Moving a business or opening a new office is a complex operation, and the ability to make a smooth IT transition is critical for reducing downtime, maintaining productivity and avoiding frustration for employees and clients.

“Moving is a formidable task,” says Shawn Sturgeon, sales engineer manager at Time Warner Cable Business Class. “A business can prepare by carefully planning how IT systems will be disconnected, relocated and installed at the new location. The key is to minimize the risk of downtime, which can be a serious financial and customer-relationship threat.”

Planning is critical to the success of a move, and Sturgeon emphasizes the importance of documenting IT processes and involving the right technology staff, from the chief information officer to network administrators. Ultimately, the key is to manage technology in such a way that customers will not notice the move, as their calls will continue to be answered and their needs tended to, their e-mails will arrive without error and the company will continue to provide service.

Smart Business spoke with Sturgeon about how to effectively manage technology when moving or opening new offices, from the initial planning to the decommissioning of old equipment.

What should businesses consider as they are planning a move to ensure a smooth IT transition?

Companies that keep detailed documentation of their IT systems and processes will find it easier to prepare for a move than those that do not put these integral business operations in writing. As a standard course of business, you should maintain a solid library of documentation that identifies what systems the company runs and what services the business uses.

What is included in the company’s IT inventory? What telephone lines exist, and what lines do these phones ring to when dialed? What contracts with external IT resources does the company hold? Who is responsible for managing specific technology roles, and what do those jobs include?

Proper documentation not only impacts your ability to manage technology during a move, but it can also reduce turnover in IT staff and ensure that the company maintains its IT intelligence if a key technology employee leaves the business. Because if your network administrator or IT manager leaves, does anyone know how to keep technology operations running? Your documentation will lay the groundwork for a moving plan.

While planning, begin to take inventory of what IT infrastructure you will move to the new location and what equipment you will retire. Will you need to buy more equipment? What services will you transfer, and will you need different or more IT services? What providers do you currently work with, and will you transfer this business when you move?

Begin planning as much in advance as possible, and be sure to communicate openly with technology staff and all employees so there is an understanding of what will happen on move day.

Who should be involved in the IT system moving process?

A key part of planning is identifying who is involved in the moving process and the role of each individual. In advance, identify who will be involved in the move from top level down to the workstation level with the people who will physically move the equipment and set it up.

Generally speaking, in large organizations, the chief information officer will head up the team, including an IT director down to telecom managers, IT managers and network administrators. In smaller firms, there might be a single person responsible for IT operations who oversees the move. Additionally, external resources will assist with the move in various capacities. These might include systems integrators that manage day-to-day operations of servers and applications, and service providers, such as telephone system vendors, Internet providers, wireless network providers, etc.

How can a technology move be executed to minimize downtime and frustration?

While there is certain to be some downtime during a move, the key is to minimize the time during which your business is disconnected. Identify, based on team members, how much time is required to set up each workstation. Then decide the best time to move, whether that is during a weekend or a weekday night.

Timing will likely depend on how quickly you can make the move and on the complexity of your move. Decide who will physically move the equipment — movers who specialize in IT relocation, or internal staff? Once equipment and service have arrived at the new location, who will put them in place and connect them, and how will they be tested to be sure all technology is operational?

How can a business securely decommission technology that isn’t going to make the move?

What will you do with old servers or systems you decide to no longer use after the move? You need a plan for how to decommission this equipment and how to ‘clean’ it to ensure that there is no business-critical information left on hard drives, servers and other hardware. There are agencies that specialize in disposing of IT equipment so be sure to ask them how they manage to do this securely. Along the same lines, determine what services must be disconnected at your old business location. Otherwise, you could end up paying double for services that were not cancelled.

Moving technology is a complex feat, but by involving a team of responsible individuals who understand their role in the moving process and employing outside vendors such as trusted service providers that understand your technology needs, you can make the process go smoothly and reduce costly downtime.

Shawn Sturgeon is a sales engineer manager for Time Warner Cable Business Class Midwest. Reach him at (330) 572-3913 or shawn.sturgeon@twcable.com.

Published in Akron/Canton

When considering a move to a new community, a company’s leaders may be influenced by the desirability of  residing in a certain locale, or choose a city based on having heard good things about it. But there are a number of factors to consider to ensure the move is the right one for the company, and that it is pursuing all possible incentives, says Linda Burns, a site location consultant at Burns Development Group in the Dallas metropolitan area.

“Key factors to consider include labor availability and the cost of that labor, real estate availability and the associated costs, a geographic area that coincides with a company’s customers, vendors and suppliers, and the tax environment and incentives that may be available,” says Burns.

Smart Business spoke with Burns about how to ensure a successful transition into a new community that is right for your business.

If a company is considering relocating, what is the first thing it should do?

If you don’t have the expertise in house to conduct an assessment, seek the outside assistance of a site location consultant. That will help you, in a very objective fashion, to evaluate potential real estate and work force and look at how your operational needs are going to impact your real estate needs.

A consultant will look at where your company does business and where its vendors and suppliers are located. The consultant will also consider your unique real estate requirements; for example, as a data center or a manufacturer, you may have very stringent infrastructure requirements that you need to factor in.

CEOs need to take into consideration the strategic, financial and operational implications of rationalizing a company’s facility location across multiple markets. A site consultant can help you collect that data and make recommendations on the best-suited sites to consider. Calling in the consultant early in the process is critical. Getting that advice and guidance up front is a huge help as you are looking at your total portfolio and deciding what to do.

What other factors does a company need to consider?

Labor is another important element, in terms of availability and wage rates. It’s very expensive for companies to relocate labor, and they can’t afford to deal with unsold homes like they used to. It is key when making decisions on location that companies assess labor availability and average wages in the area being considered and factor that into their operational plan. In many cases, suitability of the work force in terms of availability of workers with desired skill sets and wage rates supercedes the real estate.

Also look at where your vendors, suppliers and customers are located, where your markets are, and where it makes sense for you to be. And look not just at your needs but also at what the cost of those needs are, such as whether you’re considering a move into a state with very high electricity costs. Look at what your demand is going to be on those systems, and what the associated costs are.

Consultants approach the site search as a process of elimination. Your site consultant will assess other areas, such as quality of life and business climate; educational and training resources; health care offerings; recreational, cultural and retail amenities. All of these items potentially affect the bottom line — including the company’s ability to recruit and retain workers.

How can tax incentives play a role in deciding where to locate?

Companies don’t always think in terms of being desirable or being in a position to approach a community, county or state about tax relief. They may think that they will only get the attention of a community if they are moving hundreds of people, building a building or have millions of dollars in investments. What they don’t take into consideration, especially in a large metropolitan area, is that there are many surrounding communities that would be very happy and very supportive to receive a smaller project.

There are some very aggressive programs out there right now and they are getting more aggressive at all levels. There are deal-closing funds to provide gap financing that is needed to secure projects. There are communities that have cash grants that provide discretionary funds to pay for anything from relocation to putting in a rail spur to training employees.

A company would be remiss not to conduct due diligence and look at all possible location or expansion scenarios. It’s a numbers game. Jobs are really needed right now, and communities are very receptive and willing to work with projects that offer job creation.

Is now a good time to consider relocation opportunities?

With all the downsizing, or ‘right-sizing,’ of the past few years, companies are reassessing where their current locations are and whether it makes sense to continue there in the future. They are looking at whether they should consolidate multiple facilities into one they currently own or lease, or whether a different territory makes more sense in terms of logistics and costs.

There is still a conservative approach in terms of evaluating what the next step should be, but there’s a definite increase in companies evaluating their current situations and trying to forecast their future needs. And the real estate market is still very competitive in terms of what property owners are willing to do for companies, offering some very good tenant improvement allowances, free rent and helping to take people out of leases early in some cases by the savings that they’re able to offer.

Communities are looking for new tax revenue and need new job opportunities because many still have high unemployment rates. And that makes it a very good time for companies to be looking to relocate to a location that could improve their bottom line.

Linda Burns is a site location consultant with Burns Development Group in the Dallas metropolitan area, specializing in incentive negotiations and economic development recruiting. Reach her at (214) 402-1882 or linda@burnsdevelopmentgroup.com.

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by the Allen Economic Development Corporation, strategically positioned in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro.

Published in Los Angeles