IT Support Blog for Small Business Owners

What are the benefits of Unified Communications to a small business?

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Sat, Apr 12, 2014

VoIP Unified CommunicationSmall businesses are discovering the appeal of a communications solution that extends the power of their business phone system far beyond their office desktop and conventional dial tone. Unified Communications can be a competitive advantage for businesses that need a single system to manage multiple channels of communication, making their business more productive and helping smaller companies take advantage of features that make them appear larger and more competitive to their clients. Think of Unified Communications as the Swiss Army knife of small business communications.

As might be expected, given its flexibility, interest in Unified Communications strategies continues to rise.  ANP is holding a webinar this month on Unified Communications; you can register by clicking here.  Many small businesses perceive additional value in the deployment of Unified Communications. Large and medium sized companies and those with a higher proportion of telecommuting workers are the most bullish about the benefits of Unified Communications.  I have noticed, as a Managed IT Service Provider that Unified Communications, or communications and collaboration solutions, are getting equal, if not more, dollars from annual IT budgets compared to other technologies. There must be a business return for the investment; many businesses have a clear vision of what they expect to gain from implementing Unified Communications; they expect greater employee productivity, reduced dial tone cost and a means to improve customer engagement.

Having a nimble Unified Communication solution makes integration and ease of use possible for small and medium-sized businesses to manage communication styles that were once considered to only apply to larger organizations.  Why should your business consider upgrading an existing phone system to get Unified Communications? If you have a small and medium-sized business, there are critical advantages that you can, and should, expect when implementing the right Unified Communications solution. These five key business benefits are helping drive the strong adoption rate of Unified Communications by businesses today.

  1. Communicate more effectively with employees, customers and vendors: Particularly important to smaller businesses is the ability to implement any technology that provides enhanced functionality and is simple to take advantage of.  Unified Communications is increasingly recognized as a technology that allows small and medium businesses to take advantage of proven increases in productivity and functionality while realizing significant savings.  Once Unified Communications is implemented every employee will be able to use any computing device from anywhere in the world to connect to your phone system without dial tone and long distance charges. They will be able to Instant Message colleagues, make phone calls, listen to voice mail and perhaps most interesting, send and receive video calls.  They can also tell if another employee is on the phone, in a meeting or away from their computer.  Imagine the level of engagement between your employees and your customers and vendors when using video during your phone calls and not spending a penny extra for the enhanced level of communication!
  2. Connect your growing mobile and remote workforce by incorporating mobility: An office is just about anywhere you need it to be today, and your company’s business is taking place more often outside of your office walls so it is increasingly important for remote and mobile workers to access the same phone system features, whether working from their cubicle in the office or out on the road with their cell phone, or at home on their laptop. By implementing a Unified Communication solution, it makes it easy to stay connected to your employees, from any location, and from any device. It also provides flexibility in managing off-site employees, using features like presence (where you can see if an employee is on the phone or away from their computer or if they are in a meeting.)
  3. Saving money on overall operating costs: One of the greatest benefits of implementing the right Unified Communication solution is taking advantage of the cost savings it provides. This includes both savings on the initial cost of the system, as well as, savings on the long-term costs that leads to a good Return on Investment, such as the removal of a lot of the dial tone delivery costs.  When shopping for a cost-effective Unified Communications solution, make certain you understand the software licensing costs, insure that all of the Unified Communications features, such as, Instant Messaging, video conferencing, and presence updates are all included in the cost of the system and are not extras.
  4. Gaining uplift in customer service capabilities: The right Unified Communications solution should be more than a phone system; it should be a better communications system that helps you improve your customers' telecommunications experience with your business.  A quality Unified Communications solution allows small and medium businesses to serve customers more effectively, using features such as call queues and contact center features to handle every call with care.  Small and medium businesses should be able to use a Unified Communication solution to know more about every incoming call, in order to route each call appropriately, ensuring there are no more missed calls or lack of visibility. You should be able to route each call to the right employee every time no matter where the employee happens to be located when the call comes in.
  5. Moving beyond basic dial tone phone functionality: Too often, small businesses will evaluate new technologies based on whether or not the system can meet the organization’s current needs - in reference to both basic features included with the technology and in reference to the current size and structure of the business.  That type of decision can cost a small business thousands of dollars in future upgrade costs when choosing a business phone system.  When considering “future expansion,” that term may not mean something as extensive as expanding physical locations; it could be as simple as adding or moving an employee. The right Unified Communications solution will allow small and medium sized businesses to opt for a flexible system that provides extended functionality and that will also grow with the business.
Register For The VoIP Webinar Today!

Topics: unified communications, VoIP, small business phone systems

What is Unified Communications and why should a business owner care?

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Fri, Apr 11, 2014

Unified CommunicationsHave you ever been frustrated by you inability to speak to an employee while in your car, or at home or at a client site? Do you find yourself wondering how you might be able to raise the engagement level between your colleagues and yourself?  I often found myself wondering if my employees were on the phone or in a meeting.  I thought that my ancient PBX was actually beginning to limit my company’s ability to meaningfully communicate. Small business phone systems have made huge strides in the last five years; in fact, small business phone systems don’t resemble their ancient ancestors at all.

A modern small business phone system can correct all of the problems I just described in a ten-year-old PBX.  Using a new technology called Unified Communications an organization just like your company is able to seamlessly integrate, or unify, its typical business communications with both real-time communications (such as instant messaging, presence information (who in on the phone or in a meeting), telephony/VoIP (phone calls), voice mail and video conferencing and non real-time communications (such as e-mail, SMS texting and fax).

Okay I recognize that was a lot to digest, so lets break down Unified Communications into to smaller bite sized pieces so you can follow along and hopefully begin to see how Unified Communications could significantly help your small business improve collaboration between your employees, vendors and your customers!

Unified communications solves many of the legacy PBX shortfalls; lets take a look at just a few:

  • Remember on your ancient PBX how you could only get your phone calls from your desk phone? Unified Communications can program a VoIP phone system to look for you on all of your preferred devices while your office phone is ringing.   If it finds you somewhere out of the office, it will automatically transfer the call from your desk phone to your cell phone or home phone without the calling party realizing how or where you are taking the call from.
  • By loading Unified Communications software on my iPhone, iPad, or Mac Book Air, all of these devices become extensions of my VoIP phone system, I can receive or make phone calls from any device any where in the world as if I am sitting oat my desk in my own office.
  • Sometimes, I don’t really need to talk to someone but I want to text them a short message, with Unified Communications I can Instant Message my employees and we chat back-n-forth. The chats are also recorded as a log file for security’s sake.
  • Remember how you could never tell if your employees are on the phone or in a meeting? By loading the unified communication software of your preferred device, you can see an employee’s status; are they at their desk, are they on the phone, or in a meeting or not signed on. You can even extend this feature out to your customers and vendors who are using VoIP systems and share this information between each phone system. I can instantly see if my vendor is able to speak to me before I call them.
  • Have you ever been on a video conference call? Were you impressed how video can bring an additional dimension to our communications? Well when you deploy Unified Communications software on a device with a camera, you can instantly start video conference calls just by dialing a phone number.  I can use my iPhone to videoconference right back and into my office. And it’s free because the data packets are going over the Internet.

These are just a small sub-set of what you can do with Unified Communications.  Unified Communications software lets you be more productive, anytime, from anywhere on any device. Wherever you are, you can quickly and easily find people, see if and how they are available, and collaborate using instant messaging (IM), voice, high- definition video, voice messaging, desktop sharing, and conferencing. Unified Communication gives you the power to work your way, from any device and within the familiar applications and business processes you use every day.

Communications and collaboration are changing to be inherently more mobile, social, visual and virtual. Unified Communications delivers a collaborative experience from your preferred device (your desk phone, your cell phone, your tablet, or your laptop) that lets you be as productive when mobile as you are at your desk. Unified Communications software takes advantage of intelligence in your VoIP phone system to deliver secure, reliable, and high quality communications. You get a consistent experience across on-premises and cloud-based deployments—and Unified communications software utilizes industry standards to ensure interoperability across Cisco and with third-party solutions.

By combining a broader range of communications and features into a more complete Unified Communication solution and integrating it with your business processes, your small business is able to substantially increase its effectiveness – and cost savings.  If you would like to learn more about Unified Communications ANP is hosting a webinar for small business owners to discuss VoIP phone systems and the business benefits of Unified Communications.

Register For The VoIP Webinar Today!

Topics: unified communications, VoIP, small business phone systems

Considering Replacing Your Ancient PBX with a New VoIP Phone System?

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Sun, Apr 06, 2014

VoIP Phone SystemDo you have a phone system that is sitting in your back office that has been bolted to the wall for the last 10 to 15 years? Or are you using a key system that isn’t providing you the functionality your employees need? Most old small business PBX’s are extremely reliable, they are built like tanks, and frankly just keep working. If you are like me (and I am a small business owner), you don’t look around in your office trying to replace business equipment that is still working.  If your PBX is operating just like it did on the first day you turned it on, why replace it? Why invest your valuable cash on a new phone system?

If you are like most small businesses owners, you may not realize the potential benefits of a new business phone system.  Today’s modern phone systems provide features nothing like your old and outdated PBX. Let’s take a look at some of the major differences between your old PBX and a modern small business phone system.

Perhaps the biggest differences lie in how the phone systems work.  The original PBX was a purpose built appliance that as we mentioned gets bolted onto a closet wall.  Dedicated wiring connected the PBX to the manufacturers’ specialized phone appliances.  A new PBX connects all of the phones to your company’s Local Area Network.  The benefit here is that you no longer need two sets of wiring in a building: the phone and the computer network.  There are many advantages beyond the simplification in wiring.  Because the phones are now on the LAN, so too are the voice signals, they have all been converted to a protocol called Voice-Over-IP often abbreviated as VoIP.  Because the voice signals now run on your network as VoIP packets on the LAN, they can also travel over the Internet like any other data packet.

There are enormous benefits to using VoIP instead of dedicated wiring.  To name a few, you no longer need dial tone delivered on dedicated data circuits that are expensive: T1’s, PRI’s or analog dial tone jacks.  Dial tone is now delivered over the Internet as VoIP data packets; you can turn off the T1’s and PRI circuits the VoIP phone system doesn’t need then anymore. This reduction in the traditional dial tone circuits can save a small business owner, hundreds to thousands of dollars in reduced dial tone cost every month.  It’s not unusual for the savings in traditional dial tone costs to pay for the new VoIP phone system in less than three years. After that its just money saved and in the bank.

Your old PBX had a fixed number of dial tone inputs and a fixed number of extension ports.  It cost additional money to connect more phones than the system had in ports. You needed to buy and install more port cards as your company grew.  Using a new VoIP system, there are no physical port connections, just a single LAN connection.  So you can add phones as your company grows, in fact, you often don’t even need to buy new VoIP phones to connect additional users, because your phone system can also load a software application on your desktop that emulates a physical phone. And we can tae that through further, you can load software on your Apple iPhone or Android phone that also emulates a VoIP phone.

There are so amazing implications to that ability to turn your cell phone into an office phone by using software.  So imagine if every employee had a Direct-Inward-Dial (DID) phone number, in my office my number is 267-628-1033, and instead of that number always ringing on a dedicated PBX phone wired into my office, now the DID will ring wherever you I am located when I have my cell phone with me.  So essentially I can answer my DID from home, in the car, on vacation or at work.  Imagine your employees ability to better serve your employees from within the company and also your vendors and clients? No more voice mails, no more waiting for answers, every employee is essentially always available to speak to a business contact.

I can program my VoIP cell phone application to ring me during the day and send calls to voice mail at night.  I can also have the VoIP system announce who the caller is and let me decide if I want to accept the call after hours.  The level of flexibility the VoIP system will bring and your employee’s ability to answer their DID line from outside the office will bring additional productivity improvements to your clients and your business.

I am just scratching the surface of what you can expect from your VoIP phone system.  My next blog will discuss what Unified Communications is and how your VoIP phone system can change the way you communicate within your business today!  Are you interested in learning more about VoIP? I am holding a Free IT webinar; click the link below to register for the VoIP information session to learn how VoIP might be the perfect choice for your small business.


Register For The VoIP Webinar Today!

Topics: VoIP Phone, unified communications, VoIP solutions

The Pros and Cons of IT Outsourcing

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Thu, Mar 20, 2014

What does IT Outsourcing mean?

IT Outsourcing is the process of assigning a company’s business IT processes to a Managed IT Service Provider. For larger companies the outsourcer might be offshore to leverage lower labor costs. Smaller businesses with less than 100 PCs can typically gain great advantages by outsourcing to a local IT Service Provider. However, the path to a great IT Outsource engagement does come with some business risk, which can be mitigated if you know what to watch out for. Let’s take a look at IT Outsourcing and discuss how to stay out of trouble.

What are the effects of IT Outsourcing?

IT Outsourcing is the delivery of a defined set of proactive services that are remotely delivered on a fixed-fee basis and prepaid on a recurring basis. Across industries IT Outsourcing is primarily undertaken to enable companies to generate better revenue recognition and to provide them an added competitive differentiator. While always done with the best of intentions, IT Outsourcing has a telling effect on a company’s products and services, either enhancing or lowering their quality. The goal is to have the IT Outsourcing provide you with a competitive edge. And, based on how effectively the IT processes are managed and delivered, IT Outsourcing can also result in easier management and better productivity.

What are the pros and cons of IT Outsourcing?

IT Outsourcing can provide enterprises a competitive advantage by delegating their IT business process to a Managed IT Service Provider who can deliver better quality and improved IT innovation. While this is a fair picture of the desired outcome, managers need to consider the possible shortcomings and negative outcomes of the process and the corresponding impact on the company. To best analyze the opportunities presented it is essential to reflect upon the advantages versus the disadvantages of outsourcing.

The pros of IT Outsourcing

The pros of IT outsourcing often positively reflected by enterprises across industries include the following:

  • Increased operational efficiency.
  • Reduced and controlled operating costs.
  • Cost-effective access to Enterprise-level support.
  • Minimized downtime.
  • Freeing of management time, enabling the company to focus on core competencies while not being concerned about their vendors.
  • Peace-of-mind with the knowledge that the IT environment is being monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The cons of IT Outsourcing

Often weighed with the advantages of IT Outsourcing, the following represent some of the possible questions a business owner should consider and try to mitigate, before engaging in an IT Outsource engagement:

  • How many employees does the Managed IT Service Provider have? (Watch out for just a hand full; employees get sick and go on vacations. You need more than 10 engineers if you want a true Enterprise-level service.)
  • How long has the Managed IT Service Provider been in business? (Look for longevity which demonstrates the IT Service Provider’s business skills.)
  • Does the Managed IT Service Provider have engineers staffed in the office 24 hours a day, 365 days a year? (Does your equipment break only during business hours? Look for staffed weekday nights and weekends, not engineers merely on-call or dispatched after an event is detected.)
  • Does the Managed IT Service Provider have a written repair time performance guarantee? (Look for a written Service Level Agreement that provides a written response-time and repair timeframe with a money back guarantee if the commitments are not met.)
  • Does the Managed IT Service Provider include IT consulting as part of their fixed-fee service? (You will need help budgeting and also need performance reports and risk assessments; make certain they are all included on a periodic basis.)
  • You are not an IT expert so how do you evaluate the abilities of competing Managed IT Service Providers? (Look for the audited Industry standard for IT Service Providers. They should hold an SSAE16 Type II audit, which will insure you the provider has been audited by 3rd party IT experts.)
  • The Managed IT Service Provider will on occasion have their employees at your office, so to protect the security of your employees and of your data, request to see 3rd party background checks of all of the Managed IT Service Provider’s engineers.

 6 Essential IT Outsourcing Strategies

Topics: IT Outsourcing, IT Service Provider, Managed IT Service Provider, SSAE16, IT Consulting

The Top 10 Reasons to IT Outsource Versus “Doing IT Yourself.”

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Tue, Mar 18, 2014

Top 10 reasons to IT outsource

Most of ANP’s new clients are “doing IT themselves,” before we meet them. Once we complete an assessment of their IT environment they are surprised to find out how many serious things are not configured correctly or not configured at all. We have been providing IT outsourced services since 1998, and we have learned a few things along the way. Let me share with you what I believe are the top 10 reasons why a small business owner or a non-profit Executive Director should be considering IT outsourcing.

Given below, as reflected by ANP’s clients, are the top 10 reasons to outsource your IT:

  1. Lower operational and capital costs are among the primary reasons why companies choose to outsource their IT. When properly executed, IT outsourcing has a defining impact and can deliver significant savings to a company. In addition, rather than get Time & Materials IT invoices on an unplanned basis, you now get a fixed-fee invoice every month; it is so much easier to plan your IT cash flow.
  2. Perhaps most important, you can gain some peace-of-mind that your IT is being run by using industry best practices. I opened the blog sharing with you that most owners are really surprised how bad their IT situation is. By outsourcing your IT you can become confident in knowing that all of the data security, patching, antivirus updating, disk defragging and daily backups will be monitored, proactively managed and completed.
  3. Many times our new clients recognize the existing IT foundation is in big trouble, and in order to build an organization that can scale and grow, a strong IT foundation must be in place. Once you outsource your IT you will have access to the advice of professional IT experts. They will analyze your basic IT foundation and make recommendations. For example, during a new engagement ANP often finds a Local Area Network (LAN) in which LAN switches are daisy-chained throughout the company. Over time, this common practice will cripple the LAN’s ability to work correctly and everyone will slow down to a crawl. Placing a couple of new LAN switches in a few closets can completely turn that condition around.
  4. If you were to consider how much time you and your staff are spending on IT today, what would you estimate the value of that lost payroll to be? If you outsource your IT to a third party, you immediately re-gain time which you and your staff can use to focus on growing your business.
  5. IT outsourcing can also help a small business build a 3-year and 5-year IT budget. You can actually plan to replace old PCs and laptops in a scheduled and controlled fashion, rather than wait until a salesperson’s PC blows up and you find them screaming in your office to spend an unplanned $1500.
  6. Outsourcing your IT will also free up internal IT resources that were doing mundane support desk and patching tasks, allowing them to be put to more effective use for other strategic IT purposes.
  7. IT Outsourcing can also be used as a strategic planning tool before a business sale. If you are planning to sell your business as a strategic platform, your IT must be performing at a high level. Once an offer for sale has been made, an IT professional will be sent in during a diligence period to evaluate your IT processes and they will assess the overall condition of your IT department. Outsourcing a year before the business sale will insure you get a great bill of health!
  8. Outsourcing also enables companies to realize the benefits of re-engineering their whole IT server farm. My experience has been that many companies have deferred their IT spending so long that the servers running the business are too old and way overtaxed, impeding the ability of each PC on the network to do the simplest of tasks.
  9. By delegating responsibilities to an external IT service provider companies can wash their hands of IT functions that are difficult to manage and control while still realizing their benefits.
  10. Some companies also outsource IT to help them expand and gain access to new market areas, by taking the point of production or service delivery closer to their end users. For instance, do you want to move into South America or the Mid-East? ANP has deployed WAN and LAN networks throughout the world.

To summarize: Companies undertake IT outsourcing for a variety of reasons depending upon their vision and purpose. While this may vary from company to company, all of our clients have found outsourcing their IT to be a fruitful and successful component of their business strategy. You should consider it as a potential strategy for your business!

6 Essential IT Outsourcing Strategies

Topics: IT Outsourcing, Managed IT Service Provider, IT Peace of Mind, IT infrastructure

What is the Advantage of IT Outsourcing for a Small Business?

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Thu, Mar 13, 2014

IT OutsourcingAs a business owner you are always focused on the key activities of growing your company, but you also need to deal with your non-core business functions efficiently, such as your IT operations.  IT outsourcing is a tried-and-tested approach and is recognized as a long-term competitive strategy for business success.  IT outsourcing helps you get your focus back on your core business and control your IT CAPEX and OPEX costs at the same time.

If you find yourself asking the following questions then IT outsourcing might be for you:

  1. Are my Information Technology systems set up correctly?
  2. Are my employees as efficient and as productive as possible?
  3. Is my IT infrastructure ready to support new business and new employees?
  4. Is my company data as secure as possible?
  5. Is my reactive approach to IT service and repair cost effective?
  6. In the event of a fire or flood are my data backups capable of restoring my business systems quickly? 

Key Reasons to outsource your IT; consider the following top reasons cited by companies that have successfully outsourced their IT operations:

Control Your IT costs: ANP’s clients report IT outsourcing can save them as much as 43% over their traditional reactive Time & Materials approach to IT service. Typical PCs can be supported for $50 a month and Servers cost $150 per month.  By converting to a outsourced IT fixed fee all you can consume model, the business owner can realistically set an IT budget and be assured it will not fluctuate during the year.

Lower Your Infrastructure Investments: By outsourcing your IT you can avoid the need to purchase PC and server management toolsets.  You no longer need to renew annual antivirus subscription contracts.  You no longer have to rely upon slow to dispatch T&M service; which can blow your monthly IT budget. 

Focus on Your Business: Focus on your core business.  Redirect your organization’s internal resources toward mission-critical activities. By outsourcing  your IT functions you and your employees never have to worry again about a windows patch, a virus quarantine, or a damaged disk drive.

Accelerate Migration to New IT Technologies: Migrate to new IT technologies with minimum downtime and increased productivity and quality by outsourcing IT projects o an IT outsourcer to jump start your company advancements.

Get Access to Best-Practices Capabilities and Improve your IT Availability and Performance: Imagine the peace of mind you would have knowing that every Microsoft best-practice is set up and being maintained in your own company’s IT infrastructure?  Compliance to Microsoft best-practices insure that your company’s IT will be more reliable and secure.

Enjoy Deep IT Experience & Knowledge: An IT outsourcer will typically have a staff of IT expertise that is aligned by technologies and very deep in experience.  At ANP we have Firewall, Router, Server Virtualization, and VoIP IT engineers.  Each engineer’s salary is shared across thousands of devices so a small company has access to a level of IT engineering talent that would not otherwise have access to.

No more IT Sick Days: Once your outsource your company’s IT to a fixed fee Managed IT Service Provider, you will never worry about another IT hiring, sick day, vacation day or training request.  You will never have to hire another IT employee. 

Enhanced Business Continuity: Get protection from natural calamities, accidents, fires, or technical crises.  Disaster recovery and data back ups and detailed back up plans provided by the Managed IT Service Providers will help you to respond rapidly and get operations back on track quickly.

IT Outsourcing as a business model:

Though there have been a lot of controversies regarding outsourcing, the overwhelming advantages of IT outsourcing speak for themselves.  More companies are drawing up plans to outsource their IT work to Managed IT Service Providers such as ANP.  Many companies now base their entire IT business plan around the delegation of functions to external IT service providers; for example many company’s now don’t see the value in owning an operating an email server.  According to some experts outsourcing is not simply a way of cutting costs; it is now a successful and valid business model.

6 Essential IT Outsourcing Strategies

Topics: IT Outsourcing, Managed IT Service Provider, IT Peace of Mind, IT infrastructure

What is the Better Business Approach? In-source or IT Outsource?

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Tue, Mar 11, 2014

IT Outsourcing BenefitsOutsourcing is a common business buzzword these days, as more and more cost and quality conscious small business owners are turning to Managed IT Service Providers for outsourcing their IT business processes. So, what exactly is IT outsourcing and what are the benefits of having a Managed IT Service Provider operate your IT infrastructure for you? This blog looks at the benefits of outsourcing your IT and the value proposition offered by a Managed IT Service Provider like ANP.

What is IT Outsourcing?

IT Outsourcing refers to the way in which a small business Owners and non-profit Executive Directors entrust their organizations IT processes to a Managed IT Service Provider. Any IT business process that can be done remotely can be outsourced. This includes functions like managing and monitoring your Servers, your firewall, Internet connection, PCs and backups. Plus, your employees have the ability to call and request Help Desk support during business hours as well. Some of the IT processes that can be outsourced to IT providers like ANP are Microsoft patching, Anti Virus updates and scans, malware scans, disk drive de-fragmentation, Active Directory policy creation and enforcement, proactive support such as, UPS battery testing, Backup file recovery testing, and system log reviews to name a few.

Benefits of IT Outsourcing to a Managed IT Service Provider

There are many benefits of outsourcing your small business IT to a Managed IT Service Provider. Some of them are: 

  1. Cost advantages: The most obvious and visible benefit relates to the cost savings that IT outsourcing brings about. 
You can get the job done at a lower cost and at better quality as well. We find that many of our new clients have been using Time & Materials reactive support and when we ask them to consolidate a years worth of T&M invoices they are often surprised how much they are spending and how many times a single IT issue is worked on. There is a cost savings of around 30% by outsourcing your work to Managed IT Service Provider. Plus, the quality of the services provided is high thereby ensuring that low-cost does not mean low quality. 
  2. Increased Uptime Less Downtime: 
When you outsource your IT needs to an outsourcing partner like ANP, they bring years of experience in IT best-practices and expertise in delivering greater reliability and uptime for your IT infrastructure. Thus, they can do the job better with their knowledge and understanding of your IT than doing-IT-yourself. This leads to an increase in your employee productivity and efficiency thereby contributing to the bottom-line of your organization. 
  3. Focus on Growing your Business: Outsourcing your IT processes will free you and your employees energies and enable your company to focus on building your brand, growing your business, and move on to providing higher value added services to your customers.
  4. Unlimited Access to Skilled IT Engineers: When you outsource your IT, you never have to worry about IT employee vacations, or calling in sick, or asking for a raise or an expensive IT training course.  IT Service Providers like ANP take care of the technical staffing needs with their pool of highly skilled engineers. The IT engineers employed by ANP are well educated in the respective IT areas of expertise and have over a 200 combined years of experience in handling small business IT issues of all kinds.
  5. Fixed Fee Predictable IT Budget: Apart from the cost advantage to outsourcing, the other benefit has to do with the ANP’s approach to Fixed Monthly Fees. For a flat all-inclusive monthly fee, you can have your PCs and Servers completely supported 24 hours a day.  Plus receive unlimited Help Desk access during business hours. 
  6. IT Peace of Mind: What is the value to a business owner to rest assured that his IT systems are secure, available and being run by professional IT engineers? Imagine never having to worry about the back up or if your systems are set up correctly.  By outsourcing your IT to professionals, you can enjoy peace of mind!
6 Essential IT Outsourcing Strategies

Topics: IT Outsourcing, Managed IT Service Provider, IT Peace of Mind, IT infrastructure

Is Your Network Security Adequate? Think Again!

Posted by Michael Silverman on Tue, Feb 18, 2014

network security resized 600Back on February 7th, NBC reported on potential security risks at the Olympic Games.  There was a lot of controversy about the article itself, but, accurate or a hoax, IT security doesn’t get the attention it should in small businesses.  More and more organizations, large and small, are being audited either by regulatory agencies or by existing or potential clients.  Years back, news was about virus attacks, followed by malware; today we’re regularly hearing about hacking.  Everyone wants to know their data is secure.

Data security is critical to ANP’s network management practices.  We protect data by leveraging “organizational wide” network security management best practices.  Having a firewall, unique passwords, and anti-virus programs might feel adequate, but times have been changing.  It’s critical to look closely not only at the IT infrastructure within your offices, but also at equipment owned by your staff and maybe even your vendors.

As I’m writing this blog, I’m sitting at home on my personal computer connected to the office.  There are lots of options for remote workers these days, but there are also network security risks that need to be mitigated if you have a mobile or remote work force.  Let’s touch on a few.

Home computers are usually vulnerable to viruses and malware due to lack of ongoing management and “the kiddie factor.”  Microsoft and other vendors do an adequate job of providing anti-virus and malware support for home computers, but only if the tools are leveraged and leveraged correctly.  If virus or malware activity infects your home computer and it is connected to the office network, you’ve just introduced a “back door” network security risk.  Could your organization be vulnerable to a home-based worker?

What about mobile devices like smart phones and tablets?  Apple iPhones and iPads are acknowledged to be natively more secure than Android devices.  Do your employees use both for connecting to the office?  You may limit their use to email, but do you also allow them into the office?  Onto the office wireless network?   ANP regularly performs Network Assessments for prospective clients.  It’s surprising to see how few companies segment their networks, restricting mobile device traffic solely to guest wireless networks.  There are also data security risks associated with email on mobile devices.  Just last week we completed an assessment for a company that was sending unsecured email to mobile devices, risking precious client information being shared with the outside world.

What about inside your offices?  Firewalls are designed to protect your network, and they do, but they are only one piece of the network security equation. Some of my clients leverage Intrusion Detection software to further analyze traffic passing through their firewall.  Though this software can be pricey, understanding the data these systems produce reinforces the need for a strong network security policy and operational discipline.  

In a 30-day period, I’ve seen “locked down” firewalls allow attempts at accessing servers from almost 20 different countries around the world.  That’s why network security is about a “system” of hardware, software, and operational procedures tightly woven to protect the organization and its sensitive data.

IT Security Equation

Here are a few questions to discuss with your IT staff or outsourced provider. Your answers will determine the next steps needed to establish appropriate levels of network and data security in your business:

  • How old is our Firewall and how current is its Operating System?
  • What is our Server and Workstation Patch status and update process?
  • Do we have any Windows XP computers in our network?
  • What is our password management strategy?
  • How do we control and manage access to sensitive information on our Servers?
  • Do we have a guest wireless network for employee smart phones and guest traffic?
  • When is the last time we had an outside network security Assessment?
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Topics: data security, IT security, network security, network assessment

Data Security Breaches: Not just a Big Business Threat.

Posted by Scott Persechino on Mon, Feb 17, 2014

data security breach resized 600If a big company like Target or Neiman Marcus can suffer a Data Security Breach, it can certainly happen to your small company. In fact, it’s probably more likely to happen. And though no business, big or small, is ever guaranteed to be completely protected from a data security breach, if a company does not take the proper proactive security steps, it will almost definitely happen.

After millions of shoppers fell victim to massive data breaches at Target and Neiman Marcus, investigations revealed that the mastermind behind the malware used in the attacks was a 17-year-old boy. For reference, malware is destructive computer software that interferes with normal computer functions, or sends personal data about users to unauthorized parties over the Internet. That is exactly what happened in these two breaches. Investigators have revealed that the teen allegedly created the malware last March, and started selling it to an unreported number of cyberhackers in Eastern Europe. The teen is from the Ukraine, and authorities believe the malware leveraged in these breaches was used by hackers in Russia. Up to 110 million Target shoppers had much of their personal information like credit card numbers, PINs, and even personal addresses compromised because of the breach. Can you imagine how your customers would react if they were victimized like this because of a network security breach at your company?

Companies, regardless of size, rely on critical business data to succeed and flourish. Based on a recent study, more than 78% of organizations have suffered from at least one data breach over the past two years.  Your company may face considerable financial liabilities if it loses sensitive data. Even worse is the damage to your reputation, especially since most consumers say they would entirely stop dealing with an organization in the event of a security breach. Even small businesses with antivirus solutions in place are prime cybercrime targets.

Three surprising ways that small companies are more likely to suffer a worse data breach:

  1. Small business data breaches are more likely to go unnoticed. Target's data breach was first spotted by tech journalists and security firms who noticed that hackers were trying to sell a large amount of stolen data on underground websites. The massive amount of stolen credit card information alerted journalists that something was going on. However, when a small business is hacked, it will most likely go unnoticed by these watchdog groups. Hackers will glean less information, and so no one hack will lead to noticeable changes in data black markets.
  2. Media attention protects large businesses, but not small ones. Hackers often wait to use stolen data from data breaches at large companies, but they might not be so shy with small business breaches. When a company like Target is hacked, rather than going on a spending spree, identity thieves delay using stolen credit cards until the fuss dies down and consumers and credit monitoring services stop watching their accounts so closely. Small businesses are more likely to be hit immediately and harder with identity theft because hackers know there isn't the same scrutiny.
  3. Small businesses are underinsured. Many large businesses have Cyber Liability Insurance, which covers them when they are hacked. This policy pays for the credit monitoring services that are currently protecting Target's customers. By contrast, small business owners very rarely are carrying this type of coverage.

Three Myths and Facts the Small Business Owner should be aware of:

MYTH #1: My business is too small to be a target.
FACT: Size does not matter. Believing you are not susceptible to a breach, combined with the vast amount of data your business holds, potential employee negligence, and a lack of a dedicated IT staff makes your business a prime target for attackers. In fact, the majority of small businesses agree they can’t do enough to protect their data using the measures and technologies they currently have in place.

Cyber criminals do not discriminate. As long as they can gain profit and find anything lucrative to exploit, they will. Understanding the threats your business faces, their potential impact, and the regulations you need to follow is really the least any business owner should be doing.

MYTH #2: The antivirus I have is good enough.
FACT: Traditional antivirus software is not a cure-all. An advanced persistent cyber threat can manage to stay undetected in a network or system for a long period while progressing toward its goal—usually to steal data. An advanced persistent cyber threat’s ability to bypass blacklisting allows it to move within the network without detection and steal corporate passwords in order to gain access to other systems.

Since attackers consider small businesses prime targets, relying on traditional security technologies can also put you at risk for a customized malware attack in which hackers identify their victims and purposefully infect the user's computer to steal data. Customized malware attacks account for most data breaches and the chances of a data breach are higher when businesses believe that their traditional antivirus is enough to protect their assets, particularly against customized attacks.

MYTH #3: I can trust my employees and don’t have to worry about enforcing data security policies.
FACT: A company’s greatest asset—its employees—can also be its weakest link. The top reasons cited for data loss were employees’ tendency to open attachments or click links embedded in spam, to leave their systems unattended, to change their passwords too infrequently, and to visit restricted sites. This negligence puts critical business data at risk from data-stealing cybercriminals and malicious insiders. Research shows that 56% of employees frequently store sensitive data on their laptops, smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. This means there is more than a 50% chance that confidential information can land in the wrong hands should they lose these devices.

What you can do about it:

Start with these IT security best practices:
• Secure, encrypt, and password protect sensitive customer and employee data.
• Set rules for your employees; don’t let Social Networking compromise your data.
• Dispose of sensitive documents completely and securely.
• Limit access to sensitive data.
• Ensure that all software and systems are updated as needed.
• Put up firewalls to block hackers.
• Establish secure remote access protocol.
• Establish and adhere to a privacy policy.

The bottom line:

Patch the holes in your organization’s walls. Identify which information is critical, who could and should be able to access it, then investigate the best ways to protect it with the aid of a trusted IT advisor or your Managed Service Provider. Like holes or cracks in walls, areas where your company data is most vulnerable can cause your security perimeter to crumble.  ANP is offering a free IT Webinar for business owners this month regarding how to secure your company data. Register by clicking on the button below:

FREE IT Webinar Your Data is Under Attack Stop Data Theft Click Here to Register

Topics: data security, IT security, network security, data security breaches

Ready for the Windows XPocalypse? You have a Reprieve but Beware.

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Tue, Feb 04, 2014

windows XP reprieve resized 600

ANP has been sharing with our clients and friends the need to migrate away from Windows XP. After all, Microsoft has been telling their customers that XP malware updates would stop on April 8th 2014.  Windows XP and Office 2003 are already End-of-life and End-of-support; unfortunately for Microsoft, it is estimated that 28% of PCs in use today are still using Windows XP! So millions of Microsoft customers were going to be without any security patches for their Operating System.

Microsoft has issued a reprieve to XP’s scheduled Death Sentence of April 8th 2014. Microsoft recently announced it would extend anti-virus definition updates for XP antivirus software until July 14th 2015.  On one hand I was surprised they made this announcement, but on the other hand, does Microsoft really want almost one-third of their customers using their operating system with no virus definition updates from the manufacturer?

If you are a corporate User of XP you will need to have System Center Endpoint Protection or Forefront Client security, or Forefront Endpoint protection and Windows Intune in order to deploy and install the virus definition updates.  If you are a consumer, you need to be running Microsoft Security Essentials.

There’s an issue regarding Security Essentials; while Microsoft is going to continue to provide updates for its Security Essentials for at least another year, XP users will not be able to download the software after April 8, 2014, because the applications will be going away and taken offline.  So if you want to get these malware updates, you better first download and install Security Essentials prior to the end date in April.

It is interesting to note that while Microsoft will provide virus definition updates until July 14, 2015, Microsoft’s TechNet blog warns that its research “shows that the effectiveness of antimalware solutions on out-of-support operating systems is limited.” Yikes! In other words, hurry up and complete your Windows 7 upgrades! Microsoft goes on to say, “running a well-protected solution starts with using modern software and hardware designed to help protect against today's threat landscape.”  Okay now they are screaming at us to upgrade to Windows 7!

Did you know that almost all standalone ATM’s are operating with Windows XP? Almost 95 percent of ATM’s (and there are 420,000 of them right here in theUSA) use Windows XP! One would hope that American financial institutions are treating the End-of-life and End-of-support as serious matters.  ANP has a large financial institution customer that is actively migrating 400 XP PCs into Window 7 machines; they do not see the reprieve as a reason to delay! ANP also supports a large car dealership with 75 old XP machines that are currently being migrated to Windows 7; not waiting either!

It would be easy to view this extension in malware support as a gift and delay upgrading XP.  But that would be a potentially costly mistake. The most prudent thing you can do with your Windows XP machines is to create a plan immediately and begin to migrate them to Window 7 PCs.



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Topics: Windows XP, WIndows XP end of support, Windows XP Reprieve, Windows XPocalypse

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