Tony Stanford gets around. As an information technology consultant, he primarily works with smaller companies that have outsourced their IT needs. He describes his work as "putting out fires." "If one of my client’s network goes down or a server is out of commission," says Tony, "I’m the guy that shows up on the white horse."
I asked him if there was a common denominator that seemed to crop up. I expected to hear "people never back up their data" or "people never use anti-virus software."
His answer was surprising.
The single thread that always reared its head he said, was "lousy" or "no planning" when it came to setting up a computer network, a point-of-sale system or just about any major IT project. "More often than not," said Tony, "even really smart people don’t have a coherent plan when it comes to setting up a business computer system."
He cited the example of a startup company that had just rented some office space and quickly needed to get its employees online. Instead of taking time to plan its endeavor, the company ran over to Office Depot, bought the cheapest computers and printers it could lay its hands on and cobbled together a network.
The result: The computers didn’t have the necessary power and memory to run efficiently, and the cheap ink jet printers seemed to need expensive cartridge replacements every few days. "The method for printing," he said, "was run from your desk and stick a thumb drive into the USB port." On a certain level it worked, but as Tony explained, it wasn’t exactly a model of efficiency.
The upshot was that much of the gear had to be upgraded, and the entire system ended up costing twice as much.
The lesson: Plan ahead before you head out to Costco or Best Buy to buy hardware. An hour or so of planning time spent on an IT professional can save headaches down the line. A pro knows best practices as well as the hardware and software that need minimum maintenance.