By Mike Herrington

Managing your businesses technology solutions doesn’t have to be akin to summiting Everest. Cool new tools allow you to work smarter and not harder, achieving your business technology objectives with relative ease.

As a teenager growing up in Minnesota, I was constantly roped into manual labor by my father. My father is an engineer by profession and has a great talent for design and problem solving. We worked on all kinds of cars together, built decks, erected a 15-foot-tall swing set as well as other projects in and around the house.

One day we were out working on a car and I was attempting to pull a particularly stubborn lug nut off a tire. I was struggling. My dad looked over my shoulder and told me to change my grip. He noticed that I was holding the tire iron in the middle and took the time to explain to me that I could get a significant increase in leverage by simply sliding my grip to the end of the tire iron. “It’s physics,” he said matter-of-factly. “Work smarter, not harder.”

I changed my grip and the lug nut immediately started to turn. There are a few lessons I learned from my father that day that I’ve used repeatedly throughout my life and professional career: 1.Work smarter, not harder; 2. Have the right tool for the job; and 3. Change your grip.

I spend most of my days consulting with business owners on their technology solutions. I ask a lot of questions. What’s working? What’s not? Where can you gain efficiency through better use of technology and automation of processes? What are all your man-hours in IT currently being devoted to? What is your technology strategy?

I get a lot of “ums” and “ahems” as answers. Frequently the C-level where I’m typically engaged has very little idea of where their IT guy spends his time. Whether it’s in-house or outsourced, it doesn’t seem to make much difference. They don’t have a pulse of the day-to-day issues that come up, recurring problems or what are the biggest time sucks.

I can’t blame them. Most of the time these are small or medium business owners that don’t have IT backgrounds. They basically trust their staffs’ recommendations or an outsourced provider to handle IT for them so they can focus on other things. That CAN be a good thing, because strategically it’s best for the business for their focus to be on growth and other business objectives.

What these business owners miss out on are all the chances to add efficiency, streamline processes and save money for their businesses because they lack the data to make informed decisions on their technology spending.

Smarter, not harder

In an ideal scenario, your IT staff or provider should have answers to the questions listed above. They should know where their pain points are and where time gets wasted. They should have a roadmap of where they’re going and what they want to accomplish in 2017. They should also be able to tell you in simple terms how it benefits your business.

Once identified, we can start focusing on how to resolve some of these problems and work smarter. A good illustration of this principle is patching and updating of Windows. Microsoft releases patches every week that should be applied to keep your network secure and running smoothly. The downside is that they take time and can be cumbersome to administer, especially in a large environment.

An IT admin with 100 computers can easily spend 30 hours each month administering patches and updates. This is NOT the highest and best use of their time. There are software tools that allow you to completely automate the administration of these patches and ultimately provider better control and reporting of compliance. A small investment can save a lot of man-hours. Smarter, not harder.

Have the right tool

I recently consulted with a company that does fire prevention inspections. Their small army of inspectors goes out to each customer to physically inspect their premises. Each client has a lengthy checklist that gets filled out while they are there. At the end of a workday the inspectors would drop an entire stack of these forms onto the desk of a data-entry clerk who would then enter all the information into the system. This was a full-time job.

After some discussion with the client, we decided that paper forms might not be the best tool for the job anymore. Inspectors were equipped with an iPad that had a fillable PDF form. They would simply click things off as they went, enter their notes and hit a button that emailed it home and stored it securely.

The business moved the data entry clerks into another role where they began to generate revenue for the company. They estimated a minimum $50,000-peryear savings from this change.

Change your grip

On another recent consulting visit, I found myself working with a sizable manufacturing company. They had four internal IT staff members, 40 physical servers and a pretty messy network. The company wanted to better control its IT costs and consolidate its servers. The idea was that this would result in lower hardware costs and fewer points of failure.

After an extensive review of their network, personnel and processes, they were ready to change their grip. They made some changes to their IT staff and let go two of the four employees. They strategically partnered with a managed service provider to fill in the gaps and to get access to tools that allowed better automation and administration of the network. They also did a pretty huge project to virtualize all their servers and drastically change their server footprint.

These changes resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in yearly savings for the company in labor costs, hardware maintenance and support. It also gave them a more robust solution with fewer points of failure. Sometimes we just need to change our grip.

Technology solutions can be complex. They require a lot of thought and work. Strategy is key. If C-levels take the time to invest in understanding IT, they can enjoy enormous benefits for their organizations through increased efficiency, labor savings and cost savings.

Mike Herrington is the manager of business development at i.t.NOW.

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