IT policies are the sets of rules and guidelines for how IT resources should be used and how operations should be conducted within your organization, covering everything from personal internet and email usage to security processes, software and hardware inventory management, and data retention standards.
To enable the safe and effective use of your IT infrastructure by everyone in your company by making it clear when and how technology resources are to be used.
Let’s look at a couple of examples to better understand how IT policies should work.
Stephanie in Accounting has a 10-year-old daughter selling chocolate for her school’s annual fundraiser, so she sends an email to the entire company letting everyone know the catalog is in the lunchroom and to email her their orders within the next week.
Is this an acceptable use of your company’s email systems? It depends on your company’s requirements and culture, but whether it is or isn’t this is a scenario that should be covered in your IT policy.
In the purchasing department, Robert’s acquisition software is being updated.
Since he’s unable to access it and thus can’t do his normal duties, he decides to check Facebook while he waits as he’s heard about a controversial video involving a celebrity and wants to find it.
Is Robert allowed to check his social media at work? What are the consequences if he views inappropriate content while on the job? Again, effective IT policies make this clear.
Finally, Andrea has just joined your Marketing team as its first in-house graphic designer and starts in one week.
To have her ready to hit the ground running, she’ll need her own computer, complete with graphic design software, a company email account, internet access, Microsoft 365, and access to your file-sharing server. Who’s responsible for making any additional purchases, configuring, and maintaining her computer? It’s all defined in your IT policies.
The Importance of a Robust IT Policy
Effective IT policies are clear, thorough, and start with your business objectives and requirements (instead of what the IT department thinks makes sense based on the tools and configurations it uses).
That’s why we strongly encourage corporate leadership and department heads to work with the IT team to provide input and feedback to develop them.
Why do all the work to create a robust IT policy instead of just addressing problems as they arise?
Undocumented policies = inconsistent results
Whether they’re documented or not, IT policies exist in every organization. Off the top of your head, you can probably think of at least 2 or 3 things that aren’t okay for your employees to do with their company technology.
But “this goes without saying” is a bad way to manage IT infrastructure for a couple of reasons.
For one, it can make your company more exposed to cyberattacks or compliance violations as most average users don’t understand the fundamentals of IT security or regulatory compliance.
Well-crafted, clearly documented IT policies not only enable your IT team to implement technologies and processes to automatically keep your user activity secure, but they also provide a point of reference for each employee on how they can and can’t use their company equipment and software.
Second, undocumented policies lead to everyone in your company operating in a way that makes the most sense to them.
In addition to the vulnerabilities mentioned above, this also makes maintenance and management harder; if Sue is used to saving her work documents on her local laptop, it makes it harder for Larry to have the most up-to-date reports when she doesn’t remember to email him the Word file.
A great IT policy framework starts with goals
Great IT policies start with business objectives and needs, then translate those into actionable guidelines and procedures for how everyone in the company operates.
Some common objectives included in IT policy are:
- Empower employees: By defining the importance of your IT policy for your company, as well as clarifying rules and disciplinary actions, you make it easier for everyone in the company to responsibly use their technology with minimal confusion.
- Protect company information: Clear policies reduce the likelihood of breaches due to cyberattacks by outlining vulnerabilities and how they’re protected for your IT team, as well as explaining common security risks and how to defend against them to your other employees.
- Improve business and employee performance: IT policies streamline protocols, address obstacles to compliance, and make it easier for employees to understand and follow IT best practices to support efficient business operations and growth.
- Identify IT opportunities: Great policies outline key IT resources and procedures for maintaining and upgrading them to save costs, improve security, and optimize your workflows.
- Work towards company-wide consistency: Clear IT policies streamline operations by providing one set of dos and don’ts for everyone in the company.
- Minimize IT error: By making equipment usage, implementation and training processes, and IT risks clearer, documented IT policies reduce the risk and effects of human error.
- Maintain IT over time: Great IT policies incorporate guidelines for reviewing IT equipment, software, and procedures regularly to keep your company up and running and provide opportunities for IT managers, to recommend and implement upgrades.
Benefits of creating an organization-specific IT policy framework
Of course, defining the specifics of your organization’s IT goals and policies is a lot of work, especially for already busy executives and managers.
What makes that work worth the effort?
- Maximize IT value/usefulness: Depending on your business, IT infrastructure can be one of your largest cost centers. When you’re able to effectively implement and maintain your software and hardware, you’re able to maximize its lifetime value to your company.
- Limit risk exposure/company information security: Security and compliance breaches are not only a huge headache to fix, but they’re also potentially business-destroying. Clear, well-written IT policies can go a long way in minimizing these risks.
- Reduce operating costs: As part of your IT policy creation, you’ll help your IT team better understand the technology and equipment you currently use and your business needs. This information, combined with a policy-defined regular review of your IT infrastructure, creates the opportunity for your IT staff to upgrade and optimize your systems to reduce TCOs and ongoing IT expenses.
Core Components of IT Policy
With the benefits in mind, let’s cover some core areas you should address in your organization’s IT policies.
We can only offer general guidelines and considerations as the particulars will depend entirely on your company’s unique needs.
That said, here are a few components to consider:
- Acceptable use: Commonly abbreviated as AUP, acceptable use encompasses how employees should use technology, computers, cell phones, the internet, networks, servers, mail systems, etc. What are the appropriate and inappropriate uses of company equipment? How do your employees need to access their files, emails, and applications to ensure data integrity and security?
- User access controls: UAC defines what users get access to which parts of your data and network, and how that access is allowed/limited. Who can access what? What controls will be in place? Who will keep access updated during staff changes?
- Third-party vendor access: Whether you use an IT managed services provider, want to hire business consultants to optimize your workflows, or just need a wall repaired, at some point, people outside of your organization will need access to your IT infrastructure – the who and how of this should be defined in your policies. What information can third parties access? How will they access it? What confidentiality agreement will be in place? What best practices must they uphold?
- Internet and email usage: As part of your AUP, you should define how your company does and should use the internet and email. How will employee devices and systems be connected to each other and the internet? What internet-connected services and applications will be used? How will online services be protected in the business context? What devices should be allowed to connect?
- Company-owned devices: Your IT policies should outline what equipment your company uses, when and to whom that equipment is given, and who’s responsible for maintaining and tracking that equipment. Does every new employee get their own laptop? How often are these devices audited? Do employees get to keep company equipment when they leave?
- Bring Your Own Device/Technology: Whether you allow your employees to use their own devices for or at work or not, you should clarify the ifs, whens, and hows in your IT policy. When can personal devices be connected to company systems and networks? Under what circumstances? Using what security protocols?
- Data backup and recovery: Backup and recovery policies outline the processes and procedures for ensuring copies of key data are made and securely stored, as well as how they’ll be recovered if needed. How will data on company systems and technology be backed up? On what schedule? What will/will not be possible to recover? What protocols will be followed to avoid security issues during backup?
- Disaster recovery: Disaster recovery is the set of processes and guidelines used to restore business operations in a variety of scenarios. What happens during an interruption in normal business operations? How will each department and team keep running? Is remote work involved? What plans will there be for backup systems, staff, vendors and equipment? What tasks will be prioritized in the case of an emergency?
- Incident response: These policies outline your plans regarding unauthorized access to your company’s network. What are the protocols to isolate intruders, identify any stolen or corrupted data, and restore access that’s been lost, and ensure the future security of your systems?
- Remote work: If you allow your employees to work remotely, you should clarify when and how that’s allowed. How will employees access networks, systems, and data remotely? What security guidelines are required? What remote work environment standards will be set? Will employees be required to use a VPN when accessing your network from home?
- Information security: Your IT policy is a key component of maintaining cybersecurity. Within it, you should define your processes and procedures for maintaining IT security, as well as your specific risks and vulnerabilities. How will your company protect the private data of employees and customers? What systems will store it and what user access will protect it? What protocols should IT staff take when handling private data?
- Password management: As part of your IT security policies, we highly recommend having a clear password management system and process as password-based attacks are one of the most common causes of cybersecurity breaches. What password requirements will be mandatory? How can you motivate employees to renew passwords and protect them? What password policy will best safeguard company systems?
- Security awareness: Best practices change regularly, and most employees aren’t aware of what they should and shouldn’t do to keep your IT infrastructure secure – that’s where defining awareness processes comes in. How will staff and users be trained in security? How will the IT policy and procedures be implemented daily? What sort of adherence measures will be put in place?
- Change management: At some point, your devices and software will need to be upgraded. When, why, and how should be defined in your IT policies. What happens when IT infrastructure, systems, protocols or policies are updated? How will a change plan be defined and implemented? How will staff be notified?
- IT system maintenance: Like all tools, IT systems need regular maintenance. To minimize interruptions and the costs of broken hardware and software, regular maintenance schedules and processes should be included in your policies. When and how will IT maintenance occur? How will staff be notified? What types of service interruptions can be avoided?
- Help Desk: When your employees need help learning or fixing your IT systems, it’s important to have clear expectations and processes for who they should talk to, how, and when they can expect responses. How will the Help Desk handle tech-related inquiries? How will they protect private data during resolutions? What issues should be escalated to IT staff? What SLA (service level agreement) will support Help Desk resolution?
These key considerations will guide you as you create your IT policy framework. If you’re looking for an IT policy template to get started, TechRepublic has a good resource with downloadable IT policy examples.
Challenges with Creating and Implementing IT Policies
With the core components of an effective IT policy clarified, it’s time to consider creating and implementing one for your company.
But with so much to consider between each core area, all the technology you use, the needs and wants of your various departments, and the capabilities of your employees, there are quite a few barriers to developing and acting on your IT policy.
Let’s take a look at some of the common roadblocks and a few ideas for how to overcome them.
Employee buy-in is essential
Impacting employee behavior to increase security and more effectively utilize your IT infrastructure is a core goal of creating IT policies, so ensuring they understand why you’re implementing them and getting their buy-in is essential.
One of the key ways IT policies can fail is not incorporating the employee perspective and getting their buy-in.
If they see you’ve decided to restrict usage, change processes, or switch technologies like your accounting software without reason, you’ll undoubtedly create friction.
The “without reason” is the key phrase here, though; in many cases, simply explaining why you’ve made the change and how it’s better for the company and/or their work can be enough to get their support.
Getting their feedback before enacting the new policy or making the changes almost always eliminates this challenge before it becomes an issue.
Additionally, you’ll want to be sure to implement your new IT policy framework consistently.
If you’ve decided to not allow anyone to use company email to announce their daughter’s chocolate fundraiser, “letting it slide” when Stephanie does it but telling Harold it’s inappropriate when he does it will cause confusion and frustration for everyone.
Making the best use of company and employee time
Especially in busy companies, it’s easy to feel like there are always fires to fight and never enough time in the day.
This makes seemingly “high level” and “abstract” projects like creating and implementing IT policies easy to put on the backburner in favor of more urgent tasks (at least ones that seem so).
If you’re serious about increasing the security of your company’s IT infrastructure, reducing compliance risk, and more effectively utilizing your IT budgets by implementing new IT policies, you’ll need to stress the importance of the project to key stakeholders and eventually all your employees.
Other implementation challenges we’ve seen when it comes to employee time and prioritization include:
- Administrative and IT team burden: In some cases, your management team might have other projects that are just as much a priority as your IT policy, and your IT team might not have enough manpower to get the work done on time. In this case, hiring an outside firm to do the legwork.
- No IT policy role assigned: Without a clear understanding of who’s responsible for leading and managing your IT policy project, it’s easy to spend a lot of time discussing ideas for what to include and how important the project is without ever making progress on actually creating and implementing your new policies. If you want your IT policy to be successful, you’ll need to assign leadership and execution roles so it’s clear to everybody who’s involved and what they’re accountable for.
Implementation Strategies for Your IT Policy
As we’ve discussed above, your IT policy and procedures mean little without an implementation plan.
Though creating your IT policy can be challenging in and of itself, putting it into practice and sticking to it is where the bulk of the work lies.
Here are a few things to address to ensure your policy becomes a part of your daily workflows:
- Resource allocation: Make sure you’ve dedicated resources to implementation. It’s not realistic to think that the IT policy will be followed just because it’s been written down. This involves defining roles, managers, budgets, and training.
- Employee education: Ensuring all your employees understand the why and hows of relevant portions of your policy is absolutely essential. For a smaller company, this might mean a couple of meetings and some one-on-one discussions. For larger companies, creating a more formal course of training can ensure everyone gets up to speed and acts on the new policies as quickly as possible.
- Regular review and updates: Your IT policy implementation manager should regularly update stakeholders throughout the process to clarify issues and report progress. And your policy should include a process for regular review so that it can be updated as needed to address evolving business needs and technological capabilities.
IT Policy in Summary
As technology evolves, so too should your business. To ensure your company remains secure, compliant, and effective, clearly written and implemented IT policies are a must.
Hopefully, this article has given you a clearer understanding of what an IT policy is, why it’s important, and what’s involved in implementing yours.
- What is an IT policy? — An IT policy includes the set of rules and guidelines for how your IT infrastructure should be used and how day-to-day operations as well as upgrades and improvements should be conducted.
- The Importance of a Robust IT Policy — Clear, thorough IT policies start with business needs and objectives then turn them into actionable processes and standards to ensure your company is safe, and compliant, and your IT resources are used effectively.
- Core Components of IT Policy — Key components of effective IT policies include Acceptable Use, Access Controls, Device Management, Backup, Disaster Recovery, Information Security, Remote Work, Change Management, Maintenance, and Help Desk guidelines and procedures.
- Challenges with Creating and Implementing IT Policies — Ensuring you get employee buy-in, educating them on the whys and hows of your policies, and stressing the importance to your stakeholders and managers are key to getting your new IT policies created and implemented.
- Implementation Strategies for Your IT Policy — Clearly assigning roles and allocating resources is a must when it comes to initially implementing your IT policy. After that, ensuring your employees are educated on what policies mean to them and regularly reviewing/updating your policies is key to making sure they continue to be effective.
All that being said, at Commprise we definitely appreciate there’s a ton of work to do beyond reading this article.
And many companies don’t have the expertise, time, or resources to take on the project of creating and clarifying their IT policies internally. This is why one of the many components we can include in our managed small business IT services is policy creation, implementation, and management.
Give us a call at the number above and we’ll be happy to answer any and all questions you have!