A basic guide to the world of managed IT services

In most offices, technology is a hassle. Hardware and software failures can cause hours of downtime, and tech support can be slow and ineffective, especially if your workplace doesn’t have a designated IT professional on staff. Information technology has been around for awhile now, but it’s still a fairly young fixture in the business world. For years, small businesses have struggled to use technology to its full potential for several reasons. Hardware can be expensive, especially for smaller companies. Maintaining a full-time IT staff in a small office can be inefficient. The IT struggles that most small businesses face are unfortunate since technology is one of a handful of weapons small businesses have to help them stay competitive in a market increasingly dominated by national and multinational corporations. Simply put, technology is a hassle for most small businesses – but it doesn’t have to be. When properly implemented, great IT can feel more like a superpower than a ball and chain. It can make logistics a breeze, help employees work smarter rather than harder, and organize the data that your business depends on to survive. Understanding the role of information technology and IT professionals in the business world can transform the way you approach technology and transform your business in ways you never thought possible. The turning point for IT in small businesses is a somewhat recent phenomenon made possible by a new class of technology experts: managed service providers. Keep reading to learn how the rise of managed services has empowered small businesses.   How Managed Services Changed IT

How managed services changed IT

If you’ve never outsourced your IT before, you probably aren’t all that familiar with the idea of managed services. Simply put, managed services provides IT as a service rather than a product. Managed service providers create economies of scale by concentrating IT knowledge and experience in one place and providing services to small and medium-sized businesses that don’t have the ability or resources to maintain their own full-time IT staff. We’ll admit it: managed services is a bit of a buzzword. A wide variety of services fall under the managed services umbrella, ranging from cloud services and data backup to hosted phone services. A managed service, in this case, is any technology-driven service that a business outsources in order to increase productivity and cut expenses; a concept that should be appealing to businesses of any size. This has had a massive impact on small business, opening the doors for local companies to access some of the highly advanced IT services that were previously monopolized by much larger companies. Managed service providers have empowered small businesses to punch above their weight and remain robust and competitive even in the face of aggressive expansion by larger chains. Managed services are becoming extremely popular with businesses of every size. Deloitte reports that 72% of businesses are currently outsourcing their IT, and that 31% have plans to scale up their current outsourcing efforts soon. Thanks to the business world’s increasing dependence on technology, the global IT market is expected to surpass $3.5 trillion by the end of 2017. Managed service providers play an important role in this massive market, serving as a link between the businesses that depend on technology and the giants that create it.

The exponential growth of technology has incredible implications for both businesses and individuals. The internet of things has had a profound effect on our daily lives, encouraging us to connect a wide variety of devices to the internet, building massive networks that we use and maintain on a daily basis. More and more young people are entering the workforce, and soon the majority of working Americans will have never known a world without on-demand internet access. The next generation expects their workplace to have access to advanced technology, and the switch from traditional IT budgeting to the managed services model has made that possible. The rise of managed services has also coincided with a gradual move away from perpetual software licenses towards selling software as a service. Were you one of the people who used Word 1997 for 15 years? Mercifully, the days of having to purchase new software on an annual basis or accept working with obsolete technology are coming to an end, as evidenced by new cloud-based software suites like Microsoft Office 365. By selling software as a service, vendors can encourage adoption by providing rolling updates that add and refine features while cutting back on compatibility issues. Users pay a flat rate for access to programs and never have to worry about being an addition behind or uploading a file to a new computer to discover all of their favorite font families have been phased out. None of these advances in technology really matter if they’re not properly applied, however. You care about how technology benefits your business. Keep reading to learn about some of the services 3Points has to offer, and how they impact the way you work. How Managed Services Aid Small Businesses

How managed services aids small businesses

You’ve heard enough about the thought process behind managed services. Now let’s talk results. If your business isn’t functioning quite as well as you’d like it to, there’s a good chance that managed services can help. Let’s go over some of the most popular services that 3Points specializes in and discuss how they can actually help your business.  

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Data backup & recovery

Your business is heavily reliant on data. All those spreadsheets, databases and documents that keep the gears turning day in and day out are your fuel and guide everything you do. Have you ever asked yourself how secure your data is? If you haven’t backed up your data, an everyday disaster like a spilled cup of coffee or a surge from a power outage could wipe out a significant portion of your data and set your business back months. If you work in an industry that deals with large amounts of sensitive information, losing access to your data could have legal penalties as well. As a decision maker, it’s your job to be certain your data is protected in case of emergency. Migrating to the cloud can be a great first step, but it’s only one layer of redundancy. For comparison, military institutions often require upwards of ten layers of redundancy – ten barriers preventing permanent data loss. You don’t necessarily have to go that far, but deferring your data backup processes to a managed service provider can make backing up your data a breeze and give everyone in your organization a bit more peace of mind. The right data backup strategy benefits you, your business, your employees, and your customers from a financial, operational and regulatory compliance perspective.

 

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Cloud services

The cloud seems to be woven into the framework of nearly every other managed service, an impressive feat considering its relative novelty. The results speak for themselves here: from 2012 to 2015, cloud services accounted for 70% of IT market growth. The cloud isn’t actually what it sounds like; data isn’t stored in the air above your head. However, it is stored in such a way that you can access it securely from any location. The cloud lives in data centers around the world. At 3Points, our clients pay for the server space that they use, and thanks to the wonders of virtualization, it’s possible to host the data of dozens of clients on a single piece of hardware. No matter where you are, you can access and use your data as long as you have an internet connection and the proper credentials. We also take steps on our end to ensure that your data is properly backed up and protected from all threats. Compare this to relying solely on the server in the closet at your office. It’s an expensive piece of hardware that you might never use to its full potential, and if you rely solely on an on-site piece of hardware for backup purposes it could seriously backfire. The cloud also allows you and your employees to operate in virtualized workspaces, making sharing and collaboration easier than ever. The days of emailing files back and forth and trying to keep track of thumb drives are over. Check out our blog, “Three Reasons You Should Be Using Cloud Services,”  for further discussions about cloud solutions.

 

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VoIP & unified communications

When your business grows, its processes should change accordingly. Even in well-managed businesses, communication is often a casualty of growth. Assignments might start falling through the cracks and customer service may be suffering. Smooth communication is one of the most important tools you have, and there are several managed service solutions for your communication-related pain points. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is one such solution. VoIP overhauls your office phone system by replacing traditional handsets with digital phones that operate within your network instead of over an outside line. Cloud-based carriers like RingCentral help build directories and allow you to forward business calls to your cell phone and vice versa. Task management software and workflow automation can help contribute to your business’s communications procedures as well. With proper training and employee cooperation, small technology changes can help turn an area of weakness into your business’s greatest internal strength.

 

Audit Services & IT Consulting

Audit services & IT consulting

One unique 3Points offering is our expertise in technology and license auditing. Making sure your various software licenses and security procedures are up to date is important from a legal and ethical standpoint. Regulatory compliance should be a major concern for every business, especially those that operate in highly regulated industries that carry major penalties and fines for breaches of conduct or unnecessary risk. Audit services are closely related to IT consulting, which can examine your technological capabilities and expose pain points that you aren’t aware of. This allows an IT professional to suggest appropriate and cost-effective solutions ranging from minor procedural changes to an overhaul of your IT infrastructure. Every business is different, and the exact benefits you experience can vary based on your industry and your commitment to collaborating with a managed service provider. We’ve mentioned “pain points” a few times now – areas of inefficiency or inconvenience that are causing trouble for your business on a daily basis. These can range from small bottlenecks in your process to hardware and software that constantly crash and ruin hours of hard work. Keep reading to learn about some of the telltale signs that your business needs some IT help.

Signs Your Business Needs an IT Overhaul

Signs your business needs an IT overhaul

Adaptability is a part of human nature, and it’s impressive how many inconveniences people can learn to live with over time. This extends to the business world, where many managers and employees accept major inconveniences because that’s just “the way things are”. Change is difficult and requires an open mind. Learning to work around broken systems doesn’t just impact you; your business is likely suffering in unseen ways as well. This chapter will dive into some of the easy-to-spot symptoms of a business that needs an IT overhaul. If your business fits any of these criteria, it may be time to talk to a professional.

Your business is underperforming despite hardware investments

If you overhauled your IT infrastructure at some point in the past, you may be surprised if you aren’t seeing major improvements in productivity. This could be indicative of problems with your processes rather than your technology. There might also be a disconnect between your infrastructure and your users due to poor software or training. Working with an IT consultant can help remedy these problems. A thorough analysis of your network and capabilities will reveal the exact cause of your problems and provide a pathway to success. The good news is that if your infrastructure is up to industry standards, your new solution probably isn’t going to cause major disruptions.

You’re worried about the risk of a cyberattack

Cybersecurity is a proactive, rather than reactive, service. If you haven’t taken major steps to shore up your business’s defenses, it makes sense that you might be a bit nervous about recent spikes in phishing and malware incidents like 2017’s WannaCry and Petya ransomware waves. If your business doesn’t actively combat cybercrime, your network could be a ticking time bomb. Cyberattacks are incredibly deadly, especially to businesses that are heavily reliant on customer data.

Managed service providers can offer network audits to expose weaknesses in your security and offer ongoing support and network monitoring to help shield you from threats before they can do any damage. You can also learn to implement internal procedures like two-factor authentication and employee security training.

You’ve never completely overhauled your network

The older your business is, the more likely this symptom is to appear. Technology has evolved quickly over time, and you’ve likely updated parts and pieces of your infrastructure and processes over the years without ever making a complete upgrade. The result can be a Frankenstein of technology, cobbled together with different hardware and software ranging from brand new to obsolete since 2005. Such a network can be incredibly inefficient and lead to compatibility issues, slow speeds, vulnerabilities, and complete system crashes. Even if you’ve been diligent in keeping your hardware up to date, your architecture is likely full of potentially critical weaknesses. No one knows your business as well as you do, and if you can see cracks in the foundation so can others, there’s no reason to wait for a solution. But you’re working on a budget, and you need to make sure that overhauling your IT makes financial sense. Planning and Budgeting for IT

Planning and budgeting for IT

Working within the constraints of a small business’s budget comes with plenty of unique challenges. As mentioned in previous chapters, the traditional method of budgeting for IT is inconsistent and often wasteful, involving sporadic investments into hardware and software that depreciate quickly and are rarely implemented properly. Managed service providers bring consistency to IT budgeting. Once the consultation and discovery process is complete, we can design a service package for your business and discuss pricing. There are no surprise fees, and you pay for exactly what you get. A responsible service provider will never nickel and dime you for services that you don’t really need, and monthly rates will be reflective of the service you receive and the projects you decide to undertake. Outsourcing your IT is one of the most effective ways to take the stress out of budgeting and prevent surprises on the balance sheet.

This makes sense; small businesses are less capable of buying hardware and software in bulk and the perception that small businesses are soft targets for cybercrime necessitates increased spending on cybersecurity. However, that doesn’t mean that your business needs to break the bank on IT. Remember that investing in IT means investing in a process. The impact of IT spending on the productivity of your business is subtle but powerful. You’ll experience fewer technical difficulties and less downtime. Your workflows will gradually become smoother until many inefficiencies disappear entirely. Your business will become more attractive to a new generation of skilled workers. You will build a relationship with your managed service provider that brings stability and consistency to your technology and makes your IT headaches a thing of the past. If you work with 3Points specifically, we’ll work with you to develop a 24-month technology roadmap for your business. We’ll keep you apprised of tech trends and emerging security threats so that you never have to worry about aging technology or looming data breaches. You’ll also receive a complimentary audit, complete with recommended solutions and budget estimates. IT is a fluid industry where standards and solutions evolve and improve on a daily basis. The ability to plan and budget consistently in a changing field is invaluable, and there’s no wrong time to get started.

Prepare for the future

The 21st century has the potential to be the golden age of small business thanks to technology. You want the best for your business, and it’s likely that your current IT setup is letting you down. Outsourcing your IT can give your business the tools it needs to fulfill its potential and continue growing for years to come. If you find yourself intrigued by the idea of managed services, we’d love to have a conversation with you. At 3Points, we seek to improve the Chicagoland community through technology. That means holding ourselves to the highest possible standard and providing the best possible service to our clients. Reach out today to discuss what our team can do for your business – no catches, no obligations. We can’t wait to meet you.