The cause of British Airways’ disastrous IT outage last month has not yet been precisely determined. But the consequences are all too clear: 726 flights were cancelled, leaving at least 75,000 passengers stranded and the airline facing a bill of at least £80 million.

The share price fell (though it has since recovered) and the reputational fallout could last for years. After all, if they can’t run their IT properly, how much can you really trust them in the air?

OK, so a global airline is probably not really comparable to many small and medium-sized businesses. But BA’s experience shows just how important maintaining your IT systems is to any type of organisation. After all, if it could happen to them, it could happen to you.

So if you’re a small business, what do you need to do to make sure that your IT systems work for you, all the time?

Be sure of your back-ups

BA must have had back-up systems but they didn’t work. Don’t allow the same thing to happen to you. Whether your IT is managed in-house or via a partner, you need to be sure that systems are monitored 24/7 and that backup systems are tested and fail-safe.

For First Line IT’s maintenance clients, for example, we check the back-up every week, and our business continuity hosting means that we just need to flick a switch to set the duplicate system running.

Invest in hardware

One of the great advantages of today’s subscription-style services for software is that you automatically have the most up-to-date version. But only too often the hardware does not keep pace. Hanging on to old PCs and servers may feel economical but in the long run it will cost you more in terms of maintenance and lost productivity. Updating your hardware regularly should be seen as an investment in the future of your company.

Avoid the patchwork effect

Another mistake that small companies often make is to buy new hardware and software on a piecemeal basis – adding PCs one by one as new people join or as broken bits of kit need replacing. The result is a patchwork of mismatched hardware and software components that complicate troubleshooting and repair.

We can see the benefits of the opposite approach: Firstline is increasingly being asked to supply complete office systems. Not only can we usually negotiate better prices for a complete system, but we know that the complete package is easier to maintain and more efficient.

‘If the IT systems go down, it means quite simply that people can’t do their jobs. They can’t take orders, or accept payments, or input data – and that’s going to lose you money,’ said Firstline Operations Director John Crozier. ‘But on the other hand, if you have decent equipment that works well for users and is well maintained it will make them more productive – and you’ll see the benefits on your bottom line.’