Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Testing the Continuity of your Business - IT Questionnaire

Running a business is time consuming and demands are endless. From tracking sales to making products to customer outreach to payroll, there is a lot to do! Like anything that keeps us overwhelmingly busy, items are often overlooked as our focus shifts to "getting things done". 

While productivity is important, there is a downside to getting things done. Neglecting things because they are still working can be a big mistake. Technology is an area often overlooked while it is running properly although it can fail quickly from a lack of proper planning. Like any machine, a network infrastructure needs upkeep and maintenance. Testing the continuity of a business's technology systems and making adjustments helps prevent downtime that can cause disastrous expenses as in this recent event with British Airways.

Testing the Continuity of your Business - IT Questionnaire

There are many parts to a network infrastructure and there can be many other items to consider based on how large your business is. This list does not cover every possible unknown, but instead covers the most commonly forgotten items that can have the greatest impact on your network. If applicable, run tests to see if vulnerabilities exist or if your network can handle these issues.

Power Surges / Outages
  • At a minimum, computers, monitors and printers should be plugged into power strips with built in surge protection. This protects them from unstable power delivery.
  • A better solution is to plug computers and monitors into uninterruptible power supplies, or UPS devices. UPS devices provide power to the devices plugged into them for short periods of time in the event of a power outage. The time provided can be used to save in-use files, close programs and shut the device down properly which prevents the corruption of system files or losses to in-progress work. 
  • Optimally, critical computers should be connected to UPS devices with software that can automatically shut down the computer in the event of a power failure after a specified period of time. This option is perfect for computers that are always on, are at remote locations, or have important data on them.
Internet Outages
  • Whether you rent or lease the cable modem, router or firewall that provides your Internet, be sure you know the user id's and passwords to the device. If Internet problems occur, having the credentials helps identify the origin of the problem.
  • Devices connected wirelessly typically have more issues than wired connections. If the wireless network stops working but physically connected devices still work fine, try rebooting the device with the issue or the wireless modem. If wireless is used out of convenience but is often unreliable, keep network cables on hand to connect devices when the wireless stops working.
  • Determine how long your business can survive without Internet access. Consider the following aspects of your business which can be affected by an Internet outage:
    • Point of sale devices for payment processing
    • Cloud based software running business operations
    • Cloud based file storage
    • Mobile employees normally connecting to network resources remotely
  • Businesses with multiple locations or smaller numbers of onsite employees might be able to go mobile. Employees could work from secondary locations or access cloud based resources from somewhere else with Internet access. This is not an option for every business but will work for some.
Equipment Failures
  • Depending upon the size and budget of the business, it often makes sense to keep an extra computer onsite. This can be an older computer that was replaced but still works. It is important to keep software up to date on any "loaner" type devices. Also, be sure any proprietary software used by the business is installed on the computer. The point of this device is to quickly recover from an equipment failure.
    • It is also critical to make sure this loaner device is replaced once it is in production or the next failure could take down daily operations. 
    • The benefit to having an extra device is to limit down time and keep operations running at all times.
  • One of the biggest factors for how much equipment to have should be determined by asking how long your business could run without certain hardware before it adversely affects either reputation or the ability to function. There should be a balance between limiting down time and staying within a budget.
  • Understand the data that your business depends upon.
    • Know whether or not the business has backup copies of its files. If the answer is yes, make sure you test the file restoration process so you know how long it takes and work out any issues before this process is done because of a failure.
    • Know which files are critical to running the business. Prioritizing which files are restored first will help you get back up and running more quickly.
    • Occasionally test restoring files to ensure backups are working properly.
Proprietary Software
  • If you run proprietary software, make sure you know how to install it if the equipment it runs on fails. Is there a download location or disk onsite? Can you download it from the Internet? Do you have the necessary licenses?
  • It is also important to know if there are any special install instructions in case the person who manages this for you is not available during the process.
  • Make sure you have the administrative credentials to access support from the vendor if issues arise. This sounds silly, but often times IT people create these accounts and it is easy to forget to ask for the credentials once everything is up and running.
Whatever type of business you own, making sure your network infrastructure is resilient enough to deal with common issues is critical to the longevity of your business. Power surges, Internet outages, equipment failures and proprietary software are all areas that often lead to issues when not properly maintained. These areas should be considered and tested so that if an issue arises, a solution is readily available, downtime is kept to a minimum, and the reputation of the business is maintained.

As always when it comes to technology, preparation and testing is key to resiliency and continuity!


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2 comments:

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