Risk, business continuity and IT

Businesses face risks every day. Profitability and continuity can be affected by countless factors - anything from failures in market strategy to new legislation or the loss of key staff.

Often, these risks are expressed in financial terms but, for the majority of SMEs, one of the most prevalent day-to-day risks concerns the robustness of their IT systems.

IT-dependence is something that most business owners will recognise. Client files, financial records, legal documentation... these and other vital resources are all typically filed away digitally.

An outage in an IT network can therefore spell downtime, lost profits, and frustration for staff and customers alike. The consequences can range from a mere nuisance to the end of the enterprise itself.

Fortunately, IT failures are largely preventable by design. Faced with anything but the most extreme environmental disasters, a well-planned system should enable a company to get quickly back on its feet.

Cloud technologies are sometimes over-hyped, but when it comes to digital resilience, they can be an invaluable asset.

Having files backed up and hosted off-site means that even in the event of catastrophic damage to a premises, data should remain perfectly intact and accessible.

IT failures are largely preventable by design.

Wireless connectivity and the popularity of mobile devices mean that even the loss of a hard-wired internet connection need not bring operations to a halt.

The ability to manage systems at a distance offers a further benefit to firms concerned about their resilience. Remote monitoring enables IT providers to keep track of the performance and security of all vital systems - servers, workstations, peripherals and so on. This greatly reduces risk. Missing security patches or operating system updates can be automatically detected and addressed before they ever have the chance to cause a problem. Typically, this will be done in the background, without the user even being aware of it.

These proactive monitoring services fix most problems as they arise, and they quickly flag those they can’t. For example, they will maintain constant checks on vital hardware - logging temperatures, fan speeds and hundreds of other metrics so that if anything shows early signs of failure, it can be fixed or replaced before it can give rise to any disruption.

Security is another well-known risk to businesses and their reputations, and it's something that everyone should take seriously. Attacks are commonplace and they are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their approaches. Basic precautions such as having up to date virus definitions will help, but firms should have additional defences to protect themselves. A good example is two-factor authentication; a simple, cheap and effective safeguard.

However, of all the IT-security vulnerabilities businesses face, the most significant is human fallibility. Security awareness training is therefore essential for enabling staff to recognise the threats, the forms they take, and how to operate as part of a safety-conscious culture.

Some risks are inevitable. Good system design, monitoring and training should help to ensure that IT failure isn't one of them.