Blog

News, opinions and updates from the Virtuoso team.

Apr
16

In good company

 Virtuoso is delighted to announce that we have become a Corporate Partner of the Royal Aeronautical Society, the world’s only professional body dedicated to aerospace.

Founded in 1866 and with its HQ in Mayfair the Society promotes the highest professional standards and provides a central forum for sharing knowledge.  This is one of the reasons why Virtuoso, a much younger organisation but with a similar approach to standards and knowledge, decided to become a Corporate Partner.

Other considerations are the many briefings (open only to Corporate Partners) with a wide range of speakers and topics as well as the excellent networking opportunities these offer to our clients. The quality and range of meeting rooms and hospitality gives Virtuoso the opportunity to host customer meetings in the heart of Mayfair in surroundings that contribute to every discussion.

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Apr
10

A change of perspective

Posted by Gerald Martin

 Virtuoso is proud to sponsor the Honourable Company of Air Pilots London Schools Gliding scheme.

This offers students of secondary schools and academies in London the opportunity to take part in a heavily subsidised day out at a British Gliding Association (BGA) Gliding Club. For only £8 each (the commercial rate is usually £90-100) students will receive a flight in a glider under the instruction of an experienced qualified instructor.

Smiles are the order of the day and not just because of the excitement of flying! Students enjoy the structured environment of an operational airfield and grow in confidence as they engage with others including the committed and enthusiastic volunteers without whom this scheme would not be possible.

Feedback from schools has been very positive as students develop teamwork and communication skills and start to see broader horizons and new education and career options.

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Apr
05

Microsoft 365 Adds GDPR Tools And Makes Teams The Hub For Communications

Microsoft updates enterprise suite with compliance, security and usability tools ahead of GDPR next May, while Teams replaces Skype for Business as main comms tool

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Mar
14

Office-365 – How to implement the right solution for your business

So, you’ve decided that moving your on-premises content to the cloud is the right solution for your business. But what comes next?

Whether you’re hoping to go all in on Office 365 or go hybrid, you want to make sure your business makes the most informed decisions and doesn’t rush the migration process. A stress-free Office 365 implementation is a significant project and takes careful planning, prudent decision-making and time.

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Jan
26

6 Tips For Managing an Office Efficiently

As an Office Manager, it usually falls on you to keep the office running as efficiently as possible. But when you combine a company of people with different personalities, multiple pieces of office equipment and software media, and a never-ending list of distractions, managing an office efficiently can get a little tricky at times. But all this chaos shouldn’t prevent you. In fact, it should be motivation to keep your office in good form!

If you want to manage an office efficiently and develop your management and leadership skills, here are some office management tips to keep things running easily.

Prepare rather than react.

If you take the time to prepare for your day then you are ready for what happens rather than reacting to the situation when you are in it. Planning for the next day can take some of the stress and guesswork out of your daily life and may help you prioritise tasks more efficiently.

Help yourself out

Writing lists for each area that you cover can be a useful way to make the day seem less daunting. We love Todoist, which is a simple and easy tool for list-making and checking off.

https://en.todoist.com/

Having a schedule will help with planning the day and prioritising your to-do’s. You’ll be more aware of deadlines and make sure nothing is missed off. Make sure you schedule in some breaks too.

 

Set up a filing system that works for you

Most filing is digital now but you still need to be on top of what is stored and where. If the online system is baffling, figure out a more suitable method of filing and put it into place. Make sure that others understand the system too so that everyone is filing correctly.

Minimalise interruptions!

As an Office Manager, you will undoubtedly be answering a million questions at once whilst trying to keep on top of your regular tasks. Having a schedule will help organise your time and will actually help minimalise interruptions as you will be best placed to deal with queries at certain times according to your schedule when you can give it your full attention. Make sure that the times when you know will be quietest are used to their advantage. Turn your phone off, close the door, avoid unnecessary distractions.

Ask for feedback

Having a relationship that is based on openness and honesty within the workplace can do wonders for employee efficiency. Ask for feedback from other staff members and more crucially, respond to it with either a discussion or an active change to acknowledge that their feedback has been taken seriously. TinyPulse is an employee engagement platform that gives leaders online tools to measure and improve company culture.

https://www.tinypulse.com/

Delegate.

It’s hard to hand over responsibility when you know (or think) that it might just be quicker for you to do it. But it may well be a waste of your precious time and if you don’t get out of the habit of taking on too much, you’ll burn yourself out. For example, with computer system administration, make sure that one person is responsible for the security of your computer software and keeping track of passwords etc. Using cloud-based systems is an ideal solution for some and we can help by assuming the day-to-day tasks of your operations and delivery, with a strong focus on rigorous IT governance, quality and operational excellence. role.

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Jan
08

How to Successfully Onboard New Employees

It can always be a major challenge finding the right person to fill a newly vacant position. If you’re the person who has to organize the hiring and subsequent onboarding then there’s a lot more to the work than simply offering the lucky candidate the job and clunking them at a desk with a computer.

A mistake many companies make is thinking that as the candidate has proved themselves suitable through an often gruelling interview process, they will be just fine to be thrown into the position and given minimal supervision, as after all, didn’t they just sell themselves on their quick-learning and adaptability? Employers need to remember that it is THEIR role to ensure that the onboarding process is carried out thoroughly, efficiently and with the proper levels of communication with the new employee(s).

We are going to break down the key parts of the onboarding process and the best practices and key things to remember from each.

Employee Onboarding

First Steps: Don’t wait for your employee to start before you begin outboarding! There are many things you can do beforehand to help ease the transition and take some of the stress out of the first day. Create a checklist to ensure all documentation that they are expected to fill in is ready for them, and ensure that their manager or colleague are briefed as to the onboarding process and able to answer any questions the employee may have. Make sure that the new employee’s work area is set up and all technical equipment is working correctly and ready to be logged on with a new user. And lastly, it won't hurt to provide the new employee with any reading material about the company that they can read ahead of time to help familiarise themselves with the history of the company and/or the role.

What your new employee checklist should contain:

  • A review of company policies.
  • An introduction to their team and key colleagues.
  • A tour of office and workspace.
  • A review of general position information.
  • Assistance getting and setting up equipment, including computers.
  • A review of their upcoming schedule.
  • Ensuring that all necessary forms are filled out.
  • A review of work hours.

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.Tech know-how

It can be easy to forget that whilst you and your team may have been using the Super-Mega-CRM-3000 for the last 15 years and are all well versed in its quirks and technical specs, for a newbie it may be completely different to the system they are used to and will take some getting used to. Providing clear and thorough training on using any tools and tech that the role requires will speed up the adjustment process, getting your new employee confidently up and running in no time.

.Don’t forget the social side!

When a new person joins your company, obviously the key essentials in ‘orientation’ will include the legal bits and bobs such as contracts, HR documentation, and equipment or tech handover and finance info. However don’t forget that a happy employee is a good employee, with research proving that happy employees are 12% more productive than unhappy ones.

So to ensure that your new employee starts off as a happy one, ensure that they become oriented in the other important aspects of the company such as its values, culture and people. It is important for new employees to be involved in socializing within the company whilst they are receiving training. This will help them feel comfortable and secure within their new position and company and will help them understand more about the different roles within the business and the people that perform them.


What are the benefits?

It shortens the learning curve. Companies with an effective onboarding process that provide on the job training give new employees a safety net. Starting a new job can be terrifying and as an employee you may find that aspects of the company culture or workload are not quite as you expected. Let alone a new environment, workmates, location… It can really be quite daunting. By providing training for new employees you give them the chance to get to know the company and its workings better and with familiarity comes happiness. And of course, the more training you provide, the quicker the new employee gets up to speed and is confident in his or her new role.

Provides useful feedback

The more training a company does, the quicker and easier it becomes to see how efficient the training program is and thus further refine it. Getting an employee up to speed may take some time in training that the company may feel it doesn’t have enough of, but without feedback the employee can become disengaged and that’s a bad place to start a new working relationship!

Socially integrates new employees

Being the new person at work can be isolating and stressful. Companies must make a conscious effort to introduce new employees to other staff as soon as possible and encourage the working relationship between them where appropriate and relevant. The quicker a new employee feels comfortable with his or her peers, the quicker they will feel comfortable asking for help or offering it if that is the case. Employee engagement and productivity go hand in hand, 22% of employees are less engaged at work because of workplace conflicts.

On-the-job training and providing mentors can prove to be a successful and efficient way of ensuring employee engagement and happiness.

Finally

So your new employee is clued up on the tech, has met everyone in the office, filled out all the forms and feeling confident and happy to continue work with less supervision. Great stuff! One more thing though… everyone knows that problems and unusual situations can arise with no warning, it is key that you make sure that your new employee knows where to access support when they need it. If they have a mentor that is a great person to provide this level of support and trust for them, as they will hopefully have a long and positive working relationship with them. But also make sure that they have access to resources that they might need for specific tasks that haven’t cropped up yet.

Making sure that you follow a comprehensive and thorough onboarding process can ensure that your new employee integrates into the company quickly and happily.

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Nov
23

The Cloud - Demystified In Less Than Ten Minutes

Posted by Jamie Laridon in Opinion, Cloud

The Cloud

For years ‘the cloud’ has been talked about constantly in business technology circles. And by now you’ll find that most SMB owners are already aware of how cloud computing is transforming the way that companies do business and cuts IT costs. However it’s still a fairly complicated subject if you’re not technically minded and the potential business value of migrating to the cloud might not be that clear.

It might entertain you to know that according to research done by Wakefield research, 54% of SMB’s stated that they had never used cloud technology. And of that 54% it was found that about 95% of them were in fact already in the cloud and had been for years, they just didn’t realise it.

We are going to explain ‘the cloud’ for anyone who perhaps isn’t 100% certain of the details. The cloud is here to stay and the economic benefits make too much sense to ignore.

Put simply, the cloud acts as a storage space. If you imagine your online storage system as a cramped office with files spilling out over the filing cabinets, there is no budget to upgrade offices but it’s becoming chaotic. Then imagine that your building manager offers to rent you an empty filing cabinet in the basement.

The basement is shared with other tenants who have their own filing cabinets and spaces but only you have the key to yours. You move your files into the basement and suddenly your office is less cramped and running more efficiently. And you can pop to the basement to collect files whenever you need. This is a rough analogy of how the cloud works.

Large businesses have higher IT budgets, which allows them to own a massive internal network infrastructure, but SMB’s often don’t have the budget or support to do this. That’s why the cloud has allowed the playing field to be leveled between small, medium and big businesses. It’s an equalizer in many ways. It gives SMB’s the opportunity to do large-scale business at a lower cost.

The cloud is more or less a sexy (if you like that kind of thing) buzzword for the Internet. Or at least the next evolution of the Internet. Anyone who has ever used or hosted an email provider like Gmail has stored sensitive data in the cloud, even if they didn’t realize. Cloud-based email hosting was the first and most broadly adopted cloud service used for both personal and professional use.

Use services like Amazon, Netflix, even Facebook and Twitter? You’re part of the public cloud.

The cloud is big. It’s big and its made up of different elements. It has three deployment models, private, public and hybrid.

Private Clouds are often built by large companies with bigger resourses and deeper pockets than SMB’s. But what has been a game changer for SMB’s is the Public Cloud, public cloud deployments are 100% virtual. This means less hands-on management is required as the infrastructure (hardware, devices, network equipment etc) is all off-premises. And with this an SMB benefits from not having to pay for and manage the hardware, deal with software licensing or updating or pay for empolyees to manage it all.

Cloud migration companies generally offer one of 3 categorised cloud-computing services that are referred to as layers within the cloud. These 3 services are:

Simply put, the cloud hosts an application for any type of work process that an SMB will need.

What are the advantages of using the Cloud?

Reduction of costs: Since the cloud works on mass scale computing, onsite physical storage hardware and internal IT staffing are reduced.

Anytime and Anywhere Access: Since data access is no longer restricted to single employees or physical devices, users can share and collaborate in the cloud at any time and anywhere.

Better collaboration: The cloud is available on demand to computers and devices from any location at any point of time, this allows for better faster collaboration between employees, especially as today's workforce is increasingly dispersed.

Faster deployment: Cloud-based services can be deployed within just an hour or a few days rather than the weeks or months it often takes to strategically plan, build and implement an internal IT structure.

Environmental friendliness: The clouds energy efficiency is attractive to any company conscientious about the environment and wanting to be ‘green’. For example, having fewer machines to run is obviously more energy efficient.

Improved security: Many SMB’s cite security concerns as the main reason they are reluctant to move to the cloud, however, there are actually very few data breaches involving cloud providers. Data stored in the cloud may actually be safer than data stored on computers and company servers with an array of security vulnerabilities. Unlike a laptop, the cloud can’t be left behind on a train.

Business Continuity: Data storage and back up is one of the most frequently used cloud-based services amongst SMB’s. Many cloud service providers offer SMB’s unlimited storage capability, automated data sync and back up processes that reduce or eliminate downtime events

Still concerned?

SMB’s who are still uneasy about a move to the cloud can consider cloud monitoring through a local managed service provider (MSP). Cloud monitoring helps SMBs deploy to the cloud with confidence. Cloud monitoring gives the SMB owner around-the-clock end-to-end visibility into the performance of their cloud services and IT infrastructure. Monitoring services offer SMBs proactive monitoring, automated alerts, and full problem resolution support by way of a fully dedicated 24/7 networks operations center (NOC). Cloud monitoring is also carefully monitored with frequent audits to identify and address vulnerabilities.

The continuous analyzing and testing of your network, website and mobile applications can reduce downtime hugely. And cloud monitoring also tests your email server at regular intervals, which minimizes failure deliveries, and other issues that affect sending and receiving emails.

Concerns about security are still valid but small businesses today may actually be exposing themselves to more breach vulnerabilities by not being in the cloud. The notion that data must be on-site to truly be secure is as misguided as the belief that money is safer tucking beneath a mattress than in the bank.

To see how we can help you with cloud migration visit our website or get in touch for more details

https://www.virtuoso-uk.com/managed-it/it-outsourcing

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Tags: #Opinion, #Cloud
Sep
06

Virtuoso awarded place on the innovative Crown Commercial Technology Services 2 (TS2) framework agreement.

Posted by Nick in Opinion

London - September 6th, 2017 - Virtuoso, the IT services company that specialise in delivering simple and innovative IT solutions to complex problems, has been awarded a place on the innovative Technology Services 2 (TS2) framework agreement. Virtuoso has a wealth of experience providing IT services and solutions and coupled with a consistent record of success, is ideally placed to deliver tailored IT solutions to central and local government sectors, estimated to be worth between £1bn and £3bn. 

This award will see Virtuoso supplying services across the UK public sector bodies including government and the wider public sector, social housing organisations, voluntary and community sector bodies, education and the NHS. Being part of the TS2 framework broadens Virtuoso's reach and capability for their public sector customers leveraging expertise across server, desktop, storage and network environments.  Along with vendor relationships with many of the world’s leading software vendors, Virtuoso infrastructure management is implemented through an ITIL-based best practice framework.  

Markus McIver, CEO, said "We are delighted to have been awarded a place on CCS T2 framework.  This award further demonstrates our strategy and commitment to bringing agility and innovation to the UK public sector.  Success across Lots 1,2, and 3 will enable us to work in partnership with customers from strategy through to operational services."

The Technology Services 2 framework is the innovative solution for every public sector customer’s ICT service requirements, including services at all government security classification levels, and offers this through:

Lot 1: Technology Strategy and Service Design

For developing or enhancing ICT strategy and service design, this provides access to the specialists services offered by Virtuoso.

Lot 2: Transition and Transformation

For implementing ICT strategy or services, site relocation or transition from your current services agreement; this lot provides all of the transition and transformational activities required, including legacy service decommissioning.

Lot 3: Operational Services

This lot is for operation service needs in four distinct service groupings:

3a: End User Services
3b: Operational Management
3c: Technical Management
3d: Application and Data Management

About Virtuoso IT 

Virtuoso was founded with the belief that a small technology-focused business could succeed in a competitive landscape by truly engaging with customers, delivering business aligned solutions and building a business that would draw some of the best technical capability in the country without the constraints of a traditional sales-led organisation. In every customer engagement, our team engage with both technical and commercial stakeholders to rapidly drive value.

Virtuoso has a wealth of experience providing IT services and solutions, coupled with a consistent record of success, making Virtuoso ideally placed to deliver a full suite of products, solutions and services. 

Learn more at www.virtuoso-uk.com

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Sep
05

Virtual Reality in the Workplace

Posted by Nick in Opinion

We are huge fans of VR here at Virtuoso and are looking forward to seeing how Microsoft VR Development Kit will start being utilised within the workplace. The following is a post from Eric Vanderburg, who serves as the Vice President of Cybersecurity at TCDI and Vice Chairman of the board at TechMin. This originally appeared on the Dell Blog here

Virtuoso D2D Blog Image 3

For decades Virtual Reality (VR) has tantalized our minds. We have an acute fascination for it since virtual reality offers us experiences no other technology can match. The implications for gaming and entertainment are quite obvious and have consumed much of the recent conversation on the subject.  However, virtual reality goes far beyond gaming and media. VR is currently entering many homes but soon headsets like this one that appeared at CES 2017 will make its debut into workplaces, and already has in some instances. In fact, VR adoption in the workplace is expected to increase rapidly as the technology becomes more democratized. But what will this look like?

The End of the Conference Room

Workplaces can expand beyond physical boundaries to connect employees and customers with virtual reality. Employees may connect with each other in a virtual meeting space rather than over a conference call, eventually allowing for non-verbal communication interactive presentations or virtual collaboration from remote employees as if they were in the office together. This use case for VR is anticipated and highly valued. According to Dell’s Future Workforce study data, 67 percent of millennials believe it is important to use virtual reality in meetings and product development.

Virtual Workspaces

Virtual reality allows employees to take their workspace with them much like they carry their applications and user interface customizations or virtual desktops with them now.  A headset replaces the monitor and the surrounding workspace such as family photos, wall art, books and other items you would find in an office.  This virtual office can be accessed just like a virtual desktop.

Virtual Prototyping

With VR, prototypes can be experienced, rather than just viewed. Employees can step inside a machine or walk through a building plan before a single part has been ordered.  This helps companies create better products and avoid costly rework.

Virtual Training

VR can also be used for to create realistic virtual environments where skills can be put into practice. Training in VR allows people learning new tasks (students made me think of schools) to make mistakes without actually breaking something and the virtual environment can be reset quickly and easily so trainees can practice until skills are second nature. The immersive environment of VR allows for a deeper imprint on memory and caters to a different learning style that can better reinforce knowledge and improve recall.

VR and the Customer Experience

Virtual reality is also has tremendous opportunity for consumers to virtually try out goods before making a purchase. Currently, some real estate firms allow customers to virtual walk through a space.  Construction is similarly undergoing changes with VR. Imagine walking through an office or home while it is still in the design stages, checking out the view from your next vacation rental, sitting behind the wheel of that new car, or virtually trying on clothing from an online retailer. The sports industry uses virtual reality to replay events in previous games or train on certain maneuvers. This is some of what VR is offering the enterprise.

Roadmap to VR success

Dell’s workforce study showed that employees, especially millennials, expect to be working in a smart office in the near future and many do not consider their current office smart enough. Virtual reality in the enterprise is a way to attract the best talent and to make them more productive. VR also enables companies to establish better relationships with their customers. So how do companies prepare now to utilize this technology?

Businesses need to be able to create VR content for their employees and customers, so they must have the equipment and training to make their ideas a reality. Dell is one company that has stepped in to meet this challenge by providing the tools for VR content creation and an environment where innovation and collaboration can take place. In an interview with Liam Quinn, CTO at Dell, he explained how Dell has established a VR center for excellence where companies work with VR technologies, collaborate and innovate solutions. Dell also provides VR content creation tools with its Precision workstation series that is equipped with hardware capable of creating VR applications.

It is not too early to start thinking about how VR will fit into your enterprise. Connect with the VR community, exchange ideas, and equip your workforce with the tools to seize these opportunities.  Are you ready to take your company into VR?

 

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Aug
07

What, when, why, how, and everything you need to know about the new GDPR

Posted by Greg McCallum in Opinion

What? The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the new legislation from the European Union which replaces the 1995 Data Protection Directive (DPD).

The DPD consisted of a now-outdated set of laws designed to protect the personal data of UK citizens. The GDPR make data protection rules standard across the board (Europe).

When? The GDPR comes into effect on 25th May 2018, and even though the UK is leaving the EU, the GDPR will take effect before the two-year timeframe of Article 50 meaning businesses will still need to conform to new regulations in the meantime. CTO of Virtuoso, Greg McCallum says, It's essential that your IT systems meet the technical requirements of GDPR before the regulation comes into effect.

Proper data governance is only possible with a well-designed, well-managed infrastructure platform that is both agile and stable. We can help you bridge that gap, saving time and money, to ensure your company can become compliant as soon as possible.

Why? The reason for the new legislation comes from an urgent need to update current regulations in the digital age.

The EU wants to ensure that individuals have more control over how their personal data is being seen, used and stored. Many online companies only allow the use of their services once people have submitted personal information.

The DPD came into play before cloud technology and the internet meant that peoples data could be exploited in different ways.

The GDPR aims to tackle the privacy challenges in the new digital economy by improving the levels of trust amongst its data holders and givers. Also by making the data protection law identical across the single market, the EU aims to give businesses an easier, clearer legal environment in which to operate.

How? The GDPR applies to the ͂Controllers̓ and ͂Processors̓ of data. A controller states how and why the data is processed, and a processor does the actual processing of said data. The new changes will affect all companies who deal with EU data even if the companies themselves are based outside of the EU. Under the GDPR controllers must keep accurate records of consent from individuals in relation to data storage, the format for consent being given changes under the GDPR, individuals must give consent in an active way rather than the passive way under some models (pre-ticked boxes are an example of this). Individuals are free to withdraw their consent at any time.

Companies that currently use passive ways of obtaining consent must ensure their data collection method is updated before the 2018 inception date or else must stop collecting data.

Data controllers must allow for individuals to access their personal data and comply within one month of the request. It is up to the controller to ensure that people can securely review the information a controller holds about them and the processors and controllers must be able to clearly explain how and why their data is stored and processed. People will now also have the right to request their data is deleted if it is no longer necessary, this is now known as the right to be forgotten. This will affect the controllers whose responsibility it will be to inform other organisations to delete any links to copies of the data in question. If a person wants their data to be moved elsewhere the controller must conform to this request within one month. It is each companies responsibility to inform their data protection authority of any data breach that might cause a risk to peoples rights and freedoms within 3 days of the company being aware of the breach. Harsh penalties will be in place for those who fail do comply within the deadline. Data protection authorities can issue penalties of up to €20 million or 4% of your global annual turnover (whichever is greatest) for any company or organisation who fails to comply with the new regulations set out in the GDPR.

Concerns? One of the biggest changes of the GDPR compared to the DPD is that what can be defined as ͂personal data̓ now encompasses IP addresses, economic and cultural information, and even mental health information. Anything that previously counted as personal data under the DPD still stands under GDPR. Data audits must take place to meet GDPR requirements, this may cause issues for some companies as they will have to ensure that they are aware of and have access to a full and accurate list of data-storing assets. Ultimately, the sooner companies conform to the new legislation laid out in the GDPR, the better to avoid heavy penalties and leave themselves open to risk.

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Sep
08

Now you see it, there it stays!

Posted by Markus McIver in Opinion

Decreasing business costs and risks of costly data loss

We live in a 24/7 global economy that is more dependent than ever on technology. Even the technology of small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) houses sensitive digital data - employee and customer information, internal emails, documents and financial records, sales orders and transaction histories. Not to mention applications and programs critical to daily business function and services. 

Employees at SMBs require continuous access to the critical business data needed to meet the demands of the customers or clients they service. They even want this access while they’re at home or on the go running errands. 

To satisfy this demand, many companies and organisations now allow employees to BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) and “do business” using their personal laptops, tablets and mobile phones. The web, Wi-Fi networks and mobile devices with robust memory and battery life have made this constant access to a SMBs back office infrastructure a reality. Regrettably this flexibility and freedom is accompanied by an ominous risk of data loss.

Just a single data loss or breach can be costly to SMBs. Data losses and leaks come with lingering continuous costs that many SMBs cannot easily shake or overcome. Revenue is lost if employee productivity and customer accessibility/ service are stalled by data loss. The expenses associated with internal research and investigation, system repair and maintenance, and data security protection are another heavy price SMBs must pay. If cybercrime is involved, affected customers must be notified, the potential exists for litigation, and many customers will likely never return due to mistrust. 

While corporate-level data losses are well publicised, many SMBs mistakenly believe their data isn’t at risk. This mistake can prove to be a costly one. 

Why C-Suite Management  at SMBs Can No Longer  Ignore Data Loss

    • Following a significant data loss, it is estimated that SMBs can lose up to 25% in daily revenue by the end of the first week. 
    • According to the recent national UK survey, 93% of companies that have experienced data loss, and prolonged downtime for ten or more days have filed for bankruptcy within twelve months of the incident. 50% wasted no time and filed for bankruptcy immediately. 43% of companies with no data recovery and business continuity plan actually go out of business following a major data loss.  How quickly can your business be restored if critical data is lost? When was the last time backup processes were tested to ensure all data is recoverable and business operations are quickly restored?
    • A survey conducted by Symantec SMB revealed that fewer than half of SMBs surveyed backup their data each week. Only 23% of those surveyed said they backup data every day and have a business continuity plan in place. 
    • The percentage of cybercriminal attacks targeting businesses with fewer than 250 employees doubled in 2012. The vulnerabilities of naive small business owners have been noted, and hackers have now placed the proverbial bull’s-eye on these perceived weak links. If sensitive customer data is leaked, SMBs may face overwhelming financial liabilities, which could include reimbursing affected customers and legal fees. 
    • BYOD isn’t a trend or passing fad. It is here to stay and the fact of the matter is businesses no longer own the devices used by employees. This is unprecedented. It’s not as if the employees of yesterday could haul home their file cabinets and desk. This obviously comes with a number of data security risks. The number of networks, applications, and end points where data can be accessed has multiplied with BYOD. Who manages these devices? Who secures these devices? Do SMBs have the right to back up data on machines they do not own? If an employee loses a laptop, or goes AWOL on the company, what data do they have and does anyone else in the company have access to it?
       
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Sep
08

The Value of a Helping Hand

Posted by Markus McIver in Opinion

Reducing The Costs and Complexity of IT With a Managed Services Provider

The Technology Pains of Small Business

Small business owners are faced with quite the dilemma these days. While a reliable and secure network is a critical component to success, business owners are also being forced to scale back on costs and overhead as a means of basic survival in today’s economy. 

Having a fully staffed IT department simply isn’t a viable option for a majority of small business owners. Many small businesses either have one full-time employee devoted to IT services or none at all. Both scenarios are recipes for disaster in an increasingly complex high-tech society.

One IT person, even a very small team, will likely be overworked and burdened by too many responsibilities. This can make a company’s business infrastructure increasingly vulnerable to breakdown, not from technology, but from human error.  A recent study conducted by Gartner projected that through 2015, people - not technology, will be responsible for up to 80% of technology failure. This number coincides with findings reported in the IT Process Institute’s Visible Ops Handbook stating that 80% of unexpected outages are due to poorly planned changes implemented by administrators and developers.

The forecast is even stormier for businesses with absolutely no IT support on payroll. These business owners have subscribed to the break/fix model of technology management. While this model can sometimes be out of necessity due to budget restraints, it can also stem from a state of ignorance or denial that their business is truly susceptible to technology failure. The overall health and profitability of their business is directly affected by the performance, reliability and security of its technology systems.  

 

With the break/fix model, there is absolutely no proactive monitoring or management of their network. The only emergency plan for data loss or downtime is to call upon an IT specialist in an emergency 9-9-9 situation. 

On average, these IT consultants charge £100 an hour. This doesn’t even factor in trip fees, surcharges, and standard repair costs in the range of £500 to £1000, or the costs of hardware and software upgrades. This method also results in more downtime, lost productivity, lost revenue, and a loss in overall customer satisfaction. Major network repairs require a minimum of 8-24 hours on average and most on-call IT consultants cannot get on site for up to 24-48 hours.  One has to also wonder if these consultants truly have the business owners’ best interest in mind? After all, they make their money when technology breaks down. Are they truly motivated to keep a client’s network running optimally and efficiently?

The Concept of Managed Services

Managed Services Providers - or MSPs - are often recommended as a cost-effective IT solution for small businesses. For a minimal monthly fee, MSPs provide a reasonably priced solution to the complex technology pains of small businesses. Sometimes an MSP will enter the picture to support an overworked IT support person or staff. They can also assume complete responsibility of all IT and network operations if need be. 

MSPs can decrease the overall IT support costs by as much as 30% to 50%. Rather than stressing about technology, business owners can instead get back to focusing on growing their business. All while enjoying the benefit of a team of highly-trained IT experts boosting their network’s reliability and performance.  

Freed Up Resources and a Renewed Emphasis on Core Business

Most pricey repairs and recovery costs are the result of a lack of consistent monitoring and maintenance. While these activities are absolutely critical to day-to-day business operations, they are also repetitive, monotonous and “a time kill” for any IT support on payroll. Both business owners and internal IT staff would much rather focus on revenue enhancing tasks like product development or the creation of cutting-edge applications/services. This is one reason routine monitoring and maintenance tasks are often neglected by an internal IT person or team, which always proves to be detrimental much later. 

Often misportrayed as a “threat” to an internal IT person or staff, MSPs can instead alleviate internal staff of mundane network operations maintenance, repetitious monitoring of server and storage infrastructure, and day-to-day operations and service desk duties.

A True Partner Sharing Risks And Responsibilities

Earlier we alluded to a mistrust of IT consultants who profit from your technological misery. In comparison, the goal of an MSP is to deliver on contracted services, measure, report, analyze and optimize IT service operations, and truly become an irreplaceable catalyst for business growth. MSPs not only assume leadership roles, they mitigate risks, enhance efficiency and change the culture by introducing internal IT operations to new technologies and processes.

Access to Expertise, Best Practices and World - Class Tools and Technologies

MSPs has worked with a variety of businesses and organizations. Since each client presents a completely unique set of business and technology needs, there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” method to what they do. That said, they’ve likely seen it all, and the benefit of an experienced MSP undoubtedly adds value to your business. MSPs can keep your business relevant and on track with continually evolving technology, support, and productivity demands. Let’s face it – no small or medium-sized business can afford to fall behind with technology trends in today’s business world.

The Benefit of a Full-Time Fully Staffed IT Department at a Fraction of the Cost - Most small business owners live and die by proactive management. They just haven’t had the budget, resources or access to on-demand expertise to be proactive with information technology management. An MSP gives business owners and overwhelmed internal IT staff affordable computer and server support, remote monitoring of critical network components like servers and firewalls, data backup and disaster recovery, network security, custom software solutions, and technology evaluation and planning. Freeing them from expensive computer problems, security threats like spyware and spam, and the repercussions of prolonged downtime. All without being “nickel-and-dimed” by on-call IT firms.

 

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Aug
03

Keeping Small Businesses Safe: Combating Cybercrime on a SMEs Budget

What happens on the hight street stays on the hight street

When hackers breach the security of corporations it makes headlines, yet there is rarely a mention when cybercrime hits small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Very few people are even aware that today’s cybercriminals are targeting SMEs, not just super-sized global businesses.

According to Verizon’s 2013 Data Breach Investigations Report, 71% of the data breaches investigated by the company’s forensic analysis unit targeted small businesses with fewer than 100 employees. Of that group, businesses with less than 10 employees were the most frequently attacked.

Everyone is a victim when it comes to cybercrime

The loss and exposure of confidential data from a cyber attack is costly to both the people victimised and the businesses whose data was compromised.

For the victim, hackers typically retrieve personal information, bank account, credit card and financial data resulting in identity fraud. The stress and time involved to reclaim their identity and get their financial house back in order is beyond measure.

Cypercrime comes at a high price for SMEs

According to research compiled by the Ponemon Institute in their 2nd Annual Cost of Cyber Crime Study, the average cost per breached record in the U.S. is anywhere between $150 to $200 and will of course be similar in the UK. This amount factors in the costs of the investigation and notification process, fixing the issue that led to the breach, possible liability and litigation costs, lost business, and the time and effort that go into damage control. In many cases, a damaged reputation may prove to be irreparable. Nearly two-thirds of victimised companies are out of business within six months of a significant cyber attack, making cybercrime the death knell for many SMEs. This is because the consequences of cybercrime extend well beyond the actual incident and have long-lasting implications.

Small businesses obviously don’t have the same financial footing to rebound and carry on with business as usual in the way organisations like Amazon, Apple, or Citibank can.

Symantec’s research found that customers affected by security breaches are generally less forgiving of smaller businesses, especially smaller online retailers, than larger companies. SMEs are contending not only with lost revenue and expenses, but also the possibility of never regaining the trust of customers, clients and business partners.

Symantec’s 2012 State of Information Survey found that nearly half of all SMEs admitted to a data breach damaging their reputation and driving customers away.

The trend of cybercriminals preying on smaller businesses doesn’t seem to be waning. According to Symantec, the number of cybercrime attacks targeting firms with fewer than 250 employees jumped from 18 percent of all attacks in 2011 to 31 percent in 2012.

Why cybercrminals are zeroing in on small business

Large corporations have the resources to invest heavily in the most sophisticated security strategies and successfully stop most cybercrime attempts. A typical large enterprise may have over twenty in- house IT dedicated employees ensuring that every device connecting to their network is adequately protected.

In comparison, SMEs have neither the money nor the manpower of large enterprises and can’t afford the same level of security. Very few SMEs have full- time IT dedicated personnel on hand to run routine security checks. Even those who do have in-house IT support often find that their internal resources are too bogged down with other tasks to properly address security upkeep.

A joint survey of 1000 SMEs conducted in September of 2013 by McAfee Internet Security and Office Depot further confirms how relaxed many SMEs are when it comes to protecting their data.

Not only have SMEs become easy prey for cybercriminals, but their sheer abundance also makes them an alluring target. In 2013, there were 4.9 million businesses in the UK, over 99% of which were small and medium enterprises. Even in a struggling economy, it’s projected that there are still an estimated 200,000 startups launching every month with only a handful of employees.

SMEs are not "too small to matter"

Since most cybercrimes affecting smaller businesses go unreported by the media, there is no sense of urgency by SMEs to prepare for cyber attacks. Too many SMEs mistakenly view their operations and data as trivial to hackers. They feel that large online retailers, global banks, and government entities are much more attractive targets for hackers.

The goals and methods of cyber attackers are evolving and will continue to evolve. The era of one “big heist” for hackers is over. Cybercriminals today often prefer to infiltrate the data of many small businesses at once, stealing from victims in tiny increments over time so as to not set off an immediate alarm. This method takes advantage of those SMEs who are especially lax with their security processes and may not even realise there has been a security breach for days or sometimes even weeks.

SMEs must end the “It will never happen to us” mindset. For instance, political “hactivists” have been responsible for a number of high-profile Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks in recent years. The goal of a hactivist is to disrupt the status quo and wreck havoc on the technology infrastructure of larger corporations and government entities. It’s a form of cyber anarchy: A “stick it to the man” philosophy spearheaded by groups like 4chan, Anonymous, LulzSec, and Anti- Sec.

An owner or Chief Information Officer (CIO) at a SME may read of these high publicised attacks in the press and not think anything of it. They aren’t Sony, Apple, or the Department of Defence, so why would a hactivist target their data? But it’s estimated that there are on average 1.29 DDoS attacks throughout the world every two minutes and such activity is much broader in scope than the press may lead us to believe.

SMEs- The access ramp to bigger & better data

One reason small businesses are more vulnerable is they’re often the inroad to larger better-protected entities. They are often sub-contracted as a vendor, supplier, or service provider to a larger organisation. This makes SMEs an attractive entry point for raiding the data of a larger company. Since larger enterprises have more sophisticated security processes in place to thwart cyber attacks, SMEs often unknowingly become a Trojan horse used by hackers to gain backdoor access to a bigger company’s data. There is malware specifically designed to use a SMEs website as a means to crack the database of a larger business partner.

For this reason, many potential clients or business partners may ask for specifics on how their data will be safeguarded before they sign an agreement. Some may require an independent security audit be conducted. They may also ask SMEs to fill out a legally binding questionnaire pertaining to their security practices.

An SME that is unable to prove they’re on top of their infrastructure’s security will likely lose out on potentially significant deals and business relationships. More large enterprises are being careful to vet any business partners they’re entrusting their data to.

To stay secure a good defence is the best offense

SMEs must understand that the time has come to get serious with their security. Sadly, many small businesses have a false sense of security. In the McAfee/ Office Depot joint survey of 1000 SMEs, over 66% were confident in the security of their data and devices despite admitting to obvious flaws.

Cybercrime is only one cause of compromised data. There are 3 primary causes of breached security at businesses according to the June 2013 Symantec Global Cost of a Data Breach study. Only 37% are attributed to malicious attacks. The remaining 64% are human error and technology errors.

Data breaches aren’t always about bad people doing bad things. Many are the result of good employees making mistakes or of technology failure. SMEs don’t necessarily need a large budget or dozens of employees to adequately protect sensitive data. A secure environment is possible even on a SMEs budget. Here are a few steps to improving data and network security.

STEP 1

Know all devices connection to your network

Keep a frequently updated list of every device that connects to your network. This inventory is especially important given today’s BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) workplace where employees can access your network through several different devices. Knowing what these devices are and ensuring they’re all configured properly will optimise network security.

All it takes is a regularly scheduled review to add or remove any devices and affirm that every end point is secure. Much of this process can be inexpensively automated through a Mobile Device Monitoring (MDM) tool. A MDM tool will approve or quarantine any new device accessing the network, enforce encryption settings if sensitive information is stored on such a device, and remotely locate, lock, and wipe company data from lost or stolen devices.

STEP 2

Educate & train employees

Every employee should participate in regular general awareness security training. This will not only reduce security breaches directly tied to employee error or negligence but also train employees to be on the defence against cybercrime. Employees are critical to your security success and the prevention of data breaches. Hackers commonly break into networks by taking advantage of unknowing employees. Phishing attacks – legitimate looking emails specifically crafted to mislead recipients into clicking a malicious link where they’re asked to provide their username and password - are still successfully used by hackers to capture login credentials.

If a large company makes the news for a data breach tied to an infected email, be sure to share that news with employees with a warning. Come up with fun ways to teach employees how to identify spear-phishing email attempts and better secure their systems and devices.

It is also important to have a security policy written for employees that clearly identifies the best practices for internal and remote workers. For example, password security is critical and passwords should be frequently updated to a combination of numbers, lower case letters and special characters that cannot be easily guessed. Security policy training should be integrated into any new employee orientation. This policy should be updated periodically. More important than anything, this security policy must be enforced to be effective.

STEP 3

Perform an audit of sensitive business information

If you want to keep your most sensitive business information secure, it’s important to know exactly where it’s stored. A detailed quarterly audit is recommended.

STEP 4

Use Cloud and Managed Service Providers

Overall, the cloud is likely a more secure data solution for small business. Any conception that the cloud isn’t safe is outdated. Most of 2013’s security breaches were the result of lost or stolen devices, printed documents falling into the wrong hands, and employee errors leading to unintended disclosures. It’s fair to speculate that many of these breaches wouldn’t have occurred had this information been stored in the cloud rather than computers, laptops, and vulnerable servers. SMEs with limited budgets are actually enhancing their security by moving to the cloud. Since there is no way a SME can match a large enterprise’s internal services, moving services like emails, backups, and collaborative file sharing to the cloud not only reduces total-cost-of- ownership, but gives access to top-level security to better defend against internal and external threats.

Meanwhile, a Managed Service Provider (MSP) can assume responsibility for security measures like the administering of complex security devices, technical controls like firewalls, patching, antivirus software updates, intrusion-detection and log analysis systems.

MSPs are also capable of generating a branded risk report for any potential client or business partner reviewing your security measures. This third- party manual assessment of your network security can instill confidence in prospective business partners by proving to them that any possible security risks or vulnerabilities will be properly managed and addressed.

 

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Jul
25

Weathering the Storm: Zero In On Downtime For Long-Term Business Continuity and Customer Satisfaction

Posted by Markus McIver in Opinion

Small business has changed dramatically within the last decade. No change has been more profound than our dependency on information technology (IT) systems to support critical day-to-day business functions.

In today’s increasingly competitive high-tech environment, it is critical that all business operations run smoothly and efficiently. Business momentum, employee productivity and customer service all depend on an IT infrastructure that must be both accessible and secure at all times. Constant network availability has become essential to most small and midsize businesses (SMEs) today.

This reliance on IT systems has also created a stronger link between data centre accessibility and total cost of ownership (TCO). Even minimal amounts of unplanned downtime today will result in lost revenue, productivity and negatively impact overall brand reputation.

Preventing or rebounding from downtime was once deemed the IT team’s problem, however, this unprecedented modern- day dependence on technology has made the frequency and costs of downtime more of a business problem. Prolonged or recurring downtime can cripple small businesses and requires the attention and understanding of C-suite management in order to be properly addressed.

Unfortunately, many executives at SMEs are still not as tuned into daily network operations as they need to be. For this reason, they lack a true awareness of the frequency of downtime. This lack of insight and visibility is regrettably putting far too many SME sat an increased risk for downtime and the costs associated with it.

Bridging the Gap Between C-Suite Executives and In-House IT Teams

While most C-level executives are well aware that network operations play a pivotal role in productivity, service and profitability, they don’t have the same awareness as IT personnel when it comes to the frequency of downtime and what makes their data centre infrastructure vulnerable to it. Worse yet, many SMEs don’t even have in-house IT staff –meaning nobody in the company or organisation has any insight into the problem.

At the same time, even when internal IT personnel is on deck, many support technicians fail to recognise the financial implications of downtime when it comes to lost revenue, lost productivity and lost customers.

It is imperative that all levels at a SME have insight into the probability and implications of downtime. This is the only way to maximise uptime and the availability of essential IT applications without over inflating the total cost of ownership of data centre infrastructure.

Calculate the True Cost of Downtime

According to the Aberdeen Group, a business intelligence research firm, downtime is costing companies 65% more per hour these days than just two years ago. 2012 data calculated downtime costs at the £165,000 mark compared to the £100,000 of 2010.

According to Symantec’s 2011 SME Disaster Preparedness Survey, small businesses lose an average of £3,000 each day from downed systems and networks. Medium sized businesses bleed even more money, losing an average of £23,000 each day.

C-Suite management at SMEs must consider both the direct and indirect costs of downtime. Direct costs are:

  • Wasted wages paid to idle employees
  • Sales lost during the outages
  • The expensive emergency service/ repair bill issued by the on-call IT technician brought in to get your business back up and running.

Indirect costs, such as lost customers who have moved on after one too many “Our server is down” messages, are more difficult to quantify but more costly – equating to roughly 62% of all network downtime costs. A specific dollar amount cannot be placed on lost productivity, the long-term consequences of damaged reputation and wasted opportunities that accompany each downtime event.

This is why Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and IT support alike don’t have the visibility or insight to understand what the average downtime event truly costs them. The residual effects of a network outage are typically much more costly than costs related to identifying the root cause of the failure and repairing or replacing any physical hardware.

But so many C-level executives remain mindful of only what downtime costs them in terms of repair or replacement costs. They also tend to gloss over the fact that their day-to-day business processes are more susceptible to outages and inaccessible data than they think.

Zero In On Infrastructure Vulnerability to Data Centre Downtime  

Leading Causes of Downtime

  • Power Outages – 48%
  • Accidental Data Deletion – 31%
  • Employee Created – 29%
  • Virus/Malware – 25%
  • Application Failure – 20%
  • Power Related Outages

Vulnerabilities to a data centre’s power still rank as one of the leading causes of unplanned network outages and can often be catastrophic. Particularly costly are UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) related failures (this includes batteries) and generator failures.

To minimise the impact that power outages have on data centre operations, and to prevent a potentially catastrophic unavailability of the data centre, a dependable backup system is needed. This ensures the backup of critical data and applications is always in  place in the event of equipment failure.
The integration of comprehensive infrastructure monitoring and management tools also minimises the costs associated with identifying and repairing power system failures.

Accidental Data Deletion and Employee Created Downtime

Simple human error is a prevalent cause of downtime. Whether months of data is unintentionally lost in a backup error, a power cord is unplugged, a busy IT technician overlooks routine maintenance and alert monitoring, or there is an error in judgment during an emergency, to err is human and apparently quite frequent as well.

A study by the Gartner Group, an IT research and advisory firm, projected that through 2015, 80% of downtime will be due to people and process issues.

In August of 2010, foursquare - a widely used mobile check-in app – had a highly publicised outage of eleven hours, followed by another shorter service disruption the next day. All three million users of the app were affected and it was a chain of human mistakes that led to both outages. IT techs noticed that a server was storing too much data, but as the support team tried to resolve the issue, all the servers went down.

Regardless of proper training, or the quality of IT technician hires, human mistakes  will  likely  always  lead  to instances of a downed data centre or network, especially considering  the expected learning curve of adapting to new technologies.

Ensuring proper communication amongst team members and adequate training at all levels is critical. Of course, it goes without saying that having a comprehensive backup strategy is also a necessity to counter act downtime and ensure business continuity regardless of who is having a bad day. 

Virus/Malware/Hacks

SMEs are often guilty of thinking they are immune to hackers, viruses and malware. According to a National Cyber Alliance and Symantec survey, 77% of SMEs don’t believe they’re at risk for cybercrime while 83% admit to having no formal measures in place to counter these threats. This isn’t merely a threat to your data; it puts your bank account and the sensitive data of your customers at risk.

Passwords should be regularly changed every few months. They should be strong. This means no more passwords like "password" or "1234567". Employees must be educated on security and precautionary measures. And there is no excuse for not having data backed up in this era of cloud computing and virtualisation - where the entire contents pf physical server - including the operating system, applications, patches and all data - can easily and cost-effectively be grouped into one software bundle or virtual server.

Application Failure

Many applications or their components contribute to recurring downtime. While virtualisation offers many multi-faceted advantages it has also further exacerbated overlapping applications in the infrastructure. One small application component failure is now likely to impact many applications.

It is critical that all components are  profiled and there is a general understanding as to what each application does – the hardware resources used by the application and the software it integrates with. Identifying an owner will allow for better monitoring and recognition of failure points.

Despite the risks of downtime, many SMEs still don’t feel they’re at any real risk. There is an overall sentiment of “It won’t happen to me.” It can be assumed that many hear the word “disaster” and mistakenly assess the immediate risk of natural disasters, such as hurricanes or earthquakes, impacting their day-to-day business. While those events, along with floods and fires, definitely contribute to a large number of unplanned prolonged outages, the truth is there is a new breed of modern era “disaster” culprits that can very literally happen on any given day. Downed networks and data centres from power outages, human error, viruses and malware, and application failure are much more probable and could be just as fatal to SMEs.

C-suite executives at SMEs must honestly assess their risk, quantify downtime costs,and improve disaster recovery efforts. In terms of ROI (Return on Investment) of business technology,  it’s important to remember that conventional disaster recovery can be expensive since it requires more time and resources. Stored data on backup tapes can also be more prone to error. Additionally, off-site backup tapes will always lead to prolonged downtime since recovery hinges on the retrieval and delivery of these tapes to the data centre.

Many smaller and medium sized businesses are turning to new technology trends like virtualisation and cloud computing as a cost effective means to better prepare for outages and the loss of critical business information. According to Symantec’s 2012 Disaster Preparedness Survey,  26%  of  SME  executives cited disaster preparedness as a moderate to large influencer on their choice to move to a virtualised server infrastructure, 30% said minimising downtime influenced their decision to move to public clouds, and 32% said a quicker recovery time affected their decision to move a private cloud.  SMEs can benefit from a little help when it comes  to  properly  implementing and leveraging this new technology to strengthen their disaster recovery efforts. Access to a 24/7 NOC (Network Operations Centre) team offering remote monitoring and management solutions, along with a 24/7 help desk, can help SMEs improve backup, monitoring and troubleshooting processes for maximum uptime and business continuity.

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Jul
22

Why More SMEs are Turning to the Cloud to Reduce TCO

Posted by Markus McIver in Cloud

More small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs) seem to be taking the initiative to learn more about the benefits of the cloud. Determining why SMEs have this sudden keen interest in the cloud isn’t all that tricky.

If you shouted, “Cost Savings!” in a room full of SMEs, you’d undoubtedly be the centre of attention. And it seems as if this is also the motivating factor as to why more SMEs are looking into cloud-based solutions to reduce expenditures.

Although it seems like an oxymoron to recommend investing in new technology to control costs, cloud-based solutions can be leveraged for a greater return on already inevitable operational expenses. By enhancing productivity and overall efficiency, the cloud could help spur business growth and profitability.

Here are few of the reasons more SMEs are opening up to cloud-based solutions…

Containing Costs

This is the big one. Every SME wants their business to grow but that growth is accompanied by rising costs to maintain safe, reliable, and sustainable business technology.

On-premise solutions are expensive. If you’re paying someone $60K a year to manage and monitor your technology, and most of their day is spent performing routine maintenance tasks or running to the aid of the intern who complains that something is running slow, are you really getting a return on that investment? You can do better and your on-site IT support can do more for you.

The cost for cloud-based solutions have been found to be anywhere from 35% to 50% lower than with on-premise solutions. This is because the cloud can completely eliminate most infrastructure costs such as servers, databases, backup, operating systems, upgrades, migration, physical space, power and cooling, and associated in-house or third party staffing costs.

Greater Flexibility

No doubt you’ve been privy to an office Happy Hour conversation or two about Infrastructure-as-a-Service (Iaas) and Platform- as-a-Service (PaaS). Is that crickets we hear? Okay, well since you’re in the dark, the flexibility of the cloud makes it really attractive to SMEs.

IaaS and PaaS are two increasingly popular cloud technologies because of their flexibility when it comes to big data analysis.

IaaS technology is flexible as it allows an as needed rapid deployment of resources. Basically, fast expansion to accommodate growth. SME scan pay accordingly for this on-demand usage, giving them the ability to access and analyse the kind of big data seen at larger enterprises without having to pay for necessary hardware capacity.

PaaS technology gives SMEs the ability to affordably increase or decrease data storage capacity as needed.

Of course, there must be a need for big data analysis that justifies the use of these technologies. Many SMEs may be just fine using Microsoft Excel for data analysis.

Greater Mobility

Many SMEs are turning to the cloud to provide remote employees with access to communications solutions. Through the cloud, remote workers can use smartphones, laptops, and notebooks to access documents and files for internal and external collaboration.

As you can see, it’s understandable why the cloud is being seen by SMEs as the “great equaliser” to take their business to the next level and stay competitive with even the big dogs despite budget and staffing limitations. It also helps that cloud-monitoring services have simplified the monitoring and management of SME cloud deployments, alleviating a lot of the fear about migrating to the cloud.

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Jul
17

The Benefit of Insight - Mitigating Costly New Technology Risks For Continued Stability and Profitability

Contrary to what you may read, IT costs don’t necessarily have to skyrocket as your business grows. Small and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs) just have to be more cognisant of where their technology investments are going and what they’re truly getting as return on their investment.

As businesses rely more than ever on technology for day-to-day functions, managers realise that they simply cannot afford the lost productivity, lost revenue and the negative impact on business reputation that comes with a downed system or network.

At the same time, many businesses can’t justify the costs of employing any  full or part-time IT support given today’s economy. In fact, many small-to-medium sized businesses choose to pay for on-site support on an as- needed basis as opposed to having one or several dedicated IT employees on payroll.With the recent buzz about the potential benefits and cost savings of virtualisation software and cloud computing, many SME executive teams are rethinking how their technology investments are currently allocated.

Two things you’ll find many technology dependent peers focusing on today are a greater return on investment (ROI) and a lower total cost of ownership (TCO).

 

Executive Perspectives to Tech ROI and TCO

ROI is calculated by dividing the cost reduction and avoidance realised over a period of time by the total amount invested over that same time span.

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is most commonly related with four categories in the business/tech world.

▪ Downtime

Smart  executives ask themselves “What does it cost my business when my employees, extended teams and/or our customers can’t get to the data they need.” Downtime includes ALL costs linked to server downtime – both planned and unplanned – along with mostly hidden soft costs that aren’t necessarily easy to quantify such as lost employee productivity and business as a result of downtime.

▪ Hardware and Software

The price of the server, hardware and software purchases, contracted tech support and maintenance, training services, upgrades, and backup and virus protection software.

▪ IT Operations

Network and storage infrastructure, server deployment and configuration, data centre power and cooling, and other system-related administrative tasks.

▪ Business Administration

All costs related to business processes like labor costs, purchase approvals, vendor contract negotiation and procurement process tracking.

 

Re-evaluate Your “Status Quo” Approach to IT

As referenced earlier, small-to-medium size companies can be severely understaffed when it comes to IT support. With so many technology changes emerging in recent years, this puts your businesses at an increased risk for network failure, data loss and security threats – all of which can be enough to put an ill-prepared company out of business.

The first instinct of  many  CFOs and/ or CIOs is to hire more in-house IT staff to address  technology  challenges. This may actually be the right move in some instances but let’s consider a few potential, and common, issues with this. First, beyond budget restraints, it has become increasingly frustrating for many businesses to successfully manage their internal IT operations on their own. Turnover is generally high because many IT professionals view smaller companies as a stepping stone or training ground prior to moving on to larger employers. The result is a cycle of recruiting, training, and ultimately replacing IT technicians that becomes a royal hassle for many businesses.

Additionally, limited IT resources often lead to an increase in human errors made by techs juggling too many responsibilities. A multitude of recent industry studies have estimated that up to 40% of today’s outages stem from human error made by in-house IT staff. And, your internal staff will spend anywhere from 25 to 50% of their time identifying and addressing these issues.

The industry term for this is a “break/fix mentality” – this is essentially pulling an alarm and having an on-call IT technician rush in to put out a fire. This approach comes with substantial direct costs to your business or organisation in the form of high hourly rates, trip fees, surcharges, and hardware/software service or replacement fees. Losses from downtime must also be considered since it can take 24-48 hours for many IT consultants to even get on-site to address an issue, and resolving these issues aren’t always a same day fix.

Both scenarios hardly seem like a way to improve ROI and decrease TCO.

 

Reduce TCO with Virtualisation and a “NEW” Managed Services Approach

Your peers are finding new technology innovations like virtualisation and the cloud as a way to save money. Virtualisation and cloud computing are a cost-effective means to move the contents of entire servers into one offsite virtual server or software bundle – this includes all applications, data, operating systems and patches. The need for fewer physical servers reduces hardware and energy costs, data size requirements and makes overall IT management and backup/recovery easier.

According to series of studies compiled by VMWare (a US-based cloud and virtualisation software and services company), businesses that have implemented virtualisation have reduced total cost of ownership in IT operations by up to 67%.

While there has been much attention called to the positives of these new innovations, SMEs owners and managers have little to no visibility to the new set of risks and the incremental costs that accompany this new technology.

This new technology, while highly productive, also has the  potential  to be disruptive given the increased risk for security breaches in the cloud and the learning curve of team members adapting to new technology and software applications. The life of a system administrator also becomes more complex given the demands of always-on employees/customers and the greater need to backup data and recover immediately in the event of an unplanned outage.

The reality is many of the headaches that come with new technology aren’t fully realised until months, if not years, into their implementation – and this may be too late.

Management today needs more visibility to the real risks at hand, along with new solutions and methodologies. Partnering with a managed services provider (MSP) is one new approach being used by many of your peers today. Experienced MSPs have access to newer tools that reduce costs by automating many routine in- house labor intensive processes. Break- fix is labor intensive, and labor is one of the most expensive operating costs within your IT infrastructure. These innovative tools generate real productivity increases and mitigate the risk of network failure, downtime or data loss from human error.

MSPs deliver a trusted foundation for your team and your customers – some of the services and tasks offered include:

▪Remote Desktop Management and Support

▪Predictable Management of Critical Patches and Software Updates

▪Fractional Resource Availability of Best- In-Class Expertise – scaled to your needs

▪Implementing and Testing Backup and Disaster Recovery Processes

▪Performance of Inventory and Audits of Computer/Network/Software

▪Enforcement of Network/Security Policy

▪Mobile Data Management and Monitoring

▪Monitoring of Network/Operating System and Alerts

▪Updating Anti-Virus Software and Detecting Spyware

 

Examples of MSP - generated savings cited by Wipro Limited, an India-based IT consulting company:

▪ Alert Monitoring - MSP automation of this task has led to an 80% reduction of in-house monitoring that delivers  visibility to risks that were previously unidentifiable.

▪ Service Tasks/Help Desk Requests or Ticketing – MSP automation  of  these  tasks  have led to a 30% reduction of in-house support ticket-related efforts – saving countless hours of paying for employees  and  team members to stand idle

▪ Reporting – MSP service-level management tools and dynamic dashboards have led to complete automation of reporting and business communication efforts. Network trust increased and fear of unknown risks reduced so management can sleep at night?

 

Erase any misconception that MSPs are nothing more than “outsourced” tech help priced to displace your in- house IT technician or team. The new MSP has defined effective processes; methodologies and technology partnerships to offer valuable preventive services that proactively identify and eliminate threats before a bigger problem arises.

Whether an MSP assumes full responsibility for IT operations or acts as an ally to an in-house IT technician or team, the toolsets and education they provide to SMEs are invaluable. An MSP’s expertise and availability is what sets them apart from the “fireman-like” break-fix provider.

By enlisting an MSP, management teams are making a technology investment in proactive risk management rather than any one individual’s technical skills.

MSPs put considerable effort into understanding the operational and business needs of SMEs to develop and deliver a set of specific services that align technology with the SMEs business objectives. This is the reason you hear managed services often referred to as “partners.”

In an increasingly competitive environment where technology evolves at a rapid pace, businesses must fully leverage innovation to  better  meet the needs of their employees and the expectations of their customers. Much of this hinges on an organisation’s ability to increase system reliability for their business continuity, team productivity and customer satisfaction.

This can be achieved with the expertise of a trusted MSP. A present- day MSP offers quantifiable economic value, greater ROI and decreased TCO by streamlining costs, eliminating unnecessary lost productivity and revenue, and avoidable on-site IT consultant fees and hardware/software repairs or replacement.

 

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Jul
01

Remember… Always Practice Safe BYOD

Posted by Markus McIver in Security, BYOD

No matter what blog or magazine read these days, it seems like everyone is talking about today’s increasingly mobile workforce and the BYOD (Bring-Your- Own-Device) movement.

We live in an exciting time when work can be done at any time from any place. Employees love the fact that they can get work done on their iPad as they sit poolside sipping a Pina Colada. Businesses love the cost savings along with the happier and more productive employees they’re noticing. Meanwhile, customers and clients take note that their emails are commonly answered outside traditional work hours with a “Sent from my iPhone” tagline at the bottom.

Like anything related to business technology, there are naysayers who are quick to warn that a more mobile and dispersed workforce also means increased security risks.
Do they have a point?

 

It turns out there are some very legitimate concerns but nothing that can’t be minimised, if not altogether eradicated, with the practice of safe BYOD.

Here are a few suggestions

Create a Mobile Device Security Policy

A comprehensive mobile security policy is critical. This policy must cover everything from the type of devices allowed to how and where data and files are edited, saved, and shared.  Combining this policy with a sound mobile strategy is your best bet to integrate BYOD into your workplace with minimal consequences.

Enforce this Policy

It’s good to take the time to prepare a document that outlines policy, but don’t stop there. Be sure to enforce this policy. This is especially important for small-to-midsise businesses, particularly startups that are sometimes guilty of being too laid back despite all the caffeine consumed at their in-office coffee bars. Make the following words your mantra when it comes to enforcing this policy. No Exceptions. Ever. Seriously, 41% of small businesses have a BYOD policy in place but 25% make exceptions to their own rules.

Train Employees

A BYOD plan has no chance of succeeding unless it is properly communicated to users. It’s important that each employee recognise his or her responsibilities and the repercussions of failing to follow security rules. The best defense against cyber crime will always be a knowledgeable and conscientious employee.

BYOD can give any organisation, big or small, a competitive advantage. Harness the power of BYOD by planning ahead and sticking to your plan.

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Tags: #Security, #BYOD
Jun
30

Why SMEs Must Proactively Address the Threat of Mobile Hacks

Posted by Markus McIver in Security

More cyber criminals are targeting small-to-medium sized businesses. One reason for this is too many workplaces have insufficient bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies in place. Some have none at all. Although firms are generally more knowledgeable about network security risks than in years past, they still woefully underestimate the security vulnerabilities linked to mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.

This is a real cause for concern since data breaches have the ability to put many already financially challenged SMEs out of business.

If customer/client data has been breached, there could be potential litigation costs, and naturally, lost goodwill and an irreparable hit to brand or company reputation.

 

Don’t Just Say You’re Worried About the Bad Guys… Deal With Them

SMEs say they view network security as a major priority but their inaction when it comes to mobile devices paints a different picture. An April 2013 study found that only 16% of SMEs have a mobility policy in place.

Despite the fact that stolen devices are a major problem in today’s mobile workforce, only 37% of mobility policies enforced today have a clear protocol outlined for lost devices.

Even more troubling is the fact that those firms who have implemented mobility policies have initiated plans with some very obvious flaws.

Key components of a mobility policy such as personal device use, public Wi-Fi accessibility, and data transmission and storage are often omitted from many policies.

Thankfully, most SME cyber crimes can be avoided with a comprehensive mobility policy and the help of mobile endpoint mobile device management services.

A Mobility Policy Is All About Acceptable/Unacceptable Behaviours

Your initial mobility policy doesn’t have to be all encompassing. There should be room for modifications, as things will evolve over time. Start small by laying some basic usage ground rules, defining acceptable devices and protocols for setting passwords for devices and downloading third-party apps. Define what data belongs to the company and how it’s to be edited, saved, and shared. Be sure to enforce these policies and detail the repercussions for abuse.

Features of Mobile Device Management Services

MDM services are available at an affordable cost. These services help IT managers identify and monitor the mobile devices accessing their network. This centralised management makes it easier to get each device configured for business access to securely share and update documents and content. MDM services proactively secure mobile devices by:

  • Specifying password policy and enforcing encryption settings
  • Detecting and restricting tampered device
  • Remotely locating, locking, and wiping out lost or stolen devices
  • Removing corporate data from any system while leaving personal data intact
  • Enabling real time diagnosis/resolution of device, user, or app issues

It’s important to realise that no one is immune to cyber crime. The ability to identify and combat imminent threats is critical and SMEs must be proactive in implementing solid practices that accomplish just that.

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Tags: #Security
Jun
18

Stay Secure...More Hackers Targeting SMEs

Many SMEs don’t realise it, but the path to some grand cybercrime score of a lifetime may go right through their backdoor. SMEs are commonly vendors, suppliers, or service providers who work with much larger enterprises.

Unfortunately, they may be unaware that this makes them a prime target for hackers. Worse yet, this may be costing them new business.  Larger companies likely have their security game in check, making it difficult for hackers to crack their data. They have both the financial resources and staffing power to stay on top of security practices. But smaller firms continue to lag when it comes to security. In many cases, the gateway to accessing a large company’s info and data is through the smaller company working with them.

Exposed vulnerabilities in security can lead cybercriminals right to the larger corporation they’ve been after. Cybercriminals Target Companies with 250 or fewer employees.  In 2012, Symantec research confirmed that cybercriminals are increasingly targeting smaller businesses with 250 or fewer employees. Attacks aimed at this demographic practically doubled from the previous year. This news has made larger enterprises particularly careful about whom they do business with. This means that any SME targeting high-end B2B clients, or those seeking partnerships with large public or government entities, must be prepared to accurately answer questions pertaining to security. This requires an honest assessment of the processes taken to limit security risks.

View Security Measures as Investments

CIOs must start viewing any extra investment to enhance security as a competitive differentiator in attracting new business. Adopting the kind of security measures that large enterprises seek from third-party partners they agree to work with will inevitably pay off. The payoff will come by way of new revenue-generating business contracts that will likely surpass whatever was spent to improve security.

Would-be business partners have likely already asked for specifics about protecting the integrity of their data. Some larger entities require that SMEs complete a questionnaire addressing their security concerns. This kind of documentation can be legally binding so it’s important that answers aren’t fudged just to land new business. If you can’t answer “yes” to any question about security, find out what it takes to address that particular security concern.

Where a Managed Service Provider Comes In

Anyone who isn’t yet working with a Managed Service Provider (MSP) should consider it. First, a manual network and security assessment offers a third-party perspective that will uncover any potential business-killing security risks. A good MSP will produce a branded risk report to help you gain the confidence of prospects to win new business.   A MSP can properly manage key elements of a small company’s security plan.   This includes administrative controls like documentation, security awareness training, and audits as well as technical controls like antivirus software, firewalls, patches, and intrusion prevention. Good management alone can eliminate most security vulnerabilities and improve security.

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Jun
08

The Sky’s the Limit for SMEs Taking to the Cloud

Posted by Greg McCallum in Cloud

There has been a lot of hype about cloud computing transforming the way small-to-medium sized businesses do business. Proponents of the cloud say that cloud computing has levelled the playing field, allowing SMBs to finally compete with bigger companies despite their limited financial resources and staffing.  Still, many are apprehensive to make the jump. They’re hesitant to give up control and they fear the cloud will expose them to greater security risks. Moving to the cloud definitely requires a leap of faith, but a recent ComScore study, completed on behalf of Microsoft, suggests that those who are froggy enough to take the leap (sorry) have no regrets once they do.

In fact, more than half of those surveyed wish they had adopted it earlier and feel that the benefits far outweigh their initial worries.
What are those benefits?

Enhanced Privacy and Security

According to the study, 94 percent of companies who’ve adopted cloud services believe they’re now more secure than they were before, thanks to the cloud’s up-to-date systems and antivirus protection.

Less Downtime and More Confidence

61% of those surveyed reported fewer instances of downtime since their move to the cloud. Even those who still experienced downtime events felt that they were shorter in duration and that full recovery could be achieved much quicker.
93% indicated that they were more confident in their ability to fully recover after an outage. Comparatively, 73% responded that they felt the integrity of their data in the cloud was stronger than previously, which is interesting since data integrity has often been the biggest worry about the cloud.

Environmental Friendliness

Any company striving to be more “green” will appreciate the environmental benefits of moving to the cloud. A recent six-month study conducted by the Berkeley Lab found that moving 86 million U.S. office workers to the cloud resulted in the use of 87% less energy, leaving enough leftover electricity annually to power a city the size of London for twelve months.

Cost Effectiveness

Cost effectiveness and greater ROI (return on investment) are the most important factors in getting CEOs and major decision makers to support shifting to the cloud. A Rackspace commissioned study conducted by Vanson Bourne, found that 62% of respondents felt that adopting cloud computing strategies freed up money that could be reinvested in other operations like marketing, customer service, product development, and expansion into new markets.

While there is a competitive advantage that can be realized by moving to the cloud, those who are still apprehensive should migrate to the cloud at a pace they’re comfortable with. Once they implement cloud monitoring, and understand it a bit more, most SMEs grow more comfortable with the cloud and expand their use of it.

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Tags: #Cloud

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