Breaking up is hard to do

How to bounce back from an IT break up?

By Laura Haight
Originally published as The Digital Maven in Upstate Business Journal on Aug. 10, 2017

Technology drives business and yet small businesses, the vast engine of the “Main Street economy”, are less likely to have dedicated IT staff to support them. There are plenty of technology support businesses in the Upstate, but many smaller businesses rely on the services of a small IT shop or solotech.

Finding the right IT person to support you is a process and all IT techs are certainly not created equal.  But once a business finds a good fit, it tends to place a lot of trust and responsibility on their shoulders.

Unfortunately, few relationships last forever. Eventually, the 3Ds -- death, desertion, or divorce -- may intervene, leaving you with some unpleasant realizations that may not be apparent for months.

Solotechs are often less structured in the documentation they maintain and may vary greatly in what they provide to you. Here are some things you need to make sure you have.

Domain/branding control

Many small IT shops are multi-functional, offering an array of different services like website management. Most small business owners will happily cede the handling of pesky IT paperwork to their support crew without asking one good question: “What is this for?” Periodically, ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, will send a copy of the registered contact information associated with your website domain. There are three contacts listed: an administrative contact, a technical contact, and a registrant contact. If your name is not listed as one of these, you have no way to prove your ownership of this domain.

In most cases, your IT tech will give you this information when you breakup, but you might have to remember to ask. And, worse than that, in acrimonious situations or the 3rd D (death), that information may be withheld or unattainable. I know at least one Upstate company that lost control of its domain name and branding when this happened to them.

You can check the ICANN database but you will have to be one of the listed contacts to update the information. Your IT or website provider can work with you to do this.

Software and hardware ownership

The days of shrinkwrapped software and physical licenses are in the past, right? But ownership remains an issue, even with digital licenses.

With Software as a Service (SaaS), everything from backups and CRM to virus protection is controlled by the administrator console. You may not want to dig into the weeds in these services, but at least you need to have all the relevant information about your account so you can access these areas.

Then there’s hardware. You may not even be aware of the age or warranty status of your servers, network gear, desktops, laptops and even mobile devices.

Ask your IT person to document all the relevant services, their administrative accesses and account info, as well as all the hardware, where it was purchased, any service tag information, copies of any sale or warranty information. Then be sure to keep adding to this information as you implement new systems.

Hosting

Let’s face it, a big reason to have IT help is so you don’t have to understand the technology yourself. So you may not realize that email and websites have to live (i.e. be hosted) somewhere. There’s an annual charge to renew your domain name but that’s because you don’t so much own it as rent it. Still that has no connection with keeping your assets up and running.

A friend of mine wondered why she kept getting emails from some unknown company dunning her for money. It turned out that company, which had been employed by a previous IT tech, was hosting her website and since she had ignored their bills for more than half a year she was just days from having her website shut down. She thought GoDaddy, where she bought the domain, was also hosting the website.

Website and email hosting may be with two different companies. It’s possible that your IT tech is a reseller for those companies so the account may not be owned by you. If you and your tech split, will you know where your website and your email are? Make sure accounts for your critical technology assets are in your name and that you have contact and access information if you need it.

Having information documented and shared with the client is important not only for the customer but for a solotech as well. That’s a lesson Pete Martin, owner of Tech Graphics, learned a few weeks ago when a friend and colleague passed away.

Martin is a Greer-based solotech who supports small business clients throughout the southeast. “We weren’t true partners, but worked closely together and shared some clients,” Martin says. His friend’s widow had little knowledge of his business operations and it fell to Martin to try to get things in order: notifying clients, transitioning them to new systems, and, in some cases, assuming their support at least temporarily. “I was lucky that he had done a good bit of documentation, but finding key login and contact information took some digging.”

“The lesson I learned from this is that any IT person working by himself or herself really needs to document everything, and have someone as a backup who is at least somewhat familiar with client setups,” he notes.

No one wants to think about what happens IF… But planning, preparation and the occasional prenup are important bulwarks against the unknowns that can disrupt any relationship.

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