I did a presales call with a small dentist office a few months ago. I have some dentist customers, so I’ve come to understand a little bit about how dentist offices operate. But this office was, well, different. The “server” was really an old, failing Windows XP PC tucked away in a dusty corner of an unused office. Other workstations were in similar states of disrepair. This office had a challenge – the receptionist’s brother maintained all the IT equipment, but he recently moved from Minnesota to Colorado and was no longer available to come onsite and resolve the latest emergency.
I promise – I am not making this up.
Apparently, nobody knew how to boot their “server” and they had to call the brother every morning to get the office up and running. The process was generally to turn that central PC off and back on again and hope it booted. Once up and running, nobody was to touch it for the rest of the day. Although PCs in the exam rooms had the ability to store a few patient updates locally, they all depended on this failing central repository to access historical patient data, including X-Ray images. If that PC died, all the X-Rays and all patient data died with it.
The dentist/business owner said he knew he needed a server and we talked at length about setting one up. Then I asked my key question: “What happens if this PC you’re using as a server dies and you can’t access any patient X-Rays?” His answer left me speechless. “I don’t need computers to practice dentistry.” The meeting went downhill after that, and this dentist office never returned another phone call or email.
I use that dentist as an example because, unfortunately, his attitude seems typical of so many business owners and otherwise intelligent executives. Here is another quick story to drive the point home. Several years ago, I was in a presales meeting at a bank to talk about IT security. The banker proudly showed me the shiny new security audit report he undoubtedly paid a small fortune for and asked me to look it over. I sat across the table from him, looked over the report, and commented it covered the bank’s website pretty well, but where was the section about the bank internal IT operations? His reply – “Thanks for coming over” and he quickly hustled me out the door. To this this very day, I don’t know what nerve I touched. But I have some theories.
I think IT is boring for most “normal” people. Most people don’t care about what DHCP servers do or the difference between 1 gb and 10 mb. Some bankers probably never stop to think about the difference between their internal operations and public facing website. At least one dentist never took the time to think through what would happen if all his patient records disappeared. And because IT is boring and “technical” and costs money, it must be at best a necessary evil. For most business decision makers I’ve met, IT is not an asset to be maintained and enhanced, IT is an expense to be minimized.
This is a shame. Consider:
- medical and dental clinics, who keep patient data inside a server instead of a large room full of paper files and film X-Rays.
- transportation companies who can keep images of millions of invoices and other paperwork inside a computer network instead of whole buildings filled with file cabinets
- email and the world wide web
- automated airline check-in systems
- online banking
- and thousands or maybe millions of other applications we take for granted today.
What would happen if we turned all those off? Think about a bank branch without access to the central databases. Think about an airline without the automated ticketing and check-in systems we’ve become used to using. Think about cutting off access to email and the world wide web. Think about a dentist trying to run a modern office without access to computers and historical patient data.
If you are a small business owner, here is a challenge. Turn off your servers and computers for one day and try to run without them. Observe the chaos that will surely follow. Try to calculate the lost revenue from all the customer service disasters that will happen. Try to calculate the increased cost when everyone has to operate manually, with no access to any data.
I dare you to take up these challenges and send me some comments about your experience. And then, let’s have a conversation about how to protect your critical assets and how you can use IT to at least gain competitive parity and maybe a competitive edge versus your competition.
(I originally published this in my old Infrasupport blog on May 30, 2013. I back dated it here.)