IT

Click, Click, BOOM – You're in Business But Is Your Technology Ready?

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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?

Combine 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 everyday.

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.

Keep Your IT Guy and Outsource IT Services, Too

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Everyone 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 adviser, a 24/7 help desk, remote monitoring and 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.

Series: Ransomware Part 1

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The daily reports of cyber-crime are important reminders about the need to protect your business from malicious behavior that could threaten the success of your business. There are so many different things that can attack your computer, steal your data, and wreck your day. One of the most troublesome has been the development of ransomware. (FYI. Ransomware isn’t actually all that new-- some version has been around for decades)  Ransomware is a type of computer virus that takes your data hostage and like any kidnapping scheme, demands money for the release of your data.

Why is ransomware so nasty? Because it steals the most important thing your business possesses. Data. Worse, once infected there isn’t generally a way out. No one can “disinfect” your machine. You aren't going to be able to call in IT support to solve the problem. Basically, you have three options.

  1. Pay the ransom. This payment is usually via credit card or bitcoin (a digital currency). Some ransomware viruses even provide help lines if you're having trouble. Of course there are no guarantees your will get access to your data–these are thieves you’re dealing with.
     
  2. Don’t pay and lose your data - This has its obvious downsides, unless…
     
  3. You have a safe, clean backup. In that case, you are stuck with the nuisance of restoring your data with the backup, but you aren’t out any money. However, this comes with a caveat: your backups have to be clean. The problem with ransomware viruses is that just making backups may not be sufficient to protect your data, as the backups can be infected also. In the next blog, we will address your need to add an additional layer of protection to handle ransomware attacks.

Choosing the Right IT Consulting Company

 

Making a big decision is never easy. No matter how decisive you are, at some point you’re bound to lose a little sleep –change your mind a couple of times– over a big decision. Choosing an IT consulting company that helps you with your information technology issues doesn’t have to be a task worth losing sleep over. We know that running your business is tough enough without having to decide what IT firm will be capable of providing all the right tasks and services on time and within budget, so we’ve provided you this list that will help you in narrowing down the right firm for your IT needs.

Experience

Small IT firms choose to hire qualified, experienced IT consultants because they want the job done right and in a timely manner, as opposed to IT consulting companies chock-full of new college graduates. By investing in a firm with experienced talent, you’re investing in years of problem-solving capabilities and customer service. Leaving your networks safety at the hands of those inexperienced puts you at a higher risk.

Pedigree

While experience shows what a firm has done in the past, it’s important to make sure that it’s keeping up with the present and the future. A company that’s actively engaged in providing learning opportunities for its staff will be ahead of the curb when new technology releases, providing smoother transition to new systems. Increased knowledge of new trends through conferences, awards, industry-recognized certification programs, and more, display a firm commitment to staying informed; a necessity when it comes to ensuring that your network is prepared for new and growing security threats.

Reputation

Reputation is nothing to make light of. Reviewing and researching the IT firm’s history, specialties, capabilities, and customer satisfaction is all paramount in ensuring that you’re making the right pick. Calling on previous clients, or research reviews online of the firm’s success with previous clients will give you a good view of what’s in store for your experience with that firm. Not only does a reputable company provide peace of mind, it’s an investment, a warranty, and security, which keeps your own reputation in the limelight.

Costs

Everything boils down to cost. At the end of the day, compromises have to be made which may mean you don’t always get what you want. Small business owners understand the affliction of tight budgetary requirements, and as such need to make an IT decision that won’t set them financially off course. By making the choice of outsourcing IT work, you’re taking a step in the right direction, as it’s typically a more affordable option than creating and hiring a specialized in-house IT team.