Monday, September 16, 2013

Business risk


I was privy to a conversation recently about the risks involved in working with a customers IT systems.
The scenario is as follows: you are called in to a new customer who wants a backup solution for their business. You quote and install such a system. The customer doesn’t want you to maintain the system, they say they’ll maintain it themselves. You dutifully provide the instructions on doing this, get paid, and hear nothing further from this them.
A few months later you receive a letter in the mail from a law firm representing this customer. They claim that you did not install and configure the backup correctly. As a result, when the customer needed to recover from a disaster they couldn’t. You are therefore being asked to make good the substantial losses that customer has sustained in their business due to the failure.
So now what do you do? Well, the very first thing you should be doing is contact your business insurance representative to see what assistance they can provide. A good business insurance policy will generally take care of all this for you. However, let’s say that you decided (unwisely) that business insurance doesn’t provide any value, now what? The word ‘panic’ springs to mind.
Let’s say that the matter does end up in court in front of a judge, What are they going to ask you? They are going to want to know what evidence you have to support your case. If everything was done verbally then it comes down to your against the customer’s. That is pretty risky isn’t it? Even if you have business insurance you may still need to testify and provide evidence as to what actually happened. Can you? You may be in a spot of bother if you can’t.
It is important to remember that you can NEVER eliminate risk you can however MINIMISE it.
So in this situation how can you do that? Well, even before you start work for the customer you should have some sort of signed agreement with the customer that spells out exactly how the relationship operates. But beyond that you must DOCUMENT what you do.Yup, I know it is a pain and takes extra time but you know what? You’ll be glad you did id you ever need it.
In this case you should create documentation around exactly what you did, what the customer agreed to, and who was responsible for what. If the customer decides to take responsibility for their own backup, then that should be noted and agreed in writing by both parties. Even if the customer doesn’t want to sign something to that effect, you should still have documentation on your side to confirm the fact that this is what transpired.
If the matter does go before a judge and you can point to wealth of documentation and process around how you handled this job then you certainly have a lot of positives on your side. That doesn’t mean the matter will be decided in your favour but it certainly provides you with much firmer ground to stand on.
I’m sure that plenty of resellers THINK they have good processes but do they? Ask yourself whether you documentation and processes would stand up to scrutiny in court? Ask yourself whether others in your business are being as thorough with information and documentation? Even though they may move on, it is still up to you to ensure that the information about each and every job is maintained, irrelevant of who performs the work, because at the end of the day it is YOUR business on the line.
No insurance policy will relieve you of business risk and as such you should be doing everything in your power to minimized such risk. My question to you is, are you doing everything you can to ensure risk is minimized in your business? What processes and procedure do you have around relevant documentation and record keeping? Is it something you do casually or is it a central part of the professional way you conduct business?
Chances are, if you treat risk minimization as a central part of your business you will never need to worry. A self-fulfilling prophecy!