Have a family technology manager

Keeping your tech gadgets in working order is an aspect of general home maintenance. Just like you make sure the refrigerator is running well and the rain gutters are clean, many contemporary home owners must maintain a family’s digital life. To that end, it’s helpful to designate a “family IT manager.”

I want to differentiate this role from that tech-savvy family member who begrudgingly answers computer questions over the holidays. While it’s nice to tap into that person’s knowledge, he or she isn’t a long-term fix for ongoing needs. Plus, it’s easier than you think to adopt this role yourself by focusing on three main areas: passwords, backups, and updates

Family passwords

For many, password management is a bag of hurt. You’ve got yours, your spouse has others, and the kids have theirs. Managing multiple databases is a nightmare, especially when you’re standing in the hotel lobby and the password you need is on a 3×5 index card in a drawer back home. The best thing you can do is get everyone’s passwords and usernames in a centralized, secure, and accessible location.

1Password Family is what I recommend. For $5 per month, a family of five gets an accessible, shared repository of passwords and other critical information. Safely store information like passwords, credit card information, secure notes, and more, including 1GB of secure document storage. Plus, the online tool is so easy to use, and there’s an app for nearly every operating system.

Take charge of backups

Some day you will need to restore something from a backup. It’s going to happen, so be prepared. I talked with Peter Cohen about this, technology writer at Backblaze who also has experience working with Mac users in a retail setting. “My customers generally broke into three categories,” he told me. “Never backed up, never thought it was important; backed up once, a while ago, and then for whatever reason stopped; or came in with a backup ready to go. Of those three customers, only the last one typically walked away happy.”

Peter recommended a two-tiered backup approach. “Back up locally with an external hard drive and an app like Apple’s Time Machine, paired with offsite backup through a cloud service like Backblaze (starting at $5/month) or CrashPlan (free starter plan, as well as paid options). It’s twice the effort but it also eliminates any single point of failure that will keep you from accessing vital data.” Eliminating a single point of failure is something I’ve discussed on Unclutterer before.

If you have lighter backup needs, consider Arq. For a one-time fee of $40, you can backup to your own cloud storage (Dropbox, Amazon web services, etc.).

At the very least, use a cloud service like Dropbox or Box.net as your computer’s “Documents” folder. That way, when your hard drive on your computer dies (and it will), you need only to log into Dropbox for its replacement.

Maintaining the hardware and software

Finally, you’ll need to contend with hardware and software updates. The former is pretty easy, as it becomes obvious when a computer, phone, gaming console, or TV needs to be replaced. I go for a new computer every six or seven years, and I’ll replace a TV, well…when smoke comes out of it. I tend to hang on to TVs.

Likewise, your computer or mobile device will prompt you when an update is available. Designate a person to be in charge of running these updates, either the device’s owner or the family IT manager.

I want to make a special note about Apple’s auto-update feature for iPhones, iPads, and Macs. When enabled, a device can download and install updates on its own. It’s convenient, hands-off, but potentially problematic, as it’s possible to auto-install an update that breaks something. I recommend enabling auto-updates with caveats.

I discussed this topic with Mike Rose, Solution Engineer at Salesforce and a former colleague of mine. Mike noted that if a device is more than four years old, do not enable auto update. Gadgets like iPads, iPhones, and Macs have a ceiling for operating systems. It’s possible for a piece of software to receive an update that renders it unusable. If your device is only a couple of years old, go ahead and enable auto updates. I completely agree with this advice.

I hope this was helpful. Another aspect of this job could be supporting remote family members, like those in another town or state. But that’s another post entirely.

6 Comments for “Have a family technology manager”

  1. posted by Pat Reble on

    My son-in-law is a computer guru. Many years ago he told me that he would always help me with computer issues provided I did my weekly Windows maintenance – disc clean and defragment. I have religiously followed his advice for many years, and have had few issues with my PC as a result. I have applied the same principle to apps etc -I always do my updates. I can count the number of times I’ve had to consult the expert on the fingers of one hand.

  2. posted by Genavieve on

    Thanks for the recommendation of Backblaze! I’ve been on the hunt for a cloud storage to augment my external hard drive. This sounds like a good fit for me.

  3. posted by Margaret on

    The ARQ web site is being blocked by Firefox for dangerous content. You should take the link out of the blog post. Here is the firefox message:

    Your connection is not secure

    The owner of http://www.arqbackup.com has configured their website improperly. To protect your information from being stolen, Firefox has not connected to this website.

  4. posted by Lola on

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  5. posted by Mary Johnson on

    I back up a lot. I have 2 USB stick drives – A & B and I back up to them alternately – mostly one day to one and the next to the other, but if I am on my computer and sign off I back up and if I come back on I back up to the other.

    On Friday afternoons (early evening?) before we go out to dinner I update my oldest weekly back up USB stick drive. This has 6 weeks worth of my data, my calendar, & 3 months of clients records (I only visit clients once a month). This way if I something goes wrong and I overwrite the last good copy with my daily backups (this happened once) I have several prior backups to use.

    Once a month on or about the 15th, I update the backup on my main external hard drive. I do this for 3 months and then start a new backup – I do this for my desktop and each of my laptops. (Because the data is on USB sticks I can move the data from one computer to another easily so there is only one set of USB stick drive backups.) Quarterly I also do a clean backup to my older external hard drive just in case my main one crashes.

    At the end of the month I update the copy of my backup data for offsite which is in the house. This one is 2 months old as the one from last month is in our bank safe deposit. I also have a copy of my archived data on the USB stick drives I use for the offsite backup. I go on the first Wednesday of the month (because it is my day out alone) to the bank and switch USB drives, bringing the one from last month home and leaving the one just backed up. I used to have my husband bring this backup to his office, but he quit his job a few years ago and also works from home, so we went to using the safe deposit. Yes, I have used backups. It can be as simple as I started posting something and it got all entangled and confused and I overwrote the file with the last backup and started over.

    Late in January or early in February I move last year’s data to my archive USB stick and update the archives on the offsite drives. I also make 2 DVD backup copies (which I also do with the offsite data) – one goes in my box of DVDs, the other goes in my “grab and run financial folder” in case of emergencies.

    I DO NOT BACKUP OR DO ANYTHING “IN THE CLOUD”. I don’t want my info being that available to others and unavailable to me if I have no Internet service. (At work at clients I have no Internet service for example. I can work on my laptops when the power is off and can access my data – not if I needed the Internet). The “magic cloud” is just a drive on someone else’s computer!

  6. posted by MJ Ray on

    I agree with Mary. Keep your own backups. Then if they get lost or stolen, it’s your own fault and not because a company folded or got hacked.

    The same applies to password clouds like 1password. Use synchronising encrypting password apps that can’t hand all your passwords to the feds or hackers so readily.

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