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How your disaster recovery plan can make you more productive

There’s no doubt that a good disaster recovery plan (DRP) can be extremely useful in a crisis. Indeed, it’s one of the things that very often determines whether or not a business will survive a catastrophic event such as a fire, flood, or ransomware attack.

In fact, the difference it can make is huge. One report noted that up to 40% of businesses with no plan in place were unable to recover quickly or fully from a ransomware attack. With a plan in place, just 7% of businesses suffered the same fate.

With both malicious attacks and natural disasters on the rise (2017 was the most expensive year on record in terms of natural disasters), it’s clear that having a robust DRP in place is more important than ever before. But the value of a disaster recovery plan during a catastrophic disaster isn’t the only reason to spend some time creating one. A good DRP can also make your business more productive.

Here are four ways in which a solid Disaster Recovery Plan can help your business, even during non-crisis times.

1. It allows you to retain access to data

Secure, off-site backup of key data is an important part of any solid DRP – but having essential resources backed up in the cloud can be immensely useful in a range of ways. First and foremost it enables your employees to be more flexible. Should a device break, for example, work can still continue on another device, with cloud-based files and software still available. Plus employees are empowered to work as normal even when traveling or working from home.

2. It ensures robust communications

Multiple, robust means of communication should be a part of your DRP, as the ability to communicate will be vital during any disaster that threatens your business. But having several functional, reliable channels of communication can also make your office more productive in general. Sometimes one means of communication is more suited to a particular task than another, and having options allows employees to pick the most appropriate one.

It also helps deal with small disasters. Inclement weather or a network outage can cause chaos. That chaos is significantly reduced if your company still has at least one functioning means of communication.

3. It helps you know your assets

A detailed inventory of key assets should be a part of any DRP. This is extremely useful when it comes to making an insurance claim, or replacing lost or damaged equipment. Consider also, however, that a detailed and up-to-date hardware inventory could have a range of other uses, from ensuring that devices are maintained and kept up-to-date, to repurposing old equipment rather than letting it go to waste.

4. It keeps your prepared

A good DRP isn’t something you can set up and forget. It requires routine testing, maintenance, and regular training of employees. This is an opportunity not only to instill a sense of preparedness, but also to introduce employees to emergency contacts and procedures, and help them learn more about the structure of the company.

Training staff to support the implementation of a disaster recovery plan, for example, may involve familiarizing them with the IT helpdesk options available to them. This will obviously be useful in the event of a disaster but is also pretty handy for helping them resolve more everyday concerns.

Conclusion

A disaster recovery plan might be crucial to your business during a crisis… but it can also make a significant difference when everything is working as normal. Just one more reason to be prepared.

Contact your managed IT services provider today for help creating and implementing a disaster recovery plan to keep your business safe.

The quick guide to business continuity

There are some things in business you can predict with accuracy, but there’s a lot that’s anything but predictable. For example, you have no way of knowing when a natural disaster, software misfire or simple power outage will strike.

It’s not a comfortable feeling, thinking that your company’s fate is out of your control.

The good news is that you don’t have to be out of control, even when everything around you feels like chaos. Not if you have a plan. Specifically, a business continuity plan.

Read on to learn more about business continuity plans: what they are, why they’re so essential, and how to create one for your business.

What is a business continuity plan?

A business continuity plan is your plan for keeping your business productive, even when there are significant obstacles in your way. In other words, it’s a way of preparing for unforeseen circumstances (like natural disasters and cybersecurity breaches) that critically threaten your company’s efficiency and bottom line.

Before you wave off the idea of disaster striking, keep in mind that “disasters” can take many different forms:

  • As mentioned before, there are natural disasters, like earthquakes, fires, tornados, hurricanes, snowstorms and floods
  • You should also be prepared for hardware issues, like hardware failure
  • Then there are minor emergencies, like a power outage, inclement weather days and temporary loss of internet connectivity
  • And finally, a big one—cybersecurity-related issues, like ransomware

Their common element is simple. Any of these events can take your network offline and leave your staff without the tools you rely on day after day.

When that happens, whether it’s for a few hours or a few weeks, what will you do? How will you stay in touch with your employees and customers? What critical processes will you need to keep online, no matter what, for the sake of the company’s stability? For that matter, what’s the first thing you would do in the wake of a true disaster?

The answers to those questions form the basis of your business continuity plan.

Why is business continuity so important?

Business continuity matters because you don’t have a bottomless bank account. When a disaster sidelines your business, you can only afford to be out of the game for so long before it will do you in.

We know. That sounds dramatic. And we’re not ones to use scare tactics at all, but the stakes really are that high. Without a business continuity plan, you’re risking your company’s entire future.

You can’t stop disasters from happening, you can prepare for the worst, which dramatically increases your chances of survival if something goes wrong.

MCA team

Building your own business continuity plan

The best advice we can give here is to seek the consultation of a business continuity expert. This is complex stuff. A thorough strategy really does warrant professional help.

However, anyone can begin thinking about risk and making plans for the future. Plus, we know a lot of small businesses simply don’t have the funds to hire a consultant. With that in mind, here’s what you need to know to create a basic business continuity plan.

Identify your assets

A lot of small business owners are tempted to start the process by thinking about everything that can go wrong. You might find yourself drawn specifically to thinking about how to recover from a fire or flood, for instance.

That’s generally only a good idea if you already know your business is facing an imminent risk. If, for example, there’s a hurricane bearing down on your data center.

Otherwise, it’s better to think of business continuity not in terms of possible risks, but in terms of what you might lose and how it would impact productivity.

What assets does your company have? What purpose does each device, vendor, key employee, location, and piece of hardware have within your organization? And what solutions do you rely on for communication and what will you do if those systems go down?

You can’t understand or prepare for every risk your company could possibly face. But you can start thinking about things you might lose and how you’d overcome the resulting challenges.

Think about downtime

Next, consider what’s absolutely necessary for your business to continue operations and start mapping out contingency plans for keeping those processes online.

We’ll give you a basic example. Let’s say you use email and smartphone for most of your internal communication. What will you do if your email server is offline and the cell phone towers are down? What’s your backup plan for communication?

Think through every detail. Who takes the lead on re-establishing communication? Do you start by reaching out to employees or customers? What will you coach employees to tell customers? And does everyone in your organization know this plan? (Because they should.)

All of that will serve to shorten the length overall downtime and minimize its impact.

MCA data center

Implement preventative controls

Preventative controls help you avoid disasters. They’re not failsafe, but they do decrease your risk.

For instance, back up your business data regularly. That way, a disastrous hardware or software failure becomes an inconvenience (you have to restore the most recent backup) rather than a catastrophe (you lose a significant amount of data).

Preventative measures, like regular on and off-site data backups, represent an investment of time and money. Lower expenses where you can, but do not cut corners. Trust us. You’ll be glad you were on top of prevention if and when you need it.

Map out your recovery strategy

Finally, map out about your overall recovery strategy. Document as much as you can. Train your staff. And make sure there are copies of the plan in places where people can easily get to them.

Business continuity is useless if everyone doesn’t know the plan and isn’t prepared. Keeping everyone in the loop is absolutely critical. In fact, just the exercise of mapping your plan out will likely draw your attention to weak points in the plan.

backup icon

Final thoughts

Business continuity plans help you recover from a disaster and preserve your company’s long-term viability.

Taking the time to carefully assess your company’s assets, determine what’s critical, mitigate your risk, and figure out how to get key assets back online will save you when it counts. If you can afford it, this is definitely an area where hiring a pro is recommended. But if you can’t, don’t neglect business continuity. Do what you can to prepare your company.

Office 365 pro tips to make your life easier

When Microsoft Office 365 debuted in 2011, businesspeople around the world had high hopes for it. They weren’t disappointed. Its software and cloud-based subscription services provide companies with a vast array of features, all of which are accessible via a handy online portal.

Among many others, there are tools for managing contacts, calendars and tasks, for writing and editing documents, and for voice and video conferencing. All of these components are periodically updated, too. Not to mention, Office 365 saves your documents in the cloud.

If there’s any problem with Office 365, it’s that the program is so extensive you might feel like you’re not realizing its full potential.

These tips will help ensure that your Office 365 time is as productive as can be.

1. Choose the most useful package

If you haven’t yet signed up for an Office 365 subscription plan, research your options and compare them carefully. Then select one with the features and apps you need. That way, you won’t overpay, and you’ll have enough hosting space, enough file storage and so on.

Also, you won’t have components that you won’t use, which could overcomplicate your Office 365 experience.

2. Work offline

Maybe the internet isn’t working in your office today. Perhaps you’re stuck in a remote cabin where the internet connection is slow. Should you just twiddle your thumbs? Well, with Office 365, you can still make good use of your time.

After you sign up for this service, Microsoft will supply you with desktop versions of popular apps like PowerPoint and Excel. You can also save your SharePoint and OneDrive documents on your hard drive. That way, you can access them when you’re offline, and all of the changes you make will automatically be saved on the cloud as soon as your internet connection is restored.

3. Make Skype calls and create OneDrive surveys

Office 365 subscribers get to use Skype free of charge for a certain amount of time. Skype is ideal for calls and voice conferences. It’s simple to use and dependable, and it offers a crisp, clear sound. What’s not to love?

In addition, with OneDrive, you can quickly and easily distribute surveys that you compose with Excel, collect responses and analyze trends. It’s a powerful tool for gauging customers’ opinions and making informed decisions.

4. Write with partners

With Office 365, you can write documents in real time with other people via one of three web apps: Excel, Word and PowerPoint.

It’s a great way to brainstorm, share knowledge and ideas for revisions, and divide the workload evenly. With this capability, putting together website articles, white papers and other documents becomes much faster and more fun proposition.

Finally, if you’d like to integrate Office 365 into all of your business processes — or if you’d just like the best, most secure IT infrastructure possible — you should enlist the help of an excellent IT management team. They can answer all of your questions and hook you up with the most beneficial tools. With such guidance, you and your small business will sail into a bright and super efficient future.

DIY network maintenance every business owner should know

Managing your network probably isn’t your favorite part of being a business owner. Unfortunately, it’s most likely at the top of the list of things that keep you up at night. In fact, according to the 2018 Small Business Risk Report conducted by Forbes Insights, 94% of businesses face cybersecurity risks.

So while there definitely is reason to be concerned, you can alleviate some of the risks by following a few simple strategies.

94% of businesses face cyber security risks.” Forbes Insights

Provide training

Your employees are your first line of defense against threats. Having everyone trained and involved is vital to keeping your network safe and secure. You can begin by scheduling a company-wide meeting to specifically discuss security and compliance.

Rather than a formal training session, start with a dialog approach that allows everyone to share stories and ask questions. This will enable you to get an understanding of how well-informed your employees are about your current solution and determine how much training will be needed. Then it will be easier to start the project with a clear idea of what to cover first.

Run simple courses

Employee training will make your staff more effective at their jobs (even the little things help a lot!). Training on creating strong passwords, using two-factor authentication, how to recognize phishing scams and routinely run software updates on their computers will help everyone get up to speed quickly. This is an easy way to greatly reduce the probability of cyber attacks due to employee negligence.

Provide transparency and open communication

Employees need to feel comfortable and safe, even if they’ve inadvertently put your network at risk. It’s important that they come to you when something happens so you can deal with it quickly. That way you can execute your data recovery plan as quickly as possible.

Provide tools that enable self-monitoring

Enable your employees to have some control over the safety of their company. By giving them the tools they need and the responsibility to use them, they’ll be more invested in helping you maintain your network security, saving your IT staff time and energy.

Test regularly

Taking an inventory of your network for vulnerabilities can help you nip a potential problem in the bud—or prevent it altogether. By testing for weaknesses when you’re not in the midst of a crisis, you can save money and hours of downtime.

Although testing may seem time-consuming and disruptive, setting a regular schedule should make it a lot more manageable. Determining what can be tested simultaneously, picking low traffic times and staggering systems should make this process less tedious and more efficient.

So rather than blocking off an entire day or days to do it all at once, you can devote a minimum of time over the course of a few days and get the same effect. Of course, consulting with experts is always a good idea, and they can tell you which course of action will work best for your organization.

VPN Monitoring tools

Although a Virtual Private Network (VPN) provides encryption to protect your data, testing for leaks weekly will help to discover any problems that could potentially harm your network.

Run a services audit on servers

Over time your servers will be running more services than you need. Clearing these out on a monthly basis will make your network less vulnerable as well as improve their overall performance. Make sure that if you use a hybrid cloud solution that any third party does the same with their servers.

“The key to an effective cybersecurity strategy is regular penetration testing and continuous intrusion detection efforts.”
CIO

Update frequently

When a vulnerability is discovered, companies will issue patches to counteract it. If you’re not keeping everything up-to-date, you could miss out on major bug fixes and face potential risks.

While keeping everything updated has its challenges, software updates can be made with relative ease.

Important things to remember:

Update your OS and software

Updating software doesn’t usually take a lot of time. Some even give you the option to update automatically when it becomes available. You should keep an eye out for any significant changes but most updates mainly consist of minor patches or incremental improvements.

Update your router

Firmware tends to be out of date after only one year so you might have to update the router manually. This will ensure you have the most recent bug fixes and any security updates. If all else fails, you can always just replace your existing router for a new one.

When it comes to your servers and hardware, things can get a little more complicated. That’s not to say that’s it’s difficult. It just might take more time and energy to ensure you have everything you need to keep your network running smoothly.

Update servers

The good news is that typically your servers are less vulnerable to attack. The bad news is that if a cyber attack does occur, it can infect all your other systems. Updating your servers is crucial but it usually requires downtime so plan accordingly.

Update hardware as often as needed

How often you update your hardware is up to you. However, there are risks associated with keeping outdated technology around for too long. Frequent breakdowns and loss of data could hinder employees’ ability to work at peak efficiency. Running an annual assessment at the very least should help you make a determination when to pull the plug, make upgrades or invest in new equipment.

“Most breaches we become aware of are caused by failure to update software components that are known to be vulnerable for months or even years,” René Gielen, Vice President of Apache Struts

Be proactive

Taking steps to ensure that you have protocols in place to prevent attacks before they happen is probably the best way to save yourself some headaches in the future. Although you might be hesitant to spend the money upfront to beef up your security, it will save you money in the long run.

Invest in an Intrusion Detection System (IDS) or Intrusion Prevention System (IPS)

An IDS will notify you of botnets, malware, worms, Trojans and can test for vulnerabilities. An IPS do the same thing but can also be set up to take actions like blocking traffic when a threat is detected.

Fortify your firewall with a Web Application Firewall (WAF)

A WAF will protect against remote file intrusion, cross-site scripting and forgery and other threats that could put your customers’ information at risk.

Install antivirus/antimalware

Make sure your servers and computers all have the same software installed (maybe make a central backup on a central server). This will help to avoid conflicts that could lead to gaps in your protection.

“Many businesses remain too defensively-focused in the way they address cyberthreats.”
TechRepublic

Final thoughts on network maintenance

There are always going to be threats to your network. However, taking a proactive approach and putting a plan in place can help to significantly reduce your risk. If you find that you’re having difficulty with any of these points, it might be time to switch around your internal organizational structure.

Once you’ve determined a plan of action, be sure to stick to it. Make a commitment to hold yourself and your team accountable to keep your network safe and secure.

5 reasons to consider outsourced IT support

Deciding to outsource can be daunting. Perhaps you’re an SMB owner with limited resources. Maybe you’re aware of the benefits and advantages of contracting out to a specialized provider but don’t know where to start. Running an SMB means having to do several jobs at once. When it comes to your IT maintenance, you can maximize the efficiency of your workforce (and wallet) by looking at outsourced IT support.

When you use specialized IT support, you won’t need to worry about data backups, cybersecurity or infrastructure trends. You won’t have to spend time training staff on bug-fixing protocol.

If you’re on the fence and still deciding if outsourced IT support is for you, here are 5 ways it could boost your business:

You can reduce costs

Outsourcing IT to a specialized provider keeps your budget lower than employing an entire IT staff. The costs saving is especially true when you consider the costs of initial and regular training.

It can also get costly when you need to buy the right equipment for maintaining a well-functioning IT department. Not to mention having to all the bits and pieces required for hardware maintenance and repairs.

Paying a fixed cost with an IT company will save you from surprise expenditures and help you manage your annual operating costs.

You’ll enjoy 24/7 support and maintenance

Using the services outsourced IT support means there will always be an expert on the other side of an email or phone call who can help. To prevent loss of revenue and productivity, your IT support will recognize bugs before they’ve had the chance to affect your systems.

Instead of fixing a problem when it’s broken, it’s the IT company’s job to fix problems before you even notice them.

You have access to industry experts

In order to keep data secure, your business needs the newest technology and knowledge of industry experts. You (and your staff) will need stay up to date on relevant industry standards, which you may not have the time or resources for.

The security of your data is crucial. Luckily, it’s the outsourced IT support company’s responsibility to be well versed on cutting-edge technology. This allows you to focus on what’s important – running your business.

You can cut out the recruitment process

Recruiting new staff can be time-consuming, frustrating and challenging. Unless you’re an IT expert, it can also be extra tricky if you don’t know the exact specifications of the skills needed in a potential employee.

You run the risk of hiring people that don’t necessarily possess the right technical skill set and specialized knowledge. You might not have even defined the role according to what is really necessary.

Using the services of outsourced IT support can fix that problem for you.

You can let go of the steering wheel

As an SMB owner, management will always rank top on your list of fundamentals. But that doesn’t mean you have to do it all by yourself.

With outsourced IT support, you can rest easy knowing your IT efficiency, data and network security are in qualified, professional hands. With that peace of mind, you can be assured of better cost control, quality security practice and expertise while you run your business.

Painless hardware updates and upgrades

Every business needs to update its hardware from time to time to stay current and competitive on the technological front. The problem for many businesses, though, is that hardware updates can be disruptive and difficult to manage without negatively affecting day-to-day operations.

Luckily, if approached correctly, hardware upgrades don’t have to be a hassle.

Here are four tips your business can use to ensure that its next round of hardware updates goes smoothly and results in as little downtime as possible.

Go through a comprehensive planning process

Before executing major hardware updates, it’s critical for your business and the managed IT service provider you’re using to plan the process out thoroughly. You need to know exactly what hardware needs to be replaced or upgraded, then develop a plan to handle the updates with as little disruption to your everyday business operations as possible.

Staging and testing new equipment before bringing it into use can be a good idea, as it will help to eliminate downtime during the upgrade. Your plan should also cover the disposal of your old hardware since you won’t want it taking up space around the office.

Make sure your team is in the loop

Even the best hardware updates and upgrades will cause some disruption in your office. For this reason, making them go smoothly requires that you communicate with your employees about what will be done and when.

This communication stage also gives you an opportunity to ask employees what they would like to see when you buy or lease new hardware for them to use.

Let new technologies make the process easier

One of the beauties of upgrading your hardware is that it presents an opportunity for you to take advantage of new technologies.

Trading in your own servers for cloud-based solutions, for example, is an excellent way to make hardware updates easier, since it involves fewer infrastructure changes on your end. Cloud solutions are also extremely efficient, with Microsoft estimating that they can decrease the workload of small businesses by an average of 42 percent.

To make this change possible, you’ll need to partner with a cloud services provider that can assist you in migrating your existing data into a cloud computing environment.

Be proactive to limit downtime and keep things running smoothly

Many businesses make the mistake of trying to keep using their old hardware long after it has become outdated. Though this approach may seem to save money in the short term, it is a deeply flawed way of looking at necessary hardware updates.

Not only does postponing updates make it more likely that you’ll need to pursue a company-wide update program, but it also incurs more downtime and additional costs.

A Techaisle whitepaper prepared in 2018 found that PCs that were four years old or older cost 1.3 times as much money to repair as newer units and were responsible for 2.1 times as many hours of downtime. The same survey found that 36 percent of small businesses are using such outdated PCs.

This isn’t to say, of course, that hardware repair and maintenance aren’t essential components of a good IT strategy. However, proactively replacing hardware when it has become outdated can help to keep your business up to date and prevent the disruption that will occur if you have to perform all of your hardware updates simultaneously.

Final thoughts on hardware updates

If you use these tips and work closely with a good IT partner, your next set of hardware updates and upgrades should go quite smoothly.

The more preparation, planning and consideration you put into these upgrades, the easier it will be to pull them off without disrupting any of your core business tasks.