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By Bill Abram

Regardless of your industry, investing in data security should be at the top of your agenda. With strict new government regulations regarding the security of electronic data taking effect, all companies - not just financial services firms – must have a resilient data security infrastructure in place that is both up-to-date and compliant to avoid a potentially embarrassing or costly incident.

An integral part of any data security project should be the creation of a business continuity plan to mitigate business disruptions. Disruptions equal lost revenue and can be as minor as a computer virus or worm to something more devastating such as a level 3 hurricane or city-wide power outage. A good plan will effectively align a company’s IT strategy with operations and management systems so that a firm’s technical and business infrastructure can safely navigate the current economic and regulatory environment.

While most companies have long understood the importance of maintaining their IT infrastructure, proactive investment for security and business continuity measures have lagged behind due to the complexity of measuring real value versus sensible cost. Many firms require a comprehensive managed solution that archives and protects all electronically stored information as it moves through each part of an organization. Along with email, companies need to wrestle with information on PCs and laptops, cell phones, handheld devices, flash drives, application servers and Internet-based phone systems.

Taking the right approach from the outset will allow you to select the best managed services provider (MSP) for your company. First, make sure you partner with an experienced technology vendor who can offer not only the right products and tools you need for uninterrupted end-to-end service but can be relied upon to apply their internal resources in support of your plan. A vendor’s team should develop a detailed needs analysis that outlines your specific needs and sets priorities appropriately. Smaller companies may need to think about implementing customized components in stages in order to meet their budgetary goals.

When selecting an MSP, the following should also be taken into consideration:

True Flexibility. Every business has unique data needs. Partner with a vendor who will work closely with you to customize a flexible solution with a fixed monthly cost that fits your budget. Scalable services that will grow with you are essential to the growth and success of your business. Getting your service up and running should be painless. Ask about the process. Your new vendor should guide you through the switchover when you’re ready.

Complete Security. It is essential that the data center delivers the highest levels of security, performance and availability. The key designation is a SAS70-Type II certified provider. Also look for TRUSTe and Safe Harbor certifications, which ensure that your company’s private information remains just that — private.

Performance Reliability. The strength of your provider’s infrastructure and support systems guarantees that your server and network will operate uninterrupted. With remote server management, you should expect your MSP to respond quickly and efficiently to problems through email or voice mail. In the event of a business disruption, your servers, applications, email and website should still be accessible from any remote computer.

Guaranteed Compliance. Check the vendor’s compliance component to make sure it satisfies all industry and governmental regulations and is an integral part of your solution. A managed service should be seamlessly monitored and administered.

Your vendor shouldn’t just be an IT provider but a true technology partner. Seek a partner with whom you can develop a trusted relationship.

Bill Abram is president of Pragmatix Inc.
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