Tuesday, May 10, 2011

10 Small Firm IT Goofs

Small firms are nimble and small firms are exciting, but small firms can rarely compartmentalize functions like larger firms do.

One function that is often underserved is that of Information Technology, sometimes known as IT or simply computers.

Technology continues to grow in importance to firms of every size.  Most office workers use a computer as their primary way to interface with customers and their work product.

Many small firms don’t have a staff person – much less a department – to set up and manage their technology.  When an aspect of a firm’s technology fails, the ripples can be huge.

Here is a list of 10 Small Firm IT Goofs and how to address them:

  1. Not Backing Up.  It used to be that tape backups would be made and someone would have to rotate them out on a daily basis.  Now, online backup services from Iron Mountain, Mozy, Carbonite and others provide automatic, off-site backups.  In the event of a computer loss or failure, these services can quickly restore the contents of your data.  There really is no reason not to backup anymore.
  2. Putting Servers On-Site.  There are very few reasons why people need a server on-site anymore.  The availability of “cloud” or software-as-a-service (SAAS) products ensures that there is no longer the need for on-site servers except in rare occasions.  Furthermore, the cost of these services has continued to drop so that the finances are very attractive.
  3. Hosting Your Own Email.  It used to be that hosting your own email server was actually cost-effective.  With various email hosting companies providing mailboxes for typically under $20 per month, it makes sense – financially or technically – for a typical small firm to host their own email.
  4. Not Encrypting Your Data.  Data encryption is now secure and affordable.  It also provides you and your clients with an extra level of assurance that in the case that a computer or disk is lost or misplaced that the information will remain confidential.
  5. Sharing Files Via Email. As soon as you start doing this, you will end up having file version error.  There are numerous file sharing tools that let multiple people work on the same file and the software keeps track of the latest version.  These tools include Google Docs, Microsoft SharePoint and others.
  6. Buying a Phone System.  Phones that use the Internet are now the only way to go.  They provide you with features that traditional phone systems don’t offer, they can go where you go, they’re affordable.  There’s simply no reason to NOT go with a VoIP (voice over IP) phone system.
  7. Having No Plan for Computer Outages.  Your computers will eventually not work.  Either they’ll stop working for a myriad of reasons or they’ll become lost or stolen.  As computers are critical to the ongoing functioning of businesses nowadays, having the ability to be back up and running within 24-48 hours is critical.  Businesses today need to have availability to spare computers, either on-site or through a provider.  In addition, the computer replacement needs to be able to have all of its data – typically emails and files – restored quickly and reliably.
  8. No Eye to the Future.  One of the aspects of computer technology is that it is constantly changing.  However, knowing what will work for your firm and what should be avoided is difficult to know, even for technology experts.  However you manage your technology, be sure to have a trusted advisor that can help you make sound technology decisions.
  9. Hanging on to Obsolete Technology.  Supporting obsolete technology can be expensive.  Systems that consist of common technologies typically interoperate better and experience less conflicts.  So, while keeping equipment or software that’s already paid for may sound attractive, it makes good business sense to retire obsolete technologies.
  10. Trying To Do It Yourself.  Much as the adage goes “An attorney who represents himself has a fool for a client,” unless one is skilled in technology and can keep those skills current, find a trusted resource that can at least advise you on how to take advantage of current and emerging technologies.

Look over these items and see which ones resonate for you.  Then take the needed steps to ensure that your technology infrastructure serves you well.

Mark Mathias is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of NexFirm.  He has more than 30 years of experience with large and small company technology matters.

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