Written by Greg Rogers, One Step Retail Specialist
Have you ever lost an hour of work on your computer?
Now imagine if you lost days or weeks of work – or imagine losing your client database, financial records and all the work files your company has ever produced or compiled.
Imagine what would happen if a virus or ransomware took down your network for days where you couldn’t access e-mail or the information on your PC. How frustrating would that be?
What if a major storm, flood or fire destroyed your office and all your files? Or if a virus wiped out your server… do you have an emergency recovery plan in place that you feel confident in? How quickly do you think you could recover, if at all?
Many specialty retailers tend to ignore or forget about taking steps to secure their company’s network from these types of catastrophes until disaster strikes. By then it’s too late and the damage is done.
After working with hundreds of small and mid-size retailers over the past 30 years, we have found that a majority will experience some type of major network or technology disaster that will end up costing them thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars in repairs and restoration costs. That doesn’t even include lost productivity, sales and client good-will that can be damaged when a company can’t operate or fulfill on its promises due to a down network.
What’s most frustrating about this situation is that 100% of these disasters and restoration costs could have been avoided easily and inexpensively.
I’ve found that most specialty retailers don’t appreciate the importance of regular preventative maintenance and disaster recovery planning because they are already swamped with more immediate day-to-day tasks demanding their attention. If their network is working fine today, it goes to the bottom of the pile of things to worry about. In most cases, no one is watching to make sure the backups are working, virus protection is up-to-date or that the network is “healthy”.
This is like saying you’re too busy driving your car on the highway to put your seatbelt on. Taking that simple preventative step doesn’t show its true value until you get into a head-on collision. At that point, you are either extremely relieved that you had it on or incredibly sorry that you didn’t.
The same holds true for your computer network. Obviously, the information on the disk is far more valuable than the disk itself. If your company depends on having access to the information stored on your server or PC, then it’s time to get serious about protecting it from damage or loss.
Why Specialty Retailers Are Especially Vulnerable to These Disasters
With the constant changes to technology and daily development of new threats, it takes a highly-trained technician to maintain even a simple 10 to 15 user network. The costs of hiring a full-time IT person are often not feasible for small business owners so they end up cutting a few corners to obtain the “illusion” of safety.
To save money, many retail owners try the DIY approach or designate a “tech-savvy” employee to manage their network. However, this typically causes additional problems because the person managing your IT has another full-time job to do and is not skilled enough to properly support an entire computer network.
This inevitably results in a technology infrastructure that is ill-maintained and unstable. It also means that backups, virus updates and security patches are not getting updated regularly or may be configured improperly resulting in a false sense of security.
It’s honestly only a matter of time before the network crashes. If luck is on your side, it will only cost you a little downtime; but there’s always a chance you could end up like one of these companies:
Popular Women’s Apparel Company Shells Out $20,000 To Clean Up a Preventable Virus
A well-known women’s apparel store with multiple locations discovered the importance of preventative maintenance the hard way. Without warning, a virus was accidentally downloaded by one of their employees and started replicating and attaching itself to files on the server. This virus corrupted their data, impaired their POS system and immediately brought down their Exchange server (no e-mail could come in or go out).
Preventing this disaster would have only cost them a fraction of the cost AND they would have experienced better performance and fewer problems with their network overall. Instead, they were forced to spend a whopping $20,000 to remove the virus and restore their network. However, that was just to get them back up and running. Their systems were still not optimized, secured and updated because they weren’t taking the proper steps to ensure their systems were being managed correctly.
Two Failed Hard Drives Cost Local Health Products Retailer $40,000 and 9 Days of Downtime
The back office of a health products retailer had two hard drives fail at the same time causing them to lose nearly all their critical customer files. When attempting to recover the data, they found the backups weren’t functioning properly. Even though they appeared to be backing up all the company’s data, the backups had never been tested and were not actually doing their job. In the end, recovering the data from these failed drives took a team of disaster recovery specialists 9 days and $15,000. In addition to the recovery costs, they also incurred $25,000 in other services to get their network stabilized and functioning again.
Had they been proactively monitoring their network, they would have been able to see these hard drives were failing and that the backups were not performing properly. This would have prevented the crash, the downtime and the $40,000 in costs to get them back up and running – not to mention the 9 days of lost productivity while their network was down!
The 5 Most Important Things You Can Do to Make Sure Your Company Is Protected from These Types of Disasters:
While it's impossible to plan for every potential computer disaster or emergency, there are a few easy and inexpensive measures you can put in place to help you avoid most common computer disasters. Based on our 30 years of retail technology experience, here are the 5 most important things we fell you should consider to stay safe:
Step #1: Make Sure You Are Backing Up Your System
It just amazes me how many businesses never back up their computer network, OR only keep an onsite copy of their data. Imagine this… you’re Einstein and write the most important formula you could ever write on a chalkboard and I come along and erase it. How are you going to get it back? You’re not. That is why it is so important to back up your network. There are many things that could cause you to lose data files. If the information on the disk is important to you, make sure you have more than one copy of it.
Second, it’s critical you keep an offsite copy of your data. No one expects a flood, fire, hurricane, tornado or other natural disasters. But did you ever consider theft? What if someone breaks into one of your stores or main office and takes every single piece of computer equipment you have? It happened to a retailer I spoke with recently and they lost everything – customer records, sales history, financial data, etc.
What if your data becomes corrupt or a tape drive hardware failure erases your data? Again, your data is nothing but a memory. That’s why you want to not only keep an onsite copy of your data but also an offsite copy. Your data is just too important to not do everything possible to protect it.
Step #2: Perform Regular Data Restores to Make Sure Your Backups Are Working Properly
This is another big mistake I see. Many business owners set up some type of backup system, but then never check to make sure it’s working properly. It’s not uncommon for a system to APPEAR to be backing up when it’s actually not. Remember the Health Products Company that shelled out $40,000 to recover data they THOUGHT was backed up? Don’t let this happen to you.
Step #3: Keep Your Operating System Current with Regular Patch and Security Updates
We all get them from time to time – those little notifications that pop up, notifying us there are software updates available for our computer. If you’re like most, these always seem to present themselves right when you’re in the middle of doing something seemingly important. So, it’s all too convenient to click on that “Remind Me Later” button and forget all about it. However, that notification is not there just to pester us.
Software, or “patch”, updates perform a myriad of tasks. They are available for both our operating system and individual software programs. Performing these updates will deliver a multitude of revisions to your computer, such as adding new features, removing outdated features, updating drivers, delivering bug fixes and most importantly, fixing security holes that have been discovered.
So, even though these software updates seem like a hassle, think of it as a preventative measure for your network safety. Next time that message comes up to update, resist procrastination and go ahead and hit that “Install Now” button.
Step #4: Make Sure Your Virus Protect Is ALWAYS On And Up-To-Date
You would have to be living under a rock not to know how devastating a virus or ransomware can be to your network. With attacks on the rise and coming in many different forms such as spam, downloaded data files, websites and even e-mails from friends, you can’t afford to not be protected.
Not only can a virus or ransomware corrupt your files and bring down your network, but they can hurt your reputation. If you or one of your employees unknowingly spreads a virus to a customer, or if the virus hijacks your e-mail address book, you’re going to make a lot of people very angry.
Step #5: Set Up a Firewall
Smaller retailers often think because they are just a “small business”, no one would waste time trying to hack into their network. Nothing could be further from the truth! I’ve conducted experiments where I connected a single computer to the internet with no firewall and started browsing. Within hours, over 13 gigabytes of space was taken over with malicious code and files that I couldn’t delete. The simple fact is there are thousands of unscrupulous individuals out there who think it’s fun to disable your computer just because they can.
These individuals strike randomly by searching the internet for open, unprotected ports. As soon as they find one, they will delete files or download huge files that cannot be deleted, eventually shutting down your hard drive. They can also use your computer as a “zombie” for storing pirated software or sending spam which will cause your ISP to shut YOU down and prevent you from accessing the Internet or sending /receiving e-mail.
How secure is your network?
Hopefully, this article has provided some valuable suggestions on how you can better protect your data and computer networks. However, if you’re not doing the 5 steps outlined above, I encourage you to take action by adopting a more proactive approach to managing your IT and technology. Don't wait until disaster strikes. Implement the IT solutions to safeguard your network. Let One Step show you how! LEARN MORE TODAY>>