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When it comes to IT, be the electric self-drive car on the motorway, not the hand-drawn cart on the cobbles

Many businesses we work with treat IT as some sort of necessary evil. Something they must put up with but would gladly do without, like dodgy relatives or Brexit.

I understand this. IT is mainly incomprehensible, highly technical and seemingly designed to lull you into a false sense of security then inexplicably let you down when you most need it.

On the other hand, being inside the industry, I see the huge benefits it can bring if properly implemented and maintained.

The problem is that the IT of many companies has evolved through reactive necessity and regulation, not through proactive planning with defined goals, leaving many businesses with a hotchpotch of under-performing technologies.

Being reactive also engenders a reliance on outdated or incorrect infrastructure.

The IT industry is by far the fastest-evolving arena businesses have ever experienced. Every year we see IT becoming a major part of everything in our lives, from computers in domestic appliances to self-driving vehicles – leaving many businesses in the position of using hand-drawn carts on cobbled streets while their more proactive competition makes best use of electric self-drive vehicles on motorways.

Business owners are not alone in their culpability for this.

Because of the frenetic pace of the industry, it has been very difficult to divine what direction it will take, making the job of what to invest in and when very much a gamble.

With little or no formal training in IT and a lack of impartial professional advice from the market, it is surprising that the situation is not far worse.

In short, the reason many business owners bought into handcarts and cobbled streets is because their IT advisor sold them into this, mainly because this is what they know, not having invested in training and new technologies themselves.

The most common statement we hear from prospective customers is “I really am stupid when it comes to IT” or some similarly embarrassed admission. Why should you be otherwise?

Were you taught it at school? Have you taken IT classes since you left? Has the Government offered you helpful guidelines and free advice on your business IT?

Mostly I assume the answer is 'no' to all.

The experience most business owners have with IT is limited to being forcibly pushed and threatened. GDPR is an example of this, a necessary and well thought out piece of legislation that businesses were told to adopt or be fined, but with very little Government help and guidance as to how to do it, leaving them at the mercy of “expert GDPR consultants” charging £10,000 to put a disclaimer on your website.

Having painted this picture of the befuddled business owner lugging his handcart along the cobbled street along with many of his peers, while the lucky few with a proactive approach sit back in their new-age offices with air hockey and lattes, smugly glancing at screens informing them of when their self-driving trucks will arrive and reaping the benefits of their superior tech, how do we change this?

Over the coming months I intend to offer some impartial, general guidance that will hopefully help those in need to be more informed and more confident in developing a plan for their IT.

For those of you who still think this does not apply to your business, here are a couple of case studies:

Case study 1

Medium-sized building company with inherited manual and outdated IT systems and procedures applies for a sizeable contract, to be told it must prove it conforms to certain standards before it can be considered.

Most of the hard work for them involved us helping them to decipher technical questions they knew the answers to. Some changes were required to existing systems and procedures, including the introduction of an IT policy.

We introduced Microsoft SharePoint, which was already included in their 365 subscription but was not being used, and within two months they had applied for and been awarded the contract. This opened doors to other similar work. We are still working with them on improving their systems.

Case study 2

A financial services company with a server on-site being advised by an IT company to invest in a new server as its existing one is out of warranty and its line-of-business software is being upgraded and needs a more up-to-date server to run on, involving significant capex, downtime and training.

Through consultation with them and their application provider, an online version was suggested. Working with the provider, the new software was tested, data migrated from the server to the cloud, PCs set up and staff trained. The old server was fully decommissioned, having moved them to MS365.

Some investment was required, as was some readjustment and training. Their monthly IT spend was reduced, no further accrual for new servers required and other benefits such as remote working were welcomed.

Don’t be put off by IT – get some good advice and make your IT work for you.

* Garry Moore is MD of Genmar IT, Unit 12, The Links Business Centre, Raynham Road industrial estate, Bishop's Stortford CM23 5NZ. Call 0330 445 1234 and visit www.genmar.co.uk. Genmar has been providing business IT support services for more than 20 years and is a supporter of the Bishop's Stortford Independent's Indies community, sport and business awards.

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