Symptoms of Inefficient IT Systems
Are your IT systems running smoothly or do you experience significant IT downtime and hear constant complaints? Does the use of your technology tools enhance your business flow or slow it down? Answers to these questions lead to obvious conclusions about the health of your IT systems. Sometimes there are less subtle but telling signs that your IT systems are not optimized and your business is suffering as a result. There are many occasions where employees just accept certain inefficiencies, rather than making improvements. When, upon close analysis, there are multiple signs of poor IT performance, it may be time for system analysis and making appropriate adjustments to streamline your systems and return your business to greater profitability and see an ROI on technology.
Below is a list of some common symptoms of inefficient IT systems that you may wish to consider as you evaluate your operational practices and business strategies.
Employees seem intimidated working with the IT systems in place
Almost as if a huge black hole summons them to their doom. Your employees need confidence in their IT system. Then their energies can focus positively and on their intended business functions.
Disciplines operate in ‘silos’, having their own systems of reporting and tracking information, resulting in slow and inefficient interdepartmental communications and project flow.
This problem, while behavioral in nature, can be exaggerated by software operating on different platforms.
How do we eradicate silo behavior? Most commonly by developing and fostering collaborative work environments. While this may seem to be a solution relevant to only behavioral concerns, it applies very well to IT systems. All of the IT tools (or as many as possible) should work in a synchronized and collaborative manner. For example, different modules within a software suite should be able to access and use common data sets, thereby eliminating redundant data entry and the inherent errors that arise with such activities. With knowledgeable IT support services actively participating in business strategy development, solutions can be designed to ensure the collaboration of IT systems, even across different platforms.
Systems are poorly integrated, requiring data/information re-entry between different operating platforms, etc.
Ideally, all of the sub-systems would combine into a single system. From a strictly technical viewpoint, this is much easier to achieve for a start-up business than with an existing business, as the existing business has legacy systems, which often have incompatible subsystems in place. Such an effort may involve decommissioning legacy systems or modernizing them to ensure compatibility with the newer system components.
A strategic assessment of the options is necessary to arrive at the best value decisions. An experienced IT support services provider can provide valuable input during strategic option value assessment, based on exposure to a wide range of systems and experiences.
There is not a common collaboration platform between disciplines/functions within the company
Many companies achieve partial collaboration by developing relationships and operational practices between different disciplines, but the collaboration is not company-wide. For example, mechanisms may be developed for sharing data between two specific disciplines or departments, but the ability to share with others is limited or nonexistent. In a truly collaborative environment, all departments/disciplines would share access to a central repository of information and data, with operating procedures aimed at limiting duplication of effort and redundancy of data input. Strategic planning with experienced IT input is necessary to make this level of collaboration a reality. A lack of coordination not only results in an inefficient data capture process but more importantly can lead to very different analytical conclusions….which means different departments are trying to reach different and potentially conflicting goals. This will all affect your ability to see ROI on technology.
Systematic bottlenecks slow down workflow
Debottlenecking is optimizing production from plants or equipment. However, there are other applications where debottlenecking can improve production efficiency, utilizing a similar methodology. Typically, in a debottlenecking exercise, each node of a system is examined to determine what percent of capacity it is delivering. Results of all the components are examined together to understand which elements (nodes, components, etc.) are specifically limiting the total system production. Engaging such an exercise allows the focus to be placed on the limiting factors, or system ‘bottlenecks’. Reconfigure the offending bottlenecks to improve total system productivity.
You then repeat this exercise until further modifications no longer provide enough value to cover the cost of change. Much of this can be completed in a paper exercise, with some research required to frame unknown boundary conditions and/or to adequately assess the risk of making recommended changes. The debottlenecking exercise may be applied to business processes as well as physical processes. IT processes are also an area that should periodically undertake a debottlenecking review, as systems and the business they support continually evolve.
Redundant operations occur in different departments
When redundant operations are occurring in your organization, there is a strong probability that a strategic assessment of workflows could identify the root causes. Common causes of redundant operations include:
- Workflows have developed and changed over time inside different departments with insufficient awareness of interdepartmental workflows.
- There is a general lack of collaboration within the organization. This lack of collaboration may be evident in areas other than workflow compatibility. It can also arise due to IT systems that are not well integrated and are not designed for optimal sharing of information between departments. The latter problem can even promote people working in silos and communicating poorly between departments.
When the occurrence of redundant operations is evident, you should examine the potential causes, including how well IT is coordinated within your company. A strategic assessment of the optimal business workflows, including IT, can help reduce or eliminate redundant operations, leading to fewer errors and greater productivity.
Lack of access to data and information
Is much of your data stored in text format or available only to a select segment of your organization? Is there a lot of energy and expense invested in collecting data and information? Are you leveraging data and information for profit? Is there evidence? If this seems familiar, you may do well to consider how your operational methods and IT systems contribute to the situation. Analysis of data and information flow within your business processes can reveal bottlenecks to information transfer and usage. This information can assist the development of a strategic plan for improving your business processes and supporting IT infrastructure. A strategically focused IT support services provider can bring much-needed experience, knowledge, and skills to help resolve these issues and help your company efficiently gain access to and utilize data and information previously too cumbersome to retrieve.
Operational performance is lagging the industry leaders
As business technology and markets change, the benchmarks for performance also change. Are you aware of the current performance benchmarks and how your company stacks up against the competition? What are the industry performance leaders doing to produce top results? How does your IT system impact your market performance position?
Other activities, besides the utilization of IT solutions, help improve operational performance. However, in this modern digital age, it is difficult to compete without employing leading IT solutions. You can have talented and motivated staff, yet without the right tools, they cannot perform to their capacity. So how are your competitors beating your performance?
Many business performance leaders across many industries are realizing significant gains in production efficiency by implementing smart systems that connect data between vendors, suppliers, and operations digitally. This is the Digital Economy. Companies that rely on non-digital data transmission are having a particularly difficult time competing with those who embrace the new way of data sharing. Conducting transactions digitally significantly reduces cycle time.
If you are manipulating data and information in other ways, you certainly will continue to lag your competition in terms of operational performance. You owe it to your business to investigate digital solutions tailored to your company’s strategic and operational objectives. Regarding funding such an endeavor, know that a strategically designed and operated digital system can deliver a positive ROI on the IT investment. Be sure to connect with an IT MSP that has the knowledge, experience, and record of accomplishment to make this a reality.
Frequent IT downtime is slowing down your production
IT system downtime causes can be diverse, ranging from hardware/equipment reliability problems to software incompatibility problems, to security breaches (i.e. malware, etc.) and inadequately trained employees. When your IT systems are down, this can become a bottleneck to your production, in some scenarios resulting in a complete workflow stoppage. When this happens, the total production lost is generally greater than the IT downtime. Unfortunately, it takes time to recover and regain momentum after resolving the downtime issues. In some scenarios, the downtime may be intermittent. Under those circumstances, users of the IT may simply consider this as ‘just the way it is’, and not seek immediate resolution of the underlying root cause of the poor IT performance.
There is too much employee idle time
On the surface, it appears employee idle time is caused especially by poor work ethic. Another possibility is the offending employees not understanding how to perform well in their jobs.
If this occurrence is frequent and widespread, this may indicate that there are systematic bottlenecks causing the idle time. For example, if data/information retrieval is slow, this may cause a slowdown of work, not only because of the direct waiting time, but also because this sets up a situation for loss of focus and motivation; both of which negatively affect performance. Another reason for idle time can be related to working with incompatible systems. In this situation, to get the results needed, employees are often required to navigate a complex workflow. The impact on performance is the same, especially the loss of focus and motivation to perform. You can improve these situations by detailed workflow audit (processes and IT systems) and following up with strategic planning to upgrade workflows and systems to reduce employee idle time.
Data is lost without a good data recovery plan/system
Has your company experienced a significant loss of data that was unrecoverable? It’s important to realize, even small volume loss of data or information can be costly in terms of labor time. You would have to attempt to recreate the data/information, or more likely lost opportunity when the data is truly unrecoverable. When this happens, is there a systematic procedure to enable quick recovery? Can you continue to operate while recovery efforts are underway? Setting up rapid recovery systems used to require prohibitively expensive additional hardware and maintenance; but with the evolution of cloud-based solutions, you should design and operate your recovery systems at a fraction of the cost of legacy systems and with much greater recovery success.
There is a lot of paper laying around and in file cabinets
In this case, the employees are not using paperless data and information transfer systems. This could be occurring because of a lack of training with paperless systems. Or it could be simply due to a lack of enforcement for using paperless systems. Then again, the IT systems may be outdated and do not deliver good paperless documentation, or the paperless format is not easy to use. Regardless of the causes, too much paper lying around is a sign that data/information transfer needs to be improved. There are plenty of especially negative aspects of hard-copy. For example, paper files allow very limited access to information. Additionally, only one person can use it at a time. Similarly, retrieval is cumbersome and sometimes problematic. With modern and efficient data/information systems, these problems are easily resolved, resulting in significantly more organizational effectiveness.
There is no apparent IT plan
Absent a strategic IT plan, the IT performance of your systems will likely function in a disjointed manner (i.e. systems not well integrated), and IT support interfaces with the staff they support in a reactive manner. When there is a clear IT strategic plan, which aligns with the business strategy and operational modes, you should see operations running smoothly. Problems must be identified and rectified, otherwise, they will recur. If this is not how you observe your operations behaving, it may be time to assess your business and IT strategies.
Lack of IT maintenance
Does your IT department maintain a preventative maintenance (PM) schedule? Many small businesses surprisingly operate more or less with the philosophy ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. IT systems require maintenance in order to ensure they are running properly and smoothly. Doing so can prevent downtime by spotting and repairing rising issues before they become big problems. With this in mind, preventative maintenance is one way to stay ahead of the game and keep your IT performance operating smoothly.
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