Did you make a New Year’s resolutions for yourself? Perhaps you will give up smoking. Or maybe you plan lose some weight (like me). A lot of New Year’s resolutions are about improving your health. But what about the health of your business? My New Year’s business resolution is to improve the ability of our family business to understand the purchasing patterns of our clients, while at the same time dramatically reducing the amount of on-site technical support I have to perform.
I have a bunch of ways I’m planning to achieve this New Year’s resolution, including replacing three different systems: our fifteen-year-old accounting solution and ten-year-old customer management solution, and our website, with a single enterprise grade cloud solution. That is going to be a long journey! Then again, no New Year’s resolution should be easy. Hopefully, if I work hard and smart enough, the result will be a leaner, healthier business.
If you’ve not yet got a New Year’s resolution for improving your business health, never fear! I have created a checklist, which focuses on the common bad habits of small business technology. This checklist is a way to identify areas in need of improvement. Once you’ve identified areas for improvement, choose one or two of them and then make your New Year’s business resolution.
I vow to reduce my business risks
For many business owners, technology is just background noise. It’s just there. However, when you take the time to think about technology and your business more critically, you can get a very different picture.
[ ] Ask yourself: how long would your business survive if you could not access its electronic accounts or customer records? Could you last a month? A week? Perhaps just a few days?
[ ] Write down a list of technology risks for your business, from the most likely to the least likely. For example, hackers breaking into your computer files, to floods destroying all the computers in your office, to a malicious employee purposely erasing all your current files and backups.
[ ] Armed with the above two points, brainstorm some ideas to mitigate the risks.
[ ] Draft a business continuity plan and share with the staff.
[ ] Set aside a day to practice the most likely scenarios of the business continuity plan. Let people experience what it’s like to lose their technology for a day, and still be able to get work done. Also, practicing the plan will help identify problems you may not have considered.
I vow to improve our security
2014 was a bad year for information security. There were major hacking attacks against corporations and governments, widespread infections of malware and, worse, ransomware, and a marked increase in identity theft. In short, 2014 was the year we could no longer ignore the cyber criminals.
[ ] Create a policy and process for installing patches on all desktops, notebooks, and mobile devices. Both Windows and Mac computers have the option to update automatically. If possible, use that approach.
[ ] Check that all your desktop software is up-to-date. Many software packages, including Microsoft Office, MYOB, Quicken, Internet Explorer, Adobe Reader etc. are updated with bug fixes several times a year. It is important to apply these patches because sometimes hackers use weaknesses in software to take over your computers. Unfortunately, not all software will automatically update. It might be worthwhile going to each machine in your office, starting every program, and then using the option to check for updates. Yes it’s a fair bit of work, but it’s a lot less work than having your bank account compromised!
[ ] Install anti-malware software on every computer.
[ ] Put in place a password management policy. Weak passwords and reusing passwords across multiple sites are a well-known security problem. However, managing passwords for small business can be tricky, so you might want to look for an automated tool to help set up and enforce the policy. A good example of such a tool is www.LastPass.com.
[ ] Subscribe to a “cloud backup” service and ensure that all critical business information is encrypted and sent to the cloud each night. I have had good experiences with https://www.code42.com/crashplan.
[ ] Set up a regular schedule to check the above activities. Create the schedule, with deadlines and the name of the person who will be checking your security on a regular basis.
I vow to meet all my statutory business requirements
There are many legislative requirements that small businesses have to meet, and technology impacts quite a few.
[ ] Review your businesses privacy obligations. This is particularly important if you keep customer records in a database for spreadsheet (and who doesn’t?). Check out http://www.oaic.gov.au/.
[ ] Review your small business record-keeping obligations as set out by the Australian Taxation Office check out http://ato.gov.au.
[ ] Seek out and review any specific compliance issues related to the horticulture industry. For example, while not a statutory requirement, there are detailed horticultural specifications for plant descriptions and labeling. Consider biohazard, and WH&S (the new name for OH&S) compliance issues as well. How do these issues interconnect with the technology in your business?
I vow to make supporting technology easier
[ ] Adopt two key principles when purchasing any new technology: standardisation and cloud first. Standardisation means attempting to keep all software to a common edition and version (eg. all computers will be on the same version of Windows), and similar hardware to a common supplier. Cloud first means whenever possible implementing software through an online service rather than installing on premise. For small businesses, the principles of standardisation and cloud first greatly simplify support.
[ ] Organise all warranty for technology into a single location. Set up a simple policy and process for accessing warranties as needed. A point of note, often a name brand vendor such as Dell or Hewlett-Packard, will provide a warranty repair on a device even after it is officially out of the first year of warranty.
[ ] Create printed documentation that contains important information related to your technology infrastructure. Keep this information in a locked cabinet within the office, as well as off-site. It is also worthwhile taking an electronic backup into a secure cloud service. But be warned, this information is highly sensitive. This should include:
[ ] The name, support phone number, account and login details for your Internet service provider.
[ ] The location, administrative name and password, for your network router (the gizmo that runs your network). If you do not know this information, contact your network person and get the information. Do it now!
[ ] A simple network diagram, showing which computer and device is connected to the network and how (wired, Wi-Fi.) It is also worthwhile noting any “IP address ranges” for your network.
[ ] A list of all your IT devices, including desktops, notebooks, mobile devices, printers, faxes, copiers, etc. Record the model number, serial number and date of purchases. This is not only for insurance purposes, it’s also useful information for support staff.
[ ] A list of all your software assets: the name of the software, the website of the vendor, serial number/activation code, and the date of purchase.
[ ] A list of any domain names registered to your business: the contact details for the domain name registrar and any passwords needed to access the domain name configuration. Just in case you’re wondering, a domain name is the text that you place in front of the .com or .net in a website or email address.
[ ] Details of any website hosting services for your business, including contacts, login details and passwords for gaining access.
[ ] Set up a replacement cycle for your hardware. While many small businesses will run desktops for over six years, there is an increasing risk that the hardware will fail. Check the purchase date of every device, and then place into your calendar a date for the device to be replaced. For desktops 4 to 5 years is appropriate, for laptops 3 years.
Armed with this simple checklist, you should be able to identify the most common “bad technology habits” within your business, and set up some New Year’s resolutions to address them. Of course, like all New Year’s resolutions, don’t be overly ambitious with this list. It’s better to be systematic and work through individual technology health issues one at a time, rather than trying to do everything at once.
So good luck in 2015! May this year see your business grow, and your technology worries dwindle.