Proactive vs Reactive IT Support

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Quite remarkably, many businesses still run on an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to IT. This is akin to Uber personnel never servicing their cars and simply driving around until the wheels come off, or the engines seize. For a host of reasons – mostly entrepreneurs’ understandable resistance to adding another line item to input costs – IT support has always faced the end user’s desire to “make do” with systems and connectivity.

Proactive vs Reactive IT Support

The approaches surrounding regular servicing (as opposed to addressing sudden, needed repairs) is an old debate, but one with a predictable outcome. Whether it’s about cars, office furniture, or an IT setup, the principles remain the same. One either spends funds in a managed way to maintain equipment and processes for the benefit of the business, or pays whatever it costs to fix when either go wrong or break. 

Most savvy business owners accept proactive maintenance is far better than the nightmare scenarios possible when ‘the wheels come off.’ In the words of Manchester-based engineering works CPM, “repairing should only be one aspect of a maintenance programme.” They’re talking about heavy machinery, but they might as well be talking about the average office.

In a nutshell, a reactive approach to IT is simply downtime waiting to happen. Furthermore, the ramifications of IT collapse are often hard to quantify. Disgruntled staff, upset (or now ex) clients, a reputation in tatters – the list goes on. But just because these things are hard to peg to a dollar value, doesn’t make them any less disastrous. The logical implications of proactive (as opposed to reactive) IT support are much easier to map out. 

The IT tree, and the bugs that infest it

Botanists long ago realised trees must be evolving throughout their lifetimes in a proactive manner. Consider that several (or several thousand) generations of insects who prey on a tree will emerge repeatedly within the tree’s lifetime. We also know each new generation of insects can carry small genetic adjustments to favour their ability to feast on the tree. 

It thus becomes obvious the tree is not simply an immutable mass, sitting there waiting to be attacked by each new, more advanced generation. Rather, it is constantly and proactively evolving responses to threats every day of its life. 

So, too, it is in the IT realm. Simply because a great, seamless baseline functionality has been attained doesn’t mean it won’t be contaminated or defunct within a year or two. Between then and now, the only thing standing between you and lousy IT performance (read: a downswing in business) is proactive maintenance. Any reliable computer support team knows this all too well. Many haggard business owners have also discovered this – unfortunately, they typically learn this lesson after painful, unscheduled expenses.

The problem(s) with reactive IT support

The principle failing of reactive support is encapsulated in the word “re-active.” This approach uses client complaints, productivity slumps or departmental failures to gauge intervention. It stands to reason that reactive responses to IT issues imply productivity has already slumped, clients have been alienated, and business lost.

ResearchGate quotes a recent McKinsey Quarterly report which noted IT projects typically run an average of 45 percent over budget. This isn’t a great statistic, although it’s again indicative of life in general. Contractors’ wisdom, for example, dictates that one should always double a careful costing to glean a more legitimate anticipated expenditure. The point is: even planned, costed IT projects run over budget. To then leave that IT functionality to a subsequently reactive approach, makes for a potentially bottomless hole. 

Reactive fixes are – by definition – not budgeted for, and their extent unknown until IT support starts unpacking the problem. An unhappy business owner, nervous IT staff, and non-core business hassles ensue. In 2019, it’s unthinkable that anyone should leave their global competitiveness and overall business fitness up to a ‘wait-and-see’ approach.

The benefits of proactive IT maintenance

Proactive IT support takes an entirely different approach. It stays ahead of potential issues, plus maintains the company’s productivity and reputation. Employee morale and overall performance go hand in glove with great IT functionality, too. 

Still niggling over forward spending? Well, the demonstrable fact is that proactively maintaining your systems costs less over the long term. Many smaller business owners might counter this by pointing out their cash flow, growth, and future prospects are very much in the here and now. That may be so, yet the fact remains that skimping on maintenance now is quite simply gearing up for ugly expenses down the line.

Perhaps even more importantly, those down-line expenses are unquantifiable. It might be a tech component or two that cost pennies only, or it might be the wholesale theft and shutdown of your entire database! Thinking business owners generally concur that business is sufficiently risky without gambling on such dire potential. 

The benefits of proactive IT maintenance make for a long list. On-point updates and patches, 24/7-365 monitoring, constant testing and optimising of systems and protocols, strategic analysis, and forward planning and budgeting are all key aspects of proactive support.

Getting proactive IT maintenance in place

In smaller concerns, implementing a proactive IT maintenance approach might be as simple as taking the decision. In larger companies, the in-house IT crew will need to be freed up from low level support tickets to establish an ethos and routine of proactivity. 

This might involve automating some aspects of daily business that traditionally fell to IT support. Or, it might necessitate allocating provisioning and standard fixes to one dedicated staff member, allowing the others to begin thinking ahead.

Whatever route to proactive maintenance is taken, it typically won’t happen overnight. It takes leadership commitment to see the process through to a point where you, as the business owner, are satisfied no nasty surprises can emerge from the day to day running of the company. 

Proactive IT maintenance is like insurance for some business owners. Some are bothered by paying for the “what if?” just like any insurance – however, nothing is sweeter than mitigating ruin when you need to. The payback is mammoth, as the prospect of disaster is eliminated, systems and service optimised, and IT budgeting becomes a breeze.

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