I save every one of my clients between $40,000 and $80,000 every year just by giving them the option to use my services instead of paying the salary of a full-time IT professional. That is standard now though and has been for years. Most small business owners out there know they can’t afford to pay a guy to sit at a desk full time, so whether they want that or not, it isn’t even an option for them. I’m going to focus on showing how I save money in other ways that a typical lower-end or old-school break/fix IT guy doesn’t consider or have the infrastructure to pull off. Most of what I am going to talk about falls under the definition of Managed Services. I’ll be doing that by taking a look at the specific ways one of my clients was set up by me. Let’s call them “Stuffco” to preserve their anonymity.
A little background on Stuffco first. While they were already a client of mine, they came to me and wanted to put together a technology plan for the next five years of their business. They were in a smaller, shared office space and were moving into their own separate building, needed an upgrade and were ready to budget for it. I agreed to put together a plan and in the process also ended up re-evaluating a few of my own processes. Below are several (not all) ways that I saved them money within the new plan.
Stuffco had a consumer grade wireless router in place at their old office. Long ago, when I didn’t know any better, I would upgrade the firmware of said cheap routers to open source firmware DD-WRT. Not a bad option for home users at the time, but a business needs a firewall with regular firmware updates (DD-WRT hasn’t been properly updated for years on some models), support that I can call about possible bugs or complex setups, and it needs to be a reliable piece of hardware that the business can rely on. On the flip side of the cheap consumer-grade option, there is a temptation to go full-bore very expensive enterprise gear. I have seen this at several clients I took over that probably had an IT guy who got a Cisco certification and decided to go all-Cisco, all-the-time since that’s what they know. The problem is that higher-end enterprise equipment after support contracts and high hardware pricing is expensive and over-complicated, usually too much so for small business. In the case of Stuffco, I hit a nice sweet spot between consumer and enterprise and steered them towards a Fortigate firewall. They aren’t cheap, but they hit a price/performance balance that is just right for small business. Recently I have standardized on Sonicwalls, but they hit that same price/performance sweet spot. So, how did this save them money? Well they avoided the extremely high cost of an unneeded Enterprise setup, while avoiding the potential downtime and insecurity of the cheap consumer-grade option. They would lose money using either extreme, just in different ways, whereas the Fortigate and Sonicwall products hit that sweet spot of reliability, reasonable price, security and performance. On top of that the Fortigate device was easier to use than the sometimes over-complex Enterprise devices, thereby saving Stuffco money by not having to pay extra for my time in configuring the firewall..
That brings me to the subject of wireless and disruptive pricing. I use access points from Ubiquiti that are much more reasonably priced than even other business class (read: pricing/performance sweet spot) devices, while giving me excellent features and reliability. They are the definition of price disruptive- less expensive, but without compromising on quality, performance or security. This not only saves my clients money, but makes the configuration and maintenance of their wireless networks a breeze. It also means they aren’t as hesitant to build out extra wireless coverage because the price point isn’t so painful. This also comes back to downtime prevention, as a bunch of consumer grade access points strung together creates many more points of failure and potential downtime than the Ubiquiti access points.
I’ve touched on downtime a little up to this point, but now I’d like to focus on it specifically. Most of any good ongoing IT support is spent on doing pretty much anything within reason to prevent customer downtime. Money is lost every minute that employees can’t do their jobs – you’d be hard-pressed to find a business whose processes don’t rely in some way on technology. According to a study by Acronis, network downtime costs 80% of small businesses $20,000 per hour. That’s a serious dollar amount. If you are reading this and thinking “there’s no way it costs me that much to be down”, remember that downtime can happen at the absolute most importune time, e.g. when you need to send in that final proposal and email isn’t working.
Here are two methods I used to reduce downtime at Stuffco:
- Strong Antivirus that reports centrally to a dashboard that I can easily monitor
- System monitoring that reports via email, SMS or a dashboard when something is starting to fail.
Let’s take a look at these two methods one by one. Strong antivirus seems like a no-brainer, but I have had many clients who think they can get by with free or no(!) antivirus. While you might save a little money with free antivirus, you won’t get business class protection and will therefore run a much greater risk of long downtime caused by an avoidable infection. You will get adware and other add-on junk and all the productivity-sapping that comes with it. Plus you won’t get central control, so you can’t push out a preventative deep scan if you know a network has been exposed to a threat. Finally, without centralized notification you won’t know if a workstation is getting all the necessary definition updates and regularly running scans. I’ve come across workstations in non-centralized antivirus installs that were way out of date, but the only way to know that would be to go around to every computer and check – this is not cost-effective for me or the client. With next-generation type viruses like Cryptowall, that will encrypt all the files on a machine(and any file servers it can find) and hold them for ransom, it only takes one machine to take down a whole network. I implemented both of these measures at Stuffco and have yet to have a debilitating virus hit their offices.
Monitoring and email notification can be extremely powerful tools for preventing downtime. Hard drive filling up? You can free up space before it locks up the operating system. Suspicious download detected? Push out a deep virus scan to see if it catches anything else. Critical windows service stopped? Auto-restart it or troubleshoot to see why it is failing. A bunch of failed login attempts? Time to assess who is trying to hack into the server and how to block it. All of these are real world examples I have run into and caught each one due to the monitoring system in place. Stuffco uses my monitoring software and I have been able to catch several server issues before they even knew they had happened. If that server goes offline they could lose a sale that would cost them a significant part of their yearly revenue. Monitoring saved them money.
Some other ways to prevent downtime that I won’t cover in this article: automatic patch management, having a designated point person on-site, proper local and off-site backups, and firewall-based antivirus protection. A combination of all these elements makes a highly secure and reliable computing environment.
How to Quantify?
On a penultimate note, I have found it difficult to quantify to clients the amount of savings they can see from avoided downtime. It’s hard to measure something that doesn’t happen and people forget how bad it was when things broke more often. If you are coming to this article and also deal with saving money and quantifying amounts for your IT clients, I would love to hear your input.
So there you have it, several ways I saved a client money. Think I missed something or should do things differently? Tell me in the comments.