Archive for November, 2008

Tech Frustration

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, failures of communication devices are quite common. Over the past year, among more than 2,000 adults surveyed:

•    44% of home Internet users experienced at least one connection failure;
•    39% of computer users experienced at least one hardware failure;
•    29% of cell phone users experienced at least one failure of their phones;
•    26% of those who use Blackberries, Palm Pilots or other personal digital assistants reported at least one device failure; and
•    15% of those who use iPods or MP3 players experienced at least one incident in which the device did not work properly.

Individual consumers were selected for polling in this particular survey, but it is reasonable to assume that a survey of small business owners would yield similar results. Consumers who use the Internet, computers, cell phones and other devices may report frustration with periodic failures of equipment, but for small businesses, the consequences of equipment failure are more serious. Mitigate your risk as part of your overall disaster planning:

•    Make sure that you have service level guarantees and appropriate support for your equipment purchases.
•    Train your users in the proper use of equipment. The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project also reported that 48% of adults who use the Internet or a cell phone need assistance in setting up and using new devices. This calls for an investment in proper installation and use.
•    Finally, build in redundancy to cope with the device failures that will inevitably happen. In Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses (John Wiley & Sons Inc., second edition, 2008), I recommend, for example, that you keep spare hardware in your inventory to immediately replace failed equipment.

“Tim the IT Guy” had an interesting take on the reported need for assistance in setting up computers and cell phones: fire the IT support team and hire only employees who are tech-savvy.  Or you could do as I do and invest in training upfront as IT personnel are too expensive to be used for desk-side hand-holding.

New Orleans Homeowners File Lawsuit

Sunday, November 16th, 2008
Notice the house markings

Notice the house markings

New Orleans homeowners filed a lawsuit against the Louisiana Recovery Authority, alleging that it discriminates against black homeowners whose houses were damaged by Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. The Road Home Program, administered by the Authority, bases grants on the pre-storm value of the house or the rebuilding cost, whichever is less.

When I read the newspaper’s account of this lawsuit, it reminded me of some news I had heard on the occasion of my last visit to New Orleans: I was told that plaintiff’s attorneys were seeking to bring suit against federal disaster relief agencies on the grounds that the post-disaster aid to small businesses in the Gulf Coast was significantly less than that that awarded to Lower Manhattan small businesses in the aftermath of 9-11. If true, this rests on a serious misunderstanding of what aid was actually made available to Lower Manhattan small businesses.

But the more troubling aspect of this approach, for the small business community if not for homeowners, is how it delays the recovery process. A study of small businesses in the immediate vicinity of the World Trade Center at the time of the 1993 bombing found that of those small businesses that could not get back online within five business days, 90% were out of business one year later. Cash flow is critical to a small business, which is why you either recover quickly or you don’t recover at all. Perhaps this explains why homeowners are more likely than small business owners to litigate claims following a disaster.

Let’s Avoid Complacency with IT Security

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

Under the headline “Angry, Angry IT Guy Goes to Jail”, Silicon Valley blog Valleywag reports that “IT contractor Steven Barnes will serve a year in prison and pay $54,000 in restitution after being convicted of logging into a client’s network and deleting the Exchange database, among other things. Barnes claimed he acted after coworkers from Blue Falcon Networks, now known as Akimbo Systems, came to his home and took away his personal computers by force. Barnes reconfigured Blue Falcon’s server as an open relay for spammers, causing the company to be automatically blacklisted from delivering real mail.” Add this to the recent reminder I had posted of what to do to ensure that your IT systems are secure. Reinstating your e-mail privileges once your company is blacklisted is a major undertaking that you want to avoid at all costs.