3 ways to ensure your business is protected from cyber threats after Windows 7 end of life

Your business and many others have run on Windows 7 for years. Now, come January 14, 2020, your entire office’s operating system is going to stop being supported by Microsoft. What does this mean for your business and its cyber safety?

Here are 3 ways you can ensure your technology environment is safe and secure following Windows 7 end of life.

Option 1:  Pay for Windows 7 extended security updates through Microsoft

Perhaps the simplest and most trustworthy solution for many businesses who need to stay on Windows 7 is to purchase extended security updates through Microsoft.

There are plenty of benefits to getting extended security updates. The obvious is that you’ll still be getting direct support from the software’s manufacturer. That sort of inside knowledge and accountability is important, for certain.  On top of that, it’s hard to match the resources that Microsoft has when it comes to awareness of the cybersecurity landscape.

If you’ve trusted Microsoft with your cybersecurity thus far, this solution is perfect.

Unfortunately, this service isn’t free. Microsoft doesn’t want to keep supporting Windows 7, so to keep getting these extended security updates you will be paying.

Right now, the pricing they have set forth is a per device cost that increases every year past the end of life of the operating system. From January 2020-January 2021, it will be $25 per computer. The year after the price goes up to $50 per device.  And the doubling trend keeps going year over year.

For the short term, this solution is perfectly viable. If your business needs an extra year to migrate over to Windows 10, paying $25 a device for extended security updates is the right move. Beyond that? Well, you’re throwing your money into life support for a dead operating system. Seems like a waste, doesn’t it?

Option 2: Rely on third-party security solutions

If you find the cost of extended security updates from Microsoft to be a little costly or not reliable enough, there are a slew of third-party solutions available.

The most important thing to consider when applying this solution to your business is to ensure that you have the correct cybersecurity in place. It can be difficult to find a one-stop top-to-bottom security solution. It’s even more difficult if you don’t have an expert on staff to manage it.

Some of the best options for third-party security are to deploy a reliable VPN and endpoint protection solution.

VPNs, or virtual private networks, are essential if your employees ever access any part of your technology infrastructure off-site. If you use Office 365 or any cloud-based solutions, VPNs ensure that anyone accessing materials over an outside internet connection are not opening your technology infrastructure up to cyber threats. For most modern businesses, VPNs are essential.

Endpoint protection is what most people think of when they think of anti-virus. It ensures that each machine it is installed on is capable of blocking cyberthreats that try to attack it. Usually, the softwares cost $10-15 per user.

Endpoint protection can be a great baseline of cyberthreat protection. If you are around enterprise size or want top-of-the-line security, endpoint protection simply won’t be enough.

Option 3: Migrate to Windows 10

Okay, so this one isn’t really a tactic to keep you on Windows 7. But there’s no easy way to put it; if you’re on Windows 7, you need to start creating a plan to migrate to Windows 10.

Sure, the other solutions presented work on some level. But in the end, they are simply bandaids you can use while you migrate your business over to Windows 10. Whether it’s tomorrow or 3 years from now, you eventually need to move off of Windows 7.

That’s the bad news, but there is plenty of good news.

Windows 10 enterprise is $84 a seat. That’s cheaper than paying for Windows 7 extended security updates past the three-year mark. It’s less of a headache than trying to piece together your own triage unit of third-party cybersecurity solutions. And, on top of that, you get the added benefits of Windows 10.

Things like regular updates, security or otherwise. Clean integration with Windows 365. A slew of cloud services your business can leverage on the daily.

It means not trying to carry your business into the future on the back of a dead operating system.

We know it can be a huge hassle to move your entire business over to a new operating system. What about all of your files? Your user preferences? What about the fact that Susan in accounting finally, after three years, knows where all of her Excel files save to?

You don’t need to worry about that, because there are companies out there who specialize in managing this exact sort of migration.

MSPs like ISG know the ins and outs of operating system migration. We can handle your file backup, your individual computer set up, your organization plan and your rollout schedule.

You don’t need to feel like the burden of migration falls only on you. Managed service experts are here and ready to ensure your migration to Windows 10 goes off without a hitch.

A 6-part checklist to setting up VoIP

VoIP technology is hardly a new thing.

In fact, it’s easily the current standard for forward-thinking businesses. But there are plenty of small businesses that have yet to make the move to VoIP. And even if you currently have VoIP phone service, it’s never a bad idea to re-evaluate your current plan to ensure it fully meets your needs.

But this isn’t something you want to plunge into without any prep work. Instead, there are some critical questions you should answer before you make a single change—and that’s what we’re going to cover in this article.

“. . . finding the right VoIP solution for your particular situation can be one of the more complex business IT decisions you’ll face.”PC Mag

Why you need a VoIP plan

Whatever you use for telephone service, either POTS or a VoIP solution, we’re talking about an important part of your business communications.

Even with the rise of email and IMs, there are still plenty of times when the best communication option is still a phone call.

As soon as your SMB graduates beyond the point that a single phone line meets your needs, you have a whole new world of options.

There are all kinds of advanced features available out there, along with providers and plans that run the gamut in terms of service quality and pricing.

The worst thing you can do is just pick one. Instead, we recommend a strategic approach.

Your VoIP-readiness checklist

The checklist below will help you decide exactly what you need and will help ensure the VoIP partner you work with is a good fit for your business.

And if you feel you’d be more comfortable with a little help, reach out to your managed IT services provider. They already know your network and should be able to provide you with consultation and support.

✔ Determine your needs

First things first.

Decide how many users you’ll need VoIP service for and what bare-minimum features you’ll need (like voicemail and the ability to transfer calls).

Why?

The number of users is important because that number will help you hone in on the service plan you’ll need from any VoIP providers you shop. The minimum features are important for a whole different reason.

VoIP services come with a lot of bells and whistles. So many that it’s easy to get lost in the options. Start by deciding what your minimum requirements are so you don’t accidentally talk yourself into advanced features you don’t really need later.

Strategic add-ons are smart. Features that sound nice but don’t really bring value should be avoided.

✔ Decide if you want or need hardware

VoIP phone systems can be entirely software based. If you opt for omitting hardware, you can run your entire phone system with headsets connected individual workstations and/or smartphone apps.

There are pros and cons to this approach.

You’ll definitely save money, but there’s a learning curve, too. And some of your employees may not be crazy about the idea of wearing a headset instead of picking up a receiver, which feels familiar.

✔ Make sure your internet connection is up to par

Most likely, your internet connection is just fine for VoIP service. Most business plans provide more than enough bandwidth to support voice calls as well as standard internet traffic.

That said, what if your internet traffic is higher than the average? Or what if you have a particularly slow business plan for internet service? Or what if you have a bandwidth cap?

Know what you’re working with before you start researching specific options. If you need to upgrade your bandwidth first, take care of that.

✔ Decide on a budget

Make note of the fact that so far, we haven’t suggested you start comparison shopping. There’s a good reason for that. The first four items on this checklist should all happen before you start shopping—including setting your budget.

There are options all over the map in terms of features, requirements and budget. Decide what you’re actually prepared and able to spend before you give serious consideration to any options.

“Your business might be small, maybe even downright tiny, but moving to VoIP can give you the power and presence of a much larger company.”Forbes

✔ Comparison shop VoIP providers

Once you know all of that, then it’s time to shop.

Do your homework. Don’t get lured into anything by one slick-talking sales rep or one particularly dazzling website. Look at reviews, compare features, and read the fine print.

Make your final buying decision as dispassionately as possible.

✔ Create a transition plan

Finally, when everything else is done and in place, create a transition plan. You won’t want to move to your new VoIP service during a busy season or on the day of the week when you get the most phone traffic.

Plan to switch things over during a slower time, and have people on hand to test the new system to make sure everything is working the way you expect it to.

A final suggestion

VoIP services are a great option for SMBs, but like all business technology, you’ll get the most out of VoIP when you have solid support. If you don’t already have a managed IT services partner, we suggest that you think about getting one.

Not only will that make the switch to VoIP easier, but it will also benefit your business across the board.

7 questions to ask before creating a business backup procedure

Data backup is so essential to modern business operations that it’s easy to forget how important it is. That’s unfortunate because data backup is extremely important.

If something happens to your network—anything from a short period of downtime to a ransomware attack that completely wipes your system—your data backups are the only thing between you and a complete and total disaster.

That’s because your data backups are basically an insurance policy. If anything happens to your original data, there they are, waiting to save the day.

But it’s not enough to know that backups are important. You still need to develop a backup strategy for your company, and that’s where this article can help.

“Backups should be as frequent as possible while not impacting the service quality and performance of the system.” – CIO

There’s no one-size-fits-all option

Data backup is like so many forms of IT support for SMBs. A cookie-cutter, a one-size-fits-all approach just isn’t going to meet your needs. That said, some form of backup is better than nothing, so don’t ditch your current backup plan until you have another one in place.

But if you have no backup procedure (or if you’re updating your backup procedure), there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it.

The right way is going to be highly customized to ensure that everything about your backup process protects your data and sets you up for success if you ever need to restore your data.

Which brings us to the 7 questions you should ask before you develop your new backup strategy.

7 critical data backup questions

The questions below will walk you through the strategic process of determining exactly what you need from your data backup service. We recommend that you go over all of these questions and your answers with your managed IT services provider.

In fact, your MSP should walk you through some version of these questions before making any backup recommendations.

1. What are your backup goals?

The core goal of all data backup strategies is the same—protect and maintain data. But why do you want to protect your data?

Are you storing sensitive data about your customers or employees? Do you rely on historical reports for future forecasting and performance? What would happen if you suddenly lost all your data and had to start over tomorrow?

Answering this question is important because it sets the stage for the rest of your strategic planning. When you have a firm understanding of what’s at stake, it’s much easier to really invest in the process.

2. How much do you need to backup?

How much data are we talking about? The type of data doesn’t really matter—yet. First, determine the total amount of data you have.

That number matters because it will help you decide how much total backup space you need. And don’t assume a 1-to-1 ratio. The general rule is that for every 1 terabyte of original data you have, you’ll need 4-5 terabytes of backup space.

3. How big are the files you’ll be backing up?

Now that you have a total number, what’s the average size of each file? Are you backing up a few hundred text files? Those are generally small and take up relatively little space.

Or do you have a massive portfolio of images and videos? Because those can be much bigger.

Average file size matters because bigger files can take longer to transfer. You’ll combine your answer to this question with your answer to the next question to help decide what type of back (onsite, offsite or hybrid) would serve you best.

4. How important is speed when accessing your backup files?

Offsite backups are generally safer simply because there’s distance.

If something happens to your office, like a fire, an offsite backup will be unaffected. Your data remains safe. Onsite backup servers might not protect you as well.

On the other hand, offsite backup tends to take longer to restore. If speed matters, offsite backup alone may not be the way to go. You may want a hybrid backup solution—both offsite and onsite—so that you have the protection of offsite backups with the speed of onsite backups.

5. What’s the ideal scenario for restoring data from your backup files?

Let’s go back to that terrifying question. Suppose you lose all your data all at once and you have to begin the process of a full data restoration. What’s the best case scenario at that point?

Do you need everything back in place in a matter of hours? Would days or even weeks be okay? How will you maintain business operations if you need to work remotely for a while?

You’re planning for a potential disaster. Ask yourself what the smoothest possible recovery would look like for you, your staff and your customers. Now, what kind of data backup enables that?

6. Are you subject to any regulatory requirements?

If your business is subject to compliance rules, they may limit some of your data backup options. You may not be able to use offsite backups, for example. Or you may need to ensure there’s a specific level of security in play first.

The cost of compliance violations is high. You don’t want to go through all the work of developing a backup strategy only to discover you’ve left yourself open to a regulatory fine.

7. Are you sure about the security of your data backups?

Finally, give some thought to the level of security your data backup plan provides.

If you’re using an onsite server, do you have both software-based and physical security precautions in place? If you’re using an offsite option, does the backup provider guarantee cybersecurity?

Don’t assume everyone else out there takes security as seriously as you do. Think it through and ask.

The right backup option for you

If you work your way through these 7 questions, you’re much more likely to arrive at a backup strategy that fully protects your data. And don’t forget to reach out to a data backup pro if you feel out of your depth.

After all, protecting your data matters. Make sure you give this the time and attention it deserves.

ISG Technology “All In” for Supporting Overland Park Arts & Recreation

Overland Park, KS – June 13, 2019 – ISG Technology, a fourth-generation family owned company headquartered in Overland Park, KS is announcing its support and sponsorship of Stems: A Garden Soirée.

Stems is a garden party at the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens that benefits The Arts & Recreation Foundation of Overland Park. Proceeds ensure the continued support and development of Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead, the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens and city art installations.

“Supporting the arts and recreation in Overland Park is a way to ensure that future generations get to enjoy this great community,” stated ISG CEO, Ben Foster. “We live, work and play in Overland Park, and want to make sure it continues to thrive.”

The foundation is currently in the middle of it’s Growing to Inspire capital campaign that aims to gain $12.4 million to enhance and expand the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens. Stems is a way for the people of Overland Park to enjoy one of the city’s best attractions while also helping fund its future.

“We spend most of our days at work helping our clients achieve generational success in business,” Foster added. “It’s nice having events and opportunities like this to help our community achieve that same success.”

Stems: A Garden Soirée is on Saturday, June 22nd at 7:00. Tickets and more information can be found at the Stems website.

About ISG Technology:

ISG technology helps organizations unlock possibilities so they can realize their full business potential. They do it by providing a unique combination of managed IT services, technology consulting, professional services and cloud/data center solutions.

Part of the Twin Valley Family of Companies and a fourth-generation family business, ISG Technology has grown and evolved into the recognized leader in the area by aligning its success with the long-term success of its clients. They were recently recognized on CRN’s Tech Elite 150 for excellence in managed IT services.

The company is headquartered in Overland Park, Kansas, with seven additional locations across the Midwest, as well as a regional network of data centers. ISG services clients throughout the region, nationally and internationally.

What’s an IP phone and why is it amazing for business operations?

It wasn’t that long ago that a traditional phone system was one of the non-negotiables for any serious business. And by “traditional phone system,” we’re talking about a physical PBX (Private Branch Exchange) complete with actual phones on every desk.

My, how things have changed.

Today, progressive SMBs are more likely to use IP phones than traditional phone service, and for good reason. The benefits are compelling. Not only that, but there’s a good chance your managed IT services provider can help with the setup and maintenance of an IP phone system, making the transition easier than you might expect.

What is an IP phone?

First things first, though. What is an IP phone?

IP phones are most often referred to as VoIP phones. VoIP stands for “Voice over Internet Protocol,” and it’s basically what it sounds like—a phone connection over the internet.

An IP phone system makes use of VoIP technology instead of traditional phone service, sometimes referred to as POTS, or “Plain Old Telephone Service.”

“Voice over IP (VoIP) has gone from alternative technology to the primary way that businesses and many homes implement voice communications.”PC Mag

VoIP or POTS?

As mentioned above, POTS was the standard just a few years ago. Stable, reliable VoIP service is a relatively new technology, but it’s quickly outpacing POTS. An IP phone system can deliver far more value than POTS, giving SMBs options that used to be limited to enterprise-level companies.

We’re going to get into the specifics below, but for now, there’s one key distinction to hone in on. VoIP systems give you more. More options. More ways of staying in contact. More value for the expense.

POTS is still an option, and some SMBs will still opt for it, but we strongly recommend IP phone systems for SMBs that are growth-oriented.

What IP phones do for SMBs

We’ve talked up IP phones. Now it’s time to share why we believe VoIP phone systems are better for SMBs. Below are several specific advantages of IP phones, but this list is not exhaustive.

If you really want strategic insight into what an IP phone system can do for your business, we recommend talking to a VoIP expert.

“Today companies seeking a new communications solutions are more likely to consider a cloud-hosted VoIP system over a traditional phone service.” TechRepublic

Ditch the hardware

VoIP phones are software-based, which has the potential to benefit small businesses in two ways. First, it means you won’t have to make a hefty investment in new equipment to go from POTS to VoIP. Second, it means you won’t have to worry about the costs associated with maintaining physical equipment.

If you prefer having a physical phone at each desk, there are phones designed to work with VoIP service. Alternately, you can just use a headset connected to your computer or use an app on your mobile phone.

Boost your scalability

Because IP phones don’t require hardware, they’re scalable in a way traditional phone systems could never be. Adding a new line can be as simple as making a couple of quick changes to a web-based dashboard. No need to call in a specialist to install a new physical phone.

For a growing SMB, this is crucial. It’s one less thing you have to deal with when onboarding a new team member.

Take your phone with you

Mobile apps make it possible to have your work phone on you all the time . . . without having to give out your personal cell phone number, carry two phones or pay for an extra mobile line.

Whether you do a lot of traveling for your business or just have the occasional meeting across town, the portability of IP phones is a huge plus.

Go beyond voice

IP phones are integrated with all kinds of features that go beyond voice-only communication. Everything from video conferencing to file sharing is possible, making collaboration at a distance easier than it’s ever been.

Plus, the advanced features that used to be so expensive only enterprises could afford them are standard in many VoIP packages.

For a fraction of what it used to cost, you can give your SMB a big business feel.

Deliver on value

Speaking of cost, SMB leaders are universally interested in the bottom line.

Some VoIP providers will promise savings no matter what, but to be candid, that’s just careless. We can’t guarantee you’ll save money.

But here’s what we can promise.

You’re not likely to get the same value from POTS as you will from an IP phone system. You might be able to pay slightly less for POTS, but you’ll be taking such a big step down in features that it’s simply not worth it.

Moving your SMB to an IP phone system

If you’re interested in getting VoIP service for your company, there are two ways you can move forward. The first is to research available services on your own and plunge into a DIY solution. If you don’t mind doing some homework, this is one of those things you could handle on your own.

However, we recommend talking to a VoIP expert. First, a pro will know all about the available options and will be able to help you find the one that matches your needs best. And second, you’ll save a ton of time. There are a lot of VoIP providers out there. An expert can help you hone in on the one that works for you much more quickly than you’ll be able to find one on your own.

Either way—shopping for yourself or talking to an expert—IP phones are definitely the best communication option for SMBs.

Business continuity planning for different operational capacities

Business continuity is an unpleasant topic by nature. The only reason to discuss business continuity is that it’s possible that something—some kind of legitimate disaster—could risk the operational capacity of your company.

Produced in Partnership with VMWare

That’s not a fun thought.

But planning for a potential disaster truly can make a difference when things go sideways. The SMBs that have a plan have a much better chance of surviving. The ones that don’t have to fight tooth and nail to make it . . . and even then, their chances aren’t good.

So let’s consider what it will take to keep you up and running no matter what.

“[Your business continuity] plan should cover how to reestablish office productivity and enterprise software so that key business needs can be met.”

IBM

Why operational capacities matter

Operational capacity” refers to what you can produce in a given amount of time. Your operational capacity depends on a lot of things—resources, efficiency and staffing are key elements. Even if you’ve never used the term “operational capacity,” you think about it every day.

After all, we’re talking about getting the things done that need to be done to make your business profitable. Clearly, that’s a concept that matters a great deal.

Produced in Partnership with VMWare

How operational capacities are affected in a disaster

During a disaster, the things your operation capacity depend on are thrown off balance.

You may lose critical resources—anything from technical systems you rely on to physical materials you use to create products. Your staff is affected, both emotionally and pragmatically. Some of them may not even be able to work. And all of that dramatically impacts your efficiency.

Even if you have all the resources and staff you’d normally have, any changes to standard business process as a result of a disaster (like working from an alternate location) can slow production down.

The goal of business continuity is to minimize the negative impact of crippling situations. A strong business continuity plan will enable you to continue to serve your customers, even in the midst of challenging circumstances.

“Surprisingly, more than 1 in 3 businesses admit they don’t have a disaster recovery policy in place, a figure that is even higher amongst smaller businesses where an estimated 3 out of 4 are reported to have no contingency measures at all.”

CIO

Practical steps you can take to maintain minimum operational capacities

Perhaps the most difficult thing about taking operational capacities into account when developing your business continuity plan is this: operational capacities are different for every business. What’s slow for you might be really fast for one of your competitors.

There’s no universal standard, so the practical things you need to do to plan for operational capacities will be unique to your business. For that reason, it can be really helpful to talk to a business continuity expert (possibly your managed IT services provider) to ask for help with these important plans.

With or without the help of a pro, here’s what you need to take into account in your business continuity plan.

Determine your baseline

As we noted above, operational capacity is specific to your business. So first things first—you need to know your baseline. What’s the minimum amount you need to produce to keep the core pieces of your business in good shape?

We’re focused on the minimum because disasters may require you to scale back some operations. Think in terms of customer impact and overall operational health. There are undoubtedly processes you could skip for a short time without lasting damage.

Identify critical processes

Similarly, you need to know what your most critical processes are. These are likely the processes that core parts of the business rely on. They may not seem urgent, but if you don’t attend to these, the wheels come off.

For example, maintaining your website may not seem like the most important thing in the middle of an emergency. But what if that’s the primary way your customers contact you? Now keeping your website online is important. You need a plan for ensuring that it’s live and that your staff can respond to customer inquiries.

Cross-train your employees

Every business has a few employees who are linchpins. Without them, you’d be sunk.

The problem with that is obvious, though. What if one of those people is unable to pitch in during a disaster? Then you’re in real trouble. The solution is simple enough. Cross-train.

Every critical role should have at least one backup person. This ensures there’s someone ready and willing to step in should you need them to.

Document everything

Finally, document absolutely everything—your baseline, your critical processes, your plan for maintaining critical processes, the critical staffing roles, and the backup person(s) for each critical role.

Keep this documentation with the rest of your business continuity plan, and review it periodically to make sure it’s still relevant, accurate and valid.

Produced in Partnership with VMWare

Keep reading: Business continuity: A crash course

How the 3-2-1 backup strategy could save your business next time it floods

Spring 2019 is one for the record books. Unfortunately, the records being set are not the kind anyone wants.

Earlier in the year, experts predicted that flooding throughout the Midwest could easily be the worst since 1993—and that’s saying something. Already, we’ve seen severe storms, tornadoes and epic flooding. The damage has been extensive, and the area affected spans multiple states.

If your home or business has suffered damage, our hearts go out to you.

“This spring has been a season of record-breaking floods across the Midwest, submerging farms, businesses and houses.” – The New York Times

What you can do to better prepare

Everyone in the ISG family is invested in our community, and we hate to see so many scrambling to prepare at the last minute. That concern has prompted us to ask ourselves what we can do to help.

There are pragmatic, real-world things we’re doing—like making our resources available on standby and working with businesses to try to protect their digital assets before the rising flood waters damage their servers. But we know we can do something more, as well. We can offer some of our insight to help everyone prepare for the next time we face damaging weather like this.

The best way we know to prep for emergencies is with a thorough backup plan. In our industry, there’s even a rule: the 3-2-1 rule. We’re going to cover it in this article and give you some pointers for applying it to your business.

Our goal is simple. We want to help as many local businesses as possible get ready for the next time we face the threat of floods, tornadoes or other major storm events.

RELATED: How to build a disaster management plan

3-2-1 backup

3-2-1 backup is all about protecting one of your company’s most valuable assets—your data. Most of your physical assets can be replaced, but your data is unique. If you lose it, you may not be able to get it back.

The 3-2-1 rule is a solid way to ensure your data is safe, no matter what. Here’s what it means. You should have 3 copies of your data, 2 of those copies should be local and stored on different devices, and one should be offsite.

3 copies

Why 3 copies? Because the nature (and value) of a backup strategy is paranoia. The goal is to make sure you never lose all your data at once. Keeping 3 copies of it makes it highly unlikely that you’ll lose it all in one fell swoop.

But really, the magic of the 3-2-1 backup strategy is as much about where your data is stored as how many copies of it you keep.

2 on-site copies

Most likely, one of your two on-site copies is the copy you work with every day. This is the data on your desktop, laptop or shared drive. These are the documents and spreadsheets you turn to when you’re working on your computer.

The second on-site copy should be the local backup of your production data. That way, if something happens to your computer, for example, you’ve got a full backup right there, ready to go.

But there’s a potential problem with this plan. Think about the flooding we’re dealing with right now. What if your entire office is overrun with water? There’s a good chance you’ll lose both of those local copies.

What then?

RELATED: What to cover in your business continuity plan

1 off-site copy

That’s why a third, off-site backup is so important.

Your off-site backup is your failsafe. No matter what happens to your local copies, your off-site should be unaffected. The only downside of this third copy is that off-site backups typically take quite a bit more time to restore than on-site backups.

And that’s why you want both on-site and off-site backups. If the on-site backup is good, you can restore your data from it quickly. But if the on-site backup is destroyed, you still have your data, even if it takes a bit longer to restore it.

You never know

Backup matters because we simply never know when something is going to go sideways on us. Even with predictions earlier this year, there was no way to know for sure whether the floods we’re seeing now would actually happen.

And now that they are happening, the companies that were prepared have one less thing to worry about during this tense, stressful time.

Backup your data. Use the 3-2-1 rule. If you need help, reach out to a backup expert. Just don’t leave yourself exposed to the possibility of total data loss.

KEEP READING: The complete DIY disaster recovery guide for SMBs

The pros and cons of video conferencing: Is it right for your business?

Business technology experts have been talking about video conferencing for a while. Some companies embraced it years ago, while others remain skeptical. Is it worth the hassle of learning something new and changing process? Is it really all that different from an audio conference call?

In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of video conferencing. (Spoiler: There are far more pros than cons.) We’ll even close things out with a few questions you can ask to determine right nowtodayif video conferencing is a good fit for your company.

What we love about video conferencing

If you’re wary, we understand. Embracing new technology is always a bit of a pain, even when the payoff is big.

But there’s a lot to love about video conferencing.

It’s definitely better than voice-only conference calls

Video conferencing adds a completely missing dimension to communication that can be critical for business meetings and collaboration sessions. Consider this. According to Psychology Today, “The belief is that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken.”

How much of the conversation are you missing if you only hear someone’s voice?

It helps build connections

A recent Forbes article asserts that video conferencing “translates into closer relationships—even between team members or clients who have yet to meet in person.”

Here’s the thinking. When you meet someone face-to-face, you feel like you know them better because you can put a face to their voice. Video conferencing allows for the same sense of closeness, making it possible for coworkers and customers to feel closer, even at a distance.

It allows for easy collaboration

Video conferencing works beautifully with collaboration-enhancing tools, like virtual whiteboards and shared documents. Pairing up video with these tools makes it possible to conduct productive brainstorming sessions, even if the participants are on the other side of the globe.

It’s cheaper than footing the bill for travel costs

Travel costs money. Plane tickets, hotel rooms and car rentals are unarguably expensive, but so is a trip across town.

Think about it. Your time is valuable. If you have to spend an hour in traffic going to and from a 30-minute meeting, you’re investing 5 times the amount of time in that meeting than you really need to be. Wouldn’t it be better much of the time to handle non-critical meetings via video?

There are free options (to get you started)

There are free video conferencing options, like Microsoft Teams, that you can try out at literally no cost—assuming you have some very basic equipment like webcams. If you don’t have the basic hardware, it’s not super expensive.

This makes it possible to test the waters without going all in on some conference room of the future that will set you back thousands.

“For businesses, it used to be that a video conferencing system cost $50,000 to $100,000 and was only used for executives. Now, it can be in any conference room for $1,000 to $2,000.”

Yale Insights

Where video conferencing falls short

As great as video conferencing is, it’s not perfect. Here are some of the areas where it falls short.

Quality systems cost money

As a recent article notes, “What people want is a sweet spot of great audio and video at a consumerized price and usability.” In other words, the webcam and microphone on your work laptop are not really ideal for regular video conference meetings.

If you’re going to make video conferencing a regular occurrence, you will need to budget for it.

It takes coordination

While you can just pop into someone’s office for a quick conversation, video conferencing takes at least a little planning. At first, that may feel inconvenient. We believe it’s a small price to pay for the overwhelming advantages, but it’s still worth noting.

People have to get used to it

Any time you introduce your staff to new technology, there will be a learning curve. Some people will fall in love with video conferencing from day one just because it’s shiny and new. Others will hate it from the start because they have to change how they work.

How to determine if video conferencing is right for your business

The real question is this: Is video conferencing right for your business?

Here are a few questions to help you make that call.

  • Do you have remote workers on your staff?
  • Does your business have multiple locations?
  • Do you work with any priority clients who are out of town (or even across town)?
  • Do you or other staff members travel often for work?
  • Do you or your staff have a lot of collaborative meetings?
  • Do you feel it’s important for your business to be up-to-date on the latest technology?

If you answered yes to even one of those questions, you should at least consider video conferencing. If you’re not sure where to start, your managed IT services provider or VoIP partner can likely point you in the right direction.

Keep reading: Everything you need to know about VoIP phone systems

Mitigating disaster risk and downtime for hospitals

In July 2018, Blount Memorial Hospital in Tennessee had a nightmare experience. Their electronic health records (EHR) system was offline for three days. During that time, 90 doctors were unable to access patient records.

Appointments were canceled. People didn’t receive care.

When the whole thing was said and done, the hospital’s board of directors made the decision to invest in a $30,000 backup system to ensure nothing like that would ever happen again.

What’s at risk

Hospitals and other medical services businesses are in a unique position when it comes to disaster recovery and downtime readiness. This isn’t just a matter of lost profits, damage to your reputation, or inconvenience for your employees and customers. The health and wellness of people are at stake.

As a result, every kind of medical services provider has an obligation to go above and beyond to mitigate the risk of downtime and prepare for possible disasters.

Practical measures

In advising these businesses about disaster recovery, the core of our standard advice is the same for hospitals, physician practices and other medical businesses. Prepare. Don’t just wait for disaster to strike. Have a plan.

When it comes to the medical industry, there are specific forms of preparation that are uniquely important. Below are some of the things medical providers should do to lower the risk of downtime and prepare for outages.

Expect downtime

First and foremost, let go of any expectation that downtime won’t happen to you. Your hospital isn’t exempt. Your office isn’t the exception. Downtime happens to just about every business. It can (and will) happen to yours.

That’s an important step in preparation because you won’t take a disaster recovery and downtime plan seriously if you think you’ll never have to use it.

Create a communications plan

A communications plan is essential for any disaster recovery plan. Your doctors and staff need to know whom to contact, how communications will be conducted, which channels will be used for what purpose, and what communication activity is most essential in the event of downtime.

Be specific. Spell out exactly who should be in contact with whom, and make sure everyone knows the plan well ahead of time. Update it when you have changes in your system, your policies and in your personnel, if appropriate.

Develop a downtime toolkit

Downtime toolkits “contain paper copies of clinical documents and procedures to follow when their EHR is not available.” A downtime toolkit may also include a read-only database of patient records as an emergency backup system.

This is a critical resource, but one that absolutely requires the help of an IT consultant. A doctor’s office that deals in non-emergency care may not need a full downtime toolkit, but every hospital should have some kind of system for continuing to provide healthcare, even if the entire local network goes offline.

Consider an on-site fallback generator

On-site generators can help in situations where a power outage is to blame for downtime. However, power outages are only one of several things that can take an IT network offline. While an on-site generator certainly makes sense (particularly for critical care facilities), this alone will not protect your hospital from every form of downtime.

Perform downtime drills

EHR simulation drills will give you an idea of how prepared your hospital’s staff are, and they will give your staff a chance to understand and experience what to expect when the real thing strikes.

As a recent article in EHR Intelligence notes, “Strategizing to fill gaps in care that crop up during EHR downtime simulations can help to reduce the risk of slowdowns, delays, threats to patient harm, or billing problems during real instances of EHR downtime.”

Enlist some help

Finally, no hospital should be without professional help when it comes to downtime readiness and a disaster recovery plan. If your in-house IT department isn’t fully prepared to take on this crucial task, find an IT consultant with experience supporting the healthcare industry to help you and your team.

With the right preparation, downtime won’t stop your hospital or medical practice from providing the care your patients rely on.

Must-have features of video conferencing for UC

Quality video conferencing solutions are essential for most modern-day offices. Web conferencing keeps remote team members engaged, enables seamless collaboration, and connects your business on a more personal basis with partners and clients over the internet.

So, if you’re in the market for an online meeting platform, let’s discuss the six top must-have features.

1. Easy document sharing

Whether you’re chatting with a team member or meeting with a potential client, easy, in-built document sharing is a must. You shouldn’t have to resort to emailing an agenda, presentation, or brochure.

It’s also worth looking for flexible document sharing features as there may be times when you want to share a document with a select segment of video conference participants.

2. Flexible chat

All web conferencing software offers some sort of chat, giving attendees the ability to type messages, share links, and collaborate effectively. But some lack the flexibility to enable specific types of chat. For example, you may wish to send private messages to individual attendees, or you may need to moderate chat messages before they are visible to all participants.

3. Practical reporting tools

Practical reporting tools can give you access to the information you need (such as attendance and typed messages) to optimize your web conferencing practices. Even better, you should be able to export this data to your file sharing platform, a Microsoft Excel format or your CRM system.  

4. Desktop sharing

Screen sharing is an essential part of video conferencing, but it’s not as simple as mirroring your desktop. There are three key factors to consider:

  • Speed. Oftentimes, desktop sharing results in a drastic slowdown of your computer’s performance and can impact the quality and reliability of the video conference.
  • Power. Desktop sharing shouldn’t use up too much of your computer’s CPU, as this can also drastically reduce the quality and experience of your presentation.
  • Accessible. Desktop sharing should pass through most firewalls.

5. No software installs required

If you’re looking to work with an individual or group outside of your team, make it easy and convenient for remote collaborators and attendees to connect via video conferencing.

To do this, opt for a video conferencing platform that allows others to connect in minimal steps. For example, many platforms offer a browser-based option, so outside parties don’t need to download any software onto their devices.

6. Reliability

Reliability is perhaps the most important feature of any web conferencing solution. Regardless of tools and capabilities, if the platform you choose is unable to offer near 100% uptime and automatic correction of connectivity issues, it just isn’t worth it. 

Near-enough isn’t good enough when it comes to video conferencing. After all, what would you do if your video dropped out halfway through an important meeting or webinar?

Bonus tips for finding the right video conferencing solution for your business

Now that you know which features to keep an eye out for, here are some additional tips to ensure the video conferencing solution you choose meets your business needs. Your managed IT services provider can help you work through these tips.

1. How many participants will you be hosting?

Consider how many participants you will likely be hosting on a regular basis. Some services offer a cheaper rate for a web conferencing solution with a smaller attendee capacity. Other services specialize in large groups and options vary accordingly. If you don’t consider the number of participants you’ll be hosting, you could end up paying for features you don’t need or missing the ones you don’t have.

2. What types of meetings will you be hosting?

Do you need video conferencing software to connect remote team members to the central office? Or, do you need video conferencing software to host larger-scale webinars, Q&A forums, or sales presentations? If you host a variety of meeting types, look for a conferencing solution that can cater to all of these needs.

3. Is mobile experience important?

If it’s your remote team you are trying to connect, chances are that mobile compatibility is important. What’s more, if host regular webinars, offering your presentation on mobile could increase your attendance rate.