Should You Hire Or Outsource to an External IT Service Provider?

Most small business owners handle all aspects of their businesses, including acting as the Information Technology department. This will work for as long as you remain a small business without employees. When you grow and start hiring staff, will it make more sense to use your business-building time on handling IT issues or outsource to an external IT Service Provider?

Unless you are an Information Technology Service Provider yourself, chances are your time will be much better spent marketing your products and/or services, establishing relationships with your clients, providing exceptional customer service and just otherwise growing your business – so why not outsource to an external IT Service Provider?

How do you know when it’s time to get IT help? If the information technology demands are affecting your day and negatively impacting your actual business related activities – it’s definitely time to consider finding an IT resource. If you start adding new employees and computers, it’s probably a good time to look into adding IT help, as well.

Should You Hire Internal IT Staff or Outsource to an External IT Service Provider?

When you make the decision to find an IT resource, your first decision will be whether you need to hire one or more staff to fulfill the role, or if you’re going to outsource IT services. Having dedicated IT staff means they are 100% committed to your business. They’re not splitting their time among numerous clients the way a contracted company might. One of the benefits of having an IT department is that the staff develops a strong understanding of your unique business needs and should be in a good position to manage your short and long term IT requirements. With your own IT staff on payroll, you know you’ve always got someone available (unless they’re out sick or on vacation!) should an emergency or urgent situation present itself.

The primary disadvantage of hiring IT staff is that you’ll be paying for their benefits, their training, and a variety of other costs associated with hiring a new employee. Not to mention, you have to pay them the agreed upon salary regardless of how much IT work you end up having, which means you may be overpaying based on workload!

There are a variety of advantages of outsourcing to an external IT service provider over hiring staff. You can choose to outsource your information technology needs to a flat rate IT service provider and reduce your monthly and overall costs. Having a virtual IT department lets you focus more on running your business rather than the technology that supports it. You aren’t stuck paying employee benefits or other employee costs, and you aren’t responsible for making sure the IT team remains up to date with their training and knowledge.

The Bottom Line

Finding the right information technology help for a growing business needs is challenging. When you think strategically about your business’ unique IT requirements, you can make sound decisions that further promote its growth and profitability.

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Hackers Get New Tools… Managed IT Services Providers to the Rescue?

Two companies have released software that mines information about individuals on the Web. Core Security Technologies dropped its Exomind application, while Paterva released its Maltego program. Can Managed IT Services Providers Respond?

Both applications have one thing in common. They can be used to collect information on individuals from snippets of data dropped all across the web. Of course social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace make that job easy already, but these programs can piece together broken links to create virtual profiles that mimic your real world persona. They can identify who you know, where you shop and what you do for a living.

While Exomind was built to assess the negative impact of social networks on privacy, Maltego claims to have a much loftier purpose, the building up of corporate digital footprints to display relationships and reveal trends, which can be used to take corporate competitiveness to another level.

Individuals and companies alike need to be aware of the dangers of this type of software. The existence of Exomind and Maltego promises to revolutionize the way information is assessed on the web, which means that the user must rethink what they put out there.

Whereas before an individual might keep a Facebook profile for personal use and a LinkedIn or Ecademy profile for business purposes and feel fairly confident that the two were being kept separate, the emergence of this technology smashes this sense of security.

On a corporate level it means that sensitive data is exponentially easier to leak to the competition because they may have access to technology that can interpret spikes in communication between different parties or even pick up on blether on forums and in chat rooms.

How Can Managed IT Services Providers Help?

Managed IT Services Providers can step in to fill the gap in the need for more security. When superior protection is needed it is best to trust the industry giants to do the job. The most popular MSPs in the security business are Symantec and Verizon.

Symantec has a range of service packages tailored to meet the needs of small, mid-sized and large enterprises. They offer a wide range of services from data protection to spam prevention and endpoint security.

Verizon is comparatively new to the internet security business, having acquired Cybertrust in 2007, but they are prior recipients of the Global Product Excellence Award for Internet Security so they have a huge stamp of approval.

As technology continues to advance, security threats will only get more and more ubiquitous, so it is wise to leave the protection of data to the professionals. MSPs are a smart and affordable solution to what promises to be a persistent and costly problem.

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Network Connectivity Troubleshooting – Part One

To most computer support persons, having problems connecting to the Internet via a router and a high-speed connection is not a major issue. However, for those who do not understand some basic technology concepts, solving connectivity problems will be a struggle. The following will give you some tips of where to look for network connectivity problems and how to perform some basic network connectivity troubleshooting tasks.

Most of the initial steps of this process are common-sense and incredibly basic, but you would be surprised at the number of calls to help desks that are solved simply by having someone turn on a power switch or plug in a cable to a device!

1.Check the power. Make sure that the power is turned on to your router and that you can see some visible signs of that power on the front of the unit. Usually green or yellow lights flash or stay on constantly when the unit has power. If you do not have any of those, check the electrical outlet for power. Plug in a radio, clock, lamp or other device to see if the outlet is ‘live.’ If so, continue on to the next step. If not, check your electrical box to make sure that your circuit breakers have not tripped because of an overload or other electrical issue.

2.Check the router. If you still get no lights on the front of your router, then unplug it from the electrical outlet and wait for a while (15 minutes to half an hour) and plug it back into that same outlet. Most of these have what we call ‘wall-wart’ type power supplies that have the square-ish black block on the end which plugs into the wall outlet (or power surge suppressor). Sometimes these can go bad. If you cannot get any of the lights to come on at all on your router, even if you test it in a known “good” wall receptacle, it might mean that the power supply or router itself is defective.

3.Check the cables. Now, if you have confirmed that the electrical outlet is working properly and you are getting lights on the front of your router, then you need to check the network cable between your PC and your router. If you have a wireless router and are having trouble connecting by that method, then you need to troubleshoot first by trying to connect with a hard-wired connection, as it is easier to troubleshoot a hard-wired connection than a wireless one (once you have successfully established connectivity through a wired connection, you can resume troubleshooting wireless connectivity). Normally, your router should include at least one network cable for connecting devices directly to it. Use this cable to connect your PC to your router.. On the front of the router are a series of lights (these differ in color by manufacturer) which indicate the presence of a network connection over the network cable (or Ethernet cable) between your PC and router. Locate the network cable which runs from your router to your PC and unplug it from the back of the router. Does one of the lights go out? If so, that is a good sign. If not, then go to the PC end of the network cable and locate where it connects to your PC. Right around this connection there are usually a set of led lights indicating a network connection. By removing your network cable from the PC, you should see the lights go out. And, with your PC powered on, removing this cable will also usually cause a message to come up on your Windows-based PC indicating that your network connection has been lost. If this happens, then it appears that at least your router and PC are ‘talking’ to each other. This is usually noted by the ‘flashing’ activity of these lights.

4.Reboot both your router and your PC. Sometimes a simple reboot will clear up any anomalies between network connections, and this will always be a step any help desk, ISP or router manufacturer’s support personnel will ask you to try.

In part two of this series we will talk about checking functionality of your router and then determining whether your problem might lie solely with your PC.

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Making The Switch To Managed IT Services

When the time comes to make the switch to Managed IT Services, it is important to know what you are looking for from a provider. As most business owners have or are beginning to realize, there are plenty of benefits that can be realized by bringing on a managed services provider to address IT and other needs. In order to get the most from your managed services contract you must carefully compare all potential providers to ensure they are willing and able to provide the services you need to keep your business moving forward in the future. If your managed services provider cannot supply the following three things (at minimum) keep looking until you find a company that addresses these issues.

  • Security – The managed services provider that you choose should work with vendors that guarantee security. This is imperative when trusting an outside party to handle and maintain private and confidential data that is crucial to the running of your business. Service providers should provide detailed proof of security procedures as well as how they intend to keep abreast of changes in the industry.
  • Recovery – Managed IT Services providers are not only contracted to help keep the day-to-day running of your business going smoothly. They are also an important part of any recovery situation that follows a natural or man made disaster. It is important to discuss with potential providers what procedures they have in place to guarantee your downtown will be minimal and that you will be up and running as soon as possible after an emergency. These precious minutes and hours can make or break the recovery of your business.
  • Customer Service – As with any other business, if there is no customer support backing up the products or services, there isn’t much of a commitment from the provider.

Why are these three things important? To understand you must consider the Managed IT Services model. Managed IT Services providers are hired by a company to provide any or all of the following services:

  • Website hosting
  • Network monitoring
  • Network security
  • Remote data backup
  • Recovery services

Originally these services were provided to large corporations while small to medium size companies struggled to maintain an IT budget that was often more expensive then beneficial. Managed services providers charge a flat, or monthly fee, making it possible for smaller businesses to reap the benefits offered at a much lower price than in-house IT staff or outsourcing on an as needed basis.

The Managed IT Services platform continues to grow as many businesses look for ways to reduce costs in this tough economy. By offering technological services that might otherwise be beyond the reach of a small business budget, managed services make it possible for smaller businesses to remain competitive with others in their industry. Small business owners must take the time to carefully review and research each provider before signing on the bottom line. A good managed services provider can change the way you do business- in a positive direction, whereas the wrong choice could be a costly mistake that does more harm than good to your business.

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Cloud Computing Security: Is the Cloud Ready for Your Confidential Data?

What is Cloud Computing?

You can’t look anywhere these days without reading about “cloud computing.” The term seems to be popping up everywhere. So, what exactly is cloud computing? A simplistic definition is computing on the Internet. It allows users the ability to access everything on the Internet, from software to their stored data, without having to store anything on their actual computer. The user only needs a computer with a web browser in order to access the cloud.

What is So Great About Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing has the potential to allow small businesses or businesses on a budget the ability to have high quality computing at a lower cost. Business owners no longer need to invest in expensive IT equipment or pay an entire IT staff that would normally be required in order to keep a computer system running. Storing data in the cloud would help reduce IT costs while still allowing businesses to grow.

What Cloud Computing Concerns Does Your IT Service Provider Need to Address?

Cloud computing is such a new technology that your IT Service Provider will need to complete a thorough assessment of your business needs and identify all cloud-related security issues. Some of these concerns are:

  • If you store your valuable business documents in the cloud and your Internet connection goes down, how do you continue business activity?
  • The stability of the Cloud vendors you engage with.
  • Where your company located and where your data physically be stored. If your data is stored in another country, is that country required to comply with the same security standards that you would expect from your home country?
  • Who is in charge of storing and managing your data?
  • How secure is the login? Would hackers be able to easily gain access to your data?
  • Is your data encrypted so that others cannot easily view it?
  • Is the cloud storage company willing to undergo a certification process and willing to comply with certain security standards?

At this point, working with your IT Service Provider to develop a plan to resolve these issues is required, as cloud computing has so much to offer businesses from flexibility to growth potential to tremendous cost savings.

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Benefits of Social Media Marketing for Lead Generation

Social media marketing provides a way for businesses to increase their “word of mouth” advertising.

Word of mouth has always been a powerful method of promoting products and services. Think about it – when you need a new mechanic for your car, do you trust the advertisements in the newspaper or your friend who tells you how great their mechanic is?

Social networking makes it possible to establish relationships and build trust online, which allows businesses to indirectly market their products and services to people who are more receptive to the marketing messages you are sending out. Generally, people are more trusting of social media sites than they are of more traditional websites selling products or services directly, because the users of social media websites feel that there are fewer people who would have something to gain by reviewing and recommending another’s product or service.

Social media marketing offers a number of benefits you would be hard pressed to find in other forms of marketing, including:

  • Ability to create brand awareness. As more people see your business name and the link to your site, your logo, and other details found in social media profiles, you establish more brand awareness among your potential client base.
  • Trust is established through natural connections and relationships that develop in online communities.
  • Your main website will gain traffic from niche conversations had through social networking websites, discussions, groups, and through blog comments.
  • Search engine optimization is increased through the increasing number of high quality links to your site and/or blog as other community members link to you and as you link to yourself from various social media sites.
  • Increased visibility in search engines will boost the number of visitors who find your website when searching keywords related to your industry.
  • Having a following on various social sites will decrease your dependence on search engines in general, since you’ll have a number of other websites helping to drive traffic to your site or blog.
  • Your participation in social media discussions and groups helps you see what is going on within your niche and find out what people want to see in the products and services you offer simply by listening to what people say to one another.
  • When you are actively involved in social media, you have the opportunity to manage your reputation. You can respond to complaints in a timely manner, encourage people to talk about their good experiences with your company, and keep an eye on what is being said about you in general by your client base.
  • You can discover more about the needs, desires and trends that encourage your market niche to spend money, and use that information to fuel your marketing efforts.

Advantages of Social Media Marketing Linking Strategies

It’s possible to obtain links to your website from a few different sources online – including companies who sell links to your site. One of the primary advantages of using social media marketing is that you obtain numerous links to your website and blog from multiple sources. When you publish a new blog post or an article on your website, you can automatically update each of your social media profiles across multiple websites to reflect the new post – and include a link back to your site.

If your followers, fans, or connections appreciate the information in your blog posts or article, you’ll see them announcing these to their followers, fans or connections, quickly growing the number of incoming links through social media. You end up with links to your site strategically placed everywhere your potential client base is already visiting online, which means the people who are clicking those links are already your targeted prospects, and have already established somewhat of a relationship with you through their connection on these social media sites.

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Network Connectivity Troubleshooting – Part Two

This is part two in this series for network connectivity troubleshooting.  Confirming the connectivity with the Internet was the focus of the first three steps in our process. We now continue with the remaining steps to help you discover what the problem with your Internet connection might be.

1. Check functionality. Once the network cable has been confirmed to be working correctly, we need to see if the router is working correctly. Since you have already unplugged and re-plugged the router in and rebooted both it and your PC, that should have taken care of any automatic configuration issues that might have become hung up. High speed Internet providers can change the network address (also called the IP address) of your router at any time. This usually requires a re-boot of your router (and sometimes of your PC) in order to pick up that new address and begin communicating. Also, there are other network addresses that are used to get outside to the Internet that are automatically configured as well, but we will deal with those in a later step.

2. Test functionality. If after you have rebooted the router and PC and performed all of the steps above, but it appears that you are still having problems, make sure that you try other ways to get outside to the Internet by launching your email program (if you use one). If it works, but your Internet browser still does not, then something is preventing your Internet browser from resolving website addresses on the Internet.

3. Check virus software. When was the last time your PC performed an automatic update or a scan for viruses? Can you try to force an update now? Is it successful? If it has been a week since the last check for viruses, run a full system scan. If this does not work and no viruses are detected, move on to the next steps.

4. Try another system. Do you have another PC or laptop that you can plug in to your router to try and get out to the Internet, or do you know anyone else with a laptop PC who would be willing to bring it over to see if they can plug into your router and get out to the Internet? If so, that will confirm if you have a good working router and cabling. If you or they are able to get out to the Internet, then the problem lies with the original PC you were troubleshooting.

5. Contact your Broadband Service Provider. If you cannot get out to the Internet with another PC or Laptop, work with their support staff to troubleshoot the connectivity issue.

6. Final options. If all else fails, take your PC to another location like a friend’s house or a relative who has high speed Internet access. Plug into their system and see if the PC will access the Internet. Another option is to take your PC to a local shop to have it examined for any virus or spyware software that is not being detected but is preventing you from accessing the Internet. Usually, these local PC repair companies have the software tools to help detect and eradicate these problems.

Troubleshooting a connection for your PC can be a frustrating thing to do because there are so many variables to address. Be patient, and follow the above steps and hopefully you will find the source of your problem sooner rather than later.

Click here to learn how [contentblock id=company] can help you alleviate your network connectivity troubleshooting problems with our Reactive Response and PC Repair Services for your business in [contentblock id=location].

Contracting With A Managed IT Services Provider

When the time is right for your business to bring on a Managed IT Services provider there are several things to consider before signing a contract. Businesses both large and small have certain needs that are better managed by professionals. Contracting with a managed service provider allows owners and upper level management to focus their attention on growing and managing the business. Teaming up with a managed service provider has several benefits if you choose the right partner. Conversely bringing on a managed service provider that doesn’t understand your needs or one that is unable to provide the level of service required can be an expensive mistake. Here we look at the things you should consider before signing on the dotted line.

Does the Managed IT Services contract support the goals of both parties?

When it comes right down to it, every business is in existence to turn a profit. When you select a Managed IT Services provider you want to find one that will work with you to help your company achieve its goals. A Managed IT Services Provider that is interested in selling services or products that don’t match the needs of your company, just for the sake of making money is one that should be avoided. You are contracting with a provider that will maintain vital company systems, therefore you want someone on your side who is able and willing to create a package and price that reflects your needs and not their bottom line.

Will Managed IT Services be cost effective?

When you enter an agreement with a Managed IT Services Provider, you are agreeing to pay a predetermined amount of money for their support and services. This can be very cost effective versus paying an hourly rate for IT support. In most cases hiring a Managed IT Services Provider is the best way to go if you have sufficient need for the services provided. Traditionally companies who pay hourly rates tend to spend less money on IT support which may improve profit but decrease services or support that are needed. When you have a Managed IT Services Provider in your corner, you can feel confident all vital areas are being covered regardless of the number of hours needed to do so.

Compare several Managed IT Services companies before making your final decision.

It is easy to get lost in the mumble jumble of the IT world when you don’t understand the language being spoken. While this can be discerning, don’t let a language barrier lead to a poor business decision. You are hiring a Managed IT Services Provider to cover technological areas outside of your expertise, however you don’t want to be completely unaware of what is going on within your company. Research several companies and look beyond savvy marketing to find a company that is the right partner to help grow your business. This includes carefully reviewing services included in the contract as well as customer service, availability and the capacity to handle changes within the industry. If you don’t understand something, ask questions or you might find yourself paying for services you don’t really need.

Signing a contract with a Managed IT Services Provider ties you to that provider according to the terms of the contract. Once you have taken this step it is important to remain in the loop regarding services provided. Review progress on a regular basis to ensure the needs of your business are being met. If you have done your homework and signed on with the right Managed IT Services Provider, you will have one less thing to worry about when it comes to managing your business.

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Eight Ways To Keep Your Small Business Secure

If you own and operate a small business, lowering costs is an important part of keeping your company in the black. Cutting costs on your IT budget could inadvertently compromise your company’s security. Even though small businesses may not have all of the resources that large corporations do, they are still just as vulnerable to the same security threats. Here are some ways to help keep your small business secure:

Purchase Anti-virus Software

Every computer is vulnerable to the wide variety of viruses, trojans, and worms that are on the Internet. These malicious software programs can do anything from damage your computer and files to steal your password and other important information stored on your computer. Purchase a good anti-virus software program and make sure that it is always up to date. Also, check to see that your anti-virus software checks for spyware, adware, and any other type of malware that could be hiding on your computer.

Avoid Phishing Emails

It is important to discuss with your employees the importance of not opening spam email, attachments or forwards that could possibly contain viruses. Make sure that your email has a filtering system that helps to filter out spam and other malicious email. Responding to phishing emails can be another costly mistake. Phishing emails are disguised as legitimate emails that then request login and password information. Changing passwords monthly can help to lessen the damage should an employee accidentally respond to a phishing email.

Minimize Damage From Dishonest or Disgruntled Employees

It is often difficult to predict if one of your employees will become disgruntled or dishonest, but you can put some safeguards in place to help minimize the damage should you find that you have one. Thoroughly screen your employees before hiring them, especially if they will have access to any confidential or financial company information. Limiting the number of employees that have access to this confidential information and changing your company passwords often can help to prevent former employees from accessing company computers.

Secure Your Wireless Network

Make sure that your wireless router is encrypted, and that your business is using WPA2 wireless security. A firewall is another important key to protecting the security of your small business. A firewall will allow access only to authorized users while blocking unauthorized access to the computer.

Have An Internet Use Policy

Aside from the obvious lack of productivity that personal Internet use can cause for your business, it can often be too easy to click on websites that contain malicious software that could easily infect your company computer and shut your system down temporarily or even permanently.

Avoid Having Everything on One Computer

Purchasing computer equipment is costly, so many small businesses will try to get away with fewer computers in order to save money. If you have your financial information on the same computer that your employees are accessing their company emails, you could risk losing everything that is vital to running your business should an infected email slip through.

Have a Data Backup System

Be sure to have some type of data storage and backup system in place in the event that your current system goes down. Having all of your files readily available to you in case of an emergency can ensure that your business will retain customers and continue to run smoothly no matter what the disaster.

Minimize Damage From Stolen Equipment

It difficult to prevent break-ins or equipment from being stolen from your home or office building, but you can have some security by ensuring that all of the information on your computer is encrypted and password protected.

Trying to scrimp when it comes to your small business’s computer security can be a costly mistake. Arm yourself with the knowledge of what your business could be up against and take steps towards prevention. The investment will give your company the security necessary to keep your information secure.

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Benefits of Outsourcing for Technology Services

Most business entrepreneurs have great talent and the means to run a very successful business. The snag they most often run into is the belief that they can do it all. This mindset can be detrimental to the overall success of their business. Trying to do it all can lead to hindered growth, lower profit margins and in some cases failure. Outsourcing for things like technology services creates an opportunity for both the business entrepreneur to focus on what they do best.

In order to create a business that is structurally sound, expandable and profitable, business owners should focus the majority of their time and energy on their personal talents and skills that are most important to the growth of their business and those skills that will most help in the generation of income. Instead of trying to do it all they can most benefit by delegating certain tasks – and outsourcing for technology services is one of them.

Outsourcing has become very popular and with technology today like the Internet, outsourcing is easy and accessible. Companies can find extremely qualified candidates from around the world right at their fingertips. Many highly trained individuals have left the corporate world and are available for hire as contractors. Expertise in just about any area a business may need is available. Examples include virtual assistants, graphic designers, IT specialists, accountants, marketers, Public Relation specialist, writers and so much more.

Some of the best tasks to outsource include those that are highly skilled tasks or those have that require trained expertise. For example if you have no knowledge of your IT needs or how to build and maintain a company website, hiring a specialist will be much more cost effective that you spending hours trying to teach yourself. Initially, your cost for this type of work might be a bit high, while the contractor helps to access your needs and builds your site. Down the road however, you most likely will be able to outsource our IT needs on a maintenance basis.

Highly repetitive tasks are also good ones to outsource. Data entry or accounts payable and receivable are jobs that you most likely can do, but they will only slow down your own productivity. Many times you can hire a virtual assistant to help you in these areas for just a few hours a week. This will not be overly costly and will inevitably free you up to work on other areas of the business that would most benefit from your attention.

Executive expertise is another area to consider outsourcing, especially if the business owner does not have great knowledge in this area. Someone that can take a hard look at your business plan, profitability margin and any ideas you have for expansion can be of great insight. Many times businesses will hire someone to come in and look over these items just once a month, quarterly or yearly. Their consultations can lead to new innovative ideas that could lead your business to new expansions, higher productivity and higher profit margins.

Most often,the cost advantage far outweighs what you will actually pay out to contractors. Most companies that rely on outsourcing do much better than their competitors.

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