Why do you need an IT assessment? How does that differ from an IT risk assessment? Okay. Up to this point, I’ve re-posted blogs that I had written for my website (with some obvious changes in verbiage). But this post is specifically for our site as it is intended to benefit our customers and clients directly. Even more specifically, Executives. Yes, you! Company executives, this article is for you! So to start, I’m going to retell a fable that you all have probably heard before and will understand:
There was a little bunny hopping through the grass. The bunny spied a crow sitting high up in a tree. Just perched there doing nothing. Nothing at all. The little bunny was envious. “Mr. Crow!” called the bunny to the crow, “Can I be like you and sit around doing nothing all day?” The crow replied: “Of course little bunny, suit yourself.” So the bunny found a nice soft patch of grass and began just to sit there and do nothing. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a fox jumped on the bunny and gobbled it up! The moral of this story: If you want to sit around doing nothing all day, you need to be very, very high up.
Now this story is not a jab at you executives saying that you sit around doing nothing all day, but it does illustrate a common perception that often when you’re that high up, you may not always know everything that goes on below. While it is not your job to understand all the technical minutia that makes your company run, it is very common that executives get so busy with their tasks that they turn a blind eye to aspects of their company and hope that everything below operates well enough to allow them to continue to grow their business. Enter the topic of the day: Technology Assessments!
What exactly are IT assessments you ask? Isn’t an IT audit the same thing?
A technology assessment, or IT risk assessment is a process by which all the hidden secrets of your technology infrastructure are discovered and can prove IT assessments are worth the money and time spent. From network configuration and vulnerabilities to hardware inventory and hardware aging. A technology assessment is different from an IT audit as it is a tool to define the operational status of your company from the technological standpoint, and unlike an audit, is not as concerned with budgetary items revolving around IT. This is also different from network and security audits as it covers the full spectrum of the technology employed by an organization. While network and security audits are very detailed and focused deep dives into those specific areas, a technology assessment gives you more of a big-picture approach to the company as a whole. While it is very detailed itself (it will usually include much of the same info as the network and security audits) it’s purpose is more geared towards the technology heartbeat of the company. Below I’ve listed the top five reasons that you, Mr. Executive, need a technology assessment and how each can benefit your company:
1. A technology assessment discovers things about your company’s technology you may not have known, but need to.
What are these mysterious things you speak of? Silly Taco… I know everything! Don’t I?
Truth is, while most execs may have access to the information I am about to describe, not many know how to go about finding it let alone separate the useful information from all the clutter that usually accompanies it. Things like what kind of a circuit you use to service your company, what kind of hardware is used to facilitate your network, what kind of hardware you are operating on, the seemingly basic technology that you use every day, but don’t know how it works, or what piece of hardware is responsible for making it work. A good example of this is WiFi. Just about every modern company uses WiFi on a daily basis. But do you know what it is you are connecting to? or where it is at? What would happen if your WiFi died at the same time your IT guy had a heart attack from just one too many Twinkies? Could you confidently and efficiently tell the next Twinkie-addicted nerd the info he/she needs to get you back up and running again? This is the perfect segue into the next reason you need a technology assessment: Documentation.
2. A technology assessment provides documentation that you most likely do not have.
In reality, most configurations in a company happen on-the-fly as our illustrious Twinkie-loving nerds figure-out how to make your technology work with people and other technology in the company. more often than not, documenting configurations slips through the cracks because it is tedious work. Besides Twinkie over there knows everything anyhow, so rather than refer to documentation, Twinkie will just fix it. Now, please understand that I am not berating technologies professionals in companies by calling them “Twinkies.” I am one of those professionals and I just happen to love Twinkies! So for me, it’s an endearing term. If you ever read my post about Twinkies on my personal blog, you’ll understand why. But back on topic. A technology assessment documents important aspects of your company’s technology that can be useful to you. For example, your WiFi mesh network… A technology assessment will tell you where your access points are, what kind of hardware they are, how to manage them, the passwords used to manage them, and their current configuration. So if you happen to lose your favorite Twinkie, you can be confident that you can quickly inform Twinkie #2 what Twinkie #1 had done, configured, and how. This is not just applicable to your WiFi, but all other things considered company technology: Firewalls, Managed Switches, VoIP PBXs, Servers, Security Cameras, etc… Which brings us to Reason number three.
3. A technology assessment gives you insight into how your technology works (or doesn’t work) for you.
Knowing all that stuff in reason number two is great, but it just knowing it exists and knowing all the login and configuration detail isn’t always enough. Understanding how these things work together is important. Twinkie #1 may have had to connect something in a special way to solve a specific problem or create a specific service. Again, Twinkie probably didn’t document this. I mean, Twinkie is a smart person, but he/she only cares about making technology work. Documenting how it was done usually only happens far after the fact (and probably at gunpoint) if it ever gets done at all. A technology assessment shows you how Twinkie made everything work together. Even those special things Twinkie did for you (you know who you are Mr. Executive with a never expiring password…). It shows how individual components are connected to each other, their capabilities (or lack thereof). Back to our WiFi example: You often ask why is internet so slow when you are connected to WiFi, even though you pay an obscene amount of money for a 1 Gb/s fiber to service your company? A technology assessment will show you potentially where the problem exists. It can find things like outdated wireless access points, slow switches that the access point may be connected to, or even if a firmware update to the access point can improve the performance. Which conveniently brings us to reason number 4: Focus on problematic areas of company technology. (It’s like I planned this or something… I swear I didn’t. I’m just unusually skilled with making contiguous points when I’m on my soapbox.)
4. A technology assessment can help you focus in on things that need closer attention.
Although this reason most mostly contained in the statement of this reason alone, I’ll elaborate just a little to drive home the point. Let’s beat-up on WiFi just a little more. I’ve already pointed out that a technology assessment can help you see why it’s slow, but it can also help you see other things that may not be optimal. Here, I will use Guest Networks on our access points to dive deeper. Most companies create a wireless guest network to facilitate, well… guests of the company (go figure!). At least once per week I connect to a guest network and can see that company’s entire network after connecting. What this highlights is that permissions, shares, and security on the company’s network are severely lacking! A technology assessment shows where you can improve and highlights existing issues or potential risks. In the instances where I connect to a guest network of a company and can see EVERYTHING on the network, it’s obvious that this is an area that needs some special attention. While we love our guests, we don’t necessarily want them to see everything that makes us tick. This finally brings me to my fifth and final reason. Improvement!
5. A technology assessment is a base for a future upgrade path and enhancements.
Going back to our WiFi example. We can now see that perhaps our access points are out of date, or that they lack sufficient security. A technology assessment helps you understand where you are from the technology standpoint, and can be a base for making decisions for improvement moving forward. We know our WiFi is slow and not secure, but what should we replace it with. The obvious answer in our WiFi example is that we replace it with something that is faster, compatible with more standards, and offers additional security from the hardware level than our existing access point does. This is a metaphor for all the technology in the company. before you can upgrade, you must first know what you have and what it’s capable of. I’m not trying to go all Zen or Taoist on you here, but the fundamental principle is the same. We must first understand where we are before we can continue on our path. For us, our path is company growth and efficiency. A technology assessment can help you understand that the path you want to go down may not be compatible with what you currently have. It can help you make wiser, more accurate decisions moving forward. Most importantly, it can help you make informed decisions for your company’s future technology.
I’ll finish this up with a few side notes: Firstly, I could have easily used “Mrs.” or “Ms.” Executive throughout this article, so please do not be offended that I chose to use “Mr.” My choice to use “Mr.” is more akin to the most popular western deity being depicted as an older Caucasian male with flowing silver hair and beard, that is usually dressed in white robes. It was more for imagery than meant to imply anything. Secondly, I used the word “technology” 36 times in this article (including in this sentence and after this sentence). The reason for the heavy use of of the word “technology” is that the word itself encompasses a broad spectrum of hardware, software, standards, processes, and concepts that all make your company work and function in this modern era. A technology assessment is meant to be all-encompassing so you, Ms. Executive, can have a big, high-resolution picture of your company. It is a tool that keeps you informed and apprised of the technological heartbeat of your company. It is also a tool with which you can make informed decisions about future technology your company wishes to employ!