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Between 2005 and 2011, IMC published Daily Tips every weekday on consulting ethics, marketing, service delivery and practice management. You may search more than 800 tips on this website using keywords in "Search all posts" or clicking on a tag in the Top Tags list to return all tips with that specific tag. Comment on individual tips (members and registered guests) or use the Contact Us form above to contact Mark Haas CMC, FIMC, Daily Tips author/editor. Daily Tips are being compiled into several volumes and will be available through IMC USA and Mark Haas.


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#697: Consultants Need Business Continuity Plans

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Given that I am an independent consultant, is it really necessary to have a formal business continuity plan?

This all depends on what you mean by a business continuity plan. Traditionally such a plan is created to manage an organization through a disaster such as a fire, earthquake or other unusual and catastrophic event. This is the old "disaster recovery plan," which has been expanded to accommodate more organizational components (than just saving financial or data records) and more preparation and even training. The goal is to minimize the disruption to the business in the event of a disaster.

As a solo practitioner, your systems are likely to be fairly simple and a formal plan may be overkill. Conversely, many small businesses have quite a few systems or assets to protect and operations to provide for. You may have computer files that call for offsite backup, ongoing client communications that need redundancy, a base of operations in which to work during recovery, etc. Being small doesn't mean you don't need planning, it just means the scale of response may not be as big as for a bigger business.

Furthermore, there are hazards you face that larger businesses do not. Illness of the entire staff (you) is little different from the impact of pandemic flu keeping a company's whole workforce off the job. Your business may be less complex but there is greater risk of entire systems being compromised, such as when your laptop (the company's entire IT department) gets flooded when a pipe bursts.

Tip: Make a list of your critical systems and a list of what is the worst (and second and third worst) things that could happen to compromise them. How will you market and deliver services to your clients under each of these situations? What can you do to both prevent their occurrence and speed up response and recovery? Maybe it's not a formal plan, but at least you will have thought this through. Ask to see a friend's plan and see what each of you have missed.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  agility  planning  practice management  risk analysis  security  your consulting practice 

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#661: No Excuse for Lost Computer Files

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, September 26, 2011
Updated: Monday, September 26, 2011
With eDiscovery rules in force, what are my options and obligations for storing records?

Consultants should be aware of the implications of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for discovery of electronic data. What is now required to be retained includes most electronically stored information (IMs, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, databases, emails, voice mails, etc). You might be asked in a lawsuit to provide these records, and you should learn the rules for proper retention.

Courts can provide some allowance for reasonable "housekeeping" of emails and other work papers. However, once it becomes apparent that there is a legal issue, you must preserve all documents that might pertain to the lawsuit. The case a few years ago of nearly five million White house emails "inadvertently missing" is the kind of circumstance at which these procedures are aimed. The White House had an automatic records management system designed to store these records, but it was removed and deliberately not replaced, the kind of circumstance on which a court would not look favorably. Having some minimal procedures for record keeping (and following them) is important.

All consultants should read a good summary of e-discovery rules and, especially, how they apply to social media.

Tip: This tip is not a legal opinion or guidance, only a recommendation that all consultants should be aware of their legal obligations to store records. If you need a backup capability, purchase an external hard drive or select an online service like Mozy, Carbonite, Amazon Cloud or many other services. These can provide unlimited online automated backups for as little as $5/month (or 2-5 Gb storage for free).

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  computer  legal  privacy  recordkeeping  security 

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#35: Keeping Your Online Accounts Safe

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, April 24, 2009
Updated: Friday, April 24, 2009
Several of my online accounts are asking me to change my passwords frequently and I notice they are asking for more complex passwords. How can I be sure that my passwords and usernames are secure?

Online security is important for more than just financial and medical accounts. Any account that has information that may be used to crack your more sensitive accounts should be protected. Using your dog's name or spouse’s birth date for every nonsensitive account creates insecurity. Once someone figures this out, they have access to all your accounts. You also are likely to have client confidential data on your company system or stored in online collaboration accounts.

Here are two ideas: create strong passwords automatically and evaluate password strength. First, there are many "password robots" on the market (RoboForm is a popular one) that will recognize URLs of your online accounts and store (in a file on your computer) passwords. A robot either remembers passwords you create or can generate really strong passwords (randomly generated combination of upper and lower case, numeric and symbolic characters). When you go to an online account site, the robot pulls up your login information and (if you choose) automatically fill in the login fields. You can generate and remember separate passwords for all your accounts.

Second, you can evaluate how strong your password is. Several online services will quickly show you how long it will take to crack a particular password. Use this application to check your passwords. If they don't pass minimal standards, it's time to beef them up.

Tip: Long gone are the days when you could keep your passwords on a 3x5 card or in a small notebook. May of us have dozens of accounts and password management is no longer an incidental exercise. Use the techniques above to insure your personal and client data remain protected.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  confidentiality  information management  security 

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#33: Keeping Your Computer Data Secure

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, April 22, 2009
I keep a lot of client confidential data on my laptop. I am not so much worried about someone hacking into it online as much as I am leaving the machine somewhere. Do you have some tips for keeping data secure?

We all cringe when we hear stories of someone leaving their laptop in a taxi or coming back to a conference room from lunch ("don't worry, your laptop is safe here") to find it missing. You can certainly use a password to start your operating system or encrypt your sensitive data folder or your whole drive. However, these techniques reduce performance and often are abandoned because of their inconvenience. More elaborate and potentially more effective security methods are available, such as biometric devices (facial recognition through your webcam is an interesting one, smart cards, or fingerprint recognition).

An alternative is to not keep any data you can't afford to lose on your laptop at all. If the impact of losing control of your machine is sufficiently great, you can keep confidential data on a machine in your office and access these data remotely using a service like GoToMyPc.

Tip: Probably the first strategy is to reduce the risk of losing your data is to minimize how much is exposed to loss. Know which data are confidential and only store on your laptop those data that are essential to your work for a work session. Remove these data from your laptop when you return to your office. At a minimum, set your screensaver to activate after a short period of time of inactivity and require a password to get back to your desktop. Bottom line: to keep your client data safe, you will have to pay for it and be somewhat inconvenienced.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  confidentiality  security 

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