During a recent meeting with a prospective client we found many problems, including a server running an unsupported operating system, no patching or antivirus, and a firewall with services disabled (that is, not a firewall at all). But the most interesting thing was the question she asked once we got to ongoing maintenance: “Why can’t I just do this myself?”
As professionals, we cringe when we see this, but we can all relate. We know an unsupported operating system is poison and that a secure network must have comprehensive patching, managed antivirus, a hardened firewall, and more.
But many of our customers think that running Windows Update, finding lost files, and occasionally updating antivirus software is all there is to it. We need a way to convey to them that what they don’t know matters. We need to demonstrate that our expertise, experience, and execution are what make us vital to them, and that’s why they can’t just do it themselves. Here’s how we make that case at my company.
- Expertise. The breadth and depth of knowledge it takes to be a valuable IT consultant is staggering. This includes operating systems, virtualization, IP networking, security-related skills, and familiarity with the intricacies of data migration. We must also be skilled with firewalls, mobile devices, wireless and remote access management, and more. Just staying current requires a full-time commitment that only professionals can make, as this is not a part-time pursuit. Entering into a service provider relationship without these skills is both unwise and unprofessional.
- Experience. Knowledge without practice is not enough. Reading dozens of books on martial arts doesn’t make you a martial artist. Only practice provides the learning you need to master your art, be it karate or computer security. We learn to secure hypervisors and guest servers, harden operating systems, create effective security policies, segment network traffic, and dozens of other skills by studying first and then practicing them endlessly. That is also how we learn to manage firewalls, secure wireless and remote access, and more.
- Execution. Above and beyond our expertise and experience is the commitment to execution that we bring to the table. This level of professionalism and focus is absolutely necessary in order to keep today’s complex IT installations running securely. Patching, network monitoring, firewall log reading, and other processes must be a 24x7x365 commitment and that can only be done with best of breed automated tools. Only professionals trained in these tools and with an attitude of total commitment can succeed. Hoping for the best is not an option nowadays.
No single person can possibly have all of this expertise (and time). The diverse skills necessary to secure and support modern networks can only be delivered by a qualified team. Leaning on a single person for all of your needs means two things: you’ll never get all that you need and that person will eventually burn out. And of course, everyone sleeps, gets sick, and takes vacations too. Having a qualified team that shares information, tracks its work, and executes reliably in order to maintain and secure your network is absolutely vital to your success.
All business owners understand they need help with legal and taxation issues. The same is true when it comes to managing and securing your computing. Occasional emergency or “break/fix” IT services are no longer adequate in the age of social engineering and other sophisticated attacks. You need professional IT services, and you cannot just do this yourself.
Joshua Liberman is president and founder of Net Sciences Inc., a network support firm offering systems integration and MSP services, with a strong focus on security and data protection, throughout New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah.