We love what we do, but explaining it all is best watched.
We love what we do, but explaining it all is best watched.
We love what we do, but explaining it all is best watched.
Break fix is what most companies seem to believe is the right solution. It may be difficult for companies to accept but with the increase in malware, continuous updates to operating systems and programs aimed at patching security vulnerabilities, it would be irresponsible to believe that any internet connected PC that is not behind the very best live cloud updated hardware firewall was not at risk.
Even then, with mobile data devices from BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), to portable drives and USB Thumb Drives, the firewall can’t protect the internal network from everything.
So why don’t employers see more problems on the break fix model? The answer is simple; the user will hardly notice the slow degradation of performance until it becomes a more obvious problem. By then, it’s time to request support and the problem is now many times larger than it would have been under a monitored and maintained system.
Now it is true that some problems will happen due to the hardware lifespan of the product entering the wear out zone, you can be certain that just like maintaining your car, maintaining computers will ensure that failure is more likely to occur later in the wear out zone with fewer minor to major issues during the interim period.
The majority of the problems users face are software issues, these as stated earlier will impact on performance and without remedial action they will severely affect productivity further down the line.
Imagine saving 30% on your IT budget, how much would that be worth? Now factor in the waiting time for support and the lost productivity, how expensive is that?
Managed services is nothing new, the concept and many forms of operation have been around for a number of years. Simply put; a small application resides on each computer or server. The application responds to any failure of a set of rules by reporting the exception to the central monitor. The central monitor relays the issue and usually any basic data to the users responsible for monitoring the system. The same application usually allows remote access to the affected computer and its core programs and services.
The support team respond by examining the alert, connecting to the affected system and either remotely resolving the issue without desktop interaction or if required they will contact the end user and request a remote takeover session to resolve the issue.
In our experience around 54% of issues are resolved without any remote desktop interaction, that is to say that either a service is restarted or an automated fix is triggered and the end user is probably unaware of any remote intervention. Usually they just find that the problem has gone away and the system is now operating correctly.
Because of the lack of obvious intervention by the support team, clients are frequently unaware of the work that has been performed. To ensure that the client understands the value of the service reporting is critical. The detail of reports may vary, but should at least include the time and date of the issue, the identified symptoms and the resolution.
Delivering these reports to the client on a monthly basis can make the difference between contract renewal and ending the contract.
Every business looks at the bottom line and ways of reducing costs to improve profitability. Justifying the cost of Managed Services is always a challenge because generally people don’t know what they don’t know, they fail to see a need, or they undervalue the service.
It is often surprising that companies (especially smaller firms) respond to promotions of IT support services such as Managed Services with statements such as “We have a member of staff who is pretty good with computers and they usually fix things for us”. There may seem to be nothing wrong with this statement but consider this:-
A common enough problem in small and medium offices is a failed print job. This can happen for a number of reasons:-
Of course the above example is a simple fault and that is why an automated fix is usually applied, but the saved down time can have a significant impact on productivity over the course of a single year. Now multiple the instances of similar problems and add more complex problems to the mix and suddenly the Break Fix model is so much more costly than Managed Services.
Because we provide Break Fix and Managed Service solutions (ours is called Sentinel) we have a deep understanding of the service levels. Over the years we have also identified the types of service that clients prefer dependant on their company size and budgetary restrictions.
Our name for it is Sentinel Ultimate, it covers everything, servers, workstations, the network devices, the network all labour costs, full monitoring, full reporting, 24/7 response cover 365 days a year, Anti-Virus software, Offsite Cloud Backups. 1 Hour response SLA. (Current average 3 minutes). Full update control. Priority 1 call out.
To us, it is Sentinel Pro and covers servers, workstations, the network devices, the network, full monitoring, full reporting, 24/7 response cover 365 days a year. Offsite Cloud Backups are an added extra. 2 Hour response SLA. (Current average 8 minutes). Full update control. Limited Labour hours are included in this contract but discounts apply for extra hours. Priority 2 call out.
Basic provides cover for workstations, the network devices, the network, limited monitoring, full reporting, 24/7 response cover 365 days a year. Priority 3 call out. Typically only one hour per month labour is included in this contract but discounts apply for extra hours (discount is less than for Pro).
We call is Sentinel MRO. This option has been added for those who users and companies that want to know when they have a problem but will choose either to fix it themselves or to have the IT Team resolve the issue as it requires a level of expertise they do not possess.
Essentially the system monitors servers, workstations, the network devices, the network all labour costs, dedicated monitoring, provides full alerting and reporting during working hours. The alerting and reporting lets a nominated email address or SMS text number to receive alerts about issues with the choice of resolving the issue in house or logging the problem with the help desk to be assigned to the next available engineer.
When support is required the Help Desk ticket will be resolved either by detailing a way for them to apply the fix or by a remote session. The help desk response by providing instructions is not guaranteed and has a fixed charge per incident (which may need escalation to a remote session). The remote access is again a fixed fee based on time connected to the user.
A number of home users have also taken up the Sentinel MRO support system as it offers a cheap alternative to taking the computer to a computer shop or having an engineer visit them in their homes.
As you would expect Full Cover is the most expensive but provides a definite fixed cost to IT support with monthly payments allowing companies to plan their IT budget.
Professional is less expensive and is the choice for the majority of companies as it offers similar benefits to Full Cover but at a higher saving.
Finally we have MRO which is by far the cheapest for monitoring but the unexpected nature of faults means it is much more difficult to plan costs on the IT budget.
Break/Fix is dead, the obvious savings of 30% on average (or higher) make the cost of Managed Support much more of a benefit to companies be they Home Office, Small, SME or Enterprise. Looking over the last years IT support costs and factoring in a 30% saving for some may seem less significant than for others, but over a three or five year period those savings will be significant and that is profit for your business.
About the author:
Stephen Richards has worked on a range of systems over the years from VAX VMS DEC Mainframes to every Windows system from Windows 3.1 to the very latest operating systems for PC’s and Servers, Web Servers, Exchange Servers and SQL Servers.
Whilst at a previous employers he worked on an early version of a Managed Services System in 2002 (although the term was yet to be invented) and has worked with them ever since.
When someone says data protection people’s eyes glaze over, it’s understandable that the data protection act of 1998 is important not just to businesses but the public in general.
Don’t worry, this article is not going to depths on the data protection act, instead focus on what you can do to protect your data.
No, definitely not, here are some snippits of recent action taken by the Information Commissioners Office:
Lismore Recruitment Limited
A recruitment company has been prosecuted at Ealing Magistrates Court for failing to notify with the ICO. Lismore Recruitment Limited pleaded guilty and was fined £375 and ordered to pay costs of £774.20 and a victim surcharge of £38.
and here’s another:
Parklife Manchester Ltd
The company behind Manchester’s annual festival, the Parklife Weekender has been fined £70,000 after sending unsolicited marketing text messages.
The text was sent to 70,000 people who had bought tickets to last year’s event, and appeared on the recipients’ mobile phone to have been sent by “Mum”.
Let’s look at the simplest way in which you can protect your data. Education is by far the easiest way to protect data on your computer’s and therefore in your network. This means taking time to educate the staff and updating them on a regular basis.
The best way to demonstrate the importance of data protection is to top-down learning session where management is trained first followed by junior management followed by the staff. In this way it’s obvious to management as well as the staff the data protection is not something that one person does it is in fact the duty of every employee within a company.
A data breach will affect everybody within the company not just the person responsible but, those ultimately responsible as well.
The training is not lengthy or difficult, but it should be provided by an expert in the field or a company whose expertise is beyond doubt. In-house training on this subject is never recommended as it is only the outsider you can see the issues.
Here’s what should be covered:
Answering the questions above, is the first and most crucial step in information security risk management. It identifies exactly what your business needs protect and where it’s located and why you need to protect it in real cost impact terms that everyone should understand.
Kwik Fix Plumbers Ltd
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined a marketing company based in London £90,000 for continually making nuisance calls targeting vulnerable victims. In several cases, the calls resulted in elderly people being tricked into paying for boiler insurance they didn’t need.
In plain English, it points out to every employee within the company exactly what their responsibilities are to the data that is within their grasp on an everyday basis, it tells how to protect it, it tells us why we need to protect it and it points out the consequences to the business of not doing so.
If you would like to know more about how to protect your data then we have managed to secure a 10% discount on training with one of our partners. To obtain your discount code visit this hidden page Data Security on our website. Complete the instructions and when you click submit the link will appear to download the Info-graphic with the discount code.
Don’t leave Customer Da Protection to chance, get yourself and your staff trained on Data Protection and avoid the pitfalls. It’s easier than you think.
Steve has been involved with computers since 1974 and runs Computer Technical Solutions, a consultancy, in North Wales.
Speaking with many of my customers I know that the credit crunch is a long way from over. Some of my customers and some family friends as well have been struggling to keep their heads above water.
During a recent brain storming session I came across some unusual lines of thought, this took me down a path that I wouldn’t normally have followed.
You see recently a friend had problems getting a replacement car when his old one had to be scrapped. The problem was that like many people in the recent credit crisis the friends credit score was damaged. This meant no finance for a vehicle, that would mean no job because unfortunately with shift work there would be no public transport.
As it happened, this time, his mother helped out, but it got me thinking about other people who might not be so fortunate.
It took a while to research the right solution. I needed to find a company that had a range of quality used cars and a legal and responsible finance solution for people with a poor credit history.
There are several companies in the UK that are used to check someone’s credit status. Equifax and Experian are the better know firms.
One thing that many members of the public don’t understand is that every time they apply for finance that request is recorded on their credit file. If you are refused credit then each subsequent application within a set period of time has a further adverse affect on your credit rating.
As a result some people make life worse by applying time after time with different companies, each of which adds the line “Refused for credit” or similar to their file.
A lot of the work we did during our research to find a company that would of been able to help my friend only highlighted the poor service and unfriendly companies or unprofessional companies that would be willing to lend money with APR rates well above 300% – a disgusting way to treat people who are desperate.
What was most annoying was the fact that the people who could afford vehicles easily got charged very high rates because they had a poor credit rating and were considered a risk based just on that score.
Eventually we did find a site that could help and because this company like to pre-qualify people with such care we have developed a relationship that allows us to act as a first contact agent to promote their service.
The criteria for being considered for vehicle finance is very simple:-
Best of all – NO CREDIT CHECKS
If you are looking for a quality used car with a 12 month warranty and MoT and you have been turned down for car finance then you should visit Can’t Get Car Finance today!
The cost of Cyber Crime or its value to the criminals is a totally unknown figure. In 2013 McAfee sponsored a Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) report that came back with figures of $400 Billion, but some estimates are more than double that.
However, there is one thing that the security industry does recognize; it typically costs 100 times the loss to fix the problem!
Think about that; for every single £1 that is lost in the value of the data or the fraud, you need to spend £100 to fix the original problem.
One of the major problems is that groups of talented programmers are working together to identify potential threats and then exploit them. The amount of money these groups of hackers and their organized crime sponsors have to invest in the development of new threats is matched only by the amount they are willing to pay for simple ways to exploit people with those threats.
Once the threat has been developed it needs to be deployed. If the criminals are able, they can get Chinese hosted systems that are difficult to shut down but expensive (in relative terms).
Previously hacked computers known as Zombies are grouped together in what is known as a BotNet.
The going rate among top-of-the-line American machines is 1,000 zombies for $120, 5,000 zombies for $550, and 10,000 zombies for a cool $1,000. ( Source: https://threatpost.com/how-much-does-botnet-cost-022813/77573#sthash.jYTxlF9I.dpuf)
Those BotNets are used to infect other computers with the latest software threat and so it begins.
Again, it is relatively cheap to set up an Internet Based telephone system, you get all the features of a major phone system for about £10 per user per month plus the cost of calls when they break out from the internet onto the local phone system.
But, as I mentioned, these people have money and setting up a group of 20 or 50 call “centre staff” is not a problem. These are “staff”, who will know exactly what they are doing, could be trafficked humans or are getting paid for their part in the scam.
CryptoLocker: This is technically something that we term Scareware, but it is a real threat in most cases. Often Scareware is no real threat but CryptoLocker is different.
You should understand that if you are a business then you should get a licensed version and if contact the author of this article as he can arrange better value on these.
Of course you can protect yourself from this threat with the right piece of software, we recommend CryptoPrevent because it works for free (home users) with all versions of Windows.
CryptoLocker works by encrypting your data (maybe your complete disk drive) during the countdown period. To decrypt it you need a unique key, the threat is that if you don’t pay up before the countdown ends then the key will be destroyed and therefore your data will be unrecoverable. This threat is very real.
During the Countdown period an IT Engineer should be able to remove the threat without any serious data loss.
So how can you protect yourself from these types of ID Fraud? Understand and remember the following and you will be on your way to protecting yourself.
The sophisticated fraudster won’t actually empty your account; they may make a small purchase and seemingly do nothing else. In reality they are building a new version of your identity and obtaining other sources of credit. These are then used to obtain goods and before you know it someone is calling you about the debt on an account you never opened.
Again the scam can be performed by sending you a special offer in an email that seems to be from a site you use and by following the link, you end up at a clone of the site, complete the purchase with your credit or debit card and bam! The deed is done and so are you!
Phishing is usually performed by sending mass emails that look legitimate and tempt you into clicking a link that takes you to your Bank or Building Society website…. Except it is not the real website, it is a clone.
You enter your online banking details and suddenly find that the bank is undergoing maintenance of its systems – please come back later. You have just handed your details to the fraudster and they can now order other services, use your funds, create new accounts etc.
This is no small threat, it costs the UK nearly £3 Billion a year and that figure is rising. ID Fraud can be conducted online and offline. From “dumpster diving” to sophisticated malware to simple phone scams and in particular Phishing.
If the answer to any of these is no, then why not pick up the phone and call the company to check the offer before proceeding?
This is a phone scam, the caller will claim to be from Windows or Microsoft and tell you that there is a problem with your computer and that it is affecting the network or the internet.
First of all, Windows is an Operating System not a company; second, Microsoft doesn’t phone people about problems with their computer.
The aim of the scam is to gain remote access to your computer to:-
All of these will result in you losing access to your computer in one way, shape or form.
Their aim is not just to compromise your computer but to get your credit/debit card details as well.
The caller will become more aggressive as you try to reject their claims, so please be aware of these calls.
Another scam involves a caller claiming to be from your Telephone Provider, they will say that your last bill did not get paid or something similar. They will ask you for a payment by card to prevent you being cut off.
If you push for proof of who they are they will at some point ask you to hang up and then try and make a call to someone.
You will find you don’t get a dialling tone so you can’t make a call. Then your phone will ring and the scammer will explain that they just cut your phone off and then reconnected it.
All sounds legitimate, but in fact when you hung up, they did not, they just muted the call. So when you tried to dial there was no dial tone and you couldn’t dial out because you were still connected. Once you hung up and did nothing for a minute they hang up and call you back.
Please be aware of these and similar scams. If in doubt, ask them for contact details so you can call them back, then look up the proper number for the company concerned and check with the real company to see if there is an issue.
If you become a victim or if someone tries to scam you, then please report them:-
Business owners always want everything for nothing – please don’t be insulted, I’m in business and I begrudge spending money on solutions unless they are really necessary and I can see the benefit.
Business owners always want security fixed for the lowest fee possible, but we have to look at the business and analyse the data and the threats and then do an evaluation of solutions before we recommend the way forward.
Sounds simple but let a colleague and real security expert explain it to you. ‡Rich Hollis is one of the very few Security Guru’s that I follow closely. I have had the fortune to meet after one of his eCrimes Wales talks, interestingly the video below will help any company assess the threat and identify what needs protecting. If you are serious about security then you really need to watch these short videos.
Zen And The Art of e-Business Security Part 1 (Parts 2 & 3 should follow on completion)
Stephen Richards is the Owner of Computer Technical Solutions who provide a full range of IT and Telecomms business support in and around North Wales.
‡Rich Hollis is the Director of Risk Factory based in London https://www.riskfactory.com/
It’s amazing that I get so many emails and phone calls from people who are offering their services in the SEO arena, it is even more amazing when they offer a guarantee that I will appear on the 1st page of Google for my chosen keywords.
As someone who understands SEO more than the average Joe, I know that they will probably get me in page 1 by using a Google Adwords campaign, something that anyone could achieve with the right budget. The thing is; who wants to spend a fortune to get listed on page one of Google for one set of keywords when your business offers so much more?
The other way they might get me on the first page is by using some very Grey Hat techniques or worse still, Black Hat techniques. Whereas the Grey Hat techniques may work for a while, Google is always updating its algorithm and so there is a higher risk of being sandboxed in the future. Black Hat techniques are guaranteed to get you sandboxed or worse still banned completely.
So why do I get these calls and what am I actually doing to improve my position on Google?
Google has the overwhelming aim of being the number one search engine (which it is) and to provide the customer with the best answer to their searches (or questions):-
If you visit Google and start typing “convert lb to kilograms” before you have finished you will probably see a small conversion table just under your search box. This is Google providing you with the best answer.
For your website to provide the best answer for a search term, the site has to be Trusted by Google, that is your site uses clean White Hat Techniques, the content is of value to someone because you are perceived as an expert on the topic.
So how do you get a good listing on Google?
One of the key Trust Providers is the “Age” of your site. This is the age from the first Google “scan” of your site or more correctly from the date Google first “Spidered” or “Crawled” your site to the present day. You can’t cheat this, the longer your domain name has been in the Google listings without breaking the rules, the more Google trusts you.
There is one way to gain an advantage in this area and that is to buy a domain name that has previously been listed and has ranked and aged well with the search engines. This is not always and option because the cost may be out of your budget range.
So, getting a good listing. First of all, you can get really great results by using only White Hat techniques for your SEO, you just need the right tolls in your SEM toolbox.
Primary in the toolkit for improving your search engine rankings is Google Analytics which provides a totally free solution to analysing your website and the traffic that arrives on your pages.
If you use it in conjunction with Googles Keyword Planner (designed for Google Adwords) then you can start to look at how to generate more traffic to your site.
When you are looking at the results for you keywords you will notice that the popular words cost more if you were to use Google Adwords, this is because they generate more traffic and the competition is highest with these words.
Think about that; you may want to work a bit smarter and optimise your site for less competitive keywords that will be easier to rank well with and therefore drive more traffic to your site because it will be easier to get a great ranking towards the top of the first page on Google.
One of the current trends that Google seems to like, would be to use phrases rather than one or two keywords. As people start to realise that they can be more specific in their searches, then these phrases will become better performing sources of organic traffic to your site.
Another way to help Google to “like” your site is to provide high quality content on a topic relating to your site. This sort of content needs to be produced on a regular basis and as stated needs to be high quality.
Now you may be concerned about giving away information that gives your clients the ability to do something themselves rather than using you for their work, it is true, you could lose some clients, but with more people finding your site the increased traffic will mean there will be more people who are time poor but asset rich who would rather just pay you than have to learn something new.
You could also offer access to the page only after they have signed up to your newsletter or something similar.
Writing articles is time consuming and there is a temptation to pay someone else to write the article, but they will never be as knowledgeable as you, so make time to write for yourself.
Putting the articles onto your own website might seem like the right thing to do, but in fact you should avoid it. If the article is really well written then you should put it on an Authority Site.
What is an Authority Site? In simple terms this is a website that Google trusts so implicitly that almost anything that appears on the site will be accepted as quality content.
The American website Huffington Post is a great example, there are always articles and stories appearing on Facebook that take you to the Huffington Post or Onion or a similar site.
So how do you get on to Huffington Post? I give in! Much simpler to try some of the other Authority Sites like Blogger.com, Tumblr.com, Slideshare.com and WordPress.com to name just a few.
These high Page ranking sites love when you add content, their Trust high Google Trust ranking means that the link in your signature block will be enough for some of the good stuff to rub off on your site thus helping to promote your site up the Google rankings.
There are dozens of Authority Sites and the temptation to post the same article to each is best avoided, instead write quality articles every chance you get. Research your content to make sure of its value and post to different Authority Sites each time. Once you have been through the list go back to the start and keep on going.
Take your time publishing these articles, don’t release 10 at a time on different sites, trickle the work out there over weeks or Google will think you are spamming them and you will get Sandboxed or Banned!
Use your social media to inform the world of the wonderful article you have written and link them to the Authority Site so that they can read it.
Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Reddit etc. are also Authority sites so by linking authority sites to each other and back to your own site will drive a ton of organic traffic and improve your Page Ranking.
All of these things take time, don’t expect to be on page one tomorrow because of all the work you have done following this article, it takes time.
Remember I said you have to build trust with Google; just like in real life, the more you get to know someone and like them, the more you will trust them. You wouldn’t give a total stranger your life savings to look after whilst you went on holiday for a week. But, someone you have known for a few years, someone you have really got to know and like would be more trustworthy. You still not let them look after your life savings, but you might ask them to water your plants and leave them a house key while you are away.
Steve grew up in North Wales with his brother and sisters. He studied Computer Science at school in the days of the mainframe computer. He joined the Royal Air Force in 1976 and worked in electronics on communications and navigational equipment before becoming a member of a specialist team writing programs to test circuit boards. Eventually working on the System Management Team looking after a £3.9 million computer system, Steve got back into IT in a big way. In 2003 Steve created his first website selling e-books and vintage books online and has never looked back.
Stephen Richards owns and runs several websites but you can contact him at http://www.ctsnww.co.uk