3 Ways to Ensure Successful Co-Managed IT

Life is all about rolling dice. All our choices, outcomes, and current standings are the culmination of bets we make in our life, no matter how big or how small. Sometimes we roll the golden number, and the vending machine drops two bags of Fritos. Sometimes we roll snake eyes, and the Midtown transformer catches on fire. Everything in this world is uncertain, but, at the same time, everything can be prepared for. To be knowledgeable and proactive is to establish security in insecurity; it is how we roll the dice which is most important.

Deep meaningful introduction aside, co-management of IT is the heart and soul of this concept in the scope of business. Currently, with technology being the backbone of many businesses, IT departments are necessary to help troubleshoot problems and manage productivity. However, a single IT department may not cut it, especially as a business expands: problems arise exponentially and become overwhelming fast. Co-management of IT provides your business with proactive support and training in an independent yet mutually beneficial relationship. In this blog post, I will explain how to get the most from co-management through parallelism between teams, organizational structure, and trust.

Communication, Cooperation, Coordination

One of the biggest challenges of co-management is having everyone on the same page. It can quickly become detrimental to the working relationship if teams seclude information. For example, if the IT department decides to switch OS systems without the proper planning and roll-out strategy with consultants, the co-management will have been interrupted and essentially cut out of the process. Communication changes in the environment should also be documented so that no party is left in the dark.

Structure Kills Redundancy

Organizational structure can provide an unexpected boost to company efficiency. The structure provides a concrete plan for who does what and closely relates to problem escalation. If there is a problem that needs higher expertise, there should be a minimum redundancy. As the service request moves up the chain of command, the next tier engineer should not need to redo something that the previous level has already done. When escalating service requests, it is essential that the proper information is relayed in the process such as symptoms, screenshots, error logs, troubleshooting steps are taken and anything else that would make the escalation process more streamlined.

It is also recommended that you have a more function-based organizational structure. More linear, hierarchal structures have been proven to inefficient and prone to growing pains during company expansions. Changing your organizational structure will not only bolster productivity and create an accountability feedback loop, but it will also help with ensuring the success of co-managed IT. If it is comprehensible of who is responsible for certain functions of the company, simple troubleshooting becomes incredibly easy, leaving room to focus on the bigger ticket items.

Trust, The Floodgate of Efficiency

All relationships are built on trust. The IT department needs to trust that the consultant services will give their utmost attention to assisting them and vice versa. The consultants must also trust that the internal IT team does their own part. There is no room for fingerpointing or politicking. A good solid foundation of trust helps eliminate these issues and enables the teams to work together towards the same goal.


Co-managed IT is purposeful as it is powerful and needs to be treated as such. It is not a one-team-does-all operation, but it is also not an anything-goes relationship. Both parties need to respect one another as business partners because, in the end, successful business outcomes are the main priority.

The top 5 business risks of not upgrading your Windows 7 or Server 2008

You and your employees are familiar with Windows 7 and 2008 server. You know exactly how it operates because you’ve been using it for years to operate your business.

We get it. And we get that upgrading to Windows 10 or 2012 server sounds like an incredibly daunting, stressful, and time-consuming task.

The thing is, if you continue to use Windows 7 or server 2008, you are putting your business at risk, both in terms of security and output. Not only are you making your business a more attractive target for malicious attackers, but you are also missing out on a whole host of new, productivity-boosting features.

Here are the top five business risks of failing to upgrade from Windows 7 or server 2008.

1. No technical or security support from Microsoft

Support for Windows 7 and server 2008 is ending. Microsoft has already put a date on it: January 14, 2020. After that, you won’t have access to technical assistance or security updates, opening your business up to all kinds of unwanted issues such as hacks, viruses, malware, and other potentially disastrous security flaws.

2. No access to up-to-date malware protection

Windows 10 comes with an in-built, data protecting program called Windows Defender Exploit Guard, which scans for and removes nasty malware. What’s more, it offers additional tools that block and quarantine malicious software on your devices and business network – including ransomware.

You’ll also have the option to subscribe to Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection, a more complex, cloud-based app for handling security risks on your business’s network.

3. Reduced productivity

As we’ve already mentioned, Windows 7 and server 2008 are far more vulnerable to a malware infection. Now imagine what would happen if your devices – or network – did, in fact, fall victim. The impact varies among industries. For example, if you’re in the retail industry, you are putting your customers’ financial information at risk.

Whatever your field, sticking with Windows 7 will reduce productivity as you begin to grapple with more and more security threats – without Microsoft’s support.

4. Slow, manual configuration of business computers

The Windows 10 Autopilot program makes system configuration quick and easy for business computers – configurations can be downloaded via the cloud and applied to any computer on your network.

For example, say an employee purchases a new computer. After connecting to your office network, the computer will automatically be configured as per your business’s requirements. Alternatively, a system configuration can be created and customized for a specific employee.

5. Less secure web browsing

Using Windows Defender Application Guard, an app available in Windows 10 Professional and Enterprise, your employees can browse the web without the risk of infecting their computer or your business network.

On the Edge browser, you and your staff can surf the web inside a virtual machine. If you come into contact with malicious software or unknowingly become infected with malware, it cannot damage the computer or your business network. That’s because the malware is confined within the virtual desktop. 

Ensuring a business-wide upgrade

Do you know how many devices you have running Windows 7? Chances are, you don’t.

So many businesses that don’t work with a managed IT service provider have trouble taking an accurate inventory of all their devices and managing their server software. This can be incredibly problematic when it comes to undertaking a business-wide operating system upgrade.

To ensure your upgrade to Windows 10 or server 2012 runs smoothly, we recommend working with the experienced, friendly team at Imagis. We can help you take stock of your devices and perform a fast, secure, fuss-free migration.

Keep your business up-to-date, boost productivity, and safeguard your network by making the switch to Windows 10 or server 2012.

The value of IT

IT is more than just your hardware and software. It’s the infrastructure of how your business operates. No matter what size your business is, it needs IT to work efficiently and grow. It’s important for your staff and your customers.

However, sometimes team members don’t see the true and substantial value of IT. A study by ITSM found that only 13% of professionals know exactly how IT investment positively impacts their business. This suggests that more internal communication and learning should be part of an organization’s culture.

This misperception of value has not diluted spend as IT spending in the U.S. was $3.75 trillion in 2018. With it being such a big part of any company’s budget, decision makers often seek ways to reduce costs while sustaining the value with tactics like using managed IT services.

It’s easy to blur the lines between your business needing technology and technology being your business. Your IT should provide value but shouldn’t consume your operations, which is another reason firms are becoming more reliant on professional IT services.

Yet, it’s still important for leadership and all employees to understand the value of IT, regardless of how it’s executed or employed. Let’s look at how it brings value to the business.

Enabling modern and effective communication

Technology provides many ways to communicate with customers, internal staff, and partners. Communication with customers and prospects often starts with your website, which is one of your most vital assets and something that’s supported by IT infrastructure.

Internally, IT allows you to communicate seamlessly through messaging apps or simply by email. Without a robust IT infrastructure, you’d be very limited in how you could communicate.

Operational efficiency

There are many aspects of IT that keep your business running efficiently. One of the most important elements is the use of the cloud. With cloud migration, your business can run your organization’s technology ecosystem in a revolutionary manner. By leveraging the right cloud strategy, you can streamline processes and deliver new capabilities. You’ll find it offers a competitive edge and helps attract new team members as the cloud provides employees the ability to work from anywhere securely. This equates to greater flexibility, which most workers desire in the modern workforce.

Enhances security

Cybersecurity is top of mind for every organization. There isn’t much worse for your company’s reputation and viability than a data breach. With the right cybersecurity tools in place, you reduce risk and enable growth. IT’s value here is immeasurable. Consulting with cybersecurity professionals elevates your company’s ability to stay ahead of cyberthreats like viruses and malware. Without secure data, your business will be at a huge disadvantage, which could lead to you losing or not being able to acquire customers.

Virtual desktops deliver critical value

Your IT infrastructure will dramatically increase in value through the use of virtual desktops. When you have a large desktop environment to manage, it simply makes everything harder. Simplify access and increase worker productivity with virtual desktops. Virtual desktops also centralize the functions of patching, maintenance, and management via one interface. It allows for more freedom, so you can work more efficiently and experience less downtime. When you have these capabilities, your business can grow without barriers.

Increase the value of your IT with the right guidance

At Imagis, we offer a full suite of IT services to businesses, helping them achieve greater value and reduce complexities and cost. With professional guidance in place, the value of IT will forever be optimized to fit your company’s exact needs. Learn more about how we can help by contacting us today.

5 steps for GDPR compliance for US-based financial firms

Even though GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) compliance is a European Union (EU) law, it still has implications for US-based financial firms. GDPR still has reach when it comes to US organizations. It’s been seen as the largest impact on data privacy laws in the US since the passing of HIPAA laws.

What is GDPR?

GDPR, at its core, is all about the protection of personal data. With data breaches continuing to be a danger to all companies in 2019, there is extreme pressure for organizations to enact cybersecurity strategies to combat them.

Under GDPR, organizations must ensure that personal data is collected legally and under specific conditions. Those who collect it are also obliged to protect it from exploitation or misuse, respecting the rights of data owners. The inability to meet this can result in penalties.

How does GDPR impact US-based financial firms?

GDPR applies to any company operating in the EU as well as those outside of it that offer services or goods to EU citizens. Thus, for many US-based financial firms, GDPR becomes relevant. If your customer base or operations extend to those in the EU, you will be responsible for compliance. To ensure compliance, you may need to undertake a risk assessment to understand where the gaps may be.

Steps for compliance

Identify and categorize the data your company collects and processes

You start the process of compliance by analyzing what your current methods are. You’ll need to engage in a comprehensive assessment of what data you collect and why. Start with these questions:

  • Do you ask for personal data from EU citizens?
  • How do you obtain such information?
  • What do you do with the data?
  • Who has access to the data?
  • Where is the data stored?
  • Does your company have a backup and disaster recovery plan related to the data?

Once you’ve assessed where you stand and if you collect data from EU citizens, you’ll know if you need to enact compliance measures.

Ensure you have a legal basis for processing data

GDPR seeks to limit the collection, storage, and use of personal data by companies. To be compliant, you must have a legal basis for doing so. The legal basis may include:

  • You’ve been given explicit consent to use data for a specific purpose—for banks, you would need access to data to service accounts or enable transactions
  • Data processing is pursuant to a contract
  • Necessary for public interest or to protect EU legal obligations

Create company policies and procedures related to GDPR

Policy creation is critical for GDPR compliance. Your policy must include a way for EU citizens to exercise their individual privacy rights. You’ll have to provide disclosures to these subjects to address right of access, right to rectify, right to erasure, right to restrict processing, right to object to processing, right to data portability, and right to not be subject to automated decision making.

Adopt GDPR-compliant privacy notices

You’ll need to craft GDPR-compliant privacy notices and make those accessible at all data collection points. It will need to address a variety of information points, including purposes of processing, identification of the company, and data retention periods.

Ensure data protection and security

With this step, you’ll need to ensure that your cybersecurity measures offer a “reasonable” layer of protection for data. You should consider elements like encryption, confidentiality, ability to restore and access data, the potential risks, and how to ensure that any third-party processors follow the same guidelines.

These are the essential beginning steps for any financial firm to consider when focusing on GDPR compliance. It’s a very complex process, and one that can be streamlined with the help of IT security experts, like those at Imagis. If you are struggling with GDPR compliance, contact us today for a consultation. 

How Microsoft Teams can make your nonprofit more productive

Nonprofits face a host of challenges specific to the space they work in. For one, funds are almost always limited. You just don’t have a massive surplus of money sitting around waiting to be spent on IT tools.

Instead, you have to make every dollar count. But that doesn’t mean you can’t stay current. In this article, we’re going to explore why instant messaging as a communication platform (and Microsoft Teams, specifically) is a good option for nonprofits.

We’ll start by exploring the benefits of instant messaging.

Why your nonprofit should use instant messaging

Nonprofits are often slow to embrace new technology for a very pragmatic reason. New technology typically requires an investment. What you may not know is that there are several IM apps (including Microsoft Teams) that are completely free.

That alone makes IMing an option, even for the most budget-sensitive nonprofit. But why is IMing a strong strategic move in the nonprofit space?

We’re so glad you asked.

Instant messaging is faster and more efficient

Email was a quantum leap forward for business communication. It’s so much faster than traditional mail. But instant messaging is even better.

Like email, there’s no wait. Your message is sent as soon as you’ve typed it. But unlike email, IM messages tend to be short, to the point, and direct. As a result, you’re likely to get answers much faster. That makes it a more efficient option than email.

Instant messaging isn’t location-bound

Very few nonprofits operate from a single location. Sure, you may have a hub for the organization, but you probably also have volunteers and staff scattered—if not all the time, then certainly when you have events and fundraisers.

Instant messaging gives you an easy way to keep everyone in the loop, even if you’re spread out.

Instant messaging is conversational, live and collaborative

Virtually everyone is already accustomed to IMs and text messages. This isn’t a new format you’ll have to teach others. Instead, folks will interact using your IM app much like they interact using others.

That instant understanding means everyone will dive right into being conversational and responsive, which in turn promotes real-time collaboration.

“When it comes to internal messaging, nonprofits still rely on traditional tools, especially email and meetings, in spite of how time-consuming and unproductive they may be.” – nten

Why Microsoft Teams is a great IM app for nonprofits

It’s integrated with the rest of Microsoft’s apps

Teams isn’t the only IM program out there that integrates with Microsoft’s other apps, but it certainly has the smoothest, most intuitive integrations. You can share files, collaborate easily and chat all from a single IM tool.

And if your organization isn’t already taking advantage of the discounts Microsoft offers for nonprofits, you should definitely look into that.

It’s accessible from any device

You can use Teams from a PC, plus there are Apple and Android apps. That kind of flexibility means you can easily stay connected whether you’re working at your desk or at an event.

Plus, your team—both staff and volunteers—can easily get the word out about important information without any kind of delay. New messages will go straight to everyone’s smartphone.

It’s constantly getting better

Microsoft is committed to improving Teams. In fact, Computerworld reports that “Teams is now more widely used than Slack and is set for faster growth over the next two years.”

That makes sense as Teams is designed for and marketed to big business. The benefit to your nonprofit is getting a top-tier tool at literally no cost.

“Teams has a big advantage over rivals because it can hook into Microsoft’s various office productivity apps, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint.” – Computerworld

How to use Microsoft Teams to boost productivity

Clearly, Teams is a good option for nonprofits. But how can you make sure you’re getting all the benefits teams has to offer?

Start with these 4 tips.

1. Use all the functionality that’s baked into Teams

Teams isn’t just an IM app. It has several other key features like group chat, voice calls and video conferencing. Use it all, depending on what works best for the kind of communication you need at that moment.

2. Take advantage of rich integrations with Office 365

We already mentioned that Teams is well-integrated with Office 365. Make sure you actually use those integrations. Share documents you’re working on, keep files everyone needs uploaded to Teams for quick, easy access, and record calls and video conferences for team members who will need to catch up later.

3. Connect Teams to other tools you already use

There’s a growing library of apps for Teams to extend integrations outside of Office 365. Be sure to look through the available apps. There’s a good chance you can make Teams even more perfect for your nonprofit.

4. Make Teams your default communication platform

Once you start using Teams, you’ll quickly see the benefits. When you do, we encourage you to make it your default way of keeping in touch internally. Ditch email whenever possible and opt for IM conversations. It may take a bit of getting used to, but it will benefit you in the long term.

Getting started with Teams

To get started, just download Teams, ask the rest of your nonprofit staff to do the same, and start using it. And if you work with a managed IT service provider, it’s a good idea to reach out to them and see if there’s any additional IT support or training they can provide.

10 ways to be more secure when traveling

Business traveling is a mixed bag. While it can certainly be productive, more often than not it’s also a pain. And when you add cybersecurity considerations into the mix, it can get downright stressful.

We work with quite a few companies with remote workforces. Additionally, as IT business consultants, we have regular contact with frequent business travelers on a daily basis. As a result, we’re well-versed in some of the dos and don’ts of secure business travel.

What follows are our top 10 tips for keeping your data safe while you’re out of town.

Traveling tips for data security

Before we get to the tips, a word of warning. Some of these are going to seem extreme. If you’ve never given much thought to cybersecurity when you’re not connected to a known network, our tips might even seem paranoid.

That’s because we only care about one thing—keeping your data safe. If you’re serious about guarding your data on the road, this is how you do it.

1. Stay away from mobile hotspots

Public Wi-Fi is dangerous, pure and simple. In fact, a recent article in CSO stated, “Today’s Wi-Fi standards are flawed and should not be trusted.”

The article went on to explain exactly why public Wi-Fi should be avoided at all costs. “One of the biggest threats with free Wi-Fi is the ability for hackers to position themselves between you and the connection point.” That includes data you might think is encrypted.

2. Use a VPN to encrypt data traffic

A VPN is like your own personal secure connection. With one, your mobile devices are linked directly to a private server and all the data exchanged between the two is encrypted. That, of course, adds a significant layer of security.

However, be sure you pick a VPN service you trust. The VPN service provider can see your traffic, so steer clear of questionable free providers.

Read more: How to set up a VPN[

3. Encrypt your mobile devices in case they’re lost or stolen

If your phone or laptop provides you with the option to encrypt all local data, do it. That way, even if you lose your phone or your laptop is stolen, all your information is safe and sound.

And if you’re wondering just how strong consumer encryption options are, even the FBI has a very hard time bypassing this form of protection.

4. Use privacy screens to avoid shoulder surfing in public spaces

Privacy screen protectors (like this one) make it difficult for anyone but the person holding a smartphone or sitting directly in front of a laptop to read what’s on the screen. This added layer of security means you don’t have to worry about anyone else seeing your private information, even accidentally.

If your work includes particularly sensitive information, like medical records or other data protected by strict regulatory laws, this is a must-have precaution.

5. Use a wall plug charger instead of public USB ports

Public USB ports are just as dangerous as public Wi-Fi networks—which, when you think about it, makes sense. After all, you’re connecting your device to a public network, even if your only goal is to charge your phone.

Instead of using a public USB port, opt for a standard wall outlet for charging.

6. Don’t share that you’re traveling on social media

It’s perfectly fine to share that you were on a trip once you’re back in town. But it’s ill-advised to post that you’re out of town while still traveling. (That’s true for business trips and vacations alike.)

Why? Because you’re advertising that your home, office, car, and local business network are all unwatched for a while. That’s like an invitation for thieves.

7. Disable Bluetooth connectivity

The great thing about Bluetooth is how quickly and easily it connects our devices. Unfortunately, that’s what makes it unsafe, too.

Cybercriminals can use an open Bluetooth connection to gain access to your device, especially in crowded areas like airports. Turn it off while you’re on the road.

Related: Shadow IT and the impact it can have on your business[

8. Setup multi-factor authentication for your online accounts

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a simple, secure way to ensure a user is actually authorized to access an account when a new login is attempted. Even if you have the password, you typically have to enter an additional code delivered via text message or email.

While a lot of services offer multi-factor authentication, the trick is that you have to set it up. It’s absolutely worth the minor hassle.

9. Consider using encrypted text messaging

Encrypted chat apps like Signal and WhatsApp give you the ability to send and receive text messages as effortlessly as the default app on your phone with one added benefit—the data is entirely encrypted.

However, while WhatsApp is the best known encrypted chatting app, it’s also owned by Facebook, and that brings with it a whole new set of privacy and security concerns. That’s why we recommend Signal.

10. Update the software on your laptop and phone

Time and again, headline-making data breaches uncover the same annoying truth. Updating your software really does keep you safe.

Update your apps. Apply software patches. Don’t fall victim to a security breach simply because you weren’t up-to-date.

Keep reading: 5 steps to make working remotely effective for your company

How to manage remote workers effectively

Using remote workers as a part of your business comes with plenty of advantages. In addition to reducing overheads, your employees may experience less stress, they won’t need to commute as far, and you can easily hire people around the world. At the same time, remote working requires employees to have a high degree of self-discipline. This means you need to know how to manage remote workers effectively.

Create an onboarding process

It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that a remote worker doesn’t require any onboarding. However, failing to provide them with an induction in the same way that you would with office-based workers can result in a sense of apathy. Make sure your onboarding procedures include information about how your company does business, the team members they’ll be working with, and details about the software they use. Your onboarding processes should also include any documents pertaining to IT and NDA agreements.

Establish communications processes

If you and your remote working team are going to touch base with one another, you’ll need to establish communication processes. According to some statistics, around 50% of the United States workforce will soon work remotely. If remote working practices are going to run smoothly, communication and regular updates must become a priority. You may find that scheduling regular catchups using VoIP is mutually beneficial as other people can join in on the calls where needed. Make sure the communication processes you use extend beyond just yourself and the workers. Encourage them to communicate with each other as this generates a sense of loyalty.

Create a project management database

Always remain wary of micromanaging your remote workers. Although you want to know that they’re dedicating themselves to their projects throughout the day, constant calls, emails, and video conferences aren’t conducive to productivity. As an alternative, you may want to create a project management database with actionable tasks, details of who’s been allocated to them, and updates. When you and your project managers can see where progress is being made, it’s easier to promote productivity among your workforce while remaining assured they’re working efficiently.

Use time trackers where necessary

Although you don’t want to fall into the trap of micromanaging, it’s normal to want to make sure that your workers are doing their fair share while telecommuting. One way to oversee this is by using time trackers. Time trackers track the amount of time a remote worker spends on their tasks, before sending accurate reports back to you. They prove especially beneficial when your remote workforce operates on a billable hour basis rather than a fixed salary agreement. Employees may feel disinclined to dip into non-work-related tasks when time trackers are in use, which then makes them more productive.

Support your remote workforce in creating a productive environment

With remote working comes the temptation to slip away from productive environments. You should support your employees in making sure they’re in an efficient setting by establishing workplace ground rules. This may include keeping home offices free from distractions, not carrying out sensitive work using public WiFi, and not working late into the night in order to use morning hours for other activities. You should remain flexible to promote a sense of independence among your employees, but it’s okay to help them establish a sense of stability too. Also, keep security in mind. Research suggests that nomadic remote workers prefer using co-working spaces, so make sure your team is working from ones that are safe.

Using the right IT tools, you can create a remote worker environment that’s productive and useful. Always remember to prioritize communication with those who represent your business, and provide as much virtual support as you can without becoming overbearing.

5 steps to make working remotely effective for your company

Did you know that between 80 and 90 percent of employees would like to work remotely for at least part of their work week?

Affording staff the freedom to align work with their lives is not the only benefit of embracing a remote team for your small business. With fewer restrictions on your workplace location, you’ll have access to not only the best talent in your region but the best in the country – even the world.

What’s more, with the influx of powerful cloud-computing apps for business, you can improve productivity and cut costs on in-house tech services with remote support.

If you’re looking to make working remotely effective for your company, follow these five steps.

1. Invest in reliable tools

The success of a remote team relies heavily on the tools they use. If your employees have trouble hearing you on a conference call, can’t download or collaborate on a file, and run out of storage space, you’re in trouble. Investing in reliable tools – Office 365, for example – is absolutely imperative, and not just for productivity.

Collaboration in a remote team is just as important as in any local workforce, especially for building a sense of community, culture, and belonging. Find a flexible platform with easy integration of the kind of communication, scheduling and productivity applications you need most and build on that. From document sharing to CRM and video conferencing, make sure everyone has secure, flexible access to the right technology to get the job done.

If you’re not confident you have the right tech to transition to a remote workforce, it could be worth investing in a professional technology assessment.

2. Keep your team engaged

An engaged team is a productive team, so keep everyone connected with a robust set of communication options.

Some remote employees find it useful to share what they’ll be working on that day with the rest of the team on a group message. Some will need to stay connected with a VoIP-based calling system that offers digital voicemail, multichannel messaging and call handoff to their mobile. Others may want to conduct face-to-face meetings with video chat.

Find the options and schedule that works best for your team and agree on some guidelines to keep everyone in the loop and on target.

3. Safeguard important data

Every year, millions of US records are exposed by online data breaches. Data security is a top concern for all businesses. And if you work with a remote team, the majority – if not all – of your important data will be stored online.

Ensure your staff is updated on the latest online security best practices. Things such as developing strong and unique passwords (a password manager is a great tool to keep track of these) and multi-factor authentication are simple ways to keep your business, staff, and client data protected.

Make sure your BYOD policy is thorough enough to guide employees on how to handle, access, and secure their devices used for company activity, and update company-owned devices regularly to ensure maximum protection. Set backup schedules and network permissions to ensure total protection against unauthorized activity.

4. Trust your team

Will my staff actually do their work if I allow them to work at home? Can we maintain the same work quality and turnaround standards? These are some of the most common concerns business managers have when transitioning to a remote team.

To ease these worries, first, trust your team. If they work responsibly in the office, chances are they will work responsibly at home. What’s more, many employees may have already had experience working in a remote team so they know how to get the most out of their day.

To add accountability and align expectations across the team, establish communication and work-from-home guidelines. For example, request client responses within one business day, require internal email responses the same business day, and limit scheduled calls to business hours to ensure your staff isn’t working around the clock.

5. Set clear expectations

Everyone has their own idea of what doing something ‘fast’ or to a ‘high standard’ means. It’s a good idea to set clear expectations on what you expect to be done.

One way to do this is to set goals, schedules and deadlines to avoid misunderstandings. Use project management and calendar apps to share project information, keep activity flowing and achieve important milestones on time and on target.

Final thoughts

For an increasing number of industries, remote work is becoming more than a rare option. It’s becoming a standard. And if you’re looking for ways to attract the best staff, you definitely need to be equipped for remote employees.

Just make sure you approach remote work the right way. The above tips will give you a solid foundation for a flexible, productive, agile remote workforce.

How to know you’re getting your money’s worth for consulting services

It’s perfectly understandable that some business owners hesitate at the thought of retaining consultant services. They’re outsiders, not part of the company’s culture or history, and there remains the lingering question of whose interests take priority—theirs or yours.

The fact is, a consultant’s success depends upon your success. It is in their best interest to provide you with the very best advice and service possible. As for being outsiders—many times, an outside perspective may be just what your business needs—particularly if it’s stuck on a problem and not experiencing meaningful growth.

You may also find value in a certain IT consultant’s specialized knowledge. Their assistance could fill a temporary need or serve as a specialized resource for situations where outsourcing is more cost-effective than hiring new full-time employees.

But how do you know if you are getting your money’s worth?

The answer is in determining whether they are providing the useful services you need.

Project planning

Starting a new project—especially one intended to help grow a business—can be both an exciting and daunting process. But where to begin? Where to end? How to get from beginning to end in a manner that wastes neither time nor money?

You undoubtedly know best in setting and meeting goals for your business. But you probably don’t know how best to apply recent technology developments to reach those goals with a minimum of time and cost. Consulting services will bring you the expertise and experience in current IT trends and capabilities to guide you toward the plan that works best for your specific business needs.

From there, your consultant can help map out the best strategy to go from project launch to successful completion.

Project management and tech support

Once the scope and underlying strategy for a project are determined, how prepared is your business to follow through? Once your consultant makes technology recommendations, you may find it useful to have them assist in acquiring and installing your new technology to make sure everything is running smoothly.

Consulting services can also offer tech support—either in-house or remotely—to help keep downtime to an absolute minimum and manage software and security updates, freeing you to commit more time to developing your business.

Does your business have a disaster recovery plan to protect your data during your project? Consulting services can help you create a backup and disaster recovery plan (BDR) to help keep your business data available without loss or interruption.

Digital transformation  

For most businesses, growth is driven by how readily your business can adapt to changing technologies and customer needs. Even in 2019, there are still companies that rely too heavily on manual processes, incomplete data and obsolete technology.

An expert consultant can review your current technology capabilities and resources to determine how to keep your business working ahead of the curve.

Whether your team needs to digitize records, redesign the network, address cybersecurity concerns, or customize an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system to centralize all communication and data, your consultants can guide you through modernizing your business and maintaining a competitive edge.

Business communications and remote access

How efficiently do your employees communicate? Does everything run through a single phone system or, at best, basic e-mail?

Consulting services with expertise in communications systems can review your business and determine the benefit of updating your traditional phone system. Migrating to a more flexible voice over internet protocol (VoIP) phone system can enable you to securely integrate office phones and mobile devices to support video conferencing, multichannel messaging, shared workspaces, and more.

Can your employees access your computer network remotely? The ability to access inventory, place orders, handle customer support, build customer databases, and conduct other business from anywhere can significantly increase your business efficiency, productivity, and profitability.

Access and security may be challenging at first, but with an IT consultant guiding you or managing your system, your organization will gain improved and reliable communication options for your future.

Creating IT solutions

What other IT solutions might benefit your business?

The goal of every IT consultant is to help you and your business find the best technology strategies and solutions for your specific needs.

Reaching your goals can be challenging even for the strongest organizations. But with the help of technology consulting services, you can efficiently and thoughtfully navigate those challenges to maximize your consulting dollar and your results.

Shadow IT and the impact it can have on your business

Shadow IT is a term used to describe hardware, software, or cloud services used within your business that your IT department is not aware of. It could be a tablet brought from home that an employee is using to access work files, or it could be a personal Dropbox account your HR director set up to enable mobile access to files.

Shadow IT has some legitimate security concerns. But you needn’t stop your entire operation to ferret out any shadow IT your employees have adopted. Instead, you should use it as an opportunity to grow strategically. Start by asking a critical question: why are your employees turning to non-sanctioned IT tools in the first place?

When you use the experience to broaden your understanding of the challenges your people face, an encounter with shadow IT can actually provide some surprising and unexpected benefits.

Here are some of the ways shadow IT can impact your business.

Security risks from shadow IT

Hopefully, you already have a good cybersecurity plan in place, but you can’t protect something you don’t even know exists. Anytime unauthorized hardware or software is connected to your network, there are security risks that come along with it.

For example, hardware or software that is not properly updated with the most recent security patches could create an access point for viruses and other forms of malware to enter your network.

If you’re in an industry governed by compliance regulations and restrictions, shadow IT could lead to compliance risks or violations without even realizing it. Worse yet, it could lead to sanctions, fines, and loss of reputation.

What to do about shadow IT

The most important thing you need to do is to understand what shadow IT is and how to identify it. Consider working with a managed IT service provider to help you monitor your network. They can also provide network and risk assessments to help uncover issues that may not be readily apparent.

You should also make sure your employees understand the risks associated with shadow IT. There’s a good chance that employee working on a tablet they brought from home doesn’t realize that unsecured device could open up your network to cyber threats. Maybe they were just trying to find a way they could get work done from locations other than their desk, like the conference room or break room.

With the right training, your employees can be your first line of defense in protecting your network.

Consider implementing a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, so your employees will be crystal clear on what is and is not allowed. Having a BYOD policy in place can also make sure everyone knows how to keep authorized personal devices updated and secure.

And don’t forget to include security awareness training. When your staff understands what it takes to protect company and customer data, they can be a powerful line of defense against data breach. But first, they have to be equipped with the right knowledge.

Learning from shadow IT

It’s also important to recognize that not all shadow IT is bad. In a lot of cases, this form of technology exists because your employees are searching for ways to work better and more efficiently.

That Dropbox account your HR director has been using to enable access to mobile files could demonstrate a need for cloud services you didn’t realize was there. Now that you know, you can find more secure and compliant ways to provide the same capability.

Shadow IT can provide great insight into end-user needs and preferences—provided you also understand the risks. You should absolutely stop shadow IT, but you should do so while also taking the time to understand the tools and solutions your employees actually need.

Final thoughts

Think of shadow IT as a gauge. If your staff is using shadow IT, it means they need a resource you’re not yet providing. So while it does present risks, it can also present you with an opportunity to improve workflows and streamline your business procedures, all while clearly communicating to your employees that you care about their on-the-job experience.

The key to dealing with shadow IT is to understand what it is and take proactive steps to identify it in your workplace. Contact your managed IT services provider to help secure your network today.