Annual network assessments should be a priority for every business. Here’s why network assessments matter so much—and what to include in yours.
Expose Potential Problem Areas
Your IT department may call for a network assessment if you’re experiencing persistent issues. For example, your server consistently runs slowly in the afternoons, or one of your applications is buggy, those are problems that need to be investigated. If employees complain about slowness and lag, and you’ve already replaced your PCs, it’s time to consider other culprits: How is your wireless coverage? Is your firewall up to snuff? Are employees all spending time in one application? A complete network assessment can identify these problem areas, allowing your IT administrators to fix them right the first time, avoiding costly overhauls or putting band-aids over bullet holes.
Don’t, however, overlook the fact that network assessments are for more than just fixing particular issues—they are also an effective preventive measure. At its most basic form, an evaluation of your IT systems will give an overview of what’s working, what’s not, and what needs to be replaced soon.
Map Employee Traffic
Assessing your network not only can help identify problems, it can provide your IT department with an overview of how employees use technology and how they think. An assessment in survey form to your employees (hopefully on at least an annual basis), can help identify which hardware and software employees like to use and why, what features and benefits they feel are missing, and what causes them frustration about both software, hardware, and IT processes. Knowing how your internal “customers” think, as well as how they use technology can go a long way toward helping your IT team develop better, more efficient processes, fine-tune technology to suit employee needs and preferences and, as a result, keeping your employees happy and productive.
Assess Risks and Liabilities
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of a network review is the ability to perform regular security assessments. A security assessment can identify weaknesses in your security procedures, which can be extremely beneficial. This is especially important for businesses in industries like healthcare, which require HIPAA compliance, and ecommerce businesses, which require PCI compliance. For businesses subject to compliance, a network assessment and regular security tests and assessments can help mitigate your company’s risk when it comes to a potential security breach.
As businesses routinely move applications to the cloud, a review of your security systems should include an examination of your cloud security. This can be as easy as a meeting with your cloud service provider to talk about potential risks and mitigation tactics and develop a plan that best suits your needs.
Conduct Your Network Review
What goes into a proper network assessment? At the least, you’ll need to hit these five main points:
• Physical infrastructure and cabling. An often neglected, but essential, part of a network assessment begins with a physical review of your hardware. Check the cabling and plugs to ensure everything is working properly. Replace any aging or frayed pieces. Have an expert review the installation, terminals, and organization of your physical infrastructure. Update as necessary.
• Battery backups. Review your “in case of emergency” power. Are your battery backups up to standard? Are you adequately prepared to handle an outage or downtime? Ensure your battery backups can handle your entire network, especially if you’ve recently expanded.
• Power and grounding. With each seasonal change comes new potential for stormy weather. Check to make sure your system follows current best practices for grounding and power. Make any adjustments to assure the safety of your systems.
• Connectivity. Run a test to see what speed you’re getting versus what you’re paying for. Even if you’re paying for 50 mbps, you may only be getting 15. A simple check can reveal any discrepancies so you can hold your service provider accountable.
• Disaster Recovery Plan. What happens if an earthquake, hurricane, fire, or some other natural disaster occurs? Do you have a disaster recovery plan in place to protect your data and business assets? If not, make that part of your network assessment homework guide.
Network assessments, just like employee evaluations, are an essential part of improving and maintaining your company’s productivity, so if you’re not in the habit of doing them yet, now might be a good time to start. What about you? Do you do regular network assessments? If so, is there something we’ve overlooked that you think is important? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Do you have network assessments on your radar screen for the coming year?