People in IT departments usually spend their time doing one of two things: either they’re installing new technology to meet some unmet need or they’re fixing some old technology that has stopped functioning properly. With the accelerating pace of innovation, it’s getting harder and harder to devote sufficient attention and resources to both of these areas at the same time. In the worst cases, the tech team ends up trying to handle one crisis after another, all the while letting routine maintenance fall by the wayside and watching prospects for incorporating new technology vanish over the horizon.
The most frustrating thing about this kind of crisis-hopping is that while you’re busy fixing an issue with one part of your system, you know the number of potential issues with other parts of the system is steadily increasing. You could hire more IT people, but if all the remediation goes according to plan, you’ll just have to turn around and get rid of all these new hires. Or you could hire an outside tech firm to help with either the fixes or the upgrades, but that means bringing in a team that isn’t familiar with your system and that doesn’t understand the technology in the context of your business goals. A third option that’s growing in popularity is to outsource some aspects of IT maintenance and security to a managed services provider.
Every business needs to come up with its own strategy for when to choose which option. But before you can get ahead of all your current and emerging IT challenges, you need to have a solid grasp of where the most costly issues commonly arise.
Internal Threats from Users
These issues can arise at multiple levels. Management can be overly lax in setting and enforcing security practices. Administrators can lose track of who has what permissions to access which documents and applications. Or they can lose track of the growing number of devices your employees are using. Employees themselves, even if they don’t have any malicious intent, can make your system vulnerable by using weak passwords, or by being tricked into downloading malware.
External Threats from Viruses, Malware, or Spyware
Staying safe from malicious code requires both good tools and good policies. Unfortunately, attacks are getting more sophisticated all the time. Even savvy business users are getting duped into doing things like letting attackers encrypt all the data in their entire system to hold it hostage. Using antivirus and antimalware tools is a necessary first step for any company, but it’s also important to keep employees informed about the latest tricks and schemes.
Servers and routers must always be monitored and kept up-to-date. This means updating operating systems and software, as well as having a plan (and a budget) in place to swap out any parts of your network or infrastructure that are aging past their expiration dates. This is obviously a vast and complicated area, but the key to keeping a healthy system is vigilance. You need to have a good way to monitor the performance of all the hardware and all the applications your business relies on to function. That way you’ll be able to deal with any problems before they grow out of control, spreading to other parts of the system, and hitting your business with runaway costs.
Insufficient Contingency Planning
No maintenance and security strategy is 100% effective. So you also need to have a strategy in place for responding when something goes wrong. Which applications are the most mission-critical to your business and how will you prioritize bringing them back online if the system crashes? Your documents may also be at risk if they’re not regularly and frequently backed up. If your business depends on IT to operate—and what business doesn't?—then it’s a good idea to know how long it will take to recover from any system failure. Of course it’s even more important to make sure you’ll be able to recover at all.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking about maintaining your IT system’s health solely in terms of how much time and revenue you’ll need to keep everything working like it already does. But in most industries today, it’s the business that does the best job innovating and incorporating new technologies that has the competitive advantage. What this means is that while your IT people are busy putting out fires, you’re not only dealing with the cost of repairing the damage; you’re also falling behind any competitors that have a more forward-looking IT strategy in place.
The central theme underlying all the best practices for avoiding these dangers is vigilance. All it takes for a vulnerability to become a costly disaster is often no more than a few months of neglect—or less if you’re unlucky. Of course, everyone’s attention is in dwindling supply these days, so knowing where you should be directing yours for any given purpose may not do much good. It’s still all too easy to get distracted and fall behind, especially in an area where most of the biggest threats remain unrealized, at least for now. But getting ahead and staying ahead of these potential issues could mean the difference between being a competitive and successful business in the long run and succumbing to some foreseeable catastrophe somewhere along the way.
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