How to Start a Company Without an IT Professional
The bank has all of your data, and you aren't worried about them giving it away. The phone company also knows a lot about you. Your credit card company knows a frightening amount. What's the difference? SaaS companies should be under the same constraints for protecting your company's privacy as banks and telephone firms are. So far, they all seem to be doing a fine job.
09/17/07 4:00 AM PT
Imagine a world in the not-too-distant future where anyone can work from anywhere, using whatever communication device they have at their disposal (laptop, iPhone, etc.). This type of world is not hard for us to imagine.
After all, many professionals are finding that they have less and less of a need to be in an office to get work done, and the automated business systems that they use are accessible from anywhere via the Internet.
Many consultants are already living this dream lifestyle. More than ever before, small companies are now opting not to have a central office, but to allow their five, 10 or 50 employees to work from home, thereby creating a "virtual" company.
This trend signals the end of the line for certain kinds of IT workers, because not only are employees going remote, but increasingly, back office systems are going remote too -- via the Software as a Service (SaaS) delivery model.
Many of those IT professionals aren't going to miss some of the work that's going away. Frankly, some of it is no fun at all. Have you ever noticed that IT professionals are grumpy?
Some might say it's the recluse factor: IT professionals, like programmers, often prefer computers to people. Computers do what you tell them (unless they're running Vista -- but that's another story), but people have free will. IT professionals hate free will. Free will is very annoying unless it's your own. Free will causes outages. People uninstall things, unplug things, trip on things or otherwise utilize their free will to cause IT headaches.
Yet, while all this is true, the more likely explanation for IT grumpiness is that their job is not much fun.
So, what is the typical day in the life of an IT professional like?
An IT professional comes to work to start his day. This is the call he won't get: "Hey IT professional, just calling to say that everything is working okay today and you're a great guy!"
No, the calls he gets are typically more like this: "Hey IT professional, why is it that the only messages our spam filter catches are our sales leads? Luckily, however, it does let all the Viagra ads through, which is good because it gives us something to read while we're not selling anything. Did they have classes in spam filtering at the college you supposedly went to?"
Working in IT is somewhat like being a fireman. You can never respond to the fire fast enough, no matter what you do. Spam is a particularly difficult arms race fought between spammer and IT department where everyone loses.
In short, the IT profession includes many hard, thankless jobs. However, these days, you can do something to mitigate this tragic story for future generations. You can eliminate this sort of job from your company altogether.
Maybe you can't save the whales or cure cancer, but you can obviate the need for the IT professional's job, allowing him to do another job. You can do this by making a commitment to bring no more software -- and no more server machines -- into your company.
Data Hosted Online
Someone who is starting a company today should consider forgoing a local server in order to avoid either acting as or hiring an IT professional. Rather, such a person can have data hosted online on someone else's server through SaaS.
A new company can easily use a customer relationship management (CRM) tool like Salesforce.com, a contact management solution like SugarCRM and an accounting application like Quickbooks Online Edition. E-mail services can be outsourced to someone like Amicus.com, and document storage to another provider.
In a nutshell, a person who is starting a brand new company today would do well to have no servers at all, thereby sailing past the stale Linux/Windows debate. Without servers and their accompanying headaches, one can focus on serving his customers instead of building technology infrastructure that is, at this point, redundant.
Servers require updates, maintenance, backups and more backups, which translates into plenty of work. Very few companies, regardless of their size, do a good job with backups. Disks have grown faster than tapes have and this is causing a real problem: Where is one supposed to put all the data? Not only that, but all disk drives fail eventually, and it is never, ever convenient.
Consider this: if a tornado obliterated all of your servers right now, how long would it take you to get it all going again? How do you know the tapes will work? Where are they? Not in the same room as the servers, let's hope. Did you know that tapes can sometimes be written to but not read from due to the technology of the tape drive and the error rate on the tape itself?
Are the types of servers you originally bought still for sale so you can buy replacements for the ones that were destroyed? Where would you get that copy of the operating system you were running? Just precisely what version of the OS was that machine running, and how would you know? How many millions of patches from Microsoft did it have on it again? How long will it take to install them?
Wait a minute. "What if a tornado destroys the SaaS site of my chosen vendor?" you ask. That's a great question.
At my company, Journyx, we have hundreds of customers who run their business on our SaaS site. If we weren't up and running pretty much immediately after such an event, we would be out of business, and I would be out of a job.
That frightening vision is very motivating to me. So much so that we have redundant hardware, lots of backups, tapes in a salt mine, multiple sites for data, etc. No one can do a better job of keeping our application up and running than we can.
"But what if someone steals my data and gives it to my competitor?" you ask.
The bank has all of your data, and you aren't worried about them giving it away. The phone company also knows a lot about you. Your credit card company knows a frightening amount. What's the difference? SaaS companies should be under the same constraints for protecting your company's privacy as banks and telephone firms are. So far, they all seem to be doing a fine job. Salesforce.com has a lot of customers, and there hasn't been an instance of sales lead data theft so far.
If you're starting a new company today, go SaaS. Get a laptop. Set up an office at Starbucks. If your time, data security, and peace of mind are worth anything, it's definitely cheaper.
Curt Finch is CEO of Journyx, a provider of Web-based software that tracks time and project accounting solutions to guide customers to per-person, per-project profitability. In 1997, Finch created the world's first Internet-based time sheet application -- the foundation for the current Journyx product offering.