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Borrowing From the Big Boys: Small Business Grows Up With This Super Cool Tech Tool
Frank Anderson, 3Points Tech Team
A few remnants from a past business ecosystem: printed phone lists tacked to the wall, a company email that only half the office opened, a herd of people marching toward the exits with the foreknowledge of that day’s fire drill while one clueless person is left behind on a conference call.
Small business can do so much better.
Let’s start at ground zero. SharePoint was originally built for Fortune 500 companies. The technology was used for document sharing, and management of information like web content and company processes. At big companies, there were legions of people that managed the information housed in SharePoint (can you even imagine?).
In 2011, Microsoft included SharePoint in its bundled suite called Office 365. The share-ability and collaboration of SharePoint gives leverage to small businesses (the same kind the big boys enjoyed for years) as people share information faster and with more ease.
SharePoint is, in effect, an intranet or private network accessed internally. You can post a great quote to get the mojo going, post a new HR form or quality management process, announce the new VP, send a reminder about the staff meeting, recognize an employee, or feature the latest testimonial from a client. The best part? Everyone sees it.
If I were picking the best of the best in tech, SharePoint wins in three distinct categories:
1. Best in Collaboration.
Think Google Docs. Then think SharePoint without the vulnerability. As people in your company share and edit, you are not working with a publicly exposed document. Just go into SharePoint, edit in web browser mode and leave it for the next person to edit. Everything is stored with password-protected security.
2. Best in Process and Procedure.
SharePoint is a great place for company handbooks, internal processes, forms and applications. Some businesses might have a binder, but having information front and center on the local intranet gives employees quick access to procedures as they are updated.
3. Best in Uploading Business Documents You Want Others in the Company to See.
This is not a place to put photos of your dog Lulu or a copy of your resume. It’s strictly business files. Without SharePoint, you are typically sharing everything on a server’s drive.
Let’s take an example. At 3Points, our home page is the intranet. We start the day together as a team. We have access to our company phone list, onboarding document, holiday calendar, vacation request forms, HR forms, and expense report schedules. Within the intranet, each department has its own site.
As director of operations, there are tons of documents I reference regularly, from a master PC checklist to how-to process and procedures for specific hardware systems. We house technical training videos – great for people who miss a training session or who need a quick refresher. Kind of cool: Adopting SharePoint gives you your own company WIKI. (While the intranet is a private network, a WIKI is an internal website that allows all users to make changes – in effect, we are webmasters of it because we can add and change information.)
For people outside the organization needing access, just share a link with the SHARE LINK icon. Permission rules provide built-in security just as you would expect on a traditional server. For example, level 10 documents are password-protected for leadership only while the upcoming chili cook-off rules are posted for everybody to see.
SharePoint delivers ROI, too. If you took a look at Jon Pisani’s blog post about OneDrive last month (see below), buying a server can be expensive. SharePoint allows you to store and upload files, which may take the burden off of purchasing an extra server. Thank you, cloud technology.
3Points is here to help you integrate SharePoint with support and training. While it requires more than just a flip of a switch, SharePoint squarely puts small business in the winner’s circle by creating a collaboratively-rich, always-on environment.
Frank Anderson is director of operations for 3Points. Solution-minded by nature, Frank is passionate about enhancing innovation in the small business environment and has deep experience in more than 25 technology specialty areas. Email Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3 Tech Risks You Can Avoid Using an App You Probably Already Have
Jon Pisani, Sales Engineer Manager
We were sitting in the 3Points kitchen a couple weeks ago when the accident happened. Terry Kruger, our inside sales manager, was working at the island. Now, even though Terry is not Italian, he still uses his hands to emphasize his thoughts. And that’s how it happened. In his excitement about the latest release of Microsoft 365, he knocked over a water bottle and burned out his laptop.
After we stopped laughing, the shock rolled in like a storm front. He had a lot of work to do.
So we pulled a spare laptop from our closet and prepped it. Within half an hour, Terry had all his business documents in front of him. The reason he could access files so fast was because they weren’t just sitting on his computer hard drive. Exclusively using Word files as a place to house business-critical documents is risky. Instead, he had stored them in the cloud using OneDrive for Business. The free app comes with Microsoft 365, and allows users to store, sync and share work files. Since Windows 10, OneDrive has added connectivity and productivity to 365’s always-on email platform.
Terry’s case was a classic tale of disaster recovery. OneDrive gave it a happy ending. Here are three risks OneDrive helps small businesses avoid.
Risk #1: Downtime and Server Space
As you can see, OneDrive for Business minimizes downtime. Few work experiences are more sickening then looking at your laptop – your gateway to productivity – and realizing your documents are sitting somewhere behind a perpetually black screen.
Plus, OneDrive may save you costly space. In the past, clients would save documents and redirect them to a server. When you have 30 to 40 employees, that server gets a bit crowded! Purchasing an additional doesn’t make sense for document redirection. Each OneDrive account gets 1 terabyte of storage. (Additional storage is extra, but I’ve never seen anyone need it.) For clients using My Documents redirection, we can swap that out and relieve your backup costs, too, leaving you with a decreased storage footprint.
Risk #2: Human Error
OneDrive takes the end-user error out of the equation. As people work and save, it is easy to make mistakes and inadvertently save to My Documents rather than the server. Or, as Terry can tell you, it’s easy to damage a device inadvertently. With OneDrive, you’re covered.
Risk #3: Data Loss
Of course, data loss is the biggest risk of all. OneDrive allows anytime access because your files are automatically and securely saved in the cloud. Just log into 365 from any device – PC, Mac, Android or iOS. OneDrive allows employees to share work files in real-time too. Say, for instance, you get an email with a document that requires editing. You can make the changes and securely share a link with the person for secure access to the updated document. Essentially, your accessing and editing the same document instead of propagating new versions.
To sum it all up, think of OneDrive for Business as an enterprise-style storage locker for small business. And, if you have an Office 365 E1 or E3 plan, you already have the app. There are no additional licensing fees. Hey, what’s better than “free,” avoiding risk, and doing more with what you’ve got?
Let me know if you have any questions. 3Points is happy to set up your OneDrive for Business or, in the event of an emergency, provide you with tech tools to keep your business wheels moving forward.
Jon Pisani is the sales engineering manager at 3Points where he manages maintenance agreements and contracts with vendors, leads audits for new business sales, and manages the 3Points Tech Team. Email Jon at email@example.com.
5 Critical Steps to Strategic IT Planning and Why They Will Inspire You to Reimagine Your Small Business
Earl Nightingale wore thick charcoal black frames, a thin black tie and a “Mad Men” suit to match. Radio listeners of the fifties huddled around his rich, gravelly voice. Readers of his books helped build his reputation as the “Dean of Personal Development.” A sampling of his wit: “All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination.”
Without exception, bold courage runs through the veins of small business owners. Most have a business plan. A road map, though, that’s something different. When you talk tech, such a guide can mean the difference between looking around your office wondering when your P&L is going to start sprinting – and watching it cross the finish line with grins.
First off, forget long-term strategy. Technology changes as quickly as teenage temperament. Think three years and less for strategic IT planning. Your road map is built on evolving apps, intelligent networks, data analytics, mobile technology, computers, cloud computing and a plethora of large enterprise-style tech tools that may be here today and considerably enhanced tomorrow.
Now, let’s reimagine your business. Let’s build a road map for strategic IT planning. These five steps get you started.
#1: Roadmapping 101: Create Your Technology Team
Building consensus among stakeholders is key for relevant roadmapping. 3Points recommends taking a page from one of our clients. They have assembled a diverse technology committee. There are no usual suspects sitting in the seats – and that is what makes it great. The group culls from leadership, employees passionate about technology (their smartwatches give them away), technology stakeholders, managed service providers and client-facing individuals. For companies with 30 to 50 users, the group should meet monthly. For 20 to 30 users, every other month should suffice. Under 20? Take a bigger break, and meet quarterly.
#2: Craft Your Technology Vision
Put your technology goggles on and dream. Really. For instance, you might consider wireless headpieces for salespeople so they’re not tethered to their desk, wearable sensors for people in the field, or more data analytics on the plant floor. Vision planning your technology means you don’t wait for stuff to break.
#3: Think, Write, Share
Take some time to think about your thoughts, write them down and come prepared to share them with your technology committee. Get the conversation going. Do a technology SWOT analysis and define the goals for the technology road map. How do you drive business goals with technology? What’s your timeframe? How do your competitors use technology to their advantage? What are your greatest opportunities?
Get the whiteboard out and start sharing. Be fierce about taking your business places further with technology. Less goals is more. Here are real examples from 3Points clients:
- A construction company extending the office environment to trailers in the field.
- An accounting firm maximizing its third-party software.
- A manufacturer integrating CRM with ERP.
- A law firm integrating its front-end with its back-end data systems.
- An architectural firm moving data systems to the cloud.
- A plumbing contractor increasing connectivity between mobile computing and the main business system.
#4: Inventory Your Technology
Most small business owners don’t carry around an inventory of their technology. Why would they? You buy what you need when you need it. Work with an IT provider to take stock of what you have: hardware pieces and applications, memory and mobile usage. Knowing what you’ve got to work with is a great start in the right direction.
#5: Create a Plan
Here’s where roadmapping your technology gets fun. Work with your IT provider to figure out the tools and resources you need to put your plan into high gear. Set down timelines, budgets, metrics and the path to pressing “go.” List each business goal, completion date, milestone (after all, it’s not a goal if you can’t measure it) and the technology tools to drive that goal. 3Points performs in-depth technology audits that give small business owners a snapshot of their technology and identifies opportunities for growth.
Possibilities abound for reimagining your business with a strategic IT plan. Or, as Mr. Nightingale once said: “People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going.” So let’s hit the road.
Why Small Businesses Are Breathing Easier About Spending More
Steve Banke, CEO 3points
For years the backs of small businesses have been pressed against a wall when it came to the tax implications of capital expenditures. The allowable deduction was $25,000, but federal lawmakers would routinely vote to increase that number some time during the latter part of December. The move would make them look good, but do little for small businesses scrambling to figure out how to spend money at a time when most people are stringing up lights and listening to “White Christmas.”
The air of uncertainty that hovered over us reminds me of a line from the movie Dirty Harry where Clint Eastwood says: “ . . . you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do you, punk?”
Trust me, there were plenty of years when my business partner Kevin and I were wondering if we were going to get lucky. Our firm has an annual growth rate somewhere between 10 to 30 percent. Spending money on equipment to fuel our growth and not knowing the tax consequences was nail-biting.
Nail-biting until now, that is. On December 18, 2015, the “Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015” (PATH Act) was signed into law. According to Section179.org, the bonus depreciation and Section 179 tax breaks allows small businesses to take upfront deduction for qualified capital expenditures (this includes new or used equipment and off-the-shelf software “put into service” in 2016) of up to $500,000. The bonus depreciation incentive applies to new equipment and gives companies a 50 percent depreciation on expenditures above the Section 179 cap. The best part? The law is permanent.
An example shows the magnitude of this big tax break incentive for small businesses. Before the law, if you spent $100,000 on equipment, you could only expense $25,000. Then, you paid 30 percent in taxes turning that hundred grand into a $130,000 purchase. Now, the deduction limit is $500,000 until the end of 2016. Here’s a handy Section 179 Calculator if you would like to see what your savings will be for this year.
Now, the air of uncertainty is gone, making us all breathe easier. The push behind the law was five years of work in the making. The Small Business Advocacy Council, along with its partner the National Small Business Association, pressed Washington DC for this groundbreaking tax incentive legislation, and in December of 2015 those efforts paid off. Its one of the SBAC’s biggest accomplishments.
As a member of the executive board of the SBAC, I am extremely proud of our work here and know that it will make a tangible difference for small business owners, and for Illinois commerce as a whole. Beyond the obvious boost to small businesses bottom line, the tax breaks encourage investing in our country, in Illinois and in our companies.
The air of uncertainty has been displaced with confident investing throughout the year, allowing all of us to breathe easier as we spend more on growing our businesses.
Steve Banke is founder and CEO of 3Points, LLC. Stay tuned for future articles on small business topics in both the 3Points newsletter and blog posts. If you want to know more about the SBAC, email Steve or call him at (708) 491-0300.
3Points Monitoring System
Ryan Hertz, 3Points Quality and Efficiency Manager
When people ask me to describe the 3Points Pure Monitoring system, I tell them although it may sound like just an alarm system, it is much more than that, it is an early warning, disaster-avoidance system. In the tech world, we call it Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM), the most active management approach you can have for your network.
About 95 percent of our clients are on 3Points Pure Monitoring and let me tell you, it’s a fantastic value. For people who are not on it, support time adds up. Remote monitoring is a force multiplier because it gives our technicians faster access, diagnostics, and specialized tools. The value it delivers comes by way of speed and time saving. Even in an unlimited plan, the time to resolve those issues can be faster. If you’re having a problem, the faster the resolution, the faster you are back in business.
Consider your server: the computer that holds all your files. With Pure Monitoring, we can predict drive failure. We know a problem before a piece of equipment fails. If a company were to lose data, it could take days for full restoration. When we’re catching it before it fails, that’s a disaster avoided.
Pure Monitoring has it’s own process: monitor, respond, resolve and repeat. Here is a little more detail for you to chew on about Pure Monitoring.
1. Gathers data and monitors servers, networks and devices on the network (like firewalls, switches, Network Area Storage (NAS), workstations and servers).
2. Sounds alerts for abnormalities. Here, we’re looking at available disk space. If disk space reaches a critical level, the system alerts the 3Points Network Operations Center (we call it NOC for short). If you visit our office, you’ll see quite a number of TVs throughout our office displaying our top alert board. This shows us current situations like site downs and critical issues. The screens and lights make you feel a little bit like you’re walking onboard a Starfleet ship in Star Trek.
3. Do things automatically (we call this automation or scripting). Some things require immediate action or may be scheduled actions so we use automation from the RMM. Examples might be patches or upgrades on servers or regular maintenance scripts.
4. Provides remote access. In days past, when you called in for support, a technician might look up your firewall information and passwords and set up a VPN profile to get through the “front door” of your network. With RMM, if there is a problem with a device, we have remote access immediately. Like I said, fast resolution means less interruption for small businesses.
5. Reports data and intelligence. To me, this is one of the most important aspects of Pure Monitoring. We gather data and intelligence about your network both visually and in text form. Pure Monitoring clients receive an executive summary (it’s several pages long) twice a month via email.
You might find it interesting to know that Pure Monitoring is an evolving product. We’re constantly evaluating its capabilities and offering more features over time. Pure Monitoring allows small businesses to have a team of people watching over their technology, safeguarding their businesses just like large enterprise.
Ryan Hertz is the Quality and Efficiency Manager at 3Points. He joined the company in 2002 and has contributed to 3Points’ outstanding research and development team.
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