We came across this very cool article in Wired magazine recently. It highlights The 5 Best Toys of All Time, and we couldn’t agree with Jonathan Liu more. This article serves a reminder that simplicity that inspires creativity is the best gift of all. As our year winds down, it’s good to reflect on some of the simple things that are critical to making our business systems happy. We get excited about new technologies and we focus on new ways to enhance our existing systems. But we shouldn't overlook the basic but critically important aspects of the overall system. We recommend that you pay some attention to some fundamental features of your applications as you move forward into 2020.
YEAR-END SYSTEMS REVIEW
Just like people, our organization's custom business systems need a yearly check-up to make sure they're running as expected. We also want to confirm that they're ready for the new year and any potential challenges that it might present. We tend to put simple but critical system controls like security, backup and data integrity on the back-burner during the year. We don't intentionally ignore these less glamorous system components; we're just usually busy putting out fires, improving workflows and adding new features. Let's give some attention to them now, so we don't have to pay the price of ignoring them later.
Review the data you store in your system. If it contains any sensitive information such as social security numbers, credit card details, login credentials, etc. you should specify rules and restrictions to minimize access. Ideally, you can leverage the built-in security tools within your development platform. Many of today's development platforms, like FileMaker, allow you to encrypt your data at the file and/or field levels as it passes through your network.
You want to manage who can view and edit personal information by requiring user authentication for centralized systems like Active Directory. This service simplifies user management and enhances security. It shouldn't take too much time to review your current user-level security model to ensure it still makes sense.
One last thing that is easily overlooked is your server's SSL certificate expiration date. Over the last few years, many providers have shortened the length of time that SSL certificates are valid, so it never hurts to check. If, for some reason, you don't have an SSL Certificate installed, get one!
Learn more about FileMaker security best practices.
Be sure to back up your system regularly and make sure that backups are scheduled frequently enough for your comfort. Our comfort level is usually determined by simply asking ourselves, "how much time are we willing to lose if we have to reenter lost data?" The answer to this question will depend on your organization's level of data input. If you make a lot of changes and additions to the data throughout the day, then a more frequent backup interval would be advisable. But if you typically just read data and rarely update it, perhaps a daily or weekly backup will suffice. Whatever your plan, keep in mind that nothing is worse than reaching for a backup that isn't there.
Another equally important part of a backup plan is to check whether your backups are any good. Even though most modern platforms, including FileMaker, have some options to verify files during the backup process, it doesn't hurt to open the backup file yourself to confirm that the process meets your expectations. Creating a schedule for personally verifying backups can save you a world of pain at any time of year. With so many backups potentially piling up, make sure you have plenty of storage space available for next year's growth. Generally, 25% or more of available storage space should give you the cushion you need.
And, it's also good practice to test all your admin and file encryption passwords to make sure you remember them correctly. A master password might make sense for your organization. We suggest that you share the credentials or the location of the credentials with one other person in the event of an unexpected event or disaster.
This time of year is also an excellent time to review and quality check the data in your applications. If necessary, you can apply policies, procedures and validations that will help maintain data consistency and accuracy. Take the time to spot check your critical data to ensure it's entered and organized appropriately. For example, the first name field should, in fact, contain first names. The state and zip code fields should not be empty nor should the values be inverted. If you find any inconsistencies or errors, take note of them and implement remedies that might include new workflows and/or system-level validations. Most platforms have some sort of system and data level validation engine that allows you to create rules to verify that the data is entered properly. It's a lot easier to deal with an issue early on than to wait until it's too large to fix.
These are just a few of the important system components to consider as the year draws to an end. All of our organizations are very different, so a one size fits all approach really won't work well. Ultimately, we all want the processes of our custom business systems to function correctly and play nicely together. Find more custom app development resources.