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Technology Planning Checklist
Exectutive summary: When thinking about your IT budget, you want to get the most for your dollar investment. Many Businesses list staying competitive, optimizing productivity, and making the most of Internet marketing as priorities for IT. Here is a checklist you can use to review your own IT priorities.
  1. Standardize. If you have multiple computers, keep them as similar as possible – both hardware and software. This has several benefits: Troubleshooting is simpler; Machines are interchangeable in an emergency; “Images” can be used for rebuilding the system. It lowers costs for both support and maintenance.
  2. Use the right hardware. The typical life of computers is 3 to 5 years. The most likely parts to fail are the hard drive and the power supply. Use servers that have redundant (mirrored or RAID) hard drives, duplicate power supplies, and server quality components. Use software that makes an “image” of your server (and critical workstations) – this allows you to get back to work quickly if it becomes unavailable. Don’t wait too long to upgrade – the cost of recovery is much less than the cost of a planned upgrade. If you are still using Windows XP, it’s past time to upgrade to Windows 7. If you have a small office, and share files off of one of the workstations, you can still treat it like a server – use better hardware, and mirrored drives.
  3. Backups. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a catastrophic data loss to get this lesson. Think about where your information is stored, and what might happen to it, and make sure you have a plan for recovery. Commonly overlooked data: email accounts on workstations; websites and web based services (don’t depend entirely on the vendor); family photos on the home PC. Software that uses a database may have special backup requirements beyond just copying the files. Servers have special backup requirements. Windows 7 has a great built-in backup program, which can be used to back up nightly to a 2nd hard drive in the same box. Combine this with online or offsite backups. Review what is getting backed up regularly (perhaps annually), and test it. Never trust your data to a single point of failure.
  4. Maintenance. Just like your car, computers work best if maintained regularly. This included updates for Windows, MS Office, Java, Acrobat, and any other installed software. It is also a good idea to delete old temp files, run a registry cleaner such as ccleaner (carefully), and defragment the hard drive. Computers also work best if not covered in dust – regular dusting out of the inside can keep the computer from overheating. Work with your IT vendor to develop maintenance and monitoring plans.
  5. Protection from Malware. The most common problem we see is people that renew their Antivirus subscription yearly, but don’t update the software. Most workstation Antivirus programs require that you download and install the current version, which usually comes out annually. Malicious software takes advantage of flaws in software, which are then remedied by “patches” – updates to software to fix the flaws as they are discovered. Keeping your computer patched can keep it from having to be wiped and reinstalled. Most viruses are now so sophisticated and destructive that the computer software requires a complete reinstall to recover.
  6. Security. Have an adequate firewall, with some sort of logging. Identify where sensitive data is stored, and what would happen if it was exposed. Then determine what is reasonable to protect it. Commonly overlooked are email on cell phones/ tablets, and access from home on unmanaged computers. Make sure you know what wireless devices are hooked to your network, and that they are secured.
  7. Passwords. Have a policy that requires unique, secure passwords for computer and website logins. Many people use the same password for “unimportant” logins, including personal email. If any one of these sites is compromised, and a hacker gets access to an email or IM account, they can request password resets to other accounts, review your email for account data, and often clean out your bank or credit card accounts. Use a password manager, such as www.lastpass.com.
  8. Compliance. Have a computer use policy – often part of the employee handbook. Know what regulations you need to comply with – Red Flag, HIPAA, etc.. If you have forms or logins on your website, you need a privacy policy on the site. If you collect credit card data or social security numbers, make sure it is stored securely, and encrypted.
  9. Monitoring. Good monitoring tools can alert you to a problem before it stops your computer, and your ability to work. Computers can provide alerts and send email or text your phone when something is going wrong. Windows has a number of built in tools, including event logs and performance monitors. For small networks Spiceworks.com has a free product. Better quality tools are available for $15-$25 per server, and about $1 per PC. They need to be properly configured so that only real problems generate an alert.
  10. Training. Sometimes a little learning can improve productivity dramatically. Make sure your staff review includes a review of needed computer skills. Determine what the critical skills are in your business, and improve.
  11. Pick the right Vendor for IT services. Find someone who knows your business, and has the right match of skills and services. Build in a review process, to make sure you remember to verify your decisions regularly.

Hopefully one or more of these ideas will save you some money this year.

Tim Torian has his degree in Computer Science, and has been consulting on computer networking for the past 30 Years. He is a Microsoft Small Business Specialist, and a Cisco CCNA and CCNI. He has taught computer networking at the College of Sequoias and Cal Poly Extension. He was awarded “Entrepreneur of the year” by the Tulare County EDC in 2008. Torian Group was awarded “Technology Business of the Year” by the SBDC in 2011. He is president of Torian Group, Inc. which provides a full range of Technology Consulting services to local business, including computer services, networking, web design and Internet marketing. www.toriangroup.com

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