This week we wanted to give you some pointers on how to make the most of your IT budget for this year.  We always recommend our clients speak with us about their IT budget and allow us to help advise them on what is required to be done this year and what they could look to do as improvements.  IT doesn’t have to be a scarey and large cost centre to your business.  We want to make your IT work for you and to do that we can help to demystify and help plan your IT spend.  Nobody likes something which is unpredictable or unknown, so let us help you to make it a known and quantifiable cost that allows you to plan and make better decisions for your IT infrastructure. Let’s dive in!

The first thing to consider is are there any major items in your IT infrastructure that will need replaced or be an additional requirement this year?  For example, servers, switches, routers, networking hardware or software upgrades etc.  Then, consider the recurring IT costs you might have for support, software etc.  Once you have accounted for these costs and set these funds aside you will now be able to see what funds you have available for improvements.

Once you have worked out your available funds for improvements, you can now make decisions easier on any requests you get from staff for new PCs, laptops and other devices.  When you know what is available to be spent on improvements and additional kit, the question of if you can afford it in your budget is already answered, leaving you to weigh up the business benefits to the new device.  If you don’t have any requests from staff for new devices a great place to start is to look at the age of all your devices and plan in to replace the older devices over the course of this year with the remaining IT budget.

If you roll this approach out to your IT plan each year and schedule replacing your older equipment, you will start to see less and less “failures” of PCs which bring unexpected costs and expenditure, and is unpredictable by the nature of failure.  Where you will end up is in a position with planned, predictable and expected IT costs.  If you’d like to discuss your IT budget the team here at MJD would be more than happy to help you plan your IT requirements for the coming year.

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network.  It allows you to connect to a different network securely over the Internet.  They can be useful to protect your business activity when working on public wi-fi as well as a few other roles.  VPNs give you the security by encrypting your internet traffic and hiding your IP address in a secure tunnel.

The VPN allows the device you are working on to connect to another device, for example connects your laptop at home to a device in your office, and then allows you to work on files on that device in your office.  This means that your laptop at home now acts like it is on the network you are connected to and allows you to access the local resources on that network.

Let’s now discuss why you might need a VPN or the circumstances in which a VPN would be highly recommended:

  • Using public wifi
  • Access to files and data while away from the office
  • Privacy online, particularly when travelling

When using public wifi without a VPN anyone else on that network could easily intercept and steal your data such as passwords etc and monitor your online traffic, allowing them to steal your identity.  Using a VPN while on a public network means that your online traffic and the data this creates is within a secure tunnel and is very difficult to intercept.

VPN can also allow you a secure way to access important business data and files on your office network while you are away from this network.  The VPN will provide you with an encrypted connection to help prevent data leakage.

If you are concerned about your privacy online and the data tracking and monitoring that your ISP may be sharing with advertisers and other third parties, a VPN will stop this tracking and protect your privacy from third parties your ISP may share the data with.

If you are considering employing the use of a VPN service and want some more tailored advice and guidance for your circumstances please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the team here at MJD we can provide you with the latest encryption and security services.

This week let’s discuss the top 5 IT tasks to focus on this new year.  We will go into each one in more detail and link to some of our previous blogs to help you make plans and set goals for your IT for 2022.  Let’s look at the top 5 tasks first:

  • Security
  • Work From Home Hybrid Setups
  • Cloud services
  • Microsoft 365 licensing Changes
  • Forward Planning for Hardware Requirements
  1. Security

No matter the time of year security should be the top of your priority list when considering your IT setup.  However, let’s make 2022 the year we all take a proactive step to cyber security rather than a reactive step when a cyber attack happens.  MJD can help you on your proactive security process through getting Cyber Security accreditation and advising solutions that are suitable for your circumstances.  You can read our blog on Cyber Security accreditation here and all our other security related blogs are tagged so you can easily filter and read more on particular topics.

  1. Work from Home Hybrid Setups

As the global pandemic is still with us and affecting the way we live our lives and how we work, we would always recommend considering your office setup.  Do you have the capability to allow employees to securely and productively continue to work from home if required.  Also, don’t just consider this for the pandemic, think beyond the pandemic and the flexibility that this can give your company and your work force, that for whatever reason they can’t work in the office they can continue to work and allow your business to function.  From an office fire or flood which leaves you without a workspace to snow stopping employees travelling to the office, if you have the capabilities and technology in place, business can continue.  We have a blog here on our essential WFH equipment and a blog on the considerations of the WFH environment and your business security here.

  1. Cloud Services

This area ties in nicely with the previous area, but should be given it’s own importance and time to be considered as this can benefit the business not just for the WFH benefits.  As more and more of the software we use daily offers cloud based options it is important that we make ourselves aware of these if the options are available to us.  Cloud based services can give us the flexibility to work from anywhere and reduce the capital costs required with servers and the maintenance of this equipment.  Most cloud services are monthly based subscriptions so allow you to budget for a fixed cost each month and not have to guestimate your maintenance budget on servers and any parts that may be required further down the line for them.  We wrote a blog on what is the cloud which you can read here.

  1. Microsoft 365 Licensing Changes

This year Microsoft are making some changes to the way in which they offer their 365 licensing.  These changes will see a shift from monthly licensing charges to annual commitments and we would urge you to speak with your Microsoft 365 provider to plan and discuss the impact this may have on your business in the coming year.  We will be in touch with all our clients to discuss these changes.

  1. Forward Planning for IT Hardware Requirements

Unfortunately, the worldwide chip shortage is going nowhere anytime soon, so we still need to consider our IT hardware requirements as far in advance as possible.  We are still seeing shortages of equipment with no forecast dates of arrival of the stock to our suppliers from the manufacturers, so the more time you can give your IT service provider to get the hardware the more chance of success you will have.  You can read our blog on the chip shortage here.

If you would like to discuss any of these IT areas and would like help to plan your IT for 2022 please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the team here at MJD, and let’s make 2022 the year your IT works for YOU!

 

Worried about migrating to 365 but want to take advantage of the advantages that Microsoft 365 has to offer?  Here at MJD we follow a 12 step process that keeps our clients involved throughout the whole process, but only the steps which directly affect you.  All the other technical steps and work we take control of and deal with on your behalf.  This allows our clients to focus on their core business activities and know exactly the key points at which the migration might affect their activities ahead of time.

The key to a stress free 365 migration is planning and awareness.  If you and your employees know exactly what to expect and when, this allows you to plan your work around the steps of the migration to help minimise downtime and the impact on your business.  The key part of the process for the team here at MJD is our 365 migration software, the tools which this includes allows us to minimise downtime for our clients to just 15 minutes for the majority of our customers.  The various tools in our software allow us to check the process at multiple stages prior to the migration, so that we have worked out all the issues and potential set backs in the process with our client before we even hit the migration button.

The migration time and date is discussed and planned with our clients, to ensure that this is at a time which will have the least impact on core business operations and engineers are scheduled for the migration and for immediately after to ensure that all end users are fully setup and receiving mail flow.  This way, you know that any issues that do occur are dealt with as soon as they happen, again minimising down time as there is no waiting period while we assign an engineer.

Microsoft 365 has so many advantages and benefits to be gained, especially in the new hybrid working environment of home and office working.  We would encourage any client not to hold back on the potential to take your business activities to the next level with 365 due to a fear of the migration process.  Speak with the team here at MJD and let’s make IT work for YOU!

How often when faced with an IT issue do you get asked if you have tried switching it on and off again?  Probably enough that you may even try it yourself before contacting your IT support now?  Maybe even enough that it annoys you that you get asked to try something so simple?  Today we want to explain why we ask this question so often and what the benefits are of a restart of your device.

Regularly rebooting your computer, at least once a week can be beneficial!  It can be tempting to leave your PC on and just log off every night or put it to sleep, thinking you are saving time on the startup.  However, this can reduce the machines efficiency and actually slow you down!  There are a few processes that happen during a reboot or shut down that benefit your PC.

We explained RAMs purpose in an earlier blog, a reboot will allow the RAM to be flushed.  What this means is that all the tasks that are running and using the RAM are stopped and cleared.  When you log on next after the reboot your RAM is clear and ready to go again!  Also when we close a programme it sometimes doesn’t close properly and continues to use some RAM even though it’s closed!  Cheeky we know, but this is called a memory leak, again the reboot is like a reset for the RAM clearing it of these memory leaks.

A reboot will also reset software in the same way it resets the RAM, so if you experience issues with something not working like usual within a programme.  To explain why this works, we need to understand what happens when these issues occur within software.  When these issues happen, what is occurring is the software code has reached a point where it doesn’t know how to resolve the issue it has faced.  The coding doesn’t have an answer for the sequence of events you have just performed.  Therefore, when you reboot the PC the coding for the software is reset back to the start and you can try again, without it being stuck at that point it couldn’t recover from and hopefully not end up at the same stuck point.

Let’s apply this into your working week, if you spend 15 minutes of your working days waiting on slow processes or waiting for programmes to respond and open, this is over an hour each week where you aren’t getting anything productive done on your device.  Compare this with, shutting down your PC once a week minimum, so this is done at night rather than logging off, this takes the same time and same number of clicks.  Then in the morning, you switch your PC on and while it boots up you maybe make your morning cup of tea or coffee before starting the day.  A task you would have done anyway and therefore no working time is lost.  But you have potentially gained over an hour back in a more responsive device to work on!

Hopefully this has helped to explain the benefits of rebooting a device and why it is such an important tool in your IT departments toolbox to help resolve issues you may be faced quicker than it might take to track down that exact issue that may never happen again after the software and device has been reset.  If you have any questions on anything in this blog please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the team here at MJD and let’s make IT work for YOU and give it a helping hand with a weekly reboot!

As restrictions are easing and we are moving into a new phase of living with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing a trend develop for a hybrid working pattern and home working is here to stay.  That’s why this week we wanted to highlight the essential pieces of equipment that we would recommend to make your work from home setup more efficient and make your IT work for YOU.

  1. Docking Station

The most useful piece of kit you could have in your work from home and your office setup is a universal docking station.  We recommend and use the Terra 731 Docking Station, which means that all you have to do is connect a USB cable to your laptop and you can be connected to your monitors, speakers, internet, keyboard and mouse as quickly as you can connect the cable!  This can make the transition between office to your home desk feel effortless and you won’t even think about it.  This means you and your employees can concentrate on getting down to work and not having to setup your desk and work station each time you move between the two setups.

  1. Height adjustable monitors/Monitor Stands

                           

It is important to make sure that you now consider your work from home setup as a permenant fixture and therefore, are your monitors at the correct height for ensuring you have good posture?  If you have two monitors are they both at the same height?  If not, it would be worth considering new height adjustable, or if these monitors are still in good working order a monitor stand which would allow you to properly adjust the height of the monitor screen.  Terra have a range of monitors so please get in touch with your specific requirements for a bespoke recommendation.

  1. Microsoft 365

By using Microsoft 365 for your whole business setup or as a hybrid solution, this can help you to move seamlessly from office to home by having access to your files in the 365 cloud.  This also gives you access to use Teams to help manage your business remotely and to collaborate and stay in touch even while you are all in different locations.  If you have any questions or want to maximise the use of your 365 licenses, just get in touch with the MJD team and we’d be more than happy to help.

  1. Laptop

     

A laptop goes without saying, due to its portability will allow you to take it between the office and your home office with ease and combined with a docking station at both desks will allow you to always have everything you need at all times.

  1. Headset

If you are not the only one in your house then to ensure privacy and that your clients and colleagues can hear you clearly in video calls a headset is a must and not an expensive part of your kit.

  1. Security Software

This is a rather vague heading, but by this we want to encompass not just anti-virus & anti-malware but also security monitoring services which constantly monitor for suspicious activity on your devices which could be a result of malware or a ransomware attack plus remote management software for mobile devices to allow you to wipe them and protect your data if they are lost.  This is the most important part of your hybrid setup and why we left it to last to ensure it’s the one that sticks with you.  Portable devices are more likely to get lost, be left behind and be outwith your nice secure office network and therefore need protection from the environments they find themselves in.  Get in touch with our Cyber Security Specialist here at MJD to discuss your security software requirements and how to best manage your portable devices.

 

Following on from a blog post last month on what is the cloud, we are taking a look at Microsoft’s 365 cloud services and provide you with some useful information to help you make the decision on whether 365 is right for your business.  Microsoft 365 can help you to become more productive in the new work from home environment we find ourselves in and take us through to the future hybrid working offices with more people continuing to work from home for a percentage of their working week.

Microsoft 365 is a cloud based productivity solution software which is subscription based.  This means you pay a monthly fee per user and you get the latest version of the Microsoft Office software. There are different levels of license which you can choose to purchase depending on what you require.  Microsoft 365 allows you remain connected and stay productive while working remotely, by allowing collaboration on work projects with colleagues and allowing you to store your company data which all employees can access without the need for a server or remote access to PCs in your office.  The subscription service also keeps your business agile and if you need to increase in size, you are not limited by your current IT hardware and infrastructure and require large capital costs for new servers and software, simply add a Microsoft 365 license and install it on the new device for the new employee!

There are 4 main packages to consider: Business Basic, Standard, Premium and Apps for Business.

  1. Business Basic – this gives you business email, access to Microsoft Teams, web based Office apps and cloud storage. This is perfect if you just need the ability to communicate with colleagues and clients.
  2. Business Standard – this also includes access to the desktop versions of the Office apps on top of the Basic offering but does not include the device management and advanced security options.
  3. Business Premium – this includes all of Basic and Standard, but with the added Advanced Security and Device Management and this makes it perfect for SME use and the product we recommend if you require more than the basic email address.
  4. Apps for Business – if you simply require the desktop versions of the Office suite, apps for business is designed for just that. Always have access to the latest version of the Office suite.

Another question we are often asked is how reliable is Microsoft 365.  To help our clients understand we explain that if your on premise server were to go down, you’d be without your data until we could resolve the issue or recover your data from your backup to get you running again.  However, with Microsoft 365 as they have a large cloud network of servers around the world, if there is an outage on one server it will move to another server in that data centre.   Then if the data centre fails, it would fail over to a secondary location.  So it would be rare that you would not be able to access your data due to an outage on the cloud server side.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to adjust your thoughts onto paying a monthly cost per user when previously you would have a capital outlay in one payment.  What is important to remember and to consider is that you are shifting from working with what will become outdated technology at the end of its life before you invest in new equipment to always having access to the latest software and technology.  So, rather than the unknown of what a future upgrade project might cost, you can now budget and plan for the known cost of your 365 subscription each month for the latest software and cloud technology that works to make your business more efficient.

The migration to Microsoft 365 from your server based operations can be a daunting thought.  However, the switch is a sensible choice if you are looking to increase your flexibility and allows you to move away from the need to make capital investments in servers to store your own data or run Exchange.  Microsoft 365 offers you flexibility to change your IT requirements to fit with your growing business month by month if required.  Your Managed Service Provider (MSP) will be able to talk your through and plan your migration to 365 to ensure that you experience minimal downtime and migration work is scheduled for out of hours.  Downtime cannot totally be avoided, however with the right planning and teamwork with your MSP minimal disruption can be achieved usually less than an hour downtime in total.  This is what we strive for at MJD in our 365 migrations, each stage is planned with you to best suit your current business activities to ensure the impact on your business operations is minimal.

This blog post will help you to begin to consider and decide if 365 is right for your business, but the Team here at MJD are always happy to discuss your options and make sure you are choosing the right solution to make IT work for YOU!

A password manager is a fantastic software tool to add to your IT kit to help increase the security of your passwords without the main issue of how to remember and store your details securely.  A password manager is a software tool that allows you to store your passwords securely and easily access them across your devices such as your PC, tablet, laptop and even your mobile.  They also have auto-generation tools to create secure passwords for you.  No more having to think of a random phrase and insert numbers and symbols! A password manager when used across the company can provide warnings if staff are using weak passwords or repeating their passwords thus giving you confidence that your business is not being left vulnerable due to staff weak passwords.

Everyone here at MJD would and probably could not go back to managing their passwords without using a password manager since we implemented them several years ago.  You can even have 2FA setup on your password manager to make it even more secure.  In addition, the autofill features are extremely useful when it recognises a login page on your device and fills the details in for you before you can even think “What email is registered to this account?”  It really is an essential tool to managing and maintaining secure passwords for all your accounts.

Another useful business function of a password manager is when setup within your organisation you can give permission to other users who need to share a login with you securely.  This can also facilitate everyone being able to update the password when it needs to be reset without the need to send the information in an unsecure format such as an email or post it notes.

Here at MJD we recommend the password manager Keeper, which also has a feature called Breachwatch which will scan your records and advise which passwords are at high risk and should be changed to be made more secure.  This can be extremely useful when you initially move to using a password manager to help you work through and change existing passwords to ones generated within your password manager.

If you are interested in getting a password manager please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the team here at MJD.

We all work with the cloud every day, but do we all understand what it means and where the cloud is?  Today we are going to demystify the term “The Cloud”!

The Cloud is a network of servers which are located across the globe which store the data and software which we operate in cloud services.  It facilitates the internet to allow you to access data and software from any internet connected device at any geographic location that you have an internet connection.  The Cloud will find your data or services through its network of servers and deliver it when you need it.  A few examples of cloud services are Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Apple iCloud and Netflix.

Using cloud computing allows us to lower the specification needs of our devices as they do not run the software and services directly.  It also means its very easy to increase your storage limits with cloud based, without having to upgrade your devices HDD and then requiring to carry out reinstalls and data transfers.

However, there are disadvantages to the cloud, being that without an internet connection you have no access to your data or services/software.  So, when considering a cloud-based solution, you need to evaluate the quality of your internet connection and whether you need to upgrade this to cope with a cloud system.  The other consideration is that there can be a risk to store your data online but no worse than the risk locally if your security is not up to standard, with sufficient security and procedures in place the cloud is as secure as locally stored, depending on your provider of services some can be more secure.  While all cloud services have security measures in place, it is always worth considering what data you want to store online and what data you keep on your own device.

You may be wondering why the term “The Cloud”?  It is likely that it developed from the use of a cloud-like shape to denote a network on telephony diagrams.  This was used when the specifics of how endpoints, your computers and/or devices within your network, were connected was not relevant to the diagram.

If you are interested in discussing the merits of cloud-based services within your organisation and IT network please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the team here at MJD.

This week we wanted to highlight a free resource on Microsoft’s website that is an incredibly useful resource for experienced and new users of Microsoft Office alike!  These videos can be useful to set as training to a new employee who may be unfamiliar with any of the Office applications.  The videos cover Outlook, OneDrive, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, OneNote, SharePoint, Teams, Yammer and Access.

There are a variety of resources from video tutorials to cheat sheets to PDF guides as well as tips and tutorial templates to download and work through to test the skills you learn in the resources.  The home page for the Microsoft 365 training page can be found here:

https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/training

The video tutorials are particularly useful if you can’t quite remember how to do a specific task within a program or you’ve updated Office package and guess what, the button isn’t where it used to be.  We’ve all been there, and it can be extremely frustrating when something that used to be second nature must be relearnt!  These videos can help you to overcome that frustration quicker as they take you through the mouse clicks and you watch the desktop of the trainer.  No more searching for the function through trial and error, just learn how to go directly to it again!

Let’s have a quick tour of how to explore the wealth of information and resources within the Microsoft 365 training portal.  Let’s look at the Excel section for this example:

We’ll then see boxes representing the sections of training within Microsoft Excel:

Let’s look at Formulas and Functions:

We’ve highlighted the selection pane on the left hand side to show you where further more specific and detailed resources on individual formulas can be found.  Most of these articles have their own video and written information, so depending on how you learn best you have a variety of resources at your disposal.

Hopefully this will have highlighted an extremely valuable free training resource that you can put to work in your organisation to help make your IT work for YOU!  If you have any questions on Microsoft Office or Microsoft 365 please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the team here at MJD.