So, for the benefit of forward-thinking managers everywhere, and definitely not to give you nightmares, here’s my list of the top six IT problems your business might encounter – and how to guard against them
The worst small business IT nightmare must be the loss of an internet connection. This can happen as a result of an external problem, such as a fault in the line, or an internal one, such as the failure of a router or other piece of kit. These outages are annoying, but the problems can usually be fairly swiftly resolved.
The problems that can be caused by mishandling the switch between two different suppliers, however, are in a whole different class. I’ve known companies suffer a 72-hour loss of internet service. Some people have achieved a month – that’s a whole month without any internet connection at all for their business – because they’d cancelled one internet service and only then ordered a new one.
What often happens is that small businesses are attracted by the low costs, seemingly high speeds, and warm promises made by retail providers. What they forget is that, easy as BT or Plusnet is to order, it doesn’t come with the support offered by a business supplier.
With a business supplier, you don’t have to do any messing around with MAC codes, or face any loss of internet connection. The supplier will typically put in your new service alongside the old one, so that you only cancel your existing service once the new one is already up and running.
This may sound trivial, but it happens surprisingly frequently – and sorting it out takes an inordinate amount of time. In small companies, many business-critical processes are run on simple spreadsheets. If someone forgets to save the most recent version, days or even weeks of work can be lost.
This can all be avoided if people run sufficient back-up that can restore to a file level. Some back-ups rewrite everything on the entire system, which is a touch excessive if all you want is the sales file from yesterday.
This is only third on my list because, mostly, it’s not a particularly big deal. Workstations can and do fail, but it is not disastrous providing that people haven’t been saving data locally.
As long as your management systems and processes make it absolutely clear that all documents and data have to be saved to the server, where they will be backed up, you can regard someone’s workstation or laptop going on the blink as a minor irritation.
Server failure is a bit more serious, but its impact can be mitigated by advance planning and making suitable provisions for back-up, replication, and continuity of your email service.
You can also avoid server failure altogether simply by recognising that hard drives do fail and building that into your planning and budgeting. Don’t ignore beeping noises and don’t keep running your server for yet another year with your fingers crossed. One day you will no longer be able to get away with it.
A decade ago, viruses may well have been top of my list. Now, their impact has reduced significantly, though there are still some nasties out there.
One of the worst is a crypto-locker virus which has been developed by criminals to extort money from companies. This type of virus will lock-down your systems and data.
You can only get it back with a code that, naturally, you have to pay a great deal of money for.
Most good anti-virus software will stop this sort of virus. What you have to watch out for is the capacity of your staff to be taken-in by a cleverly worded email that purports to come from a respected source such as DHL, and their determination and ingenuity in getting round your own security systems to open that email.
Regular back ups can avoid the worst if you become a victim of one of these viruses.
Have you ever felt that your emails were floating into the void and never being delivered? Have your customers ever suddenly gone quiet, and not responded to your emails? Has anyone rung you up to demand a piece of information that you know you emailed them a week ago?
If you have experienced any of these things, the chances are that your email address has been “blacklisted” by your customer’s email provider.
Sometimes this is because a spammer has deliberately spoofed your email server to send out unsolicited emails. Sometimes it’s because you have accidentally made yourself look like a spammer by sending mass emails from your own server or including a link in your email signature.
Now, it is possible to remove your emails from a blacklist, but a much smarter approach is to make sure that you don’t get on one in the first place. Run your emails through a mail continuity system from a reputable supplier, use a mailing house, such as Mailchimp or Dotmailer, to send out your marketing emails, and keep your email signatures as simple as possible.
Hacker attacks are getting quite rare now, but don’t forget that the end of support for Microsoft XP will leave anyone still using that operating system vulnerable.
You can guard against such attacks with a strong router firewall and password – a multi-character, multi-formatted, randomly generated string, featuring at least 20 characters.