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One thing that the best MSP can do is become a strategic partner. Your expertise is your industry, business, or profession. Trends and innovations in technology aren’t your focus. However, your business can benefit from some 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. After taking the time to learn your business, your goals, and the competitive field in which you operate, an MSP can take a seat at the table of your business planning. At the highest level, this is where a skilled MSP becomes a significant asset as your business grows and faces new market challenges.

Additionally, An MSP can help with other parts of your IT infrastructure to protect your data as well as facilitate more effective collaboration internally as well as with clients. Here are three examples.

Backup and recovery

Another area related to data security is the process of securing your data in the event of theft, a hardware or software issue, or even a natural disaster that cuts access to your data’s physical location. Backing up your data needs to involve a lot more than running nightly backup to an external drive. That may be ok for your home laptop, but it doesn’t cut it if you want to protect your business data. An MSP can support continual data backup to offsite locations. This means at any point there is a system failure or breach, all of your data remains secure at one or more distant locations. Backup also includes recovery. Having your data safely stored in the event of a disaster isn’t enough. Your business will need continuing access to that data. An MSP can develop recovery plans that work to ensure your operations see minimal disruption in the event of a failure. Also, clean backups are critical for avoiding the consequences of a ransomware attack. Poorly handled back procedures can leave your data vulnerable,

Cloud Services

The decision to use cloud services is closely related to data security and cybercrime. Locating all of your data and software applications physically in your own location may seem like the safest thing to do, but that may not be correct. If you utilize cloud storage, you can maintain access to that data from any location. If a natural disaster or other emergency limits access to your physical locations or disables it, your business and employees can access the data from anywhere. Also, the cloud offers economies of scale. To maintain sufficient capacity to meet peak times, maintain all of the necessary hardware and software, and monitor it 24/7 involves considerable in-house labor and capital expense. Migrating to the cloud means you share those fixed costs with others. An MSP can handle selecting and designing a cloud solution most appropriate to the needs of your specific industry and business.

Unified Communications

Unified communications is a service that pulls together the different channels your employees and clients use to collaborate, sell, communicate, etc. Unified communications systems have many moving parts. Encryption, data security, ease of use, cross platform support as well as other support services can create a communications system that works for everyone, no matter what channel they choose to be using.

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.

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.

One area where AI tools can help even the smallest business is in sales and marketing. Every business is marketing and selling in the online digital world. Marketing on social media is a given for every business, and can be a game-changer for a small startup. However, a lot of the tasks of marketing on social media and through your website can involve tedious, time consuming tasks. Marketing tools that use AI can help with drip email campaigns, website visitor tracking, and understanding where each customer exists in the sales funnel at any given moment. Other digital tools that increase customer engagement and drive sales are available and are an excellent introduction to AI as a marketing tool. Using these tools, you can focus your limited sales resources on other, more critical tasks such as closing a sale with a customer that is now ready to buy and not simply exploring vague options. These AI tools are readily available and your MSP can guide you in the adoption and use of them

AI and that data you collect. An MSP or MSSP can also be a resource for data protection. As you begin using such tools, you amass enormous amounts of data about prospects as well as customers. How you hold, use, transmit and store this data is subject to some data regulations, either by your state, a federal agency, or even the European Union. Regulation is growing because of the increasing concern about an individual’s online privacy. Because so much personal data is being collected about each of us, there is increasing concern about misuse of that data, protecting it from bad actors, and other privacy rights issues. While you may not be physically located in a state that has data privacy regulations, if you conduct business in a state or country that regulates data privacy, you are likely subject to their rules. An MSP or MSSP is an important resource to determine where you are subject to those laws. More importantly, if you are subject to those laws, (e.g. HIPAA, The FTC Safeguard Rules, the CA Privacy act or the General Data Protection Regulation of the EU), you may also be required to prove that you have developed protocols for the protection of data as defined under those regulations. It isn’t enough to say “everything is safe.” You may have to provide evidence you have created the specific data protection protocols specified under the regulation.

In short, AI can be a helpful tool to grow your business, but it comes with responsibilities and concerns that may not have concerned you before. An MSP is an important resource as you wade into the world of marketing, sales, and other operational areas.

Risk assessment means looking at all the conditions, situations and threats that exist that could damage or bring down your business. Risk assessment is all about identifying the external and internal threats that exist and measuring the likely consequences if that threat becomes reality. A data security risk assessment would identify what data you have, how you use it, how confidential it may be, how it is affected by regulations and the ways it could be compromised. A major focus of a data security assessment is cybercrime.

In terms of developing an IT staff, the alternative approach to building out a team is to determine your IT staffing needs in terms of risk assessment. That means evaluating risk and directing staffing resources to those areas where the risk is greatest and the consequences most severe. Basically, it is an evaluation on the ROI of your IT staffing in light of identified risk. In particular, what is the return on your risk management investment? The goal is to evaluate risk in light of business and operational consequences. Put simply, which point of failure leads to the most destructive consequences. Once that is determined your limited IT resources can be directed at those most critical areas.

In the short term, you can try to find the specific applicants that have what you need to plug the holes. Is that workable given the challenges to hiring? The market is very competitive.

The alternative is an MSP. Using a Managed Service provider for at least some of your most critical needs can be a very effective way of targeting your IT resources to where you are most vulnerable.

You have more freedom to move resources to where they are most needed.

Opting for an in-house IT team limits you in terms of scalability. You cannot just add or reduce the strength of your IT team anytime. Choosing a managed services provider, however, provides the flexibility to scale up or scale down your IT investment to suit your business needs.

You are better prepared for IT emergencies

Having a service contract with an MSP helps you tackle IT emergencies better because you get access to top-level IT expertise. An MSP’s core business is IT so they are naturally more knowledgeable and up-to-date when it comes to the latest IT challenges, including cybercrime. Plus, an MSP can deploy more resources if need be to solve your IT emergency, helping your business get back on its feet sooner.

You will be ahead of the curve

The IT industry is constantly evolving. The in-house IT team may find it challenging to keep up with the latest trends and norms of the IT industry as they will be caught up in managing the day-to-day IT activities at your office. Also, IT is a very broad field, and only a diverse IT team has the depth to cover all of the different areas. With an MSP, you don’t have to worry about how technology is changing. A good MSP will not only be up-to-date with the latest in tech but also advise you on what tech changes you need to make to stay ahead of the curve.

The lesson for hiring IT is that you should focus resources, be they in-house or external, on the areas where your business is at highest risk from a single point of failure or a cyber attack. Not all IT needs are equal, and traditional models don’t always recognize this. A Managed Service Provider can also assist you in determining a hierarchy of your IT needs.

From the outset, even the smallest start-up is reliant on an IT infrastructure. Digital technology cannot be avoided. For small-to medium-sized businesses, developing and bringing on staff to support that IT infrastructure is often a low priority compared to ramping up operations and meeting the revenues goals necessary to stay operational. Resources to address IT needs may not be available (for at least, perceived to be unavailable) Management is focussed on revenue growth and meeting operational and business requirements. Management may also be incentivized to direct available funds in these directions, rather than building out a robust and sufficiently risk averse IT infrastructure. Also, management may not have the background that provides sufficient experience to identify areas where IT staffing is necessary to maintain a stable and sustainable business.

In a small- to medium-sized business beginning to explore the development of an IT support staff, or even in a large organization undergoing significant transformation, there may be a tendency to begin the process of IT staffing with a top level individual–a CTO, IT director or IT manager. Once hired, that individual would be relied on to begin the process of building out an IT staff.

Problems facing organizations: initiating an IT staff build-out

For any organization, from a small firm looking to bring on its first dedicated IT staffer to a large organization, there are a number of hurdles that may be encountered. One of the most immediate is the shortage of available IT professionals. No matter what your needs, it may be difficult to find appropriately skilled applicants to meet your staffing requirements. This may mean that following the top-down development model may cause risky delays in your goal of protecting and securing the IT infrastructure needed to remain competitive. The job market in IT is especially competitive. This is just one reason we are suggesting that you consider setting aside the top-down build-out model and take a different approach.

Another reason that the top-down model may be problematic, especially for small- to medium-sized businesses, is that it may be a little too “perfect.” When resources for IT staffing are limited, creating the IT department that covers everything can be unrealistic. Creating this traditional model takes time and resources to make sure you have the IT support that possesses all the diverse skills needed to meet the many requirements of a sound IT infrastructure. As a result, this model may not truly meet the immediate/urgent needs of a developing or transforming organization. As ever, the perfect may be the enemy of the good.

So how does a firm looking to strengthen its IT infrastructure and protect itself from vulnerabilities–from cyber attack to single point of failure– protect itself? Lack of available applicants and limits make traditional build outs unrealistic. And will also take too long to address urgent needs.

In our next blog post we discuss a value based approach

What is cyber insurance

With cybercrime becoming a major threat to businesses across the world, irrespective of their size, cyber insurance is fast becoming a necessity more of a necessity than a choice. However, the concept of cyber insurance is still fairly new and not many SMBs are aware of its benefits. Cyber insurance is an insurance that covers your liability in the event of your business becoming a victim of cybercrime. For example, a data breach puts you at risk of lawsuits, makes you liable to your customers/other parties whose data has been compromised because of/via your organization. Cyber insurance covers the financial aspect of such liabilities, making it easier for you to deal with them.

Why do you need cyber insurance

Many organizations think of cyber insurance as an added cost. They believe they don’t need it for various reasons.

Bigger organizations think their IT security measures are watertight and they won’t fall victim to cybercrime, and they also tend to believe that even if they are affected in a one-off case of cybercrime, they are solid enough to discharge their liabilities and come out of the incident with their brand value intact.

SMBs, on the other hand, think cybercriminals are most likely to target the bigger players and they don’t need cyber insurance. But, in reality, it is the smaller businesses that are at a greater threat–primarily, because

  1. They lack the resources to strengthen their IT infrastructure and their staff is less likely to be trained in identifying cyber threats, making them more vulnerable
  2. They are less likely to recover from the damage to their financial and brand health as a result of falling victim to cybercrime

The bottom line is, every organization–big or small, needs cyber insurance today. Cyber insurance, however, is not a replacement for cybersecurity. Having cyber insurance doesn’t mean you can be lax about cybersecurity. It is meant as a buffer, to help.your business survive when something slips through the cracks. An MSP can help you tighten your cybersecurity and prevent data breaches and other untoward incidents. Also, being well versed with the IT industry, your MSP can help you understand the IT risks that you need to get covered for. They can also help you pick out the right cyber insurance policies, in some cases, some of them even being insurance advisors or agents.

As we continue to suggest things you can do to protect the integrity of your company and customer data, here is a blog that covers an old level of security that we still rely on everyday. That protection is the password, so let’s talk about bedding up your employee’s handling of passwords.

Password hygiene – Passwords remain the most common everyday tool to ensure only authorized personnel have access to secure material. The issue is that passwords need maintenance and attention to be effective. Here are some common problems to avoid. And again, this requires a routine employee training program.

    1. Passwords that are too simple
      Simple passwords are easy to remember but easy to crack. Words, in any language, are not ideal either. That is why many sites require a mix of letters, characters, and numbers. And yes, some people are still using Myname123.

 

    1. One universal password
      Sometimes people find it difficult to remember multiple passwords for various files and applications, so they use a single good, strong password everywhere. This renders the good password virtually pointless and also increases the amount of damage that can be inflicted in the event that one ‘good’ password is compromised.

 

    1. Unauthorized password sharing
      Generally done with benign intentions, employees often share passwords for convenience or to expedite handling the sharing of data. Not good.

 

    1. Writing down passwords
      Sometimes, people follow all password best practices but find it difficult to remember complicated passwords and then write them down on a piece of paper or worse still, make a file containing all the passwords and store it in their email or computer. This is almost like giving away the keys to your property to a burglar.

 

  1. Forgetting to change passwords to change passwords or revoke access.
    This is an issue where the staff is busy and turnover is high. Managers may fail to remember to change the passwords once a staff member quits, leaving company data vulnerable. This is especially likely in a small company where there may not be a centralized IT staff that oversees data security and access.

Remember, having a password is not sufficient. Having the right kind of password and following good password hygiene is.

Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) – When a password isn’t enough, the next step to improve security is MFA. MFA layers a second authenticator (e.g. another code, picture) etc.) on top of the password requirement. The idea is that if a password is being used by someone not authorized to do so, they won’t be able to provide the second piece of information. Consumers almost always encounter it when accessing financial services sites, but MFA is becoming more common across the board. If you use a credit card at a gas station, that request for your zip code after you insert your credit card is an example of MFA.

You should be using an array of security tools to protect your business data. Some can be highly sophisticated, but there is one tool that we all still rely on heavily to secure access to our business systems and data. The password. But they can be hacked and shared. As long as we still rely on them, are there things we can do to make them more effective?
Yes. There are two main areas where you can improve the security of passwords. One is improving the security of the password itself, the second is multi-factor authentication.

First, there is the password itself. This is often known as password hygiene. Good password hygiene includes

Passwords that are too simple

Simple passwords are easy to remember but easy to crack. Words, in any language, are not ideal either. That is why many sites require a mix of letters, characters, and numbers. easy to And yes, some people are still using password123.

One universal password

Sometimes people find it difficult to remember multiple passwords for various files and applications, so they use a single good, strong password everywhere. This renders the good password virtually pointless and also increases the amount of damage that can be inflicted in the event that one ‘good’ password is compromised.

Unauthorized password sharing

Generally done with benign intentions, employees often share passwords for convenience or to expedite handling the sharing of data. Not good.

Writing down passwords

Sometimes, people follow all password best practices but find it difficult to remember complicated passwords and then write them down on a piece of paper or worse still, make a file containing all the passwords and store it in their email or computer. This is almost like giving away the keys to your property to a burglar.

Forgetting to change passwords or revoke access

This is especially an issue where the staff is busy and turnover is high. Managers may fail to remember to change the passwords once a staff member quits, leaving company data vulnerable. This is especially likely in a small company where there may not be a centralized IT staff that oversees data security and access.

Remember, having a password is not the solution. Having the right kind of password and following good password hygiene is.

If you haven’t already considered migrating your data storage to the cloud, you are probably in the minority of businesses. While it may seem intuitive that somehow your data is safer if it is stored “ at home,” on location at the site of your business, that probably is not correct. Given the ability of skilled cloud service providers to provide redundancy and a level of security unattainable by a small business, storing all your crucial business data on site using in-house support is probably akin to keeping your money under the mattress instead of a bank.

In this blog, we’ll explain what cloud data storage means, and some reasons why it may be a good business decision. In addition, we’ll quickly note some reasons some people get nervous about the security of cloud storage.

What is cloud data storage?

In an earlier time, a business would store all of its data on-site. Individual employees might keep all of their Word and Excel documents filed on their PC. The business might store all of its customer data, financial and accounting information, clients lists, etc., on individual “secure” PCs and then back up to a server located in the equipment room. In this scenario, there are several concerns-

  1. Individual PCs may fail, losing all the data stored there.
  2. Backups generally only happen periodically, thus anything created between backups when something goes wrong is…lost
  3. Backups can fail
  4. Backups require labor from an IT individual
  5. Backups on a server in the equipment room 100 feet from the rest of the office isn’t a secure storage site in case there is an-on location disaster. Fire, flood, etc.
  6. All of that data is vulnerable to cyber attacks and in-house IT professionals probably don’t have the resources necessary to provide the most up-to-date tools to defend against cyber crime
  7. All of that back up infrastructure is expensive.
  8. All of the labor necessary to support it is expensive.

The cloud functions as your off-site storage location where you get some particular benefits.
Cloud providers can generally provide the latest, most secure storage available. They also don’t store it on one machine in one location. Top cloud providers offer redundancy not only on one storage site; your data will be mirrored in a geographically diverse location. A complete natural disaster affecting one server farm will be irrelevant to the safety of your data. Other copies may be across the continent.

So let’s get to specifics.

  1. The Cloud offers economies of scale – If you want to store and protect your own data, you need to purchase all of the hardware and software, all of the servers and backup servers, the uninterruptible power supply in case of a power outage, and hire 24/7 support. In the cloud model, you share all of those expensive fixed costs with hundreds and thousands of other users.
  2. Focus on your business – As a smaller business, you may not have the technical expertise to manage a staff of IT specialists. More importantly, do you have the time to focus your energies on managing IT? You have the job of running your business and bringing in revenues.
  3. Scalability – Does your business peak in summer and winter? To handle your storage needs you need to ramp up hardware bandwidth, labor etc, to meet peak demands. The rest of the year, that equipment may lie fallow. This creates high fixed costs that businesses, especially smaller ones, may not have the ready capital to build out. Cloud providers generally permit you to ramp usage up and down as needed. They have the available resources.