Prepare, communicate, manage

What your business needs to know to meet its ever-changing technology demands

When it comes to examining the latest communication options, security measures, and IT management and documentation necessities, business owners can sometimes find themselves overwhelmed.

We reached out to a panel of experts to help clarify and explain some of those decisions, and how it can affect your business. Our panel:

Robert Koester, Vice President of Consumer Products, Consolidated Communications.

Steve Wilson, President of White Mountain IT Services, a managed IT provider based in Nashua.

Dan Bergeron, Founding Partner of Portsmouth-based SkyTerra Technologies.

Chris Ward, Senior Vice President, Technology Solutions Group at Merrimack-based Connection.

Robert Koester, Consolidated Communications

Q. How do businesses benefit from a bundled suite of communication solutions?

Koester: “While businesses often see cost savings when bundling services, they don’t always immediately recognize some of the other short- and long-term benefits. An experienced service provider can ensure quick and timely service deployment while offering a single point of contact for ongoing support and, as the business grows, service upgrades.”

Q. Can a cloud solution make my data more secure, and is cloud storage safer than local storage?

Koester: “With cloud-based security and storage solutions, businesses can stay on top of the latest technology and ensure that they can quickly scale to meet new requirements.

“It is difficult for businesses to keep up with the growing number of viruses, phishing threats, malware and coordinated network attacks, such as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS). Employing, training and retaining an in-house IT security staff with the requisite skills and certifications can be challenging for many businesses. Cloud-based security solutions allow businesses to leverage the expertise of a service provider that can stay on top of the latest threats, ensure that patches are deployed in a timely way, and scale the solution to meet growing or changing business requirements.

“Cloud-based storage also offers benefits to businesses. First, it’s scalable, so businesses don’t have to worry that their data growth will outpace their storage capacity. Secondly, it helps businesses with their business continuity strategies. When a business that maintains its storage in an in-house data center experiences an unforeseen disaster, such as a hurricane or earthquake, it runs the risk of losing access to data — and maybe even the data itself, if off-site backups are not maintained. Cloud-based storage solutions can help ensure that businesses stay up and running even when some of its corporate facilities are impacted.”

Q. Why should I consider VoIP, and is it a viable business solution?

Koester: “Cloud-based Voice over IP (VoIP) solutions are ideal for many businesses. Many VoIP solutions provide a full suite of communications, collaboration and mobility benefits that address the needs of in-house and remote employees. Some solutions, like CCI’s, include unlimited local and long-distance calls. And, like other cloud-based solutions, it can scale quickly to meet changing business requirements — new branch locations and employee growth, for instance — while helping businesses address their disaster recovery and business continuity planning. And, finally, cloud-based VoIP solutions allow the layering on of other applications, such as contact center solutions, that help businesses integrate inbound and outbound calls with customer relationship management tools.”

Q. What is your No. 1 tip for a business considering a suite of technology or communication solutions?

Koester: “Consider the pace at which technology, security threats and your workforce will expand over the coming years and invest in a scalable, multi-tiered solution. Your main considerations should be how your network and communications solution integrates with your CRM software, supports mobility, ensures data integrity, including disaster recovery and security, and allows for flexible growth.”

Q. What’s the first step in making sure my business meets its technology/communication needs?

Koester: “Consolidated Communications offers a no obligation technology assessment to help you find areas of cost savings in your communications infrastructure and identify advanced communications and security solutions that can help your business.”

Dan Bergeron, SkyTerra Technologies

Q. What are some of the most important details I should consider when choosing an outsourced IT contractor?

Bergeron: “Work with a solutions partner who wants to understand your business and truly listens. You know they are a trusted and valuable resource when they focus more on growing your business, enabling your organization to become more efficient and productive, and less on pushing preferred technologies. Ultimately, the two organizations should agree that if it is a true partnership, as your business grows, theirs will too.”

Q. Why should I consider VoIP, and is it a viable business solution?

Bergeron: “VoIP is generally part of a larger collaboration suite and commonly found in a majority of today’s businesses. It empowers organizations to be nimbler, scaling its communications internally and with customers. For example, SkyTerra has leveraged VoIP and collaboration to recruit top-tier resources across the country, as local market talent may be saturated. This has allowed us to take on new customers throughout most of North America, Canada and Europe. These customers started referring us to other customers and we were able to scale and communicate as efficiently as if they were in our own back yard.”

Q. How can BYOD be beneficial to my company and how can you help support security and mobility?

Bergeron: “BYOD can mean a few things to different organizations. We are seeing a transformation of supporting more than traditional mobile devices, we’re also seeing whole organizations with more than their infrastructure in the cloud, but their desktops, too. In December we worked with a joint venture of seven different AEC firms who are building a new $1.5 billion PennFIRST hospital located in Philadelphia. The challenge included 300-plus engineers located across three continents. This initiative required high graphic AUTOCAD applications and none of the company’s IT infrastructures could connect to each other. SkyTerra looked at this as means to introduce BYOD by building a new cloud-based virtual environment and leveraged Desk as a Service (DaaS) built out in Microsoft Azure, leveraging Workspot for DaaS and utilized Microsoft’s Mobile Device Management (MDM) product Intune, to manage the Windows 10 Desktops in Azure.

“Amazingly, we built this entire environment in less than 6 weeks from statement-of-work to production. Adoption occurred overnight and, six months later, end users are happy with the level of efficiency all seven companies experience working together in a new, secure cloud environment. BYOD with desktop as a service has greatly contributed to PennFIRST’s overall success.”

Q. What is your No. 1 tip for a business considering a suite of technology or communication solutions?

Bergeron: “Businesses need to adopt the cloud if they want to simplify technology, increase security and reduce costs. Customers continually tell me that the primary benefit of cloud adoption has been access to and adoption of technologies that were traditionally only available to enterprises. Once the transformation occurs, a delighted realization occurs due to the reduction in vendors and points of contact, which in turn saves time and resources. Traditionally, the most basic data closet’s equipment and software solutions would comprise a minimum of 15-20 vendors. Moving to the cloud greatly simplifies a majority of this process including vendor load reduction, maintenance contracts and forced upgrades due to end of life hardware/software. Simply put, cloud adoption allows you to concentrate more on growing and maintaining a successful business and less on managing traditionally high-maintenance technology.”

Steve Wilson, White Mountain IT Services

Q. What’s the first step to instituting professional IT management in a typical small business?

Wilson: “One of the keys to efficiently managing and supporting your IT systems is having a library of standardized documentation. Whether you have an in-house IT staff or depend on an outside service provider, the goal is to empower the support team to be as efficient as possible and avoid depending on a single individual for critical information or knowledge. Your IT staff should maintain a secure database that allows you to track all critical data required to support your infrastructure, essential business systems and everyday user support issues.

“Although it may seem like a lot of paperwork (and most technicians hate doing paperwork), it is worth taking the time to create and maintain a library of standard operating procedures (SOP’s) that detail the exact process and procedure for every repetitive task needed to administer your systems. Examples include procedures for onboarding new employees, handling a surprise employee separation and the routine job of setting up a new PC or laptop.

“As the tech team works on systems, they should continuously reference and update the documentation and outline what they did and how they did it. This documentation system will be a key component of your IT management platform, a complete library of best practices that can give you confidence and flexibility to help with issues such as:

  • Tech staffing
  • Changing IT vendors
  • Regulatory compliance and audits
  • Cyber Security reviews and audits
  • Assisting the CIO with IT strategy and planning

Not adhering to SOPs leads to:

  • Inconsistent and unreliable results
  • Unnecessary security risks
  • Lack of standards, which frustrates users, and makes ongoing support more difficult
  • Callbacks and repeated interruptions for your users
  • Excessive IT support costs
  • Examples of specific SOPs that you should create and maintain:
  • Employee on-boarding and separation procedures
  • Security Event and Major Incident Response procedures
  • Emergency lock-down procedure
  • Notification procedure for key teams, executive, management, all staff
  • After hours outage, notification and response
  • SOPs for all key fail over events (internet, phones, email etc.)
  • New user setup and onboarding
  • Employee separation

Q. What is the difference between an IT Manager and a CIO?

Wilson: “In larger organizations, the IT Manager usually reports to the CIO. In most cases, they are two different sets of skills and priorities. Here is my perspective on the differences between the two positions:

“An IT Manager is concerned with the day-to-day operation, support and budgeting issues associated with your business IT infrastructure. The IT Manager oversees the performance and maintenance of the technology, systems and vendors, making sure everything is working well, is updated and secure, is being backed up, and that business operations are running smoothly.

“A Chief Information Officer, or CIO, is more concerned with which technologies to use, and how to use them to gain competitive advantage, increase productivity and support the strategic vision of the organization. The CIO is more likely to be concerned with business processes and workflow at a strategic level, focusing on how people work, and which technologies can support and enhance your business.  The CIO will evaluate how new technology can help differentiate your business from the competition, and then hand a project off to the IT Manager for implementation, testing and rollout.

“A Virtual CIO is simply an outsourced CIO or a consultant who fills the CIO role for an organization when needed.  Small businesses typically do not need and cannot justify having a full-time CIO on staff, but they may benefit from having a Virtual CIO who will come in on a monthly or quarterly basis to meet with upper management to build the roadmap that will help keep the company moving forward.  Other businesses will engage with a Virtual CIO on a short-term basis to help guide the company through a growth spurt, a merger or other significant events.”

Q. If we don’t have an IT documentation system, how should we get started building one?

Wilson: “Well, every situation is different, but best practices dictate that you should minimize single points of failure in your infrastructure and workflow. If your IT support vendor, or internal IT staff, tend to keep information to themselves and won’t document critical procedures and systems, you might have a problem. So, I will list a few things to start with, to give you a starting point for the conversation. I would suggest asking for one or two of these each month to give your staff some time to adjust if they are not used to sharing information. Some of the items listed are simple lists that can be pulled together and maintained very quickly; others are more extensive projects that will involve dedicated time and resources.

“If you find that you can’t seem to get answers to even the simple items on this list, it might be time to bring in some professional help to get the job done.

Here are a few of the things that should be included in your IT documentation:

  • Complete asset list, all hardware, software and subscriptions
  • All passwords (stored in a secure password management system)
  • Expiration dates for warranties, domains, certificates, hosting plans, etc.
  • Domain names and hosting information
  • Identify all sources and locations of company data, what it is and where it is stored
  • Document all cloud-based or -hosted systems that your staff may use
  • Security configurations and procedures
  • Network, Wi-Fi and server configurations
  • ISP and telecom info
  • Employee census and user IT profiles
  • Workflow and key application profiles
  • Knowledge base of all requests and work done, searchable by device or user
  • Profile of all key vendors, contracts and agreements
  • Data retention and backup plan
  • Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plan
  • Change Management logs and reports
  • Incident Response reports for all critical incidents and outages
  • Remote access configuration and policies
  • Written Information Security Plan
  • Encryption requirements and configuration
  • Fail-over plans for critical systems
  • Regulatory compliance requirements
  • IT Budget and Roadmap
  • Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for critical functions
  • IT Policies

Chris Ward, Connection

Q. What is a Business Resiliency Plan?

Ward: “Business Resiliency (BR) is best defined as preserving the functional state of an organization, characterized by a holistic approach to preparing for, recovering from, and adapting to threats and challenges. From a planning perspective, Connection views BR as a combination of Disaster Recovery (DR) and Business Continuity (BC), where DR is typically focused on the successful recovery of data and BC is focused on ensuring core business operations recover or remain running. Creating such a plan is critical to the longevity of your business, as studies show that 40% of organizations without a plan never reopen after a disaster — and, of those that do, 25% fail after one year, and a staggering 80% fail within three years.

“Creating a BR plan can be daunting without prior experience or a proper understanding of the core components involved, as there is no simple template. Every business has unique requirements. Over the past two decades, Connection has consulted with numerous organizations across a wide array of industries to develop, implement and test BR plans to ensure our customers will survive — and continue to thrive — should an unfortunate event take place. Whether you are just beginning the planning process or need to validate an existing plan, our Technology Solutions Group will partner as an extension of your team to help you balance business continuity with disaster recovery to create a business resiliency plan that fits your unique needs.”

Q. How can I best manage my business mobile devices

Ward: “Digital transformation has fundamentally changed the way we work. Today’s workforce is highly mobile, and business users demand their applications and data be available anytime, anywhere, on any type of device — but balancing those requirements with the need to maintain a high level of security can be challenging. Adding to the difficulty, those same users also demand access to their personal applications and data in the same manner and, in many cases, on the same devices used for business.

“Balancing this need for ease of access with the requirement to maintain strong data security is not easy. However, there are now technology solutions available that can simplify the process and provide the best of both worlds, giving end users the freedom and accessibility they demand in a secure and compliant manner. These solutions allow a single device to be partitioned for dual roles: a business side and a personal side. This enables IT departments to manage and maintain corporate applications and data on the business side, while allowing the personal side to be used in any way the user desires. Additionally, these solutions may also be used to manage traditional corporate laptops and PCs, providing the proverbial ‘single pane of glass’ for managing all devices, whether they are corporate or end-user owned. If you would like to learn more about these solutions or how to implement a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategy, reach out to the experts at Connection. Our Technology Solutions Group will bring its expertise to the table and ensure you’re making the right decisions for your end users and business requirements.”

Categories: Technology