Nobody needs reminding that we’re working in a tricky climate right now, with more pressure to reduce costs than ever before. But when it comes to IT matters, prevention is most definitely better than cure. A recent study by OISG Group found that UK businesses lose a staggering 300,000 hours a year and £2 billion in revenue through unplanned IT downtime. On average, that’s 27 hours a year and a 22% reduction in revenue.

Working in IT support, I’ve noticed that IT issues occurring in the busy run up to Christmas can be particularly traumatic. If you work in ecommerce, you’ll know that losing out on a day’s custom in this peak period could cost a small fortune. I’ve spoken to a few of my colleagues at Akita IT to compile a pre-Christmas checklist for small businesses. Think of it an an early present from us to you.

Review Your Hardware and Systems

  • Invest in training. McAfee reports that over 10% of SMEs have suffered a digital security breach as a result of mistakes made by employees. There are plenty of firms offering high-quality training in digital security and investing now could save significant sums of money in the future.
  • Stay up to date. Make sure all your programs – particularly anitvirus software – is up to date. If you’re not sure, check it now. And as a separate word of warning to Windows XP users, Microsoft have announced that support for the operating system will cease in April 2014. We worked with a journalist on a separate article to explain what this means for businesses.
  • Enforce the use of strong passwords. Microsoft advises that all passwords be at least eight characters long with a combination of upper and / or lowercase letters, numerals and punctuation. Make sure your employees change passwords often – every three months is ideal. And, tempting as it is, don’t use the same password for multiple sites.
  • Invest in software and hardware. Be aware of whether you need a firewall or not. Almost all modern internet routers come with a firewall built in, but it may not be enough. Again, make sure antivirus software, whether free or pair for, is up to date. It’s not enough to rely on Microsoft or your operating system – make sure you’ve got a decent piece of software scanning your client machines and server(s).
  • Produce an IT policy. Make sure employees know what they should and shouldn’t do and access on their computer. Most legitimate websites don’t have malware on them, but one curious click in the wrong direction can mean straying into trouble.

Hardware and systems

  • Check your servers. Are they performing as they should? Are they backed up regularly off site?
  • Check all devices. That includes desktops, laptops and mobile devices. Are they all running as they should, and all within warranty? If not, you have a few options to think about:
    • If your computers are getting old but you aren’t ready to invest in new client machines, explore a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) as a service. This way the main processing power of your client machine is hosted on the server, where where all data, processing, applications and other company-specific services are centralised. Virtually all the client machine needs to do is run the connection and display the output. There are even operating systems created especially for this, such as Microsoft ‘Windows Thin PC’.
    • ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) schemes are becoming increasingly popular among SMEs. By allowing employees to use their own phones or laptops for work you could even increase productivity.
    • If servers are three years old or more, they may already be out of warranty. In the dreaded worst-case scenario, what would happen if it was wiped out? How quickly would you be able to replace it? Cloud computing – specifically hosted servers – has seen its popularity increase over the past couple of years for that exact reason. You pay a price per users each month and your data is hosted in a secure datacentre. You get 100% uptime, use of the latest hardware and software with no upfront costs and total peace of mind.
  • Check your backup. It’s important not only to make backups – ideally multiple copies – but to test them regularly. GFI published an interesting piece on the impact of failed backups and the reasons why our backup may not be as reliable as we’d hope. It’s a good idea to use an online backup system so that your important data is stored on a server off site – safe from fire, theft or any other disasters.
  • Review your CRM system. Do you make use of enterprise resource planning or warehouse / shop stock control system functions? Again, if you don’t have the right level of functionality you could consider moving to hosted / cloud services.
  • Plan ahead. What services could your business take advantage of in the New Year? Think about and research remote server monitoring, network security hardening, installation and configuration.

Get The Right Support

  • Invest in maintenance. Have someone on hand – either within the company or externally – to look after your systems.
  • Dig out your licensing agreements. Can you easily produce a list of IT licenses for operating systems and Office products or other software?
  • Plan for the worst. Does your IT provider manage business continuity planning (BCP) and disaster recovery (DR)? Do you have a clear plan if your building or hardware is taken out by theft or disaster?

Yes, there’s a lot to think about here and yes, it’ll take a bit of time. But it’s far preferable to learn from other businesses’ mistakes than to make your own. I hope this checklist spurs business owners to take action now – because the end of the year is stressful enough without having to make up for lost time.