Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Who is facing catastrophe when technology is not supported?

I speak to business owners everyday asking them about the management of their technology. The very first response is, "You need to talk to my IT guy about that".  The very backbone of any business lies in the technology the employee's use everyday to do their jobs. Admittedly, business owners leave this critical piece of their operations in the hands of typical one or two key employees.
Over half of owners I meet with bring their IT person into the meeting and the reason they state is "He has control over everything to do with our network". Control, responsibility and day to day knowledge of their critical data system- all of these are handed over to one key person. In some cases it is a staff member with some limited IT know-how that can reset passwords, but most likely this is not the job they were hired to do. If a staff member is doing these things, then who is doing his or her job?

Why would one person have such a singular role in the most critical operational piece of a business?
It is a catastrophe waiting to happen. I do not try to position myself as some Grim Reaper looking to remove every single IT staff and replace them with a magical datacenter in the clouds. Far from it! I do believe that every single business owner needs to have a firm understanding of what they have operationally and how it can be best supported.

One client we had the privilege of helping came to us after one frantic morning at her business. She had a scare because that Monday morning her IT guy did not come into work. He left a note the previous Friday taped to the door of his office saying he was not coming back EVER!. All of their servers, network equipment and communications equipment were turned off. In his office, she found nothing that could help her get her business running and operational. After several calls not being returned by her errant former employee, she called us.
 She admitted to being completely unprepared for such an emergency. Within hours we had everything back and operational, and we set out to design a plan for continue management of her systems by our managed services team. This was not a small shop either- there were over 50 employee's affected by this emergency and it could have been and should have been avoided.

Fear of technology is one of the primary reasons more business owners do not take a more active role in this area of their business.

Looking at a cabinet full of switches, routers, servers, and cables can be very intimidating.  Logging on and seeing folders and lines of code is so foreign and burdensome. Most owners just want everything to work and are so grateful to the employee that makes it all possible that they wrap their business in a false sense of security. The phrase "I have this all handled" is one I hear over and over from owners in a variety of fields.

A conversation that has to happen before a catastrophe or a potential disaster occurs involves the impact of downtime.
On average, businesses can lose anywhere from between $5,600 and up to $108,000 (US) for every hour of IT system downtime, according to estimates from studies and surveys performed by IT industry analyst firms. In addition, financial services, telecommunications, manufacturing and energy lead the list of industries with a high rate of revenue loss during IT downtime. If an outage creates a disruption in a supply chain company with a high level of expectation in responsiveness (i.e., medical services or overnight delivery), the business may be exposed to damages. These damages stem from the inability to deliver (i.e., loss in delivery fees due to arriving late or lawsuits due to collateral damages).

With a hybrid solution of managed services from an outsourced technology provider, a company can make the most of their internal IT staff as a resource for continued growth and planning. Managed services will allow for ongoing management with up to date technology solutions using best in class industry practices. This can and will dramatically improve a business owners' probability of success with IT. The owner can now rest easily knowing their network is secure and running as it should without depending on a single source. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Welcome back and watch out for your privacy

My first week back to work at NetGain IT and I am greeted with one of the biggest data breaches ever reported! Anthem, the nation's second largest health insurer, confessed to as many as 80 million of its members that hackers penetrated its IT systems and swiped their personal data.

Unfortunate incident? Uncommon occurrence? Not likely! Don't forget the nearly 42 million people who have had their health data compromised in HIPAA breaches to date. Big crevices in security allowed for Heartland Payment Systems breach in 2008, the Target breach, Community Health Systems Heartbleed attack, Sony –and more!

Privacy and security risks are here to stay and will not be going away anytime soon. These threats will continue to grow. FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has stated that “there are only two types of companies: those who have been hacked, and those that don't know they've been hacked." The truth of that is evident in the amount of legislation that has flowed in recent years around HIPPA and other compliance areas.

"This should serve as yet another wake up call for those who haven't gotten it yet," said CynergisTek Co-Founder Mac McMillan. "Healthcare is a target." With so much of the focus by hackers on healthcare data and user information, the time is now to make a stronger case for changing how security is addressed. It cannot remain just about compliance and meeting the minimums to avoid fines.

Taking a look at where healthcare security is now, one can question where will it need to be to deliver the best healthcare without diluting the trust and valued health information of the people they serve? “We need to remember that our assets are not devices, but the information on them,” said Karl West, Intermountain chief information security officer, at the Privacy & Security Symposium in December. “Understanding where data is: that’s the security model of the future.”

Offering better training to end users on security for basic forms of sensitive information is a start.
Printed, spoken and electronic- each individual has the responsibility to protect the privacy and security of sensitive information. I myself am growing more and more conscious and I do not have the luxury of being one of those writers who can just carelessly toss away research and documentation without considering the implication of it's existence.

“The threat landscape is changing far too quickly for just a compliance-based approach to security,” Aetna CISO Jim Routh said after his organization was hit. Believing that each individual has to take a part in the solution is key, and I have the privilege to work for a firm that is building a better boat to chart these waters. We provide proactive tools to bring about end user awareness and  offer security assessments to all varieties of industries with specific criteria that can be addressed.

I am glad to back, and am bringing my best to the table in the hope that this landscape of data breaches can only improve each day and I can do my part.



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Using Humor and Humility in Every Conversation

When is the last time you had what felt like an honest conversation with a salesperson? Most people feel immediately like running away as soon as they hear that you are a “Sales professional”. No one likes to be sold -the assumption is that anyone in sales is going to do whatever it takes to make a sale. No chance for honesty as it flies out the window! 

We have all had experiences where some well-intentioned sales person pulls us into a conversation trying to convince us just why their product or services are something we cannot live without. I have spent my twenty year career trying to be the opposite of this type, and I have used two vital tools- humor and humility. 

Humor is a staple of life for many people. Often difficult to define, there are many strains of humor, the goal being amusement resulting in laughter. The ridiculous, the unexpected, or the juxtaposed can elicit such a feeling. Let's face it, a conversation that involves information technology is not usually a hotbed for humor. I have found that the more I offer my humor in a way that is designed to relieve my client of the pressure of their pain points, the better the results. I ask the tough questions in a humorous way to set the conversation on comfortable ground. 

The truth is that the pressure of being responsible for million dollar purchases and the exposure that comes with that is not for the faint of heart. What is so funny about assessing whether or not the technology choices one has made for their business (or is planning to make)? Potential dangerous or risky paths and alternatives to consider are serious considerations. 

Example: Joe is trying to make a decision about what parts of his current IT road map to move to the cloud. "Tell me Joe, which of these areas are the ones that can get you a midnight call from the CEO saying Fix this or you're fired!" 

Once the obvious is stated, we can move onto the "What else?" and ideas that flow. Humor can get the biggest issues out in the open and comfortably talked about.

Humility is also an essential component in becoming a trusted partner for clients. While feigned humility is the height of insincerity, authentic humility is the most sincere form of confidence. Not trying to be perfect or acting like a know-it-all has to be at the forefront, but in such a way as to not diminish the strength of experience. I try to start responses to questions with a preface of  “In my experience… “ or   “ I’m familiar with this because… “ so it can set up an experience that shows  a sincere effort to relate to the solution first hand.

Passing knowledge from one person to another takes a bumpy road often when a salesperson dives right into a monologue. Prospective clients start to move around uncomfortably giving the non verbal signs of information overload. Eager to share the amount of knowledge they have in their products, sales people typically forge ahead because “they are certain they know exactly what you need”. Many leave their prospects feeling like they are caught with a fire hose of information being shot at them.  

The best exchanges happen when you can help somebody connect what you hear is their issue with what is your experience. Structuring the conversation with their needs as the end in mind will gain the most trust in the long run. I have yet to hear a client I have worked with that said, “ She just talked and talked and I agreed to the purchase.” It cannot and should not happen that way.

It was C.S. Lewis who said: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but rather thinking about yourself less.” A humble salesperson must recognize and value the contributions of others in lieu of self-promotion.

When these two work together, humor and humility, they are like the eggs and butter in a recipe. They work as the foundation, and the better you learn to combine them in your conversations, the more you will find your associations growing deeper and with more long term potential.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Who Needs Fiber?

Who Needs Fiber?

As rapidly increasing demand for bandwidth strains the Internet's capacity, the question still remains why the need for so much speed?

Described in the June 28 issue of the journal Science, a team of engineers has devised a new fiber optic technology that promises to increase bandwidth dramatically. The new technology could enable Internet providers to offer much greater connectivity -- from decreased network congestion to on-demand video streaming.The technology centers on donut-shaped laser light beams called optical vortices, in which the light twists like a tornado as it moves along the beam path, rather than in a straight line. The result? A transmission capacity of 1.6 terabits per second, the equivalent of transmitting eight Blu-RayTM DVDs every second.

Business owners today are turning to their "computer guy", IT staff,outside consultants and IP vendors to tell them how much speed is needed. In my experience, more of these businesses today are depending on shared services like cable for the promise of high speeds. This is a good and affordable option, until it isn't anymore. And when you don't have the internet speed you need, it feels like you are gasping for air! With cable, the speeds are determined by the amount of users accessing the service at any given time. Speeds can slow down dramatically with no warning and great consequence. The other options seems to be a mixed bag of DSL, which is now considered too slow or a t-1 that promises a dedicated up and down speed the same 1.5 Mbps.

So Fiber now appears to be the bright and shining house on the hill. Beckoning business owners to the promised land of internet bandwidth nirvana. Right now, the most affordable Fiber within reach to most businesses is upwards of $500 monthly expense, as compared to cable at a low $50 a month. This is a big commitment, and one not made without some planning and preparation.

As a consultant, I take a look at what the business is doing right now with their internet, and what they hope to be able to do in the future. I ask what would it be like to have more bandwidth and connectivity options now to help you reach your goals? Putting a price on the ability to grow is a question asked by salespeople all the time. Getting that new copier, the new computers, servers, software programs, new office space, new phone system, and many more decisions are measured by the fear of loss and hope of gain.

Before anyone ever thought they needed terabits of bandwidth, before there were videos to stream or radios to enjoy on the internet, business owners had to look at making the right investments for the future of their company. Fiber is that right next investment, and timing the purchase is critical to keeping on the path towards a managed office communications system. Often Fiber can take more than 90 days to install at a given location, and if you wait too long to start the process of choosing it, there can be pitfalls. Ask for a speed/need assessment from your IT provider or a qualified consultant. Know what you have now in place and what you have to grow with.

When you get ready to move to Fiber, make sure you are working with a company that can also provide some of the hosted services your business may need in the future. That type of "one company managing the internet and layered services" is ideal. Often times,a t-1 or cable internet provider drops the customer service the moment you add a hosted service, stating that the internet they provide is fine and the service provider is the problem. The same thing can happen with a provider for Fiber- if that is all they deliver. We call this finger pointing, and the best way to eliminate it is have the internet provider also be your managed service provider. Having a team of engineers with a powerful data center in place will make your move to Fiber a streamlined experience worth every bit of the new investment.
Mary Slagle ---slagle.ms@gmail.com

Friday, January 3, 2014

A New Year Brings More Telephony Choices For Business Owners.

Using cloud-based solutions for telephony and unified communications (UC) is becoming more accepted in IT departments, according to a recent survey. The study from Mitel claimed 80% of the 650 IT managers it interviewed saw the benefits of moving business-essential functions into the cloud, with cost savings or predictable costs named as the biggest draw.Just 4% of respondents said they would not consider a cloud-based option for their UC and telephony.
IT managers are not always in place in smaller companies, and individual business owners often push these decisions onto office managers or the "computer tech" who works offsite.  These target decision makers also are clearly starting to see the flexibility and cost saving benefits that a cloud-based approach to communication can offer. "Access to integrated telephony or Unified Communications is a driving factor", stated Steve Carlson owner of GreenBridge Tech," but adopting the technology is driven by the budget.". GreenBridge is a great example of a small start up business that does not want to go out and spend a fortune on new capital equipment. They have to be conservative based on what their potential growth can be.
How much will it cost? Capital investments on new equipment can be upwards of 5K for a small office to 300K for an enterprise system.These require staff to manage it and implement the technology as well as keep staff comfortable with the changes. Scalability and flexibility are not always built into the initial purchase option.
Cloud based " hosted" systems offer a much better return on investment for the small to medium sized business. Hosted by companies with a large IT staff and plenty of bandwidth, they take over your communications needs, manage the equipment, are completely scalable and keep the system software up to date. Competing for as much market share as they can get it seems every big player has jumped into this market. Companies like AT&T have been making a go at this for years, and new competition has beaten a path to surpass them and gain access to viable opportunities.
2014 could very well be the largest single year to date for Cloud migration in this area of telephony, and I am pleased to be assisting businesses in making these complex decisions. Make sure you have a reliable inventory of your current phone system, what you use it for and how you like it's performance. Add to that the features and benefits of what the new Cloud  technology offers and let an expert help you design the business communication system that will serve you today, tomorrow and the flexibility to take you into the future. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Open a Refreshing Bottle of The Cloud

Wouldn't it be great if you could just consume cloud solutions for your business as easily as opening a bottle of Coke? 
To experience the refreshing ease of having everything hosted and managed by an enterprise class data center and be free from the burden of the day to day management of IT infrastructure? 
Just say, "Aaahhhh!"

The truth is moving things like email, backup,servers and desktops to the cloud is a process that requires strategy, planning, examining processes, and taking action. Companies often do not easily address these needs and they take the approach of  "We don't have time to do all of this, so we will just stay with what we have." and  "It is more work to move things to the cloud, we can always look at that later."

Meanwhile that refreshing solution is there, just within reach!

My job as a Solutions Provider is to give each of my clients a plan and a path they can follow to reach the right solution. A client of mine had been taking home tape back ups every night and bringing them back each morning as a way of managing the business's critical data. On more than one occasion, someone would forget to take the tapes home, or not know it was their turn to be the tape back up person, and the whole process continued to burden the organization. When I proposed our Cloud based solution that managed all of their data in the cloud, it was like a cool breeze entered the room. Getting to the solution was a simple implementation plan and now they are enjoying the refreshing ease of backups in the cloud. Next on their list is their phone system. Bit by bit, they can see now how easy life can be with Cloud based solutions.

Email seems to be a hotbed of complaints and issues for companies. When I ask an IT director " What can get you fired?" they usually respond with email issues being the most complained about area for their companies.

When Microsoft  introduced their cloud based email solution to the world, this got some conversations started about moving more to the cloud more than anything had previously. A huge effort of marketing and positioning has been done by Microsoft and the message is loud and clear "Get to the Cloud". What I see as my role is to gently shepherd companies to the cloud for their email. Providing options with Hosted Exchange, Office 365™, Basic Mail, and more gives companies flexible and scalable hybrid options that they can enjoy. 

Try to insure that you fully understand your existing cost model for email delivery before making any decision to outsource. Companies sometimes find it difficult to determine how much their email infrastructure is currently costing them, so I try to help clients look at these per head costs:
  • Cost of hardware. Servers and other hardware
  • Cost of licensing. Exchange and possibly any other third-party tools along with associated maintenance costs.
  • Cost of storage per user.
  • Costs of staff time to support the mail environment.
Factoring in the cost of facilitating disaster recovery for your mail system on-premise versus having a Cloud provider take care of it for you is the last nugget that has to be looked at. Once again, that bottle of Cloud awaits, so Just say "Aaahhh!"

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Lighten Your Workload with the Cloud

Ask any employee of an organization what a lighter workload means and you will get a different answer.

Lightening the workload is not about leaving work early or taking longer lunches. As nice as those ideas seem, the real issue for most companies is that each individual has to be able to do so much more with less. Consolidation and job sharing has been accelerated up so much more in the down economy and workers are expected to deliver more and more output based on new technology available. Workplace innovation and giving people better ways to work with information is the goal of cloud based solutions.

The fact is everyone wants to know how will the move to the Cloud benefit me?
For a CIO/CFO it will matter most that the cloud can eliminate costly IT budgets and minimize capital expenses. For the IT manager and the work groups, the cloud holds much more promise of a better day to day experience. Get more done, and have a more productive work flow! 

Cloud-computing services let customers use data networks to store, access or stream information. Simple explanation, but a bit vague on the benefits.The real benefits vary depending on your role within the company.

A Shift in IT resources

With Cloud Solutions, you get to shift responsibility for IT to a provider of your choosing. You don’t buy, own, maintain, or upgrade IT infrastructure. You let experts do it for you. The cloud provider keeps you up-to-date with the most current server technology, platform tools and software releases. And the cloud is a secure, web-based computing environment. Your business communications, transaction data and records are protected with the most current authentication, authorization and encryption methods.

Taking Baby Steps
Stepping along this migration path is a lot like watching a toddler take their first steps. Some take one or two, then sit back down. Some take a step, stop, take another step, stop, and continue. There are some who just decide one day to take that step and they go and go!

What I always say is keep doing the next indicated thing.
If your organization has identified the areas where there has to be improvement in the work flow, and you
know that you’re not the best at IT, (infrastructure,platforms, software, applications and people),or you want to save on capital expense, you can rent it from someone who is an expert.

IT becomes like electricity or water, a metered utility that you pay. Take the first step and lighten your workload one step at a time.  Mary Slagle   mslagle@teklinks.com