For those of you who have talked to me in the last three weeks you know it’s not been a happy time. I’ll try to keep my ranting down to an acceptable level and perhaps we can all learn something.
Background: Microsoft is very proud of their Windows 10 operating system. In fact, they are so proud of it, they will update your old, inferior operating system (oddly enough, also a Microsoft product) for you whether you want them to or not. I did not choose to have my Windows 7 operating system replaced with Windows 10, figuring it would mess things up. However, Microsoft, in their infinite wisdom, decided to run it as an update for me in the middle of the night. This has the effect of making some computers (like mine) unusable. This happened three weeks ago. I hope this doesn’t happen to you, but if it does, here are a few things you should know.
1) Windows 10 happens. (I really should print up bumper stickers that say this, but Microsoft’s legal team will probably have something to say about that.) Somehow, someday, your trusty computer will fail to boot and give you the blue screen of death. Assume at some point it will happen to you.
2) Your backups are not as good as you would hope. Test them periodically to make sure they actually run and your backup disk isn’t full, and test files generated from all software that you use. I had tested using word files which backed up correctly. I did not test by deleting a client’s tax data file which would have exposed a major weakness.
3) Not everyone is as up-to-date as you are. I have a client that uses QuickBooks 2000 (heavily modified and installed on a virtual server so it is, we hope, safe….) which is only retrievable using QB 2006. I have a computer on the shelf (not connected to the internet, and not turned on) that runs on XP and is currently used one time a year to update the client’s QB2000 file to one that functions on today’s operating systems. I also have, after this last fiasco, a computer with a Windows 7 operating system with a full set of software that I use. It is also not turned on and definitely not connected to the internet.
4) Software installations are not designed with you in mind. Here comes the painful part of the process. Software is typically installed on your C drive under the programs folder. This is wonderfully predictable for the people who are installing the software, but not so wonderful for your backups. In my particular case, data used by the program was stored in a folder under program files. Program files were not backed up because backups don’t do you any good (programs have to be re-installed).
5) No one knows everything. See number four above. Although I had an online backup service, and I strongly recommend it to everyone, neither I nor my IT guy knew to look under the program files to find data files. And, as I have subsequently learned, sometimes the programs don’t give you an option of where your data and backups are stored. (Poor planning on their part, but you are the one suffering the consequences).
6) The right time to engage an IT person is BEFORE you have a crisis. I was one of five people with the same issue on the same day so I was able to get service on that day. If you have to search for an IT person after a crisis, you’ll be last in line.
7) All those logins and passwords your internet browser remembered for you? They’re gone.
THINGS THAT HELPED RECOVERY
1) I keep a 3 ring notebook labeled disaster relief that contains software license information (product number and license number) in case I need to reinstall and login/password information for websites. I keep a printout of each time I purchase software with the license, and retain it in this notebook. Likewise, whenever I change a password, I print off a copy of the page that required me to change the password with the new password written in and also the date it was changed. Some websites will prohibit you from using a password previously (in one case, they looked back to the previous 24 passwords used to prohibit reuse.) A 3 ring notebook has wonderful qualities. It does not crash when your computer crashes. It keeps everything in one place. It cannot be opened by a hacker in another country. (Yes, it can be stolen in a burglary, but it’s highly unlikely people will stop to read your notebooks as the alarm is blaring.) Go to the office supply store, buy a notebook and some tabs, and start documenting. Put a copy of this document in there so you’ll know who to thank when you need it.
2) other forms of backup:
a) hard copies of documents. Every tax return I prepare is printed, with a copy to the client and one to the file.
b) A PDF is generated every time I produce a final return. These are put into a folder that is backed up.
c) cloud backup. I was able to recover the items identified as client data and administrative data from an online backup service.
d) other software archives. After attempting for 10 days to recover tax data, my software provider notified me that they had a copy of everything I had e-filed for the past three years. Fortunately, more than 90% of my returns are e-filed and since the other efforts to recover my tax data were not successful, I was able to get more than 90% recovered painlessly. The other percentage will have to be rekeyed using the PDF or hard copies already generated. But, any work done on a return since it was e-filed was lost. The data on client files where I filed extensions in April were recovered, but work done after the extension was filed was lost.
Predictable failures in your future
1) Internet failure. Recently Verizon sold its FIOS network to Frontier. The transition was not painless. Some people went two weeks without Internet and phone. Imagine what would happen to your business without Internet or phone for two weeks (not very pleasant, is it?). Assume at some point this will happen to you either from an outage of several hours to an outage of several days. Plan for this. Be able to post an out-of-office message on your email that indicates you’re really in the office but your Internet doesn’t think so. You may wish to consider buying an Internet hotspot that will allow you to function without your normal internet service. Also have a laptop computer that you can transport to a place with functioning Internet so you can handle emergencies. If you can only access your email from your office computer, it’s hard to post a message saying you have no internet at the office….
2) Cell phone outage. It doesn’t happen much, but it does happen. Few things are more frustrating. Give your clients several ways to reach you.
3) Bank inaccessibility. Access to your cash either online or through an ATM is so routine you expect it to always be there. However, remember situations like Hurricane Katrina. Yes – there still is an ATM on the corner, but you can’t use it because it’s under 8 feet of water and it has no electricity. Don’t wait until you’re on the way to the airport to get cash for a trip.
4) Data breaches. There’s always a risk that your account will be hacked. Recently hackers have been locking up computers and holding them for ransom. Invest in firewalls and virus protection, use different passwords and logins, and don’t click on links you don’t know.