Technology drives business, and yet small businesses are less likely to have dedicated IT staff to support them. Many rely on the services of a small IT shop or “solotech.”
All IT techs are certainly not created equal, but once a business finds a good fit, it tends to place a lot of trust on them.
Unfortunately, few relationships last forever, leaving you with some unpleasant realizations that may not be apparent for months.
Domain and banding control
Many small IT shops offer an array of services like website management. Most small-business owners will happily cede the IT paperwork to their support crew without asking the 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 contacts, you have no way to prove your ownership of this domain.
In most cases, your IT tech will give you this information when you break up, but you might have to remember to ask. And, worse than that, in acrimonious situations 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.
Software and hardware ownership
The days of shrink-wrapped 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 you need to have at least 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, and warranty information. Then be sure to keep adding to this information as you implement new systems.
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. 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.