Today I follow on from last week’s articles on top tips on people and legal issues, and move onto a very 21st century problem – information technology.
1. IT Budget
Budgeting and choosing the right equipment for the tasks that are required at the beginning, and that will be useful in the future for your business, is fundamental. Many small businesses do not realise the competitive advantages offered by technology, as they don’t have the resources or expertise to evaluate or implement the solutions available to them.
Another key problem is that many people try to spend as little as possible on technology and therefore disregard the potential cost savings that can be generated if they get it right.
Investment into IT systems is important and below are some key points relating to investment.
2. Creating an Internet Identity
Domain name and email addresses should be the first thing you think about, choose an unused domain name and register it with a professional organisation who can offer multiple email accounts and web/storage space.
Choose a domain name relevant to the name of the company or a name which directly relates to the company’s type of business; this will help later to self-promote your website on search engines.
From the chosen office location organise an internet connection; research the suppliers available to you at that location – e.g. BT, O2 or Virgin; there are deals and discounts available when you combine internet and telephone services through the same supplier.
3. Protecting your identity
If your business uses email, you’ll be targeted at some stage. The main problem is that such attacks are becoming more sophisticated. The malicious software used develops in your system and the threat of someone accessing valuable company information becomes more likely.
Fraudulent emails are increasingly authentic in appearance, purporting to originate from various sources, from banks to potential clients. The process is known as “Phishing”, and such emails will contain a link to a website on which you will be asked to re-confirm some details or confirm a password, with the aim of stealing your details and using them to access your account. Files coming into an organisation downloaded from the internet and transported on a flash drive or disc for example, can also be dangerous. These can contain malicious software, generally known as malware, that is sophisticated enough to hide itself from anti-virus software. Malware can log any key strokes that you make on the keyboard and send the information elsewhere when you connect to the web. This means that passwords and bank account details could be at risk, along with private company documents and emails.
It is recommended that you have a company policy to deal with such issues. Education and awareness for staff about the dangers out there is all important and for most organisations it is the first line of defence. It is as much the responsibility of the individual employee as it is for management to be aware of identity fraud and protect their own and the company’s interests. This could mean regulating the use of external hard drives, including iPods, flash keys and discs with dubious or uncertain origins in the workplace and, moreover, informing staff of the ways in which criminals might try to access their private information.
Data leakage is also an increasing problem. For businesses, corporate identity is as precious as their staff and preventing information from getting out could be down to something as simple as warning people not to share too much on social networking websites or not to send too much valuable company information across the internet.
4. Router and Firewall
Purchase a good brand wireless router – this may come free with the internet connection. Ensure that it has a built in firewall, as this will help to secure any equipment that will be connected to the internet. The router creates the connection automatically between your network and the internet via your ISP – Internet Service Provider.
A router, rather than just a modem, is used because it uses NAT – Network Address Translation – as part of its Firewall. This works by converting (translating) the internet address, TCPIP protocol, to a private address range on the inside of your network. Anyone trying to attack the external address will not be able to penetrate the firewall unless there are ports open to let traffic through.
For a small network, the router that the ISP supplies will probably suffice, as it will usually come with four Ethernet Ports (normally 100MB).
In addition the router will normally be wireless enabled, which can be connected to a plethora of different devices – PC’s, Laptops, wireless printers, PDA’s, Phones and Games consoles.
If you require more than four hard wired devices then a small Gigabit network switch would be ideal, with 5 to 48 ports on a single switch, desk to switches 5 to 16 ports and rack mountable switches available from 16 to 48 ports. These switches are available in many price ranges and complex abilities, for larger organisations they may use PoE – Power over Ethernet.
Ethernet switches which can power IP telephones, wireless access points, cameras and many other PoE enabled devices.
For small and large networks it is important to have a server to centrally store the company’s data. For fast response and resilient availability, choose and design your server to cope with the company’s immediate needs. In the future storage can always be added on should it be required.
If the server is to run databases such as SQL or similar, make sure that the processor is well above the stated minimum specification for the application. Memory for servers is more expensive than for standard PC’s but it is very important to have enough for the server to comfortably run all of the systems it has to. If a server runs light on memory, it will slow down and use the hard disks to swap information that it is required and this will make the server slow to respond and will shorten the life of the hard drives.
When installing Software onto a computer system you can never be too careful, especially if you keep important customer information stored there. Even if the software has come from a trusted source, complications can arise and it would be wise to take precautions beforehand. It’s always best, therefore, to make a back-up copy of important information before installing any new software.
You should try to scan all floppy disks, CD-ROMs, and DVD-ROMs with your anti-virus software before copying files from them or installing software that they contain. You never know if a nasty virus is lurking on a seemingly innocent disk.
Never install pirated software onto your computer. Illegal copies of software, such as those downloaded from hacker websites o sourced from file-sharing programs, may contain hidden viruses.
Before installing any software, be sure you know exactly what is being copied onto your system. Sometimes apparently innocuous software can contain viruses or ‘Trojans’ that might take control of your computer. This is a particular danger with file-sharing programs that allow you to trade music or videos.
Antivirus protection also plays an important role as it should safeguard you from the harmful Viruses, Spyware and those annoying spammed messages on your email. There are many free and paid for antivirus products available on the market but it is important to make sure that the one you chose is adequate for your needs and that you have it running up-to-date on all of you computers.
You should regularly check and scan your computers for Viruses and Spyware, as many infections are designed to steal your identity and passwords and can appear like Trojans at any time.
In addition, you should be careful when registering to anything online that it is provided by reputable company and that you are on a secure website. This is always indicated by the address starting with https:// or a locked padlock somewhere on your browser application. It is sometimes a good idea to use a temporary or online mail account when subscribing to an unknown source, so that your normal mail data is protected should the new source turn out to be bogus.
Protecting your hardware from power spikes and disturbances is important. Laptops are usually alright as they predominately run on their own internal battery. PCs, servers, routers and other network components will require mains filtering and battery backup, as data corruption or loss can occur if the power is lost or spiked to your equipment.
UPS (Uninterruptable Power Suppliers) are available in all sizes and affordability but don’t scrimp on these. Ideally you would want it to stay running for at least 10 minutes, in order to give you a chance to save that important document that you have spent hours working on. Basic multiport units are available, which can maintain power for a few devices that would possibly loose data if the power was to fail.
Recommended devices to be protected would be PCs and servers; other devices such as printers network switches and routers do not require UPS protection but will require surge protection to protect them from spikes and mains interference.
A small network should have at least one form of data backup e.g. Tape, CD/DVD, External Hard Disk or Offsite Backup. It is not ideal to keep all your data in one place where it can be vulnerable to fire, theft or data corruption. It is always recommended that you keep a copy of your data in a physically different location to the work place, so that should the original data be lost, it can be replaced easily.
There are now many organisations and ISP’s who can supply you with off-site or internet based backups and most of these work very well, utilising your internet bandwidth at night when your requirement to use this is less. Always make sure that with whatever backup you choose that you regularly check the logs and periodically perform data restores from whatever source you have chosen, in order to verify that the backup is working and so that you understand how to do this in the event of actually needing the data back.
There are ten common mistakes made with technology in the work place:
- Assuming that IT can be easily deployed and managed without expert support
- Failing to test equipment thoroughly with real life scenarios
- Poor testing of security vulnerabilities
- Not setting out service requirements with IT providers at the outset
- Ineffectively aligning IT to business needs
- Focusing on short term cost gains due to time pressures and not the longer term productivity and revenue generating benefits of IT
- Choosing IT that cannot cope with rapid changes in business needs
- Not planning ahead so you can scale up your technology needs appropriately
- Having the wrong return on investment expectations of technology which impacts badly on the bottom line.
- Cutting IT budget or thinking managing IT in-house will be easier and more cost effective in hard times.
Choosing the right hardware and software is key to success when integrating IT into your new business.
My next article is on insurance, something you must never be without. It will also be the last in my Start-Up Business blog series, so make sure you don’t miss it!