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Top 5 Cloud Advantages for Small Business

cloud-advantagesCloud technology has created a revolution for small business, changing the way you store, share and backup files. While ‘the cloud’ is often hard to understand because it’s neither in the sky or in a single location, there’s no arguing that it’s driving growth across the board. Storage concerns are a thing of the past as small businesses like yours embrace the flexibility, cost savings and protections of cloud solutions. We’ve done the research for you and identified 5 ways small business in particular benefits from making the move.

It’s Cheaper

Budget is always a limiting factor for businesses, many of which are further constrained by pressure from higher up. Some regard investing in cloud solutions as a large expense that can be put off indefinitely. In most cases though, making the switch to cloud storage costs a fraction of the price. Compared to maintaining and powering servers, scaling to keep up, and repairing in emergencies, cloud storage offers extraordinary savings. With one decision, you get access to high-end infrastructure and dedicated support, plus a healthier bottom line. Cloud solutions were specifically created to meet your needs, which means you only pay for what you use. Costs remain capped while the benefits continue to rise, a clear advantage for the budget-conscious business.

It’s Secure

A lot of people like having their data where they can see it. But that’s not always the safest option. Natural disasters seem more frequent than ever, break-ins are a worry, and employees are always losing laptops and phones, or have them stolen. More often though, someone simply makes a mistake and deletes important files, or accidentally infects the system with malware. Cloud storage mitigates every single one of these risks, with storage in ultra-secure locations, protected against disasters, and committed to robust backup systems. In recent times particularly, we’ve seen many small businesses survive ransomware attacks purely because their critical data was secure in the cloud with clean backups available.

It’s Compliant

We know medical businesses and services need to follow certain regulations when it comes to patient data. This includes security as well as data integrity, plus backups and auditing. Many cloud providers acknowledged this need early on and made sure to offer compliance guarantees. They therefore keep abreast of changing regulations, often implementing new requirements before you’ve even heard about them. With cloud storage systems, you essentially slash your compliance workload and let your provider do the worrying.

It’s Portable

One of the key benefits of cloud storage is your ability to collaborate remotely. In the past, this would have involved multiple file copies that need to be merged back together, often confusing employees as to which is the ‘right’ file. With cloud storage, your staff can work on the same file, using the same interface and real-time updates. Even having different versions of software is no longer an issue. Employees can work on a file in the office and then securely access the same file from their smartphone, laptop or other location, without needing to buy additional software or worry about version corruption. Sharing and collaborating becomes easier, more desirable and more secure, which helps puts your business firmly on track to reach goals in record time.

It’s Easy to Migrate

One of the biggest concerns we hear is that it will be too disruptive to migrate to cloud solutions all at once. That’s okay. We don’t have to do it all in one day, we can migrate it in parts. For example, you can move your email to the cloud, or just remote file storage. As your various servers and systems age out or need repair, we can help you move each to the cloud, which means your downtime is minimal to non-existent. You can also actively choose a hybrid approach to keep your legacy applications, with no pressure to move them to the cloud. Our technicians can help ensure smooth integration across your entire business, making sure all your systems work seamlessly together, whether in-house or in the cloud.

Talk to us about your cloud options by calling us at 203-744-9760

IT vs Productivity: How You Can Win the Battle

IT productivity

How much time and productivity did you lose on computer problems over the last year? It’s a safe bet that even routine maintenance had a bigger impact than you planned. Given it was one heck of a year for cyber-attacks, the emergency costs may have skyrocketed too. Without getting an analyst in to crunch every action, every number, you’ll never know how much money you could have earned in those lost hours. Right now, what you know for sure is that you didn’t go into business to be an IT expert, but suddenly there you are. Battling servers, workstations, software, protections and permissions, all on a daily basis…managing all those things you don’t particularly care about, or understand more than you need to.  Somehow, you ended up running an IT company plus your regular business.

It didn’t start that way. You got into business because you’re great at what you do. We can help you get back to doing what you’re really passionate about, and free up your time for revenue growth activities. All those niggly tasks sucking away your day can be offloaded to our Managed Service Provider (MSP) team.

Here are a few examples of what we can take care of for you:

Software and security updates: If it seems like an update for something is always popping up, sending your employees away for yet another coffee break while it runs, you’re not far off.  While it’s great that software providers are continually improving their product, patching holes and reinforcing against threats, keeping up with them all can be incredibly time-consuming. Our MSP can handle all updates and patches out of business hours, keeping your employees focused on business tasks.

Help desk: While we can’t remotely unjam the copier (yet), we can take care of all those “I don’t know how to”, “I think it’s broken” or “I need another” tech problems that incrementally drive you crazy. You can simply circulate the new protocol – ask the MSP – and watch how fast these small problems are solved, and your employees are back to work, more productive than ever.

Network management and security: The last thing you want is extended downtime thanks to crashed servers or a cyber-attack. Our MSP works with you to balance security with your business’ necessary tasks and access, leaving you protected and operational. You’ll have staff set-up with the exact permissions they need, robust backup systems in place, and early warning when hardware/software is aging out.

Strategic IT planning: Why blow your IT budget putting out fires, buying incompatible systems or tech you simply don’t need? Our MSPs can conduct strategic planning in line with your goals so you’re able to scale what you already have and schedule new expenses in time to meet projections. Even better, all your tech support comes in at one flat fee, so your IT budget goes towards growth, not emergencies.

The time you spend battling IT problems could be time you spend earning money, growing your business and moving strategically forward. Moving to a Managed Service Provider is easier than you might think too. Simply let us know you’re ready to get back to the parts of your business you love, and we’ll take it from there.

Get managed services for your business. Call us at 203-744-9760

Travel With Your Tech: What You Need to Known

Be careful with free WiFi
Most hotels have free WiFi, as do libraries, cafes, and bookstores. It’s now easy for any business to open their WiFi to the public, with or without a catchy password. Unfortunately, that convenience can come at a huge cost. The wireless network you use to check your email while relaxing with a latte could be operated by a hacker. Most of the time, even the wait staff at the café wouldn’t be able to tell the difference either.
Even if you connect to the proper free network, someone could easily capture your information as it travels through the air. Using a VPN can help, as will making sure you connect only to wireless networks that require a password. Once connected, make sure the sites you visit have the little HTTPS lock.

Connect via your cell phone
Hotel WiFi is notorious for being slow or insanely expensive. You may find that your mobile phone allows you to tether or hotspot a connection. That means you connect your laptop to your phone via WiFi or cable and piggy back on its mobile internet connection. Many carriers and phones allow this, but not all. Importantly, if you’re in a foreign country it can also be worthwhile getting a local sim card rather than pay expensive roaming charges.

Don’t forget power adapters
You’ve seen it before…people scrounging around for a charger or cable, huddling around in groups until their device has enough juice to get them through a few more hours. Of course, it’s only funny when it happens to other people. Be sure to pack your correct power adapters and cables, along with any plug/voltage converters required to match your destination. It’s worth carrying your USB charging cables on your person, as many planes and airport shops now offer a place for you to plug in for a quick boost.

Have plans for being offline
Sometimes you simply can’t get online, which will do you no good when you’re checking into a hotel and your booking details are tucked safely away in your cloud email. You can print out essential travel and business details on paper, but if you have a lot or don’t want to carry them, you can also save them to a document.  Emails can be copied and pasted into a Word document, or you can print to PDF by pressing Print > Save to PDF (or similar). Many apps also have an offline mode that allows you to store the information on your computer, including Evernote and Netflix.

Need a VPN or tech checkup before you go? Call us today at 203-744-9760

How to Protect Your Business from the Piracy Police

It may not get the same attention as the number of illegal Game of Thrones downloads, but software piracy still isn’t something your business can take lightly. In fact, one little slip can cost you thousands or even millions of dollars in fines, and there’s a global agency dedicated to catching you out – even if the copyright breach wasn’t your fault

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Maybe it was something an employee used once to solve a certain problem, grabbing a quick download instead of bothering you with a purchase request. Or maybe it’s an application you use every day and long since forgot how the license works. Or perhaps you actually own a legitimate license but are running it on 8 computers when you’re only supposed to run it on 1. Whether you set out to be a brazen ‘pirate’ or not, the Software Alliance (often called the BSA) and their associates would love to make an example of your business. They’re now expanding their reach in sneaky ways too, including advertising for paid whistle-blowers.

Here’s how it all came about: Back in the late 80s, Microsoft founded an external agency whose sole task it was to protect the intellectual property of member companies, by finding and prosecuting as many cases as possible. The protection laws already existed, they simply needed a means to implement them. Until recently, locating software pirates was very resource intensive. Now, they can simply create a Facebook ad, target it to ex/current employees of a business, and offer a reward up to $1million (depends on country) for information. Your business doesn’t even need to be actively using the illegal software, it simply needs to be installed or show traces.  You can imagine how many calls they’re getting!

How to Protect Your Business

We recommend taking a zero-tolerance approach to unapproved software. This means locking down employee systems so that they’re unable to install software, even on their own workstation. Set permissions so that only management and above can install new programs, and create a known process for requesting new software. When a software need arises, you then have complete control over the selection, installation and licensing.

Maintaining your software license documentation and running annual audits is also important. On a day-to-day level, it ensures you’ve got records that can keep your business operating during bad luck circumstances, like when an employee leaves and you suddenly discover no-one knows a particular password and the resets go to a dead email address.  Proper license documentation also makes sure you aren’t caught red-handed with illegal software, and if you are ever investigated, you have your innocence at the ready.

Got a New Device? Here’s the Essential Tech Prep You Can’t Afford to Skip

The sellers like to say it’s ready to use straight from the box – and it is – except not quite the way you need it to work. They’ll all turn on, look for wifi, and sure, you can type…but rather like when you buy a new fridge, simply turning it on isn’t enough – it’s still empty and you’re still hungry.  A few minutes now to prep your new device will save you time, stress, and quite possibly money.

 

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Today, we’re talking vital tech prep for new devices:

Security Updates and Fixes

From the factory to your hands, that device has been in the box for at least a month. In the world of security, that’s an eternity. During that time on the shelf, new viruses have come out and new software weaknesses have been discovered. Fortunately, new updates to combat these problems were also created, they just haven’t been downloaded to your device yet. We can make sure your essential software is up-to-date and set to stay that way. That way, you know your device is safe to go online.

Data Transfer From Old to New

Some people want to transfer everything from one device to another, others like to have a fresh start and keep the old device as a backup. We can either transfer your data entirely or just the things you use. For computers, we can even turn your old hard drive into an external drive that you can plug into your new computer and grab files as required.

Setting up Hardware

If your new device is a computer, you’ll need to hook it up to extra tech like a printer or webcam. These tasks that should be plug-and-play can sometimes send you loopy, especially when you’ve got a plug mismatch or incompatible drivers. We can help get you set up, with everything tested and working.

Setting up Email and Software

This is one people commonly forget and then struggle with. Email clients in particular, need special configuration to connect properly. Quite often, we find people are stuck only able to receive, with overflowing unsent mail that won’t go anywhere! We’ll get all your personal software and connections up and going.

Setting up the Network

While tapping in a wifi password is easy enough, it doesn’t mean your browsing is secure, or even as fast as it could possibly be. We can quickly determine which connectivity method will be best for your device and your needs, and hook you up with fast, robust security measures.

Lockdown Privacy & Permissions

Whether you have children and are looking to provide a safe online experience, files you’d prefer to keep private, or simply want to set up ‘profiles’ for each user to have their own login, we can quickly get your new device configured to meet your needs.

 

Most Businesses Won’t Survive a Disaster. Could Yours?

With the crazy weather we’re seeing, natural disasters on the rise and cyber terrorism echoing for years, it’s not a case of ‘if’ a disaster will strike your business, but ‘when’. Surprisingly, it’s not the scope and scale of the event that influences how deeply your business is impacted, it’s your business continuity plan.

Most Businesses Won't Survive a Distaster. Could Yours?

Put simply, this is the all-important set of precautions and pre-planned responses to an event, laid out in bullet-proof detail and implemented with one driving focus: keeping your business running with little or no downtime.  Think about what would happen if your business was hit by a natural disaster tomorrow. Would it survive? How much downtime would it take to push you into dangerous territory?

According to an IBM study of all the companies that had a major loss of data, 43% never reopen, 51% close within two years and just 6% will survive long-term. For a fraction of those survivors, business even continued as usual thanks to their ‘failsafe’ business continuity plan. It’s more than disaster recovery, it’s full preparedness that bypasses the need for 2+ weeks of downtime, financial ruin, wasted salaries and reputation loss – but it does require a higher level of planning…in advance.

Recommendations to Put You in the Surviving 6%

Prioritize: You’ll need to plan exactly what you’ll recover first and know who’s in charge of making it happen. It goes beyond jotting down a checklist of things to do, it’s taking an analytical, process-based approach to recovery for each unique business perspective. But it’s also realistic: there’s no point dedicating precious time to reviving the email system if your customer data is leaking onto the internet, even if email did rank as your top communication priority!

Backup: Of course, the most critical part of your business continuity is having full backups in three places. Why three? One copy locally which you use each day, a backup on another (disconnected) device in the same location, and one in the cloud. That local backup is your life-saver for system crashes, cyber-attacks and the like; the cloud backup comes into play when your business has taken a major physical hit, perhaps from fire or flood. Some businesses can run entirely location-independent when using cloud systems like Office365, which can be enough to put them in that 6% of disaster survivors.

Test: Make sure all employees know what the plan is if something goes wrong, and their specific roles in these scenarios. You can test, prepare and rehearse your continuity plan under simulated disaster conditions, which will uncover new obstacles, priorities and additional threats.

As your IT environment becomes more complex, carrying more responsibility and risk, so does the importance of a robust business continuity plan. The best BC plans look beyond disaster recovery, taking into account scalability of your system and scope of your individual business, to create strong battle lines that will keep your business operational, both now and for the long term.

Give us a call at 203-744-9760 to create a custom business continuity plan for your business.

3 Tech Tips to Make You a Better Business Owner

There’s no doubt about it, business can be tough! You’re juggling employees, customers, suppliers, stakeholders…the list is endless. You’re also operating in a competitive, high-tech economy that keeps trying to speed ahead without you. It’s no wonder you’re craving ways to get ahead of the competition, cut costs, boost productivity and dreaming of a vacation. Here are 3 tech tips that will make your life easier – and maybe get you closer to that ‘World’s Best Boss’ mug.

3 Tech Tips to Make You A Better Business Owner

Consider a commuting policy
With better technology and faster internet connections, remote working isn’t just a possibility now, it’s an expectation. Clearly, not for every job (virtual burgers anyone?), but there are a lot of computer tasks in your business that could be done from home. Even if you offer a split week with 1-2 days at home and the remainder in the office, this can be a huge boost to your productivity.

From your perspective, remote employees can be more efficient without the distractions of yet another birthday sing-along, they have fewer absences and stay in the job longer. From the employee perspective, they don’t need to waste time commuting, get their work done faster, and generally feel happier and healthier.

Don’t cheap out on technology
Unsurprisingly, a tech newsletter is advising you to invest in tech, but hear us out. Technology is rapidly becoming the backbone of most businesses, yet we still see people who try and get by with the bare minimum investment and maintenance. And by ‘see people’, we mean they’re our most frequent repair and data recovery clients.

When you take shortcuts with your tech you’ll always get higher failure rates, more downtime, and employees who can’t do their job even though you’re still paying them by the hour. When businesses keep old tech longer than they should, thinking of the immediate cost saving, they usually end up paying more in the long term.

Embrace the cloud
Many of your existing software packages have a cloud version, which would allow multiple people to access it at once and give added backup or synchronization benefits. Your remote workers, mobile staff, accountant or CFO can all view the same reports without anyone having the trouble of sending out separate copies.

Cloud technology is also perfect for notetaking and collaboration using software like Evernote or OneDrive. You and your employees can think of ideas while out and about, make a few notes on a mobile device, and have it all synced perfectly to your desktop when you need it. You can even scan in paperwork and have your entire filing cabinet in your pocket.

Your business tech can unlock multiple possibilities that will make your days run smoother, more profitable and put you miles ahead of the competition. Ready?

Give us a call at 203-744-9760 to make your tech work harder for you.

6 Simple Tips to Protect Your Customer Data

As cyber-attacks continue to make headlines, hackers are exposing or selling customer data files in record numbers. But just like with any threat, there are actions you can take to minimize risk and ensure your business retains a positive reputation among customers.

1. Stop using the same password on repeat. Set a mandate for all staff that passwords must be unique for each user and for your workplace. That means it can’t be remotely like the one on their home PC, tablet or online banking. Passwords are hacked more than ever, so when you’re prompted for a password change, dig deep and really think about what goes into a hacker-proof password. If remembering them is a problem, consider one of the latest password management tools.

2. Go on a shredding spree. How much sensitive data is being dumped into the recycling bin? Valuable customer data is often taken from the bins of small businesses and quickly sold or published. It’s not just good practice to shred sensitive documents, it’s the law.  Take 5 seconds to run documents through the shredder or book in the services of a secure shredding company.

3. Ditch the accounting spreadsheets. Still using an Excel doc for all your number-crunching? Besides making your accountant’s job harder (and more expensive), you’re opening your business to a massive range of vulnerabilities. Even with password-protection, spreadsheets aren’t designed to safeguard your financials or those of your clients. Upgrade to a proper accounting solution with built-in customer data protections and security guarantees.

4. Train staff explicitly. You can’t rely on common sense because what you think is a given might be news to someone else. It can be extremely beneficial to hold special data-safety training sessions once or twice a year as a reminder, as well as take the time to induct new staff into the way things are done.

5. Limit access to data. Just like the bank manager who guards the keys to the vault, you can limit who accesses your data. Revoke employee access as soon as they leave your business for good, and set rules around who can access what – and when. Do they need access to sensitive information while working from home? Should they be able to change the files, or only view them?

6. Keep your software updated. Possibly the most preventable hack, having outdated software can be an open invitation for cyber-criminals. They look for known weaknesses in business software and waltz right in. While the nagging pop-ups and reminders to update can feel like a selling ploy, they’re actually helping your business to stay in the safe zone. Updated software gives you protection against new viruses and hacking techniques, plus closes off those nasty weaknesses.

If you would like to make sure your business is secure from data breaches, give us a call at 203-744-9760.

When is Your Business Ready to Move to the Cloud?

By now you know that the cloud isn’t going away any time soon. In fact, cloud computing has become a natural step in business growth, thanks to the numerous (and continually growing) benefits. More and more applications are coming out in web-based form and staff are exceptionally comfortable with this type of change. So when is the right time to move your business computing to the cloud?

Many businesses are facing this question now that cloud computing has become a mainstream norm. After all, you’ll be able to roll out new apps in days, not weeks, and nobody ever says ‘no thanks’ to increased security and efficiency.  Like any strategic business decision though, timing is everything.  Here’s how to assess your need before you make the switch:

1. Age of servers and workstations
If your workstations and servers are reaching their end of life and a large capital investment is coming up, you’ll be able to minimize the expense by moving to the cloud. You may even be able to skip certain upgrades completely. Your staff will still need devices to access the cloud data, but you’ll have a lot more flexibility in your choice and they won’t need to be as powerful. This can be a huge cost saving made in just moments.

2. Need for remote and mobile access
Many businesses are growing while on the move, with a mobile workforce needing to access files from anywhere at any time. This could range from moving around the one location, between offices or even working from home. Forget frustrating connections and lost productivity, cloud computing allows staff to work securely and efficiently from any location with internet access.

3. Current support setup
If your business currently outsources all your network management, you’re perfectly suited for the move to cloud computing. Network maintenance and monitoring becomes a non-issue, handled 24/7 as part of your cloud service. Network efficiency just keeps rising too, as your cloud provider is always improving their systems. You’ll find problems are fixed before you knew they existed, and server downtime becomes a thing of the past.

4. Need for predictable IT costs
If it feels like IT costs can spiral out of control at times, challenging your budget and patience, cloud computing will seem like a dream come true. When you make this shift, you’re moving from a capital expense to an operational one – server and system replacements are no longer your concern. You’ll be able to budget for IT costs in advance, knowing no blowouts are hiding around the corner. Monthly costs are known and (usually) capped based on what you use, leaving your cash flow much relieved.

Today’s cloud computing is more advanced, secure and priced more competitively than ever before.  At its core, cloud computing is purely about doing things better, and it can have a massive impact on your profits, productivity and even staff satisfaction rates. If your business requires a robust, always available infrastructure with easy monthly costs, it’s time to take a serious look at your cloud computing options.

We offer a variety of cloud services to help your business. Give us a call at  203-744-9760 to discuss how we can improve your business IT.

Boost Your Email Impact With These Smart Strategies

Most small businesses rely on email as their preferred form of communication. Either internally or externally to clients, customers and suppliers, email is the go-to format we’d be lost without. Our love affair with it is no surprise – it’s quick, simple and provides a paper trail. But its convenience doesn’t always mean relaxed. In fact, poor email communication can hurt your reputation and cost you customers. Here’s how to be smart with your business email:

Manage your inbox: Your inbox is only for items you still need to access. Once you’re finished with an email, you should delete it or archive it. If you were to imagine your inbox as physical letters, you’d never let it grow to a 6-foot high stack of chaos. Instead, you’d either throw them out or do the filing. It’s not hard to identify which ones to keep for reference, so create inbox folders to sort them accordingly. As emails arrive and are actioned, move them to the relevant folder or the delete bin.

Write professional messages: Stepping across the line from casual to careless is easy if you skip the basic elements of good business writing. Grammar will always be important and the sentence structure of your language hasn’t changed. All email programs include a spell-checker, many of which draw attention to errors immediately, so there’s really no excuse. Typing in all CAPS is seen as yelling, and breaking your text into paragraphs makes your message so much more readable. One last thing before you click send, quickly glance over your email to make sure your tone is appropriate and no mistakes have snuck through.

Embrace the subject line: Many emails are missed because the subject line was empty or meant nothing to the receiver. Writing these attention-grabbing nuggets can be tricky, but if you simply summarize the message, you’ll do fine. Just remember to keep them under 5-8 words so they fit on mobile displays.

Be smart with attachments:  Keep attachments small – under 2MB – as they can clog up the email server. For larger attachments, share the file location as a link using cloud storage.  When you’re sent an attachment you’d like to keep, save the file and then delete the email. And as always, be careful with unexpected attachments, especially from unknown senders. It’s more important than ever to scan all attachments with an antivirus before opening.

Keep your CC/BCC under control: The carbon copy (CC) and blind carbon copy (BCC) let you send the email to additional stakeholders, more as an FYI than anything else. As a rule, use BCC if you’re using an email list or privacy is an issue. But before you add extra people to the email, make sure the email IS relevant to them. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a pointless email chain!

Call us at  203-744-9760 for help with your business email.