The right fit: Someone to watch over IT

Frustrated with system crashes, plagued with computer viruses and unsatisfied with reactive IS service calls, one small business stumbled onto the idea — almost by accident — of hiring an outside service firm to monitor its systems remotely. Looking back four years later, it turned out to be one of the company’s best business decisions. “At one point we didn’t really have anyone (managing IT), we would just simply have someone we would call whenever we had a problem,” said Farah Farah, controller at EMEC Machine Tools in Mississauga, Ont.
The business, which has about 45 employees, was starting to suffer due to server maintenance issues, Farah said. Old corporate e-mail messages were piling up, mobile users were bringing in viruses and computers were crashing frequently.
“I am not an IT guy, yet I was in charge of IT. And as the company grew, and we could still not afford to pay a full-time IT person, I knew I needed help.”
Originally, Farah would call an outside service company whenever there was a tech problem. That person would have to come onsite to resolved the glitch, which sometimes took hours. Then that service company went out of business.
A few months went by in which he tried to hire other service providers, with limited success. The final straw came when Farah realized his company servers were being hijacked to send unauthorized mass mail.
“We had open ports on our server that were being used for spam. I didn’t know. So we were being used as a proxy server. We had been told (by an anti-spam association) that we might be shut down if we did not close our open ports. So I knew that it couldn’t be worse than that.”
Farah remembered the name of one of the service people that had impressed him — Steven Fung — and decided to give him a call.
Fung, who is now co-founder and chief technologist of Dynamix Solutions Inc., a managed service provider (MSP) based in Markham, Ont., met with Farah. He proposed a remote management service package as the best fit for EMEC, saying it would cost about one-sixth of the price of a full-time IT person.
“They were running into a lot of virus problems, administrative problems. They would call these (service) guys up to come in, to do things like add and remove users. And when they came in, they would find so many viruses on the network, on the PCs and on the servers,” Fung said.
“They have a lot of travelling salespeople,” he continued. “They would hook up to a client’s network, not knowing they had a virus. And when they came back to the office, they would plug back into their own network and they would infect the rest of the company.”
Now, with Dynamix, the LAN is managed remotely, and any time someone plugs in, the system detects if there is a virus, then scans and cleans the offending notebook. The company also handles tasks such as patch management, and adding or removing users from the network — a service Farah is quite happy to have off his plate.
“Instead of (someone coming in) and looking at it every six months, this way he is seeing it on a constant basis. If anything happens, it fires a message to him. He can do it remotely. If I have new hires, I just fire him an e-mail and within half an hour, everything is done,” Farah said.
The decision to outsource its server management turned out to be the right one for EMEC, especially since it already had an existing relationship with the service provider, and had taken the time to weigh its options. This isn’t always the case, according to one analyst.
“One thing we discovered when we looked at SMBs is about 62 percent had outsourced something,” said John Sloan, senior research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont. “The flipside of that, which was concerning, was that the number of (survey) respondents that indicated they had a formal process for managing outsourced projects was fairly low — it was near bottom of the list.”
Remote management of IT infrastructures is also not as popular yet with SMBs as it is for larger companies, but Sloan sees this changing in the next few years.
“Internally, smaller organizations may think they have a better handle on their infrastructures because they’ve built them from the ground up,” Sloan said. “Also, service firms that have traditionally focused on larger organizations didn’t see a lot of money in smaller companies. We think that’s going to change a bit. (SMBs) are where the new business is going to be.”
Despite the cautions, for Farah, hiring this service was a turning point for improving business, because it meant that he, and other employees, could do their jobs better.
“The biggest thing for me was the savings in terms of headaches. I can’t put a figure on it. Before, employees were constantly coming to me to tell me their computer was down, or their e-mail wasn’t working,” he said.
“As a controller, my job is with financial issues, and I do human resources as well. These (other) problems took away from my core job.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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