Line Of Business Applications: Efficiency & Productivity

Jason Cooley is Support Services Manager for Tech Experts.

As someone who works with businesses of all types, I see a wide range of line of business applications in action on a regular basis.

Whether it‘s tracking inventory, calculating loan payments, estimating material cost for a construction project, keeping sales records, or preparing taxes, there is probably an app for that.

You may be wondering: what are line of business applications exactly? A line of business app is any application that serves a particular business need or assists with customer transactions in some way.

It differs from something like an email app, which could be considered a business application, but since it doesn’t apply to a specific industry or specific need, it wouldn’t be a line of business application.

For some people newer to the workforce, the days of old are never even considered. Remember when all restaurants used pen and paper to take orders?

The implementation of a point-of-sale system in restaurants eventually served as an all-in-one solution. Taking orders, keeping track of daily sales and cash totals, even inventory tracking and clocking in/out can be done all from the same program.

Tax preparation and accounting software, too, has come so far. Whether you have all internal or outsourced accounting, the days of having to do much more than signing the forms after printing are over. I’m not talking using an online tax prep program at home. I mean, large scale businesses filing end of the year taxes.

Keeping monthly ledgers, banking records for large corporations, strange tax situations, incomes from multiple states, and just about anything else can be found in good line of business tax and accounting software. So much of this information was only done on paper for so many companies not that long ago.

While many companies (particularly very small businesses) may not have the business scale to require this type of software, it’s time-saving and the accuracy assurance cannot be denied.

The examples above are just a few of many implementations of line of business applications and how they replace the ways of the past.

There are some free line of business applications out there and I am sure there are some that are acceptable for their purposes. But the adage is true: you get what you pay for.

Good corporate-level line of business applications often come with some costs involved. Whether that’s purchasing application licensing, paying a monthly or yearly usage fee, and for support for the applications, there will be an investment.

So how do you know if your investment will be worth it in the long run? How can you be sure using a new line of business app will be beneficial?

If you are looking for software to make your business operate more efficiently but have questions as to how the implementation will work or if the cost is worth the benefits, reach out to the software company.

In many instances, there will be trials or demonstrations available that you just have to inquire about. Emailing or making a phone call with specific questions can really help you have a more informed look at your upcoming investment.

If you are a business that uses a managed service provider, like Tech Experts, you should also interface with your IT provider. They may have insight from other clients or past experiences and should be a part of any technology change your business is looking into.

Your productivity and efficiency could be on its way up and, here at Tech Experts, we’d love to help you get there.

Windows Fall Creator’s Update: Breaking More Than It’s Fixing

Jason Cooley is Support Services Manager for Tech Experts.

Microsoft dominates the world of operating systems. Windows has been a part of our lives for years and some of us can’t remember a world without it.

Each time Microsoft rolls out a new operating system, it is updated and patched for years for various reasons.

Over the lifespan of a Windows operating system, there are various security updates perhaps more than any other type of update.

There are fixes for issues, whether that’s problems with Windows itself or interaction with other hardware and software.

Then there are the outliers: Windows feature updates. These updates typically introduce new features or changes to the core function of the operating system. Feature updates can improve the user experience for many people.

Windows 10 launched in 2015 and, like all of its predecessors, did not launch with perfection. There have been numerous updates of all kinds since its launch. Those security patches, hotfixes, and even a handful of feature updates had rolled out by October of 2017.

That is when Microsoft released the Window’s Fall Creator update. This update was going to create a better user experience. Personal connections were going to be easier to make.

A new application allowing you to resume work or browsing started on a mobile device like a smartphone on your computer was introduced as well. There were a few security updates as well.

All in all, the Fall Creators Update was going to fix a few bugs and introduce some quality-of-life improvements.

In previous versions of Windows, the updates were able to be shut off and postponed.

Large scale feature updates are known to have some complications when rolled out.

That is why these updates are not “pushed” when initially launched, but available to download as an optional update at first.

Upon this introduction window, there were, as expected, reports of problems coming in. What was not expected was the range of issues and the severity of some.

The first issue arising from the release of Windows 1709, the Fall Creators Update, was the update failing to install.

Many people reported issues of an error when attempting to install the update. The initial portion would install, but the finalizing of the updates upon a restart would fail.

If that wasn’t frustrating enough, if the update did manage to install, it was reported that the applying updates portion could take two hours (and in some cases as many as ten hours).

Then, let’s assume you got that far. Maybe you want to use Microsoft Edge, the Microsoft browser of choice. With the 1709 update, many users found that Edge was essentially broken. It would crash repeatedly.

Then, bring in the numerous broken drivers. Imagine an update breaking your Ethernet adapter. It happened. Applications disappeared, began opening on their own, and in some cases just didn’t work. The problems continued to roll in.

Many of these issues were resolved in a timely fashion and some were not. In mid-January, Microsoft declared the Fall Creators Update ready for business. This means that the update would be pushed out to anyone that was not already using it.

After 3 months, many issues were still present and others would soon be discovered.

Many users of corporate software and other specialty software were surprised by software that no longer worked. In some cases, the suggested fix was to roll back the update, which will force itself to reinstall shortly after.

There have been some big patches to fix these issues since January and I’m hoping that in another three months Microsoft will have all of these issues resolved.

Time To “Bite the Bullet” And Upgrade Your Software

From the largest of the large companies to the everyday home user, there comes time when you have to upgrade your software, either by force or necessity.

No one wants to spend money to upgrade their software when they feel it still works and functions for their needs, but truthfully, that old reliable software needs to go.

The most important thing to remember is that software companies don’t end support of their software out of malice. It’s simply a business decision.

For a company to continue to release updates and patch security exploits, it would require countless man hours from software engineers, support staff and help desk personnel.

At the same time, they would be continuing to support software that is outdated in functionality and design. No company can survive in today’s fast-paced world by sitting idle.

By not upgrading your software, you are – by your own means – opening yourself and your company up to cyber-attacks from hackers taking advantage of the security exploits that are no longer being patched. This is the single most important reason to upgrade your outdated, End of Life (EOL) software.

While software companies do release new versions of their software and EOL old versions of their own accord, there are times when they too are forced to make changes due to upgrades in an Operating System (OS).

Consider Windows 98, which was the typical OS for several years and boosted a huge selection of software titles ranging from games to business productivity applications.

But when the following Windows releases came along (like XP, 7, 8, and 10) and grew in popularity, any software company that wanted to continue to stay unburied had come up with new versions of their software that would be compatible with each of the new OS platforms.

This, in turn, would force people to upgrade if they wanted to continue to use their software.

Businesses that use programs like Microsoft Office could feel like they are forced into upgrades. This is understandable, but at the same time, you have to make sure your business stays productive and secure.

With hackers waiting for the opportunity to gain access to your business, it’s imperative to make sure you do everything you can to block the attacks. And, yes, this includes upgrading your operating system and software.

There is light at the end of tunnel, however. Companies like Microsoft and Adobe have redesigned the way they sell their software.

No longer will you be locked into one version, whether you purchase the software by the retail copy or by volume license.

They offer plans that allow you subscribe to use the software and during your subscription period you are entitled to receive free version upgrades if there any. They have released subscription plans for large companies, students, and everyday home users.

Remember: it’s better to “bite the bullet” than be struck by the bullet. For assistance with software upgrades or ask questions about the security of your business and software, contact us at (734) 457-5000, or email us at info@mytechexperts.com.

Strategically Upgrading Your Computer Systems

Michael Menor is Vice President of Support Services for Tech Experts.

With technology growing faster than most businesses can keep up with, organizations have to continuously upgrade their solutions in order to maintain a semblance of modernity. The only issue with this is that many businesses can’t keep up, simply because they don’t have a team that’s dedicated to this important task.

What technology upgrades should be made a top priority and why?

Naturally, the first thing you need to know about workstation and technology updates is that you need to integrate them periodically in order to ensure optimal security for your organization.

Most viruses and malware will attempt to take advantage of weaknesses in your infrastructure in order to infiltrate it.

These weaknesses in your software and operating systems’ source code will ultimately allow these threats to force their way into your network, putting any contained information at risk.

These flaws are often addressed in software patches and system updates issued by the software developer, but tackling the updates in a timely fashion is a whole other monster.

Managing all software updates is easier said than done, especially without a dedicated IT department watching over your technology. Regular maintenance is often pushed to the back burner and dangerously close to being forgotten about.

Therefore, the best way to make sure that your systems are prepared to handle the threats that are found in today’s computing environment is to make upgrading your technology a priority for your organization.

Software Updates
There are several programs that your organization needs in order to stay functional, so your software updates aren’t limited to just your workstations’ operating systems.

The fewer unnecessary security flaws that can be found in your IT infrastructure, the safer your information will be.

Furthermore, users who are working with top-notch, optimized technology will be far more productive than they would be if they were using sluggish, bogged down computers.

It doesn’t make any sense to let your employees use machines that hold them back from achieving their maximum productivity.

In fact, sometimes you might encounter a situation where using a different software will be better for your business strategy.

It’s always recommended that you consult with a professional technician before making drastic changes to your business’s software infrastructure.

Antivirus Updates
Your antivirus solution is often a software solution, but virus and malware definitions are continuously being updated.

If your antivirus and other security software solutions aren’t properly maintained, it’s like you’re “leaving your keys in the front door,” so to speak.

Your antivirus solution needs to be managed on all workstations – or, better yet, centrally controlled from the server to ensure that all users are protected and up to date at all times.

Hardware Updates
Older hardware that’s been around the block a time or two might have proven reliable, but it will eventually start to show signs of its old age. Hardware failure becomes more likely and you run the risk of losing information due to the degradation of your technology.

This is why monitoring your systems for faulty tech and periodically upgrading to more recent models is preferable, if not necessary.

Granted, all of these software and hardware upgrades may feel overwhelming. This is why Tech Experts offers a remote monitoring and maintenance solution that’s designed to administer patches to your mission-critical systems remotely.

This helps your organization ensure that your systems are always up-to-date. We can also monitor your infrastructure for any irregularities that might be caused by hardware malfunctions, hackers, and much more. Call us at (734) 457-5000, or email info@mytechexperts.com to learn more.

The Reality Of Microsoft EOL Software

Scott Blake is a Senior Network Engineer with Tech Experts.

As in life, all good things come to an end. This fact is also true in the software world. When a software company decides to move on from outdated versions of its software they schedule an EOL or End of Life date.

This is set to allow businesses and home users time to plan and ready themselves to upgrade to the most recent versions.

With 90% of the world’s computers running some form of Microsoft software, no other company in the world has more of an impact when setting EOL dates than Microsoft.

From Office software suites to operating systems for desktops and servers (and even cross platforms such as Office for Apple-based computers), Microsoft software is everywhere.

This alone is the number one reason for preparing and upgrading before an EOL date is upon you. There is no greater example of this as when the EOL date for Windows XP arrived.

Companies that made the migration to Windows 7 well in advance were able to test their company software and hardware, as well as communicate with their vendors to secure working upgrades to both. Those that didn’t suffered productivity and business loss due to unneeded and unplanned downtime to make the necessary upgrades and changes.

But for the basic home user, this was a time of doubt. Many users didn’t want to (or have the means to) replace all of the outdated hardware or software.

Spending several hundred dollars on new software and hardware just to be able to receive security updates and patches seemed a little excessive to most home users.

However, keeping security and your data safe is another reason to make sure you make migration plans.

In most cases when an EOL date has come and gone, so has any and all support for your software and hardware. Other software and hardware vendors will soon follow suit and discontinue support for their products that are installed on systems running non-supported software, including operating systems.

Anti-virus software companies are usually the first to discontinue their support. After all, if the operating system is no longer receiving updated security patches, it becomes difficult to continue to support their software.

Computer systems running EOL software will become major targets for hackers and malicious malware. Your personal data will be at risk.

The truth is it’s not the intent of companies like Microsoft to be malicious when ending support for their products.

No matter how popular they may be throughout the world, it’s a business decision. For any company to grow, they must keep developing and growing their products.

This development and growth is expensive and requires a large percentage of their resources. Continuing to support outdated software and hardware would limit these resources.

This would cause development overhead to rise and, in turn, make that $39 inkjet printer cost $89 or raise the price of that $119 operating system to $199.

By ending support and moving forward, companies such as Microsoft are able to develop new and exciting hardware and software for both the largest of companies and the smallest home user while keeping prices affordable to all.

Some important future EOL dates to keep in mind:

July 15, 2015
The end for support for Microsoft Server 2003 and 2003 R2

April 10, 2017
The end of support for Windows Vista (all versions)

October 10, 2017
The end of support for Microsoft Office 2007 (all versions)

January 14, 2020
The end of support for Server 2008

October 13, 2020
The end of support for Microsoft Office 2010 (all versions)

New Security Risk For Android Phones

Just when you thought you had safeguarded your mobile device from any misuse, a new threat emerges.

For Android users, it’s a big one. Rapid7 has recently discovered a security bug that allows cyber criminals to access a smartphone user’s data.

Although this security problem is widespread, Google has responded that it will take no action to fix it. The bug exists in phones operating on Android 4.3 and below, and allows hackers to control your smartphone.

Although Android 4.4 and 5.0 users are not vulnerable to this risk, this issue affects approximately 60 percent of Android users – almost a billion people worldwide.

Google’s official response is that their policy is not to develop fixes for older software versions, but it can notify people of the risk and others are welcome to create their own fixes.

To date, there are no known patches to address this issue. There is, however, one way to ensure your safety if you possess an affected smartphone. Simply download and install a newer version of the operating software.

The Real Risks Of Running Outdated Software

Michael Menor is Vice President of Support Services for Tech Experts.

Are you still holding onto your trusty old server that’s aging towards uselessness?

Or perhaps you are still running important applications on older servers with old operating systems because they’re “good enough” or “doing the job just fine.”

In many ways, your old server is like a trusty old car. You know where the kinks are and it gets you where you need to go.

But lurking below the surface of that trusty old car, and your old server, can be hidden risks that can result in very big problems, even dangers. Usually, when least expected.

Security risks are the number one danger of older technology. The older your operating system or application, the longer the bad guys have to find and exploit vulnerabilities.

This is especially true when the manufacturer is no longer actively maintaining support. Dangers can lurk across the entire aging application platform.

Your older versions of SQL Server are at risk. Perhaps you are still using an old FTP server that’s innocently sitting in the corner. Or you have some older network equipment and appliances.

The bottom line is anything that listens on the network is a potential threat to the server, and therefore your business.

If that software or firmware isn’t up to date, you’re doubly at risk of a major security incident.

Here are the top 5 risks you’re taking with running outdated software:

Crashes and system downtimec505825_m
Aging systems are more vulnerable to failure, crashes and corruption causing significant downtime.

Targeted technology upgrades can reduce total annual outage risk and reduce downtime.

Increased costs
Outdated software is more expensive to maintain than newer versions. Failing software increases costs by overloading IT personnel. The process of applying patches is also costly and time consuming.

Updated software portfolios not only decrease maintenance costs but also free up IT budgets for more strategic and innovative programs.

Decreased productivity
Aging software applications that crash or require maintenance result in reduced employee productivity.

Modernizing software increases productivity by improving the efficiency and quality of work.

Security holes
Mission critical software is more vulnerable to security breaches as it ages. A security breach can compromise sensitive customer and employee information, and proprietary company data.

Legal and regulatory compliance risks
Updated software ensures compliance to governance, regulation and policy as regulatory bodies continue to mandate new global requirements.

This is especially important for healthcare professionals that need to comply with new HIPAA regulations.

With older technology, any of the above risks can strike you at any time. The consequences can be loss of productivity, or worse, loss of critical data that negatively impacts your business.

Perhaps “good enough” isn’t really good enough after all.

(Image Source: iCLIPART)

The Human Factor In Network Security

Scott Blake is a Senior Network Engineer with Tech Experts.

As you’re aware, disaster can manifest in many forms. In the past, we have included articles about weather-related events and how to best prepare your business against disasters.

However, there is another type of disaster that’s unlike flooding or fires that can also have devastating effects on your business.

The Human Factor
When it comes to safeguarding your business both physically and virtually, you have the power and controls available to give the edge against company espionage, cyber-attacks, or absent-minded employees.

It comes down to three basic areas: Software, Hardware and People. Once you have a firm grasp and control over these areas, you will have reduced your risk level considerably.

Software
Make sure all of your company’s electronic devices – from company-owned smart phones, tablets, laptops, workstations and servers – are running anti-virus and have a firewall in place.

While some devices are easier to secure and manage than others, this is a critical area, so be sure to make the best attempt to cover all your devices.

Be certain that your data storage devices are running backups and the backups are indeed good. As an added form of protection, encrypt your data being stored, making sure you save the key offsite as well.

Business_People_Group_laughing backupThat way, if your data is comprised either through internal access or external, it will become very difficult to use the data that was stolen.

The size of your company and the amount of sensitive data you have will dictate the frequency of your backup schedule. Remember, it never hurts to be overprotective when it comes to your data.

Hardware
Have security/firewall devices in place. Make sure they are fully configured for your business and that the firmware is up to date.

A lot of security devices add increased measures through the firmware updates.

They often have the ability to fully lock down your internal network as well. Restrict Internet access to only websites necessary for your business operations.

If your business offers Wi-Fi access for either internal use or guest use, make sure that controls are in place to limit access to your company’s internal network. The best precaution is to place the guest Wi-Fi on a completely separate network.

While Exchange mail servers can increase overhead, they will also add a level of increased security to combat against viral infections being delivered via email and attachments.

I’m sure everyone is well aware of Crypto-Locker and its variants. The majority of Crypto-Locker infections were delivered through infected PDF files sent as attachments.

People
By nature, humans are (and will always be) the most random aspect to safeguard your business from. It is vital that you run full background checks on any employee that will be given access to sensitive data or hardware.

Restrict the use of portable media such as flash drives and external hard drives while employees are working on or in the server room. Some companies may go as far as banning all portable media devices entirely.

Be proactive in actively monitoring your employees and watch for any changes in behavior, appearance, attitude and tone of speech. These can all be signs something is wrong.

If you have questions or you’re looking for suggestions, call Tech Experts at 734-457-5000, or email us at info@mytechexperts.com.

(Image Source: iCLIPART)

How To Know If You Have A Virus Infection

by Jeremy Miller, Technician
There is a lot of anti-virus software on the market today. They are created from many different software developers. All of them are a little different in how they protect your system.

There is no guarantee that your anti-virus software can protect you from any virus out there.

First let’s look at how anti-virus software works. Anti-virus software is usually installed on your computer, then it is scheduled to scan your computer regularly. A virus scan will scan each file on your computer for a “known” virus signature.

A virus signature is a piece of code that is known to your anti-virus software manufacturer as a virus. If your anti-virus detects a signature it will either remove it or ask you how to handle the file. You should remove any viruses that your anti-virus finds for you.

Most anti-viruses come with heuristic protection as well, which is when your anti-virus is able to detect suspicious activity on your computer.

Viruses are known to leak information, such as online banking information, or any other personal or confidential information.

They can lie dormant waiting for a specific user interaction before becoming active. They have the potential to cause unrepairable damage to computer operating systems.

There are many ways to get a virus on your computer with having an anti-virus software installed. The main reason is that virus developers have studied many different anti-virus software, and have been able to write viruses that cannot yet be detected by most anti-viruses.

The reason your anti-virus software cannot detect a newly written infection is because the anti-virus manufacturer has not yet seen the virus and does not have a signature in the database for it. This is the big reason why you should keep your anti-virus software up-to-date.

Another reason that your anti-virus software might not detect a virus would be because you trusted it.

Have you ever saw a pop-up on your screen asking for your permission to allow a program to run? If so then you may have allowed a virus to infect your system.

The last most common cause of infection is attempting to “Speed up your PC.” There is a lot of software out there that claims to speed up your PC for free. The problem is that good software is not free. Some free versions of software can actually slow your computer down, to promote the paid-version.

Also when downloading this software, there is usually a few links that look like download links.
If you click on the wrong one, you may install a virus. Also once you do get the right link, there are usually additional software included during the installation process.

You should always pay attention to every screen during the installation process to make sure you are only installing what you intended to install. There are a number of ways to detect if you may have a virus on your computer.

Your computer should behave regularly. This means your computer should not have any drastic changes day-to-day.

If you have lost access to something, or cannot connect to sites or services that you normally can you may have a virus. If you are browsing the Internet and your address bar does not go directly to the site you want, you may have a virus.

Also if your computer takes longer to startup than usual, this may be a sign of a virus.

If you have any of these symptoms on your computer or if you would like to proactively manage your computer’s security, you should contact us for assistance.

We recommend regular check-ups for your computer to prevent any malicious activity on your computer. You can contact us to work out a plan to combat malicious activity on your computer that will be simple and easy to understand.

 

Slow Down And Save Your Software Media

My how times have changed. Nothing seems to change as fast as they do in the computing world. In particular the way they package and distribute software.

When I first started in this business many years ago, computers had no hard drives and came with two 5-1/4” floppy drives. One drive was what you used to load the operating system into memory and load the program. The other drive was for storing your data.

Then came hard drives, with operating systems permanently loaded on the drive. If you wanted to load additional programs, you would go to the store and buy the program. It typically came with a large number of 3-1/2” floppy disks. You could
spend an hour or more loading a new application onto your system.

Then as things evolved, programs started shipping on CDROMS. This media was much more durable than floppy disks. With the dawn of the Internet and the variety of places to purchase software, most companies now allow you to buy and download the software immediately.

This is no doubt due to the availability (and popularity) of high speed Internet access. You can purchase a copy of Microsoft’s Office Basic 2007 and download and install the program all in less than an hour.

We’re starting to see a problem though, with the easy availability of software applications – users who don’t create any backup  disks or restore disks during the initial setup of their new computer, or when they download a new program. I am sure the anxiousness of having a new computer means they want to enjoy their new computer as soon as possible.

Please, take the time to make these disks! I’ve found that hours of time and numerous service dollars can be saved if the disks are readily available for the technician to use.

I had a business client recently who needed to have Microsoft Office reinstalled on a station. I said “Sure where are your disks?” He said that a co-worker had borrowed them and he needed to get them back.

A few days later he called and said he had the disks. I drove to the client’s office, only to discover he had the disk for re-installing his operating system, not Office Basic.

I was able to go online and download his software, because he did have his install code. Unfortunately, the download takes quite awhile.

This just illustrates the need for keeping copies of all your software that is installed or may need to be re-installed. If you’d like assistance with this cataloging your software library, please don’t hesitate to give us a call.