Many of us are more technology dependent than we would like to admit.  If our phones break or we get the “blue screen of death” on a home computer, we go through all the stages of grief in rapid succession.  Today’s business computers store more than just your accounting data (although that’s REALLY important).  Your systems store employee manuals, legal documents, high resolution logos, product pictures, event check lists, store images, inventory and a myriad of other documents that are critical to effective operations.  So, if your systems were wiped out tomorrow, how would you recover?
The following are some basic tech tips to help you plan for inevitable data loss and recovery:
1.  Make sure your systems are up to date – Microsoft stopped supporting the Windows XP system in April of 2014.  Some businesses are running this operating system, while others are running systems even older.  As unsupported software ages, bad things can (and do) happen.  Check your software during the first quarter and determine if you need to update.  While this doesn’t necessarily back up your system, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

2.  External Hard Drives – A physical external drive can serve as a solid backup option for your systems in certain scenarios.  While the hard drives can back up data for re-installation after a computer crash, a connected external hard drive attached to your system won’t benefit you (in most instances) if your building is struck by fire or other types of disasters.
3.  High Capacity Flash Drives – Newer high capacity flash drives can serve as a back up for critical files, and they are mobile enough to take off site (adding a layer of security).  However, this backup system is only as good as your memory…  You need to remember to create backups and remove the flash drives to separate locations on a consistent basis.
4.  The Cloud – Several cloud-based backup systems have popped up over the past few years. Allowing your systems to backup overnight via an online connection can provide you with a sense of off-site security.  Recovering data from cloud based backup companies isn’t always an easy process, and some local computer experts recommend requesting a physical storage device from the cloud-based company as opposed to an on-line download of backed up information.

5.  Off site physical storage – Find a place (or places) that you can physically store important data and documents off site that is secure and will maintain the information stored.  In the case of small businesses, it is important that a few trusted individuals know about your data backup plans in case something unfortunate happens.
6.  Good, old fashioned files – Beyond digital data, it’s a good idea to have physical paper copies of some of your mission critical information.  Some legal documents require you to maintain physical copies, while other documents may have financial repercussions if they are lost.  Where and how you store your important physical documents can be just as important as backing up a hard drive.
7.  Security – Again, from the “ounce of prevention” department: maintaining on-line security and system maintenance can prevent catastrophes.  Understanding “safe(er)” website searches, media consumption and secure system usage can help prevent some of the causes of data corruption or system losses.  Understanding security basics, keeping appropriate antivirus and anti-malware software up to date and training staff are important steps in the prevention of data loss.

As you are doing end-of-year inventory and converting your business systems, it’s a good idea to review your technology.  A bit of planning now won’t completely eliminate the chance for data loss, but it could mitigate it.  Some data can never be replaced, and other date is time consuming (and costly) to “re-key”.  Take some time to ask the question “what would we do if our system went down?”, and then take appropriate measures to mitigate your risk.
See this article and more in this week’s Emporia Main Street E-newsletter!