Is your IT guy too powerful? In a small office, just one staffer often holds the keys to the kingdom. What if he quits abruptly - or worse, holds you hostage?
We all want to think the best of everyone, particularly in a smaller office. Officemates become friends, we celebrate birthdays and holidays together, and we tend to trust each other. But in such environments, it is still important to keep a few safeguards in place - specifically around your IT support. You must avoid dangerous situations when your lone IT staffer goes from friend and workmate to ex-employee - and takes the keys to the IT kingdom with him.
Many of you are already saying to yourself, “Not my IT staffer. We have a wonderful relationship.” That response is common and expected. Unfortunately, in cases where small offices are held hostage by disgruntled ex-employees, many of those office managers remember feeling the same way, before the big breakup. So, let’s assume we are talking about a small percentage of bad apples here. Think of it like locking your car doors at the mall. This simply protects you from the one thief cruising the parking lot looking for free loot, not the thousand honest people at the mall that day.
Getting a second opinion
As an IT staffer myself, I have to admit that I am not always keen on having an outsider come poking around the systems I work on, second-guessing my handiwork. However, having an external consulting group can insulate both me and my employer. Hiring a legitimate consultant to be backup support can yield benefits. You can feel safer should unforeseeable circumstances leave you without your only IT staffer. Additionally, having such a group on call even slightly familiar with your systems will allow your lone IT guru to enjoy her vacation. It provides protection to ensure you don’t find yourself between a rock and a hard spot when you and your IT staffer decide to part ways. It may seem uncomfortable at first, but your IT staffer will probably grow to love this arrangement - especially when it comes time for them to head to the beach!
The weak spots
The gates to which IT staff usually hold the keys may vary a bit from office to office, but they can be safeguarded to discourage abuse by a disgruntled ex. Here are a few weak spots:
Prepare for dismissal
If it comes down to termination of your only IT staffer, be prepared. While the termination may be benign, reactions later can change to anger. Protect yourself by planning ahead. If you’ve engaged an external IT group as backup support, make them aware and have them ready to come on-site immediately after the dismissal.
Never let an IT person go back to her PC “just to clean something up” when you’ve dismissed her. She might just shut you down in just a few keystrokes. Walk her to the door, and tell her she has a defined time period to return all assets she might have at home. Immediately notify your vendors (including your Web host) and disable the ex-employee’s accounts. Have all users immediately change their passwords in all systems. Request a security audit by your external consulting group or by your replacement IT employee, and carry out recurring audits over the next few months.
As with any employee, hiring quality staff, checking references, and maintaining a good relationship can help you avoid these situations. But just like locking your car doors in the parking lot, secure yourself and your systems, and you can avoid that one-in-a-thousand scenario.
Jonathan McCallister is a client-site IT manager for a major healthcare consulting firm, and he is currently assigned to a 140-physician practice. He has worked in healthcare IT management for more than eight years and in general IT management for more than a decade. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue of Physicians Practice.