Sometimes a company’s IT issues are obvious: the computers are outdated, the server isn’t adequate, or the staff needs specific training. But in other cases, optimizing an information technology platform to meet the business’ strategic goals isn’t quite so straightforward. This is where an IT assessment becomes valuable. But what is it, what are its benefits and when do you need one?
Those are questions Nicole McMackin, president of Irvine Technology Corporation, a technology solutions firm based in California, and her company set their sights on answering. Those answers may prove useful to IT professionals everywhere.
“An IT assessment is where a company skilled to make assessments comes in, and as an outsider, reviews your existing information technology and services platform,” says McMackin. The assessment team defines efficiencies and cost, and finds areas for improvements in governance and security.
In essence, an IT assessment involves mapping out a company’s current information technology system, and then mapping out the IT system the company should have. An IT assessment team makes recommendations on what can be done with IT at a company in order to align it with the efficiencies the business has in mind.
The assessment encompasses a firm’s software, process, people, servers, and telecom, McMackin says. That review involves looking at the technology and systems in place and the overall cost structure of the IT group, to determine if it’s in line with both current and future company strategy.
But the process also goes beyond that to include an assessment of the company’s staffing picture—and analysis of how it all fits together to support the company’s business goals.
“It goes as in-depth as looking at their current systems, looking at the people and their resumes and how long they’ve been working at that institution,” McMackin says. An assessment team works to determine if the company has the right people in place, in the ideal roles, working with the correct technology. “It becomes a very detailed process,” she says.
Common problem areas
One area commonly addressed is a disaster plan. “Some organizations, actually many, don’t have a disaster recovery plan,” McMackin says. “Many times what’s happened is that companies have a very weak disaster recovery plan.” That plan can be straightforward or quite complex—for example, having a second data center in Las Vegas for a company based in California—depending on the needs and size of the organization.
Data security is another area that IT assessment firms take quite seriously. “It’s critical to the business,” McMackin says of the importance of a secure IT environment. “It’s critical that they have a safe place to store, as a consumer, your information.”
But what IT-assessment firms are often brought in to look at is the people themselves, McMackin says. The assessment team evaluates employees to make sure they’re the right fit for the organization, and in the best role for their skills—”the right seats on the bus,” as she puts it.
“It’s really kind of a second look,” McMackin says. “The largest part is the leaders that you have in place to lead the company to where they want to go.” The key is that the assessment focuses on the company’s own goals, whether that’s assessing staff, reducing cost, introducing new technology, or preparing for a shift in business plans—all within their set budget.
“The IT assessment team should really try to deliver what the client’s expectations are,” McMackin says. “If you think about it, the assessment won't be worth anything if the team comes up with a solution that’s considerably over-budget for a client. It really is something that needs to be workable for the end client as well.”
Do you need an assessment?
If deciding on the necessity of an IT assessment on your own first, there are a couple of things to consider.
“Typically, when companies go to an organization for an assessment there’s one of two things going on,” McMackin says. Either the company feels that their current COO is leading them down the wrong path, she says, or they are looking to make major changes in their information technology. This might be because they’re experiencing high growth, planning to expand significantly, or looking at acquiring new technology.
Costs vary considerably based on factors like the scope of the assessment, the size of the company, and the technology in place, McMackin says. But $10,000 would be the price floor for an assessment, and things go up from there based on scale, technology, and operations. Considering the potential benefits to a business—decreased cost, reduced IT risk, improved governance and security, and improved project delivery—that outlay may be more than worthwhile.
Terri Coles is a freelance writer based in St. John’s, NL. Her work covers topics as diverse as food, health and business. If you have a story you would like profiled, contact her at [email protected]
The IT Innovators series of articles is underwritten by Microsoft, and is editorially independent.