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The DIY IT Audit Checklist and How to Conduct It

An internal IT audit is often overlooked, misunderstood or even ignored by businesses until one of two things tend to happen. Either, they experience a negative impact from poorly provisioned or deployed IT, or they already use a responsible IT provider. If your business is working within a regulatory framework, this IT audit checklist should be an essential element of your IT audit and overall strategy.

In many cases, your business will rely on auditors to determine whether your organisation operates within the boundaries of regulatory compliance. Everything from data storage to identity and access management (IAM) systems face scrutiny. Businesses often have bespoke IT environments, each with different perimeters to defend and users or data to manage, a coordinated audit plan is an absolute necessity to ensure your internal controls are effective.

To be effective, you must understand what external auditors will look for during a compliance audit. Ask yourself if you are able to demonstrate:

  1. Effective controls to address regulatory compliance and that the design of your IT deployment has zero deficiencies.
  2. That your business continually monitors and employs those controls so that there are no processes that compromise your compliance framework design and threaten your computer system security

Evidence is Key

Whenever you design and implement security and controls for the benefit of your customer’s and your business’ security, you should always document and produce evidence, which you can make available to auditors. Your control program, must be more than just effective, its effectiveness must also be visible. You can achieve this by monitoring and reporting on both, the design of your controls and the processes to which your organisation’s individuals adhere.

Follow these steps and you will closely replicate a compliance IT audit:

1. Plan the audit

Take into account everything mentioned above and consider your deployment’s weaknesses in relation to the Governance Risk and Compliance framework you have in place. Plan the audit around regulations, risk assessment and cost implications of design or system failure.

2. Hold and audit meeting

Discuss with key stakeholders how you plan to conduct your audit and ask for feedback on how your audit will affect staff, operations and particularly seek out information that will contribute to the effectiveness of your audit.

3. Collect Data and Test

Begin the audit process and collect data that identifies deficiencies in your IT systems. Review IT policies and procedures as well as your business’ structure. Speak with personnel and refer to your Business Impact Analysis. Monitor the processes and procedures in action to ensure your organisation and employees adhere to the documentation or training.

4. Address Identified Problems

Correct anything, which you identify in Step 3. Consider the best approach to dealing with deficiencies. This could be better documentation, improved procedures or a redesign of your security policies and IAM systems.

5. Repeat Step 3

Test the changes you make to ensure they are effective. Ensure you test every part of your organisation as if you were doing so for the first time. Any changes you make may have an impact on the effectiveness of controls and measures that were not addressed in Step 4, which means a thorough testing plan is necessary as if testing for the first time.

6. Report the Findings of Your Analysis

Reporting must be relevant to both your organisation and the regulatory framework in which it operates. Your IT provider should have a thorough understanding of laws pertinent to your industry, including financial, health and legal industries in addition to understanding cross-border data protection and compliance issues. Compare your reports to each regulation framework with which your business needs to comply.

7. Create a Final Report

Not every issue will call for a major overhaul. Some features of your IT may need additional monitoring or minor tweaks as part of an ongoing audit process. Consider suggesting automated IT processes that identify problems, report and document them in accordance with compliance obligations.

You can meet many regulations by simply identifying where better monitoring is necessary to allow your organisation to respond to problems. Suggest IT controls, updating procedures and auditing schedules that will ensure your organisation sits well with external auditors.

Where to Start

Wherever possible, work with external auditors and regulatory bodies as early as possible in the process. Assess your IT provider to ensure they have the skill-set, knowledge and experience necessary for your business to comply with regulations.

Most of all, address auditing before it becomes a problem. The earlier your IT systems employ sufficient control frameworks, the easier it is to scale as your business grows.

The complete 8-step checklist for ensuring your Office 365 rollout was fully completed

Migrating to any new system can be a major task and moving your enterprise to Office 365 is no exception. One of the advantages 365 will often have for organisations is its relative familiarity, helping the rollout to staff in terms of training and potential user resistance. Nevertheless, the process still needs to be carried through with diligence. And by following these simple steps, you can ensure that your rollout runs smoothly to full completion.

User Accounts

Ensure you have all users collated within the organisation. Everyone who will be using the system should be accounted for, with a record of username and password for each user. Make sure that every user has been successfully added to the Office 365 subscription with contact details entered into the correct directory and email address set-up functional and with password appropriately set.

If you are operating multiple Office 365 subscriptions, ensure that each user is assigned to the appropriate subscription, so that they have access to (and restriction from) the requisite applications.

Mailboxes

Do you have the correct number of mailboxes set-up for the business? This might include mailboxes for:

  • Individual Users
  • Shared departmental
  • Conferencing

Ensure mailboxes are of appropriate size to cope with capacity.

Configurations

Ensure you have correct configurations for the various devices used in the company, such as:

  • Browsers
  • Operating Systems
  • Mobile Devices

Have you accounted for every device used in the organisation?

Understanding the different versions of Office 365 for different devices is an essential tool in the future management of a multi-user and remotely accessed system. Ensure that you have correctly set-up and configured Mobile Device Management (MDM) for Office so that you are able to record the devices accessing the system, including any facility required to block access or wipe the device.

If your enterprise has a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy, then managing system access through the App should be similarly set-up accordingly.

Network

Is your network correctly set-up? Check that firewalls are correctly configured, that internet connectivity and bandwidth is appropriate.

Ensure that DNS records are correct and pointing to the Office 365 servers.

File Storage

Ensure you have located and accounted for all files so that they are appropriately migrated to the Office system.

If migrating files to the Sharepoint system, ensure that your subscription has accounted for appropriate storage capacity.

Ensure that libraries and sub-folders have been set-up to enable data to migrate to the correct location.

Hybrid Environments

Will Office 365 be integrated with existing services? For instance, you may have existing local Office products in operation (such as on-site directories, existing Skype set-up). Ensure that your Office 365 system is accurately synchronised with these local set-ups so that they mirror each other and avoid confusion or lost information in future use.

Similarly, user identity needs to be mirrored between local user ID and cloud-based ID. This ensures that appropriate access is given to users for the data and applications they require via both local services and online.

User Preparation

System users need to be fully prepared for the migration. This means effective communication, including timings for roll-out, and making clear what the migration will entail, any changes they’ll notice in use. And when their accounts, mailboxes and application access is going to go live.

Roll-Out Support

At the go-live date and across the roll-out period, ensure that suitable training and support is provided for users across the company. This should entail comprehensive support from the IT team and service desk, adequately prepared to deal with roll-out queries and assistance.

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The 4 Best ways to improve your Linux desktop security

You don’t have to search too far through the pages of Google to find historic articles, such as this one from 2010, aimed at highlighting how secure the Linux operating system is, in comparison to rival systems – in particular Windows. And while there’s a historic truth to the fact that Linux has been a safer platform, less susceptible to malware attacks, to believe that it’s a platform immune to breaches is to be lulled into a false sense of security.

Less susceptible, yes. Impervious, no.

However, there are some simple recommendations you can adopt to bring immediate peace of mind, and here are 4 of the best…

Update Regularly

The first step in ensuring any operating system is at its most secure is to make sure that it’s up-to-date. This means keeping on top of updates to the server and all its related applications: browser, media players and such like.

It’s a simple thing to do and, in many variations of the system (Ubuntu, for example) it can be set to update automatically. This may well be set as a default or can easily be set-up for automation in the system settings.

Set Up a Firewall

Similar to Windows and a range of third-party security applications, Linux has the facility to set-up a firewall within its system. When initiated on the system, the firewall offers an effective barrier against malicious software entering via the typical access points – such as email or web browsers.

And yes, malware is a threat on Linux. It may be a much lower risk than Windows, but it remains a risk nonetheless.

Most Linux systems won’t have the firewall activated as a standard. It will however be contained within a component in its kernel, known as iptables. Learning the best ways to configure can add a significant layer of safety to your desktop.

Encrypt!

Again, much like any operating system, encryption can provide high-level security to your desktop. The files and content on your system can be as vulnerable on Linux as they are on any other OS to those unscrupulous types seeking to gain access to them. If your computer is stolen, or someone is able to gain access in any way, a password is easily by-passed. Encryption, on the other hand, locks down all data, keeping it out of sight even in the event of theft.

Most popular Linux distributions offer the facility for encryption at the point of set-up or installation. Depending on the extent you want to set up this security measure you have the facility to encrypt specific files on the system (those that contain the sensitive data you want protected, for example), or a full disc encryption – which encrypts the entire hard drive.

Naturally, full disc encryption offers the highest security levels, and ensures that the data contained in temporary files and elsewhere is also protected in the event of a desktop breach.

Secure the Browser

You may have set-up your Linux system for the highest levels of security, but what about the web browser you’re using?

So many malware and phishing threats gain access to your system via the browser. Applying simple security extensions (available on all main browsers) will add yet another layer of security and privacy to your system.

Conclusion

All systems have their vulnerabilities and Linux is no exception. And, by understanding this simple truth, you are actually giving yourself the greatest chance to ensure your desktop remains safe. So, rather than ignoring potential risks and pottering on in the misguided belief that you are operating on a secure platform, take these simple measures to ensure that this remains the case. Should you require assistance with your set-up, contact our Linux support specialists today.

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Self-Assess the Data Risks in Your Business in 3 Easy Steps

As your IT dependency grows, and your business expands, understanding your data risks and your company’s compliance responsibilities can be tricky. Indeed, it’s often the last thing on your mind when your business is growing. Concentrating on delivering better service to your customers, increasing your outreach, and improving your profitability naturally take precedence over areas that don’t concern revenue building.

But, identifying the data risks in your business is an extremely crucial activity. A single data breach (like the theft of a customer list) can cause serious consequences and generate liability expenses that destroy your business.

Assessing your current and future data risks is an essential task for any size business. These three steps can help you accurately recognise your risks, that way you can develop proper governance and compliance protocols designed to prevent violations.

1. Identify important data & regulatory compliance requirements

You must conform to the rules of data protection established for your industry if your business stores, collects, or uses personal information. And, the rules apply to information regarding your staff, your customers, account holders, and practically anyone relative your operation.

The Data Protection Act, and other industry watch groups like the FCA and PCI, outlines your responsibilities concerning specific forms of information—the who, what, where—but common sense guidelines that include a kind of “Golden Rule” type approach can get you started.

Important data includes anything that you wouldn’t want made public, either to your co-workers, employees, acquaintances, or anything pertaining to information that you wouldn’t want other people to freely know or access. The key categories include business critical and commercially sensitive data, as well as personnel files, medical histories, and financial data, but CCTV, voice recordings, and other monitoring techniques also fall under this umbrella.

2. Identify Operational and Technical Risks

Since your company can’t function without a certain level of sensitive data, it’s important to look at the risks that surround the information you use, store, and collect. How are you storing sensitive data on customers and employees? Are there adequate protections in place?

For example, if you keep employment information and staff records in a physical filing system, is it secure? The same concerns surround electronic filing systems. Who has access? What are the restrictions, and what type of cyber security is in place to prevent breaches? Does your company need to update its PCI compliance?

By looking at the way your company uses and protects your business data, you can recognise potential risks before they become a problem. Categories include:

  • Freedom of Information

  • Electronic marketing

Employing email, texts, phone, and fax to send promotions and using cookies all require certain levels of data compliance.

3. Assessing Your Risks

With the information you’ve gained from the first two steps, you can make an accurate assessment regarding your data risks, and develop solutions that will mitigate them. Consider the repercussions that can occur from improper data protection/usage in these areas:

  • CCTV

  • Credit and Finance (agreements)

  • Data Processing

  • Data Sharing—disclosures under TUPE

  • Employment Data

  • Identity Scanning

  • International transfers

  • Direct Marketing

  • Internet and Computing—BYOD, cloud, DPA (Data Protection Act) regarding social networking and online forums, etc.

  • Electronic Communications

  • Privacy Notices

  • IT security protocols

Essentially, the solutions will involve having code of practises in place for each situation, and monitoring changes that occur in the laws and compliance regulations regarding data protection.

Depending on the size of your organisation, it may benefit your company to institute a comprehensive GRC (governance, risk, compliance) programme. Comprehensive protection will include applicable methods for tracking and logging network activity, such as who has access to sensitive information, mailbox activity, etc. The key is to develop a balance that protects your business with sensible controls without generating excessive costs or hindering employee productivity.

Even if you are a company that has no external compliance requirements, you should still be concerned about your internal data protection. Business critical data, such as your customer records, and important Intellectual Property like pricing systems also need to be protected. One of the most common concerns for  businesses is internal data theft, e.g. employees taking important data with them when they leave their job. Whilst it is often impossible to completely prevent this without negatively affecting productivity, there are still steps you can take to mitigate the impact.

Speak with one of our experts today about the managed security services and data protection solutions we offer. For more information on how SMBs can identify and mitigate data risks, visit the ISO website.     

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How Feasible is Cloud Migration For Your Business?

Cloud computing is being adopted in ever increasing numbers by businesses across the UK (and indeed globally). The digital landscape has evolved with the cloud an integral feature of business IT.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that every business has, nor indeed should they adopt cloud technology.  While more and more are making the switch, we should also remember that there’s a significant number still to make the leap away from their old networks into the ‘brave new world’ of the cloud. And for wholly legitimate reasons.

For those small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) still exploring whether or not the cloud is the right way to go with their IT then a number of factors need to be considered to determine the feasibility of any migration – either in whole or part – to a cloud-based service.

Connectivity versus Applications

For the cloud to deliver a productive and efficient service your business needs to be running an internet connection which is robust enough to cope with the size and scale of file sharing that you need.

Whilst the cloud you opt for will offer a service with maximum uptime, if your internal internet connection is running on a low bandwidth capacity, you may find your system becomes slow. Such a scenario could therefore negate the productivity benefits the cloud can offer.

Businesses that work with very large file documents – graphics and media for instance, might have a particular issue with this. Working with a specialist IT consultant would allow you to take a tailored solution offering advice on increasing bandwidth to cope with your cloud demands or even providing a hybrid solution which would combine cloud services with more traditional local storage to match the needs of your company.

Let Your IT Consultant Assess Your Business Requirements

Rather than taking your business headlong into a cloud migration, work with an IT consultant with expertise in tailoring a system that works for you. By doing so you can expect a full audit of your current IT set up whilst analysing overall needs. Your IT is a crucial component of your business and your provider can be a key partner in ensuring your system matches the specific requirements of your company, be that cloud-based, local networking or a hybrid of different tools.

4 Considerations for your Business Needs

1. How much investment have you made in your current IT infrastructure?

If you’ve invested heavily in your existing IT system on hardware and networks, you need to balance the costs against long-term potential benefits of migrating to the cloud.

2. What security do you require on your data?

Your provider should recognise that security levels will differ for different industries ranging from data that can be safely shared in the public domain to highly confidential documents which are stored in hard copy only.

Whilst utilising the different cloud options may provide advantages in one area – as well as high levels of security – if you are working with extremely sensitive data then there may be a case for protecting this locally through high-security firewalls and similar measures.

Your IT consultant can work with you to ensure that any migration which occurs take into account every level of security needed to protect the integrity of your business.

3. How much training will your staff require?

Making any significant changes to your infrastructure or way of working is likely to involve a degree of training. Whilst cloud migration can often be a relatively simple procedure a business needs to consider the short-term impact of a new system roll-out before embarking on the change. Again working with an expert IT support provider offering a range of cloud and non-cloud solutions will allow you to make the choice most suited to your circumstances.

4. Support

Your current IT set up may well come with a certain level of support and maintenance which you are comfortable with and suitably budgeted for. Understanding how any migration might alter the way in which your business is supported is a crucial factor in any feasibility study before you migrate to the cloud.

Conclusion

Migrating your IT system requires critical levels of scrutiny, analysis and diligence in order to make it cost-effective, user-friendly and, importantly – secure. And, while there are many well-established benefits for businesses to migrate to the cloud, from productivity improvements to savings in hardware and maintenance, it’s not the right option for every business. Indeed, in a large number of instances migrating wholly to the cloud may not represent the most effective solution for a given task or time.

Research within your industry; maybe companies similar to you have changed their IT, offering insight to the relative factors which may affect your business. And, of course, work closely with an IT expert who can provide a thorough, painstaking analysis of your business needs, ensuring that any migration or changes made are suitable, secure and rolled-out with minimal day to day disruption; leaving you with a robust, safe and cost-effective IT system able to meet every challenge.

help4IT promotes corporate social responsibility by joining The Heart of the City charity

help4IT is delighted to announce that it has joined The Heart of the City’s social responsibility programme, a charity sponsored by the city of London to promote corporate social responsibility. Giving back to the community is a major part of our culture as a company, and as individuals. As such, to action social good is at the core of our long-term vision. By embracing responsibility and encouraging a positive social impact through our actions, we can help to maximise the impact of our community investments.

We take our responsibilities to the community seriously and believe that it is critical to work hard to develop a successful corporate social responsibility policy, which is why we will be participating in The Heart of the City’s “Newcomer” programme.

The programme is comprised of opportunities such as volunteering, community and environmental impact schemes, diversity and wellbeing schemes, sustainable procurement, and much more.

At help4IT we believe in the power of technology. All of this will help us to bring social responsibility closer to the centre of what we do as a technology service provider.

Too many technology companies take a lenient approach to corporate social responsibility. We are proud to be different. Find out more about what makes help4IT different by reading more about us here.

5 reasons why Linux matters to your small business

Most fast-moving modern businesses will have heard of Linux. They may even be using a distribution right now in some form or another. Linux is an open source software development and distribution that was originally used in desktop computers and has been used more recently to operate servers and other large IT systems. A quick browse of Wikipedia will tell you that. But, why is Linux so interesting to businesses? And, in particular, why is it interesting to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs)?

We want you to know not just ‘what’ Linux is, but ‘why’ Linux matters. This is what we’re most interested in, and that is why we have come up with five key benefits to using Linux in your organisation.

Stability and reliability

A reliable distribution such as Linux can give you peace of mind – knowing that very few users experience a crash. No technology is perfect, but because Linux is so stable and reliable you know your systems will be operating smoothly, leaving you to get on with running your business. This is great for small business owners as system downtime can have serious consequences and a huge negative impact on productivity and ultimately, sales.

Freedom

Nothing is for free in this world, but you really can use the majority of the Linux distributions for a no-cost investment, meaning there’s no vendor lock-in either. Linux software is generally free, and even with a distribution tailored for rapidly expanding businesses, purchasing support alongside will often be cheaper than Windows or other proprietary software.

Does what it says on the tin

Since Windows systems often come with a lot of bulk, Linux can be the stripped down alternative that businesses really need. Windows may need frequent hardware upgrades but Linux, coupled with the right support, gives any business outstanding performance and scalability.

Security

Unlike Windows, Linux – by design – offers better security. Since it’s based on a design that accommodates multiple users, its primary security practice is to give administrative control only to the administrator. Ultimately though, security comes down to who is using the system and how they do it. But, in terms of design, Linux – largely thanks to its huge community of individual and corporate developers – is by far the most secure system.

Choices, choices

If you’re looking for a Linux distribution – whether for a business desktop or a server – you might like to consider the following:

  • SUSE
  • Red Hat
  • Ubuntu
  • Debian
  • CentOS
  • Slackware

The choice of distributions offered for Linux is profound. Since there is no one vendor trying to lock you in, you are free to choose from whichever provider best suits your business. This puts you in control of how your business benefits from Linux, rather than the distributor.

For any business handling Linux, whether for the first time or for existing systems, it’s important to make sure you have the right kind of support. From desktops to servers, we understand the motivation behind a move to Linux and we know the technical side better than anyone. We take a proactive approach to maintaining optimal system performance, so talk to help4IT about our Linux support solutions.

Bless you! 5 Steps to Avoid Virus Threats and Malware Exposure

You don’t need a doctor to tell you the common cold is a nuisance, but that flu can knock you out of the game for weeks. Yet most of us don’t realise the same applies to computer viruses: some bugs cause little harm and are easily cleared up, others run amok and can bring everything crashing down with potentially fatal results.

So how can you inoculate your computer or network against such attacks? This 5-step guide shows how a little knowledge and foresight goes a long way.

1. Prevention is better than cure: invest in quality anti-virus software.

Relying on off-the-shelf freebies or applications might seem tempting, but they don’t provide adequate protection. Just as biological viruses mutate, new and more sophisticated threats emerge with alarming speed every day. And, according to a number of credible reports, they are on the increase.

While there’s no guarantee of avoiding bugs altogether, buying professional-grade protection does significantly lower the risk and can ‘medicate’ in the case of an infection; frequently updated, they protect against a wider range of threats, provide fixes, and give additional features such as custom scans.

2. Boost your computer’s immune system: set up your PC to avoid contamination.

As well as the obvious rule not to click on email links or attachments without first scanning for viruses – especially those from unknown sources – simple changing a few settings can effectively shut ‘backdoors’ so the critters can’t get in:

  • Disable autorun, so you need to scan media such as USB keys prior to manually running them
  • Disable image previews, so images and graphics harbouring viruses don’t open automatically in your mailbox.

We also need to learn to ‘surf smart’: use search engines with built-in pop-up blockers; manually enter web addresses and ensure a good firewall is in place.

3. Now wash your hands : regularly scan PCs with anti-malware software

Setting your system to scan automatically (so it doesn’t get forgotten) at least once a week during quiet periods removes some bugs before they can multiply. Likewise, set your software to get regular updates and renew your license – automatically. No good using last year’s vaccination!

4. Prepare for the worst-case scenario: have an emergency plan in place

Backing up your system in a safe place means less time lost and less stress in the event of contagion. For SMEs this may simply consist of getting heads out of The Cloud and putting hard-earned data in it. For larger businesses, a detailed disaster recovery plan is highly recommended.

5. Take a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down: know your enemy

Viruses are actually just one type of malware – short for ‘malicious software’ – which describes just about anything designed to cause harm to your PC or access your data.

As getting a handle on the jargon helps to stay one step ahead, we finish with the speed-dating equivalent of the bug-buster dictionary:

  • Viruses do what it says on the tin: infect and reproduce to cause maximum damage
  • Worms bury their way into networks, usually through a security hole, spread to others and then party till dawn causing havoc : rebooting your PC constantly and slowing it down
  • Spyware steals information
  • Trojan horses create a backdoor and then gallop around letting others in to remotely control your PC

Stay well with your 5-a-day!

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5 ways to improve Wi-Fi connectivity in schools without busting your budget

A school’s connectivity requirements are based on very particular usage patterns. Schools need to take into account not just what’s required to deliver the curriculum, but also the operational and administrative needs of the school. So you want to ensure stable connections and reliable performance – but while staying on budget.

With this in mind, here are five ways to ensure you stay online – without ending up with a needlessly expensive connectivity package.

Assess your needs

Insufficient bandwidth for your needs is likely to result in increased instances of outages – together with sluggish performance. But at the same time, you shouldn’t have to find yourself paying for a level of bandwidth that significantly exceeds your requirements.

To get this balance right, it’s worth looking in detail at your requirements before you start shopping around for suppliers. Assessing these needs can be complex as you need to take into account the effects of a range of different types of activities, from pupil research and use of portable or mobile devices – through to the demands of running a school portal or virtual learning environment (VLE). In terms of logistics, a school consisting of just a few hundred pupils is likely to have very different requirements to a much larger organisation housed across a main block and multiple peripheral buildings. If necessary, get expert input when carrying out this assessment.

Installation of wifi boosters

Boosting your signal is one of the easiest ways of addressing less than optimum wifi speeds and signal dropout. Installing a signal repeater is often the obvious way forward – i.e. adding an extra wireless router to your network.

Consider powerline networking

Powerline networking adapters are fitted with Ethernet ports and they use the existing wiring in your building to transmit WiFi at speeds you would normally expect from a wired network. These can be useful for setting up wireless hotspots with a suitably strong signal in classrooms but for very little outlay.

Look at MIMO access points

Compared to the installation of routers and powerline networking, MIMO (multiple in, multiple out) technology represents the next level of boosting a wifi signal and ensuring connectivity. For this, antenna technology is used to transmit the signal from your router to where it’s needed without delay or disruption. MIMO hardware involves a more substantial outlay than other ways of getting the most out of your connections. However, depending on your needs and setup, it could represent the most cost-effective way forward.

Finally: ensure you are connected for the future

Loss of connectivity has the potential to disrupt both learning and administration throughout a school. Rather than patching up a local connectivity issue with, say, extra routers, it’s often worth taking a step back and working out whether the type of connection package you have in place is still fit for purpose.

Remember that it can be a false economy to spend money on boosting a network if you are due a complete upgrade. With this in mind, it’s worth consulting with a network connectivity IT consultant to consider whether your connectivity setup is the best it can be to meet your future requirements.

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5 signs you’ve outgrown your IT infrastructure

Business has become so dependent on technology that it’s hardly feasible to operate without it. But ensuring that your IT is a service and not a burden means ensuring that you’ve scaled your network and systems to your business. Your technology needs to keep up with your growth, so it’s important to recognise the signs that you’ve outgrown your IT infrastructure.

5 signs you’ve outgrown your IT infrastructure…

1. You have to run reports after business hours so you don’t slow down the systems.

You might have originally decided to run reports after hours so that you could spend the day talking with customers or focused on marketing. If you’ve reached the point where running analytics is such a strain on system resources that it has to be done outside of working hours, then you are in danger of putting yourself behind your competitors. Whether you need reports for your marketing strategy, or to provide customers as part of your service, you need an infrastructure large enough to handle these tasks from 9 to 5.

2. Users have shared access to systems rather than having individual secure userIDs and signons.

As a startup, limiting user licenses makes sense as you watch your budget, but having individual access and security is critical for growth. Monitoring and mitigating risks becomes more and more important as you get larger, and being able to audit your staff and your data is tantamount for dealing with cyber-threats. Additionally, being able to segregate sales, contacts, and production will help you know who’s contributing what to your success

3. Waiting two to three minutes for a system response has become “normal.”

One of the dangers of not right sizing your systems is that you can become complacent about performance. As you grow your data, the slower response time may not be apparent at first, but can become unbearable if not addressed. If your staff are adjusting by performing manual tasks while they wait for the system, then you’re not taking advantage of automation. Technology is meant to make the job easier. Make sure your infrastructure is large enough to accommodate.

4. Business users are frequently asking for upgrades for functionality, for data storage, and for faster access.

An easy way to know if you’ve outgrown your infrastructure is to listen to your staff. If they are regularly requesting more storage, or a new or upgraded software, than you’ve possibly reached the tipping point with your current systems. If you bring on staff from other companies and they make note of your antique systems, you should pay attention. Technology is a tool meant to support your business and keep you competitive.

5. Your support or admin staff spends hours a day trying to find and make more space for new files.

While there is value in cleaning out unneeded files, your staff shouldn’t be spending an inordinate amount of time on the task.  Both your systems’ databases, and your email storage should be large enough to handle daily requirements. Email’s usefulness for storing more than communication has grown exponentially – contacts, calendars and metafiles are part of standard email systems and need to be supported.

Fixing your IT infrastructure

Once you’ve recognised that you’ve outgrown your infrastructure, commit some time and resources to getting it fixed.  No matter the size of your business, your IT infrastructure needs to be scaled to support you today, and scalable enough to grow as you do. Perhaps it’s time to evaluate your current IT support and whether they can help you get to the next stage.

“Making Do” is usually a false economy

SME’s often succumb to the temptation to postpone any expenditure on IT infrastructure until it is absolutely necessary, there always seem to be more important uses for the cash, and after all the staff are coping with the current problems. Its easy to just accept the way things are and ignore the potential costs in lost productivity from staff and lost opportunities because the IT systems were not doing their job. Consider, if a staff member was performing like your IT systems do currently, would you keep on employing them?

Having an IT Roadmap document with provisional budgets can be a useful tool to help you plan for your business’ IT requirements in the future, and make sure you allocate sufficient funds to develop it alongside other critical areas. After all, there is no point in a big marketing spend to acquire new customers if your IT systems will handicap the service you can provide them with.

Can your incumbent IT support provider keep up? Follow our free interactive questionnaire to find out…

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4 scary stories of failed Office 365 migrations that will give you chills!

In theory, moving from on-premise Exchange to the cloud-based Office 365 should be a straightforward process. But this assumes that you are going about in the right way. The fact is that all migration processes – whether they involve Office 365 or not – require planning, familiarity, a methodical approach (not to mention a cool head).

So what can possibly go wrong – and what wider headaches can this cause for a business? Here are some of the problems we have come across…

Incomplete migration of email

Let’s say that for whatever reason, you’ve retained large quantities of emails. Quite understandably, these have been archived methodically in various folders. Yet here’s the thing: you move the mailbox to the cloud and the stubs are broken. At some point after the migration, your staff realise that they are unable to access archived emails. From customer service right through to HR, if your business is heavily dependent on email communication, the blowback from this can be a real headache.

This happens where your legacy archiving method isn’t compatible with Office 365. There are ways around it, however – although the way around it depends on the export capabilities of your archive solution. A word of warning however: it’s a far more straightforward process to pre-empt the problem, by understanding what the situation is in terms of native export tools and data extraction within your current infrastructure – rather than trying to fix it later.

OneDrive sync issues

Once it is up and running in the right way, OneDrive provides the ideal tool for accessing business files remotely and for multi-user collaboration on shared documents. Yet for many clients who approach us for advice after they have already undergone an Office 365 migration, problems with OneDrive feature prominently.

Files can fail to sync properly due to a various reasons. It might, for instance be down to a specific problem with the version of Office you are migrating from, or it could be that you’ve failed to deploy the Next Generation Sync Client correctly. It’s fixable, but the best way of resolving it is via a full diagnostic check: where, exactly, does the problem lie and what needs to be done to remove it?

Sharepoint permissions incorrectly configured

This is a good example of a simple oversight that can have unfortunate repercussions for a business. It happens when entire document libraries are moved over to Office 365. The transferral occurs successfully; it’s just that the job of setting access permissions has been overlooked. At some point, the omission is realised and access permissions are reinstated – but not before members of staff have been able to access sensitive files that ought to have been kept out of bounds (to do with HR, for instance).

Some more potential stumbling blocks…

Let’s say that your pre-migration infrastructure was never really all that reliable; it tended to be unstable and occasionally prone to corruption issues. It’s good practice to identify those problems and take them into account before the migration process takes place – to avoid any unwelcome surprises.

Likewise, there’s the issue of downtime while migration is happening. The smoothest migrations happen after a realistic assessment of what’s going to be required. It’s only then that a business can work from a reliable time estimate on how long critical systems are going to be down. The decision can then be made on when to migrate to minimise disruption.

Microsoft bills the migration process as being relatively easy; but when you realise the potential problems that can arise, you see that expert input can save a lot of hassle.

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4 compelling reasons to rethink your school’s wifi setup

How outdated is your school’s WiFi? According to the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), 48% of schools have under-par wireless connectivity – a shortfall that can have a far-reaching impact for pupils, teachers and administrators. But how does this affect your school in practical terms, and what benefits can a rethink of your WiFi setup really bring? Here are 4 compelling reasons why it may be time for a WiFi overhaul.

1. To fully embrace online learning and critical thinking

The scope of online learning is vast and exciting – providing students and teachers with access to useful resources spanning a huge range of niche subjects. From YouTube videos to collaborative learning platforms, digital technology is transforming the way schools approach education. But without competent WiFi, schools are struggling to really take true advantage of these online channels.

Many institutions now give their students access to online devices, either through the provision of tablets – marking a significant investment in technology – or by encouraging pupils to bring their own devices to school. With fast and efficient WiFi, this technology can be used both in and out of the classroom – allowing students to self-direct their learning with autonomous research whether they’re in the lunch hall or waiting in the playground.

A fast WiFi connection with high bandwidth is also a must for simultaneous use of online devices. If hundreds of students are connected all at one time – watching videos or downloading class materials – your WiFi needs to allow uninterrupted, instantaneous learning.

2. To provide bespoke channels for pupils and teachers

Pupils, teachers and admin staff have very different requirements of your WiFi. For students, the priority is access to online learning platforms, stream content and conduct research. For teachers and administration, it’s the ability to access student records and submit pupil data such as exam results and progress reports. By segregating WiFi traffic and separating networks, you can provide bespoke channels with tailor-made security measures and improved performance.

3. To enhance security measures

Every school’s primary objective is to keep their students safe. But without the proper controls in place, the online space can be a difficult place to traverse –  whether that’s protecting your students from explicit content or restricting access to specific networks or forums.

By changing your WiFi setup, your school can not only carefully control security measures and network activity, but can also protect sensitive data from hackers. Instead of an open, publicly available network, your WiFi should be closed with complex passwords, a hidden network name (SSID) and varying levels of user authorisation. Multiple network- ensuring the channels accessed by pupils and parents are not linked to the main administrative network –  are also important for enhanced security.

4. To manage expectations of your WiFi

By understanding the nuances of your WiFi network, you can manage expectations and ensure the network can be used efficiently. Providing pupils and teachers with clear instructions for logging into the network, they can use the WiFi quickly and easily. If there are ‘grey areas’ within certain areas of the school, a map of the campus showing high, medium and low levels of connectivity can help to inform quick and effective usage.

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3 challenges that come with the connected learning model

Connected learning is a model for education based very much around the demands of a digital world. A way of delivering learning so that it remains relevant to the world around us, adaptable to evolving technologies and engaging to the individual. A model rooted, in the words of Educause:

“In the active participation of students, instructors, advisors, and collaborators, offering the ability to connect courses, people, and resources to develop unique personalized learning pathways.”

Source: https://library.educause.edu/blog/2013/5/7-things-you-should-know-about-connected-learning

Personalised learning is based around personal interests, utilising the resources and information readily available to us through the internet and social media outlets. In essence, this is a method of education that’s reflective of modern society and twenty-first century interaction.

Nevertheless, in implementing a connected learning model into an educational environment, there remain a number of key challenges that need to be addressed and overcome.

Keeping Pace with Technology

At the heart of connected learning is the concept of education through the sharing of experience and knowledge. And it is through the proliferation of digital technology – drawing on the seemingly unlimited resources available online as well as the ability to share and collaborate through social media – that such a learning model becomes so accessible. Digital technology allows students to learn using methods that are relevant to their daily lives. For instance, this may be in the form of online searches or joining in discussions on forums or social media groups.

Which presents a challenge to educational establishments.

Technology advances quickly, and while students will likely keep pace with this progression in their personal lives, in an era of tightened budgets, for schools to do the same can place a burden on resources. The challenge being to find a solution robust enough to deliver the level of service required for this kind of digital learning, while remaining both secure and within budget.

Finding the relevant resources

If you’re opening the learning process up to new channels and means of research, then there is a challenge in finding the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

Traditional learning methods are somewhat standardised, with students all studying from the same resources. Moving away from this standard approach opens the student learning experience up information and resources previously out of reach from the classroom.

And, while this clearly represents an opportunity, there’s a danger that the student may become swamped in such an abundance of information. The challenge for the teacher being able to guide the student towards the resources most trustworthy and relevant to the study.

Studying Traditional Subjects

With the nature of connected learning geared towards providing students with the tools through their education to operate competently in the wider world – calling upon internet search skills, digital communication and new media – is there a danger of dropping standards in those ‘traditional’ subject areas that are still deemed crucial to a rounded education?

Namely subjects such as English, Maths, Science and History.

Well, there seems no reason why connected learning should detract from these subjects per se. Literacy and numeracy still have a huge relevance to the day-to-day skillset of a digital age student and online resources only open up accessibility to research in both the sciences and humanities.

Where the challenge may lie in this regard, however, is in terms of assessment. Connected learning and the use of online resources and communication is taking students ever more along a path of personal learning, tailored to their own specific interests and requirements. Where this becomes the norm for an establishment, the ability to apply standardised testing could become ever more difficult.

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