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When Should I Upgrade My Technology?

When is the worst time to realize you need a new car? When you’re on the side of the road in your old, broken down clunker that just won’t run anymore. Hopefully, you’ve never been there before. Unfortunately, businesses often find themselves in that exact situation when it comes to their computer systems. As businesses are increasingly dependent on technology, it’s ironic that attitudes about their upkeep and replacement remain lax. Why is that attitude dangerous and what can you do to combat it?

Break/Fix Cycles

There’s a good reason why you wouldn’t want to buy a new car, or a new computer system, just as the old one dies – desperation. Either you will buy a replacement that isn’t right for you or one that costs way too much.

Waiting until a computer, server, or another piece is completely unusable is unwise. This can result in going over budget or having to comprise the actual needs just to have someone running. Take the time to develop a relationship with a Managed Services Provider or VAR to plan what you need for a technology refresh. Get a general idea of how long your systems can reasonably last (typically 3-5 years depending on equipment and usage). Create a schedule for replacement on a regular basis, diverting resources to make it less of a burden when replacements are necessary. Do this before you are desperate.

Embracing the Technology Curve

While you don’t want to wait until you have a steaming heap of broken technology, you also don’t want to swing in the opposite direction. Purchasing everything at the bleeding edge of technology guarantees that you will get a version filled with all the bugs that software and firmware updates eliminate over the first months. As with many aspects of life, you must strike a balance. Keep an eye out for any advancements in hardware or software that you (currently or could potentially) use that would make a noticeable improvement for your operations. Then, make a plan for making that purchase. Lean on the guidance of your IT Support professional for the timing that makes sense.

New Options for a New Generation

The amount of tech needed for even non-technical industries is increasing by the year. This can present new challenges for a new era. For example, for thousands of years, contractors have needed hammers, saws, and other tools for physical tasks. Now they need to have tablets for blueprints, smartphones for communication, and desktops for billing and documents. That doesn’t take into account the administrative offices for larger construction companies. If construction companies need all this tech, imagine the changes in other industries as well!

Operating in this new age requires more expense and logistics. Thankfully, there are new options to address these new concerns beyond simply “go and buy what you need when you need it.” That’s exactly where a Managed Services Provider comes in.

Dollars and Sense

With your IT services provider, develop a monthly and annual budget for technology. Scour past spending numbers to determine reasonable, realistic amounts, as well as where you may have excessively spent due to desperation or the desire to be on the cutting edge. We have found that systems typically last about 3-5 years. Craft a budget that makes sense with this particular refresh cycle.

Having a fixed budget in place will avoid surprises when technology spending comes up. In addition, take a look at subscription services for both hardware and software.

Instead of charging one time for software without ongoing updates, products (such as Microsoft Office 365) now charge on a monthly or yearly basis. This allows you to know exactly how much you’ll need to budget as well as ensures you have the most recent version, features, and security updates.

There are similar services that work with hardware. Hardware as a Service (HaaS), allows you to be up to date on hardware needs without having to worry about making large capital expenditures. Just like with software, you can pay a monthly or yearly amount and receive a hardware refresh at regular intervals. In addition, HaaS providers should include maintenance in between upgrades to keep the current systems running in the best condition.

Technology is a part of business that won’t be disappearing. By doing your research and planning accordingly, you can successfully navigate when it’s time to upgrade.

Conserving Bandwidth without Inciting Mutiny

Warning warning: this will be a bit of a tricky topic because it’s impossible to talk about bandwidth conservation without words like limits, controls and monitoring. Let’s face it, in today’s workplace, employees have come to expect the complete freedom that comes from Wi-Fi and BYOD and are likely to balk at anything that hinders their “rights” to these services. We’ll focus on providing tips and logic that allow you to control bandwidth consumption, all while maintaining happy employees.

Identify Your Largest Culprits

If you’re like most offices, you’ve got that one guy. The one that is sitting there with 56 browser windows open, streaming music as well as that day’s big game, yammering on his work phone all while surfing the web on his Wi-Fi connected cell. Not only is this behavior obnoxious, it’s killing everyone else’s productivity. Start your bandwidth conservation with these individuals. Begin with a simple conversation. “Do you really need to have all of that going all at once?” If a conversation doesn’t work to both kill the usage — and frankly, get them back on task — you can move forward to more aggressive measures including website restrictions, a separate Wi-Fi network for all cell devices or a performance improvement plan for this individual.

Implement Social Media Controls Wisely

Social media can be extremely beneficial for your business by connecting customers, providing excellent marketing opportunities and opening a door for customer service. It becomes a problem when you have people sitting at their desks scrolling their feed, posting selfies, or going live to tell people about what they ate for breakfast rather than working. To solve this problem, we do not recommend killing access to all social media in your office. People will find a way around your controls. Instead, we recommend conservative protocols.

First, have a conversation with your employees. Let them know that you understand their desire to connect with the outside world while at the office but that it can’t interfere with work expectations. That means personal live videos, bathroom breaks for a selfie photo session and constant comments on friend’s posts are out. An occasional birthday greeting or post is perfectly acceptable.

If this doesn’t stick for the company as a whole (not just the occasional individual), you have to get a bit harsher. For example, limit access to social media to between the hours of 11-2 (a typical span for lunch breaks). Limit access to particular departments like sales, marketing, and customer service. Limit access to particular problem sites (e.g.,. if Instagram isn’t utilized in your company social media strategy, you may want to cut access entirely).

Block the Right Websites

Outside of social media, typical bandwidth sucking sites include YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, Netflix and any other streaming services. While you’re probably okay allowing music streaming (listening to music often brings people into hyper-focus), you’ll want to cut off access to most video streaming when you start to see bandwidth issues. Rather than get rid of everything cold turkey, consider putting a TV with access to all of these streaming services in the breakroom so that employees don’t feel deprived of their binge-watching, but are at least doing it in a constrained, appropriate environment.

Backup and Update at Appropriate Times

Data backup and systems updates are absolutely critical to business success, but you don’t necessarily have to do the heavy lifting during peak usage hours. Instead, schedule the major daily backup (not just incremental minute-to-minute changes) to run afterhours. Cluster your system updates to run all at once for all employees at night or on the weekend rather than whenever the employee sees a pop-up.

Aggressive Security Protocols

Malware and viruses are notorious for stealing bandwidth. Make sure you have the proper firewall and virus protection protocols in place to avoid having these piggybackers stealing your network power.

Audit Your Bandwidth – Get What You’re Paying For

Every year, we recommend running an audit of both your phone and bandwidth services to make sure that you’re getting what you’re paying for. What do your upload and download speeds look like versus what you were promised? A master agent and MSP can help to make sure everything is in line.

Bandwidth is a limited and extremely important asset. You don’t always have the option of buying more pipeline. Instead, implement these bandwidth conservation protocols to make sure your employees are always able to work at their maximum capacity.

Social Media Use Policy

Everywhere you turn today you will find social media. People taking selfies at the grocery store, responding to Instagram while walking down the street and of course checking Facebook while clocked-in at work. What do you do when social media use gets out of hand in the workplace? It can seem like a never-ending battle with employees, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Before you go any further, draft up a social media use policy. This will save you headaches and possible litigation. Employees can agree to it and follow it or they can find work elsewhere. Sounds harsh, I know, but your business’s reputation is not worth Mary’s selfie. Don’t get me wrong, the policy doesn’t have to be rigid and forceful. Your employees are adults and can handle responsibility. Similar to a job description, policies allow for clarification and accountability, which is great for both employer and employee.

To create a social media use policy, start by splitting the policy between company official accounts and personal accounts. For company official accounts, clearly articulate your brand as well as how you want it perceived, so that the message is consistent across all platforms, no matter who posts or comments. Talk about confidentiality and what company info can or cannot be shared. This can be similar to the non-disclosure you had your employees sign when they got hired.

For personal accounts, explain what they’re allowed to divulge about the company. For example, posting identifiable client information without the client’s permission is a major no-no. Badmouthing the customers is clearly out, as well as complaints about employees or managers that should be brought to HR. Basically, the employee is responsible for what is posted and should be cognizant of who may be reading. For anyone that uses their personal account for company business (i.e. connecting with customers or sharing marketing materials), set clear expectations of what can and should be listed on their account. For example, it’s an employee’s prerogative to have a side-gig as an underwear model on the weekend; but perhaps it’s not the best idea to have that individual representing your company using social media pages filled with scantily clad photos. You probably have other more conservative options, or you can encourage that employee to develop different social media accounts to represent your company.

For both personal and company accounts, outline the potential consequences for not following these guidelines. Ensure these are clear and concise to avoid loopholes that can be quickly manipulated.

Perhaps even more importantly, spell out clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Figure out who will have access to the company’s social media. You can harness the power of social media for your benefit if you play it smart. Your marketing team will need it, well, to market. Sales can keep in touch with prospects or members easily and it gives all parties confirmation that you care. Beyond that, you may want to give your receptionist or office manager access in order to help with customer service on different platforms. Clearly articulate expectations for each role so that you don’t end up with customer service professionals trying to market, and marketing selling things that the service team can’t deliver. With clear roles, you’ll also know when each team member will jump in to field an interaction from a customer or prospect without overwhelming them or leaving them hanging.

As you develop your policy, keep a few things in mind. Don’t discourage use, and ensure the language of the document sounds positive. Employees will get upset with a big change to their routine, particularly if they perceive it as restrictive or negative. Also, be transparent on why you’re creating a policy. Let them know if productivity has been negatively affected through social media use, and be clear with them about the potential security risks you are trying to avoid. Finally, explain how a policy keeps everyone honest and accountable. As long as you are transparent about the new policy, implementing it shouldn’t be a huge issue. If you have employees assist you drafting this document, that’s even better. They become part of the change and not steamrolled by it.

Cloud Etiquette 101

Horrible house guests — we’ve all had them. Whether it’s that annoying family member that overstays their welcome or that old college buddy that leaves beer cans and potato chip crumbs all over your couch, if you thought that was bad etiquette, you’ve yet to see the worst.

Imagine coming into the office and finding that your current work has gone missing, your valuable data has been completely disorganized and all your important files have been put in the trash. What would you do? I’m not referring to your paper trail, I am talking about what most businesses today share – the cloud.

Cloud computing, particularly file-sharing, has its own essential and unwritten code of ethics. No one appreciates an ill-mannered cloud partner. For those reasons, we have put together a few etiquette tips to help you not overstay your welcome when utilizing the cloud.

Rule #1: Make Your Names Clear and Concise. Be as specific as possible when naming a file or a folder so that everyone sharing it has a good idea of the contents without having to dig into the file itself. When you’re creating sharable folders, name them for the project rather than the people involved, so your colleagues don’t end up with a bunch of folders in their repository all carrying their name. Consider creating a specific file-naming convention that your business uses and make sure every employee understands it to avoid any confusion.

Rule #2: Ask Before You Delete! When deleting from the cloud, the files aren’t just deleted from your computer – they’re deleted from everyone’s computer sharing that file. Make sure to never delete files or folders without asking. Better yet, don’t delete anything that you didn’t create yourself. You may think that you’re clearing up some extra clutter, while in reality you’ve just killed the report your officemate has spent hours creating. If you do happen to delete something you shouldn’t, you typically have about 30 days (depending on software) to recover the file. After that, you’re on your own to deal with the missing data and any angry glances your coworkers shoot your way.

Rule #3: Size Matters. Be aware of the size of your files. Don’t add a massive 3 GB mega-file that’s going to take up all of that folder’s storage space. Bear in mind that just because you have unlimited storage does not mean everyone you’re working with does. Also, be sure to keep your data organized to avoid annoying others with unnecessary clutter. Do you have a habit of creating and sharing a bunch of notes that lead to a final project? Go ahead and delete those notes after the project’s completion, but only if you created them. See Rule #2.

Rule #4: Create Clear Permission Protocols. Not everyone in your office should have access to every file. Make sure you have clear rules when it involves sharing. File-sharing willy-nilly is akin to a house guest just handing out all of your clothes to your neighbors with no documentation about who they went to and if they’ll ever be returned. When in doubt, don’t share unless you’re the owner of a folder or file.

Rule #5: Maintain Accountability. Cloud computing works best when there is accountability. Sometimes there will be many individuals working out of the same project. It is important to keep track of who is working on which file and when, so you don’t end up with a bunch of overlapping edits or changes that you have to sort out later. Clarify out who is responsible for final updates and ultimately responsible for the files themselves.

Working together is the only way we can make #thecloud a better place. Don’t be the person no one wants to share their cloud with. Simply follow these simple etiquette tips.