IT teams are under increasing pressure to do more with less. They are expected to keep more systems up and running for longer, with system user numbers rising constantly. As a result, they have been increasingly falling for common pitfalls that ultimately bring their business to a halt. With the right knowledge and processes, you can ensure that you avoid these pitfalls.

Pitfall 1: Lack of visibility
One of the pitfalls that many organisations (in particular ICT teams) fall victim to is a lack of visibility of processes and systems. In particular, how changes to either can impact your core business solutions, staff and customers.

Have you ever shut down one of your ‘minor systems’ only to then find that this has brought one of your key business processes to a crashing halt? If you have, then you’re not alone – but that doesn’t stop you from having to face the wrath of frustrated colleagues and customers in the meantime.

Sometimes these outcomes are unavoidable – but it’s important to remember that being forewarned is being forearmed. You might have to still make the change and face the consequences, but if you know what the impact is going to be and how this will affect your business, it enables you to make informed decisions and stay (at least) one step ahead.

Takeaway: Mapping out your end-to-end business processes to show how your systems, staff and customers interact provides you with visibility of the impact any changes you need to make, enabling you and your team to proactively manage any potential impact.

Pitfall 2: Believing the ‘CTRL + ALT + Delete’ myth
There is a myth that all ICT issues can be resolved by using the CTL+ALT+Delete procedure or restarting. Whilst a restart can resolve a lot of issues, it is how you restart a system that is most important along with knowing what the potential consequences might be.

Does the system run databases to serve up data via an Application front end? Is the database running in shared memory? If so, restarting a system using a server shutdown procedure and nothing else, means that anything that was connected to that database will be instantly disconnected resulting in data entry being terminated mid flight.

Depending on the logic this could cause corruption and loss of data to the database, and potentially lengthy downtime whilst the system or a Database Administrator attempts recovery.

Takeaway: Having the skills and knowledge to shutdown and restart your systems cleanly and successfully – avoiding unnecessary downtime.

Pitfall 3: Assuming change control is ‘just red tape’
Very few people like change control. Many simply view it as unnecessary ‘red tape’ that gets in the way of software updates, development, implementations etc.  However, as business systems become more complex with higher availability expectations and product integration, change control becomes a necessity – enabling you to track changes and minimise impact.

Change control should go beyond discussions around the system that you want to work on. It should also assess everything and everyone that is affected by the work. Will it involve downtime, and if so which parts of the system would be unavailable? How will it impact the business? Once you have the answers, from there you can work out impact and if required, recovery if things go wrong.

Takeaway: Make sure you have the skills and knowledge to successfully satisfy change control so that you can identify risk, gain insight into recovery and minimise the impact of ‘change’ on your other systems and colleagues.

Pitfall 4: “It’s just stopped working”
Having problems logging in even though you’ve restarted? Have you experienced an outage and don’t know why? Has something ‘just happened’ even though you haven’t changed anything?

Things don’t generally stop working without a reason, but when things do go wrong there is a tendency to only focus on the application server. But there are other important questions to consider. Have Windows Security updates been applied? Has there been any broader infrastructure changes – such as An Active Directory upgrade? Is the domain server that is used to authenticate logins available and still compatible?

Things tend to go wrong when you least expect it – so being able to ask the right questions and investigate the root cause of the problem is a key business skill. It won’t stop things going wrong – but being able to troubleshoot problems will help you and your business to get ‘back on your feet’ as quickly as possible.

Takeaway: Troubleshooting is a key skill in a work environment that’s constantly changing and evolving. Things tend to go wrong when you least expect it – so being ready to find the answers you need is important.

Pitfall 5: ‘If I hide away from the upgrade pack… it’ll go away’
Upgrading your core business systems can feel daunting – especially if you have not worked with the system before. But hiding from the prospect of having to upgrade doesn’t mean it’ll go away.

Here’s the thing…system upgrades are far easier than you think once you know what you have to do. So why do people avoid them? In our experience, it tends to be for one of two reasons: Either they don’t have enough confidence in their ability to perform the upgrade, or they simply don’t have the time to perform it. If this means that your colleagues are missing out on new enhancements that can make their job easier – you have to ask if these are good enough reasons for not upgrading.

The solution to this pitfall is simple. Instead of hiding away, tackle the problem head on. Seeing is believing – and often just having someone walk you through the upgrade process is enough to give you the confidence you need. If you simply don’t have the time, then most suppliers can offer consultancy upgrade services that can do the work for you.

Take away: Our advice here is simple – stop avoiding the unavoidable. Upgrades are a part of life, and putting them off is a waste of time and could potentially be putting your business at risk. Ask yourself what’s holding you back and work with your supplier to find out the best way of keeping your system up-to-date and supported.

Colin Cormack, ICT Consultancy Team Leader