Archive for March, 2011

10 tech mistakes small businesses make (and how IT consultants can help clients avoid them)

February 17, 2009, 11:10 AM PST

Takeaway: Small businesses must concentrate their time and energy on knowing their own industry — and that often means that effective technology practices get overlooked. Erik Eckel explains the most common tech missteps he’s encountered, along with preventive measures to protect businesses and prevent serious problems.

Small businesses must concentrate their time and energy on knowing their own industry — and that often means that effective technology practices get overlooked. Erik Eckel explains the most common tech missteps he’s encountered, along with preventive measures to protect businesses and prevent serious problems.

In today’s microwave society — in which just-in-time manufacturing models, heightened customer expectations, and 24×7 accessibility demands burden both manufacturers and service providers — little time remains for much else. Small businesses often don’t have the resources or inclination to track the latest computer news, security threats, or even common break/fix tips. And not all small business owners are adept at maintaining best technology practices.

As a result, small businesses frequently make certain technology mistakes. Here’s a look at these mistakes, along with specific steps IT consultants can take to assist small businesses in correcting these common failures.

Note: This article is also available as a download, which includes an annotated PowerPoint presentation based on this information.

#1: Insufficient technical support

Many organizations go without technical support, relying instead upon an employee whose love of Warcraft may make him or her the local office “computer guru.” Other organizations may depend upon a staffer’s friend or relative (who’s “interested in computers”) to provide technology advice or assistance when critical systems fail or slow unacceptably.

Some turn to their hardware manufacturer’s telephone support line for help, only to be disappointed when the solution to many problems proves to be performing a reinstallation (thereby resulting in the loss of all the business owner’s data). Some rely upon a big box electronic store’s service arm, never receiving the same (novice, often undereducated, and inexperienced) technician twice. And still others locate a student or individual who provides computer support “on the side.”

These support methods are not cost-efficient. Nor are they effective information technology investment, troubleshooting, or administration options.

Small businesses need knowledgeable, trusted technology partners who are proficient with current technologies and willing to help learn their industry’s operations requirements. Once a qualified technology expert is familiar with a client’s needs, appropriate services and solutions can be recommended and deployed. The result is almost always more cost-effective, more efficient, more profitable operations for the client.

#2: Hardware/software issues

Smart organizations set PC service lives at three or four years. There’s a reason. 

“When you look at costs — particularly around a four- to six-year lifecycle — it may seem like you are saving money,” says Info-Tech Research Group analyst Darin Stahl. “But really it’s costing you.” That’s because support expenses increase. Retaining PCs longer than three or four years often results in repair and support costs that meet or exceed the price of new systems.

This is the second common tech mistake businesses make: They fail to standardize hardware components and software applications, where possible. The result is a mishmash of components that complicate troubleshooting, repair, and deployment and require companies to support a variety of programs with different license terms and renewal dates. Incompatibilities often result.

Worse, older and obsolete hardware is less efficient, increases downtime likelihood, feeds staff and customer frustration, endangers sales, and threatens other lost opportunities.

Small businesses can overcome common hardware and software issues by:

  • Retiring equipment at proper lifecycles, typically three to four years.
  • Standardizing hardware components.
  • Standardizing software applications.
  • Working with an IT consultant to leverage vendor relationships and reduce costs/negotiate more attractive pricing.

#3: Insufficient power protection

A single power outage, surge, or spike can damage expensive electronic components and result in critical data loss. Consistent surges and brownouts, meanwhile, shorten the lifespan of computers, printers, network components, and other equipment.Many businesses deploy simple power strips. Others continue depending upon surge suppressors deployed five and even 10 years earlier. When thunderstorms, electrical outages, and other disasters strike, the damaged systems and corrupted or lost data — not to mention downtime — resulting from insufficient power protection prove costly.

Organizations should deploy quality battery backup devices (with built-in surge suppression) for all critical desktop PCs. Further, technology professionals should connect all servers to uninterruptible power supplies and test them regularly to confirm adequate failover protection is in place.

When deploying battery backups, businesses should properly install and configure corresponding cables and communications software. Network protections should be leveraged whenever possible, as well, in attempts to remediate cable modem, DSL, and other surge sources that can destroy telecommunications and computing equipment.

Since surge suppressor quality varies, organizations should purchase such equipment from trusted vendors. And since surge suppressors (and batteries) wear over time, businesses should replace them regularly.

Simple power strips should be avoided whenever any computer, server, network device, or other important component is present.

#4: Illegal software

Possessing illegal software may be the easiest trap into which many organizations fall. The issue is widespread (the Business Software Alliance estimates 22 percent of all North American software is unlicensed), making it our fourth common tech mistake plaguing small businesses. 

Certainly, licensing issues quickly prove perplexing. The differences between OEM, retail, and open license software escapes the understanding of many business owners. Yet manufacturers are becoming more aggressive in locking down licenses (via product activation technologies) and prosecuting offenders (often via the BSA, which has collected more than $81 million in settlements).

Many organizations don’t recognize they do not “own” software, since programs and applications are commonly licensed. Worse, some firms use “borrowed” applications or pirated programs. Problems arise either in the form of audits and penalties or challenging delays (due to product activation conflicts and other licensing issues) when returning failed systems to operation.

Businesses must understand there are no shortcuts to running legitimate operations. All software, applications, and programs must be properly licensed.

With more manufacturers implementing product activation features, in which software programs report their installation and usage back to the manufacturer, overuse or outright piracy is becoming more difficult or impossible, anyway. But violations still occur.

Businesses can protect against licensing errors and penalties, and help ensure the fastest recovery times when failures occur, by carefully documenting and tracking all software license purchases and deployments.

Further, software licenses (including for operating systems, business line, and office productivity applications, accounting programs, security tools, and other utilities) should be purchased only from reputable technology partners. License sales on eBay that look too good to be true are.

Finally, when installing new programs, organizations should pay close attention to the license agreements they accept.

#5: Insufficient training

Mention software training in most any conference room, and you’re likely to hear groans. Boredom, bad classroom experiences, lack of interest, or complexity all contribute to employees’ resistance to learning new applications. But that doesn’t change the fact that insufficient training ranks as the fifth common tech mistake impacting small businesses. 

How bad is it?

It’s estimated that office staff understand less than 20% of the available features in the software applications they use. That means 80% of the features, time-saving capabilities, and cost-reducing functions remain unused.

Gross inefficiencies result. As a consequence, many processes — including repetitive data entry, complicated calculations, and automated data selection and reporting — are completed manually, which introduces a greater likelihood of errors entering the process.

Tasks that could be completed in moments often consume exponentially more time. Considering that many of those tasks are repeated each business day by multiple workers, it’s easy to see how the costs quickly become significant.

Most small businesses don’t employ full-time trainers. Therefore it’s imperative that small businesses identify technology partners, training centers, or other programs that assist staff in maximizing software applications.

Even when training resources are present, there’s no guarantee staff skills will improve. For that to happen, businesses must make computer and software training a priority. Tap technology partners or other consultants to conduct regular lunch-and-learn sessions. The business can spring for lunch and, for a few hours of consultant’s fees, expose entire departments to important new features and capabilities.

An organization’s technology training commitment can be reinforced using performance reviews. Businesses can add specific course, off-site training, and even certification requirements to staff education programs and performance review objectives. When partnering with a local training center, businesses can create customized instructional programs or select prepackaged modules.

Organizations with limited budgets, meanwhile, can leverage self-paced instruction manuals and computer-based training aids to assist employees in improving their skills after hours or in their own homes.

#6: Security failures

Small businesses frequently fail to accommodate security issues. Organizations either don’t recognize the risks or don’t take them seriously. 

The costs are staggering. Large U.S. organizations lose some 2.2% of their annual income due to security attacks, according to an Infonetics Research “Costs of Network Security Attacks” report. That’s expensive. The FBI estimates such computer crime costs U.S. industry in excess of $400 billion.

Organizations don’t need to have a high profile to become a target, either. Hackers have created innumerable automated programs that scour the Internet 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, seeking poorly secured systems, servers, PCs, and networks to infect and exploit.

Unfortunately, businesses everywhere are falling victim to compromised systems, robotic attacks, identity and data theft, and more. Organizations that fail to properly secure client and customer data often find themselves in the middle of security crises that result in bad press, lost sales, and forfeited customer trust.

Fortunately, completing simple steps assists small businesses in preventing security failures. Here are several best practices all organizations should adopt:

  • Implement and enforce strong password security policies for all PCs, servers, network equipmen, and software applications.
  • Regularly update operating systems, network equipment firmware, and applications with the latest security patches.
  • Deploy business-class firewalls in all locations; connect no systems directly to the Internet.
  • Secure all wireless networks.
  • Disable guest accounts.
  • Implement Internet and e-mail usage policies that preclude personal use of those technologies.
  • Prohibit file-sharing programs.
  • Deploy proven antivirus, anti-spyware, and anti-rootkit applications and update them regularly.
  • Regularly perform security audits and correct all deficiencies.

#7: Poor backup strategies

Despite numerous choices, methods, and options, many organizations fail to adequately back up data — a mistake that can be unrecoverable.Statistics reveal there is a 50% chance an organization will cease operations immediately when critical data is lost. Worse, an organization’s odds of failure rocket to 90% within two years when critical data is lost. Data losses cost an average of 19 days’ productivity. Recovering data from damaged disks, meanwhile, is incredibly expensive.

Even organizations that believe their data is properly protected may find themselves at risk. Occasionally, incorrect data (as in the wrong data) is backed up. In other cases, tape backups prove unreliable. (Gartner Group estimates only half of all tape backups restore successfully.) Fortunately, small businesses can follow simple steps to securely protect their data.

Since data backups are so critical to an organization’s livelihood, small businesses should work with proficient IT consultants or technology partners to ensure the right data is being backed up and that it’s being backed up as frequently as required. In addition, technology professionals should regularly test backup sets to confirm the data can be recovered in its entirety.

Consultants can work with small businesses to determine what data, files, and information should be backed up, how often to create the data sets, where to locate the backups, and how often to test the sets’ integrity. Consultants also prove invaluable in updating backup routines when software upgrades, migrations, and other updates change critical file locations. Further, technology professionals can ensure business data remains secure, which is a critical concern for physicians, financial institutions, and even retail outlets.

#8: Virus exposure

Viruses not only remain a major threat, but their dangers are increasing. The BBC reports that unprotected PCs become infected within eight seconds of being connected to the Internet. 

Infections are proving expensive, too. In the book The Dark Side of the Internet, author Paul Bocij estimates the average virus incident costs organizations $2,500 in remediation and data recovery expenses. A report by ICSA Labs places businesses’ costs even higher (at $99,000 per incident).

And the numbers, varieties, and types of threats only increase. Malware programs are evolving at such a clip that many security software vendors have eliminated daily updates in favor of distributing patches every four hours.

Often, businesses and users simply fail to implement protection. A survey conducted by the National Cyber Security Alliance revealed that 67% of the respondents did not have up-to-date antivirus software. Worse, some 15 percent had no antivirus application installed.

#9: Spyware exposure

Before we address virus solutions, let’s visit spyware, which is an equal threat — and potentially even more daunting. 

Spyware differs from viruses in its nature (spyware typically aims to track user behavior, collect user information or sensitive data, and display unwanted advertisements, whereas viruses often destroy data, corrupt systems, or enable hackers to remotely control a system). But spyware’s business impact has reached epidemic levels.

The respected trade group CompTIA estimates spyware infections require two-and-a-half days to resolve and cost small and medium-size businesses $8,000 a year, which doesn’t factor lost revenue. As evidence businesses aren’t doing enough to protect themselves from the threat, CompTIA pointed to the information its research recently uncovered. More than a quarter of business users reported their productivity suffered as the result of a recent spyware infection, and more than a third reported being infected multiple times within the last six months, with some reporting being infected as many as 10 times!

No virus or spyware strategy is foolproof, but most technology consultants recommend the following steps:

  • Install reputable antivirus and anti-spyware applications.
  • In high-risk environments, a second standalone anti-spyware application is warranted.
  • Regularly update antivirus and anti-spyware programs.
  • Do not let antivirus and anti-spyware program licenses expire.
  • Perform regular automated antivirus and anti-spyware scans.
  • Regularly review security program log files to confirm proper operation.

Further, businesses should avoid deploying “free” security products in businesses. These products are often deployed in violation of the license agreements (which require licensing the software in businesses, academic facilities, and nonprofit organizations) and don’t support frequent updates, real-time protection, or automated scans.

#10: Unsolicited E-mail

Most every business and user is familiar with the problem of unsolicited e-mail, also known as spam. Spam messages have become a serious issue, particularly for small businesses that often misunderstand the problem and fail to take effective countermeasures.

The Radicatti Research Group estimates spam costs businesses more than $20 billion a year. Further, almost half of all e-mail is estimated to be spam.

Thus, small businesses are investing valuable time, money, and system resources processing, delivering, and even storing these unsolicited e-mail messages. In addition to lowering productivity (staff must regularly sift through hundreds or more junk mail messages, deleting the spam, in search of legitimate e-mail), spam takes a toll on an organization’s servers and workstations, which often must dedicate processor cycles, disk space, and backup media to untold gigabytes of unwanted mail.

Technology consultants wield several weapons in the war on spam. In addition to network filtering software, consultants can deploy server-based spam protection. Some organizations choose to outsource e-mail processing to a vendor that can monitor e-mail streams and filter out unwanted messages.

But such filters can generate false positives. And they’re not cheap. Therefore, it’s often a good idea to begin by adopting effective methods for managing unsolicited e-mail messages. Here are several first steps all e-mail users and small business owners may take to minimize spam:

  • Do not publish e-mail addresses in plain text on Web sites; instead use form-based tools that prevent robotic harvesting.
  • Avoid forwarding chain e-mail messages.
  • Ignore credit repair, get-rich-quick, and other common e-mail solicitations.
  • Use reputable e-mail filters (such as those included in Microsoft Outlook, Google Gmail, and other programs).
  • Read all terms before ever submittin
  • g your e-mail address to another party.
  • Review privacy policies before ever providing an e-mail address.
  • Consider creating a free e-mail account (Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, etc.) for submitting to third parties.

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Survey: More Than 60% of U.S. Small Businesses in Danger of Losing Critical Emails

New research commissioned by GFI Software finds majority of small businesses at risk for catastrophic data loss and potential liability for non-compliant data protection strategies.

GFI Software, a leading IT solutions provider for small and medium-sized enterprises, today announced the results of an independent survey conducted by Opinion Matters, in which more than 200 U.S.-based IT decision makers participated. The study commissioned by GFI revealed a dramatic lack of adoption of email archiving. 62.4% of SMEs do not currently use a mail archiving solution – opening the door to a host of issues including: limited email backup and restore, which could lead to data loss; an inability to search for pertinent messages in the event of an audit or eDiscovery request – which could result in costly compliance violations or legal suits; strain on Exchange servers; and storage problems. 

The survey also revealed that greater than 38% of the 202 businesses polled do not have an archiving or backup solution of any kind in place, further exacerbating the chances that a network failure could result in a complete loss of critical data stored in email.

Additional results from the survey:

·  Two-thirds (66.8%) of respondents were unfamiliar with U.S. regulatory compliance standards regarding email archiving. This number ballooned to over 90% in businesses that rely on only one IT professional.

·  37% said they are required to search for old or deleted emails on a monthly basis, if not more frequently, because of requests from end users, the need to meet compliance requirements, the need to provide copies of correspondence for a lawsuit or audit, or any other requirements.

·  31% of respondents said they would consider a hosted approach to email archiving.

Implementation of a mail archiving solution can enable several email-related necessities, including maintaining an archive of all corporate email correspondence, meeting the growing numberof regulations for compliance, eDiscovery and other legislation,significantly reducing the demands on the Exchange server, and managing and reducing the company’s dependency on PST files.

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15 stupid small biz tech mistakes and how to avoid them

If you’re not particularly tech-savvy, then purchasing, maintaining, and securing technology for your business can be a confusing situation to navigate. You may already know plenty about what you should do, but what about what you should not do?

Everything including not backing up your data, using social networking tools incorrectly (or not at all), and using pirated software can affect your bottom line in a bad way. Here are 15 tech mistakes that small businesses make over an over again, and what you need to do to prevent them.

1. Relying too heavily on the cloud

Cloud storage is an excellent resource for small businesses. It’s often affordable, and it allows you to access data when you’re away from the office. However, relying too heavily on the cloud can be dangerous, as it means placing all of your important data in the hands of another company or person.

Even Yahoo’s Flickr recently accidentally deleted one user’s account–which had over 4000 photos stored on it–due to simple human error. Luckily, Flickr was able to restore the account fully later, but you may not be so lucky.

Related story – How to buy network-attached storage for your small business

While the cloud is a great place to visit, you shouldn’t make a permanent home there. Network-attached storage (NAS) drives and cloud storage services including Box.net are among the products that can be part of a solid storage strategy. Always save your important data in several places, including on physical drives–such as those that are virtually indestructible, such as ioSafe’s disaster-proof external hard drives.

2. Failing to back up appropriately

Speaking of backing up data, backup strategies are useless if you don’t use them. Unfortunately, this is often the case with individuals and businesses alike. Just having a physical hard drive or a cloud-based storage account won’t help you if you fail to keep your data backed up and your technology relevant.

Related story – Avoid disaster for your year-end backup data

Luckily, backup programs will do this for you. Back up your data on a frequent and regular basis, so you don’t have to do it manually. It’s especially critical to establish a good backup strategy if you’re a small business with no dedicated IT staff to do it for you; data recovery is a painful, expensive process.

3. Not protecting employee’s phones

As smartphones get smarter, it’s time to take a look at securing these miniature computers in our pockets. Because smartphones carry so much sensitive data, it’s important to take steps to secure both your own and your employees’ phones. Huge business secrets have leaked out because thoughtless employees have gotten a little tipsy.

Related story – Top 10 smartphone security risks and how to handle them

Ensure that your company’s smartphones are password-protected (Passwords like “1234” or “9999” don’t count), have remote wipe capabilities enabled, and have a secure operating system (BlackBerry allows users to encrypt SD cards, for instance), just in case someone does leave a handset in a bar somewhere. For more granular controls, also investigate smartphone management software, such as NotifyMDM.

4. Taking too many trips
Business trips can be expensive, even if you happen to be an airfare ninja. Instead of hopping on a plane to meet your business partners, consider using technology to create a virtual meeting environment. Various Web conferencingand video conferencing tools enable you to hold a virtual conference and save on time and transportation.

Plus, studies show that telecommuting is good for both employers and employees. Employers will get better quality work in less time and for less money, while employees will enjoy a less-restrictive schedule.

5. Disposing of old technology incorrectly

You can’t just toss computers, smartphones, and other gadgets in the trash, because they contain hazardous materials that can damage the environment. In a worst-case scenario, disposing improperly of old tech can cost you in fines. But this doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money for someone else to dispose of it properly.

Instead, consider cleaning up and reselling your old tech. Obviously this means your technology has to be in working condition, although some companies will still take phones with cracked screens. If your tech passes the standards of companies such as Gazelle orNextWorth, then remember to wipe your data first and then send along the gear, and you may get a decent check to use toward your office upgrade.

8. Taking the Groupon way out

Groupon and other social-shopping Websites can seem like a godsend for struggling businesses. Just offer your product or service up at a deeply discounted price, and get hundreds or thousands of brand new customers.

But if you’re a small business, don’t be so easily wooed by the potential advertising and new customers. Many small businesses are finding that offering Groupon-like deals can be a nightmare. A number of things can go wrong, especially if you don’t have the staff, time, or budget to accept hundreds of new customers purchasing your services for a fraction of the usual price. Offering a Groupon deal that you can’t deliver on will not only cost you money, it will cost you your reputation.

9. Slacking on security, security, security!

Your business may be small and unassuming, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t ready to steal your secrets. Along with securing your employees’ smartphones, it’s important to make general IT security a priority.

Make sure that you know the ins and outs of your operating system’s security features, and that you have updated firewalls and antivirus programs in place.

It’s also important to practice safe computing. E-mail and social networking accounts are particularly vulnerable to viruses and spam, so keep different passwords for different accounts and don’t click on any sketchy links. This might seem like common sense, but more than half of small businesses have no IT security guidelines in place, according to protection firm AVG.

10. Paying for photos

There are plenty of reasons small businesses use stock photos, such as updating Websites and creating original blog posts, advertisements, and so forth. But before you purchase those two or 20 stock photos to pretty up your company’s blog, check out free sources, such as photos labeled with a Creative Commons license.

Many Flickr users upload their photos under a Creative Commons license, which means you’ll likely be able to use their photos in exchange for attribution. To find Flickr photos with Creative Commons licenses, go to Flickr’s “Advanced Search” page and check the box at the bottom of the page that says “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content.” If you plan on using the photos for commercial purposes, or if you want to modify them in any way, check the corresponding boxes. You can also search beyond Flickr by looking up Creative Commons pictures on Google’s Image Search.

13. Choosing the wrong tech support

Tech support is a tricky subject. After all, if you’re a small enough business and you “know a guy,” why bother hiring a professional, right? Maybe. Gartner research has found that small businesses generally try to use as little IT help as possible, but this is not necessarily a good thing.

Related story – >How small shops can find the best tech support

While you can use your cousin’s girlfriend’s dog-trainer’s little sister–or even hire a remote professional on a per-problem basis–if you plan on expanding your business at all, it may be a good idea to hire a part-time or full-time professional. Not only will you be able to build a better relationship with an in-house IT pro, but you’ll also be able to expand technologically and upgrade your company seamlessly.

14. Skipping the training session

It may seem like I’m stating the obvious, but technology is useless unless you know how to use it. Purchasing an expensive new printer or desktop will only be a waste of money if you and your business don’t know how to use it to its full potential.

Related story – Skimping on staff training is “risky” for Canadian firms

Employee training is especially important if you don’t employ full-time IT support, because your workers will be on their own if something goes wrong. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to bring in an external trainer–though the investment might be worth it. Just make tech training a priority and ensure that everyone learns the fine points within the instruction manual.

15. Using pirated software

Purchasing software and the associated licenses for your small business can be daunting. It’s often expensive, and it’s easy to obtain applications instead through less-than-savoury venues. That said, using pirated software can score you a hefty fine from the Business Software Alliance watchdog group.

However, this doesn’t mean you have to overpay for software. Instead, check out alternative options, such as using free software, buying unused licenses, or paying monthly for services. Also consider purchasing used software, but make sure you know the intricacies of software licensing agreements.

Related story – Seven simple steps to keep your PC – and productivity – in top shape

If you happen to be guilty of one–or several–of these tech errors, don’t worry, because you’re definitely not the only one. However, now you know what mistakes to look out for and how to fix them when you see them. Ultimately, fixing these errors now will help you save money, create a more efficient workplace, and keep you from serious crises down the road. After all, technology is supposed to help–not hurt–your business.

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Seven simple steps to keep your PC – and productivity – in top shape

There are those days when malware, viruses, aging hardware, data back up problems and other glitches conspire to prevent you from finishing that report, closing the transaction, or just getting any work done.

Sounds familiar?

Problems such as these may exasperate the average consumer — but they could spell disaster for a business.

Companies large and small could end up spending thousands of dollars repairing poorly performing computer systems – and that that doesn’t include the less tangible costs of diminished employee productivity.

Lost productivity – from issues such as malware, viruses and identity theft – costs organizations at least $50 billion each year, according to a senior executive of a global computer service franchise.

And associated IT expenditures to deal with these problems have skyrocketed from $20 billion to $198 billion in the last five years, said Chip Reaves, national director for Computer Troubleshooters Ltd. (CTS) headquartered in Coquitlam, B.C.

“More than 80 per cent of all computer issues resulting in downtime can be traced to malware, viruses, identity theft and spyware,” he said.

More than 72 per cent of businesses in Canada cited “generic external threats” such as targeted malware attacks as their number one concern, according to a recent survey by Info-Tech research Group, an analyst firm based in London, Ont.

More than 56 per cent of the respondents identified so-called random external threats, such as viruses spread by e-mail, as the second most serious security concern.

These issues could also lead to a deterioration in PC performance and life.

Many computing calamaties can be avoided by adopting a few basic and inexpensive preventive measures, Reaves said.

“While the mere thought of trying to fix a computer can cause some people to break into a cold sweat, in fact it doesn’t take a technophile to prevent these problems.”

Here are seven tested steps he suggests to keep your PC healthy.

1. Follow a hardware replacement program

Studies show that the likelihood of physical problems with computer equipment rise significantly after 24 to 36 months, said Reaves.

He urges users to consider replacing computer systems every three years. “Considering how inexpensive computers have become, a major repair bill could easily cost more than purchasing an entirely new system.”

For most businesses it might also make more sense to buy high-end PC units at the onset says Ronald Miller, IT technical and operations manager for IT@Intel, a resource site for IT professionals hosted by the Santa Clara, Calif-based chip maker.

“We started out buying low-end PC units to cut cost,” he recalled. “We ended up taking a capital hit of about $40 million.”

Buying low-end shortened the useful life of their assets and reduced return of investment (ROI), Miller said.

From 1995 to 1998, Intel’s PC client policy was based on a four-year depreciation cycle and lower cost units for general use.

By the year 2000, when Microsoft released its Windows 2000 operating system (OS) and a new MS Office suite, Intel was stuck with 20,000 PCs that couldn’t run the new software effectively.

2. Get power protection

Power surges and drops can wreak havoc on equipment and precipitate data loss, says Reaves.

It seems like a no-brainer, but many users purchase a top of the line computer but neglect to invest on a good surge protector unit, he said. “Many people do not realize that surge protection wears off over time.”

He suggests that users replace surge protection units every two to three years.

3. Skip illegal software and update licenses

They may be cheap or even free, but pirated software products often do not come with the online support and ready access to security updates that legitimate software does.

Using unlicensed software products also expose individuals and businesses to potential fines and legal action, Reaves warned. He also said many software programs automatically report to the product’s makers via Internet instances of breach of license agreements.

“Users do not actually own the software they purchase they just have a license to use the product on a specific number of PC.”

To eliminate complications, Reaves advices users to stick with legitimate software products and be mindful of updating licenses.

For businesses and larger organizations, numerous asset management software products are available in the market, according to Michelle Warren, a senior analyst at Info-Tech Research Group.

“Apart from monitoring and automatically alerting IT teams about server bottlenecks and PC problems, these tools also report on impending software license maturity,” said Warren.

4. Invest in training

In most workplaces, it is often assumed that employees know how to use the machines and applications they work with.

In reality, only a small percentage of users are highly knowledgeable about the software and hardware packages they operate, said Reaves. “Most employees understand less than 20 per cent of the software packages they use.”

By investing in the appropriate role-based training for workers, many companies can increase the productivity of its personnel, maximize the potential of workers and software products and minimize the risk of technical problems.

5. Regularly maintain firewalls and security

Business must ensure that all computers in the firm contain the latest security patches and that firewalls are installed an operating properly.

“The Internet is full of hackers. If they get (either directly of through malware and viruses) the list of problems they can cause is pretty big,” said Reaves.

Among the many headaches that an unplugged security hole can cause are: theft of customer records, data erasure, and denial-of-service attacks.

Reaves said organizations should designate a person or team to monitor and maintain security patches and firewalls.

6. Deploy a good data back up system

For many organizations data is the lifeblood of the company. Unfortunately not all businesses take propers precaution to secure this vital asset.

“One critical data loss incident can potentially put a company out of business on the spot,” Reaves said.

Data back-up essentially entails having a duplicate copy of essential information stored in a secure location and readily available should disaster strike and your originals are destroyed.

Data that requires backup typically includes: client information, financials, inventory records, human resources records, e-mail and data for compliance and legal purposes and applications needed for employees to do their work.

Companies can either invest in a system automatically backs up data to a physically separate location or hire a third party that hosts a software-as-a-service package.

Info-Tech’s Warren said backing up to a separate location is essential to ensure that data is isolated from power outages or other issues that might affect the head office.

Users must consider a system flexible enough to scale to the company’s needs, helps administrators classify data and specifies information life cycle and capable of providing fast data retrieval.

7. Deploy good virus, spam and spyware protection

People seeking help in dealing with spam, virus and spyware attacks make 80 per cent of the calls that CTS receives.

Such attacks are likely to have a greater impact on SMBs or businesses run by a single person because these organizations often do not have an IT team to back them up, said Reaves.

Tell-tale signs that a PC has been compromised include irregular performance and slowness. “Very often this could mean that the machine has been infected by hundreds of spyware.”

Malware are constantly evolving. By keeping virus and anti-spyware tool up-to-date businesses can at least reduce the problems caused by malicious software products.

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Sharp rise in telecommuting as Canadian firms strive to cut costs

Today 10 per cent of Canada’s labour force – or 2.5 million people – work outside the office at least one day a week, says Roberta Fox, a board member of the Canadian Telework Association. Fox is also president and senior partner at Fox Group Consulting, a Toronto-based telecommunications analyst firm. 
 
One example is Canadian telecom firm Telus Corp. that has experienced dramatic results from its Workstyles initiative launched a year and a half ago.Its purpose is to help employees work when and where they are most effective.

The program is available to everyone in the company if their job allows it, says Mark Lang, HR business partner at Telus.
He said 18,500 of his company’s 30,000 employees are remote-work enabled and 15,500 of those do work remotely once a week.
On any given day there will be at least 6,500 people telecommuting, Lang says.
The Workstyles program seeks to enhance employee flexibility, contribute to the environment, and reduce real-estate costs.
Since its launch the program has produced many tangible benefits.
For instance, according to Lang, staff satisfaction and engagement is now greater, and this has reduced employee turnover. Attendance has also improved.
“I don’t think telework is making employees more engaged, but it’s allowing them to choose where they can be most effective.”
Lang notes that the program did encounter initial resistance from some managers — mostly from the baby boomers.
He said much of the resistance was caused by “perception” issues. Managers were concerned they couldn’t see if their report was working all day.
“But the issue should be performance. If employees are getting their work done and meeting all goals, who cares if they take a break to walk the dog?”
Lang compares the virtual office to being in university. In high school, attendance mattered, but once you get to university – all that matters is performance. This type of thinking needs to be applied to the workforce, he says.
“The millennials probably wouldn’t work for us if they couldn’t work from home. They demand flexibility.”  Now, however, telecommuting is constant across generations.”
 

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Tips for reducing fuel costs

With the cost of fuel hitting the headlines again this morning, along with warnings about how rising costs are savaging small businesses, we thought it appropriate to include a few tips on how to save reduce costs.

  1. Is your journey essential?
    Most of us would love to do without a car – if we had 48 hours in each day and just a couple of miles to cover in our daily lives –  but when you’re juggling a business and usually a family as well, it’s not practical to do without. But are there any journeys you can cut out, or combine with other tasks?
  2. Buy a fuel-efficient car
    I’m not going down the SUV / Chelsea tractor argument; and in snowy (picking Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh as random examples) or rural areas, an SUV might be considered essential. But if you’re using an SUV for short, urban journeys a fuel-efficient car will save a lot of money.
  3. Share journeys 
    We can’t compete with the USA yet when it comes to dedicated fast lanes for pool cars, but it can work for some. For commuting or long distance travelling, always think if you could share the journey with other people.
  4. Sharp accelerating and speeding
    A car has the greatest fuel efficiency at about 60mph. If you accelerate hard from 60 to 80, there will be a big % increase in fuel consumption. I’m not advocating sticking to 60mph on the motorway, but anything over 80mph will see your fuel levels drop pretty quickly.
  5. Work from home – and help your staff to work at home too
    We’re fortunate here at Microsoft to have the technology and the permission to work at home a fair bit. This not only significantly reduces travel costs but goes a long way to increasing loyalty and job satisfaction. The technology is easily available and need not be expensive. At a basic level it could simply be paying for telephone costs and/or broadband costs. Or even having a couple of ‘company’ smartphones for general use. If you have 5+ PCs you could consider subscribing to Microsoft Online Services – did you know for example, that you subscribe to web conferencing (Office Live Meeting), from £3.02 per user per month? This will not only save you time and travel costs it will also boost your green credentials. You can get a free 30-day trial of a web service too.
  6. Spot the cheapest petrol stations
    The price of petrol varies widely from town to town but we’re creatures of habit and generally fill up at the same garage. It’s worth noting prices on your journeys to see if you can buy cheaper elsewhere. And always avoid filling up on motorways if you can.
  7. Maximise car efficiency and reduce weight
    Dieting is one option of course, but have you checked what other excess weight you may be carrying? What’s in your boot?
    Improve aerodynamics by taking off empty roof-racks.
    Incorrect tyre pressures won’t help your fuel consumption either – make sure your tyres are at the recommended levels.
  8. Buy online
    Depending on delivery charges it may be cheaper to buy groceries /ink cartridges / office stationery online. Some supermarkets have ‘free’ periods when you don’t have to pay delivery. It’s worth weighing up delivery charges against the petrol and the time you would spend by getting in the car to go to the supermarket / retail centre. 

1.Powerpoint 2010 Broadcast

2.Remote Web Workplace/Remote Web Access

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Hello world!

Welcome to Multi Vertical Technologies new word press blog we offer infrastructure and collaboration solutions to small and medium enterprises in the Niagara region and Toronto. This is just a quick post expect more to come.

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