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News (page 7)

News and updates to address your southeast Michigan business IT issues.

Can You Get Your Data Back from the Cloud when You Need It?

While the cloud can be a good place to store data and backups, you need to make sure you can quickly get it when you need it. Restoring data is a critical component of any disaster recovery planning initiative. In case of a disaster or unforeseen occurrence that requires you to recover your data, you need to ensure that you can bring it back online within a time frame that meets your business needs. A few weeks ago, Amazon suffered several days of outage in its EC2 and RDS service, bringing down dozens if not hundreds of services along with it — including such high-profile sites as Reddit, Heroku, Foursquare, Quora, and many others. Although the cause of that outage has been analyzed extensively in many forums, the discussion is interesting and relevant because it brings attention to the lesson that wherever or whomever you entrust your data to—be it in the “cloud” or to a big company like Amazon — it pays to be smart about how you manage your data, especially if it’s critical to your business. Understand your options. When someone else is managing your data, it’s easy to leave the details to them. However, making sure that you at least have some understanding of what your options are in what different service providers can offer you will pay dividends later if something goes wrong, since you’ll be better equipped to make an informed decision on the spot. Things you should look at include: Who is the service provider? What is their history? Who is behind them? What is their track record? Where do they store your data? Do they own the servers where your data is stored or do they rely on someone else? Is your data stored within the local area (i.e., a drive away) or is it distributed all over the map? Do they provide a mirror of your data within your own server, or is everything in their data centers? What measures do they employ to make sure your data is safe? What methods do they employ to ensure you can get to your data when you need it? Do they provide service level assurances or guarantees to back up their claims? These are just some of the basic questions you should be asking of your service provider. Do a test drive. Often you will not know exactly how a service works until the rubber hits the road, so to speak. Ask your service provider for a demo or a trial period. Test how fast it is to back up your data, but more importantly how fast you can bring it back when you need it. This is especially important if you’re talking about gigabytes of data. Understand that doing backups in the cloud can be hampered by your bandwidth and many other components of your system and theirs. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Some service providers give users the option of storing data in multiple sites, to ensure that your data is safe if one site goes down. But why rely on just one service provider when you can get the services of multiple providers instead? Or perhaps better yet, why not manage some of your data on your own? While it may be complex and costly to reproduce what many service providers can provide today, it is relatively easy to set up a simple system to keep at least some of your really, really important data locally by using an unused computer or a relatively cheap, network-attached storage device or secondary/removable drive that you can buy at your local store. Create a plan and write it down . Unforeseen occurrences can and will happen — not only from your side but from your service provider’s as well. When they do happen, you will need to have a contingency plan ready, often referred to as a Business Continuity Plan. Make sure to document your plan in writing, and communicate it to everyone in your organization so they will know what to do in case disaster strikes. With its promise of unprecedented efficiency, reliability, scalability, and cost savings, cloud computing and storing your data in the cloud is the topic du jour these days. However, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the basic due diligence that’s necessary regardless of how or where your data is stored. Ultimately, it is your business on the line—and being prudent and proactive about how your data is stored, managed, and (most importantly) recovered in times of need will save you much grief when you actually need it.

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Using/Disabling the Window Snap Feature in Windows 7

When Windows 7 was released, it introduced a new feature called Snap — which allows users to easily resize windows when they are dragged to the edges of the screen. Depending on where the window is dragged, it expands vertically, takes up the entire screen, or arranges itself side-by-side with another open window. If you find this feature more annoying than helpful, you can disable it in the “Ease of Access Center” in the Windows Control Panel. Click on the “Change how your mouse works” link, scroll down to the “Make it easier to manage windows” section, then check the box labeled “Prevent windows from being automatically arranged when moved to the edge of the screen.”

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The ROI Series: Calculating the ROI of a Technology Investment—Part 2

Cost savings are usually important to small businesses even in the best of times. New technology solutions may be necessary for survival and growth, however—and they may not be as expensive as you think when you consider their return on investment (ROI). In this four-part series, we’ll explain what ROI is, help you understand indirect ROI, and provide guidelines for predicting and measuring the ROI of a technology investment. PART 2: The Indirect Benefits of Technology Implementation It’s easy to see the direct benefits of new technology, such as reduced headcount or increased revenues. That’s because they show up as line items on financial statements. But it’s also important to consider the indirect benefits: an ROI that cannot be easily quantified but is nonetheless realized. A good example of an indirect ROI is employee productivity. When you implement new technology, employees can perform their jobs better and faster. For example, an application that facilitates better communication between attorneys and clients at a law firm may not generate a direct return by reducing head count, but it can significantly improve the quality of service clients receive while giving attorneys more time to focus on value-added tasks, such as sales. That, in turn, will increase clients and profits—a very clear indirect return. All technology generates some indirect returns, but how much is direct and how much is indirect? One research firm found that direct returns account for only half of technology ROI. Less than 50 percent of companies that implemented a document management system saw a direct ROI, while 84 percent saw an indirect ROI in the form of measurable increases in employee productivity. To determine how much of a proposed implementation’s ROI is indirect, you must consider three key factors: the kind of technology being implemented, the areas in which it will be implemented, and your current IT environment. The kind of technology being implemented. While all technology provides some indirect ROI, some technology generates more. For example, supply chain software can improve productivity, but most of its ROI is direct, in the form of reduced inventory and transportation costs. On the other hand, collaboration software may have a huge impact on worker productivity by reducing the time it takes to execute group-oriented tasks, such as sharing information and coordinating meetings. Likewise, content management systems tend to generate significant indirect ROI by leading to faster filing and decreased retrieval times. The areas in which technology will be implemented. Where and how you deploy technology will also impact the portion of its ROI that is indirect. As an example, consider a business intelligence dashboard. Depending on how it is used, ROI could be more direct or indirect. If it is used to give a logistics manager the ability to better monitor and control transportation costs, the ROI is primarily direct. If it is used to provide financial analysts with quicker access to monthly metrics, the primary benefit will be time savings, an indirect ROI. Your current IT environment. Finally, the extent to which a new technology’s ROI is direct or indirect may depend on how much change the technology leads to. Consider an application that tracks employee hours. A company that has manually collected time will see significant direct ROI in a reduction of the number of timekeepers needed. On the other hand, a company that already has an automated attendance process will see more indirect ROI in the form of efficiencies through time savings. Indirect ROI may not be readily visible, but it is critical to driving business value. A business that ignores indirect ROI, choosing not to improve its technology because there is no direct ROI, will not be able to keep up with competitors. In the next part of this series, we offer specific tips for predicting ROI.

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Cyber-Thieves Exploit Online Banking Weaknesses

A recent attack by cyber-criminals has highlighted the need for many SMBs to re-evaluate the security protocols between themselves and their bank. Hackers exploit weaknesses in such systems, and when successful, can siphon tens of thousands of dollars from your accounts. In a recent attack, cyber-thieves managed to get away with $63,000 after they exploited vulnerabilities in the online payroll system of a small business with its bank. First, the crooks managed to infiltrate the company’s system through a piece of malware called the Zeus Trojan. This gave them access to the company’s data, including the password and username used in transacting with the company’s bank. The thieves then created several new ghost employees and created payroll accounts for them, which they sent to the bank and authenticated using the company controller’s username and password. And to cover their tracks, the hackers erased the confirmation emails regarding the transaction. This incident highlights the need for better security systems in both the business and their bank – as security experts cite online banking transactions as one of the favorite targets of cyber-criminals. Cyber-attacks such as this one exploit weaknesses in many existing systems that rely on very simple and automated authentication procedures to confirm transactions. A direct threat to your business finances is not something to be taken lightly. You not only need to review your current online banking system, but also the current security protocols you have installed, since hackers and cyber-criminals are constantly updating Trojans and other malware to adapt to changing IT protection systems. We encourage you to have us take a look at the systems you have in place to determine if you are at risk for attacks like these. Please do not hesitate to contact us and we will be happy to draw up custom security solutions that address your specific needs. References: Sold a Lemon in Internet Banking Cybercrooks Drive Away With $63,000 from Car Dealership

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IT Support—It’s Really Business Support

Are you investing in IT to win — or just to keep up? Many, if not most, companies use IT as a tool, and in doing so they tend to focus on its cost. A better approach is to consider it a strategic asset. Doing so can differentiate your company and increase your profits. Differentiate your company and increase your profits — with IT It’s easy to think of IT as a tool that comes with a cost — but doing so is a big mistake. That’s because IT, when used properly, can be a strategic asset. It can make your information more accurate, improve your employees’ response time, and even differentiate your company in the marketplace. To make IT a strategic asset as opposed to a tool, it needs to add value. To determine where to make improvement, you’ll want to look at your value chain, which includes all the activities your business performs, and ask which ones earn profits. For example, if you’re a manufacturer, better IT could result in more efficient supply purchasing. If you’re a retailer, better IT could result in fewer units needing after-sales service and repair. Focus on improving IT in those areas and you’ll likely improve profits. An added benefit of this exercise: The use of IT in a new way may create even more opportunities for your company. For example, the Internet allowed Apple to invent iTunes, and now mp3 downloads have overtaken CD sales. Even small businesses can experience this. Case in point: The invention of iTunes has given many startup software companies a distribution channel for apps that otherwise may not have been invented. But the idea doesn’t have to be visionary in this way: YourLittleFilm.com, a small business that creates custom short films, used customer relationship management (CRM) software to help follow up on business leads , and got a 10 percent response rate. How and where you add value with IT developments will depend on your business model. There is little point, for example, in automating production if your customers cherish hand-made products. However, you might find that investing in a CRM system might give you a more efficient way to track your customers’ preferences and provide them with a more personalized service. Using your IT as a strategic asset gives you tools to manage clients worldwide, increases your visibility, and lets you compete with much larger players. Contact us to find out how you can use technology to gain an edge.

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