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In today's fast paced society, in which heightened customer expectations and short timelines burden the small business, little time remains for much else. Small businesses often don't have the resources or inclination to track the latest computer news, security threats, or even common break/fix tips. And not all small business owners are adept at maintaining best technology practices. As a result, small businesses frequently make crucial technology mistakes. Here are some examples of these mistakes, and what we can do to help you avoid them, now and in the future.

1). Insufficient technical support. Many organizations go without technical support, relying instead upon an employee with a reputation as the "computer guru". Other organizations may depend upon a staffer's friend or relative who's interested in computers as a hobby, to provide technology advice or assistance when critical systems fail or slow unacceptably. Some turn to their hardware manufacturer's telephone support line for help, only to be disappointed when the solution to many problems proves to be performing a reinstallation, thereby resulting in the loss of all the business owner's data. Some rely upon a big box electronic store's service arm, and still others locate a student or individual who provides computer support on the side. These support methods are not cost-efficient, nor are they effective information technology investment, troubleshooting, or administration options. Small businesses need knowledgeable, trusted technology partners who are proficient with current technologies and willing to help learn their industry's operations requirements. Once a qualified technology expert is familiar with a client's needs, appropriate services and solutions can be recommended and deployed. The result is almost always more cost-effective, more efficient, more profitable operations for the client.

2). Hardware/software issues. Smart organizations set PC service life cycles at three or four years. There's a reason or this. Retaining PCs longer than three or four years often results in repair and support costs that meet or exceed the price of new systems. Even worse, older and obsolete hardware is less efficient, increases the likelihood of downtime, feeds staff and customer frustration, endangers sales, and threatens other lost opportunities. Also common is the failure to standardize hardware components and software applications. This results in a mismatched components that complicate troubleshooting, repair, and deployment and require companies to support a variety of programs with different license terms and renewal dates. In the end, incompatibilities often result. Small businesses can overcome common hardware and software issues by:

Retiring equipment at proper lifecycles, typically three to four years.
Standardizing hardware components.
Standardizing software applications.
Working with an IT consultant to leverage vendor relationships.

3). Insufficient power protection. A single power outage, surge, or spike can damage expensive electronic components and result in critical data loss. Consistent surges and brownouts shorten the lifespan of computers, printers, network components, and other equipment. Many businesses deploy simple power strips. Others continue depending upon surge suppressors deployed five and even 10 years earlier. When thunderstorms, electrical outages, and other electrical anomalies strike, the damaged systems prove costly, as do the corrupted or lost data and the downtime. Organizations should deploy quality battery backup devices (with built-in surge suppression) for all critical desktop PCs. Further, all servers should be plugged into uninterruptible power supplies and test them regularly to confirm adequate failover protection is in place. When deploying battery backups, businesses should properly install and configure corresponding cables and communications software. Simple power strips should be avoided whenever any computer, server, network device, or other important component is present.

4). Illegal software. The BSA (Business Software Alliance) estimates 22 percent of all North American software is unlicensed, making it all too common of a mistake plaguing small businesses.  The differences between OEM, retail, and open license software escapes the understanding of many business owners. Yet manufacturers are becoming more aggressive in locking down licenses via product activation technologies, and prosecuting offenders with the help of the BSA which has collected more than $81 million in settlements over recent years.  Some firms use "borrowed" applications or pirated programs. Problems arise either in the form of audits and penalties or challenging delays due to product activation conflicts and other licensing issues. Businesses must understand there are no shortcuts to running legitimate operations. All software, applications, and programs must be properly licensed. Businesses can protect against licensing errors and penalties, by carefully documenting and tracking all software license purchases and deployments. Further, software licenses, including operating systems, office productivity applications, accounting programs, security tools, and other utilities, should be purchased only from reputable technology partners.  Finally, when installing new programs, organizations should pay close attention to the license agreements they accept, and know what they are agreeing to.

5). Insufficient training. It's estimated that office staff understand less than 20 percent of the available features in the software applications they use. That means 80 percent of the features, time-saving capabilities, and cost-reducing functions remain unused. Gross inefficiencies result. As a consequence, many processes, including repetitive data entry, complicated calculations, and automated data selection and reporting are completed manually, which introduces a greater likelihood of errors entering the process. Tasks that could be completed in moments often consume exponentially more time. Considering that many of those tasks are repeated each business day by multiple workers, it's easy to see how the costs quickly become significant. businesses must make computer and software training a priority. Tap into technology partners or other consultants to conduct regular lunch-and-learn sessions. For a few hours of consultant's fees, you can expose entire departments to important new features and capabilities. Organizations with limited budgets, can leverage self-paced instruction manuals and computer-based training aids to assist employees in improving their skills after hours or in their own homes.

6). Security failures. Small businesses frequently fail to accommodate security issues. Organizations either don't recognize the risks or don't take them seriously. The costs are staggering. The FBI estimates such computer crime costs U.S. industry in excess of $400 billion. Organizations don't need to have a high profile to become a target. Hackers have created innumerable automated programs that scour the Internet 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, seeking poorly secured systems, servers, PCs, and networks to infect and exploit. Organizations that fail to properly secure client and customer data often find themselves in the middle of security crises that result in bad press, lost sales, and forfeited customer trust. Here are several best practices all organizations should adopt:

Deploy business-class firewalls in all locations; no direct Internet connections
Secure all wireless networks.
Disable guest accounts.
Implement Internet and e-mail usage policies that preclude personal use.
Prohibit file-sharing programs.
Deploy proven antivirus, anti-spyware, applications and update them regularly.
Regularly perform security audits and correct all deficiencies. 
Regularly update all systems and software with the latest security patches.
Enforce strong password security policies for all systems.

7). Poor backup strategies. Despite numerous choices, methods, and options, many organizations fail to adequately back up data, a mistake that can be unrecoverable. Statistics reveal there is a 50 percent chance an organization will cease operations immediately when critical data is lost. Worse yet, an organization's odds of failure rocket to 90 percent within two years when critical data is lost. Even organizations that believe their data is properly protected may find themselves at risk. Occasionally, incorrect data (as in the wrong data) is backed up. In other cases, tape backups prove unreliable. Since data backups are so critical to an organization's livelihood, small businesses should work with proficient IT consultants or technology partners to ensure the right data is being backed up and that it's being backed up as frequently as required. In addition, technology professionals should regularly test backup sets to confirm the data can be recovered in its entirety.

8). Virus exposure. Viruses not only remain a major threat, but their dangers are increasing. Some studies have shown that unprotected PCs become infected within eight seconds of being connected to the Internet. The numbers, varieties, and types of threats only increase over time. Malware programs are evolving at such a clip that many security software vendors have eliminated daily updates in favor of distributing patches every four hours. Often, businesses and users simply fail to implement these protections. A survey conducted by the National Cyber Security Alliance revealed that 67 percent of the respondents did not have up to date antivirus software. Worse, some 15 percent had no antivirus application installed at all.

9). Spyware exposure. Spyare is an equal threat, and potentially even more daunting. Spyware differs from viruses in its nature. Spyware typically aims to track user behavior, collect user information or sensitive data, and display unwanted advertisements, whereas viruses often destroy data, corrupt systems, or enable hackers to remotely control a system. But spyware's business impact has reached epidemic levels. The CompTIA estimates spyware infections require two-and-a-half days to resolve and cost small and medium-size businesses $8,000 a year, which doesn't factor lost revenue. No virus or spyware strategy is foolproof, but most technology consultants recommend the following steps:
 
In high-risk environments, us additional standalone anti-spyware scanners.
Regularly update antivirus and anti-spyware programs.
Do not let antivirus and anti-spyware program licenses expire.
Perform regular automated antivirus and anti-spyware scans.
Regularly review security program log files to confirm proper operation.
Install reputable antivirus and anti-spyware applications.

10). Unsolicited E-mail. Most every business and user is familiar with the problem of unsolicited e-mail, also known as spam. Spam messages have become a serious issue, particularly for small businesses that often misunderstand the problem and fail to take effective countermeasures. Small businesses are investing valuable time, money, and system resources processing, delivering, and even storing these unsolicited e-mail messages. In addition to lowering productivity as staff must regularly sift through hundreds of junk mail messages in search of legitimate e-mail, spam takes a toll on an organization's servers and workstations, which often must dedicate processor cycles, disk space, and backup media to untold gigabytes of unwanted mail. Technology consultants wield several weapons in the war on spam. In addition to network filtering software, consultants can deploy server-based spam protection. Some organizations choose to outsource e-mail processing to a vendor that can monitor e-mail streams and filter out unwanted messages. But such filters can generate false positives. And they're not cheap. Therefore, it's often a good idea to begin by adopting effective methods for managing unsolicited e-mail messages. Here are several first steps all e-mail users and small business owners may take to minimize spam: Avoid forwarding chain e-mail messages.

Do not publish e-mail addresses in plain text on Web sites.
Ignore credit repair, get-rich-quick, and other common e-mail applications.
Use reputable e-mail filters, such as those included in Microsoft Outlook.
Read all terms before ever submitting your e-mail address to another party.
Review privacy policies before ever providing an e-mail address.
Consider creating a free Hotmail or Gmail e-mail account for submitting forms

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