There was a revolution in the IT industry a couple of decades ago that transformed the face of personal computing.
Up until 1995, most people's idea of a computer was huge screen and box on the desk, software that needed to be "run" and programs, which, if you wanted to use all their functionality, you needed to have a print out of common commands stuck to your keyboard.
However, in 1995 it all changed.
Microsoft released Windows '95, and it was a revolution.
We'd had a graphical interface for a few years. Windows 3.1 was arguably the operating system that made mouse manufacturers sit up and take notice, but that was just a veneer on top of an old, cranky, text-based legacy operating system that was difficult to use. It just made it a bit easier.
Windows '95 made everything different, and it arguably kicked off the home PC revolution. For the first time, people could use a computer to do simple things, simply.
In the workplace, this had a huge impact. Computers began to appear in more areas of the workplace as IT departments, and company owners, realised that they weren't just for accountants. Maybe Supercalc, Lotus 123 and Excel were the catalyst to get more companies hooked on IT, but when they realised other software was available that could help streamline operations, they soon latched on to them.
And the beauty of Windows was that it was a seamless transition for many. They had this at home, so it was easy for them to use at work.
But in reality, although Windows '95 and its subsequent upgrades made the interface more familiar and allowed people to do things they didn't think possible, rather than reduce the need for support, it increased it.
Problems still exist
Computers are still complex. They still go wrong, in fact, you could argue they go wrong more now than they ever have done.
Way back in 1995, there wasn't much software available to install, just a handful of applications. As years went on, most people installed an office package, and then there were a few graphics packages available. That's all OK; they're quite easy to maintain still.
But then the Internet became widespread, and software became a little easier to come by.
Plugins for popular applications such as Word and Excel made it easier for office staff to do complex tasks but made it harder for IT support teams to look after them.
What if the plugins clashed with others? What if the PC doesn't have enough disk space? And what about all the licenses?
Viruses became a real problem. As the Internet became more widespread, making sure networks were secure became an even more pressing task. It was now possible for people outside the business to get inside its network and therefore get at its data, without even having to walk through the door.
Far from making computer systems easier to support, the widespread availability of hardware, software and Internet connectivity now made it much harder, and more critical.
Who handles that support?
In many small businesses, it's the staff themselves that have to handle those support tasks. In others, they'll know someone who knows someone. Or, the owners will have a friend or relative who they call upon when things go wrong. Howeve, this could make things worse.
All IT networks are different. Of course, in many cases they'll be using the same version of Word or Excel, and they will be having the same problems as many others, but the nuances of a network and the complexity of proprietary software means support isn't as simple as someone simply walking into your offices, hitting a few keys and making problems go away.
And those problems could mean productivity is reduced, or even stopped, and that means you're losing money.
How to reduce the costs of downtime
The best way to ensure you don't have downtime is to avoid it as much as possible, but it's also important to have plans in place for when things do go wrong so you can get back up and running as quickly as possible.
Here are five things you can do to help make sure IT problems don't stop you working altogether.
- Restrict what can be installed on PCs
There is software available that will stop people downloading and installing anything they find on the Internet, but it can also be controlled effectively from within Windows itself. However, it may just be something that you need to have a clear organisational policy on.
Explaining the problems that unknown software can cause to an employees, and businesses, productivity is usually enough to stop people downloading and installing programs left right and centre.
- Have a standard for common used software and hardware
To be fair, most companies use PCs and have Microsoft Office installed these days, it's pretty much the standard, but you may have mavericks who want to install their own software, and they're the ones to watch.
If you want to keep support costs down and make life easier for your IT department, make sure that you make the most commonly used software standard throughout the organisation. It also keeps licensing costs down, as you can benefit from bulk purchasing.
- Install anti-virus software
Not just on individual PCs, either. Make sure your network has anti-virus and that it's kept up to date at all times, and ensure you also keep a look out for malware and other security issues that are not covered by anti-virus.
- Restrict Internet access
The Internet is a rich web of valuable information, but it's also a hotbed of dodgy websites that will attempt to hijack your computers as soon as you visit them. Luckily, your Internet traffic should be easy for you to control - so control it.
If you're a small organisation, many ISPs have software that can be configured to manage your connections automatically, so investigate it and talk to your provider about increasing security.
- Always have a backup
Backups are an essential part of every company's IT policy, so don't be left out.
Make sure they're off-site, too. If your backups are kept on an external hard drive next to your laptop and they both get stolen, it's not much use.
And of course, if all of this is overwhelming, call on a company that can ensure your IT infrastructure is solid, well supported and is there when you need them!