Strategic IT Planning Enables Orderly Updates to Technology

The downside of the speed at which technology changes is how rapidly it becomes obsolete.

In a business IT infrastructure, this rapid obsolescence can be damaging. A company does not want to find out their servers are not compatible with the latest version of their line-of-business application, for example, or discover that an office is full of PCs with an operating system no longer supported by the manufacturer.Asset Lifecycle

How can a company stay ahead of this, with a network consisting of components purchased over the course of several years? With strategic IT planning, your company is able to maximize the value it gets from its technology.

Document IT Assets

Networks tend to grow in increments over the years, depending on need, and many companies simply don’t know what they have. The first order of business is to inventory the network –hardware and software. There are tools you can use to do this, but everything should be documented in detail. This process may also uncover any unlicensed software in use – something you want to stay ahead of.

Assign End-of-Life Dates

Sometimes, the network “discovery” tool can also find out when each device was put into service and from there, it’s relatively simple to make some determinations on when to consider assets are at their “end of life”.  Servers will tend to have a longer life than PCs – 6 or 7 years in some cases. Operating systems and productivity suites usually have well-publicized schedules for the end of their support.  PCs are considered “old” when they get past 4 years – at that point, repairs on them might cost more than the machine is worth.

Make an IT Budget

With a good list of network assets and their expected lifespans, it’s possible to build orderly company-wide technology refreshes into the company’s IT budget. This will provide several important benefits:

  • * Cash flow is predictable
  • * Down time is reduced
  • * Network technology is always up-to-date

Sometimes, it can be hard to make the time or allocate the expertise to do these three steps. Businesses know they should do it, but find it hard to make this part of their normal business process. This is where a Managed Service Provider (MSP) can help, and the cost of the service is more than offset by the benefits listed above. Clare Computer Solutions has years of experience helping companies keep their technology up-to-date and running smoothly. Contact us today to get started.

Posted in Article, Business Technology, Changing Technology, Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity, IT Consultants, IT Consulting, IT Network Management, IT Network Services, IT Project Management, IT Support, Managed Service Provider, Network Maintenance, Tech Tips, Vendor Management | Leave a comment

Managed Services Can Help With Compliance

There are a number of industries that require businesses to have certifications or proof of compliance to operate within the industry. They vary from industry to industry, and some certifications are harder to achieve than others.

Healthcare firms are subject to the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), for example. Other companies are encouraged (if not required) to conform to the Payment Card Industry (PCI) standards. Manufacturers often pursue specific ISO (International Standards Organization) certifications.compliance

What all these certifications have in common is a reliance on a defined, repeatable and accountable set of procedures. Businesses whose operations have established, documented procedures as part of the corporate culture will have an easier time achieving and maintaining compliance to these industry standards.

Technology can provide ways for businesses to maintain standards for data protection, fault tolerance and documentation.

Data Security

Protecting sensitive data from hackers and other cyber criminals is of paramount importance, and the technology tools that are used for defense against attacks must be implemented properly, and maintained in order to remain effective. A company with a properly managed IT infrastructure will be able to demonstrate what controls they have in place and how they are kept up-to-date with compliance and codes.

Data Integrity

Protecting data from security breaches is very important, but so is tracking who is accessing data and when changes and/or updates are occurring. In the case of archived data, it is important to be able to prove the data has not changed since it was archived. Technological tools can provide forensic evidence of any changes to archived documents.

Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity

Most modern businesses back their data up, and ideally, to more than one location. Businesses should be able to show they have a plan in place for rapid recovery from a disaster that affects their IT infrastructure. They should be able to provide information to certify that the data centers that store their data offsite are properly certified – and meet their own industry’s certification requirements, too.

When an IT infrastructure is professionally managed, monitored and maintained through a Managed Services program, the processes involved are documented, consistent, tracked and reportable – all of which help your company maintain the certifications and requirements your industry recommends or requires.

Clare Computer Solutions has helped hundreds of companies take control of their technology and leverage that technology to help grow their businesses. We can help your business, too! Contact us today to get started

Posted in Article, Business Technology, Changing Technology, Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity, IT Consultants, IT Consulting, IT Network Management, IT Network Services, IT Project Management, Managed Service Provider, Network Maintenance, Network Security, Tech Tips | Leave a comment

Document Your Technology to Manage Your Technology

Things move fast in business, but they move even faster in technology. Because of this, many business’ Information Technology (IT) infrastructures are poorly planned and poorly documented.Document Technology

Technological tools are often deployed to address a specific problem, without consideration to the entire infrastructure.  Decisions are made to address short terms issues with little or no regard to the company’s long range plans.

As a result, when a company really wants to plan for growth, or modernize its technology, it’s difficult to get a handle on the current situation, which makes strategic planning nearly impossible.  You can’t find the finish line if you can’t find the starting line!  Here are some suggestions:

Perform regular IT Assessments

Ideally, every change or addition to the IT infrastructure would be properly documented immediately, but with the pace of technology and the advent of the “Bring Your Own Device” movement, this may not be practical.   But once or twice a year, an assessment of the entire Technology infrastructure should be performed.

Cycle Out Unused or Obsolete Assets

Clutter grows on its own, it seems, whether in an attic or in an office.  Apply the notion of “Spring Cleaning” to the business and at least once a year, get rid of computers and devices you don’t use or need.  Aging or unused devices on a network can be a security risk as well.  The clutter can be donated, or taken to an e-waste facility.

Document, Document, Document

When the time comes to implement a sweeping growth initiative, you will need an up-to-date, accurate and cogent view of your current infrastructure.  This should consist of both asset lists (devices, computers, software licenses) and a network diagram.

When you document your technology, you can manage your technology. But who’s got time to do all this stuff?   Who has the skills to apply this level of organization?

Clare Computer Solutions is a good choice, for several reasons. We do this kind of thing all the time, and have the tools and the experience to handle it quickly and efficiently.  We provide a fresh “second set of eyes” on your network too – it’s easy to miss thing that are under your nose all the time.  Lastly, we handle multiple networks, so we can apply this broad experience to provide expert advice for your company’s technology strategies. Contact us now to get started!

Posted in Business Technology | Leave a comment

Managed Services Encompasses a Spectrum of Services for IT Support

As an IT support method for business, managed services is the best choice for most companies. But “managed services” is a general term, and it’s important to understand the spectrum of services that could (and should) be available under that name. Here are 4 services you should expect from your MSP when they say they offer managed services.

Monitoring/Management/Maintenance

This is a basic tenet of managed services – network components are proactively monitored, managed and maintained by the Managed Service Provider (MSP). This is the NetCentralheart of the service, and represents a departure from the prior, reactive “break-fix” paradigm for IT support.

System and Image Backup

This should be part of every MPS’s suite of managed service offerings. Backing up data and images, and managing that process are vital for maximizing uptime, disaster recovery, and often, regulatory compliance.

Vendor Management

It’s not unusual for a company’s technology (products and services) to come from a variety of vendors, and this can post a challenge when trying to keep everything working together. An MSP can step in and provide advice for optimizing the interoperability, and act as a technical liaison when support from one or more vendors is needed to address an issue.

Virtual CIO – Strategic Planning

One of the greatest potential benefits manages services can bring to a business is strategic advice. Bringing technology into your business planning helps ensure your vital technology is kept up to date and that improvements are made in an orderly fashion, based upon your needs and your budget.

All of these things together provide benefits that are miles beyond reactive IT support. If your MSP isn’t offering all these things, it’s time to consider a change. Clare Computer Solutions has been providing this level of proactive support of business for over a decade with their NetCentral managed services. Contact us today to get started.

Posted in Business Technology | Leave a comment

Tips to Help Our Help Desk Help You

One of the things our NetCentral clients love is our on-site help desk. With over 2000 users being supported, you can bet we get calls from all kinds of people with varying issues. Some issues are simple fixes while others are complex, but we deal with them all!Helpdesk_guy

Here are 3 tips users should know to help get the best help, and fastest resolution from any support team.

Breathe

Of course you don’t call for help when things are working great, so generally callers are a little frustrated when they call. But remember, the person at the other end wants your problem solved just as bad as you.

Respect Protocol

To provide great service, there are certain things we need to do on every call even before the troubleshooting begins. For example: We need to know who you and your employer are. This only takes a few minutes, but in case we lose connection, we’ll know who to call back.

Be Specific

“I pressed the thingamajig and the whatchamacallit blew up!” will never lead to a satisfactory result.

Be prepared to describe exactly what you were doing when the problem occurred. These include questions like:

  • What applications were you running?
  • What screen were you on?
  • Does the problem occur every time, or is it intermittent?
  • What have you tried already on your own to fix it?  (This is important, so we don’t ask you to waste time trying what you’ve already tried.)

The tech is an ally, not an adversary. These simple tips will help you get the fastest and best help, so you can get back to work!

Posted in Article, Business Technology, IT Consultants, IT Consulting, IT Network Services, IT Support, Tech Tips | Leave a comment

Using Consumer-Grade Technology at a Business Will NOT Save Money

It can tempting, sometimes, to save money on some IT equipment by buying consumer-grade technology.

One example is a wireless router. A good quality, business grade device may seem ridiculously overpriced compared to consumer-grade technology that appears to have the same capabilities.

PCs are another good example. Machines sold as workstations are priced higher than PCs for home use. It can be tempting to save some upfront money buying the less expensive home PCs.

Nobody wants to spend more money than they need to.  In a lot cases, however, the true Cheap gearcost of a purchase isn’t just on the price tag. Trying to save a few bucks on technology can end up costing much more you might think.

Consumer Grade Products Don’t Make the Grade

If you’re purchasing technology for your business, you will need to ensure the products you buy meet your company’s needs with regards to these key considerations:

Reliability

Consumer grade technology is mass produced and often isn’t designed to last for more than a couple of years. When cheap gear fails, it’s disruptive to your business, and the cost of lost productivity will be more than the money you saved on the initial purchase.

Security

The IT security needs of a home user are entirely different than the IT security needs of a business. A data breach or malware infection at home is an inconvenience. For a business, it could be catastrophic. Your business deserves technology that will address this need.

Compatibility & Flexibility

Consumer-grade technology usually lacks the range of features necessary to properly integrate into a business IT infrastructure. Configuring consumer-grade technology to work satisfactorily in a complex business IT infrastructure can be difficult, if not impossible.

The point is, apparent cost savings for cheaper IT equipment is generally offset by the costs of trying to make technology fit in a place where it was not designed to go.  An IT consultant can help your company choose the appropriate technologies to fit your business needs, and this will save your company money in the long run.

Clare Computer Solutions has been helping companies with Information Technology for over 25 years – we can help you, too!  Contact us to get started.

Posted in Article, Business Technology, Changing Technology, General, IT Consultants, IT Consulting, IT Security, IT Security Assessment, Managed Service Provider, Network Security, Tech Tips | Leave a comment

Conquer Network Downtime by Commitment to Uptime

clarecomputer.com uptime

In any business, downtime is the enemy of service and product delivery. During downtime, normal operating costs continue to accrue while the revenue streams are halted. And other costs are introduced – cost for emergency responses/repairs, and the costs of brand damage if your clients, suppliers and colleagues become aware of the downtime. We can all agree that downtime is bad – how do we prevent it?

The answer is, change your focus from combatting downtime, to committing to uptime.

Make the investment in the processes and the tools that contribute to consistent network performance and availability and downtime ceases to be an issue. Here are areas where this investment can pay off:

Preventative Maintenance and Management

Don’t let your network uptime manage you – take control by always knowing what’s in the network, how old it is, and how everything is working. Network elements rarely fail without warning. Keep everything patched and up to date, back up data and images, replace aging technology and monitor network performance in real time and over time to analyze trends.

Business Continuity Planning

Murphy’s Law tells us that sooner or later, things WILL fail. Have processes in place to react quickly to unplanned disasters – big and small – and have systems and plans to resume business operations quickly after any disruption. Include communication plans and define specific roles, so everyone knows what to do. Then, test that plan, regularly. In times of stress, people will fall back on their level of training. Make sure your business and people are prepared.

Cloud Computing

The cloud may not be ideal for every aspect of your business, but there are some potential advantages to utilizing the cloud for remote access of business processes, or to even provide a virtual workplace if a major event makes your normal business location unavailable for any length of time.

Virtualization

Virtualization, whether utilized on premises or in the cloud, can be a valuable tool to make your infrastructure fault-tolerant. A crashed server can be quickly restored from a recent image backup, for example. Or in the case of a bigger disaster, an entire network could be virtualized on the cloud as a business continuity scheme.

Security

Network security to be addressed as a multilayered defense – on edge devices, user devices and as part of the corporate culture. Attack vectors and malware are always evolving, so technological tools need to be kept up to date and monitored. All personnel should be trained to use industry best practices with regards to security, and be kept informed of new threats that emerge.

If all of the things listed above have been folded into your business operations, you won’t be worried about downtime, because your business is designed to optimize uptime.  Clare Computer Solutions can help your company address these things all together or help in implementing any of them – contact us today to get started.

Posted in Business Technology | Leave a comment

Desktop Image Backups is Anti-Malware Insurance

Most business these days understand the value of backing up the company’s critical data, most of which resides on their servers. But image backups are important too – these can be used to quickly create a new version of a crashed server.  Without that, it would take a very long time to recreate the environment that uses the data.

The same thing applies to desktop machines. Often the data on user machines is not as PC crashedcritical, but quick recovery from a failed machine is important. Every user has their particular profile – the programs they use, the drivers that are installed and other aspects that form the user’s working environment. Restoring that from scratch would be very costly – more costly than the machine itself. Image backups solves that – a failed machine can be replaced in 1-2 hours.

There’s another important benefit to image backups for desktops, too – it’s cheap insurance for malware recovery.

A lot of malware finds its way into networks via user activity – email spoofing and phishing scams often trick users into clicking on links to infected websites and launch malware into the users’ system. And malware can be very hard to eradicate once it’s launched. With desktop machines, it could cost more than the machine is worth to rid the device of the malware.

With a backup scheme that includes regular desktop images, though, an infected machine could be regenerated from an image backup dated from before the infection. It’s like going back in time. The machine can be restored within 2 hours in many cases.

Of course, this capability does not replace the need for a comprehensive, layered defense strategy for your company’s IT infrastructure, but desktop image backups are a helpful tool that many companies overlook.

Clare Computer Solutions has years of experience designing, implementing and maintaining strategies to protect businesses from unwanted, expensive downtime on their networks – we can help you, too.  Contact us today to get started.

Posted in Business Technology | Leave a comment

Companies Need Expert IT Support, Not Expert Repairs

How do you keep your IT infrastructure running at optimum levels? Once a company grows beyond a handful of employees, the technology needed to communicate, purchase, sell, market and service the client base becomes vital to the minute-by-minute operation of that business. The IT infrastructure has to be reliable, fast and flexible – how do you accomplish and maintain that?

Rethink the IT Support Relationship

When your company relies on technology to do business, the cost of any downtime is Technology Assessmenttremendous – so it’s time to move “repairs” out of the equation, and focus on preventing problems rather than solving them.

This mindset requires a different way of thinking of IT support. To keep your company’s IT up and running, you don’t want a repair service per se, you want your IT managed and maintained. You don’t want to pay money to get the IT fixed, you want to invest in keeping IT up and running.

If you’ve hired an IT staff that thinks this way, and is able to manage and maintain your IT infrastructure – congratulations! Your investment in that staff will help your company grow and increase profitability.

If your IT staff was hired to address issues that arise, you may need some help to really get the most out of your investment in technology and this is where an IT consulting firm can help.

Partner With an IT Consultant

The IT consultant’s maintenance and management tools and skills can complement your existing IT staff, or, if you don’t have a staff, act as your entire IT staff. They can keep your IT infrastructure running, using tools to monitor the systems and act quickly when key performance indicators an alert of impending problems.

They can also provide regular reports on the network’s health and provide CIO-level advice to plan for technology updates and refreshes, as well as consulting to provide an IT strategic roadmap to ensure your technology will serve your needs now, and into the future.

Clare Computer has been helping companies realize the power of technology for over 25 years – we can help your company, too. Contact us to get started!

Posted in Article, Business Technology, Changing Technology, IT Consultants, IT Consulting, IT Network Management, IT Support, Managed Service Provider, Tech Tips | Leave a comment

Tips to Prepare for an IT Project

It’s not usual for companies to put off important IT projects because it’s such a daunting undertaking. It’s too bad, because some IT projects can have a very positive effect on your business. Here are some tips to get started.

Make an Assessment

At the heart of any project is the changes that will be made to your existing IT environment. Some things will be added, some things will be replaced. How can you tell IT Project Managementwhat needs to be done without establishing a baseline, a starting point? An assessment will set the stage for the changes to come.

Have a Detailed Plan

Outline, step-by-step, the things that need to occur to bring the project to a successful conclusion. Understand that every project seems to uncover other things you could or should also be doing, but stay focused on the plan. Many projects became derailed by “scope creep” – diversions to side issues. The plan should also define, very precisely what will indicate the completion of the project. Without that detail, projects get stuck at 99% completion. The plan should also define the resources to be used – for execution and management.

Have a Budget and a Schedule

The results of the assessment and the plan that follows should enable accurate budgeting and scheduling for the project. Two common problems that can occur with projects are cost overruns and failure to meet scheduled milestones. Check regularly on the progress of the project and its costs. Products purchased are pretty much fixed costs, but labor overruns are common and need to be addressed. Are the assigned resources getting the job done? It’s not uncommon to have to make adjustments along the way, but it’s better to stay on top of what’s going on with the project, right up until the time it’s done.

For a lot of companies, project planning and project management are not among the company’s in-house skill sets. If the project is considered important, then it’s a worthwhile investment to have an IT consultant involved to ensure the project is done on time, on budget and does not disrupt the normal operations of the business. Clare Computer Solutions has years of experience in IT projectscontact us today and get started on that important IT project.

Posted in Business Technology | Leave a comment