Keep on running

A productive business is one in which IT systems run smoothly and your staff can get on with their jobs rather than hovering around, and bemoaning, malfunctioning hardware. With this in mind, there are a few easy lessons that you and your colleagues should really learn...

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By  Matthew Wade Published  August 14, 2006

|~||~||~|As part of my work on the forthcoming October issue of Windows Middle East (on sale during September), I’ve been chatting to various hardware vendors and third-party support providers about what small and medium sized firms can do – in other words who and how they can pay - to keep their systems running smoothly. During the course of these conversations, what’s become apparent is that the majority of technical problems face relate to three or four specific topics and, get this, aren't actually that tricky to solve. It seems almost too obvious to say then (but I’m going to say it anyway), that if you or your in-house IT staff can fully learn your way around these areas, you should find your employees calling for help less often, thereby maybe even saving your business some cash. In no particular order then, these are the four topics you and your team should get your respective heads around: 1. Security, by which I mean not letting viruses and similar threats get onto your systems and your network. There are two areas to deal with here: the first is making sure that security software is installed upon - and regularly scanning - each machine. This software must be regularly updated with new definitions (via the internet) and ideally you should also be running either a hardware or software firewall at your server and turning ‘On’ Windows XP’s firewall function on those PCs that have it. Second up, you should educate your staff on how to stay safe; for instance they need to know not to open unexpected e-mail attachments, to ignore dodgy ‘bank’ or Paypal ‘You must update your account information’ e-mails and so on. 2. Memory matters. In the majority of cases, if an employee’s machine is ‘hanging’, ‘freezing’, ‘crashing’, or whatever you want to call it, this is likely because their computer is overloaded and simply doesn’t have enough RAM installed to cope with the demands they’re placing on it. To this end, you need to either get busy upgrading your computers by sticking in more memory, or else dump unnecessary apps from each PC and stopping letting employees install software, period (by using XP's Accounts feature to restrict their use). 3. Printing. Basics first: if every member of staff knows how to add paper to their printer, remove blocked sheets, restart the printer, and change its toner cartridge should this run out, then both your and their working lives will immediately become less stressful. Fact. From a network perspective, the common problems users face are that they simply cannot print, or they get a message telling them the printer is not available. You need to learn the quick fixes for these issues, such as knowing each printer’s IP address, or what size jobs your wireless print server can handle, and make sure your users know the relevant basics too, such not to change their PC’s IP setting, which can cause you and them serious headaches, and how to view and amend ‘pending’ print jobs using Windows’ ‘Printers and Faxes’ window. 4. Last but not least, many SMBs struggle with Microsoft Exchange Server related e-mail issues (such as how to add new users or how to overcome common POP3 niggles). To this end, it’s worth investing in a little Microsoft training, either for you, your IT staff or - if they don’t exist - then a couple of more technically minded team members. E-mail won’t be going away anytime soon and with our increasing reliance on digital communications, you and I both know that staff get very vexed, very quickly when their access is restricted for whatever reason. If you and your tech-team can learn your way around these key topics and educate your staff on the related basics, the chances are you’ll be well on your way to solving a great many of your technical woes in-house. As a result, this means that any support you do buy-in (as detailed in the next issue of Windows remember) won’t be wasted by your staff ringing for help because they forgot to switch on their monitors. Because that's just silly... ||**||

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