Computer Software Update

Your computer system is in place and hums like a well-oiled machine. Your software has been installed. Your HIPAA-related plans and provisions are in place. Your employees have been educated on the system, the software and the regulatory compliance. They are now making a new, more efficient routine of the entire process.

So you finally get to sit back, hands behind your head, and enjoy a well-deserved breather. After all, you planned and sacrificed and spent capital and took risks to achieve this moment.

Well, what would you say if I told you that your well-oiled machine could drag you back to square one in an instant? All that you and your dedicated staff have accomplished could become a hollow shell of a business in the blink of an eye. Months and years of work and records could swirl down the drain, for the sake of a relatively simple procedure.

This isn't about insurance, but have you ever thought about insurance? Have you ever considered that the various types of insurance that affect our lives are always blatantly over-priced, until we need one of them? Insurance is one of those facts of life that we would really prefer to never use. It is when we can confidently proclaim, "Everything is going to be alright. We are covered." That's the only time that we truly appreciate the concept of paying premiums.

Like I stated, this isn't about insurance. Just keep the concept of insurance in mind as we discuss the least expensive, most productive "insurance" available for your business.

Before we begin, let me ask you a question: What do you consider the most important asset to your business? Before you answer too quickly by proudly pointing your thumb in the direction of your chest, think about all of your patient records, CMNs, accounts receivable, inventory files, names and addresses, reports, orders to be delivered, etc. It may be tough to admit, but your data files may be at least as valuable as you are to the business.

When is the last time you or one of your employees backed up your computer system? If you puffed out your chest to answer a recent calendar date, ponder this follow-up question: How long will it take to rebuild your data from the point of the latest backup to the present, while continuing to add current orders, accounts receivable, purchase orders? And how do you know if your most recent backup is any good?

Any number of large or small occurrences, including accidents, equipment failures, even static electricity could coerce your valuable data files into packing their bags for a one-way ticket to oblivion. Accidental or non-accidental destruction of data is a hit-or-miss proposition. Hard-drive failure, on the other hand, is a given. Eventually, it will happen. Most likely while you are ready to run out the door to make deliveries because a driver called in sick today. Sooner or later, your system administrator will sheepishly inform you that the data drive has developed a bad spot corrupting data files, has seized up and needs to be completely reformatted, or has passed on to silicon heaven. I repeat, it will happen.

I guess we will need to put that well-deserved breather on hiatus again. At least until the end of this article.

Before we dive into media drives and various types of backup media, we must first determine needs. Remember how we planned for our needs before writing large checks for computer systems? Let us ask and answer some questions to match needs with the most effective backup solution.

The first question is what files should we back up? The second question is what is the quantity to be backed up? Third, how often should we back up these files?

You could check the total number of bytes on your hard drive, throw up your hands in dismay and say, "Forget this. In the real world, how am I supposed to back up all of this stuff?" We understand your pain. That's why we suggest only backing up important data files. Operating systems and program files can always be re-installed from their original media. The critical data files are those critical to your day-to-day business, and is what you need to preserve on a regular basis.

Your insurance concept to backing up data files will save your business some day.

Once you determine these data files, add up the number of bytes. Take this number, factor in your company's rate of growth and estimate high. Obviously, you want to decide on a media drive that will serve your company for a good, long time (or at least until it depreciates).

How often should you back up? Only you or your system administrator can accurately answer that question. Let's rephrase the question to reflect what we asked earlier: How long would you be willing to take to rebuild your data from the point of the latest backup to the present (while continuing to add current orders, accounts receivable, purchase orders? We recommend daily backups to never lose more than one day of new data.

The size of your company and the components available to you in your current system will determine how simple this process may be for you and your staff. If your company is fairly small and you have a rewritable CD burner, you may be able to get away with a couple of CD-RWs to protect your business data. Since this media is comparably inexpensive, purchase enough to complete a backup for each day of the week. Clearly label each CD-RW or set of CD-RWs.

Zip and Jaz drives have been around for a while now and can hold more files than their predecessors. If you already have one of these drives in place and they suffice, why mess with a good backup?

Slightly larger companies may depend on a DVD-RW drive and media. A single DVD-RW can pack 4.7 gigabytes of backed up data.

If that still isn't large enough to hold your company's data files, you can call in the heavier artillery. At this point, you have more choices (and more expense). There is also a trade-off between these two options, which we will discuss in a moment.

Tape drives and media can range between 4 and 100 or more gigabytes so you can easily match the backup needs of your company. Keep in mind that different tape formats vary in price and storage capacity, so take care in your selections.

Removable hard drives also may vary in price and storage capacity; however, they are quite fast at backing up and relatively inexpensive compared to backing up on tape. So what is the trade-off?

As an example, let us say that you need to back up 100 gigabytes of data. At that level of capacity, tape drives can set you back a cool $4,000 to $5,000, whereas a comparable set of removable hard drives would cost around $1,500 (or around $250 each). Sounds pretty cut and dry, doesn't it? Well, when a tape breaks, you simply replace the inexpensive media. When a removable hard drive fails, you replace it for another $250.

One of the final considerations in your backup procedure includes rotating media. Never overwrite the latest backup with today's backup. Rotate at least two sets of media, which should be clearly labeled with dates and sequence numbers.

Another point to consider is verifying the backup media. After all, if the backup isn't any good, you must rely on the previous backup. That means you'll need to recreate more data, which takes more catch-up time.

A final point: be certain to store your backups off-site. Invest in a safety deposit box at your company's bank. Along with your daily deposits, drop off your backup for truly safe-keeping.

Your insurance concept to backing up data files will save your business some day. And the premiums? A little hardware, some media and the diligence of someone you can count on to backup, verify the backup and store the backup off-site.

Look at it this way: you take an occasional day off, right? Not often, we understand, but you take a break now and then. If you didn't get that well-deserved break, you may not be as sharp as when you step away for a while to regain perspective.

Well, think about your computer system as it works for you 24/7, making certain that your data files are available to you and your employees whenever you need to access them. And hopefully, as the responsible super-hero manager, you will be able to restore yesterday's backup to keep your business running as smoothly as possible.

If your company has a backup procedure in place, do yourself a favor and make sure that the routine hasn't become so routine that the job isn't properly getting done. If your company doesn't have a backup procedure in place, review your options depending upon the factors we have outlined here and set up your procedure today. Not tomorrow, not next week or next fiscal quarter when the budget allows, but today.

Afterward, enjoy that breather, now you really deserve it!

This article originally appeared in the March 2003 issue of HME Business.


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