5 Tips for Safer Online Holiday Shopping

There’s no doubt that online shopping is convenient. Shoppers have access to an incredible selection of products and can easily comparison shop for the best quality and lowest prices. The online shopping experience is here to stay – the consumers have spoken!

With the convenience comes some risks, however, and while they shouldn’t deter shoppers from making online purchases, it’s wise to make sure you shop safely, and not become of victim of cybercrime. Here are 5 tips to help you shop safely.

1: Shop from your own device, from home

Don’t use public terminals for online shopping and avoid public wireless networks. You have no way of knowing what malware might be installed on a public machine or how secure a public wireless network is.

2: Always make sure your shopping connection is secure

The address to a shopping site should always be via a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) connection. How can you tell? Look at the address bar in your browser – the address should start with “https” instead of “http”.  Some browsers also have a little “lock” or “key” symbol that appears when you’re connected via SSL, but the “https” is the best way to be sure.

3: Try and stick to sites you already trust

It’s easy to get creative and find some unusual or special items via a search engine, but you’re generally better off shopping at sites you’re already familiar with. That doesn’t limit you to large chain stores – just businesses you already trust. Never shop at a site you found through an emailed link.

4: Keep your antivirus and anti-malware software up-to-date

Cybercriminals are always busy finding new ways to exploit vulnerabilities in PCs, tablets and phones – make sure you’re protected before shopping.

5: Use good judgment

Don’t let “shopping fever” cloud your judgment. Avoid buying anything – even something you want – from a site that looks “wrong” in any way. You should never give up any more information than necessary to complete the transaction. NEVER give your social security number. If you have to create an account on the site to purchase, use a strong password, and never use an emailed link to go to a site to shop. If a deal sounds too good to be true – chances are it’s NOT a real “deal”.

Cybercriminals (like most criminals) are always looking for the easy victims. Keeping these tips in mind can help you avoid being a victim! Clare Computer Solutions can help your company to protect your network – contact us today to get started!

Three IT Tips for a Successful Office Move

To move offices can be exciting – a chance to settle into new quarters and really get organized. But there’s a lot of anxiety, too. You don’t want to lose anything, and you certainly want to keep disruptions to the business to an absolute minimum. In the ideal moving scenario, everything from the old office would be picked up on a Friday night and by Monday morning, every stick of furniture, every cubicle and every piece of the IT infrastructure would be in place and functioning.

Clare Computer Solutions has helped many companies move in our 25+ years of doing business and here are some things we have learned.

Research

This may sound obvious, but it’s worth bringing up. Whenever a company moves, it’s vital to ensure the new location will meet the company’s needs with regards to square footage, access to reliable high speed bandwidth, and access for shipping/receiving.  Adequate parking for employees and visitors and physical security are important considerations as well.

Planning and Timing

Different services have different lead times, so timing is crucial. For instance, data and phone communications services often have installation lead times of 60-90 days or more, and then on the installation date, resources must be scheduled to ensure everything is working. This means choosing a provider, negotiating a contract and ordering the services must be done far enough in advance.

IT Improvements or Upgrades

Sometimes a move is a chance to make improvements in the company’s IT infrastructure, but trying to do too much at the same time as everything being moved and setup can be a recipe for disaster. We would recommend having the new office cabled for your ideal network, and if changes or improvements to the switching scheme is indicated, have that part of the infrastructure completed and waiting for the move.

If a major overhaul of the servers or end-user devices is planned, it will probably go smoother after the move. In other words, it’s better to ensure the infrastructure itself works, and then plan for the technology refresh.

The key to a successful move is to leverage the expertise of companies that have the experience necessary to aid in planning and executing the move. A moving company will know how to pack the physical items at your business, and an IT consulting firm like Clare Computer Solutions can help with the IT infrastructure side.  Plan ahead – contact us today to get started!

We also have a video on this subject with even MORE tips – watch here!

The Ugly Truth About Cycling-Out Aging Technology

The rate of change in technology has always been rapid, but now changes come faster than ever.  This can pose some challenges for companies. Technology goes from being brand new to being outdated in the wink of an eye! Sometimes, it seems the ink has barely dried on your purchase order for servers or software and it’s time to buy them again!

However, as brief as the lifecycle on technology appears, there is an orderly pattern, and companies can avoid the “sticker shock” and cash flow surprises by implementing a strategy for asset management with a technology refresh plan.

Many companies don’t realize the importance of an IT strategy. They purchase technology as needed (often reacting to a crisis), then forget about it until it grows old and stops working. Then they have to act reactively in crisis mode again, and the vicious cycle is repeated. Cash flow takes a hit from unplanned expenditures, and time and energy are poured into damage control.

With an IT strategy, any purchase of technology is done after consideration of the company’s immediate needs AND longer term goals. The long-term IT strategy will also have a plan for scheduled technology refreshes to phase out aging equipment before it fails or underperforms.  In some cases, the refresh may include implementation of newer technologies, such as virtualization or cloud computing. Implementing these updates before the aging infrastructure causes problems will save money and prevent interruptions in productivity.

Often, the reasons companies don’t have well-developed IT Strategies is that the skill set to create and implement them is not available on staff. Working with an outside IT Provider can give companies access to CIO/CTO strategic planning, without having to bear the expense of hiring a person with those skills. Clare Computer Solutions provides CIO-level strategic planning for companies, including technology refresh, budget planning, asset management and long-term strategic planning. This helps businesses compete more effectively, and meet their growth goals through the alignment of business and IT.

Clare Computer Solutions can help your company devise and maintain a strategic plan for your company’s IT to ensure that updates and technology refreshes occur in an orderly, predictable manner. Contact us now to get started.

Budget Tips to Prepare Your Business for Success in 2017

We all know the final two months of the year go by fast. Part of this is due to the hectic pace of modern business – especially when building a budget. But November and December, due to the holidays, have fewer actual work days than any other two month span. So, early November is a good time to do some planning for the new year. Here are three things to consider when forecasting for next year.

Do Some Strategic Planning

How do you think your business will change in 2017? Will it grow? Will you be adding new services, processes, products, employees or technologies? Will you be moving?  Adding new offices? Any of the changes listed above require some advance planning to be implemented smoothly. At the very least, take some time to brainstorm what will need to be done to accomplish these goals, and begin thinking about the resources you will need for success, whether it’s in-house personnel or 3rd party assistance.

Determine Your IT Budget

Does your company prepare a yearly IT budget?  There’s no better way to avoid unwanted costs than to evaluate your IT infrastructure on a yearly basis, and determine a budget and schedule for cycling out technology, upgrading existing technology and implementing new hardware. The rapid obsolescence rate for technology requires a well-planned systematic approach to maintaining your company’s IT. The strategic planning mentioned above will also have an effect on the plan.

Consider the Section 179 Tax Breaks

Section 179 has been around for quite a while, but it gets fresh attention from Congress every year.  According to the website www.section179.org, “The “Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015” (PATH Act) was passed by both the House and Senate and signed into law on 12/18/2015. This bill expanded the Section 179 deduction limit to $500,000. “

The site also says, “Section 179 can provide you with significant tax relief for this 2016 tax year, but equipment and software must be financed and in place by midnight December 31, 2016.” This could be a very attractive incentive to make an IT investment prior to the end of this calendar year. Consult your tax professional to see how you can utilize this benefit.

If your looking to cut the costs of your business without giving up business essentials, Clare Computer Solutions can help your company to poise your business for greater success in 2017. Contact us to get started!