Friday, September 24, 1999

George Mindling Column 9-24-1999

 Protect That Modem!

With the advent of personal computers and several great, easy-to-use software packages, many accounting and business programs now run right in the small office with a minimum of training or education.  But important data held on those programs are in danger without certain protection.

Most owners have some type of surge protection on their electric power to protect their computers. Indeed, surges can be devastating to any sensitive electronic machine.  However, few protect their modems.  Modems are the devices that allow machines to communicate over regular telephone lines.  While the local telephone companies install lightning protection at the demarc (the point in the telephone line where their responsibility stops and the business owners starts), a lightning strike will almost always damage a modem.

While few modems are protected, they can use the same protection offered by a good, solid UPS that incorporates telephone protection in the same case as power protection.  No, not that UPS, the other one, the Uninterruptible Power Supply.  

A UPS offers not only surge protection, but protection against power loss as well.  Severe damage to the hard drive can occur when power is lost or dropped while writing to the hard drive.  After two drive crashes, I haven't had a hard drive failure since installing UPS units on our office PCs.  A good UPS is relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of what it protects.  Prices range from under $100 to several hundred dollars for office type UPS. 

The size of the UPS unit needed depends on the type of equipment plugged into it, the length of time the battery back must function, and the ability to report automatically to another location.  Large computer installations all have UPS backup power as a power standard.  These larger units are tied into a power grid and must be installed by qualified electricians.  The new office units are small plug in boxes. Most fit under a desk, alongside the PC they serve.  The batteries in the small units are easy to replace if needed.  The battery backup in any UPS is intended for orderly shutdown after a certain time frame.
If power isn't restored in say, five minutes, close down and power off.  All data should be intact on the hard drive ready to fill out the forms when the power comes back on.

Your customers will love you.  Your accountant will love you.  The IRS will love you. So will the Florida Bureau of Unemployment Compensation.  And the sales tax people.  And everyone else who needs you data.

George Mindling  © 1999

Sunday, September 19, 1999

George Mindling Column 9-19-1999


You Make the Call


After waiting all afternoon for a scheduled appearance from a contractor who never showed or called, I called the contractor's office. After being put on hold for a few moments, I was told the contractor was on the road. She would beep him to call me. Twenty minutes later he called. He offered no explanation for missing the appointment and only said it was too late today; he'd try to make it tomorrow. Too bad, but I won't be here tomorrow.

He had a cell phone and my telephone number. If he had called earlier to inform me there would be a delay or change in plans, I could have changed my plans too. Waiting all afternoon for a no-show used all my time.

I was in the service business twice, so to speak. I spent eight years as a technician in the Air Force, where quality control insured the work ethic, in case you didn't have one to start with.

I then worked for many years with one of the best service organizations in the world. Not surprisingly, our first concern was customer satisfaction. We sent annual satisfaction surveys to all our customers) and any less than-satisfactory response required a management visit to find out why. Invariably, the prime complaint was lack of communication. We worked under a two-hour response time to our customers. A return phone call to a customer as soon as the service call came in was one of the prime performance appraisal items. A change in plans meant we would call the waiting customer again. Plans change continuously. It isn't surprising for a new part to be defective or to discover problems deeper than first encountered. Even accidents and weather will interfere with a service schedule; anyone who has ever been in business will testify to this.

Most customers understand the service environment and will work with problems affecting service, especially if the call isn't urgent. But if service is impaired because someone is trying to print the payroll, that's a different matter. Customers expect the response to a service call to reflect the urgency of their problem.

If you get diverted by a priority call, you still need to call the customers you have committed to and tell them there is a change in schedule. If you can't call them all, have someone else make the calls.

Don't let customers hang. It will ruin your business, even if you are the only one in town today that knows how to fix whatever is broken. Somebody will pick up the excess, and if they give better service than you, they will take away your business.

It takes communication to work, and in this day where everyone has a cell phone and a pager, not calling your customer is a sign of poor, unacceptable service. If you fail to call, you will have an irate customer, instead of a loyal one. It is such an easy problem to fix.

George Mindling © 1999

Friday, September 17, 1999

George Mindling Column 9-17-1999


Where to Start

The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. The journey to a solid business recovery plan begins with the simple realization that one is needed.

Business interruptions come in many different variations, from minor irritations to the major problems that will actually shut the doors of a business. Experience has proven that planning for the "show stoppers" can actually prevent those show stoppers from closing your business.

In the corporate world, an analysis of the complete business is maintained to determine the actual portions of the business that must remain functional in order for the business to remain viable. Those services or functions are ranked based on their importance to the success of the business. Plans are then developed to reinstate any of those services that may be lost due to unforeseen circumstances. Large corporations usually have staffs that do nothing but prepare for interruptions that may in fact never come.

The business analysis is called risk assessment. It means knowing what actions or circumstances will be an interruption that can be sustained temporarily, to those that will stop cash flow and jeopardize the business.

In the normal business day, for example, if a manager calls in sick, the load can be picked up or deferred until the manager's return. As long as the absence is temporary, no action is required on the business owner's part. However, if a manager leaves a company permanently without warning, the situation is graver and now requires action. Something must be done to fill the position so the business can continue without interruption.

Is there an employee ready for the task, or must the company hire from outside the business. Does the owner assume the task personally? These are normal business decisions done on a daily basis in every company.

Contingency planning is the same basic process, only done beforehand. It is a detailed plan of everything relative to the business, from loss of vendor's supplies, to the loss of power and water or even telephone service. The resulting plan can be implemented with surprisingly good results.

Planning doesn't have to be a painful struggle to undertake. The resources to assist are available to the small business owner from SCORE, to the local Chamber of Commerce.

The Red Cross has planning documents available to assist in disaster preparation. Disaster Recovery Journal maintains an informative, free web page at http://www.drj.com.

Contingency Planning and Management also has a great, free page, even though you must register, at http://www.ContingencyPlanning.com. Picking up a pad and a pencil is a great second step.
George Mindling © 1999