The world is becoming more connected and the buzz word of the year is “The Internet of Things”. What does this really mean and will small to medium businesses be impacted? The short answer is YES, the harder question is How? Right now, there is no detailed answer but we do know the ‘Internet of Things” will change the way small to medium businesses do business as they use technology to innovate.
This article provides you with an overview of what is meant by the “Internet of Things’ and some of the challenges it creates and the impact on the relationship of the Small to Medium Business IT provider.
Internet of things defined?
The IT world is at its best with the use of jargon and having a language of its own that makes it hard for the ordinary person or the small to medium business owner. Let’s break down the mystique of the Internet of Things. (IoT)
Internet of things is defined as: the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data.
Consumers are experiencing the impact of this convergence in all technologies everyday e.g., Smart TV, Internet Fridges, Cameras, Motor vehicles, home security systems, Smart homes electricity, hearting etc. The continued adoption is driven by the benefits delivered to each consumer in the way it improves their daily life.
Is it any different for a small to medium business? The answer is no. Every single business will look at ways they can use the interconnection of computing devices to achieve improvements in their business.
What are the Business benefits for small to medium businesses?
Every business owner will look to 1) improve the top line by increasing revenue from existing customers or from finding new customers, 2) gain efficiencies and improvements in the way products/services are delivered. 3)Reduce costs by streamlining processes, and 4) being able to accelerate the time to market increased responsiveness.
This impacts the way the small to medium business owner thinks about IT and the relationship they have with their IT advisor/technician. No longer is it about a break/fix relationship but rather one that requires the advisor to understand what the game plan is for the business and then provide the strategic advice of how technology can be used and the final part is the buying of and the implementation of the actual technology solution.
A recent Telstra report “Digital transformation. Are you disrupted or disrupting” reported that “55% of all respondents are actively seeking to disrupt current or new market’s”
What are the challenges confronting us with the evolution of IoT?
Security: With an increase in the number of network connected devices serious security measures need to be taken to prevent data leakage. More devices increase the number of vulnerable points. This changes the face of security and requires a total management perspective to ensure you are minimising the risks of a security breach and loss of data. The other challenge that goes with this is simply the volume of data that is being collected. This raises the challenges of data recovery and Business disaster recovery strategies. Without the data, it becomes very difficult to do anything.
Connectivity: As more devices are connected this will impact the thinking around the underlying infrastructure requirements and will drive a move away from traditional centralised server/client paradigms to authenticate, authorize and connect different nodes in a network.
Extended Network Management: IoT creates a need to work with larger data capacity and manage more IP addresses this means more work for the IT support group and they need to be managing around the clock as a business cannot afford the network to be down. This changes the nature of IT from Break/fix to proactive monitoring.
IoT is an issue that the smart business owner is going to take notice of. Why? Because of the benefits it delivers in being able to run a successful business whether that’s moving to a new business model or disrupting an existing market, or using data more effectively to gain improvements and reduce costs.
Stay tuned as this evolves over the coming months and years.
Some interesting reading:
“Digital transformation Are you disrupted or disrupting” Telstra
In today’s connected business environment communication solutions are more critical than ever, yet deciding on what system, which technology, which provider is very difficult due to the variety and mix of solutions that are available. This article looks at assisting a business in navigating this very complex and difficult decision.
What is the starting point?
This is the easy part start with documenting what it is you require by analysing the business environment that you operate in. Sounds simple enough but it is often overlooked or not completed. This is where you will gain a clear picture of your requirement and your needs.
Some of the factors/questions that need to be looked at are: how does your business interact with customers? Do you have a dedicated team undertaking outbound activities, do you run a support centre? How big is the sales team? Is the sales team office based or mobile? How many calls will be active at any point in time? How many locations are employees located at? Do you have any compliance issues? What is the expected new numbers of employees next 12 months, 24 months? What level of integration is required across your systems and technologies? E.g. CRM System.
The above list is by no means exhaustive but it does start to provide a guideline for what is needed to consider in defining the requirement.
What are the key factors in evaluating a solution?
When evaluating a solution, the key criteria will cover Cost both initial investment and ongoing monthly recurring costs, Quality i.e. sound voice quality, including reliability of connection and speed, Ease of implementation i.e. level of training required, feature functionality, level of support provided and Adaptability being the ability to scale with expansion or contract if required.
Understanding your requirement by documenting it enables one to better identify the key criteria by which every solution can be rated and evaluated. This process enables an effective decision to be made.
Cloud Based Phone System V Traditional Physical Phone systems
Cloud phone systems have been heralded as the future of business communications. A cloud based system is simply a service that delivers calls and PBX -style functionality over an internet connection (Voice over Internet protocol VOIP)
Traditional phone system is based around a copper landline that is serviced by a telephone company such as Telstra. Typical equipment required includes an on-premise PBX hardware that may need to be upgraded as your employee numbers grow past the capacity of the PBX hardware you have purchased.
Feature comparisons between Traditional and Cloud Based systems
Both traditional and Cloud based phone systems have extensive functionality that will meet many business needs. Some people consider that there is greater programming capability with a VOIP system and less capital investment is required with VOIP solutions. My comment is that you need to ensure you have a solution that gives you the features you need now and in the next five years. You do not want to be changing phone solutions every 3 years. That is a very expensive exercise.
Speed of deployment/ Business Interruption
When assessing which system to purchase ensure that you have identified how much time is required to install and deploy the system as it is a key to minimizing the disruption to a business. Every minute a business is not available to conduct business the greater the impact on overall viability of the business.
A VOIP system requires a broadband connection and the more simultaneous users using the system means more bandwidth is required. Check to see if your Internet Service provider has a bandwidth cap in place and check the data usage regularly so you do not exceed the cap. Exceeding the cap is going to impact quality.
As a small to medium business you need to decide for your communication systems that is right for the business. A Computer Troubleshooters Service provider can assist you at all stages of the process of implementing a phone communication system. This is from the initial selection to implementation and ongoing support.
While there are many positives in implementing a VOIP system remember no matter what solution you choose there is always positives and negatives the final decision should always be based around the objective criteria you have defined.
VOIP Phone Systems
Sophisticated Provider response times
Easily set Up and configured Extent of support
Cost Dependence on provider
Easy to scale Educating staff in the system
Expansive Features System Software upgrade disruptions
Comparable call quality to landlines Availability of Bandwidth
No investment in hardware PBX Reliability of provider network
Soft calls receiving calls via your desktop or laptop Power outages
In conclusion, The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACME) reported in 2014 (Australian SME’s in the Digital Economy 5-6) “that cloud services continue to gain acceptance and popularity with small and midsized businesses.”
The move to VOIP Unified Communications will continue and your local Computer Troubleshooter is there to help you make the right decision.
For every business owner, no matter what size of business you are managing knows that a key to success is ensuring that your business is increasing staff productivity. Why? Because the more productive you are means that you are increasing the output of the business at a lower cost per unit of output which means an increase in profits. In simple terms getting more done with less.
What is the role of technology?
The answer to that is quite simple as technology permeates our daily working lives. Think about what life was like with no mobile phones, no email, no internet, no electronic calendars, no collaboration tools and technologies like Skype. Technology today is so cost effective that all businesses can now afford to use these technologies to increase productivity.
Business productivity is the absolute focus of Microsoft Office 365. It is about ensuring that staff have access to: email 24/7 on any device that they use, remote access to data through the cloud and being able to work on that data via software such as Excel and Word etc.
One of the keys for every small to medium business is to ensure that technology is being managed and implemented across the business in a smooth and seamless manner so that their people are working at optimal levels to maximize the businesses productivity resulting in the best possible results.
How does technology impact on business productivity?
Overcoming the challenges of executing on a business strategy daily is where technology has the biggest impact for businesses. Using technology to create automation of tasks allows employees to communicate faster and effectively, give employees an ability to focus on the priorities that will deliver the results that the business is looking for.
When assessing business productivity tools such as MS Office 365, it is imperative that the business understands how it will help?
Create an open and communicative environment.
Connect teams virtually within the company.
Motivate your employees using technology.
Monitor business productivity and employee progress on goals. Analyze performance
Create a flexible workforce no matter where they are they can access what they need
Stay secure and compliant.
How can Computer Troubleshooters help you with Office 365?
The team at Computer Troubleshooters can help you across all stages of your implementation, from assisting you to identify the plan you need, implementing the package including the setup and migration of your email to Microsoft Office 365, to the ongoing management of your solution under a monthly subscription plan. To locate your nearest Computer Troubleshooter Click here
What are the key benefits for Business Owners?
Some things to think about are:
Capital investment– do you prefer to invest to upgrade systems or use a pay as you go subscription model?
Space and operating requirements – do you need to run your own infrastructure?
Maintenance – would hosting dramatically reduce staff or outsource costs for your IT support?
Scalability – will you need to add or reduce users in the future?
Operating control – can you trust an external IT expert to remotely manage your systems?
Applications – can you use hosted applications or do you need to host locally?
Data usage and file sizes – are your business characteristics suitable to use hosted applications?
Broadband speed and capacity – can your internet bandwidth handle hosted usage?
Statutory data retention – does your business have a requirement to hold and protect data?
By implementing Office 365 will productivity increase?
Productivity does not increase simply by implementing Office 365 it is important that you educate your staff in how to use the technology effectively and to have identified a range of business processes and activities that can benefit from the technology and make certain you get the buy in of your staff to those changes. The lesson to remember is to have a plan of action for the change you are introducing to your business.
While socially-engineered emails can be highly sophisticated, there are ways to differentiate them from legitimate emails. Consider the following questions when you next read your emails:
Do you reallyknow who is sending you the email?
Do you recognise the sender and their email address?
Is the tone consistent with what you would expect from the sender?
Is the sender asking you to open an attachment or access a website?
Are you expecting an email from them?Socially-engineered emails can be crafted to appear to come from a relevant and trustworthy source, including from within your organisation. Many use content relating to current events in order to deceptively gain your trust.
Is the content of the email relevant to your work?Malicious cyber actors may use fraudulent emails which relate to your area of interest.
Does the email ask you to access a website or open an attachment?This technique is commonly used to run malicious code on a victim’s computer, which could compromise agency data. You should always type the web address into your browser instead of clicking a link, and avoid clicking on any link that has been shortened, as you have no way of verifying the actual address. Exercise judgment and be cautious when opening attachments or accessing websites.
Is the web address relevant to the content of the email?Always place your mouse over the link and check that the web address is consistent with the link. For example, an email purportedly from a financial institution that contains a link to a pharmaceutical website may be malicious, as the two are unrelated enterprises. Clicking the link could redirect you to a malicious website.
Is the email from a personal email address?If it seems unusual to receive an email from a work colleague or superior from a personal email address, the email could be malicious. Call the sender to verify the legitimacy of the email before opening any attachments or clicking on any links.
Is the email suspiciously written?Incorrect spelling and capitalisation, abnormal tone and language, or the absence of a specific addressee can indicate that an email is not legitimate.
Have you received the same email twice?This could be a sign that malicious cyber actors are seeking to increase the likelihood that you will open their email and action their request.
Call 1300 28 28 78 and enter your postcode to find the nearest Computer Troubleshooter to you.
Too many small to medium business owners increase the risk to their survival by being reactive rather than being proactive in managing their IT infrastructure, hardware, software, usage of cloud services, smartphones and the internet.
One must ask the question why? The answer has a variety of answers. Some of it is because that’s the way we have always done it, sometimes it’s a lack of understanding of how reliant small to medium businesses have become on IT, however the main reason is an attitude around perceived cost. Yes, they see managing IT proactively as, not delivering a return on investment but rather, a cost that reduces the bottom line.
The key considerations for small to medium business owners is to understand that being reactive is more expensive than taking a proactive prevention approach to the management of IT. Why? because every minute of downtime is costing a business, it is not only the direct cost of the technician and his time but also the time the businesses employees are being unproductive and the cost of not being able to respond to customers. Poor response time and lack of availability of your technician combined with the unexpected cost of replacing equipment impact the viability of the reactive IT management model.
Can this be avoided?
The simple answer is yes, which raises the question of how? Again, the answer is an easy one for small to medium businesses by investigating the option of outsourcing the management of their IT under a managed services agreement to an IT service provider like Computer Troubleshooters.
The challenge for many small to medium business owners is to make sure they have a process that answers questions such as; having a defined selection criteria, clear articulation of their needs and what needs to be managed, clear understanding of the costs and what is covered and not covered by the agreement, ensuring there is clarity around the key deliverables for the small to medium business. This article aims to help you in developing that process.
What are the steps involved in selecting a provider?
Like any exercise a small to medium business owner needs to plan and have a structured process otherwise you increase the risk of making a bad decision.
Commence by understanding what you need in terms of services and the type of company that you are looking for. As an example, do you need your applications (accounting software, Office 365) to be managed or is it just making sure that you are fully protected against cyber threats? Is it managing passwords and ensuring email is available 24/7, or does it include patch management, ensuring your data is being backed-up regularly and being notified when a back-up fails or does it include making sure the network is running at an optimum level?
Start by identifying what is critical to your business and set that as the original scope. At the end of the initial contract period review and expand the scope if you are satisfied with the service.
Develop a selection criteria that includes the concept of value for money when selecting a provider. Remember selecting the cheapest price option is not necessarily the best result for you. Talk to some of the provider’s customer to establish their capability to deliver on what they are promising.
A guiding principle should be ensuring that your provider has the right people with the right skills doing the right things using the right tools to deliver the service. Factors to consider are:
experience of the provider, customer base who they work for, industries, size of businesses
flexibility and capacity to adapt as your needs change
capacity to respond, hours of operation, do they have a NOC centre
their technology and the skill set of the provider and knowledge including emerging technologies such as cloud services
pricing, what is included and excluded from the plan, termination process of contract.
One last factor to consider is the way the provider manages the relationship and the way they interact with you and the frequency they are providing updates to you. Ensure you have a set of performance indicators by which you will judge the performance of the Managed Service Provider.
What does a managed service plan look like?
The first element to look at is how the provider charges for their services. There is a variety of models with the most common being charged per device and per server. All providers will have per hour or daily rates for services that fall outside of the defined services.
Managed service plans generally work under a monthly subscription model and the monthly fees billed directly to a credit card. One area to investigate in any plan is to understand the required termination time-period and the process for moving to another provider. Make certain you are not beholden to the provider.
What are the services I should look for that are provided by a Managed Service provider?
Service providers package services in different ways. This means a potential customer needs to know their requirements. Examples of services are:
Monitoring this is where a provider is using a tool to that creates visibility of what is happening in your network. This capability allows a Managed Service Provider to be proactive in ensuring that a IT system’s uptime is maximised. Establish what is included in the monitoring package from your provider.
Remote remediation of incidents this again is work completed by the provider to ensure your network is operating at its greatest productivity. An example would be to automatically clear a device of all temporary internet files.
IT security ensuring all devices are protected and have the latest security updates and company policies are applied across all devices being managed
Business continuity services covering back up and business disaster recovery plans
Email and communications management of users, policies and ensuring you can communicate on any device at any location
Application management of cloud services and software such as Office 365
IT planning and growth ensuring your business can take advantage of the latest technology trends
Capacity and capability management e.g. infrastructure management
What are the deliverables for a small to medium business?
increased productivity as the uptime of the IT infrastructure has significantly increased
being more strategic in their IT investments leading to greater returns
a predictable monthly spend on IT that is now an operating cost rather than a capital cost
up to date IT infrastructure
In closing speak with your local Computer troubleshooter provider about how they can help you make the shift to managed services. www.computertroubleshooters.com.au or phone 1300 28 28 78
Protecting yourself against cyber security is in the news every single day of the week. Yet every day I hear another story about a small business that has had a breach. When talking to the owners, the anger, frustration and disbelief is evident to see. The shock is expressed in the following words; this is costing me so much, it’s the inconvenience, it’s the damage to my reputation and worst of all I am losing customers and I know they will not come back.
What is thecost for small to medium business?
The statistics on the cost to small business are hard to establish but one can only suspect that if big business is $142 per compromised record (Ponemon Institute Research report 2016) that is something similar for small to medium business.
From my personal experience, I know a podiatrist whose business incurred a breach of their booking system that it took three months before their business was back to normal. Even after this time they continued to lose customers. The Ponemon Institute Research Report 2016 clearly indicates that the loss of business customers is the largest financial consequence for an organisation that experiences a data breach.
A breach becomes more costly to resolve the longer the breach remains undetected.
Is a small to medium business subject to fines?
All businesses no matter what size are subject to the very stringent privacy laws of Australia. These laws place a significant accountability on businesses to keep customers’ private information secure or face potentially large fines as well as bad publicity and damage to their reputation.
Why is small to medium business a target?
This may be obvious but every cyber- criminal is looking for a soft target, in effect every small to medium business has more information (data) to target than an individual consumer and, because of resource restrictions and lack of knowledge they have a less secure environment than a larger organisation. This is not only in terms of software but also in having security policies that are effectively implemented. For example; passwords, network access, usage of personal devices and external storage devices such as USB sticks.
Too often small business owners are not proactive because they do not believe they have anything worth stealing. This is not the case as every small to medium business holds customer credit card information, customer personal details such as bank details and emails. Every bit of information is useful to a cyber-criminal who can make money, for instance, by selling an email address.
Are the hackers and criminals becoming more sophisticated?
The short answer to this question is YES. The 2015 Australian Cyber Security Centre Threat Report 2015 identified that the number of cyber criminals with capability will increase, that the sophistication of the current cyber adversaries will increase making detection and response more difficult, ransomware will continue to be prominent and there will be an increase in electronic graffiti such as web defacements and social media hijacking. This is all occurring because every day no matter what size business you are there is a greater reliance on technology to run and conduct a business. This represents opportunity to the cyber-criminal.
How to minimize and protect your small to medium business against cyber – attack?
Suggested guidelines for protecting your business are:
Complete a risk assessment so you are aware of the areas you are most vulnerable. The suggestion would be to complete this with an It expert or use an assessment provided by the Australian Taxation Office.
Educate your staff about the various types of scams such as ransomware. Ransomware is a piece of malware that is often sent via email and when executed it kidnaps your machine via encryption that blocks the user from accessing their machine. The kidnapper then demands payment for the decryption key. Ransomware is often referenced as Cryptolocker, Cryptovirus or Cryptotrojan. Examples include Australia Post deliveries, Australian Taxation Office, Microsoft support etc.
Ensure you have policies that are enforced around passwords
Use up to date security systems such as anti-virus software, ensuring firewalls are in place, proper controls around network access.
Ensure you are backing up your data and protecting sensitive data in accordance with the privacy laws of Australia.
If you have limited capability and resources, consider the proactive approach of engaging an IT service provider on a managed services contract.
Have a remediation and recovery plan to a cyber security breach.
Take insurance against a security breach
From a technology viewpoint aim for the following:
End user security – workstations and laptops all have anti-virus malware protection, scheduled back up and regular preventative maintenance.
Centralised user control and back up – critical company information and local files need to be protected and still require regular back up, possibly with offsite duplication or in the cloud.
Unified threat management and content filtering – can offer maximum external threat protection and enhanced business productivity to your internal network.
Disaster recovery and data restoration – business continuity can only be guaranteed with adequate backup and recovery procedures in place
The four key elements in thinking about preventing cyber security breaches are to know your environment, to secure your environment, effectively control your environment and proactively monitor your environment.
The best approach is to make sure that the challenge of cyber security is at the forefront of the business owner’s mind and that of employees.
Australian Taxation Office
Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network
Ponemon Institute; IBM sponsored 2016 Cost of Data Breach Study Australia