Perspectives

Customer Service and IT

By now you’ve realized that you have no choice about hiring an IT company. You have no choice about having computers, about having them networked. You probably also have no choice except to have a server. Your computers are connected to the Internet, so you have to have security. You have enough computers that someone’s cousin isn’t going to be able to take care of them all, and they’re complicated enough that he or she couldn’t do it if they wanted to.

How do you pick your IT company? Which one is the best choice for you?

Price matters, but as your company grows you’ll notice that what you pay for your IT services is small compared with the productivity boost they offer. Well-run computers neither harm your business through security vulnerabilities, nor get in the way of your employees doing the jobs that make you your money. IT companies charge different fees because you’re buying a difference in expertise, response time, staffing – but mainly you are buying a difference in customer service.

Customer service is crucial, because customer service is how you are given information about your computers and your network that allows you to choose how to make them better. Your computers are some of the most valuable investments that you can make. A well-run computer network gives you a far greater return than almost any other investment you can make, and your IT company knows what are the next steps toward an even more productive computer network investment.

Does your IT company communicate that potential improvement with you? Do they sit down with you and lay out what your options are: investing in faster computers, increasing your level of security, improving home access for your employees, restructuring your information so that everybody involved in a project accesses all of that project information? This is customer service.

Customer service is something you pay for in an IT company. If you’re saving money on an IT company, one of the first things that you are saving money on is customer service. That’s because it’s a lot cheaper, and a lot more profitable, for an IT company to have remote techs sitting at computers in an office connecting into your network and resolving those problems that can be resolved remotely. Sending a person to your office is expensive: imagine sending one of your key employees out for hours at a time several times a day – you get the idea.

If your IT company doesn’t have a person coming into your office regularly, to maintain contact with your employees and ensure that issues are resolved as soon as they come up, or even better, issues are foreseen and addressed before they become problems, then you are losing productivity. You’re not giving your IT company an incentive to help you grow your computer system and make it more productive. That conversation, every few months, or perhaps twice a year, in which your IT company suggests changes to your computers or to your network, or introduction of a new system of of software, is a conversation you want. On the other side of that conversation are increases in productivity for your company that reward your investment.

If you’re not having that conversation with your IT company regularly, ask us how you can improve your network. See what it can be like to partner with your IT company and increase your productivity!

Protect Your Network From Your Employees

If your IT company is acting like all threats to your data and to your business’s computers are external, they’re missing the largest threat. Most intrusions into computer networks are made by, or made possible by, employees.

If your IT company isn’t taking steps to protect your network from your employees, while of course in no way blocking or slowing their work, you’ve got the wrong IT company. Not only should your IT company be preventing intrusion via email, regularly finding and removing viruses, and implementing one or more levels of firewall between the Internet and your internal network, but your IT company should also be locking your employees’ computers.

What is locking a computer?

Employees use the same software again and again. They might use as few as four programs. This makes it possible for your IT company to lock their computers to those programs, and a few other known and trusted applications. If your employee inadvertently or deliberately loads in a hostile program, one that might, for example, encrypt your server, snoop out and copy away your information, or log the passwords used by all employees, your IT company should have software resident on that employee’s computer that will prevent this unknown software from running. This is locking a computer.

No one measure can protect your network completely. If your IT company is telling you that they have one piece of software that does the complete job, they’re wrong. Your IT company should be speaking in terms of increasing security, measures that you can take that are almost invisible to your staff but individually give you good protection against intrusion and data theft. Together these measures make it very unlikely that ransomware, data theft, and password logging will succeed.

Call or email us. We understand network security. We’ll send a professional to your office to tell you how secure you are, and more importantly, what vulnerabilities you need to have fixed.

Ransomware on the Rise

Ransomware takes your data from you and charges you to give you back access. Often your data isn’t removed, but encrypted in place, because moving will take too long, even on fast internet connections.

Before they became our customers, a number of business owners walked into their businesses one morning and all of their customer information, all of their solutions to old problems, all of their plans and documents, were encrypted and unavailable to their business. They had an email asking for many thousands of dollars to return access.

Worse, while ransomware attackers often do restore access when paid, sometimes they don’t. No guarantees.

In short, ransomware is a catastrophe to your business, a setback of months, and many thousands of dollars. And paying may not solve the problem.

Ransomware prefers to target small businesses. Small businesses don’t have the same security as large businesses, but small businesses have more money, and more data, than private individuals do. This makes a small business a logical target for ransomware. Since ransomware often enters a network through email, and your employees often open emails, ransomware has an easy time getting into a small business network.

A secure email with a browser add-on that only opens an email if its contents are verified is helpful, but is no guarantee. One or more layers of firewall, preferably monitored, also helps. Monitoring matters because an intrusion may happen weeks or months before the ransomware attack itself. The program inserted into your network or server may move your data or may scout out and bring in the ransomware attack. Monitoring is helpful for noticing that initial intrusion, and the unusual traffic as your network is scouted.

Some businesses think that cloud data is automatically secure from ransomware. It isn’t. While cloud services make every effort to exclude ransomware, they are not immune. You may login to your server on the cloud and discover it encrypted.

Many small businesses have a backup, but don’t update it regularly. Some business don’t even backup every few months. While a three month or six month old backup is better than nothing, using that to recover from ransomware will still be damaging to your business and to your profits.

What can you do?

1) Back up your data, preferably in two locations. Your first location is always local. There must be a drive of sufficient capacity sitting near your server. This is because that data has to be reloaded to your server after the ransomware attack. You must load (potentially) several terabytes of data back onto your server so that your business can resume operation. This can takes days or longer on even a fast internet connection, and these are days in which your business is handicapped.

2) Ensure that every backup has a history of at least a few days, so that if your server is encrypted on a Saturday, that Monday morning your IT company can restore you to Friday evening. A simple backup is great in the case of a lightning strike (if it survives), but may itself be encrypted by the time you discover the ransomware, because it backed up the encrypted data, and didn’t have a history.

3) A remote backup is also necessary. The backup that sits in your server room is subject to many of the same hazards as your server itself. A physical break-in, a fire, an electrical surge of sufficient force, all could be hazardous to both. Remember, the remote backup is neither as fast to reload nor as convenient – it’s best to think of it as the backup of the backup.

Consult us to ensure that your backups are being made automatically, every night, and with a history that will protect the backups themselves from ransomware. Don’t be one of the businesses that lose tens of thousands of dollars to the growing threat of ransomware!

Why you need your office wired and not just on WiFi

The 21st century is a great place to live in. We have bathrooms everywhere, food on every other corner and a vast amount of data accessible all the time at our fingertips. When it comes to internet connectivity there is no doubt that the possibility of staying in touch all the time is a relief, specially without the need for any of those cumbersome wires that are so ugly.

One of the marketing geniuses of our generation is the realization by companies that business owners are also people, what a breakthrough. They have then adapted a sort of “if it works for your home then it should also work for your business” marketing strategy. So, when business grade setups are required and the IT person recommends a wired office, the business owner believes it to be a splurge. After all, if it works for my home it should work for my office, right?

What they are not considering is the fact that when the WiFi system fails, and there is no secondary backup for the internet on the computers, then the entire office is without a connection. This not a problem when the case is the home, since you can just connect to your phone’s service provider and at least Netflix from there. No, in the case of the business you cannot work from your phone, and there is the entire office not having anything to do during billable hours. This is an unnecessary strain for both you and your IT company.

That is why every single office should be wired, and then the WiFi can be used as a secondary source of internet in case the cable fails. But do not hold your breath, cables rarely, if ever, break.

We hope you enjoyed this weekly piece of IT insight! Let us know if you liked it!

Choose a Local IT Company

Hiring an IT company is cheaper and more effective than having an in-house IT person. The IT company works only when there’s work, and has staff at several levels of expertise that are able to address simple printer issues as well as cloud encryption and security concerns.

Which IT company is best for your business? You will benefit from a clear understanding of what your IT company offers. With this understanding you can better choose, and negotiate with, your IT company.

Obviously your IT company must keep your computers (workstations, servers, wifi, printers, etc.) running smoothly. The part that isn’t obvious is whether your IT company is following best practices. Their goal here has to be to minimize your business downtime, and to do this you should be seeing them less, not more. Some easy ways to tell whether your IT company follows these practices include: cabling are labeled and bundled, old stations are replaced before they generate regular failure downtime, and data is secure, protected, and backed up.

Less obviously, your IT company exists to support your staff. Your staff must call your IT company immediately and without hesitation when they encounter any problem that will create downtime for them. Your staff must be familiar with the person they will call, and comfortable that the person they will call wants to help and understands the setup in your office.

Remote IT companies have help desks that answer questions. Your staff will hesitate to call them, and will spend additional time in that call, because the remote IT company has a person on the call who has never been to your office, and most likely has never been within 100 miles of your office. This will consume precious employee time, and will make your employee hesitant to call.

What the remote IT company doesn’t have is a person who regularly visits your office and tries to find problems before they cause you downtime. Isn’t less downtime what you’re paying for? The remote IT company operates on an efficient business model, but it’s efficient for them, not for you.

When comparing a local IT company whose employees visit your company regularly and a remote IT company, understand that the cost to the IT company of those personal visits is large. The IT company makes an investment in your efficiency, and will be more expensive. Don’t compare a remote IT company with a local one that visits your regularly!

Everyone Loves Easy – Why Macs Rule and Fail Your Business

The most common refrain of any user of technology is that a technology should be easy to use.  This is true whether you are the owner of a business, a user on the factory floor, or the IT professional responsible for making technology work.  Everyone – everyone – loves easy.

So, if everyone loves easy, why isn’t technology easy?

“Technology is easy! That’s why I use a Mac.”

Which is a great response.  Macs are super easy.  So, why doesn’t everyone own and use a Mac?

While there may be many answers, I believe the most relevant is that “easy” is defined by context.  The more you define the problem, the more a product or solution can be tailored to those experiences.

Macs do a tremendous job of handling the bulk of what a daily computer user does, but it doesn’t do well outside of that box.

This is about the point in the conversations where most people introduce Microsoft and the whole thing becomes an Apple versus Microsoft showdown.  That isn’t the point of this piece (that’s the point of the Comments section).

Apple versus Microsoft – Not so fast

The bigger picture is that Apple has always prioritized their end user, the person who wants to do some fun stuff at home seamlessly.  Microsoft has always prioritized their end user, the business.  Microsoft makes products that satisfy business needs, not the person and not the person who makes the technology work.

That’s why everyone and every business doesn’t use MacOS.  And that’s why technology isn’t easy.  There comes a time where the context, the problems, of technology aren’t framed around the person, but the business.  Microsoft makes it easy for businesses to audit, manage, and secure devices the world round.  Those things are appealing to businesses, because everyone loves easy.

Sherwood Chamberlain helps businesses to organize and implement technology to achieve specific business goals while supporting the people who use it on daily basis.  If you have questions about how Sherwood Chamberlain can help your business, reach out to us at sales@sherwoodchamberlain.com