Are Your Back-Office IT Systems Up to Date?

No matter what size your business is, you can’t avoid IT. It is the backbone of most businesses and a vital component in the manufacturing
and engineering process. Smaller businesses rely on IT for bookkeeping and payroll, whilst in larger businesses, it could be running some, or your entire production process.

Whatever your level of IT reliance, it is vital that you keep your IT systems up to date. Cybercrime is a major threat to industry and Forbes recently estimated that, over the next five years, global public companies risk losing an estimated £4.1 trillion ($5.2 trillion) to cybersecurity attacks. Most respectable IT vendors are working tirelessly to keep their solutions secure, but they are reliant on end users to apply and install the many security patches and updates that get issued daily. Your systems don’t even need to be connected to the internet to be at risk. Even old CNC or moulding machines require programming, and this data is normally saved on to a floppy disk or USB drives. If there is a connection between systems, then your data is potentially at risk.

For most vendors, keeping IT systems up to date is a necessary overhead, but as new systems get developed, maintaining the old versions becomes prohibitively expensive. Eventually, vendors will end support for old versions and encourage its customers to update to the latest version. Unless you have a subscription-based licence then this is usually not without cost.

Of course, it is not just the applications, systems and programs that you interact with each day, the operating systems on which they run should also be maintained. You could have the very latest Finance or ERP system, but if it is running on an old operating system then the entire solution could be at risk. This is one of the reasons why solution providers insist that their solutions are only installed on current operating systems.

If your network is part of a certified system, for example PCI DSS, such certifications require that software is supported and patched regularly. Hence, failure to update a device that is attached to a network may be regarded as a control failure leading to the suspension of certifications. Using unsupported systems could also put you in breach of the recent General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and in the event of a security breach, subject to large fines from the ICO and public notification that your business is unable to maintain its systems and customer information.

This brings us on to a very important date. In January 2020, Microsoft will be retiring all support for several widely used applications and operating systems. Technically, mainstream support ended some time ago, but Microsoft has continued to provide extended support, which includes security updates. This will eventually end and continued use after January 2020 could put your business at risk.

These applications include:

  • Windows 7 – Although superseded by Windows 8 and 10, it remains a very popular desktop operating system. According to NetMarketShare’s June 2018 data, 43.38% of IT users are still using Windows 7, compared to the 32.08% who have moved on to the latest version. Many users disliked the new interface that came with Windows 8 and chose not to upgrade. The release of Windows 10 did a lot to overcome its critics and is now accepted as a reliable and stable desktop operating system.
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 – Like Window 7, Windows Server 2008 R2 is a very popular operating system. Although this sits in the server room and usually not seen by end-users, it is a vital IT component for many businesses. The latest version, Windows Server 2019 is worth considering, but this will almost certainly require new hardware to run, so other options should be considered.
  • Exchange 2010 – Exchange 2010 provides the email, calendar and, for some businesses, public and private folders for data storage. The withdrawal of support for Exchange 2010 is perhaps the most challenging aspect of all the products being retired. However, email lends itself to working in a cloud environment so migration to a cloud hosted solution, such as Office 365, should be considered.
  • Small Business Server 2008 – Small Business Server 2008 is not a single product, but an integrated suite of back office applications. These include: Windows Server 2008, Exchange Server 2007 and Windows SharePoint Services 3.0. Premium editions also included SQL Server 2008 Standard Edition. These applications were limited to 15 users and were much cheaper than the full versions.

Upgrading to the latest version of these applications and operating systems might appear to be the obvious choice, but much has changed in the world of IT since their release and there are now many other options to consider. It should also be noted that changing an operating system may require an upgrade to the hardware and any applications that run on it. This could impact other systems and services, so careful migration planning will be required.

If you would like to discuss your back-office IT systems with us in more detail or if you would like to speak with a member of our team, please contact Hannah Farmborough or call on 0207 429 4147 to be put in contact with your local representative.

This article featured in issue 5 of our manufacturing and engineering newsletter series. Read the full newsletter here: The Engine – Issue 5