Category Archives: Tips and Tricks

How to Choose the Right IT Service Provider

Selecting the right IT service is essential to business success, as it streamlines operations considerably. IT service management is defined as applying technical and business expertise to help organizations create, manage, optimize, and access relevant information and business processes. These services are usually outsourced, hence the issue of finding the right provider for your business needs.

So what does it take to choose the right IT service provider?

First: Knowing What to Look For

ball-862119_1280The first step in selecting any service provider for your business, whether it be an IT services company or any other provider, is to know what you’re looking for. Such criteria of course include verifiable competence, experience and track record, reliability and punctuality, and adherence to industry standard rates (i.e. won’t surprise you with outrageous invoices). You want a provider with talent, training, and experience to take care of your business needs, especially when it comes to IT!

Some of the most important areas to consider when selecting an IT services company include: IT certifications and experience, payment terms, IT product repair capabilities, and availability/bandwidth. Following are some important questions to ask when choosing the best IT company.

Certifications and Experience

When it comes to IT certifications, there are any number of different products, services, and training levels an IT professional can be certified in. Generally, the more, the better. But at the very least, some of the key certifications that contain industry standard best practices would be: Project Management Professional (PMP), Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCSP), CompTIA A+, and Certified Systems Information Auditor (CSIA). It would also serve to know how long the IT provider has been in business, get a list of companies they’ve worked with, and receive any references to organizations with similar equipment and needs to your own.

Flexibility and Payment

If you’re satisfied with the IT company’s level of expertise, the next step is to determine the company’s flexibility and what you’re going to get for what you’re paying. Does the IT provider offer block hour arrangements that provide a certain amount of work per month for a fixed price? Will the provider fix something that’s broken for an hourly rate? How about service agreements that detail exactly what the provider will do for you every month in terms of maintenance and repairs?

The goal is to find a provider who offers clear terms of service and billing, and aligns with your own business’ values and financial capacity.

Requesting Service and Product Repairs

Fixing broken equipment is one of the IT provider’s hallmark services, so it’s very important to go over what your potential provider’s repair services entail. Are you required to call the provider? Send them emails? Is there an online client portal that allows you to request help as needed?. Additionally, do they have a general time frame with regards to repair turnaround, and does that vary based on the type of repair? If so, what are the standard repair timelines per product or service? Do they specialize in particular repairs, whether it be hardware, software, cloud services, etc., or are they generally proficient across the board? It’s also recommended that you ask how the provider handles service requests internally to give you a much better idea of how it operates and the most efficient method of communicating a service request.

An Ounce Of Prevention

Repairs aren’t the only IT provider cornerstone—preventative measures are just as important. Remote monitoring and access are two trending services IT providers offer, with some providing monitoring by the hour or even minute. This means the provider is instantly notified of an issue and will rectify the issue before it becomes a major problem. It’s therefore important to determine if the provider you’re considering offers these services, and if remote monitoring software is compatible with your system. It’s also important to inquire as to whether the provider has the bandwidth to service your company properly, and how fully utilized the provider’s team is…or is not.

Additional Tips

Finding the right IT provider also means inquiring about how quickly they can dispatch help, especially in the event of an IT emergency. Making sure an IT service provider can meet your company’s needs at the right price and within the right timeframe is key.

Prepare for any Data Recovery Emergency with These 5 Backup Tips

Losing data is enough to send chills down the spine of even the toughest tech expert. Viruses, malware, corrupted files, accidental deletion, and hardware failure are just a few of the things that could cause a loss of important data. Rather than remain at the mercy of the technology gods, check out the following five backup tips that will keep you prepared for any data recovery emergency:

Think About What’s Most Important

Give yourself a moment to consider the most important data you want backed up. This includes personal photos and videos, music, documents, application data, and your system itself. Examples of documents requiring backup include spreadsheets and word processing files. Apps store information such as contacts, browser favorites, and email messages, with most programs keeping them safe in a folder inside your user folder.

As far as your system goes, it’s always possible to reinstall apps and Windows if you have the original programs or can download them. However, if your hard drive crashes, you need to switch to a backup system, or a disaster recovery backup. It’s quick and simple to create such systems and maintain them a few times a year to keep your laptop functional (and keep your sanity for when things go wrong).

Use a USB Drive or External Hard Drive

hard-drive-81344_1280Purchase a USB drive, or an external hard drive that’s easy to use. Simply plug the device into your PC or Mac; identify which files and folders to backup; and start the backup process. It’s important to note that not all USB drives are created equal, so be sure to do your research and find a quality option that features plenty of storage space. USB drives are one of your ‘local’ backup options that allow you to store your data, take it with you, or stow away for safekeeping.

Use a Cloud Backup

unnamedCreate a cloud backup, which stores your files online and allows you to access them anytime, anywhere. Password creation is generally part of the process to keep your files secure. Cloud backup is celebrated as one of the most secure and easily accessible (accessible to you, that is) methods available, but it generally requires paying for a subscription. A subscription isn’t the worst thing when it comes to data backup, however. According to PC Magazine, some of the top cloud backup services include iDrive, CrashPlan, and SOS Online Backup.

Automate, Automate, Automate

Consider an automated backup option if your system features a fast Internet connection and you want to save your recent documents and applications on a daily basis. An automated backup that’s permanently connected to your computer requires software installation but that’s pretty much it. As with the Cloud, automated backup allows you to access your data from any computer that features Internet service.

Negatives of automated backup systems include how slow some of them are. Your first backup can take days if not weeks, and it’s not the best system for videos and music. However, there are numerous viable systems available such as SpiderOak and Comodo that offer the versatility and affordability you need. Automated backup is yet another way to keep your data secure, so think about if it’s right for your data storage requirements.

Don’t Forget to Organize

UntitledRemember, whatever backup means you select, it’s important to stay organized. If you consistently keep your files and data well ordered, you’ll know exactly what requires recovery and can easily put items back where they belong.

The Importance of Shifting from Work/Life Balance to Work/Life Integration if You Want to Keep Your Best Employees

Want to ensure your best and most talented employees stay with you for a significant amount of time? Of course you do.

Employees-working-6Successful implementation is all about work/life integration, something that’s replaced the traditional work/life balance. Employees are increasingly put off by the idea of “trudging” to work every day and getting their hours in. Today’s employees want and expect to be as engaged in their work lives as they are in the personal lives, and employers are doing their best to keep up.
Check out a few examples of employers making the switch to work/life integration and actually treating employees like people instead of nameless worker bees:

Paid Time Off

This beloved concept is not exactly new. However, more companies are creating unlimited-paid-time-off policies today. This idea usually results in visions of two months on a Caribbean island or mountain in Aspen, but the reality is quite different. When employees really love their jobs, they actually want to be at work. This is to further their careers, as employee value is not just about the work, but the time put in.

Working From Home

Mobile technology makes it possible for employees to do their jobs no matter where they’re located. This concept is particularly important during cold and flu season, or when the weather is simply too nasty to travel. Companies such as GE are providing employees with the opportunity to work from home on days when coming to work isn’t a good idea, and are subsequently reducing the spread of disease in the office. The trust exemplified by companies that treat their staff like adults is often mutually reflected by employees, something highly important in long-term company-employee relationships.

Flex Time

Some people do their best work when the sun is rising, while others prefer to burn the midnight oil. Employers are subsequently providing flex time options so employees can work when they’re most productive. This also means less time sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, whether on the way to work or coming home for the evening.

[Healthy] Food and Drinks

Access to more (and better) food and drinks is another increasingly common employer tactic. There are even offices that feature mini bars complete with beer on draft. Some employees may indulge in too many libations before noon, or consume so many sugary snacks that they’re bouncing off cubicle walls, but this is hardly the norm. Rather, most employees understand that there’s a time and place for eating and drinking, and are happy to be working for a company that wants to make snacks and drinks readily available. Blood sugar levels that remain steady have proven to result in better employee production.

Employee Responsibility

All of the above ideas are rooted in employee responsibility, or the idea that adults are responsible for their actions and understand the consequences of inappropriate behavior. Employees who fail to grasp this concept—well, it doesn’t take long for such people to receive their walking papers. An employee who takes serious advantage of the work-from-home concept, or continually drinks his or her weight in booze every day, isn’t going to last, and said employees will likely have a difficult time suing for wrongful termination under these circumstances.

Remember, employees who feel appreciated and trusted are going to perform better and stay with their companies longer. The above tactics make it much easier for companies to see who’s the best—and who has yet to grow up.

Google Apps vs. Office 365

When it comes to getting work done, everyone has a preferred set of applications for things like email, word processing and spreadsheets. In terms of popularity, the two most preferred suites are Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365. While both platforms are similar in the tools they offer, it’s the capabilities of each platform that makes them more ideal than the other for personal, business, or educational environments.

Because this has become the subject of so much debate over the past few years, we’ll compare the platforms here:

Best For Businessworkstation-405768__180

Even though Office 365 has been around much longer than Google Apps, a number of large companies have already switched to the latter. It really depends on the business.

Google Apps is simpler than Office 365 in almost every respect — from having a simpler pricing structure to offering fewer features. The cost of using both at an entry level is about the same, but things get a little more complicated when you want to upgrade. Microsoft offers six different plans that the user has to go through and decide between, while Google only has two. Plus, Microsoft only offers Office 365 as a yearly subscription, whereas Google Apps is has a month-to-month option.

Google Apps was born in the cloud. Microsoft is showing up to the game a bit later. Because of this, many of the web-based productivity tools offered by Google are more robust than the corresponding Office 365 tools. In addition, Google Apps has a better track record when it comes to uptime. At launch, Office 365 was plagued with outages that kept many businesses holding off adoption until it stabilized. It’s gotten better, but as of February 2013, Office 365 users experienced 113 minutes of downtime for every 1 minute of downtime for Google Apps users.

Depending on one’s perspective, the Office 365’s extra features can seem either like an asset or a drawback. For companies that don’t need much from their applications, having fewer features can make Google Apps easier to learn and use effectively.

Generally speaking, Google tools will integrate more effectively with Apple google-485611__180tools. Microsoft solutions do not always integrate well with Apple operating systems. Due to this, a company might make the email hosting decision based on the type of computers already in use at the business. Apple shops should strongly consider Google Apps for Work. Microsoft-based offices can go either way, but if wanting to have those productivity tools function seamlessly in the desktop environment, then Office 365 will be the better choice.

That said, many prefer Office 365 in the workplace because they are accustomed to using one of the applications within it more than the others, such as Microsoft Word over Google Documents. While Gmail is largely preferred to Microsoft Outlook, Outlook has been around far longer, and many companies have been working with it for years — why switch now?

Most organizations stick with the Microsoft productivity suite because of familiarity. Learning new systems takes time and costs money. That being said, studies have shows that organizations see significant productivity gains by moving over to the Google Apps for Work suite. While it might not be as dramatic a change as the move from fax to email, it’s pretty close.

One thing’s for sure, though: If you’re looking to integrate the both in your business, you’ll have a tough time. They aren’t compatible, and if you try to copy and paste information from one platform to the other you will likely run into a problem. An example would be while attempting to transfer Excel formulas to Google spreadsheets.

Best For Educationhome-office-569359__180

In working with applications for education, both teachers and students need a suite that enables easy collaboration, offers a lot of storage, and supports learning programs. Both Office 365 and Google Apps for Education offer the usual applications that are necessary for basic office functions and can be used anytime, anywhere, and from any device. The two also supply users with a great deal of storage, but the storage for Google Apps for Education is unlimited.

So then it all boils down to the learning programs, a contest that Google seems to have won with Google Classroom. Google Classroom serves as a virtual learning environment that allows teachers to assign work, grade students, add files and upload media, and keep track of progress. At the same time, students are working within it, they can upload documents from their computers or Google Drive, and collaborate with their classmates on assignments.

Best For Personalworking-690680__180

In terms of having an office suite for your own use, it’s all about personal preference, more than anything else. Some people have grown up using Office applications, while others began using Gmail long ago and gradually moved onto using Google’s other applications from there.

Because not much is generally needed from an office suite, when used on a personal level, individuals often juggle whichever platforms are more convenient to use, often using more than one — sometimes using alternatives to Microsoft and Google applications. For instance, a Mac user may prefer Gmail for communicating with friends, Pages for word processing, and Excel for accounting.

It’s worth it to keep an eye on both Office 365 and Google Apps for any or all of your needs. Both companies are constantly working to improve their platforms and make them more user-friendly. The rule of thumb, however, seems to be that Google Apps is simple, while Office 365 is more complex.

 

Password Management: Top 3 Password Tools to Help Protect You Online

Most of us spend at least half of our waking hours using online tools, whether for business or personal use, making it crucial to protect our accounts from hackers. You might think no one would ever be interested in your email or small business’s records, but you’d be surprised. Having your account hacked can end up being both disturbing and a mess for you and anyone in your contact list. So, do everyone a favor and take preemptive measures to secure your online identity. One of the easiest, most reliable approaches is through password management.

Take a look at these three password tools that are easy to use and effective:

1Password13334048894_6e8b421c4e_o

Available for every different device and as an extension across several major platforms, 1Password boasts simplicity and impenetrability. It generates unique, impregnable passwords for every application, service, and site you use. If you’re not sure which passwords need revamping, use 1Password’s security audit, which will review all of your passwords and evaluate them on their strength.

Plus, 1Password saves all your sign-in information behind a single master password, so you don’t have to recall any information whenever you want to log into an account. As a bonus, you can keep other data in 1Password’s secure information vault, such as credit card numbers and addresses, saving you loads of time.

1Password has a number of useful features, such as multiple vaults. If you’re working on a project or need to share select information with others, 1Password gives you the option of creating additional, shareable vaults that can be organized in whatever way works best for you. These vaults are automatically and instantly synched over wifi, iCloud, or Dropbox.

To purchase a 1Password license, visit its creator’s website, agilebits.com.

LastPass15921569186_8560f34c02_o

LastPass is another password management tool that creates mind-numbingly complex passwords for all of your accounts, across every different platform. According to its website, 73% of people use the same password for a number of sites, a majority of passwords only contain six characters, and a majority of passwords only take three minutes to hack.

LastPass saves all of your information behind one master password and then fills it in for you as you need it. It allows you to create multiple passwords within its program, so that every member of your team or family can have access to his/her own information.

The tool also enables you to store a great deal of confidential information — such as licenses, passports, images, documents, wifi information, and so on — as attachments to secure notes. Basically, you have the important information you need at your disposal (but not at anyone else’s).

As an added benefit, LastPass sends you security email alerts as soon as the online sites and services you use have been hacked so that you can be vigilant about changing your passwords.

Download one of their programs — free, premium, or enterprise — at lastpass.com.

KeePasssecurity-265130_640

Keepass is a free, open-source alternative to standard password management. Supporting both Advanced Encryption Standard and Twofish algorithms, Keepass encrypts all of your account information — from usernames to notes to addresses to passwords. Advanced Encryption Standard is so secure that it’s been approved by the National Security Alliance for use with top secret information.

All of the encrypted data is either protected behind one master password, a key file, or both. Key files are often regarded as a more secure way to guard your information and can be stored on an external device, such as a USB key, that you can carry around with you — just don’t lose it!

Keepass doesn’t require installation and works best on Windows operating systems. However, if you download Mono (software), it will also run on Linux, Mac OS X, BSD, and other systems.

To download Keepass for free, go to keepass.info.

If you think your dog’s name or favorite color is enough to bar the way between access to your accounts and a hacker, you might want to think a little harder about the consequences of having your information stolen. It’s easy to protect yourself with these simple, yet effective, password tools — all it takes is a few minutes to set them up. Once you do, you can rest easier knowing that your data is secure from even the most clever hackers.