More people today use personal mobile devices like smartphones and tablets for business purposes. Such devices, coupled with greater Wi-Fi accessibility and cloud services, have empowered us with the ability to access data and do business from practically anywhere at anytime.
Needless to say, many small-to-medium sized business owners have embraced the BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) revolution. The benefits are obvious; increased employee productivity, enhanced services to customers/clients, and better overall customer and employee satisfaction.
But what about the potential consequences associated with this mobility revolution? Are small business owners doing enough preemptive planning to address potential risks that could arise with the use of BYOD devices?
Mobile Device Management – Questions Every SMB Should Ask
First, it is important that small business owners honestly assess whether their systems, networks, data, and overall infrastructure are ready for the use of an array of mobile devices.
What particular devices or applications are permissible for work use? Assuming security requirements are in place, not every device or application will meet those.
Will anyone in the company be tasked with the daily management of BYOB strategies? What should BYOD policies cover and what kind of management solutions will be needed? Would a BYOD management tool that collects device information, deploys and monitors usage, and offers insight into compliance be helpful?
Which costs will be the responsibility of the employee? This pertains to any fees associated with usage – from network plans, to the device itself, to software, accessories and maintenance costs.
What data will be accessible? Will data encryption be necessary for certain information traveling through the personal devices of employees? Which employees will have read, write, update/delete privileges?
What is the process when handling sensitive data stored on lost or stolen devices, or the personal devices of ex-employees? Does the company or organization have the right to wipe out the entire device or just corporate data and apps?
BYOD is here to stay as it affords smaller-sized companies the mobility of a corporate giant without a huge investment. But when it comes to ensuring that devices, applications and networks are safe from the variety of threats linked to greater mobility, small business owners may find it necessary to enlist the help of a managed service provider to adequately take on mobile management challenges and provide ongoing consultation.
4 Essential Pieces to Any Small Business BYOD Strategy
Believe it or not, once upon a time, kids at the bus stop didn’t have cell phones and the mobile device strategy of many businesses was typically you’ll take what you’re given, refrain from using it for any personal use, and the data may be scrubbed clean whenever we please.
We’ve come a long way. Today, businesses really have no choice but to let employees use personal devices for work purposes. Blurred lines now make it difficult to differentiate between what is professional and what is personal. A company or organization may partially pay for an employee’s tablet computer or smartphone, but that same device is used to upload photos to Facebook or download torrents of this season of Game of Thrones.
Naturally, security and privacy issues are a concern since these devices synch to the company network. Larger corporations may be able to hire IT support or produce sophisticated BYOD guidelines for employees to adhere to but smaller businesses have limited resources.
In fact, recent surveys suggest that the small business sector is doing very little to preemptively prepare for potential network security risks that could arise with the use of BYOD devices. This could prove to be disastrous.
According to market stats from a survey conducted by Cisco in 2012, approximately 88% of employees are doing business on personal devices. However, only 17% of companies currently have a BYOD security policy in place, and only 29% of companies have plans to implement a mobile device security plan in the near future.
Implementing a comprehensive BYOD policy right now, rather than when it’s too late, is important. We’ve compiled a list of four items that any business currently building a BYOD strategy must consider.
It must clearly be outlined what specific devices are permitted for work use.
The company/organization must have the ability to remotely delete company-sensitive data from mobile devices without the device owner’s permission. Remote deletion capabilities are much more refined these days; simplifying the removal of enterprise-related data from devices, while leaving other content like personal photos, contacts, apps and music downloads intact.
Employee privacy should be discussed within the BYOD policy since employees often use these devices to check personal email, browse or post to Facebook and Twitter feeds, instant message, and store personal documents, photos, music and movie downloads. Employees must understand that employers still have access to the content stored on these devices. Location tracking, which gives employers the ability to locate employees, is also something to discuss since many people don’t necessarily welcome that kind of surveillance.
It is understandable that BYOD and more mobile employees have some small business owners feeling anxious and nervous. But mobile management tools, periodic conversation, security checks, and research will do wonders when it comes to keeping small businesses safe.
Everyone in the office loves Eric. Sporting a different ironic t-shirt everyday, Eric is the one we call when technology spits in our face. Whether it’s a slow system, a bug that needs to be squashed, a website issue, or a crash that results in unexpected downtime and data loss, Eric is right there. Not only does he get to the bottom of any issue but he also rights the ship like he’s some sort of miracle-working captain who just happens to have a pretty wickedly funny Peter Griffinfrom Family Guy impersonation.
But business is growing and Eric is overworked. Eric has certain skills that you’d love to use to develop innovative applications and revenue-generating projects– but he’s too busy running around fixing things that break. Or he’s performing the most mundane and routine tasks day-in-and-day-out just to keep things secure and running smoothly.
You get a sense that Eric’s overburdened and he’s saddled with too many responsibilities. His demeanor has changed from pleasant to moody. He’s listening to angrier metal and punk music and you’re noticing cracks in his work. You fear Eric is being pulled in too many directions and the reliability of your server, network, and applications, as well as the integrity of your data, are all at risk.
Someone who has watched a bit too much of Donald Trump on The Apprentice might think Eric should be fired. We’re not going to fire Eric. But we’re also not going to hire a full-time salaried Robin to his Batman or Cheech to his Chong. We’re going to help Eric by exploiting IT automation and managed services to handle many of the monotonous tasks making Eric hate his job right now.
Let’s help Eric…..
Focus Primarily on Cost-Cutting and Revenue Increasing Projects: First things first, Eric has to realize that he can’t do everything himself. Where are his skills best used? Whether it’s processes that help drive down costs or ones with the potential to raise revenue, evaluate the projects in the queue and rank them by what impacts the bottom line the most.
Once that’s done, look at the day-to-day processes designed to keep things running securely and efficiently. What can be off-loaded from Eric? Determine which of those tasks can be automated either through the cloud or managed services.
Take to the Cloud: Some IT people fear the cloud spells the end to their job security. Meanwhile, the cloud can actually help them take on a more prominent contributing role in the company’s success. The cloud should be seen as another tool that further eliminates the mundane yet necessary daily drudgery from their workday. Those who work WITH the cloud will find that they have more available time to take on more meaningful cost cutting or revenue generating projects.
Use a Managed Service Provider: Using outsourced managed services not only alleviates much of Eric’s pressure and stress, but also boosts productivity and gives the company a much improved ROI (Return-on-Investment) on their technology investment.
While technology has gotten easier for the end user, it has become more complex on the backend with the advent of virtualization, cloud computing, and advanced infrastructure.
Using an MSP gives Eric access to a trusted advisor, a 24/7 help desk, remote monitoring and management tools, mobile device management tools, and much better disaster recovery and business continuity solutions. All without the overhead that comes with hiring more help for Eric. MSPs offer a consistency to not just your end-user but also your main IT guy who will certainly appreciate the help.
When smaller businesses look to cut costs, they commonly take shortcuts that are risky to their bottom line. They may go out of their way to avoid upgrading dated hardware, buying software licenses, or increasing bandwidth. In some instances, they layoff in-house IT support, or avoid hiring new help, even as the business grows. This often leads to a very cranky and disgruntled “IT guy” with a bad attitude as he or she runs around the office putting out one fire after another – feeling overburdened and underpaid.
Operating even the most basic data center today means recurring operating expenses that aren’t affordable for most small-to-midsize businesses.
Unfortunately, SMBs just have to accept that keeping their data center alive and kicking means significant overhead and expenses. That’s just the way it is.
Or is it? There are actually several ways to reduce data center infrastructure costs without sacrificing the efficiency of your network, server, and applications, or the sanity of your IT guy.
Rent, Don’t Own: A data center needs experienced people and a virtual, always-on, 24/7 staff of administrators, networking experts, database specialists, systems managers, and dedicated IT personnel monitoring the network. From an economic perspective, it’s simply more logical to “rent” these workers rather than hire permanent employees.
Keep Things Remote & Energy Efficient: According to a study published by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the fastest-growing sources of U.S. energy consumption are data centers. This is due to the increased power supply required to run and cool a data center. Hardware sprawl is also a problem contributor, as most businesses have space limitations and lack the available room for any additional hardware.
Both of the aforementioned cost control measures can be accomplished by outsourcing data center operating expenses. Outsourcing isn’t a dirty word. Managing IT on your own is difficult and far from cost effective. Outsourcing the day-to-day IT management responsibilities through a Managed Services Provider is a strategic way to improve the efficiency of operations and dramatically cut costs.
Is it any surprise that more and more SMBs today are tapping into the full spectrum of outsourced managed services to empower their business processes and reduce overhead? Are you?
Click, Click, BOOM – You’re in Business But Is Your Technology Ready?
It’s a fast business world. Brilliant business ideas can be conjured up at some hipster-filled vegan coffeehouse, a website is thrown together, and poof… in no time at all there is a living, breathing, small business venture accessible from anywhere in the world.
But as your head hits the pillow at night, with visions of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg dancing in your head, understand that many obstacles will greet you on your road to entrepreneurial success. A fresh innovative idea is merely a start. For every successful startup like Groupon, there are even more that have faltered. Some great, even revolutionary, business concepts that just faded into obscurity; leaving behind nothing but tales of what could’ve been and insurmountable debt.
Failed business technology is often a big reason for this. Many startups think big but tend to operate small-minded to keep overhead and costs down. They then find themselves completely unprepared to meet the demands of growth, particularly when it comes to their IT infrastructure. There is no one-size fit all approach to how to manage technology for optimal efficiency, uptime, and profitability. Especially given the challenges of limited budgets and the need to keep overhead down.
So exactly how do SMBs make sound decisions regarding their technology infrastructure? Choices that are cost-effective enough to get their business off the ground and running without screwing them over once it truly takes off?
Combine On-Site and Off-Site Support for the Best of Both Worlds
Over 45% of SMBs have no dedicated in-house IT staff and no contracted IT consultant regularly monitoring and managing their technology. Roughly only 7 percent of SMBs have a full-time onsite IT technician on payroll. The rest rely on third-party on-call IT companies who appear only when technology goes haywire and disrupts business. These on-call companies can sometimes take a day or two to even show up, which means issues aren’t resolved in a timely and efficient manner. And did we mention they’re expensive?
Most SMBs say they simply can’t afford full-time in-house support. Even those who do budget for it face overwhelming challenges. They often experience a revolving door of on-site help who leave for a larger company and better salary once they’ve beefed up their resume. And those hires that do remain loyal often feel as if they have no reliable help and become overworked and frazzled as the business and their responsibilities grow. Discontent may even set in if wages aren’t raised proportionately to the added responsibilities, or if they grow bored of doing the same mundane repetitive work everyday.
But today’s SMB has access to technology that won’t drain resources. In particular, the evolution of cloud computing and managed services can either automate or re-assign a lot of the day-to-day caretaking of technology to remote employees, leaving onsite support available for more meaningful and potentially profitable projects.
Better yet, it saves money on equipment costs.
Whenever possible, a mix of on-premise and off-premise IT support is the best way to make your technology scalable and prepared for growth.
Small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) tend to have a more difficult time managing IT than larger enterprises. Despite being as technology dependent as larger enterprises, SMBs have tighter budgets and fewer resources to devote to IT management. This leads to a more reactive “break-fix” approach to their technology that never does any smaller company or organization any good.
Here’s what break fix most often leads to. If the burden rests on the shoulders of hourly or salaried in-house IT support, and they’re too busy putting out fires all day, then their skills and talents are essentially wasted.
If there is no in-house tech support, and many smaller companies and organizations don’t have even one onsite “IT guy”, SMBs are commonly taken for a ride by some of the more unscrupulous on-call IT consultants.
Although “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a popular saying, it should never be applied to the management of business technology. The cost of downtime can crush any barely surviving small business. The combined impact of lost revenue, lost productivity, and lost brand reputation is a severe hit that many SMBs aren’t built to withstand.
It pays to be proactive, not a reactive about technology. This requires a cultural shift from how IT has commonly been handled in the past. Say goodbye to manual, yet necessary, processes and hello to a better way for businesses to meet their technology needs – a smarter and more cost-efficient way.
Three Steps To Better Manage Your Business Technology
Be Proactive – More often than not, it’s the things that aren’t caught early on that turn into costly business disruptions. For instance, many of the hardware, software, and application failures that cause downtime occurrences are preventable; they’re just not detected and addressed early enough.
SMBs today have the advantage of using a Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) tool to help their existing in-house support staff get a grip on their workload.
A RMM tool, combined with an outsourced 24/7 Network Operations Center (NOC), monitors your technology all day and all through the night via one comprehensive interface that is even accessible with a mobile device. This kind of around the clock monitoring transforms technology management. Problems can be nipped in the bud with an alert and prompt ticket resolution before they turn into major issues that disrupt day-to-day operations.
Automate/Schedule Mundane Tasks – Free the in-house support staff from everyday manual maintenance and monitoring by automating a broad range of IT security and monitoring tasks.
Get More From Your In-House Team – If you have any in-house IT support, you’ve likely hired some incredibly skilled and talented people who would be more worthy contributors to your company or organization if they weren’t always so tied up fixing things and performing monotonous tasks. With RMM and NOC solutions, SMBs can put these individuals to work on projects that matter. They are freed-up to work on concepts, strategies, and application development that better serve your customers, employees, and suppliers, truly giving business a competitive advantage.
Inquiring SMBs Want to Know… What’s the Difference Between a Help Desk and NOC?
It’s no secret that any growing small-to-medium sized business must monitor and manage its business technology in the most cost-efficient way. The tricky part is figuring out how to do this without sacrificing the overall experience of the end-user. End-users can be clients and customers or employees. Both rely on the efficiency of a firm’s network, servers, and applications, and the availability of the company’s data center.
Thanks to the evolution of managed services, it’s actually possible these days to reduce costs, which strengthens IT support and infrastructure. It’s just a matter optimally integrating all available resources.
It’s a Staffing Conundrum for Most SMBs
Most SMBs tend to be short staffed. This isn’t just another reference to the many SMBs with little to no onsite tech support. While that’s true, and problematic, it’s actually all operations that tend to be short staffed.
Small yet growing companies and organizations aren’t just short on tech support; it seems like even their administrative assistant needs an assistant to keep up. Customer support and sales teams are also overworked, and often hindered by having to understand and troubleshoot tech problems when they have no tech expertise whatsoever.
There is no, “Hold for a moment, Sir. I’m about to transfer you to our tech support team.” There is no tech support team.
This is where managed service providers (MSPs) step in to save the day. MSPs help SMBs better manage their technology to achieve greater ROI (Return-on-Investment). One way they do this is by augmenting a SMBs existing on-site staff with the remote support of a 24/7 Network Operations Center (NOC) and Help Desk.
What’s the Difference Between a NOC and Help Desk?
This question is asked a lot because it’s really not uncommon to see both referenced interchangeably, which leaves many to assume they are one in the same. They are not. Here is the easiest way to distinguish between the two.
NOC: Most of the work performed by a NOC focuses on the network and systems. The NOC can almost be viewed as a mission control center. They monitor and manage an IT network. A 24/7 NOC typically monitors the network and system security, performance, and backup processes.
Help Desk: The Help Desk is more customer-oriented. The Help Desk has interaction with the end-user, or someone representing the end-user, to directly respond and resolve technical problems as they arise. Customers or employees can typically reach the Help Desk by clicking a support icon, emailing them, or dialing a toll-free number.
Do the Help Desk and the NOC Interact?
Although the NOC and Help Desk are different, they do work together, along with any in-house tech support, to provide cohesive tech solutions to end-users. The Help Desk typically has three tiers of support and may sometimes have to escalate tickets to the NOC for resolution.
This open communication, and ease of escalation, improves the end-user experience and serves as a proactive cost-efficient approach to managing SMB technology.
Understanding Managed Services and How They Benefit SMBs
Small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) receive a lot of calls each day from slick sales people peddling the next technology trend that’s going to save them money and revolutionize how they do business. They’re all too quick to caution that if you don’t listen to them, you’ll fall behind the times, and eventually be swimming in a sea of debt and out of business.
No doubt you’ve heard, or you’ve at least read about, the benefits of managed services. Managed services refer to clearly defined outsourced IT services delivered to you at predictable costs. You know the exact IT services you’ll be getting and what you’ll pay for them. There is no surprise sky-high bill for services rendered. So are solicitation calls that pertain to managed services worth listening to? We think so. Then again, we’re in the managed services industry. There may be a bit of a bias here.
How Managed Service Providers Work
Managed service providers (MSPs) use remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools to keep an eye on their performance and overall health of the IT infrastructure that powers your business operations.
Your MSP should have a 24/7 Network Operations Center (NOC) that acts as your mission control center. If the monitoring alerts them to any issue with your servers, devices, hardware or software, they respond quickly to resolve the issue.
Additionally, the NOC performs regular systems maintenance such as
Automated tasks like the cleaning of temporary files
Applying tested security patches as required
Installing virus and Malware protection
System backup and disaster recover/business continuity processes
Additionally, your MSP should give you access to a Help Desk that services your customers and employees – speaking to and working with them directly as if they’re part of your staff.
This proactive maintenance, stabilization of your IT environment, and rapid as-needed remediation helps SMBs control technology costs and better serve the end-users who rely on their technology.
Is Managed Services Better than Other Ways to Manage IT
We find that far too many companies have no real perspective about how much IT management costs them. Let’s review some of the alternatives to managed services.
Hiring In-House IT Support
Typically, a firm with anywhere from 20-60 employees may feel that one person can manage their technology. Understand that this one full-time employee can demand a significant salary since they’ll have to be proficient with desktop, server and network support, and interact with both end-users in the Help Desk role and management. They will likely be overworked and vulnerable to error or oversights that may prove to be costly. And what happens if they’re out sick or on vacation?
The Break/Fix Mentality
The majority of smaller companies take this route because they feel as if they’re too small for a more sophisticated 24/7 approach to IT management. They also feel pressure to direct all resources on the product or service, not behind-the-scenes operations. They decide to use on-call IT techs when broken technology has already disrupted business. The on-call team’s response time and overall lack of familiarity with your systems extends downtime and proves to be a much more expensive resolution to IT management. It’s reactive, not proactive, and it’s a costly mistake too often made.
This is why many SMBs today feel that managed services are the most cost-effective way to support their IT infrastructure and the best way to get more bang for their buck.
6 Reasons You Should Worry About the IT Management of Your Medical Practice
When you were in residence, the thought of 20-hour shifts probably gave you nightmares. At that time you never thought that managing a part of your business would trigger similar anxieties. Of the many things you learned in medical school, managing a technology infrastructure that is robust and meets the demands of a maze of federal regulations was not one of them. As a medical practitioner you don’t have experience understanding the inner functioning of your network systems. Also, with additional government regulations there are many reasons to have serious concerns about your IT. Failure to comply with those regulations, caused by mismanagement of your technology infrastructure or anything else, may have far-reaching implications.
There are six reasons you should be concerned about proper management of your IT systems
Data Security: Any business that deals with the private and personal information of the general public has a tremendous responsibility for safeguarding it. Technology has given you the means and tools to manage the flow of information that is generated by your practice. You save vast amounts of data for instant access from different locations. Unfortunately, this also makes security a larger problem. Protecting your client data now goes beyond traditional obligations, especially now that it is regulated by HIPPA. There are serious repercussions for failure to protect personal health information, including fines and penalties running from $100 – $50,000 per violation.
Accessibility: New regulations have been enacted to improve accessibility as well. Now patients must be able to access their own medical information. Patient portals are gaining popularity, which, for health care providers, will be another task to manage.
Major Upgrades and New Programs: Another big challenge is the transition to new coding standards and government regulations. Now there is urgency on your part due to the updated regulation ICD-10, mandated by Health and Human Services, which must be implemented by Oct. 2015, as well as the implementation of HIPPA-mandated regulation ANSI 5010 effective Jan. 2012. This is a major transition that will have an effect on every facet of your business. A smooth transition is going to require marshalling significant technical and administrative forces.
Healthcare versus IT Management: The real reason behind all the uncertainty and apprehension about managing your network infrastructure is a lack of background. You were trained to be a health care provider, not an IT specialist. Given the complexity of IT management and the risks from failure or a data breach, it can be downright intimidating.
Fast Changing Technology and Threats: Growing demand in services and increasing threats from hackers demand new capabilities and safeguards in the form of software and hardware updates. As a health care provider you are unable to keep track of the new threats and viruses that are constantly emerging , and have the potential to threaten your systems and data security.
Downtime and Data Recovery: Another headache is downtime. Systems break. Reservation and scheduling systems can fail leaving you completely handicapped and unable to function. I was recently at a physician’s office where the scheduling system crashed and they had no idea who was coming in—they had no backup of the day’s appointments. Until that system was restored, they were completely in the dark. Given the reliance on electronic systems, your office needs to have plans to quickly restore systems, and also ensure effective data back up procedures.
Cost of IT Management: IT management is expensive, but it is required. The problem is that in-house support is a considerable drain on payroll. Additionally, in-house support, most likely a single full time employee at best, cannot be available or on-call 24/7. Vacations, sick time, and sleep present barriers to that although, of course, all employees should have it! Also, in-house staff may not be able to keep abreast of all the updates and regulatory changes all on their own. One additional cost of IT management is your time. You have to supervise them, and it is unlikely you have the background or desire to do that effectively.
What do you need to do? By now you know that you definitely need help running your IT networks, but whom can you trust with this vitally important task. You have to make sure that you can focus on your core business without any interruptions or worries. You don’t want to be told by your staff that your systems have been hacked or your data is not being backed up properly. You need to make sure that you are in complete compliance with government regulations requiring that security and accessibility of data be maintained. All health records must be maintained electronically. A single solution to all these concerns is to use a Managed Service Provider (MSP). A MSP can provide complete support for a worry free work environment and leave you free to concentrate on more important things. It is a cost effective, 24/7 solution that will give you peace of mind.
Are Managed IT Services Right For You? A Few Things to Consider
How do you get a small business to recognize the value of manages IT services? In the start-up environment, we encounter an eclectic bunch of personality types. There is a reason people become entrepreneurs or C-level execs. When we meet the owners or decision makers at smaller companies and organizations, we can tell right away why they’re where they are. They’re visionaries. They’re risk takers. They’re competitive. They want to be in charge.
Therefore, they aren’t always quick to place the fate of their business technology in the hands of a third party. They’ve come as far as they have by being in control and they’re hesitant to give up that control. But we’ve learned a few things along the way.
For example, the Type A personality is highly independent but also very competitive. So we tap into the competitive advantage that managed IT services gives them.
The Type B personality is creative and doesn’t like static routines. But their ears perk up when they hear terminology like “cutting-edge” and we can then paint the big picture for them once their listening.
But anyone we do business with has to be committed to the efficiency, security, and stability of their business technology to see our value proposition. And they have to recognize that managing their IT infrastructure is an investment they cannot take lightly.
So here are a few things we commonly have to address before any deal for managed IT services is signed.
Is my business large enough to even consider managed services?
There is an old adage that size doesn’t matter (ahem… we’re talking about in a fight) but SMBs must always think big to get big. The truth is, any company, regardless of its size or the number of people they employ, will run more efficiently if its technology is monitored, maintained, and managed properly.
These are facets of your operations that drive profitability and give our Type A personalities that competitive edge they crave. And they can rest easy whenever business is booming because their technology is built to sustain their growth. That’s the big picture that our Type B personality can appreciate.
How is making another IT investment a cost-savings move for my business?
There are still many SMBs who feel a greater focus and investment should go towards their core operations or marketing and sales. They only worry about technology when it breaks, figuring they’ll just call a service technician to come to the office and fix whatever the problem is. Or buy some new hardware at Office Depot.
There are some very obvious flaws to this strategy.
You’re paying way too much when it’s way too late – An issue that was likely preventable with early detection has escalated into a full blown business disruption and that on-call technician likely charges a high hourly rate, on top of hardware replacement costs, and may not get to your site right away. Being proactive rather than reactive to technology issues is important.
Don’t forget productivity killers – It’s taking your employees too long to boot their computers. Servers and applications are running slowly. Employee devices are full of Malware. Non-technical employees are running around troubleshooting tech problems. If you see this, your present approach to IT management is killing employee productivity and your bottom line.
What happens internally is noticed externally – Don’t think for a second that customers or clients don’t notice outdated or slow internal technology and mismanagement. If your site or applications are down often, run slowly, or your customer service rep tells them “I’m sorry, our system is down”, they’re noticing and it’s hurting your business.
When all is said and done, professionally managed IT services will give you a competitive edge, guarantee your business is always leveraging the newest most cutting-edge technology, and enhance your relationships with customers and clients – all while reducing costs.