outsourcing.

Frequently, an on-site IT technician is not capable of monitoring a company’s network 24/7/365, which can leave the business at risk afterhours or whenever the IT staff is unavailable. When a business’s IT tech goes on vacation, is running late to work, takes sick days, or is trying to manage the requests of several end-users at one time, the company’s network is left unsupervised and vulnerable to a technology malfunctions, system failure, or network breach. An on-site technician generally lacks access to remote monitoring capabilities, such as a network operations center (NOC), which outsourcing these needs could provide. This inhibits the company’s ability to proactively identify and remedy problems before they escalate, thus affecting network availability.

A business infrastructure requires continuous scanning for intrusions, security risks, disk space availability, etc. It’s unlikely a company has an IT support person who can effectively manage all of these elements at one time. Generally, the on-site staff a business employs respond to problems using a break-fix approach that focuses on addressing problems as they occur. This can lead to hours of accumulated downtime as employees attempt to remedy the IT environment. Even if the on-site tech does have access to remote monitoring tools, it’s highly unlikely they will be capable of responding any time an alert surfaces. For example, if the systems detects a software malfunction at 3 a.m., the employee will likely be unavailable and incapable of responding within the appropriate time frame to deter further complications.

In addition to availability, a company’s on-site IT technicians frequently have a limited skill set and lack the ability to develop and implement a series of standardized processes to both address issues and manage the IT infrastructure. To ensure network security is maintained, a technician must be capable of performing regular maintenance on all equipment. Upkeep includes updates, patches, backups, etc., and the IT support staff must have the technical knowledge to know when these tasks need to be performed. A pertinent business application may call for a new patch installation, and if the technician is unaware of this need, or puts the task aside to address more pressing issues at that time, the business’s network could be exposed to a deadly virus and suffer a potential server crash. When a company outsources its IT needs, it gains access to a team of IT technicians with an expansive and diverse knowledge base who can remotely monitor, update, and manage the business’s systems to effectively deter threats and maximize uptime.

While some companies may be anxious to replace their on-site IT support with an outsourced solution, this transition can be beneficial to the health of the organization’s IT environment, improve operations, and boost employee morale. Even in the event of an emergency or disaster, businesses can rest easier knowing that their entire data systems are safe and secure at a separate location, meaning less downtime and less money loss should their place of business be damaged. A business that can operate seamlessly and avoid technology pitfalls can enhance its productivity and pave the way for future innovation and growth.

Gregory BryanBryan Gregory is the senior vice president and general manager of Aldridge, the IT-services professionals and outsourcing company in Dallas, Texas. Gregory is responsible for the general management of Aldridge's Dallas office, including marketing and sales, new business development, human resources, and oversight of day-to-day operations. He joined the company in 2008 as its first sales representative. In just five years, Gregory successfully built a sales and account management team in two major U.S. markets and grew annual revenue from less than $1 million to more than $10 million.