Just under a month ago, Samsung announced that it was recalling/replacing all Galaxy Note 7 phablets shipped prior to early September due to exploding batteries. Roughly two weeks later, news broke that Yahoo more than likely allowed US government agencies full access to the entire breadth of all email accounts hosted by Yahoo, while the fading tech giant was still reeling from a reported data breach and the pending sale to Verizon. Unfortunately both companies are back in the news this week and not for good reason. Samsung’s replacement Note 7s with the less explodey battery, has – you guessed it – started exploding again, even putting a customer in the hospital. This incident and at least 2 other reports of flaming phones has prompted Samsung to halt production on the Note 7, and all major US carriers will no longer sell the device. Yahoo’s troubles continue as well: the now infamous email service has suspiciously dropped the forwarding function from its service, making it more difficult for people to move to another provider. When you combine this mysterious change with the lawsuit against Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Meyer, Yahoo is looking less like a technology leader and more like a troubled company struggling to survive.
What this means for you:
Companies of this size typically have resources enough to pick themselves up and shake off these types of events. Heck, breaches are so commonplace now that most of the time consumers just shrug and carry on. Despite various widespread problems with iPhones (Antenna-gate, Bend-gate, Touch Rot) Apple still manages to sell lots of units every year. While Samsung will undoubtedly take a huge reputation hit in the mobile market, the Korean megacorp itself is so broad that it’s hard to image the Note 7 sinking the entire company. If anything the repeat failure just highlights the complex manufacturing chain that goes into producing our smartphones and will perhaps push Samsung and its competitors to look for safer, better battery solutions.
Yahoo is looking a lot less resilient than Samsung: it doesn’t have the broad product base to fall back on, and one might argue that its most valuable asset – the millions of people who still use Yahoo Mail – is in jeopardy at a time when the company can least afford it. Whether the disappearance of mail forwarding was ill-timed or carefully calculated, the long-term optics look worse than a smoking phablet. Last week’s news of Yahoo’s compromising relationship with US intelligence agencies should have been enough to encourage you to retire your Yahoo account, and their current strategy is not the Hail-Mary play they need to stay in the game.
For those of us that spend a good part of the day stuck in SoCal traffic, Google’s self-driving car offers a tiny glimpse of future salvation. We’re a long way off from streets filled with autonomous autos, but Google’s cars have driven 1.7 million miles so far, have only been in 11 accidents, and apparently humans were at fault in all cases. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone with any measure of self-awareness and experience with today’s technology. After all, technology provides us with a means to amplify our own innate abilities and allows us to achieve objectives that might be beyond our unassisted reach. It also grants us the ability to fail faster and sometimes in a spectacular way.
What this means for you:
My newer clients are frequently surprised to hear me say, “Sometimes, less technology is better.” It sounds like a butcher preaching a vegan life-style to his customers. The main reason I say this is not because I’m a Luddite (far from it!) but that I often come across instances where someone has become temporarily blinded by what I call the “Shiny Factor” and has adopted or implemented a technology that complicates rather than simplifies their original intent.
A prime example of this are clients that purchase software or even new computers to deal with an increasing volume of email, when the simpler (but not necessarily easier) solution would be to reduce the volume of email. Purchasing expensive firewalls won’t prevent infections caused by poorly-trained employees. Faster, more powerful computers won’t fix broken process automation or buggy software, nor will a faster internet connection necessarily result in more productive workers. It’s a dangerous, slippery slope, and can become self-perpetuating spiral of expense, frustration and complexity. As the old adage goes, the cure may end up being worse than the disease.
Are we doomed? Only if we continue to ignore that technology is created to serve us, and not the other way around. Technology is not meant to replace humans, but to amplify us. It’s up to us to make sure that the good is amplified and the bad minimized wherever possible, and sometimes to solve problems or get work done the old fashioned way – with a little elbow grease, human ingenuity, and common sense.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The big headlines have been all about Sony’s security breach, and the massive data leak that occurred. What you didn’t hear about was how large parts of their technology infrastructure were rendered unusable. Most of their workstations were severely infected and inoperable for at least several days (some for weeks) and a large portion of their network and server infrastructure was compromised. Even If the hardware was functional, everything still had to be taken offline, scrutinized and analyzed for evidence, reprogrammed then finally redeployed. Qualified or not, Sony’s IT department had a gigantic mess to clean up, and they had to do this quickly (and improve security along the way) as the company was hemorrhaging money every minute their operations were offline.
If there is one thing that is certain (besides Death & Taxes) is that hardware will fail, and probably at the worst possible time. Why it fails is not important – but how you recover from failure is critical and can mean the difference between an inconvenience and a catastrophe. Sony’s disastrous breach is more of an exception in terms of hardware failure – it’s unlikely every single machine in your company will fail at once, but there’s always the chance that a catastrophe – natural or man-made – can wipe out multiple machines at a time. Preventing this type of event from happening is largely beyond your control. What you can do is control how you recover from it, which is a mixture of preparation, training and flexibility.
- Have a current, offsite backup of all your critical data.
The words “offsite” and “current” cannot be emphasized enough. Onsite backups are better than no backups, but if they get destroyed alongside the equipment they were backing up, it’s the same as having no backups. Depending on your business, current can mean different things – old data might be better than no data, but it could still mean many hours of lost work to get back to where you were before the data loss, and then you have to make up for that lost time. Make sure you are backing up the right data as well. Backing up email that is already stored on a server (which is itself being backed up) is a waste of time and money that could be focused on backing up your work documents.
- Understand where your data resides.
Where is your data stored? Where is your email stored? What about your applications? You don’t have to understand the technical details, but you should know whether your data is stored onsite, offsite, in the cloud, or some mixture of all of the above. More importantly, you should know how to get to it – either from an alternate location and hardware, or – in the case of backups – who to contact to have data restored. If your critical business data resides at a single point of failure (e.g. your laptop hard drive), consider what would happen if you were to lose that laptop or if the drive was to fail.
- Document your infrastructure.
If your business or organization relies heavily on technology-supported processes, rebuilding your infrastructure from scratch could result in serious disruption, especially if it is built differently, and given the pace of technology advancement, this is almost a guarantee. Older equipment and software may not be replaceable, so plan for replacing them on a non-emergent timeline, and prepare your employees for the change. At minimum, you should know that even if you are able to get equipment and software quickly, there will still be a ramp-up period while everyone gets acclimated to the new environment. Making changes in a stable calm environment is a lot less disruptive than doing so in a disaster recovery situation.
- Train yourself and your employees to be flexible.
While it may not be possible for all jobs and functions (and some businesses), the crux of disaster preparedness (and recovery) is knowing how to get things done with the tools you have at hand. Most folks don’t realize that their email can be accessed via other methods than the one or two ways they use currently. The same could be said for accessing organizational data. This is not to say that everyone needs to know exactly how to get it done (technology can be complicated, especially tech that isn’t used on a regular basis), but to be open to doing their jobs differently by using alternate tools and methods.
Whether your company relies on racks of equipment or a single laptop, all of the above applies. Catastrophes come in all shapes and sizes, but hardware failure is always a disaster when you are ill-prepared.