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5 End-of-Year Tech Tips 2018

As many business owners, CFOs, and solo practitioners think about their end-of-year business planning, it’s a good time to look at your technology end-of-year needs as well. I have covered these five tips:

Passwords

With so many security compromises occurring, following good password management practices is critical. If it has been a while, now is the best time to change and update your passwords. Using passwords with long series of complex characters that are unique to each site can’t be overstated. A good New Year’s resolution would be to start using a password manager to help you keep up with the tasks, such as LastPass or 1Password.

Backups

Backups are the cornerstone of all disaster recovery plans. Each business has its own backup and recovery requirements, but they should be reviewed regularly. The biggest questions around backups tend to focus on time to recovery and archiving data.  Do you have new accounts that are depending on you to work all the time? Does the information you provide need to be stored and retrieved in a certain way, within certain time frames? Updated backup plans will help your company to recover from a cyberattack, major equipment failure, flood or catastrophic mistake made by a staff member.

Technology Budget Planning

Creating a budget or planning a tentative budget for technological needs is not an easy task. Similarly, to set goals for 2019, a certain type of review is required, looking at the past year. The business requirements need to be incorporated into these plans. Will business expansion require increased bandwidth on your Internet connection? in what ways can you improve the security of your client data? What can you do to add more security for remote users? These are just some of the important questions business managers might ask and need to plan for in the New Year. Start with your business goals and previous year challenges to map out new technology investments or enhancements.

Safeguarding Data

An annual review of all company and client data is important for obvious reasons, but it may have compliance implications as well. Putting safeguards in place can help to prevent fraud and identity theft as well as enhance customer confidence and trust. Safeguard reviews should start with an observance of HIPAA, IRS guidelines or other industry standards that may be necessary for your business. You will want to preserve the confidentiality and privacy of all data by restricting access and disclosure. This may not be a costly effort but one that takes awareness and often attention to simple procedures. The recently updated “Safeguarding Taxpayer Data: A Guide For Your Business (Rev. 6-2018)” from the IRS offers many ideas on how to approach the topic, even if you are not an accounting firm.

Policy Reviews

IT policies establish expectations and regulations for behavior related to company technology and networks. Liaise with managers to review past issues and update policies with the organization. Review your current acceptable use policy and find ways to communicate expectations to your employees about proper technology handling. And of course, incorporate a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy along with guidelines on passwords, wire transfers and so on, as the Social Media Use Policy should be considered as a part of your policy review.

Business Mobility Tips for Bad Weather

Across the country the last few days, the cold weather has been devastating. Raleigh-Durham had its coldest day in 130 years. They call this one the “bomb cyclone” because of the sudden and extreme drop in temperature. Weather like this is uncommon in the South, but in the Northeast, it’s somewhat expected. This past October, 80,000 Maine customers lost electricity. With this kind of weather, businesses everywhere must prepare their staff for mobility. Here are our mobility tips for keeping downtime to a minimum and keeping your staff productive and collaborative even when the office is inaccessible.

Ensure You Have the Right Tools

As most business owners already know, the wrong tools can slow your growth (or bring it to a halt). The same goes with productivity and collaboration tools. An essential component of running a smooth process is first and foremost getting your team all on the same software. This could be Office 365 or G Suite for Business or whatever makes sense for your company. Every member of your staff should be well-educated on the tools of the office, so there are no hiccups when employees are on their own.

Communication is key. Audio and video conferencing tools should be thoroughly researched and available so your staff can continue with meetings and brainstorming sessions that yield productive results.

Tied into this, you may want to explore a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) program. The key here is to ensure your security protocols are maximized, even when employees use their own iPhones or laptops.

Automate Whenever Possible

We haven’t quite made it to the land of artificial intelligence. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t improve our businesses with automation and with machine learning. When bad weather strikes, the fewer manual tasks your staff has to perform, the smoother your company will run. Assessing your workflow and automating whenever possible can yield incredible results – and that’s not restricted to bomb cyclones or any other bad weather days.

To properly automated, you need to fully understand the complexity of your processes. Gather your staff together and start charting out how products are released, how distribution and channeling is tasked out, and how information is shared. The simpler you can make these, the more effective your business will run when your team is unexpectedly scattered.

Get as Much in the Cloud as You Can

The cloud is the new business powerhouse. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2020 cloud deployment of software solutions will be the default option. This shouldn’t be a surprise because the enterprise-level security you get in the cloud, combined with the ideal mobility, gives you many advantages over the old model of server storage in the basement.

When bad weather hits, on-premise data storage can be tricky at best and devastating at worst. By migrating to the cloud, you give your team secure access wherever they are. This gives you and your employees the best chance of limiting downtime and keeping productivity high and heading toward your goals.

Get Your BDR Plan in Shape with EaseTech

One of the main factors in combating bad weather is preparation. For businesses, this lies in your backup and disaster recovery plan. The plan itself is a living document that should detail the procedures and processes for getting back to business when the worst happens. Your BDR plan will give tasks to each employee, so there is never a question as to how the business will continue.

So, when you’re prepared for the worst, you can expect the best results.

Related: How to Build a Disaster Recovery Plan for Accounting Firms

How to Build a Disaster Recovery Plan for Accounting Firms

Disaster can strike at any moment, and its effects can be devastating to businesses. One year ago Superstorm Sandy slammed into New Jersey and New York City crippling many organizations for weeks, if not longer. With such dire consequences, it’s critical to have a good disaster recovery plan in place in case the worst should happen for you and your accounts.

A solid disaster recovery plan can be divided into three parts: Planning, Storage, and Recovery. Each part is equally important, and each one should have a thorough plan of its own. For accounting firms, it is not just that your data that you need to protect, it is your customers business information that needs safeguarding.

Planning
A solid disaster recovery plan requires everyone involved to know their roles and be ready to execute them at a moment’s notice. Ideally, a plan should be created with partners and vendors as well. Careful consideration for several broad scenarios helps devise plans that are best based on conditions in your area.  Some suggested disaster considerations include: floods, hurricanes, winter storms, local building issues and security threats.

This is the second key aspect of planning for disaster recovery – always make sure that there are redundant channels and oversight. In case the worst should happen, the channels of communication need to be set up so that everyone knows who to call as a primary, and who to get in touch with in case the primary contact person is unable to be reached. Make sure that everyone knows who the person to contact is in case of a major IT issue, and who the alternate contacts are. Maintaining a strong chain of communication can mean the difference between a temporary outage and a major business disaster. Determining primary and secondary communication options should be part of the plan.

Storage
Storing your data securely for a post-disaster recovery is as important as planning. The first step to storing and protecting your data is choosing a backup and storage method and provider. There are many options available for both backup and storage, and choosing the right one is based largely on the needs of the business.

Larger accounting firms with more involved data needs can opt for an in-house solution using their existing IT staff. Smaller accounting firms, or those with more generic data needs, should instead look at one of the cloud backup services or managed backup providers. Whatever option you choose, it’s important to make sure two requirements are met:

1. Your recovery data should be kept in multiple physical locations separated by some distance. Most cloud and managed backup providers already guarantee this level of duplication and redundancy by distributing your stored data across multiple different data warehouses in multiple locations. However, if you go with an in-house or custom solution, it is important to make sure that backups are not all located in the same datastore, and certainly not in the same building as your offices.

2. Your recovery data should also be stored on physical media somewhere in another location, in case a recovery is necessary and an internet connection cannot be established. External hard drives are a fast and cheap method for offloading data. Of course, the best approach to this varies on the type and amount of data.

Recovery 
The process of recovery begins with a good policy of detection and monitoring. Make sure that whatever disaster recovery plan you create accounts for carefully keeping track of your data in case of less obvious disasters – things like fires when you are out of the office, malicious intrusion (either physical or cyber), power outages and the like. The faster you can learn that your data is in danger, the quicker you can react and the easier the recovery process can be.

As mentioned earlier, everyone on your staff should know who to contact in the event of a major disaster. Make sure to inform your staff that their safety is the top priority – if you’ve been backing up your data properly and storing it offsite, losing your equipment in a disaster is only a temporary setback. Make sure you know where your data is and how to retrieve it. Practice full recovery drills several times a year so that everyone on your staff knows what to do – you don’t want to have to add learning an unfamiliar system to all the other post-disaster stress.

Make sure you have a plan about what needs to be recovered first, where all your priority information is, and how to get to it. For many firms, this will be customer-facing data – websites, client login portals, and any information that needs to be accessed by your clients. It should also include your most sensitive business information.

Having a disaster recovery plan can make the time between disaster and recovery much shorter than it would be without one, and the work required to implement one is minor compared to the risk of losing your business. Your business depends on a good plan and your clients are depending on you to ensure you have them covered as well.

To help in the executing of your disaster recovery process for your accounting firm contact Ease Technologies to learn more how we can help. 888-Ease911

Office 365 vs Hosted Exchange – Pros and Cons

The correct cloud hosting solution can help eliminate the hassles of server management and save you money with pricing that scales per usage. There are many hosting options, this type of evaluation can be rather complicated.

There is a lot of buzz surrounding Office 365, you may be looking to see if this solution is a good fit for your company, or is a hosted Exchange service better suited for your needs. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons to help you make the right choice for your business.

Pros Office 365
Because Office 365 is managed by Microsoft, some IT managers believe it is superior to third-party hosted Exchange providers. They believe Office 365 is empowered by Microsoft’s resources, investment, and level of expertise.

As updates are released to the public, your hosting provider will likely need to test it before introducing it to the customer hosting environment. However, Microsoft can test products as it develops them, potentially rolling out Office 365 updates more quickly.

When you choose Office 365, you automatically get Instant Messaging, Sharepoint and Lync Online for meetings. While other providers offer an array of added services, purchasing Office 365 bundles these services are upfront.

Cons Office 365
Office 365 limits the number of email recipients you can have within a 24-hour period to 500 for small business accounts and 1500 for enterprise accounts. These limits apply to the total number of emails you send and not just to one email.

While downtime is a risk associated with any provider, Microsoft’s Office 365 services seem to go down with more regularity than some companies are comfortable with. And when Office 365 customers have problems, they are left high and dry–which brings us to the next downfall.  Small business Office 365 users do not get direct phone support. Instead, they must settle for searching through Help articles on Microsoft’s website or posting questions to the community forum to resolve their problems.  An IT Support service partner helps in these situations.

Pros Hosted Exchange
Unlike Office 365, hosted Exchange providers excel at providing support to their customers–and this includes phone support. If you have a problem with your account or service, you can get real support from real people, right when you need it. With most hosted Exchange services, you only pay for what you want. For companies looking to make every dollar count, it makes sense to pay for only the services that are right for your business rather than be forced into a bundle.

Hosted Exchange providers do not impose the daily total recipient limits that Office 365 customers must contend with. But, for many users, the biggest issue with the Office 365 limits is that the clause is obscured in the fine print. Hosted Exchange providers give you easy access to customer support, so you can learn about your service from a person instead of reading about it in the fine print.

Cons Hosted Exchange
While everyone in the business world is already familiar with Microsoft, companies opting for a hosted Exchange solution will have to do their homework on the provider they choose. This issue can easily be mitigated by knowing what your company needs and discussing your options with the provider directly. Reliable providers will be happy to discuss your needs and concerns to guide you to the best solution for your company.

Customers who go with a hosted Exchange service may not get an automatic bundle of services. However, most customers appreciate the option of selecting only the services they need, creating custom solutions for their business.

Hosted Exchange providers are not directly affiliated with Microsoft, but they enjoy strong partnerships with, and full licensing of, Microsoft and its products. And, most providers employ Microsoft Certified Professionals who are experts in providing you with cloud services.

Deciding which cloud services are right for your business doesn’t have to be a headache. Simply weighing the pros and cons of using hosted Exchange or Office 365 can clear things up quickly. As with any business decision, the most important considerations are your particular company’s needs and budget. Whatever your situation, a little research will lead you to the solution that’s right for you. In addition, speak to an IT Support expert or consultant to provide an independent view of your needs.

Are you interested to know if your business is a good cloud candidate?  Take this test. And then let the experts at EaseTech know how we can help you put cloud technology to work for you.