How to use web-based tools to improve collaboration

“There is a plethora of cloud- and web-based software applications and platforms that can help greatly with collaboration productivity,” says Stephan J. Cico, managing director of All Covered Pittsburgh, IT services from Konica Minolta.

Ultimately, the tools you choose will depend on your organization’s unique needs, but perhaps the most important tool to improve collaboration is a shared workspace that ties all collaborative tools together on a single platform.

Smart Business spoke with Cico about shared workspaces that can improve your company’s collaboration.

What is a shared workspace and how does it help improve collaboration?

A shared workspace platform, such as Microsoft SharePoint, can integrate all of your collaborative tools into one back-end system. For all but the smallest companies, having employees, partners and perhaps even customers linked via a single platform is an essential element for a smoothly functioning collaborative environment.

A shared workspace allows you to:

  • Set up an intranet for your team to find tasks, news, announcements and more.
  • Enable multiple users to work on a single version of a document from anywhere with an internet connection.
  • Store and organize thousands of documents and easily retrieve them with advanced search tools and filters.
  • Store, update and review project status reports, client histories, employee work schedules and profiles.
  • Create discussion forums for collaborating groups.
  • Create portals for partners and customers to view and share information.

What are the advantages of using Microsoft SharePoint?

Many benefits of collaboration can be achieved by implementing an intranet such as Microsoft SharePoint. SharePoint is ideal for project management because after you assign tasks to team members, you will be able to see, at a glance, who has completed their project and who needs extra guidance or communication.

It’s also good for virtual office collaboration, which is more important than ever. With many employees working from home and others checking in from remote offices, a tried-and-true way to collaborate online is key.

With SharePoint becoming the go-to collaboration tool, it is also a good solution for working with vendors and clients outside your organization. SharePoint is more than just a communication tool, such as Skype, it allows both parties to work together and see how the project is developing along the way.

Since SharePoint is so widely used, good, in-depth help is also just a phone call away.

How can a shared workspace like Salesforce help increase collaboration?

Efficient web-based collaboration can be a key element in driving sales. Through Salesforce Development Services, your company can develop a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution that not only manages your organization’s interactions with current and future customers, but also fosters collaboration between employees.

A cloud-based CRM like Salesforce organizes and synchronizes critical customer and prospect information. A CRM can automatically analyze relevant data, such as demographics and risk-related information, in order to qualify sales leads. It can automatically notify customers about renewals and policy changes — building customer loyalty and simplifying time-consuming tasks for employees — and automate outbound marketing functions and track metrics.

A CRM solution creates a collaborative online environment for sales teams to share information and, ultimately, boost sales. A cloud-based CRM like Salesforce provides sales staff with social tools that facilitate the sharing of data about current and potential customers and allows them to keep up with critical projects, topics and teams. Teams can work together on sales opportunities, capture organizational knowledge in a single location and drive progress from anywhere.

A CRM also allows organizations to share information collected from interactions with customers in order to improve the quality of customer service and increase customer satisfaction.

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Improve your business collaboration over email, IM, phone or video

Your company may already be using technology for business collaboration, but how can you do so more effectively?

Smart Business spoke with Stephan J. Cico, managing director at All Covered Pittsburgh, IT services from Konica Minolta, about ideas for enhancing the way your company collaborates.

What do you recommend to foster better collaboration over email?

The secret to improving collaboration through email is simple — reduce, reduce and reduce. Use email as it was intended: primarily as a one-to-one tool for fast and simple communication, especially with customers and others outside your organization. To put email to work in its rightful place among collaborative tools:

  • Stop using emails to arrange meetings; utilize shared calendars instead.
  • Ease server load by using a cloud-hosted email archiving service.
  • Get email attachments transferred into a document management application and then delete the emails.
  • Stop using email for task assignment and status updates; utilize project management software instead.
  • Shift complex, multi-participant conversations to discussion forums. Use email only for notifying participants when the conversation is updated.
  • Stop using email for one-to-one conversations and switch to chat or instant messaging (IM).

While it might seem counterintuitive, IM is less intrusive than email. Employees don’t need to constantly check their inboxes, which often leads to distractions and workflow interruptions. Chat also removes the ‘impatience effect’ — when participants await responses to email messages. Arriving at conclusions tends to be quicker with IM.

The takeaway, then, is this: To improve collaboration with chat and IM, simply use it more. It might be better, however, to replace the ‘social’ chat applications with specialized team or project-oriented chat tools, which are inexpensive and offer a wider range of features that contribute to team productivity.

How can telephony aid collaboration?

If your organization still uses telephone conferencing services, you may be frustrated by poor phone signals, conference participants dropping out and missed information as participants talk over one another. The lack of visual contact can be a drawback, too, as employees may need face-to-face communication to be fully engaged.

Your collaboration can be improved with internet protocol (IP) telephony, which more easily manages and controls conferences where participants use a combination of mobile and landlines to dial into meetings. IP telephony is also inexpensive, helping your company save, especially for international collaboration.

What’s important to know about video and how meeting content is shared?

Accessible tools can bring telephony and video together. These tools are becoming increasingly sophisticated and offer higher quality communication for professional collaboration.

Enterprise video, as this technology is often called, can help you transition from a partial solution, where teams gather in conference rooms to view and speak with remote teams on large screens and speaker phones, to fully unified communications, where individuals meet virtually from their workstations with sound and video integrated on desktop or mobile devices.

Whether you use voice communication or integrate voice and video, you can improve the way meeting content is recalled and shared by utilizing technology to record conversations and take notes.

With note-taking software, the note taker no longer has to type up handwritten notes after meetings. It also helps to reduce email traffic. Further, unified communications solutions allow notes to be displayed on users’ screens. This gives participants an opportunity to correct the note-taker or request extra information be added, which results in a more accurate record.

Another application that captures meeting information is software that records conference calls. With this, you don’t even need a notetaker, meaning that all attendees can fully participate. Users can review the recorded conferences at any time and, if you still want written notes, they can be compiled from the recordings.

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Are you maintaining and destroying the right documents?

Document retention is playing a bigger role in businesses today, as companies put plans in place to properly handle and manage their documentation. They need to remove old documents when they’ve reached end-of-life, while making sure the most recent versions are always there.

“It seems simple, but people don’t realize that there’s a lot behind it. Many companies have no idea that they are out of compliance,” says Nano Zegarra, chief technology officer at Blue Technologies. “People will say, ‘We just have an intern go in there and look for anything from this year and throw it out.’ That’s extremely risky.”

Not only do document management solutions help you throw out what you should, when you should — they stop you from deleting what you shouldn’t. Your solution won’t let you because it has not hit the retention plan yet, Zegarra says.

Smart Business spoke with Zegarra about how such technology can help you better manage your document retention and compliance.

How does document retention work as part of a document management solution?

Document retention manages the retention and disposition of stored documents according to predefined rules for each class of document. The destruction process is initiated by the passage of time, allowing for automatic destruction and/or removal from your network.

These solutions enforce a structured retention policy for document destruction consistently across the enterprise. Many companies use the software to flag documents so someone can review them. You might set it up so once a client leaves, for instance, the clock starts ticking — and then six months later, the solution automatically moves those files over to be reviewed and deleted as desired.

As a result, organizations avoid fines and reduce legal risks associated with expired content. If you get audited, you don’t want supporting documentation to be missing or have outdated documents sitting around.

If you still have documents in any format — paper or electronic — they can be discoverable. Most companies, for example, process 20,000 to 50,000 invoices a year. After a certain point the backlog may be worthless to your operations, but it could add to your legal risk if you’re involved in a lawsuit. Your organization also shouldn’t keep personally identifiable information longer than needed, because in the event of something like a cyber breach, you’re liable.

These solutions are almost like paper shredding electronically, in order to destroy all digital information. It may keep a history that says the document existed, but it doesn’t keep the actual document. Otherwise, your employees may think they’ve deleted something off your server, but it’s actually still there because it hasn’t been overwritten.

Document retention is often the initial, critical component of a completely automated records management solution. As more companies add compliance officers, one of their duties is looking at the retention periods of documents. These solutions make their job more efficient.

How can document retention tools help with older files that aren’t organized?

If your company has archived files on a hard drive, there are tools that can crawl through everything in order to find every document with a particular phrase, so you can delete those files. Previously, you would have to pay someone to do this kind of search for you.

Because this software looks at the data and recognizes what’s at risk and what’s not, it helps you put in retention plans, so you can start removing things when you need to.

Who benefits the most from these tools?

The organizations that benefit the most are in industries with a lot of rules, regulations and certifications where you have to worry about retention, governance and compliance. Medical and legal come to mind first, but it’s also useful for sectors like manufacturing and education.

These solutions don’t make your company meet a particular standard, but they will help. Software solutions may aid you in being compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), but they are not HIPAA compliant because the software doesn’t make sure a door is locked when you’re looking at a file.

Work with your technology adviser to ensure you’re meeting required standards, and ask how document management solutions can help you along the way.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies Inc.

Coming together online: How to foster collaboration in your company

It’s no surprise that business has changed since the birth of the internet and the growth of globalization, says Stephan J. Cico, managing director of All Covered Pittsburgh. Remote working is an increasingly pervasive trend in many industries, with nearly 40 percent of employees working outside of a traditional office setting at least part of the time.

“With so many people working together at a distance, online collaboration is becoming the new — and often only — way to work together,” he says. “Collaboration software also has had a profound impact on how businesses, large and small, interact with customers and control access to data.”

According to McKinsey & Company:

  • 97 percent of businesses using collaboration software reported being able to service more clients more efficiently.
  • 74 percent reported faster access to information and internal data.

“Still, despite these and other benefits, most companies don’t fully utilize all of the functions within their collaboration tools,” Cico says.

Smart Business spoke with Cico about fostering collaboration between employees, service providers, suppliers and customers.

What are ways to use collaboration software in your company?

From the conference room to cross-border cooperation, businesses can use technology to improve the way teams work, including:

Intra-company collaboration — Today’s collaborative documentation software permits project teams to work together on single document versions. Each team member can see who is doing what and costly duplication and misplaced files are eliminated.

Mobile and remote collaboration — Online collaboration tools help workers stay connected, regardless of location. Staff in multiple locations can work together on complex tasks, supplementing a single pair of hands with the power of multiple minds.

Location, furthermore, is no longer the barrier it was, as mobile, real-time collaborative technology can provide remote on-the-job training for new employees. Companies are also using these kinds of software to reduce overhead costs associated with fixed offices and workspaces.

Inter-company collaboration — Collaboration tools can break down geographical constraints, as companies collaborate across countries and continents to break into new markets and bring down the cost of joint ventures. This requires the use of multiple communication channels and the most advanced software available.

How can employers get more value from collaborating?

Like all commercial methodologies and skills, collaboration is most effective with clear goals for what you want to achieve and how you intend to achieve it. But much depends upon the specific application:

Problem solving — This typically takes place face-to-face, where people can brainstorm and bounce ideas off one another. With video conferencing, however, the team can work together remotely. In fact, remote collaboration can, where necessary, put world-class expertise to work solving complex and challenging issues.

Training and development — Using collaborative web-conferencing tools and software training environments, employees can benefit from hands-on learning under the supervision of an instructor, with none of the traveling expenses or facility costs of traditional classroom training.

Workload sharing — Cloud-based collaboration software makes it simple for large teams to work together. Documents are stored in central repositories and can be checked out by those who need to work on them. Project documents are tracked through their life cycle, making it easy to see the changes and updates of each contributor. Team leads can plan, assign, monitor and manage tasks to keep on top of timelines.

Global collaboration — International markets are no longer solely the domain of corporate giants. Collaboration technology allows enterprises to launch joint ventures and introduce products and services to foreign customers. Perhaps one of the best examples is the virtual organization, where thousands of individuals form remote partnerships to do business together online, using suites of collaborative software.

If your company uses some or all of these practices and strategies, it can really enhance its operations.

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How to conduct a year-end review of your business technology performance

Many business owners see their IT budgets increasing, while also perceiving that the level of service doesn’t keep pace. Or, they may feel out of their depth, dealing with something that seems very unpredictable.

Technology has become so pervasive, however, it has become business. Business owners neglect technology investments at their own peril.

As you plan for 2017, and your upcoming technology needs, you should conduct an end-of-year review of your current business technology performance, says Paul Sems, general manager at Blue Technologies. This provides context, so you won’t feel so unsure when developing your future technology road map.

Smart Business spoke with Sems about how to review your company’s technology performance.

How exactly should companies review their technology performance?

Step 1: Alignment

Many businesses leaders feel their business goals are unsupported by IT. That shouldn’t be the case. Start by asking things like:

  • Why are we investing in IT and what are the business outcomes that we expect?
  • Does IT leadership and the IT team clearly understand their purpose?
  • Is their primary purpose to help increase revenue? Is it to reduce cost? Is it to improve customer relationships? Is it to streamline operations?

The work it takes to answer important questions like these helps ensure that there is a clear understanding of IT’s mandate from the board of directors, business owner and/or CEO.

This step in the process allows your organization to have a clear line of sight at how your IT investments and business goals connect. As you begin to understand how your IT investments should impact your business goals, you’ll want to prioritize these and clearly communicate them, so you can later measure the direct relationship between IT and productivity with the help of your technology vendors.

Step 2: Voice of the (internal) customer

IT’s customers are the business process owners in the firm. As these business process owners move toward their business objectives, IT needs to make sure that it is open to listening to feedback to ensure that it is prioritizing projects properly. IT needs to fully understand the services they offer their clients (business process owners) and understand which services are providing the most business value.

When the interaction between IT and other employees isn’t strong, it’s time to build relationships and clearly define roles.

It’s important for IT to get specific facts from these stakeholders, or business process owners. Where is technology helping? Where are the biggest roadblocks for achieving business goals and top priorities?

Step 3: Self reflection

With step one, you start to develop and understand the big picture and why you are investing in IT. With step two, you can paint the background of the big picture defined in step one. You understand where you are doing well and where you can invest further.

With the third step, you take a deeper dive into how well your organization’s IT is equipped to meet your customer’s needs.

One way to evaluate this is to review key processes that are fundamental to all IT organizations. There are about 45 elemental processes that should be reviewed and prioritized — and your technology adviser can help you go over these. For example, you might find that the IT governance isn’t structured properly or there’s a lack of alignment between IT and your business objectives.

What other steps do you recommend when reviewing technology performance?

Depending on the size and complexity of your organization, these steps may be enough to develop a clear roadmap for the next year. More complex organizations will need to spend additional time doing a deeper dive into the inner workings of the business.

In either case the result should clearly summarize the IT mandate, the voice of the business process owner and the top three to six areas of improvement for the next year. As with any strategic plan, then you’ll just need to follow it and measure the results throughout the year to stay on track.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies Inc.

How to implement mobility management for your workplace

Progressive companies are taking steps to manage the use of mobile devices, regardless of whether they are company or employee owned.

A mobility management policy helps to reduce the risks, because it guides your employees in their use of mobile devices for performing their duties.

Smart Business spoke with Stephan J. Cico, managing director of All Covered Pittsburgh, about how to implement these kinds of programs. (This is the second in a two-part series on mobility management.)

What needs to be considered when setting your mobility management strategy?

Adoption of mobility management strategy, policies and processes no longer has to be over-complicated. A mobility management platform provides three keys your company needs to manage an unpredictable array of devices connecting regularly to your network — user access, security and automated policy enforcement. To manage all three, however, you need to define the mobility needs of your business operation.

First, take time to understand where your company is now and where it needs to get to in terms of network infrastructure and its ability to support a BYOD setup. Your strategy will define your objectives. A gap analysis will determine your current capabilities and the improvements needed to support a multitude of connected devices.

Once you have infrastructure plans, it’s time to move on to security and how you will protect your data. In fact, your security strategy should ideally encompass more than just keeping out the hackers. It should also consider:

  • Is your data protected against malware, corruption and loss?
  • Do you have a robust network that can maintain productivity in the event of a system failure?
  • Are you able to preserve your business reputation in the event of a security breach?

With plans in place to keep out unwanted visitors, it’s time to consider the visitors you do want — your employees and business partners. Begin by asking:

  • How will you segregate internal applications and data from your employees’ personal apps and usage?
  • Who needs mobile access and what do they need to access?
  • How will you define user profiles for those whom you grant mobile access?
  • What permissions and privileges do you need to provide and maintain control of?
  • What devices and operating systems do you need to support?
  • What integrations do you require?
  • How will you engage users in the need to have control over their devices?

How can companies support their mobility management strategy?

When selecting a mobility management solution that best suits your company’s individual needs, it should have mobile device management, app management and mobile content management.

Mobile device management simplifies the control of all mobile devices used to access your business IT solutions. It allows you to manage devices from a single console through features like AD/LDAP integration; simple, consistent device enrollment flow; custom device profiles; continuous monitoring for compliance threats; easy-to-understand dashboards and a central portal for fast access to information; device messaging and commands; and advanced reporting from within the console or via file export to business intelligence solutions.

Controlling connected devices is only part of the challenge. With millions of available apps and malware threats growing at an alarming rate, your data is at risk without effective app management. App wrapping is one way to secure the apps you use in your business. It adds a layer of security and works with the mobile device management console to isolate your business apps from device users’ personal software. App management also lets you control which apps are downloaded, or can push apps automatically to enrolled devices.

A comprehensive mobility management solution should address the content your employees can access, store and distribute via mobile device. An effective mobile content management feature locks corporate content away from security threats, while allowing your workforce the access they need to work collaboratively using software, such as Microsoft Office and iWork.

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Businesses need to master mobility management. Here’s why.

The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomenon — the practice of employees using their own devices for work tasks — has pros and cons. The beauty of BYOD is that organizations can empower hundreds or thousands of employees with the business advantages of mobility without investing huge amounts of money in corporate issued mobile hardware.

“But opening up your organization’s systems to a host of unmonitored mobile devices doesn’t come without risks,” says Stephan J. Cico, managing director of All Covered Pittsburgh. “Security breaches, data loss or corruption and non-compliance with industry regulations are just a few.”

Of course, businesses can provide company-owned mobile devices and prohibit the use of personal devices to access their systems. But even then, how can they enforce such a policy effectively?

“Managing the use of mobile devices in the workplace is one of the toughest IT challenges faced by employers today,” Cico says. “If your company isn’t yet leveraging the advantages of a mobility management solution, you might already be burdened by the security, authorization and compliance concerns that accompany the rapid growth of mobile business and commerce.”

Smart Business spoke with Cico about mastering the mobile workplace. (This is the first of a two-part series on mobility management. Next, Cico will discuss implementation.)

What exactly is mobility management?

Enterprise mobility management encompasses a strategy, platform and system of processes to integrate your enterprise technology with mobile devices, whether laptop computers, tablets or smartphones.

It doesn’t matter if the mobile devices are deployed by your company or are the personal property of employees. Mobility management connects them to your enterprise solutions in a controlled manner, protecting your company, its customers and your staff from security breaches.

Your authorized mobile users’ access is controlled, monitored, managed and secured, using encryption and identity certificates, as well as your own security, malware and antivirus protections. Security is provided at a level that will keep opportunist cyber-criminals at bay and seeking easier pickings elsewhere.

What features do the best mobility management platforms have?

The best platforms are available with multiple deployment options. This allows you to keep total control of your solutions in your own environment or enjoy low-cost implementation with a cloud-hosted service.

Of the two types of deployment model, cloud mobility management is the most straightforward when it comes to scalability, with no hardware capacity concerns. Cloud-based mobility management systems can be easily scaled up as your business grows, and better still, the hard work is taken care of by your service provider.

Mobility management also has the flexibility to let you control any type of device, regardless of operating system, brand or owner. That’s where your management strategy comes into play. Management of all the devices that connect to your network is arguably simpler if you only allow access by company-deployed equipment. With this strategy, you simply deny access to all but your own mobile devices.

If you still want to implement a BYOD policy, how can mobility management help?

BYOD may enhance the working experience of employees, allowing them to do their jobs without being confined to a traditional desktop computer, but it also leaves businesses susceptible to a host of security threats and other risks.

BYOD can expose your systems to malware, viruses and attacks by hackers, unless access is controlled and managed. Moreover, the risks aren’t limited to what might intentionally sneak into your network. In an uncontrolled BYOD environment, the risks of sensitive data being unintentionally leaked into the public domain are amplified.

Implementing a mobility management policy helps to reduce these risks by guiding your employees in their use of personal devices for performing their duties. By adding mobility management software to enforce procedures through automation, you can further protect your business data from compromise and reduce the labor involved in doing so.

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A hosted workspace might be the technology answer you’re looking for

In the increasingly modernized business environment, it’s crucial for companies to embrace new technology to evolve.

“Making the right choices when adopting new technology can often be the difference whether or not a business fulfills its potential. Workforces are becoming more mobile, businesses are growing larger faster and constant connectivity is an absolute must,” says Stephan J. Cico, managing director of All Covered Pittsburgh. “All of this requires a reliable and flexible solution that allows your company to succeed in today’s competitive environment.”

A hosted workspace service can help businesses and their employees become more flexible and efficient, cut capital expenditures and ensure the security of their data. Additionally, they can be uniquely customized to suit your particular business.

Smart Business spoke with Cico about whether hosted workspaces are right for your company.

What is a hosted workspace?

It’s an end-to-end solution providing desktop as a service (DaaS) that can also act as a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) solution, a way to free up IT resources, a better way to store data and documents, and a way to manage costs through decreasing capital costs and management issues.

Experts estimate that maintaining and managing personal computer (PC) hardware and software accounts for 50 to 70 percent of the total cost of ownership of a typical PC.

How do hosted workspaces help with mobility and versatility?

You can reinvent the way you hire with global access to connect people, share important files and communicate, regardless of geographic proximity. Hosted workspaces offer email, file sharing and communication tools as one service, eliminating the need for many different accounts.

You can also access files on any device. Americans now own four devices on average, and new devices are being released every year. Plus, hosted workspaces don’t have to come in a cookie cutter package. You can tailor your service based on your business’s unique needs.

What about its impact on BYOD?

Hosted workspaces support a BYOD culture and capability. The work can move seamlessly from one device to another, or adapt to your preferred hardware.

How secure are hosted workspaces?

The estimated cost of a data breach to an organization is $3.5 million. A secured file system is vital to keep your information protected and to build trust between your business and your customers. Every company is vulnerable to hackers, but not all companies take the necessary measures to protect their information and the information their customers provide them.

According to a report from McAfee, 90 percent of small and midsized businesses in the U.S. are not properly secured, and less than half of them have secure company email.

Hosted workspaces not only store your files in virtual space — making you less dependent on your own physical computer — but also provide security measures and virus protection.

Does your organization need to be a certain size for this to make sense?

Even though your company might start small, your technology doesn’t have to. If you set up your business with systems that are meant to scale, you won’t have to spend the time and money it takes to re-train resources on a new system or transfer all of your documents.

Hosted workspaces are built for companies of all sizes, from a small business that’s just getting started to a company with hundreds of workers. As a company grows, so do the opportunities for collaboration and communication. When your company of 10 turns into a company of 100, you’ll still be able to use the same hosted workspace services to store all your files and collaborate with team members.

Insights Technology is brought to you by All Covered Pittsburgh

How to marry hardware and software for smoother day-to-day operations

Office hardware, such as multifunction printers or MFPs, has its particular strengths, and so do software solutions. But when companies combine the two, they can create a powerful overall solution to help manage pain points for smooth day-to-day operations.

“The market for technology has changed, but employers don’t see hardware and software coming together. They are still having a little difficulty seeing them as one total solution,” says Curtis Verhoff, Systems Integrations and Applications manager at Blue Technologies.

Software solutions can be embedded in your MFP to allow it be more efficient — beyond just being able to scan, copy, print or fax — and in turn make your office more productive. It allows you to take better advantage of the technology that your staff already uses and is comfortable with.

Smart Business spoke with Verhoff about how to pair software solutions with your hardware to boost your efficiency, cost savings, ease of use and more.

Why do companies hesitate to add software to their MFPs?

Many small and midsized companies think this software is too cost prohibitive, so their employees continue manually doing processes that could easily be more efficient. However, over the past several years, the price of these solutions has been reduced enough that they are much more affordable and attainable.

What are some examples of how embedded software improves workflow?

These software solutions allow employees to tag a document, perhaps with an automatic date stamp, and file it. It can be distributed or stored immediately, which streamlines the steps and labor that normally go into dealing with documents and information.

For example, in the finance and lending industry, businesses may deal with documents with barcodes or other tagging information. You can set up the software so that when you scan it into the MFP, it not only stores the document but also breaks it up into additional pieces that get sent to different lenders or financial institutions. You can reduce the 20 minutes it took to process a packet to three or four minutes.

In education, each school may gather and produce student records, in order to send them to a central office, where the staff dedicatedly scans those documents and puts them away. Now you can decentralize that; school staff to make a few selections on a device embedded with software, as he or she scans it in, to reduce the steps to store it properly.

Small and midsized law firms also can use their MFP to help prepare documents for litigation with less manual labor and intervention.

How should companies explore whether these solutions make sense for them?

You may be able to do more with your current investment, as long as your MFP is five years old or less. Or, if it’s time to make a decision about updating your office equipment, whether that’s buying a MFP and renewing your lease, ask about software that can be tied into your workflow. Most solutions are much more affordable than they used to be.

You’ll want to talk to the people in your company who deal with documents, paperwork and information. More than likely, solutions can help minimize their pain points, which will allow your organization to be more competitive.

Four or five years ago, you may have looked at streamlining your processes and you couldn’t justify the cost. With the changes in technology and how businesses operate, it’s time to look again.

Your technology advisers can help you determine the ROI and how the software could integrate directly or through plug-ins with your customer relationship management and other business software.

It doesn’t hurt to at least investigate this with your vendor.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies Inc.

How to keep your business safe from the threat of ransomware

If recent events are any indication, there’s a hefty ransom coming for many corporations — specifically, for IT professionals and their networks. And not paying could result in the loss of valuable files and data.

The reason? A rising form of malware called ransomware.

Smart Business spoke with Stephan J. Cico, managing director of All Covered Pittsburgh, about this growing threat and what employers can do about it.

What is ransomware?

Ransomware restricts access to a user’s data and then extorts money from the user in exchange for the access. A chameleon by design, ransomware can take many forms, all corrupted and infectious — attachments, advertisements, emails, webpages. Its ability to shape shift means that even internet-savvy companies and individuals are vulnerable.

Of late, ransoming cybercriminals have infected popular peer-to-peer file sharing services like BitTorrent, and even Adobe’s ubiquitous Flash platform.

What’s more, on March 7, 2016, ransomware infected its first set of Apple computers. This incident is wild, and it eerily confirms what many businesses are coming to know: No one, and nothing, is safe. No organization, no machine, no operating system, no network.

The ransomware hackers are evolving alarmingly quick. Ransomware itself looms and lies in wait, threateningly.

What’s important to understand about the threat?

Ransomware is a ‘strange hybrid’ — equal parts extortion, coding and customer service. The unfortunate genius behind ransomware is that, in most cases, victims can only recover their compromised data by isolating and removing the source of the infection, and then restoring from backups. If files aren’t backed up, or if the backups are also corrupted, then victims have no recourse. They have to pay the ransom.

Such a scenario can be devastating to a company. From April 2014 to June 2015, 992 victims had reported more than $18 million in losses to just one form of ransomware — CryptoWall — and even that estimate is on the low end, since many victims simply do not report their attacks, or will simply abandon their files. The figure also doesn’t include any of the ancillary losses businesses incur due to ransomware, such as a decline in productivity, the strain on IT and the breach of proprietary data.

How bad has it gotten?

The spread of ransomware has caught the FBI’s eye; its Internet Crime Complaint Center has issued an alert that warns businesses about it.

The threat is growing, but interestingly, most businesses stay mum about their attacks. Many fear that going public could actually encourage cybercriminals. The thought is, perhaps the fruits of ransomware’s success are just what some aspiring hackers don’t need to see.

Some organizations are further at risk because of how mobile modern employees are. That’s a problem, because ransomware is no stranger to Android phones; increasingly malevolent strains are resetting users’ PINs and forcing factory resets.

The capper to all this? There is no easy solution, no magical potion or panacea. Even careful employees at secure companies can’t entirely avoid the cause of these corruptions. We can’t all prevent en masse what we’re all programmed to do — make mistakes.

What are some prevention steps to minimize the threat of ransomware?

To prevent malware attacks, your business needs a multi-layered security infrastructure with:

  • User training: According to IBM, 95 percent of all cybersecurity incidents involve human error.
  • Constant monitoring: Even with training, human error is inevitable, so continuous updating of malware protection, firewalls, etc., will minimize the impact.
  • BYOD policy: Bring-your-own-device and mobile-friendly workplaces are particularly vulnerable to ransomware, so a thorough and proactive protection plan can help safeguard data.

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