IT Support Blog for Small Business Owners

Avoiding “Surprises” in IT – A Case for a Network Assesment

Posted by Michael Silverman on Thu, Oct 31, 2013

 

Avoid IT Surprises

Last week, we discussed some of the common surprises resulting in unplanned business disruptions and/or IT expenses?  If you missed last week’s blog, we discussed four categories of unplanned IT surprises.  First was hardware and whether you’ve ever discussed age and end of life timelines for your servers, desktops, switches, routers, and firewalls.  Second, we recommended frequent communication—with your IT team or managed service provider—about equipment capacity and the current status and future plans for your business.  We then focused on whether or not recurring agreements of varied types are actively managed: domain names; SSL certificates; and hardware/software maintenance agreements.  The fourth category of “surprises” was unexpected labor expenses and upgrades driven by external audits.

Not every business is confronted with all of these surprises, but as you’ll see in this week’s blog, an understanding of their root causes will help any company, large or small, develop practical strategies to avoid them. 

The variables can all feel and seem overwhelming to manage, but they don’t have to be.  The root causes lie in two broad areas: the inherent conflict of proactive and reactive IT services provided by the same individuals; and secondly, the inability to step back and look at the big picture.  For most businesses, user issues trump anything else occurring in IT.  Without some type of consistent proactive maintenance strategies, user issues, unexpected outages and investments, become the norm.  IT professionals become limited in their ability to step back and look at the big picture.  Without ever stepping back to assess your IT systems and processes, surprises will absolutely be out there. And they will multiply and then trip you up at the most inconvenient moments.

As I work with small and mid-size businesses, my message regarding IT is that it’s all about expectations.  If expectations of an IT environment are clearly defined, then the surprise of “What just happened, and why?” is replaced by the planned procedure for “What steps do we take when this documented issue arises?” So how does one get to this point?  It’s a two-step process. Quantify, then plan.

Quantify

First off, IT should be driven by business objectives and strategies.  It’s understood that many business innovations originate within IT, but your business strategy must be clear.  Business strategy drives IT priorities and investments.  Is your strategy in writing?  Have you shared it with your IT staff? Has your provider ever asked you for it?

Then you need to quantify your technical infrastructure.  Do you have your inventory documented?  How old is it?  Are there end of life issues looming in the near term?  Are software licenses documented?  Are you in compliance with software license agreements?  What’s your strategy for upgrading key line-of-business applications?  Do you know when your domain name registrations expire?

Finally, don’t overlook your IT operational practices.  What activities consistently occur daily, weekly, and monthly?  Are these activities auditable? Do you ever leverage a second set of eyes to insure that what’s expected actually occurs?  When was the last time server backups were tested or a disaster recovery test occurred? 

If you haven’t been asking any of these questions of yourselves, expect to be asked by potential clients or an auditor—maybe even your accountant.

Planning

Once you’ve quantified your “IT world,” planning becomes easy.  I typically leverage three types of planning tools: an IT Risk Assessment; a 3 year budget; and, based on the specific client need, a summary of IT objectives.  The Risk Assessment is primarily the lead document that summarizes all of the quantified information about your IT environment, documents open questions, quantifies the level of risk, and identities short and longer term remediation activities. 

The Risk/Network Assessment then blends with your business strategy to result in prioritized activities and the associated budget.  It’s a living set of documents that becomes the ongoing roadmap for you, your management team, and your IT staff and outsourced partners.

 

Request A Free Network Assessment

Topics: IT Support, Budget, IT capacity, IT spending, risks

Avoiding IT Surprises – Part One

Posted by Michael Silverman on Mon, Oct 21, 2013

IT SurprisesWhen was the last time you were surprised by a major, not to mention unplanned, business disruption or IT expense?  If you’re like most small and mid-size businesses, it was probably in the last six months, and wasn’t the first time you were surprised either.  Misery loves company, and unfortunately you’re not alone.  Unplanned IT downtime and unexpected capital investments are unnecessary business issues to contend with.  This blog reviews the most common surprises you and your peers have probably experienced.  Part two, following next will outline root cause, but more importantly outline some strategies to avoid them in the future. 

So what are the most typical IT surprises that if you’re not discussing with your staff or your outsourced managed services provider, you should?  Let’s start with hardware; servers, workstations, switches, routers, and firewalls.  Hardware manufacturers typically publish “mean time between failure” data.  It’s a straightforward statistic that says after so many hours, the likelihood of a failure dramatically increases.  For a server it’s usually about 4 years.  For switches and other network appliances, it can be even longer.  When was the last time you had a discussion about the age of these critical IT infrastructure components?

Next on the hit parade are capacity issues.  Is your business in a growth mode?  Are you adding employees?  Expanding into new remote offices?  Are you doing more and more with internal systems that interface with your customers?  Here are a few potential capacity issues to be alert for: disk space is relatively inexpensive, but randomly adding storage over time introduced unneeded organizational complexity and increases the risk that critical data isn’t backed up.  As Internet bandwidth capacity increases, and cloud based resources are more readily adopted, network components frequently overlooked can quickly become “choke points.”  The growth of server virtualization removes the capital expense of new physical servers, but doesn’t make the need go away. All too frequently, “server sprawl,” the unnoticed growth of virtual servers, results in a condition where the business continuity redundancies inherent in a virtualized infrastructure become diminished and an unplanned outage can be on the horizon.    

The third category of potential surprises centers around domain name registrations, maintenance agreements, and licensing.  If domain names and SSL certificates, associated with your web sites, email, and e-commerce expire, you’ll be exposed to complete service outages.  It continually amazes me how often a new client has expirations (leading to unnecessary business disruptions) on the horizon that was unknown to those responsible.  Maintenance agreements and licensing are recurring cash flow items that easily become lost in the shuffle of daily business activities.  More and more of the manufacturers provide reminders, but these costs can quickly add up, not to mention reinstatement charges if expiration dates pass.

Last, but not least, is the increasing frequency of network and systems upgrades resulting from regulatory audits.  Audits generally result in requirements to perform unplanned equipment upgrades and make changes to IT operational practices; some of which can necessitate tapping external resources on an ongoing basis. Stay tuned for my next blog for IT root cause and IT strategies.

Request A Free Network Assessment

Topics: IT capacity, IT spending, avoiding IT surprises, IT disruptions, Server Virtualization, bandwidth, Cloud issues, disk space, unplanned IT expenses, Internet access

Advantages of Proactive IT Support vs. Reactive Break/Fix Service

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Sat, Oct 12, 2013

Reactive vs. Proactive IT SupportMaintaining a well-performing, predictably available IT infrastructure for your company is obviously important.  Access to your business applications, customer data, and your financial information are critical for the success of your business.  If the computers and other IT hardware that deliver access to that information for you, your employees, and your customers fail, it will negatively impact your business.  Customers and employees become frustrated, and your bottom line suffers anytime you have IT problems or outages.

The truth is that avoiding IT issues is only possible if you are proactively monitoring your IT hardware.  Staying ahead of potential problems, and correcting issues before they ultimately result in outages, is the key to maintaining availability and performance.  The concept here is truly no different than engaging in regular, proactive, and disciplined checkups…just like we do with other items in our lives.

We go to the doctor for regular checkups with the hope that if a symptom of a medical problem is detected, something can be prescribed to remedy the situation before a major medical issue occurs.  We bring our car in for regular maintenance, changing the oil, checking engine fluids, and checking performance of the vehicle with the hope of avoiding a major breakdown on the road, or a major mechanical problem. 

In both of these cases, a lack of scheduled checkups or maintenance, “reactive management” if you will, could lead to serious problems: a heart attack can result from undetected high-blood pressure, or a clogged artery that could have been easily detected and rectified ahead of time; low oil levels, or dirty transmission fluid which could lead to a vehicle breakdown, could have been easily addressed ahead of time.  And the resulting “cost” of addressing these issues without taking the disciplined proactive steps, could be astronomical: a major heart attack or a blown engine is nothing anyone wants to experience...and though these “real costs may be difficult to quantify, we all know they are significant”.

The same theory applies to IT.  There are “technical” things that can be done, “proactively” in the background, which will identify potential problems….much like regular scheduled checkups or maintenance.  Those technical things can in many instances correct the problem, or at the very least, tell you what needs to be done in order to rectify the issue and avoid an outage.  Things like disk drives that are performing poorly, and if not addressed, will fail.  

Viruses that are detected, can be removed; new viruses that have been identified in the market place, that your infrastructure can be protected from ahead of time so they never become an issue.  Conditions in back-up routines that indicate a future failed back-up; computer processors that are being overburdened or are aging, that will ultimately fail.  Events like these, and many others, can be proactively managed and addressed by an IT support provider, so an end-user or customer has a much higher likelihood of not facing a “hard down” outage.

The difference with IT, however, is that this can only be done effectively if the infrastructure is being monitored and managed twenty-four hours a day.  IT hardware is susceptible and vulnerable around the clock…conditions are just that dynamic.  Someone, or more specifically something, like IT management tools, should be looking at your IT hardware all the time to give you the best opportunity to avoid any downtime for your business.  IT outages are much less likely, and much less painful from a business perspective, if potential problems are addressed ahead of time, rather than when a complete failure occurs. 

We all know that when an outage occurs, it’s too late.  That’s when the fire drill begins, and there is panic to get a vendor out immediately to fix something…often times something you are not even sure what it is…and what if a replacement part is required, and it’s not immediately available.  Employees are aggravated with their inability to do their job.  And most importantly, customers may be impacted negatively…orders may be lost, and your reputation may be put at risk in your specific market place.

Needless to say, when there is an IT outage, the pain is an acute…a heart attack or a blown engine if you will…and though these “real costs may be difficult to quantify, we all know they are significant”.  Taking a proactive approach to your IT support is far less costly than a reactive wait and see approach to IT support.  A first step to becoming proactive with your IT is requesting a free network assessment, its like a health fitness exam for your IT infrastructure.

 Request A Network Assessment

 

Topics: IT Support, Business IT, Break Fix, IT Outsourcing, Time & Materials

Important APC Surge Protection Device Safety Recall

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Fri, Oct 11, 2013

APC 8 Series Recalled Surge Protection DeviceAPC the surge protection and UPS battery manufacturer just issued a large recall on over 15 million surge protection devices.  APC projects that 1,500 of the recalled surge protection devices can overheat under abnormal electrical conditions, posing a possible fire risk to persons and property.  The affected models are APC 7 Series and APC 8 Series surge protection devices manufactured before 2003.  APC is recommending that affected products should be taken out of service immediately and the owner should be advised to follow the instructions easily found at this LINK

ANP believes we should be proactive in our delivery of IT Support, so we have decided to publish this blog in the hopes of helping our friends and clients remain safe.  Please post a comment to this Blog if you recalled your power surge device because of this notification!

Get Your Disaster Recovery Checklist

Topics: Business Continuity, APC Surge Protection Device, Recall, ups, power supply, Battery life, backups

The Difference between IT Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity?

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Wed, Oct 02, 2013


IT Disaster Recovery PlanIT downtime is frustrating and downright maddening since it can so easily be avoided. As a small business owner you can’t afford to lose business and customers because of failed computer systems. That’s why you need to know the different between disaster recovery and business continuity.

A lot of business owners erroneously believe that because they have a copy of their data somewhere that they must already have a business continuity plan in place and could be back up and running again fast. That notion is simply not true.

First of all, the word “disaster” indicates a situation where business systems are no longer functioning, or where data has been corrupted, lost or otherwise made inaccessible. That could be something as simple as a server experiencing a non-recoverable failure (thereby corrupting or deleting the data on it) or an office building being destroyed by a natural disaster (fires, floods, hurricanes.)  It could also be caused by a cyber-attack, for instance a disgruntled employee or any number of other unforeseen, unplanned events.

In many cases, if the data wasn’t backed up properly, or if a business continuity system wasn’t put in place, several days or even weeks can go by while data is recovered and IT systems are rebuilt and restored. Essentially, business continuity systems are proactive, where disaster recovery systems are reactive.

For example, having a second Internet connection would be part of a good business continuity plan if you’re highly dependent on e-mail and Internet access. If your main Internet provider was out, you’d have a way to keep working uninterrupted.  Cloud computing is also often part of a smart business continuity plan. If your data, e-mail, files and applications are hosted in the cloud, employees could continue to work remotely from home or in another location if your office building was destroyed or otherwise inaccessible due to a natural disaster, fire, evacuation, gas leak, etc.

Smart Business Continuity Solutions

These days you have several options to help keep your computers running and your information available 24/7/365. Storage solutions that contain backed-up, redundant hard drives, like Network Attached Storage (NAS) and Storage Area Networks (SAN) storage devices, help you recover in failure situations. Your users never see that a drive failed. Their data and applications are always available, even if if hardware breaks.

Many companies don’t have the latest hardware and software installed, however, it’s important to upgrade your systems in order to take advantage of new solutions. You need to have a plan for dealing with natural disasters, hackers, viruses, legal threats and new rules governing data protection.

With the Cloud gaining in acceptance, many small businesses have a backup copy of their files at their office and also stream all of their data offsite to a Cloud data backup facility, protecting the company data from any physical disruption at the company office. 

As the Owner, if you are unsure or uneasy of where your company data is regarding backup disaster recovery or from a business continuity perspective, you should download ANP’s five step guide on how to develop and maintain a disaster recovery plan.  Or take a more proactive approach and sit in our Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Webinar scheduled for this month.  

5 Steps To Prepare Disaster Recovery

Topics: Disaster Recovery, business continuity plan, cloud-based services

Is Your Computer Support Guy Treating You Like A “Bad Date?”

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Wed, Oct 02, 2013

IT Support NerdIs your computer support guy treating you like a bad date?

  • Not returning your calls fast enough…
  • Constantly missing deadlines…
  • Not fixing things right the first time…
  • Never following up on your requests?
  • Promises made and not kept?

It just amazes me how unreliable and arrogant some IT services companies are…

When you call them for help, you end up talking to their voice mail. When you finally get them on the phone, they make you wait hours – even days – before they actually get your problem resolved. Sometimes it never seems to get fixed and it’s easier to find a work-around or simply fix it yourself than to call your IT provider!

Even then, a lot of them take longer than they promised, nickel and dime you over everything and, as a final insult, they act like they’re doing YOU the favor! Every time you call your IT service company you are guaranteed an invoice, but not necessarily a resolution.  They often use their techno speak to confuse you, and respond when they feel like it, its never about your requirements and more about their schedule. 

You don’t need a computer nerd to act like a bad date; what you need is a new approach to your IT support.  The old Time & Materials approach is no longer effective for your growing small business. I spend most of my time speaking with our clients and prospects; the vast majority of business owners I speak to already have an IT service provider relationship in place, however, the business owner is exasperated with how poorly their IT provider is treating them.  You need IT support but you don’t need an unresponsive Time & Materials provider, there is a better way, a new way. 

There Is A Better Way to Receive IT Support for your Business

By changing your IT support approach from reactive (where you are waiting for a problem and then reactively calling your IT support guy to solve an issue) to proactive (where you rely upon a new IT support company to proactively manage your IT computer systems and software.  This new proactive approach can actually reduce the frustrating breakdowns and bring your network back to a reliable and highly available network you once had.

Better yet, the proactive approach can be purchased as a monthly fixed fee that you can budget for and rely upon to solve all of your network issues.  As the owner you no longer have to balance the cost of a potential T & M service call vs. accepting the IT frustration of a lingering IT problem.

With this new IT Support approach your IT Support provider is financially incented to get your network running so well that he never has to stop everything and be interrupted by an unexpected problem in your network.  Imagine an IT relationship with your new IT solutions partner where you both are working together for a mutual goal; a 100% percent available network, no downtime, no problems, happy and productive employees.

This new approach is called IT Outsourcing, or perhaps you have heard it called a Managed Service; the IT solutions company is called a Managed Service Provider (MSP.)  You can outsource your workstations and servers, or your Wide Area Network and your Local Area Network, your disaster recovery systems and even your phone system.

There is no longer a reason to feel like your IT support is a bad date that never ends, you can find an IT Managed Service provider that will treat you like you felt on your first date with your significant other: goose bumps! There is a new way and a better way to purchase your companies IT Support.

Want To Learn More: You can sign up for a one-hour webinar and learn how Managed Services might help your company lower your IT costs, improve your network and application availability and make your employees more productive! Learn how IT Managed Services can improve your business!

What a Business Owner should know about the Cloud

Not Ready To Watch a Webinar yet?

If not, I’d at least like to give you a copy of my new free report, “6 Essential IT Outsourcing Strategies For Your Business.” Even if you aren’t ready to watch a webinar right now; this report will give you some important strategies for you to consider regarding your IT.

 6 Essential IT Outsourcing Strategies

Topics: IT Support, Business IT, IT Outsourcing, IT Solutions, Managed Service Provider, Disaster Recovery

Should you consider IT Outsourcing for your small business?

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Wed, Sep 04, 2013

IT SupportIf you’re like most small businesses, you rely on your workstations, laptops, servers and technology to keep your business running. Unfortunately, that means when your IT stops working, you and your business stop working. Anything from computer problems, network glitches, viruses, or software issues can bring your work to a halt very quickly and cost you money to fix. Even a relatively ‘simple’ problem or question could involve many hours of troubleshooting, resulting in unplanned downtime and expenses.

To keep your employees productive, you need to keep your PCs, printers, routers, servers, network, firewall and applications and other systems running like clockwork. Managing your IT technology may not be the business you’re in, but it is important for your success as a whole. Not only do you need a way to minimize the frequent tech issues that drag down productivity and drive up costs, you also need to maximize the tools and technologies that increase productivity and help your business grow.

So where do you turn if you don’t have the time to manage it on your own or the money to keep a dedicated tech team on staff? You look to an IT services provider – a partner that can give you access to your own IT team.  Also known as a Managed Services Provider (MSP), an outside MSP can take over the day-to-day management of your IT needs. A good provider can offer set-up, maintenance and proactive IT management, as well as solutions for simple, but important questions or fast-breaking problems whenever they arise.  Put simply, an MSP can give you a better way to manage your technology and support your business. If you feel outside IT support makes sense for you, here are a few key questions to ask when choosing an MSP.

1. Do they understand your business?

You want a provider who already works with businesses like yours – who knows the technology, software, and hardware you use within your industry.  An association or a non-profit has entirely different IT needs than a manufacturer.  When speaking with an MSP, be specific about your set-up, applications and your concerns. Ask directly, do they understand and already support a business like yours? Are they familiar with the software applications you work with day in, day out? Can they work with PCs, with Macs, with servers? What about mobile devices or combinations of different printers, scanners, and routers and firewalls?

2. Can they support you remotely or On-site? How fast can they respond?

While it may seem comforting to have a technician come to your office with tools in hand, the convenience and speed of remote service and support is invaluable. Remote support is faster, and more efficient.  For example, if you’re experiencing a problem, you call your provider, who walks you through some diagnostics, resets, or other procedures on the spot. This can often resolve many issues without an in-person visit. Remotely delivered support is remarkably fast. In other cases, a provider can access your systems and networks remotely (with your permission, of course). They can reset routers, change network settings, scan systems for viruses and malware, or reinstall software and handle many other problems in far less time. Why wait for a truck to arrive if you can do it now?

Just ask: What are your remote capabilities?

With that said, there will be times when you need on-site support. Such as when you’re setting up new equipment, resolving physical issues with networks, moving equipment around the office, or when problems can’t be handled remotely. You need a provider who can deploy on-site technicians promptly, wherever you happen to be.

3. Do they work nights and weekends 24 hours a day 365 days a year?

When do you most need service and help? If you are in retail, hospitality, manufacturing, transportation, or any other business where 9-to-5 doesn’t apply, you need a provider who is 24/7.  Or maybe the only time you can stop for service is outside of your working hours.  A provider who is daylight-only may provide only limited services, or slower response after regular business hours. Who has time for that? Look for a provider who keeps hours for your convenience. And who doesn’t have a slower response time or charge more just because it’s dark out.

4. Do they offer Proactive Support?

It’s always best to have a relationship with an MSP before something happens. When your network crashes or your computers go dark, that is not the time to start hunting for help. You want a resource you know, and who knows your IT environment before there is a problem.  Ask the MSP what preventative services they provide, to help spot potential problems before something breaks. This can involve scanning your computers for rogue code, troubleshooting your network, testing your network for performance issues. All to prevent problems before they happen. Can the MSP show you that over time through their proactive processes that you will have fewer issues? Ask their references if the MSP has been able to lower their IT issues over time, after all isn’t that what you are trying to accomplish?

5. Do they offer an unlimited amount of Support Desk incidents?

Beware the MSP who tells you how much support time you require in hours or in incidents and then charges additional for anything you use over their allowance.  This can lead to unforeseen monthly charges, and end up costing your business much more than you originally thought you were going to pay.  Ask the MSP if they offer an unlimited support option; ideally, if the MSP is doing their job well, there will not be a lot of support incidents.  Ask the MSP if they have outsourced their support desk. Is the support provided from a call center overseas? Do they offer 24 X 7 support? Can they demonstrate that reactive support desk issues go down over time? 

6. Has the MSP’s policies and practices been audited? Do they have SSAE16 Type II accreditation?

You wouldn’t use an accountant who was not certified, nor would you go to a doctor who was not certified, so why outsource your IT services to someone who is not certified? The SSAE16 Type II accreditation insures that an independent IT expert, against a stringent set of policies and best practices, has audited your MSP.  Ask to see their SSAE16 opinion letter; it should be issued without any contingencies or exceptions.  Don’t rely on the MSP saying hey have been in business for X amount of years, without an audit, there is no way of you to determine if they are actually operating their clients in a best practice manner. 

7. How do they charge? What do they provide?

While it may seem prudent to arrange for support on an a la carte basis, only when something breaks, that practice can be unpredictable and costly.

That’s especially irritating when the problem could have been prevented. Or a simple question could have been answered in no time. A better option, more and more common, is an all-inclusive monthly subscription fee – priced either per device or for the entire business.

Depending on the provider, this monthly fee can include whatever immediate services may be required, along with some combination of proactive and reactive services that can include performance tests, scanning for viruses and malware, along with data back-up, hosting or other ancillary services. The advantage is that the costs are more predictable, and usually nominal, no matter what issues may occur during the month (even if there’s a major problem requiring on- site service, or you need equipment replacements). What’s more, proactive and preventive maintenance can help address potential problems long before they can cause downtime or customer inconvenience.

In addition, the costs of adding more users, and additional computers are easy to predict. As a business owner, you may decide you only want added support for yourself and the select employees who manage your most critical business data. As your business grows and you bring more critical roles into your company, you need a solution that can scale with you. With a monthly subscription model, there is little uncertainty.

Is it time for you to consider outsourcing your IT services?

 7 Signs That Its Time To Call For Computer Support

Topics: IT Support, Business IT, IT Outsourcing, Managed Service Provider

What Is Your Company's IT Fitness Level? | IT Assessment

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Wed, Aug 14, 2013

Will Your IT Practices Pass The Physical?

IT Fitness Assessment

As I was preparing for a 100 mile backpacking trip with my youngest son this summer, I realized it was time for me to take a harder look at my own personal fitness. I had gained a few extra pounds, I was not in great aerobic shape, and wondered how healthy my heart was. The thought of being out in the middle of a desert in New Mexico without access to quick medical help, I knew it was time toassess my own fitness level before placing a 50 LB pack on my back and heading out to the wilderness.

After a stress test, which turned out better than I expected, and a discussion with my doctor regarding how much weight I needed to loose and a plan to get into aerobic shape; I had a 6 months of activities to complete to meet my goals. I successfully lost the weight (plus another 15 pounds after the hike.) There is no question in my mind that taking a proactive and consistent approach to improving my health for the trip was the right path to take and as it turned out, my son and I had a blast and have safely returned home with some great memories.

I am sure you know where I am heading with this... Your own company’s IT fitness level is much like your own personal fitness level.  Personally, I had let my fitness slip away and although I was not lying in a hospital bed, I was certainly not in the best shape.  IT fitness, like our own health, can get away from us because there are so many other things to focus on in a business that before you know it there could be a virus outbreak, a dead Laptop or a missing back up tape. Just like our own personal health, our company’s IT health needs a proactive and consistent approach to remain healthy and avoid disease. You need to keep an eye on your IT support!

So what are a few things you could do to keep your Company IT Fitness level in great shape?

It’s honestly very easy, the trick is in the consistency at which you do the following things. You already know that occasional and sporadic exercise will not improve your overall personal fitness, the same is true with these IT fitness principles, they will only work if you are methodical and consistent with their application.  So let’s take a look at some of the things you can do that would be at the top of my list:

IT Fitness Goal #1

Stay committed to backing up your files at least every month. Ideally, every week and also every year. I wish I had a dollar for every business owner who told me they thought their company data was being backed up.  A back up is like an
insurance policy, you don’t want to use it, but you are grateful to have it when you need it.  There are so many inexpensive ways to get your data backed up, consider your accounting data first and work through a list until everything you feel you will need again is backed up, and ideally taken off site.  Business Continuity is a function the Owner should be interested in ensuring. You can easily devlop an IT Disaster Recovery Plan for your company. 

Your Company data can be streamed off site, so if there is a fire or a flood you know you have everything in a safe place.  With the price of USB connected disk drive being less than $200 dollars, you can probably get almost all of your company data on one portable drives. Wouldn’t you sleep better at night if you knew your company data was backed up in a secure location?

 IT Fitness Goal #2

Turn on automatic Windows updates.  With so many Microsoft patches coming out every two weeks, you simply can’t afford to not keep up with Microsoft security updates.  By keeping your PC up to date, your Virus Scanning software does not need to work nearly as hard. It’s easy to do and its free, so make certain every PC has auto updates turned on.

Keeping up with your personal physical fitness is a good thing but performing safe IT Fitness can be just as important. So, let’s get going… In the next blog I will continue my list of easy things you can do to insure your Company IT Fitness is in great health and be sure to register for our August Webinar!

 

7 Signs That Its Time To Call For Computer Support

 

 

Topics: IT Support, Disaster Recovery, Business Continuity

How To Save Money On Your IT Solutions

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Wed, Jul 31, 2013

IT Solution ExpensesThere are two faces to IT investments and costs.  As a business owner or as an IT manager, you can look outside of your IT department and consider what areas in your business need more control, perhaps a better process, or more consistent deliverables. You can also look inside your IT department and ask yourself where can you save money and get better results.  This week, let’s take a look at inward facing or internal IT costs.

Here’s a few ideas on how you can maximize your results from your internal IT expenes.

Consider migrating some or all of your IT solutions into the Cloud

You have seen the Microsoft ads on TV regarding the Cloud or you own an Apple iPhone and you see the ability to save your pictures and emails into Apple's iCloud.  The Cloud is here to stay and can become a big part of your company’s IT strategy.  There are two major types of cloud operations: Cloud storage and Cloud based applications. All companies need to store documents. If they go with physical solutions like hard drives, backup tapes etc., it can get very expensive, very quickly. Cloud storage allows you to store all your documents off site, often at a fraction of the cost of physical storage solutions. Beyond that, you will have access to your documents as long as you have an Internet connection.

Cloud based applications come in many varieties, with the most popular being based around the office suite, or a hybrid of storage and application. Solutions like Google Drive which takes Google’s office suite and combines it with a storage and sharing solution, is completely
based in the Cloud. The goal of Google Drive and other solutions, like Microsoft Office, is largely to provide a platform that enables easy collaboration and sharing at a fraction of the cost of more traditional on prem solutions.

Integrating Cloud based solutions can often times save you a ton of money, not only in operating costs but also long-term maintenance. As these services depend on a data connection and not sheer computing power, you won’t have to replace your machines in order to upgrade to new software. This means lower costs all round for the small business owner.

Deploy or outsource a Voice over IP Phone System

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has been around for a number of years and many companies, large and small, have integrated it into their offices. Because VoIP uses an Internet connection to send and receive phone calls, there’s no need for expensive cabling and switchboards.  Aside from lower overhead, many VoIP providers offer calling rates at a
fraction of what most conventional dial-tone providers charge. So, companies that make lots
of long-distance calls can really benefit with VoIP.

While many businesses have integrated VoIP solutions, most don’t go beyond that. If you use a fax machine, did you know that you can either digitize that and eliminate the fax machine, integrate it with most modern email programs or use your VoIP connection to transmit fax data.

If you have a sales force who is constantly on the road or giving presentations, why not look into a Web conferencing system. Many systems, like Cisco's WebEx, allow users to hold conferences and share documents or presentations without having to leave the office.

Outsource your IT support to a Managed Service Provider

While this may seem counter-intuitive – why would a company want to pay to save money? Managed Service Providers (MSP) usually charge a monthly fixed fee and offer a full service solution that aims to keep your IT systems running. Through preventative maintenance and proactive management ensuring systems are running, IT costs are often reduced in the long run. Beyond that, the chances of a major service outage are drastically reduced. Should anything happen to your business MSPs can have you up and running more quickly allowing you to minimize potential downtime losses.

There are literally thousands of ways you can save money on IT and maximize your resources, and often experts like us can help you extend savings even further. So, why not give us a call and see what we can do. Also, stay tuned for part three of this article, covering how to save money on tech systems that your customers interact with.

 Unchain Your Office

Topics: Budget, Business IT, Business technology, Managed Service Provider, VoIP, cloud save, Cloud. Savings from the cloud, voice technology, businesses operating in the cloud, Cloud-Office 365, Office 365

Using Time & Materials IT Support? Are You Happy With The Results?

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Thu, Jul 25, 2013

IT Services,IT Outsourcing,IT supportYou probably don’t realize this—but even though you are not an IT expert you can evaluate the best IT support for your business, and avoid those IT companies that are never going to give you great support, no matter how much money you pay them.

This means you can choose between an IT company that truly wants you to succeed in IT rather than spend endless amounts of money fixing never ending IT issues with an IT company that simply isn’t motivated by your IT success.

Let me show you what I mean:

There are two types of IT support companies; the old business model is a Time & Materials company; here’s how it works: When you have an IT issue, you call them, they send out a technician and they fix your problem, they send you an invoice for a few hours’ work and they wait until something else in your company breaks and you call them in again, and again, and again.  You have probably been doing this for years with your IT guy; so what’s so bad with the Break/Fix model?

Honestly, as a business owner, I like the idea of paying as little as I can for IT support, I would certainly avoid hiring a full-time IT geek for as long as I could.  It seems like the Break/Fix Time & Materials approach to an IT problem helps a business owner avoid hiring their own IT employee; you get IT services on demand when you need them and you only pay for what you use in support time. Isn’t that an ideal way to keep your IT costs as low as possible?

Well maybe not; as we all know things aren’t always the way they seem.

Imagine for a moment you are the owner of the IT provider instead of the consumer of the IT service.  How do you grow your IT business and make more money? Well we already discussed that you have to wait until a client calls with a problem, then you send out your best technician so that you can solve the issue in the shortest amount of time so that the client gets the smallest T&M bill possible.  Hmmm do you really think that’s how old style IT companies approach it?

Or more likely, do they send out the least qualified technician that can solve the pain in the slowest timeframe possible so they can maximize the T&M invoice while clearing up the customers’ issue? Herein is the rub, the IT provider is not financially motivated to work as quickly as possible by deploying the highest skilled worker and searching for the underlying issue that will resolve the problem forever.  After all, for the Time & Materials approach to be viable the IT provider needs you to keep calling them--so they never search for the underlying issues that could reduce your need for T&M support! 

So what does this mean to you as a business owner?

With a closer look, you and your business are really at cross-purpose with your T&M IT provider, you each have diametrically opposed agendas:

  • The IT provider wants to maximize the time billed; you want it completed as quickly as possible. 
  • The IT provider isn’t really motivated in solving underlying causes of issues; you want the problem to never return by solving the root issue. 
  • The IT provider is motivated to send the least capable engineer and you want the most talented engineer in the company working on your network. 
  • The IT provider reactively waits until there is a problem to exploit the pain you are feeling with the IT issue, while you really need a proactive approach to IT issues, where things are solved before they become IT impacting.

It turns out; there is another IT approach that will serve you and your company much better than T&M and I will explain what you need to know to choose the best provider for your business!  Download our Free Report on the Seven Signs that its Time to Call for Computer Support.

7 Signs Its Time Computer Support

 

Topics: IT Support, IT Outsourcing, Time & Materials, IT Services

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