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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.

How to include your MSP in your backup and disaster recovery plan

An incomplete or poorly prepared backup and disaster recovery (BDR) plan can result in unacceptably long outages and lost revenue for your company.

Unfortunately, busy IT employees don’t always have the time to update BDR plans or test them thoroughly. Partnering with your managed IT services provider (MSP) to improve, refine and test your plan offers a simple way to ensure the effectiveness of this valuable resource.

Here are some of the ways your MSP can help you make sure your backup and disaster recovery plan is everything it should be.

Identifying stakeholders

The infrastructure staff and senior managers aren’t the only stakeholders crucial to the success of your BDR plan.

Your MSP can help you identify others in the company who should be involved, such as database managers and application testers. These employees can offer valuable insights and help you identify resources you’ll need to restore your systems.

Setting milestones

It’s not unusual to overlook a crucial milestone or two when developing your BDR plan timeline. Like most IT projects, BDR plans involve multiple stakeholders each tasked with carrying out a small piece of the plan.

MSP staff will help you evaluate the entire plan to ensure that important milestones are noted, including those related to network connectivity, resources, infrastructure, storage, proof of concept, storage replication, recovery point objectives, testing and backup data.

Anticipating disaster scenarios and determining responsibilities

Fires, floods and cyber threats may be the first things that come to mind when you think about disasters, but as British Airways found out in May 2017, even seemingly small problems can lead to major issues. A power surge and outage led to the cancellation of 75,000 flights and forced the airline to pay $68 million in passenger compensation.

Although a power outage should have been a minor blip, the surge also destroyed the airline’s backup system, complicating restoration. The story illustrates the importance of developing a secondary backup plan in your BDR plan.

In addition to assisting you in creating a backup plan, your managed IT services provider will also help you ensure that your employees understand their roles should a disaster occur.

The MSP team can assist you in breaking down specific tasks in the BDR plan, determining which staff members will be responsible for each detail, and creating a communication plan in the event that your team can’t communicate through its usual channels.

Providing documentation

Lack of documentation can doom your BDR plan, yet it’s a common factor in incomplete plans. When Disaster Recovery Journal surveyed 1,000 firms, the publication discovered that 31.5 percent had incomplete BDR plans.

If your key stakeholders haven’t had the time to document crucial processes and instructions, that knowledge will be lost if they ever leave the company. MSP staff will work with your internal staff to develop the documentation needed to fully restore your systems after a disaster or outage.

Additional IT support

In the process of creating a backup and disaster recovery plan, it sometimes happens that you’ll discover other areas where your IT support may be lacking. If you wish, your MSP can jump in and provide either one-time consultation or ongoing IT support to ensure you’re completely taken care of.

Your backup and disaster recovery

Sooner or later, every company experiences some sort of disaster.

Whether a cyberterrorist hacks your website, an employee makes a big mistake, or a hurricane destroys your data center, a comprehensive backup and disaster recovery plan is the key to resolving disruptions quickly.

Partnering with your MSP will help you ensure that your plan will actually work when it’s needed.

Why patching should always be a priority for IT network health

Having a sound IT infrastructure is crucial for every organization.

From network security to hardware and software implementation, your IT plan should always reflect company objectives and directives. But you also need a safe and secure operating platform.

That’s why patches should never be overlooked when it comes to network health and digital environment stability.

“Software updates are important because they often include critical patches to security holes.” – McAfee

What can patching do for my IT services?

Patches are software updates for your OS and other executable programs. Patches offer temporary fixes between full releases of software packages. Similarly, they can help maintain your IT network stability via.

Here’s some of what patching typically addresses:

  • Software bugs fixes
  • New or updated drivers
  • Fixes for new and existing security vulnerabilities
  • Fixes for software stability issues
  • Automatic upgrades for software and apps

Related: The CIO’s guide to lowering IT costs and boosting performance

Will patching tackle the latest viruses and malware?

While antivirus applications are part of any IT security package, patching is designed to integrate with existing systems and improve usability across the board.

At its core, software patching is essentially a convenient way to update applications and supporting data. This, in turn, updates, fixes and improves overall performance. These updates fix bugs within your software and IT infrastructure, resulting in safer and more efficient digital workspaces.

That said, patching does play a key role in vulnerability management.

With digital intrusion and network hacking at an all-time high, you need a timely, effective solution for implementing corrective measures. Sadly, most clients tend to overlook the importance of patching for mitigating risk.

Patches benefit your IT network in the following ways:

  • Identify and mitigate network security vulnerabilities.
  • Facilitate the seamless integration of operating systems and software apps
  • Ensure critical business processes and protocols run smoothly
  • Provide another critical layer of cybersecurity protection
  • Stop malware, viruses, adware and even ransomware from quietly running in your background systems

Looking for a complete cybersecurity plan? Check out The 2018 cybersecurity handbook.

How are patches delivered to my IT network?

Security and network patches are automatically inserted into codes of your existing software and apps.

This is done with little-to-no interruption of your daily business tasks, though there are times when patching requires user permission. In many organizations, patches are handled by the in-house IT teams or by the organization’s managed IT services provider.

Patching is essential for system success

The important thing is that you don’t ignore patching. Because patches rarely feel critical in the moment, it’s surprisingly easy (both for IT departments and individual users) to simply put off the patching process. That has the potential to leave you open to all kinds of nasty vulnerabilities.

Patching your programs may not seem all that important, but it really is vital to your overall network health.

“The takeaway for CIOs: Keep your work computers updated with patches on a regular basis and apply emergency patches as needed.” – CIO

5 things your infrastructure monitoring and alerting should include

Today’s businesses have numerous options when choosing network monitoring systems. Some decide to rely on cloud-based or on-premises tools. Regardless of the option that your company selects, you need to make sure your infrastructure monitoring and alerting tools have the right tools.

Include the following five features in your monitoring and alerting tools to protect your network and avoid data loss.

Data visualization

The ability to capture data from customers and devices gives companies more opportunities to provide efficient services that anticipate needs. Unfortunately, few humans can work with vast amounts of data. The numbers bleed together and become incoherent.

Even the results of data-mining algorithms can perplex business leaders. Data visualization, however, organizes information in ways that the human brain can comprehend quickly. The charts display obvious trends and deviations that are nearly impossible to detect when reviewing raw data.

Data visualization also makes it easier for business leaders to understand the results of infrastructure monitoring and alerting. Instead of receiving a report with data showing unwanted, inconspicuous use, you can get reports that arrange data into graphs and charts. That way, you can optimize your IT infrastructure to improve client services, boost productivity, and avoid security threats.

Metrics tracking

Depending on how you use your IT infrastructure, you may not notice declines in speed and predictability. At the same time, your staff members may wonder why it suddenly takes so much longer to process information.

Metrics tracking helps ensure that your network does its job well. By tracking the right metrics, your IT team could even predict downtime. Instead of becoming a victim of downtime, you can prepare a solution that limits disruptions.

Customer tracking

Your business’s success depends on strong customer services. Without happy customers, your business won’t last long.

Customer relationship management (CRM) tools capable of sending alerts will help you and your sales team keep people happy with your services. For instance, you may receive an alert when the CRM notices that your client has ordered products recently. It can also boost sales by sending notifications that encourage clients to buy additional items or take advantage of upcoming sales.

Customer tracking tools that send alerts to customers and employees may boost your company’s success without forcing you to hire more people or devote more time to communications.

Proactive security monitoring

Malware continues to plague SMBs. As malware becomes more sophisticated, it’s possible that unknown threats could hide on your network for weeks or months before someone discovers it.

Proactive security monitoring eliminates that possibility by constantly checking your network for files and applications that don’t belong. Just because your network was pristine an hour ago doesn’t mean that an employee hasn’t fallen victim to a phishing ploy.

Not every business decides that proactive security monitoring is necessary. Those that do, however, get to take a proactive stance that improves their security.

Agility

The fact of the matter is that you don’t know what monitoring and alerting tools you will need in the near future. Technology evolves quickly, so it’s nearly impossible to predict which trends will arise within just a year.

An agile infrastructure can incorporate the latest tools to keep up with new technology and help you stay competitive.

The need for agility helps explain why so many CIOs choose Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). IaaS doesn’t commit you to specific tools. Instead, you can rely on your service provider to update your infrastructure with the latest technologies.

Monitoring and alerting that meets your needs

After a thorough review of your current infrastructure, you should consider which of the above tools could help your business improve its security, productivity and success.

5 ways employee education can make IT support infinitely easier

IT support is an important part of any company’s technology plan, but there is another important component that should go hand in hand. Employee training is the perfect complement to strong IT support for many reasons. In fact, according to a workplace study, over 65% of employees prefer to learn at work, and more than 55% prefer to learn at their own pace.

There are options for employee training including online courses, face-to-face classes, training offered by your IT providers, and even technology classes at local community colleges or technological organizations. And for basic training, you likely have someone on staff who can lead the charge.

All of these are great ways to give your employees some additional training, which in turn makes your IT support more effective. Plus, employee education has added benefits like reducing turnover and helping employees feel valued.

Here are 5 ways employee training helps.

1. Better communication with IT professionals

Whether your IT support is provided by an off-site managed IT services partner or in-house staff who work in your office right along with other employees, employee training can help communication between teams.

Employees should have some guidelines for communicating tech problems with IT support. The better your staff is at accurately summarizing support issues, the more effectively they can explain those issues to the support team. And when IT support starts with a well-documented ticket, they can often resolve the issue much more quickly.

Less research and legwork means better network performance and faster recovery when things don’t go as expected.

2. Avoid simple issues

There’s a joke in the IT world about the most common troubleshooting suggestion: “Have you tried turning it off and back on again?” But here’s the irony. A surprising number of IT issues really can be solved by power-cycling a device.

Of course, IT professionals are more than happy to help if the problem is more complex. But there are several simple tips and tricks that any employee should know to try before contacting IT support. Power-cycling is one of them.

Training employees to check for basic issues before reaching out to IT could save resources and time on both ends.

3. Better security

Your IT team can do everything possible to secure your servers and important data, but if your employees don’t know about the latest phishing schemes, ransomware, and trends in strong passwords it can all go to waste.

Employee education is essential for securing company data, especially with the increasing prevalence of sophisticated modern targeted phishing attacks called spear phishing, voicemail phishing (vishing) and SMS/text message phishing.

4. Get into the cloud

As many businesses transition to the cloud, some employees may get left behind. Help them catch up with some education not only about your specific cloud technology but what the cloud is and how it impacts their work.

Any transitional to a new tech solution can be stressful. But proper training will set your employee’s minds at ease and help to avoid hassles. Any time your company adopts a new technology, it’s important to offer training to employees to smooth over the transition.

5. Stay calm in a crisis

With extra technological knowledge, your employees will feel more confident when things shift into crisis mode—whether it’s a natural disaster, a cybersecurity attack, employee error or a hardware failure. Employee education can lead to less downtime after a disaster, faster identification of a problem by IT professionals, and faster access to data backups to get essential information and keep things running.

Are you ready to take your IT support and employee education to the next level? Contact your managed IT services provider (MSP) for specific tips on things your employees should know about. Your MSP may even offer direct employee training assistance.

Getting the most bang for your buck from outsourced help desk support

In 2017, 32 percent of companies around the world chose to outsource their help desk support services. This fairly high percentage shows that many businesses know that they can get better services by outsourcing their help desk needs to experts.

If you want to outsource your help desk support needs, then you need to know how to get the most bang for your buck. You need an IT support partner with reasonable prices, strong expertise, impeccable customer service and the ability to support the tools you rely on.

Follow these four tips to make sure you choose a partner that can help your company succeed.

Find a company with a reliable ticket escalation process

What seems like a small problem at first can quickly turn into a significant issue that needs to be addressed immediately. The more efficient a company’s ticket escalation process works, the sooner you can find a solution to your IT problem.

Few companies have the resources and expertise to create a reliable, efficient ticket escalation process. Before outsourcing its help desk services, employees at John Deere often had to wait days before their IT staff could find helpful solutions. After outsourcing its help desk support, the company benefited from increased end-user service levels, reduced downtime and reduced IT costs.

By handing its help desk needs to a group of experts, managers at John Deere also found that they had more time to focus on core projects. None of these advantages would have been possible without a reliable ticket escalation process handled by experienced professionals.

Outsource to a company with an easy ticket solution

Your employees need a simple way to submit tickets and contact the help desk for support. When choosing a partner, look for a company that lets your employees submit tickets via phone and an app. That way, your employees can use the solution that feels more comfortable to them.

By making the process as easy as possible, your employees will experience fewer disruptions so they can focus on completing their assigned tasks.

Choose a passionate partner that exceeds your expectations

According to Outsourcing Insight, companies should look for several features when choosing partners for help desk support. Some of the most important features include:

  • A passion for helping people solve problems
  • A focus on problem-solving skills
  • Good communication
  • Interest in collaborating with clients
  • A group of professionals with technical expertise and a personal touch

Essentially, you want a partner that exceeds your expectations by lowering costs, giving you access to resources that you wouldn’t have otherwise, and decreasing your IT complexity. Without those key features, what’s the point?

Avoid outsourcing options that don’t set your business up to thrive.

Compare prices and outsource with a company that fits your budget

If you want to get the most bang for your buck, then you need to compare prices and outsource with a company that fits your budget. Most companies actually find that they can save significant amounts of money when they outsource managed help desk support.

SMBs often find that they stand to save the most money from outsourcing. When you have a small workforce, hiring full-time help desk employees can hit your payroll budget particularly hard. By outsourcing, you avoid the costs of paying employees, providing benefits and training workers.

When you’re ready to benefit from help desk support from true professionals, contact your IT support provider to learn more about how they might be able to help. Most managed IT services firms offer some form of help desk support.

Just be sure you don’t shy away from asking the hard questions. The goal of outsourced IT support is to make your life easier and create better efficiency within your organization. Carefully consider the options before you make your choice.

Staying Relevant Requires Flexible IT

In the new Idea Economy, the ability to turn an idea into a new product or business has never been easier or more accessible. Competitors are everywhere, creating disruptive waves of new demands and opportunities.

Today, an entrepreneur with a good idea has access to all of the infrastructure and resources that a traditional Fortune 1000 company would have, and they can pay for it all with a credit card. They can rent compute on demand, get a SAAS ERP system, use PayPal or Square for transactions, they can market using Facebook or Google, and have FedEx run their supply chain.

The days of needing millions of dollars to launch a new company or bring a new idea to market are fading fast. You don’t have to look any further than more recent companies such as Vimeo, One Kings Lane or Dock to Dish–or with more common names like Salesforce, Airbnb, Netflix and Pandora to see how the Idea Economy is exploding.

And how about Uber? Uber’s impact has been dramatic since it launched its application to connect riders and drivers in 2009.  Without owning a single car, it now serves more than 250 cities in 55 countries and has completely disrupted the taxi industry. San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency says that cab use has dropped 65 percent in San Francisco in two years.

This presents an opportunity and a challenge for most enterprises. Cloud, mobile, big data and analytics give you the tools to accelerate speed and time to value. Technology helps you combine applications and data to create dramatically new experiences and new markets.

Creating and delivering new business models, solutions and experiences requires harnessing new types of apps, data and risk as well as implementing new ways to build, operate and consume. Technology no longer simply supports the business, it IS the business.

But most organizations have been built with rigid, inflexible IT infrastructures that are costly to maintain and that make it difficult, if not impossible, to implement new ideas quickly. To succeed in today’s Idea Economy, you need an IT infrastructure that lets you pivot when the inevitable disruption arrives.