What The Future Of IT Looks Like

Do you remember what business looked like even a few short years ago? A lot has changed in a very short period of time. And with the current changes in technology, the future will also be changing at lightning speed. Scary? In some ways. But the shifts are coming whether we’re ready for them or not. Automation, cloud-based services, even artificial intelligence will all play a role in the way we get things done.

Routine tasks are no longer a part of our lives. We have the ability to transfer massive amounts of data and even many of our daily decisions to machines, meaning we can focus our time in other places. If you’re ready for it, the new world will be amazing.

Automation

You’ve probably experienced this in many areas of your business. Recent reports predict as much as 50 percent of the functions performed today could be automated using existing technology. Imagine what will happen as we continue to see the possibilities and reap the rewards.

The impact on IT will be widespread. As AI begins to take over and we automate most of the mundane tasks in IT, it will allow companies to dedicate more resources to moving business forward. That will accelerate the time it takes for innovating for the future.

Flexibility

It’s important to remember what machines and AI are good at. If you have a task that is narrow in focus, one that you can lay down in step-by-step format, one that is repeatable, it’s possible to release that to AI. That makes technical jobs, jobs that require you to think on the run, improvise throughout the process, ones that are unpredictable at best, those jobs are our future.

Tomorrow’s landscape will require people to think like never before. The best employees will be flexible and able to reason out complex problems. It’s about overcoming setbacks and being able to abandon ideas when they are no longer working out. Flexibility will be key.

While machines may be good at doing certain tasks, it will be people working alongside them to make them run better, more efficient, and give even more opportunity to the businesses that depend on them.

Collaboration

Remember when individual departments were set up in a business, each doing their own thing with little regard for the other departments? Sure, weekly meetings might have been necessary to steer this boats. But each department was uniquely their own.

We don’t see that as much anymore. A power shift is happening, and it requires everyone to work together towards the same end goal. That means IT functions are no longer in one department; every division has a piece of the pie.

Technology is no longer just a function that runs on the side. What happens in production impacts finance. Sales impacts the accounting department. And management on every level benefits from seeing how it all ties together. When roles are combined, and everyone sees how they fit into the jigsaw puzzle that makes up their enterprise, it runs smoother and more efficiently than ever.

Security

New technology will always introduce new problems. If there is one thing for sure, it’s that the security threat landscape will always be there, ever-growing, ever-changing. That requires experts to think on their feet, being able to identify holes as quickly as they happen, and finding the talent needed to thwart situations before they blow up.

While many IT departments in the past may have played reactor roles, they are quickly finding the landscape to be changing. Being caught shorthanded means putting a whole lot at risk; more than most business environments can handle. That means focus and talent have to come together and discover how best to move forward using whatever tools and resources they have on hand.

In all cases, businesses don’t have to go it alone. The C-suite teams that learn early on to rely on all they have available to them will succeed faster and move farther than ever before.

The only question now is: Will you be one of them?

How To Use Amazon’s Alexa For Business

How To Use Amazon’s Alexa For Business

Thinking of bringing a little help into your business environment? Thanks to artificial intelligence, smart speakers can bring over 15,000 skills to life, helping you answer questions, solve problems, control smart devices, and a whole lot more.

Amazon’s Echo was the very first smart speaker to enter the scene, and it still dominates the marketplace. The Echo lineup has grown to include the original Echo, the less expensive Echo Dot, a touchscreen-enabled Echo Show, and the newest launch the Echo Look.

The Echo connects with dozens of smart home devices, including Philips Hue, Nest, Ring, iHome Smart Plugs, iRobot Roomba Smart Vacuums, WeMo and more. It also promotes over 15,000 skills such as SiriusXM, Spotify, Pandora, Uber, Audible, NPR, and so many more.

There are three ways to enable a skill. The best option depends on what device you have on hand. You can use:

Voice – if you know what skill you want to use, you can say “Alexa, open [skill]” and it will pop to life. Of course, this needs initial data entry to work properly, but once it’s set to go, it will be the easiest way to access the skills you use most.

App – just like an app on your other mobile devices, you find the skill and tap which one you wish to use.

Website – the skills website is easy to use. Find the new skill you want, install and click on it.

Conference Manager

Echo syncs with Google Calendar to identify your next conference call and dial in at the appropriate time. It manages conference numbers and participant codes before connecting to you. All you need to say is “start my call.”

Mastermind

Mastermind is one of the most popular Alexa skills, letting you access your phone’s notification, send and get text messages, initiate phone calls, launch apps, and more. It’s a voice-activated productivity and communication powerhouse.

Order Supplies

It’s hard to argue with the ease of using Amazon to order just about everything. It becomes even easier when you have an Echo. Whether you’re running low on coffee for the office or need a new supply of pens, if it’s in your ordering history, it’s as easy as saying, “Alexa, order some coffee.”

To Do List

Echo has a simple built in to do list that can help you create day-to-day lists to stay on track. For more sophistication, you can use cross-platform apps such as Any.do or Todolist for a more robust feature set.

Ambient Music

If you are considering adding a Bluetooth speaker for a communal space or a private office, the Echo offers an excellent option. Use it with your Amazon streaming catalog, or connect with your Spotify or Pandora account for more options.

Expense Tracker

Tracking expenses is tedious for everyone in business. With Expense Tracker skill, you can manage expenses and create a financial overview. Simply create new categories to give more depth to the way you look at your business.

Order a Ride

Do you use Uber or Lyft on a regular basis? The app allows you to easily connect and reserve your ride as you’re heading out of the office.

Vacuum

Want to keep your office space clean without hiring a commercial cleaner daily? Connect to vacuums from Neato and Samsung and start their autonomous vacuums as you walk out the door.

Are you using Amazon’s Echo for your business? What skills are your favorite?

Public Cloud, Private Cloud, Hybrid Cloud: What’s The Difference?

Public Cloud, Private Cloud, Hybrid Cloud: What’s The Difference?

Running programs and storing information in the cloud is no longer a trending idea, but a standard practice for companies. Most businesses run applications or use cloud storage in some capacity in their day-to-day operations.

Just like evaluating which hardware or software your company uses, cloud storage options should also be assessed to determine the right path for you.

How important is security? Do you have special compliances to meet?

Does your business have heavy employee or customer interaction where response time is crucial?

Do you use cloud storage for backup and disaster recovery or for day to day use?

Do different departments utilize different programs? Do individual departments need individual security plus the ability to talk and share with one another?

Keep your needs in mind as you evaluate the differences between public cloud, private cloud, and hybrid cloud.

Public Cloud

This storage option is often favored by smaller businesses that have a lot of activity and not a lot of proprietary information that requires extended security. Public clouds are owned and operated by third party companies that offer solutions for specific needs. They might offer data standards for HIPAA compliance, for instance. They rent out space on their servers and charge according to the disk space, bandwidth, and special circumstances.

Public clouds will almost always be the cheapest and most cost-effective storage solution for a business, especially when you consider they take care of upkeep and upgrades themselves without requiring you to have someone on staff to handle the maintenance.

Private Cloud

As public cloud storage technology becomes more popular and offers more benefits, private cloud storage is declining. However, some companies still use private cloud storage because of the extra security.

The main difference between private and public cloud is where the server is housed. For some, they prefer to keep information on site; using a private cloud, it’s possible. In some cases, third-party solutions are willing to host your private cloud for you. They maintain a server dedicated only to your company. They house it either on-premises or at its server farm. They maintain it and modify it as needed, giving you the best of both worlds. It can be a perfect solution, especially if you have high security, high demand with the information you use every day.

Hybrid Cloud

A hybrid cloud employs both public and private cloud to host your data. It can be adapted based on your needs.

  • Different departments can use the best cloud option for their needs
  • High proprietary data on private cloud and less sensitive data on public cloud
  • Active operations on private cloud with backup on public cloud

The advantage of the hybrid cloud is you get flexibility where you need it most. You can choose cloud-based solutions built around your specific needs.

What cloud-based applications are you currently using? Is it the right choice for your business?

5 Easy Ways To Secure Your Data While On A Business Trip

5 Easy Ways To Secure Your Data While On A Business Trip

When it comes to business travel, nothing about it is ever easy. The lines. The waiting. The potential for theft.

We’ve had years to develop plans for keeping our laptops safe and secure. Now we’re faced with a slew of other problems: our smart devices. Increasingly, people are bringing with them a high amount of valuable data every time they walk out the door. It’s also highly desired. Skilled cyber criminals know this, and they understand the best place to look is a location where a multitude of them congregate every day: the airport. But it’s not just the airport you have to be leery of; sometimes the biggest risks are from the simplest of things.

Theft

Physical theft has been around since the beginning of time. If someone wants what you have, they find a way to take it. Most data theft is merely by chance. A phone or tablet is taken because the opportunity is there. There probably isn’t a risk of access to the data; the thief merely wanted the device. But that doesn’t make your pain any easier when you scramble to recover.

Location, Location, Location

Understand where you are going to and what you’ll need to stay safe while you’re there. If you’re traveling to China, for instance, assume you’ll have malware on your mobile device within the first hour you are there. Many organizations have a policy of traveling to high-risk countries with sanitized devices – phones or tablets with only the bare minimum or no data at all.

Public Risk

Never use public computers in a hotel business center, especially for sensitive data. This includes in-room iPads and other devices provided by some hotels. They are fine for checking your team’s scores or watching a late night movie. But never use it to open or access your email, and never use it to get into company accounts or servers. Anything that requires a password is off limits for public use.

Hotel Theft

Think your hotel room is any safer because your equipment is behind lock and key? Think again. Many phones, tablets, and laptops go missing from hotel rooms each year. They are easy to slip in and just as easy to walk out of without anyone noticing. If you have an in-room safe, stash your gear there. Better yet, pare down the equipment and only bring what you absolutely need.

Secure

Use every security measure possible with the equipment you bring.

Always password protect your equipment, your accounts, and your files. Encrypt all data on your device, but understand that encryption is illegal in some countries such as China and Russia. It’s grounds for immediate seizure of your device.

You can connect using a VPN – virtual private network – which offers secure networking protocol as you search. At a minimum, ensure every site you are on uses secure browsing – HTTPS. Where wi-fi must be used, take caution and only connect to authentic articles. Any criminal sitting in the area can open up a rogue hotspot and label it “airport” or “restaurant” – and that gives him immediate access to everything.

Always remember to backup everything you do along the way. That way if something happens, you won’t lose all the work you accomplished while you were away.

Does Your Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) Need Replacement?

Does Your Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) Need Replacement?

Working in technology, we talk a lot about backup plans.

In fact, we talk about it all the time.

Because nothing is more devastating and can ruin your business faster than losing your data and not having the ability to get it back.

But there’s another type of backup plan you should also have in place. It’s called a UPS – an uninterruptible power supply, and it’s one of the most important investments you can make for the computers in your office. Not only will it protect your hardware investment, but it works to prevent data loss too.

As we approach the hottest months of the year, the weather can get pretty wild. Storms whip up, temperatures rise, lightning strikes occur, and blackouts roll all across the United States. And when the electrical current that feeds your technology isn’t steady, it can have dire consequences for your electronics.

Spikes in electrical current can happen for many reasons:

Spikes – an increase in voltage for short periods of time. This can be a lightning strike or a sudden power surge when your power is restored after a widespread outage.

Power Surges – this is a dramatic increase in voltage. It last for moments but can have significant damage to electronics

Noise – interference from things like lightning or generators. It causes disrupted power going into your devices.

Blackout – a cut in power usually caused when a transformer is damaged, or a power line goes down.

Brownout – this happens when the circuits are overloaded. If you have too many electronics connected and in use at the same time, it can trigger a brownout.

Your UPS will provide consistent backup power during inconsistent power issues. It protects both your equipment and your data by stabilizing the voltage that runs through it.

But like anything, your UPS needs change as the equipment ages. The older your UPS, the more you should assess your needs and consider your options, which in some cases may be replacing the equipment.

Is any of this true for your situation?

  • The manufacturer no longer supports your equipment. If the company no longer offers your technology and you aren’t eligible for a service contract, it’s time to replace your existing UPS.
  • You can no longer find parts to repair and maintain the equipment.
  • The equipment no longer supports the IT loads for which it was intended. The same holds true if your IT needs have significantly outgrown your equipment.
  • UPS firmware/software is no longer compatible with current security protocols, leaving you open for cyber attacks.

A new UPS can offer many advantages, such as greater energy efficiency and a more intuitive, user-friendly interface. Every case is different, but if your UPS is more than ten years old or you’re unsure if it’s fully meeting your needs, it may be time to start assessing your options.

How Old Is Your Disaster Recovery Plan?

How Old Is Your Disaster Recovery Plan?

Do you have a disaster recovery plan in place for your office?

If the answer is yes, how old is it?

Just a few years ago, we operated our businesses in entirely different ways. Standalone software has migrated to cloud-based platforms. Our dependency on in-house technology is quickly disappearing.

Almost everything we use is online. But if the disaster recovery plan you created doesn’t take these changes into account, a disruption could leave you without your data. Or worse, without a business.

Businesses today are spending around 34 percent of their annual IT budgets on hosting and cloud services. Every year, this number will continue to rise as we increase our reliance on external sources for infrastructure, application, and management services.

Our connectivity as at an all-time high, rising with every new strategy and application we take on. But if the unthinkable happens and we’re not prepared for it, a company might not survive. According to FEMA, 40 percent of small businesses never reopen their doors.

Having a disaster recovery plan in place is mandatory. Upgrading and reevaluating your disaster recovery plan on a regular basis is equally compulsory. Whether it’s a short-term technical mishap like a power outage or a disaster like a flood or fire, knowing your direction in the days and weeks that follow will ensure the success of your business.

Disaster recovery planning is all about thinking up the worst case scenarios and creating a plan that counters each of those actions. Whether it’s a major natural disaster like an earthquake or a hurricane, or a smaller isolated even, there are three ways you can fail:

  • Ignore your weaknesses and have no plan in place
  • Rely on one single point of entry without a backup plan
  • Fail to test the plan for internal weaknesses

Worst case scenario always boils to finding the weakest point and exploiting it in whatever way possible. If you don’t know what that is, you can’t establish the right policies to put in place to ensure it never happens.

Want to see how your current plan operates? Run a “fire drill” to find out how your team performs. Where does productivity falter? Where do systems simply shut down? You may be surprised at how quickly things fall apart, or even where the weakest points actually lie.

You’re Cloud Based and The Internet Goes Down. Now What?

You’re Cloud Based and The Internet Goes Down. Now What?

It’s one of the greatest fears of managers who are considering moving to the cloud: an office full of employees, customers standing by, and a major crash that prevents access to data.

We’ve all witnessed being without electricity for a few minutes. But when that turns into hours or even days, you quickly realize how dependent we are.

Our data is a little different. We’re aware of what it means to our business. Cloud-based applications are still new enough that we understand the vulnerabilities. If our data is online and it’s down, what would we do?

And it’s not just the Internet. If all of your data is on G Suite and it went AWOL for a day, how would you operate? It’s not as unrealistic as some would assume.

It could be a costly experience. According to one IDC estimate, the average total cost of unplanned application downtime per year is between $1.25 billion to $2.5 billion for Fortune 1000 companies.

Like all other IT issues, the difference between operating successfully on the Internet and experiencing these downtime issues is having a plan in place. The key is not in thinking about what would happen if the unthinkable happens, it’s being prepared for it instead.

Start with a contingency plan

For every application you use in your business, you should have an alternative option. That means if you rely on G Suite for your sales presentation, you should have a backup method for accessing it on-site or on a hard drive.

For some programs, keeping backup copies in different forms is easy to do. It makes sense. But not all applications are that easy. When you’re working with third-party programs, you’re dependent not only on the Internet service, but also on the reliability of the third-party. You are very dependent on the provider and the contingency plan they have in place.

If you think about it before it happens, you can consider different options before the unthinkable happens. Sometimes it might involve finding different connections, or moving to a location where Wi-Fi is in place. You can always have some element in local storage, such as syncing with Dropbox.

Check premium apps for offline sync

Why should you upgrade to premium programs? In many cases, it’s for the feature of being able to access your data anytime. Before you start relying on a free app, consider the premium option carefully. Many of them have offline modes that allow you to keep working with the program no matter if you’re online or not. Once you return to a connection, the program will automatically sync and upload any new content you’ve added since the last update.

G Suite, for instance, has the ability to allow document creation and editing offline with transparent syncing of files when you’re connected. It’s all performed on the fly as you move to various locations. This same offline feature is also built into mobile applications, giving you the same accessibility and user experience no matter if you’re working on a laptop, tablet, or phone.

Provide training to your staff

Because cloud-based applications are still new in the work environment, your employees may not know about cloud-based functionality. Just because they are proficient in Microsoft Word, for instance, doesn’t mean they understand how Google Docs operates. Yes, they have the basic wordprocessing skills down, but they also need to understand the functionality of operating in both offline and online modes.

This is where IT plays a major role. An IT consultant should be able to help you select apps and services that offer the right benefits for your company, and help bring your entire staff up to speed. That means ensuring everyone understands how to operate in every situation, even when access to the Internet is anything but perfect.

What is your contingency plan for when you don’t have Internet access?