Setting Your 2019 IT Budget

Your School Connected: E-Rate Updates for 2019

Your School Connected: E-Rate Updates for 2019

The filing window for the School and Libraries Universal Service Support Program—more commonly known as E-Rate—is nearly open. E-Rate has been a significant relief on school spending and helped districts stretch their already thin budgets.

Administrative Window

Make certain your organization’s E-Rate Productivity Center (EPC) profile is correct and up to date. The administrative window to update profiles is open until the application filing window opens. Make certain your FCC Registration Number is correct, contact info is up to date, and if any entities under you are active and present. If you’re a school, make certain your student count is from the most recent information available, as that effects the discount rates the school is eligible for.  For libraries, verify the square footage and the main library branch. If you’re independent, choose your library as the main branch.

Discount rates are in Figure 1, per the Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC).

Figure 1: USAC Discount Matrix

A new FCC Form 470 might not be necessary, as an FCC Form 470 can be good for a few years because the equipment and services requested on it might be on a multi-year contract. However, the corresponding FCC Form 471 needs to be resubmitted each year with reference to the standing Form 470 to continue to receive discounts on those goods and services.

That time is upon us.

Funding Year 2019 (FY2019)

The Federal Communication Commission released the 2019 Eligible Service List (https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DA-18-1173A1.pdf) which reflects a few changes from previous years. We’ve broken it down further into plain language below.

E-Rate is divided into two categories, appropriately names Category One (C1) and Category Two (C2). We’ll address the changes in each one individually.


Category One (C1) Changes, Clarifications, and Updates

The first category of eligible supported services includes the equipment and services needed to support broadband connectivity to schools and libraries.

Maintenance and Operations

Previously this was referred to as ‘Maintenance and Technical Support’ and it was just a yes/no question. Now, Maintenance and Operations is an item in the C1 services drop down menu (see figure 2).

Voice Communications

Dedicated voice channels on an ISDN circuit are no longer eligible. This follows the 2014 First E-Rate Order that declared it would phase down E-Rate program funding for VoIP services. FY2018 was the last year VoIP was eligible for discounts, and Voice Services will no longer appear on the FY2019 form. USAC shared what the new service drop down menu will look like in their “Preparing for Funding Year 2019” webinar on December 12, 2018:

Figure 2: FY2019 FCC Form 470 C1 Services Drop Down Menu

You’ll notice that while Voice Services is no longer there, Cellular Data Plan/Air Card Service is still available. For more of a breakdown of what each service entails, you can read about them in detail in USAC’s C1 Reference Table (https://www.usac.org/_res/documents/sl/pdf/handouts/FCC-Form-470-C1-Dropdown-Table.pdf).

While Voice Services has been removed from the FCC 470 C1 Services Drop-Down menu, VoIP is still considerably more affordable than landlines (https://business.frontier.com/blog/voip-vs-landline-phones/). Individual landlines can cost up to $120/month, versus individual VoIP lines can run as low as $28/month (although you might be left to your own phone support at that price). If your school or library already has VoIP enabled telephony equipment, Advance2000 offers SIP extensions for significantly less than the national average price listed here.

Choose Bids Wisely

Competitive bidding needs to be an essential consideration in the provider you go with. When schools are audited for managing the approved budget as efficiently as possible, healthy funds shows leadership competency. The E-Rate program recommends maintaining all bid quotes, not just the bid you go with, for 10 years.

A shining example of smart bidding is Rochester Community Schools. They received praise for running a tight ship when an unmodified audit opinion revealed their school district was in “great financial standing” (https://patch.com/michigan/rochester/rochester-school-district-praised-good-financial-standing). The audit from the previous year wasn’t as rosy, and an action plan to spend down in specific areas helped the Rochester, MI district correct course. The district currently receives 75% of their funding directly from the State, however leadership is well aware that number isn’t guaranteed year over year. Director of Financial Services Matthew McDaniel pointed out that “[w]ith a new political environment, we are uncertain as to the resources that will be made available to Michigan schools…If funding were to be cut, we have enough resources to continue operating our organization.” Make certain that any audit performed on your school will result in similar praise for management of funds.

Eligible Category One Network Equipment

Some of the language has been changed to help clarify eligibility of network equipment. Any additional equipment or modulating electronics necessary to make a school or library’s network equipment functional is eligible for E-Rate. The Order specifically reiterates that “all equipment and services …must be competitively bid” (page 2 https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DA-18-1173A1.pdf).

There is the option for schools and libraries to lease or rent network equipment. Incurred fees for rented equipment are also eligible for E-Rate support (page 2).


Category Two (C2) Changes, Clarifications, and Updates

Possibly the more confusing of the two categories, due to the scope of eligible items, C2 is dedicated to “the internal connections necessary to bring broadband into, and provide it throughout, schools and libraries” (page 10). Like C1, both equipment and services required to make this possible are eligible for E-Rate discounts.

Supporting Software for High-Speed Broadband Distribution

This isn’t new, but it is being clarified, as supporting software was previously thrown into the Miscellaneous section and there was confusion as to whether it was covered or not. If any software is needed to distribute broadband throughout the school and library, that software is eligible for E-Rate discounts.

Important to note: Software upgrades and patches are considered basic maintenance and are not eligible as supporting software. Whichever service provider you go with, make certain their basic maintenance packages include software upgrades and patches.

Eligibility of Category Two Equipment

Same as C1, equipment that makes high-speed broadband service functional is eligible. That includes, but is not limited to, leased or rented equipment. This means that “[f]unctionalities…that can be virtualized in the cloud, and equipment that combines eligible functionalities, like routing and switching, are also eligible” (page 10).

Cloud hosted services and support have been our bread and butter for the past 20 years here at Advance2000. We’ve saved schools, governments, and businesses tens of thousands of dollars a year virtualizing their IT departments. If your school or library is tight on space, concerned about vandalism, or is looking to upgrade equipment without the monstrous costs associated with updating, we can help determine if a cloud solution makes sense for your individual situation (https://www.advance2000.com/).

Basic Maintenance Contracts

E-Rate support is available for yearly basic maintenance services for broadband connectivity. Be certain to take advantage of Basic Maintenance support during the 2019 filing window, because as the Order restates, the Commission only extended broadband basic maintenance eligibility through the FY2019 (page 5, footnote 41).

Per the FY2019 Order, the Basic Maintenance eligible for discount under E-Rate is here in Figure 3:

Figure 3: FY2019 Order Eligible Basic Maintenance

Advance2000’s support plans include and hold to these restrictions to maintain our E-Rate partner standing.

Specific Eligible Category Two Equipment

Once again, the FCC has declined to provide a list of specific equipment and services eligible under C2 subcategories.

This isn’t a bad thing, as publishing a list could leave certain eligible services and equipment unnamed. If something isn’t listed, they’re concerned that an eligible product or service might be left off Form 470 or 471, which would put a school or library at a financial disadvantage. USAC prefers that requesting parties leave nothing off and they will approve Forms on a case-by-case basis so each district receives the support it needs.


E-Rate and Advance2000

Advance2000 has been a qualified E-Rate service provider for over a decade. We’ve bid and won dozens of FCC Form 470s and Requests for Proposals and our partners have been very happy with the results we’ve provided (https://www.advance2000.com/industries/education/). In collaboration with school IT departments, we’ve offered our expertise to our partners on an as-needed basis while they sought discounts for services via the Form 471.

Your Funding Year 2019 Partner

A seasoned partner will deliver and install the correct firewalls, supporting software, and provide basic support online and by phone for a smooth 2019.

As we’re experts in the IT service industry, have years of E-Rate experience under our belt, and have worked with enough schools to thoroughly understand the budget constraints districts encounter, you can feel confident in the solution we’ll deliver.

For more information about our role in E-Rate and how we can help your school and library get connected for a discount, contact us at 1-800-238-2621.

Cloud Computing 101

As you prepare for 2019 and beyond, Cloud Computing should be part of every technology discussion for your business.  Today the “Cloud” means everything and anything.  So, what is Cloud Computing and what does it really mean for you and your business?

What is Cloud Computing?

Let’s define Cloud Computing.

Cloud computing is the Delivery, using the Internet or a Direct data connection, of Network-Based Services hosted in a Multi-Tenant Environment.

What does this mean?

Network-Based Services – this is a service running on a network.  Usually networked in a datacenter, not your own.

Using the Internet or another Direct data connection – You are accessing this service from a remote location from the source.  You are using it over the Internet or another data link.

Hosted in a Multi-Tenant Environment – Hosted means it is running on someone else’s hardware and they are just making a service available to you.  Multi-tenant means the provider is ‘hosting” many users at the same time. They serve multiple tenants.

For example, look at Gmail.  The provider (Google) manages the software and the hardware running Gmail.  You just use the service from a distance over the Internet.  Cloud computing is just a form of outsourcing when you use Gmail, you outsource your email application to Google.

There are three major kinds of Cloud Computing Services

  • SaaS – Software as a Service
  • IaaS – Infrastructure as a Service
  • PaaS – Platform as a Service

Software as a Service is probably the most common use for Cloud Computing.  A company will run Cloud-based software similar (or identical) to a premise-based, boxed software solution. Some advantages of SaaS are

  • No expensive hardware (server) needed to run the program
  • No updates or patches to maintain
  • Easier support
  • Equal fixed monthly costs

SaaS works well for software applications you use all the time.  You pay monthly (or annually) whether you use the product or not.  On the downside, there are applications I use only a couple of times a year.  It is tough to justify paying for them each month over and over.  For these types of applications, I found the alternative open source or “buy once” substitutes.

Infrastructure as a Service – IaaS is using hosted hardware, usually virtualized, running in a datacenter to conduct business.  If physical (not virtualized) hardware is used or needed, it is usually purchased and co-located in a datacenter to be used like IaaS.  IaaS is a suitable alternative for most on-premise computing functions that can be virtualized.

Closely related to IaaS is Desktops as a Service (DaaS).  With DaaS, a host vendor provides access to virtual desktops (VDI) from a Public or Private Cloud.  DaaS can take the place of your local PC or workstation or supplement them.  Instead of buying a computer for each employee, you can buy a cheap connection device (thin client) and provide access to a virtual desktop running in a datacenter to handle all your Desktop computing needs.

Platform as a Service is the least used of these three types of Cloud Computing.  Businesses will deploy applications using programming languages, libraries, services, and tools managed and maintained by a hosting provider. The end user does not manage or control the underlying Cloud infrastructure but controls the deployed applications running on the Cloud Platform.

What is Private Cloud Computing and how is it different from the Public Cloud Computing?

There are many companies offering services over the public Internet; these are public Cloud providers. I am sure you are familiar with many of them, from social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to strictly business applications like Office 365 and Salesforce CRM.

A Private Cloud solution is also accessed over the Internet or a dedicated private circuit. In contrast, a private Cloud usually connects two locations, the customer and the provider, and is housed in a private datacenter.  A Private Cloud is generally dedicated to a single company.  A Private Cloud can take the place of premised based servers and desktops.  You can run just about any hardware or software in a Private Cloud.  A Private Cloud is generally more flexible and customizable than a Public Cloud.  You can run your entire business from a Private Cloud environment, not just a single application.

Most companies use a mix of traditional, Public, and Private Cloud services, a Hybrid Cloud. Keep in mind, with a Hybrid Cloud you must manage multiple Cloud vendors.  There is no one best solution, do what makes the most sense for your business.  Use the Cloud Services you need to support your business objectives and implement them as needed.

Why should I use Cloud Computing?

Cycle of Technology

All technology follows an adoption path according to the cycle of technology. With new technology adoption, there is a continuous cycle of value.  New Technology provides a competitive advantage. As a technology grows older, the competitive advantage eventually diminishes to a point it becomes a competitive necessity, everyone has it and needs it and uses it.  Finally, for those that continue to use older technology well past its useful life, technology becomes a competitive disadvantage.  You are losing productivity by using outdated obsolete technology.

Don’t spend time, money and effort on technology that doesn’t give you a competitive advantage.

“Technology has reshaped Industry. Briefly, these technologies provided real advantages. But as their availability increased and their cost decreased, they all became ubiquitous commodities. From a strategic standpoint, they no longer mattered.” – Nicholas Carr

Conventional Technology has become a commodity and no longer provides a competitive advantage.

Technology is analogous to the electric grid.  Companies used to own and maintain their own power generation facilities until they realized it was faster, cheaper and easier to simply buy their power from a utility company.  They outsourced power generation.  That is exactly what is happening to conventional technology today, it is being outsourced to the Cloud.  We outsource many things, you drive a car, you don’t build one, some of us don’t even make coffee anymore, we outsource it to Starbucks.

There are advantages to outsourcing your technology needs to a Private Cloud Computing Provider.

  • There are great “economies of scale”, especially in a multi-tenant environment. This can lead to lower costs.
  • Business Critical Applications are being ‘Cloud Enabled’ at a rapid pace. You can run your entire business from the Cloud.
  • Well managed datacenters offer greater flexibility to expand and contract quickly and offer services that are less expensive to rent rather than to own.
  • You can focus on Business, not IT. Cloud Computing provides stable IT spending.
  • You pay for ONLY what you use. You plan for today’s needs and scale up later as your needs grow. You don’t pay for extra capacity you don’t need today or may never need.
  • Cloud Computing is infinitely scalable – not only can you easily scale up, but you can scale down as well. This is one of the most powerful advantages of Cloud computing. The ability to shrink as well as grow.  You cannot do this with physical hardware. You buy it, you own it.
  • Because it is multi-tenant, you can use Enterprise class hardware at a Small Business price.

 Why Cloud Computing now?

Source: Gartner 2014

This chart is the 2014 Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging technologies.  We have been talking about the Cloud for several years. Why Cloud Computing now, what has changed?

  • Bandwidth costs are still falling.
  • Most major business functions have moved to the Cloud.
  • You can run your entire business from the Cloud.

The hype is over, and Cloud Computing is ready for prime time.

According to the Gartner 2014 Hype Cycle, Cloud Computing will reach the Plateau of Productivity (mainstream adoption) by 2016-2019.  Cloud Computing is poised to be the driving force for business productivity. It is here now and ready to use.

Is my Data Safe in the Cloud?

Is your data safe in your office?  What happens if your data is in your physical office and there is a fire/flood/hurricane (Sandy)?  If you’re worried about risk, buy insurance to protect against risk.  Cloud computing has a lot of insurance built in.

  • Your data is housed using redundant hardware. The hardware is designed to be risk tolerant.  In most cases, you would not even notice a datacenter hardware failure.
  • Your data is backed up at least daily, probably more often, and you can go back and retrieve any deleted files and projects.
  • Your data is replicated to multiple datacenters (geo-redundant).
  • Cloud computing providers are in the business of keeping their client’s data protected. Their systems and practices are more redundant and more secure than 99% of businesses doing it themselves.

How do I use the Cloud to Gain a Competitive Advantage?

Using the Cloud – Infrastructure as a Service / Desktops as a Service

Running your entire IT infrastructure including your desktops in the Cloud is a new way to think about technology.  The future is using connected devices.  You can run almost any application, perform almost any task in the Cloud. Software and hardware as we think of it today is going away. The Cloud is the future in desktop computing, delivered as a service.

 Using the Cloud – Infrastructure as a Service / Servers and Networks

You can run your entire IT Infrastructure in the Cloud. You can run servers in the Cloud, switches, your entire network. Using Cloud Computing you don’t need premise-based servers or PCs any longer, you can connect to the Cloud Infrastructure using thin clients.  Thin clients are small cheap connection devices that don’t break or wear out. You can eliminate nearly all your on-premise IT equipment.

 Using the Cloud – Online Backup

You back up your files, right? Backup is a critical IT function.  Unfortunately, everyone has a backup horror story.  The best practice for backup is to copy your backup offsite.  You should always have three copies of your data, the original, a local on-premise copy, and a copy offsite.

Whether you use tape, CD, or disk backup you need to get those backups OFFSITE.  Backups are useless if they are destroyed along with the rest of your office.  Cloud backup is a perfect way to easily get backups offsite.  Obviously, if your whole IT infrastructure is already in Cloud then you don’t have any local data to back up.

To back up to the Cloud is easy, you install backup software onto the local hardware and it periodically and automatically copies your data to the Cloud.

Using the Cloud – Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

 The Ultimate Disaster Recovery (DR) solution is a Hot Site hosted in the Cloud.  A Hot Site completely replicates all your on-premise hardware and data in the Cloud.  It is ready to use and updated continuously. It is also less expensive than a premise-based DR solution.

We had clients in New York who lost everything when Hurricane Sandy hit. Their office buildings were closed, the power was out, but their technology was working and safe in the Cloud datacenter.  They just worked from home until their office was usable again.  They did not experience any downtime or a single problem.  When things returned to normal, they moved back to their office and resumed work without missing a beat.

Using the Cloud – Consolidation / Centralization

For a company with multiple locations, it is easy to see how the Cloud changes the game. If you have three locations, chances are, you have 3 times the hardware and probably a lot of duplicate data.  Scale this up, 5 locations, 10 locations, 100 locations. The numbers get big very quickly.  A business can consolidate and greatly reduce the amount of hardware used to support their business.

Not only can a business reduce costs, but also complexity.  By moving from distributed IT to centralized IT in the Cloud, a business reduces the amount of hardware needed while increasing hardware utilization.  The savings are evident, by reducing the amount of hardware and maintenance, you reduce costs.

Using the Cloud – Cloud Collaboration Hub

Working on a big project with other firms?  You can store all your project data in the Cloud and make it available to each firm.   A Cloud Collaboration Hub allows multiple firms to work in real time on shared projects.  This is accomplished using secure private connections to a Cloud Workspace hosted in a datacenter. This type of collaboration creates a robust and secure environment and allows firms to work together while keeping their intellectual property safe and secured.

Benefits of the Cloud Collaboration Hub:

  • Privacy and security of Intellectual Property.
  • Real-Time Collaboration and file sharing
  • Reduced project “latency”, improved project productivity.
  • Accelerated project information visibility
  • Mobility, accessible from anywhere

 Using the Cloud – Hosted Phones

Fire the phone company. You can have your phone system in the Cloud. You can save real money by moving your phone system to Cloud.  In addition to saving money, you reduce maintenance costs.  Your phone system works over your data connection.  Office moves are a breeze, just unplug your phone, take it with you and plug it in at your new office and you are ready to go.  You are completely location independent.  A hosted phone system has all the typical phone options found in a premise PBX, call forwarding, find me follow me, voicemail, all features of a PBX without a PBX.  The sound is HD quality. Your voicemail and faxes can be sent directly to email.

With hosted phones you have Built-in Business Continuity – if your Office is closed for a week, you can work from anywhere, take your phone with you or use a full-featured mobile phone app.  Are you on the phone all day?  You can use a softphone running on a PC and a headset to manage all your calls, you don’t need to buy phone handsets or wireless headsets.

Communication as a Service – You have free 4-digit dialing between all your offices, there are no charges between locations on the same system.  Incoming calls are free as well.  You only pay for outgoing and long distance but the price per minute is very competitive and you can buy prepaid minutes to save even more.

Using the Cloud – Hosted email / Office

Is there anyone who does not use Cloud-based email for your personal email? When it comes to email, individuals are ahead of business.  Today, there is little reason why any business should be running their own email servers and managing their own email.  Using Office 365 or G Suite, you have business productivity applications bundled with business email at a very competitive price.  These are very compelling reasons to move your business applications and email to the Cloud without any downside.  In most cases, you can reduce costs as well.

Using the Cloud – Helpdesk

Remote assistance technologies and the ability to time shift make Helpdesk an easy fit for the Cloud. You can get Helpdesk support from a Cloud-Based Provider 24/7/365.  Outsourcing your helpdesk is an easy and low-risk way to move to the Cloud.

 Using the Cloud – Mobility

Using the Cloud, you have complete mobility, connect from any device, from anywhere you have a data connection. (which is almost everywhere these days) Work sharing, hoteling and job sharing are all enabled by increased mobility.

But my boss says, “No way I am going to let my employees work from home!”

There have been numerous studies about telecommuting that show productivity increases the more mobile the workforce.  Increased Mobility and Cloud Computing also support Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and Choose Your Own Device (CYOD) further reducing IT expenses.

 Using the Cloud – Software as a Service – SaaS

Run your software from the Cloud. Virtually any software that runs on a desktop will run on a Virtualized Cloud Desktop.  Many major business applications now offer Cloud options.  SaaS allows you to stabilize your software cost. You can increase and decrease the number of seats of each application.  You reduce maintenance costs and are always running the latest version.  You run your application from anywhere you have data connectivity.  SaaS makes you more mobile and flexible.

 Using the Cloud – Video Conferencing / Web Conferencing

Video conferencing works great for small meetings, up to 25 participants.  There are several Cloud-based Video / Web Conferencing applications available.  They offer many options for video, they interface with phone systems for participants that don’t have access to a web camera.  Video conferencing works very well for smaller meetings up to about 25 participants.  If you have more than 25 users, the advantage of seeing the participants gets lost in the quantity/quality of the interaction.  But for small team meetings, it is ideal.  You get more face time with your clients.

Using the Cloud – Hosted wireless

The Cloud is great for hosting wireless, centralized management of wireless resources. With the Cloud, you have one place to control and manage content, security, and access.

How is the Cloud Transforming Work?

Sustainability

The Cloud reduces the need for non-renewable energy.  When businesses move IT from on-site facilities to consolidated Cloud datacenters, it saves energy and cuts pollution — just as relying on power companies is better for the environment than if everyone ran their own power plant.

As a vendor, we also make sure our datacenters are running as green as possible.  We use renewable green energy sources – hydroelectric power and passive cooling whenever possible.

Innovation

Cloud-based collaboration drives Innovation.   Innovation creates a competitive advantage.  The Cloud supports and promotes collaboration.

Data Storage needs are growing exponentially

As bandwidth improves more centralization is possible.  Data Centralization reduces the need to duplicate data in multiple locations.  It also allows you to deduplicate and reduce the total amount of storage needed.  And storage in the cloud is infinitely scalable. (practically speaking)

Mobility – Remote access

Work from anywhere –home, hotel, airplane, client office, anywhere you have an Internet connection which is almost everywhere. Connect using any device, Smartphones, Android, IOS, Macs, PCs.  You are device independent.

Security

With security, the key is to assess risk.  Are premise-based computers, networks and servers better protected than Cloud-based assets? In most cases, the answer is no.  Cloud Providers invest far more on security than the average business can, it is their business. But what about Government / Cloud Provider snooping?  Make sure you read and understand Privacy Policies and insist on absolute privacy for your business data.  You will have more flexibility and more privacy using a Private Cloud rather than a Public Cloud.  For example, as a Private Cloud Provider, we will not allow government access to your data without informing you first and not without proper legal authority.  Your data belongs to you. Period.

Budget

Using the Cloud must make sense from a financial point of view.  What is the return on your investment?  Many factors affect your ROI, download our free white paper to determine your Cloud ROI.  We’d love to have an opportunity to help you save money.

How do I Choose a Cloud Provider?

Ask a potential Cloud Provider these questions:

  • Mature Services Offering – Are they “Full Service” or do you need to do most of the work?
  • Data Center Operations Excellence – Do they own/operate their own Data Center?
  • Committed Ownership – will they be around in years to come?
  • Geographical reach – Can they service all my locations?
  • Internal Engineering Expertise – Do they have the right people with the right knowledge?
  • Established Client Base – Are they a healthy organization? Financially stable?

Assess

What is the next step after you have chosen a provider? This first step is assessing your needs. What are your needs? Where are you today? Where do you want to be?  A good Cloud Provider can help you develop an assessment.

An Assessment is a deep dive into the current state of your technology with specific recommendations on improving your IT Infrastructure and Operations.  Remember your Technology Initiatives must align and support your Business Goals.

Identify Gaps

During this assessment, look at all aspects of your technology and your business and identify ways to improve productivity, save money and protect your business.

Recommendations

Next, identify specific recommendations to improve your technology.  Create a plan for improving PCs, your network, network servers, security, backups, email, wireless, printing, all things technology related.

Also, consider how you can use technology to build your business.

Implementation

Once you have identified your initiatives, meet with your Cloud Provider and develop a plan for implementation.  The plan takes into consideration your priorities, your time and your budget.  Prioritize and budget and then develop a schedule to get it done.  The faster you can implement, the faster you can realize the benefits and savings afforded by moving to the Cloud.

Service and Support

Finally, make sure you have on-going support.  No technology is 100% foolproof, you will need help at some point.

Advance2000 provides a 24 / 7 /365 Help Desk and can provide your staff with any type of IT Support.  We offer 4 different levels of support from Basic Support all the way up to full Managed IT services.  You determine how much support you need and then buy what you need.  We also provide Full Turnkey Support whether you are hosted in Cloud or still using equipment in your office.

Sounds Great, how do I get started in the Cloud?

We’ll leave you with ONE BIG IDEA. Centralizing and Outsourcing your Technology is called the “Cloud”.

Cloud = Scalability, Mobility, Agility and Speed

Is there anything you could do better in the Cloud?

  • Identify your Business Objectives; is your technology supporting those objectives?
  • Are you using old outdated technology?
  • Is your technology putting your company at a Competitive Disadvantage?

Cloud Computing can help.

What’s next?  Do you have questions?  Contact us today.

 

 

 

Strategic IT Assessment

9 Digital Transformation Statistics That Every Business Should Know

We’re living in the digital era. From smartphones to smartwatches, we are constantly glued to our devices. Today, there are an estimated 8.4 million “things” on the internet, with the IoT growing every year.

With that said, it’s no surprise that businesses are realizing the tremendous impact digital transformation can have on their success.

What do we mean by digital transformation?

IScoop defines the term as “the profound and accelerating transformation of business activities, processes, competencies, and models to fully leverage the changes and opportunities of digital technologies and their impact across society in a strategic and prioritized way.” In other words, digital transformation is a journey that aims to constantly improve and innovate with the ever-evolving technologies.

Now it’s more important than ever that businesses have quality professionals (whether it’s in-house or outsourced) to help them understand what technologies are available and required to effectively run their business and provide the best possible customer experiences.

If you’re still not sure how crucial digital transformation is to long-term business success, here are 9 statistics that might persuade you. With technology continuing to evolve at a rapid pace, we can only expect these numbers to grow in the years to come.

digital-transformation-infographic

 

Strategic IT Assessment

Back to Basics: How to Write a Company Email Policy

Introduction

Every company needs an email policy.  This is to protect employees as well as the firm.

The purpose of an email policy is to set proper expectations with your employees.  What are the rules and guidelines regarding email and what happens if you ignore the rules?

The email policy should be written and reviewed with the employee at the time of employment.  A signature block is optional.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer, any legal policy you implement at your company should be reviewed and signed off by your legal team.  The following are merely guidelines and sample text to help you create your own email policy.

Typical Sections included in an Email Policy

  • Introduction
  • Email Ownership and Privacy
  • Email Usage Guidelines
  • Email Misuse and Abuse
  • Email Retention and Backup
  • Personal Use of email / Opinions / Personal Views
  • Security / Trade Secrets / Personal Information
  • Questions / Who to ask
  • Signature line and Date

Introduction

The introduction should state the purpose and reason for having and enforcing an email policy.  It should state the business purpose of email and explain the need for an email policy.

SAMPLE TEXT

[COMPANY] Email Policy [version or date]

Date

[COMPANY] provides email to all authorized employees. email is a business tool to help [COMPANY] employees serve our customers, communicate with vendors, streamline internal communications and reduce unnecessary paperwork. The email system is intended primarily for business purposes. This email policy outlines the acceptable use of business email for {COMPANY].

Email Ownership and Privacy

This section explains the Company owns the email and email systems.  The company can access email for ANY reason and the employee has NO expectation of privacy.  Email is a company owned tool (like your desk and PC) and the employer can access any email at any time for any reason.

Employees must realize email is not private.  If required, email access can be cut off and all email sent and received may be restricted for any reason.  This is very important in the case of harassment accusations.

SAMPLE TEXT

All communications and information transmitted, received, or archived in [COMPANY]’s computer system belong to the company. Management has the right to access and disclose all employee email messages transmitted or received via the organization’s computer system. [COMPANY] may exercise its legal right to monitor employees’ email activity. Regarding email, employees should have no expectation of privacy. Be aware management may access and monitor email at any time, for any reason, with or without prior notice.

Email Usage Guidelines

This section outlines the basic use and guidelines for company email.  It discusses email etiquette and stresses the business use of email.  It should remind employees to abide by all corporate standards including logos, signatures, and copyrights. You should warn about the use of CC and BCC and inadvertently sharing email addresses in a group email.  You should caution against using inappropriate language and tone and what to do if you receive an email that does not conform to these guidelines.  Employees should be told sending confidential or sensitive information over email is not secure.  They should never include user names, passwords or other client or personal information in an email.

SAMPLE TEXT

Exercise sound judgment and common sense when sending email messages. Client-related messages should be carefully guarded and protected, like any other written materials. You must also abide by copyright laws, ethics rules and other applicable laws. Exercise caution when sending blind carbon copies (BCC) and carbon copies (CC) to ensure you don’t violate addressees’ privacy by inadvertently sharing email address information.

Email usage must conform to [COMPANY]’s harassment and discrimination policies. Messages containing defamatory, obscene, menacing, threatening, offensive, harassing, or otherwise objectionable and/or inappropriate statements and/or messages that disclose personal information without authorization will not be tolerated. If you receive this type of prohibited, unsolicited message, do not forward it. Notify your supervisor, the HR department, and the Director of Information Technology about the message. Handle the message as instructed by management.

Email Misuse and Abuse

Email should not be used for frivolous purposes.  Company email should not be used to share jokes or other inappropriate or suggestive content (pornography).  Also, include a warning about sending firm-wide (ALL STAFF) email.  I have seen firm-wide email regarding after-hour parties/outings and lost and found items sent using ALL STAFF distribution lists.  This is not a good use of the company’s resources and should be avoided.

SAMPLE TEXT

E-mail messages should be treated as formal business documents, written in accordance with [COMPANY]’s correspondence guidelines. E-mail creates a permanent and documented communication and must not be treated casually.

Employees are prohibited from sending jokes, rumors, gossip, or unsubstantiated opinions via email. These communications, which often contain objectionable material, are easily misconstrued when communicated electronically. Employees should not waste [COMPANY]’s computer resources or colleagues’ time.

Send email messages and copies only to those with a legitimate need to read your message. Chain messages, jokes and large graphics should be deleted, not forwarded, as they can overload the system.

Employees are prohibited from sending firm-wide email messages to All Staff without prior authorization and this practice is limited to only necessary correspondence. In addition, employees are prohibited from requesting replies to firm-wide email without prior authorization. Sending firm-wide email is generally discouraged.

Misuse and/or abuse of [COMPANY]’s electronic assets (wasting productive time online, copying or downloading copyrighted materials, visiting inappropriate sites, sending inappropriate/abusive email messages, etc.) will result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

Please address any questions or concerns regarding firm-wide email to the Director of IT or the Director of HR.

Email retention and backup

Email should be retained according to the company’s Document Management guidelines and legal requirements.  Your policy should explain the difference between “record” email and “non-record” email, email that should be saved versus email that can be discarded. In this section, you can also explain the means and limits of email backup.  Depending on your legal requirements and the type of email, you need clear standards outlined for saving and deleting email.

Many companies deliberately delete non-record email.  When email is backed up, depending on your backup system, you may not have the ability to retrieve individual emails for each account.  Employees need to understand the limits of the email backup and retrieval and plan accordingly.

SAMPLE TEXT

All email messages (whether in electronic form or printed) with an ongoing legal, compliance, business, or project value (considered a “business record”) must be retained in accordance with the company’s records management policies and applicable retention schedules. Project related email, particularly critical project email, such as milestone progress reviews and approvals and scope changes must be filed using the [name of email archiving or filing software’s] filing system.

 (See the most recent Records Documentation Policy for further information)

 It is the responsibility of every email user to maintain email records. It is the responsibility of each user to retain email records (defined as any email having an ongoing legal, compliance, business, operational, project or historical value) like all other records in accordance with the company’s retention policies.

 Project electronic files are regularly backed up and retrievable. Email accounts are not typically permanently backed up or retrievable except in the case of disaster recovery. For this reason, it is essential all important project-related email is transferred to the network project folders on a regular basis using the [name of email filing software] program.

 To maximize the operating efficiency of the company’s email system and to minimize the storage costs associated with retaining large volumes of unnecessary email, every employee has a limited amount of email storage in their email account. Requests for additional space will be considered on a case-by-case basis.  Keep your email storage cleaned out and up to date. [describe the email storage limits if any]

 Email will be backed up daily for disaster recovery purposes only and will thereafter be retained for [X] months. The company is not able to restore individual email messages. If you are unable to access your email account for more than 14 days, please contact IT or HR to make arrangements for your email account during your absence.

 All copies of non-record email (those with no ongoing legal, compliance, business, operational, project or historical value) can be deleted and paper printouts of such messages disposed of when no longer needed.

 Non-record email messages include, but are not limited to, administrative email (such as an invitation to the company holiday party or a meeting notice); they do not need to be retained as a company record, according to the records retention schedule. Such messages only need to be kept if they are needed to conduct business. Failure to dispose of such messages wastes valuable company computer resources and employee time. However, if you would retain the message if it had been sent in paper form, then you should retain record copies of the email transmission. Email can be archived electronically using [email archive software]. Please see IT for instructions on archiving email.

 You should, unless otherwise directed:

  1. Purge drafts and non-record email messages immediately when no longer needed.
  2. Purge convenience or reference email copies immediately when no longer needed.
  3. Purge duplicate email immediately when no longer needed.

Personal use of email / Opinions / Personal Views / Solicitation

Employees will unavoidably use their company email for personal reasons.  While almost everyone has a personal email account, inevitably there will be an intermingling of personal email and work email.  Employees corresponding to each other may by default use the company email rather than a personal email.  They may not even know each other’s personal email address.

Recognizing this will happen, you should include language in your email policy to describe the acceptable personal use of company email.  If it is 100% prohibited, you should say that.

SAMPLE TEXT

[COMPANY]’s electronic mail service is reserved primarily for business use. All users should consider this in their decision to use the firm’s email services for personal purposes.

Employees may use [COMPANY]’s email service for incidental personal reasons with the following guidelines:

  1. Communication with non-business contacts is permitted but should be minimized during business hours.

Employees also are free to correspond during the lunch hour and other break times. Personal email should not interfere with the email user’s employment or other obligations and responsibilities to the firm.

  1. Personal email communication that exceeds the limits outlined above is prohibited unless justified by family emergency or otherwise specifically authorized by [COMPANY]’s Human Resources Director. Personal email should not directly or indirectly interfere with the firm’s operation of computing facilities or electronic mail services or burden the firm with noticeable additional cost.
  2. The use of [COMPANY]’s email system to solicit for any purpose, campaign for a political candidate, espouse political views, promote a religious cause, and/or advertise the sale of merchandise is strictly prohibited.
  3. Personal Email usage must also conform to [COMPANY]’s harassment and discrimination policies.

Security / Trade Secrets / Personal information / Viruses

This section discusses email security.  Users are required to use secure passwords and change their password often.  Include a warning about sending personal information or trade secrets via email.  Email (unless encrypted) is not secure. Employees should know any sent email can be intercepted or read.  Phone and snail mail are both more secure than email.  Finally, warn employees about opening email they do not recognize or are not expecting.  Most email systems have SPAM and virus protection but occasionally something will slip through security.  Employees need to think before opening email and if they suspect an email, they need to know what to do with it and who to notify.

SAMPLE TEXT

Email passwords are the property of [COMPANY]. Employees are required to provide the Director of Information Technology with current passwords upon request. Only authorized personnel are permitted to access another employee’s email without consent. Misuse of passwords, the sharing of passwords with non-employees, and/or the unauthorized access of another employee’s password or mailbox for any reason will result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

Security is difficult if not impossible to achieve in the electronic age. Confidential or personal information should never be sent via email understanding it can be intercepted. This includes the transmission of client information, Social Security numbers, employee health records, proprietary data and trade secrets, or other confidential material. When sending sensitive material (or any message, for that matter), employees should use extreme caution to ensure the intended recipient’s email address is correct.

Be careful when opening email with attachments.  While [Company] has email SPAM and virus filtering, there is a possibility a malicious link or new exploit can bypass our system.  If you receive strange messages or unexpected email from someone, use caution and common sense before opening.  When in doubt, contact the sender to verify the email is legitimate and safe.  If you accidentally open an unknown file or click on an unsafe link, notify IT as soon as possible and they can determine if it was safe.

Questions / Who to ask / Signature line and date

Finally, let staff know who to contact if they have questions or concerns.  When reviewing this policy with a new employee or introducing an email policy for the first time, you can include a signature line to state the employee has received and read the email policy.

SAMPLE TEXT

If you have any questions about the above policies, please address them to the Director of Information Technology or Human Resources Director.

I [Employee Name] have received and read [Company]’ Email Policy [version or dated]

_________________________ Signature

_____________ Date

 

I hope this article has convinced you every company needs an email policy.  If you need help writing your company’s email policy, click here and we can get you started.

 

The Truth About Remote Working

Remote Working Success Factors:

According to a 2016 survey of American remote workers, about 91 percent of people who work from home feel they’re more productive than when they’re in an office.  Forbes Magazine and Harvard Business Review have both written extensively about the productivity gains from remote working.

I have worked remote for the past 6 years.  I think working remotely is great for productivity and work-life balance but it might not be for everyone.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of remote working.

Remote work can be good or bad, it depends on you, your job and employer

What kind of a job do you have? Studies show Knowledge and Creative workers will benefit most from remote working.  Obviously, if you have a job that requires face to face meetings or special equipment then working remotely is not going to work for you.  There is no way a Starbucks Barista is going to work remotely. The exceptions might be phone or chat-based customer service jobs, they are tailor-made for remote workers.

Remote working flexibility is great.  It allows you to schedule life around work.  You can take a 15-minute break to pick up the kids from school or meet the plumber.  These little conveniences improve work/life balance.

Commute time is eliminated.  People don’t realize how much time (and money) is spent commuting.  I live in a large urban city and my wife spends 3 hours and $15 a day using public transportation.  That is a big expense and time commitment.  My commute is one minute to my home office.

If you spend a lot of time working in teams, remote working can still be very productive.  There are many factors that determine if remote work works for you. Let’s look at those that can make you a successful remote worker.

To work remotely, you need appropriate technology

Remote working requires the ability to work from anywhere, ideally, you need complete mobility.

Depending on your exact situation, you need a laptop (or desktop PC), mobile phone and some kind of screen sharing or online meeting tool.  You might also use a chat client or an online project management tool.  There are many solutions out there, you need to investigate which tools work best in your situation and with your employer.

I use Google Voice.  Google Voice allows one number to ring in many places at the same time,  my desk phone, my mobile phone and my Skype number all ring together. I can be anywhere and you can reach me by phone.  Many telephony systems allow you to forward your calls to another number or to your mobile phone.  There are phone features like Find me / Follow me that ring at multiple locations, one after another until you pick up or it goes to voicemail.

If you work in teams, you need technology to support teamwork.  Technologies like Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or VDIs (Virtual Desktop Interface) give you complete access to your work computer and all your office files and programs from anywhere you have Internet connectivity.

If your company does not use VDI or allow remote access, then you are going to have a harder time collaborating with colleagues and access the programs and data you need.  Most companies, even if they do not use VDI, have some way to securely access company infrastructure.  This is typically done using Virtual Private Network (VPN) and some kind of secure authentication.

I am fortunate my company, Advance2000, provides technologies to enable our entire staff to be 100% mobile.  We also help other companies become 100% mobile and work remotely.  We can provide an “office in the cloud” and supply servers, desktops and phones all completely hosted in our private cloud and accessible from anywhere you have an Internet connection.  Some of our clients don’t even have physical offices any longer.

Dedicated Workspace

You need a comfortable place to work.  Companies provide a comfortable productive place for their employees to work.  Working remote, you need that too.

When setting up a home office, keep these things in mind.

  • Door – I find having a door on my office, especially when my kids were younger, was a necessity. If the door is closed, no kids or cats are allowed in.
  • Full-size desk – Get a full-size desk for your computer and two monitors. Dual monitors have been shown to boost productivity.  Spend some money on quality monitors, keyboards and mice.  You spend 8 hours a day on these tools, make sure they are high quality. You want to minimize the chance of eye strain and RSI and you need reliable technology that will last.
  • Network/Internet – a wired Internet connection is faster and more reliable than using WiFi.  If needed, have an electrician run wiring from your Internet Router to your home office.  If you have multiple devices using the Internet, you can invest in a small switch to share your Internet connection.
  • Hotspot/phone fallback – I recommend you have a cellular backup in case your home Internet service goes down. You can use a mobile phone or tablet with cellular data to create a mobile hotspot to use in case your primary Internet goes out.  Or you can just pack up and head to the nearest coffee shop to work.
  • Good desk chair – Get a good office chair.  Do not buy a cheap box store chair.  You are going to spend 8-10 hours a day in your chair.  There is a reason office chairs are so expensive, they are designed for all-day comfort.  Don’t scrimp here, if you can’t afford to spend a lot, check out office equipment resellers.  They have lightly used office chairs by all the major office furniture providers.  Go and sit in the chair, make sure it is right before you spend hundreds of dollars.
  • Private space – I recommend a private office space not shared with the rest of the family.  You need to separate from the family distractions.
  • Windows / fresh air – it is a bonus if you have natural light and operating windows in your office.
  • Monitor/keyboard/headset – These are the tools you use all day. Along with a good chair, get a good keyboard and mouse and monitors.  Ergonomic tools are a plus.  If you spend a lot of time on the phone, consider using a lightweight high-quality headset.
  • Office in a wardrobe – Tight on space? You can house an entire office in a piece of furniture.  There are also desks that hide the office equipment from sight.

Photo: Bowery Hill Computer Armoire

  • Build an office? – Depending on your local building codes, you might be able to build an office in your backyard. This gives you the mental and physical separation from the home.  You leave your house but still have all the amenities of home just a few steps away.

Photo courtesy Will Leger

Office parks/coworking spaces – Finally, if you can’t stand working alone, there are many coworking spaces available everywhere.  For a very small monthly investment, you have access to a shared desk and workspace.  Coworking spaces offer Wifi, refreshments, shared desks and team/conference rooms.  You just bring your laptop and work.  Some people find the social activity stimulating to work.

Photo: WeWork – Chicago

Staying Focused

Successful remote working ultimately depends on you.  It requires discipline and organization.  If you are the type of person whose attention wanders you might not be a good candidate.  Here are some things you can do to improve concentration and reduce distractions.

  • Music – some people use music to provide “white noise” to help them focus on tasks at hand.
  • Minimize interruptions – Be careful of distractions / Internet / social media. Stay away from distractions online.  Consider using browser extensions to block all websites for a period of time.  (RescueTime)
  • Pomodoro technique – Work 25 minutes without stopping and then take a 5-minute break. Specialized Pomodoro apps and websites can help you use this technique to stay focused.
  • Set time for lunch and breaks – every 20 minutes look away from the computer screen for 20 seconds. Plan a regular time for lunch and get away from the computer.
  • Face time – Plan regular trips to the company’s office. You need face time occasionally.  This makes working remote more successful.  Once you meet someone in person, it is much easier to work with them remotely.
  • Demographics – Surprisingly, younger people prefer working in an office for the “social” aspects.

Tips for remote workers

  • Keep a professional attitude – When remote working, it is tempting to not get dressed or shave or get out of your pajamas. Resist these behaviors, they affect your thinking.  Maintaining professional behaviors will help you be more productive.  Don’t take conference calls in bed.
  • Turn off social media – Use organizational technology to keep on track, create lists. If you know what to do next, it will help you resist the temptation to waste time.
  • Schedule all your time – Schedule your todo tasks as well as your meetings and appointments. When you have free time, refer to your to-do list and move to the next item on your list. Stay busy and your mind will not wander.
  • Use fill-in tasks – I have a list of projects to do right now, to do in the future and to do someday. Having those lists prepared keeps you from wasting time by not knowing what to do.
  • Establish regular hours – Keep regular hours. I start work at 8 AM and take lunch 11-11:30 and end my day at 5.  Beware of the trap of working all the time.  It is tempting to answer email and phone calls 24/7/365.  Unless you are required to do this, working remotely is not an excuse to work 12 hour days.  Working remote can improve work/life balance.  Working all the time increases stress and is unproductive.
  • Take regular breaks – Take time away from the computer screen, rest your eyes every hour. Take lunch every day, I take a shorter lunch (30 minutes) since I don’t have to get food or go anywhere to eat.

Pulling it all together

Positives

  • No commute
  • Flexibility
  • Fewer distractions / interruptions
  • Lower employee attrition (higher retention)
  • Better home/work balance
  • Self Management (responsibility)
  • Save money – no commuting costs = instant raise, eat at home
  • No office space required/create a virtual company for startups

Negatives

  • No face time / alone / isolation
  • Lose “social” aspect of the office
  • Time management harder / requires more discipline
  • No physical presence in the office – out of sight …
  • Need to over communicate to be heard – you are not seen
  • Must be a good time manager

Convincing the Boss

So how do you convince your company to allow you to work remote?  In the studies on remote work, middle management seems to be the most resistant to allowing staff to work remote.  This might be because they can no longer see their staff working in front of them.  There is a certain amount of trust required on the part of managers to let go.

One suggestion might be to rotate the days you work remote.  Maybe you go to the office on Monday and Friday and work remote Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday?  Or maybe part of your department works remotely while the rest are in the office and then you switch.  Companies using remote workers need less office space.  Fewer offices/cubicles and less office furniture reduce costs for a company.  It is a win-win for employees and their companies.

Try It

Remote working is not for everyone or for every company.  Set up a remote working trial and see how it goes.  I think you will be surprised how it can improve productivity, create happier employees and save money.

For more information on setting up a virtual office and working remote, contact us today.  Click here and we can get you started.