Learn from NatWest - Top tips for small business technology maintenance

This weekend NatWest and RBS suffered the mother of all technical hitches.

Thousands of customers were left without access to their money after the banks encountered problems during a software update.

The issue has now reportedly been resolved, but backlogs have meant that many customers have continued to suffer from a limited service.

Small businesses across the country struggled this weekend as a result of the problems. But there are wider lessons that firms of every size need to consider – and effective maintenance of technology is paramount amongst these.

Properly maintained systems are a vital necessity for every small business, but many lack the experience or expertise to fulfil this. We have compiled some top tips to help you keep your technology running properly.

1. Back up early, back up often

This cannot be repeated enough. It is vital that you back up your data frequently, and that you develop a process to help you do this methodically. There is a range of existing solutions available to help you automate this process. By taking some time to get this right now, you can help to avoid time-intensive and potentially expensive problems later on.

2. Get patched…

You should ensure that all of your software is kept up to date. Hackers and other nefarious users exploit security flaws in old versions of popular software – but you can help to combat this by ensuring that you keep your systems properly patched.

It is also important that you keep online platforms like Wordpress or Drupal updated to the most recent version. A failure to update these platforms is at the heart of many hacking issues.

3. …but update out of hours

While it is vital that your systems are properly updated, it is just as important that you do this work at a sensible time. Don’t update customer-facing systems during opening hours. Similarly, wait until out of hours to update systems on which you or your employees rely. This will help to minimise the potential for lost revenue in the event that an update goes wrong, or takes longer than expected.

4. Get protected

Comprehensive antivirus and anti-spyware software is amongst the most important tools in your fight to keep your computer systems working properly. You should invest in enterprise-grade protection for your business, ensuring that your chosen solution fits the specific requirements of your organisation. If employees work from home and need to log into your network, remember that they will also need to have suitable protection installed and maintained on their workstations.

5. Develop a security policy

A properly codified security policy will help you maintain a safe, fully operational computer system. A good policy begins with a comprehensive investigation of the potential problems that your system might suffer. You should approach this in the same way that you would approach a general risk assessment. Identify the potential issues, eliminate those that can be eliminated, and develop strategies to mitigate the remainder.

You should also ensure that your employees are aware of your security policies, and that they are abiding by them. For example, you might choose to block certain websites, or prohibit the use of USB drives in order to minimise the potential for the spread of viruses.

6. Don't skimp

Finally, it is worth noting that technology is one of the areas in which small businesses frequently make false economies. Many small firms lack the expertise they need in order to keep their systems running properly. If this is the case in your business, it is important that you seek help. It can be tempting to soldier on and try to teach yourself, particularly when money is tight. But frequently the cost of downtime will far outweigh the potential savings you would have made by not paying a professional.