It's rare, if not impossible, for a company to be successful in today's world without technology. Where 10 years ago you may have been able to get away with just a Hotmail email address, one computer, and store-bought antivirus for your business and you'd be set, times have changed drastically.
And to top it off, it's not even enough to use technology in your organization. It has to be the right technology, at the right price, implemented the right way, and used effectively!
So how is the already overwhelmed business owner supposed to figure out what they need? While there are some what we consider "must-haves" for any organization, different industries also have different IT needs.
COMMON TECHNOLOGY NEEDS FOR EVERY INDUSTRY
There are a few things we recommend regardless of industry that every business can benefit from:
Business grade, subscription-based antivirus
Consumer antivirus software generally only covers your basic devices like desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones, and runs separately on each one. Business antivirus, however, is run centrally from your business' server and protects it as well. An IT admin can monitor and control the protection on each device from one place, and protection is far more robust than in consumer-grade antivirus. In this area, you certainly get what you pay for.
Image-based, automated backup solution (on- and off-site)
Instead of only backing up files, image-based backup creates a copy of your entire operating system and all its data including the system state and application configurations. It's like a snapshot of your entire computer system. If you ever need to return to a backup, this will ensure it's restored back to exactly how it was. In addition to having backups, it's recommended to store them both on- and off-site, for example both at your location internally and in cloud storage. If something ever happens to the backups stored at your business, for example damage from a fire, flood, theft, or infection, you'll have these off-site backups as a fail safe. As our CEO likes to say about backups, "two is one, one is none".
Most businesses run all or a majority of their operations using the internet. If your internet goes down for a period of time, business is forced to come to a halt until it returns. Having a failover means that you have a backup internet connection should something happen to your primary one.
"Internet failover is best achieved by having a second Internet service provider (ISP) network as a backup when your primary ISP provider goes down. In the event of such a failure, businesses can manually redirect their IP addresses to the secondary failover network, or automate the failover process." (Wytec Business)
A firewall works like a gatekeeper to your business' network. It blocks unauthorized access while allowing outward traffic. It's what simultaneously allows you to connect to Google and keeps bad guys from checking out what you're doing.
The difference between a normal firewall and a managed firewall is a normal firewall is configured how you'd like and then perhaps only occasionally updated after that. In a managed firewall, an outside security or IT service monitors your network activity to keep an eye out for security threats or unusual traffic that could pose a threat to your business.
This service can also control who in your business can access what sites and services. So if you don't want your employees visiting YouTube during the workday, you can control it via managed firewall service. This also ties into content filtering (see more below).
Content filtering programs help you control and prevent access to certain things like websites, emails, or programs. This can help keep malware, viruses, hackers, and ransomware from making it into your network. It can also prevent your employees from accessing harmful or time-wasting websites while at work.
If you received an email from a business you hadn't interacted with before, which would you trust more: email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org? Setting up a custom, business-specific email network for your company will both help legitimize it and prevent others from impersonating you.
"Network segmentation is the process of splitting your network into different 'segments' or 'subnetworks'. This matters because, by default, when you connect a bunch of devices to the same network, they can all talk to each other and potentially listen in on each others’ network traffic without any sort of monitoring or rules in place...once you start adding devices that [you] might not trust so much—guests’ devices, older legacy computers or servers that you can’t replace for some reason, and even otherwise trusted employee’s personal phones and computers—that gets a lot more problematic.
So, that’s where network segmentation comes in. Segmenting your network allows you to put different people or sets of hardware on different network segments with rules about how one segment can talk to the others. Network segments are often designed around how much we trust the users or devices in question. Think about things like putting guest users on one segment, very sensitive data like accounting systems on another segment of its own, etc." (IT Freedom)
In cohesion with all of the above, we feel a robust, multi-faceted security plan is the most important element for the modern business. The most successful business with great clients, culture, profitability, and growth can be absolutely crippled in just hours if they're hit by a cyberattack or data breach.
We find that a lot of people have the attitude of "it hasn't happened to me yet, so I'm not going to worry about it". PLEASE take your security seriously. Ransomware, breaches, phishing, and attacks are on the rise, and criminals know that smaller firms tend to have less security resources, making them easy targets.
A now-client of Techvera experienced this first hand. One of their employees was sent a phishing email, and unfortunately did not recognize it. He allowed a cybercriminal to remotely access his computer, and that criminal installed a ransomware type known as Cryptolocker onto the business' systems.
Everyone was locked out of their computers and the only way to get back in was to pay a huge ransom to the attacker. To make it worse, they did not have any backups that could have been used to restore their data without paying the ransom. The business owner was adamant that they would not pay it. They contacted Techvera, and luckily we were able to get the ransomware off their network and get the business back up and running (with backups this time!), but not without many hours and dollars lost.
It's so easy to prevent this situation from ever happening in the first place with a solid security and backup plan. If you haven't put something into place yet, do it ASAP. It's never too late.
INDUSTRY-SPECIFIC TECHNOLOGY RECOMMENDATIONS
It's impossible for us to cover every industry, but below you'll find our IT and operational recommendations for some of the main markets we serve. Of course, these will always depend on your company's unique needs, size, area, and goals. So feel free to mix and match what works for you!
We always suggest working with a local IT consultant to help you design and implement the most effective technology stack for your organization too (shameless plug).
Email management and archiving
A good majority of modern communication happens over email. It's important to retain and be able to retrieve emails as needed. Our favorite is Microsoft Outlook, but there are plenty of great email options out there if you prefer something different.
If you want to up your inbox game, you may also consider extras like Unroll.me - this free tool lets you mass unsubscribe from newsletters and junk you don't read or want clogging up your work inbox.
IFTTT (short for "If This Then That") is another awesome email and productivity tool. IFTTT helps you automate tasks both in your email and various other applications. Some examples are getting a text message when a certain person sends you an email, scheduling reminders tomorrow for emails you star today, or automatically sending email attachments into Dropbox.
Document digitization and management
Gone are the days of entire rooms filled with file cabinets and thousands of paper documents! Attorneys are required to keep client and case records for many years. Those documents have to be stored somewhere, and these days more people are keeping them in the cloud for its cost-savings and ease of use.
Some document storage and management solutions optimize for better search and retrieval, so you'll easily be able to find that one file from many years ago with just a few keywords.
Some tools you may look into for document storage and management are PracticePanther, AbacusLaw, and Lexbe (which all offer more management tools besides just storage); Dropbox is our favorite for simple cloud storage.
Practice management software
Most modern lawyers are using one of the many practice management solutions available today to simplify and streamline their business. These can manage everything from internal and client communications to billing and time tracking, and keep it all in one place.
Mobility and mobile device management tools
Attorneys are frequently in and out of the office, making it super important to have good mobile capabilities. When set up correctly, you can have access to all your files and data right from your mobile phone via the cloud.
Mobile device management can and should be implemented across any company-provided phones as well. "Mobile device management (MDM) is a type of security software used by an IT department to monitor, manage and secure employees' mobile devices that are deployed across multiple mobile service providers and across multiple mobile operating systems being used in the organization." (Webopedia)
You can centrally monitor and manage security and data needs from one area - a useful example is in the event a company phone is lost or stolen, it can be remotely wiped of data.
VoIP has been an amazing tool for businesses. Instead of being beholden to your desk for phone calls, you can use VoIP services to forward calls from your company phone to your cell, check office voicemails from any device, and take calls from your computer. Some VoIP providers we recommend are 8x8 and 3CX.
"Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) was implemented in 2002 and legislates how business records are protected and preserved to prevent destruction and corruption. SOX has also set e-records management standards to which all businesses should adhere.
SOX mandates that all electronic records (including faxes), be retained for a period of seven years. Furthermore, it requires tamper-proof resources to prevent the corruption and modification of records. This rule is designed to protect investors from fraudulent activity and to safeguard financial data.
Entities subject to SOX compliance include all US-based publicly traded companies and international companies that have registered equity or debt securities with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Accounting firms that provide auditing services to the above entities are also subject to SOX compliance." (XMedius)
Considering the majority of records are stored online, companies subject to SOX need to ensure their storage and data practices are compliant and secure. Learn more about what you should expect from your IT provider and SOX compliance.
Additionally, we recommend financial professionals look into VoIP, email management and archiving, and document digitization/management tools - see above for more details about these solutions.
Construction & manufacturing
PDF editing software
PDFs are used widely throughout firms, so having the software to easily view and edit them is important. Adobe Acrobat is probably the most recognized PDF software available (considering Adobe invented the PDF, that's not surprising). Other popular options include PDF Architect, iSkysoft PDF Editor, and Sejda.
Enterprise Resource Planning software (ERP)
A big issue in manufacturing is dealing with disparate systems and information. Data from financials, HR, operations, inventory, and sales is siloed, and difficult to manage and draw business insight from. ERP software helps bring together all the data and information in your business so it can be used more effectively (and with less headaches!) Some options here include IQMS, Epicor, NetSuite, Microsoft Dynamics, and Shoptech.
Design and project management software
Having a comprehensive software suite that will help manage everything from design to employees is essential in the modern construction business. Popular suites are Bluebeam, Buildertrend, CoConstruct, e-Builder, and Procore.
Construction firms especially have a need for specialized printing. It's up to you to decide if purchasing a capable printer or using a service is more appropriate. Business-class wide format printers can easily cost upwards of $3,000, so be sure to take the time to decide if it's right for your firm before investing in one.
Additionally, we recommend construction and manufacturing professionals look into VoIP and mobile device management tools - see above for more details about these solutions.
Mobile internet hotspots
A common complaint from the energy firms we work with is the lack of reliable internet. They often work in remote areas, and not being able to reach their contacts or access needed files is a huge detriment to workflow.
This can be alleviated by setting up mobile hotspots, giving you wireless internet access from anywhere. These are set up through your cellular service provider, so you'll need to contact them yourself or ask your IT service provider to set it up for you.
Additionally, we recommend energy professionals look into mobile device management tools - see above for more details about these solutions.
Logistics & transportation
"Fleet (vehicle) management can include a range of functions, such as vehicle financing, vehicle maintenance, vehicle telematics (tracking and diagnostics), driver management, speed management, fuel management and health and safety management. Fleet Management is a function which allows companies which rely on transportation in business to remove or minimize the risks associated with vehicle investment, improving efficiency, productivity and reducing their overall transportation and staff costs, providing 100% compliance with government legislation (duty of care) and many more." (Wikipedia)
Fleet management is more than just knowing where your trucks are. It helps you see into, control, and simplify nearly every aspect of your business. It's truly essential for the modern logistic or transportation company. Some popular options are Fleetio, Geotab, Fleetmate, and FleetFocus.
Electronic Logging Devices (ELD)
"In 2012, the United States Congress enacted the 'Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century' bill, or, more commonly referred to as MAP-21. That bill, which also outlined the criteria for highway funding, included a provision requiring the FMCSA to develop a rule mandating the use of electronic logging devices (ELDs).
In its simplest form, an electronic logging device — or ELD — is used to electronically record a driver’s Record of Duty Status (RODS), which replaces the paper logbook some drivers currently use to record their compliance with Hours of Service (HOS) requirements...the FMCSA has provided that smartphones, tablets, and rugged handhelds can be used as long as the system as a whole meets ELD requirements, including a hardwired connection to the truck’s engine." (ELDFacts)
Logging devices are now a requirement for trucks. Many companies have experienced issues installing or working with the devices, however. We're probably a little biased, but we recommend working with an IT support provider for help setting up logging devices to mitigate any issues that could cause trouble for you and your drivers.
Additionally, we recommend logistics and transportation professionals look into mobile device management tools - see above for more details about these solutions.