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Finding the Right Cloud-Based Collaboration Tool for Your Business

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The cloud hosts hundreds of tools and applications designed to improve security and collaboration, streamline operations and project management, and enhance your existing solutions. But, knowing which cloud-based tools are right for your business is harder than you think.
From the cost of the application to how well it integrates with your current services, a lot goes into the decision of adopting a new app or tool. Ease the burden of researching hundreds of products by using our chart to compare some of the leading cloud-based collaboration tools.

Instant Messenger Solutions

While on the surface Slack looks like a more expensive choice, their free subscription offers a stripped-down option for an unlimited number of users. Their free and paid options leverage a variety of features including synchronization, data security and encryption, iOS and Android apps, file sharing and browsing, voice and video calls, webhooks and more.

 

HipChat may not have as many features as Slack, but it provides a solid communication option for small businesses or organizations on a limited budget. With features like screen and file sharing, synchronization, and voice and video calling, HipChat makes it easy to share ideas across an unlimited number of chatrooms. But, they only offer a free 30-day trial version before you’re faced with the decision to buy a monthly subscription.

Office Suite Solutions

Microsoft has been in the cloud-documents game a little longer than Google, and their subscription plans show it. From Office 365 Business Essentials to Enterprise E5, Microsoft has a plan for any size business. Office 365 offers 1TB of file storage per user – and that’s over and above email storage in Outlook. Due to its popularity, Office 365 integrates with most existing solutions and also provides Yammer and Stream as services in its package.

 

While G Suite counts email toward your storage space, their Business plan offers unlimited storage if you buy more than five user accounts. For the right business, that provides the most cost-effective solution. G Suite is also extremely scalable and doesn’t restrict your plans to the number of users. Plus, you gain the option to create both G Suite and Office 365 documents – giving you the best of both worlds for a single price.

 

Video Conferencing Solutions

Cisco Webex starts at a steep price for an annual subscription, but as a leader in security, Cisco brings a multi-layered security solution that keeps users protected and messages encrypted. Webex doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of Skype for Business, but it’s easy to navigate and provides a more reliable connection.

 

Skype for Business provides a variety of features from one-to-one video calls and voice messages to group screen sharing and more. With security solutions that keep unauthorized users out and data encrypted, you can feel safe conversing with clients, peers and prospects. Skype for Business seamlessly integrates with Office 365 and provides Microsoft plans like Business Essentials and Business Premium.

 

While the cloud may offer hundreds of different collaboration tools, not all of them are right for your business. We’ll help you evaluate your issues and determine which solutions are the perfect fit for your business.

 

For more information on the leading cloud-based collaboration tools and how they can influence your business, contact us today.

4 Ways to Meet Compliance with Innovative Cloud Technologies

By | Blog

According to IDC, no less than 60 percent of all IT spending and up to 70 percent of all software, services and tech spending will be cloud-based by 2020. Cloud-based solutions are on the up and up, and they’re not slowing down. Cloud is no longer a new concept – it’s a requirement for every business. But, that doesn’t mean that innovative cloud technologies can’t help you meet compliance easier than ever before.

As the cloud becomes a crucial part of every business’s operation, we’re finding new and different ways to leverage its capabilities. Meeting compliance is a driving factor for every company – from the medical industry to accounting. By following these four processes, you can make sure your business never risks noncompliance fines.

1.    Deploy a hybrid solution.

Don’t make the mistake of believing you can only choose public or private cloud solutions. For many companies, a hybrid solution provides the best of both worlds with the only con being its complexity. With an expert IT partner, you can take your hands off the reins and let your MSP take care of the technicalities while you rake in the benefits of having both private and public cloud solutions.

A hybrid cloud provides the security of a private cloud network with the cost-reduction of a public cloud solution. Plus, with features like cloud bursting which allows you to run applications within one environment and then tap into additional capacity during spikes, you can ensure you’re only paying for the resources you use – all while reducing operating costs and security risks.

2.    Fine-tune your cloud management strategy.

Multi-cloud solutions are the next step for many businesses. Multi-cloud involves controlling and running applications, workloads or data on multiple public, private or hybrid clouds. But, multi-cloud and other cloud environments are a complex process that requires strategic planning.

Regardless of which cloud environment you want to implement, you need to create a cloud management strategy that incorporates your short and long-term goals. By using this roadmap, you can chart out when you’ll need to upgrade or adopt new cloud environments, budget how much you’re spending monthly and yearly, and gain visibility on where you are in the process.

3.    Implement a multi-layered security solution.

Managing five, 10, 16 different cloud vendors on your own is not only difficult to do, it can leave you vulnerable to security threats and expensive mistakes. With new compliances like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) looming, it’s critical that businesses take compliance seriously.

Gone are the days when your security protection was separate from your solutions. Building security into your cloud applications from the start is the best option to ensure true protection. This reduces your vulnerabilities and adds a layer of security to your existing plan. By padding that layer with proactive monitoring and other security solutions, you can be sure your customers’ private data is protected.

4.    Partner with a reliable MSP.

The right partner can mean the difference between a seamless, reliable cloud solution and frustrating problems that keep cropping up. When you partner with us, you can rest easy knowing the toughest choice is already out of the way.

We’ll walk through your cloud integration plan and determine which solutions are best for your business. Then, we proactively monitor and support your services, staying up to date with the latest compliance regulations and standards so you never have to sweat the small details.

For more information on how we can help you implement cloud solutions that make meeting compliance easier, contact us today.

Your Guide to Ethics & Privacy

By | Blog

In his 2009 paper Digital Ethics, Richard Capurro described digital ethics as, “the impact of digital Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) on our societies and the environment at large.” But, what does that mean for your business and customers?

What is Digital Ethics?

Whether you’re a small, local business or a seasoned global enterprise, you have a moral – and regulatory – obligation to protect your employees’ and customers’ confidential information. Part of understanding digital ethics is knowing how far is too far. Can you use your customers’ search history to send them emails about products they may be interested in buying? How about using video surveillance from your stores to create customer profiles and send shoppers emails about products they were looking at in store? Understanding digital ethics includes determining that line and being self-aware so you don’t cross it.

Questions to Ask Yourself

To figure out where the line is, you should first ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do I have permission to use this information?
  • Can this information be used for malicious purposes?
  • Is this information helpful to customers (i.e., does it improve their experience)?

This year the EU passed the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) act, which requires businesses to gain permission before using information obtained about customers. While the regulation only applies to protecting EU residents, it requires businesses all over the world to comply to protect any EU resident visiting their site. By asking the above questions, you can find the fine line between ethical and unethical behavior while meeting compliance rules set by GDPR.

Creating and Implementing a Plan

Once you know where the line is, you need to create a plan to protect your customers’ confidential information and keep your business safe. What security measures are in place to prevent cyber criminals from obtaining and selling your customers’ data? Do you have data backup and recovery plans and a multi-layered security solution to protect confidential data from every angle?

How We Can Help

As your managed services partner, we’ll help you protect your customers’ privacy by implementing a security solution that encrypts their data and keeps cyber criminals out. We begin by evaluating your systems and pinpointing vulnerabilities. Then, we gauge your goals to determine which security solutions are most effective for protecting your customers’ and employees’ confidential information, implement them, and support them post-deployment so you can focus on growing your business.

When it comes to understanding ethics and privacy, you don’t have to face it alone. From finding the fine line to deploying a solution that protects confidential data, we’ll help you implement a practical plan. Contact us today to get started.

5 Questions You Should be Asking Before the New Year

By | Blog

When it comes to enhancing the way you do business, you’ve probably got a lot of questions. From implementing new solutions to boosting your existing services, deciding what is best for your business can feel overwhelming.

Technology choices don’t have to be difficult. This year, we helped businesses across a variety of industries solve their unique challenges, and we did it by following tech trends and best practices. So, what tech trends should you expect for the coming year? Start by asking these five questions:

 

  1. Are you missing simple productivity enhancers?
    You don’t have to change your entire process to improve productivity. A study by Fujitsu Siemens Computers found that by installing multiple monitors at your workstations, you can improve productivity by 35 percent. Dual, triple or quadruple monitor setups not only give you remote access and flexibility but – in many cases – can cost the same (i.e. a laptop and one monitor compared to a desktop and two monitors).
  2. Are you still using old Microsoft products?
    By January 2020, Microsoft will no longer support Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 and Exchange Server 2010. Outdated technology creates a hole in your security. By updating your software, you can improve your performance and productivity while keeping your business – and your customers’ confidential data – safe.
  3. Is your information being sold on the dark web?
    When it comes to your data being stolen, the dark web is a bustling marketplace for selling your confidential information. You need multi-layered security support designed to check for vulnerabilities, patch holes in your defenses and proactively protect your data from unauthorized users.
  4. Have you migrated to the cloud?
    Cloud computing is essential to improving productivity and efficiencies in the workplace, and that’s not stopping anytime soon. If you haven’t migrated your servers, applications or storage to the cloud, consider doing so now. It’s one of the easiest ways to reduce operating costs and improve the scalability of your business.
  5. Can your employees recognize fake emails?
    Phishing emails are increasingly appearing more legitimate. With sophisticated graphics and language, cybercriminals can make it look like anyone from your team is sending an email. Can your employees recognize the difference? With email security and encryption, you can protect your data from falling into the wrong hands.

When it comes to improving your business, your technology options are endless. But just because you can do anything doesn’t mean you should.

We’ll help you navigate the sea of IT opportunities and implement solutions for whatever the new year decides to bring you. Contact us today to answer these questions and discuss what tech changes you should be deploying.

Brilliant Tech Gifts for Home, Work and Play

By | Blog

As you consider holiday gifts for all the people who make your business a success – your employees, customers and partners – answer these three questions.

  1. Do the people on your list like tech gifts (hint: most do)?
  2. Will your recipients use their gift at home, work or play?
  3. Will everyone on your list get the same gift?

Number three is a no-brainer – there’s no way that everyone gets the same gift. You need options. To make sure you have the flexibility you need to find a great gift for everyone on your list, here are some brilliant (and popular) tech gifts. Some are for work, some for home and others for play. Take a look and you’re bound to find a few of the gifts you need.

Home

Ring WiFi Smart Video Doorbell

Few things we do at home are as risky as opening the front door after a stranger rings the bell. Thanks to Ring, a homeowner can now greet whoever rings the bell via iPhone or Android, even if they aren’t at home. Ring takes the risk out of answering the door, and it starts at less than $100.

Nest Learning Thermostat

Quick question: who enjoys programming their thermostat? Answer: nobody. That’s why the Nest Learning Thermostat is so popular. It learns what temperature you like the house to be at what times and programs itself, while leaving you the option of changing temperature remotely. Simply brilliant and starts at less than $200.

Work

Blue Microphones

Ever get frustrated and tune out when teleconference audio is sub-standard? Give your partner with poor audio quality a Blue microphone and improve every call, conference call or recording they make. The entry level Blue Snowball iCE starts at less than $50. Your gift could make a huge impact without costing you a fortune.

Samsung Galaxy Note9 Factory Unlocked

For the on-the-go executive who doesn’t like iPads, the Samsung Galaxy Note9 is a fantastic gift. It features Samsung’s largest phone screen and the S-Pen that can capture shots, scroll and play music remotely. A factory unlocked version is around $1,000.

Play

Beats by Dre Solo2 Luxe Edition Wireless Headphones

These headphones are for the person who appreciates beautifully designed products and loves the sound of HD audio with enhanced bass. With wireless and remote capabilities, the Beats by Dre Solo2 Luxe Edition Wireless Headphones combine looks, sound and ease of use for under $150.

Xbox or PS4

Know someone who loves to play Fortnite on their smartphone, iPad or laptop? An Xbox or PS4 gaming system will boost game performance (and make their experience even more enjoyable) while also providing streaming capability. A system with full HD video will run around $300, while one with 4K UHD will start at just under $400.

These tech gifts for home, work and play are perfect for the season and should cover most of the people on your list. With New Year’s rapidly approaching, the holiday season is also the right time to give your organization a gift.

What do you give a company? If productivity upgrades come to mind, consider an improved IT infrastructure that boosts the performance of everyone on your team. Contact us today and we’ll help you recognize which parts of your infrastructure present the best opportunities to improve productivity and drive growth.

Out With the Old, In With the New – Upgrade Your Tech with Section 179

By | Blog

When new employees join your business, are they saddled with hand-me-down technology that’s seen better days? If you’ve tried to save money by stretching your computer capabilities over the course of a decade – only to be stuck when a computer “unexpectedly” stops working – Section 179 can help you break the cycle.

We see technology as a way to make life easier, yet when your tech begins to fail, it no longer serves its purpose. In fact, it creates new troubles and costs you more money in downtime and lack of productivity than it would cost to purchase shiny new equipment. Here’s the good news: the U.S. government understands this desire to save money by upgrading your equipment less often, and they’re combating it with Section 179.

 

What’s the Section 179 tax deduction?

Well, instead of waiting for your equipment to conk out on you, Section 179 lets you deduct the full price of any qualifying equipment or software purchased or leased during the year. In addition to purchases like commercial use vehicles and improvements to nonresidential property, this includes:

  • Business equipment that you purchase, finance or lease
  • Computers
  • Software with a non-exclusive license that has not been substantially modified
  • Office equipment like servers and printers, routers, network switches and network security appliances

Now, there’s no reason to put off upgrading your technology when you can write off the full amount. Businesses that buy, finance or lease less than $2.5 million in new or used businesses equipment qualify. After you reach the $2.5 million cap, the deduction decreases on a dollar for dollar basis up to $3.5 million. Just make sure that you put the equipment and software into use by December 31, 2018. For questions about your eligibility, consult with your accountant.

Not sure if you need an upgrade?

It depends on your usage, but a guide is five to seven years for computers, three to five years for hardware (like industrial printers and switches), and six to 10 years for other qualifying items like vehicles and furniture. If you notice a significant decline in performance or if downtime is hindering your workflow, it’s probably time for new equipment.

 Section 179 allows you to stay competitive in the market and support your customers effectively with up-to-date tech. Are you ready to take your technology to the next level? Contact us today to talk about the best options for your business.

How to Integrate IoT into your business

How to Integrate IoT into Your Business: A Checklist for Getting Started

By | Blog

The Internet of Things (IoT) is impacting thousands of businesses every day, from connecting endpoints – like mobile devices, televisions and security systems – to streamlining processes by customizing experiences. But, how do you know if integrating IoT is the right decision for your business?

Whether you’re just beginning your research, or you’ve extensively studied the impact of IoT, there’s a lot to consider when making your decision. It’s difficult to know how well-equipped your team is, but you can get a better idea using this checklist. Take a few minutes to fill out the questionnaire below, then discover your results.

  • Does your team understand the concept of IoT?
  • Does your team know how to implement IoT solutions?
  • Do you have an IoT testing environment?
  • Can your network accommodate IoT?
  • Do you have a pre-determined budget for IoT integration?
  • Do you have a security plan in place that incorporates IoT?
  • Do you have a method for defining and measuring IoT results?
  • Do you know who will be updating or maintaining your IoT solutions?
  • Do you know how IoT will affect your compliance?
  • Are you confident that you can make the best decision for your business regarding IoT?

6-10 No’s: You still have a lot of work before you’re ready to implement IoT into your daily workflow. But, that’s where we come in. As your partner, we’ll help you create an IoT strategy and maintain your solutions, so you can worry less and connect more.

2-5 No’s: Not too bad, but you’ve still got a ways to go before you’re completely prepared to undertake IoT. As your partner, we’ll help you fill in the gaps, create an IoT strategy and secure your connected devices.

0-1 No: You have a better understanding of IoT, but maybe something is holding you back? As your partner, we’ll help you seamlessly deploy an IoT implementation. From creating a strategic plan to securing all of your connected devices, we’ll get your business fully integrated, so you can begin seeing results as quickly as possible.

Adopting an IoT strategy without expertise from a reliable partner is difficult – even for the most educated individual. There are a vast amount of variables, and it’s likely you won’t think of everything. As your partner, we’ll provide more information on how IoT can affect your business and how to start implementing an IoT strategy. Contact us today to connect your devices and streamline your user experience.

5 Catastrophes that Made IT Disaster Recovery Critical in 2017

5 Catastrophes that Made IT Disaster Recovery Critical in 2017

By | Blog

“Disasters don’t happen here.”

That kind of thinking can be tempting when you’re deciding what IT recovery plan to include in your budget. But the truth is that major disasters can happen anywhere, at any time. In 2017, there were 16 natural disasters that caused at least $1 billion each in damages – and that doesn’t account for other crises such as hacks and power outages. To ensure that your business survives the unexpected, learn a lesson from these 2017 disasters:

  1. Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria

Extreme flooding from these wildly powerful storms caused an estimated $265 billion in damages. More than two million businesses were potentially impacted by Irma, while Harvey and Maria hit a respective 565,000 and 18,000 businesses. Many business owners found their computers and servers underwater, along with other equipment and backups stored on-site. Downed power lines and damaged phones made communication difficult, but technology that stayed up – including social media, navigation systems and walkie-talkie apps – played a vital role in helping people survive the storms and recover afterward.

  1. California Wildfires

The Thomas fire in December was the largest wildfire California has ever seen, burning more than 280,000 acres and forcing thousands of residents to evacuate. About 60 percent of retail and food service businesses closed, while dozens of businesses were damaged or destroyed. Even after the fire was contained, smoke prevented many employees from working on-site. All in all, the total cost of damage was estimated at $65 billion.

  1. WannaCry Ransomware Attack

In May, hackers launched a vicious attack that took control of more than 200,000 computers in 150 countries, targeting a weakness in outdated software. The thieves demanded a ransom to unlock files for hospitals, airlines, colleges, police departments and more – and many of those who paid still did not receive their data back. But there is good news: 96 percent of companies with a reliable disaster backup plan fully recover from a ransomware attack.

  1. Equifax Breach

One of the three largest credit agencies in the US suffered a massive breach from May to July, affecting more than 145 million consumers whose Social Security, credit card and driver’s license numbers were compromised. The lack of proactive monitoring and prompt reporting – Equifax did not publicly announce the breach until September – left victims vulnerable to identity theft and scrambling to protect themselves too late.

  1. Human Error

Roughly 90 percent of cyber security issues stem from human error or behavior. In 2017, US-based companies reported 1,453 data breaches, many of which resulted from employee negligence or incomplete training. Then there’s the threat of system shutdown, as evidenced in February when hundreds of sites experienced interruptions or went offline after an employee for Amazon Web Services made a mistake while debugging a web hosting server.

Do you know what to do if a disaster affects your business? By the time tragedy strikes, it’s too late – so don’t wait. Information Age will design and implement a customized disaster recovery plan to ensure you don’t miss a beat, regardless of what life throws your way. Contact us today to get started.

5 Reasons You Need Unified Communications

5 Reasons You Need Unified Communications As Told by Our Experts

By | Blog

If you missed your invitation to the party, here it is. Chances are that your competition is already using the Microsoft Office 365 suite of tools to maximize their productivity and grow their business, so why aren’t you? This is a powerhouse of a platform that will change your business culture and deliver immediate results, and now it’s more affordable than ever.

O365 is more than just another software product – it’s an integrated experience of applications and services with a familiar face. It encompasses Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote and OneDrive – available on ALL of your devices, no matter the operating system. That’s right – O365 is OS-agnostic and works on Windows-based PCs, Android devices, Mac OS and iOS. It also offers the options of these services: Exchange, SharePoint, Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams. Overwhelming, isn’t it? We’ve got a solution for you. (Hang in there, we’re getting to that.)

Microsoft has been providing solutions for some of the biggest companies in the world for decades. Now, with O365, they’ve raised the standard for business growth. Imagine bringing together all of your people, processes and technology and being able to manage all of that productivity seamlessly, all through cloud computing. Office 365 makes that a reality. And if you’re not onboard with it yet, here are five reasons you need to be:

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Reasons to use Office 365 in business

What? You’re Not Using Office 365? Five Reasons Why You Need to Start Right Now

By | Blog

If you missed your invitation to the party, here it is. Chances are that your competition is already using the Microsoft Office 365 suite of tools to maximize their productivity and grow their business, so why aren’t you? This is a powerhouse of a platform that will change your business culture and deliver immediate results, and now it’s more affordable than ever.

O365 is more than just another software product – it’s an integrated experience of applications and services with a familiar face. It encompasses Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote and OneDrive – available on ALL of your devices, no matter the operating system. That’s right – O365 is OS-agnostic and works on Windows-based PCs, Android devices, Mac OS and iOS. It also offers the options of these services: Exchange, SharePoint, Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams. Overwhelming, isn’t it? We’ve got a solution for you. (Hang in there, we’re getting to that.)

Microsoft has been providing solutions for some of the biggest companies in the world for decades. Now, with O365, they’ve raised the standard for business growth. Imagine bringing together all of your people, processes and technology and being able to manage all of that productivity seamlessly, all through cloud computing. Office 365 makes that a reality. And if you’re not onboard with it yet, here are five reasons you need to be:

Read More