#fluiditservices

Wash... Rinse... RETREAT

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It’s spring time, and that means many things – March Madness, bad allergies, baseball, spring break, and for the Fluid IT team, spring means; it’s time for our annual company retreat!  About ten years ago, the entire Fluid crew started traveling an hour and a half east of Dallas for the spring retreat weekend, and it has now become a welcomed tradition. It’s an opportunity for the team to spend time away from the daily grind at the office to recharge our batteries, bond, discuss our relevance as a company, and, most importantly, have fun!

What began as a one-day event, years ago, has become a 3-day celebration that everyone in the office excitedly anticipates. On Friday, as everyone, (including their dogs), spills out of their cars, the excitement and buzz increases as the team comes together once again.  You can simultaneously feel tensions release and happiness fill the air as we gather around the fire.  It’s amazing to watch people, who work together more than they are apart, change as drastically as the landscape between the Dallas concrete cityscape and the rolling piney woods of east Texas. The work mentality melts away and the fun begins. 

We often hear how important a company culture is to performance, retaining employees, learning, having fun, etc.  Without our annual retreat, we would be eliminating an important aspect of our culture, which allows us to hang up our “work hats” and connect on a more personal level. 

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During the day, some like to spend their time hiking, fishing or just enjoying the beautiful outdoors, while others like to play games, read, or watch movies.  But, the most anticipated and inspiring aspect of the retreat is the nightly gatherings around the firepit.  While smores and a favorite beverage are always a hit, it’s the ‘real’ discussions, that happen organically throughout the night, that allow us to connect on a deeper level.  With music playing in the background, topics ebb and flow effortlessly from work to favorite movies, politics, religion, home life, personal stories, future goals, family, etc. – peppered in with jokes and lots of laughter of course.  It’s a safe environment where everyone can just be and be present.

The food is almost an event within the event.  The second night of the retreat, we all cook and eat an enormous, southern feast. There’s something about cooking for, and with, the team that develops comradery and proves that teamwork is alive and well beyond the workplace…especially when it’s Texas bar-b-que. A belly full of ribs accompanied by a second night of good conversation and laughter around the firepit, is a great way to spend the last evening.

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The 2019 retreat brought a few surprises with major thunderstorms and a power outage on Saturday (not so rare for Spring in Texas). Fortunately, the sky cleared just in time for everyone to enjoy another chilly night around the firepit, topped off with some smores and impromptu poor dance moves. Sunday turned out to be a gorgeous, sunny day. While driving away, with azalea’s and wood duck’s in my rear view mirror, I was reminded just how special the “it” we have is.

 The tangible and intangible benefits of our retreat should not be underestimated. Teamwork and company culture are paramount for the success of any company – especially an IT company. Since we are tasked with solving complex technology problems for clients, the Fluid IT team must often collaborate and share ideas to come up with the best solutions. Without the respect, support and good chemistry that our team has for one another, we would not be able to effectively help our clients. Also, when employees feel valued and supported by management and co-workers, the overall company performance strengthens immensely. Work can be challenging and stressful at times, so the retreat allows me to show appreciation for the people that make this company so great, while also further enhancing our estimable culture!

Breaking News: IT Can Actually Save Money

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Headline: IT Saves Money for Company!

Wouldn’t it be great to see more headlines about the positives of IT rather than all the negative press about cyberattacks, privacy concerns and cost overruns?

If you are a small to mid-sized company, you are probably using one or multiple vendors for IT services and support (i.e. phone system, cable/network, internet, IT guy, etc.).  You may even have an internal “IT guy” or IT staff that works with one or more vendors to deliver IT services.

At Fluid, we state we will, not only, provide excellent support services (which should be expected), but we also provide valuable strategic IT services to help reduce IT costs, improve productivity, and implement technology that will support overall business objectives.  Unfortunately, companies have received poor support services for so long that they don’t believe there is any way money can be saved and productivity can be improved by working with an IT services partner.  Most businesses are used to the reactive support model, which often does not resolve the root cause of issues.  When a need arises, IT personnel fixes the problem as quickly as possible so that users can do their jobs.  But, the root of the problem is often ignored, and the same issue will usually occur again.

Go beyond the basic blocking and tackling

Providing quality support/helpdesk services is at the basic level, and any IT services provider should be excellent at it.  But, beyond basic support, we see the real value in approaching technology strategically and proactively, and ensuring that the right people are focused on the right things.  Also, properly managing all third-party vendors, on behalf of a company, requires a balance of the right staff, the right skillset, and most importantly, an in depth understanding of the business.  We’ve built our MSP business model based on the premise to deliver on those promises.

Focus on the whole, not the parts

When working with technology vendors and partners, each one typically only focuses on their piece of the puzzle, never expanding beyond to see how it fits into the rest of the business.  Our approach is opposite, which results in tangible benefits.  We take over the management of all third-party vendors to ensure that everyone is working towards singular goals that align with the overall business objectives.  Also, most companies don’t want to deal with other vendors, but their IT personnel doesn’t do it for them either.  I can’t count how many times I’ve heard C-level executives say “I don’t want to waste my time calling ABC vendor. I can’t understand all the technical jargon, and I don’t want to.”

Case Study: Saving money and adding value through strategic management

To understand the possibilities, here is a real business case:

One of our clients recently acquired another company.  As part of the acquisition, there were all the normal integration components, which required areas for optimization. But, there were also other critical projects.  The company needed new cabling/wiring for all locations, as well as a new VOIP internet-based phone system, and upgraded internet service.  At each location, cabling, voice and internet service, was provided by a different vendor.

Most companies, in this situation, would allocate a staff member to manage all the vendors. The staff member may have some technical acumen, but not enough to truly know what to look for in order to manage each vendor effectively.

In our client’s case, as in most similar situations, all the vendors were dependent on the other for implementing their services.  The internet service had to be increased to meet the new phone system requirements, and the cabling had to be in place to provide the necessary “ports” or wall jacks for the phone system.  The number of total ports, in each location, drove the need for new networking equipment. 

As they should, our client wanted and expected that all the pieces would be done correctly so that they could walk in the office, and everything would be configured and working correctly.  The challenge is, every piece must be not only done correctly, but also timed in a way to minimize unnecessary ‘dead time’.

As their technology partner, we stepped in to manage all the vendors, and what we found was frightening.  The cable vendor had provided a quote for both locations based on a walkthrough with one of their staff.  They presented a quote that was over $20,000 for the job.  Once we evaluated it more closely, we found an abundance of new cables that were unnecessary.  This was not the fault of the cabling vendor, they were doing what they thought was right, based on what the staff member told them.  The staff member didn’t have the knowledge to understand the technical details, and how things would work with the new phone system.   

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We saved our client over $25,000 on one project

We evaluated the cabling proposal and conducted calls with all other vendors, to ensure that everyone understood their piece and dependency on one another.  After our evaluation and walkthrough at each location, the cabling cost dropped from $20,000 to $6,000.  A substantial savings of $14,000 in one-time CAPEX cost.

We took the same approach with the phone vendor and the internet service provider.  Internet service providers (ISP) are always happy to sell you more bandwidth.  Again, like the cabling, the ISP worked with a staff member to determine the bandwidth required.  As before, the staff member lacked the necessary understanding to calculate what would be required.  Working with the phone vendor, we calculated what the maximum bandwidth usage could be. Then, we compared it with the actual usage reports, which allowed us to calculate a more accurate estimate of internet bandwidth needs.

Through our evaluation, we found that the company could start at a lower bandwidth level and confirmed that the bandwidth could be increased very quickly if necessary.  So, rather than buying more bandwidth than needed ‘just in case’, they were able to get what they needed with the ability to increase.  We ended up saving them over $500 a month in OPEX costs – which adds up to $6,000 per year.

We took the same approach with the phone vendor and found the number of handsets was too high, which resulted in additional savings in both one-time CAPEX and monthly OPEX.

Lastly, the additional cable drops and phone system required the purchase of new networking equipment to connect everything properly.  If the initial figures were used from the cabling and voice vendors, the company would have purchased more expensive networking equipment than necessary.  This also resulted in additional savings of over $5,000 in one-time costs.

The total savings were significant – over $25,000 in one-time costs and $1,500 in monthly costs

By working with and managing all vendors, we were able to help our client save a substantial amount, while also ensuring that each vendor would implement the right solution and do it correctly.  For a small to mid-sized business, spending money on technology can cause a major strain on finances.  Without our involvement and management, the company would have spent money it didn’t really have on solutions that would have been excessive and completely unnecessary.

Your Managed Services Provider can and should save you money and improve productivity

I’m sure other MSP’s say they offer strategic services and can save you money, but we’ve found that the reality is very different.  Unfortunately, most MSP’s don’t have the staff or skills required to manage all third-party vendors effectively.  Anyone can say they can do it, but can they prove it with actual numbers.

Engage Workspace

Very exiting times for one of my colleagues, Chelsea Green. Chelsea, CEO of Engage, recently announced the formal launch of Engage Workspace, a new shared office center focused solely on attorneys.

There are many ‘shared workspace’ companies – some, like IWG plc (formerly Regus), have been around since the ‘80s. But, the “shared” office model has been rapidly increasing in popularity over the last decade. According to Forbes.com, shared workspaces will host more than 3.8 million people by 2020. WeWork now has 502 locations since opening their first shared office space in 2010.

But, what makes Engage so unique is that it is designed specifically to cater to the requirements of independent attorneys and small law firms.

From the Dallas Morning News article:

https://www.dallasnews.com/business/real-estate/2019/01/29/coworking-center-targets-legal-eagles-new-north-dallas-shared-office-location

“The new Engage Workspace in North Dallas is targeting attorneys with its co-working facility in the landmark Campbell Centre complex on North Central Expressway.

The just-opened workspace is designed to accommodate more than 60 attorneys with workstations, offices, meeting space, office equipment and other amenities.

So far, the co-working operation takes up a full floor in the building, but Engage says it hopes to expand to additional floors of the iconic gold Campbell Centre II tower.

"Independent attorneys and small law firms represent nearly half the legal industry," Engage CEO Chelsea Green said. "With continuing market changes and technology advances, that looks to accelerate over the next several years.

"With Engage, we have created an office environment that has the familiarity of a traditional law office but with the greater independence, flexibility and efficiency of an executive suite or co-working space."

Green and partners Jim Chester and Darin Klemchuk opened the co-working center Jan. 1. Chester and Klemchuk are both partners in the Dallas law firm Klemchuk LLP.

The owners are planning to upgrade this spring with a new coffee bar and more collaborative space.

"Attorneys are a perfect fit for the Engage office space model," said Chester. "Law practice is collaborative by nature, and attorneys benefit from networking with other lawyers to share referrals and resources."

Stephen Holley of Holley + Co. Real Estate negotiated the office lease for the co-working center with Barbara Houlihan of Peloton Commercial Real Estate.

Shared office providers now occupy more than 1.5 million square feet of building space in North Texas. Co-working firms are one of the fastest-growing sectors in the office industry.”

What is not mentioned in the article is that the Engage Workspace will also provide the level of technology, IT support and cybersecurity necessary for attorneys.  All companies require technology and cybersecurity, but attorneys have the additional challenge of needing to collaborate and exchange information externally while also keeping their practice and data isolated and secure. Engage understands this, often overlooked, requirement and will include it as a part of their service.

At Engage, attorneys will be able to be as productive and efficient as possible, while knowing their data is secure. Each tenant will also be provided with ongoing IT support from a team of technology experts.  The blend of amenities, technology support and cybersecurity, creates compelling value that independent attorneys and small practices typically would not be able to take advantage of.

For more information, visit www.engagelawspace.com.

 

Are You Prepared for a Cyberwar?

We make it our business to protect yours. Former white hat hacker Joshua Petty will be presenting the unexpected sources of security threats and how to defend yourself. In light of the recent global ransomware attacks, this information could prove invaluable. We think you should be there.

Fortinet is the largest security appliance vendor, and when partnered with Fluid IT Services you know that your information is protected. The topics over lunch will cover simple ways to harden your infrastructure, how to manage your security with minimal effort, and arming your staff to become more security conscious.

Space is limited, so register today to secure your place at the table. We look forward to your participation.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017 @12pm

Maggiano's Little Italy 6001 West Park Blvd.

What you can expect:
  • Security insights from the experts
  • Fine Italian dining
  • GOPRO giveaway with all the accessories to get you started

Register Now

How 20 Minutes Can Save Your Business: 4 of 4

In my previous post, I promised 4 topics that if considered may make you re-think outsourcing IT.  We started with the specialized knowledge required to keep IT running smoothly for a business today.  No one (or two) person will have it all.  If you missed it, check it out here.  Next we covered the strategic role IT should play in your organization.  Here's #2.  In my third post, I covered reducing risk.  Sometimes we don't consider how much key-person risk we have in our businesses.  This post will help you consider that. Today, I'm going to focus on cost.

Reason #4 - Cost is King: Why Managed Services are MORE Affordable

For small businesses, costs are a critical measurement. The cost to maintain an internal employee’s technical acumen can be monumental. Salary, workers compensation, benefits, and payroll taxes are not cheap. Small companies do not have access to healthcare discounts that large enterprises can harness. Adding regular and expensive training for an IT staffer is a significant increase to those costs. Every course sponsored by your company makes an employee more valuable on the open market. Every course neglected creates risk for your business.

If you are making investments in hardware to maintain an on-premise environment, what happens in the event of an economic downturn? There is no better example than that of the ever-changing Oil and Gas industry. I have seen large infrastructure investments made during a growth period, followed immediately by a downturn. Many found themselves paying for hardware they can no longer utilize effectively.

All things considered, outsourcing IT is less expensive than the cost to maintain a full-time employee. If your industry is facing a downturn, a managed services agreement allows you to scale down. When you experience growth you can easily scale up. You gain access to a team of experts instead of relying on the expertise of one person or a small team. A recent Gartner study cited that 80% of small business would “realize significant savings from outsourcing e-mail management alone.” Imagine the savings in outsourcing other technology components.

Bottom line: If you own or operate a small business you should be evaluating IT outsourcing. A 20 minute conversation might just change your life.

 

How 20 Minutes Can Save Your Business: 3 of 4

In my previous post, I promised 4 topics that if considered may make you re-think outsourcing IT.  We started with the specialized knowledge required to keep IT running smoothly for a business today.  No one (or two) person will have it all.  If you missed it, check it out here.  Next we covered the strategic role IT should play in your organization.  Here's #2. Today, I'm going to focus on reducing risk.

Reason #3 - Taking the Stress out of Taking Vacation (Reducing risk)

What would happen if the only employee familiar with your IT environment resigns? Or just goes on vacation? What is the procedure when a server goes down in the middle of the night? Would anyone notice before business was disrupted the next day?

When a small company chooses to use a managed service provider, these questions are no longer relevant. You are not impacted by the loss of an employee or having to scramble when they go on vacation. If a business-critical system goes down, you will be notified and it will be handled quickly. If the power goes down on site your systems are not impacted (depending on your level/type of service). If your company is subject to compliance requirements, you don’t have to worry if you are meeting them. For many businesses, managed services provide peace of mind and value that more than compensate for the cost.

Have you taken a hard look at the cost of a full-time IT employee? Read the last of this series, Cost.

 

How 20 Minutes Can Save Your Business: 2 of 4

In my previous post, I promised 4 topics that if considered may make you re-think outsourcing IT.  We started with the specialized knowledge required to keep IT running smoothly for a business today.  No one (or two) person will have it all.  If you missed it, check it out here. Today, I'm going to focus on the strategic support you get from the right IT partner.  IT should be a business enabler, not a cost center.  The right partner will provide that support.

Reason #2 - From Password Resets to Profit (Setting an IT Strategy)

If you currently have a full-time IT employee or team, how often do they approach executives to get input on how to better support the business using technology? Based upon experience, my guess would be not very often. Smaller IT shops typically do not have the time to keep all of their systems up to date (not to mention password resets, break/fix, email issues), much less consider how to make the technology profitable. The most valuable function an IT organization can provide is not just keeping the lights on, it is enabling the business to grow.

Outsourcing your IT to a managed service provider gives you access to consultants that will work to align technology with your business strategy. Some even provide virtual CIO services, such as planning a technology roadmap, developing an IT budget, and analyzing and reworking business processes.

How are you mitigating the risks associated with maintaining an IT environment? See our next installment on Reducing Risk.

 

How 20 Minutes Can Save Your Business (And Your Sanity)

You are busy, I get it. There is not enough time in the day for you to finish the tasks on your plate, much less extra time to evaluate new technology options. Whether you are part of a small internal IT team or your company has added IT maintenance to your ever-growing list of responsibilities, Fluid has you covered.  There are 4 key reasons to consider outsourcing IT that you may not have thought of in the past.  I'll cover these reasons in a 4-part series.  So if you have 20 minutes, read on and we might be able to change your IT life!

Reason #1 - Specialized Knowledge

I recently participated in a meeting with a potential managed services client whose IT staff consisted of two full time IT employees who both left the company unexpectedly. The reasons they exited are common in small business, though are not often considered in decisions regarding outsourcing. For one employee, the responsibilities were just too overwhelming and they could not handle the workload; the other believed that they did not have a vertical career path. Unfortunately, most small companies cannot afford IT employees with the depth and breadth of knowledge required to adequately run an entire IT environment. Many of the good ones don’t stick around because they are offered more money for their skills by larger companies. The damages left in the wake of their departure were systems and hardware that had not been updated in years, creating significant risk for this business and few options to resolve the issues quickly.

With the decision to outsource, you leverage the collective knowledge of a much larger IT organization. You receive the benefit of much broader coverage, access to expertise and skills you would not have otherwise, and reassurance knowing that critical systems will be maintained consistently.

Are you getting the strategic guidance that you need to grow your business? Check out the next installment on General Business Consulting.

 

Security Breaches: The Kiss of Death for Small Business

For romantics, a kiss signifies love, affection, or respect. Unless you receive the kiss of death, which signifies that your days are numbered. For small business, a cyber-security breach is the dreaded kiss of death. security metrics 2.0Here are some stats that’ll start your heart from recent studies from Property Casualty 360 and Small Business Trends:

- 62% of cyber-attacks are focused on small to medium businesses - Only 14% of these businesses rating their ability to mitigate an attack as highly effective - Average cost of a breach for a small business, including damage or theft of assets and disruption of normal operations is slightly over $1.8M - 60% of small companies will go out of business within six months after an attack

While it may be surprising that 60% of SMBs attacked will be out of business, once you understand the typical cost of a successful attack, it’s far less surprising.

So do small business owners just give up in the face of these threats? Nah, that’s not the way entrepreneurs roll. Most small businesses can outsource the mitigation of this risk for less than $1K per month, offloading both the risk and the time that it takes to manage a security solution. For a small business, this can be the difference between life or death, much like an insurance policy.

In the world today, it’s no longer a matter of IF your company will be hit by a cyber-attack, it is a matter of WHEN. The question that you should ask yourself is, “Do I have almost 2 million dollars to handle it retroactively, or does it make more sense to spend $1,000 per month to proactively protect my livelihood and my customers?”

For a frank discussion on cyber-security and ways to mitigate these risk, reach out to Fluid. We can help.

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IT Security Framework for Accounting Firms

The AICPA released two sets of criteria for public comment this week (Sept 2016) regarding cyber security. Both focus on different elements, but the common theme is the AICPA trying to develop a common framework for audit firms to evaluate the cyber security of their clients (risks and compliance). While this will prove to be very helpful, it got us thinking at Fluid: Do CPA firms themselves have a framework for their own security? Are CPA firms adequately protected from data breaches of their client’s financial information? Are accounting firms prepared to react to and recover from a malicious threat that may cause data loss or temporarily impact the productivity of the team?

Data security is a pressing issue for CPA firms given the rising level of attacks and the sensitive financial data accountants work with. A few data points –

  • Over ½ a billion personal records were stolen in 2015
  • Phishing campaigns targeting employees rose 55% in 2015
  • Ransomware increased by 35% in 2015 (362K reported cases)
  • 1 in 220 emails sent contain malware (431M new malware variants found)

While developing your own cyber security framework may seem daunting given the rapidly shifting threats, the task at hand can be greatly simplified if you break it down into the components parts (and work with professionals). At Fluid, we support our clients in 4 primary areas that each firm must address to have a comprehensive security plan.

1) Compliance Management:Fluid Security Framework

Does your firm understand all levels of compliance required given the data your firm interacts with? This can range from data retention compliance standards to data-center configuration standards. Often great compliance management starts with proper documentation, but rely on staff training and monthly monitoring to ensure/validate compliance.

2) Perimeter Management:

Think of your IT perimeter like the physical perimeter of a secure building. Are all entries and exits secured and guarded? Firewalls, cloud services, and email are major vulnerability points that should be managed and monitored for security purposes. BYOD and the proliferation of mobile devices has extended this perimeter, but these additional problem have solutions if they are approached systematically.

3) Vulnerability Monitoring and Threat Response:

You may know your weaknesses today, but that will change tomorrow; you need to monitor for attacks and have an active response if any attacks are detected. Much of this can be automated, but some expert oversight can make sure you don’t have any unintended gaps.

4) Cloud Backup and Disaster Recovery:

Even the best-run IT Departments may run into an occasional problem, ranging from accidental data loss to a malicious breach. We’ve found from our experience with clients that having a robust, offsite backup in a secure cloud environment can minimize the impact of most problems and greatly improve recovery times.

 

Whether you know it or not, your firm has ongoing IT activities in each of these 4 areas, which require ongoing focus and continual improvement – security is never ‘one and done’.

If you want to review your security practices, give us a call. We can help.