Bad Weather? How to protect your IT equipment

Given the recent spate of storm events in Northland and NZ wide, and weather experts saying we’re going to get more in the future, now is the time to check your IT gear is protected.

New research from NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research) has shown that extreme events have occurred four to five times more frequently in the last decade.

Many IT technicians had call-outs from clients after the recent storms. Thunderstorms can literally fry electronics, and this causes not just replacement cost, but also work disruption and even possibly data loss. 

Many technicians carry surge protectors in their cars, so that whenever they are working, they can ensure that sensitive IT equipment is at least surge protected. But for clients we see less often, or who are not on a managed service agreement, it’s easy for IT devices to not be surge protected. Your staff, cleaners or others will sometimes move plugs about. Be aware that this does matter.

Now is a good time to have a look at your computer equipment, or ask our team to do it for you next time they are onsite.

Here are our top tips to protect your IT – how do you stack up?

Surge protectors

A surge protector guards against the damage that sudden power surges can cause.

  • It’s recommended for almost any piece of IT hardware plugged into a power outlet.
  • It will help protect against power spikes which can sometimes happen, especially if the power suddenly goes off. This happens more often than you might think; for example, your local lines company may be doing maintenance or upgrades to their system and will turn the power off for a period overnight.
  • The surge protectors can protect against more distant lightning strikes but will not provide protection from a close or direct strike.
  • Surge protectors can be built into power boards, so several devices can be plugged into them.
  • Do NOT plug anything other than IT equipment into surge protectors / surge protected power boards. We have seen heaters plugged in to surge protectors! These types of devices can fry your electronics. Make sure non-IT gear uses a separate power point.

Things that people often forget to surge protect

  • The Optical Network Terminal (ONT) that brings your fibre internet into your premises. The ONT is the little box that your provider installs. If the ONT blows will have no fibre Internet until they replace it.
  • Network gear in the cupboard, or wherever it is located at your place – routers, powered network switches, etc. If the network gear blows up, you will lose the network around your premises.
  • Phones – while they are not as mission-critical as your ONT and network gear, it’s still annoying when they get fried.

UPS or Uninterruptible Power Supply

An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is an electrical apparatus that provides emergency power when the mains power fails.

  • Critical pieces of IT hardware, such as servers, key computers and network storage devices, should normally have a UPS between them and the wall power supply
  • The UPS does more than a simple surge protector, but they do also provide some surge protection.
  • This article does not cover UPS devices, but do make sure that they are regularly checked and batteries replaced.

Unplug IT from the wall

  • This can be difficult to achieve as computer equipment is often in use. If you are concerned enough about an approaching storm, then consider properly turning it off and then physically removing the plug from the wall.
  • If in any doubt – ALWAYS check with @Computer first, as some IT equipment should not be unplugged.

Last thoughts

  • If the surge protector has experienced a significant power surge, or a lightning strike, it may have done its job and no longer work. Replace it. Often they will have a little light which indicates they are working, so if the light goes out – probably time to replace.
  • Don’t use the very cheapest devices and expect them to protect you.

In summary

Thunderstorms and lightning are real threats to IT and can cause not just cost, but also disruptions to your business. Surge protectors can last for years and all your IT equipment should use them. 

While surge protectors can last for years, it pays to keep a close eye on them and replace them if needed. 

If you need help making sure your IT is protected against weather events contact @Computer here .

IT Hardware: Tips for planning and budgeting

Nothing is more true than the fact that IT moves quickly these days! 

Part of keeping up with IT and the rapid changes is making sure that your business has the right equipment to do the task. 

In this article we will be providing a few ideas for how to make a plan/budget for new or replacement equipment, as well as offering you some information on leasing.  

Firstly budgeting for IT hardware

Most businesses will have a budget for IT hardware and other goods and services that they need to operate. 

Our advice is that if you have more than a handful of computers, you will benefit from forecasting and budgeting for IT expenditure. 

Once your business is established, there is a very good chance that you will need to replace your IT equipment every few years. Such a good chance, in fact, that you can plan on it! 

Drawing up an IT replacement schedule helps you plan well, and helps ensure you have the funds when you need them.

This can be done in conjunction with the team at @Computer. If you have a list already, we can do an audit of the IT equipment that you have, the date it was installed, and therefore when it is likely to need replacing based on its expected life. 

This asset management plan needs to be revised every year for budgeting purposes.

We strongly suggest that you do this years in advance of when you actually require upgrades. It’s not hard to do. 

This list can help you have a clear and actionable plan on existing equipment, when warranties expire, and the requirements for a staggered plan for new hardware.

A look at leasing

Whilst many of our clients purchase outright as the overall cost is lower, leasing can be a good option for when you are starting out, if your business is expanding rapidly, or if cash flow is wrapped up in other parts of the business. 

Leasing turns capital expenditure which has to be depreciated, into a monthly payment that is immediately expensed. It can also be an advantage in keeping assets off your balance sheet – speak with your accountant or advisor about this.

Obviously the disadvantage of leasing is that you are using someone else’s money and so they will need to charge you for that, as well as for their efforts! You could arrange your own finance and purchase, instead of leasing, in which case it pays to do your research on interest rates. 

Upgrading your technology for modernisation and expansion and to get more reliable up-to-date technology is very important, as using outdated technology can cost money and time (and expensive IT call outs!). Sometimes it is a case of weighing up your options here. 

Using leasing options, your business may be able to move forward more quickly then it otherwise may have been able to, financed in a way that suits your budget or cash flow. 

Whilst leasing is more costly than buying in the long run, one of the advantages is that you can establish predictable payment structures aligned to your needs, taking the stress out of an upfront payment. 

This all means that you can get the technology you need with the budget you have today by utilizing IT leasing arrangements.

“When I became self-employed 20 years ago, I got my first laptop and setup via Flexirent, as it meant I didn’t need to spend the cash and then have the asset/depreciation. Instead, I kept the cash, and the entire cost was a relatively small monthly expense. So, sometimes, especially for new start-ups, it means you can save your cash for something you do need, or as a reserve. For more mature companies, taking a lease for gear, means that the cash can stay with you, which can help with liquidity.” Comment from ITA member.

Leasing options: 

These are just a few of the leasing options that some of our clients use. This is by no means conclusive, and we are not aligned with any of these companies. All of our advice is simply that, advice. Please make sure you do your own thorough research on this subject.  Never before has the saying ‘read the small print’ been more applicable. We strongly advise that you speak with your financial advisor and or accountant about this. 

Feefunders
From Fee Funders website: Your business receives 100% of the customer invoice paid upfront, whilst your customers enjoy the flexibility of monthly installments. Fee Funders manages the monthly customer’s payments by direct debit over three, six, nine or twelve months . Your business achieves upfront cash flow at no cost. Your clients pay a basic interest rate to achieve a spread of their outgoings. It’s like outsourcing a spread payment option for free!A simple, hassle free approach to funding for your business and your clients.Your business has the money in the bank within three working days of the customers first direct debit, giving enhanced cash flow with no debtor management distractions. Staff can remain focused on core business activities.
Flexicommercial
Flexicommercial offers your business flexible equipment finance solutions. The credit criteria for finance varies depending on whether you are an existing or new business and the required amount of finance.Choose the equipment you need.Choose the type of lease that best suits your needs.Select the payment term to best suit your budget.Apply over the phone or through your supplier in store.Sign and return the paperwork for approval

Of course these are just suggestions and all leasing arrangements should be thoroughly considered before being entered into. 

Hint – Leasing companies will usually be quite happy to include IT engineer setup costs in the value of the lease. For larger or more complicated systems, this can be quite a substantial part of the project costs. This means you can also expense those costs as well.

In summary 

Working closely with @Computer to do an audit of your current equipment, and make a plan for future expenditure, makes good business sense. 

Something that makes this type of IT cash-flow of forecasting easier, is if you work with an MSP (managed service provider). Being on a Managed Service agreement removes many of the fluctuations of IT budgeting as generally you pay a fixed monthly fee for IT support. 

Please feel free to reach out to us here to speak about this further.

Routers = Security + Speed….

More then just that flashing box, lighting up like a disco in the corner of the room, routers play a particularly vital role in keeping your business safe, and your data secure, as well as creating efficient, and safe remote working conditions.

Here we look at the role of the router, and what you can do to ensure you have the right one for your business.

Think of your router like an important Traffic Officer only allowing approved content in and out of your business.

The difference between an entry level router and a higher quality router, that we can provide is a lot. Sometimes it pays to think outside the box, and not just take the router provided for free in the box.

Top reasons why you need a good quality Router:

  • Determines the speed with which your internet will work.
  • Speed determines the productively of remote workers.
  • A good quality router means that multiple people can work remotely at once.
  • Ensures you can connect to the office remotely.
  • Controls what sites are allowed to be accessed during work hours.
  • Allowing access to other content to protect data loss from staff.
  • Adding additional security features from software such as intrusion protection.
  • Prevention from attacks like denial-of-service attack, designed to cripple your router, or make it just give up and let hackers in.
  • Keeps your business safe from Cyber-attacks
  • Ensures that accidental clicks from staff on content does not cause a security issue.

Security and Routers:

When it comes to security, it is a good idea to take preventative measures. This is where the best secure routers come in, and where we can help you a lot with the right IT hardware. A router with built-in security controls and services that monitor your network around the clock is going to save you a lot of potential headaches. With your router protecting your area of coverage, your devices and your network safe.

SECURITY TIP

“You must always change the factory default password for the router and ensure that the firewall and other security features are in fact enabled”.

Ever been confused by the codes that come up when you go to log in to your network?

WPA2 and AES are the best settings to secure your Wi-Fi from hackers. Remember that if a hacker is able to breach your network, they could steal important information, like bank details, or even your identity.

We strongly suggest against using an open network. An open network means you won’t have a password, so anyone can have access to your Wi-Fi and all of your devices.

Make sure to apply WPA2 to your router for improved protection of your online information.

In Conclusion:

Routers can be complex and can create harmony or havoc depending on the route you choose to follow. Buying a router with the highest security is crucial to protect your network.

Remote working conditions are the new normal, which means that many of us may need to upgrade our home routers too.

By speaking to our team, you could find quick connectivity and security gains with an upgraded router. In the end this can save a lot of time and money, as well as keeping your business safe.

Top IT Tips for 2022

Top IT Tips for 2022

A New Year is a definitely a chance to kick things off the way you mean to go on.

For Northland businesses, we have compiled some key IT tips that can help your business to thrive.

#1. The Remote mobile working office is here to stay:

If Covid has taught us all one thing, it is the need for flexibility around how we work. Agility is fast becoming one of the key differentiators of a business’s success. Creating easy ways for your team to communicate by enabling an all-in-one solution for communication, collaboration, will ensure that you stay connected and productive.

#2. Security, security, security!

We know we say it all the time, but Cyber threats aren’t going anywhere. Keep the focus on security in 2022, as every business, no matter the size is at risk. Don’t risk losing time and money to a data breach or ransomware, instead talk to your IT company about the following:

  • Getting a cybersecurity audit done.
  • Securing all email.
  • Have notifications for remote workers to know when they are connecting to unsafe networks.
  • Put a disaster recovery plan in place.
  • Ensure backups of all data are secure.
  • Implement a password management system.
  • Prohibit third-party apps on work devices.

#3. Make sure I.T is in the 2022 budget

In this era, I.T is an area where you don’t want to be taking shortcuts. Budgeting for your I.T is a wise move to ensure that you have continuously upgraded internet access, software and hardware upgrades as required. Unreliable internet service can cause downtime that has a run on effect with productivity, and can even lose your business valuable clients. Skimping on your I.T budget can lead to much bigger costs further down the road.

#4. Safe and Professional Email addresses

This might sound basic, but if you haven’t already shifted to a professional email, 2022 is the time to do this. Using a gmail account or similar doesn’t make a professional first impression, and more importantly is a security risk. We can easily help you to upgrade to reliable business-grade emails. Our team at @Computer can easily help you to navigate this.

#5. Audit your Equipment

Taking time to do an audit of your current technology, and how it is performing can identify any potential problems and streamline processes. There are still some supply issues with computer hardware, so make sure you are aware of what your business is likely to need in 2022, including any new employees, plus upgraded equipment, so you can plan ahead. If you can give us as much notice as possible, we can make sure that we do our best to source what you require.

#6. Partner up with a managed service provider

Now is also a good time to hire a managed service provider. Partnering with an IT professional helps you make good technology decisions that can ultimately save you a lot of money. Getting advice from industry experts who understand the increasingly complex world of technology, security, and optimizing IT resources is an investment that ends up being a lot more economical then having the ambulance at the bottom of the hill.

Don’t worry if all of this feels overwhelming, our team at @Computer can offer you many options to help you have a stress free year with IT in 2022. If you would like further information, please feel free to contact us here.

Upgrading to improve productivity & Security:

It’s hard to know where to start when prioritising the upgrade of hardware. Here are the top things we see that businesses could upgrade to improve productivity and add security.

Upgrading those ‘old school’ phones

First, let’s start with those traditional landline phones. Sure, they’ve done their job well for decades, but switching to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has many advantages. Don’t overlook the benefits of:

  • streamlining voice and data services to save on bills and long distance;
  • employees using VoIP communications wherever they have access to an internet connection;
  • accessing features such as call waiting, screening, recording, auto attendant, and voicemail transcription;
  • gaining greater flexibility to scale up and down as needed so you don’t need to pay for phone lines you don’t need;
  • integrating calls with customer relationship management software for better data insights.

Saving, Sharing, and Revising Documents

Next up, those filing cabinets. For one, they may be an eyesore, plus, they’re taking up valuable real estate in your space. Today, many printers allow you to scan many pages at once and easily scan documents into content management software.

Moving to online document management also opens you up to many productivity gains. The software often supports optical character recognition (OCR), which makes scanned content searchable. Plus, the documents are available online, where and when employees need them. This is helpful in remote or hybrid work setups, but it also helps ensure you have a backup of critical documents if disaster strikes.

If you’re still filing documents in cabinets, you may have paper-based processes, too. Forms and folders get passed around for different people to sign off at various stages. This makes it easy for workflow to bottleneck or, worse, for documentation to get lost in the physical shuffle from place to place.

In a step up from this, a business might at least move documents around via email attachments. Everyone gets a chance to see the document and make comments. Then, some poor soul takes all responses and correlates them for the next round of revisions.

Replace these old-school approaches with online business tools built to enable collaboration. Microsoft 365, for example, allows people to work on documents at the same time. There are no more worries about version control, and everyone can track the file’s progress.

Enabling Remote/Hybrid Work

Cloud-based collaboration software not only helps with document exchange. Microsoft 365 also allows users to communicate efficiently via the Teams channels. They can also start video meetings, share screens, and co-work on files and PowerPoints. Plus, integrating Outlook contacts and calendars helps efficiency and scheduling.

All this helps support employees working remotely or coming into the office only some of the time. With online documents and databases, everyone can get work done without coming on-site. Plus, VoIP business calls forward directly to phones or laptops for seamless communication.

Put Away the Post-its, Too

One last thing we’d love to see people replace in their offices? Those Post-its with handwritten passwords stuck to the bottom of computer monitors or oh-so-stealthily under the paperclip organizer in their top desk drawers.

We all have many passwords, and we understand the impulse to write them down, but a safer strategy is to use a password manager. A password manager stores, generates, and manages passwords in an encrypted database. A password management solution – such as Keeper, LastPass, or LogMeOnce – is more cyber secure than that sticky notes.

Feel free to reach out here to discuss any questions you may have about your individual business needs.

Written by Gill Brown

Computer shortage – What can you do?

What do you get when you mix together a global pandemic, an increase in people working from home, plus a lack of silicon chips?

You guessed it!

A global shortage of computer equipment.

Whilst any one of those things would normally have a massive impact on supply, the combination of all of these factors has created the perfect storm.

Unfortunately, this isn’t something that is going to go away overnight either.

In fact, current predictions on the supply of technology are anticipating supply will not return to the ‘new normal’ until mid-2022 to 2023.

What is the impact of this shortage?

#1 Economics 101 – Supply and Demand:

Yes, folks, unfortunately with the increased demand and lack of supply, the predicted net result is an increase in prices across all computers.

#2 Expect delays:

Patience is a virtue… Remember that old saying? Well now we really have to put it to the test. What used to take a matter of weeks, is now taking a matter of months. In fact, for some equipment the delivery dates are just “to be advised” as it is still unknown when they will be available. 

So what can you do?

Whilst this all seems a bit doom and gloom, we have some ideas that can help you to make sure that you manage this situation the best that you can:

#1 Make a plan:

Rather than waiting until you have three new eager recruits, or that old computer takes its last breath, hatch a plan now:

  • How is your business plan impacted by the need for technology?
  • Are you in a growth phase that means you will be hiring new employees?
  • What are your expected needs for upgraded computers within the next 3-6 months?
  • Do you need to ensure your team can work remotely?

#2 What if you need to hire more staff that need laptops:

So often a new hire is due to start next week, and someone says they will need a laptop. That could be an expensive issue if they can’t work for 6-8 weeks.

#3 Recycle:

Recycle and Reuse! Start looking at your team to match use. For example, maybe you need to buy a high end user an equally high-end laptop. That flash laptop may then be able to be passed down to someone who has more standard requirements. Moving hardware around internally and assessing needs can help with managing the shortage.

#4 Keep a spare handy:

Much like a spare tyre, a spare computer can be a life-saver if required. Maybe you used to trade in your old computers, now ensure you keep spares where possible. If that doesn’t fit the cash flow, plan your procurement cycles for the next 3-6 months and beyond.  

#5. Be prepared to make quick decisions on purchases:

If you need a device quickly, be prepared to make a decision on purchasing more quickly then you have in the past. The reality is that it may not be in stock tomorrow.

#6. Be Flexible:

Many brands and models are now out of stock, which means that your IT company will not have as many options available. The longer the list of specifications you require, the shorter the list of choices. To help with this, try to be flexible in your requirements so that your needs can be more easily met.

So what has created this shortage?

  1. Asia and tech – Asia is to tech what crackers are to cheese. With a large part of the world’s technology production coming from Asia, COVID had a massive impact on production and supply of parts. 
  2. Laptop Laptop Laptop – The world has gone mad for laptops. With the new way of working remotely, companies have been moving from p.c’s to laptops, or buying up laptops to ensure their team is able to work from anywhere.
  3. Shipping – New shipping constraints, less planes flying, increased air freight costs, plus ships being unable to dock, have meant that even when the supply is available, the time computers take to arrive is longer.
  4. Silicon Chips –  The global shortage of silicon chips is due in part to  the pandemic, trade policy, regulation, plus this increased demand.
  5. Bitcoin: Video cards have also become in high demand for those that are into Bitcoin. The better the video card, the more money you are likely to make. Hence another increased demand.  Why graphics cards cost so much right now | PCWorld
  6. Mobile phone: Adding to the heat on the demand for these chips, is the continued demand for mobile phones. Basically if it has a plug or battery in it, it probably uses lots of chips. You can read more about the chip shortages here: Chip shortages will continue until 2023, superfoundry TSMC says | PCWorld

What not to do:

Whilst it is tempting to rush out and grab anything that you can get your hands on, it is best not to buy random equipment as a temporary stop gap. This will potentially create additional support costs to your environment in the long term, and may even compromise support from Vendors where equipment isn’t compatible.

How can we help you?

  • Getting expert advice is important as it means that you have recourse if the equipment doesn’t work together.
  • Create a plan with your I.T provider to best suit your business plan.
  • If you are wanting to order hardware, please get in touch with us ASAP.

In this climate, it will be better to have an order placed now rather than wait until it’s too late.

Feel free to reach out here to discuss any questions you may have about your individual business needs.

Written by I.T Alliance