Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Outsourcing? Really. Its OK: How it can save time and money

Outsourcing? Really. Its OK: How it can save time and money
Outsourcing? Really. Its OK: How it can save time and money

Outsourcing? Really. Its OK: How it can save time and money

Almost by definition, small business owners and entrepreneurs cringe at the concept of outsourcing. Those who start their own companies like the control and autonomy it provides them. Unfortunately, that preference for control and autonomy may have some bad side-effects when it comes to IT.

Small business don't have the resources to fully support all of their IT infrastructure needs. The present in-house staff is most likely very busy putting out day-to-day fires. One statistic suggests 65% of IT budgets go to nothing more than keeping the lights on. In short, staff is busy making sure the printer works or reloading a PC infected by a virus after an employee fell for a phishing email. This means that small firm's expenditures on IT are not improving operational, efficiency, or enhancing productivity or competitiveness.

There is an alternative. Managed Service Providers are outside consultants you can bring in to handle the day-to-day tasks, so your own IT resources can be used more productively.

How might an MSP supplement your IT efforts?

  1. 24/7 operations center - Small businesses can benefit from, but simply cannot afford 24/7 internal monitoring of their IT infrastructure. Many of the issues that become costly business disruptions, such as hardware, software, and applications failures are completely preventable if they're detected and addressed early enough. It is a reality that your systems run 24/7, but you can't support a 24/7 IT staff. A MSP, however, can use economies of scale to provide around the clock monitoring of your IT operations.
  2. Disaster recovery and business continuity plans - Small businesses have limited resources, so if there were to be a serious business interruption or data loss, they could be completely out of luck. However, risk assessments and continuity plans are likely outside of a small business owners field of expertise. A MSP can be brought in to design a complete solution.

These are just 2 ways that a small business owner can benefit from passing along IT support to an outside source. In both cases, small business owners don't lose any control of the key parts of the business operation. Instead, the distractions of IT support are moved along to an expert, while the entrepreneur focuses on what she does best: running her business. We'll talk in another blog about other benefits of outsourcing IT, but in the meantime, see our e-guide "Outsourcing Isn't a Dirty Word: Meet Managed Services, Your IT Team's New Best Friend - Managed Services".

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Run your Business, not an IT Company

Run your Business, not an IT Company
Run your Business, not an IT Company

Run your Business, not an IT Company

You went into business because you have an interest and expertise in some particular product or service. You began the firm to offer that product or service, but a dirty little problem came along with that new company. IT requirements. You need equipment, and you need networks, and printers, and data storage to keep the company up and running. As a consequence, you've become responsible for managing something you probably don't care very much about or even understand especially well.

Managed Service Providers can be a solution. A small business can off load a variety of IT tasks that are becoming a distraction to everyday business operations and strategy.Here are just two examples.

Software updates and security audits: Your present in-house staff may be spending most of its time fixing everyday problems. As a result, they may have to delay vital security measures, such as applying tested security patches or updating virus software programs. Working with a MSP will eliminate much of the work overload that leads to system or security vulnerabilities.

An end user help desk: If you have any in-house staff, they are probably well-trained and very qualified. Are their skills being wasted on all the little daily issues of cranky printers and broken keyboards? MSPs can offer an end user help desk that can handle all those calls that pull your own staff away from larger efforts that can enhance productivity and move the business forward.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

What is the Cloud: A Simple Analogy

What is the Cloud: A Simple Analogy
You use the cloud and don't even know it. Do you go to Amazon and create a wish list? Do you have an email account on Yahoo? That is cloud computing. All your emails are stored on Yahoo servers somewhere. They are on physical servers, of course, but they aren't on your laptop. The advantage is that when you spill your coffee onto the laptop keyboard, you haven't lost all your emails even if you never backed up your hard drive. ( If you haven't, shame on you, by the way.)
Here is a simple analogy to explain how the cloud works and why it might be a very useful part of your business model. Picture the small, very cramped office space of a little start-up. You and a few coworkers sit in tight quarters with messy desktops buried in mounds of papers, files, and pizza boxes. There is absolutely no room for storage. (Throw the boxes out yourself. There are limits even to cloud technology) It will be a long time until you can afford a larger office space. Your building manager offers to rent you an empty file cabinet in the basement. Although the basement space is shared with other tenants, only you and your team have keys to this locked cabinet where you will store all those piles of paper. Your rent is relatively cheap compared to other tenants, since you're only paying for the cabinet, and not the larger lockers they have leased.
Suddenly, those once covered desktops are clean, leaving space to work. More importantly, the papers are all nearby, each of you has a key, but they are safe from everyone else in the building or outside. They are also safe from spilled coffee and pizza crumbs. You've avoided the dramatic jump in fixed costs required to find bigger office space, when all you needed were several feet of filing cabinets. Even better, the money saved is put back into the core goal of providing a product or service to a customer.
The cloud does the same thing. You rent only the space you need, it is safer from hackers than your on-site server will ever be, secure from thieves, and protected from accident prone employees. Unlike the rest of us, cloud service providers don't have coffee cups near their keyboards or forget to do monthly backups. In short, the cloud provides scalable storage without large incremental leaps in fixed costs you really can't afford.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Data Security: A Formidable Task for Law Firms

Data Security: a Formidable Task for Law Firms
By the very nature of their business, attorneys generate data that is very sensitive. As a law firm, you carry a tremendous responsibility to guard that data. These days, technology enables you to store and access information very easily and it also allows you to retrieve it at a moment's notice from remote locations via a variety of different devices. Unfortunately, this convenience can pose a serious challenge to the security of that data. In particular, two security concerns are a breach of data by an unauthorized third party, and the accidental release by authorized users due to human error or carelessness. Of course, it goes without saying that any data breach means considerable liability and a damaged professional reputation. You need efficient IT management that can protect your data and defend your systems against cyber attacks. But who in-house is technically proficient to manage the systems to ensure you're protected 24/7 against all the latest hackers and viruses? Managed IT service companies, known as MSPs, are professionals who can provide solutions for these challenges. Let's look at some of factors that create risks for small- to medium-sized law firms.
  1. Accessibility: With digital storage, and the decrease in paper storage, legal professionals can now easily gain access to necessary information remotely using a variety of different devices. All of this 24/7 access boosts productivity but it creates new risks that didn't exist when paper files were on-site in locked cabinets. How do you support this remote access without opening up new doors for a data breach?
  2. Growing threats: As cyber criminals constantly devise new ways to hack into systems, your network firewalls have to be updated constantly. No technology, hardware or software can be installed and then forgotten. New viruses and software bugs prompt the need to develop new security patches that have to be installed quickly to keep ahead of with growing s. Staying ahead is a constant battle.
  3. Multiple locations: As the firm grows so does the IT infrastructure. Even small- to medium-sized law firms may have multiple offices. That means they now have a bigger IT network that becomes more difficult to manage and secure.
  4. Reliance on technology: With this increasing reliance on technology, your risk of serious business disruption grows if you have any kind of technology failure. Failure can arrive as a data breach, a virus, failed hardware or software, power outage or natural disaster. That means plans for disaster recovery developed by an IT team are very important.
  5. Limits of in-house support: For most small- to medium-sized firms, there are neither the resources nor the on-going need to have a fully trained support staff available 24/7. You may only have one or two people in this role. As a result, in-house staff may not be able to keep abreast of all the updates and regulatory changes all on their own. Finally, there is one additional limit to in-house support—your own time. You have to supervise them, and its unlikely you have either the background or desire to do that effectively.
  6. Lack of IT management expertise: Law firms specialize in practicing law. They are not IT specialists. Managing partners remain primarily legal professionals. Their background is not in the management of a technical staff.
Addressing issues: Now we can look for solutions to address the issues discussed above. When it comes to IT management, law firms should have three major goals.
  1. Data security: Managed IT services can ensure the security of your data because they keep up with new technologies. They will update their software applications as the updates become available. That allows them to meet new challenges posed by cyber criminals.
  2. Business continuity: Business continuity is very significant for the survival of a business. When your business is disrupted, your fixed costs don't stop, and neither do the demands of your clients. MSPs are full time professionals whose resources you can call on 24/7. They can also develop continuity and recovery plans to protect your business and defend against downtime and outages.
  3. Cost effectiveness: Like any other business, you are always looking to keep your cost of doing business under control. Since IT is an integral part of your business and you can't do without it, you need to address ways to manage it with the most efficient use of resources. Outsourcing some or all of your IT management can provide resources and availability that is just not possible with an in-house staff. MSPs can provide 24/7 monitoring, technology upgrades, and the depth of expertise and staffing that isn't feasible in the business model of a small- to medium sized business.
In conclusion, we have discussed important aspects of your business and six major issues that present IT management difficulties. You also know which goals you should keep in mind when having your IT networks managed. Managed Services Providers (MSPs) have a business model to help you meet those goals with a long term plan for data security and business continuity.

Why Do Law Firms Need Managed IT Services

Why Do Law Firms Need Managed IT Services
Every law firm has two major challenges. One of them is the storage of the sheer volume of data their business creates and the other one is the protection of that data. The last few decades' worth of technology has created a very solid solution for the first challenge. A small computer disk can hold terabytes of data inside an enclosed drive. If that seems like too much, the cloud has offered an off-site solution to the problem that eliminates hardware maintenance. Before these solutions came along, information could only be saved on paper that filled boxes and boxes.
Security is a much more complex challenge. Before, you could lock those boxes of papers in an office, turn on the burglar alarm and go home. Someone would have to physically go there and break into your office to steal that information, and it would be pretty noticeable when they walked out carrying boxes. Nowadays all someone needs is some knowledge of computers and software, and they can hack into that material from afar. They don't even have to be in the same country much less in the same city or neighborhood. Therefore, the unintended consequence of a solution for one problem turned out to be the creation of another, yet much more serious problem: the loss of security. Now the technology has to be managed systematically and monitored very closely. That is why law firms need managed IT services.
Here are a few advantages of having a Managed Service Provider or MSP handle your IT needs.
Accessibility: As an attorney, you need to have the ability to access your files anytime and from anywhere. Let's say you are in a court and suddenly you discover that an important document is needed. You should be able to retrieve that on-demand from any device you carry. Managed IT could have all the files available to you through in-cloud storage.
Security: Given the nature of information that law firms are entrusted with, security can't be overemphasized. Breach of that information can ruin lives, sometimes irreparably. That means damage to your professional reputation as well as the bottom line. So how can managed services prevent that from happening? By being proactive. Your core business is to provide legal services to your clients. Worries about the security of your systems should be the last thing on your mind. MSPs are there to prevent viruses and any other suspicious activity that might bring your systems down. Their software applications are capable of alerts whenever something unusual is taking place inside your networks.
Government Regulations: Law firms deal with a lot of client information that is protected by law. For example, HIPAA has very stringent regulations protecting medical records. Laws provide for stiff penalties and fines if the security of those records is breached. Outdated software and hardware may expose those records to hackers because your in-house IT team is behind with updates.
Multiple Offices: Many law firms operate from more than one location. IT managed services can bring uniformity and the necessary coordination between multiple sites. Your in-house IT team may not have the ability to do that or the budget to maintain it. Also, some firms that work in coordination with other organizations may allow access to some of their systems. Your IT management company can ensure that other firm's systems don't create risks for your network because of lack of compatibility or security flaws.
Lack of Technical Experience: You know the law, but you can't keep up with ever evolving technology. The new complexities emerging, such as Bring Your Own Device to work, must be implemented if businesses want to survive in a very competitive environment. It is also important for revenue growth due to the efficiencies it brings to your environment. As a law firm, it is in your best interest that you let an MSP take care of your IT needs.
Managing your Growth: Your law firm probably started with a couple of computers, printers, copiers and a fax machine. It was easy to take care of all your hardware. Also, during those good old days nobody was trying to hack into your computers. Your business is now growing. You have a staff of dozens and many desktops, servers, and software packages. Everyday it gets increasingly difficult to keep track of new technologies. So managed services is not an option. It has become a necessity for your revenue growth and business continuity.
Monitoring: One way to avoid critical breakdowns and security breaches is 24/7 monitoring. This is the surefire way to avoid and control security breaches, viruses and hacker attacks, but it isn't something a small firm can do on its own. It requires the presence of 24/7 labor plus investment in exceptionally sophisticated software and as well as hardware. This sort of investment is not practical for smaller firms.
Disadvantages of In-house IT Management: The break-fix approach is not very practical for highly sensitive networks. For one, it is expensive. The old adage 'prevention is better than cure' fits well here. In the long run it makes good financial sense to have someone who is proactively monitoring your systems day and night, preventing system breakdowns, especially with extremely sensitive information on your computers and servers. You do not want to wait for disaster to strike to fix the problem. Some of the damage may be irreparable. In addition, breakdowns are costly in terms of lost productivity and business disruption. MSPs specialize in BDR (Backup & Disaster Recovery), which is important for minimizing downtime and maintaining business continuity. The peace of mind that an MSP can provide will not come from someone on call or who works from 9 to 5.