A few months ago, I was visiting a business, in the process of possibly taking them on as a client. We had just completed a full audit of their network and were discussing the results. No sales talk, just a round-table discussion in which we presented our recommendations to the board of directors and C-level management.
In most cases, when you point out problems and offer solutions to the top managers of a business, they listen, and then put forward their own ideas and the reasons behind them. There is eventually a consensus, and you move forward from there. That's not what happened here. But let me back up for a moment.
When it comes to updating their technology, many businesses prefer to “grow organically”—that is, to gradually replace old systems with newer and better ones when it feels necessary to them and when they can easily afford to do so. By contrast, upgrading to the best and most secure technology all at once can feel abrupt, expensive and inconvenient.
We have been in the industry long enough to understand organic growth. All organisations are different, and the rate they update their systems depends on business requirements, cash flow and growth itself. However, there comes a time when organic growth of technology starts to get in the way of business requirements, and cause the business to become inefficient and stagnant.
The service level agreement for our managed services has a number of stipulations, two of the most important being use of the most up-to-date operating systems for the servers and computers (desktops and laptops), including applications like Office. Some clients baulk at the expense, but almost all of them eventually agree to implement our recommendations.
At this client's office, the discussion had turned to the organisation's software—specifically, the large number of computers and servers equipped with Windows XP, Office 2000 and Server 2003. It was no wonder the software was obsolete—some of their desktops were six years old.
Although our requirements are not written in stone, there are certain minimum standards that we must insist on. One of them is putting a plan in place for upgrading hardware, operating systems and applications that are well past their use-by date. Our policy is to work with what our client has, with the object that by becoming their trusted adviser, we can persuade them to invest in the right hardware, software and applications. A client may hesitate to implement costly improvements, but as we build trust, we can influence their decision-making for the better.
This organisation was different. It was the first time that I came up against a flat "NO.” This management team's viewpoint was: “We are not upgrading hardware, we are not upgrading software, it is working fine as it is and we do not need to change.” We rolled out the productivity numbers, the ROI numbers, the security numbers, all to no avail. We said thanks, could see no way forward and moved on. They never became a client.
As I said, we understand organic growth, but as an MSP we also understand business requirements. The productivity of your business infrastructure is what you use to create revenue and, in the end, build profit. If that infrastructure is slow, badly maintained and ancient, then the results for the business are going to follow suit. Bill Gates wrote a book arguing that companies can get an edge on the competition by doing “business at the speed of thought.” It is very true—the faster you can put information into a system, the faster you will get results from that system, and the faster you will see a ROI for every aspect of the business.
And what about the company who declined to follow our recommendations? Three months later the CEO rang me and said that they had been hacked and that it was my fault. I nearly hung up on him, but that would be rude, so I asked how it could be my fault. He launched into a tirade about how we had sabotaged his business and how we had had access to the system and broken it. My only answer was: “You need to look closer to home rather than blaming everyone and anyone else.”
If that one business suffered the consequences of out-of-date software, there must be many others whom I haven't had the bad luck to encounter. Don't let your business be one of them.