61

You’re in Business But Is Your Technology Ready?

It’s a fast business world. Brilliant business ideas can be conjured up at some hipster-filled vegan coffeehouse, a website is thrown together, and poof… in no time at all there is a living, breathing, small business venture accessible from anywhere in the world.

But as your head hits the pillow at night, with visions of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg dancing in your head, understand that many obstacles will greet you on your road to entrepreneurial success. A fresh innovative idea is merely a start. For every successful startup like Groupon, there are even more that have faltered. Some great, even revolutionary, business concepts that just faded into obscurity; leaving behind nothing but tales of what could’ve been and insurmountable debt.

Failed business technology is often a big reason for this. Many startups think big but tend to operate small-minded to keep overhead and costs down. They then find themselves completely unprepared to meet the demands of growth, particularly when it comes to their IT infrastructure. There is no one-size fit all approach to how to manage technology for optimal efficiency, uptime, and profitability. Especially given the challenges of limited budgets and the need to keep overhead down.

So exactly how do SMBs make sound decisions regarding their technology infrastructure? Choices that are cost-effective enough to get their business off the ground and running without screwing them over once it truly takes off?

61Combine On-Site and Off-Site Support for the Best of Both Worlds Over 45% of SMBs have no dedicated in-house IT staff and no contracted IT consultant regularly monitoring and managing their technology. Roughly only 7 percent of SMBs have a full-time onsite IT technician on payroll. The rest rely on third-party on-call IT companies who appear only when technology goes haywire and disrupts business. These on-call companies can sometimes take a day or two to even show up, which means issues aren’t resolved in a timely and efficient manner. And did we mention they’re expensive?

Most SMBs say they simply can’t afford full-time in-house support. Even those who do budget for it face overwhelming challenges. They often experience a revolving door of on-site help who leave for a larger company and better salary once they’ve beefed up their resume. And those hires that do remain loyal often feel as if they have no reliable help and become overworked and frazzled as the business and their responsibilities grow. Discontent may even set in if wages aren’t raised proportionately to the added responsibilities, or if they grow bored of doing the same mundane repetitive work every day.

But today’s SMB has access to technology that won’t drain resources. In particular, the evolution of cloud computing and managed services can either automate or re-assign a lot of the day-to-day caretaking of technology to remote employees, leaving onsite support available for more meaningful and potentially profitable projects.

Better yet, it saves money on equipment costs.

Whenever possible, a mix of on premise and off-premise IT support is the best way to make your technology scalable and prepared for growth.

CLICK HERE for a free technology assessment.

 

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How to Trim the Fat From Data Center Costs

60When smaller businesses look to cut costs, they commonly take shortcuts that are risky to their bottom line. They may go out of their way to avoid upgrading dated hardware, buying software licenses, or increasing bandwidth. In some instances, they layoff in-house IT support, or avoid hiring new help, even as the business grows. This often leads to a very cranky and disgruntled “IT guy” with a bad attitude as he or she runs around the office putting out one fire after another – feeling overburdened and underpaid.

Operating even the most basic data center today means recurring operating expenses that aren’t affordable for most small-to-midsize businesses.

Unfortunately, SMBs just have to accept that keeping their data center alive and kicking means significant overhead and expenses. That’s just the way it is.

Or is it? There are actually several ways to reduce data center infrastructure costs without sacrificing the efficiency of your network, server, and applications, or the sanity of your IT guy.

 

Rent, Don’t Own: A data center needs experienced people and a virtual, always-on, 24/7 staff of administrators, networking experts, database specialists, systems managers, and dedicated IT personnel monitoring the network. From an economic perspective, it’s simply more logical to “rent” these workers rather than hire permanent employees.

 

Keep Things Remote & Energy Efficient: According to a study published by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the fastest-growing sources of U.S. energy consumption are data centers. This is due to the increased power supply required to run and cool a data center. Hardware sprawl is also a problem contributor, as most businesses have space limitations and lack the available room for any additional hardware.

 

EMBRACE OUTSOURCING

Both of the aforementioned cost control measures can be accomplished by outsourcing data center operating expenses. Outsourcing isn’t a dirty word. Managing IT on your own is difficult and far from cost effective. Outsourcing the day-to-day IT management responsibilities through a Managed Services Provider is a strategic way to improve the efficiency of operations and dramatically cut costs. Is it any surprise that more and more SMBs today are tapping into the full spectrum of outsourced managed services to empower their business processes and reduce overhead? Are you?

CLICK HERE for a free network assessment.

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Keep Your IT Guy and Outsource IT Services Too

59Everyone in the office loves Eric. Sporting a different ironic t-shirt everyday, Eric is the one we call when technology spits in our face. Whether it’s a slow system, a bug that needs to be squashed, a website issue, or a crash that results in unexpected downtime and data loss, Eric is right there. Not only does he get to the bottom of any issue but he also rights the ship like he’s some sort of miracle-working captain who just happens to have a pretty wickedly funny Peter Griffin from Family Guy impersonation.

But business is growing and Eric is overworked. Eric has certain skills that you’d love to use to develop innovative applications and revenue-generating projects– but he’s too busy running around fixing things that break. Or he’s performing the most mundane and routine tasks day-in-and-day-out just to keep things secure and running smoothly.

You get a sense that Eric’s overburdened and he’s saddled with too many responsibilities. His demeanor has changed from pleasant to moody. He’s listening to angrier metal and punk music and you’re noticing cracks in his work. You fear Eric is being pulled in too many directions and the reliability of your server, network, and applications, as well as the integrity of your data, are all at risk.

Someone who has watched a bit too much of Donald Trump on The Apprentice might think Eric should be fired. We’re not going to fire Eric. But we’re also not going to hire a full-time salaried Robin to his Batman or Cheech to his Chong. We’re going to help Eric by exploiting IT automation and managed services to handle many of the monotonous tasks making Eric hate his job right now.

Let’s help Eric…..

  • Focus Primarily on Cost-Cutting and Revenue Increasing Projects: First things first, Eric has to realize that he can’t do everything himself. Where are his skills best used? Whether it’s processes that help drive down costs or ones with the potential to raise revenue, evaluate the projects in the queue and rank them by what impacts the bottom line the most. Once that’s done, look at the day-to-day processes designed to keep things running securely and efficiently. What can be off-loaded from Eric? Determine which of those tasks can be automated either through the cloud or managed services.
  • Take to the Cloud: Some IT people fear the cloud spells the end to their job security. Meanwhile, the cloud can actually help them take on a more prominent contributing role in the company’s success. The cloud should be seen as another tool that further eliminates the mundane yet necessary daily drudgery from their workday. Those who work WITH the cloud will find that they have more available time to take on more meaningful cost cutting or revenue generating projects.

Use a Managed Service Provider: Using outsourced managed services not only alleviates much of Eric’s pressure and stress, but also boosts productivity and gives the company a much improved ROI (Return-on-Investment) on their technology investment. While technology has gotten easier for the end user, it has become more complex on the backend with the advent of virtualization, cloud computing, and advanced infrastructure. Using an MSP gives Eric access to a trusted advisor, a 24/7 help desk, remote monitoring and management tools, mobile device management tools, and much better disaster recovery and business continuity solutions. All without the overhead that comes with hiring more help for Eric. MSPs offer a consistency to not just your end-user but also your main IT guy who will certainly appreciate the help.

CLICK HERE for a network assessment.

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Understanding Managed Services and How They Benefit SMBs

Small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) receive a lot of calls each day from slick sales people peddling the next technology trend that’s going to save them money and revolutionize how they do business. They’re all too quick to caution that if you don’t listen to them, you’ll fall behind the times, and eventually be swimming in a sea of debt and out of business. No doubt you’ve heard, or you’ve at least read about, the benefits of managed services. Managed services refer to clearly defined outsourced IT services delivered to you at predictable costs. You know the exact IT services you’ll be getting and what you’ll pay for them. There is no surprise sky-high bill for services rendered. So are solicitation calls that pertain to managed services worth listening to? We think so. Then again, we’re in the managed services industry. There may be a bit of a bias here.

 

58How Managed Service Providers Work

Managed service providers (MSPs) use remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools to keep an eye on their performance and overall health of the IT infrastructure that powers your business operations. Your MSP should have a 24/7 Network Operations Center (NOC) that acts as your mission control center. If the monitoring alerts them to any issue with your servers, devices, hardware or software, they respond quickly to resolve the issue. Additionally, the NOC performs regular systems maintenance such as:

Automated tasks like the cleaning of temporary files

Applying tested security patches as required

Installing virus and Malware protection

System backup and disaster recover/business continuity processes

Additionally, your MSP should give you access to a Help Desk that services your customers and employees – speaking to and working with them directly as if they’re part of your staff.

This proactive maintenance, stabilization of your IT environment, and rapid as-needed remediation helps SMBs control technology costs and better serve the end-users who rely on their technology.

 

Is Managed Services Better than Other Ways to Manage IT

We find that far too many companies have no real perspective about how much IT management costs them. Let’s review some of the alternatives to managed services.

 

Hiring In-House IT Support

Typically, a firm with anywhere from 20-60 employees may feel that one person can manage their technology. Understand that this one full-time employee can demand a significant salary since they’ll have to be proficient with desktop, server and network support, and interact with both end-users in the Help Desk role and management. They will likely be overworked and vulnerable to error or oversights that may prove to be costly. And what happens if they’re out sick or on vacation?

 

The Break/Fix Mentality

The majority of smaller companies take this route because they feel as if they’re too small for a more sophisticated 24/7 approach to IT management. They also feel pressure to direct all resources on the product or service, not behind-the-scenes operations. They decide to use on-call IT techs when broken technology has already disrupted business. The on-call team’s response time and overall lack of familiarity with your systems extends downtime and proves to be a much more expensive resolution to IT management. It’s reactive, not proactive, and it’s a costly mistake too often made. This is why many SMBs today feel that managed services are the most cost-effective way to support their IT infrastructure and the best way to get more bang for their buck.

CLICK HERE for a free network assessment.

57

4 Steps To Improve SMB Data And Network Security

 TO STAY SECURE – A GOOD DEFENSE IS THE BEST OFFENSE

SMBs must understand that the time has come to get serious with their security. Sadly, many small businesses have a false sense of security. In the McAfee/ Office Depot joint survey of 1000 SMBs, over 66% were confident in the security of their data and devices despite admitting to obvious flaws.

Cybercrime is only one cause of compromised data. There are 3 primary causes of breached security at businesses according to the June 2013 Symantec Global Cost of a Data Breach study. Only 37% are attributed to malicious attacks. The remaining 64% are human error and technology errors.56

Data breaches aren’t always about bad people doing bad things. Many are the result of good employees making mistakes or of technology failure. SMBs don’t necessarily need a large budget or dozens of employees to adequately protect sensitive data. A secure environment is possible even on a SMBs budget. Here are a few steps to improving data and network security.

STEP 1

KNOW ALL DEVICES CONNECTING TO YOUR NETWORK

Keep a frequently updated list of every device that connects to your network. This inventory is especially important given today’s BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) workplace where employees can access your network through several different devices. Knowing what these devices are and ensuring they’re all configured properly will optimize network security.

All it takes is a regularly scheduled review to add or remove any devices and affirm that every endpoint is secure. Much of thisprocess can be inexpensively automated through a Mobile Device Monitoring (MDM) tool. A MDM tool will approve or quarantine any new device accessing the network, enforce encryption settings if sensitive information is stored on such a device, and remotely locate, lock, and wipe company data from lost or stolen devices.

STEP 2

EDUCATE & TRAIN EMPLOYEES

57Every employee should participate in regular general awareness security training. This will not only reduce security breaches directly tied to employee error or negligence but also train employees to be on the defense against cybercrime. Employees are critical to your security success and the prevention of data breaches. Hackers commonly break into networks by taking advantage of unknowing employees. Phishing attacks – legitimate looking emails specifically crafted to mislead recipients into clicking a malicious link where they’re asked to provide their username and password – are still successfully used by hackers to capture login credentials.

If a large company makes the news for a data breach tied to an infected email, be sure to share that news with employees with a warning. Come up with fun ways to teach employees how to identify spear-phishing email attempts and better secure their systems and devices.

It is also important to have a security policy written for employees that clearly identifies the best practices for internal and remote workers. For example, password security is critical and passwords should be frequently updated to a combination of numbers, lower case letters and special characters that cannot be easily guessed. Security policy training should be integrated into any new employee orientation. This policy should be updated periodically. More important than anything, this security policy must be enforced to be effective.

STEP 3

PERFORM AN AUDIT OF SENSITIVE BUSINESS INFORMATION

If you want to keep your most sensitive business information secure, it’s important to know exactly where it’s stored. A detailed quarterly audit is recommended.

STEP 4

USE CLOUD AND MANAGED SERVICE PROVIDERS

Overall, the cloud is likely a more secure data solution for small business. Any conception that the cloud isn’t safe is outdated. Most of 2013’s security breaches were the result of lost or stolen devices, printed documents falling into the wrong hands, and employee errors leading to unintended disclosures. It’s fair to speculate that many of these breaches wouldn’t have occurred had this information been stored in the cloud rather than computers, laptops, and vulnerable servers.

SMBs with limited budgets are actually enhancing their security by moving to the cloud. Since there is no way a SMB can match a large enterprise’s internal services, moving services like emails, backups, and collaborative file sharing to the cloud not only reduces total-cost-of-ownership, but gives access to top-level security to better defend against internal and external threats.

Meanwhile, a Managed Service Provider (MSP) can assume responsibility for security measures like the administering of complex security devices, technical controls like firewalls, patching, antivirus software updates, intrusion-detection and log analysis systems.

MSPs are also capable of generating a branded risk report for any potential client or business partner reviewing your security measures. This third party manual assessment of your network security can instill confidence in prospective business partners by proving to them that any possible security risks or vulnerabilities will be properly managed and addressed.

CLICK HERE for a free network assessment.

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6 Steps to Better Data Backup Practices

  1. Think Quicker Recovery Time, Not Quicker Backup - While incremental backups are much faster than executing a full-backup, they also prolong recovery time. In the event of data loss, a full restore will require loading the most recent full backup and then each incremental backup tape. Having too many incremental backup tapes not only adds time to this restoration process, but it also increases the probability of not recovering all of your data. A tape could be lost, unintentionally skipped over, or contain corrupted data. Be sure to focus on optimizing the restore time to ensure faster data recovery. A quicker recovery time should be the main objective, not the need for a quicker backup process.

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  1. Maintain Sufficient Backup History - Within the blink of an eye, current data files can become corrupted and inaccessible. This will necessitate the loading of an earlier data backup that is clean of corruption. Many smaller companies make the mistake of failing to keep a sufficient backup history.
  1. Be Sure to Backup Essential Data AND Applications - Some businesses don’t feel the need to backup all data, but be sure essential databases, documents and records are backed up frequently. Don’t overlook applications that are critical to day-to-day business operations either. Many companies fail to backup applications, only to realize when it’s too late that they don’t have access to the original installation disks when they’re trying to recover from data loss or an outage.
  1. Have Off-Site or Online Backup - Some businesses backup data simply by moving essential files to tapes or external hard drives that are then stored somewhere onsite. But if they’re kept onsite, what happens if a fire, flood or other natural disaster takes out not just your server but your backup tapes and drives? Onsite backups can also be susceptible to theft. Having secure off-site, or even online backup, is simply the smart thing to do to ensure quick recovery when trouble comes to town.
  1. Fix Broken Access Controls on Your File Server - Many businesses have folders with confidential data residing on a file server with overly permissive access controls. Why take the risk of having a disgruntled – even former – employee access and misuse this data when access can be limited to only those in the company who need it?
  1. Be Sure to Test Restores - It happens time and time again. Business owners think they have a data backup plan in place. Tapes are changed diligently each day and everything appears to be backed up and good to go. However, it turns out the backups haven’t been working for months, sometimes even years, right at the very moment they’re needed. Either the backups had become corrupt and useless, or large segments of data were not being backed up. This happens often. Don’t let it happen to you.

Avoid data loss before it happens. CLICK HERE for a free network assessment.

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3 Things to Consider Before Jumping Into BYOD

71You’ve read it time and time again. “Bring Your Own Device” isn’t a trend, it’s the future. Workplaces where companies let workers use their own devices for work purposes are the new normal. BYOD attracts new hires and lifts employee morale and productivity. But this doesn’t mean a small business owner should recklessly jump right into BYOD just because everyone else is doing it.  Data and network security concerns have to be thought out, defined, and addressed in a comprehensive BYOD policy. Here are three things to consider.

  1. Cost of Support

Most businesses salivate at the thought of the money saved by having employees participate in a BYOD program. With employees using their own devices for work, there is no need to shell out thousands of dollars for desktop PCs, smartphones, tablets, and laptops. While that’s undoubtedly a huge incentive, extra support costs must also be factored in. Chances are your employees aren’t necessarily tech savvy and will need help deploying applications and performing basic yet very necessary maintenance techniques. Unless you have a dedicated IT support team, which most SMBs do not have, you will need to turn to a Managed Service Provider (MSP) in your region for support. A MSP can provide specialized expertise and leverage Mobile Device Management (MDM) tools to keep your network infrastructure and business applications monitored, secured and fully optimized.

  1. Limited Number of Support Devices

Obviously you can’t accommodate EVERY employee-owned device. Limiting the types of devices accepted in your BYOD program will mitigate any need to pay for software or equipment upgrades for outdated devices and keep your infrastructure safer as a whole. It’s important to not be too exclusive, select a broad range of devices and their more recent releases 72to accommodate the varied preferences/tastes of your employees.

  1. Legal Risks

Adopting BYOD at your workplaces will expose your company to more legal risks. Sensitive business or private client/customer data can potentially be exposed if devices are lost or stolen. The personal online habits of your employees can also increase your network’s vulnerability to viruses, phishing, or hacking schemes designed to steal such data. These increased legal risks are another reason why SMBs must take precautions such as working with a MSP that offers a solid MDM solution to ensure all employee devices are configured, deployed, managed and monitored in a manner that prioritizes data integrity and security.

CLICK HERE for a free technology assessment.

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How Much Does Downtime Really Cost?

50Many SMB owners think IT downtime only costs them a few productive hours, but there’s a lot more at stake when your systems go down. Customer satisfaction and loss of brand integrity are just two of the key losses apart from the more evident costs such as lost productivity and a temporary dip in sales.

Here’s a few other ways downtime can hurt your business:

1. Customer Loss - Today’s buyer lacks patience; They are used to getting everything at the click of a mouse, at the tap of a finger. Suppose they are looking for the kind of products/services that you offer and your site doesn’t load or is unavailable—even if temporarily– you are likely to lose them to a competitor—permanently.

2. Damage to Brand Reputation - Customers are now using Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and blogs to vent their bad brand experiences. Imagine an irate customer who doesn’t know if their card was charged on your site, or not, due to a server error. If it’s your bad day, they could probably be using Facebook or Twitter to share their bad experience, and it could be viewed by hundreds of people, causing irreparable harm to your brand image.

3. Loss of Productivity - When your systems don’t work, this can have a direct impact on your employees’ productivity. Consider a research firm of 200 employees where they primarily rely on internet connectivity to access the knowledge base. If the server hosting the knowledge base is down, there’s a total loss of at least 1600 work hours for one day.

4. Overtime, Repair and Recovery, Compensatory costs - In the above case, imagine the overtime wages the business would have to incur if they were to make up for the work loss they faced owing to downtime. In addition, there’s always the cost of repair—the money the business would have to shell out to fix the issue that caused the downtime and get the server up and running again. In some cases, businesses would have to incur additional costs to make customers happy. These could include giving away the product for free or at a discount, or using priority shipping to make up for a delayed order.

5. Possible Lawsuits - Businesses could also be at the receiving end of lawsuits. For example, a downtime that has an impact on production, delivery or finances of the customer could invite litigation.

6. Marketing Efforts Rendered Useless - Consider a pay-per-click advertisement that shows up for the right keywords on Google, or an extensive e-mail campaign that your business engages in. However, when the prospect clicks on the link, all they see is an error message – Isn’t that a waste of your marketing budget?

The bottom line—one natural disaster, one technical snag or just one power outage has the power to put you out of business – both virtually and in reality. It’s probably time to think about how you can mitigate the threat of a possible downtime and whether your MSP can act as an effective and efficient ally in this battle for you.

Don’t let downtime cost you your business. CLICK HERE for a free network assessment.

47

Mitigate Costly New Technology With An MSP

47Partnering with a managed service provider (MSP) is one new approach being used by many companies like yours. Experienced MSPs have access to newer tools that reduce costs by automating many routine in-house labor intensive processes. Break-fix is labor intensive, and labor is one of the most expensive operating costs within your IT infrastructure. The new innovative tools that can be provided by MSPs generate real productivity increases and mitigate the risk of network failure, downtime and data loss from human error.

MSPs deliver a trusted foundation for your team and your customers. Some of the services and tasks offered include:

  • Remote Desktop Management and Support
  • Predictable Management of Critical Patches and Software Updates
  • Fractional Resource Availability of Best-In-Class Expertise – scaled to your needs
  • Implementing and Testing Backup and Disaster Recovery Processes
  • Performance of Inventory and Audits of Computer/Network/Software
  • Enforcement of Network/Security Policy
  • Monitoring of Network/Operating System and Alerts
  • Updating Anti-Virus Software and Detecting Spyware

Erase any misconception that managed service providers are nothing more than “outsourced” tech help priced to displace your in-house IT technician or team. The new MSP has defined new methodologies and technology partnerships to offer valuable preventative services that proactively locate and eliminate threats before a bigger problem arises.

MSPs today put considerable effort into understanding the operational and business needs of SMBs to develop and deliver a set of specific services that align technology with the SMB’s business objectives. This is the reason you hear managed services often referred to as “partners.” A present day MSP offers quantifiable economic value, greater ROI and decreased total cost of operation by streamlining costs and eliminating unnecessary lost productivity, revenue, and avoidable on-site IT consultant fees, in addition to eliminating the need for costly hardware/software repairs or replacement.

CLICK HERE for a free technology assessment.

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5 Reasons Why You Should Get On The Cloud

45A recent article by The Guardian (UK) states that the cloud industry is set to see a growth of around 30% soon. But many small and medium business owners are still struggling to make sense of the cloud and how it can benefit them. If you are one of them, then here’s what’s in store for you when you migrate to the cloud:

1. Connectivity - Being on the cloud gives you unparalleled connectivity to your data—from anywhere and at any time. All you need is a device that can connect you to the web and you are set!

2. Save On Hardware Costs - Using the cloud for certain programs spares you the cost of investing in specific hardware. Even devices as simple as your smartphone or a tablet can help you access those applications so you don’t have to spend money on dedicated hardware. Studies have shown that cloud users end up enjoying as much as a 17% IT cost reduction compared to their non-cloud counterparts.

3. Cloud Enables SAAS - The cloud allows you to use software as a service. Microsoft 365 is one such example. When you use software as a service, you enjoy certain benefits such as more regular updates at a lower cost and the ability to have anyone work on the program for you by sharing the access credentials with them.

4. More Efficient Use of IT Staff - Moving to a cloud-based environment puts the burden of maintenance and downtime reduction on your service provider. That means you can use your limited IT staff more efficiently and also don’t have to worry about the costs associated with such maintenance or downtime.

5. Improved Productivity - Studies have shown that cloud users enjoy better productivity than their non-cloud counterparts. This could be because cloud service providers are better equipped to handle any IT eventualities than the average SMBs.

So, perhaps it’s time to ‘get cloudy’ and enjoy all that the cloud has to offer your SMB. And…if you need help in doing that, CLICK HERE.