Circuit board christmas treeAs business slows down for a week or two at the end of the year it’s a perfect time to review the status of your IT infrastructure. With projects temporarily on hold and employees out of the office on vacation, this is a rare opportunity to tweak and upgrade your technology without drastically impeding day-to-day operations.

There are a few simple steps you can take to improve the system-wide IT performance before 2014 begins. The work you put in now could save you hundreds and even thousands of dollars throughout the coming year. Before you take your own holiday vacation, make sure you take these three steps to shore up your IT infrastructure.

1. Update Your Updates

It is important that all of the computers your company relies on have been updated with the latest virus protections and software patches. This may seem insignificant, but if you miss important updates, you open your business up to security threats, major inefficiencies, and compatibility issues.

You have a few options for managing updates. Ideally, every part of your IT infrastructure has been set up to automatically download updates, but this strategy is not always perfect. Systematically go through your business’s computers and check that they are running the very latest updates. Configure them to automatically download future updates while you are at it. If you do not have the time to do all of this manually, try using the Windows Server Update Service (WSUS). To learn more about how this service works and how it can help your business, take a look at this article.

If your computers have been updated but essential software has not, you are doing your business a disservice. Crucial applications like Adobe, Java, Flash, and your antivirus protections must be kept current to work properly. If you let this basic maintenance lapse, your business becomes vulnerable in costly and time consuming ways.  Adobe Flash Player has a knack for frequently updating their software (as in more than once-per-month) to address potential security loopholes and malware threats.  There’s a great article over at ZDNet explaining how not keeping your Flash Player’s software up to date leaves you more vulnerable to common flash-based malware attacks.

2. Review Your IT Service Contracts

If you work with outside partners to help you manage your IT infrastructure, the end of the year is a great time to review your contracts with them, even if they are not up for renewal. Make sure that you have the money in next year’s budget to maintain service continuity because letting it lapse could subject you to extra fees and avoidable headaches. It is also important to think about your goals for 2014 and the technologies you will need to accomplish them. If need be, adjust the level of service you receive so that you can hit the ground running at the start of January. As you look through your contracts, do not forget to check when your domain name expires. This is something small businesses commonly overlook and let run out, so when their website and email service go down, they don’t immediately connect it to the domain expiration.

3. Audit Your IT Resources

How old are your computers? Are any of them buggy? Do you have a spare computer, or five, sitting in a closet somewhere? Take some time at the end of the year to evaluate the health of your IT infrastructure and the backup assets you have in your possession.  If your business is more than 5-8 employees, statistically speaking one of them will run into some serious computer problems at some point – a laptop gets dropped, someone’s computer gets locked up with a virus, etc.  If you don’t have any sort of backup “loaner” computer available in case of emergencies, you could be looking at at least a full day of a computer-less employee before the issue can be fixed.

Understanding the current state of your technical capabilities can help you plan effectively for 2014 and sidestep costly setbacks. If you do not have the time or technical expertise to carry out this audit yourself, seek out the help of your IT service provider.

On the surface, these recommendations may seem like busy work keeping you from starting your vacation. But consider the consequences if you get infected with a virus, if a key researcher has a broken computer, or if your website suddenly goes offline. Investing a few hours now can save you dozens of hours down the road. To learn more about optimizing your IT infrastructure with the help of the right partner, download our free white paper “The Ultimate Small Business Guide to IT Outsourcing.”