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5 things IT consulting does for your business

IT consulting is different than hiring an in-house IT team or using a third party IT firm to handle all the technical needs for your business. An IT consultant may only work with your business for a short time. They can also come in intermittently to make sure everything is running as it should and make adjustments or recommendations.

Here are 5 ways hiring an IT consultant could help you:

1. Make projects happen

You’ve been considering a technological project, but you are not a technical expert. It can be hard to launch other projects when you are focused on your small business’ day-to-day operations.

Whether it is implementing a new CRM, setting up services in the cloud or making sure your technology infrastructure is truly secure, an IT consultant can come in and make it all happen, finally.

IT consulting can leaves you with space to focus on your area of expertise while giving you the comfort knowing your project is not simply getting done but getting done in a timely manner with professional oversight and accountability.

2. Help you get the most bang for your buck

IT consultants can help your business save money by implementing new and innovative solutions. For example, virtualization can help your business run multiple operating systems on the same server, letting you harness the power of different programs while saving you money on server space.

Moving to cloud services and storage with the help of IT consulting can also save money on expensive physical data storage costs.

3. Keep you secure

Digital security is of the utmost importance in this day and age. One way IT consultants can help to keep your business and data safe is by helping you to manage mobile devices and policies around employees using their own devices for work.

An IT consultant can make sure that your team connects via a secure VPN to encrypt any data transferred between mobile devices and your company’s valuable digital assets.

They can also help you come up with policies that protect data during the onboarding and offboarding process when personal devices are involved. IT consultants can also further minimize risk by training your team on digital safety risks like phishing schemes and malware viruses.

4. Be prepared for disaster

Hire an IT consultant to get your business ready for the unthinkable. Of course you hope you will never need to use these solutions, but it’s best to be prepared. Let an IT expert help you come up with a disaster recovery plan for your technology infrastructure, create trustworthy backups and educate your team on how to avoid errors that could lead to data loss.

5. Communicate better

Communication is the foundation of any small business. You have to communicate with your employees, your vendors and your clients.

Having the latest in VoIP technology, seamless integration of applications like Office 365 and other modern solutions, and proper training on using these tools can make your office function as efficiently as possible.

Contact an expert IT consultant to get more information on how consulting can help with your small business IT needs.

5 Ways to Save Money on IT Expenses

Every company has to spend money on IT in some form or fashion. If you can save money without sacrificing productivity and security, though, you can direct some additional cash to other areas of your business.

Lower your IT expenses by following these 5 tips.

Adopt a BYOD Policy

In 2017, about 80% of employees brought their own mobile devices to work. That’s not surprising, considering 77% of Americans own smartphones.

Since most of your employees already bring mobile devices to work, you can adopt a BYOD (bring your own device) policy so you don’t have to spend money on smartphones for them. Research shows that you’ll get a boost in productivity while you save money.

Keep in mind that BYOD can make your business more susceptible to security problems. Make sure you set strict security standards to protect your organization.

Turn to the Cloud

Using the cloud for applications and data storage offers several cost-saving advantages. Some of the most important benefits include:

  • Reducing your labor costs.
  • Saving money on equipment.
  • Lowering the amount that you spend housing and powering equipment.
  • Using a pay-as-you-go model to spread costs out over time.

If you haven’t started using the cloud, then you’re almost certainly spending more money than necessary on your equipment and software.

Use More Open Source Applications

Buying enterprise software can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. You can avoid those IT expenses by switching to free, open source applications. Many of the free applications work just as well as the ones that cost a lot of money.

Some of the most popular open source applications that you can explore include:

Explore several open source applications to find options that match your business’s needs.

You can also save money by using an open source operating system. Windows 10 Enterprise costs about $84 per user per year. Depending on how many employees you have, that charge can add up to a significant amount of money. You can avoid that expense by using an OS like Ubuntu, Fedora, Solus, and other Linux-based systems. You will, however, have to spend more time training employees to use a Linux-based OS.

Important note: While the costs savings will be apparent from the get-go, keep in mind that these open source applications will be considerably harder to support. If something goes wrong, you might find yourself out of luck.

Keep that in mind when considering if they’re worth it to you.

Invest in Equipment That Will Last

Buying inexpensive equipment may seem like a good way to save on IT expenses. Unfortunately, cheap equipment won’t perform as well as equipment that costs a little more. By investing more money in your equipment today, you can avoid additional spending in the future. After all, it’s better to purchase a server that lasts 5 years instead of two that last 2 or 3 years.

Keep in mind that expensive equipment doesn’t always work better than cheaper alternatives. You should always read reviews and talk to IT professionals before you invest in any equipment.

Let Some Employees Telecommute

Telecommuting has a lot of benefits. It can increase employee productivity, reduce turnover, and improve morale. Letting employees work remotely also means that you don’t have to spend money on computers, energy, and office space.

Certain employees, of course, need to work in the office. There’s a good chance, though, that you can let some of your team members work from home. In return, you’ll spend considerably less money on IT.

Final Thoughts on IT Expenses

You’ll always have to spend money on IT expenses. If you follow these tips, though, you can shrink your IT budget. If you’re looking for a better way to cut costs, consider reaching out to a professional that can audit your technology. Working together with you, a consultant can show you exactly what you can cut from the budget (and what you shouldn’t).

5 Steps to Creating the Perfect IT Budget

Like other aspects of your business, your IT infrastructure needs a budget that describes how you will spend money to reach your goals. Ideally, you should make a new IT budget each year.

During some years, you may not make any changes to your budget. During other years, though, you may need to drastically increase or decrease the amount of money that you spend on IT.

Follow these 5 steps to create the perfect IT budget for your SMB’s short-term and long-term goals.

1. Review Last Year’s IT Budget

If you made an IT budget last year, review it to determine where you want to make changes. If you spent money on new equipment, such as desktop computers or a new server, last year, then you probably don’t need to buy those items again.

You can also use last year’s budget to find recurring expenses easily.

2. Know the Cost of Your Recurring Expenses

Certain IT costs won’t change much from year to year. Some common recurring IT expenses include:

  • Cloud storage space
  • Renewing software licenses
  • URL registration
  • Content management systems

Your recurring costs may differ from those of other companies. Take a close look at how your business spends money so you can identify recurring expenses that you haven’t included in past budgets.

3. Take Inventory of Your IT Equipment

Make a list of your IT equipment and how old the items are. Once you have a completed list, you can decide whether you need to update your equipment.

You have some discretion when it comes to how often you update your IT equipment. Most companies purchase new desktop and laptop computers every 3 to 5 years. A 5-year-old computer may seem to work well, but it probably can’t keep up with the speed of newer models. Hanging on to old equipment, therefore, could lower the productivity of your employees.

Other pieces of technology that you might need to update include:

  • Servers (about every 3 years)
  • WiFi routers (every 4 or 5 years)
  • Mobile devices (every 2 or 3 years)

If it’s time to upgrade your IT equipment, then you need to create a line for that expense. If you don’t need any upgrades, then you can reserve your money for when the time comes.

4. Talk to Your Employees and Managers

Your employees and managers may have a better idea than you do about what upgrades you need. After all, they’re the people who use your equipment and applications daily.

Take some time to talk to your managers and employees to learn more about what they would like to see in next year’s IT budget. If you hear the same requests from a lot of people, consider adding a line to your budget. Of course, you shouldn’t feel obligated to fulfill the whims of a few people. Only add the expenses if you’ll get a good return on your investment.

5. Plan for the Future

This year’s budget should include a line for research and development that will improve your companies ability to compete with other businesses in your industry. Depending on your industry, this may include things like:

  • Sending managers to IT conferences to learn about upcoming products
  • Hiring coders to update proprietary software
  • Improving your IT infrastructure security against the latest cyberthreats

Researching your future needs will make it easier for you to predict your IT expenses over the next few years.

IT Budgeting

The perfect IT budget ensures that you spend money wisely while you update your SMB’s technology. You can take a stab at making an IT budget without outside help, but you run the risk of missing an important line item.

If you haven’t made an IT budget before, then you may need to hire a consultant to help you find hidden costs and make accurate predictions. We’re more than happy to assist you with creating a solid budget that will accurately account for your expenses.

5 Productivity Hacks for Small Businesses

Small businesses have to stay as productive as possible so they can meet their goals and compete against larger companies. Even if you think your business has the tools that it needs to make employees more productive, you can probably find some room for improvement.

Start with these 5 productivity hacks for small businesses so you can make your company even more competitive.

Use Apps to Make Collaborating Easier

If your employees rely on email to collaborate with each other, then they’re wasting a lot of time that they could devote to finishing other tasks. You can make collaborating easier by using apps that are uniquely designed to help people work together.

Some of the top collaboration tools to consider include:

The tool that you choose will depend on the kind of work that your company does. Review your options so you can choose a cloud-based application that fits your needs. This is a simple productivity hack that will have you working better in no time at all.

Automate Repetitive Tasks

Many of your employees repeat the same tasks every day. Make them more efficient by automating repetitive tasks. That way, they don’t have to waste time on work that computers can do for them.

In fact, there are a lot of automation tools to consider.

Try AutoHotKey to make shortcut hotkeys to automate desktop tasks like opening emails, editing documents, and completing forms. Workflow can automate tasks on iOS devices. Tasker can automatically open apps, send notifications, and perform other tasks on Android devices.

Related: Your Go-to Guide for Total Technology Control

Adopt the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique helps people concentrate by breaking the day into short sections. Each Pomodoro sessions lasts 25 minutes. After each session, you get a 5-minute break. After every fourth session, you get a longer break.

Even if you hate what you’re working on, you can focus on it when you know that you get a short break within 25 minutes.

If you’re new to the Pomodoro Technique, use an app like Marinara Timer, Focus Booster, or PomoDone. Some Pomodoro apps can connect to other applications, like Evernote or Trello, to boost productivity even more.

Let Employees Follow Flexible Schedules

Several studies show that employees become more flexible when they can follow flexible schedules. If possible, don’t force your people to work rigid hours. If you let them some control over their schedules, then they could become up to 25% more productive.

Letting employees work from home boosts productivity even more. One study shows that employees who work from home are 43% more productive than their colleagues working in the office. How’s that for an easy productivity hack?

Related: How Does the Cloud Work, and How Does It Benefit Your Business?

Use Site Blockers to Stay Focused

Many of your employees probably need internet access to do their jobs. Unfortunately, the internet offers unlimited time-wasters that can distract people from their work. You think that you’re only going to spend 5 minutes checking your Facebook messages. The next thing you know, half an hour has gone by and you haven’t accomplished anything.

Some of the most effective site-blocking apps and browser extensions include:

These tools rely on you (or your employee) to choose which sites to block. If you have more than 25 employees, you may want to have an IT professional block popular sites that waste a lot of time.

Staying productive gets much easier when you have the right tools on your side. Explore these options so you can choose productivity hacks that will work well for your business.

How GB Tech Helps You Stay Productive

As your go-to technology advisor, we’re here to help you choose the best tools and tech for your business. If you’re looking for new ways to optimize and improve your small business, reach out to us. Of course, we’ve got more productivity hacks up our sleeve, too.

We’ve got experts that can help you save time through IT services and a lasting partnership.

Hungry for more? Be sure to check out How to Create the Perfect BDR Plan.

The Technology That’s Necessary for Business

Today’s businesses rely on technology to meet consumer needs and stay competitive. Unfortunately, some small businesses don’t know which technologies they should invest in. By choosing the following options, you can make your company more efficient and competitive.

Mobile Payment Options

If your business ever accepts payments outside of your office or storefront, then you need a mobile credit card reader that lets customers pay even when they don’t have cash.

Most mobile payments apps are free to download. Many will even give you free hardware for accepting credit card payments.

You will, however, have to pay your service provider a percentage of the payments you take from customers. The fees vary from company to company, so you should look into your options before you decide which one fits your business’s needs best.

Some of the most popular mobile payment apps include:

Cloud-Based Apps

Cloud-based tools have become increasingly popular over the last few years because they’re often more convenient, secure, and flexible than using applications stored on personal servers. Cloud apps can do just about anything that you need.

Slack makes it easy for your team members to collaborate with each other and track project goals. Salesforce helps you manage customer relationships and improve your online sales. Concur gives you tools for generating invoices and reimbursing employees for travel expenses.

If your business experiences a pain point frequently, there’s probably a cloud app that can solve the problem for you.

Websites Optimized for Mobile Users

About 52% of web traffic comes from mobile devices. People aren’t as attached to their desktop computers as they once were, so they rely on their smartphones to visit sites.

Unfortunately, the site that you have for desktop visitors won’t work very well on mobile devices. You can solve that problem by optimizing your site for mobile users.

Optimizing for mobile devices will also boost your site’s Google ranking.

The Perfect Hardware

Of course, you’ll need some combination of devices to run and manage your business. That includes desktop workstations, laptops, tablets, and more. Choosing the right devices depends heavily on your needs, and how you want your organization to run.

Mostly mobile employees? You need a robust mobile-capable device force, such as laptops.

Have graphic or video-intensive jobs? You need a powerful device capable of performing right.

Performing cloud-based access jobs for the large part? You need a good all-rounder.

Keep in mind that you’ll need specific tools and different skill sets to manage and maintain these varied devices. Partnering with a managed service provider can help you get valuable consultation on the right technology for your business, as well as the management of it.

Chatbot Customer Services

You can make live chat even more efficient by adding a chatbot. A chatbot can answer frequently asked questions that don’t require human interaction. If the conversation gets too complicated, then the chatbot can always pass the customer on to a live service representative.

With a chatbot, you can always offer immediate services to customers. You may find that using a chatbot also helps means that you don’t have to hire as many customer service reps.

Technology changes rapidly, so you always need to pay attention to the latest trends and developments. Currently, you can make your business more effective by using these five technologies. Pay attention to emerging trends, though, so you can keep up with your competitors.

Want more helpful content? Be sure to check out What to Look for in a Work Computer.

Your Go-to Guide for Total Technology Control

There’s no sugarcoating it.

Technology and IT-related matters are tough to understand and tougher to master. However, since modern businesses rely on technology to reach their goals, it’s pretty important to get a solid handle on how to keep things working on your terms.

Good news –that’s exactly what this guide is for.

Reading this can help you understand the core areas that you need to focus on to attain total IT control. With that control, you’ll see a slew of benefits come your way, including better productivity, increased flexibility, boosted stability, and more.

Let’s begin.

Sections Covered:

Where to Start with Business Continuity

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you already run a business (or even multiple businesses). And, if that’s the case, then you’ll already understand the importance of keeping your operations running smoothly at all times.

If you don’t run a business, now is as good a time as any to understand that without your data and your people, your business can’t operate.

So what do you do to make sure it stays running?

For starters, you’ll want to focus on crafting a solid backup and disaster recovery plan (also known as a BDR plan). With a BDR plan in place, every mission-critical person will be on the same page. They’ll know what to do, who to contact, what role to take, and how to generally deal with whatever disaster is happening.

The truth is that you might never be able to truly prevent downtime from happening, but you can put forth the effort to largely minimize the effects of it.

Once you master keeping your current operations up and running, you can start to focus on improving and upgrading everything else.

Setting Up an Outsourced Help Desk

A big part of gaining total technology control is making sure the little things don’t bog you down.

But what constitutes the little things?

Generally speaking, anything that can be resolved by a technician without involving a large-scale technical team. Practical examples of these issues include:

  • Slow computers
  • Email sync issues
  • Hardware malfunctions
  • File deletions
  • Software glitches

Trust us – there are many, many more things in that list.

Too many, if you ask your team.

The main idea to take away here is this: these issues are nuisances that are symptoms to bigger issues. To get rid of them once and for all, you can team up with a technology partner to outsource your problems to an IT help desk.

The help desk focuses on keeping these issues off your plate so that you can focus on running your business. They should be there to support you 24/7.

In short, they help you create a more stable technology environment. They help you answer questions like:

  • What specs should I look for in a work computer?
  • I forgot my password. What now?
  • Why is this popup here all the time?
  • How can I fix my slow Wi-Fi?

When Do You Need Managed IT Services?

Help desk services focus on the day-to-day technology issues that your company faces. But to keep your organization’s technology running smoothly, you’ll want to find a managed service provider to partner with.

But let’s back up for a second. What are managed IT services?

In essence, they’re a bundled packages of services that help organizations keep their technology under wraps. You can think of them as an IT service “buffet” – you pay a flat-rate fee to get lots of food (services) that are included in that price.

“72% of SMB decision makers say that technology solutions can help them significantly improve business outcomes and run the business better.”

– SMB Group

Different managed service providers (also known as MSPs) offer slight variations on their managed services packages. Choosing the right one for your organization depends entirely on your specific needs.

So why do you want them?

For starters, you can use them to outsource a vast majority of your mission-critical IT services. They allow you to consolidate your vendors and keep your tech running smoothly, all through one point of contact that you build a lasting relationship with.

Managed services from an experienced MSP help you get a set of expert eyes on your technology situation. They can give you guidance on how to best protect your data, how to choose the right technology for your business, and even how to make your organization more productive.

Help with Strategic IT Budgeting

There’s just no way to talk about total technology control without getting to the nitty-gritty.

We’re talking about the numbers, of course.

The aim of the game is to strategically select an IT budget that gives you the most bang for the buck. You must actively balance a budget that gives you access to the technology you need for both the present and the future.

Spend too little and you’re stuck with bad equipment and annoyingly troublesome services.

Spend too much and you’re stuck with wasting precious resources on stuff you don’t really need.

There’s a careful science here – you can perform an audit of your own business needs to determine the perfect IT budget for your organization. With your budget set, you can determine things such as implementation timelines and technology prioritization schedules.

In other words, budgets help your organization create a technology strategy to help keep the financial focus on your priorities.

IT Consulting for SMBs

Many organizations struggle to align their technology to their business strategy. And yet, it’s basically impossible to scale and grow operations without at least SOME sort of technological assistance.

That’s where IT consultants come in. But what do they do?

IT consultants basically come in and take a good, hard look at what your current environment consists of. After they’ve taken a solid inventory, they can tell you about your overall technology health and if it aligns with your business goals.

More often than not, it’s a mismatch.

When that occurs, it’s the job of the IT consultant to recommend strategic plans of action to put your tech back on track. If you’re tackling a specific project that you’re not sure of, IT consultants also stay with you to ensure everything goes off without a hitch.

An MSP can guide you through all the options and make sure you have the best system for your organization, while having the flexibility to change as your operations change.

– Business 2 Community

The core message is this: IT consultants regularly audit your technology to ensure that it’s focused. In turn, that helps you keep total control over your technology.

Strategically Implementing the Cloud

You can’t possible discuss modern technology advancements without hearing about the cloud.

First up: What is the cloud?

To keep things simple, it’s a system of shared processing resources that isn’t on your computer. That means when you access applications and files (often over the internet) that aren’t actually hosted on your hardware, you’re using the cloud.

There are plenty of misconceptions of what the cloud is and how it works. However, all you really have to know is that it allows your organization to take your mission-critical technology and make it flexible and mobile. Cloud computing allows you to focus less on the hardware that you’re using and more on the accessibility aspects of connecting to your data.

When you master the cloud as a tool for productivity, you can scale your organization to whatever size you want.

Attaining Technology Control

These six topics are the pillars of attaining total technology control within your organization. Want to know about something else? Think we missed a core aspect? Questions about anything we discussed in the article?

Reach out to us and let us know. We’re more than happy to create helpful guides for you.

Web App Security Best Practices – 2018 Edition

The typical web application has three vulnerabilities in it, according to the White Hat Security 2017 report. If the app gets breached, companies pay an average of $141 per record compromised in the attack.

This cost quickly adds up and has the potential to make companies go out of business, so it’s essential to follow the latest web app security best practices.

Without further ado, here’s a general list of the 2018 best practices for web application security.

Revisit Your Security Review Processes

App security solutions and processes are not set-it-and-forget-it. The available methods for fixing vulnerabilities and protecting your web apps change each year. If you’re still using older tactics, then you can’t defend against the latest types of attacks.

Schedule some time to go over your security review processes and bring them up to date as necessary.

Integrate Security Tools with Development Solutions

Your web app security measures shouldn’t come after the fact, especially if you have a fast-paced development cycle. When you have the security features running alongside automated building, you can reduce the risk of a vulnerability making it through into the final build. For teams using agile development methodologies, you also avoid waiting until the product is built to start working on the security side of things.

Use Container-Native Tools

Containers get held up as an excellent method to solve a lot of challenges in web application development, but your security tools may not be capable of protecting them. In some cases, limited visibility into the container makes it difficult to discover vulnerabilities.

Related: Why Secure Application Development Is a Necessity

Sometimes, the sheer scale of the containers exceeds what the solution can do. Container-native tools exist exactly for this environment.

The Principle of Least Privilege

You probably follow this principle for user accounts and other aspects of IT, so don’t forget about it when it comes to web applications. Focus on getting the application to use the fewest possible privileges to limit the attack surfaces available.

Change the Way You Use Cookies

Cookies give attackers an enticing attack surface that could give them access to sensitive information. If you choose to use cookies for your web application, limit the risks through encryption or prevent data storage in this form in the first place.

Related: Why Secure Application Development Is Critical to Conscious Companies

Document Your App Security Plan

A big part of security best practices is full security documentation. However, it’s still one that’s often overlooked. The advantage of documenting your app security plan is to have a top-down, comprehensive understanding of everything involved in protecting this software. You don’t lose this knowledge if key personnel leave your company or change positions. Instead, you build upon this document and optimize it with each iteration.

Focus on Priority Vulnerabilities

Vulnerabilities come in many types, and some are more important than others. You should address a vulnerability that’s nearly impossible to exploit later. A security hole that exposes your main customer database, on the other hand, should be at the top of the list.

Balance the possibility of a hacker using the vulnerability against the damage that they could cause if they do. You have limited resources, although companies keep increasing cybersecurity budgets each year. This best practice helps you allocate your budget and proactively address these concerns.

Companies push for faster development cycles every day, which leaves app security lagging far behind. The best practices of 2018 acknowledge this challenging environment and put measures in place that can adapt to it.

And, if you need a refresher, we’re always around to talk to.

Title Fight: Break/Fix vs. Managed IT Services

The ideal state of technology for most businesses is one that drives them to their business goals, propels them into the future and helps them compete in their market. For others, the reality is that technology is a constant hindrance, perpetually dragging down their productivity and collaboration. This, we feel, is the title fight between the managed IT services and break/fix models of IT.

What are these IT Models?

Break/fix has been around since the dawn of technology. Basically, it means that you buy a piece of hardware or software, and when it breaks, you call someone to come fix it. The model is simple and focused on tactical response. It’s the old-school fighter in the ring, ready to give as good as he gets.

Managed IT services is effectively outsourcing your IT department for a flat monthly rate to keep everything running smoothly. This gives you a set of core network services delivered by a team of experts that are not direct employees. This is the emerging pro on the circuit who has a top-notch entourage and smarts to match his ambition.

Did you know? 47% of companies haven’t started to embark on digital transformation. Microsoft

Why Break/Fix Always Loses

There are a couple of major problems with the break/fix method of IT. And they have a tendency to creep up on you.

It’s too reactive.

Break/fix is always reactive. You are consistently trying to fix problems as they are occurring. This can greatly increase your downtime, depending on the intensity of the problem, because you are not necessarily addressing the root cause or the big picture.

It’s too costly.

Calling out technicians can be a costly venture. Particularly when they aren’t the ones who set up your network. Likewise, if you’ve got older hardware, the lack of strategic thinking about your technology can mean that your cost of upkeep is increasing, while productivity is decreasing.

It’s too slow.

Break/fix technicians get paid more the longer they’re there. This means there’s no real urgency to speed up or resolve the issue for good. And lacking a total grasp of your system or your processes can extend the resolution timeline for the technician.

Related: 3 of the Worst IT-related Disasters Ever (And What You Can Learn From Them)

Why Managed IT Services Always Wins

Businesses are increasingly choosing to outsource their IT to managed services providers because the long-term benefits greatly improve performance and results.

It’s proactive.

When you outsource your IT, you put the burden of performance on your provider. This shifts the momentum for companies who have dealt with a lot of technical issues in the past. Proactive IT support often solves problems before they are noticed.

It’s predictable.

When you’re bootstrapping a company or your CEO is looking to cut CAPEX costs, managed services may be the way to go. With predictable monthly expenses over three to five years, you offload your IT costs to OPEX, giving you a significant tax advantage and balancing out spikes when your network needs extra attention.

It’s fast.

With a managed IT services team, quick resolution with IT support is the name of the game. The better your provider knows your company and your network, the better your system runs. The better your system runs, the more effectively you and your provider can operate as a team. The burden of proof is outsourced.

Is managed IT services right for your business? Call GB Tech to find out.

Related: The Countless Benefits of Managed Services