Its a reality in South Africa today that at some stage most of us will experience a desktop or laptop being stolen. I suppose power surges and spilled coffee could be factors too, in suddenly removing the functionality of an important work device. There is the obvious cost of replacing the device, but I would like to get some ideas from you learned folk on how to minimise the pain of losing your data and software.
Backing up data is an obvious one, but unless automated, it becomes a chore and is not in real time. Its also not always painless when machines have to be reconfigured on a small network, your backed up data is a different version to your original software or accessories such as printers and scanners are no longer compatible with the new operating system. These are all solvable, but involve lots of googling, time and frustration.
I imagine that most small businesses have the following categories they need to manage: Emails, documents, accounting and specialised desktop software. How can these be dealt with in the easiest way? Having it all online and accessible with only a username and password does seem to be the simplest method, with security and internet downtime being two issues to take into consideration.
Emails: Gmail is a common solution, but what if you prefer using Thunderbird or Outlook or some other desktop application? I believe using the IMAP setting instead of POP is a good option as this leaves your messages on your provider's servers and will still be accessible to you if you set up and log in from a new computer. The number of emails can become a cost issue once your files get larger. How easy is it to backup this data on your own drive in the event of you no longer having access to Gmail or your provider?
Documents: Security aside, I think the likes of dropbox, box, googledocs, etc are an excellent option for storing spreadsheets, letters, PDFs, brochures, pictures and any other document you typically use for your business. Its free for most of us and we file them like we normally do on our computer, but can magically access them again if our computer disappears.
Accounting software: Most of us probably use the likes of Quickbooks and Pastel for our accounting purposes. There are backup options for the data, but these tend to come at an extra cost, or require your daily intervention, which soon becomes weekly and then monthly and then its not really useful anymore. Also what happens if you were using an older version at the time of the loss. Do you now have to buy a new package? Or the other way round where you were using an online updated version, but the original software download you have in your backup is an older version. Now your backup data won't work with it.
There are some online packages available such as smartedge as a local variety, and plenty of international ones. This is assuming you need more than the entry level online packages currently available by the likes of Pastel. What are the practicalities of having an online server where you keep your own copy of Pastel / Quickbooks / Whatever and then each user logs in to it, in much the same way they would have should the server been on a computer in your office? I'm thinking along the lines of VPS here.
Specialised desktop software: This may include your accounting software mentioned above, but also perhaps payroll software, CRM software, job planning and scheduling software, industry specific software, basically any program you have installed on your own computer and use regularly. This is possibly where the loss hurts the most, especially if the software is used on a daily basis. Is there a practical way of moving this software off site, yet still having access to it and using it as though it was on a computer a few desks away?
The appeal of moving everything online is the ability to use it wherever you may be as well as the ability to continue to use it even if your experience loss of equipment through fire or theft or other damage. The downside of course may be some data security issues, the risk of provider side problems, loss of internet and possibly a more complicated initial setup process.
I would love to hear what some of you are doing and hopefully be exposed to some clever ideas and tricks.