Five Ways To Take Your Business Paper Free

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

If you’re a small business owner, chances are you always have one eyes on your operating costs and the best way to reduce or eliminate extra expenses and improve staff efficiency.

One great way in which you can gain some great cost savings is by eliminating paper.

Paper-based tasks increase storage, postage, and compliance costs and can be a major overhead for modern-day businesses.

Here are five ways you can reduce paper usage and save yourself some cash in the process.

Smart Project Management

Traditionally, the process of managing company projects that involve different departments and multiple people generates massive amounts of paperwork.

More contemporary organizations are taking the smart project management approach through the use of cloud-based solutions, such as Basecamp, Asana or Trello, which allow you to ditch the paper while running a project online with unlimited users.

Electronic Payroll

Rectifying payroll issues costs half of all small business an average of $850 annually. Using decent payroll software reduces the errors and facilitates paperless processing. An electronic payroll system automates all the manual calculations such as tracking hours worked, calculating salaries, and filing taxes.

Salaries can also be paid electronically rather than printing checks or visiting the bank.

The additional benefits of electronic payroll include self-service functionality, and allowing staff to view their payroll data, such as personal details, tax deductions and pay slips online from any device.

Receipts and Invoices

Eliminate paper (and postage costs) by offering customers the option to receive electronic receipts either by email or text.

Your customer will then have it for future reference. Ask suppliers to issue and email digital invoices, which you can save into your accounting software.

Cloud Storage

Small businesses spend a lot of money to purchase, fill and maintain filing cabinets!

Switching to cloud storage can reduce most of this cost as many services, like Dropbox, offer a free allowance.

Most cloud-based options also allow you to organize documents into separate folders.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software

CRM software can reduce the extent to which you rely on paper to store and track customer details, purchase orders, quotes and other correspondence.

Features include the ability to store customer data and interactions, manage staff details and vendors, and store documents.

Data Redundancy And Why You Should Have It

Ron Cochran is a senior help desk technician for Tech Experts.

Data redundancy is the making of an exact copy of the data that you are currently working with, in the event of a hardware failure, theft, or those pesky mistakes where you delete something that you really wanted.

What happens is you will have 1 or more hard-drives used for backups, housing those files that are kept nearly current. You will go through the steps to rebuild or restore the files or programs that were removed, then you will be back at the point you were at before the files were lost.

The above is extremely important when you are working with money or medical records. Let’s say you were working with a customer on their tax returns and your office experienced a power outage, which turns your computer off in the middle of saving data. A short while later, the power is restored and you turn your computer on and open the data to resume where you left off — and you find out that there is no record on your computer of your client and you start to panic.

If you had a redundant data solution, then you could restore the data, but if you didn’t, then you will need to call that customer and explain that they will need to bring all of that data back in so you can enter it into your system again. Now, consider how this customer could begin to think of you and your business.

If you have a safety net, you would follow the steps from your program and, in a short while, all of that data that you lost will be restored and you’ll be back at the point when the power went out, with all of your data intact. There are several different ways you can set up a system backup. One of the ways is to have more than one storage solutions to send data to.

With this solution, you will have more than one drive that is saving that information, which will do a couple of things. It will speed up the read/write times and you take less of a chance of losing more data. It’s always wise to have more than one solution for data recovery. You don’t want to wait until it’s too late and find out that in order to recover the data on your drive it’s going to be thousands of dollars.

You can have an image copy of your hard-drive made one time a day (or once a week or maybe twice a month) with a scheduled back up. You could have an application running in the background of your computer that would take up very few resources as it copies your data to a drive or an offsite storage facility.

We offer quite a few different data redundancy solutions to our clients. Those options range from on-site RAID drives to a cloud-based solution that is off-site. With either option, you can have a data backup or an image of your operating system — or even a direct mirror copy of your hard-drive in real time.

If you are worried that you might lose valuable information, then some sort of data redundancy is probably something you should be actively seeking. If you’re overwhelmed by the options and aren’t exactly sure which method would suit your business best, contact us and we can help you narrow it down, as well as provide a solution.

Five Ways Cloud Computing Can Improve Your Business

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

Regardless of the size of your business, you can harness the power of the same high-tech tools used by Fortune 500 companies, thanks to cloud-based technology.

According to recent studies of small- to medium-sized businesses, those using cloud computing greatly outperformed those that didn’t. One study showed an average of 26% more growth and 21% more profitability for small- to medium-sized businesses using cloud computing over those that only had their heads in the clouds.

Here are five concrete ways the cloud can help your business:

Reduced costs
Cloud computing eliminates the need for a large IT department. With the data centers located off-site, your business is not responsible for the electricity to run, maintain, or periodically upgrade those servers. The money saved by using cloud computing can then be redirected into growing your business or marketing to new clients. [Read more…]

Is It Ever A Good Idea To Share Your Password?

Luke Gruden is a help desk technician for Tech Experts.

There are times when it can be tempting to share account information or give a coworker access to files and programs to streamline processes. Other times, you might be away from the office and someone may need something on your Windows.

There are many reasons why workers would want to share accounts and passwords that would be in good faith and, on the surface, best for business. Should this be allowed and acceptable in a work setting? The short answer is no, and for several good reasons.

As much as it would seem that sharing passwords and credential information could help workers, this can lead to poor habits and huge security vulnerabilities. All it takes is for one person to write a password down for another person to read it.

It is common for someone using social engineering to go into company buildings and look for sticky notes, note pads, or files on desktops with passwords and account information on them. This way, they have the means to steal company information.
Even worse, it will look like the user account that was used to steal information was the one stealing information instead of the thief.

Another common event at some work places is that some workers will use their coworkers account to do something risky, so if anything happens, the account holder is the one in trouble and not the person borrowing their account.

backupWhen it comes down to the pressures of keeping a job or to work towards promotions, it can be surprising what some people might resort to in achieving their goals.

Sometimes, a person sharing an account might make a mistake and mean no harm, like deleting some important files on accident or click something they didn’t know about in an area of the computer they normally do not have access to.
This would also look like the account holder made the mistakes and not the actual person. There is a reason why certain people have access to certain drives, websites, and programs. Permissions and restrictions should be respected.

Your Windows account and email are your unique fingerprints and they should be protected. Everything you do on a computer is recorded in event logs and possibly on other monitoring systems on the network. Your account information should serve you as well as prove the work you have done.

It may be tempting to share account information, but there are alternatives. If a coworker needs access to a program or website, let IT know.

If the coworker really needs access for their job, then your manager and IT will change permissions to allow them access and they’ll no longer have to ask for your password.

What about if they need to work on files that you are working on? Your IT can setup a network drive and enable access for both you and your coworker so that files can be edited and changed freely without ever logging into each other’s accounts.

There may be many other reasons as to why people may want to share their account information, but chances are, there are alternatives that your IT can implement so that no one’s personal credentials are given out. Keep your account your own and there will be no unnecessary risk or possible security threat out in the open. If you have security or user concerns or would like to develop a permissions plan, we would be happy to help. Give us a call at (734) 457-5000.

(Image Source: iCLIPART)

How Cloud Computing Can Benefit You

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

Is your business using the cloud in 2016? If not, you should know that it’s a great tool that’s designed to help your business better manage its data and application deployment.

However, the cloud can be used for so much more and it’s quickly becoming an indispensable tool for SMBs.

Here are four ways that cloud computing is changing the way that small businesses handle their technology:

Data Storage
The cloud is a great way to share data among your entire organization and deploy it on a per user basis.

Businesses can store their information in a secure, off-site location, which the cloud allows them to access it through an Internet connection.

This eliminates the need to host your data internally and allows your employees to access information from any approved device through a secure connection, effectively allowing for enhanced productivity when out of the office.

Microsoft Office365
Access Office from anywhere; all you need is your computer – desktop, laptop, tablet, or phone – and an Internet connection.

Since the software is running in a data center, you just connect to the Internet to access the software.

Another benefit to this is that you have a central location for all your data. If you need to make a change to an Excel spreadsheet from your tablet and you share the file with your colleague, they will be able to view the changes that you just made.
Gone are the days of emailing files between members of your team and losing track of the most up to date file version.

The cloud can be an effective tool for virtualization, which is a great method for cutting costs for your business. By virtualizing physical IT components, you’re abstracting them for use in the cloud. This means that you’re storing them in the cloud.

Businesses can virtualize servers, desktop infrastructures, and even entire networks for use in the cloud. Doing so eliminates the physical costs associated with operating equipment, allowing you to dodge unnecessary costs and limit the risk of hardware failure. For example, you can deploy all of your users’ desktops virtually from the cloud so you don’t need to rely heavily on more expensive workstation technology and can instead use thin clients. Simply log into your company cloud and access all of your applications and data on virtually any Internet connected device.

Backup and Disaster Recovery (BDR)
A BDR device relies on the cloud to ensure quick and speedy recovery deployment. The BDR takes snapshots of your data, which are sent to both a secure, off-site data center and the cloud.

From there, you can access your data or set a recovery into motion. If you experience hardware failure, the BDR can temporarily take the place of your server, allowing you ample time to find a more permanent solution.

The cloud is crucial to the success of a BDR device, simply because the cloud is where the BDR stores an archive of its data.

Storm Season Is Just Around The Corner… Are You Protected?

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

We’ve just celebrated the first day of Spring, and before you know it, the weather will warm up and tulips will bloom. Of course, we’re also headed into Spring storm season.

If you haven’t already, it is time to prepare for those pop-up storms that occur randomly at this time of year. These unexpected storms often result in everything from ice damage to lightning fires.

During this time of year the threat of fire, flood, severe storms, water damage from office sprinklers, and even theft is very real.

One of the most valuable assets for any company is its data. Hardware and software can easily be replaced, but a company’s data cannot! As a reminder to all of our clients, here are some simple things you should do to make sure your company is ready for any natural disaster. [Read more…]

Does Your Backup Plan Stand Up To A Disaster?

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

Technology, while a great asset that can be leveraged for your benefit, can also frighten businesses due to how unpredictable it can be at times. The constant threat of data loss, identity theft, and hardware failure can cripple your business’s ability to retain operations.

Specifically, businesses can learn about risk management by analyzing the processes used by an industry where risk management is absolutely critical: nuclear power plants.

In the wake of two of the most destructive and violent nuclear disasters, nuclear power plants have begun to crack down on how they approach risk management. The Chernobyl incident of 1986, as well as the tsunami-induced disaster at Fukushima in 2011, are the only nuclear disasters to reach the peak of the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) at a rating of 7.

This means that they had an immense impact on the immediate vicinity, as well as the environment on a worldwide scale.

The meltdown at Chernobyl was the result of an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction, ending in an enormous explosion that resulted in fire raining from the sky and radioactive core material being ejected into the vicinity. A closer inspection of the incident revealed that the explosion could have been prevented, had the plant practiced better safety measures and risk management, like having a containment system put in place for the worst-case scenario.

In comparison, the Fukushima plant was prepared to deal with a failure of operations.

The problem that led to a disaster was one which couldn’t possibly have been prevented: the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and the resulting tsunami. The Fukushima plant had a contingency plan to shut down the plant in the event of a disaster, but tsunami prevented this from happening properly by flooding damaged power lines and backup generators, leading to heat decay, meltdowns, and major reactor damage.

Disasters like these lead to professionals searching for ways to prevent emergency situations in the future. For example, the Fukushima incident kickstarted conversations on how to prevent problems caused by the unexpected issues.

In response to emergency power generators being flooded or destroyed, off-site power generation will be implemented as soon as November 2016.

One other way that nuclear plants have chosen to approach these new risks is by outsourcing this responsibility to third-party investigators, whose sole responsibility is to manage the reliability of backup solutions. In a way, these investigators function similar to a business’s outsourced IT management, limiting risk and ensuring that all operations are functioning as smoothly as possible.

What we want to emphasize to you is that businesses in industries of all kinds expect the worst to happen to them, and your business can’t afford to be any different.

Taking a proactive stance on your technology maintenance is of critical importance. While your server that suffers from hardware failure might not explode and rain impending doom from the sky or expel dangerous particulates into the atmosphere, it will lead to significant downtime and increased costs.

In order to ensure that your business continues to function in the future, Tech Experts suggests that you utilize a comprehensive backup and disaster recovery (BDR) solution that minimizes downtime and data loss risk.

BDR is capable of taking several backups a day of your business’s data, and sending the backups to both the cloud and a secure off-site data center for easy access.

In the event of a hardware failure or other disaster, the BDR device can act as a temporary replacement for your server. This lets your business continue to function while you implement a suitable replacement.

Replacement Equipment And Workstation Data Storage

Scott Blake is a Senior Network Engineer with Tech Experts.

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a huge project or in the height of your busy season, then suddenly, a key piece of equipment breaks? You have orders that need processed. Deadlines to meet. Stress starts to roll in. You start to wonder how long the downtime is going to last or what this is going to cost your business.

One way to reduce the stress levels and temporarily resolve the situation is to maintain a stock of replacement workstations and essential equipment.

Being able to switch out a workstation or any other critical piece of equipment and be back up and running sooner not only reduces stress levels, but also saves your business countless dollars in lost revenue.

Example: your company designs and prints graphics for billboards. An employee says their workstation has crashed while they were working on a project for your largest client that’s due in two days. What do you do?

You try to contact the manufacturer of the workstation, only to find out your warranty does not cover on-site service and the soonest they could be on location is in two to four days. That’s not the answer you wanted to hear.

If you had a replacement workstation on hand, you could reduce your downtime dramatically. But let’s say you do have one. So you switch out the workstations and your employees is back to work…

Until they realize all of their work is stored on the crashed workstation. Stress levels start to climb once again.

One easy way to avoid losing data would be to migrate the user’s data to a storage device located on your network. Network attached storage is much more reliable than the storage within your workstation. They can also be configured for redundancy.

This entire migration will be transparent to the user as the workstations libraries will still remain intact, just relocated to a different device. As far as the user is concerned, all of their data is saved to the workstation.

The general rule of thumb is to maintain a 10% replacement stock level of workstations or essential pieces of equipment (and always have at least 1). Replacement switches, as well as firewalls, should always be on hand or able to be purchased locally. Being able to replace a switch or firewall to bring your VOIP phone system back online or restore network connectivity to your entire business in minutes is critical.

If your business is unable to maintain replacement inventory, make sure you have (and fully understand) support contracts either from equipment manufacturers or from a local network support company.

Depending on the manufacturer or support company, support contracts can range from 24×7 to 8×5 to “whenever we can get there.” That’s why it’s very important to understand your support agreements. Never get taken by surprise.

Manufactures, depending on the piece of equipment, will offer warranties or support contracts. Be warned the contract may not include next day equipment replacement, data recovery, or installation of the equipment.

They may be able to offer remote assistance, but in most cases, you end up in a long call that does nothing to resolve your issue.

The best option, if available to your business, is to have a managed service plan with a local network support company. Most local support companies will offer same day service including weekends.

Local service companies can act as your business IT support department and/or work with your existing IT department to maintain your business equipment and resolve any issues that arise.

Most local service companies will have replacement equipment and repair parts on hand, thus reducing downtime.

A local service company will also be able to assist your business in less stressful times by offering remote support services and preventive maintenance visits to spot any potential issues before they become larger problems.

They will also work to ensure your business’ network is safe and secure and offer suggestions for upgrades to your infrastructure.

While no one can predict when a workstation may go down or a firewall will fail, the best thing you can do is be prepared.

Maintaining Workstation Data Protection

Making sure your workstation’s data is backed up and ready for deployment in the case of workstation failure is vital to any business. Once the workstation has been replaced or repaired, it’s key your employees are able to pick up right where they left off. This means restoring their data as soon as possible.

Three of the more common methods of maintaining data protection on a workstation can be deployed on business networks, as well as home user environments.

Roaming profiles are the method most commonly used in larger businesses. A roaming profile stores user data on a file server or storage device located on the network. This allows the user full access to their data no matter which workstation they log into, as long as it‘s connected to the business’ network.

The roaming profile allows the user to have a consistent desktop experience, such as appearance and preferences.

The downsides to using roaming profiles are that they can be difficult to set up and if the user has a large amount of data contained within their user account, there can be a delay when logging in. User profile folder migration is a method in which the local user data folders are moved to a file server or a secondary hard drive. To migrate your user profile folders, you first need to create new folders located on the storage device, keeping the names similar for ease of use (such as My Documents, My Pictures, etc).

Once the new folders are created, you can change the location of your user profile folders to save to the new folders. After that, all of your data files will be copied to the new location and the original folder will be removed from your local profile.

If the workstation ever needs replaced, you would repeat the process on the new workstation and all of the existing data will be available. However, if you migrate folders to a network attached device and lose network connectivity, you also lose connectivity to your folders and their data.

Simple file storage is the simplest and most common form of data protection on a workstation. This method is accomplished through either hardware or software means, such as connecting an external storage device to the workstation or using a web based file backup such as our Experts Total Backup service.

Simple file storage method is the least costly, which is why it’s often utilized by small businesses and home users. Attaching an external storage device such as a large USB flash drive or hard drive to the workstation allows the user to save the data to the device.

This method is also a way of increasing storage capacity of the workstation without having to install internal hard drives. The drives can be left connected to the workstation or removed for safe storage. Using a web based file backup is another commonly used way of backing up your data files.

Once the backup software is installed and configured, the backup process becomes fully automated. The downside to web based backup is that it’s web-based – so data restore time is based on your Internet connection speed. It can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days to restore your data depending on the amount of data that was backed up.

If you have any questions on workstation data protection or would like to implement a backup method, call us at (734) 457-5000.

Pros And Cons Of Cloud And Physical Backup Solutions

Scott Blake is a Senior Network Engineer with Tech Experts.

When it comes to backing up data, you have two choices – you either maintain physical copies of your data or you utilize cloud services to host your data. Before you make a decision, you should look into the pros and cons of each and determine which one is a good fit for you.

Pros of Cloud-Based Services
Utilizing the cloud requires no capital investment for additional hardware or personnel to monitor and maintain your data locally.
Cloud service providers offer scalability to your data needs. No more adding additional drives or servers to maintain your data.
Data stored in the cloud is safe from any disasters that your office may have.
Your data can be accessed from any Internet connection in the world.
No maintenance of data drives. The cloud service provider takes care of everything on their end.
Cloud-based storage for your data will remove any risk of data corruption or hardware fault. This will allow you to reduce overhead by reducing the amount of IT staff personal assigned to manage and maintain your company’s data.

Cons of Cloud-Based Services
Cloud storage requires an Internet connection for uploading and downloading of data. If your connection is slow, you should expect slower uploads of data and increased access time to your data.
While almost every cloud service provider offers plans that come with data encryption, not all do. Make sure your cloud provider is securing your data.

Pros of Physical Backup
No vendors to deal with. You are in complete control of your data. You control how it’s backed up, accessed and maintained.
Data backups tend to take less time. There is no dependency on an Internet connection for backing up or accessing your data.
You are in complete control of the security process that protects your data.

Cons of Physical Backup
Localized data storage does offer the sense of control and knowing where your data is. However, that piece of mind can incur some high costs and overhead.
As the size of your data grows, so does your investment in storage media such as flash drives, external hard drives, internal hard drives and additional servers.
Physical devices will fail. It’s not “if,” but “when.” All mechanical devices will fail at some point in their life cycle. Additional IT staff will need to be put in place to monitor and maintain the physical equipment to ensure data integrity. This increases overhead.
In the event of a disaster in your business, data accessibility and recovery will be dependent on if extra steps were taken to secure physical copies of your data off-site.
Doing this will require the purchase of additional hardware and additional manpower to ensure the data is corruption-free.

Again, before deciding which method to implement, figure out which solution will work best for your business. Not every company’s backup or data storage needs are the same.

For assistance in setting up either cloud-based or local backup solutions, call the experts at Tech Experts: (734) 457-5000.