MonkeyPuzzle Computers Blog Posts http://www.monkeypuzzlecomputers.com/blog/ Copyright 14th Aug 2018 - 11:34 by MonkeyPuzzle Computers <![CDATA[No-one Ever Changes Accountant, No-one Ever Changes IT Support]]> No-one Ever Changes Accountant, No-one Ever Changes IT Support

It’s well known that it takes a lot for businesses to change accountants* and most don’t even consider it. There’s the fear of the unknown, or you might be good friends with them, and as long as the end of year accounts are finished on time, why would you consider moving? It usually requires a major impetus to make a change - a falling out, or missed deadlines and a penalty fine, that sort of thing.

And it’s the same with IT support. Most businesses get on fine. They have a support company that they can call on when needed, the problem is fixed and everyone gets on with what they were doing. Generally, the consideration of changing IT support firm only comes up when a mistake is made and cross words are exchanged. And if you’re happy, why change?

Well, no reason at all. Your prime consideration might be how cheap they are compared to all the other IT support firms out there and think of all the money you’re saving. Fantastic. Perhaps, then, they aren’t investing time in your business to make sure you’re operating with the best procedures and systems? Perhaps they’re not checking backups and doing test restores? I mean, to be cheap, the savings have to come from somewhere, right?

And there’s the simple fact that it’s all been fine up to now. You’ve been able to keep the same equipment and systems for years, patching and mending where necessary and doing what you’ve always done. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as they say. Which would be fine it IT wasn’t a fast moving sector with new technologies coming to the fore to make your business more efficient and profitable. I certainly wouldn’t advocate that any IT support company should simply be flogging the latest shiny toy, but you should at least be having those conversations with them to see if IT can make your business better.

But then, I’ve got a vested interest, haven’t I? I’m one of those IT support people and we all need new business, don’t we? It’s in my interest to convince you to swap IT companies, of course. Except that I’ve never seen my role as fixing or selling IT. I’m there to ensure your business works as you intend it to, to facilitate your grand plans and, of course, to sort those problems when they arise. I should make it simple for you to grow and take the alarm out of any hurdles that arise.

So as long as your IT support company is doing that too, then you shouldn’t change. Definitely not.


*https://myaccountancyplace.co.uk/reasons-you-dont-switch-accountants/
*http://www.accountingweb.com/what-makes-a-client-change-accountantsfirms

 

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<![CDATA[Ransomware]]> If you haven’t heard of ransomware by now, then you really should have. It’s an industry-wide problem that is getting worse and causes all manner of disruption. Ransomware programs encrypt your data and then demand a ransom for the key to de-crypt it, however reports vary on whether paying the money will actually get your data back.


The main issue with ransomware is it’s pervasiveness. Not only will the data on the PC where the attack occurs be encrypted, but any mapped drives will likely be affected too. That means even if the data is on another machine (server), it can be encrypted. In addition, as the encryption counts as a change to the file, those newly encrypted files will be uploaded to your backup as well, so the latest backup version is also encrypted.


So how do you avoid becoming a victim?


Backup


Make sure you have a backup which included multiple versions of files. I have mentioned this as the first step, because if you don’t have a backup, you won’t get your data back. And if that data is mission-critical then your business will be at risk. I’ve already mentioned that the latest version of your backup will include the encrypted files, so it is vital that you have earlier versions of files included in the backup. These ‘good’ versions of the files can then be restored.


User Education


Ransomware works through a file being run on the affected PC which then proceeds to encrypt files. This usually takes time and involved the files having a strange file extension name and, more often than not, an extra file in every folder explaining how to pay the ransom - this will have an obvious title like ‘ENCRYPTED FILE RECOVERY’. Users should be alert for this kind of indication and also PCs which are constantly busy and churning away to themselves. If discovered, switch them off immediately.


But first and foremost, users should never open any file they aren’t certain about. If there is any doubt, attachments should be deleted. If it’s important, the sender will contact you by other means, so don’t be tempted to open it. Once you do, the encryption will have begun.


Plan for Disruption


Assuming the worst happens, but you have a good set of backup files, it will still take time to recover from a ransomware attack. The infected PC will need to be reloaded and all your data restored from the backup. The data restore itself will take hours, possibly the best part of a day, depending on the amount of data. There will inevitably be a short time after when various items need to re-installed or re-configured to suit the user. All of this results in disruption and is part of the process. Forewarned is fore-armed.


In summary, there is no doubt a ransomware infection is painful and disruptive. It is far better to avoid infection, but if the worst happens, a good backup is vital.

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<![CDATA[The Server is Dead. Long Live the Server!]]> You hear this cry a lot these days - servers are old news, cloud computing is the way forward. And while I agree in principle and in most cases, it's not always so clear cut.

There are huge advantages to cloud computing - mobility, security, scalability, collaboration - the list is long and growing. And certainly IT support companies traditionally relied on the regular replacement of servers as a pretty much guaranteed source of income. At your expense. Things are changing now, the options are growing and you should challenge your IT company with regard to the best option for you.

That really is the point - you should find out what is best for you. Don't be fooled that the latest shiny technology is necessarily the best choice. Cloud computing levels the playing field and allows smaller companies to compete with larger corporations. It allows easy remote working. It swaps capital expenditure for operating expenditure. But what if that's just plain wrong for you?

What if you have large amounts of data moving between employees, such as accounting data accessed by several users at once? What if your internet is slow or unreliable? What if makes sense to spend lump sums each year rather than monthly payments for accounting purposes?

I'm a big fan of cloud computing and hosted solutions. But I wouldn't recommend them if they aren't going to make your business better. 

Interested in how technology can enable your business to grow, call Phil or James on 01460 200 000.

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<![CDATA[An Invigorating Business Meeting?]]> An Invigorating Business Meeting?

I had a somewhat unusual, but highly enjoyable business meeting today - I went for an early morning walk before work.

Tony Mattravers is climbing Kilimnajaro in September in support of Cruze Bereavement Care Somerset. As well as training for this and running his own business, Heraldingltd, he’s a pretty interesting chap. We have wanted to meet up for various reasons and it was mutually agreed this could be done whilst engaging in a bit of a hike. He gets a bit of training in, I get a bit of exercise and we can discuss what needs discussing.

And various things struck me as we walked. It was surprisingly invigorating to be out of the office. It still felt like a ‘proper’ business meeting, but the conversation flowed more easily as we walked. Steeper sections gave a moment to reflect on what was being said and the sprightly pace meant the discussion proceeded apace. We seemed to pack a lot into the time we had.

I hesitate to advocate this approach for every meeting (mainly as we were lucky to avoid a downpour!), but I will be engaging in it again as it seemed so productive.

For those who are interested, we walked around Ham Hill, Somerset, heading up King Alfred’s Tower.

Tony is raising money for Cruse Bereavement Care Somerset via his Just Giving page here.

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<![CDATA[IT Planning Takes Time - But 'You're Worth It']]> IT Planning Takes Time - But 'You're Worth It'

Never underestimate how long it takes to get ready for an IT project.

A large part of IT support is reacting to client's sudden issues and making right. Due to that, client's may get a false sense that IT companies are good enough to just turn up and fix things at a moment's notice. However, fighting fires is not the same as getting ready to replace a server or equip a new office.

This sort of project takes time. And planning. And lots of dull questions. And some more planning. That way, on the actual day, everyone gets what they want, in the way they want it.

We recently moved a client into their new office. There was a lot of planning. From a long time beforehand. There were also a lot of boring questions which the client didn't really have time to answer because they were planning an office move. They were busy. But it's our job to persevere because it needs to go right. And everything did go right. As planned. Bar one small hiccup, but in a way we had planned for the unexpected too, so that was rectified swiftly.

It's not rocket science. Often it's not even complicated. But it does need to be identified and planned for, and that takes time.  

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<![CDATA[Server 2003 End of Life]]> Windows Server 2003 End of Life

We hear a lot about Cloud Computing these days, but the fact of the matter is that many, many businesses still run a server on-premises, as this is the best solution to meet their needs. However, if you operate a server running Windows Server 2003, you will need to replace it before July 2015.

Microsoft will cease providing security updates for the Windows Server 2003 family of operating systems on July 14th 2015. The single biggest concern if you are running such a server is that your business will be open to potential security risks and potentially no longer compliant with regulatory mechanisms. Subsequently there may also be issues with software application compatibility.

On the brighter side, more modern versions of Windows Server offer many potential benefits - ease of remote access, integration with cloud computing solutions and improved virtualisation options (running several servers on one set of hardware).

Now is the time to start planning for a successful replacement of your current server and think about utilising some of the new technologies that can improve business efficiency and communication. As there always is with these things, come the deadline there will be a last minute rush and inevitable delays - act now to secure and improve your business.

Call James or Phil on 01460 200 000 to discuss the benfits of upgrading your business server.

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<![CDATA[ICO Highlights Causes of IT Security Breaches]]> The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) recently published a report into the most common causes of data breaches in organisations.

The ICO are responsible for ensuring the protection of data held by organisations in the UK and the report highlights how elementary some of the IT security vulnerabilities are.

Organisations may often feel overwhelmed with the task of ensuring data security, but the report shows it is often a basic level of security that is lacking. Most common security vulnerabilities include:

  • a failure to keep software up to date
  • poor decommissioning of old software and services
  • the insecure storage of passwords
  • the continued use of default credentials including passwords

When you realise that most of the PCs running Windows XP are still being used even after the date when XP no longer receives security updates from Microsoft, it becomes apparent that it is all too easy to ignore basic IT security steps.

Aside from fines the ICO can impose, most organisations would find it a significant event to suffer a data breach, costing time and money. Simple steps, easily implemented ensure data is safe and continuity is assured.
 

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<![CDATA[Somerset Apprentice Awards]]> I was impressed by what I saw at the Somerset Apprentice Awards 2014.

The Somerset Apprentice Awards are organised by Grow Somerset Talent (consisting of Somerset colleges and learning providers) and aim to showcase the considerable talent and achievements of Apprentices in Somerset. There are various categories of awards for both Apprentices and their employers, and in each it was obvious that Apprentices are a force to be reckoned with in Somerset.

Our own apprentice, Allan Edwards, received a Commendation in the Advanced Apprentice of the Year category and congratulations must go the worthy winner, Alys Welch who also went on to win the Apprentice Champion of the Year award.

The Awards also demonstrated the breadth of business types that operate in Somerset, both in terms of size and sector, and made one realise just what a diverse economy we have here. It was also more than apparent how the Apprentices have helped businesses to thrive in the difficult economic times we have been facing. It was interesting to note that where Apprentices had been given the responsibility and tools to succeed, they had repeatedly excelled.
 

Congratulations also go to Queen Street Garage, Taunton winners in the Micro-employer of the Year category in which MonkeyPuzzle Computers also received a commendation.

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<![CDATA[Decisions, Decisions]]> Recently there was a very interesting Horizon documentary on the BBC dealing with how we make decisions.

There has been a great deal of research on the subject and apparently, whilst we truly believe we make rational, considered decisions all the time, in reality the complete opposite is true. For the majority of the time, we make a quick decision based on what are called cognitive biases. This is particularly true when it comes to decisions concerning money. And one of the most powerful biases we are subject to is loss aversion.

Loss aversion was demonstrated with a deceptively simple experiment; a person in the street was offered £10, which was theirs to keep. They were then offered a ‘safe’ option of receiving an additional £5, or the ‘risky’ option to gamble on the toss of a coin. If it came up heads they would receive an additional £10, if it came up tails they would receive nothing extra. Either way the initial £10 was theirs. Not surprisingly, the majority people choose to take the ‘safe’ £5.

Then the experiment was changed; people now received £20 and were again given the choice of two options. Take the ‘safe’ option and hand back £5, or take a gamble on the toss of a coin - heads, they hand back nothing, but tails they hand back £10.

In both instances, the ‘safe’ option resulting in them taking away £15 and the ‘risky’ option left them with £10. Identical results.

The surprising outcome, is that faced with the possibility of ‘losing’ money, the majority of people will take the gamble. We don’t like to lose things, particularly money, and perversely we then take risk to avoid this loss.

There were many further examples and similar experiments have also been done with monkeys with identical results. If this cognitive bias of loss aversion goes this far back in our evolutionary development, then we are simply incapable of switching it off - it will dominate our decision making.

All this made me wonder just how rational we are when making buying decisions for our businesses. We presumably would make a very different decision if we were faced with the possibility of losing all our company data due to bad backups, than if we thinking of updating IT hardware to improve efficiency. One would appear, rationally speaking, to be a more compelling prospect, but perhaps we are more driven by loss aversion. Maybe it all comes back to our having to identify a ‘pain’ before we act to resolve it.

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<![CDATA[Thinking of Starting a New Business?]]> Thinking of Starting a New Business?

I popped in to see my accountant the other day as I had a minor financial query. I’m lucky that he’s very open to such visits, not least because as a fellow small business owner, it’s good to talk over shared issues and ideas. On the way out I noticed he had a sign advertising the fact that if you were thinking of starting a new business, they would be very happy to help and provide advice.

I thought this was an excellent idea - before you even begin with your business venture, have a word with an accountant to find out what you need to do and, possibly more importantly, what not to do. Probably you ought to have a word with the bank and maybe the tax office as well, all before you begin.

However, when you think of it, these are all pretty obvious examples of what to do before setting out on a new business venture. It might be less obvious to suggest sorting out your IT needs before that all-important business launch date. There is plenty of great advice a good IT support company can give you, and it shouldn’t be all about which piece of expensive hardware to buy. In fact, I would suggest an It support company should be looking to keep your running costs to a manageable level, rather than trying to impress with fancy IT kit.

We’re now in the age of lean IT, accessible anywhere and billed on a per user basis. You will probably still need a laptop or PC, but you should expect to take your data anywhere, collaborate on documents with remote colleagues and communicate from anywhere via instant messaging and VOIP phones.

So, if you’re thinking of starting a new business, and before you invest in unnecessary IT, seek the advice of a good IT support company.

MonkeyPuzzle Computers are based in Ilminster, Somerset and work with businesses throughout Devon, Somerset and Dorset.

Incidentally, the accountant in question was Robert Stone of Robert Stone & Co in Ilminster, Somerset.

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<![CDATA[If I Started My Business Today, I Would Do It Very Differently]]> The Traditional Model

Traditionally, starting a business has been a daunting affair requiring large investment of capital and time. Already having large liabilities can put a new business on a shaky footing right from the start. Online services, paid for per user, by monthly subscription, offer an easier route with the capacity and flexibility to expand in future. And for many businesses, starting equipment can be as simple as a computer, telephone and internet access. These are the ideas we will explore in this article.

First, a couple of caveats - I won’t be dealing here with whether you should start a business. Suffice to say, make sure you do your research and establish the viability of your idea well before you attempt to begin trading. Secondly, this article relates more to service type businesses than retail (although not solely). Retail businesses will generally require premises, stock and equipment, much more so than a service business, however there is still a role for new technologies to play.

Traditionally the model for starting a business has been largely about securing premises, employing staff and investing in equipment. Almost a ‘if you build it, they will come’ mentality. And an expensive one - a lot of capital can be tied up right at the beginning putting financial strain on a new business right from the off.

A Leaner Approach

So, what do you actually need? At it’s most basic, a service based business requires you, a computer and a telephone in terms of initial investment. You can work from home or even stay completely mobile. A retail business will usually require fixed premises, but not if it is solely e-commerce based. Both types of businesses require email, office software, some sort of customer database, and accounts and invoicing software. Additionally a retail business would require stock control and EPOS software, and an e-commerce website.

Rather than invest heavily in equipment and processes early on, I would suggest any new business should now take advantage of online based, paid for by monthly subscription, services. Being web-delivered your data is always backed up, always accessible and you can easily scale up when your business grows. Your subscriptions will be counted as operational expenditure rather than capital liabilities and this can be advantageous.

Email

These days email really is too important to regard as something to do cheaply. Get a registered domain name for your business, look professional and ensure your email is properly managed and backed up. Hosted email solutions allow you to view synchronised email across numerous devices. As you need more email accounts simply add another one to your monthly subscription and as they are all stored in the Cloud, your data is safe and secure.

Examples:

  • GoogleApps
  • Office 365

Office Software

By virtue of the fact everyone is using it, Microsoft Office with Word and Excel is probably most people’s choice although several viable free alternatives exist. However, integration with other software and the rest of business world is important which is why Microsoft Office is dominant. With hosted, subscription based software you can now pay for this monthly, access documents across several devices and edit online.

Examples:

  • Microsoft Office
  • GoogleApps
  • OpenOffice
  • KingSoft

Customer Database

You need to keep track of your customers - at the very least it means you can contact them easily! Most online systems integrate with marketing tools such as MailChimp and being able to easily access historical data about customers is hugely useful.

Examples:

  • Zoho
  • Brightpearl

Accounts software

There are lots of online packages available now and having some form of up to date records at year end will save you significantly on accountants bills. Knowing what state your business finance is in daily might even save your business. At it’s most basic, making it easy to actually charge your customers is not something that should not be overlooked.

Examples:

  • Brightpearl
  • Sage
  • Kashflow

E-commerce / retail

We’ll bundle these two together as I would suggest most retail businesses should be engaging in e-commerce these days. There are lots of proprietary solutions which should allow you to edit item descriptions easily and automate your stock control. The better systems will integrate easily into the ‘big boys’ of the retail world - eBay, Amazon, Magneto, etc.

Examples:

  • Kontrolit
  • Brightpearl

The New Way

Online based, web-delivered software offers new businesses a chance to launch without heavy (crippling) capital investment. They have the advantage of accessing business data anywhere, and that data is kept secure and backed up. As the business grows these systems are easily scaled up as they are based on a per user model. They offer a great deal of flexibility to a new business whilst providing stability to meet new challenges.
 

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<![CDATA[Email - How is it For You]]> Email.

It’s such mundane part of our lives. Open up our email program; read, write and deal with emails; repeat as required. Always there, always useful, never pretty.

But have a little think about the following questions

  • How important is my email?
  • What if I couldn’t access it for a morning? Or a day? Or a week?
  • What if the internet stopped working at my place of work?
  • What would my clients and contacts do if I didn’t reply for a few days?
  • Is my email stored in only one place?

Now, I don’t want to be alarmist, however if any of those scenarios struck a chord even for a moment, there are some very nice solutions based around storing email in the Cloud that will keep your email safe and, more importantly, up and running no matter what. Things like Microsoft's Office 365 and GoogleApps.

Email outages cost money - simple as. How much money and whether they are disasterous is something you should have control over.

 


 

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<![CDATA[How We Should Do Work]]> I have been taken by a short book I recently read called ‘Business Reimagined’ by Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer for Microsoft (@dcoplin). The strapline is ‘Why work isn’t working and what you can do about it’.

We are all familiar with the way in which new technologies can aid flexible working and change the way we do business, however the author believes this is only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, he argues, turning up at the office for a set number of hours each day is a legacy from our post-Industrial history where process was greatest factor that led to efficiency. Essentially employees are paid to turn up rather than by what they produce.

This particular idea, that the alternative should be to pay employees by (defined) outcomes and enable them to produce that in their own way, wherever that may be, I found particularly interesting. I think most of us would still like to come into the office to hook up with our colleagues, but if it makes more sense to have a meeting in a restaurant or by video conference, then why not. The technology exists to allow us to interact in many different ways, to be ‘present’ even when we are remote and to collaborate and share with co-workers wherever we are. In fact, the biggest hurdle to adopting this method is not the tools, but management mindset and trust.

Not only should we use new technology tools, but businesses should become more social, encouraging employees, from the lowest to the highest, to become involved through tools such as Yammer. The entire company then becomes a kind of ‘meta-brain’, where workers can seek answers, provide ideas and contribute constructively.

It’s not a big book, but it does provide a great deal of food for thought, liberally illustrated with real world examples. And better yet, if you hunt around it’s available as a free e-book download.

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<![CDATA[The UK Recovery]]> It has been great to hear some good news lately about the UK economy. After years of negative growth and double dip recession, several sectors of the economy have seen positive growth for successive quarters. Many commentators see this as the beginning of better times for UK businesses.

But what will ‘better times’ mean? I can’t imagine we will see businesses spending money and buying services with scant regard, returning to the excess of the Eighties. And by all accounts our climb out of recession will be a slow one. However, if there is a freeing up of money and things become a little easier for businesses, perhaps the focus will subtly shift from watching the purse strings in order to survive to using money to invest in the future of a business.

I would suggest the majority of small businesses currently adopt a ‘fire-fighting’ attitude to IT support. Help is purchased on an ad-hoc basis as this means money is only spent when needed. One issue here is that ‘when needed’ usually means something fairly major has happened and the business has now stopped working and is losing money.

Where businesses are less focussed on cutting costs, we find IT support purchased on monthly subscription is a better option. The business will benefit from a flattened IT spend and in addition an interesting side effect occurs. I guess everyone likes to get their money’s worth and with monthly IT services we find businesses tend to ring us more often - which this is a good thing. Issues get ironed out before they become problems and greater contact means we have a chance to advise on the IT implications of any future plans.

Perhaps as the economy picks up and life becomes a little easier out there, more companies will take the chance to invest just a little bit more in IT, which will in turn allow them to concentrate on growing the business.

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<![CDATA[Google Apps vs Office 365 - why the conflict?]]> It’s like the Beatles vs. the Stones. Or Man Utd vs Man City. It seems that these days it’s either one or the other. You either jump into the Microsoft camp and offer Office 365 services, or you shun the mighty behemoth and go for Google Apps.

Each camps’ supporters will bellow the relative merits of their chosen side; Google, the giant killer, offering a quick and easy solution that gets the job done with the minimum of fuss or requirements. Or Microsoft, offering a robust, proven technology that integrates well with users’ existing software.

But should you be choosing your business technology based on the whims of the moment? And should we, as an IT support provider, be offering services based on some notion of partisanship and loyalty to a chosen brand.

Personally, I think the answer is that we shouldn’t. As intimated above, each solution has it’s own merits and businesses will be suited to one or the other depending on business need. And it is that which should inform the decision on whether a solution is good or not - the specific business need - not whether we are bigger fans of Microsoft or Google.

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