Unified Communications Can Help You Stay Connected

In our current situation, the ability to work anywhere is even more important. Whether at the office, on the go–or quite commonly these days, at home–unified communications (UC) supports the ability to communicate by voice or email and send information back and forth. Read on to learn more about how this technology can help your business always be available.

According to a recent Gartner report, Unified Communications is expected to grow by $167.1 billion over the next five years, an average of 16.8% per year. This technology brings together various modes of communication–phone, text, web conferencing and email, providing a streamlined way to keep businesses connected. Employees working at home can collaborate via web conferencing, send data via email, and communicate with customers by phone. Voice Over IP (VoIP) supports this technology by providing phone connections via the Internet. Companies no longer have to rely solely on analog or private branch exchange (PBX) systems. Chat and email with customers and other employees is made easier. Applications like CRM can be integrated to expedite service, too.

The Need for Software-Defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WAN)

Unified Communications technology, enabled by the cloud, needs a fast and reliable network. Software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN) uses multiple carrier service providers to furnish a wide area network with failover; if one part of the network experiences a bottleneck, another can pick up the traffic. Not only does SD-WAN provide a highly available network, but it can also save costs over legacy MPLS with added flexibility and a variety of carriers. Unified Communications can test the limits of your company’s  network.  With SD-WAN, your company’s wide area networks will always be available, from anywhere.

Considerations for Adopting Unified Communications

As always, unified communications depend on a reliable network. Consider evaluating your network for its bandwidth and security, making sure it can handle additional traffic and no vulnerabilities to cyber attack. Your company’s antivirus and antimalware definitions and firewall should be up to date, too. Also, check to ensure only authorized users are able to access your network.

Unified Communications and its supporting technologies can be instrumental to helping your staff work anywhere. To determine your company’s readiness, contact us today. 

Migrating to the Cloud to Access Line of Business Applications

Our unusual times have pushed businesses into adoption of cloud computing, the main reason being the increased demand for remote work along with the ability to maintain business operations. Gartner’s prediction for increase in cloud revenue in 2020 was 17%, from $227.8 billion to $266.4 billion, even before COVID 19. It’s possible that that revenue may increase even more. The “why” of moving to the cloud is easier to define for some than the “how.” Read on to learn more about the benefits of moving your line-of-business applications to the cloud. 

 

Benefits of Cloud Computing for Business Applications

 

The question on the minds of many business owners is how to migrate critical business applications to the cloud. Some applications are cloud-ready (for fast migration) or cloud-optimized, running on Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Platform as a Service (PaaS) delivery models. As with all options, these have their benefits and considerations. Another option is cloud-native or SaaS applications, wherein computing resources are available via the Internet. The cloud service provider provides the infrastructure, too, so there is no need for costly capital expenses. Instead, SaaS provides an economical, subscription-based delivery model for cloud services, services which provide a wide range of mission-critical applications–CRM, accounting, HR, email and more. These can be accessed both in office and–very important, now–away from the office for remote workers. Another benefit of SaaS is that customer-facing applications (online chat, for example) can be rapidly deployed. 

 

Considerations for Cloud Migration

 

As ever, a business needs to consider its business needs before cloud migration. What are the mission-critical applications that need to be available at all times? Where does the cloud data center reside, and what provisions are there for redundancy or fail-over? Another consideration is the health of a company’s network, whether it has any weak points that need patching, or any antivirus or anti-malware definitions needing to be updated. Yet another is bandwidth; is there enough to support the heavy Internet use? 

 

If you know you want or need to move your primary line-of-business applications to a cloud environment, and need guidance, contact us today for an assessment of your cloud readiness. 

Developing A Plan for Data Protection

Data breaches have become so common that they are no longer news. Gartner predicts,  “as more companies look to benefit from data, there will be an inevitable increase in data use and sharing missteps.” However, organizations that have a culture of ethics for data use will be better prepared to avoid such mistakes, and to handle them well if they do occur. Read on to learn how your company can have not just a data protection plan, but a culture that revolves around protecting the personal data of your customers. 

 

Protecting Your Business and Your Customer’s Data

 

In spite of the occurrence of data breaches, your company can be protected. If you haven’t already done so, you might draw up a data-protection plan that will address what to do in case of a breach. Ideally your organization will already have technology in place to prevent data breaches–tools such as updated antivirus and anti-malware definitions and network monitoring, for instance. Hopefully, there is also a culture of ethics around use of customer information, including transparency with customers about what is done to protect their personal data. 

 

Countries and entire regions, such as Australia and Europe, have put legislation into effect to protect customers. Europe’s GDPR mandates a notification within 72 hours of a data breach. Australia’s Consumer Data Right gives its citizens the right to delete information that is no longer needed, as well as stopping data collection at any time While the U.S. has no nationwide law, individual states have their own regulations. For example, California gives their residents certain rights under the California Consumer Privacy Act, such as the right to opt out of having their data sold.  The CCPA also sets forth steep monetary penalties for failing to protect customer information. Businesses are required, among other things, to have a conspicuous link for customers to click in order to opt out of having their personal information used. Regulations may vary, but their intent–the protection of data–is similar. 

 

Using Legislation as a Data Protection Template

 

Even in areas without this legislation yet in place, businesses can develop a robust plan based on such standards. Topics to address in this plan can include what your company will do in the event of a data breach, and whether data will be shared with third-party vendors. One task for companies is to inventory their vendors; smaller vendors might not have rigorous rules for handling data. 

 

To protect your company from the consequences of a data breach is vital. To develop a plan for protecting your customers’ data, or to fine-tune one you already have, contact us today. 

Get Your Business Ready for the Cloud with a Strong Strategy

While many businesses have already adopted cloud computing to a certain extent, others are still new to the technology. Whether your business is using cloud computing already, or is considering a move, it’s never too soon to develop a strong strategy. Read on to learn more about developing a strategy to guide your business in considering cloud computing.

Strategy, Then Implementation

A key feature of a cloud strategy is that it addresses why a company might move some or all of its operations to the cloud. According to a report by Gartner, “a cloud strategy explores and defines the role that cloud computing should play in an organization.” Formulating a strategy is a task of the entire organization, not simply the IT department. Departments such as human resources, legal and finance can provide valuable input, since they will use the computing resources that the cloud can provide.

A company that has already moved some of its data and applications to the cloud can also develop a strategy moving forward. It’s easy to assume that if a business has moved to the cloud, it’s too late to develop a strategy. Quite the contrary, a strategy can help refine a company’s motivation for adopting cloud technology, based on lessons already learned. Strategists can examine how the cloud has benefited the business so far, meeting its needs (conforming to data regulations, for instance). Along with accomplishments, it gives a business  the opportunity to correct any mistakes going forward. Once a strategy has been formulated, then implementation (including choosing a provider and a cloud environment) can begin.

Contingency Plans as Part of Your Cloud Strategy

It may seem odd to consider an exit strategy at the starting point, but developing an exit strategy makes sense. An exit strategy outlines contingency plans, what to do in case of the unexpected. For instance, what if something happens to the data center that your cloud service provider uses, or if you need or want to change providers. An exit strategy entails more than simply ending a service level agreement (SLA); it also affects what happens with your data. Is it portable, as well as secure? Another option is scaling back, instead of exiting entirely. These are issues to consider in developing a strategy.

Before implementing cloud computing, and choosing a provider or cloud environment, consider the overall needs and goals of your business. For assistance in developing a strategy, contact us today.

Network Monitoring for Your Business

Your organization’s computer network is the backbone of your IT operations, supporting data and applications such as Voice-Over IP (VoIP), call center and more. Monitoring this network can help save time and money. Read on to learn more about the benefits of network monitoring, and what to consider before adopting a solution.

Benefits of Network Monitoring

Network monitoring is a proactive way to detect and mitigate threats to your network’s security. One key function of network monitoring is identifying and solving small problems before they become larger issues. Network monitoring can identify possible intrusions from virus and malware, stopping data breaches before they occur and saving your business money and reputation. Network monitoring also helps identify any bottlenecks and reroutes traffic to keep data flowing, allowing your system to adapt in real time and data-intensive applications like VoIP and call centers to operate at their best. 

Why Monitor Your Network? 

Before adopting a network monitoring solution, consider the most critical needs of your network. One factor is your IT budget; how much should you allocate to avoid unnecessary downtime and performance issues?  Loss of productivity, inability to service or communicate with customers and other business interruption can add up. Another factor to consider is how you will respond to remediate any notifications and alerts.  With businesses partially closed because of COVID-19, remote network monitoring might be the best option. Remote monitoring constantly looks for potential bottlenecks and intrusions, removing the need for an on-site visit. Remote monitoring and management provides additional operating system patches and ensures anti-virus and anti-malware definitions are current to block possible data breaches. Again, this can help protect the network of health-care organizations, for whom security of data is paramount. 

With your network a vital part of IT infrastructure, network monitoring is vital to keep it working smoothly and keeping your data secure. For more guidance in choosing a network monitoring solution, contact us today. 

What is Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)?

Cloud computing is now a common way for small to medium-size businesses to provision computing resources for flexible, cost-effective results. Read on to learn about how one cloud model–Infrastructure as a Service or IaaS–can help your business manage spend and maximize results. 

IaaS Provides Flexibility

According to Gartner, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is a standardized, highly automated offering, wherein computing resources, complemented by storage and networking capabilities are owned by a service provider and offered to the customer on demand. With the infrastructure owned and managed by the cloud service provider, the business using the resources no longer needs to maintain infrastructure on-premises. The business can let the provider do the work of maintenance and updating, which converts a capital expense to an operating expense paid on a monthly or annual basis. In an IaaS model, a company can purchase extra resources for experimental technical initiatives, then scale back when needed. On-site infrastructure is available, to which new applications can be added.

What to Consider Before Adopting IaaS

Infrastructure as a Service, with its many benefits, still needs to be evaluated according to business needs. Some companies such as health care organizations are subject to compliance with HIPAA and HITrust, and will need a private cloud environment. Encryption of health-care data is vital, when it is in motion (as in the case of a telehealth appointment) or at rest. IaaS offers the most control for health-care organizations, including the ability for IT admins to modify how data is handled and stored. While some organizations might need to spend more for this level of security, maintaining security and compliance is worth the extra spend. Organizations need to examine their budget to make sure they can handle the expenditure for trained staff as well as increased data storage. 

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provides the benefits of cloud computing while eliminating the need for control and management of on-site infrastructure, in many cases. To evaluate your business’ readiness for IaaS, contact us today. 

Business Continuity in Challenging Times

It is never too soon to consider what your business will do in the event of a disaster–a cyber attack, a natural disaster, or an epidemic. In the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent quarantine, many businesses have still managed to continue operating with employees working from home. These times have been a test of any business continuity plan and have also proved the need to have a plan in place. Read on to learn more about developing and refining a plan for your business in these challenging times. 

Business Continuity Goes Beyond Data

A key element in any business continuity plan is handling data—storage, transmission and protection. Data is the lifeblood of your business, and must be readily available and kept safe from loss and compromise. Questions to consider include whether data will be stored on site, in the cloud, or both; which mission – critical data needs to be readily available; and how that data will be backed up. Also, how do you protect proprietary information with employees working remotely, under varying conditions? With employees working remotely, the risks are higher. If there is a cyber attack, who will handle it, and how? Another consideration is the human element — caring for employees and customers during the on-going quarantine.  

Caring for Employees and Customers

This pandemic–or any disaster–offers an opportunity for companies to become trusted leaders for employees and customers alike. According to CompTIA, one way to guide employees through a disaster situation is to communicate proactively with them. You can share both good and challenging news with them, in order to reassure them. Topics to talk about with them include when your business is likely to reopen and what safety measures will be taken. 

To remain vital to customers, CompTIA recommends a ‘serving’ over a ‘selling’ approach. One idea to consider in your plan is sharing resources (webinars, articles, or checklists) with your customers; these resources can help reduce stress and also to cement your business’s reputation as a trusted partner. Inspire trust by adapting to employee and customer needs, such as tailoring employees’ hours to their most productive times. An idea for serving customers is providing flexible payment arrangements. Long after the emergency and its stresses recede your customers and employees will remember your efforts.

This year’s experience with Covid-19 is an example of why a business continuity plan is needed. For help and developing or refining your plan, contact us today. 

Choosing the Best Cloud Environment for Your Business

Cloud computing, once an emerging technology, is now common, and is proving valuable in this time of remote work resulting from the COVID-19 quarantine. To access data and applications, all that is needed is a computer and an Internet connection. Each type of cloud environment–public, private, and hybrid–comes with its own benefits and considerations. Read on to learn more about what each offers, and to consider which is best for your business. 

Benefits and Considerations of Public and Private Cloud Environments 

While all cloud environments have benefits, your business’ needs will impact which one you choose. Public cloud, often used by businesses, schools, and government organizations, is the least expensive, and is easily accessible. All that’s needed is a computer with access to the Internet. Public cloud, like other cloud environments, is flexible and easily scalable, depending on how much demand your business receives. A consideration is sharing computing resources with other entities, and how much bandwidth is available. Another question to ask your IT professional is security of data during migration to the public cloud, and once it resides there. Private cloud environments, in contrast, can help a company keep its data and applications secure, since the public cloud environment is used exclusively by one organization. For organizations needing to follow data-protection regulations, they might ask about private cloud. Private cloud has the same flexibility as public, with added security. 

Considering a Hybrid Cloud Environment 

A hybrid cloud environment is a combination of on-premise, third-party, public cloud and private cloud, with some infrastructure owned and used by a business, and some owned by a cloud service provider. A company might consider hybrid cloud if it wishes to have some infrastructure onsite for failover in case an off-site data center experiences an outage. If a ransomware attack occurs, locally stored data can be accessed easily. One advantage of off-site resources is access to new features not available on a legacy system. Another consideration for use of hybrid cloud includes the health of your network;is it strong enough to keep from developing bandwidth bottlenecks resulting in loss of productivity? 

For assistance with determining your ideal cloud environment, or looking at a new way of using the cloud, contact us today. 

Keeping Your Network Secure in the Era of Remote Work

Approximately two months have passed since the beginning of social distancing, and working from home has become the norm. Virtual private networks are a way for remote workers to access the business’ system from home and therefore keep working, and these networks need to stay strong and secure. Read on to learn more about maintaining this link between your employees and your business.

Keeping the Network Secure

Because your workers access your network from a variety of locations, there are many more places for malware or other intrusions to enter. In order to prevent unauthorized access, the starting point is training workers to access the network. They will need a strong password that cybercriminals cannot guess. The connection itself will need to be secure, limited to a work-issued computer on the network, one with the most current antivirus and anti-malware definitions. By this time, employees need to understand how to recognize and avoid social engineering schemes such as phishing, and to report any suspicious emails.

Protecting Your Work Equipment

Having up-to-date antivirus and anti-malware equipment is vital, and so is physically protecting work equipment, especially that provided by the employer. If possible, work in a separate office. When not working, equipment needs to be off, and the door locked in order to prevent theft or unauthorized access. Keeping the equipment physically safe increases the chances of keeping it (and the network it connects to) safe from cyber attacks, as well. If an office isn’t available, the worker can indicate that equipment is off-limits by closing the laptop or covering the desktop computer and telephone. 

Physically protecting work equipment, and safeguarding your virtual private network and monitoring its health and safety, are critical to keeping it functioning at its best. To evaluate and improve your network in this time of remote work, contact your trusted technology advisor today. 

Cybersecurity in Challenging Times

In these unprecedented times, we spend more time than ever on various devices, using them both for work and recreation. As in other difficult times, heroes rise to the occasion. However, so do bad actors, seeking to take advantage of the situation. Read on to learn more about protecting yourself from cyber attacks.

Hazards to Watch For

Cyberattacks are on the rise these days, with bad actors looking to take advantage of the situation, playing both on people’s fears, and their desire to help others. As ever, though, we can protect ourselves using tools along with caution and common sense. Social engineering schemes, including phishing attacks, are used to gain confidential information from unwitting victims or to install malware on their devices. For instance, a person might receive emails that look like ones from credible organizations, and these emails capitalize on fears of COVID-19. Cybercriminals might use “spoofing” as a tactic, making an email seem like it’s from someone you know. It might contain an urgent appeal to buy items for a relative because the “sender” is in quarantine. Other possibilities are ads for items like masks or stories about vaccines and cures for COVID-19. 

Keep Your Network and Your Employees Secure

Many businesses now have employees working remotely, accessing the business’ computer network. The first tool that can help keep the network secure is a virtual private network (VPN) that workers can use to safely access files and applications. Other tools that should be part of the arsenal are current antivirus and anti-malware definitions. Remind workers of common-sense precautions like not clicking on links or attachments. If they receive a strange email that appears to be from a supervisor or coworker, they can call to find out if the email is genuine. If it isn’t, they need to report and delete the email. They can point the mouse arrow over the URL to see if that looks suspicious, and refrain from responding to the email. Just being aware that cyber attacks are on the rise can help workers keep their guard up. An option to test workers’ knowledge of phishing attacks is staging a mock attack to learn which people respond, and in what way.

A great writer said that people need to be reminded rather than instructed, and this can apply to cybersecurity. To learn more about how to keep your network and your employees safe, contact your trusted technology advisor today.