How is Your Operating Platform?

I spoke to a manager from Amey yesterday, who told me of their use of technology to manage some of their subcontractors on their contract with Birmingham City Council. For example, tree surgeons have hand held devices on which jobs and instructions can be allocated and work recorded.

This makes communication quicker, but particularly limits the need for worksheets and invoices. There is no dispute over what work has been done, and information is common (and accessible to the Council as client).

This led me to think of the importance of operating platforms for small businesses. This means everything that the business uses to “get the work done” – people, facilities, processes and technology. How these fit together make a huge difference to the success of the firm, and hold the key to productivity improvement. It is worth mapping processes and making step by step improvements.

And remember that one day you will not be there, due to retirement or otherwise. How well will your operating platform function without you?


Protect Your IT – Cyber Essentials

Cyber security is very much in the news, with hacking of law firms, denial of service attacks and so on.

No security system is perfect, but there are some simple steps to start with.

  1. Use a reputable anti-virus/anti-malware software on all your devices, and keep it updated
  2. Similarly use a software firewall – they will often be packaged together with anti-virus software
  3. Keep your operating system and other software up to date, such as by allowing Microsoft automatic updates. It a software provider stops supporting a version of their software, buy the latest version (less of a problem as Microsoft is moving to a constant upgrade model)
  4. Backup! Ensure that your data is backed up at a minimum once a week, and preferably daily (it depends on how often your data changes). Ideally the backup data should be off site. Regularly check that your data can be restored to your system – if you cannot restore your data, the backup is useless.
  5. Use strong passwords, preferably a combination of letters (including capitals), numbers and symbols. Apart from “password” and “1234” the worst passwords are ones easily associated with the user. So the Liverpool FC mug on the desk may suggest that “Anfield” is the password. That said, the password needs to be memorable, so one technique is to substitute numbers and symbols for some of the letters in a memorable word.
  6. In most cases, not all your staff need full access to all your system. Restrict access to start with, then add access as necessary on a person by person basis.
  7. Keep your website secure, including access and passwords.
  8. Train your staff on security, and on such things as email vulnerability. Many are used to clicking on “you’ll never believe this!” links, which can be malicious.
  9. Think about encrypting important documents, or at least password protecting them.
  10. Cyber liability insurance is available to cover the costs of putting right problems arising from cyber attack. It is not necessarily expensive, and protects against loss.

For more information, visit the Government’s Cyber Essentials site here.

Back it Up!

I am always haunted by the story of the man who religiously inserted the backup tape into his server every night and ejected it every morning. Unfortunately, he never hit the return button at the end of each backup to complete it. The result was no backup over a period of years.

I have backed up so much data over the years that I had to set up a new (and bigger) backup device this morning. It took a remarkably long time for the first backup. But that means that I will not have to endure that heart stopping moment when the laptop dies, and the last backup was a month or two ago. What is more, my insurers and the Information Commissioner are happy as well.

Why am I so confident about the backup? The first thing I did was to restore one of the documents as a test, proving that it worked. I will test again every fortnight or so, to check that there are no problems.

And I will sleep soundly tonight.



When Computers Replace Lawyers

So you thought the Legal Services Act was a threat? Wait until the computers take over.

“In the end, after you’ve stripped away their six-figure degrees, their state bar memberships, and their proclivity for capitalizing Odd Words, lawyers are just another breed of knowledge worker. They’re paid to research, analyze, write, and argue — not unlike an academic, a journalist, or an accountant. So when software comes along that’s smarter or more efficient at those tasks than a human with a JD, it spells trouble.” READ MORE

Jordan Weissman raises some interesting issues. While I will not follow Private Fraser, and say “we’re doomed”, it is salutary to see lawyers as knowledge workers rather than a priesthood. And while people in a process are expensive, lawyers are more expensive than most.

There will be more uncertainty to legal life, and lawyers need to be yet more flexible, and yet more business oriented. There may be an advantage to big business.

That said, NatWest and RBS have now been trying to sort out their computer banking problems for the last 7 days (and counting). It would be interesting to cost out remedial costs, compensation costs, weekend opening and reputational damage. individual lawyers can screw up, but it takes computers to do it on this scale.

What Happens When You Are Hacked

James Fallows in The Atlantic on his wife’s Gmail account being hacked.

“The more serious sign of the potential scale of our problems came later in the day. Google offers a variety of automated ways for users to regain control of Gmail and other accounts they think have been hacked. The automated routines, plus an online forum moderated by Google employees, are the only help Google offers. With hundreds of millions of active Gmail accounts to manage—that’s as specific as Google will be about its user base—operating in 54 languages worldwide, the relative handful of human beings on Gmail’s support staff could not even pretend to offer live one-on-one service. The same is true of Yahoo…..”

Slightly long, but repays reading for its comments on the vulnerabilities of “The Cloud” and its tips on password security.

Find it here.

H/T Alex Massie