By Kelly R. Thompson, CWS-VI
A meeting I was having with Steve, a water treatment dealership owner in Ohio, was interrupted by a local computer repair professional returning a desktop that he had been working on for about a week and a half. Steve was very relieved to have his system back, but with obvious frustration wrote a check for nearly half of what a new desktop would have cost. Steve confided in me that this was the third time he had to send out an office computer for repairs because of a virus or, in one case, a disgruntled employee who had changed operating system access passwords. I asked what his office computer policies were and he said that while he knew he should have something in place, he did not know where to begin. Not very computer literate himself, he had no idea how to implement or enforce a policy.
I have found this to be a common concern for many dealers. Obviously computers have become a necessity in business, but many owners and managers have neither the time nor interest in learning about them. Computer repair companies have made a lot of money banking on the fact that owners and managers remain intimidated by the almighty computer. While there are certainly some situations where an IT (information technology) professional should be consulted, many of the most common problems can be avoided by creating a simple computer-use policy.
Update systems regularly
I tend to be a bit more computer literate than most; when I’m doing a consulting job for a company, I often find myself sitting in front of a computer trying to fix a minor but annoying problem the company has been tolerating for some time. It’s amazing how many desktops are still running Windows 95! Most firms have at least moved up to Windows XP, but there are a surprising number still running Service Pack 1, rather than the more robust Service Pack 3. If this last statement made no sense to you at all, you may want to find out which operating system you have installed on your office systems and make sure it is updated. Most new software requires at least Windows XP—Windows 7 is even better (we will just pretend Vista never happened). Mac is also good, but like all operating systems it still needs to be updated and protected. There will always be people who, for whatever reason, have a malicious desire to disrupt other people’s lives; the popularity of computers has allowed them to do this without much effort or skill. Society’s reliance on networking and the Internet has made this task much easier. The older versions of operating systems and other programs may have major security flaws that allow even a novice with malicious intent to do significant damage to your company. Updating the systems can prevent a host of ills before they become major business issues. Most updates are free and can be programmed to run automatically, usually during a time the computer is not being used.
Install antivirus protection
In Steve’s case, the computer being repaired was primarily used by a very nice, older employee. It is difficult for me to imagine her spending a lot of time surfing pornography, but it is possible that she received an email from a grandchild with some anecdotal story or a video of a kitten playing the piano with a spaghetti noodle (Ah, it looks just like Mr. Snookems!). In situations such as this, an updated antivirus protection program is essential. Most feature email monitoring so that any malicious program that may be piggybacking on the harmless email will be quarantined. There are new viruses every day and antivirus protection companies are constantly offering updates to try to keep ahead. It should be noted, however, that even the best antivirus program is not foolproof. Most will only catch 85 to 90 percent of problems. I recommend having a program actively running on the desktop; but once per week, run an online scan as well, which runs from an Internet server, offering a second layer of protection. Online scans take longer but also tend to be more up to date. Trend Micro is only the one I use, but is one of many highly regarded online antivirus options.
I should add one more thing about how malicious programming spreads. It is not only through email or porn sites that a computer may become infected. Flashdrive usage is a common way of spreading malicious code, as are some legitimate looking websites. Verify the address of a website before exploring it. Typing in www.wqa.com will yield completely different results than www.wqa.org. In this case, both sites are safe but can be easily confused. Sometimes, a site that is very similar except for a commonly misspelled word or extension (like .com instead of .org) can be disastrous.
Back up your systems!
Perhaps the best advice is to back up your entire system thoroughly and often. Mass media storage has become very inexpensive and easy to use. Again, the process can be automated and, even if you have to pay for the initial setup, the cost will be far less than trying to replace data or programs. And backing up a computer system makes a hardware failure a lot less painful as well.
Establish a computer-use policy
A computer-use policy should be designed in such a way that company computers are protected from malware or sabotage, but not limit employees from utilizing the vast advantages a computer system offers to enhance company growth. For example, most companies have entire customer databases in computer format. If an owner or manager is concerned about employees taking this information and selling it to a competitor, they can restrict access to the information. Otherwise, they are missing out on the advantages of a program that revisits existing customers, or using a neighbor as a referral for a new customer. Rather than an all-or-nothing approach, it may make sense to give one trusted individual access, with the responsibility to provide limited information to sales professionals. I work with one company that provides their entire customer database on CD to its employees, but in a format that only allows them to view one customer at a time. It cannot be copied or printed and expires every three months; the information cannot be accessed unless an update by the company is provided.
A lot of time can be wasted by staff browsing Facebook, eBay or maybe even Career Builder. Monitoring activity on company-owned computers and enforcing the use policy is very easy and inexpensive compared to the wasted money spent by non-company related computer activities. I recommend a program called eBlaster by Spectorsoft, which monitors every keystroke, program activity and website visit. You can find more information on this and other products by visiting www.spectorsoft.com. I like this approach rather than simply restricting access to certain websites because it does not restrict legitimate business use of sites like Facebook or Craig’s List, but does allow an administrator to know exactly what a company computer is being used for. Reports can be sent to an administrator’s email address at customizable time periods. Informing employees that such a program is in use will not only act as a deterrent for unauthorized use, but it may also make an employee more productive. A computer-use policy, and the consequences for breaking it, should be well defined. Every employee granted access, whether an outside sales representative or administrative personnel, should be made aware of the policy. A sample of a policy can be found among the many tools designed specifically for the water treatment industry at www.moti-vitality.com. You may find that taking some very simple and comparatively inexpensive steps and precautions can save your company a significant loss of production, headaches and money.
About the author
S Kelly R. Thompson, CWS-VI, is a water treatment specialist, author and motivational speaker. In his recently released book, “Flowing to Success ~ An Excellent Book With a Cheesy Title for the Water Treatment Sales Professional”, he offers a host of tips for being a successful water treatment sales professional. Thompson can also be reached at www.moti-vitality.com or at (810) 560-2799.