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By Ann Westerheim, PhD

It’s a very exciting and overwhelming time. You’ve started your own business and you’re growing. This means you need to assure that your technology is ready to help you all the time.

The upside for many small businesses is that technology has leveled the playing field. Tools like computers, networks, and email enable small businesses to compete just like big businesses. The downside is that you can’t just pick up the phone and contact the IT department when you have a tech problem. You‘re the IT department!

And there’s the rub (as well as the reason for your new IT title). The technology running your business must be managed, maintained, upgraded, etc. Yet, like most growing small businesses, you cannot afford to hire a full time IT person with lots of experience. So, the first line of defense most often is the business owner, you.

But, can you be your own IT department? The answer is, initially, yes, with some help from your computer. It’s always sending you helpful (albeit annoying) messages on what it needs to stay “healthy and safe’.

If you take the time to understand the immediate help and proactive advice your computer is trying to offer about maintaining and troubleshooting your technology, those measures can enable your business to run smoother and save you money at the same time.

Daily Computer Messages

When you turn on your computer, you’re probably be subjected to several messages and reminders. Should you do everything your computer asks? Which messages are important? Of even more concern, which messages bogus or even dangerous to answer?

Doing what the messages on your screen ask of you is often very different than doing what your computer requires. Some messages need real attention, while others should be read with a healthy amount of skepticism. Let’s look at some specifics:

Windows Updates: You may get a message on your computer that says, “Keep your computer up to date. Click here to have Windows automatically keep your computer current with automatic updates.”

It’s important to keep your operating system up to date. Automatic Updating is one of the most important methods, in addition to a proper firewall and Virus/Spyware software, to keep your system safe from cyber threats.

Be aware, though, that if you always run automatic updates, it’s possible to wind up with one that is incompatible with some, or many, of the applications already on your computer.

For example, the major update Windows XP Service Pack2 caused some serious problems a few years ago. Microsoft published a list of programs -- filling almost two full pages -- that had trouble running with the SP2 addition. On the other hand, if you aren’t diligent about conducting regular updates (most people aren’t), then go ahead and enable them automatically.

Microsoft Outlook Auto Archiving: Microsoft Outlook starts to have performance problems when your mail file gets too big. So, you may see a message pop-up that asks,” “Would you like to auto archive items now?”

If your Inbox becomes massive with messages, you’ll actually lose the ability to receive mail (and the error message will not be obvious at all.)

Archiving puts some of your older email into another file. This way, the program doesn’t have to work as hard to process your current mail. If Outlook takes a long time to open, it may be time to archive your mail. Your mail can still be retrieved; it just won’t be in your main Outlook file.

Virus Definitions: If your virus definitions are not up to date, your anti-virus protection will not be able to protect your system against new threats. When you turn on your computer a window for the Norton Anti-virus software may appear stating, “Your virus definitions are out of date, would you like to run live update now?” Or, would you prefer the option of a reminder in a few days?”

If your computer is off during the time your automatic virus definition update normally runs, or if your anti-virus license has lapsed, your system will not be protected.

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Ann Westerheim, PhD. is president of Ekaru.
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