IT is one of those pesky business expenses that many business owners give the last priority too. It just seems unnecessary... especially during difficult economic times when more pressing issues take precedence. The problem is that a (sometimes trivial) IT failure can grind a business to a halt. This article outlines some of the most common problems SMEs can experience in this area and why a proper data management strategy is so important.
Have you just started a new business? Have a close look... is all your business data stored on that one trusty laptop you brought 3 years ago when a local retailer was offering a good deal?
This situation is far more common than you would think.... if I had a dollar for every time someone told me "I had a computer crash and lost all my files, can you send me that email again?". Most new business owners go through this learning curve, when one day their trusty laptop won't boot and in panic they call one of their "computer wiz" friends to help get it going. Unfortunately, in many cases, you are better off calling a professional data recovery service. Which, if you are a micro business, you probably won't be able to afford.
Every piece of computer hardware will eventually fail. A 3 year old consumer-grade laptop will likely kick the bucket much sooner than a dedicated server built with expensive high grade components ... however, it will also eventually stop working.
The bottom line is that you need to have a proper data management strategy. For a micro business, it may be as simple as syncronizing data between cloud storage, a laptop and an external hard drive on a regular basis. For a firm with more than a couple employees, it is critical that you engage a qualified IT specialist that develops a proper strategy and explains how it works and handles failure.
This is one of the more difficult events to plan for.
These types of failures often occur due to automatic software updates or operating system (OS) upgrades. It can be a simple as an OS update "bricking" your Smartphone - indeed I personally had this experience after installing the latest OS update. To solve the issue I had to reset my phone to factory settings and wipe all data in the process. Fortunately, I don't hold anything mission critical on my phone local storage and it wasn't an issue.
There is an implied assumption that when you are downloading a software update or installing a new OS is that it will work as advertised. This isn't always the case.
One of the ways to counter this issue is to test out major software changes on non-critical hardware before fully implementing the change across the board. This strategy can be applied to everything from new software installations to device driver updates.
The most important strategy is to keep mission-critical data off machines that can be influenced by these sorts of updates. That, again, means having a proper data management strategy in place with regular backup procedures.
Viruses, Trojans and Worms
Preventing computer infection by viruses, trojans and worms is easy. You simply need to follow good practices - i.e. keeping your anti-virus software up to date (or installing a package if you don't have one ...), installing a personal firewall to catch any software that tries to make unauthorised remote connections and avoiding opening and installing software of questionable origin and authenticity. It is also a good idea to install an anti-virus with in-built email filtering capabilities if you use desktop email client software. As a business owner, you need to ensure that all your
workstations have the correct toolkit installed and updated. Proper email management practices need to be implemented to ensure that your employees do not receive attachments with viruses in the first place.
If you have a run-away virus problem on your PC, the sure-fire way to resolve the issue is to reinstall the operating system from scratch and restore data from backups. Some viruses utilise very complex techniques such as embedding themselves in hard-to-reach places such as device drivers and hard disk boot sectors. You may need professional advice from an IT support specialist to ensure that the problem is fully resolved and does not come back.
Having your data stored in the cloud implies a service guarantee that you will be able to access your files from anywhere and anytime.
This doesn't mean that you shouldn't have a Plan B for cloud service provider failures. While cloud service providers have sophisticated data centres, redundancy measures and contingency protocols, they are not foolproof. Virtually every business has been in a situation where a cloud provider failed - be it data a storage provider, web or email hosting supplier, or some other proprietary subscription-based cloud service.
No matter how good your cloud provider is, your business needs local data storage as a fallback.
POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3) Email Servers
This issue can catch out those who lack understanding as to where their email data is stored.
A common assumption is that business emails are stored on a server somewhere, and can be readily restored if the business experiences hardware failure. For example, a laptop used by an employee suddenly fails.
This assumption is correct in situations where the business is using a Cloud Email Hosting provider, or another email protocol like IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) that is designed to retain email messages on the server. If you are, however, using POP3 to manage your emails and have your settings set to delete messages from the server after a certain number of days (often the default setting), a severe hardware failure will mean that your emails are gone to a better place, so to speak.
If you do not currently have a strategy on how to back up your email data, and are not sure as to which type of email server solution you are using, make sure to get in touch with your web/email hosting provider and check.
The nature of hardware and software is such that you need to plan for the worst. In many cases it may mean engaging an IT professional that will recommend the best strategy that is most suitable for your business.
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