Like it or not, your business relies on technology

Technology isn’t just something used by Silicon valley firms and large corporations. Even the smallest start-up is now reliant on technology and the virtual marketplace. A business cannot function without operating in the digital world. At the very least, it means having a website, a social media presence and an online database of customers and prospects. Most likely it means conducting business online, which means you’re responsible for the security of client data: names, credit cards, addresses, and probably more information. Much of that information may be personal Information that you have an obligation to keep secure. That duty brings along many challenges because cyber criminals and even benign human error could mean that data is compromised. Data breaches can bring litigation, possible regulatory sanctions, and very importantly, damage to your brand and reputation. Because so much rides on the stability and security of your digital infrastructure, serious attention has to be paid to data security protocols. The problem is, tech is a complex and specialized field that most small businesses owners have little time to focus on. And spending time trying to understand and maintain an IT infrastructure means siphoning off attention to the operation of your business. That is why a Managed Service provider can be a lifesaver for a small business.

A Managed Service provider is an IT consultant that can provide some or all of the support you need for your IT infrastructure. They can provide help with specific issues–migrating data to the cloud, setting up new software and hardware, designing data security protocol, etc,. They can also become a strategic partner. That means they team with you and learn your business goals and plans and help you understand how new and existing technology can help your business expand. They can use their expertise to guide you to new technologies and digital applications you might not be aware of.

Also, you can sign a service contract with an MSP. At the most basic level, a service contract will mean that if you need emergency tech support, you have priority. Otherwise, you will be at the bottom of the list if something goes wrong.

Finally, let’s consider strategic planning. Your business isn’t static, It will grow in volume, it will expand its product and service lines, and it will move into entirely new, unfamiliar markets. There may be new technologies and applications out there that you are unaware of. If you overlook them and your competitors don’t, you can begin to lag behind. You need long-term strategic planning in terms of the technology you will deploy to remain competitive. New technology will offer new opportunities. An MSP who has experience in your industry can become a partner. FInd an MSP who will partner with your business and learn your operations and your future plans. In that way they don’t just support the IT you have now, they become a key voice in strategic planning for future growth.

How Can an MSP Keep Your Business Safe?

Are you a small- or medium-sized business that is in need of a more complete, dependable IT solution to support your business than you presently have? When your main focus is running your business, everything else becomes an afterthought. Other support operations tend to take a backseat. However, your business depends upon a reliable, stable “always running” IT infrastructure and you probably find that isn’t always the case. Even if you have an in-house staff, it isn’t large enough to put out fires and handle strategic planning and provide 24/7 support when something goes wrong. That is why many businesses large and small rely fully or partially on the support of a Managed Service Provider (MSP).

So what are the typical services available from an MSP? There are many different types of support that can be provided to clients. In this e-guide we will break them down.

Managed IT Services

This is the overarching set of services that define the purpose of an MSP. Generally, a business will sign a service level contract with an MSP for a set of defined IT services for a period of time. One advantage typically derived from such an agreement is that the contract provides that you get 24/7 emergency support with priority. Typically, if you have a crisis and call a provider, the non-contract clients take a lower priority. This can mean longer down times and those mean revenue losses. Also, your contract with an MSP means that you can do a better job predicting your IT expenses into the future, and predictability is always a benefit for any enterprise.

Cyber Security Services

One specific area of expertise that everyone needs, no matter how small the business, is up-to-date, ongoing protection against data theft and cyber crimes. An MSP can bring a depth of knowledge that is difficult to create in-house. Ransomware and data theft are rampant. Cyber criminals attack businesses of any size ( in fact, small ones can be more vulnerable. And smaller businesses often don’t have the deep pockets to recover from the revenue losses of a cyber attack). This is a very specialized sector of IT management where businesses frequently choose to use the services of an MSP because of its complexity. Also, keeping up-to-date with the latest malware, and handling 24/7 monitoring can be very labor intensive if done in-house.

Compliance Management

  • There are a number of data protection laws (HIPAA, FERPA, CA Privacy Act, GDPR, FTC Safeguards Rule) out there that not only provide penalties if a data breach occurs, many of them mandate specific protocols to better ensure your data is protected. Avoiding a data breach isn’t enough. Some of these protocols can be quite demanding and some require periodic testing and are subject to audits. Samples of the types of requirements mandated by some of these laws may include.
  • Designating one individual to oversee data protection and security
  • Conducting a risk assessment – This means analyzing what data you possess, where it is stored, and in what ways it is vulnerable.
  • Creating safeguards to address all potential areas of vulnerability
  • Designing and documenting tools to secure your data and tracking access
  • Tracing the location and security of all data whether it is at rest or in transit.

An MSP can be a critical resource in designing these safety measures and ensuring your company is in compliance and remains so. Handling compliance issues and audits can be a big distraction when you are trying to run your business and drive revenues.

Seven things that pandemic taught us about data security

As workers fled home to handle everything remotely, organizations had to quickly address new threats and questions that were raised about maintaining the integrity and safety of their data.

From the IT perspective, the pandemic…

  • Reinforced the need to follow good password hygiene
  • Brought to light the need to engage in data security and access best practices through mechanisms like multi-factor authentication
  • Showed us how important staff training is in terms of data security. The ability of employees working remotely in a less secure environment to identify phishing scams or malicious attachments that could compromise the entire business data setup is really critical. Your data security’s first line of defense is your staff. And this is never more true when they are working remotely.
  • Proved that smooth, secure and timely access to data is a must-have for business continuity. This means technologies facilitating remote work, such as the cloud, VoIP and other collaboration tools are not a matter of choice anymore. They are a part of the core requirements for the smooth functioning of your business.
  • Taught us that agility is everything in today’s world. When the pandemic struck, businesses that did well or even survived were the ones that were quick to make the transition to the remote work environment. Agility requires IT support that can pivot quickly to meet new demands.
  • Has given root to the WFH culture, which likely won’t wither away even as the pandemic fades. WFH is here to stay and businesses and customers alike have to adapt to this ‘new normal’.

What role can MSPs play?
Managed service providers can make transitions smoother for businesses from the IT perspective even during unforeseen circumstances such as this pandemic. They can bring to the table the much needed agility factor, which can help the business cope with the demands of the newly created work environment. Even businesses with in-house IT teams can benefit tremendously from the expertise and experience that Managed Service Providers have to offer.

Stars of the show: Cloud and VOIP

Despite annoying challenges presented by the abrupt shift to the WFH model thanks to the pandemic, there were some tech heroes that saved the day. These two made WFH possible.

    The cloud
    The cloud is that platform whereby you outsource your data storage as well as many of your applications. With the cloud, your data and software applications are no longer physically located in a specific geographic location. Therefore, access is no longer tethered to a user’s physical location. The cloud was the biggest game changer during the pandemic because it allowed businesses to get anytime, anywhere access to their data as well as critical applications. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that if it weren’t for the cloud, a lot of businesses wouldn’t have been able to survive the pandemic at all.

    Along with the cloud, VOIP proved to be one of the most critical elements when it came to business continuity during this pandemic. It revolutionized business communications. An acronym for Voice over Internet Protocol, VoIP is a technology that allows you to communicate by sending voice as data packets using the internet. VoIP replaced the old PBX (the phone system which physically tied you to the office if you needed telephony services.) Because VoIP is internet based, it’s functions are accessible from anywhere. It also offers a wider range of services. Going beyond being just a telephone or voice system, VoIP offered organizations a single, unified communication solution that fulfilled all their business communication requirements such as voice calling, video and audio conferencing, and other collaboration requirements–a lifesaver for businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Because these two stars are so important to successful WFH, and because they can be difficult to manage with a small IT staff, using an MSP to manage these tools can be an excellent way to support an organization that relies even partly on remote work.

Two reasons to pay attention to software

Software matters. What your employees use can impact your firm and your customers. Pay attention. Make rules.

New software applications
In the pre-pandemic phase, even when companies had staff working from home they were fewer in number and a lot of them even came into the office a couple of times a week to ‘just catch up’ on work and with colleagues. So, no one really had paid any attention to collaborative software programs because engagement levels were pretty high with just a handful of staff working remotely and connecting on the phone or in-person anyway.

It was only after the pandemic forced organizations in their entirety began to operate –from CEO to intern–that businesses recognized the need for collaborative software programs such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom Meetings, Google Meet, etc. Similarly, from the productivity tracking perspective, software programs such as TimeDoctor, Roadmap, Tick, Timely, etc., became popular. The challenges of migrating to these tools were two-fold. First, investing in new technology was expensive especially for SMBs, and secondly, everyone had to be trained on how to use it.

Data security
With staff working remotely, data security became a serious concern. When you have staff operating in an office, it is easier to keep tabs on data security. You can have various mechanisms in place to ensure data security. These include firewalls, antivirus software applications, closed, secured, and tightly monitored networks, physical security measures, and monitoring systems such as CCTV cameras, biometric access controls, etc. But, with staff working remotely, a lot of these can’t be deployed, as the employees are mostly using their own personal devices for work purposes and also using their home’s internet connection to access work files. This makes monitoring and imposing restrictions almost impossible.

Timely, ongoing and consistent monitoring is a necessity. An MSP has the tools and experience to guide you toward solutions that will keep your datas secure.

Outsourcing: an overview

Outsourcing today simply involves using external entities to handle specific, specialized business functions so that organizations can focus on their core competencies. The idea of seeking outside support for areas that are not core to a business is many decades old. However, seeking support from external providers can make a lot of sense, especially in fields that involve considerable complexity. One example, as human resources becomes increasingly complex practice, especially in areas that involve often complex and arcane laws such as benefits and employment law, many smaller companies are increasingly outsourcing some or all of their HR tasks.

IT is another example. Like human resources, IT covers a wide range of specialties, for which no one or two individuals can possibly hope to be fully versed in.

As the CEO of a small- to medium-sized firm, or perhaps a line manager, why should you consider outsourcing all or part of the IT function?

One immediate reason is that IT is a complex field and it is likely top management has only broad knowledge of the issues at hand. As a result, it can be hard to manage an IT department. Setting priorities and guiding IT strategy can be difficult for a leader whose background and focus is on the specific mission of the company or organization. It speaks to the issues of core competencies–is IT yours and does trying to manage it distract? Limited management resources can be drained off, letting management lose some of its focus.

Another way to get the most out of any outsourcing of IT is to think carefully how you view their role in the broadest strategy of the organization. When you look for a Managed Services Provider to outsource your IT, you aren’t looking for someone to handle a task. MSP generally focus on specific industries, so they have knowledge of the needs and specific challenges faced by companies in that sector. Additionally, because of that industry sector knowledge, the best MSPs can work as strategic partners, helping you understand what technology can best support your present needs as well as what upcoming technologies might have a positive impact on your future growth and competitiveness. MSPs can help plan and guide at the C-suite level to drive growth.

Can you do this at home?

Outsourcing HR, real estate portfolio management, tax audits, etc is fairly common nowadays. This whitepaper discusses another function which, when outsourced, can bring greater efficiency and effectiveness to your business’s overall functioning–IT.

IT is one of the core functions of any business. There’s no aspect of a business that is untouched by IT. Outsourcing IT is a big decision and it is not surprising that many organizations choose to manage their IT in-house rather than relying on outsourcing. However, outsourcing your IT to a managed service provider offers numerous benefits.

Depending on your service level agreement with the MSP, you get access to an IT team 24/7 when you bring a managed service provider on board. With your in-house IT team there will be days when some of them may be on a vacation or an unexpected day off. You also probably cannot justify 24/7 internal IT support, even though your IT needs to run 24/7. All of these challenges can be avoided by signing up with an MSP, who will have a team that’s available when you need them, irrespective of what time or day of the week it is.

Having an MSP onboard helps make your business more agile and responsive to emergencies. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic brought about a world of change in how businesses operated. With lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders, WFH became the only option for many businesses. Organizations that had MSP partners were able to transition more quickly and do so smoothly, as MSPs were experts in enabling the remote workspace from the IT perspective.

Overall, when you have an MSP on your side, they will help you stay ahead of the curve. Irrespective of whether you have IT staff in-house or not, your managed services provider can add a lot of value to you on the IT front.

MSPs save money. And you get stuff that matters.

Outsourcing has become a fairly common element in business processes today. What started off as a means to cut business costs and take advantage of cheaper resources based offshore has now become an essential part of running a business today. (Its definition doesn’t necessarily include offshore outsourcing, of course) This blog looks at two additional areas where IT outsourcing can dramatically improve revenues. In particular, outsourcing can avoid high-fixed costs when you are trying to meet peak demand periods or have 24/7 coverage available.

Cost benefits
Having an MSP manage your IT infrastructure completely offers tremendous cost savings vis-a-vis having an in-house IT team. When you have FT IT professionals on your payroll, you incur many other HR and training-related costs that come with employing full-time staff. These may include 401(k) expenses, health insurance, paid time-off, etc., which can be avoided by outsourcing your IT process to an MSP. Inhouse staff needs ongoing management, something many business owners aren’t equipped to do.

Another way in which outsourcing your IT helps is by keeping your IT budget within predetermined limits. When you have a service level agreement with a managed service provider, they take care of your IT requirements at a service charge you both have agreed upon. This saves you money, especially in case of unforeseen IT emergencies. Like many SMBs, you may deploy the firefighting approach to technology, where you reach out to an IT specialist only in the event of an emergency that your in-house IT team can’t handle. This means incurring significant upcharges for emergency services. Working with an MSP under a service level agreement, you get the budgeting certainty of knowing what your IT expenses will likely be.

Scaling up or down
Relying on a managed service provider for your IT needs allows you the freedom to scale your IT infrastructure up or down depending on your business needs. For example, during the busy seasons you can ramp up your IT infrastructure and perhaps even scale down during the slower times–all without worrying about the need to hire new IT employees and consequently having to let them go during down times. This is particularly true for businesses such as CPA firms or retail that have busy and slack seasons.

Quality matters: Get the best

IT is one of the core functions of any business. There’s no aspect of a business that is untouched by IT. Outsourcing IT is a big decision and it is not surprising that many organizations choose to manage their IT in-house rather than relying on outsourcing. However, outsourcing your IT to a managed service provider offers numerous benefits. Here are two areas where outsourcing at least some of your IT can be especially beneficial.

The first and foremost benefit of outsourcing your IT to a reputed MSP is the expertise they bring into the process of managing your IT infrastructure. As we discussed before, outsourcing is all about leveraging the expertise of another organization that specializes in something that is not your core competency. Managed service providers are experts in IT and will be able to manage your IT infrastructure more efficiently. Sure, you could hire IT experts and make them a part of your in-house IT team, but that would be expensive. Additionally, your in-house IT experts, no matter how experienced, don’t get the industry exposure and diverse hands-on experience of a managed services team that works to oversee and maintain multiple clients across various industries. In short, the expertise that a managed service provider brings to the table is unmatched.

Focus on IT strategy in-house, not routine stuff
Having an MSP onboard gives your IT team a break from the routine activities of patching, security updates, regular data backup/cleanup etc. These activities, though mundane, are indispensable and have to be done consistently. But, they can be time-consuming and distract your IT team from focusing on more important activities such as new software research, purchase, or implementation. Plus, activities such as patching, license renewal and security updates are very important and usually time sensitive. This means, an overworked IT team is likely to miss deadlines, resulting in serious consequences. So it is better to offload that responsibility to an experienced MSP who can get this done behind the scenes while your IT team focuses on other aspects of IT within your organization.

Train your staff: Your first and best firewall

Protecting your organization against cyber threats can seem like a challenge that involves extremely high-tech wizardry, sophisticated knowledge etc.. Much of this is true. Protecting your data and your company against cyber threats requires skilled professionals. But that isn’t only what is needed. The first line of defense in data security is everyday common sense and diligence on the part of everyone who works in your organization.

Some thoughts . . .

The first challenge in beefing up your data security is creating awareness among all of your employees that they really do have a serious role in data security. Many of the ways they can protect your data are simple, but until they are aware that they may represent a threat to data integrity they won’t take their role in protecting your company seriously. Provide training that both explains that their actions may unknowingly create problems, and then review what they can do to avoid trouble.

Training should not end. It should be an on-going focus in your organization.

Passwords Part 1 Remind everyone that simple passwords are unwise. Does your company mandate a certain level of complexity in password creation? Maybe you should.

Passwords Part 2 – No password sharing. We tend to trust most of our colleagues, so when logging in and out seems a nuisance, we are often willing to let a peer use a database we’ve already logged into so they can do some simple, quick task. Not a good idea.

Email and phishing scams – These are really easy to fall victim to. Emails that look like they are from a legit source, so we open them up and then click on a link inside. Explain that emails can be made to look like what they aren’t. Always be suspicious. Look at the email address to see if the domain matches the legit site.

Odd links – If someone you know sent you a link to a site, unless you absolutely know the email is legit and the link is safe, let it go. Email them back to verify.

Lonely hardware – Remind everyone: Never, ever put a thumb drive into their computer unless they know where it came from. No matter how much one knows better, if you find a thumb drive sitting on a desk, it can be extremely tempting to plug it in to see what’s on it.
Don’t. Just don’t.