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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.

How to efficiently and effectively execute any IT project

Taking an IT project from its inception to successful completion is something every business needs to do on a regular basis. Whether your company completes the project internally or brings in a professional technology service at some point, there needs to be a detailed plan in place to make sure your IT project runs smoothly from start to finish.

There are five specific steps to take when carrying out any type of IT project.

Step 1: Project initiation

The first step is to name and define the project. You’ll also want to clearly define the concept and scope of the project.

What is the primary goal? What should the end result look like? Feasibility studies and analysis will likely be performed during this phase.

It’s also important to decide what type of devices employees will be working on while completing the IT project and what sort of office set up will provide the ideal working environment. These are all questions that will need to be answered before taking the next step.

Step 2: Project planning

Developing a timeline and a schedule for when certain aspects of the project are completed occur during the second phase of an IT project.

It’s crucial to develop methods of communication that will be used during the execution and monitoring stages. Will your team email or text message? How often should these types of communication be expected?

It’s also important to make sure your IT project is secure throughout each step of the process. Cybersecurity strategies are just as important for a project as they are for every other aspect of your business.

Step 3: Project execution

This is the heart of the project. Everyone on the team should know exactly what they’re doing at this point.

During the execution phase, milestones provide a way to measure the progress of the project. There should also be regular meetings and updates regarding the status of the project. This is critical. A project can quickly get off track if everyone isn’t kept in the know.

It’s particularly important for managers and leaders to stay connected to the IT project by speaking directly with those working on the project and occasionally getting into the trenches along with them. You’ll learn only so much by reading memos and attending meetings. It’s necessary for managers to find a healthy balance between micromanaging and completely disconnecting from the project.

Step 4: Project monitoring

Throughout the execution phase of the project, you’ll want to monitor its status with flexibility. When you run into obstacles and challenges, it may be necessary to adjust milestones, methods and even goals.

It’s important to understand that few projects will go from start to finish without any unforeseen problems or detours along the way.

Feedback is crucial during this phase. Forbes states that testing and feedback is necessary for the project to be successful. This will be especially critical during the execution phase. Your team will need to be flexible and ready to take the project in a different direction if necessary.

Step 5: Project closure

This final phase will include delivery of the product. According to PMtimes, there are several items that need to be checked off your to-do list when a project is wrapping up. A few include making sure everything is delivered and signed off on and that all invoices are out and paid. Once all the loose ends are wrapped up, this is the time to recognize and celebrate the entire team as well as individual members for their hard work.

Make your next IT project a success

Stick to this tried and true project management method when you undertake your next IT project. And remember, too, that for particularly big IT projects you’ll want to reach out to your IT support provider. Their insight and guidance can prove invaluable.