Work From Home: Transitioning to the New Reality

As little as two months ago, working from home was considered a job perk. Or, maybe even a recruiting tactic for prized new hires. Despite telecommuting becoming more and more accepted in office parks around the country, the custom was certainly not a taken-for-granted benefit.

A lot has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic has erupted and caused worldwide disruptions to everyday life and work. As more shelter-in-place orders come down from governor’s mansions, working from home has become a mandated reality for millions of people all across the world.

For the immediate future, telecommuting is no longer a job perk… it’s a job necessity.

If you’re a business that embraced working from home long before the spread of coronavirus became an international crisis, kudos — way to stay ahead of the game. Hopefully, your transition to a telecommuting workforce has gone smoothly and easily.

That said, before the onset of the pandemic, accommodating telecommuting for employees never registered as a top-level concern or need for many small and medium-sized businesses. With the new, social distancing reality setting in, you might be finding yourself scrambling to take your business virtual.

What do you needed to successfully complete this abrupt transition? Let’s discuss a few essentials.

Hardware

First and foremost, you’ll need the right equipment if you want to enable your team to manage their work responsibilities remotely. That means laptops.

Why laptops? Because it’s impractical to expect your employees to unplug their desktop setups and transport them to their makeshift home offices. It may also be inadvisable to allow your employees to utilize their own personal computers for work purposes.

Unless you have every employee’s personal computer checked out by an IT professional, you have no way of knowing how secure their machines are. As such, you could be leaving your businesses exposed to unacceptable levels of risk.

So, company laptops — set up and secured by knowledgeable IT staff — are the first items you’ll need to procure.

The bad news here is, many businesses are rushing to stock up on laptops, for the same reasons you are. Some suppliers are running three-week backlogs on orders. A lot of laptop manufacturing capacity resides in China — the first country to be hit with the pandemic. Production has slowed to a crawl across almost every industry.

The good news? China now appears to be heading for a slow recovery. The Chinese government is allowing manufacturing facilities to re-open and resume their production. Provided there are no big setbacks, the laptop backlog may be easing in the near future.

In addition to laptops, the other hardware your employees will need are phones and reliable internet connections. There isn’t much you can do about internet service at your employees homes. However, you can make sure their phones are secure and properly configured to handle sensitive company correspondence and information by having your IT team provide assistance.

VPN

So, now that your employees have their laptops, phones and reliable internet connections, you’ll need to enable your team to access company resources — email, databases, shared drives, etc.. And, you’ll also need to protect your business from potential breaches by digital criminals.

The best way to do that is via a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN enables secure and private transmission of data over the internet. It’s like a private tunnel on a busy road, to which only you and your employees have access.

You’ll need to purchase a VPN license for every remote employee on your team. There are many VPN providers out there. For help selecting the right VPN service for your business, check out this guide from Digital Trends.

Remote Desktop

Another resource you may need to enable for your remote employees is a remote desktop connection. This allows your team to access their workstations from their home computers/laptops.

It’s a good bet that there are resources and information on your employee workstations that they may need to access in order to manage their day-to-day duties. In addition to documents and databases, your team can also access applications loaded on their workstations from home. This is helpful if you rushed deliveries of your newly purchased laptops to your employee homes. The laptops are

Secondly, remote desktop works both ways. Not only can your team access their workstations from home, your IT team can also access your employees’ computers remotely when they require help. This provides “hands on” assistance for any troubleshooting issues when your employees can’t simply hand their machine off to an IT staffer.

Guidelines and Best Practices

Transitioning your business to remote work can be a jarring process for you and your team. There’s no doubt that there are new routines and protocols to adjust to. And, not everyone has experience utilizing the new tools they’ll be asked to use.

To assist the transition to the new reality, it’s helpful to have a common set of guidelines and best practices for your employees to follow. To that end, it’s important to undergo a comprehensive assessment of your business processes and go through all the new steps you’ll be asking your employees to take. This exercise will help uncover problem spots before you begin your work from home program, and make the transition smoother and easier.

Beacon Knows Remote Work

Coronavirus has forced many businesses into new dynamics. If you need advice to assist with your transition to remote work, we are here to help. Get in touch with our team today.

By | 2020-03-25T14:00:21+00:00 March 25th, 2020|BITS Team, IT Services|

Groundhog Day: 5 Re-occurring Issues Plaguing IT Pros

The jobs of IT professionals are hard enough.

Forget for a moment that they operate in an industry where the rate of change is accelerating exponentially – Moore’s Law states that computing capacity doubles every two years. Put aside the fact that the threat environment which they are paid to counteract increases in complexity every year, also exponentially. Nevermind that such a breakneck pace of innovation requires a continuous learning and updating of best practices and organizational policies.

These are not the most difficult issues IT workers face. The thing that makes a career in IT the most challenging is… us – the end user.

experiencing IT problemsDespite all the hard work and effort that goes into keeping the digital infrastructure of a business, government or non-profit organization secure and operating at peak performance, almost any user can bring down a network (knowingly, or unknowingly) in nearly no time. Worse, when something does go wrong, the assumption tends to be that it’s the IT guy’s fault if an email account won’t refresh or the internet connection becomes inaccessible.

Now, to be fair, it is perfectly legitimate to feel frustration if an indispensable work tool ceases to function. What isn’t fair is ignoring the fact that our own actions and work habits often contribute to the technology problems we experience.

What are some of the most frequent sources of frustration for IT folks? Let’s take a look.

The Groundhog Day IT Issues

We talked to our IT team leaders to learn more about the issues they run into most often. Here are a few of the repeated behaviors they tend to observe:

Minimizing the scope of a computer problem

If, for some reason, a program on your computer shuts down unexpectedly, it’s not a huge deal – provided you can easily recover the work you were doing. Still, a check-in with your IT team is the prudent course of action.

But, if your machine begins a pattern of unusual behavior – like, slower than usual running speed, or a series of unprompted re-starts – ignoring the issue could lead to much bigger problems.

All of our schedules are busy, and none of us have enough time in the day for the work that needs to be done. So, the rush to get past an immediate computer issue is understandable… but, it’s still the absolute wrong mindset.

There’s no telling what the root cause of your problem could be without investigating.  It could be as simple as a failed update. Or, it could be as nefarious as someone attempting to hijack control of your company-issued laptop.

You won’t know. But, your IT team will. Reporting the problem ensures that you’ll have the best possible user experience with your laptop and it also protects your organization from potential hacker exploits.

Non-IT/unqualified personnel troubleshooting problems

The only thing worse than not reporting a computer problem is trying to fix it yourself when you don’t know what you’re doing. Even if you fancy yourself a computer expert, you don’t necessarily know all the programs, systems and protocols in place on your company computer. If a problem requires more than a simple re-boot, your IT team is in the best possible position to resolve the issue promptly and properly.

Ignoring updates/restart prompts

Updates are needed to keep your computer up to date with all the latest security patches. But, too many of us hit the “Cancel” or “Ignore” button when the restart prompt pops up.

Yeah, it’s annoying and mildly inconvenient to have to stop what you’re doing in order to accommodate an update you didn’t know you needed. But, the upside is often an improved user experience. And, you get to avoid the downside – your machine being an open vulnerability for hackers.

phishing Success of phishing scams and other social engineering exploits

Unfortunately, people are always the weakest link in any digital security setup. We don’t mean to be, or want to be, for that matter. But, that doesn’t stop the immense volume of social engineering exploits hackers deploy each and every day.

Phishing or spoofing scams – where bad actors trick you into providing login access or personal information – work all too well. And, it’s not just the least experienced computer users who fall for these tricks. These types of hacks can be extremely sophisticated and difficult to spot.

Under-investing in needed equipment

This behavior has less to do with everyday employees and more with the managed approach to maintaining an organization’s digital infrastructure. Too often, investment into the required equipment lacks a systematic process.

A business may upgrade its servers or network switches one or two at a time, whenever they find a good deal or a sale. Or, an organization might make a new purchase when something breaks or exceeds its warranty. However, such a piecemeal approach results in network components of different quality, age and capability. And that’s not a great recipe for reliability or peak performance.

handsHow to Help Your IT Team

So, what can we do to make their lives just a tad easier? Following the below suggestions can help you win a few more friends in the IT department.

Treat company hardware/software as a business asset

Remember, there’s a lot of work that goes into keeping your work computer functioning as it should. Plus, there’s a difference in technical requirements between your workstation and your personal laptop. So, you can’t treat your work computer just like you would your personal one.

Don’t troubleshoot above your pay grade

You might be tempted to go down a rabbit hole and figure out a solution to your computer problem on your own. But, why? That’s not the best use of your time. And, you might end up making things worse. Let the professionals handle it.

Follow prescribed policies and protocols

Your IT team spends time developing and maintaining policies and protocols that keep your business infrastructure safe and your workstations operating efficiently. Trust your team and follow their advice.

Training & vigilance

Security training is a great way to increase your ability to spot phishing and spoofing attacks. Take advantage of your security training program, if your office has one. And, if it doesn’t, ask your IT team how to best get up to speed on the latest threats.

IT equipmentInvest in needed equipment proactively, not reactively 

If you ask, we bet your IT team has a vision for how to best maintain and procure the equipment it needs to support the organization’s digital infrastructure. Get that vision formalized into an official plan. This will provide a long-range investment and procurement strategy and ensure that your network will perform as needed now and in the future.

Beacon Knows IT

Want to know how well your digital network is adapted to the demands of your business? Find out by requesting a free audit by the IT experts at BITS.

By | 2020-02-20T10:48:18+00:00 February 20th, 2020|BITS Team, IT Services|

What to Give Your IT Team for the Holidays

IT professionals are tasked with a very important job: protecting their companies’ digital infrastructure and digital assets from all threats and intrusions. It’s a big job. And, often, it’s a thankless one. After all, in many cases, the only interactions co-workers have with IT staff is when something is wrong.

Internet down? Call the IT guy, pronto.

Restarting your laptop for the fourth time this week for some generic updates? Ugh, the IT department is so overbearing.

An application isn’t functioning properly on your desktop? Must be the IT guy’s fault. What’s so hard about keeping dozens of workstations working in perfect condition, anyway?

Cartoon man frustrated by a malfunctioning computerIn our hyper-busy work culture, interruptions to our daily routines are often received less than enthusiastically. But, in reality, it isn’t the IT guys fault if a network cable goes bad and temporarily shuts off your internet access; or, if the app you’re using wasn’t coded for your off-brand browser. And the IT department certainly can’t be blamed when you ignore a prompt to run software updates on your machine for the gazillionth time in the last month and your laptop freaks out and literally won’t let you log on.

At root of the problem is a simple difference in understanding of the technology we all use on a daily basis. While it’s the IT professionals’ job to know the ins and outs of the high-tech tools we all rely on, the rest of us are merely equipped with just enough knowledge to use these tools effectively.

Let’s face it, we’re not going to solve the disconnect between your rank-and-file employees and your IT team any time soon. But, what smart business owners and executives can do is equip the IT team to minimize avoidable problems and reduce their exposure to the wrath of the rest of your staff.

So, with this being the holiday season, and in the spirit of giving, here are a few suggestions of what to get your IT team to help make their jobs just a bit easier.

IT Guy’s Holiday Wish List 

Tiny shopping cart with two presents resting on a laptop keyboardKeep in mind that these gifts are not just for the IT team. The below recommendations won’t just make their jobs easier. They can help to make your business more secure, efficient and effective.

Unified Threat Management (UTM) Solutions

If you’re looking for a way to optimize your IT department’s capabilities, a do-it-all device or virtual service that combines antivirus, anti-malware, firewall, intrusion prevention, virtual private networking (VPN), web filtering and data loss protection can go a long way. For small businesses with small IT teams, UTM makes a ton of sense, as it simplifies the management of all digital security elements.

UTM solutions offer great protection from coordinated attacks that target different aspects of your network simultaneously. They are also attractive for businesses that operate in highly regulated industries, like healthcare or law, as they are designed to be compliant with legal requirements such as HIPAA, CIPA and GLBA.

To be fair, there’s a downside to UTM’s greatest appeal. Concentrating all of your security operations in one place makes your UTM device/service a potential single point of failure. When you put all your security eggs in one basket, hackers just need to bypass that one basket in order to breach your system.

That said, simplicity is a valuable commodity.

Security Training

Want to make your IT team really happy? Teach your employees to better recognize phishing attempts, spoofing exploits and other hacks that can potentially expose your business network to bad actors.

There is strength in numbers. If everyone on your team understands the digital security threat landscape, everyone can participate in keeping your digital assets safe.

Remember, it’s the human element that’s the weakest link in a secure network, not the technology. Practice and repetition can reduce the chances that one of your employees is fooled by a social engineering exploit.

network cables

New Hardware

Running your network on old equipment makes your IT team’s job harder. It’s slower, requires more maintenance and, in many cases, is less secure than the newer generation of security tech. Take stock of your current setup and identify the oldest, weakest link. Better yet, consult with the head of your IT team and see what he or she recommends.

New servers, storage equipment and network gear are all great investments for your digital infrastructure. Besides, new toys make everyone happy.

Beacon Knows the Holidays

From all of us at Beacon, to all of you out there, we wish you the happiest of holiday seasons. And, if you need a little more help rounding out your network security in the new year, we are certainly here to help. Give us a call.

By | 2019-12-12T13:24:43+00:00 December 12th, 2019|BITS Team, IT Services|

Why Locality Matters for Managed IT Services

Many companies rely on managed IT services to help them keep their computers secure and in peak performing conditions. It isn’t too difficult to find a provider that can keep your software up to date, make sure the latest security patches are implemented, or execute regular data backups.

The decision to “farm out” the upkeep of a company’s digital infrastructure is a smart one for many businesses. After all,

if technical/computer know-how has nothing to do with your industry, it doesn’t always make sense to devote an entire department to a skill set you know little about operationally.

That said, your organizational digital infrastructure is an important part of running your business. You want to make sure that the vendor you choose to hire has both, sound technical capabilities and trustworthiness.  Undoubtedly, these are very important decision points.

However, one thing that some decision-makers may overlook is the location of your IT support providers. In fact, in today’s ultra-connected and shrinking world, it may seem old-fashioned, maybe even uncool, to base a  vendor selection criteria around the concept of locality.

With the ever-expanding cloud economy, you may assume that IT is the last industry where physical location matters. After all, a tech can fix a problem on your work computer in seconds via remote access from anywhere in the world.

This is, of course, true. So, why does locality matter?

Face-to-Face Interactions Are Still Important

Knowing your clients is another old-fashioned business value.

Most businesses that rely on vendors for IT security and support believe that the less they hear from the vendor the better. No news is good news. Much like your favorite football team’s offensive line, if you’re talking about it, it’s probably because there’s a problem.

At BITS, we take a different view. Our aim is to develop and maintain close working relationships with all of our clients through regular conversations. We know that an offensive line can only protect your quarterback if it knows the game plan. Moreover, if the defense calls a blitz and you need to change the play at the line of scrimmage, the new play will only work if your linemen know the audible calls.

Football analogies aside, communication is still an important aspect of managing your vendors. And, as old-fashioned as face-to-face meetings and onsite visits may seem, they still offer the best methods of ensuring that the team you hire to protect you has the necessary information and understanding to do the job properly.

We believe you should treat your IT vendor as a full member of your team, and include them in pertinent business discussions. We want to be in the huddle with you.

Project Planning

Close integration with your IT vendor fosters operational familiarity and increases efficiency. But, it can also help your provider anticipate your needs and help you with project planning.

If you’re expanding or moving offices, for example, it makes sense to involve your IT services team in the planning stages. Such a project is a logistical monster. Your vendor can provide valuable advice by recommending the best types of equipment, an efficient computer network setup, and a new emergency response plan.

No matter what kind of project you’re undertaking, the more your managed IT services vendor knows about your operational cycles, technology use patterns and future goals, the more they can do to move your projects forward quickly and efficiently.

Beacon Knows IT

If you want a closer, more responsive relationship with the team responsible for your IT operations and security, give us a call at 336.546.6660. See what you’ve been missing.

By | 2018-11-27T08:59:13+00:00 August 16th, 2018|BITS Team, IT Services|

Managed IT Services

Disaster Response Time

If you’ve ever been in the unfavorable position of seeing your business IT infrastructure compromised, you understand the necessity of an expedient response from your IT vendor. If you haven’t, thank goodness. Unfortunately, the rise in the number of successful web-based attacks increases the odds of you facing this situation sometime in the future.

Successful businesses protect themselves against known risks. So, how do you best prepare for the eventuality of your company network being attacked? Another way to ask this questions is: What are the elements of a good disaster preparedness plan that ensure the fastest response time?

At Beacon, we hang our hat on two essential elements when working with clients to secure their IT infrastructure: experienced live technicians, and a properly-configured remote tool kit.

Live Technicians Make All the Difference

It’s natural and easy to become reliant on technology. Humans have done this at every stage of our evolution. An appropriate present day example is the societal discussion taking place around automation. It’s true – robots and artificial intelligence may very well be the components that someday revolutionize the workplace.

But, even the smartest tech leaders of the most forward-looking companies are re-learning the value of human capital. As Elon Musk, the CEO of the upstart carmaker Tesla, recently acknowledged, there is such a thing as over-automation. It turns out that the key to ramping up the production of Tesla’s highly-anticipated Model 3 is not more robots, but more people.

We’ve always placed a high value on highly personal customer service. In fact, the calling card of Beacon’s IT services is the ability of clients to receive live assistance immediately.

If you’re faced with a cyber attack that took down your network, you don’t want to be reduced to leaving voice mails to your IT vendor. Or worse, relying on a corrupted or compromised network to figure out what’s what. You want to be speaking with a real expert right away, not three hours from now. It is this step that’s going to be the difference between restoring your network in minutes, rather than days.

Remote Tools Help Your Network Recover Quickly

Hopefully, your firewall solution is good enough to keep out any unsavory characters. But, if we’ve learned anything about IT security in the last few years, it’s that breaches can – and do – happen despite the most robust security setups.

If your defenses have been penetrated, what helps you get your systems back online the fastest is a responsive data backup system (that you had the foresight to install prior to the attack). There are two setups that yield the best results: local virtualization and cloud backup. Both can get you back online within hours, if not minutes.

Local virtualization relies upon an on-site device that’s connected to your network. In case of a breach, the device is automatically quarantined. It is then used to restore access to your data by transferring the data to a “clean” server, or by acting as a server itself.

The second method is similar to the first. The difference is in the way the backed up data is stored and accessed. In local virtualization, the backup data can be accessed locally, on the backup device.

With the cloud backup, your data is sent to the cloud at selected time intervals – could be as often as once an hour. The task can be scheduled for non-business hours or overnight, so it does not interrupt normal business operations. If the need arises, you can access the saved data from a cloud portal – a secure, dedicated web page. In this manner, you’re able to restore individual files; or, in a disaster recovery scenario, activate servers in the cloud to replicate the compromised servers on site. In some scenarios, cloud servers can even be set up to mimic the function of your on-site servers, allowing authorized users to access the data the way they normally would.

Is Your Network Protected From Today Exploits? 

If you’re not sure, give BITS a call at 336.546.6660. We’ll be happy to talk to you about your IT security concerns. Our team is experienced in crafting customized solutions for the most stringent requirements.

By | 2018-05-15T11:49:08+00:00 May 15th, 2018|BITS Team, IT Services|

Why Must I Remove the Data After Retiring a PC?

You’ve upgraded the computers in the office. Everyone is enjoying the high speed, bells and whistles that come along with the latest technology. In addition, you’ve decided to do the socially responsible thing and donate the old computers to charity. You’re feeling pretty good about yourself. Then it hits you….

The old, retired PCs may contain sensitive data.

HIPAA requirements, identify theft, you name it. There are a million reasons why your old, retired PCs need to be wiped and old data removed before they leave your hands. While it takes a little bit of time and know-how, the removal of data is an absolute necessity before giving those old computers away to a nearby school, church or what-have-you.

Finding the Old Data on a Retired PC

You deleted everything on the desktop. Additionally, you found the “My Documents” folder and trashed all the files contained within it. You checked the “Favorites” folder. You’re all set, right? Sorry, but it isn’t quite that simple. Your information can be harvested from sources such as computer registries, hidden folders and your browser history just to name a few.

Private data can be hidden in so many places that there are only a couple of ways to make sure you’ve removed any proprietary information. You can either:

  • Wipe the internal hard drive clean
  • Detonate it

Unless you want to deal with the possibility of collateral damage or the office sprinkler system, I strongly suggest the first of these two alternatives.

Removing Data after Retiring Your PC

Assuming you’re like me and you prefer to stay dry, you’ll want to wipe the internal hard drive clean of any previously held data. There are a few ways you can go about this task. Your alternatives include:

  1. Reformat the drive (Format C from a Windows Setup Disc or systems repair disc).
  2. Purchase a software tool that will wipe the drive clean.
  3. Get your IT person to do it.

I love YouTube as I can find video “how to” instructions regarding almost anything including the procedures for reformatting a hard drive. However, even with video instructions, the procedure isn’t fool proof.

Unless you’ve done this kind of thing before or know your way around a PC better than most, you may wish to give this to your IT guy to handle. Take it from a fool who knows.

Your IT person can take care of this kind of thing with ease and you can rest assured that sensitive information will not fall into the wrong hands because you didn’t take the proper precautions. Also, your IT guy can reload the operating software on your retired PCs so that whomever you donate the old equipment to won’t have any undue stress trying to set them up for use.

Call the IT Guys at Beacon

At Beacon, our IT people specialize in working with small and medium size businesses and addressing their computer and IT needs. If your business does not yet have the designated IT resources to deal with these kinds of issues, call the experts at Beacon IT Services (BITS) at 336.447.3473.

By | 2017-07-12T07:48:54+00:00 June 29th, 2017|BITS Team|

NCTA 21 Awards

Last night a group of us from Beacon attended the 2010 NCTA 21 Awards event in Raleigh, North Carolina.

 

The North Carolina Technology Association (NCTA) did a fantastic job organizing and planning this event.  They had a record turnout of over 800 attendees!   As a proud sponsor and partner of NCTA, Beacon presented the Life Sciences Company Award, which was one the 21 awards presented last night.   Since my partner was “unfortunately” in Vegas attending Pubcon, I had the “opportunity” to present this award in front of a huge audience.

As you can imagine, it was a little nerve racking – especially because I was not sure of the correct pronunciation of the winning company (TransEnterix – my apologies if I messed it up).  This was a great honor for me as well as for Beacon.  This provided us with another opportunity to get some great visibility in front of the best technology companies in the state.

NCTA is a great organization whose primary mission is Making North Carolina Number One in Technology and Technology Number One in North Carolina.  I highly recommend joining this organization and this link will provide you detailed information about the benefits of joining.   Click here for more information.

By | 2017-03-21T13:50:33+00:00 November 11th, 2010|BITS Team|