New Year’s Resolutions: What Should You Be Asking Your IT Consultant?

As 2009 gets into full swing, many SMBs are thinking about their 2009 resolutions. Symantec has created a list of the top five resolutions they expect SMBs will make when it comes to better managing their information and infrastructure.
To help you decide if these should be on your own list of resolutions, we asked IT expert Chris Zawacki, Partner at Greenhouse IT, to give a quick explanation of each and some suggested questions to ask your own IT consultant.
1. I will reduce complexity: Today the average SMB manages four or more different data protection methods to meet backup and recovery requirements. SMBs will implement a simplified data protection approach that reduces the management of their backup infrastructure, increases reliability, and provides the resources to help them maximize their investment.
It’s of great importance that SMBs have a comprehensive data backup and recovery plan in place; it’s equally important that they ensure it’s managed appropriately and tested periodically to confirm reliability.

  • To what degree is our current backup solution managed?
  • Is there an on-going program to test the reliability of the solution?
  • I’d like to understand the degree to which we have a business continuity plan currently in place; also, are there things we can do to reduce the likelihood of needing to implement one?

2. I will maximize my IT resources: SMBs are challenged with limited resources to manage rapidly increasing amounts of data, which can lead to increased data security risks, more downtime, and less regulatory compliance. It is no surprise that improving data availability, recovery, and storage utilization will be among the top concerns for SMBs in 2009.
It’s important to discuss your work culture with your IT advisors; understand the critical data set your staff has to have access to and make sure there is appropriate infrastructure in place to store it and a management plan to care for it.

  • How is our network storage monitored and managed now?
  • Based on our business type (e.g., large graphic file storage), do we have an appropriate storage solution in place?
  • Regarding email, what retention policies should we have in place for storing emails? From a legal perspective, how long do we want to store emails? From a compliance perspective, what does our business entity/industry require? (e.g., public companies or those that are HIPAA compliant, will need to consult with experts in their fields to determine the archival requirements)

3. I will stop wasting my server space: Many SMBs are experiencing a strain on their existing servers. In 2009, they will put an increased focus on consolidating space and lowering costs. Many SMBs will turn to virtualization to accomplish this task.
There are many new technologies that are rapidly becoming generally accepted by the mainstream SMB market that can help streamline your network infrastructure and address server storage space and management. It’s important to understand what options you have currently and how fully those options have developed to date. This will help in making the best short and long term decisions for your business.

  • Does my network infrastructure today, need to be as server and hardware intensive as in past years?
  • How can I meet storage space demands without increasing operating & management demands?
  • Is my business compatible with newer technologies like virtualization and application outsourcing?

4. I will minimize my risk of downtime: The cost of downtime can be devastating. Studies show that after the 1989 San Francisco earthquake and the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City, 70 percent of firms who could not access their data within three to five days went bankrupt. SMBs will embrace Software-as-a-Service solutions to help mitigate possible downtime due to a disaster or employee mistake.
One tremendous asset of evolving technologies is the ability to reduce and eliminate points of failure in your business. I always recommend painting a ‘worst case’ scenario for the various departments and functions of your business. In doing so, discuss possible IT solutions to help mitigate these risks.

  • What is a hosted application?
  • Do I currently have any applications that can be hosted?
  • What are the pros / cons of doing so? Pricing?
  • Is it possible to create a complete virtual working environment for my business? How?

5. I will not let threats compromise my network: Endpoints can be a huge liability if not properly secured. Today’s SMBs face a threat landscape that involves stealthy, targeted, and financially motivated attacks aimed at exploiting vulnerabilities at the endpoints. Therefore SMBs will look to new threat protection technologies to manage and secure their endpoints.
The best way to protect your business is through knowledge and wise investments in security products. It’s a continual challenge for business owners and requires a willingness to devote time for staff training and resources for appropriate technologies.

  • In terms of how they use their computers and browse the internet, can you help me create an updated ‘Acceptable Use’ policy for my staff members?
  • How can I train my staff and create awareness of the vulnerabilities that technology presents?
  • From a security perspective, what are the ways to protect ourselves from viruses, spyware, malicious web content, etc?