Your data is worth a king’s ransom. Back it up on the cloud.

The chances of disasters like a fire are relatively low — but still catastrophic.

In Northeast Ohio, Willoughby-Eastlake City Schools’ Board of Education burnt down in March. Blue Technologies General Manager Paul Sems says they provided the software that protected student records in a secure, off-site server.

On top of physical and technical risks, however, ransomware makes cloud backup more important than ever.

Smart Business spoke with Sems about ransomware and disaster recovery.

What is ransomware? How common is it?

The FBI defines ransomware as ‘a form of malware that targets both the human and technical weaknesses in organization and individual networks in an effort to deny the availability of critical data and systems.’ The criminal demands a ransom from the victim to get the data back. The type of malware (malicious software) that is used includes CryptoLocker, Locky, TeslaCrypt, CBT Locker and CryptoWall.

More than 40 percent of U.S. firms have been victims of ransomware over the past year, according to Malwarebytes research reported in The Guardian. The number of attacks is likely even higher. The FBI believes only 25 percent of companies report this crime. It’s embarrassing. No one wants customers asking, ‘Why am I doing business with you if you can’t secure your own data?’

Who is vulnerable to these attacks?

Every business is vulnerable. How much is it worth to access customer records, orders, inventory, balance sheets and P&L statements? Even consumers are at risk. A ransomware attack could extend to a business executive’s digital photo library.

Some high-profile attacks in 2016, according to Carbonite, were:

  • Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center attacked with Locky. It didn’t have reliable backups and paid a ransom of $17,000.
  • The Ottawa Hospital attacked with a variant of CryptoLocker, WinPlock. It had reliable backups and was able to recover.
  • Gigabit Geek attacked by CryptoWall. It lost a large portion of data. It didn’t pay.

The only known way to recover is to restore data from reliable backups. If backup files are on the same network as the systems they are protecting, the backups are at high risk of also being encrypted during an attack.

What can companies do about this risk?

The FBI and security experts recommend employers implement awareness programs to prevent social engineering attacks.
Businesses should ensure all systems and applications are patched and updated. Many attacks could be prevented with updated versions of Adobe Flash. The Verizon 2016 Data Breach Investigations Report found more than half of systems’ Flash hadn’t been updated in over a year.

Also, remove administrative privileges from all ‘user’ accounts (even IT staff) and set up dedicated administrative accounts that are only used when needed.

Most importantly, have a reliable backup solution where backups aren’t connected to the computers and networks they’re backing up. A cloud file sharing solution is not a data backup solution. It is just as susceptible because the encrypted files are just synchronized to the cloud.

Doesn’t anti-virus and anti-malware software help protect you?

Of businesses that were ransomware victims, 93 percent had current and active anti-virus and anti-malware software at the time, according to Datto’s State of the Channel Ransomware Report 2016. Prevention software programs block known bad software, but the Verizon report says that 99 percent of the signatures (hashes) of the malware used in a ransomware attack existed for less than 58 seconds before it was used.

If your company isn’t using secure, reliable off-site professional cloud back up, you shouldn’t feel comfortable. It’s time to better protect your systems — so you’re ready for ransomware or another disaster.

If you’re a victim, what should you do?

Contact your local FBI field office. The FBI also set up the Internet Crime Complaint Center (http://ic3.gov) for these crimes. Again, the only known cure is clean, reliable backups. The FBI doesn’t support paying a ransom that could range from a few hundred dollars to over $50,000. Paying doesn’t guarantee you’ll regain access to your data.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies Inc.

Work is not where you are. Work is what you get done.

Ready or not, the future is here. Technology is freeing us from our desks to work anywhere, at anytime.

In a Future Workplace study, 76 percent of respondents believe work is no longer just where you are; it’s what you get done. Driving this belief are generational changes in the workplace experience, both physically and in the tools and technologies used.

Smart Business spoke with Stephan J. Cico, managing director of All Covered Pittsburgh, IT services from Konica Minolta, about the tools and technologies that will affect the future of productivity.

Office management technologies

New office management technologies make the office smarter. Virtual visitor management systems offer a range of options, even helping forgo full-time staff to manage the front desk. Meeting scheduling tools connect people, keep meetings on track, increase collaboration and streamline how meetings are conducted.

Internet of things

In the office, an interconnected system saves time and increases productivity. Desktop and mobile devices can connect to appliances and sensors, in and out of the workplace.

Consider this: You schedule a presentation from your tablet at home. Your tech, alerted via smartphone, fixes the printer’s low toner so your materials can print. In the meeting room, printed copies await, the audiovisual equipment is set up and the smart coffee machine has brewed coffee. The gadgets communicate, the appropriate parties are notified and all your needs are met.

Advanced collaborative tools

Advanced collaborative tools manage workflow and provide real-time access to important documents — no matter where you are, or what time of day. Cloud-based document management applications like SharePoint provide a secure place to store, organize and share information.

Mobility

Mobility is more than a remote workforce; it’s about giving employees the tools to succeed. Employees want to use their own devices to access company information and applications. A Bring Your Own Device policy can increase productivity and realize savings, but controlling and scaling mobile usage is critical. Mobile device management can manage devices from a single console, update devices remotely and ensure the safety of your network.

Also, distributed computing or virtual desktop infrastructure allows companies to run applications in the cloud, fully replicating a work desktop experience from any device.

Customer relationship management (CRM) and business intelligence (BI)

These sales analytic tools help you leverage data to grow your business. BI takes large volumes of data and analyzes it into insightful information that can predict future conditions. CRM tracks marketing and sales data, reporting on what’s working and what’s not. It helps build better customer relationships through targeted campaigning.

Robotics

The opportunities are limitless. Robots can aid remote medical procedures or underwater ship maintenance. They can carry warehouse items so workers avoid strain or injury. And drone delivery is just a form of robotics automation.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is still being shaped. An AI system simulates human thought as it mines massive amounts of data. Today, AI applications can adjust marketing campaigns based on a target group’s signals, but someday AI may help doctors predict a heart attack before a patient feels it.

3-D printing

3-D printing is being fully integrated into the smart workplace to increase efficiency, boost productivity and impact profits. Car parts, smartphone cases, fashion accessories and even jet engines are being printed today. Plus, research and technology companies are developing quick prototypes affordably.

Advanced security

At the center of this is security. Security in this environment is incredibly challenging, yet paramount. Companies must have a comprehensive strategy, because for all the great opportunity these technologies afford, there is also great risk.

Insights Technology is brought to you by All Covered Pittsburgh

How to choose the right document management solution

Document management systems (DMS) can seem complex and daunting. Most companies, however, depend on DMS to become more efficient, and secure and drive better business outcomes — even if they don’t realize the full potential.

“We’ve found many companies stuck on old versions or not even using document management,” says Stephan J. Cico, managing director of All Covered Pittsburgh, IT services from Konica Minolta.

Even the name document management leaves people with questions like: What’s the difference between document management and content management? Doesn’t Microsoft Office already track revisions? Can’t you use Windows to search inside your documents? Is it time to upgrade, or change to a new solution? And if so, after seeing dozens of tools, how do you choose?

Smart Business spoke with Cico about the ins and outs of DMS.

Why use a DMS?

Most current DMS have complex, robust searching. Some DMS use structured query language to run complicated queries quickly and easily, or in layman’s terms, it makes searching through millions of pieces of content as easy and simple as a Google search. About 80 percent of companies use DMS, so if you’re in the remaining 20 percent, it’s past time to consider it.

How can businesses narrow their choices?

First, consider if your company generates a lot of content daily. Some DMS can process a large number of documents more efficiently than others and require a separate server for indexing. If you receive content from your clients, some of it needs to be imported into your DMS, which can affect your choice. The type of company you run also matters. If you’re producing large size and/or large volumes of content, some DMS options will work better.

If you need to process large quantities of paper documents, you may want DMS that integrate with a multi-function printer. If your company works with a records management system, depending on which system and the number of records you store, some DMS will handle your workload better. Also, consider whether you need to share files with clients or outside counsel.

How are DMS and mobile integrating?

As more employees adopt mobile technology for tasks, more DMS have become mobile friendly. Three major DMS, iManage, NetDocuments and Worldox, manage employees’ content while allowing them to access content through their mobile devices. The availability and performance between the solutions, however, differs. To make an informed decision, you have to know how important mobile use is to your company.

What other features are important?

There are a number of specific features that only some DMS can offer:

  • Auto profiling simplifies storage and allows for detailed searches.
  • Matter centricity allows for a consistent workflow between people, processes and numerous applications within a company.
  • Application integrations. Companies may need to custom integrate their solution to other applications, and some DMS will integrate more smoothly than others.
  • Auto naming. File naming conventions can vastly vary. Instead of trying to force an implanted file naming policy, some DMS do this automatically.
  • Customizable interfaces and workflows. Some DMS allow for more customization and/or integration with other software, such as practice management or time and billing solutions. Also, if you’re upgrading from older DMS or file storage solution, you need a solution that will handle this properly.

How does budget factor in?

While some companies have little to no issue with large capital expenditures, others need to minimize expenses as much as possible. Some DMS require a much larger initial investment; others, such as cloud-based DMS, are designed or intended for use in companies of various sizes.

Even with all the different factors that can contribute to determining which solution is ideal, the decision still isn’t an easy one. That’s why it’s critical to have the right technology expert at your side.

Insights Technology is brought to you by All Covered Pittsburgh

Rethink your printer strategy with these document security features

Document security is important — and while that’s especially true with companies that are required to comply with regulations like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), every business has information to protect.

Most companies, however, don’t manage their printers in a way that helps keep printed documents as secure as their digital files.

“Take an architecture firm, for example. If its printed blueprints are not secured, that could cause a problem and the firm could lose business. You also don’t want proprietary information that’s unique to your company or your client list to get out,” says Matt White, subject matter expert on managed print services at Blue Technologies.

Smart Business spoke with White about document security features to consider for your printing software and hardware solutions, which will enhance compliance and protect sensitive information.

What features can improve the document security of your printers?

Printed documents can be a security risk. They get left on the printer, or someone else picks them up by mistake. If you have health plan or employee compensation information, you don’t want just anyone to see those documents when you print them. Features like follow-me printing and secure print release mitigate that. You basically print into a queue and it holds your print jobs until you release them at the machine, to pick up right away. This can be tied into software, where if you have a badge, you can swipe that and then print out everything in holding. It can also be tied into your hardware, so it doesn’t matter what machine you’re at or even what floor you’re on, if you’ve already sent the print job.

Not only does this help with document security, it also cuts down on employees printing documents and then not remembering to pick them up.

Rules-based printing also can improve your document security. Rules-based printing allows you to put specific rules in place to limit where the prints go, or even stop people from printing documents altogether. Some of the solutions are even capable of automatically re-directing certain documents to another machine, and an employee will get a pop-up that lets him or her know it was re-directed.

A lot of times rules-based printing is used for cost efficiencies, sending large print jobs to printers that are more cost effective. But, for example, if you have specific HR software that has employee records, you also can put rules in place that say nothing can be printed out of the employee records software to the copier. Instead, they have to be printed to small desktop printers.

Specialized printing techniques also make it possible to have printed watermarks that will vanish or appear if a protected document is copied or scanned.

How does a business owner know whether these print security features are working?

If you implement a solution capable of follow-me printing, secure print and/or rules-based printing, you’ll want to know if these solutions are actually helping. That’s where your technology expert can provide dashboards and reporting that give you enhanced visibility into what’s being printed.

With different software solutions, you can log in and see at a glance the health of your printing. You can see how many jobs were left at the machine, how many jobs were not printed but left in the queue, how many jobs were automatically redirected, how many jobs were automatically converted from color to black and white, how many were automatically sent to more cost-effective copiers, etc.

It’s a check and balance for whether the solution is actually providing document security, which is certainly useful if you need to prove compliance under regulations like HIPAA.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies Inc.

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.

Insights Technology is brought to you by All Covered Pittsburgh

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.

Insights Technology is brought to you by All Covered Pittsburgh

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.

Insights Technology is brought to you by All Covered Pittsburgh

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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