IT related issues are a regular source of pain for many small business owners. Technology is great when it’s working, but can soon become a time and money drain otherwise. Despite the fact that worldwide IT spending was flat in 2016, it still totaled approximately $3.41 trillion. That’s big money, no matter how you look at it.
Problems on the Horizon
In a perfect world, you’d never be faced with IT problems. From your servers to security to compliance, everything would go as planned.
In the real world, you can’t expect to be this lucky. Sure, you’ll go through stretches where technology is nothing but your best friend, but this can change without notice.
Since you never know when or where the next problem will come from, it’s imperative to be prepared for the future. When you have a plan in place, when you know what you should and shouldn’t be doing, IT problem solving becomes easier.
The Approach With No Internal IT Team
Did you know that there are more than 6.7 million individuals employed in the United States technology industry?
With this number continuing to rise, it’s safe to assume that thousands upon thousands of companies have internal IT professionals to assist with everything from troubleshooting to problem prevention.
Even so, this doesn’t mean that every small business has at least one IT professional on staff. In fact, many companies intentionally avoid this, realizing that they don’t need ongoing support.
This approach isn’t as risky as it sounds, especially if you have the knowledge to address IT issues without professional assistance.
Here’s the million dollar question: what’s the best strategy for IT problem solving when you, the small business owner, are the person in charge of making key decisions?
Since no two companies and no two problems are the same, there’s no “standard method” for IT problem-solving. Instead, an individual overview of the issue is required to find a solution.
While you’re sure to find yourself taking many steps when confronted with an IT problem, there are three things you must do:
1. Pinpoint the Problem
Regardless of whether the problem confronting you is large or small, there is one single truth to finding a resolution: effective problem-solving. Minimizing the “solve time” is typically a direct combination of having a fundamental and technical understanding of the technology in place and of the problem at hand.
Once you pinpoint the problem, you know what you’re up against. Only then can you formulate a plan, compare strategies and decide which steps to take next.
2. Work With Your Team
Small business owners aren’t always on the frontline when an IT issue occurs. Instead, you hear about the problem through the grapevine.
Tom in accounting is having a difficult time accessing the system. Kim in sales hasn’t been able to access the network for the past 12 hours.
In some ways, you’d rather have the problem directly impact you. This makes it easier to fully understand the depth of the issue, including potential causes and steps that have already been taken to address the problem.
But, in most cases, it’s a problem others are facing that will eventually lead to your involvement. And, once again, since you don’t have an internal IT team, everything comes down to you. This isn’t something you can put off, as 99 percent of these issues don’t work themselves out over time.
So, as you work with your team, you need to answer this question: who is experiencing the problem?
Without knowledge of who is experiencing the problem, your ability to focus your troubleshooting efforts into a precise area will be diminished. This could lead you in a direction that’s not necessary or related to the source of the problem. Here are some common answers to the above question:
- A single user
- A group/department of users
- The entire remote branch office location
- The entire main office location – and remote branch offices
The point here is that understanding the “who” can eliminate particular strategies for troubleshooting. For example, if only one user at one location is experiencing an issue, you don’t have to speak with workers in a branch office. Instead, you can work with that one person to narrow down their efforts and implement a solution.
Tip: problems can sometimes be overblown and overstated, especially when a user, or group of users, is regularly frustrated with or intimated by technology. Keep this in mind as you work with your team.
3. Ask the Right Questions
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could ask one person a single question that leads you to the source of the problem?
This isn’t likely to happen. Instead, you’ll find yourself playing detective. This means asking a variety of questions, recording answers, and using the information to slowly close in on the problem.
Depending on the severity of the issue, you could have hundreds of questions floating around your head. It’s time to take a step back and start at the beginning. Getting ahead of yourself is only going to complicate matters, not to mention the fact that this will frustrate your employees to no end.
Some of the questions you need to ask include:
- When did the problem start?
- Is the problem intermittent or constant?
- Can you duplicate the problem or does it occur at random?
- Has anything changed recently that could have caused the problem?
As you ask these questions and receive answers, the picture will begin to get clearer. Maybe the problem has been occurring ever since a particular software program was installed. Or, maybe it’s only happening to one person when he or she is performing a particular function.
It’s important to note the difficulty of solving a problem that can’t be recreated. Sure, somebody can explain to you what happened. But, if you don’t know when the issue will occur again, it’s not always possible to find a solution.
Taking the time to recreate the problem can be beneficial in cases where you might need to implement tools. Recreating the problem is also advantageous in situations where you may need to involve third-party technical support from a vendor.
These vendors are more than willing to assist, but their hands are tied, to a certain degree, if the problem can’t be recreated. If they’re able to see the issue in action, they can diagnose what’s happening and why it’s happening.
When to Contact an IT Solutions Provider
It goes without saying that some small business owners would rather deal with an IT issue than spend time and money finding a fix. While this is a workaround for some problems – those that are basic in nature and don’t threaten the security of the company – it’s not a recommended practice.
If all your internal efforts fail and you’re unable to make any progress on your own, there’s nothing wrong with putting up your hands and saying “I’m Stuck!”
But, what do you do now?
The first step is simple: don’t panic. Yes, you’re dealing with an issue that you would rather not have. And yes, you know that you need to find a solution sooner rather than later.
Your ability to effectively solve a problem is much greater when you are calm, cool and collected. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t stressed. It simply means that you aren’t freaking out and making the problem worse.
Keeping panic at bay will help you remain calm, focused and in a position that allows you to logically work through the issue at hand. This is, however, easier said than done, especially when you are under the gun and you don’t have time to waste.
If you don’t have what it takes to solve the problem and your team is also at a loss, it’s time to call in the big guns. This means consulting with an IT solutions provider who has the experience and knowledge necessary to dive in, diagnose the problem and help you put this in the past.
Of course, you don’t want to waste your time. You want to make the most of your contact with an IT solutions provider. To do so, you should take these steps:
1. Write Down Everything About the Problem
It’s your job to effectively communicate the problem to your provider. What have you seen? What troubleshooting steps have you taken?
The more details you provide, the easier it is for a third party to step in, review the issue and hit the ground running.
2. Explain Your Progress to this Point
In some cases, this is as simple as saying “I haven’t done anything to address the problem, as I didn’t know where to start.”
Other times, however, you’ll need to explain the steps that you have taken. This goes along with point #1 above.
This isn’t a time to hold information back. This is a time to put everything on the table, as this gives your IT provider the data necessary to implement the best possible plan.
3. Offer Your Opinion
Depending on the problem, your experience and what you’ve faced in the past, you may have a basic idea of what the problem could be. You don’t know for sure, but there’s nothing wrong with sharing your thoughts.
It’s not your job to solve the problem. That being said, it’s still extremely helpful if you offer your opinion on what could be causing the issue.
4. Bring in Your Team
Although you may be the person to make contact with an IT provider, it doesn’t mean that you’re the only one from your company who should be involved.
Did another employee discover the problem? Is there one person or a group of people who continually experience the issue? Since they have firsthand experience, you want them to be present when providing information and discussing potential causes and solutions.
5. Find Out What’s Next
By now, you’ve done everything that you can to put the IT company in a position to succeed. You’ll want to remain a part of the problem-solving process moving forward, but it’s now time to get out of the way. It’s time to let the professionals step in and do their thing.
For the meantime, the best thing that you can do is find out what’s next. Which steps will the company take to solve the problem? Is there anything you can do to aid in the process?
As you know, solving an IT problem is not always cut and dry. Give your solutions provider room to operate. Don’t bug the heck out of them as they troubleshoot the issue. Instead, set clear expectations, make yourself available and then let them work their magic.
Avoid the Same in the Future
There is no better feeling than putting an IT problem to rest. It doesn’t matter if you solve the issue on your own or call in reinforcements, you can look back and realize that you were a “problem-solving master.”
Even with this feeling of accomplishment, you know one thing to be true: you don’t want to go down this path again in the future. You spent enough time (and maybe money) solving the problem that you realize you don’t want to be faced with the same circumstances in the future.
Once the problem is solved for good, answer this question: what was the cause and how can you prevent the same from happening in the future?
Armed with this answer, you can take the steps necessary to avoid a similar fate down the road.
As a small business owner, you wear many hats. While every task and responsibility is important, an IT related issue should always move to the top of your priority list.
With this guide by your side, you’re now armed with the advice and guidance required to narrow down the scope of a problem, conduct tests, search for solutions and, if necessary, consult with a third party.