3 Ways to Improve Project Management from Our PM Expert

Whether you use a project management (PM) software that doesn’t quite fit the needs of your company or you’re winging it without a solution, project management is a crucial piece to your business that can’t be overlooked. That’s why we’ve asked our project management expert to answer the most common PM questions, give us more insight into the importance of a reliable project management software, and teach us how we can improve our existing solutions.

What is project management software and how will it impact my business?

Project management software is a comprehensive solution designed to give your team more visibility, control and access to your business projects. You’re able to track time, organize tasks and projects, and identify gaps that are impacting your timeline and budget.

A study by Hive found that 77 percent of high-performing projects use PM software. By adopting a project management software or finding a solution that fits your business needs, you’ll make a stronger impact on the success of your projects. You’ll be able to quickly identify gaps and roadblocks in your processes, easily reassign tasks to alleviate hold-ups and – for some software solutions – track the time spent on a project within your task so that you can properly bill for the hours worked. This helps your business work seamlessly and effectively.

How do I find the right PM software solution for my business?

There are a lot of tools in the market for project management. From the free programs with limited features to the per-user options that give you unlimited access, finding the right project management software for your business requires more than throwing darts at a board.

First, you need to analyze your needs. If you’ve never implemented a PM software before, you’re starting with a blank slate. If you already have a solution that isn’t quite fitting your needs, where has your previous software failed? Identify what you need and what your goals for this solution are, then do extensive research finding a tool that accommodates those needs. A managed services partner can be your biggest asset when it comes to leveraging vendor relationships and identifying the most secure software option for your business.

How do I know if my project management software is working for my business?

Whether this is a question you’re asking before or after adopting a software program, the answer is still the same – is your PM solution helping you meet your goals? If your team struggles to stay on track and adhere to a strict budget, is your software doing that? No two software solutions are the same, and how you use your PM solution greatly impacts the answer to this question.

Some solutions don’t include time tracking. While there are other applications that you can use for this purpose, if your main goal is to have a solution that helps you send out appropriate billing, then you would be disappointed with a software solution that doesn’t offer time tracking capabilities.

Improving your existing software or finding a project management software on your own can feel overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it alone. To get help in finding the right solution for your business and for more advice on how you can improve your existing software, contact us today.


Checklist: Do You Need a Virtual CIO?

Amid your daily responsibilities, are you making time to strengthen your cybersecurity, create a disaster recovery strategy and plan other value-added IT initiatives? Like most small and medium-sized companies, you probably don’t have enough time in the day to devote to protecting and advancing your business technology. A virtual Chief Information Officer (vCIO) serves as an executive-level member of your team, helping you maintain a competitive advantage by successfully leveraging the right technology for your business.

Do you need a vCIO? Answer these questions to find out:

 

Do you know where your data is stored and how to access it in case of a disaster?

Your primary systems can fail without warning when you face a natural disaster, malicious cyberattack, power outage or employee error. Do you have a process in place to quickly retrieve your mission-critical data? Do you know how long your business can be down before it dramatically impacts your bottom line? Knowing the answers to these questions is imperative – The US Bureau of Labor found 93 percent of companies without a disaster recovery plan are out of business within one year of suffering a major data disaster.

 

Do your employees know how to safely use their mobile devices for work?

With the rise of the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend, organizations are using mobile devices more than ever. Mobile devices can improve your team’s flexibility and productivity – in fact, a study by Cisco found that companies with BYOD processes save an average of $350 per year, per user. However, they also open your business up to additional cyberthreats. Companies that are serious about implementing BYOD must deploy end-to-end security software and institute company-wide training to minimize incidents.

 

Do you have a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy in place?

When enterprise companies like Macy’s, Apple and Facebook get hacked, you hear about it on the news – but you probably don’t hear about the thousands of small and medium-sized businesses that suffer cyberattacks each year. The worst part is that, according to the National Cyber Security Alliance, 83 percent of small businesses have no formal cybersecurity plan and 69 percent have no plan at all. This isn’t a job that can be left to a single person, and even if you have an internal IT team, these tasks will take up the majority of their time.

 

Are you aware of new technology that could improve your operations?

Technology is constantly evolving and providing new opportunities for businesses, but the latest technology isn’t always the greatest and what works for others might not work for you. If you’re not entirely confident that a new solution or product will actually provide a strong ROI, you could be wasting thousands of dollars. Most business owners don’t have time to thoroughly research every new product or determine whether it will be a good long-term fit for their company, so they make the wrong investments or opt not to invest at all.

 

If you answered “no” to one or more of these questions, you need the assistance of a virtual CIO. For a fraction of the cost of hiring an in-house CIO, you get access to a team of IT experts who help you develop sound business continuity, BYOD and cybersecurity policies – all while keeping your technology costs down and leveraging new technology to keep you competitive. To learn what a vCIO can do for you, contact us now.


4 Must-Have Tools for Your Team

You’re always searching for the latest and greatest tools to improve your team’s collaboration and productivity, but wouldn’t it be nice to know that the solutions you wanted to implement would actually do what you need them to? Often, applications are implemented as an end-all-be-all solution, but they don’t integrate with existing apps or cost more over time than your budget can accommodate.

What could the right tool mean for your business? A study by the McKinsey Institute found that teams improved productivity up to 25 percent through increased collaboration. That’s why finding the right tool for your specific needs is critical to improving the efficiency of your business. To get started, check out these four must-have tools and applications:

 

Cisco Webex

With crystal-clear video quality, Webex keeps your clients and team connected. Call in to a meeting over an Internet connection from anywhere in the world and discuss projects and tasks, share documents and presentations, and eliminate conversation barriers. Cisco protects your video conversation with data encryption and a multi-layered security solution to keep your connection safe.

 

Slack

Slack is a messenger application that offers nearly instantaneous responses from peers and clients. With an unlimited number of channels to share tasks, get feedback from clients and adjust expectations for project deliveries, Slack keeps your entire team on the same page. Include plugins like Jira or Dropbox and seamlessly send documents using a secured channel.

 

Microsoft Office 365

Microsoft applications like Word, Excel and PowerPoint have played a critical role in the way businesses perform – now, Office 365 provides the same powerful software in a digital format. Access and edit your documents from anywhere with an Internet connection. Collaborate with your team and make changes to the same file in nearly real-time to streamline your deliverables while eliminating the risk of losing progress.

 

Yammer

Similar to Facebook, Yammer provides an internal communication platform for professionals. Set up groups and post status updates to the group’s news feed, tagging all necessary parties. Whether your client needs to share files and photos with your entire team, or you’re looking to update your peers on the status of a project, Yammer gives your team full visibility on what’s happening and when.

 

Cloud-based collaboration tools provide the applications you need to improve productivity and efficiency without the costly hardware and software deployments. For more information or to get help implementing the right cloud-based solution for your business, contact us today.


Cloud 101: How to Leverage Innovative Cloud Technologies

The cloud is a complex but critical environment for driving efficiency and reducing operating costs. By collaborating with technologies like edge computing – which processes data at the edge of your network – and utilizing project management techniques, the cloud automates processes and provides a variety of environments to fit your unique needs.

From public and private to hybrid solutions, the cloud easily integrates with your existing solutions and empowers your applications to do more without increasing your budget. Using cloud bursting techniques, you can move applications and resources between private and public cloud environments to reduce expenditures and streamline processes. But that’s not the only way to leverage innovative cloud technologies:

 

A hybrid cloud solution provides flexibility.

Businesses bounce back and forth between public and private cloud options to determine which one makes the most sense for their situation. Hybrid is often counted out as it’s complicated to leverage on your own.

With a strategic IT partner, you can rake in the benefits of hybrid cloud environments without the pressures of managing or implementing it yourself. Plus, an IT expert can suggest which cloud environments would work best to resolve your challenges and scale to fit your business.

 

The cloud makes IoT and edge computing possible.

While Internet of Things (IoT) and Internet of Everything (IoE) use the cloud to communicate with devices and other machines to provide a seamless experience, edge computing builds off IoT to provide an efficient and streamlined data transfer. By using real-time data and analytics, edge computing reduces the burden on your network while keeping your devices connected.

By adopting edge computing and leveraging IoT, you can enhance your customers’ experience and gain accurate data for insights and profile-building. Discover how your customers view your products and make their purchases, then using edge computing streamline that data and quickly transport it to the necessary departments – reducing response times and improving ROI.

 

Automation and AI alleviate the burden on your cloud administrators.

As cloud adoption continues to grow at unprecedented rates, system admins are struggling to keep up with the time-consuming, repetitive tasks involved in managing a cloud environment. This results in businesses spending too much money on tedious tasks and losing the focus of their experts.

By implementing autonomous AI processes, you can lessen the burden of labor-intensive tasks like copying and extracting data and prevent duplicated efforts. AI platforms support data governance, so you can ensure you’re meeting compliance standards while distributing work more evenly and improving your overall workflow.

With us as your partner, you’re already a step ahead of the competition. We’ll help you implement innovative cloud technologies so you can leverage powerful tools designed to clean up your operations and improve your ROI. For more information on how to leverage cloud technologies and how we can help, contact us today.


3 Strategies for Conquering Ethics & Privacy

From implementing blockchain to securing data with encryption and disaster recovery solutions, protecting your business’s and customers’ confidential data is crucial to strengthening your reputation and ensuring privacy. But, as more companies come under scrutiny for their data policies, it’s important to understand where digital ethics comes into play for your business.

Digital ethics involve the moral decisions that are made in regard to the virtual world. Are you collecting data without users’ permission? Are you selling that data to the highest buyer? What you do with the confidential information you’ve collected contributes to your digital ethics.

Understanding digital ethics can be overwhelming – but these three strategies can help you stay on top of it:

 

  1. Monitoring

You should monitor everything – from internal technology usage and system security to how users are visiting your site. By analyzing this data, you’ll gain insight into your team and customers, including if they leverage technology for its intended use or if they navigate/utilize tech in unexpected ways.

By monitoring your security, you can ensure your customers’ and business’s confidential information is safe from threats like cyber criminals, natural disasters and disgruntled employees. A multi-layered security solution including data encryption, threat detection software, disaster recovery plans and other security initiatives provides a holistic approach to protecting your data from all angles.

 

  1. Transparency

Being transparent about what information you’re tracking and how you’re using customer data is essential to building trust and strengthening your digital ethics. If you think to yourself, “I don’t want my customers to know I track that,” then you may have discovered a digital ethics issue.

Transparency isn’t easy, but it plays a critical role in creating trust between your business and customers. Knowing what does and doesn’t violate your customers’ privacy is key to navigating digital ethics.

 

  1. The Right Balance

Walking the fine line between being helpful and being intrusive can be challenging. While your customer data collection may have the best of intentions – improving their experience, reducing their time talking with customer service, reminding them of products they have left in their cart – it doesn’t always strike the right chord. By creating a value alignment that shows the value to customers as prominently and clearly as it does for your business, you can create a win/win scenario.

Algorithms for personalizing experiences and collecting and exchanging data don’t have to feel more intrusive than supportive. By implementing these three strategies, you can find the perfect balance that works for you and your customers. For more information on how to deploy a multi-layered security solution that keeps collected data safe, contact us today.


section 179 tax deduction

Dreading Tax Season? Section 179 Might Change Your Mind

Dreading Tax Season? Section 179 Might Change Your Mind

No one looks forward to tax season – but for small and medium-sized business owners, Section 179 aims to make the process a little less painful. Have you held off on upgrading equipment – for a year, two years, even a decade – because the upfront cost was too steep?

Traditionally, a business owner could write off the cost of equipment a little bit at a time through depreciation. For example, if you spent $30,000 on a machine, you may have written off $10,000 a year for three years. But, what if we told you that you have the ability to make your upgrades right now and deduct the full amount of your purchases this tax season?

It’s true. Section 179 allows you to deduct the full price of any qualifying equipment or software purchased, financed or leased during the year, including:

  • Workstations, laptops, tablets, smartphones
  • Servers and printers, routers, network switches and network security appliances
  • Off-the-shelf software (productive, anti-virus, administrative, etc.)
  • Vehicles designed for commercial use
  • Nonresidential property improvements

All you need to do is use form 4562 to claim your deduction. For 2018, the full deduction can be claimed until you’ve reached the allotted $2.5 million in equipment and software purchases. Past that point, the deduction decreases on a dollar for dollar basis until it disappears at $3.5 million. Even businesses with a net loss may be qualified to deduct a portion of the cost of new equipment and carry forward the loss.

Is it time to upgrade your equipment? Generally, you’ll notice a performance decline in the first one to two years, with major errors occurring in years three and four. Here’s a good replacement timeline:

  • Computers – Every five to seven years
  • Other tech, including printers and switches – Every three to five years
  • Company vehicles – Every six to 10 years

Swapping out dated technology translates to big benefits – less downtime, less time waiting for new equipment, a better customer experience and boosted revenue. Keep pace with your competitors or push past them by taking advantage of Section 179. If you have questions about your eligibility, consult your accountant and visit section179.com for additional information.

You have the opportunity to leverage new equipment right now instead of waiting and potentially slowing down growth and innovation. Ready to boost your business? Contact ustoday to determine which tech upgrades will make the biggest impact on your operations.


you could benefit from a vCIO

5 Signs You Could Benefit from a vCIO

5 Signs You Could Benefit from a vCIO

Business owners have an unending list of tasks on their plate – and technology, especially strategic IT planning, usually gets pushed to the back burner. But, a virtual CIO (also known as a vCIO) can take on your high-level technology responsibilities, giving you systems that perform seamlessly and support your business rather than hindering it.

Here are five signs that you could benefit from virtual CIO services:

  1. You struggle to meet compliance standards.

If your business is subject to PCI, SOX, HIPAA or other regulations, you know how much work it is to consistently meet compliance and stay on top of changes. A virtual CIO evaluates your systems and implements processes to ensure that you’re compliant each and every time – saving you the hassle of noncompliance fines, a damaged reputation and broken customer trust.

  1. Your technology costs are all over the place.

If downtime, break/fix calls and unreliable vendors make your monthly IT bill anything but predictable, enlist the services of a virtual CIO. They recommend the best solutions to boost your uptime and minimize disruptions to your workflow, negotiate with vendors on your behalf and manage projects within your budget. Plus, vCIOs themselves operate at a standard monthly cost that’s a fraction of what you would pay an in-house CIO in salary, benefits and bonuses.

  1. You lack a strategy for the future.

We get it, the future is a long way off – except it isn’t. If you don’t have a strategy for your technology, you’ll waste time and money on solutions that don’t ultimately align with your business goals. Virtual CIOs work with you to develop a roadmap that outlines your plan for growth and recommends solutions that will help you achieve that outcome – giving you the confidence to make better investment decisions.

  1. You’re missing a solid business continuity plan.

Natural disasters, power outages and human error affect every business – the question is, do you know how to recover? A vCIO implements a comprehensive backup and disaster recovery plan so you can protect your data and access it quickly. More than 40 percent of SMBs close their doors permanently after a disaster; instituting a plan now stops you from becoming a statistic.

  1. You aren’t getting actionable insights from your data.

Almost every interaction with your customers can offer insight into what they want and how you can better serve them – but, that only works if you know how to read the data. Virtual CIOs help you sort and analyze your data to make smart decisions that improve your business.

If some or all of these describe you, it’s time to get your technology in order. Contact us today to learn how a vCIO can resolve your challenges.

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think IoT for your industry

Think IoT Doesn’t Affect Your Industry? Think Again

Think IoT Doesn’t Affect Your Industry? Think Again

“The Internet of Things is just a fancy term in the tech industry, right?” Well... yes. But IoT’s broad reach (people used 8.4 billion IoT devices in 2017) means the Internet of Things is already changing the way your industry operates, whether you’re aware of it or not.

IoT is a network of physical devices or sensors that collect data, send it to the cloud to be processed and receive back insights via a user interface. This helps workers in any sector become more productive and make quicker, more informed decisions.

Here are five industries that are being transformed by IoT:

Government

Sensors monitoring everything from infrastructure wear to intersections gather the data that government officials need to optimize neighborhoods, towns – even entire cities. They use aggregated data to optimize traffic flow, improve emergency response efforts and monitor air quality and water systems (in Dubuque, Iowa, residents reduced water usage by 6.6 percent after gaining the ability to view their consumption). Planned future projects include self-driving shuttles that communicate with traffic signals and drones equipped to fight forest fires.

Energy

We all (hopefully) try to turn off the lights when we leave a room – but what if that concept could be applied to an entire building, or thousands of them? Officials in New York rely on sensors and analytics software to monitor usage and predict system failures. Eventually, they plan to connect to 20,000 public buildings by 2020 to regulate the temperature remotely based on factors like occupancy and times of low use. Other cities – such as Copenhagen – are dimming and brightening LED street lights to conserve energy while also protecting residents.

Consumer Goods

Smart sensors and tags are making shipping, inventory management and reordering more intuitive than ever. Business owners and employees can track packages in real time, instantly update inventory logs as products are sold and receive notifications when it’s time to restock an item. In addition to increasing efficiency, companies such as jewelry brand Alex and Ani are using IoT to attract passersby to physical locations, make recommendations and study the movements of shoppers to optimize store layouts.

Agriculture

When you think about the practical applications of IoT, agricultural production might be the last thing that comes to mind. But, smart technology is helping farmers control unpredictable factors such as light, temperature and moisture. By automating irrigation systems and analyzing data to determine things like optimal humidity and pH levels, farmers can expect healthier, more stable crop yields – and easily share that information with other producers.

Healthcare

As the elderly population booms – the U.S. Census Bureau projects the population of people age 65 and older to reach 98.2 million by 2020 – healthcare professionals need advanced techniques to monitor elderly and ill patients, even in their own homes. IoT sensors can tell when patients fall or forget to take medication. Caretakers can also monitor seniors via live video and audio streaming and analyze real-time vital signs.

The Internet of Things is just getting started – the International Data Corporation predicts that worldwide spending on IoT will reach $1 trillion in 2020. Interested in seeing how IoT can make your business more innovative, more efficient and more profitable? Contact ustoday to take your technology to the next level.