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.

Insights Technology is brought to you by All Covered

How to provide ongoing protection for your IT security plan

Keeping business technology protected is a major effort. A comprehensive protection plan requires a multilevel approach as well as participation and compliance from every employee.

In 2013, 1 in 392 emails contained phishing attacks. Web-based attacks are up 23 percent. In 2013, 38 percent of mobile users experienced mobile cybercrime.

“Potential attacks from hackers and malicious organizations are everywhere and all it takes is one vulnerability in the network to become the next Target or Adobe data breach,” says Stephan J. Cico, managing director of All Covered Pittsburgh

Smart Business spoke with Cico about ongoing protection, including how the cloud can fit into that. (This follows articles on building and implementing a security plan.)

How should employers tackle ongoing protection?

Once the security plan is in, the job is just the beginning. Protection requires ongoing audits, reviews and updates to keep a network in top shape and data protected.

The IT team should regularly conduct security tests to check on software updates for both employee computers and servers. The team needs to stay apprised of security-related news and best practices, so attending security conferences is a good idea.

Spot checks on desktops are also a good idea to make sure automatic updates are truly taking place. Computers of employees that work with proprietary data should be checked most often.

According to Verizon, the largest malware action within cyber-espionage was related to email attachments (78 percent). This is further proof that email virus updates, spam filters and email encryption and continuity should have regular reviews and tests. Email archives should also have ongoing tests to ensure they can have a recovery completed without issue. If there is an issue, it should be investigated and rectified immediately.

Content filtering often receives negative press, but it is really an effective way to protect business hardware from reaching websites that may contain malware that could wreak havoc on the network, and control nonproductive internet usage. It is important, however, to share with employees that content filtering will be used, both verbally and in written policies. If not, it may have an ‘Orwellian-effect.’

In addition, follow all documented backup and recovery procedures and, just like with email archives, test backups periodically. You may want to keep a ‘backup to the backup’ in the case of a catastrophic event.

Where does the cloud come into play?

The cloud has been gaining ground as a safe alternative for data storage, email management, backups and more. In a cloud environment, the servers are at the cloud service provider’s location. The local IT team works in concert with the service provider to run backups, apply software patches and the like. This approach hands over the management of physical servers and network infrastructure, ultimately offering a more secure and streamlined environment.

A major part of the day-to-day activities of the cloud provider is to ensure servers in its charge are completely protected. In the event of a disaster where the primary business location isn’t available, users can easily go elsewhere and access data, so work continues with minimal interruption.

The cloud service provider keeps hardware up-to-date and protected against malware, viruses, etc. This includes the ability to provide hosted email services in order to gain top-level email security — arguably the most important line of defense against malware. They can also handle backup and scale resources as business needs change.

Cloud solutions are a real and viable option. According to a new study, 45 percent of participants moved past the pilot stage of their cloud implementation and 32 percent have a formal cloud-computing plan.

What else do business owners need to know?

Developing, implementing and maintaining a complete business protection plan isn’t easy. If a business doesn’t have internal resources to do all the work, seek out and employ an outside IT organization. It will have the knowledge and experience to help keep a business secure, by coming in to conduct an audit, learn about the business and then provide recommendations on how best to protect the business and all the critical data within it. It is well worth the investment to bring in an expert.

Insights Technology is brought to you by All Covered Pittsburgh

Inkjet vs. laser: Are you using the right printers to reduce business inefficiencies?

Office printing consumes about 1 to 3 percent of a company’s annual revenue, according to Gartner. But many companies do not actively manage their printing habits — commonly resulting in ongoing, costly inefficiencies.

Ask yourself: Do you know how many printers your company owns? Do you know if they are inkjets or laser printers? Do you know the difference between the two, and which is the best printer type for the job?

“If you can’t answer yes or don’t know the answers to these questions, it’s time to take action,” says Matt White, subject matter expert on managed print services at Blue Technologies. “Printers are tools like any other business asset, and not having the right tools for the job can cost you significant time and money.”

Smart Business spoke with White to discuss how to eliminate inefficiencies in your print fleet, comparing upfront and operational costs to determine the right machines for your needs.

Should companies be using inkjet or laser printers?

The first questions to ask when deciding are: What are you printing and why? How much will you workplace typically print in a month?

Inkjet printers have a lower initial purchase cost and print photos better, which makes them typically best suited for residential use. But as a business, you need to consider the cost to operate that machine, not just the upfront sticker price.

With inkjets, you may end up buying a new printer rather than repairing one when it breaks. These ‘convenience printers’ — often found on the desks of executives and managers — are also less efficient in their use of ink. The cartridges are smaller in size, with an average yield of about 500 to 1,000 pages.

Laser printers, however, are specifically created for commercial use. While they cost more upfront, they are more efficient in their use of toner, have higher cartridge yields and print faster. They’ll also last much longer because they are easier to repair, and you can network them to serve multiple office users.

Laser printers from established brands, for example, are five or 10 years old and still going strong; inkjets are just not designed to last that long.

Traditionally, inkjets cost around 15 to 20 cents per page on color and around 6 to 8 cents per page for black and white only pages. In comparison, laser printers cost about 8 to 12 for color prints and 1 to 3 cents per black and white page. If your office prints thousands of pages a month, these differences can really add up.

Do laser printers always make more sense for businesses?

Businesses are the niche that laser printers were designed for. An inkjet, however, can make sense if you need to print photos or only print 10 to 20 pages a month.

Your technology partner can help educate you on the actual costs of operation or ownership, which may surprise you. They can also help evaluate your operations to find the best-fit machines for your needs.

How can companies consolidate or upgrade existing printers in a cost-effective way that limits the impact on operations?

The process starts with a walk-through that plots out where existing devices are and what print volumes they handle. A lot of times, just seeing your fleet on a map makes you realize where the inefficiencies are, and where it’s logical to put in a centralized device.

If you’re worried your office culture will be resistant to change, a technology partner can work with you in stages to minimize the impact of fleet consolidations and upgrades on your employees.

A technology partner who specializes in managed print service specifically can even handle central management for you moving forward. They can supply and service your print machines, so you and your staff can focus on more important things — like the services and products your company provides.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies Inc.

Implementing your security plan to protect your data and network

In its 2013 global data breach study, the Ponemon Institute reported that data breaches experienced by U.S. companies continue to be the second most expensive in the world at $188 per record. The study also reported that U.S. companies had the second greatest number of exposed or compromised records per breach at 28,765, resulting in an average total organizational cost of more than $5.4 million per breach.

By beginning the implementation phase of a newly established security plan, your team can take an important step forward in preventing data breaches.

Smart Business spoke with Stephan J. Cico, managing director of All Covered Pittsburgh, about implementing a security plan, which follows his last article about building a security plan.

Where’s the best place to start?

A good place to start the implementation is to have a company meeting. This serves a dual purpose. First, it communicates to employees that the implementation of a new security plan and/or revised policy is underway. It allows them to ask questions and feel like they are part of the bigger plan.

It’s also an opportunity to provide a brief security training. The session needs to talk about how to create strong passwords, identify questionable email attachments and avoid potentially troublesome websites. Employees can take these ideas home as well. Once employees understand how the plan will work and how they can help keep the network secure, they’ll be more diligent moving forward.

How should documenting be handled?

Document all the agreed-upon policies, procedures and installation information, and then distribute the documentation to all interested parties. This document should always be on hand in a centralized location in case sections of the protection plan require an update or disaster recovery plans need to be put into action. Have employees acknowledge in writing that they reviewed and understand the policies.

What else do employers need to know?

When it comes to the physical work, images of servers and desktop configurations should be updated regularly. In case an emergency recovery is required, an old desktop image is likely missing critical security updates. This means additional time for the IT team to update each unit individually to keep it on par with the overall protection plan.

The selected endpoint protection software should be installed on all computers, servers and mobile devices. This software should be updated on an ongoing basis. A minimum of two IT team members (for redundancy purposes) should remain active on the email notification list for critical updates and alerts. It’s not uncommon to have ‘emergency’ patch alerts to plug security holes against a recent threat. By staying up to date on security best practices and current threat news, the software is kept current and the network remains protected.

Regardless of the business’ size, a solid firewall is a key part of keeping networked computers and business data safe and secure. A firewall serves two main purposes — it filters what traffic comes into the network, and controls what users may send out of the network. The specific firewall settings will vary based on the other security-related processes and your business needs.

What’s important to know about mobile devices?

Mobile devices are possibly the biggest variable when it comes to a business protection plan. According to a 2013 global security study, mobile malware exploded by 400 percent over 2012. Additionally, on average, today’s employee utilizes three different devices for work-related tasks.

One of the biggest potential threats is a public network. Whether at the airport or coffee shop, the potential for malware and other threats are ever present.

When implementing the mobile device portion of the plan, especially in a bring-your-own-device model, sit down with each employee to review the new security policy and how it affects mobile devices. They may not be aware of all the security holes that exist in today’s apps and connection points. For example, according to documents leaked from the Government Communications Headquarters, the National Security Agency has used Angry Birds, Google Maps, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as ‘entry points’ to private mobile devices.

Insights Technology is brought to you by All Covered Pittsburgh

How to protect your data and network by building a security plan

As companies grow, it’s easy to miss technology changes that can expose your business to vulnerabilities. No one is immune and protecting your business against breaches is not a “set it and forget it” situation.

According to a 2014 Forbes article, small and midsize businesses made up more than half of all targeted attacks in 2013 at 61 percent — up from 50 percent in 2012 — with medium-sized (2,500-plus employees) businesses seeing the largest surge.

This problem is only getting more serious and widespread, but there are key steps a business can take to help protect not just their data, but also their entire network.

Smart Business spoke with Stephan J. Cico, managing director of All Covered Pittsburgh, about building a security plan. All Covered will follow up with three more articles on keys to protecting your business.

Why is it critical to build a security plan?

Building a security plan is the first, and arguably the most important step, in protecting a business network. It should be a methodical process that includes the IT team and key business stakeholders. Businesses need to not only understand current security trends, but also the current state of security within their own data center. Building a plan identifies current security lapses so the team can create a comprehensive approach.

How can companies get started?

Start with fact-finding to get answers about:

Current policies — Assess all IT and security policies. Policies should be reviewed regularly to make sure they are current with the business’s plans and goals.

Device and software inventory — Every device should be part of an inventory, in order to clarify the scope of the environment and the devices, software and systems in a security plan. You also want to include hardware configuration, installed business software and current security patch levels. If it’s not possible to inventory and check each mobile phone, at least check the devices of C-suite members, the IT team and those most likely to use their devices for business.

Regulations — If your business is in a regulated industry, there may be additional requirements to keeping data secure and available for industry audits. You’ll want to speak with an industry expert.

Physical structure — Nothing should be overlooked. Do the server room doors have security card access or programmable keypad door locks? Is there an independent air conditioning system, power protection with battery backup or a backup generator, and proper fire suppression? Look at the physical space with a critical eye. Everything from building key cards to authorized access to server rooms to power is important.

How should the team build the actual plan?

Just like the initial research, the process must be comprehensive. Don’t forget to consider:

Physical servers — Develop a written backup and recovery plan. It should include the ability to restore from an image with confirmed and tested recovery points. Copies of the backup should be kept off-site to protect against a catastrophic failure.

Virtual servers — Virtualization provides wonderful benefits, but just like physical servers, they require a thoughtful plan for management and security. This should include monitoring and reporting on backup and replication, fault tolerant design and carefully planned capacity implementation.

End-users computers — Every time a computer is added, it needs to include local endpoint protection software (anti-virus, anti-malware) set to auto-update. Implement policies regarding internet and email usage, installing software, downloading attachments, etc. If possible, consider desktop virtualization or thin client computing, which provide a flexible and more secure solution for end user access.

Bring your own device (BYOD) — Top concerns for BYOD deployment is related to security. Approximately 22 percent of mobile devices will be lost or stolen during their lifetime, and more than 50 percent of these will never be recovered. Will that device contain your business data? It’s important to consider application risks, password strength, possible encryption and remote wiping for lost or stolen hardware.

Employee security training — Employees should be trained on company policies and procedures as well as best practices for email and Internet usage, handling corporate data and compliance-related requirements.

Insights Technology is brought to you by All Covered Pittsburgh

Give your employees the right tools for remote technology access

The day of the briefcase is gone. Workers are carrying around smartphones, tablets and PCs — resulting in an increased need for remote access to daily documents and processes.

If your company doesn’t have a mobility solution, your employees — who now have mobile devices on them at all times — will be less productive. And if it’s a hassle for staff to remotely access documents and processes, not only will your employees lack the tools to do their jobs anytime, anywhere, delays can transfer to waiting customers.

Heather Stump, applications delivery manager at Blue Technologies Smart Solutions, says companies are focused on getting information to people quickly and easily, such as adding bring-your-own-device policies. But you need a mobility solution that can work with a variety of devices.

“The information that employees are working with often needs to be seen by multiple people. The need for collaboration through the company’s network is huge, regardless if you’re in the field or sitting at your desk,” Stump says.

Smart Business spoke with Stump about business mobility needs and how employers can find the best-fit technology.

Where are mobility needs currently growing most for businesses?

Employees today need access to critical information while on appointment, traveling or working remotely. And companies must keep processes moving while these employees are on the go.

It hits a variety of industries and jobs, especially those that operate in the field with clients, such as health care, or on location like in a courtroom, as with legal. For instance, insurance adjustors travel to different accident scenes to take photos while on-site. With a mobility solution, they can upload them directly to the system’s workflow to enable their home office to process the claim immediately.

Executives who need to approve payments and invoices also can benefit from mobility solutions. If a business owner heads south for the winter, it’s a good idea to implement technology where he or she can log on to a mobile device to review and approve something, rather than mailing or emailing copies, which slows down the workflow.

Key processes(s) that commonly bottleneck without mobility solutions include invoice approvals, payables and anything to do with sales or other client-facing activities. If it takes longer to process an order, complaint, claim or even answer a question, it impacts customer satisfaction and your ability to meet deadlines.

How can businesses meet these needs?

On-premise business solutions like document management often can be extended and reconfigured to allow for mobility within your network, without adding multiple pieces of technology. Whether it’s a cloud or on-premise solution, vendors have developed apps that can be downloaded and utilized with different mobile devices. This provides built in mobile support and security, while also making it less time consuming and more cost-effective to get a mobility solution up and running.

Some mobility features include printing from a mobile device, uploading photos and adding notes, or taking a photo of a document where optical character recognition turns that text into editable and searchable data.

Another trend is electronic forms that allow employees to gather information remotely. A sales person can sit down with a client at his or her location, fill out the form, get an electronic signature and submit an order immediately.

Are these solutions difficult to implement? How can employers determine the right mobility solution?

Mobility solutions aren’t difficult to implement because they are often integrated with existing platforms and processes.

If you have the need — demonstrated by pain points like mobile employees who can’t access your network — it’s worth the investment, which will provide increased productivity and cost saving, among other benefits. The ROI doesn’t have to be monetary, either. Are your customers satisfied? Are your employees satisfied? Are you giving your staff the tools they need, or servicing customers in a timely manner?

Your technology partner can help you evaluate your needs, determine the right fit and assist with implementation.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies Inc.

Uncork the bottlenecks: Streamline your workflows with scalable technology solutions

Every organization has workflows. But do you proactively try to improve your workflow processes, or only consider them as you’re scrambling to fix a problem?

If your company has people-intensive processes, where documents and tasks touch and affect many, you need to be evaluating them proactively.

Workflow technology solutions can help — uncorking bottlenecks, adding efficiency and streamlining the whole process, says Nano Zegarra, chief technology officer at Blue Technologies.

“Picture someone’s desk with a stack of papers on it,” Zegarra says. “That process owner has to get through all of those documents to get to the finished product, whether that’s billing a customer or manufacturing something. And that final product is how your company makes money for what it does.”

Smart Business spoke with Zegarra about how scalable workflow solutions can make it faster and easier for your organization to get where it needs to go.

How do workflow solutions help?

One of the biggest pain points for organizations is a loss of productivity. You may have people sitting around and waiting to get to the next step, doing a lot of unnecessary investigation into a task or perhaps wasting time searching for documents.

With the right interface, you can eliminate those inefficiencies. You can enable multiple people to see a document at one time, or to easily find and view everything related to a project through a singular interface. You can also automate administrative tasks, and set alerts to keep things moving through your process.

That adds a level of accountability, as well, because a business leader has an overview of where a particular project or order is sitting in the organization at any time — and he or she can jump in to add efficiencies as needed.

The technology can even be set up so that if a certain person doesn’t handle a task in a given amount of time, it’s moved to another person to ensure completion in a timely manner. This enables you to guarantee deadlines.

Can these solutions accommodate a company that’s growing?

A flexible, enterprise-based solution can be expanded over time, so that you can plan for the long term, and continue to do more as you grow, without having to add resources.

The backbone of a workflow solution is always document management, but on top of that you need to understand the structure of your organization. How is everything going to be stored and accessed? How will changes to documents and redactions be handled? How are the changes in retention period or compliance going to be handled?

After the first six months to a year, you and your employees will likely notice additional inefficiencies that can then be improved upon with the software investment that has already taken place.

For example, if your accounts payable solution is working so well that you want to add in the human resources department, it can be a matter of simply reconfiguring the workflow solution to handle another area. Rather than buying an entirely new product.

Or you acquire another company and need to integrate their system with yours. The right, scalable workflow solution will either work upfront with the other system, or allow you to easily add pieces to communicate data back and forth.

How can a company determine the right, scalable fit?

Make sure you ask your technology vendor about what will happen if you go from handling 500 pieces of information to 1 million. You don’t want a workflow solution that’s driven by volume or task.

You also don’t want to look for a solution specific to a problem you’re trying to fix, because investing in a canned solution could hold you hostage later.

The key is not to limit yourself, to think proactively and choose flexible technology that aligns with your future business goals.

That’s why working with a technology partner to help you find the best-fit, scalable solution is critical to streamlining your workflows. The right partner can help you grow by identifying your inefficiencies and uncorking bottlenecks through a thorough analysis and workflow design.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies Inc.

How to diagnose the real problem with your business technology

If you hurt your arm, you wouldn’t have a surgeon just cut it off. First, you’d figure out what’s wrong with it. Then, you’d seek the proper medical treatment for the actual cause of the pain — which probably wouldn’t cost you an entire limb.

Why should business technology be any different?

“When you’re working in your business, it’s not easy to work on your business. You’re so focused on putting out the daily fires, which by definition limits your perspective and ability to see the whole picture of what’s going on,” says Paul Sems, general manager at Blue Technologies Smart Solutions.

Someone has to observe and document the current situation — which includes your employees, their behaviors, processes and the technology itself — before making any adjustments.

Smart Business spoke with Sems about diagnosing business technology pain points, in order to find targeted solutions that fix the underlying problem.

Where do organizations trip up with their technology and infrastructure?

Many business owners highlight that they spend a huge percentage of their budget on technology, and don’t get the business results they expect. But it’s often because they buy new technology without factoring in other critical elements — people and processes.

Think of it like this: If you were stuck on an island and you could pick one thing to survive — a high-tech multi-tool, a detailed survival book or a survival expert like Bear Grylls — what would you choose?

You might choose the seemingly handy multi-tool — despite having little idea how to use it — just like companies who often go for the latest and greatest technology, hoping that it will increase revenue or decrease costs. Or you might choose the survival book, packed with instructions, where it may take a lot of time to find or understand an answer or which may be missing key or updated information.

Instead, it’s best to choose the expert who already has hands-on survival experience. Partnering with a technology expert ensures your people, processes and technology all align — to thrive, not just survive.

How does a business technology diagnostic work?

A diagnostic follows a rigorous methodology that takes a holistic approach to people, processes and technology. It allows you to see and communicate what the problem is.

For example, a management team thought it had specific needs due to technology issues. A diagnostic, however, determined that 90 percent of the problem was people and processes — and only 10 percent the technology itself. This more accurate analysis resulted in a different needs list.

A diagnostic also allows you to work with facts. If you anonymously ask employees whether they are satisfied or dissatisfied with your IT and technology, that’s not that helpful. To get to the heart of the issue, get specific and ask stakeholders: ‘What are your business goals and top priorities? Where is the technology helping and where is it not helping you achieve those?’

What are common problems related to people, processes and technology?

An example of a people problem is an IT director and business director who don’t communicate. That trickles down to the relationship between the two departments, where the employees are working on the same thing in isolation. Building relationships and clearly defining roles is a great place to start in solving these problems.

As for process issues, a common problem is no IT governance. Regardless of your size, a technology steering committee should evaluate — in a systematic way — investments in technology. Then, the key stakeholders take ownership and say yes or no to projects, while IT weighs in on whether the proposed technology works. The committee takes the pressure off the IT person, just like the CFO helps the executive team make good decisions about finances.

In the process bucket, you also find alignment issues. It is the CIO or IT director’s job to understand the business and exactly where IT can help that business meet its goals and objectives. IT should never spend a dollar unless it understands how that corresponds with business objectives.

Ultimately, no matter the issue, it’s important that organizations work with their technology partner to step back and develop a comprehensive view of the entire problem before making technology decisions.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies Inc.