Incorporating the IoT to Improve Connectivity to Your Customers  

IoT Business

Learn how the advent of the Internet of Things has improved device connectivity and enabled businesses like yours to delivery consumer-driven solutions.  

IoT Business

The Internet of Things (IoT) was first conceptualized in 1982 through the internet connection of a Coke machine at Carnegie-Mellon University which was able to report inventory levels and the temperature of vended sodas. From this beginning 37 years ago, IoT has led to greater connectivity between all types of devices for the purpose of providing and sharing data. What would have been unimaginable 50 years ago in our parent’s and grandparent’s time has been realized today as televisions, refrigerators, telephones, and other types of consumer electronics have been enabled to talk to one another.

IoT has also helped businesses like yours learn a lot about your customers. The way in which consumers interact with IoT-enabled devices provides businesses with valuable data which can be used to transform products and services and solidify customer loyalty. This leads to the development of additional products, increasing the things-to people ratio, which is the amount of consumer products owned per person. As the things-to-people ratio continues to grow, businesses have seen the development of smart homes, smart phones, autonomous vehicles, etc., as well as an increase in the generation of data which enables machine learning and greater human-to-computer interactions.

This white paper is an exploration of the advances in IoT and how it is moving greater automation of connectivity. This automated connectivity is critical as the number of IoT devices grows, warranting cost effective ways to remove the complexity of these connections. Businesses understanding the importance of managing the connectivity of their IoT devices will be best positioned to gain market share.

What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?

A simple definition of Internet of Things is the ability of all things, people, machines, objects, etc. to transfer data between each other over a network. Each of the things interacting through the IoT network are given what is called a unique identifier (UID), which is a label or identifier assigned to the IoT things (i.e. people, machines, objects).

IoT connectivity is responsible for moving the number of connected devices from millions to billions. According to business consultancy groups McKinsey and Gartner, there are more than 26.7 billion IoT connected devices in 2019. The number of things to people in 2020 is projected to be 26 times more in 2020, while the number of connected devices will grow by three times as many or 75.4 million in 2025. The popularity of IoT can be seen in the use of smart and connected devices in the home. This includes applications such as smart thermostats, smart locks, and smart refrigerators. Smart security, one of the poplar home uses for IoT connectivity, has a market expected to grow to $22 billion by the year 2021. Additional markets expected to grow as a result of IoT are home entertainment systems and energy management technology.

How IoT Has Spawned Greater Connectivity

The global IoT market is worth $1.7 trillion in 2019. Of this amount, 35 percent or $595 billion of this value is attributed to hardware, such as smart home peripherals, smart phones, etc. Countries North America, Western Europe as well as China make up two-thirds of the installed IoT devices. It is also worthy to note that, on average, 127 new IoT devices are connected to the internet every second across the globe. Industry is also gravitating toward a greater use of IoT connected devices. Industrial IoT, which comprises 17 percent of the IoT related projects on a worldwide basis, has a market value projected to reach $110 billion in 2020.

Growth of Personal Digital Assistants

The development of new devices has advanced connectivity and has also been responsible for this growth. Over the past years, the advent of personal digital assistants (PDAs) or virtual assistants, from Apple’s Siri, to Google Voice has meant less reliance on manual typing and a greater dependence on voice assistance. The global intelligent PDA/voice assistance market was worth $2.4 billion in 2018and is expected to increase a total composite average growth rate (CAGR) of 40.4 percent for the period (2018 – 2025).

IoT Growth in the Healthcare Industry

The healthcare industry has been a direct beneficiary of IoT connectivity. Such innovations as robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) have helped healthcare sector providers diagnose disease, manage chronic conditions, and bring the cost of care for patients and providers. The healthcare IoT market value was $60 billion in 2014 and expected to reach a value of $136 billion in 2021, a CAGR of 12.5 percent. Growth in the connected devices segment of the market is projected to be the best for the healthcare industry. Asia-Pacific countries are expected to experience a CAGR of 17 percent for the measuring period of 2015 – 2021. Why is IoT important to the Healthcare sector? It provides companies with the ability to grow therapies and processes useful in meeting needs and improving healthcare outcomes through improved:

  • Monitoring of patient health
  • The operation of healthcare clinics
  • The management of workflow
  • Imaging connectivity
  • The measurement of the effectiveness of fitness, health and wellness programs
  • The development of new drug therapies

IoT +37 Years: What Does the Future Hold for Connectivity

The future of IoT is more than bright. The explosion in the growth of IoT connected devices, over 300% between 2019 – 2025, is forcing businesses to invest in this technology to experience a cut of the nearly $500 billion in profits generated from more than 2 billion devices in use in 2019 alone. Companies are maneuvering to position themselves as leading innovators in the development of IoT devices and products. For example, Google invested $3.2 billion to purchase Nest products and paid another $2.1 billion to acquire FitBit, in a bid to compete with competitor Apple’s Apple Watch. These acquisitions are strategic moves designed to gain further control of the IoT market and offer an array of products which can capture valuable consumer data and further the development of needed products.

IoT has not reached its zenith in terms of depth or breadth of market. What was thought to be the limit when smartphone technology was first introduced to the market more than 25 years ago on August 16, 1994 (IBM’s Simon Personal Communicator), the world and consumers have seen an astronomical amount of growth in the number of devices (“things”) with the capability to interact with us and each other to provide important data and operate free of human-to-computer interaction. Automated homes equipped with functions which can clean your floors, issue notifications when you are running low on milk, provide real time video and alerts when an intruder approaches your home are more than the dreams of 1960s science fiction writers like Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick.

Bottom Line

Businesses that learn to involve themselves in IoT connectivity will find themselves at the leading edge of this technological advancement. IoT means a greater opportunity for profitability through the mining of data and predictive analysis provide by data scientists to determine consumer interests, wants, and needs. The application of IoT in a business setting helps businesses leverage knowledge gained from their customers in ways unforeseen when the internet was first made available to the general population. IoT connectivity leads to higher profits and better consumer loyalty, as seen in the rapid growth of IoT’s market value.

Businesses will also come to understand that improvements in their IoT offerings will lead to improved employee morale. IoT connectivity provides businesses with valuable consumer data which in turn leads to the creation of products designed to improve quality of life. The data gleaned from IoT devices can be synthesized efficiently and seamlessly, creating a data-driven environment which reduces employee stress and leads to greater creativity. This is another benefit IoT connectivity provides your business and its bid for greater profitability.

It is important to recognize that any limits on IoT connectivity are those which consumers set. A greater reliance and dependence on digital devices to provide us with the comforts of daily living will be tempered by attempts by hackers and other nefarious actors to compromise these machines for their personal gains. Proper monitoring and safeguards must be put in place; businesses must constantly gauge consumer interest for the next best thing and balance that desire against the ability of that “thing” to provide a solution and not be another gadget that is a potential hazard. A proper read of the data IoT devices provide will help guide business toward smart development in keeping with the dramatic increase in value in the IoT market, leading to better products, happy consumers, engaged employees, and a better envisioned world.

5G Networks Present Need for Improved Security

5G Networks

The Security Risks Are Real with Coming Rollout of 5G Networks

Discover what the arrival of ultra-fast 5G networks means for cybersecurity, driven by the significant number of devices that will be connected to each network.

5G Networks

As ultrafast 5G networks emerge, so too do potential cybersecurity threats. For security experts, the unknowns make predictions for what risks to address more challenging

What is 5G?

5G is a new approach to wireless connectivity. It features speeds 20 to 100 times faster than the existing fastest speeds on 4G long-term evolution (LTE) networks. 5G (which stands for the fifth generation of wireless technology to be available in the United States and worldwide) networks also will support larger numbers of wireless devices.

Given the proliferation of connected devices (the Internet of Things), the ability to connect more objects without affecting performance is a significant benefit.

How Does 5G Technology Differ from Previous Network Solutions?

5G delivers faster speeds and lower latency due to fundamental changes in the network structure. Among the key changes are:

  • Use of higher radio frequencies than 4G, allowing for more data to be transmitted at faster speeds
  • A new technology, Massive MIMO (multiple input multiple output) that uses targeted beams that follow a connected user around a cell site, providing better capacity, coverage and speed. Massive MIMO acts like a spotlight, directing the technology in a specific direction, as opposed to existing 4G tower technology that’s more like a floodlight, firing data in all directions, wasting power and energy.

What Are the New Cyberthreats?

With any new technology comes the new potential of attacks and intrusions. With 5G, more devices can be connected at once, more data is flowing, and data exchange happens at a far more rapid pace. Here are some of the main challenges that come with the new wireless protocol.

  • More Devices Means Lack of Scalability. Today, companies that have large numbers of connected devices on their networks find it difficult to manage and secure these objects. As those businesses adopt 5G, they may be managing hundreds if not tens of thousands of devices. The challenges of scalability of security solutions will only magnify.
  • New Risks Will Emerge. Today, most cybersecurity solutions focus on traditional connected devices — desktop computers, servers, smartphone and other mobile devices. 5G increases the opportunity to connect more types of objects. With each newly connected object comes an increased network threat, another possibility for hackers to expose a security flaw in a device that’s not updated or fully protected.

    5G also encourages more businesses to invest in connected devices as part of their business operations. That means a growing number of new devices, interfaces and technologies.

    Consider the potential number of smart devices in your home — refrigerator, coffee machine, washing machine, doorbell, television, digital assistant and security system are all connected and potential targets.

  • More Privacy Issues. More entities are passing laws and regulations that govern how data can be stored, transmitted and used. That means organizations using 5G will need to comply with multiple regulatory hurdles related to information collected by, stored on and used by connected devices.
  • Unknown Capabilities. Today’s network security systems and processes are constructed to monitor traffic and identify potential threats based on activity and data, all in real time. Doing so allows them to detect and contain suspect activity quickly. The solutions are designed to work with the existing bandwidth speeds and restrictions. With the higher capacity and speeds of 5G, that model may go out the window. New protocols are necessary for encryption, monitoring and prevention, which may mean existing firewalls may no longer work with 5G.

    Yet with few 5G networks operational, there is little to baseline for testing or assessment. Hardware will likely need to be upgraded, processes changed and new guidelines developed and implemented.

  • Integration and Automation. Today’s solutions can operate independently of other systems, but the impending 5G revolution means integration and automation will need to become part of future solutions. Security solutions will need to connect to the entire IT operation and data will need to be synchronized throughout multiple security layers.

What Can the Security Profession, Carriers and Businesses Do to Prepare for 5G Security Needs?

The solution to 5G security challenges will be multilayered and the responsibility of multiple parties. Among the key changes necessary are:

  • Carriers will need to extend firewall protection to cover new distributed networks of connected devices
  • Improved authentication and management of devices
  • Self-updating, self-reporting, self-hardening and self-healing devices will need to become the norm
  • Access and discoverability protocols will need to be built through multiple layers

The benefits of 5G are significant. With the right security programs and solutions in place, it’s likely to be a big leap forward in connectivity.

Are you ready for the New IOS? Here’s How to find out.

IOS 13

Are you excited about all the new iOS 13 features like Swipe to Type and Improved Dark Mode? Before you install, make sure your device is ready for iOS 13.  

So maybe you’re not ready to pounce on a $1,099 iPhone Pro Max. But you do want the new iOS 13 features. It’s time for a major iOS update. But before you hit “update now”, make sure you’re ready for iOS 13 to ensure a smooth update process. Preparing for iOS 13 isn’t complicated. Just follow these simple steps. But first, what’s new in iOS 13?

What’s New in iOS 13?

Haven’t updated to iOS 13 yet? You have some great new iOS 13 features to look forward to like:

  • Dark Mode – With all the discussion about blue light and the sleep-cycle-impact of viewing a device too close to bedtime, Apple recently released dark mode that eliminates the harsh white light on your screen, replacing it with a dark backlight. In addition, many will find reading on a dark background easier and you’ll experience less eye strain in general.
  • Swipe to Type – Apple is finally catching up on this one. This has been a feature on Android for 10 years. But we all know Apple is never one to follow. This feature may take some time to learn but can save time. It allows you to swipe rather than “press” letters to type. But don’t worry, you’ll have options until you’re ready to relearn typing.
  • Updated Apps – You’ll also see some great smaller updates to apps like Reminders, Maps, Photos and more
  • New Voice for Siri – Apple chose Siri’s original voice after extensive testing. People found in calming and reassuring. But it’s time for a change. Now, instead of a computer-generated voice, “Siri” will respond with actual audio from voice actors. Because the voice is now “Human”, you’re less likely to encounter those funny pronunciations that become tell-tale signs that we’re not hearing a human talking. As AI technology advances, we can certainly expect computer-generated voices to get the nuances of human language right. But for now, it seems, human is the way to go.
  • Privacy and Security – Privacy and security continue to be a top concern for Apple. So you’ll see several behind-the-scenes and in the foreground features that make you safer.
  • iPad iOS – For the first time, Apple’s also releasing an iOS specifically for iPad to enhance use. One of the long-awaited features is “slide and split” that will improve your ability to view and work in two web pages or apps with both viewable on the screen at once. Most of us in business who use iPads know how important this feature is and how frustrating and productivity-killing it can be with split screen is either unavailable or doesn’t work well on a device. So this is great news. In addition, they’re adding a full page markup for iPad and more.

Now, on to preparing for iOS 13.

1. Ask: Is My Device Eligible for the iOS 13

The first step to getting ready for iOS 13 is to check to see if your apple device is compatible. And if it isn’t, these new iOS 13 features, in addition to many of the newer capabilities on iPhone X series or the newly released iPhone 11, may finally convince you that it’s time to upgrade to a new model.

In order to enjoy these new updates you’ll need:

  • iPhone 6S, 6S Plus, or later
  • iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini, or later

These came out around 2015. If you have a 6S, etc, this gives us a good idea about which devices will be compatible with future major updates and you may want to consider upgrading in the next year so that you’re ready for the next iOS. Technology changes fast and often you don’t know what you’re missing out on.

2. Delete Apps You Don’t Use

Updating your iOS is a great time to cut the fat. So delete apps you rarely use.

Remember, they’re still yours. And you can download them for free again if you need them later.

Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of junk on your device? Follow the steps to find out what you’re not using.

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Click iPhone storage.
  3. See when you used each application last.
  4. Click on the oldest ones and delete.

3. Make Sure iCloud Backup Is On

Finally, don’t make the mistake of not backing up your phone before an update. You could lose everything, including spreadsheets, files, photos and more.

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Click your name at the top.
  3. Visit iCloud.
  4. Scroll down and make sure it’s “on”.

If it was off, wait several hours to install the update. Ideally, wait 24 hours to be sure. This gives the Cloud an opportunity to backup your device so that when you upgrade everything is there.

IOS 13

Is Your Business Prepared to Take Action to Upgrade Windows OS Before January 2020?

Windows 7 End of Support

Is your business still using Windows 7? If so, it’s time to take serious action to upgrade to Windows 10 before the service cycle ends for this popular platform.  

Very early in 2020, there’s a situation occurring that has the potential to affect thousands of businesses across the US. No, it’s not a direct cybersecurity attack from a known threat vector. Instead, it’s the end of the functional lifecycle of one of business’s most beloved operating systems: Windows 7. While some businesses have been in denial that they needed to upgrade, it’s not unusual for small to mid-size businesses to still be running Windows 7 even with the deadline looming only a few months away. For the past 10 years, Windows 7 has provided a secure and stable OS for business, but regular patches and security upgrades will no longer be released for Windows 7 past January 2020 — leaving your computers open to the dangers of cyberattacks.

Don’t Put Your Business at RIsk

Hackers have been watching Windows 7 more closely as it nears the end of its lifecycle, looking for vulnerabilities that can be quickly exploited once maintenance has expired for the platform. While Windows upgrades are delivered every few years, they have a general window of a useful lifetime of 10 years. After that period, Microsoft eliminates free support and provides only very limited paid support options for your business. It’s not unusual for businesses to skip upgrading their operating systems and still be on a Windows 7 platform. As of 2019, there are still approximately 36% of computers accessing the internet from a device running Windows 7.

Steps You Can Take to Avoid the Impending January 2020 Deadline

Depending on the size of your business and how many computers are utilizing the Windows 7 operating system, there are a variety of options for upgrade. You can install updates on individual computers manually, and there are a few options for getting access to a free upgrade version of Windows 10. Unfortunately, you might find that your computers are not quite fast enough or new enough to handle an in-place upgrade and you might need to either purchase new machines or make adjustments to your current business machines to get them ready. Windows 10 has different operating system requirements than Windows 7 or even Windows 8, and might place too heavy of a load on older machines.

Don’t wait any longer to upgrade to the latest and most stable version of Windows operating system: Windows 10. With only a few months left before the end of the full maintenance cycle, Windows 7 is quickly becoming one of the most dangerous items in your technology landscape, a problem that can be quickly rectified by working with your local trusted technology solutions provider to create an upgrade schedule. If you aren’t comfortable upgrading directly in the few months that are left to your business, there are plenty of options for short-term maintenance that your proactive IT partner can help you explore.

Using the Cloud to Boost Business

The Cloud Business

Boost Business with the Cloud

Using the cloud offers a variety of benefits for your business. Find out more about how you can use cloud technology to boost business.  

The Cloud Business

The cloud has grown in popularity among businesses in all industries. However, if you have not already transferred your business’s data and operations to the cloud, you may wonder if this technology is really in your best interest to expend the time and energy you will need to invest in order to implement cloud computing.

Below are some of the ways the cloud can boost business for your company, making it well worth the investment.

1. The cloud saves you money.

Implementing the cloud for your business prevents you from needed to invest in the same expensive infrastructure and programming of a company with in-house operations. This can save your company a significant amount of money over time.
The cloud can also save your company money by eliminating the need for in-house IT personnel. When you make the move to cloud computing, all of the programs and services you use will be maintained by your provider. Thus, you won’t need your own full-time IT staff.

2. The cloud boosts productivity.

The programs and processes you are able to access when you utilize the cloud are often more advanced and efficient than those you could afford on your own. In addition, if you choose the right provider, your programs will also be more reliable and kept up-to-date at all times. This leads to enhanced productivity overall.

3. The cloud improves collaboration.

With the cloud, it is easier to connect with colleagues, share information and work on projects with others. These improvements lead to more collaboration within your company, which in turn improves outcomes.

4. The cloud grows with your company.

One of the best things about cloud computing is its scalability. You pay only for the services you need, making it much more cost-effective. These services can also be scaled up or scaled down easily when your needs change, allowing for easier growth.
Moving your company to the cloud may seem overwhelming at first, but the potential benefits are clear. If you are not already using the cloud, it is time to start exploring this option and considering how it can improve your business. Before making the switch, be sure to investigate different providers so you can find the one that offers the best services at a fair price.

The Evolution of MSPs and the Benefits of Using Them

Managed Service Provider

MSPs and How They Developed Over Time

MSPs provide specialized services to small businesses who may not be able to hire a full staff of professionals.  

Managed Service Provider

Small business owners with limited resources can’t always afford to hire the professionals they need to help manage their business. They have the same basic needs as larger companies, just on a smaller scale. The problem is that, unlike their larger counterparts, they don’t have the budget or the resources to allow for such extravagances. In an attempt to fill these needs, MSPs were formed.

What Is an MSP?

An MSP, or managed service provider, is a company or team of professionals that offers specialized services to small business. They can be hired on contract or to perform specific jobs. MSPs are made up of professionals who have the advanced training needed to provide a variety of services that fall within their industry. There are MSPs in almost every industry. Professional service providers from each MSP can be hired one at a time or as a team to ensure the right people are selected for each job.

Different Types of MSPs

There are several different types of MSPs. IT and security management are two of the most common. There are also MSPs that deal with digital marketing and data analytics that help small companies reach larger audiences with strategically targeted marketing plans. IT companies help small businesses by setting up their digital network and making sure it runs efficiently. While the IT professionals work to protect the company’s information, security management MSPs help to protect the outside. They can install security systems and provide video surveillance cameras that allow the owners to see their property day or night.

The Reason Behind Their Growth

The main reason behind the explosion of growth that MSPs are experiencing has to do with filling a niche. MSPs provide specialized services for an affordable price. The owner of the small business only has to pay for the amount of time used or the services that are provided. With little money in the budget for hiring someone full time, using an MSP allows for the business owner to get the services they need at a manageable cost.

Why They Are Needed

One of the main benefits of hiring an MSP to perform specific tasks is that allows the owner to do what they do best. Manage their business. By focusing all of their attention on their business, they are able to maintain continued growth. Many small business owners don’t have the knowledge or experience to handle certain parts of their business. Hiring an MSP team of professionals allows them to hire someone with the knowledge and experience they need only for as long as they need them. This means better control of their business and not worrying about going over their already tight budget.

MSPs have grown considerably over the last few decades. Small business owners no longer have to worry about their lack of experience costing them money. Now they can turn to the professionals they need to take care of the tasks that sometimes went overlooked in the past.

Can Outsourced Managed IT Services Improve Profitability?

Managed IT Services

Outsourcing Managed IT Services Improves Business Goal Achievement

Industry leaders require a laser-focus on profit-driving initiatives. Outsourcing an organization’s IT oversight saves time, money, and keeps everyone on task.  

Managed IT Services

Whether you are a decision-maker for an upstart, mid-sized, or large corporation, outsourcing IT support, maintenance, and cybersecurity oversight can improve your operation. Managed services conducted by a third-party outfit with experience and expertise, brings high-level knowledge to the table that most business team members lack.

That’s generally because industry leaders staff their organizations with people who deliver profit-driving benefits. Managing an in-house IT team tends to distract from the goal-achievement tasks that keep an operation competitive and successful. Owners, CEOs, and other captains of industry with heightened IT needs would be wise to consider these five benefits of outsourcing.

1: Risk Reduction

Every business operates with a certain degree of risk. Those risks include fines for not meeting changing government regulations or falling behind competitors in cost-effective technology applications, among others. But perhaps the greatest threat that businesses of all sizes and every sector face are data theft and hacks. Without a doubt, less-than-adequate cybersecurity applications, protocols, and employee preventative training present the greatest threat to your organization.

2: Cost Consistent Budgeting

Entrepreneurs working hard to grow fledgling operations often have thin budgets. Every dollar counts and financial constraints generally do not allow for overspending. People in the private sector are fully aware they cannot manage a thriving enterprise using the faulty methods of the federal government. Either you have the revenue, or you don’t.

Managed IT service contracts allow decision-makers to allot a specific sum toward computer network oversight. There are no excessive payroll taxes, or unexpected overtime hours to strain the company’s resources. You write one monthly check and renegotiate when your managed services agreement expires.

3: Heightened Expertise

Perhaps the greatest difference between hiring an in-house IT team and outsourcing is the improved access to specialized knowledge. Some small and mid-sized operations think it’s savvy to hire a recent technical school graduate who has been immersed in the latest trends and technologies. That thinking seems reasonable on its face.

But the inherent flaw is that your outfit often requires that person, or team, to focus exclusively on your system and operations. What you lose over time is their immersion in trends, new applications, heightened cybersecurity threats, and other pertinent issues. A third-party managed service provider invests its time, resources, and people into cutting-edge training. When a managed services expert reviews your system, they bring the latest knowledge to every task. It’s simply not cost-effective to pay an IT team and then have them attend far-away seminars for weeks at a time.

4: Avoid Potential Downtime

After cyber-theft and hacks, downtime ranks among the most costly setback a company can experience. Imagine for a moment, you are looking out over your offices and employees are unable to work because the system is down. Now imagine you are paying them to not perform the necessary tasks to meet the business’ financial necessities.

When you outsource your IT needs to a third-party provider, it’s not uncommon for them to conduct due diligence, and preventive maintenance while your profit-driving staff is not on the clock. Smooth functioning networks are a type of hidden benefit that companies gain by having 24-7 IT services.

5: Improved Business Focus

Goal-oriented thought leaders enjoy improved success when they are able to focus on the things that make a company successful. Unless you are running a managed services outfit, computer issues, cybersecurity, and managing an IT team is not the best use of your time and brainpower.

Business visionaries achieve goals and enjoy the fruits of their innovation and labor by maintaining a laser-focus on industry trends, cost reduction, improved production, services, and staying ahead of their sector’s learning curve. It’s essential not to get bogged down in seemingly peripheral issues such as IT. Maximizing your skillset and outsourcing IT maintenance and oversight to a professional is the smart play.

Maximizing budgetary resources in a way that delivers the cutting-edge IT needs of today’s business community may be best left to professionals. When industry leaders take the time to do the math on best practices and profitable outcomes, third-party managed IT services remain a tried-and-true practice.

Ask Smart Questions about Solutions and Technology Expertise to Find a Superior IT Service Provider

IT Budget

Here Are Top Questions to Ask Potential IT Service Providers

Discover the most important questions to ask about products, quality, expertise, competency, security and breadth when selecting an IT service provider.

IT Budget

Business leaders who want to cut operating expenses, improve efficiency and leverage the newest technologies turn to IT service providers. With the right technology partner, a business can see considerable gains in productivity, communication and data security.

Choosing the right IT service provider is an important decision. Here are a few of the questions to ask to help you make the right choice.

How Do We Know If an IT service provider is a Quality Business?

Determining if a business is run well and according to best practices is often a difficult assessment. Here are some things to look for:

  • Staff Size. If you have extensive needs, a large staff with specialized areas is usually better equipped to handle complex clients. However, a smaller company may get lost in the shuffle of a large organization only focused on the largest clients.
  • Technology Partners. IT service providers cannot do everything by themselves. That’s why the best rely on partnership agreements with high-quality tech companies to deliver specialized products and services. Ask for a list of their partners; strong connections to top companies is a good sign.
  • References. If you encounter an IT service provider that refuses to provide references, walk away. Ask for references from clients that are the same size, in the same industry or facing similar challenges as yours.

What Do We Ask to Determine if an IT service provider is Technically Competent?

You rely on your IT service provider to have the technical expertise to address your needs. How can you assess their technical abilities? Ask about the following:

  • Competencies. Certifications and preferred partner status are good indicators of technical quality and where the IT service provider’s strengths are. Especially in small shops, an emphasis and expertise in Linux may mean they’re not as strong at Windows. Use this space to ask about professional development for their staff and their training commitment.
  • Out of Scope. If you are paying a flat rate for managed services, you need to know what’s included and what isn’t. There are plenty of services that could be included in a package, including network security monitoring, ISP troubleshooting, software and firmware upgrades and patching, hardware installation and server upgrades. Be sure to shop around and know what’s covered by your plan and what is either an extra charge or not available.
  • Disaster Recovery. If a natural disaster or hacker attack hits your company, you need a business continuity and disaster recovery plan in place to reduce the damage and impact. It’s a common service for an IT service provider to offer. But you need to know what your IT service provider’s own disaster recovery plan is. If your IT service provider can’t be up and running quickly after a disaster, they are unlikely to be able to help you.
  • Compliance Coverage. More and more businesses face compliance challenges at the federal, state local and industrial level. Foreign entities are also demanding compliance with mandates, often concerning securing and using personal data. Ask your IT service provider about their experience with the compliance requirements, such as HIPAA, GDPR, PCI or FSMA, that your company has. Inquire about a service level agreement (SLA) that guarantees compliance with the mandates you are required to fulfill.
  • Automation. Advances in automation have taken the place of lots of manual tasks. Your IT service provider should be committed to using automation and AI solutions wherever possible, freeing their staff to work on higher-level projects. If they are not using the most cutting-edge technology, how will they advise you on how to leverage new solutions?

Can We Measure the Service Quality of an IT service provider?

Service is critical when choosing an IT service provider. You want a partner that’s attentive, responsive and effective when you have a critical need. Ask the following:

  • Internal vs. Outsourced. Your IT service provider will promise to deliver an extraordinary range of products and solutions. However, it’s important to know who will be doing the work on your account. Ask your potential IT service provider what work is done internally by their employees and what is outsourced (and why).
  • Strategy and Advising. Some IT service providers focus exclusively on selling you technology solutions. Others take a comprehensive approach. You want an IT service provider that can act as a virtual chief information officer, providing help with technology strategy, budgeting and growth that aligns with your present and future business priorities.
  • Scalability. As your company grows, you need solutions that can scale rapidly as new customers, data and technologies emerge. Be sure to ask how scalable an IT service provider’s solutions are, how they will help improve efficiency, how they will reduce costs and how they will reduce workload.

Thoughtful questions asked consistently of each potential IT service provider puts your business in the best position to select the right technology partner.

Ready for Disaster? Tips for Creating a Smart Business Continuity Plan

Business Planning

Mitigate Disaster with a Comprehensive Business Continuity Plan

When you create a detailed business continuity plan, you can keep disaster from disrupting your operations. See how to get started here.  

Business Planning

When disaster strikes, disruptions to your operations could negatively impact your construction projects, pushing them past the deadline and over budget. And it is not just natural disasters you have to worry about, either.

Everything from serious IT problems to the loss of important team members has the potential to wipe out your operations. That is, unless you have a smart business continuity plan in place. With this plan, you can keep your operations moving along like normal, helping ensure the success of all your construction projects.

Importance of Having a Business Continuity Plan

In optimal conditions, there’s no doubt everything runs like clockwork, as your team works hard to complete their individual tasks. If anyone fails to come through, however, everything could grind to a halt. Furthermore, without writing it out, only a few in your company may know just what everyone should be working on and how it all comes together.

Therefore, you need a business continuity plan just in case serious disruptions leave you without certain team members, equipment, or workspaces. In many ways, this plan is a big-picture overview of everything that goes on at your construction firm. It also identifies all the workarounds you can use when faced with disruptions caused by different disaster scenarios.

Above all, your plan should detail who is in charge of each department in the absence of key players and all the ways they can keep moving forward in their daily duties. With that approach, you can keep major disruptions from throwing your workforce off track or preventing them from completing their tasks.

How to Create a Continuity Plan for Your Business

Without knowing what is on the horizon, there is really no time to waste in creating your business continuity plan. Thankfully, you can easily approach this process by using the following steps.

Take a Complete Inventory of Your Company

Taking inventory of your workforce, contacts, and equipment is the very first thing you must do to create your plan. You will likely need to take a big step back from your construction company to complete this step.

To start, create a list of all your employees, noting the major players in each department. Add their contact information in full, so you can find how to reach out at a glance. Then, create similar records of your material suppliers, clients, and other important contacts.

Next, you can move onto creating a complete inventory of all the equipment used on each of your job sites. Make sure to include their make, model, and serial numbers, so you can find parts or file claims as needed to keep things moving along. In addition, note any local parts suppliers, repair techs, and equipment dealers for those brands to complete your log.

Outline Existing Processes and Highlight Critical Areas

With the completion of the inventory step, you will need to look at your operations. Go from department to department, look at the duties of each employee and how they support other departments. Along the way, busy yourself with creating flowcharts for all the distinct processes used to run your construction company.

Throughout this process, identify your key operations and the major players you depend on to get the work done. Then, see who can fill in if those individuals cannot make it work. Also, add ways employees can workaround specific disruptions and continue to fulfill their core duties.

Identify Temporary Workstations and Keep Them Updated

If your core employees cannot get to their normal workstations, everything should not grind to a halt. But it will unless you have already identified temporary workstations and made the effort to keep them updated.

The workstations should have all the equipment and software normally used by the team and be completely ready for their use. So, create an update schedule and make sure the temporary workstations are included whenever you complete a major equipment or software upgrade. Furthermore, ensure your employees know about the existence of these workstations and how to access them.

Create Your Plan for Maintaining Critical Operations

With your understanding of your core operations, you can create a plan for each of your employees, helping them mitigate the effects of the disaster. Working across all departments, you will need to indicate who is responsible for getting each system back online and up to their normal operating levels. They should have a clear direction on the steps to take and the tools they will need to complete the assigned tasks.

Your plan should cover not only the construction tasks you are responsible for in that moment, but also all the administrative ones. You need to let your payroll department know how to proceed, for example, to ensure they can continue to process payments for all your employees.

Once you are finished creating your business continuity plan, store the main copy in a secure location and provide each department with their own copies.

Don’t Wait — Create Your Business Continuity Plan Today

So, now that you know what to do, there’s really no reason to wait. Start building your business continuity plan today to protect your operations from disaster. Otherwise, your employees could be left without the knowledge needed to keep your business afloat until everything returns to normal.

Newly Discovered Security Flaws Put Windows Users at Serious Risk

Is Windows Secure

Microsoft Vulnerability Affects Most Recent Operating Systems

Learn about two recently discovered vulnerabilities that could put your company’s computers and operations at risk and what Microsoft is doing to fix the issue.

Is Windows Secure

Two newly discovered security vulnerabilities could put Windows users at risk of attack if they do not download and install security patches Microsoft recently issued.

What Are the New Microsoft Security Flaws?

Nicknamed DejaBlue, the two security flaws are designated CVE-2019-1181 and CVE-2019-1182. They are similar to the BlueKeep vulnerabilities Microsoft issued patches for in May 2019. The newest flaws, like Bluekeep, could allow hackers to create so-called “wormable” attacks that easily can be spread from one computer to another without any interaction from a user.

The main difference is that the newer security vulnerabilities are potential threats to newer versions of Windows products.

What Systems Does DejaBlue Affect?

There are potentially hundreds of thousands of computers that could be affected by the Windows worm. They sit within the Windows Remote Desktop Services (RDS) package. According to Microsoft, the vulnerabilities could affect the following systems:

  • Windows 7 SP1
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1
  • Windows Server 2012
  • Windows 8.1
  • Windows Server 2012 R2
  • Windows 10 (all supported versions, including server versions)

That’s a massive number of potential targets that could be infected if the patches are not deployed and active monitoring tools are not in place.

Windows XP, Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2003 are not affected.

How Does DejaBlue Work?

Like with BlueKeep, the vulnerabilities can be used to exploit RDP, a tool that administrators use to connect to other computers on a network. Hackers could then use that exploit to code and load a worm that is automated. It would “jump” from one computer to another, potentially affecting millions of computers quickly.

What makes the DejaBlue and Bluekeep vulnerabilities so dangerous is that they can propagate without any user interaction.

What’s more dangerous is that the new vulnerabilities differ from BlueKeep, which targeted Windows 7 operating systems. The new exposures could affect Windows 7 and all recent versions of Microsoft’s operating systems. That amplifies both the risk and the potential impact.

“At this point, nearly every contemporary Windows computer needs to patch, before hackers can reverse engineer those fixes for clues that might help create exploits,” notes Wired magazine.

While a British intelligence agency, GCHQ, is credited with identifying BlueKeep, Microsoft notes that it identified the new threats itself. To date, no evidence that exists that indicates the vulnerabilities were known to third parties, the company said.

“These vulnerabilities were discovered by Microsoft during hardening of Remote Desktop Services as part of our continual focus on strengthening the security of our products,” Microsoft said in a release.

The scale of the potential damage is extraordinary. As of July 2019, there were as many as 800,000 computers worldwide that were still vulnerable to BlueKeep, with a much larger potential threat from DejaBlue.

What Can We Do to Protect Against Cybersecurity Threats?

The key to maintaining a secure network is developing a comprehensive, multilayered security strategy. A managed services provider can partner with you to develop a cybersecurity plan that includes:

  • Comprehensive network perimeter monitoring using next-generation firewalls to detect, contain, disable and destroy threats
  • Continuous monitoring of systems, endpoints and users
  • Automated downloading and installation of software and firmware updates, upgrades and patches that respond to emerging threats
  • Anti-malware, anti-spam and anti-virus software installed on each user’s machine or device, updated automatically, and analyzed to determine potential threats
  • Email and data encryption
  • Password security, including multifactor authorization
  • Mobile device management, including remote location finding, disabling and wiping functions
  • Cloud solutions for secure hosting of data, apps and operating systems
  • Business continuity and disaster recovery planning
  • Employee training

Having the right security in place greatly reduces your risk of being affected by a cyberattack that can debilitate your business, ruin its reputation and cost thousands to repair.