If You Don’t Know About These 3 Ways to Use Outlook 2016 More Efficiently, You’re Wasting Lots of Time

Microsoft Outlook is a professional email and calendar program that’s been used by businesses for over 15 years. It’s had many iterations over the years, but with 2016, and its integration with Office 365, Microsoft has taken Outlook to the next level. Today, small and medium-sized businesses that couldn’t afford the enterprise-level application can now benefit from Outlook 2016.

The following are 3 ways to help you use Outlook 2016 more efficiently.

1. Keyboard Shortcuts

Using keyboard shortcuts in Outlook on Windows will help you work more efficiently. It’s also handy for those who have mobility or vision disabilities because using keyboard shortcuts can often be easier than using a touchscreen or mouse. Here are some popular keyboard shortcuts you should try.

And there are more. Here are popular keyboard shortcuts for NAVIGATION:

When searching, try these handy keyboard shortcuts:

 

To create an item or a file keep these shortcuts in mind.

Shortcuts in Mail.

To see more Outlook 2016 Shortcuts go here.

2. Use Quick Steps

Right-click any email, choose Quick Steps and choose from the list.

We’re going to choose Team Email. The first time we use this, Outlook asks you to name your team and enter their email addresses.

Then create a Keyboard Shortcut for this. So, the next time you hit Control Shift 1, an email to your entire team can be composed.

You can also create new Quick Step. Simply choose Create New Quick Step.

Here are some other Quick Steps to try: 1

  • Move to Folder: This is essentially the same as Move To.
  • Categorize & Move: This moves the selected message to a specific folder, marks the message as read, and assigns a category color and name to the message.
  • Flag & Move: This moves the selected message to a specific folder, marks the message as read, and assigns a flag to the message.
  • New Email To: This opens a New Message form with the To field already filled out with a particular recipient.
  • Forward To: This is essentially the same as To Manager.
  • New Meeting: If you often send meeting invites to the same group of people, use this Quick Step to open a New Meeting form with the To field already filled in with the invitees.
  • Custom: This opens the Edit Quick Step dialog box so that you can create your own custom Quick Step.

3. Use Conditional Formatting

This is used to change the look of a particular email. You do this in the View Menu.

Here, we just click on Conditional Formatting and create an email called Microsoft.

Next, we choose a condition, where the word Microsoft appears anywhere in an email.

Then, we ask it to appear in a bold red font.

Now, any new email we receive with the word Microsoft in it will show up in red. This is a great way for us to recognize the importance of an email. You may want to do this for any email with your boss’s name in it!

And, there are more ways you can get the most from Outlook 2016. Here are a few ideas:

EMAIL

  • Change the color and contrast of Outlook: You can also use a picture or color as the background, add a text watermark to your emails.
  • Customize emails with the fonts you prefer: Change the default font for various email messages you send, or a particular font for messages that you forward or reply to.
  • Create signatures for your different email accounts: Create personalized signatures for your email messages: include text, images, your electronic business card, a logo, or even an image of your handwritten signature. Signatures can be added automatically to all outgoing messages, or you can choose which messages should use a particular signature.
  • Setup sound alerts when new emails come in: A sound can play when a new email message arrives. The default sound is a short .wav audio file, but you can change it to any .wav file of your choice.
  • Establish tracking options with delivery receipts: A delivery receipt confirms delivery of your email message to the recipient’s mailbox.
  • Use Outlook’s templates for your messages or create your own: Use email templates to send messages that include information that rarely changes from message to message. You can also insert icons, photos, and tables into your messages.
  • Embed voting buttons in your email to survey your recipients about a particular topic (such as, “When’s the best date and time for a meeting?”): Voting buttons are an excellent way to poll people, especially when communicating with large groups.
  • Use Quickparts to insert a standard set of words you often use: Use the Quick Parts Gallery to create, store, and locate content, including AutoText, document properties such as title and author, and fields.
  • Clutter: This is where you can place low priority emails you want to read later. Clutter helps you filter these low-priority emails saving time for your most important messages. Office 2016 remembers “Clutter” emails if you want.  If Clutter isn’t for you, you can TURN IT OFF.
  • Create folders and subfolders: You can base these on topics, senders, organizations, projects, etc.—Whatever works for you and organize your emails under the subjects you choose. Use folders in Outlook to move email messages, add a folder to your Favorites, and set a rule to move specific emails out of your inbox.

CALENDAR

Outlook 2016 calendars have all the tools and functionality you’ve relied on in the past, with improved features to help you manage your time. 

  • Set up multiple calendars (e.g., personal, business, health, etc.).
  • Create appointments quickly and share them with your contacts.
  • Scheduling assistant lets you access others’ calendars that you’re authorized to view (and vice versa).
  • Set reminders, reoccurring appointments/meetings, alerts, and more.
  • View your calendar by day, week, month, and year.

CONTACTS

  • You can also import contacts to Outlook from other email providers using the Outlook Import/Export wizard. Import a CSV file, Excel spreadsheet, or vCard.
  • Your contacts are linked to your email accounts, so you can simply key a name in the “To” field, and your contact’s email address will appear.
  • Set permission for a particular contact (delegate) to view your emails while you’re on vacation. Plus, you can give this person access to your calendar, tasks, and so on, as appropriate. One delegate can take care of your email, another your tasks, etc.

TOOLS

  • Always know how much space is left in your account.
  • Notify those emailing you that you aren’t available during a particular period with Out of Office. You set up a special message you want others to see.
  • Even set up different messages for people inside or outside your organization. (Outlook will remind you that the “Out of Office” message is turned on, so you don’t forget when you return.)
  • As mentioned above, similar to having an assistant help you manage your incoming paper mail, you can use Microsoft Outlook to allow a delegate, to receive and respond to e-mail messages and meeting requests and responses on your behalf.
  • You can also grant additional permissions that allow your delegate to read, create, or have more control over items in your Microsoft Exchange Server mailbox—And, set more than one delegate and permissions for various tasks.

TASKS

Outlook 2016’s task management helps you accomplish to-dos faster and easier.

  • Categorize your tasks with color codes.
  • Ping reminders for tasks.
  • Check-off tasks when complete.
  • Create tasks for others as well. Outlook integrates tasks with your emails so that you can assign a task to a recipient.  The task will show up on their task list.

To learn more about how you can get the most from Outlook 2016 contact us.

The Latest Expansions To Microsoft Office 365 Will WOW You!

The wildly popular subscription-based Microsoft Office 365 offers an ever-expanding application gallery. The latest additions to the line-up are sure to excite professional users.

Microsoft Office 365

The professional landscape today appears quite different from photos of workspaces and desktops 30 years ago. For one, shoulder pads are no longer as common! At one point, smoking and the occasional cocktail were quite acceptable in the workplace. Naps, too! But seriously, aside from the differences in the grainy photos – and the interesting hairstyles and wardrobe choices – you’ll notice major differences in staff count, communication style, office environment, and most importantly, technology.

The giant boxes that used to adorn desktops with the black screens and the giant white cursors that resembled a game of Pong. The ornately-framed diplomas and certificates on the walls of each office. Maybe a set of golf clubs in the corner? None of these are commonplace today. Why? First, let’s address the “office”. Gone are the days when a new college graduate receives an offer of employment and is escorted down a hallway to their own office on the first day – not since the explosive use of cubicles (we don’t mean that literally). Wall space in an office is nil because offices tend to be reserved for senior management in more modern set-ups. Pre-fab cubicles are the trend, being more flexible in design and layout, more economical in cost than construction of walls, and still offering the general guise of privacy in a professional workspace.

This type of environment is far from conducive to productivity – for some. Individuals have no control over noise level since there is no door that can be shut to block sound. While the cubicle was intended to also promote a more collaborative setting, the result is often disruptive. With the pressure on to maintain or increase productivity, professionals often resort to wearing headphones in an attempt to customize their environment to their needs – or just work remotely. In fact, a reliable Internet connection is all that is needed for a completely personalized work environment. Crank loud music or have silent surroundings, whichever is more helpful. Dim the lights or open every window, depending on the lighting that works best. It’s never too hot or too cold, and there’s never a wait for the bathroom. Lunches are never stolen out of the breakroom fridge if the fridge isn’t shared by a dozen other people!

Some organizations even maintain an entirely remote – or, distributed – workforce, where all employees work remotely. Staff may be in the same city and meet for the occasional coffee or brainstorming session, or be across the globe and only see each other via video conference. The number of distributed organizations in the United States continues to grow, including organizations like Automattic. The 400-strong staff are spread across more than 40 nations and are able to collaborate effectively, considering the company is valued at over $1 billion. The current count of companies with distributed workforces varies, but it’s estimated that as many as 200 U.S.-based brands are run entirely remotely. That means someone is potentially promoting a brand while wearing pajamas!

The professional landscape has evolved due to the modern technology. Boy, that’s an understatement! Thinking back to that giant boxy desktop computer in that grainy photo and comparing it to the sleek laptop or tablet today is a clear indicator of just how far we’ve come. We won’t lose our Internet connection when someone picks up the telephone, nor do we have to pay by the hour for dial-up service – in fact, high-speed connectivity is the standard in metropolitan areas. With high-speed Internet, remote staff have the connectivity to send or access shared files, send emails or instant messages, or have audio or video conferencing sessions with clients, customers, or colleagues.

The availability of productivity apps is astounding. Basic word processors that were the desktop staple haven’t been replaced, but have evolved from requiring installation from a CD-ROM to not even requiring a downloaded program file anymore! Yes, Microsoft Word, the workplace word processing darling, is accessible online through subscription-based Microsoft Office 365, which has a multitude of integrated apps designed for the flexible workforce. Create documents in Microsoft Word or spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel and save them to SharePoint or OneDrive, send emails through Microsoft Outlook, design innovative and edge presentations with PowerPoint, and the list goes on.

The list of apps that integrate with Office 365 expands every day! Considering Microsoft Office 365 now includes Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Flow, the possibilities are incredible. If you’ve not yet experienced either of these apps, you’re truly missing out.

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft was rumored to be interested in acquiring the techie-favorite collaborative platform Slack in 2016, but instead, release Microsoft Teams in 2017 as an updated and improved alternative to its Skype for Business. Microsoft viewed its Teams release as everything users loved about Slack and a “fix” to those areas where Slack wasn’t sufficient. Was Slack for sale? Probably not. But it didn’t matter – Microsoft decided to invest in a proprietary solution rather than re-do someone else’s established product. The even better news with this decision? Complete compatibility with the full family of Microsoft products is guaranteed, and integration with productivity apps!

Microsoft Flow

Do you love rules in Microsoft Outlook? If a new email comes in, is from a specific sender, includes a group of words in the subject line, or is from a specified domain, then treat the email with a certain process – the same way, every time. Whether this is forwarding to someone else, deleting the email, or moving to a folder to organize messages, the process will remain the same until the user changes the rule. Microsoft Outlook users love rules. Well, Microsoft Outlook users will love Microsoft Flow. Microsoft Flow is basically one big “if, then, then” rule app – but don’t let us oversimplify this for you – it’s so much better! Why? Glad you asked! It’s much better because these rules aren’t restricted to Outlook. Microsoft Flow is one giant automation machine. Rules in Microsoft Outlook are essentially automated processes the user defines, and Microsoft Flow helps users turn repetitive tasks into specific step-by-step workflows – hence the name – and automate these multistep workflows into templated processes to increase productivity and efficiency. Plus, don’t you get tired of doing the same things over and over again? Users can set up a plethora of cool processes – Flows:

  • If an email from your biggest customer comes in, get a push notification on your smartphone
  • Save any attachments that come in through an email in Microsoft Outlook to Microsoft OneDrive or SharePoint.
  • Track items like working hours or social media posts or responses in an Excel spreadsheet

Microsoft Project

If your Microsoft Office 365 subscription is an Enterprise, Government, or Academic account, Microsoft Project is available to use. Microsoft Project is a fantastic project management solution, facilitating in keeping projects, teams, and resources on track and centralized in one organized location. As with other Microsoft Office 365 products, Microsoft Project is easily integrated with Microsoft productivity apps.

There you have it! Microsoft Office 365 just keeps adding to its arsenal of productivity apps for professionals, and we love it. Whether you work remotely or not, Microsoft caters to the needs of busy professionals with modern apps – no shoulder pads required!

Must-Know SEO: Info Secrets to Maximizing Your Website’s Google Search Ranking

 

Google is the number-one search engine. It’s the one people go to when they have a question they need to be answered or are looking for a business to serve their particular needs. Google, like the terms Kleenex and Clorox, has become part of our daily vernacular. When you search for something online, you’re “Googling” it.

What is SEO (Search Engine Optimization)?

It’s the multi-discipline process of optimizing a website to rank high in organic search results.

Organic search results are those you don’t pay for.

Typically, when people search for companies or information on Google, the first few results they get are those that a business has paid for. If they say “Sponsored” or “Ad” that means someone has paid for them to be ranked at the top.

If you don’t pay for an ad, you must practice good SEO to be listed near the top of a Google search.

What constitutes good SEO?

This is difficult to pin down because It’s often-changing and always updating. Google updates their algorithms and the way that they rate and rank content hundreds of times a year. It’s impossible to keep track of every single change. However, practicing good SEO strategies, in general, will result in better search rankings.

Although it’s easy to understand, SEO is challenging to execute effectively. Here’s some information that should help.

On-Page Optimization

Optimize your entire website as a whole:

  • Increase the page speed and load times. Google will penalize your website if it loads slowly. Keep this in mind when purchasing web hosting. Make sure they have plenty of uptime, and you have enough bandwidth. If you don’t, Google will penalize you.
  • Ensure your site can be found using mobile devices. More people browse via mobile today than they do with desktop computers. Take this into account with every element of your website’s design. From your home page to your landing pages, to your contact page–Everything must be optimized for mobile searches. If your website looks great for desktop but isn’t accessible for mobile use, Google will penalize you in your search rankings.
  • Use HTTPS in your URL even if you’re not selling anything. Just having a secure website immediately gives you a boost in Google search rankings.
  • Include Social Sharing Links. Pick the social networks that are most relevant to your audience, like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Use the icons for the links on your webpage so people can find you easily and share your content. The more people share your content, the more Google finds you relevant, and the higher they will rank your business in their search results.
  • Use tools like Woorank, Yoast to test your overall website performance. These and other tools like them will scrub your page much like Google will, and tell you what your results are based on your current level of search optimization. If there are things you need to improve, these tools will let you know what they are, so you can up your search ranking.

Know your keywords and how to use them:

  • Make a list of topics relevant to your business and your intended audience. These are called Head Terms–words that are used in your industry or line of business.
  • Get specific and use Long-Tail Keywords. Think of this as the problem you want your customers to bring to you that you can solve. If you’re an attorney, this might be, “How can I save money on a divorce?” or “How do I fight a traffic ticket?” etc.
  • Do your own search for other keywords and observe user intent. See what problems people are having and which ones you can solve. The more you can solve, the better chances you’ll be a credible authority in their eyes and Google’s.
  • Scope out the competitor’s keywords. There are some paid tools you can use to do this. Or, do this on your own by visiting your competition’s website and looking at what they’re promoting, what media they use, the headlines they use, and the phrasing they publish. By doing a search for your competition, you can also see where they rank.
  • Use your keywords within the first 100 words of any of your web pages, including blog posts and videos. The first 100 words are used most heavily when Google scrubs information from your webpage. This is where you want to include your specific long-tail keywords.
  • Don’t keyword-stuff. You want to use your Long-Tail Keywords throughout the rest of your web pages, but don’t overdo it. Keep your language natural-sounding. If you keyword-stuff, Google will penalize you.

Use headers correctly:

  • H1 headers are for article or page titles. These are most important for SEO because this tells Google what your page is about. This is where you want to use those well-constructed Long-Tail Keywords.
  • H2 headers are for your sections. You should use Long-Tail Keywords here as well but be creative with your phrasing. Don’t repeat phrases over and over.
  • Include your keywords here but be creative with phrasing

Label your images correctly:

  • Include your keywords in your image file names. These will be your shorter keywords and Head Terms–terms that are broad in scope.
  • Include your keywords in your image alt text. Include your specific Long-Tail terms here as well.

Test it out.

The Right Content

Write for your audience:

  • Think of questions that your target audience would ask. Think of what people will be searching for. Think of the problems that they are looking to you to resolve.
  • Let your keywords be your guide. Phrase them as a question, then write the authoritative answer.

Go the distance whenever you can:

  • Word count matters. Aim for at least 1,000 words as often as possible. This may not always be possible for things like video descriptions or info-graphics. Don’t worry. Do the best you can.
  • Don’t sacrifice quality for word count. If you don’t have anything worthwhile to say, don’t just write a bunch of needless content. Google will pick this up and penalize you. Google wants quality content.
  • Some industries will need more quality content to compete online. If there’s a lot of competition for your service or product, you’ll need to step up your game to differentiate yourself from the others. You’ll need to come up with content that is better and more creative than what your competitors are posting.

Mix it up and keep it fresh:

  • Share more than just written articles. The broader your library, the more people you will appeal to. Blog posts are great but don’t neglect other options.

Repurpose your best old content:

  • Rework your old content that performed well into a new format like an infographic, video, e-book, and or blog. Take an e-book that was popular and write an article about it. Take an article and make a video from it, etc.

Don’t forget your Meta Descriptions:

  • Meta descriptions are the “flavor text” that shows beneath the link in a search result.
  • Google says that meta descriptions aren’t a ranking factor. However, the text that shows in SERPs can compel people to select your search result. If it gives you an edge, why not use it.
  • Write conversationally and aim to catch the viewer’s attention. Use 300 words max for your meta descriptions.
  • Use them on every page of your website.
  • Try plugins like Yoast if you are using WordPress for assistance writing great meta descriptions. It will rank the meta description and tell you whether or not it will be a positive influence.

Links and How to Use Them

Internal Linking:

  • Link to other pages, articles, or media within your own site. If you are the authority in your area of expertise, one article you write will surely have relevance to others on your site.
  • Try to get 2-3 internal links per page. This gives people a reason to stay on your site. It will give them a reason to stay on your page and click thru to other pages. This is important for good ranking results.

External Linking:

  • Link to authoritative, quality pages outside your website that have relevant information. Use links to news articles, Wikipedia, or other well-known websites. Be selective. Don’t link to blogs. Remember, anything you link to reflects the quality of your website. If you link to reputable sources, Google will consider your site reputable as well.
  • Be selective as the links you choose as this will reflect on the quality of your site.

Backlinks

  • These are the “Holy Grail” of links, and the most difficult to obtain. Backlinks are where you link to an outside page, and they link back to you. Here are some of the things you can try to get quality backlinks:
  • Write case studies on the products or services you use, especially if you’ve had spectacular results. Share these with your vendors and partners.
  • Write reviews for the companies and products you would recommend to others.
  • Build genuine relationships online and off.
  • Become a resource for the media.
  • Volunteer to speak to groups in your area.

How to Gain an Edge

Reviews, Reviews, Reviews:

  • Positive user reviews influence SEO ranking. Google Business and Yelp are the most popular and widely used.
  • Search for your business type in your location to see what other review sites are used by your target audience. Some of these might include Nextdoor, Angie’s List or TripAdvisor.
  • It’s okay to ask happy customers to leave a positive review, but don’t overdo it.

Location, Location, Location Reviews (and other ways to be relevant):

  • Don’t forget to include your location in your keywords if you serve local clients. If people are searching for businesses like yours in your location, Google will be able to find you and post your information in their search. Even if the person doesn’t include your city in their search, Google knows where they are and can find you to answer their query.
  • Consider other ways to signify that your information is relevant and current. Include the year in your title when relevant. If you’re talking about products, consider using a title like “The 20 Best Products in 2018.” People will see your post as relevant, and Google will see that your posts are current and give you a better ranking.

Be the Expert in One Area:

  • If you find a keyword that gets lots of search action without a lot of competition go deep with your strategy. Be the authority on it and use your internal links to your advantage. When doing your research on your keywords, if you find one that gets a lot of search activity, but there’s not much competition, use those keywords and write in-depth on the subject. You’ll rise the top of Google searches very quickly.

Optimize for Mobile:

  • This is worth repeating because the percentage of non-desktop searching is going to continue to increase. If your site isn’t easy to navigate on mobile devices, you’ll lose business.

Optimize for Voice Search:

  • The #1 thing that will set websites apart in the future is the ability to have your web properties appear in voice searches. We are using more Artificial Intelligence functions on our computer devices like Siri and Cortana.
  • Think of the questions people will ask via voice search and answer them. Again, if you serve local customers or businesses, make sure that you list your location in your keywords.

Use These Great SEO Tools:

  • The Google Search Console provides great insight into how your site is performing in Google searches. You do have to take some steps to enable access, but it’s very user-friendly. You can see which keyword searches on Google were used most often that lead to your site, and what your click-thru rate was of these listings. It will tell you what people are searching for, when your site came up in their search and how often they are clicking on your link as opposed to others. (It’s free)
  • SpyFu spies on your competitors. Use this to see what keywords they are using and how well their site performs.
  • SEMrush provides valuable insight into the world of search. It will show your competitors’ best keywords, help you find competitors you didn’t know about, and reveal how much money your competitors are spending on search advertising. It’s one of the best resources for this.

Utilize Great Resources:

  • Neil Patel (neilpatel.com) provides great daily information on SEO and search in general.
  • MOZ (moz.com) has a wealth of great information for businesses that want more from their SEO.
  • Search Engine Journal (searchenginejournal.com) is loaded with great free SEO resources.

Advanced SEO

Schema.org:

  • Schema –The semantic web, is the next frontier for SEO. Schema.org defines the best-used terms to use for keywords. This is a definite list of codes that should be used for best practices. If Google sees you using old codes, this will hurt your ranking.
  • Rankings reviews, ratings, product descriptions, and schedules are now starting to influence rankings.
  • Speak with your website developer or SEO company to ensure schema.org elements are part of your website.

Rich Snippets:

  • Rich Snippets are search results that include ratings, reviews, images, video content, and more.
  • They stand out from all other search results because the search engine has more data about the site. It uses images, ratings, and reviews that can be pulled into the search results.
  • Setup using structured data found in the Google Search Console.

People Also Ask:

  • This is often featured with popular search terms. If Google gets the same requests over and over again, they post additional sites with information. The more expert advice you provide for frequently asked questions, and your content answers these very specifically, Google will consider adding your site you to their “People Also Ask” prompt. So, again, think of the questions most people will ask about your product or service and answer these in your website content.
  • Searches can get immediate answers here and may never visit your site.
  • It reinforces the need to ensure your website and content solves people’s problems, answers, questions, and offers advice.

Social Media:

  • Social media does play a role in SEO, and social content will affect your ranking.
  • The more shares or “social indicators” found, the more relevant Google will consider your content. When someone shares an article from your website, this is called a social indicator. This tells Google where the poster found this information and how many times it’s been shared. The more you get shares, the more Google will find your website valid and increase your rankings.
  • Reviews from social sites matter.
  • Social media channels are their own search engines.
  • Extended reading: “Social is the New SEO” by Neil Patel. This will tell you more about SEO and how important it is in Google rankings.

In Conclusion

The Most Important “Take Aways”

  • The days of a long list of your services are over. Optimize your page and your content for today’s audience.
  • Solve people’s challenges
  • Answer their questions. Use keywords intelligently and accurately, so you’re answering people’s question.
  • Become a valuable resource online and off.
  • Become more social.
  • Find a great web marketer who can help.

Questions? Send an email to us!

Want Your World At Your Fingertips In Just One Simple Step? You Got It!

The digital revolution has changed our world in unimaginable ways – and for the better! Tools and applications like Microsoft Word and Microsoft OneNote aim to make our lives easier, in one simple step.

Have you ever stopped to think about Microsoft’s naming convention? It’s probably not something that crosses your mind as you open a Microsoft application, like Word or Excel or Outlook. There are teams and departments at Microsoft whose roles include the creative scope for brainstorming names for new products in the Microsoft line-up. If you look deeper, there are not only subtle references to what each does within the name, but there are also psychological implications – like subliminal messaging – within the product names.

Microsoft Word is a word processor, but has a vast array of built-in tools to help users improve their finished written product, like a wordsmith! Its thesaurus feature aids users looking for just the right word when the typed word is close but not “it”. The spelling and grammar check gets many a student through assigned papers – and, more importantly, helps prevent professionals from making expensive errors, like errors that affect professional reputations and can impact revenue and profit. Microsoft Word can perform a mail merge, so users can send letters to clients with just a few clicks – after using the app to perfect their letter, of course. Contracts and agreements depend on accuracy!

Microsoft Excel is a bit of a double entendre. To excel is to show an exceptional skill or quality in a particular activity or subject. Within the word “excel” is “cel”, a homonym of “cell” or the individual areas within a spreadsheet where data can be entered. Lots of dry, technical information in that sentence, but the meaning is the same: a database tool that is superior to other database applications for the professional user base. Here is where Microsoft Excel outshines the competition – and why its previous competition, Lotus 1-2-3, is no longer used. Aside from being a spreadsheet application, Excel offers users an endless variety of tools to really make Excel the go-to platform for data analysis. Including charts, data manipulation, and tools like creating pivot tables in Excel was Microsoft’s act of establishing their superior position with this app.

In the list above, we also mention Microsoft Outlook. Outlook reigned king of email for a very long time in the professional kingdom, but Google’s G Suite is a strong competitor for small and medium businesses (SMBs). Outlook, again, tries to be an all-in-one package for professionals, with email communication but also a calendar feature, a reminder system, user-friendly meeting tools and a variety of user settings to customize the experience.

These applications speak to Microsoft’s dedication to being the full professional package for businesses – and their full Office 365 suite is proof. Included are products like OneDrive, SharePoint, and OneNote. OneNote is one of the most underutilized products in the Microsoft line-up, and with new features being added all the time, we think this is because users aren’t aware of the full extent of what OneNote has to offer.

Microsoft designed OneNote as the digital solution for those who grab the nearest sticky note or doodle pad – or open a new Note on their iPhone – to jot down a quick scribble to remember for later. OneNote helps users gather notes, thoughts, and ideas, all in one centralized and organized location. Users can store everything from quickly-jotted notes to meeting minutes, to lengthy details about projects for home or work, in the same place. What’s even cooler about OneNote is that Notes are searchable and sharable.

  • Did you see where we mentioned the iPhone? That’s right – iPhone users rejoice! OneNote is also available for Mac.

To clarify, OneNote is part of the subscription-based Office 365, but OneNote is free as a stand-alone product. To get Microsoft OneNote, follow these steps:

  • From a desktop or laptop computer, open a web browser window
  • Enter OneNote.com
  • Download the latest version for free

New users will be excited to see that Notebooks stored in multiple locations (SharePoint, OneDrive, etc.) show up within the application the same way, simplifying the user experience. These same users will become experts in no time with the classically straight-forward way Microsoft presents the tools at your disposal.

Cool features inside OneNote for users underscore the built-in ability to share your information across all your devices and with other people. Check out some of these:

Email to Yourself

Set up your email from any email service provider supported, like Yahoo or Gmail, and of course, Outlook, within OneNote and you can send any email in your mailbox to your OneNote with a simple one-step task: forward the email to me@onenote.com, and you’ll see it in OneNote!

Office Lens

This handy little tool lets you capture documents and photos with the camera on your phone, and then send that photo to OneNote – try the Email to Yourself trick we just talked about! OneNote and Office Lens will add some filters, adjust lighting, crop out backgrounds, etc., and show up clearly in OneNote. This is great for receipts you’re afraid you might lose, or other situations you might forget about later.

Clipper

This one helps users integrate OneNote with their web browser.

  • Go to OneNote.com/clipper
  • Click on the button to download the extension to your web browser

Now users can “clip” a page into OneNote, like clipping a coupon from a physical newspaper, except it’s now forever stored digitally in OneNote (until a user deletes it). Text on these pages is searchable within OneNote, too, which is very helpful if a user can remember the context of the page clipped but not necessarily when or exactly what was clipped. This is true of words within a picture on the clipped page, too.

OneNote boasts a number of partners that allow users to integrate with featured apps so that the apps can be used conjointly. A few of these partner apps include:

News360

This is a news reader, offering users news stories much like on a news website. Users can click on a story, and with OneNote integration, the story will show a “Save to OneNote” button. As long as a user is signed into their account in OneNote, the story will save in OneNote. Again, words in the story are searchable.

Feedly

Feedly is a website aggregator, bringing together all the pages a user wants to see in a centralized location and updates the pages as they update. This works similarly to RSS feeds and has the same “Save to OneNote” button that News360 has, as well as the words in the story remaining searchable.

Doxie

This one is for users of Doxie portable scanners. If you have one of these lightweight and portable gadgets, you’re going to love saving your scanned documents to OneNote! Any of the text can still be found with a simple search.

Integration is wonderful! Technology is amazing! With OneNote, Microsoft welcomes developers to make their own services with which to integrate for OneNote and share with users. Make OneNote your new best friend today.

MS OneNote

Under Armour’s “Armor Gets Penetrated”

How Would It Cost Your Business If This Happened To You?

Under Armour Data Breach

Have you read the news? According to Reuters, Under Armour Inc., headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, recently suffered a breach of the private information for their 150 million MyFitnessPal app users.

This is the largest breach this year according to experts. It included account usernames, email addresses, and passwords. Lucky for them, Social Security numbers, driver license numbers, and payment card data weren’t stolen like they usually are in data breaches of this kind.

Once again we learn that keeping up to date on cybersecurity, changing passwords often, and using an IT support provider to implement a layered approach to security is essential if you want your business to stay safe in today’s digital world.

Perhaps, if Under Armour had used these services, they could have prevented this breach. Now, their reputation has been ruined.

Would you trust your private data to them?

I wouldn’t.

With so many data breaches today, they should have known better and considered the privacy of their customers. How can they salvage their creditability now?

As a business technology professional, I know that data protection costs much less than what I’d face from a breach – legal liability, fines, and lost customers.

With the rising number of cyber thefts, numerous lawsuits have been filed against businesses like Under Armour. In the last few years, data breaches have become so prevalent that it’s almost commonplace to hear that a company has been breached.

Learning that all their personal information is in the hands of thieves causes a significant change in the behavior of customers. One study found that consumers who learned of a data breach at their favorite retail store significantly cut back on their purchases.

With over 1,500 data breaches in 2017, consumers responded in this way:

  • 84 percent said they might not consider doing business with a retailer who had experienced a data breach.
  • 57 percent of holiday shoppers felt that identity theft and data breaches would be a significant threat during the holiday season.
  • Four in 10 consumers said they believed businesses aren’t doing the best they can to protect them.
  • 38 percent said they weren’t sure all companies were doing everything possible to stop data breaches.

I know that my business has the best cybersecurity and IT management that money can buy. I take full responsibility for this and all my customers’ private data.

After what I’ve learned, this is what I would tell the CEO of Under Armour, and others to do from now on:

Protecting your security isn’t only a job for your IT support provider but one for you as a CEO as well. You must understand that any interruption in your information systems can hinder your operations, negatively impact your reputation, and compromise your customers’ private data.

Many CEOs don’t fully understand this. They spend their energy developing new products and services and managing current ones. Security comes in second. Maybe they’re unaware of the risks or feel that it’s solely an IT concern. Some may not be very technical and fear to discuss what could be an intimidating topic, but this isn’t wise.

The Department of Homeland Security recommends five questions that CEOs should ask themselves to lower the risk of cyber attacks:

1) What is the current level and business impact of cyber risks to our company? What is our plan to address identified risks?

2) How is our executive leadership informed about the current level and business impact of cyber risks to our company?

3) How does our cybersecurity program apply industry standards and best practices?

4) How many and what types of cyber incidents do we detect in a normal week? What is the threshold for notifying our executive leadership?

5) How comprehensive is our cyber-incident response plan? How often is the plan tested?

We also need to train our employees on cybersecurity practices like recognizing phishing attacks and using secure passwords. The folks at OneSource handle this for us. Here are some of the topics they cover:

Lesson 1: Ignore Ransomware-Threat Popups and Don’t Fall for Phishing Attacks.

These threats look like they’re from an official entity like the IRS or FBI. If a screen pops up that says you’ll be fined if you don’t follow their instructions, beware! If you do, the criminal will encrypt all your data and prevent you and your employees from accessing it.

Watch out for messages that:

  • Try to solicit your curiosity or trust.
  • Contain a link that you must “check out now”.
  • Contain a downloadable file like a photo, music, document or pdf file.

Don’t believe messages that contain an urgent call to action:

  • With an immediate need to address a problem that requires you to verify information.
  • Urgently asks for your help.
  • Asks you to donate to a charitable cause.
  • Indicates you are a “Winner” in a lottery or other contest, or that you’ve inherited money from a deceased relative.

Be on the lookout for messages that:

  • Respond to a question you never asked.
  • Create distrust.
  • Try to start a conflict.

Watch for flags like:

  • Misspellings
  • Typos

Lesson 2: Always Use Secure Passwords.

  • Never use words found in the dictionary or your family names.
  • Never reuse passwords across your various accounts.
  • Never write down your passwords.
  • Consider using a Password Manager (e.g., LastPass or 1Password)
  • Use password complexity (e.g., P@ssword1).
  • Create a unique password for work.
  • Change passwords at least quarterly.
  • Use passwords with 9+ characters.
    • A criminal can crack a 5-character password in 16 minutes.
    • It takes 5 hours to crack a 6-character password.
    • 3 days for a 7-character one
    • 4 months for 8 characters
    • 26 years for 9 characters
    • centuries for 10+ characters
  • Turn on Two-Factor Authentication if it’s available.

Lesson 3: Keep Your Passwords Secure

  • Don’t email them.
  • Don’t include a password in a non-encrypted stored document.
  • Don’t tell anyone your password.
  • Don’t speak your password over the phone.
  • Don’t hint at the format of your password.
  • Don’t use “Remember Password” feature of application programs such as Internet Explorer, Portfolio Center or others.
  • Don’t use your corporate or network password on an account over the Internet that doesn’t have a secure login where the web browser address starts with http:// instead of https:// If the web address begins with https:// your computer is talking to the website in a secure code that no one can eavesdrop on. There should be a small lock next to the address. If not, don’t type in your password.

Lesson 4: Backup Your Data Onsite/Remotely and Securely

  • Maintain at least three copies of everything.
  • Store all data on at least two types of media (one offsite in a secure enterprise cloud solution).
  • Keep a copy of your data in an alternate location.

If you haven’t backed up your data, and you’re attacked, it’s gone forever.

Lesson 5: Secure Open Wi-Fi with a VPN.

  • Don’t go to sites that require your personal information like your username or password.
  • Use VPN whenever possible. Limit your access to using sites with: https://
  • Don’t connect if all the Wi-Fi networks you have ever accessed appear as “Available”.

We have our tech support professionals train our employees a few times a year because the threats keep changing. Plus, we have them conduct Vulnerability Assessments to make sure our cybersecurity “armor” stays strong and intact.

Don’t risk your data. Keep your data secure and your employees educated. I recommend that if you’re in an area they serve, that you should contact us immediately.

This CEO Has The Coolest Tech Toys – Take a Look!

It happens to all of us at some point – you’re sitting by someone who whips out this über cool gadget, and you can’t take your eyes off of it. You have to know what it does… and where you can buy one! Read on for eye candy just like this.

CEO Tech Toys

We’ve all been there: Gadget Envy. We want the smartest phone, the thinnest tablet, the fastest Internet speeds, the strongest network connection, the battery that never dies – the list goes on. Part of this is due to our busy lifestyles, and part of this is from our never-ending quest to get more done in less time. The best gadgets combine advanced technological features with enhanced productivity.

The options are endless, but we’ve narrowed our list down to 5 categories with the top tech that today’s savvy CEO will have – along with the envy of everyone nearby!

Sound

We know you get perturbed with the pathetic volume coming from your laptop speakers. Amplification is impossible in atmospheres where white noise is loud, like airports, and while the settings on newer laptops and tablets are growing in sophistication, they still lack in sound quality. Here are a couple of solutions to help.

  • The ICE Harmony Floating Bluetooth Speaker packs powerful sound in a colossally cool package. The spinning speaker floats above the base with concealed (read, secret) magnets to maintain the floating position. The design results in a 3D sound effect and can be used separately from its base giving the user portable and potent sound, connecting to smartphones or tablets via Bluetooth.
  • Simple-to-use Startech USB Stereo Audio Adapter helps your laptop with the addition of SPDIF digital output. Designed for Windows-based machines (sorry, Mac lovers), functions as though users add a 5.1 sound card, and is quite compact but also has a set of two headphone jacks.

Secure Storage

So, you need to bring files along for the ride, but live in fear of losing your thumb drive? We have a couple of cool ideas for you.

  • The Aegis Secure Key 3Z is a super-tough USB storage device made from sturdy metal and uses top-of-the-line technology for encryption plus a physical keypad for which the user can set a custom PIN for secure entry.
  • PIN-protected storage is a popular choice these days. DiskAshur Pro is another option to secure up to 500GB of data with a customizable PIN, between seven and 15 characters.
  • Aegis makes this list with not one, but two options, with its Apricorn Secure Key USB 3.0 480GB Flash Drive. Using a 10-key alphanumeric keypad with a dust-proof and waterproof enclosure, this storage solution means business. This one is on the list has received accolades from NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a U.S.-based entity that oversees government IT security.

Power

The perennial power problem: your power capability does not match your mobile lifestyle or needs. In other words, your battery dies faster than the mother in a Disney movie and you need a backup solution.

Have you checked out the Orico SC28 Mobile Power Bank? With promises to power you all day, this one is designed for laptops instead of smartphones – for which power banks are everywhere. Recharging via USB or the old standby (wall plug-in), up to three devices at once can benefit from this baby.

  • The Jackery Titan S is a stylish portable battery charger whose claim to fame is its flexibility: it is also friendly to the MacBook.
  • The feature-filled Sandberg Laptop Powerbank charges quickly, supports (and automatically detects) multiple voltages, and comes with a dozen charge tips.

Mobile Hotspots

Our addiction to data is endless, and with the growing number of wireless providers offering unlimited data, we find ourselves using our smartphones as hotspots. Our ultimate battle is the need to connect versus the need to preserve smartphone battery life. Enter the mobile hotspot device!

  • The KnowRoaming Global Hotspot aims to provide seamless and simplified global connection in more than 140 countries, with unlimited data in more than 90, but only to corporate accounts at this time. The daily flat fee service is especially a bonus for those who travel to countries like Japan where connectivity is just ridiculously expensive for foreign travelers. About the size of a matchbox, the device battery lasts for up to 20 hours and supports 3G although LTE is pending.
  • Boasting speed and simplicity, the TP-Link M7650 Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot claims to be the fastest Wi-Fi router ever made, capable of streaming video to a user’s laptop or tablet and can support up to 32 devices at once – enough for an entire small office.

Just Cool Stuff

Here’s where things get really awesome! These items didn’t fit into any of the categories above, but couldn’t be left off this list. Just trust us and read on.

  • A notebook that you put in the microwave to erase everything you wrote (or doodled)? Yep! Well, using a Pilot FriXion pen, but still the Rocketbook Wave is a pretty incredible gadget. Not only can the microwave erase all your writing when you’re ready to start fresh, but you mark an icon to represent where you want your notes sent, and everything you write is then stored in your account on Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, Slack, iMessage, email, and so much more. Using your smartphone and the Rocketbook mobile app, you scan your notes and voila! The Rocketbook Everlast erases with a dampened cloth instead and can be reused in the same way.
  • Moleskine, the cult favorite notebook maker, brings you the Smart Writing Set. This set includes the smart Pen+ tool that sends your writing to the Bluetooth-connected phone or tablet to display using the Moleskine Notes app, and your notes are editable within the app (highlights, scribbles, etc.).
  • Want to wow your crowd in a presentation? Logitech makes a Spotlight Presentation Remote that looks super cool when in use, including the ability to magnify and highlight selections on-screen, with Bluetooth connectivity. There is also a cool built-in timer that shows (only you) how long you’ve been talking and can give a subtle vibration at a pre-set timed interval.
  • Try the Gyration Air Mouse Voice with your presentation, which can act as a standard wireless mouse but also has built-in microphones to work with voice recognition as you get through slides. Voice commands can zoom, open web browsers, etc., with the push of a button.

This is just the tip of the tech iceberg; we know – but we’re pretty sure you’ll be as fascinated with the items on this list as we are. One thing we know for certain? You can’t wait to try them out and be the envy of someone else!

IT Is Changing – IT Budgeting Is Too.

When was the last time you thought about technology and the role it plays in your business success? Strategic IT Budgeting and planning for the tactical use of technology resources will bolster your business efforts to establish a competitive advantage. Just as you develop and adjust your annual business plans, you should do the same when it comes to IT planning and budgeting.

IT Budget

Budgeting for IT Has Completely Changed

Technology is now a part of nearly everything you do, and it involves much more than computers. With the advent of artificial intelligent (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, business intelligence (BI) and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems, the line items for IT may take up quite a bit more space on your balance sheets than before.

With information technology changing so rapidly, it’s sometimes difficult for business owners to anticipate what they will need for optimal performance in years to come. In the past, it was easy to budget for technology. You simply purchased the number of computers and software programs you needed to handle the basics. Today information technology is central to most all of your business processes. What you choose and how you choose to use it can mean the difference between success and failure. But how do you anticipate what you’ll need tomorrow?

The Increasing Dependence on Information Technology

In today’s competitive environment, businesses must rely on technology in order to compete and survive in the marketplace. With computers, the Internet and the availability of more software applications, productivity has been increased for many. Technology helps employees become more efficient, quick, and precise.

Information can now be relayed instantaneously, coworkers can collaborate on projects in real time from wherever they are, and businesses now have the ability to more easily spread their services throughout the world. We can no longer function without our computers, laptops, tablets or phones. Even our smartphones have the capabilities and apps that allow us to run our business from anywhere we have cell service.

You can cut labor costs by using computers and software programs for payroll, project management, and accounting. Instead of budgeting for hours of labor, you now need to budget for computers and programs. In the long run, this is money-saver for businesses of any size.

IT Budgeting Must Be a Priority

With IT shifting from just another piece of equipment in the office to the core of business operations, you should designate it as a central part of your budget. This also means that you must assess and clearly define how IT aligns with your business objectives to decide what you’ll need for the coming year(s).

Proper IT budgeting will help you lay a foundation for success for the future. Using the right IT solutions can help you:

  • Accelerate your business growth.
  • Increase your operational effectiveness.
  • Ensure optimal productivity from your employees.
  • Overcome operational challenges.
  • Increase collaboration and communication.
  • Reinforce your efforts to win new business.

Your IT Budget Should Be a Key Component of Your Business Plan

  • Think big and in terms of the innovative measures you can employ to increase productivity, efficiency, mobility, collaboration, and communication.
  • Every department in your business should adopt this philosophy when considering what they need to improve operations and cut costs.
  • Consider the value IT solutions bring to your business. For example, Backup and Disaster Recovery solutions will pay for themselves many times over when compared to the cost of losing your critical data.
  • Include key players in your organization when planning your IT budget. Your purchasing department may have different goals and requirements than your sales or distribution teams. Ensure you consider all initiatives and how innovative technologies will help them succeed.
  • Remain open-minded. What worked for you in the past probably won’t be enough in the year(s) to come. Consider your business’s changing needs and how new technologies might align more closely with them.

Assess and Clarify Your Business Requirements Before You Begin

Before you start, you must determine what your business will face in the coming year(s).

Will you be:

  • Launching a product or service that requires a new fulfillment process?
  • Acquiring another company or participating in a merger?
  • Adding employees to your staff who will need additional hardware and software?
  • Processing and storing additional confidential, proprietary or personal data that needs protecting?
  • Moving to a larger office, or adding satellite offices in other locations?

Consider the Following Requirements When Budgeting for Technology

  • Industry and Government Regulations: Will you need additional resources for data backup, vulnerability assessments, penetration testing, HIPAA, FINRA, PCI/DSS compliance?
  • Cybersecurity: With all the new and evolving cyber threats will your current IT security solutions be enough? This is an ever-increasing need due to the growing cyber threat landscape. Will you need managed firewalls, antivirus solutions, security awareness training for your employees, mobile-device-management, remote 24/7 security monitoring, Security as a Service or other solutions to protect your IT infrastructure? Most businesses need these and more to ensure their data remains secure.
  • Productivity and Collaboration: Software as a Service (SaaS) applications like Microsoft Office 365 provide your business the capabilities a larger-sized business enjoys, with popular applications like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and much more packaged together in a subscription-based platform. Plus, you and your employees can access it from wherever you are on your smartphones, tablets, laptops, or desktops.
  • Communications: Many businesses are switching from desktop phones to VoIP systems. With VoIP business phones you and your employees can make and receive calls remotely via your smartphones, retrieve messages via voicemail-to-email, and stay connected even if power and Internet access go down.

Consider All the IT Components You’ll Require

Hardware – This is the backbone of your IT infrastructure – The actual technology equipment you need to run your business. Be sure to include installation costs and maintenance in your calculations for items like the following:

  • Workstations
  • Laptops
  • Tablets
  • Smartphones
  • Servers
  • Cabling
  • Firewalls
  • Routers
  • Switches
  • Business Phones
  • Warranties
  • Licenses
  • Renewals
  • Hardware Implementation

Software – These are the business applications you’ll need to run your business. Be sure to include licenses and support contracts for your on-premise solutions.

  • Business Software and Applications for your Workstations, Laptops, Tablets, and Smartphones
  • Server Software
  • Anti-Virus, Anti-Spam, Anti-Malware Software
  • Backup Software
  • Routine Software Implementation

Subscriptions – These are any costs associated with subscription-based services like cloud solutions. They include options like Workstation as a Service (WaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS), Security as a Service (SecaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and more.

Services & Support – This is the cost for services required to support all of your IT operations. It may encompass expenses for in-house IT employees, or contracts with a Managed Services Provider who will maintain all your IT infrastructure needs. Expenses may include:

  • Salaries and benefits for IT employees.
  • Monthly fees for an external IT provider (MSP).
  • Annual costs for vendors of owned software/hardware.
  • Outsourcing for selected services like monitoring, help desk, security services, data backup.
  • Data network expenses (Virtual Private Networks, Wide Area Network connections, Internet Service Providers, Broadband Connections).
  • Training for internal IT staff and industry certifications, Security Awareness Training for employees.

Project Costs – These are initiatives to transform or improve operations to support the growth of your business, and may include:

  • IT Consulting and Planning.
  • IT Project Implementation.
  • Additional software and/or hardware.

Identify the Gaps Between What You Have and What You Need

Now it’s time to compare your current IT capabilities with what’s needed to meet your business requirements for the upcoming year(s). Once you identify the gaps, you must align them with what your budget allows. You might not be able to purchase all of them. Make a list of the “must have” and another of the “would-like-to-have” technology assets. Go for what will give you the best return on your investment (ROI), and what you “must have” to keep your data secure and business running efficiently.

Implementing Your Solutions

Implementation planning is critical as it lays out the steps you’ll take to complete your IT Budget for the year. You should contract with an IT Managed Services Provider to help you acquire, install and deploy your new IT solutions. The best ones will offer a payment plan that allows you to pay for the services you need on a monthly basis. And, don’t choose just any company, or one according to their prices. Also, make sure they aren’t a “fix-it-and-go” company. You want an IT partner who will be with you 24/7. Ask your business associates for referrals, check the testimonials on the MSPs’ websites, and certainly interview more than one.

The following are some things to consider when selecting an IT provider.  

Can they provide for your IT needs?

Consider your current IT support needs and how these might change in the coming year. Also, consider how these needs will change beyond next year as your business grows. Make a detailed list of your IT service and support requirements and objectives to determine if the IT provider can meet, and even, surpass them.

Look for an IT company that’s located in nearby

This affects the speed at which the company can respond onsite when IT emergencies arise. They should have the ability to handle all of your concerns and provide solutions thoroughly and effectively.

Do they offer fixed-rate managed services solutions?

To keep your IT budget under control, look for an IT Managed Services Provider who provides fixed-rate, all-in-one IT services. This is the only way you can accurately budget for IT services in the coming year(s).

Choose an IT company that provides 24/7 support, as well as onsite and remote service

With around-the-clock service and support, you’ll always have the assistance you require when IT issues arise. Also, ask if they can remotely identify and block cyberattacks, and address IT problems before they cause downtime, breaches or data loss.

Are their service technicians certified, knowledgeable and experienced?

Visit the company’s website to assess the experience they have, how long they’ve been operating and what services they provide. Check the testimonials on their website and online reviews. Ask if you can contact some of their customers to ask their opinions about the service they receive.

Ensure you’ll receive the value you require from an IT MSP

The cheapest provider isn’t always the best. Before you sign a contract with an MSP, ensure it includes any and all contingencies that may arise and details about how services are priced and delivered. Your IT provider must also be capable of aligning technology services to meet your budgetary guidelines and ensure that you’ll receive maximum value from your IT investments.

Look for an IT company that offers training on software, hardware, and security

It’s essential that your staff is thoroughly trained on your systems and software, as well as Security Awareness Education to avoid being victimized by hackers. This will increase their confidence, capabilities, and productivity, and provide a first-line of defense against cyber threats.

Will they assign a dedicated account manager to your business?

This is a representative from the MSP who will act as your main point of contact. This person can get to know your business and your requirements in detail, to ensure you receive the exact service you need.

Do they provide monthly reports?

You must stay informed and aware of the performance of your IT assets. You’ve invested a lot in them, and you must be kept apprised regarding their capabilities and value. These monthly reports should highlight which solutions are performing well, and which ones need improvement.

Can your MSP act as your IT Consultant and Strategist?

You can greatly benefit from an IT Consultant who operates as an extension of your business. They can liaison with vendors and provide strategic technical advice to ensure your IT investments are providing what you need. They can assist with your IT budgeting and help you plan ahead and take advantage of the best prices.

IT Budgeting is an Ongoing Process

You shouldn’t think of IT budgeting as having a start and finish. It’s an ongoing process with a series of do’s and don’ts. No plan is 100% correct, and if you run into obstacles you should modify your budget. Budgets are often modified after they are prepared as we discover things we didn’t know before. You must find what works, what doesn’t and make adjustments along the way. Your IT budget will go through cycles as your business needs grow and change, and as the opportunity to take advantage of new, innovative technologies emerges.

ALERT: Iranian Hackers Infiltrated 144 Universities in the U.S. Stealing $3.4 Billion. Is Your Data Safe?

According to Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Iranians connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were recently charged with conducting a massive cyber theft campaign on American and foreign universities, businesses and government agencies.

Iranian Hackers

AG Rosenstein states:

The stolen information was used by the IRGC or sold for profit in Iran. They hacked the computer systems of approximately 320 universities in 22 countries. 144 of the victims are American universities. The defendants stole research that cost the universities approximately $3.4 billion to procure and maintain.

They also attacked computer systems of the U.S. Labor Department, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, United Nations, and the states of Hawaii and Indiana.

When hackers gain unlawful access to computers, it can take only a few minutes to steal discoveries produced by many years of work and many millions of dollars of investment.

For many decades, the United States has lead the world in science, technology, research, and development.

Academic institutions are prime targets for foreign cybercriminals. Universities can thrive as marketplaces of ideas and engines of research and development only if their work is protected from theft.

The events described in this indictment highlight the need for universities and other organizations to emphasize cybersecurity, increase threat awareness, and harden their computer networks.

Every sector of our economy is a target of malicious cyber activity. Everyone who owns a computer needs to be vigilant to prevent attacks.

This type of criminal activity does not just cause economic harm. It also threatens our national security. Identifying and prosecuting computer hackers is a priority for the Department of Justice.

Hostile individuals, organizations, and nation-states have taken note of our success. They increasingly attempt to profit from American’s ingenuity by infiltrating our computer systems, stealing our intellectual property, and evading our controls on technology exports.

The FBI Considers These Individuals State-Sponsored Hackers

FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich reports:

“During a more than four-year campaign, these state-sponsored hackers compromised approximately 144 U.S.-based universities and 176 foreign universities in 21 countries… When the FBI learned of the attacks we notified the victims, so they could take action to minimize the impact. And then we took action to find and stop these hackers.”

The special agent from the FBI’s New York Division who investigated the case tells us:

“Their primary goal was to obtain usernames and passwords for the accounts of professors, so they could gain unauthorized access and steal whatever kind of proprietary academic information they could get their hands on. That information included access to library databases, white papers, journals, research, and electronic books. All that information and intellectual property was provided to the Iranian government.”

Is Your Data at Risk?

The Small Business Administration believes it is. Here’s what they recommend you do:

  1. Protect against viruses, spyware, and other malicious code. Make sure each of your business’s computers is equipped with antivirus software and antispyware and updated regularly. Such software is readily available online from a variety of vendors. All software vendors regularly provide patches and updates to their products to correct security problems and improve functionality. Configure all software to install updates automatically.
  2. Secure your networks.
    Safeguard your Internet connection by using a firewall and encrypting information. If you have a Wi-Fi network, make sure it is secure and hidden. To hide your Wi-Fi network, set up your wireless access point or router so it does not broadcast the network name, known as the Service Set Identifier (SSID). Password protect access to the router.
  3. Establish security practices and policies to protect sensitive information.
    Establish policies on how employees should handle and protect personally identifiable information and other sensitive data. Clearly outline the consequences of violating your business’s cybersecurity policies.
  4. Educate employees about cyber threats and hold them accountable. 
    Educate your employees about online threats and how to protect your business’s data, including safe use of social networking sites. Depending on the nature of your business, employees might be introducing competitors to sensitive details about your firm’s internal business. Employees should be informed about how to post online in a way that does not reveal any trade secrets to the public or competing businesses. Hold employees accountable to the business’s Internet security policies and procedures.
  5. Require employees to use strong passwords and to change them often. 
    Consider implementing multifactor authentication that requires additional information beyond a password to gain entry. Check with your vendors that handle sensitive data, especially financial institutions, to see if they offer multifactor authentication for your account.
  6. Employ best practices on payment cards 
    Work with your banks or card processors to ensure the most trusted and validated tools and anti-fraud services are being used. You may also have additional security obligations related to agreements with your bank or processor. Isolate payment systems from other, less secure programs and do not use the same computer to process payments and surf the Internet.
  7. Make backup copies of important business data and information
    Regularly backup the data on all computers. Critical data includes word processing documents, electronic spreadsheets, databases, financial files, human resources files, and accounts receivable/payable files. Backup data automatically if possible, or at least weekly, and store the copies either offsite or on the cloud.
  8. Control physical access to computers and network components
    Prevent access or use of business computers by unauthorized individuals. Laptops can be particularly easy targets for theft or can be lost, so lock them up when unattended. Make sure a separate user account is created for each employee and require strong passwords. Administrative privileges should only be given to trusted IT staff and key personnel.
  9. Create a mobile device action plan.
    Mobile devices can create significant security and management challenges, especially if they hold confidential information or can access the corporate network. Require users to password protect their devices, encrypt their data, and install security apps to prevent criminals from stealing information while the phone is on public networks. Be sure to set reporting procedures for lost or stolen equipment.

Protect all pages on your public-facing websites, not just the checkout and sign-up pages.

Protect information, computers, and networks from cyberattacks. Keep clean machines: having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats. Set antivirus software to run a scan after each update. Install other key software updates as soon as they are available.

Provide firewall security for your Internet connection. A firewall is a set of related programs that prevent outsiders from accessing data on a private network. Make sure the operating system’s firewall is enabled or install free firewall software available online. If employees work from home, ensure that their home system(s) are protected by a firewall.

Create a mobile device action plan. Mobile devices can create significant security and management challenges, especially if they hold confidential information or can access the corporate network. Require users to password protect their devices, encrypt their data, and install security apps to prevent criminals from stealing information while the phone is on public networks. Be sure to set reporting procedures for lost or stolen equipment.

Control physical access to your computers and create user accounts for each employee. Prevent access or use of business computers by unauthorized individuals. Laptops can be particularly easy targets for theft or can be lost, so lock them up when unattended. Make sure a separate user account is created for each employee and require strong passwords. Administrative privileges should only be given to trusted IT staff and key personnel.

Limit employee access to data and information, and limit authority to install software. Do not provide any one employee with access to all data systems. Employees should only be given access to the specific data systems that they need for their jobs and should not be able to install any software without permission.

The increased frequency of cybercrime of cybercrime incidents has raised concerns and stakes for both small and large businesses. Your IT Managed Services Provider will help you fight and prevent cybercrime of all kinds. They will be your best friend in this regard. Don’t wait to contact them.

Are You Playing The Internet’s Latest Game Of Cops And Robbers?

Make no mistake – if you show the slightest bit of weakness around a bully, they will pounce. The Internet is no different, with hackers just waiting for a cybersecurity vulnerability to seize their opportunity.

Internet Crime

 The latest form of cyberterrorism to take root and have explosive growth is incredibly dangerous. Forget about Trojan horse viruses and identity theft — well, not really, those are still a threat — but the hot topic today is cryptocurrency mining. This phrase is used in reports and articles all over the Internet, but what it means can vary.

  • Cryptocurrency is an alternative currency in a digital format that is uncontrolled by a financial authority where the authority determines the supply and value. The most widely-known type of cryptocurrency is bitcoin. The decentralized nature of cryptocurrencies is what makes them so appealing to cybercriminals, but also what makes the industry minimally regulated.

Have you ever had a virus on your computer or smartphone? We know that pain. They range from annoying to debilitating and are time-consuming to eradicate. What’s worse is when we connect our smartphones via charging cable to a computer, and we allow access to our smartphone, we run the risk of inadvertently allowing the virus to transfer. Can we ever win?

  • In 2017, a version of malware for cryptocurrency mining targeting Android devices was discovered and proved its effectiveness of physically damage a mobile device.

Why are we talking about cryptocurrencies and viruses at the same time? Because you’d be amazed at what lengths cybercriminals — hackers — will go to accomplish their goal. Have you ever heard of ransomware? It’s a type of malicious software, “malware”, and sometimes more advanced malware is involved where the victim’s files are encrypted using code deployed by the hacker, called cryptoviral extortion. These all function the same as a basic virus, where an executable program is planted on a user’s computer with the intention of restricting user access in some way. With ransomware, to remove this restriction and regain access, the user is prompted to pay whatever fee the hacker demands — their “ransom” — otherwise the user’s data is blocked entirely and permanently. This type of extortion is being used more commonly in cryptocurrency mining.

  • Cryptocurrency mining uses specialized software programs to automate the process of solving complex math problems in exchange for a small amount of cryptocurrency.

How is this possible? We mentioned that the beauty of cryptocurrency mining is in automation. A cybercriminal gains access to a computer — without the knowledge or permission of the computer’s owner — and installs the software that runs the mining file(s). Has this ever happened to you? But…would you even realize it?

How do cybercriminals access a computer to fulfill their devious plan? Through dark and devious means in a dimly-lit basement at a desk filled with candy wrappers and empty cans of energy drinks? This isn’t a Hollywood film – it’s much more likely the cybercriminal is at a coffee shop or somewhere benign. They could be next door, across town, or around the globe from the computer that they’re hacking. While proximity isn’t meaningless, it’s far less necessary than it once was. The Internet has made consumers that much more vulnerable, and that much more valuable to a hacker. The sad reality is that the devices most consumers use to access the Internet — either wireless routers or networks lacking sophisticated means of protection — are the most common culprit. Most consumers don’t realize how important it is to established layered levels of cybersecurity protection at their home, nor do they understand how to go about protecting themselves adequately. This is something best left to the experts – especially if you need to establish this protection in your office, and it’s your business!

Still wondering why a hacker targets a personal computer for cryptocurrency mining? The answer is money. We can look at this from a few different perspectives.

  • Using someone else’s computer, a hacker doesn’t need to worry about overhead, like:
    • Reliable power and resulting power bill.
    • The purchase and maintenance of the expensive hardware needed to process the thousands of complex problems that generate the cryptocurrency, though fractional portions with each solution.
  • Hacking into many computers offers the chance to increase the amount of cryptocurrency generated in the same time frame from multiple sources.
    • When one option is eliminated, another option replaces it quickly, so a hacker avoids “downtime”.
  • The goal of any hacker varies, but when it comes to cryptocurrency mining, the goal is to make money. The next step in a natural progressing — one born of greed — is to hold the hacked device hostage for ransom.

The terms “cyberterrorism” and “cyberespionage” are just fancy ways of redefining a hacking situation that is getting uglier each year. The more sophisticated any cybersecurity network is, personal or professional, the more sophisticated hackers need to become in response. Adversely, the more vulnerable a network is, the more attractive the victim is to a hacker, and the more expensive the situation the victim is likely to find themselves in – repeatedly.

The value of cryptocurrencies keeps increasing, as well. Bitcoin is valued around $9,000, meaning that the cost to buy one Bitcoin is $9,000. A newer cryptocurrency, Monero, has increased exponentially in its first year. The value of Monero is lower than that of Bitcoin, closer to $250, but its newness also makes it more discreet. There is also value in mining early. Consider the price of an ounce of gold; the weight does not change, but the value of an ounce does, so buying one ounce for $500 and keeping that ounce until the value of an ounce reaches $1,000 gives a greater return on investment It’s ironic to be reading about legal investments in the same spot as cryptoviral extortion – but it helps law-abiding citizens understand the mindset of the cybercriminal. More importantly, the process to mine these isn’t the point: where there is money to be made by little effort, those with a serious lack of ethics seize the moment. Cybercriminals are evolving with cryptocurrency paradigm shifts, including fileless miners.

  • Fileless cryptocurrency-mining malware is a newer mining method and involves deploying code into the victim’s system memory. This code is what activates the computer’s mining processes.

Yes, cybercriminals can now use wireless networks to access your computer and use your computer to mine cryptocurrencies without files. If a hacker can take over your computer entirely and require you to pay them real money to get your computer — and everything on that computer — back, how can you protect yourself?

Cybersecurity and protecting yourself isn’t just a case of setting a “really strong” password anymore. Some programs and platforms encourage — or even require — two-step verification processes for each login. The greatest advantage you can give yourself is teaming with the best cybersecurity partner and making all staff members aware of the risks. Let your trusted partner do what they do best — cybersecurity — and you can focus on what you do best: running your day-to-day operations.

Will The (Cloud) Storage Wars Draw Blood?

Modern professional relationships require digital processes, like email, collaborative software, and file sharing. The cloud has opened up incredible possibilities beyond imagination a mere decade ago, but which is the right choice?

Cloud Storage

The competition is seriously fierce in cloud storage. The Internet of Things has fueled a data addiction for which traditional storage can’t physically support. We love our devices – I mean, we are straight-up addicted to our smartphones, our iPads, our Kindle Fire tablets, all of them. And there’s a reason we back up our smartphone content: we’d be absolutely lost if we lost it. Our contacts, our notes, our apps, our calendars, and everything we depend on for day-to-day use is on that tiny computer. Where do you back up your data? It’s probably safe to assume there is a cloud location you connect to that saves your backed-up data. It’s safe to assume because we would overwhelm traditional storage options.

Traditional storage hasn’t been able to meet expectations and needs for performance, availability, management, or the cost impact in comparison to growing demand. Everyone has an opinion on who their favorite cloud storage solution is, and it’s usually one of the Big Three players in the cloud game: Dropbox, OneDrive, or Google Drive – and not in that order.

Technically speaking, the first cloud storage solutions launched well before today’s modern providers. Consumers had access in the early 1980’s through CompuServe, and AT&T launched a platform in the 1990’s to support small business solutions. Amazon Web Services introduced AWS S3, their cloud storage offering, in 2006 and functions as the storage provider for Dropbox, Pinterest, and many other large digital enterprises. The only thing that has changed is file size, file type – but mainly adoption.

Cloud storage is increasing in adoption for every professional environment – and is the only solution for distributed workforces! Managing resources for storage needs to be agile, and limited solutions also limit agility. The cloud is merely an accessible extension of your data storage center. Review your full data storage needs, and consider the advantages the cloud offers your business and daily operations.

When reviewing your cloud storage priorities, there are many issues that deserve a deeper consideration. Here is the “Top Ten” List we suggest using as a checklist, and in no particular order:

  • Cost
    • The financial impact of cloud storage is usually the first factor any business considers, but we disagree with this position. While your bottom line is critical to your overall operational budget, there is a multitude of factors that could have a greater impact on your day-to-day needs.
    • It’s surprising just how many decision-makers are surprised – and unprepared for – the expenses required to utilize cloud providers.
  • Sync Simplicity
    • If storing or backing up your data to a cloud solution is cumbersome, the likelihood of full adoption by your staff – and your clients, if applicable – will be a struggle, and result in decreased productivity and decreased reliability. You don’t have time for that!
  • Sync Speed
    • Just as with simplicity, speed is a factor with the ability to sync data quickly. As with any downtime, no one can afford reduced productivity due to Internet connection issues, and it’s an even larger issue if it’s due to your cloud storage provider.
  • Location
    • As they say in real estate, “Location, location, location”! Anyone who thinks it doesn’t matter where your data is stored physically is wrong. Wrong! Though there are too many reasons this matters to list, here are just a few:
    • Data stored in the U.S. is both protected by and susceptible to U.S. laws, like the Patriot Act and the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. Data stored in – or containing the information of – European Union nations are subject to protection by legislation passed by European Parliament enacting strict consumer data protection rules.
    • Facilities that physically house servers for cloud storage providers are just as open to impacts of weather and natural disasters as any other structure in that locale – and accessing your data will be subject to these conditions.
    • Is the physical security of the location a concern under any other circumstances?
  • Reliability and Access
    • Is the vendor reliable? The key players in the cloud storage game tend to be the best for valid reasons, but appropriate considerations, in this case, would be hardware failures, power disruptions, or even vendor disputes. Crazier things have happened.
  • Storage Capacity
    • How much data do you anticipate storing in the cloud? This is like trying to choose your favorite song. The answer changes on a regular basis, and most of the time there is no one singular answer. Obviously, you’ll want to choose a provider that is capable of offering you more storage than you think you’ll ever need, but you also don’t want to pay for storage you’re not using nor will you ever. It’s a delicate balance, and many providers allow for variable usage.
  • File Sharing
    • How many times have you attached a document to an email message, and tried to send it only to get the dreaded error message “File exceeds the maximum size of 25MB. Try removing an attachment and send again”? You are then faced with trying to reduce the file size (Word document into a PDF, etc.) or uploading the file into a cloud solution like Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneNote, and sharing the access URL instead.
  • Application Integrations
    • The number one request made by anyone accessing cloud storage and utilizing an application is to offer an intuitive user experience. Statistics show half of all users that abandon a cloud app do so due to integration issues, citing missed deadlines.
  • Support
    • If any issues arise, it’s critical that users achieve the needed help immediately from an adequately trained member of support team equipped with the right knowledge to resolve the situation.
  • Data Security
    • The cloud and data stored in cloud environments face risks, just like any other professional endeavor. A cloud storage provider that can guarantee against cybersecurity vulnerability and takes the greatest care in safeguarding your data is an excellent vendor and partner.

We’ve talked about what you need – now let’s talk about who can help you. Here is a fantastic detailed resource when comparing many of the cloud vendors at once, but let’s talk about the Big Three. The key players in the Cloud Storage Wars are Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneNote – and any one of these providers would valiantly battle to the bloody end for your business! There is a reason that these three are the best in the biz: they’ve earned their reputation with quality service, support, and every other item in the checklist.

  • Dropbox
    • Offers a free basic storage plan (2GB)
    • Paid plans and features cater to business customers
  • Google Drive
    • Offers a free basic storage plan: clarification, Google users have 15GB of free cloud storage – shared between Gmail, Google Photos, and Google Drive. If you get a ton of emails and don’t clean out your inbox often, that eats up your 15GB
    • Paid plans and features cater to business customers
  • OneNote
    • Offers a free basic storage plan (5GB)
    • Paid plans and features cater to business customers: Here is where it truly pays to use OneNote and be an Office 365 customer, as the paid plans are included with Office 365 subscriptions, either Personal or Home.

The ability to sync, share files and speed are all a focus of these teams, and the competition is pretty ruthless. In fact, Dropbox and Microsoft have formed a partnership to allow easier integration by making Office Online available to Dropbox users at no cost. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer!

So, which provider is right for you? Only you can make that decision. Armed with this information and reviewing our checklist will hopefully help you make the right choice!