Protect yourself

Tech vulnerability keeping you up at night?
Alain Albert

If you’re like most modern manufacturers, you rely more and more on technology for your most important tasks.

Your mobile phone, Wi-Fi, email, website, the software on your CNC, even the cloud storage service where all your files are stockpiled are now integral to your work life DNA. If you woke up one morning and just one of those were wiped out, it would be a nightmare.

Technology is not immune to failure. Are you doing enough to safeguard your technology and to maintain it in good working condition?

You’ve most likely experienced an event when one of your technologies had failed and you were left scrambling, spending hours trying to find ways to resolve the issue. You were probably on the phone with customer support and on search engines trying to find out how to get back to your normal state of affairs. When the problem is finally resolved you’re left wondering how vulnerable you are to forces completely out of your control.

There is no question that computers, the internet and other digital technologies have made our lives easier and our work more efficient however these technologies have the potential to break down and cause major disruptions. This problem is becoming more commonplace as we move into an ever increasingly connected tech ecosystem.

Mainstream adoption of new technology is growing faster than most of our abilities to comprehend its inner workings. Technology is here to make our lives easier after all, so it goes without saying that our customers and our partners are expecting us to do more with less effort, yet the opposite is often true. This is making us increasingly impatient when problems do arise, and our levels of stress seem to increase exponentially.

To make things worse, with every new advance in technology it seems we are more vulnerable to hackers. In this ever-expanding digital universe, the predator becomes stronger (hackers are more knowledgeable on the inner workings of the technology) while simple users become progressively more defenseless because of their inability to learn fast enough.

The days of simple identity theft pale in comparison with the dangers we will face when our machines and systems are connected in the internet of things (IoT).

Ensure that you can avoid critical failures and that you can recover quickly should they happen by following these simple rules:

Maintenance
Taking good care of your computers and other digital equipment is crucial. Imagine what would happen if you never changed the oil in your car? The same is true for your computers. Performing software updates and patches, security updates and scanning the hard drives for viruses and malware, cleaning up old programs and drive defragmentation should all be done on a regular basis. Don’t wait six months or 10,000 kms, implement a weekly maintenance routine. Also, blow out the dust and clean the components once in a while…

Backup
What would happen if you lost all your libraries of CNC files or your customer account information? Can you spell DISASTER? I’m sure you’re getting chills down your spine reading these words but when is the last time you performed a backup of your files? Many of my clients work on dust filled outdated computers with obsolete software. At best they should expect a breakdown to happen and yet they don’t regularly backup their files. There is simple technology to help you in this department. Software such as Acronis, EaseUS and Paragon automate your backups and offer extra secure cloud backup for a small fee.

Cloud storage
Some people are still ambivalent about sending their data to the cloud for safe keeping. Those people might also prefer to keep their money in a shoebox under their bed rather than trust an ATM (Automated Teller Machine). Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Amazon Drive, DropBox and iCloud all offer reasonably priced cloud drive subscriptions that are easy to access and nearly 100% secure. All of them work on the premise that you keep a physical copy of your file on your hard drive and also a synchronized copy in the cloud. The advantage is that there is always a backup copy of your files somewhere and the files are accessible from anywhere on any device provided you can remember your login information of course. Evolving from this technology is file sharing and collaboration tools that allow for a team of users to work on the same projects while maintaining proper version control.

Tech partnerships
Did you know the Rolls Royce engine in the aircraft you flew on doesn’t belong to the airline? Rolls Royce owns all its engines, it monitors them remotely, schedules maintenance and advises the airlines on best practices and fuel efficiency. They charge an hourly fee for the use of the engine. Does your technology provider give you that level of service?

It’s time to ditch the equipment peddler and find a tech partner. More important than the gears and motors and circuit boards that you purchase is the knowledge that if your machine breaks down, your technology partner has your back and will make sure that you’re up and running in a manner of hours, at most, days. Too often I’ve seen an unfortunate manufacturer go down for weeks while they had to fly a part or a technician from Europe. Worse yet, the blame goes around from the equipment to the software to the tooling to the material and then back to the equipment… and nothing gets done.

Breakdowns do happen, I’ve had my share, but I kid you not, my partner is on the phone, on Skype, parts are FedExed overnight and I’m back running in no time, every time. My tech partner is an invaluable part of my business team. Choose your tech partner judiciously.

Training
Education is the greatest weapon against failure. What’s the point in owning the best technology if you don’t know how to use it? When you learn more about your technology, you become more knowledgeable about it, you get to use it to its full potential and you become more confident about the limits of what you can do with it. When you master a technology, you can perform wonders but you can also maintain it, fix it, modify it and do all sort of magic.

There’s an old joke where the CFO says, “What if we train our workers and they leave?” to which the CEO replies, “But what if we don’t train them and they stay?” It only makes business sense to invest in a training program and we have a grant program in Ontario that gives employers up to $10,000 per employee per year towards training. Other provinces might have similar programs, but you’ll find Ontario’s here: http://www.tcu.gov.on.ca/eng/eopg/cojg/

Plan for the worst
It might be a good idea to have a plan just in case. Do you have someone who can take on your production in case you’re out of commission? The worse thing would be to leave your customers in a lurch because if you don’t come up with a solution, they will. There are a good number of service providers both locally and online that can help you with such matters as designing, programming, CNC cutting, assembly, delivery, etc… It might even be a good idea to have some of those names in your rolodex for when you need to outsource some production in the busy season when you’re swamped.

Professionally trained in architecture, Alain Albert has worked in wood as an entrepreneur, in production management, in design and as a digital manufacturing consultant. Contact: aalbert@wimediainc.ca.