It’s 2013 and I’m asking small and medium businesses to make a resolution: No new e-mail servers. Stop setting up new Exchange, or SquirrelMail, or whatever stale, byzantine messaging server you’ve been using. It’s a new year, and your better than this.
It’s time to move your e-mail to hosted servers, to the “cloud” as it were.
Note: “Cloud” makes as much sense to IT folks as it does to laymen. So let’s make our second resolution to stop using the word “cloud” to describe things on the internet.
Why make the move?
Many IT departments aren’t very good at supporting e-mail. Moving it external often gives an immediate quality of service boost. The staff who were giving minimal effort to support a service they thought of as boring can be freed up to do other, more interesting things that they’ll be better at.
The level of redundancy and resiliency provided by a hosted provider is also far greater than what you’re likely able to provide in-house. I’ve yet to see a client have more outages as a result of moving e-mail to a hosted provider.
Unless you’re spending a ridiculous amount of money on securing your messaging systems with appliances and dedicated staff, hosted e-mail is going to be much more secure. You can leverage their scale for your benefit and take care of security and compliance concerns that would be much costlier and more difficult to implement if you tried to do so in-house.
The true cost of supporting mail servers, filters, archival, and the whole messaging ecosystem is a big piece of the IT budget, even though most departments don’t account for it properly. The price-per-user of hosted e-mail often feels high the first time someone sees it on paper, but when compared to an honest accounting of the cost of in-house e-mail, it usually wins.
More simply, it’s just time. E-mail is a commodity service and it no longer makes sense for most companies to maintain their own mail servers. Just like you’re probably not building your own servers and workstations or growing your own corn, it’s time to move e-mail out of the local server-room.
There are several options available, including AppRiver’s Hosted Exchange, Microsoft’s Office365, and Google Apps. If someone tells you that they can provide better e-mail in-house, remind them that there’s no such thing as artisanal e-mail. Let someone else do the work, and you’ll be much better off.
“Low cost! Cheap! Can’t you fix it with some duct-tape!?” These are the words that crush the souls of IT managers everywhere. They certainly aren’t things you’d want to hear if you were expecting to feel valued. But instead of getting all mopey and resigning yourself to a career of chasing budget money, maybe it’s time to change up your game.
For many businesses information technology is just a row in a spreadsheet. It’s where executives direct as little money as possible to keep the business running. Housekeeping gets the same handling, only the janitor didn’t do anything to deserve how he’s been treated. IT probably did.
A history of failed, costly projects and a continued lack of return on investment has put technology departments in the dog house and reframed IT purchasing from “How will this help grow the business?” to “How can we do this as cheaply as possible with results we can all live with?” Instead of treating IT as a business enabler, it’s handled with risk management gloves. Much of that treatment is fair, but it’s also steered IT down a path of increasingly diminished returns and has limited the ability of IT groups to turn things around, learn from past mistakes, and start helping grow the business.
If you’re a tech person dealing with management and you hear the “How cheap…?” question, it’s hard not to feel dejected. You’re likely going to have to piece something together that barely works and becomes another line on the “Complaints to IT” form.
From the executive side of the table, you’ve got a problem you’re trying to solve and know the solution needs to involve technology. Based on past IT performance you’re not optimistic, so you lower your expectations down to “What can we do for $10 that won’t break in a week?” all while thinking “Why do we even have an IT department?”
The first step towards making things better is to stop talking about low cost and start thinking and talking about value. Get it out of your head that low cost and value are the same thing. They aren’t. Low cost is a just a feature of a solution. Value is the benefit the solution provides to the business.
It’s really common for IT folks to get trapped in a features conversation, usually because we start there. But it’s only going to lead to lots of hurt for everyone. Imagine this conversation:
“We only buy red trucks.”
“Ok, but those red trucks aren’t powerful enough to haul the amount of dirt we need. I realize that these trucks I’ve picked out are blue, but they are the one’s we need. They will save the company money in the long run by letting us make fewer trips and we’ll spend less time maintaining them because they won’t be overworked.”
“We only buy red trucks.”
I’m being reductive, but I hope you get the point. Feature conversations( like “low cost”) are a dead end. They lead to bad feelings and bad decisions.
It’s a bad place to be for everybody, but there is hope and a path to change.
Reframing how IT projects are approached and sidelining the “How cheap…?” question doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to start spending more on IT. In fact, it may steer the business in the opposite direction by shaping better decisions and lessening the chance of IT spinning their wheels on dead-end projects.
Unless you are working for a tech business, you probably won’t be able to turn IT into a profit center, but maybe you can start driving growth and profits indirectly. Maybe the new messaging system you put in means the sales team can talk to five more leads each day. Maybe the new e-commerce infrastructure can handle more traffic and makes the buying experience quicker, leading to more sales. These are the type of wins you need to gain trust and reduce the fighting needed to get the boring technical stuff approved.
I’m not just talking about spinning your projects towards the value angle, but legitimately rethinking about the purpose of IT solutions and IT’s role in the business. It shouldn’t just be about keeping things running but making things better. The best tech projects give businesses new capabilities and an edge over their competition. Not every purchase or solution can do that, but it certainly won’t hurt to start trying to figure out what solutions would and focusing on those.
None of this is new. Enabling-growth and providing value is what business IT has always been about. It’s just that so many businesses and IT departments lost their way and pigeon-holed IT into low-cost mode, where it will never be anything more than a row in a spreadsheet.
Image Credit: tanfelisa
Somewhere along the way things went awry. You bought all the laptops and servers and switches to help run your business. Now they’re telling you what to do.
The IT department has taken over in a stealth attack. They extort you for protection money and tell you “No” every-time you want to try to do something new.
It’s time to take back control of your business.
How did you get to a place where technology is boxing you in and the IT department is making business decisions?
Well, to be honest, it’s probably your fault. Just a little. It’s IT’s fault too. And it’s Bob’s fault (Geez, I hate that guy.). It’s everyone’s fault but that doesn’t matter, we just need to air out the room so we can start turning things around.
When I start work with a business that’s struggling with technology balance and start digging into the past a little, what I usually see is this:
1. People stopped talking to each other, or never did talk. The business folks got stuck in a vacuum, feeling like IT never listens to them so they stop trying. The technology team – in their own vacuum, and suffering from a lack of direction – dug in, built a palisade, and declared themselves kings of the playground.
2. Level 1 Support Technician, who’s never worked anywhere else in his life, got promoted to Chief Information Officer because he’s been here the longest. He’s technically competent and a good guy in general, but doesn’t really understand business.
Again, it doesn’t help to dwell on the “whys” other than to say “Yes, mistakes were made. Let’s move forward.”
The first step to taking back control of your business starts with a question:
“Why do we even have technology in our office?”
If you don’t know why, that’s a big problem. You’re going to need more help than I can give you in a blog post. Call me.
If you can come up with your reasons, go ask IT what they think. If their answers are different from yours, that’s another problem. You all need to be on the same page. Someone needs to be meeting regularly with IT to make sure they know what the business needs and for the tech team to give feedback and options. (Keep in mind that sometimes “No, we can’t do that.” is a real answer, but make sure they can back it up with reasons that make sense.)
All this might sound a little obvious, but I’m constantly running across companies where the tech team and the business team haven’t talked in months. Everyone’s off doing their own thing and IT has just become a landfill where someone occasionally dumps some money.
If you’ve promoted Tammy the Technician to CIO and there are problems, consider that it might be because she understands as little about the business stuff as you do about the tech stuff. It’s a crummy situation. You can’t really demote her without ruining her as an employee, so you’ve got a choice to make – Help her find a new job somewhere else or stick it out. If you plan on keeping her in the role, you’re going to have to hold her hand a little (or a lot).
Once people start talking to each other, you might find you feel better about technology’s place in your business. I can guarantee you that your IT team will feel better about their jobs when they understand the business problems they are helping solve.
Just talking isn’t an all-in-one fix, but it’s a great place to start.
You need to make sure that the employee was exposed to and learned the rule through a well conducted onboarding process. Handing the employee the handbook and other documents and expecting to just read them is not sufficient. Make sure they understand work place policies and rules from the beginning. It helps to ask them questions about what they read. It helps to follow up with them after a few weeks to make sure the understanding is there. It helps to have their supervisor reinforcing the important thing.
There are so many business and technology problems I run across that could have been prevented by someone taking the time to set expectations.
Maybe it’s because of the time factor, maybe it’s because it requires actually talking to people – I don’t know. But it seems to be a step that gets skipped far too often and the problems that result are attacked later on with technology, shouting, and bad feelings.
Great news for Yahoo employees and a great example of the changes that are happening as companies are coming to the end-of-life on their current Blackberry infrastructure – Yahoo’s new CEO, Marissa Mayer (formerly of Google) just announced a plan to replace all corporate Blackberry handsets with top-of-the-line smartphones. From Business Insider:
Through the program, Yahoo employees will have a choice of phones: iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S3, HTC One X, HTC EVO 4G LTE, or Nokia Lumia 920. Yahoo is also going to pay its employees data and phone bills. Yahoo is also going to discontinue IT support for Blackberry phones.
At this point, I can’t imagine an IT director or CIO asking for money to renew Blackberry licenses. RIM (Blackberry’s manufacturer) hasn’t innovated in years – the Blackberry branded handsets seem to be 1-2 generations behind and many of their once “killer” features have been baked into new mail server software like Exchange 2012.
If you’re about to refresh your e-mail infrastructure, this is something to consider.
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