Writing a Plan for Your Computer System
Fundamental Areas not to be Overlooked!
According to surveys conducted by CNBC and the Financial Planning Association, more than 70 percent of small businesses have no succession plan. Couple this with the number of small business owners older than 50, and that’s nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population. So, it only makes sense that a good succession plan is more critical than ever.
“Despite the generally high recognition of the need for succession planning, many law firms have been reluctant, or lax, in developing adequate succession plans. Many—if not most—law firms have been dealing with succession planning case-by-case (which might be appropriate), and ad hoc (which is not). Moreover, lawyer succession issues are often addressed belatedly, if not grudgingly. Many firms persist in avoiding the issue, hoping that, given time, transitions will spontaneously take shape and work out.”
—Alan R. Olson, Altman Weil, Inc.
For many businesses, the computer system is fundamental to daily operations. To operate without access to computers or critical software is all but impossible. A succession plan that contains vital information about the computer system is a key to keeping daily operations going.
A complete inventory of equipment, and the detail required to access software, third-party accounts, and email should be in the plan. Gathering the information isn’t difficult to do, and when you use one or more of the methods described later, managing it all will be easy.
Ensure Long-Term Access to User Accounts
Your plan should include a complete inventory of all equipment and devices. The inventory should list the make and the model, as well as the username and the password to access each device.
Over the long-term, you’ll need to replace the computers and other equipment in your office. So, when it’s time to execute the plan, the landscape of the computer system may have changed dramatically.
Many of our clients adopt one of two methods for the long-term management of user accounts and passwords. Both make succession planning easy, and either should work for your system:
- Free to change—Users choose their own passwords and don’t have to share it with the system administrator. The administrator then creates a separate account to access and manage the computer.
- Locked—Users cannot choose their own password. Users receive a password, and the system administrator manages the password. Log the password for the account in your succession plan, then remove any permissions that allow the user to change the password. This way, you’ll always have access to the device.
Either one of these methods will ensure long-term access to the workstations and software on your network.
How to Identify Business Critical Software
When you take inventory of the software on your network, look for items that are “mission critical.” If you think you can’t live without a program for a day or two, then log it. If you look at a program and you haven’t used it in two years, then it may not be that important.
Capture the vendor, account number, username, password, and website information. Put this information in your succession plan. Here are some areas to look for important software. Here’s a sample list of software to get you thinking about your network:
- Legal Research—Lexis/Nexis, Westlaw, Fastcase, Shepard’s, etc.
- Accounting and Billing—Quickbooks Desktop/Online, PC Law, Legalmaster, Bill4Time, TimeSlips
- Servers—Fileservers, NAS devices, or other filesharing devices
- Backup Software—Mozy, Carbonite, Amazon, Acronis, Symantec
- Cloud File Sharing Systems—Dropbox, ElephantDrive, Amazon, OneDrive
- Microsoft Office Software—Online software such as Office 365
- Webhosting and Domain Services—Godaddy, Bluehost, Wix, etc.
- Miscellaneous Desktop Software—Look for programs that are critical to daily operations
- Network Devices—Sonic walls, routers, switches, Comcast modem, WAVE modem, or AT&T U-verse box
- Printers—Multifunction printers and copiers often have a control panel that controls access to printing and accounting features.
You may not have programs in every category listed here, but this list is a starting place for adding critical software to your succession plan.
Email Accounts Are Mission Critical
Email accounts are a special category of software. Sometimes the line between business and personal usage blurs, especially for owners and partners. Personal and confidential information, as well as non-business communications, are often in these accounts. Even the “catch-all” accounts can contain confidential information.
In professional practices that run their own mail servers, it’s easy to control access to email accounts. Exchange servers and business portals are designed so a single administrator can control all the accounts. Your succession plan should contain the password and username for the administrator of the system, when appropriate.
For small firms, this may not be the case. If you use email@example.com, it’s possible no one will ever get into that account. Here’s why. Yahoo and other email providers view this as a personal email account. It isn’t a part of a business or an organization, so they require correct answers to security questions before allowing access to the account.
Here are two things to help avoid problems in this area:
- Safe Place—Keep your email password in a secure place. Remember to update any saved copies whenever you change your password.
- Security Questions—Put the answers to the security questions in your succession plan and record the email address and password for the backup email account, too.
Simple Tools You Can Start Using Today
Third-party programs that catalog the equipment and software on your network are easy to use. They make it easy to gather the information, plus many of these programs can produce one or more reports you can insert into your plan.
Here are two tools to help you build and maintain your plan:
- Password Manager—Easy-to-use tool for keeping track of passwords and usernames. The consumer versions of these products support one to three users. If you have many users in your environment, look for options that support many users. Look at 1Password, LastPass, and Roboform.
- Inventory Software—A favorite tool for system administrators is the inventory feature built into most network management programs. The tool takes inventory of the entire network. It captures information about computers, switches, routers, software, and more. Look at Open-AudIT, Kuwaiba, and Spiceworks (network knowledge required).
Your succession plan is a living document you should update as your business grows and changes. There’s always a risk the plan has become outdated by the time it’s executed. But, if you implement some of the tools mentioned here for gathering and managing the network information, your succession plan should have accurate information when the time comes to execute it.