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How a Full Network Audit Could Benefit Your Business

Sep 12, 2008
As the backbone of your organisation's information technology infrastructure, your IT network needs to be kept at optimum performance level. Productivity and profit could be lost, not to mention customers and staff, if your IT is creating work for everyone instead of reducing it, by failing to provide the efficiencies it was designed for, or worse, not protecting you from catastrophic loss of data.

Why are we networked?

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, IT was generally considered to be a necessary evil, consuming enormous budgets and confusing lots of people who would have preferred to be doing something else. Computing was considered a distraction and the actual benefits in terms of profit, and certainly in terms of increased productivity, were at the very best inconclusive: employees had mixed feelings as increasingly computers took or changed their jobs.

At this time, IT was moving from mainframe and mid-frame systems (which processed large repetitive jobs such as payroll and now had dumb terminals attached to allow minimal activity outside the IT department) to client/server technology, where processing was more local and terminals more intelligent - although not necessarily the users who used up inordinate amounts of support staff time. The arrival of the client/server model and the development of Ethernet networks greatly reduced the space required by massive mainframes and revolutionised the distribution of computing power throughout the organisation.

In 2008, distributed IT is no longer an option, but a necessity. All but the very smallest companies have some kind of networked computing power and 'keeping up with the Jones' in this respect has become a global consideration, not simply a British obsession: it is simply not possible for anything but the smallest company to remain competitive without it. The outrage of the 1990s has abated as the human race has adapted to a new way of working - users are becoming remarkably IT savvy. As the IT Infrastructure is used for more and more business functionality, so additional data equipment and software is purchased. The IT department is expected to implement changes to the network and its components, usually under strict time constraints, whilst maintaining control processes, and as most IT professionals will agree, this can be a difficult balancing act. These issues, along with the global habit of stimulating company growth by acquisition, gives the IT department a potential headache in terms of thousands of pounds worth of company assets not properly accounted for.

And still it is not plain sailing for the IT department

The job now involves tracking an unwieldy and growing number of IT products and equipment and dealing with a far more unwieldy number of staff from various disciplines. IT department staff come and go, records can be misplaced, knowledge of products is lost and not replaced, the network may have been upgraded and some products no longer serve effective purpose.

Critical to keeping an IT network functioning effectively and at peak performance, is a network audit, which should ideally be performed annually. If records are updated between audits, annual audits become easy and quick to perform. Without proper auditing, you are likely to have:

- No preparation for crisis management
- Chaotic cash flow due to duplication or ill-advised purchases, no buy- back arrangement, etc
- Lower productivity
- Less profit
- Limited spend forecasting ability
- Less computing power than you need
- Inability to locate and fix bugs
- Reduced ability to track obsolete assets
- Inability to measure or reduce environmental impact
- Inadequate insurance cover
- Uncontrolled power consumption
- Compliance issues

Let's say that you are now convinced you must invest in an audit: it may be that the resources required to perform the audit are not available in-house. There is a multitude of companies offering auditing services - some good, some not - but how can you recognise a reputable company? What should you be looking out for?

Features of a competent IT audit specialist

- Experienced with up to date asset recognition software
- Regularly perform physical audits in addition
- All technicians are technically qualified
- Engineers government security cleared (SC)
- Full documentation provided in agreed format
- Includes initial discussion to pre-determine level of detail required
- Excellent references
- Solid business history

There is a good possibility that the audit will highlight products and components that need to be replaced shortly and there will be requirements for updates to the system. It may be convenient to choose a company that can not only carry out audits, but can also provide buy-back facilities and offers both refurbished and new products at competitive prices. In this way, your company will benefit from making best use of time and financial resources.

Cost issues

A network audit is an investment, and as such, it brings rewards after the initial outlay. In some cases, significant advantages will be immediately obvious, such as:

- Finding and fixing bugs to enable smooth operation of the network
- Locating all components to ensure no duplication of purchases
- Staff finding the system more responsive
- Customers not having to wait so long for assistance
- Planning for future IT requirements becoming easier
- Users less needy
- More time to spend on new or important but less urgent projects

Other benefits will take longer to realise:

- Profitability is improved over time by, for example, sales staff available for more calls, and an optimised phone system
- Competitive advantage may be achieved through identification of appropriate new technologies not yet implemented by business rivals.

Business information systems are constantly evolving and in order not to be caught lagging behind, or in the obsolescence trap, a network audit is a cost effective and business critical function.
About the Author
Danny Fell is a director of Network 24 based in the UK. He regularly contributes articles for Prodec Networks, a leading UK Cisco reseller in the UK.
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