3 Steps for Small Businesses to Avoid a Single Point of Failure

System-Failure.gifIf the phrase “human point of failure” seems a bit out of place, perhaps it’s because we tend to think of mechanical and technology components – the foundation of our IT infrastructures – as the more critical – and breakable – links. But in smaller companies, and particularly in the area of IT, people can hold the power to bring business to a screeching halt.

How? In the budget- and resource-lean environment of a small-but-growing company, it’s common for a single individual to possess the unique knowledge and skills that keep the business-critical technology running. But when that key individual goes on vacation, gets sick, or leaves the company for a new job, his or her skills and silo’d knowledge of the company’s processes, infrastructure, and business go, too. With few resources to spare, it may seem that there is no alternative other than simply to keep your fingers crossed and hope nothing will go wrong.

That’s not much of a disaster plan. And really, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here are 3 steps your small business can take to mitigate the potential of a human becoming a single point of failure:

Step 1: Document

A company’s technology infrastructure is as unique as its business. With different requirements for users, mobility, processes, and supporting applications – and just as many choices for technologies that meet those requirements – there is very little that is “standard” when it comes to the technologies used and how they are integrated and configured. This makes it very difficult for someone to just step in and pick up where someone left off.

Documentation is an essential bridge between your absent knowledge source and an interim resource – whether that is an internal non-technical employee or outsourced IT professional (we’ll get to that in a minute).

Beginning with the daily tasks and a critical systems list, the goal of your documentation should be to enable an interim resource to keep things running and stable – at least until your main resource returns or you find another permanent solution. Documentation should include an overview of your infrastructure – including network diagrams, configurations, and software versions along with basic instructions and tips for “what happens if” scenarios. Screenshots and labeling of system components, wiring, and devices further enhance your documentation and its usability.

Another essential – not only for interim coverage but also as part of a larger emergency plan – is a secured repository of credentials for all critical network devices and accounts as well as admin passwords that can be accessed by authorized users as necessary.

As anyone who works with technology knows, change is a constant. Be prepared to review your documentation regularly and revise accordingly to ensure that it remains relevant.

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Step 2: Train

Job redundancy is a luxury not typically afforded by small organizations. But training – coupled with clear and current documentation – are crucial factors in maintaining the status quo while your main system admin is not available.

Internally, a broad knowledge of your business-critical systems is necessary for keeping the overall technology-based support operational while your system admin is away. While small business employees typically wear multiple hats, try to identify an employee that can cover the bigger picture basics of your infrastructure, one preferably that has an interest in technology so that the learning curve isn’t too daunting.

Tap into the knowledge of your department-based “super users,” too. With proper training, these end users of specific systems – accounting or ERP, for instance – can become a helpful liaison between the business and IT, translating their familiarity of a system to support other end users, field questions, and troubleshoot system and user issues.

Step 3: Augment

Documentation and internal training can go a long way to maintaining stable system operations during planned and unplanned absences of your key IT network resource. In addition, it’s likely that you already have a support contract for specific systems and/or hardware that can be called upon in an emergency. Sometimes, though, a necessary action – such as reinstalling software or reconfiguring a server – may exceed the comfort level and ability of your internal interim resource.

A local IT services company, in that case, can be an invaluable backup for your small business IT requirements. IT companies that offer staff augmentation can provide “plug and play” IT consultants that offer a deep bank of knowledge, experience and skills as a backup solution for your human point of failure. If possible, request that the provider sends the same trained technical resources each time since they already will be familiar with your business, users, and environment. It’s also important to note that once you engage a trusted IT services provider, proactive training and documentation can impart a critical understanding of your unique business and technology infrastructure – before you need their assistance.

The value of engaging an expert IT services provider extends well beyond assisting during emergencies and for unplanned absences. The resources available through your provider give you the flexibility to augment the skills and bandwidth of your own IT resource for special projects, cover your business during a key resource’s PTO, and deliver supplemental expertise for specialized areas as needed such as security or mobile communications.

Don’t wait for an emergency. Get started on these steps today to protect your business and reinforce your human points of failure.

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With more than two decades of experience, the iCorps IT consulting team is dedicated to delivering excellence to our customers by staying ahead of market trends and understanding new technologies that could impact their business. iCorps delivers superior IT outsourcing, IT support and technology solutions implemented by the best consultants in the BostonPhiladelphia and New York (NY) areas.