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How Much Should You Spend on IT?

Businessperson calculating what they should spend on their comapany's IT

“How much should I be spending on my company’s IT?” This question comes to us all the time from people we talk to. They want to know if they’re spending too much or too little. Are they wasting their dollars? Well, the right amount to spend varies depending on your revenue and size.

A recent report by Gartner has companies spending about 2.3% of their revenue on IT but doesn’t differentiate based on company size. Another report by ROI consultancy firm Ailnean Inc. compared publicly traded companies on success measures and the amount they spend on their IT. While they found small businesses spending a bigger percentage of their revenue on IT than large corporations (6.9%, compared to 3.2%), they also discovered that the most successful small businesses were a little more conservative in their IT spend.

How much to spend on your IT

Even if you’re a small business, spending under 5% of your revenue on IT expenses is perfectly adequate. At a minimum, you should be spending at least Gartner’s recommended amount of 2.3%, perhaps a couple of percentage points more, depending on what you want to achieve over the coming years.

So, what does that look like compared to your last year’s budget? It’s possible you’re skimping on something that could come back to haunt you.

Regardless of whether you’re too high or too low in the amount of revenue you’re spending on IT, you need to make sure you’re spending your IT budget on the right things. Some investments are a waste of money and aren’t what your business needs to be focused on.

What kind of IT spending works best for your company?

You need to know what makes sense for a fixed, monthly operating expense and what makes sense for capital expenses. It’s helpful to forecast the capital expenses so you can plan for them. A managed IT services provider should be a partner in figuring that out.

Here are four things we look at to make sure our clients are spending their IT budget wisely:

1. Planning for software and equipment life cycles. Just because a computer is running doesn’t mean it’s good to go. Right now, computers running Windows 7 are going to need Windows 10 by January 2020 – that’s a little more than 2 years to upgrade desktop systems in your company, or they’ll be at risk for security vulnerabilities and breakdowns that cost you time, money and frustrations. Knowing things like that well ahead of time and planning for it allows you to allocate your budget more effectively.

2. Implement solutions to handle your future growth. You may not even have growth in the number of employees, but the technology demands on your company will continue to evolve. An increased demand on internet bandwidth happens to everyone as part of the digital age we live in. Trust us, nothing is worse than capitalizing a project and having to completely redo it 2 years later. Everything is in a state of exponential growth. You need a forward-thinking IT partner to avoid the bottleneck that can create.

3. Making technology work better. It might be that you need a new firewall to better prioritize VOIP traffic over internet traffic or you might need to upgrade your internet connection to better support your cloud solutions. Demands on your system are only growing, even if the user experience feels more simplified.

4. Make technology scalable. Doing so allows room for growth at predictable costs. This is especially true if you want to leverage cloud computing for your business. For instance, our EmailAssurance is the same product whether you have 5 or 500 mailboxes, and you pay for only the mailboxes you are using.

The bottom line is, if you’re not budgeting at least 2.3%, you’re not spending enough on your IT. To make the most of that budget, you must spend it wisely, and that requires the expertise of a managed IT provider to make sure you don’t waste your hard-earned revenue on tech junk you don’t need.

Spend your IT budget money wisely. We can help.

3 Things to Consider Before Going to the Cloud

Hand touching the cloud wondering if cloud services will work for their business

A look at all of the 2018 tech trends says that every business needs to be using cloud services. With the promise of lower price points, operating expenses instead of capital spend, and features that a small business might not be able to afford otherwise, it sounds like the perfect solution.

Whether or not the cloud is right for your business depends on a number of factors. Cloud services are great for many businesses. But, you need to get your ducks in a row before you jump in.

Here are 3 things that you should consider before going to the cloud:

1. Will it make financial sense for your business?

Your homework starts with a cost analysis. Will the total cost of ownership make sense for you as an operating expense or a capital expense? Do you have everything you need to make the cloud work? If not, what will you need? Make sure that’s included in your cost projections.

2. Do you have what you need to run your company on the cloud?

Fiber internet should be your primary connection. Your upload speed is as important as your download speed. A lot of internet providers accelerate download speed and have a slow upload rate. With 30 people trying to upload documents, that will be a frustrating bottleneck. If you rely on your applications an data, you’ll also need multiple internet connections incase one gets severed.

When you’re in the cloud, security is essential to keeping your business operational.  Moving to the cloud requires you to use a multilayer approach to security that includes with firewalls, antivirus and antimalware, and best practices use of username and passwords.

3. What cloud solutions will give you the biggest bang for your buck?

If you’re going to go into the cloud, do it wisely. Start with some of the solutions that are going to give you a bigger ROI or help you reduce expenses in the long run. These are a few of our favorites for small and mid-sized companies:

Single-use server. It’s not cost effective to keep a single-use server on site anymore. You can just skip the extra server by running more of your line-of-business applications in the cloud, or spin up the single-user server to the cloud.

Comprehensive and affordable email security. An email security package like EmailAssurance gives you an entire suite of email security products that were not even available to SMBs just a few years ago. As a packaged cloud product, the cost is per mailbox, per month, making it affordable for anyone.

Offsite backup to the cloud. Here’s a true story. A client of ours had a business suite neighbor burn some microwave popcorn and set off the sprinkler system for the entire floor. It destroyed everyone’s servers and documents. If our client was using failover to the cloud and cloud backup, the data on the servers would have been safe.

The cloud is as unique as the businesses it serves and can offer a lot of benefits. Rather than jumping in head first because the cloud is the tech trend du jour, make sure you have what you need to move forward smartly. Otherwise, it can cost you a lot of money to stay up and running.

Talk to an IT expert to make sure that you don’t go into the cloud blindly. We’ll help you figure out what makes the most sense for your business.

7 Tech Trends That Will Get You Ahead in 2018

When we look at tech trends, we’re not looking at what’s going to get the “cool” factor. We’re looking at what’s going to help your business run better, what will help your employees get more done and what’s going to save you some money. At the end of the day, the newest iPad or VR device probably isn’t going to give your business the edge you’re looking for.

These 7 recommendations are tech trends that can get your business ahead in 2018:

1. Upgrade to Windows 10 for your sanity
Windows 7 will be end of life in 2020. While that’s two years away, it can be pretty expensive if you wait until 2019 to update everything. Start upgrading to Windows 10 now, so you can keep your systems updated and avoid using software that’s gone out of service. Here’s why it’s dangerous to use end-of-life software.

2. Strengthen the walls of the castle
Considering the number of ransomware strains that took the front cover this year, it comes as little surprise that businesses are looking for ways to reduce access to their networks through firewall gateway boosts. Sonicwall is one of the best tools on the market today with enhanced security features like deep packet inspection. You can look for trade-in/trade-up pricing options to take advantage of enhanced security without a huge bill.

3. Be an elegant office host
Guest networks in your office aren’t just a fancy perk to offer visitors. A guest network is used by staff who bring personal devices to work and want to surf Facebook on them at lunch or vendors who stop by and want to show you a presentation on a laptop that hasn’t been scanned for malware in a decade. It just keeps your main network safer.

4. Avoid being like a certain credit reporting company
The award for biggest breach of 2017 (at least publicity-wise) goes to credit reporting bureau, Equifax. And it happened because they didn’t update their line-of-business software. If you’re getting emails from your provider telling you it’s time to upgrade, listen. If you need help, contact us and we can work with the vendor to get it done with minimal disruption.

5. Hack your office productivity
Move over, dual monitors and ergonomics. The trend of 2018 is going to be productivity boosts like triple monitors and wireless mesh for continuous connectivity around the office. Instead of cobbling together multiple wireless access points, a wireless mesh network can optimize performance and make it possible for people to stay connected to the same network anywhere in the building.

6. Skype for Business is out – Teams is in
At their Ignite Conference in September, Microsoft announced plans to replace Skype for Business with Microsoft Teams. The new platform will be an enterprise-grade voice, video and instant messaging platform and is only going to evolve as Microsoft builds in AI features down the road. Like Skype for Business, Teams will integrate with Office 365 and is predicted to quickly take over as the preferred communications clients for Microsoft users.

7. Get fiber internet
Fiber internet is ideal for businesses using cloud solutions (including backup and data recovery to the cloud) as it offers a symmetrical upload/download speed. It is much more affordable than it ever has been in the past, making it accessible to small businesses too. Both Comcast and Frontier have expanded their fiber options to more locations around Puget Sound, so give them a call.

Forget about trends for the sake of the coolest technology. For savvy small and mid-sized businesses, you need technology that will make a big impact on your business, and these 7 picks can do that. Make sure to pick a few to include in your strategic plans for the next year.

Need a strategic IT partner who can help you understand what technology recommendations are essential for your business? Contact Dataworks Consulting online or at (425) 687-6185.

12 Section 179 Deductions That Help Your Business

Managed IT Services Seattle

Q4 is the time to start thinking about the end of the year and planning for next year. You likely already know about tax law Section 179 which allows businesses to deduct up to $500,000 in purchases of equipment and software in the year it’s placed into service without having to amortize the purchase.

But knowing you can spend that money and knowing what to spend it on are two different things.

Our expert strategists put their heads together to come up with a list of 12 ways you can leverage a Section 179 deduction to help your small- or medium-sized business.

Improve productivity & efficiency

  1. Add new workstations or replace aging PCs (after 3 years).
  2. Replace aging servers (within 3-5 years).
  3. Give staff double or triple monitors and/or monitor risers.
  4. Upgrade your mobile devices (within 2-3 years).
  5. Improve your network infrastructure – start with a network assessment if you’re not sure what improvements are needed.
  6. Update operating software – especially if you’re using Windows XP or Office 2007 as these are no longer being supported and present serious risks to your business.
  7. Increase remote office options by adding a virtual private network (VPN) or secure cloud options.

The best values on the list

8. Virtualization. As you grow, you need more and more servers. By virtualizing, you can spin up multiple servers on a single server box. You get in-house control of email servers and line-of-business applications. Virtualization also lowers your long-term replacement costs, because you’re replacing one server box instead of several.

9. Wireless mesh network. One of the biggest values on the list, a wireless mesh network delivers, multiple interconnected wireless access points. Since these access points share identical configuration, employees are free to move about the office without disruption to their wireless. Be sure to stick to business-grade access points. Home access points are less secure and will still present connectivity problems.

10. EmailAssurance. Did you know Office 365 doesn’t include backups for your emails and has limited spam filtering? How much vital information is in your email right now? EmailAssurance is our complete email package that offers full email security and continuity across multiple platforms without having to onboard new technology or projects.

Security essentials

11. Unified threat management. Your security can’t depend on an antivirus or an older firewall. Threats constantly evolve, and the technology needed to keep them off your network evolves too. You need to have an updated, properly configured firewall, which includes a full gateway security suite.

12. Internet content filtering. While the cat’s away, the mice will play. Sometimes they play online poker on sites loaded with malware. Other times, they play their favorite TV show and eat up your company’s bandwidth. Internet content filtering acknowledges that the mice are going to play, and allows you to take control of what they’re playing on company networks – and company time.

Your Section 179 deductions can be used strategically to gain a competitive advantage, improve productivity, increase efficiency and reduce or eliminate future costs. If you plan well for it, this is one deduction that can bring your company a lot of value.

Want to take advantage of Section 179 deductions for your business? Chat with one of our experts to find out what’s going to give your business the best value.

 

Legal disclaimer: This article is not to be construed as legal advice. Be sure to check with your tax professional about any and all tax laws that impact your business.

The 7 Differentiating Ways We Protect You From Ransomware

With the WannaCry attack still circulating, businesses are up in arms wondering how to protect themselves.

The first question you need to ask yourself is whether or not your existing IT provider has adequately protected you from the latest in ransomware developments. As your first line of defense against cyber threats, your IT provider must be on top of your security..

Ransomware is nothing new.

It’s just that this particulary virulent strain has garnered international media attention. Now, even more ransomware developers have exploited the same security gap that allowed WannaCry in, meaning that more businesses are exposed to risks. That’s why when the media starts talking about a global threat that has swept up tens of thousands of victims, it’s a bit too late.

Ransomware protection starts well before that.

Some IT providers do not focus on protection and prevention, leaving you vulnerable. In those cases, it becomes a matter of time before something happens to your networks.

A proactive, holistic approach to ransomware is your safest approach. Here’s how we protected all of our clients from the recent Ransomware attacks:

  1. We start all clients with a full security assessment. Whether your IT is being managed internally or with another provider, you can have us come in and assess your network and will provide a report that shows you where we see room for improvement. If nothing else, this offers clients assurance that they are secure.
  2. We perform daily proactive maintenance and monitoring. When software patches are sent by vendors, we ensure that they are updated quickly, reducing the number of vulnerabilities that ransomware and other malware can get into your network.
  1. We ensure their software is always up to date. Everything from your desktop operating systems to your line of business applications to your server software needs to be an up-to-date version that is still supported by the manufacturer. When you use outdated software, you’re at a much higher risk for infiltration.
  1. We implement multiple layers of security. Security needs to include firewalls, email spam blockers and an antivirus that is constantly updating with new definitions to enhance your ability to block emails from ending up in your inbox and identifying malware before it has a chance to cause damage.
  1. We never skimp on backups. Regardless of what protective measures you do or don’t put into place, having the right backups ensures that you can recover quickly from the ransomware without having to pay the ransom or worry about remnants of ransomware being left on your device, ready to reactivate at a moment’s notice (yes, this happens).
  1. We set up resilient environments. For our managed services clients, we ensure that their networks are set up to be resilient. If they experience an outage, ransomware or some other malady, recovery is quick and painless.
  1. We test their security over and over again. If our clients get a suspicious email, they know they can call us and we’ll test it out to see if it is malware or a legitimate link or attachment. We get calls like that all the time, and have successfully thwarted a number of potential attacks because of that.

If you’re not sure how much security you really need, start with an assessment. At a minimum, you should understand what your risks are and be able to prioritize where your attention should be on mitigating those risks. Remember, it takes more than an off-the-shelf antivirus to protect you.

How are you protecting your company from ransomware? Contact us today for a Security Assessment at (425) 687-6185 or online.  

Protect Your Business from the WannaCry Ransomware Now

When the so-called WannaCry ransomware attack swept across the globe recently, it took hospitals, businesses, and consumers by storm, affecting tens of thousands of people.

Perhaps the most alarming part about the attack: it’s still going and it’s still evolving.

The attack preys upon a vulnerability in Microsoft operating systems, making it particularly widespread. Attempts to completely end the attack have been met with evolved ransomware attacks that take advantage of the same weakness.

This is a strain of ransomware that you don’t even need to click something to get.

Understandably, a lot of businesses and consumers want to know how to protect themselves.

Stop WannaCry ransomware from taking your business down:

1. Install all Microsoft patches. Microsoft put out a security patch that corrected this now-exploited vulnerability back in March. Yet, many companies do not regularly update their operating systems. We ensure that patches are installed when they come out, and have verified that this patch was installed for our clients.

2. Use current software. Many companies use Microsoft operating systems that are no longer supported by Microsoft – including Windows XP for their desktops or Server 2003 for their servers. Because it’s not supported, it’s no longer receiving security patches. If you’re using XP or other software that is no longer supported, upgrade immediately.

3. Have image-based backups. The best way to prevent ransomware from taking your business down is to ensure that you have an image-based backup system. That way, if your network gets infected, you can easily restore the data without paying ransom.

Think you’re infected? Take these evasive actions immediately:

1. Shut everything down and disconnect the infected computers from network.

2. Call a reputable IT provider with expertise in dealing with ransomware to determine your best course of action.

3. Avoid paying ransoms where possible. There are no guarantees you get your files back, and there is a strong possibility that malware will be left on your PC.

Warding off future ransomware attacks

With cybersecurity experts warning users to batten down the hatches for the next wave of ransomware exploiting these vulnerabilities, it’s important to start being proactive and educated. Your staff should know what to do in the event that they click on something and realize they made a mistake. There’s no shame in the mistake, ransomware is rampant.

If it’s not WannaCry, or similar variants, it will be something else. Being prepared to deal with ransomware is not something you do after an attack hits mainstream media. It’s something you and your IT provider should be proactively defending against.

This is our approach to security. If you’re not sure that you’re safe from WannaCry, give us a call at  (425) 687-6185  or reach us online.

Recurring IT Issues You Shouldn’t Be Having

Having issues repeat in your IT environment is more than frustrating. It drains productivity, it costs you money and frustrates staff. And it shouldn’t be happening.

Do any of these 7 recurring issues sound familiar?

1. Can’t use line-of-business software. This happens when your IT provider doesn’t understand the issue or will not communicate with your software provider. Your IT partner should talk to your software manufacturer to resolve the issue.

2. Internet issues. Internet problems hinder employees and can prevent customers from reaching you. Often, IT providers do quick bandaid fixes instead of correcting the real problem, and these issues resurface again.

3. Printing issues. This is not going to bring the company to it’s knees, but it can be a sign of a bigger problem. Either your provider doesn’t undertand the root of the issue or isn’t dealing with the problem at all. Neither are good indications of a provider who has your back.

4. Files are corrupt. Files can become corrupt and it shouldn’t be a major issue because you should have backups (hopefully your provider has advised you of this). But if it’s happening repeatedly, it’s likely that the source of corruption is not being addressed – and that could be a major problem.

5. Backups failed. When files get corrupt, you get malware, or data is otherwise lost, your provider should easily restore that data if you have backups. We test our backups quarterly to ensure restoration, and this is not something that your provider should take lightly.

6. IT provider isn’t reliable. If you can’t get answers on the phone or they don’t show up when they say they will, or they don’t bring their “A” game every time, then that’s a recurring issue with your IT provider and not one you should have to put up with.

7. Malware keeps spreading. If you have malware, your IT provider should be able to swiftly handle the infection and protect you. If you keep getting malware or the same malware keeps spreading, that implies serious security gaps.

Any recurring issue is a sign of a bigger problem, and it needs to be addressed. The fix for these recurring issues? Bypass your IT provider and get a third party to do a full assessment of your environment. The assessment will help you determine where the problem lies – in your environment or in your IT provider – and what the best solution is. The assessment protects your investments and your company, allowing you to get back to work and put these recurring issues behind you.

Are you having recurring issues? Contact Dataworks at  (425) 687-6185  or online.

 

4 Ways We Protect Our Clients From Threats

Threats are everywhere, and they’re not just targeting big business. Phishing emails of increased sophistication target smaller businesses because they’re often more unsuspecting. Hackers are getting through firewalls that aren’t configured properly.

In fact, some threats aren’t even targeting anyone specific. Open Wi-Fi connections are breeding grounds for security threats. Employees who use their mobile devices may be unknowingly infecting your network as they log in.

And to fight these threats, your IT provider needs to be responsive to your needs. If you feel like just a number to your IT provider now, what’s going to happen when you really need their assistance?

Here are just 4 of the ways that we protect our clients from threats:

1. Multilevel security. It takes more than antivirus software to protect your business. Security software suites often don’t cover multiple layers well, despite their claims. The best protection is gained by working with a provider who knows the best tools for your specific environment and budget and will use a multi-layered approach to implement those tools and manage them for you.

2. Affordable remote access solutions. Many companies think remote access tools are out of their reach, so they rely on unsecured methods which creates unnecessary vulnerabilities on your networks. However, secure remote access is easy, offering you both the productivity and accessibility your employees need, while keeping your data and networks secure from threats.

3. Proactive approach to IT. The best defense is a good offense. Our OneCare managed services plan offers companies the ability to proactively protect their networks. By keeping software and equipment up to date, using the latest threat detection and aversion tools and monitoring your networks for any signs of trouble, we’re able to thwart problems before they have a chance. 

4. Responding to clients promptly. You call because you want your problems to go away. We believe in responding to each problem and assigning priorities to ensure that all issues are given the attention they deserve and the urgency each situation warrants. Each ticket that comes in is reviewed and escalated within 12 minutes, regardless of how the ticket is generated.

At Dataworks, we understand what threatens your business. Combating those threats requires a comprehensive approach to IT from a provider who will respond quickly every time you call. Don’t wait for trouble to strike your networks. Make sure your company is protected today.

Find out if you’re at risk. Contact us at  (425) 687-6185  or online for an assessment.

 

5 Core Services to Be Sure You’re Getting from Your Provider

How do you know when you’re getting good value from your IT provider? For most companies, the answer is not so simple. In fact, many companies just make their decision based on cost, assuming all IT companies are alike. But they aren’t – not by a long shot.

It’s important to ensure you’re getting the best value from your IT provider. For starters, make sure they’re providing you with these 5 core services:

1. Service Level Agreement. This is your IT provider’s guarantee to you and takes out all ambiguity in your relationship. This is essential. Too many small businesses believe that if something is technology related their IT provider will automatically cover it – when this is not the case. By spelling out the terms of your service agreement with the provider, you will know exactly what to expect and hold the provider accountable. Otherwise, you’re at their whim.

2. Work with other vendors. Your managed services provider should work with your other technology vendors to make sure that everything works harmoniously. This is particularly true for line-of-business software, where there might be kinks to work out with your operating systems or servers to make everything seamless. Your IT provider should be focused on improving your productivity and not resorting to finger-pointing with the software vendor.

3. Multiple layers of security. There is no software suite or single solution that will adequately protect your business from all of today’s security threats. That doesn’t stop some IT providers from offering security services that include only antivirus and firewall and telling you that it’s adequate (it’s not). Your security should offer you multiple layers of protection, drawing from the best manufacturers for each layer, not relying on a canned solution. These layers are now more scalable and affordable, so they can better meet the needs of small business.

4. Remote access. As the business landscape shifts to accommodate more remote work, your technology needs to follow suit. This is something that small businesses can easily afford now without taking risks or making large investments on infrastructure. Your IT provider should be able to offer you multiple options that help remote employees securely connect to company networks.

5. Future planning. Technology pushes us forward and a good IT provider will be thinking ahead with you. That means everything from forecasting for the lifespan of your technology to helping you budget for upgrades and plan for the downtime that occurs during systems upgrades.

Sometimes, providers don’t provide the services your company truly needs, but you might not even find that out until a crisis hits. Even with these core services, if you don’t feel like your IT provider is a partner to your company, then chances are that you’re not getting the best value for your IT dollar.

Are you getting value from your IT provider? Contact Dataworks Consulting at  (425) 687-6185  or online.

5 of the Latest Security Threats to Small Businesses

The landscape of network security is rapidly changing. More and more, security threats are targeting small businesses. Hackers and criminals see smaller businesses as easy targets, as they are often less secure. The loss of data or prolonged downtime also has a much larger impact on small businesses, making security the No. 1 concern for many companies.

Here are 5 rising threats that your company needs to guard against:

Ransomware: The threat of ransomware isn’t new. It’s been around for a few years now. However, this may shock you: 65% of ransomware is now being delivered through encrypted websites that appear secure. The only way to safeguard against this is by increasing specific security measures on your firewall that will thoroughly inspect each piece of data coming through.

Internet of Things (IoT): The sheer number of different devices that can connect to the internet ‐from wireless access points to tablets, phones and even thermostats and door locks ‐ is astounding. A lot of small businesses use these without properly securing them. This creates backdoors onto your network, exposing you to a potential attack.

Firewalls: The latest firewalls are great security tools but only if they’re properly configured and maintained to not allow everyone on the network. Otherwise, they provide easy access points that can be exploited quite easily.

Phishing: This threat has been around for many years, but the level of sophistication has increased dramatically. Phishing emails look more realistic today than ever, making it easier to trick unsuspecting employees into giving up secure information. Email filters and employee education are both essential to combat this threat.

Mobile devices on the network (BYOD): Employees bringing their own mobile devices, customers accessing networks with their devices, and even portable company assets all pose different threats to your network that you need to guard against. This can easily be done with safeguards such as guest networks and mobile device management.

Many companies might think that they’re secure because they have the latest antivirus software, but this only guards against malware. Software suites for small business security are often ineffective too. While one or two applications in the suite tend to work exceptionally well, the suite often leaves gaps in coverage.

To be truly protected, you need to understand the threats targeting small businesses and use a multilayered approach to protect your company from these threats.

Contact Dataworks Consulting at  (425) 687-6185  or online.