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Utilizing a vCIO

Using technology in any business is an absolute necessity in the modern world. For this reason, most larger businesses employ CIOs to oversee the technical aspects of business, ranging from purchasing to implementation and maintenance.

While this may work for large corporations, many smaller businesses find themselves without a single, dedicated IT professional on staff, let alone a department with a CIO. However, that’s not to say that companies of this size wouldn’t benefit from this type of support. Are there other options available?

vCIO

A term that has become common in the small business world is vCIO or virtual Chief Information Officer. No, this isn’t some sort of hologram that shows up to company meetings. It’s possible for an individual to fill this role remotely, but it's best to hire a Managed Services company to perform the tasks the CIO would.

There are a series of reasons why a Managed Services provider would be beneficial. First, this type of service usually costs less than the salary of a dedicated person with the needed qualifications. While individual humans tend to make mistakes from time to time, a team of people doing the work has more checks and balances in place to make sure that the job is being done well. Beyond these generalities, what exactly are the benefits of a vCIO?

Seeing the Big Picture

Two of the major jobs of a CIO is to create the entire technology system as well as plan for the future. Are you planning on expanding the number of computer terminals? Perhaps you will eventually move your server storage to the cloud? What sort of backup system is in place currently and how are you budgeting for upgrades and maintenance? A vCIO would make these types of plans for you. Naturally, you make the final call, but they put forth an expert recommendation with a plan for follow-through.

Taking Care of the Little Things

The more technology is running in any given operation, the greater the likelihood of something breaking. Most small businesses don’t have the time or expertise to handle the day to day maintenance of their systems without diverting attention from other areas. Even if an employee has the time and does well with his/her home network, business equipment should be in a category far above consumer-grade. For instance, maintaining a server with a Windows Server OS utilizes a completely different skillset than using Windows on a desktop PC.

Along with the previously listed points, efficiency is a major benefit of using a vCIO. Let's say that someone in your company is technologically inclined. If an issue arises, that would take them away from their normal duties. In addition, the amount of time and effort you need to fix the problem may be much more than someone who deals with similar issues regularly. Think of having to search for passwords and how long it may take to look up error codes online. In the end, you'll probably still need to bring in outside help, taking even more time to fix what would be a routine task to a dedicated managed services professional.

Never on Break

The only thing that is more of a burden than hiring a dedicated IT professional is hiring an entire team. Many businesses have some sort of operation running 24/7. Even if you have someone on staff, how many hours can they work in a day or week? What happens if they called in sick or take a vacation? vCIO services will have people on call around the clock, day and night. If it breaks at four in the morning on a Saturday, a vCIO will address it well before someone shows up Monday morning, unable to work.

Just in Case

Once the systems are up and running, support issues tend to drop. Does that mean that all your needs are met? Well, even the most skilled backyard mechanic needs to bring their car into the shop occasionally. There will be times when a system needs a major overhaul, such as hardware or software upgrades. This requires a large amount of time and expertise. If your company finds itself in an emergency, like a virus spreading through your network, you need intense intervention. A vCIO can help you weather such a storm until you’re able to get back on your feet. For many companies, these are the sort of situations that convince them that they need a vCIO moving forward.

As we’ve discussed, vCIOs may or not be the best solution for your company. However, if you currently find yourself without a dedicated, technical professional on staff, you may want to research your options. A relatively small investment in this sort of service will, more than likely, pay off big in the future.

Plan Your Technology Refresh

You spend your whole life up to date with every new singer and song. Then, one day, you realize that you don't recognize anything on the radio, and they don’t make music like they used to. You start to avoid the new stuff only listening to things from your college days.

While in your personal life this attitude might work for you, in the business world, this could be devastating, especially when it comes to your network. We live in an age where virtually all companies utilize technology. If you consistently hold on to older technology, you could find yourself going the way of the dinosaurs.

The March of Progress Waits for No One

There are certain technologies you can use for a decade or more while others become outdated within weeks. Of course, how and when a technology becomes obsolete varies depending on a variety of factors. For the sake of this discussion, we will use two different terms: Functional obsolescence and absolute obsolescence.

Absolute Obsolescence occurs when it's physically impossible to use the technology. For instance, a computer without a modem or ethernet port would make connecting to the internet impossible. Utilizing a line of business application that runs solely off floppy disks also falls in this category.

Functional Obsolescence is a bit different. This is when something technically works but is not advisable. An example of this would be using Windows 7 after January 20, 2020. Although possible to use, you're asking for your system to be hacked and files compromised due to security holes. When it comes to software, utilizing older software often limits its functionality. Think of trying to create a .docx file (current MS Word format) while using Word 97 (only capable of .doc). It’s like trying to get blood out of a stone.

Keep yourself informed about end dates. Be proactive with update schedules to make the prospect of upgrading less of a burden. Be aware of when certain parts of software will no longer be supported so that you can plan for a transition. This will make normal operations significantly smoother, as well as make it easier to recover should you ever experience a data loss event. 

Perception is Everything

Besides the explicit risks of using obsolete technology, we need to consider perception. Using updated technology displays success and professionalism. Perception is worth its weight in gold when it works in our favor. In certain industries, there is massive competition between individual providers and customers can have very little reason to choose one over another, so this perception is critical.

There’s a reason why companies who invest in new technology often spend good money to advertise it to the public. Unless a potential customer is familiar with the expertise and reputation of your company, they rely on signals like your technology. Using noticeably out of date technology can leave a negative impression and make them think twice before doing business with you.

The Bottom Line

A generation ago, using computers was a luxury. However, that is no longer the case. From web designers to lumberjacks, just about every industry requires technology to some extent. Instead of trying to fight it, proper planning and implementation can make this fact of life work in your favor.

Consider it time to plan a technology refresh. Since everyone is in the same boat, there are plenty of options to accommodate even the most tech-illiterate user. Subscription services have become an immensely popular option for software, making sure that users always have the most current versions. For those that have an idea of how often they need to replace their hardware, Hardware as a Service (HaaS) programs may be your best bet. You pay monthly or yearly for not only maintenance but also for the eventual replacement at a set interval, taking the guesswork out of upgrades.

But when it comes down to it, much like the rest of life and business, balance is key. You shouldn’t make new technology your center of focus, but try not to be stubborn about upgrading, either. Remember, while you may be comfortable rocking out to the oldies, there’s still plenty of value in what’s new and fresh.

When Should I Upgrade My Technology?

When is the worst time to decide you need a new car? It’s probably when you’re on the side of the road in your old, broken down clunker that just won’t run anymore. Hopefully, you’ve never experienced that before. Unfortunately, businesses often find themselves in that exact situation when it comes to their computer systems. As businesses are increasingly dependent on technology, it’s ironic that attitudes about their upkeep and replacement remain lax. Why is that attitude dangerous and what can you do to combat it? 

Break/Fix Cycles 

There’s a good reason why you wouldn’t want to buy a new car, or a new computer system, right when the old one dies – desperation. Either you will buy a replacement that isn’t right for you or one that costs way too much. 

Waiting until a computer, server, or another device is completely unusable is unwise. This can result in going over budget or having to compromise the actual needs just to get someone running. Take the time to develop a relationship with a Managed Services Provider or VAR to plan what you need for a technology refresh. Get a general idea of how long your systems can reasonably last (typically 3-5 years depending on equipment and usage). We recommend you create a schedule for replacement on a regular basis. In doing so, you’ll be able to divert resources to make it less of a burden when replacements are necessary. It’s best to plan this out before you are desperate and end up making rash decisions that could end up costing you more than you bargained for. 

Embracing the Technology Curve 

While you don’t want to wait until you have a steaming heap of broken technology, you also don’t want to swing in the opposite direction. Purchasing everything at the bleeding edge of technology guarantees that you will get a version filled with all the bugs that software and firmware updates eliminate over the first months. As with many aspects of life, you must strike a balance. Keep an eye out for any advancements in hardware or software that you (currently or could potentially) use that would make a noticeable improvement for your operations. Then, make a plan for making that purchase. Lean on the guidance of your IT support professional or team for timing that makes sense. 

New Options for a New Generation 

The amount of tech needed for even non-technical industries is increasing by the year. This can present new challenges for a new era. For example, for thousands of years, contractors have used hammers, saws, and other tools for physical tasks. Now they use tablets for blueprints, smartphones for communication, and desktops for billing and documents. That doesn’t take into account the administrative offices for larger construction companies. If construction companies need all this tech, imagine the changes in other industries as well! 

Operating in this new age requires more expense and logistics. Thankfully, there are options to address these new concerns beyond simply “go and buy what you need when you need it.” That’s exactly where a Managed Services Provider or IT team comes in. 

Dollars and Sense 

With your IT department or services provider, develop a monthly and annual budget for technology. Scour past spending numbers to determine reasonable, realistic amounts, as well as where you may have excessively spent due to desperation or the desire to be on the cutting edge. We have found that systems typically last about 3-5 years. Craft a budget that makes sense with this particular refresh cycle. 

Having a fixed budget in place will help you avoid surprises when technology spending comes up. In addition, take a look at subscription services for both hardware and software. 

Instead of charging one time for software without ongoing updates, products (such as Microsoft Office 365) now charge on a monthly or yearly basis. This allows you to know exactly how much you’ll need to budget as well as ensures you have the most recent version, features, and security updates. 

Technology is a part of business that won’t be disappearing. By doing your research and planning accordingly, you can successfully navigate when it’s time to upgrade. 

 

Cybersecurity for Small Businesses

If you own or run a small business you know, better than anyone, that it’s not easy work. It takes a lot of time and energy to meet the demands expected of you every week. That's why certain aspects of running a business, such as cybersecurity, often take a backseat to other, more urgent issues. Many small business owners look at cybersecurity as something they’ll get to when they have the time. Others rely on whoever in-house knows the most about computers. 

Some employees might have the basic computer knowledge to get by, but a do-it-yourself (DIY) security approach isn’t the best choice. Let’s take a look at some reasons why outsourcing cybersecurity might be your best solution. 

The Numbers Don’t Lie  

In a recent survey, 87% of small business owners felt they were at low risk of ever being attacked. Even more alarming, 30% had absolutely no security solution at all. However, since 2016 at least 50% of small businesses have had at least one cyber-attack of some sort. That appears to mean that 37% of small businesses have already been attacked and still feel at low risk. 

On average, a small business has a 60% chance of shutting down within a few months of a breach. Let that sink in. While many small businesses play fast and loose with security risks, the majority won't live to tell the tale past a hack. A huge percentage of small businesses are happily swimming in the waters of commerce unaware of the school of piranhas forming underneath them because most of the previous victims have disappeared without a trace. 

No One Is Too Small 

Small businesses falsely assume that no one sees their company as attack-worthy. They think larger businesses are bigger targets due to their size and income.  Everyone is a target. In fact, it's worse for small businesses because they not only have less ave less security, but their valuable information often lacks appropriate backup. 

What’s Good for the Goose Isn’t Good for the Gander 

When implementing cybersecurity prevention for a small business, many people turn to what they’re familiar with. This often takes the form of relying solely on basic virus protection. While programs like these are certainly better than nothing, there’s more to do than controlling the spread of viruses. Cybercriminals are more motivated than ever before, and some hackers even work in teams to attack your computers until they find a way in. Single-layer, consumer-level solutions are not the best defense. 

The Rising Threat of Ransomware 

Hackers are far from dumb criminals. They know exactly what they're doing. If a hacker encrypts the information on a single computer in a small business, there’s a good chance they can infiltrate the rest of the business, holding it captive using a ransomware attack. 

When a hacker takes over your information, they hold it hostage until you pay the ransom, just like in a physical ransom situation. Just how much ransom are we talking about? According to some experts, half of all ransomware payments made by businesses amount to more than $10,000. 20% are more than $40,000. If you’re a large corporation, that could be a drop in the bucket. But for a small business, the cost is far more damaging. The ransom payment could amount to months of payroll. It’s no wonder that many small businesses close up shop after being attacked just once! 

The Bottom Line 

Take heart. This is not a hopeless situation. Nothing could be further from the truth! A small business simply needs to prepare. One of the biggest hurdles to having a comprehensive security plan is the cost. Most small businesses dream of having one dedicated cybersecurity person, let alone supporting a division like many larger companies. What is a more reasonable option? 

MSPs (Managed Service Providers) are a way of outsourcing this difficult but important aspect of your business. Find a company that deals with small businesses regularly, like we do. MSPs understand the best ways to implement a security solution appropriate for your unique situation at a reasonable price. After all, a solution will only work if it keeps pace with the cybercriminals who are after your assets.