It’s time for another article in our IT 101 series, and having looked at ransomware, the basics of hosting, what you need to know about software licensing and cloud computing, to name but a few, we now turn our attention to IT Infrastructure.
IT infrastructure refers to the mix of component parts that make up the IT operation of a business: anything that plays a role to help develop, test, operate, monitor or support IT services, essentially.
It allows a business to deliver IT solutions and services to its employees, partners and customers. It usually sits within the organisation and is managed internally or outsourced to a team of experts who maintain the system remotely as a virtual CIO or with on-site support.
Typical IT infrastructures are made up of:
Hardware: Servers, computers, printers, data centres, switches, hubs and routers
Software: Applications, programmes, tools or online solutions that support day-to-day management, efficiency and security
Network: Network enablement, internet connectivity, firewalls and security
On top of the physical IT devices and services, there’s a resource element – the people and skill sets that work behind the scenes to keep everything in good working order, such as:
- IT service and development teams
- Network administrators
- Security managers
- Testers and
Top tips for setting up your IT infrastructure
Successful businesses, even the smallest, rely on a combination of hardware, software and service solutions to keep them match fit. Pulling everything together requires some strategic planning, so here are our top tips to get you thinking along the right lines.
1. Take your time
As with anything in business, the decisions you make early on will have a lasting impact and contribute to your chances of success. The products and services you invest in as part of your IT infrastructure are no different.
Take time to understand (and agree with the rest of the business) what your existing and future needs are to map out your IT roadmap, even if future plans are purely aspirational.
Talk to the team around you. Find out what they like, what they’ve used before and if any business areas are using a system currently that could be adapted or scaled up, to support the rest of the business.
If the answer isn’t within your own four walls, go outside. Read reviews, case study similar businesses, think about how your competitors manage their operation, talk to the experts and use their recommendations to set up free trials that can help you make more informed decisions.
2. Ask questions (and plenty of them)
IT is an expert field, so you should never be put off asking questions for fear of the professionals rolling their eyes or using baffling jargon. (If they do, choose another expert – it’s their job to answer questions about IT in a way you can understand and act upon)
- Your options
- What kind of technical support products require and what’s included
- How easy it is to make changes or upgrade anything you buy
- Whether the hardware or software you’re about to buy has a planned upgrade in the pipeline
- What kind of commitment is involved with purchase agreements
- What software licenses are required
- The upfront and ongoing costs
- Trials, refunds and policies around replacement hardware
We could provide an endless list of questions, but you get the idea. Ask for explanations from your IT consulting service when you don’t understand something and make sure you’re crystal clear about what you’re buying and how it will support your business, before you agree to anything.
3. Take advantage of free trials
Any hardware or software solution that offers a free trial shows confidence in its ability to perform, but don’t just take their word for it. Take advantage of the trial and work out whether the system is right for you.
A piece of project management software, for example, could function perfectly, but the user experience might feel clunky or take much more time than you’re willing to give it. These are things you want to find out before you sign up.
The software industry is bubbling with programmes that promise to revolutionise everything from the way we manage our time and meetings, to our finances and everything in between. Demos and free trials are standard practice too, so if you’ve done your research and the reviews look good, organise a trial and as obvious as it sounds, make sure the people who will use it most, are included. It’s pointless if you love it but the person who’s going to have to use it day-to-day doesn’t rate it.
4. Keep it simple
Customisation is almost always an option, but standardised products and a simpler overall solution will be easier to install and maintain, and will prove cheaper all round.
Think about the people who’ll be using your office space and the facilities. Even simple things like meeting rooms, where employees need to share their computer screens, run presentations and access the internet, should employ a simple approach.
As a rule: The less configuration involved the better. We’ve all worked somewhere or visited an office where simply sharing a laptop screen has resulted in a sea of multicoloured wires and caused no end of grief. It’s inefficient and unnecessary.
Choosing simple products and IT solutions means less training, onboarding, troubleshooting and upgrades. If the perfect product is something you have to customise and script, it’s not the perfect product!
5. Think modern
Keeping things simple doesn’t mean you have to go old school on the IT front. Start-up businesses knowingly take the risk of failure on the nose, so it’s vital for smaller businesses to apply a modern mindset to every element of their operation.
A) Being savvy about process automation: Using IT to optimise your operation from top to bottom, so the business never wastes time, money or resources on something that can be achieved with minimal effort.
B) Using agile development: Ensuring your earliest infrastructure decisions and future implementations are rolled out in bite-sized chunks that make your IT updates affordable, manageable and measurable.
Regular scrums about business IT replace lengthy change control and firefighting meetings. That along with small, testable changes will ensure a faster pace of change and help you
spend your budget wisely and curb your IT support costs.
C) Maintaining control: This is about (i) proactive monitoring, so you can react to tech needs as they arise and (ii) embracing change at the rate the business is ready for it - making sure there’s sound business sense behind every decision.
Good control won’t block progress, quite the opposite. It will allow your IT resources to flow with the business, ensuring time, effort and budget are appropriately channelled and you’re making infrastructure decisions for the right reasons.
6. Ask for help if you need it
For some, the idea of using an IT expert to get your infrastructure up and running could sound expensive. In fact, the biggest benefit of all might be the money they save you, by ensuring your IT set-up is right from the start. Good IT support is thus an investment, not an expense!
Poor purchasing decisions in IT, however, get very pricey, very quickly. Research is a great place to start because it can help you work out what you like and dislike, and that’s important if you decide to talk to an IT service provider. It also happens to be free, so there’s no harm in swotting up.
Not every business will have the in-house expertise required and it’s the IT expert’s job to take your needs and find the best solution. If a little help up-front allows you to achieve everything on your IT wishlist and future proofs your business in the process, why not avail of it?
Learn more from our IT 101 Series by downloading Part 1 of our collected guidelines and tips below: