(The 12 Days of) Christmas Preparations for Your IT Systems

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The Christmas & New Year period is, for many organisations, one of the busiest times of the year. But it’s also packed with a slew of public holidays, resulting in a large chunk of the workforce taking an extended break. For many businesses the focus is very much on survival rather than growth and progress.

This combination of circumstances presents a truly unique challenge for any organisation, particularly in an age so dependent on technology. IT is a field relied upon by so many, but understood by so few. If an IT department chooses to take a break over the Christmas/New Year period, it can prove to be somewhat of an organisational Achilles’ heel for those businesses that are underprepared.

You’ll need confidence that your IT systems are up to the challenges presented by the holiday season. You’ll need to safeguard against any potential issues, and form strategies capable of steering your organisation through the choppiest of holiday waters.

So, in the spirit of the classic carol ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, here are 12 IT system preparations (completely devoid of partridges in pear trees) that you can check off in the days leading up to that yearly visit from Saint Nick.

1. Schedule major upgrades for January

Man-power is lacking, but business is often booming; the holiday period is not the time to be majorly upgrading your current IT system, nor trialling new solutions. If you’re looking at new or better ways of doing things, take the time now to schedule the upgrades and trials for January. For most organisations the holiday peak is followed by a January lull, a period ripe for upgrading current technologies and testing new ones.

If these upgrades require the installation of lines into a new site, be sure to book in the work during the month of December. Generally speaking, if you try to book in line service work just prior to Christmas, a crew may not be available until the end of January.

2. Tune up your IT systems

Before you embark on a long road trip, it’s wise to get a professional to give your car once-over. Small issues like tyre pressure, oil and water levels can turn into big problems if left unattended.

In the same spirit, you want your IT systems purring prior to the peak period of Christmas. Run a routine evaluation to ensure that any potential system faults are fixed, and that the whole machine is running as it should. Prevention, as they say, is far better than cure.

3. Invest in anti-virus software

There are more cyber-attacks and data breaches during the holidays than there are at any other time of the year. Ensure that your system is protected by investing in an up-to-date and comprehensive antivirus and malware detection program.

Be sure to run a full scan of your IT system as part of the installation to weed out any existing corrupted data. Good anti-virus software (such as these options) will update its virus definitions daily to ensure that you are fully protected against the latest threats.

4. Clean your hardware

An oft-neglected aspect of good IT system maintenance, the lead-up to Christmas presents the perfect opportunity to physically clean your machines. The built up crumbs in your keyboard, the dust that covers your monitor; these things can eventually affect the performance of your hardware. A purpose-built computer cleaning air gun is the perfect tool for the job.

While you’re in a cleaning mood, take the time to delete accumulated files off of your computer.Things like downloaded email attachments and surplus software should be sorted through, with anything deemed unnecessary being disposed of. This will allow your system to be performing at its peak as you push forward into the New Year.

5. Change your telephone message

Your clients need to be advised of your business’s availability over the holiday period. As such, organising your Christmas telephone message is incredibly important. But there’s no need to leave it until Christmas Eve. As you’d expect, the majority of businesses do this, making it very difficult for service providers to complete the work. Advise your provider nice and early to avoid the rush and ensure that your customers won’t be inconvenienced.

Be sure to set automatic replies on your staff’s emails over the holiday period as well.

6. Check for OS and program updates

While large scale upgrades should be left until a less hectic time, it’s vital to ensure that your operating system and your software is updated prior to Christmas. By updating your programs you’re ensuring that they are protected against threats, and are free of any potential bugs that could bring down not just the program itself, but the system as a whole.

7. Optimise your website

Just as cyber-attacks increase over the holiday period, so too will most organisations’ website traffic, particularly those in ecommerce. Will your website cope with the upswing?

In order to properly prepare for the holiday period, it’s important that you optimise your site. Check your bandwidth to ensure that it is up to the challenge presented by greater traffic. Optimise your web pages by resizing images, and by utilising external JavaScript. Google’s fantastic Speed Insights tool can help in identifying potential bottlenecks and problem areas that require your attention.

8. Conduct a security audit

A security audit serves to ensure that your network access points, ecommerce transactions, and any other areas open to attack are as secure as they need to be. A smart password policy which gives stringent character guidelines, minimum password lengths, 90 day update cycles and no repeat password usage can be a great place to start.

9. Run potential cyberattack scenarios

Guarding against cyber-attacks is a constant game of catch-up. Hackers are continually developing new and creative ways to infiltrate systems, making the job of defending your organisation’s network an incredibly challenging task.

One of the best ways to prepare for such a cyber-attack is to play out the potential scenarios yourself. This helps you to identify holes in your armoury with the help of friendlier fire, and allows you to patch them up before the peak holiday period begins.

10. Ensure your visitors are secure

The security of your website’s visitors should be just as high on your agenda as the security of your own systems. SSL authentication should be a non-negotiable.

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. It’s a method of encrypting a website visitor’s personal information before it’s transmitted. An SSL-secured site can be identified by the padlock icon that shows in the address bar, and by the use of ‘https’ rather than ‘http’. The next level of security, an extended validation SSL-secured website, can be recognised by its green address bar.

11. Clean up your email database

If your organisation doesn’t have a stringent maintenance routine for its email database, you’ll have likely collected a lot of email addresses over the course of the year that are either incorrect or ineffective. These can be defined as ‘hard bounce’ emails (those that cannot be delivered) and ‘soft bounce’ emails (those that are delivered to full inboxes, or remain unopened for any other reason).

Email, like any marketing channel, is all about return on investment (ROI). If you’ve got incorrect or inactive addresses on your list, why spend good money on sending an email to them? By clearing out the dead wood, you’ll see your other metrics – open rates, click-through rates, engagement – go through the roof.

12. Uninterrupted Power Supply

For those in Australia’s tropical and subtropical regions, the Christmas period coincides with storm season. With storm season comes the inevitable power surges, spikes and outages. Unless, that is, you’ve invested in a UPS. An uninterruptible power supply protects your business’s electronics from power supply abnormalities and short-term outages, and can be the difference between a smooth holiday period and your business being crippled by a power abnormality at the most inconvenient time of the year.

Proper planning prevents poor performance, so the timeless business credo goes. The 12 Days of Christmas IT Preparation listed here will do just that; prevent disaster during what, for many, can be the most challenging time of the year.

And once you’ve got this checklist sorted, you can turn your attention to that partridge in a pear tree.

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