2018 was quite the year—we’re still talking about major corporations getting hacked, foreign governments peering into our e-mail, GDPR and global privacy issues, the security of the cloud and the rollout of higher bandwidth connectivity in many parts of the country. All of this presents challenges that IT professionals in larger organizations— and owners and managers in smaller organizations—have to face when they’re looking at the big picture of how their workforce gets things done.
In 2019, we think we’ll see at least two major trends talked about a lot because of their prominence in the media—the increasing pressure to secure your company against hacking and the continued march of so many productivity applications (and potential headaches) to the cloud.
Along with those major concerning about security and control, two other trends are worth thinking about: (a.) the sheer number of connected devices (laptops, phones, tablets) that your employees are bringing to the office and (b.) the startling number of office devices (copies, printers… refrigerators) that are now being connected to the Internet.
All of those challenges present us with different concerns and solutions that your business will likely want to address in 2019. So, let’s dive in and take a look at five steps you can take to survive 2019.
1.) Evaluate your office Internet connection and internal network.
The number of devices and applications that use the Internet in your office is growing each year, and the hunger that most business networks have for bandwidth is outpacing traditional Internet technologies. If you don’t already on a regular basis, we recommend accessing your routers logs (or having a professional take a look) and really getting a sense of how much your current Internet usage—much less future growth—is having a toll on your current bandwidth.
For a quick test, you can go to SpeedTest.net to check any device connected to your Internet-connected network to learn what sort of bandwidth that device is actually experiencing. If you can, start with a PC or Mac that is hard-wired (Ethernet connected) to your network, and that you know goes through relatively few switches or routers to get an Internet connection. This can serve as a baseline for the real numbers you’re getting from your Internet provider. It can also help you make a decision regarding whether you need to prioritize an upgrade for 2019.
Are your numbers close to what your provider tells you? If you’re not getting what you think you’re paying for then there’s two places to look—at your networking equipment and then at your broadband provider’s sales rep.
So…how much bandwidth is enough? For comfortable, modern Internet-enabled productivity, between 5Mbps and 10Mbps per employee is idea. That’ll keep things humming if your office has VoIP phones, CRM and accounting functions in the cloud. digital uploads and downloads and the tendency to use Zoom or Skype for sales calls.
2.) Upgrade your networking equipment.
As you’re testing bandwidth in your office, try different devices (wired, wireless, PC, mobile, tablet) to see where your gaps in bandwidth are. SpeedTest.net will tell you what sort of an Internet connection that particular device is experiencing—which means it’s measuring the data as it’s passing through your network’s router, switches, and Wi-Fi connections—all of which can be bottlenecks, even if you have a high-capacity broadband connection such as fiber coming into the office.
With all the demands your office has on the Internet these days, 2019 should be a priority year for upgrading your internal routers and switches, finding any other internal networking bottlenecks and, if necessary, upgrading your external connection to the Internet. (If you’re not currently using high-speed fiber and you’re experiencing less than optimal connections, give us a call.)
In particular, inexpensive wireless routers—or nice ones that are a few years old—might not be completely capable or designed to deal with fiber speeds. Getting a new router could be a quick fix for improving the Internet experience your employees have with laptops and handheld devices.
And don’t forget that your networking switches and wiring are handling more than Internet connections—they’re handling connections to your in-house server, any video you’re tossing up on a smart TV device, direct-connect printers, file-sharing between devices and so on. Your internal Ethernet and WiFi network may need to be evaluated for slowdowns and potential upgrades.
3.) Perform a security audit.
The key to a good security audit is thinking ahead of time about what, exactly, you want to keep protected from intruders. The more specific you are about the possible threats that could seriously harm your business, the more targeted you can be in planning the solutions to mitigate those threats.
There’s a good chance that the first thing you should worry about is customer or client data. After all, a security breach that exposes your customers to fraud or harassment won’t make them happy, and could be a fatal public relations or legal stumble for your business.
Do you store customer data, credit information or payment information somewhere on your network? Put that on the list. Take a look at how you’re handling payments, contracts, customer data or other personal information that the people who pay you are trusting you to treat well. If your security in that area is lacking, look into best practices and start implementing them.
If you’re using third-party vendors for storing customer data, take a stroll through their privacy and security documentation to make sure you feel like you could look your customers in the eye and tell them you’re doing the right thing.
Second, secure any company information that’s sensitive. Accounting, invoicing or AR systems, intellectual property, planning documents—think about ways to digitally secure those files in the same way that you’d likely put them under lock and key in a filing room. Ideally you can store them encrypted as a backup (maybe even cloud-based) where hacking is unlikely but access is an option if something happens to the original files.
Third, secure your network from possible threats. Network intrusion detection software and virus protection are must-haves in today’s corporate environment. Audit everything that connects to your network, taking into account your employees’ and visitors’ devices, as well as their computers. Ask yourself if those devices could introduce malware or be used to access sensitive data on your network if they, themselves, were compromised in some way.
Consider an isolated WiFi network for guests and smartphones, for instance, and take into account every device that your employees bring in and their potential to pose a security risk to your network. Professional help with your firewall and router can set up certain protections so that devices or employee computers are less likely to introduce harmful software or open unauthorized ports on your network.
Fourth, secure your communications. Your website should use SSL for hosting; you may want to consider a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for accessing the Web from your company laptops and devices, especially when you’re away from the office.
If your company e-mails frequently deal in confidential matters, then implement encryption for your e-mail communications between staffers and, where appropriate, with public key encryption to clients and partners.
4.) Train your staff on better security.
A big part of improving security in your office training employees. Talk to your employees about how they handle junk mail and potential phishing, where an e-mail attempts to get you to enter a password (say, to Paypal or eBay or QuickBooks) on a website that looks official, but is actually stealing your password.
Also train employees to deal with “social engineering” fraud, by instituting official, clear-cut processes for approving expenses, transferring money, handing corporate credit cards, offering up passwords and other tips for keeping front-line employees from accidentally giving up important security information to con artists on the phone or in person.
For IT professionals, it may go without saying, but for a lot of your employees, it’s important to remind them on a regular basis to change passwords, use passwords that aren’t too obvious and to avoid entering their passwords on unsecured sites or under strange circumstances.
Likewise, your policy on installing outside applications, downloading files and documents, using cloud services and dealing with strange attachments in e-mail should all be thought through, spelled out, and taught on a regular basis.
5.) Pull together your plan for migrating to the Cloud, and use the new year to fix anything that’s being held together with bailing wire.
A new year is the perfect time to get your inventory or invoice management system to finally talk to your accounting software correctly. Or, if that’s working, maybe you can sync your CRM with your marketing automation software or get your licensing figured out for your graphic design department so you can duly and properly pay your Adobe tax. Maybe—gasp—it’s finally time for everyone to move to Office 365 or Google for Business.
Whatever the challenge, the beginning of a new year is often a great time to finally make those changes and move some operations to the cloud.
What could you move to the cloud in 2019? Aside from some of the obvious—office and productivity applications, your e-mail server, accounting and inventory or AR/AP management, banking and payments—you might consider moving your phone system to the cloud. (You were expecting us to say that, right?)
Modern VoIP systems don’t just offer traditional telephone over Internet connections—your virtual receptionist, your personal extension and many other functions can exist fully in the cloud. (If you’re not getting office voicemail in e-mail or managing office chat functions from your virtual extension—you aren’t living!)
How about document management? Phones and tablets are now great for making digital images of documents, receipts, contracts—why not make that a real thing and start storing your important documents in the cloud for easy access and secure safekeeping?
And here’s another no-brainer—disaster recovery. Are you backing up (or at least backing up your backups) to the cloud? And… all that data that you’re keeping in the cloud—are you sure that your service providers are making backups and can help you recover data if something happens with their provider? Look at your critical systems and make sure you have those assurances—if not, implementing some sort of backup system for your data in the cloud is a good idea.
Ten, Nine, Eight…
Ready for 2019? Take a deep breath. It’ll be OK.
The trick is to start. Brainstorm the potential problems area, decide which are most important to tackle first, and then start listing the steps to make that happen. With list in hand, begin the process. Once you’re in the flow of that change, you’ll likely begin to enjoy the process and find even more ways to bring efficiency, security and increased productivity to your company’s connected technology.
Happy New Year!