Trades Should Add Technology to Their Tool Belts

Trades Should Add Technology to Their Tool BeltsTrades Should Add Technology

There are many hands-on trades that haven’t traditionally needed technology. Yet modern tech tools help the plumber, carpenter, welder, or other trade improve productivity and competitiveness.

There are certain common tasks tradespeople face daily:

  • scheduling appointments with clients, suppliers, or inspectors;
  • tracking project deadlines and budgets;
  • communicating with project managers, customers, trades, office administrators;
  • paying employee salaries;
  • invoicing and tracking payables, receivables.

These can all be done with pen and paper, sticky notes, and forms in triplicate, but technology cuts the time spent and lets you focus instead on increasing your bottom line.

The Difference Technology Tools Make

Most of us carry small, powerful computers around in our pockets every day, whether it’s a smartphone or a tablet. Internet-connected devices give tradespeople access to tools to enhance productivity.

Let’s start with scheduling apps, as tradespeople are often on the move throughout the day. Signing up for a scheduling tool (e.g. Doodle) makes it easier to set appointments, and you aren’t involved in the booking process. Customers simply go to your website or link to the app and choose an available time that works best for them. You can even set it up to ensure you have buffers between appointments or prevent someone from scheduling a new, big project to start at the end of your day.

Integrating the scheduling app with your website helps customers reach you. Also, connecting also to a shared cloud calendar can help your team work together better. Everyone invited into the calendar can see who is out on a call, and where.

You can make changes to a cloud-based calendar on any connected device. Others will see the alterations in real-time. This helps you avoid scheduling conflicts. You can set a follow-up meeting with an inspector while you’re out in the field. The office secretary sees your availability in real-time to set up a new customer visit.

Your Trade Office On the Move

With cloud-based office software also available online, you can get more done out of the office. You don’t have to make a trip back to the office to enter your invoice slips and make photocopies of receipts. Instead, take pictures on your phone or tablet, and attach them to the project file in the cloud, or invoice directly from a secure cloud-based processing site. You won’t have to worry about any paperwork getting lost in the back of a truck or bottom of a toolbox.

The Microsoft Office suite, Google Docs, and cloud storage are available from iOS and Android devices. This lets you monitor project timelines, view budgets, and track invoices and payments in the field. Cloud-based accounting packages let you see cash-flow or outstanding balances, and pay contractors or suppliers on the spot.

Cloud-based software also gives every employee access to business tools in the office. With a virtual desktop, they can collaborate easily (out on a job or in the office) and make changes in real-time. For instance, a contractor could access software to edit a building plan, then actually see the new design in 3D modelling software.

The great news is that technology is ever more accessible and easy to use. Embracing modern digital tools can improve customer service and trade business efficiency.

Your skill set may not extend to technology, but that’s where we come in. We can help you find the right technology for your business needs. Contact us at 319-227-7000 today!

2020-01-07T09:27:24-06:00January 7th, 2020|Cloud Services|0 Comments

What Is a VPN and Why Do I Need One?

What Is a VPN and Why Do I Need One?

What Is a VPN
Ever seen a thriller in which someone asks, “is this a secure line?” The good guys or villains want to be sure their conversations can’t be overhead. When you get a VPN service, you’re signing up for the online equivalent of a secure line.

VPN stands for virtual private network. Put simply, a VPN connects your computer, smartphone, or tablet to a shared or public network as if you’re connecting to a private network. Banks, governments, and companies use VPNs to connect to their networks remotely. Now, it’s becoming more common for the general public to use VPNs. After all, we’re doing online shopping or banking and exchanging sensitive data. We don’t want others to be able to access or track what we do online.

A VPN is an encrypted connection to the internet. It’s your own secure and private internet connection that you can take with you outside of your home.

Benefits of a VPN

There are many advantages to having a VPN. For instance, your VPN also encrypts your online activity. Every internet user has a unique IP address assigned by their internet provider. It’s sort of the technological equivalent of your fingerprint.

When you connect to the internet using a VPN, your IP address is masked. The address used is that of your VPN provider. So, you look like them rather than your home connection. You might think of the VPN as wearing gloves that prevent you from leaving fingerprints when you move around online.

Your search history isn’t logged. You don’t have to worry about bad actors or advertisers tracking your activity. If you want to check social media at work or on a school campus that blocks certain sites, your VPN lets you do so.

You can use the VPN to access a business network securely, too. So, you can use the technology to be more efficient when working remotely.

A VPN can also help you avoid geo-blocking. What’s geo-blocking? It’s a technology that restricts your access to services based on your location. For example, if you were trying to stream a Netflix show from your home country from overseas, you would be geo-blocked. But if Netflix can’t see you’re out of the country, it will let you in to catch up on your favorites.

You could also save money. When your location isn’t known, you can benefit from price disparities – the cost for the same product varies in different regions. The wealthier areas are charged more because sellers can get away with the price markup.

Who can use a VPN?

Anyone can connect to a VPN. You can connect your computers, phones, or tablets to a VPN. It’s a flexible solution that doesn’t need you to switch internet provider or buy any new equipment.

You can also work with a VPN provider. Some are free, but paid VPN providers tend to offer proven security and greater networking speeds.

Make sure your online traffic is secure. We can set up a safe VPN for you. Give our experts a call at 319-227-7000.

2019-12-01T19:53:44-06:00December 31st, 2019|Cloud Services, Networking, Security|0 Comments

Don’t Let Crooks Hijack Your Domain

Don’t Let Crooks Hijack Your Domain

Don't Let Crooks Hijack Your Domain
Doing business today you are as likely to give out your website address as your email or phone number. Your Web domain is your business identity on the internet. Don’t risk falling victim to the cyber-threat known as domain hijacking.

You build up a business site to represent your brand online. Every bit of content, and all the fonts and images you selected, reflect your business. You probably also have email addresses at the domain name (e.g. [email protected]). So, imagine the pain of finding out that someone else has stolen your domain.

When your domain gets hijacked, you lose control of your website, its email addresses, and all associated accounts. And it’s not easy to recover them.

The Infosec Institute shares examples:

An advertising agency spent US$15,000 and 19 months recovering its stolen domain.

The owner of ShadeDaddy.com lost US$50,000 and had to lay off six of its eight employees. He said domain name theft is “like your house got stolen.”

How does a domain get stolen?

There are several ways this can happen to a business or individual.

The simplest is that your domain name expires, and you don’t know it. Domain registrars must send notice one month and one week before the domain expires. But the reminders might go to an email address that is no longer active or to the Web company that set your site up years ago and with whom you no longer communicate.

Once your domain rights lapse, the site gets disabled. After that, the domain name goes back into a pool of domain names for anyone to buy.

There are people who make money from purchasing domains. They hope to make money off your company’s desperation to get its domain back. Or they profit from redirecting traffic from your reputable Web address to their own.

Then there are the hijackers. These cyber-criminals also want to profit from Web traffic redirects or to access your domain emails to send false invoices. They might intercept emails sent to your domain to learn proprietary information. They could change the content on your site or redirect traffic to a hub for online gambling, or worse.

The hijackers might steal your domain by gaining access to the email account you used to set up the domain. Cyber-criminals might use phishing emails to obtain the access credentials. They use the password reset mechanism to take over your account and transfer the domain to a different registrar.

Your domain registration company could be compromised, too. It helps to pick an accredited registrar for your domain registration.

Any of these scenarios can have a serious, lasting impact on your business. Once someone else has access to your domain address they can do whatever they want with it.

Protect Against Domain Hijacking

The first step is to protect your access credentials. Leveraging two-factor authentication can also help prevent hijackers from stealing your domain. A registry lock can also help. It requires more communication if someone tries to change domain registration. This lets you know of suspicious activity and gives you some time to react.

It’s also important to know who is managing your domain name and how it is being managed. A Managed Service Provider can take care of this ongoing process for your business. Reach out to our Web experts today! Call us at 319-227-7000.

2019-12-02T13:42:54-06:00December 1st, 2019|Cloud Services, Email|0 Comments

Online Scheduling Solves Calendar Challenges

Online Scheduling Solves Calendar ChallengesOnline Scheduling

Setting up a meeting or training can be such a headache. You send an email or leave a voicemail with some suggested times, and the other participants respond with completely different times, often within the time window you identified as unavailable. Sigh! The possibilities go back and forth until finally at least a few of you agree.

The more people you want to get to the table (or an online meeting) the more layers of complexity: “Does this work for you?” “No, how about Tuesday?” “Sorry, Jim can’t meet then.” “Same time Wednesday?” “Mel and Jo are out then.” “AARGH!”

Well, setting up an agreed-upon calendar appointment doesn’t need to be that difficult any longer. Online scheduling lets people plan around availability easily.

Did you know that Americans hold an average of 11 million meetings daily?

Online scheduling tools let you send out a link to a calendar showing your availability. You can also allow customers to schedule directly from your website. The recipient has only to click into the calendar (link or online) and choose the time that suits them. You set it up so that all participants receive an email (or text) confirmation and reminder of the meeting.

Whether it’s a one-on-one or a group meeting, you have ownership of the scheduling process. Limit your availability easily. You can set the online scheduler to add extra time before or after meetings. Spending all your time in meetings? Reduce the number of meeting slots available on a given day. You can even prevent meetings called at short notice by setting a minimum preparation time, or set a buffer to avoid meetings in the first 15 or last 15 minutes of the day.

Another challenge online scheduling helps you avoid is managing time zones. These schedulers detect the invitees’ locations and display your availability accordingly. That’s one major cause for confusion removed!

Did you know that 11 a.m. is the most frequently meeting time?

Calendar Integration Helps Too

Remember when “I’ll have to check my calendar” referred to a physical pocket calendar? Now our calendars are on our devices, but we can’t handle having a hard-copy calendar, another on a phone, and another one on a desktop. We’re on the move and need to do scheduling whether we’re at our desks or not. Online scheduling tools integrate with many calendars.

Incorporating Google, Outlook, Office 365, or Apple iCloud calendars, the scheduler ensures you aren’t double-booking. Plus, integrations with online meeting platforms let you access meetings from your device. You can also connect to customer relationship management tools to see all the customer details you might need.

Many online scheduling tools even let you accept payments. This means you can have invitees register and pay through the same platform. Talk about removing registration barriers.

You can also integrate some online schedulers with Google Analytics. Yes, your calendar can keep track of booking activity and campaign conversions. This is so beyond looking to a calendar to check the date of a meeting. Now, you’re using an online scheduler to gain usable data.

The basic features of an online scheduler can be easy for any business to install. To take full advantage of the integrations, you’ll need help. We can make sure you get the most out of online calendars in conjunction with your other business tools.

Contact us at 319-227-7000 to customize your online scheduler. It’s easy to set up a meeting with us!

2019-10-25T14:04:02-05:00November 5th, 2019|Cloud Services, Productivity|0 Comments

Tech Tips for a Thriving Business

Tech Tips for a Thriving BusinessTech Tips for a Thriving Business

Maybe you started your business in a basement or home office. It was just you at the beginning. Then, your service or product gained traction. The number of staff grew, and you moved into an office. It’s amazing how far you’ve come. Better still, your business continues to grow. It may be time to consider some of these tech tips to help your thriving business.

#1 Upgrade to Business-Grade Cloud Services

Perhaps you’ve been relying on free software from Gmail, Outlook, or Dropbox. Who can argue with free email, calendars, collaboration and file storage right? Well, it may be time to upgrade to the business versions of the software your team relies upon.

Move from Gmail to Google Apps, or Outlook to Office 365, or Dropbox to Dropbox Business, or OneDrive to SharePoint. For a small monthly fee, you gain business-grade features.

Office 365 offers business email, video and voice conferencing, secure team messaging, shared calendars, 50GB cloud storage and document, spreadsheet and presentation creation. Plus, you gain greater security and administration controls. Right now, a disgruntled employee could refuse to give up control of a business account.

You’d be out of luck. With Office 365, your business would control all accounts and could simply reset the password.

Or SharePoint Online provides added storage space and user activity and sharing auditing. File version history makes recovery easier. A remote wipe feature protects files on a stolen device.

#2 Revise your backup strategy

A consumer grade backup setup was enough when you were only dealing with one computer. Now that you have many computers, it’s worth enhancing your backup strategy.

With 3-2-1 backup, your business has a minimum of three backups. Two would be onsite (but separate from one another) and the other offsite. We recommend the cloud. Having your backups in a unified location helps efficient recovery if disaster strikes. With cloud backup, your data is encrypted for storage in the cloud. You can set parameters for how often data is backed up and confirm that it is backing up correctly. Then, if something does go wrong, you can access essential data from anywhere, anytime via the cloud.

It’s also important to know that you need to backup your email, calendar, contacts, cloud based files, etc. Microsoft, Google and other providers are not responsible for your data.

#3 Consider Cloud-based Accounting Services

Traditional small business accounting software requires a large database on the desktop computer. As more people need access to the database, the problems start. With multiple people accessing the accounting software:

  • The network can slow when people try to access it remotely
  • Changes can’t be made while someone else is in database
  • Data can get mismatched depending on who has the “newest” version

Cloud-based accounting packages address these challenges. With online accounting software, it’s easy for your business to scale. Business owners can connect to the data from any device with an Internet connection. Plus, in the event of a disaster, productivity won’t suffer as the information is safe and secure on the cloud.

#4 Outsource your IT

Your expanding technology allows you and your staff to do more than ever before. Great. But it also takes extra resources to monitor, manage, and secure it all. By outsourcing IT to a local company, your business gains IT expertise. Meanwhile, your in-house team can focus its efforts on driving growth.

Outsourcing IT also provides long-term cost savings by reducing downtime, cutting infrastructure and staff costs, and improving security to avoid costly cyber-attacks.

Keep your business growth in check with an eye out for value-adding initiatives.

Want to know more about the benefits of any of these tech tips? Give us a call at 319-227-7000.

2019-05-27T01:55:12-05:00June 25th, 2019|Cloud Services, Managed Services|0 Comments

Check The Space Used in SharePoint Online

How to Check The Space Used in SharePoint OnlineCheck The Space Used in SharePoint Online

Have you wondered how to check space used in SharePoint Online? Here is how to do that.

  • Sign in to https://portal.office.com
  • Click the SharePoint icon
  • Click the Settings (gear) icon at the top right
  • Click Site settings
  • Click Storage Metrics under “Site Collection Administration”
  • Here you can see an overview of the SharePoint Online storage use

If you need assistance on how to Check The Space Used in SharePoint Online call us at 319-227-7000 or fill out our contact form.

2019-05-22T17:37:43-05:00May 22nd, 2019|Cloud Services|0 Comments

Check The Space Used in OneDrive

How to Check The Space Used in OneDriveCheck The Space Used in OneDrive

Have you wondered how to check space used in OneDrive? Here is how to do that.

  • Sign in to https://portal.office.com
  • Click the OneDrive icon
  • Click the Settings (gear) icon at the top right
  • Click OneDrive settings
  • Click More Settings on the left
  • Click Storage Metrics under “Features and storage”
  • Here you can see an overview of the OneDrive storage use

If you need assistance on how to Check The Space Used in OneDrive this call us at 319-227-7000 or fill out our contact form.

2019-05-22T17:29:55-05:00May 22nd, 2019|Cloud Services|0 Comments

3 Steps to Securing Cloud Data

3 Steps to Securing Cloud Datasecuring cloud data

Businesses are no longer confusing “the cloud” with those puffy white things in the sky. For many, the cloud is a backbone business tool. Yet, some worry about storing their data on the Internet using cloud technologies. Consider these 3 Steps to Securing Cloud Data.

#1 Encrypt Business Data

The cloud is a lucrative potential target for cyber-criminals. Many enterprises have turned to this technology. In North America nearly 60% of enterprises now rely on public cloud platforms. That’s a five-fold increase over five years, according to Forresters’ Cloud Computing 2019 Predictions.

Some cloud service providers will promise to encrypt your data in transmission. Take this precaution further by encrypting data before it’s sent to the cloud. Encrypting data turns it into another form of code. Only the person with the correct password can decrypt it. If you use a modern encryption standard, it will be extremely challenging for a hacker to break the code.

Plus, encrypting on your end first ensures the cloud storage provider only stores encrypted data. So, if their storage gets hacked, or one of their employees goes rogue, they aren’t able to read your business data. That is unless they have the decryption password. Make sure the password is strong. Don’t be one of those people still using “password” or “123456789”!

#2 Have a Backup

Many businesses store data on the cloud as a precaution to have redundancy. Yet, it’s a good idea to have another backup copy locally too. Just in case.

In some cases, businesses have migrated almost entirely to the cloud. All their software and files live on the cloud and they have no other copy. Don’t let this happen to you. We recommend the 3-2-1 backup strategy. This means, even for cloud-reliant businesses, having 3 copies of your data. One would be on the cloud. The other two (2) would be on different devices (e.g. on your local computer and on a backup drive).

#3 Know your Responsibilities

The cloud is a shared technology model. Partner with a cloud service provider with stringent security. At the same time, don’t count on the cloud provider to do everything. Clearly identify security roles and responsibilities. The Cloud Security Alliance reminds us that this can depend on the cloud model you’re using:

  • Software as a Service – The provider is largely responsible for security. After all, the user can only access the applications.
  • Platform as a Service – The cloud partner secures the platform. Your business must configure its own security for anything implemented on the platform. This includes securing the database, managing account access, and authentication methods.
  • Infrastructure as a Service- You’re responsible for everything built on the provider’s infrastructure. They will likely monitor their perimeter for attacks, but the rest is your job.

Cloud technology offers several advantages:

  • Enables IT to scale without investing in equipment, software, employee training, or taking up valuable office footprint
  • Offers peace of mind that data will always be available regardless of conditions at a particular business location
  • Provides up-to-date technology users can access from any device, anywhere, anytime – as long as they have an Internet connection

The cloud revolution has come. When you join the ranks of those migrating data to the cloud, do so with these safety suggestions in mind.

Need help securing your data? Whether you’re backing up locally or on the cloud, give us a call at 319-227-7000.

2019-04-26T17:49:28-05:00May 7th, 2019|Cloud Services, Security|0 Comments

Cloud Storage or Local Server – The Best of Both

Cloud Storage or Local Server – The Best of BothCloud Storage or Local Server

Cloud computing is the biggest buzzword in business today, and for good reason too. The cloud provides many a new-found freedom to do and achieve more than ever before. Greater collaboration, unlocking work possibilities in new locations and often reducing costs provides a healthy boost for many companies.

Every business is unique however, and cloud solutions don’t fit for every scenario. Connection issues, internet plans, or technical requirements can rule it out as an option in some instances. In these situations, we might install a Network Attached Storage (NAS) solution instead. Which is a very small server with lots of hard drives.

A NAS is particularly popular in small, mid-sized businesses, and even home environments. Due to their low power consumption, small footprint, and low cost, they often represent an ideal upgrade. Power users and businesses can enhance their networks and get more out of their systems by employing a NAS device to do the heavy lifting.

Reliable, Fast Access

When a property can’t achieve lightning fast internet speeds or services aren’t reliable enough to run a business on; a NAS solution is ideal for the job, serving files locally rather than from a remote server can save vast amounts on uploads and downloads.

Many of the benefits of the cloud can be created locally inside your home or office. Network storage allows you to save and retrieve files from multiple devices with fast local network speeds. Rather than being limited by the speeds offered by your ISP; you can complete file transfers, backups, and sharing at the speed of the hardware you purchase yourself.

A NAS gives you many advantages of the cloud with the level of control, speed, and accessibility of a local server. All this is achieved for a fraction of the cost and maintenance overhead typically associated with conventional servers.

One Device, Many Uses

NAS devices can act as a centralized backup location for active files and devices across the network. Using the device as a file store allows you to share projects easily, collaborate on files, and keep up-to-date copies while revisions change.

The device can be set up to allow redundancy across multiple hard drives. This means backed up data is never vulnerable to only a single hardware failure.

A fully redundant NAS is capable of handling a hard drive failure, or even removal, without interrupting your workflow. Simply replacing the affected hard drive with a new one will backup your files again and re-balance your device as if nothing had happened at all.

Lightweight File Access

Even retaining access to your files away from the office isn’t an ability exclusive to cloud services. NAS devices can be configured to provide secure access to files and folders on remote connections. Working remotely, using a NAS solution, can be done just as easily as if you were sat in the office.

Even when the rest of the office IT is shut-off and shut down, a NAS device can remain on and connected to the network, so access is never interrupted.

A NAS device can run 24/7 without issue. Their low power consumption makes it practical to leave the device powered on for regular backups and easy data access. Devices don’t require the heavy maintenance or large footprint of a bulky server. As a simple solution, a NAS device allows you to focus only on the data.

The Best of Both Worlds

A NAS provides high-speed file access and configuration of a local server and combines it with the low footprint and ease of use of a cloud service. Without relying on a bad ISP, weak connection, or power-hungry hardware, a NAS could be the solution that supercharges your business.

Find out if network storage is the right fit for your business. Call us today at 319-227-7000 to talk about the IT you need to meet your goals.

2019-03-25T13:12:21-05:00April 18th, 2019|Cloud Services|0 Comments

Is There A Safe Way to Use The Cloud?

Is There A Safe Way to Use The Cloud?

Cloud technology has grown to new heights in recent years. Ten years ago ‘the cloud’ was jargon almost nobody was aware of, today it is a phrase used almost daily in offices worldwide. More and more businesses today are taking advantage of the huge benefits cloud services have to offer.

The sudden and widespread adoption of this new technology has raised questions too. Some want to fully understand what the cloud is before committing their vital company data to it. Most want to find out what the cloud can do for them. Everyone wants to know, is it safe?

What Is The Cloud?

The Cloud is an abstract name for an engineering principle that allows you to store, retrieve, and work on your data without worrying about the specifics of precisely where or how it is kept. Storing your data on the cloud essentially means saving it on a server without worrying about the fine details.

Your data may be stored on a single computer, or distributed across multiple servers all around the world. Most often it’s stored across one or more data centers as close as possible to your physical location.

From the perspective of the end user, the big idea behind the cloud is that where data is stored ultimately doesn’t matter to you. Your cloud server takes care of retrieving your data as quickly and efficiently as possible.

With cloud technology, you are free to forget about the specifics and worry only about the bigger picture.

Safety In The Cloud

Many people are concerned by the idea of their confidential data being distributed worldwide. Often, people imagine small unguarded computers being responsible for vital company information. In a cloud setting, almost nothing could be further from the truth.

The reality is more like many hundreds, or thousands, of computers stacked up multiple stories in height. Data centers make storing and securing data their entire business, meaning they employ high-level cybersecurity and back it up with top of the line physical security too.

Today, digital assets are treated with security previously used only for cash, or precious metals such as silver and gold. Walled compounds, security gates, guards, and CCTV protect physical servers from unwanted access. Redundant power supplies even protect services against unplanned outages.

A modern data center is many times more secure than an office server in your own building. The difference could be compared to storing your cash in a highly secured bank vault versus a lock box on your desk.

State of the art digital security encrypts data, secures transmission, and monitors services for intrusion too.

Cloud Convenience

Storing data in the cloud means having easy access and very regular backups. Staff across the entire firm can work on documents at the same time, save files, and transfer documents without worrying about redundant copies and saving over previous versions.

The cloud acts, for your firm, as the ultimate productivity and security tool. Many firms haven’t known they needed it until they started using it.

User Security

The most significant threat to your cloud security comes from the users. Creating a weak password or reusing an old one to access your cloud services, opens up your data to easy access by hackers.

Falling for a phishing scam, or accidentally installing malicious software on your computer gives attackers the single opportunity they need to strike.

Attacking a fortified, secure data center is almost impossible. Attacking a user with common attacks and weak passwords is comparatively simple. These issues can be guarded against and prevented with staff training, awareness, and simple security tools. A simple password manager can guard against a large number of the biggest threats to your firm.

In today’s modern tech environment, the cloud is not only safe, it’s very likely the safest, most reliable, and most secure way to store your critical data.

We offer a variety of cloud services to help your business. Give us a now at call at 319-227-7000.

2019-03-01T13:25:41-06:00March 19th, 2019|Cloud Services|0 Comments