June 25, 2015

Putting it mildly, choosing an IT services firm can be a stressful process. There are a myriad of factors to take into consideration, and you know going into the process that a mistake will be costly on so many levels.

With technology now the lifeblood of so many businesses, here are three critical factors to consider when making this all-important decision:

Reliability/Availability. For every business, time is money. You don’t want to you’re your business faced with malfunctioning technology and no IT support. On vacation, sick, busy with another client. All are reasons are perfectly valid reasons for not being available, EXCEPT when it’s your IT on the fritz.  Make certain the company you’re considering has the ability to handle more than one call at a time (usually means more than one available tech).  Solo practitioners do great work for their clients, but the current lack of cloning means they are typically limited to one issue at a time.  Also, ask about the company’s response time. No one’s going to tell you they’re slow to answer calls, but have them quantify their response times for you. A firm may have excellent techs and great prices, but both are meaningless if they can’t get to you in a reasonable timeframe. Be sure to get a service level agreement (SLA) in writing.

Does the IT provider understand your business objectives? Technology is simply the tool we use to achieve our business goals. When choosing an IT services firm, the last thing they should talk to you about is technology. Any interview/initial meeting should be focused almost exclusively on the “big picture” of your business: how do you operate now; how do you want to operate in the future; what do you want to get out of your IT.  Only after these questions have been answered should the conversation turn to your technology requirements.

Experience. Of course you want your IT services firm to have experience. But you have to be reasonable in your expectations. No firm will have an in-house resource for every type of hardware and software you may utilize. It doesn’t matter the size of the firm; it’s not economically feasible for a firm to have that type of bandwidth. (Even IBM has to hire to find specialized resources.)  With that being said, it is critically important that the IT firm be able to source and obtain the correct answers and develop solutions for your situation, as well as be able to work with the software or hardware vendors to ultimately meet your needs. You’re looking for flexibility and ability to find solutions.

The technical elements above will help you weed out the potential IT services firms. With the ones left standing, since you’re looking for a long-term relationship, identify those who fit your company’s personality.  How the firm’s techs interact with you and your employees will go a long way to establishing a trusting and successful partnership.

These relationship with your IT vendor is among your most important now. Treat the process of finding the right one as such and you should be in good shape.

#PokeTheBear

June 18, 2015

It's not often, if ever, I go to ESPN for news on an IT-related story. But the revelation earlier this week that the FBI is looking at the St. Louis Cardinals for possible hacking of a Houston Astros database just is too good to ignore. Especially when some of the "leaked" info indicates that a former Cardinal executive, Jeff Luhnow (now GM of the Astros), may have used the same passwords with the Astros he did with the Cardinals.

Jeff Luhnow denies using old password after job switch

We're doubtful Luhnow didn't at least change one letter/number/character on his passwords upon joining the Astros, but we thought this was still a good teaching moment. Change your passwords on a regular basis. It's just good practice, despite how much of a PITA it might be.

Now, as a sports junkie, this is a juicy story on so many levels. Time will tell what really happened, but I think this further illustrates that data are the new battlegrounds in business, politics, law enforcement, etc., etc., etc. Sports has often represented a world microcosm; in this instance, data were the target, highlighting its growing value to almost everyone. (Why it was done will probably not involve the actual data value.)

Sports fan or not, this is a story to follow.

#PokeTheBear

June 11, 2015

Technology plays a significant, if not a central, role in almost every modern business. From a solopreneur to corporate giants with employees across the globe, their respective technology infrastructures are critical to business operations and success.

All size organizations do have a hidden nuisance/expense when it comes to technology – the ongoing “soft” costs of any technology environment.  Large companies, especially those with experienced IT departments, already factor in these estimated costs.  Small-to-mid-sized companies, on the other hand, are typically under the misplaced belief that they are “all set” once a system, especially a new one, is turned on.  They figure it’s new and they’re only using it for simple processes.  What other costs could there be?

Well, in truth, potentially a lot of additional costs.

As with any machinery, technology requires ongoing care and maintenance. Just as you tune-up your car, bring it in for service when something isn’t working properly, and rely on specialists to ensure its optimal performance, so it is with your electronic technology. Be sure you have accounted for the time and money it will cost to have this essential work completed without disrupting your business.  These types of services can be weekly, monthly, or some combination of the two.

You also must account of hardware and software warranties.  To many, the warranty is something stores offer you at checkout that is a waste of money.  Not with your IT.  There are few instances where we’d tell a client to let a warranty lapse.  While most warranties aren’t required to have a device or system function, they are solid insurance plans for when (not if) something goes wrongs.

Technology is constantly evolving, and the simple fact is that your business will need to improve with new technology. You may be squeak by with outdated equipment and earlier versions of key software, but not long. While improvements in the technology allow for a longer lifecycle, eventually everything with go end of support/life.

Lastly, stuff happens without warning, and what was working perfectly at close of business on Monday could be malfunctioning Tuesday morning. Our computers and other tech devices are central to everyday business, so waiting hours (even minutes!) to resolve an issue “costs” you something.  If you’ve ever said, “I don’t care how much it costs, just fix it,” then you understand that expense can’t be planned, but is necessary.

So while these soft costs associated with your IT can’t necessarily be planned, you should budget for them each year.  They’re expenses you will incur, and in most cases, can’t avoid given the negative impact on your business.

#PokeTheBear

June 04, 2015

The most important step when setting up your business’s wireless network is to establish its security. Your wireless network is a portal to your company’s Internet.  It is a digital entry point to everything you do. It should be very difficult for unauthorized users to gain access to that network.

Accessing a large number of wireless networks is almost as simple as opening your laptop or mobile device. In point of fact, your wireless network should be an iron curtain. There are many ways you can secure the signal, but here are 3 simple ways to protect your wireless network from unwanted intrusions.

-- Don’t broadcast the name of your wireless network. “Bob’s Internet” or “Barbara’s Basement” will be broadcast far and wide, so anyone walking down the street looking to connect will see the signal. Plus, you're advertising that it's your network. Either create a generic network name (referred to as an SSID) or choose not to broadcast the name at all. A generic name makes it difficult to pinpoint the network as yours; not broadcasting the name means no one will know just by looking at available networks that you're broadcasting a wireless signal. This means an extra 1-2 steps when accessing the network, but it's great protection for your business.

-- Maintain unique networks for company users and guests. Separate networks should enable different levels of access. Guests, for example, will never be able to access shared drives and privileged information on a network server or other data storage device. It may not be impenetrable, but your company network should always restrict infrequent or one-time users from accessing any company data/systems.

-- Protect your network with a strong alphanumeric password. (Include special characters if allowed.) There are websites to check if your password is “strong”. Better still, change your wireless network password on a regular basis.  A good test is whether you can remember your own password. Strong passwords can protect wireless networks from faceless, digital hackers.

Protecting your wireless network from external sources can be difficult but not impossible. Keep a vigilant eye over the wireless network configuration, security settings, and who has access to the network. You do that, you've done what you should to secure your business's wireless network.

#PokeTheBear