Q: I’m not happy with my current IT person, but because he’s the only one that knows how everything works, I feel like I am being held hostage. What can I do to regain control over my own destiny?

A: If it makes you feel any better, over the past 20 years, this scenario is one of the most common we’re asked to help with by small-business owners.

In the beginning, your computer network is pretty simple and you kind of understand where everything is and, for the most part, how it’s connected.

Over time, because you’re busy running your business, someone else in the office is appointed the “go to IT person,” which can be anyone from the receptionist to the bookkeeper to a friend of the family since a small business can’t justify a full-time IT professional.

This person does their best to deal with all the issues as they pop up (generally with no formal IT training) so as your business grows, the hodgepodge of technology grows. Unfortunately, since this person doesn’t document changes or additions, the information remains locked up in their head.

This undocumented chaos of technology that only this one person understands becomes a powerful tool for them to control their own destiny (and believe me, they all know it).

If you aren’t careful, this scenario gets to the point where you can’t dismiss, replace or often control this person as you realize how little you know about your own business technology. This can just as easily happen with an outside IT firm that does not provide the owner of the business with the “keys to the car” whether on purpose or just because they are disorganized. If this person or organization perceives that they are about to be replaced, the likelihood of them cooperating in their own replacement isn’t really high, so don’t wait until it’s too late to regain control. One approach to getting them to document what they know is to go through the “what happens if you get hit by a bus” scenario, which is one that you should be prepared for regardless of the situation.

Depending upon your relationship, you may have to be more covert in your approach, but here are some fundamental items that every business owner should have:

• Username and password for all administrator accounts — He who owns the admin password, owns the kingdom (remember the disgruntled IT guy for the City of San Francisco that locked everyone out in 2008?) You need to be able to take administrative control over your own network at any moment you choose.

• Blueprint or flowchart of your network — If you are forced to bring in someone new and there is no mapping of your network, you may have to spend an enormous amount of money just so the new IT person can begin any real work.

• A disaster recovery plan — You should plan for the worst (what happens if my building burns down? What happens if our computers get stolen? What happens if our server goes down?) and hope for the best. We all know that the odds of a catastrophic technology event are pretty high, so don’t wait until you are in the middle of a disaster to create a disaster plan.

• Centralized location for software licenses — It should be pretty easy for anyone to list the programs the business uses on a daily basis and gather all the disks and licenses in one place (preferably a fireproof cabinet or safe). One of the biggest stumbling blocks when we are asked to step in during an emergency is that no one can locate the program disks and/or license numbers necessary to rebuild the network.

• Administrative Access to all your web properties — Do you have the username and password to make changes to your website, Facebook page, online backups, etc.?

• Remote access points — Do you know whether and how your IT person accesses your network from a remote location so you can shut it off if necessary?

This is by no means everything that you should understand about your network, but if you don’t have these basic fundamentals down, the rest is pointless.

In my opinion, understanding the fundamentals of your business technology is just as important as understanding the fundamentals of your accounting system; abdicating complete control to someone else in either of these areas is hazardous to your businesses health.

• Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the “Computer Corner” radio show, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio

Readers may send questions to evtrib@datadoctors.com

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