How to Find the Right IT Services Company

IT Services Company

If your business has made the decision to contract with an IT services company for IT support, you’ve made the right choice. However, you’re not done yet. You still need to choose the IT services company that’s best for your business. In most markets, you’ll have choices — maybe too many choices. Use these criteria for how to find the right IT services company to narrow down your search.

IT Services Company

1. Size Matters

IT services firms come in all shapes and sizes, from boutique outfits with just a few employees to massive firms with multiple physical locations. Make sure you evaluate the size of an IT services company compared to the size and needs of your business. The right IT services company will be transparent about how many employees they have in various roles or departments, and it will have sufficient capacity to meet your needs.

2. The Right Competencies

IT services companies are generally quite competent. If not, they go out of business pretty fast. So “Are they competent?” is the wrong question. The right question to ask is whether they have the right competencies. Create a comprehensive list of your business’s hardware and software use. Don’t just ask whether the company can support what you’re using. Ask for proof that they have already successfully done so with other businesses.

3. Industry Familiarity

Along the same lines, ideally, you want an IT services company that already understands your industry. Throwing industry jargon at your IT vendor is unavoidable, so it’s important that they understand that jargon. Ask how many companies in your industry the firm has worked with previously. The more, the better.

4. Location, Location, Location

In general, we recommend giving preference to local firms. If you need on-site service, local firms can handle this directly. A distant IT support company has to find a local vendor and hope for good availability.

Finding a provider close by isn’t always possible, and it’s not feasible if you’re a multi-site organization. Still, smaller companies will benefit from choosing a local provider.

5. Service Providers Have Rules, Too

Many IT services companies have their own rules about which businesses they will take on. Before a company makes it onto your short list, make sure your business is actually qualified. For example, some service providers have upper or lower limits for the number of workstations supported, meaning if your business is too large or too small, they won’t serve you. Others may refuse to support specific hardware or software types, or they may narrow their field of clients to specific industries.

Conclusion

These are a handful of the areas you should consider when choosing the right IT services firm. If you want to ask us these or other questions, let’s get a conversation going.

How Multi-Factor Authentication Removes Bad Actors

Multi factor authentication

Multi factor authentication

Multi-factor authentication is a polarizing topic in business and technical channels. While business users are often quite fussy when asked to establish a secondary method of accessing their secure accounts and data, technology professionals realize that this bare-minimum authentication may be all that stands between business systems and some very bad actors. Reconciling the technical challenges of implementing 2FA (two-factor authentication) or MFA (multi-factor authentication) may seem like a struggle IT teams aren’t winning — but the fight is still a crucial one. Here’s what you need to know about how MFA can potentially remove bad actors from the equation in your business.

What is Multi-Factor Authentication?

Business users (and ordinary humans in general) are notorious for creating passwords that are extremely easy to unravel. As machine learning systems become increasingly sophisticated, it’s not surprising that passwords no longer pose enough of a deterrent for a dedicated cybercriminal. A simple password is like the virtual handshake that allows an individual user to access their shared resources and business systems. Passwords are generally easy for business users: they can be quickly reset as long as you have access to a primary email account and you can theoretically use the same password in a variety of different places, which certainly makes it easier on your memory! Unfortunately, everything that makes passwords convenient for business users also makes it easier for hackers to infiltrate your systems. Multi-factor authentication includes a range of strategies that technology professionals can leverage to create an additional layer of security between bad actors and crucial business data.

Additional authentification options include:

  • SMS text-based messages to a stored mobile number
  • Biometrics, such as facial recognition or fingerprints
  • Hard and soft tokens

These systems can be configured to ask for an additional method of authentication only when the access attempt appears to be high-risk — such as requests that come from an unrecognized device or originated in a region that is known for presenting cybersecurity threats.

How Multi-Factor Authentication Helps Reduce Access for Cybercriminals

Cloud-based applications are considered by some to be key targets for an attack since the storage of information is not onsite behind a firewall, but “out there” where theoretically accounts could be more easily compromised. Implementing multi-factor authentication in this situation allows legitimate users to quickly access their accounts and information while adding that crucial layer of security. This is especially important when you have privileged access accounts — those users who have admin privileges or whose login allows them to tunnel deeper into your infrastructure. Creating a strong identity governance solution and implementing it across all corners of your business can help ensure that the individual accessing the information is vetted and verified before allowing them egress. While bad actors can hack a password, it would be much more difficult for them to copy a fingerprint or gain access to a randomly-generated number that was delivered to your personal mobile phone. While SIM hijacking does occur (when hackers access a specific phone remotely), a more robust form of two-factor authentication is helping businesses such as social media platforms reduce the potential of hacked accounts.

81% of Hacks Involved Stolen Passwords

Let that fact sink in for just a moment: according to Verizon’s recent Data Breach Investigations Report in 2017, 81% of breaches leveraged stolen or weak passwords to allow cybercriminals unauthorized access to business information. Creating the rules that will convince users to update them on a regular basis is a solid first step in reducing this threat, but it will not be nearly enough to stem the tide of destruction and loss caused by poor password hygiene. The Verizon report also showed that nearly 3/4 of breaches are financially motivated, while only a small percentage (21%) were related to cyberespionage.

With this type of additional data in hand, it is hoped that organizations will be able to pitch the value of multi-factor authentication to overcome any concerns by business users as well as the cost differential involved in implementing these advanced security measures. Without multi-factor authentication in place, your business is simply one weak or default password away from providing bad actors with easy access to your sensitive business information.

Here’s What You Need to Know About SD-WAN Technology

SDWAN

SDWAN

Moving from hardware solutions to software solutions isn’t a new concept for technology professionals, but network infrastructure has traditionally been a hardware-focused world even as applications move to the cloud. With the introduction of SD-WAN, or Software-Defined Wide Area Networks, IT professionals find themselves needing to retool their understanding of flexible networks and security. The MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) has been in use for decades and is an extremely reliable — yet pricey — option for connectivity. Today’s SD-WAN provides the modern organization with the flexibility, scalability, security and efficiency needed to stay competitive in a fast-changing world.

The Basics of SD-WAN

At its most basic, you can think of SD-WAN as a way to tie together a variety of disparate networks as it is equally efficient with internal as well as external internet and even cloud-based applications. Instead of a more rigid WAN network, SD-WAN allows you to configure your network quickly from a centralized location, reducing the potential of human error that can bring your network to its knees and productivity to a screeching halt. Since all variables are driven by software that you configure, this structure can be quickly scaled and new remote locations added without requiring an intense investment in time and physical hardware or redesign.

How Do You Manage a Software-Defined Network?

A key value that you gain when you shift to an SD-WAN is the ability to make shifts locally as well as globally from a centralized dashboard. This makes changes swifter, but also helps protect your network by ensuring that universal security standards are applied at all locations equally. Using an SD-WAN configuration gives you the added benefit of consolidated troubleshooting and error reporting so you can quickly identify any trouble spots or network hotspots and shift resources as needed to add speed and efficiency to your network — something that users are sure to appreciate, even if they never realize it is happening.

What Are the Business Benefits of SD-WAN?

Upgrading your network from a more restrictive model to SD-WAN has a variety of benefits for your organization. While some of these gains are realized upfront, others will continue to add value to your organization over time.

  • The cost of connectivity using an SD-WAN is less expensive than traditional MPLS, an especially important point when you consider the bandwidth-heavy applications that business users require.
  • While there is a high level of expertise required for upfront configuration of a software-defined network, ongoing changes are less intensive and can potentially save you consulting fees in the future.
  • Your business users will appreciate that network availability is high because there is no need to take the network down to make configuration changes or upgrades.
  • Your technology team is able to define networking rules in the language of business — SLAs, security restraints, apps and users — making the network easier to understand and maintain in the future.
  • With Gartner noting that nearly 25% of businesses will utilize SD-WAN in 2019, there is a growing body of knowledge within the IT community that makes it easier to find resources to support your network infrastructure. The SD-WAN market is expected to grow to $1.3 billion by 2020.
  • Cloud-based applications continue to emerge in all sectors of business, and it can be challenging to protect these applications without a consolidated hub of security rules. SD-WAN allows everything from SaaS to traditional connections to be covered under the same business rules.
  • Branches and remote workers will appreciate having access to the same high quality of connection that they enjoy at the office, instead of having to deal with restrictive security procedures and application latency.

Instead of relying on the hardware to make decisions about connections speed and connections as with MPLS, SD-WAN makes agile decisions about the best way to connect users and the data or applications that they need to access.

What Type of Business Benefits from SD-WAN?

While there are many benefits of SD-WAN, there is one downside that can be a deal-breaker for certain organizations. Software-Defined WAN does provide extremely reliable uptime, but there can be more packet loss than you would see with a hardware-based network. In this case, you may want to consider a hybrid infrastructure that lets you gain the benefits of SD-WAN for the majority of your applications yet maintains any heavy applications that simply cannot abide packet loss on a more traditional MPLS. The majority of organizations are looking for ways to reduce their cost of connectivity and have very heavy use of their internet or intranet connections — making SD-WAN ideal. Businesses that are growing quickly or expanding into new regions are also likely to see gains from making the switch.

Many organizations are seeing that shifting to an SD-WAN model may help them future-proof their business by creating a flexible, scalable and secure model that can grow with their business. From the reduced cost of connections to the high availability environment, it’s clear that the conversation around SD-WAN will not be going away in technology groups around the world.

Canada Taking Facebook to Court

Facebook Court Canada

Facebook Court Canada

On Thursday, April 25, 2019, notable news broke that Canada is taking Facebook to court. Daniel Therrien, Canada’s federal privacy commissioner, gave a joint news conference with Michael McEvoy, the information and privacy commissioner for British Columbia. In this announcement, Therrien asserted that the existing accountability requirement enshrined in Canadian law, while meaningful, “is not sufficient to protect Canadians from companies that do not behave responsibly”.

Therrian went on to explain that as Canada continues working to refine its privacy laws, his office is taking Facebook to court based on the company’s response. He’s seeking a court order “to force Facebook to correct its privacy practices”.

How It Got to This Point

If you’re thinking that sounds like an aggressive move, you’re not alone. How did it get to this point? Tensions had been brewing for some time. Therrian’s office came to the conclusion some time back that Facebook failed to protect privacy at the corporate level. The commissioner’s office then launched a thorough investigation into Facebook’s privacy practices. The investigation lasted over a year, and its conclusions included that Facebook had violated Canada’s privacy laws in numerous ways. Much of this relates to a massive user data leak, one where the data was used for political gain through a firm named Cambridge Analytica.

The Data in Question

The privacy commissioner determined that at least 276 Canadians installed an app back in 2013 that violated privacy law, as David Akin reports. The app harvested the users’ data, but it didn’t stop there. It went two steps further, harvesting those users’ friends’ data as well as the data of their friends’ friends. In total, concluded the commissioner, around 650,000 Canadians had their data compromised. This information was stored and eventually shared with UK firm Cambridge Analytica.

Cambridge Analytica has made the news before. It’s the firm that assisted the Donald Trump campaign in targeting voters. There’s nothing wrong with using research to target voters, of course: all serious US presidential candidates follow similar tactics. The problem was with how the data that fed the research was collected. 650,000 Canadians and many more Americans had their data misused.

Facebook Rebuffs the Privacy Commissioner

Under current Canadian law, the privacy commissioner’s only recourse is to recommend that Facebook change its ways. The office made this recommendation, and Facebook said “no”. The company rebuffed the government’s recommendations and made no changes as a result of them.

The problem here is straightforward. Facebook (and other private companies) essentially becomes a self-policing organization. If Facebook determines it has not violated the law, then it can continue to operate no matter what the privacy commissioner concludes.

A Problem with Existing Law

Therrian said that he doesn’t think Canada’s privacy law makes sense. In his view it’s problematic that “a private company, with its private interests, can say to a regulator, ‘Thank you very much for your conclusions on matters of law, but we actually disagree, and we will actually continue as we were.’ It is completely unacceptable”.

Therrian is pushing for the legislature to amend its policies so that the privacy commissioner’s office has order-making power so that its conclusions are binding for private companies. He points to other countries that are rumored to be levying fines against Facebook for its privacy violations. It’s widely reported that the USA may fine Facebook up to $5 billion. Canada has no such ability under current law.

No Real Accountability in Current Law

Companies are accountable for the information they hold on behalf of users, which is an important safeguard. Therrian’s complaint is that current law states that companies are accountable for this without giving the government any mechanism for enforcement. An accountability law that no one can enforce accomplishes nothing.

It’s Up to the New Legislature

Therrian concluded his comments by encouraging the new legislature to undertake updated and enforceable legislation in their new session. He hopes this legislation will continue to hold companies accountable for their handling of data while giving regulators real power to enforce that this is done.

A Response from Facebook

Facebook, for its part, claims to understand that it has an obligation to protect users’ private data. Erin Taylor, communications manager at Facebook, stated that the company was cooperating with the commissioner. In a prepared statement she remarked, “We are disappointed that the [privacy commissioner] considers the issues raised in this report unresolved”.

What Happens Next?

The path forward is not completely clear at this time. Facebook will, for the time being, continue operating unaffected in Canada. The company is not compelled at this point by Canadian law to make any changes, though it has already made numerous changes to its privacy policy as part of the blowback from this scandal.

The results of the coming court case are anyone’s guess at this point. The federal commissioner’s footing is weakened, of course, by his own admission that the law grants him no authority to enforce action against Facebook. Even if no other positive outcome results from the lawsuit, the two privacy commissioners have at least gotten the issue into the public eye.

Then there’s the legislature, which is being pushed to fix this privacy enforcement loophole through new legislation. It’s too early to say how likely this action is, but the publicity of the commissioners’ actions last week may spur legislators to action.

Be Aware: ASUS Update Tool Hijacked By Aggressive Hackers

ASUS Motherboard Hackers

ASUS Motherboard Hackers

Large software and hardware manufacturers are generally a trusted source for updates, but that same level of trust with consumers is what makes these groups a heavy target for hackers. The recent infiltration of ASUS made it all too clear that no one is safe from the threat of malware attacks. The Taiwan-based tech giant recently was the high-profile victim of hackers as their automatic update tool was leveraged to distribute a malicious backdoor on nearly a million computers and other devices before the discrepancy was identified — over five months after the update was launched.

Trusted Digital Signature — Tainted Software

The malware distribution took so long to identify due to the accurate digital signature that the hackers were able to put in place. ASUS computers accepted the malware due to the “acceptable” digital signature, even though the software package itself was tainted. The delivery package was only the first wave of the attack, opening a potential vulnerability in the systems that were affected. Now, hackers are able to target these machines at will. To date, only about 600 machines have been hit with this second-stage attack. The hack happened sometime in late 2018, with Kapersky notifying ASUS of the situation in January 31, 2019.

ASUS Implements Advanced Security Measures

How is ASUS responding? Oddly enough, they didn’t raise the alarm with customers until digital security firm Kapersky went public with their findings around the attack, which they’re calling ShadowHammer. This notification to customers downplayed the severity of the attack, calling it an “attempt to target a very small and specific user group” in the official statement posted on their website. ASUS noted that they released a fix in the most recent version of the Live Update, one that included additional security measures that were meant to reduce the possibility of this happening in the future. Not only did the company strengthen its end-to-end software architecture, but they also enhanced the overall encryption of their updates.

Supply Chain Attacks Growing in Prominence

This is far from the first time that attackers have decided to go up the supply chain to target computers. The notPetya cyberattack that devastated machines throughout the US, Europe, Australia and Asia was delivered as an upgrade to popular accounting software that experts claim was made not for the demanded ransom — but just to spread mayhem throughout the world. The hackers who built and distributed the ransomware used much of the code from Petya, but that is where the similarities ended. With notPetya, the cybercriminals clearly didn’t think through their process for collecting money from victims, as it quickly disintegrated under the pressure of organizations attempting to pay and request their unlock keys. Unfortunately, the damage was already done as not Petya spread rapidly through networks, infecting machines and destroying files as it went. Microsoft, CCleaner and Transmission are a few other organizations that have been the victim of this type of attack vector over the past decade.

Are My Computers Infected?

With any attack of this scale, the first question on business owners’ minds is whether or not their organization may be vulnerable to this particular issue with ASUS. The service professionals at ASUS have been busily reaching out to customers since the update was released, along with the recommendation that you update their latest security patches and updates to ensure that the effects of the hack are washed from your system. Security giant Kapersky Labs has created an easy tool to determine whether your device was one of the millions affected by ShadowHammer, with the results based on your MAC address.

With hundreds of thousands of devices receiving the primary payload and only 600 devices targeted for a secondary wave, cyberattacks such as ShadowHammer are meant to cast a wide net in the hopes of getting the highly detailed information on a limited audience that they need. A key benefit of working with an IT solutions provider is their constant focus on security, allowing them to proactively scan sources such as Kapersky and take immediate measures to remediate the scope of the attack.

What Are the Benefits of Outsourcing IT Services For Small Business?

Technical Services

Technical Services

There is a point in every small business’s lifecycle when technology becomes integral to the business. With some organizations, this could be the first day they are in existence — with others, it may be several months to a year or more before technical challenges begin to invade business operations. This can come on slowly, starting with a backlog of support requests, patches that are applied several months later and software licenses that are shared “for now”. Each of these small steps are leading your business away from secure operations, and into a spiral that can be difficult and expensive to undo. Before you get to that point, it’s important to consider the benefits of outsourcing the IT needs of your small business.

Technology Challenges Start Early

Simply managing your software licensing needs can be a challenge when your IT team consists of a single individual or perhaps a few overworked souls. Creating a cohesive strategy for your business should involve technology partners, but if they are focused on keeping the (digital) lights on it’s tough for them to be strategic in any meaningful way. Leveraging the minds that know your business best in places that they can add real value starts by removing some of the nuisance tasks from their plate, and passing them off to individuals who are able to act upon them in a timely manner. That way, you can take full advantage of the thoughtful advice and research that your internal team can provide to drive the business forward.

Why Should I Outsource My IT Services?

Small business owners and leadership wear a variety of hats: your customer service manager may also be supporting web design, while your operations head is juggling production levels as well as infrastructure and wiring. Having these professionals stretch outside their comfort zone is how many small businesses get started, but growing into the next level requires a strategic focus within several dimensions. Cybersecurity is a major concern for businesses these days, with thousands of attacks happening on an annual basis to organizations of all sizes. Experts estimate that email compromises alone constituted over $12.5 billion in losses over the past five years — a staggering sum when you consider that small businesses bore a large percentage of that loss.

Outsourced IT = Added Peace of Mind

Working with an outsourced IT service provides you with the peace of mind knowing that there are dedicated professionals fully focused on ensuring that your business stays secure. With active monitoring solutions that can quickly trigger an alert, you’re already avoiding the average 191 days that it takes a business to discover that they have been infiltrated by cyber attackers and that their data has been breached. Once a breach is identified, you’ll still need to remediate the problem — and it can be extremely costly in terms of both time and money to bring in an outside organization that is not familiar with the data or infrastructure of your business.

Consistent Billing Provides Budgeting Benefits

Technology budgets can be quite complicated, as you’re balancing the reasonable lifecycle of hardware products, software upgrades and the unexpected IT needs of the business on an annual basis. One way that you can add some consistency to your budgeting is by working with an outsourced IT provider. Instead of massive unexpected bills for services that you weren’t anticipating, your technology services provider is able to work with you on a retainer basis so you can spread your costs more equally throughout the year. This allows for a higher level of predictability when you’re working through your annual budgeting period.

With outsourced IT services, your business also gains around-the-clock protection for your data and network, robust backup and recovery platforms, access to professionals who can help quickly upgrade hardware and software as well as advanced security processes and procedures for your business. Together, you’ll find that your operations and service levels are higher for both internal and external constituents when you’re working with an IT solutions provider to support your business needs.

Windows 7 End Of Support Just Around The Corner

Windows 7 End Of Support

Windows 7 End Of Support

If your company is still using the Windows 7 operating on your business computers, it’s time to look for a change. That’s because Microsoft is ending support for this popular and reliable operating system that has been popular with companies for years.

On January 14, 2020, Microsoft will stop offering security patches and dates for Windows 7. In the next few months, choosing a new operating system is a time-sensitive issue that should not be left until the last minute.

What Does Microsoft Mean When It Says Windows 7 Is Ending?

That’s not exactly what Microsoft is saying. After January 14, 2020, Windows 7 will continue to operate. However, doing so comes at a considerable risk to your business and employees. The “end of life” description of what’s happening to Windows 7 means that Microsoft will stop all paid and unpaid support.

Microsoft will stop creating and making available important security updates. It will also stop offering new features or design improvements of any type.

More critically is the stoppage of any kind of support for customers having problems with Windows 7. Free support that had been included in licensing agreements has already ended. As of January 2020, any “extended support,” which is Microsoft’s term for paid support and which is currently available, will stop as well.

Why Not Keep Using Windows 7 After the Support and Upgrades End?

Your Windows 7 operating system will continue to operate after support ends. However, your business will be highly susceptible to cyberattacks by those looking to exploit new vulnerabilities using viruses, phishing attempts and other attack vectors. Those vulnerabilities will multiply as your computers will not be protected by the regular patches that Microsoft offers to its customers for operating systems and software.

In addition, you may find that software applications you use on Windows 7 will also not work as well. Many software companies will stop offering upgrades or support for their programs for customers using Windows 7. While some may provide some updates and support after January 2020, those services are unlikely to last very long.

Hardware and peripheral companies are also unlikely to continue to provide updates or compatibility features with an eye on Windows 7. Newer technologies of all types will likely take advantage of newer features and capabilities that were not available in the Windows 7 operating system.

Older versions of operating systems like Windows 7 come with the browser Internet Explorer embedded. Support for these older versions of Internet Explorer will also cease in January 2020. Microsoft urges customers using Internet Explorer to upgrade to IE 11.

Hackers are well aware of the January 14, 2020, deadline and are apt to look to businesses still using Windows 7 as prime targets for their attacks.

What If We Use a Windows Embedded 7 Product?

Support for certain versions of Windows Embedded 7 end in October 2020, April 2021 and October 2021. More information about these cutoffs can be found here.

Can I Activate Windows 7 After the Cutoff Date?

If you still want to activate a purchased version of Windows 7, you may do so up to and after the January 2020 date. Just remember that a newly activated version will still be vulnerable to malware and virus and will not receive Microsoft support or upgrades.

What Are My Options for Replacing Windows 7?

Microsoft is understandably encouraging current Windows 7 customers to upgrade to Windows 10, its flagship operating system product. It is also encouraging customers to buy new computers with Windows 10 installed, as older computers may not have the minimum requirements to support Windows 10 and optimize its performance.

If you purchase Microsoft 365 Business, a cloud-based version of the popular suite of Microsoft Office Apps such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote. Microsoft 365 Business buyers get a free upgrade if they are currently using a Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 Pro license. Microsoft 365 Business owners can also upgrade all old Windows Pro licensed device at no additional cost.

What If I Need More Time to Upgrade from Windows 7?

If you use Windows 7 Professional or Windows 7 Enterprise, you can buy Extended Security Updates through January 2023. Those upgrades became available for purchase on April 1, 2019. For more information on this option, please contact Microsoft directly as there are specific technical and product guidelines regarding eligibility.

Understanding the options and risks when it comes to Microsoft’s cessation of Windows 7 support and updates helps your company make an informed decision.

How Can Reliable Phone Services Help Our Company?

Managed IT Services

Phone Services

Communication is essential for any business today. Being able to connect with colleagues and customers is critical for getting work done.

That means having a reliable, features-packed phone system that lets you communicate effectively while in and out of the office. Without a powerful business phone solution, you’re at a competitive disadvantage.

Below is a closer look at some of the advantages of having a reliable phone system for your business.

How Can A New Business Phone System Save Us Money?

Most older private branch exchange (PBX) phone systems are simply not built for today’s business needs. With PBX phones, you’re sending signals via older telephone lines and paying for each incoming and outgoing call. These per-call costs add up. Instead, a voice over internet protocol (VoIP) solution provides you with predictable monthly rates and unlimited call volume. You’ll also no longer have to pay to maintain and manage your phone equipment stored on location. Instead, users connect via an internet connection with cloud-based reliability and call clarity. PBX phone users typically pay for each line and any carrier costs or contractual change orders. If your power goes out, you also lose your phone system until the power is restored.

What Is Different About VoIP Systems?

There are many advantages to installing a VoIP system, including:

  • Call Clarity. With VoIP, your calls are transmitted via a high-speed internet connection, resulting in better call clarity and reliability.
  • Technical Support. Use a managed IT partner to oversee your cloud-based VoIP phone system, and you’ll have access to remote support, on-site support and maintenance, vendor management and asset tracking.
  • Comprehensive Security. With a trusted technology partner helping to implement and maintain your VoIP solution, you’ll know that a comprehensive approach to security is in place. The security measures may include:
    • Automated installation patches and updates
    • Network security
    • Monitoring 24/7 of all routers and switches
    • Traffic control and prioritization based on company-set policies
    • Non-compliant call detection and alerts
    • Toll fraud detection
  • Scalability. As your business grows, you need a phone system that can expand accordingly. VoIP systems allow for easy addition or removal of users, extension changes and other administrative changes from an intuitive dashboard interface.
  • Simple Set-Up. Transitioning to a new cloud-based phone system is a process with little to no user disruption. An adaptor can convert most existing desktop phones, which can then be plugged directly into your office internet connection. Both desk phone s and smartphones can access new features without the need for additional hardware purchases or installation.

What Are Some of the New Features VoIP Provides?

VoIP systems provide great features that will improve the way your team communications. Here’s a look at some of the most popular:

  • Unified Messaging. You’ll be able to access voicemails from any device when the messages are forwarded to your email account. You can retrieve the messages, listen to them and forward to the appropriate party no matter what device you’re using or where you are.
  • Find Me, Follow Me. If you want to be accessible no matter where you are, use this feature to have calls “follow” you from device to device. A caller may ring you first at your office and then have the call routed to your smartphone, your home office phone line or your hotel room while on the road. Providing this level of availability lets you serve your customers well with always-available access and connectivity. – your calls can ring at your office, then your cell phone, then your home office or hotel room while traveling – always maintaining the appearance that you are available to your clients.
  • Conference calling. Connect multiple parties internally and externally.
  • Connectivity. VoIP gives your company the ability to record phone calls and conferences. These files can be emailed to those who were unable to attend the session.
  • Automated phone attendants. Staff managing your phones will be able to manage incoming calls, see who is available and route calls as needed.
  • Desk-to-desk calling. Connect with colleagues in multiple locations by directly dialing extensions.

How Does VoIP Affect Smartphone Users?

Your phone system capabilities extend to mobile users using different devices and operating systems. You can use mobile applications to leverage many of the capabilities of your VoIP system, giving remote or traveling employees to connect easily to colleagues no matter where they are.

Choosing the right phone system is an essential decision for businesses of all sizes. Cloud-based phone systems give you the best options for today’s business needs.

Are You Prepared For The End Of Windows 7?

Windows 7 End Of Support

Windows 7 End Of Support

Living in a technology era that sees device upgrades and new products on what seems like an almost weekly basis, it’s difficult to imagine that Windows 7 has remained in play since its release in 2009.

According to Net Market Share’s December 2018 data, 40.86 percent were still using Windows 7 compared to a modest 36.37 percent engaged in Windows 10. Trailing the two leaders, Windows 8.1 saw a mere 5.07 percent and Windows XP stood at 4.08 percent. That means Windows 7 ranked as the most popular platform after a decade on the market.

However, the days of Windows 7 are numbered. Starting on January 14, 2020, extended support for this industry favorite will cease.

The Windows 7 end of life (EOL) is not a surprise for IT companies because Microsoft already cut off mainstream support four years ago. The imminent Windows 7 EOL leaves small and mid-sized companies weighing their options about the best next steps. Fortunately, the IT professionals at {company} are prepared to upgrade small and mid-sized businesses using Windows 7 to a suitable alternative.

Are You Prepared To Upgrade Before Windows 7 EOL?

While the EOL deadline may seem miles away when considering critical day-to-day business operations, conducting a critical systems analysis and reviewing next steps options is something that decision-makers would be wise to implement post haste.

Upgrading a company’s operating system is no small undertaking. The process could take a top-flight IT support team upwards of six months to develop a comprehensive strategy to test, implement and fully deploy the new system. That timeline hinges on prior decisions being made and only reasonably anticipated setbacks. Anyone who runs a business understands that x-factors can cause unexpected and costly delays.

CEOs and decision-makers who fail to make the shift before the Windows 7 EOL date risk losing security features currently protecting systems and data. We live in a world where hackers are persistent in their efforts to find vulnerable business systems that they can pluck like low-hanging fruit.

It’s not difficult to recognize that hackers are fully aware of potential vulnerabilities when the Windows 7 sunsets. They will be up all night identifying and breaching systems with inadequate security. Think of the Windows EOL date like a massive power blackout and hackers are like looters taking advantage of the crisis to break into your business and steal. The best way to avoid disruption and cyber theft is to take proactive measures now.

Positives About Upgrading From Windows 7

For all practical purposes, users are being forced to migrate from Windows 7 to another product. The mainstream support ended in January 2015 and extended support included some minor reductions in support. While it’s true that you can still use Windows 7 and it will function with Internet Explorer and other tools, after the 2020 EOL date, security risks will likely escalate without ongoing support. While business leaders often operate under the “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” theory, Microsoft reportedly recommending that Windows 7 users upgrade to Windows 10 is not necessarily a bad thing for small and mid-sized companies. These are key reasons why change can prove beneficial.

  • Improved Consistency: In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for operating systems to require significant changes every three to five years. That type of stress is expected to dissipate once users conclude their migration from Windows 7 to Windows 10 or another appropriate option.
  • Ongoing Upgrades: Although Microsoft has offered differing degrees of Windows 7 support for 10 years, organizations that migrate to Windows 10 can anticipate a wealth of helpful upgrades. These upgrades started in 2018 and their lifecycles will reportedly last upwards of 24 months in terms of deploying and validating the newest version. Updates that were previously released about every six months. However, organizations may want to task their IT support team with monitoring emerging upgrades.

Your outfit will enjoy the most up to date functionality, productivity, user interface, and outstanding security measures. Upgrades have the potential to interact with important analytics, machine learning, and other emerging technological advancements.

At {company}, our team of IT professionals understands the inherent benefits that migration to Windows 10 and other options can bring to the table. Migrating to Windows 10 or a suitable alternative is not a nuisance; it’s a business opportunity.

Windows 7 EOL Presents An Opportunity To Develop A Uniform Process

Consider for a moment that your organization has developed protocols and processes that help it maximize productivity and profitability. Those might include anything from a manufacturing assembly line to information sharing to HR policies. Just about everything a successful outfit does helps improve its standing and bottom line. That being said, systems upgrades are no different and the Windows 7 EOL has presented an opportunity to create uniform policies and protocol.

By working with an IT support consultant, your organization can lean on the experience of a team that upgrades and migrates business systems regularly. You also gain the benefit of working with team members that have an expansive knowledge about goals within your industry and others. That information can prove valuable when applied to your niche.

Conducting a full review and documenting real-time process leaves your organization with a blueprint for future upgrades. Windows 7 is effectively going the way of the dinosaur and its replacement will likely go extinct as well. It’s important to seize this opportunity to reduce the six-month or longer process the next time. These are other benefits your organization can gain by creating a regular upgrade process in 2019.

  • Rethinking Windows: It’s all too clear that Windows upgrades are already being planned. Rather than wait and react every time an announcement is made, you can rethink Windows as an ongoing service and not just a product. This means empowering your IT support team to maintain a focus on rollouts, tool management and deployment in a highly streamlined fashion. Having that blueprint means formerly onerous tasks occur seamlessly.
  • IT Support Agility: A significant migration from Windows 7 is likely to be a time-consuming task. Part of the reason is that your outfit is starting from scratch and learning about unique aspects of your system, goals and workforce needs. Creating a blueprint for future upgrades eliminates that start from scratch mentality and allows IT support technicians the flexibility to act decisively.
  • Ongoing Testing: Once your IT team has concluded its testing measures for the Windows 7 EOL migration, it’s essential to craft a post-mortem account of challenges and solutions. This will help inform team members about what to anticipate and improve their ability to adapt and overcome.

One of the expected benefits of moving to Windows 10 is that the product allows IT technicians to implement updates to a variety of devices simultaneously. This is expected to improve efficiency by limiting the time spent on tasks that are not directly related to your business’ profit-earning activities.

Other Windows 7 EOL Options

There’s a good reason that such a low percentage of users work with Windows 8. It was widely considered a disaster. According to The Inquirer, “Users and administrators adamantly demanded to step back to Windows 7 desktops. Not only was the new user interface of Windows 8 unwelcoming, but the removal of simple features such as the Start button sent users into a tizzy.”

The piece goes on to explain that although users freaked out over the Windows 8 product, migrating to a user-friendly Windows 10 option could be favorable.

“Adopting Windows 10 can be as simple as upgrading an existing Windows 7 computer based on your Microsoft licensing agreement, but in many cases, a device refresh may be necessary due to hard drive space, system resources or physical capabilities,” The Inquirer article states. “From a financial perspective, the cost of a new computer — plus IT staff setup time and lost user productivity during the transition — comes at a significant price.”

But there are other options on the market that decision-makers may want to consider. These include the following.

  • Apple Devices: If Macs appear a more suitable product for your evolving business goals, the Windows 7 EOL may offer a logical time to transition.
  • BYOD: Some companies are shifting to “bring your own device” workforces. Again, this may be a time to discuss the possibility with your IT consultant.

Although migrating to Windows 10 is expected to be a reasonably positive transition, there’s little argument that Windows 7 was a solid product. It continues to be a highly regarded operating system and some business leaders may want to consider the possibility of working with the product beyond the 2020 EOL date.

It may come as something of a surprise, but Microsoft reportedly may provide support for some organizations beyond the 2020 EOL date, according to The Inquirer, Computer World, and others.

Called Windows 7 Extended Security Updates (ESU), the after-drop-dead deal will add support through January 2023, according to Microsoft. “While many of you are already well on your way in deploying Windows 10, we understand that everyone is at a different point in the upgrade process,” Computer World reported.

Additional Windows 7 support is expected to be sold on one-year deals and businesses can expect to pay a premium. The move is viewed as a costly stop-gap measure for organizations that are falling behind a reasonable migration timeline.

Organizations that have not already begun the process of migrating from Windows 7 to Windows 10 or another suitable option are strongly advised to contact an IT professional ASAP. Delaying the inevitable could prove expensive one way or another. {company} has a team of knowledgeable migration consultants and specialists with the hands-on experience to see your outfit through this challenging period.

What Can Businesses Learn From The First GDPR Fines?

GDPR Consulting

GDPR Consulting

Less than a year ago, the European Union instituted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to protect customer rights to data privacy.

The regulation created quite a stir in May 2018 when it was enacted, and has recently created even more of a stir because the first fines for non-compliance have been levied. While the EU granted a short amnesty period to allow organizations to comply with the regulation, the fines definitely send a clear signal that the amnesty period is indeed over.

Companies are responsible for implementing GDPR-compliant data policies; complacency about the regulation will surely not win the day. No excuses — comply or be fined; the EU has definitely made good on its promise to staunchly defend citizen rights to privacy.

Thus far, there have been three notable penalties. One of the most visible is, of course, Google, which received a €50 million fine in France, courtesy of French data regulator CNIL (Commission Nationale de L’informatique). Google’s fault according to CNIL is the lack of transparency and unclear consent regarding advertisements.

In particular, Google did not have one clear source of information regarding how data is collected. Instead, the information was interspersed into various documents and websites, creating a nearly impossible task for the end user to be aware of how their personal data is actually being used.

The bottom line is that users must be able to make an informed choice about whether (or not) to consent to Google’s use of their data. The other important factor in the Google fine is that CNIL clearly sent a signal that Google can and will be regulated by every data privacy authority (DPA) within the European Union regarding the GDPR rules. Companies that were just focusing on the data privacy rules in their own country have definitely taken notice.

Google will inevitably appeal CNIL’s decision and organizations around the world are anxiously awaiting said outcome. If CNIL’s decision stands firm, companies will have to make changes in how they conduct similar online platforms. Simply said, the outcome could possibly create a profound change in the relationship between consumer and advertiser.

In Germany, a similar social media platform was fined €20,000 for a breach that compromised personal information like passwords and email addresses from more than 300,000 users. While this fine could have been much worse for the company, many industry experts state that the company was given a much lower penalty for how they handled the breach. The company’s saving grace was a proactive notification of both customers and the German GDPR data protection authorities.

This last example of a GDPR-levied fine definitely brings home the message of the lengths the EU will go to protect their citizens. In this case, an Austrian businessman was fined for placing a camera outside his business. The camera was not clearly identified as a CCTV camera, yet it was recording a public space outside his business.

Since GDPR began, the EU has received nearly 100,000 data privacy complaints from its citizens and over 40,000 data breach notifications from companies. Experts say these numbers are low because they are based on voluntary contributions from only 21 of the 28 EU member countries. The numbers therefore are actually much higher.

So far, the GDPR has reported levying 91 fines, with 60 of those fines levied by the German DPA alone. GDPR definitely changes the compliance risk for organizations across the world. Heftier and more numerous fines are expected to be handed out in 2019 as the EU moves into GDPR with full steam.

The United States was once the trailblazer of the world when it enacted the mandatory data breach notification laws and punishment sanctions for non-compliant businesses. Now, the U.S. Congress is closely following GDPR and may soon enact similar privacy considerations to rein in companies like Google, Facebook and others who offer free products and services at the expense of a user’s personal information. Congress understands that what a consumer discloses today can have far-reaching implications years later, and they are definitely watching the implementation of GDPR as Europe nears its first anniversary of enacting the law.