2020 was an unprecedented year, and businesses with inflexible IT solutions were caught off guard and had a rough time during the pandemic. And with continuing uncertainty, most organizations we talk to are trying to avoid getting surprised by sudden IT issues and costs over the upcoming year. 

In light of that, we’ve been looking at some new priorities as we discuss our clients’ IT strategies for the upcoming yearranging from budgeting to cybersecurity to cloud technologies. Here are three key priorities to make sure your business isn’t caught off guard by IT in 2021: 

1) Develop an IT budget 

With tight budgets and an uncertain economy, the last thing most businesses need is a big surprise IT expense in 2021. Believe it or not, IT budgets can be created and followed with the right team and good prioritiesYour IT budget should align with your goals, ensure you can invest in the technology you need to run your organization effectively, and plan to respond proactively to cybersecurity risks. It should also include plans for key expenses, such as: 

  • Large IT infrastructure projects 
  • IT support and maintenance agreements 
  • New hardware & licensing costs 
  • Telecommunication costs: ISP, VOIP, etc.
  • Cybersecurity Insurance 

During this process, make sure that you involve your organizations leadership team and stakeholders. If you don’t have a C-level IT employee at your company, you may want to look into engaging a fractional CIO or company like TechMD to help guide you through the process.  

2) Avoid Cybersecurity Surprises 

It seems unfair, but the reality is that ransomware attacks grew immensely during the pandemic. Cybercrime Magazine recently reported that a company was successfully attacked every 11 seconds in 2020. For that reason, 2021 has to be the year that your business creates a cybersecurity incident response plan. It’s critical to have a clear policy and procedure to follow when your organization is hit with a data breach or a ransomware attack.

If you feel lost creating that policy or are unclear about what your cybersecurity risk profile looks like, 2021 should be the year to invest in a cybersecurity assessment, which are not as expensive and impractical as you may think. All businesses should conduct a Security Maturity Level Assessment (SMLA) that follows the clearly published guidelines of the two cybersecurity authorities: the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF) and the Center for Internet Security (CIS)The SMLA process provides you with a clear picture of your organization’s most critical cybersecurity vulnerabilities, along with your official Security Maturity Level Score (ranging from 0 to 5). From there, you will be able to create a prioritized and customized action plan that will maximize the ROI of your cybersecurity program. You can learn more about the SMLA process here. 

3) Invest in Your Remote Workforce 

2020 was a mad rush to the cloud, as the pandemic forced businesses to find and implement remote workforce solutions quickly. Many organizations ended up with stop-gap solutions that left important details unchecked, which is both a cybersecurity risk and a drag on productivity. 

Cybercriminals have been specifically targeting remote employees this year, and taking steps to secure remote workforces should be a top priority for most businesses in 2021. Here are a few critical items to prioritize: 

  • Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) is one of the best cybersecurity tools or policies in terms of return on investment: a recent Symantec study found that over 80% of all data breaches could have been prevented by 2FA. If you’re not familiar with how 2FA works, you can check out our One-Minute Wednesday episode on 2FA. 
  • Single Sign-On (SSO) is a solution that allows users to log in once, using a master username and password, and then have those credentials provide access to all their other business apps. You can learn more about SSO by reading our recent article here. 
  • Secure your VPNs by enforcing complex password policies and requiring two-factor authentication. Additional policies such as blocking certain geographic regions from accessing your VPN is also a good idea. 

Remote work isn’t going anywhere, so 2021 will also be a good year to look at how to fine tune your company’s culture and increase engagement and productivity with your remote workforce. Here are a few tasks and tips to add to your list: 

  • Figure out how to communicate more effectively on platforms like Microsoft Teams. Use of Teams, Zoom, Slack and Google Chat/Hangouts all spiked to record levels in 2020, and in our experience, usage grew organically with little to no management oversight. 2021 will be the year to create standards for how messaging gets distributed throughout your organization. Take a look at the Teams, communication channels, and security user groups that exist today and think about how they can be organized more effectively.
  • Clean up and secure your cloud file storage platform. The remote workforce in 2020 also led to increased usage of apps like Dropbox, SharePoint, OneDrive, Box, Google Drive, etc. Does your company have policies and protections in place to clearly dictate what your staff can and cannot do with company data? Have you double checked your user and folder permissions to confirm that employees can’t access confidential company data or share sensitive information? Have your IT team take a look at the configurations and make sure data is separated and secured properly. 
  • Consider upgrading your old phone systemThe modern remote workforce requires the ability to take work calls from home in the same manner as at the office. Many businesses are still working off a legacy system that made transferring and answering calls a painful experience in 2020. Modern phone systems can be hosted from the cloud and soft phone apps can be added to mobile devices to make communication nimble, professional, and effective. Be sure this is on your budget and engage a VOIP consultant to help find the right solution. If you don’t know a good VOIP consultant, contact TechMD and we can refer you to someone 

Get Proactive in 2021 

2020 highlighted the importance of staying proactive about IT, and 2021 will likely be no different. Businesses will need to prioritize creating a budget for IT, developing a robust cybersecurity posture, and making sure their remote workforce is flexible and productive in order to stay ahead of the curve. If you are looking for help with any of these areas or feel like you could use some guidance about planning out your year, please don’t hesitate to contact us!