How to Take Control of Your IT

I have been involved with many pro-bono projects over the past few years and one of the most common challenges I face is identifying exactly what IT the charity is using to run their operation. I also see this in commercial organisations. A CITA volunteer can certainly help you to take control of your IT but if you follow the guidance in this blog it may help you to get the most value out of your CITA volunteer’s time.

I regularly come across organisations where a survey of the organisation’s use of IT is on an eternal ‘to do list’, constantly being rescheduled as the time to act approaches. This is especially the case in organisations that have zero or limited IT resource, and even less time. The fact is, if you have responsibility for IT and the general operation of the charity, life can be a lot less stressful when you take control of your IT. In the absence of any other plan this may provide you with some timely pointers to enable you to take control of your IT – starting today!

Before I get into the detail I should mention that when I refer to ‘business’, ‘organisation’, ‘charity’, etc., they are interchangeable. I am simply referring to a group of people working together for a common cause.

The first step to taking control of your IT is to understand what you have. It doesn’t matter how large or small your organisation is, if you don’t know what IT devices, applications and services you are using you cannot manage them. Nor can you reliably upgrade them – or secure them. Furthermore, in the event of a disaster you may not know what you need, or what to do to get you and your team back up and running again.

Just stop and think for one minute. How would you deal with a business disaster? This could be loss of access to your office or a full or partial failure of your IT. If you are not sure what your day-to-day IT needs are when everything is working well, how will you cope?

What if you are already on top of your IT? That is very encouraging news. However, this exercise may still help you to gain some valuable information as to the day to day IT requirements of your colleagues that you may otherwise be unaware of. You may discover that one or two colleagues are using their own IT equipment and even their own applications and services to fulfil business requirements.

I know from personal experience of some charities where all the IT equipment, applications and services are personally owned (e.g. a personal laptop with a personal copy of Microsoft Office with a Cloud storage service such as Dropbox). In which case this adds to the complexity. Using personal devices and applications can be a blessing if you lose your office systems as these are likely to be unaffected, but it raises several questions… Where is your data stored? What happens if they leave? Is the data backed up? How is the data shared? Who is responsible for controlling your documents? What happens if an important file is over-written, corrupted or lost? There are many more!

There are many tools available to collect detailed information from your IT devices. Although they can be very useful, choosing the right application to deploy to collect the information can be challenging and it generally requires someone in house with the skill and confidence required to deploy, run and implement these software applications. There are some other aspects to bear in mind. Unless you are already familiar with your IT equipment, software and services it is easy to miss something. If anything is missing your records cannot be relied upon. The other major shortfall is the missed opportunity to engage with your colleagues to learn about the way they use IT to do their job.

If you really want to take control of your IT this information gathering needs to be started sooner rather than later for all the reasons stated above. My fall-back data collection tool for this exercise is a spreadsheet. Now, I must declare I am not a fan of spreadsheets for records but in this scenario, it is simply a means for us to gather information as quickly as possible to serve a specific and immediate purpose.

This is an opportunity to collect as much information as you need or desire from your colleagues, regarding their use of IT and their view of the IT world. So, where should you start? We start with the basics.

For small organisations, a single worksheet for the organisation may suffice, for larger organisations a worksheet per department may work better. I usually start with the headings detailed below and included in the example, but the organisations I provide a template to will invariably make it their own by adding or removing columns in line with their requirements.

In my example I start with ‘Team Member’ followed by their role and where they use their IT. If team members have multiple roles you may want to add a row for each role or have additional columns describing their role. Noting where they work is very important as it raises several questions regarding how they access, use and store business data. If you have hot desks, shared work stations, meeting rooms, rest areas, etc. with equipment and software you may want to list these as ‘team members’ to capture any hardware associated with the location.

The next group of columns will identify every type of device your team members’ may have associated with their name. You can have as many columns as you wish so it is important that this section caters for the team member with the most devices. For example: Desktop 1, Desktop 2, Laptop 1, Laptop 2, Tablet 1, Tablet 2, Mobile 1, Mobile 2, etc. It is very useful to capture the operating system (OS) details here too. For example: MacBook Air 13”/MacOS Sierra 10.12.3.

It is important to remember that if you are unable to readily locate this information do not let it hold you up. Move on! I sometimes find this works best over two or more information gathering ‘rounds’. If you try to collect every detail on this first sweep the data collection is likely to stall.

The third group of columns will identify the shared services such as servers, printers, scanners, storage the team members access from their devices. I appreciate that your team members may not know the answers to all these questions and may even give false information based on their perception. These columns may be completed later by IT team members or third party support organisations. They may have some of this information to hand.

The fourth group could detail applications owned by the organisation, whether on premise or Cloud. For example: Microsoft Office 365, Outlook, Visio, OpenOffice, CRM System, Accounting System, Databases, Project Management Software, etc.

If your organisation creates media rich content you may want to create a specific group of columns for audio and video creation and editing applications. Also, if your organisation depends on team members accessing Social Media platforms, these should also be listed.

Team members should be encouraged to make a statement about their IT experience for the devices and applications they use. This can be extremely valuable information, even if it is anecdotal (and emotive) and please always remember; their perception is their reality. You may also want a column inviting team members to give their opinion on what is working well and what could be working better as an overall statement. You obviously cannot guarantee any ‘recommendations’ will be acted upon but this may yield some good ideas for future consideration.

On completion of the first round of information gathering you will already have reasonable knowledge of your IT. If you then decide to engage a third-party IT company to support your organisation, you now have sufficient information to obtain some estimates and support proposals. This first round is to gain an understanding of the IT devices, applications and services your organisation depends on. When you know what you have you can maintain it, you can secure it and you have a chance of replicating it in the event of a disaster. You will then be well on the way to taking control of your IT.

If you need help with this process or help to understand your IT I recommend putting in a request for a CITA Tech Surgery volunteer. In the meantime, please click on the link below for a template of the Excel spreadsheet discussed above.

To download our Excel ‘IT Matrix Template’ spreadsheet click here