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The danger of comparing Apples with Apples  

When it comes to reviewing IT services many desire to be in a position to be able to compare 'Apples with Apples'. The reasoning is always quite simple. Given the inherent complexity surrounding IT coupled with a lack of expert knowledge in the area it makes sense to simplify the selection process. By viewing all vendors through a pre-defined lens, the pro's and cons of each vendor can be mapped out side by side. 

But does this method really make the process any simpler? 

Everyone is familiar with the term 'no brainer'. By definition, it is a decision or choice that is very easy to make and requires very little thought. Decisions are easy when there is a clear and obvious advantage to one of the available options. In order for there to be a clear and obvious advantage, you need to be aware of differences rather than the similarities. 

To take the metaphor literally for a moment; suppose you were tasked with selecting the best fruit to make an apple pie. In one scenario, you are presented with 3 varieties of apples. In the other, you are presented with apples, pears and plums. The first scenario requires expert knowledge of apple varieties, the second, could be answered by a child. 

Choosing Between Apples 

Commonly we see businesses struggle with final selection of an IT provider as they have narrowed their selection criteria to a handful of common attributes. To the untrained eye, each companies capabilities appear to be almost identical. Undoubtedly this perception couldn't be further from the truth. 

The truth is that each company likely produces vastly different results and service experiences. Results and experiences that could potentially make or break the company making the selection. There are various ways to uncover these differences (see this article) however for the average individual, the only difference they are likely to understand is the price. 

The Importance of Price 

When dealing with service companies, price is crucially important. The old adage of 'you get what you pay for' has a lot of merit. Ultimately, an MSP offering services cheap is likely compromised by either the quality of their staff, levels of resourcing, training & development, or a combination of all three. 

Inversely, spending more does not guarantee great results. Whilst it is a good indicator of a business that values their time and knows what it will take to deliver great results, price alone cannot guarantee a great choice. 

So despite the importance of price as a consideration, it cannot be the primary point of difference as it commonly is when comparing 'Apples with Apples'. 

Taking a Different Perspective 

When is comes to selecting a new MSP, the devil is not in the detail. Focussing too much on the detail narrows perspective and hides the major differences that are likely critical to the outcomes you are trying to achieve. 

As an extreme example, suppose you were looking for a new car with an automatic gearbox, lane assist, cruise control, automatic wipers and heated seats. Then suppose you decided to only evaluate vehicles based on this pre-defined list of requirements. 

Undoubtedly you would end up with a list of seemingly identical vehicles selling for vastly different prices. This list could easily include hatchback's, SUV's, Ute's and luxury sedans. With nothing else to differentiate your options other than price, it would be blind luck to choose the right vehicle for your needs. 

Whilst this example might seem silly as no one is buying a car solely off the spec sheets, it is an apt description of the importance of standing back and looking at the bigger picture. IT companies should be evaluated and qualified based on their cultural fit with your organisation, the alignment of their services to your needs, and their ability to deliver on their promises. 

If the goal is to make a confident decision in selecting a provider, your focus should be on differentiation. 

Choosing Between Apples, Pears and Plums 

Focus on capabilities and quality of service rather than merely the existence of common services. By doing so you are far more likely to be able to clearly differentiate between providers. This is done by broadening your scope and asking questions without yes/no answers. Some examples include: 

  • Explain how it is that you ensure the security of your clients' networks 
  • What challenges have you seen clients have when adopting Office 365? 
  • How would you recommend we go about creating an IT roadmap? 

These questions are so much better than 'Do you offer cybersecurity?', 'Are you familiar with Office 365?' & 'Do you offer strategy and advice?' as they give far deeper insight into their services & capabilities. 

Providers that give clear, competent answers are far more likely to deliver superior results. Additionally you will be able to see who is a better fit for your organisation based on their approach. 

It shouldn't take technical expertise to evaluate these important traits in a provider. Likewise, you should not feel the need to 'simplify' the process by reducing your scope to simple yes/no questions. Instinct commonly plays a huge role in evaluating potential hires in an interview. Similarly, your instincts should be able to differentiate the apples, pears and plums

The Internet of Things (IoT), has become a hot topic in the technology field. The exponential sophistication and adoption of devices have experts comparing this to the third industrial revolution from steam and power to computers, referring to this wave of new device usage as Industry 4.0 or the fourth iteration of industry as we know it.

IoT is already bigger than you might expect - from doorbells, security cameras, weather stations, smart workout gear, baby monitors, and even coffee pots are streaming data and connected to the internet. As with any cutting-edge technology, IoT does have its kinks that still need to be worked out. The biggest being the security threat that adding IoT devices poses to your network.

To read more on what is IoT: click here.

The Security Threat Posed By IoT Devices

The problem with IoT device security is that they are easily hacked, gateways to your entire network, and can't truly be protected by just a firewall.

In the first half of 2018, Kaspersky IoT honeypots detected 12 million attacks aimed at IoT devices coming from 69,000 IP addresses. By 2019 that increased to 105 million attacks from 276,000 IP addresses. Attempting to block all malicious IP addresses would be a huge and ineffective feat. Just recently, a Senior Researcher with Avast hacked into a WiFi-enabled coffee pot, devised a ransomware attack, and deployed it, causing the coffee pot to spew coffee and make noise until it was either unplugged or the ransom was paid.

The old castle-and-moat approach to cybersecurity - building an effective and strong firewall perimeter around your network, hasn't proven to be effective since smartphones and mobile devices have made working from home or on the go so easy. The more devices you connect, the higher the risk of a breach becomes.

How To Upgrade Your Security Approach For IoT Devices

Here at Sensible, we encourage the usage of IoT devices. They can be substantial productivity boosters, excellent solutions for your business needs, and can help your business scale. However, whenever introducing new devices to a client's network, we have to be cautious and mitigate the additional risk they pose to security. These are the steps we take to do so:

1. Evaluate the current security approach

As mentioned, only having a firewall isn't enough anymore. If we encounter a client that has not yet shed the castle-and-moat approach, we start by shifting their security to a more policy-based approach. Basically, this means we are adding extra security on the drawbridge over the moat. For every attempt to access the data, we put policies in place to prompt the user to verify they are who they are and that they should be accessing that information.

2. Be selective

With the addition of every IoT device, the security risks increase. We caution our clients against adding devices that they don't necessarily need. You shouldn't have to be accommodating for threats posed by your office coffee pot!

3. Research your options 

As the need for IoT devices increases, the market is being flooded by tons of new products. Just like in purchasing a new computer, you should do your research to understand if the device is good quality, has the features you need, is compatible with your existing systems, and can be secured. Working with an IT partner like us, we can make informed recommendations on what you should be looking for, and even source the devices for you.

4. Configure the IoT devices adequately

Once you have settled on the device you would like to add, make sure you have technical support when configuring it. The majority of devices do not come out of the box set up to be secure. We can help add additional security or enact the devices existing security measures to ensure it doesn't become a liability.

Client Success Story: Recently, we helped a medical research company implement video cameras in their lab so they could adequately observe and record sample changes 24/7. We were able to help them evolve their security approach, determine the necessary devices required to achieve the solution they needed, source cameras that were compatible with their existing network, could add necessary additional security and featured the live streaming and recording options the lab required.

If you have a business need, we can help you find a sensible solution. We love to help businesses improve by crafting and offering informed technology solutions. Book a call with us anytime, and we'd be happy to lend you our expertise.

We are all ingraining ourselves into an Internet of Things (IoT) world that, for the most part, benefits everyone – improving efficiency and keeping us connected to the devices and people that are important to us.

With the advancement of technology, almost every aspect of our lives generates data and sends us infromation over the internet. Smartwatches track our steps, smart doorbells keep us safe, smartphones know our location, video streaming services know what we like to watch and make recommendations, social media puts ads and posts in front of us that it knows we will like, our coffee pots even know when we would like our coffee made in the morning.

IoT is emerging as a powerful tool in the business world as well. IoT devices record and transfer data, and this can be applied to monitor important processes, give us new insights, boost efficiency, and allow companies to make more informed decisions. They can tell you what is really happening, rather then what you assume is happening.

 

So, what really is the Internet of Things?

IoT is a system of interrelated, internet-connected devices that can collect and transfer data over a wireless network. By combining these connected devices with automated systems, you can gather information, analyse it and draw conclusions to inform decisions better or take action to help someone with a particular task or learn from a process.

 

How can IoT help my business?

Here at Sensible, we have had great success in improving our client’s efficiency, security, and profitability with the correct implementation of IoT devices. Having the ability to monitor, track, and analyse important data easily has given our clients the visibility they needed to make better-informed decisions and take productive action to improve their businesses.

Whether it’s as standard as finding a better way for employees to clock in and out of work, or as niche as monitoring and controlling the temperatures of food shipments while they were in route to their destinations, IoT devices can help. We can help you by making recommendations and vetting devices that could make an impact.

 

How do I know what IoT devices to get?

IoT devices are great, but you don’t want to overdo it. When working with a technology professional like ourselves, we can help pinpoint areas of your business that could be optimised with the help of IoT devices, and then research the best model of that device for your business.

There is a lot to consider when adding any device to your business’s network:

1. Is it compatible with your existing devices?
We help find a quality device that will function within your existing environment and won’t require a ton of additional work to get it to “talk” with your existing systems.

2. What security threats will it pose?
Unsecure devices that are connected to your network can create massive holes in your cybersecurity. Many IoT devices are insecure out-of-the-box and should be reconfigured properly immediately. Recently, a WiFi-enabled coffee pot was proven hackable and exposed the rest of the corporate network to a ransomware attack. We make sure that any devices that will be connected to your network have been configured to the security standards necessary to keep your information protected.

3. Does your network have the strength to support additional devices?
The more devices you add to your network, the more strain you put on it. There is a breaking point where your network connection will slow and no longer be reliable. Depending on how many devices you add, you may need to upgrade your network capacity. We can help you evaluate your existing network and determine what it would be able to support.

 

I’m ready to talk about taking a more Sensible approach to our IT, who do I talk to?

We would be delighted to talk further and discuss how we can help you implement IoT devices, or simply examine your current IT approach and offer advice for improvement. You can book a call with our CEO, Katherine Spanner, via the button below.

 

If your business relies on Microsoft 365, you may have noticed that on Tuesday, September 29th, there was a multi-hour outage. Microsoft confirmed via their Twitter account that the "residual issue has been addressed, and the incident has been resolved." Still, for many, this was a wakeup call to the fact that they need to have a backup form of business communication.

Businesses are moving towards more modern workplaces. Many of our clients no longer utilise landlines and handle all communication electronically via platforms like Microsoft Teams, so when Microsoft 365 went down, they found themselves without any way to communicate to their clients or conduct their business.

For everything in life, to be prepared, you should always have a backup plan. In these cases of technology outages, we would recommend putting together a Disaster Recovery Plan detailing what to do if any of your virtual systems fail. That way if something happens, your business will be able to take it in stride with minimal interruption.

For example, in the case of losing your communication method of Microsoft Teams, your Disaster Recovery Plan should:

1. Plan how you will notify your team that the Disaster Recovery Plan is being enacted

2. Designate your secondary communication platform(s) for external communication and internal communication

3. Define where calls or messages should be forwarded to

4. Designate who will be in charge of setting up the call forwarding, be sure to include updated personal contact information for this person

5. Craft a generic message that can be posted to social media channels or on your website to inform your customers of the best way to reach you

6. Designate who will be in charge of posting your external messages, be sure to include updated personal contact information for this person and how to access the necessary accounts or website

7. Be shared with your team and kept in an accessible place so anyone can reference it if needed

If you are working with an IT provider, it is essential to share this information with them so they can help you adjust as needed if the time comes. Additionally, you can utilise their expertise to ensure your Disaster Recovery Plan is well detailed and sure to support you through a crisis. If your business could use help creating Disaster Recovery Plans for your solutions, we would be more than happy to help you out.

 

The Covid-19 crisis has forced organisations of all kinds, all over the world, to restructure the way they work. Technology has proven to be the backbone and pivot point of this restructuring process, with organisations transitioning to remote working environments and online services wherever possible. Unfortunately, this kind of transition is almost never a simple task—it takes time and resources. We’ve seen organisations struggle with a variety of things. They lose revenue because they can’t support their clients as well as they used to. The number of new security risks skyrocket due to unsecure data and remote access points. Problems with management and technology implementation result in downtime and productivity loss, which all feeds back into unhappy clients and lost revenue.

These things have been especially true for non-profit organizations (or, as we like to call them, “for-purpose organizations”). These organisations deliver essential services to their communities, and we at Sensible believe that it’s our duty and responsibility to support them as best we can. We’re a family business with 35 years of operational experience, and our expertise is focused on implementing information technology solutions to support various organisations. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t help in other ways.

While we can help our clients and for-purpose organisations implement and use technology solutions, there are other problems that non-profits have to deal with. Knowing that, we’ve put together a quick list of some grants that have come together to support the operation of non-profits during this Covid-19 crisis. We’ve outlined the basic information for our highlight grants below, but more information (and more grants) can be found online here.

Highlight Grants

The City of Sydney is providing Community Services Grants for between $5,000 and $10,000 to non-profit organisations up until the 27th of April. An eligible organisation must be non-profit, operate in the City of Sydney area, have experience and networks within the social service sector, and must describe how the Covid-19 crisis has impacted them. Sensible can help you apply this grant money towards implementing remote work infrastructure, staff technology training, and updating your e-commerce platform to maintain your revenue streams.

BHP has established the $50 million BHP Vital Resources Fund to support regional communities in the areas they operate. This would include, for example, the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales. The goal of this fund, which will distribute various amounts of grant money, is to build critical infrastructure for local and regional health networks, and keep essential community services operational.

The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) is offering an Individual Capacity Building Grant Round which is offering eligible organisations from $10,000 to $500,000 per year for up to two years. This grant closes on May 6th, so act quickly on it. The NDIA is looking for programs that ensure people with disability will have the skills and confidence to participate and contribute to the community, and also protect their rights. It also focuses on strengthening Disabled Peoples Organisations’ (DPOs) and Families Organisations’ (FOs) service capabilities. The Grant Round has three different grants, based on the building capacity; up to $25,000 for small individual capacity buildings, $50,000 for organizational capacity buildings, and $500,000 for large capacity buildings.

We Can Help

Sensible currently supports NDIA-registered organisations who provide services to people with disabilities, and we are a strong advocate for empowerment and capacity-building through technology—we work hard to provide innovative and effective solutions to these clients. We want our clients to spend more of their time helping the community, especially right now. We will talk you through the outcomes of working with us, and help you respond to your grant proposal. Our goal is to help you leverage these resources towards increased staff productivity, higher quality services, and a more connected and supportive work environment for everyone. Give us a call, we’d love to help you.

While some small businesses do not bother with budgets, they can be quite useful. Besides helping you manage costs, a budget can highlight areas where you might need to invest more resources. It can also keep you on track in meeting your financial goals.

Here are eight tips that can help you prepare an effective IT budget for 2016:

1. Take the Time

An IT budget is not something you can throw together in a day. It takes time and thought to create one that will help your company grow. It also requires input from your management team, as your IT systems are likely being used in many different areas of your business.

Further, an IT budget is not something you should file away and forget about once it is created. You should take time each month to check and update your budget as needed.

2. Look to the Present and Past to Predict the Future

A good way to begin your 2016 IT budget is to create a baseline budget that shows your IT expenses and income for the current year. You can then adjust it to account for anticipated changes in 2016. Examining your IT budgets from previous years can give you an idea of how variable revenue and costs have fluctuated from month to month, quarter to quarter, and year to year.

3. Do Not Try to Budget Down to the Last Cent

IT budgets are designed to only estimate where money will be coming in and going out. They are not accounting ledgers, so you do not need to account for every last cent.

Because you are just estimating your IT expenses and revenue, do not be surprised if your projections are wrong. You can adjust them as needed when you review your budget each month.

4. Align Your IT Budget with Your Company's Strategic Goals

IT systems can help or hinder a company's efforts to meet its strategic goals. For example, meeting the goal of improving customer retention is more easily achievable with a fast, reliable web ordering system than a slow, quirky one. Budgeting IT improvements in areas that support your company's strategic goals will help turn IT into a profit center rather than a cost center.

5. Budget for Hardware and Software Updates and Replacements

Many companies have outdated hardware and software because they do not keep track of when these resources should be updated or replaced. As a result, employees often use them until they fail. These failures can lead to many other problems, including lost productivity, security risks, and even system downtime.

A better approach is to use an asset management system to track when hardware and software need updates or are approaching the end of their life. That way, you can budget for upgrades and replacements. This will help you avoid the additional costs and hassles of dealing with failed hardware and software.

6. Invest in Measures That Will Improve Security

Cybercrime is on the rise, as studies by Symantec and ThreatMetrix show. However, many companies do not adequately invest in IT security.

A Spiceworks study found that 59 percent of IT professionals feel their organisations do not adequately invest in IT security. This is corroborated by the finding that those organizations plan to spend only 9 percent of their software budget, or 6 percent of their total budget, on security measures in 2016. Given the prevalence of cybercrime, spending more on security measures is a wise investment.

7. Do Some Calculations before Treating Cloud Costs as Operational Expenses

A Computer Economics study found that 56 percent of organisations plan to increase spending on cloud applications. In budgets, companies often list cloud costs as operational expenses so that they can increase or decrease them as needed. This gives companies more flexibility to meet financial goals. However, if you plan to use a cloud application for many years, it might be cheaper in the long run to treat the cloud costs as a fixed amortisation expense.

8. Do Not Postpone or Cancel IT Training to Reduce Costs

Training is a discretionary expense in budgets, so companies often schedule IT training later in the year. That way, if they need to reduce costs, they can simply delay or cancel the training and remove that cost from the budget. However, delaying or cancelling IT training can lead to more problems down the road, especially if it is security-related training for employees.

Remember, if you have the right IT partner, they will already include budgeting assistance and technology planning as part of their IT support agreement. We call this The Sensible Way to IT Management.

Call on 1300-SENSIBLE (736-742) or email : info@sensible.com.au if you would like some help with this process.

Many companies find themselves juggling IT problems along with their typical day-to-day responsibilities. Outsourcing IT work to a Managed Service Pprovider (MSP) lets a company excel at what it does best. Here are some signs that your business should look into hiring an MSP.

1. You don't have dedicated IT staff.

Small companies often rely on a computer-savvy staff member, rather than hiring an actual IT expert. Problems are solved as they occur, but little planning occurs to avoid future problems. A dedicated IT expert has the time and resources to anticipate hardware and software upgrades, as well as to protect a company from the latest security threats.

Another problem with this practice is that, even if a staff member is computer-savvy, they can only bring their own limited knowledge to the table. MSPs deal with recurring issues from multiple clients, and stay up-to-date on the latest IT developments. In turn, they generally possess a greater breadth and depth of IT-specific knowledge than you can source from within your office.

There's also an opportunity cost when a staff member is sidelined by IT responsibilities. Rather than completing the role they were hired to fill, they are sinking time into work for which they were not specifically trained. This could mean that your own customers are getting lower service levels.

2. Maintenance-related IT tasks are piling up.

Dealing with IT maintenance can be a huge distraction from your core business service and can negatively impact productivity. Software updates and licensing are just a couple areas where an MSP can offer relief.

Software updates require constant attention. Failure to keep up with them can cause vulnerabilities and expose company data. MSPs can create maintenance plans to regularly attend to updates and fix any problems that may surface during the process.

Software licenses also need to be properly acquired and maintained. With the exception of software you've written for your own use, all software requires some sort of license. The penalties for using unlicensed software include huge fines and expensive litigation, not to mention a tarnished reputation. When you hire an MSP, they'll keep organized records of your software licenses and create a schedule for renewing them.

3. You want to save money.

Many studies have shown that MSPs can reduce costs for small businesses.

Relying on yourself or another staff member for ad hoc IT support pulls resources away from your core competencies, which is inefficient and wasteful. A dedicated in-house IT staff isn't much better, requiring salaries, benefits, office real estate, equipment and training. They also need continuing education, such as courses and conferences, to stay current on the latest IT developments and trends. An MSP removes that overhead entirely.

With an MSP, small businesses only pay for the services and support they need. MSPs can monitor, protect, and support your infrastructure from a remote location using Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) software. They'll also work with other vendors to ensure that you get the best deals on hardware, software and technology services.

4. Your systems are slow or unreliable.

The right MSP can improve your current technology.

They will have processes to detect slow performing systems and also have methods for keeping them running optimally and more reliably.

This ultimately means less frustration for your staff and higher productivity levels. This means more money to your bottom line and means you can deliver higher customer satisfaction levels.

5. You are unsure what technology you should buy next

Small companies often do not know where to go when evaluating new technologies. Should you go to the cloud or not? Which service?

What about data security and privacy? Most small companies do not have the resources to research these options properly or even have the skills to know how to evaluate these options.

The right MSP has the experience and understanding and has already researched technologies on behalf of all of their customers.

They take the time regularly to stay in touch with your unique business to know what technology will really be the best long term fit for your business,.

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