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Top 3 IT Priorities for 2021

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!

December 16th, 2020|

Tech Talk: Five Reasons To Consider Microsoft 365

In this Tech Talk, Sebastian Igreti explores the top five features within Microsoft 365 that your business needs to know to defend itself from growing security threats and improve its productivity. Let’s dive in!

  • #1 – Online Protection With Exchange Online Protection, you get an email filtering service that guards you from malware hiding in emails and attachments. This also comes with ATP or Advanced Threat Protection, a cloud-based solution that monitors and pinpoints cybersecurity threats lurking in your inbox.
  • #2 – Mobile Device Management Mobile Management is a feature that contains a Bring Your Own Device Policy, which lets your employees use their own devices to access company data. Your team members can work on their personal phones, laptops, or tablets while connecting to company files without the worry of getting breached. This gives your company the convenience to work flexibly while getting a robust security perimeter.
  • #3 – Built-In Security Features With Azure Information Protection, you can control who can access sensitive content housed in documents and emails, while blocking outside users. Also, files like spreadsheets or Word docs containing information like credit cards and social security numbers are kept from being shared with Data Loss Prevention.
  • #4 – Windows 10 Pro Windows 7 is approaching its end of life, which means that in 2020, support will be lost and it’ll be time to move to the latest system. So included with Microsoft 365 is an upgrade to Windows 10 Pro. This also gives you Windows Autopilot which ensures that new devices are business-ready right out of the box and contain apps installed from the cloud.
  • #5 – Microsoft Teams Finally, Microsoft 365 for Business comes with Microsoft Teams, a communication tool that allows you to collaborate with coworkers via phone calls, meetings and individual or group chats. It’s available on PC, Mac, phones, and tablets, giving you the convenience to connect and collaborate from wherever you are.

In conclusion, Microsoft 365 is packaged with all the applications you need for effective IT security and helps your company’s success with great productivity tools. So feel free to reach out to us as you explore how Microsoft 365 can benefit your organization!

About TechMD

TechMD is an award-winning IT services firm that specializes in managed IT services in Orange County and Los Angeles, managed cybersecurity, cloud solutions, and strategic IT consulting. We are passionate about bringing enterprise-level productivity, scalability, and security to small and medium businesses.

June 30th, 2020|

5 Ways to Conserve Cash by Reducing IT Spend

TechMD’s sample 3-year budget summary

While we wait for the re-opening of the economy, most organizations across the country are still working through tough decisions about how to best conserve cash. Because IT spending is normally a significant line item in any organization’s budget, finding smart ways to reduce it can make a big difference in improving cash flow.

In big picture terms, labor costs make up the largest percentage of IT spend, so our best advice is to make sure you’re getting good value out of your IT provider. It’s also wise to get second opinions on large IT purchases—many businesses end up buying the Ferrari when they only needed the Toyota. However, there are a lot of things you can do in the short term to optimize your IT spending, and we’ve spent the last several weeks working through them with our clients.

Here are five things you can focus on right now:

1. Optimize Your Cloud Spending

If your organization has any IT infrastructure in the cloud, chances are you have idle resources that can be reduced or eliminated. One of the benefits of the cloud is that it allows you to pay for resources by the hour, so take advantage! If you’re only using cloud instances on weekdays, make sure you’re not paying for 24/7 usage. If you have cloud instances spun up for temporary projects, make sure they are decommissioned once the project is completed.

You should also look into Reserved Instances for AWS and Azure. These provide significant discounts in exchange for reserving a virtual machine for a set period of time. Many organizations see up to 72% savings by using Reserved Instances, so it can be worth it to finance them and pay up front to lock in your savings.

Finally, consider optimizing your backup storage. Any data that no longer needs to be stored should be deleted, allowing you to downsize your backup solution. If you have archival data that needs to be kept but not accessed regularly, you can move it into cheaper storage options. There are several good cloud options, like Amazon S3 Glacier and Azure Blob Storage, along with local hardware units like a Synology NAS. You can find more information about implementing cloud solutions here.

2. Audit Software Licenses

Keeping software licensing up-to-date is one of those IT tasks that often falls through the cracks, and it’s common to see businesses paying for extra user licenses they’re no longer using. Do a thorough audit of every piece of software that your business works with and confirm that you still need all the licenses you’re paying for.

At TechMD, we recently gamified this process and empowered our team to search for wasteful spending on licensing. Our team scoured our SaaS applications and, in just two weeks, we were able to reduce our software expenses by over $1200 per month.

Most organizations can score a quick win here by looking at their Office 365 licensing and active mailboxes. Whenever we onboard a new client at TechMD, one of the first things we do is audit the client’s Office 365 users and licensing costs. In most cases, the client is paying for licenses associated with former employees, and we are able to immediately reduce their Office 365 costs by 10-20% per month on average. The savings add up!

TechMD’s “software licensing beach” before we kicked off our licensing reduction minigame

The end result of our licensing minigame!

3. Reduce Connectivity Costs

Internet speed and capacity has only gotten better over the past several years, but many organizations are still paying for an internet package from 5+ years ago. Asking your ISP for updated service plan options or shopping around with different ISPs often yields internet packages that offer better internet quality for less money.

The same goes for your phone system and cable service. They may offer temporary discounts for placing services on hold, or you may be able to find better options available for your office. Finally, many telecommunications brokers are offering free audits, so you can quickly and easily find out if you’re paying too much for connectivity services. If you need a good reference, contact TechMD and we will introduce you to someone that can help.

4. Leverage Partner Programs

Many large technology vendors have partner programs that can cover up to $15,000 in costs when updating or migrating your IT infrastructure. For example, Microsoft offers a wide variety of cloud readiness programs to help fund cloud assessments, Azure migrations, and Microsoft Teams adoption. This can represent huge savings on IT projects that were already scheduled and can also offer the opportunity to invest in modernizing your IT for no cost.

Partner programs are constantly updating their offerings, so we recommend reaching out to your IT provider for more information about what’s available right now from your vendors. If you need some additional guidance on this, you can always reach out to TechMD.

5. Conserve Cash Flow with Hardware Leasing Programs

Due to the global uncertainty, many companies are delaying the rollout of planned IT projects. However, if you have critical infrastructure upgrades that can’t wait until the crisis subsides, you may want to consider leasing options, especially since the assistance you can get from partner programs and discounts from vendors can help make these an even more attractive option. So if you need to invest in your IT right now, you can often conserve cash through leasing options.

Leasing has come a long way since the old days of traditional equipment financings. Organizations can now include software licenses, labor costs, and even Reserved Instances (see #1 Optimize Your Cloud Spending) into digestible monthly payments. If you don’t know where to look, let us know and we can point you in the right direction.

IT spending can often feel like it’s out of control, impossible to understand, and woefully opaque. At TechMD, we don’t think it should be this way—IT costs can be transparent, budgeted for, and planned out in advance. For example, you can take a look at a sample 3 Year Technology Budget Summary that we use to guide our clients through their upcoming IT expenditures. If you have any questions about how you can reduce IT spending without sacrificing critical IT infrastructure, TechMD would love to help. Contact us today to start a conversation.

May 7th, 2020|

Tech Talk: Conquer Your Inbox with Sanebox

If you’re anything like most professionals, you probably receive hundreds of emails on a daily basis, and filtering through them to find the ones that need immediate attention can be time-consuming. In this Tech Talk, Sebastian Igreti discusses how Sanebox has helped TechMD team members filter bulk email, remind me about unaddressed emails, and automatically categorize incoming messages for organized reading.

July 10th, 2018|