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What You Don’t Know Can’t Help You

I expect you have heard the old saying:

“What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” — Anonymous

In the cloud-y world of IT services and solutions, the lesson is better expressed as:

“What you don’t know, can’t help you!” — Allen Falcon

For a long time, small and midsize businesses (SMBs) moved to the cloud to replace existing services with more efficient, secure, and accessible cloud services. This was good for a while, but the landscape has and will continue to change. Now, when we talk to SMBs like yours about current IT services and the cloud, we talk about your business objectives and priorities. We talk about your growth opportunities, challenges to overcome, and how we can help you and your business succeed.

Today’s cloud services reflect your need for business results.

Cloud services, like Microsoft 365 Business, include a range of additional apps new to Office and, in most cases, unique to the cloud.  These apps give you access to value-add tools designed to help your business, such as:

  • Outlook Customer Manager: A simple contact manager and CRM tool that integrates with your existing inbox, calendar, and contacts
  • Bookings: An app that allows customers to easily self-schedule appointments from available time slots
  • Listings: A marketing app to build online pages and presence on Facebook, Google, and other platforms
  • MileIQ: Automated mileage tracking app for expense reports and/or tax filings
  • Connections: An easy-to-use app for simple email marketing tasks and campaigns
  • Flow: Automate processes, work flows, and approvals

These apps are joined by low-cost add-on services that let you to consolidate and simplify your IT environment — and save money.  For example, in Microsoft 365, adding PSTN conferencing gives you a standard telephone bridge for any Skype for Business or Teams conference call.  You can replace paid conferencing and web meeting services like WebEx, Zoom, and GoToMeeting with a tool that truly integrates with Outlook, your inbox, and your calendar.  At a cost of only $4 per user per month, and the ability to limit your purchase to users with a defined need, you can dramatically lower the cost of audio and video conferencing while providing a better experience for organizers and attendees.

Clearly, Microsoft 365 is not simply “Office in the Cloud.”  The value-add apps, low cost add-on services, and more than a half dozen additional security features in Microsoft 365 create a more robust ecosystem for productivity, efficiency, and growth.

The Challenge is Adoption.

Adding value only happens when your team is aware of, and knows how to use, the broad range of capabilities in services like Microsoft 365.  Getting your team from Point A to Point B, and then Point C, takes effort.

Here are some ideas to help you empower your team and enable your business:

  • Don’t Overwhelm:
    • Presenting too many capabilities, or too much training, all at once can overwhelm your team. Instead of understanding how they can do their jobs more efficiently, they may feel lost.
    • Not knowing where to start leads to paralysis.
  • Start with the Familiar:
    • Even the traditional Office applications (Word, Excel, etc.) have features that are unique to the Microsoft 365 versions and ecosystem.
    • Refresh your team’s knowledge of the apps they already use and know, adding these incremental productivity features into the mix.
  • Focus on Capabilities Specific to each Role:
    • Not every person needs every app or feature.
    • Focus on matching specific features, apps, and capabilities to the people on your team that will benefit the most.
    • Lessons and learning should be relevant to each team member’s job.
  • Provide Continuous Learning for Continuous Improvement:
    • Make learning an on-going activity that happens in small, manageable events.
    • 3 to 5 minutes per day, less than 20 minutes per week, can provide team members with ideas and insight they can put to immediate use.
  • Create a Culture of Learning:
    • Incent participation to set clear expectations and establish value for the learning process.
    • Monitor team member participation and progress.
    • Provide feedback and encouragement, particularly to the “leaders” and “laggers”.
    • Encourage team members to share their knowledge with peers.

Getting more value from your existing IT and cloud solutions starts when your team understands what is there for them, and how to use it to their advantage.  Improving adoption improves results, and need not be a major cost or time commitment.


Cumulus Global offers a self-paced, video learning system that tailors content to roles within your organization.  For more information, contact us for a brief call with one of our Cloud Advisors.


 

Newtons Cradle

Inertia: The Science of Business Continuity

Newtons CradleTo paraphrase Newton’s Laws of Motion (with credit to Galileo) …

Absent an unbalanced force, an object in motion will stay in motion and an object at rest will stay at rest.

While this holds true for objects in a friction-less environment, it holds true for our businesses as well. Our businesses are in motion, working each day to service our customers with rhythms and cycles throughout each day, week, month, and year.

Our business cycles continue, until we meet an unbalanced force.

Some forces we expect, like changes in the economy that occur over a period of weeks or months.  Others forces are event-driven, such as storms, cyber attacks, and key employee departures. The sudden nature of event-driven forces can catch us by surprise, cripple our businesses in the short-term, and disrupt our normal cycles for the long-term.

A Case in Point

A company here in the northeast manufactures and distributes a customized product that customers generally replace or re-order every 2 to 3 years.  80% of the firm’s business is repeat, creating a strong and stable business. The company was hit by ransomware twice in a 3 month period.  The first attack, scrambled their files and their servers, but left their financial system in place.  They lost a day’s worth of data.  The immediate recovery took 3 days; the full recovery took nearly two weeks.  After three days of cleaning systems and restoring data, the company’s systems were up and running. They then had to enter the initial day lost data and all of the business activity for the 3 days their systems were down.  They allocated 1/3 of everybody’s time to recover the data, reducing productivity by 33% and impacting their responsiveness to customers. To enter the 4 days of missing data took over 10 days with the team working part time.

Inertia Takes Hold

This initial event changed the cycles and motions of the company. Whenever dealing with any business activity during the outage and recovery periods, they need to double check to make sure the information entered was complete and correct. And since some activities, like shipping and invoices related to prior activities, they need to double-check these connections.  Long after the two week recovery period, productivity is still down as the company’s daily motion now includes double-checking information that they are not sure they can trust.

Lesson NOT Learned

With so much focus on getting the business back into its normal rhythm, and the additional cost involved, the company did not act on recommendations that could help prevent a future attack and better ensure their ability to recover should a future attack occur. Whether the second attack was a different attack or they had failed to fully clean their systems does not matter.  The second attack was not caught until after the company’s backup server was hit, rendering their backups useless.  The company lost three years of data.

Inertia Creates a New Cycle

To recover from this attack took more than balancing data entry and on-going business. It was not feasible to manually recreate three years of data. While entering about 6 months of data for the fiscal year, they settled for a solution that created new methods and rhythms with long-term effects. They recalled all of their paper records from storage into an expanded warehouse space.  When a customer calls to re-order product they ordered 2 or 3 years ago, they search and retrieve the physical paperwork so they can create the new order. Every returning customer creates a scramble to find the paperwork in short order. Actions required in an emergency become part of the new normal. Inertia.

What You Can Do

You can be prepared with solutions that balance external forces beyond your control.

  • An educated and aware workforce balances the human manipulation that enables cyber attacks
  • Advanced threat, DNS, and web protections balance the forces of cyber attacks hitting us daily.
  • A robust backup/recovery and continuity system balances the forceful impact of disruptive events, giving you the ability to be up and running in hours not days.

If the company in our case study had implemented the recommended solutions after the first attack, they second attack would have disrupted the business for less than half a day — and may not have happened at all. The investment in communication, prevention, and recovery, while not trivial, was minor compared to the short term recovery and long term impact on the business.

If you are not ready or willing to have your business’ inertia redirected by forces beyond your control, now is the time to act.


Contact us for a free, no obligation, Cloud Advisor Session to discuss your business recovery and continuity needs and plans.


 

Feb 16, 2018

Cumulus Global Sponsorship of Economic Forecast Forum Helps Area Businesses Adapt to Changing Economic Conditions

Click to RegisterSmall and midsize businesses in central Massachusetts face new challenges as new tax codes, low unemployment, changing regulations, shifting trade agreements, and inflationary risks impact the regional economy in unpredictable ways. The economy is changing and businesses need to adapt and transform to survive and grow.

Cumulus Global, an award-winning managed cloud service provider based in Westborough, MA, is proud to co-sponsor the Worcester Business Journal’s annual Economic Forecast Forum on February 16, 2018 at the Beechwood Hotel in Worcester, MA.

“With a sound understanding how national, regional, and local issues effect the business climate, area SMB’s are better prepared to thrive and grow,” stated Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global.

As a supporting sponsor, Cumulus Global is helping empower owners and leaders to make timely, effective decisions. Forum attendees will hear from Jeffrey C. Fuhrer, Executive Vice President & Senior Policy Advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, along with a panelist of area business and government leaders. Cumulus Global will be on hand to discuss the changing role of technology how businesses can draw more value from existing IT systems and new cloud services.

News from Cumulus Global

SMBs Benefit from Tech and Policy Mashup

Westborough, MA – Faced with increasing regulations and a changing technology landscape, small and midsize businesses (SMBs) struggle to ensure compliance and maintain data privacy. With the sophistication of rasonmware attacks and advanced persistent threats, employee awareness and behavior is more important than ever. Cloud technology makes it easier to share, even when sharing is not appropriate.

To help SMBs tackle these challenges, Cumulus Global (www.cumulusglobal.com) and Privacy Ref (www.privacyref.com) announced a unique partnership designed to help SMBs assess their needs and risks, plan and implement sound privacy practices, and respond to threats and potential breaches.

“Smaller businesses face the same regulations and requirements of large corporations,” noted Bob Siegel, Founder and President of Privacy Ref. “SMBs generally do not have the internal resources and expertise to create and manage a privacy program. This partnership gives SMBs a place to turn for guidance, expertise, and results.”

In addition to privacy assessments and policy updates, the Privacy Education Programs provides SMBs with the awareness education and training needed to ensure employees understand the risks and their role in preventing attacks and breaches.

“Our role is to ensure businesses can avoid and prevent malware attacks and data breaches,” noted Allen Falcon, CEO and Pragmatic Evangelist at Cumulus Global. “We ensure that the protecting technology, policies and procedures, and people are working together for the greatest level of protection.”

Through the partnership, SMBs also gain access to a range of data protection and recovery services and tools. These tools help prevent attacks and breaches and facilitate response and recovery if needed.

Cloud Strategy

Cloud Computing Still Needs a Grand Strategy

In a recent post on Forbes, columnist Joe McKendrick discusses a Cisco-sponsored IDC survey results showing a lack of coordinated cloud strategies among large enterprises.  Nearly half, or 47%, describe their cloud strategies as “opportunistic” or “ad hoc”. The 14% or respondents claiming managed, optimized cloud strategies, report substantial and tangible business benefits. These successes come from how applications are built and deployed, a strategy that does not always work for small and midsize businesses (SMBs).

SMB Cloud is Different

Cloud StrategyWhereas most enterprise cloud strategies focus on building new line of business applications and rebuilding existing systems for the cloud, most small and midsize businesses are not building or customizing their own applications. When SMBs do use custom applications, they typically rely on outside firms for development and support. When SMBs move to the cloud, they normally start with “infrastructure” services like email and file services. Existing business applications are often replaced by SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) cloud solutions — either from the current vendor or as a replacement.

SMB Cloud Forward Strategy

Without a strategy, you can end up struggle to get all of the pieces of your IT in the cloud connected to each other and/or your on-premise systems. For you, as an SMB decision maker, a sound strategy will:

  • Identify your business goals and objectives
  • Use these goals and objectives to define and prioritize your near-term and long-term technology needs
  • Create an architecture that defines the pieces — platforms, applications, and data — and how the pieces fit together
  • Drive your decision to go Google Apps, Microsoft Office 365, and/or another cloud platform or ecosystem

Creating your cloud strategy requires some thought and effort, but need not be a lengthy or overwhelming task. Starting with your business priorities and answering a few key questions gets you most of the way there. Once in place, your Cloud Strategy will guide your product selections as well as the order and timing of your deployments.


Interested in creating or updating your Cloud Strategy? Contact us for a Cloud Advisor session — for free and without obligation, or complete our Productivity Cloud Questionnaire for a free assessment and recommendation report.


 

3 IT Shifts for Small Business: Mobile-Social

Shifter
The nature of computing and how it’s used by business is changing – rapidly.  You have heard the buzzwords … mobile, social, cloud, big data, analytics, and others.  You probably have thought about your own business and thought the these changes are just for the enterprise.

Three major shifts in technology, however, can and will impact your organization:  Data; Cloud; and Mobile-Social.

Shift 3: Mobile-Social

Why do we combine Mobile and Social? Social would not exist without Mobile.  Before the mobile revolution, social was limited to “Other who viewed this also viewed …” cues like those on Amazon.com. Social works because it is quick, easy, convenient, and immediate.

And while mobile technology lets us stay connected to the office and provides us access to information, the real transformation with mobile and social technologies is engagement.

Engagement, driven by mobile and social technologies, lets you build trust and establish value. And, if done properly, lets you build trust and value in a secure manner.

Mobile-Social lets you expand the nature of your engagement. You can easily move beyond 1:1 conversations with your customers. The #hashtag and the @mention let you “listen in” on the conversations you customers are having with their friends, and can give you the opportunity to join the conversation.

While there are examples of social media posts going viral and shaming companies into better behavior. The real opportunity lies with this type of communication:

“We saw you post about X. We were not aware of this issue and will fix it quickly. A customer rep will call you shortly to assist you directly.”

And via communications like this:

“Thank you for mentioning your great experience with our service. We are sending you a small token or our appreciation for your business and support.”

Most small business, like yours and ours, could never afford the infrastructure necessary to facilitate, monitor, and act on social media interactions.  Cloud-based services, however, have the horsepower and economy of scale to enable us to leverage social-mobile technologies. And, make it possible to integrate our social-mobile applications with our operational and line of business systems.

 

3 IT Shifts for Small Business: Cloud

Shifter
The nature of computing and how it’s used by business is changing – rapidly.  You have heard the buzzwords … mobile, social, cloud, big data, analytics, and others.  You probably have thought about your own business and thought the these changes are just for the enterprise.

Three major shifts in technology, however, can and will impact your organization:  Data; Cloud; and Mobile-Social.

Shift 2: Cloud

Not everything labeled “cloud” is actually “cloud computing”.  For our purposes, that’s okay.  Whether meeting the strict definition of cloud computing or a hosted service, the cloud is transformational.

Virtualization, one of the underlying mechanisms of building cloud services, is the entry point for most businesses doing it themselves.  Virtualization, however, is only the baseline.

The real power of the cloud is that IT and business processes transform into digital services.

Filing an auto insurance claim, for example, used to be a time-consuming process with paper forms, phone calls, visits to repair shops, and meeting with adjusters.  Today, filing a claim is digital service available to the policy holder by mobile app that instantly puts the information in the hands of the broker, adjuster, and back-office.

Cloud technology has the power to transform business models. Small businesses are less limited by geography than any other time in human history. Scalable, affordable resources empower companies to experiment and development without prohibitive capital investment. The pace of innovation accelerates and time to market drops.

While some small businesses may deliver cloud-based solutions to customers, for your business, the impact on the customer may be indirect. Better relationship management and systems enhance the way we sell. Better support systems scale with our customer base, enable self-help, and improve communications. Even simple abilities, like secure calendar sharing, make it easier for your customers to make appointments to speak with you and your team.

The cloud makes it easier for us to select specific applications and services. And we can integrate these applications and services into a single computing ecosystem without huge investments in middleware, custom programming, and infrastructure.

Where you start with the cloud depends on how you want your business to evolve. We recommend beginning with a platform that enables communications and collaborations, and can serve as the integration point for CRM, ERP, and other applications, as well as line of business systems.

3 IT Shifts for Small Business: Data

Shifter
The nature of computing and how it’s used by business is changing – rapidly.  You have heard the buzzwords … mobile, social, cloud, big data, analytics, and others.  You probably have thought about your own business and thought the these changes are just for the enterprise.

Three major shifts in technology, however, can and will impact your organization:  Data; Cloud; and Mobile/Social.

Shift 1: Data

In every wave of computing since the 1970’s, the evolution has focused on helping organizations make processes faster and cheaper.  Our current wave is about data.

The process for handling an insurance claim has been optimized for over 40 years.  Today, it’s about the data. How does the customer file a claim?  By phone? By filling out an online form? By sending pictures? Is it on the web? Is there an app for that?

The data shift recognizes that data is the new natural resource. The accident report isn’t just about paying a claim, it’s about assessing risk, finding patterns, and measuring outcomes. The focus is on data collection, analysis, and presentation.

If the data is available in a usable format, the processes remain efficient and even improve.

For some small businesses, the data revolution may mean investing in big data and analytic tools.  For others, CRM and ERP systems provide a starting point.  For most, however, the data revolution begins with access to data.  It sounds simple. But …

Can you team find the documents and information they need, easily and quickly?  Do they have access from anywhere they may be working, from any device, at anytime?

Do you route documents as email attachments, or provide access? Do you manage roles – owner, editor, reviewer, etc?

Can your team work together in person or remotely, in real-time or as convenient? Do file systems become a mess of document names and versions? How easy is it for your team to collaborate with vendors or customers?

Traditional, in-house file servers prevent the data shift. Ubiquitous access does not exist, permission settings are complex, and files sit in a separate silo than your communication tools.

Businesses like yours are moving to cloud storage and broader cloud platforms for the data shift. Case in point: Google Apps for Work.

Google Apps for Work provides a platform that gives small businesses the ability to shift to a data-centric way of working.

  • Your team collaborates by working on a single version of the document, in real-time or as convenient. Changes are tracked; revisions are managed.
  • People share documents by sending access links, not attachments. Your staff need not waste time figuring out where they saved the latest version, and if their latest version is the latest version.
  • When looking for information, a search in Gmail can also list relevant Drive and Sites content.
  • Storage is cheap, and optionally unlimited.
  • Conference calls become face-to-face meetings, via Hangouts.  People collaborate, can see how others respond, and can share screens and documents without complex meeting software.

Moving to Google Apps is not a decision about whether or not to stop using MS Office (you can save/edit MS Office files with Drive). Moving to Google Apps is about whether or not you want your business to thrive in a data-driven world.

 

5 Security Threats SMBs Should Not Overlook: Malicious Web Sites

Security Puzzle
As more services move into the cloud, users bring their own apps to their work environment, and we see more integration and interconnect between systems, the nature security risks and threats are changing.  

This blog series looks at some of these threats, why the should be of concern to SMBs, and how SMBs can mitigate the risks.


Many small and mid-size business owners look past security threats in the belief that their businesses do not have trade secrets or other information coveted by hackers.  This view is naive.  Small businesses are ripe for attack because they often have personal, credit, or medical information about their customers and their employees.

Your business may at risk even if you are not a deliberate target. Hackers and thieves cast wide nets to capture personal information for identity theft. For identity theft, your business IT is no different than home computers.

Many businesses respond that they have security in place.  A well managed firewall, a big name malware suite that updates periodically, and spam/virus protection for their email service.

Unfortunately, users are 20 times more likely to suffer a malware attack from a corrupted web site or a phishing attempt then through the “traditional” means of email and file transfers. While traditional malware tools may catch these types of attacks, web-based malware often behaves more like acceptable code.  The recent outbreak of “crypto locker” malware, which encrypts your data and holds it for ransom, is an example of just how ineffective traditional malware prevention alone can be.

The overlooked solution to closing the web-enabled malware threat is known and simple: web filtering.  Web filters not only track sites known to be risky, insecure, or containing malware, they analyze web traffic and behavior in real-time, identifying sites that may be compromised, including those hacked without the site owner’s knowledge.

For most SMBs, adding web filtering to the ecosystem is an affordable increase in IT spending, typically less than $3.00 per employee per month.   Given that a single malware event can take 20 to 60 hours to mitigate at a cost of thousands of dollars, web filtering is a value-add component for most IT ecosystems.


Cumulus Global can assist in selecting a web filtering solution for your business.  Please contact us, or complete the form below, for more information.

Cumulus Global Becomes a Google Apps Premier SMB Reseller

Premier SMB ResellerCumulus Global is now a Premier SMB Reseller for the Google Apps™ suite of communication and collaboration tools.  This new designation from Google enables customers to more easily assess a reseller’s expertise advising on, deploying, and supporting Google products.  Google moved Cumulus Global from an Authorized to a Premier Reseller based on the company’s expertise and success in helping small and mid-size customers deploy and use Google Apps.

“We are honored by Google’s recognition of our successful partnership”, stated Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global.  “We look forward to continuing to serve the needs of small and mid-size businesses, non-profits, schools, and governments.”

Beyond reselling Google Apps for Business, Education, and Government, Cumulus Global offers a range of packaged and custom deployment, migration, education, and support services.  Focusing on organizations with 1 to 1,000 users, Cumulus Global partners with customers to define and create solutions with respect to their unique technology, support, change management, and budgetary needs.  Cumulus Global packages and integrates Google Apps with internal systems and third party applications to provide complete solutions that meet its customers’ business needs and budgets.

”Participation in the Google Apps Reseller Program is a centerpiece of our evolution as a cloud solutions provider,” added Falcon.  “As a Google Apps Premier SMB Reseller, organizations interested in moving to the cloud will be better able to differentiate the skills and experience we will bring to the engagement.”

About the Google Apps Reseller Program
The Google Apps Reseller program includes companies globally that sell, service and customize Google Apps for Business for their customers. As a member of the Google Apps Reseller Program, Cumulus Global leverages training, support, and tools from Google to best serve the needs of its customers. Companies can learn more about Premier Reseller eligibility criteria and benefits by visiting the Google Reseller Program website at http://www.google.com/enterprise/resellers.

About Google Apps
Google Apps brings simple, powerful communication and collaboration tools to organizations of any size – all hosted by Google to streamline setup, minimize maintenance, and reduce IT costs.  With Gmail (including Google email security, powered by Postini), Google Calendar, and integrated Instant Messaging, users can stay connected and work together with ease. And, using Google Docs and Google Sites, which include word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and website creation tools, they can share files and collaborate in real-time, keeping versions organized and available wherever and whenever users work.

About Cumulus Global
Cumulus Global (http://www.cumulusglobal.com), formerly Horizon Info Services, is a Google Apps Authorized Reseller helping small and mid-size businesses, non-profits, governments, and educational institutions thrive by delivering cloud computing solutions.  Serving clients from 1 to more than 1,000 employees across numerous industries, we align technology with our clients’ goals, objectives, and bottom lines. We leverage our expertise, vendor relationships, and a diversified range of best-of-breed cloud services to create custom solutions with tangible value.