Small Businesses without their own internal IT department face unique challenges to maximizing their investment in computer technology. Implementing best practices will help keep your employees productive and limit downtime when technology problems arise. If there is one word to remember when it comes to maximizing uptime, it’s redundancy. Redundant systems or layering technology will prevent major outages of your computer network. As with most cases, prevention is much less expensive in the long run than fixing a problem.
Get regular computer & network check-ups
Make sure someone is checking the general status of your computers and network ideally at least every 30 days. This allows your IT service provider to check for things that can often get overlooked like:
- Is your computer outdated?
- Have backups been running regularly?
- Are Microsoft Updates running?
- Are updates to other products (Adobe, Java, anti-virus, etc) being installed?
- Are there any security issues that need to be resolved?
You should get a formal written report about the status of your network at least once per year.
Purchase business class computer systems
One of the biggest mistakes business owners make is purchasing consumer class PCs for their business to save money. In reality consumer class machines are likely to cost more money over the life of the computer, especially if the business has a server and domain configuration. A business class machine has the following key features that differentiate it from a consumer class machine.
- Business class machines come with a professional version of the Microsoft Operating System rather than a home edition. Currently new business class computers come with Windows 10 Professional rather than Windows 10 Home. Computers with the home edition of Windows are not the ideal choice for your business. Upgrading from a home edition of Windows to a professional edition will a cost minimum of $200 for the software and either a couple of hours of lost productivity or paid labor by an IT professional. A professional operating system has a few key features that are important in a business:
- Domain Join – The ability to join a domain which is important if your business has a true server with a server operating system such as Microsoft Windows Small Business Server or Microsoft Windows Server. The benefits of a domain are a separate topic.
- Hard drive encryption – You can protect the data on your hard drive if you computer is ever stolen. The data on the drive is inaccessible without the encryption key.
- Most business class desktop computers have a 3-year manufacturer warranty rather than a 1 year warranty. When a part fails on a business class desktop, the manufacturer will either ship replacement parts to you or send a technician to replace the part, often within a few business days. Consumer class computers often have to be shipped back to the manufacturer for repair which can mean 7 – 10 business days without the computer. In addition, the consumer often is responsible for paying the shipping expense to send the computer to the manufacturer.
Another important factor in simplifying your computer network and support is to purchase all your systems from the same Manufacturer. This will streamline the process of getting support when there is a hardware problem. Sticking with a major manufacture such as Dell, HP, or Lenovo with easy access to support is highly recommended. With smaller manufacturers, it may be more difficult to get support during non-business hours or replacement parts may be shipping from other regions and you’ll be required to pay any expedited shipping charges.
Have a tiered backup plan
Ideally it is best to have 2 forms of data backup, in addition to the original data. At least one form should be off-site. In most circumstances we recommend online backup. It is typically the easiest solution for the end user since it can be automated, runs daily, can backup multiple computers, and can be configured to send email notifications at the completion of all backup jobs.
When deciding on a backup solution you must consider the amount of downtime that is acceptable should you have a major issue such as a server outage. If your business will lose thousands of dollars per hour in the event of a computer emergency, a higher level of backup protection is needed. There are backup solutions that can have a failed server up and running within 30 minutes of the failure but they are most expensive.
Your other form of backup can be to a local device such as a NAS, or Network Attached Storage, device or external hard drives.
Keep a spare machine
This is one of the rules that emphasizes the importance of redundancy. A computer can break at any time. If you believe in Murphy’s Law it’s likely to happen while you are working on your biggest proposal for the year or on the busiest day of the year. No matter how good your IT service provider is and what kind of warranty you have, it’s going to take time to diagnose and repair any issue that brings your computer down. Depending on the size of your organization, you might have multiple spare computers. Wouldn’t rather plugin your spare computer and get back to work and then wait for your IT provider to fix the machine rather being unable to work until the computer is repaired?
Delegate one employee to be the internal IT Administrator
It’s best to delegate one employee to be your internal IT administrator that will work closely with your IT service provider(s). This person will be responsible for submitting all new service requests, knowing the status of open tickets, knowing the solutions to common issues, and know the support options for all company owned technology. They will also communicate key issues or concerns when the business owner is not available. The business owner(s) or final decision makers should still meet with your IT Service Provider(s) periodically to discuss problem areas or long-term planning and budgeting.
Be sure to have a backup administrator that is available when your primary internal IT administrator is on vacation or out sick.
Create an IT Administration forwarding e-mail
The person at your company that is responsible for taking care of IT issues, whether the owner or an employee will have a lot of information to keep track of. Even in a relatively simple environment they may be creating online accounts with an Internet Service Provider, web hosting company, an online backup company, software vendors, and other technology-related vendors. Some e-mails will require immediate response while others are simply informational. Create an IT administration e-mail forwarding account so that those e-mails can be sent to more than one person. By using this account for anything IT related, you can include the business owner, the company designated IT Administrator, the backup IT Administrator, your IT service provider(s), your web-site designer, and anyone else that will understand and know what to do with the e-mail. It also means that the critical e-mail that requires an immediate response won’t be missed when someone’s on vacation or chooses to ignore because they don’t know what it is.
Implement a password policy
It is highly recommend that you require your employees to use strong passwords to protect their computers. Even if you are a small company and all employees have access to the same information, there are things that need to be properly secured and accessible only by owners and managers. Owners and managers should have access to all important passwords. It’s highly recommended to change high level passwords when any employee with knowledge of those passwords leaves the company. Use a password manager to keep track of and share passwords securely.
Keep security top of mind
With the growth of the Internet and online accounts, security is essential. Security is the responsibility of every member of your organization. Make sure they use multi-factor authentication for all online accounts. Make sure they are educated about security best practices.
Implement security for your network in tiers
Once again, redundancy is the key to the least downtime due to computer security threats such as viruses, spyware, spam, and access to sensitive company information. In addition to having protection on the computer level, consider high end business class routers that feature network level security.
Create a basic disaster recovery plan
Creating a basic disaster recovery plan will allow your business to get back up in running in the event of a major natural or man-made disaster.
Make sure all your IT related service providers work as a team
All IT services are interconnected. It’s very important to keep all your service providers aware of changes that are being made in any technology area. A small change in one area can have a costly affect on another technology that is critical to your business. Make sure your providers work well with your IT Administrator and other service providers as a team. These providers include your IT service provider(s), web-site designer, and third party software vendors(s). Take advantage of the IT administration e-mail forwarding account to keep everyone in the loop.
Create an IT Budget each year
Don’t let the cost of computer technology purchases and services get out of control. Planning in advance allows you the most control of long-term budgeting. By working closely with your IT Service Provider, they can provide the most cost-effective solutions that will meet your business needs now and into the future. Treat your IT provider as a trusted advisor for your company. The more information you provide them with, the more likely they are to find solutions that fit your business needs. Having a budgets makes it easier to replace outdated technology that may be reducing productivity.
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