Google Workspace: The Marvelous, the Meh, and the Money

Last week, Google made one of the biggest announcements in the 12 year history of its business productivity suite history.  G Suite is now Google Workspace. More than a name and branding change, Google Workspace represents a wholesale realignment of the productivity suite. Offering Business and Enterprise product tiers, each with multiple licensing and package options, Google Workspace is structured to match the way businesses are running today, and expect to run in the future.

With any major change, the opportunity and the impact of Google Workspace varies by business.  As we focus on small and mid-size enterprises, in this post we take a look at the Marvelous, the Meh, and the Money of Google Workspace Business editions.

The Marvelous

Google Workspace Business editions align well with the features and capabilities used by businesses with 300 or fewer employees.

  • Business Starter: This edition is a continuation of the former G Suite Basic service.   Users have 30GB of email, document, and photo storage, up to 100 participants per meeting in Google Meet, support for single sign-on, and basic device management, reports, and audit logs.
  • Business StandardThis edition increases storage to 2TB per user, allows up to 150 participants in Google Meets, and adds Shared Drives with advanced permissions, approvals, and metadata.  Business Standard also includes internal Cloud Search, advanced Drive auditing and reports, and the ability to record meetings and save them to Drive.
  • Business PremiumThe Business Premium edition is the most similar to the current G Suite Business subscription with 5TB of email, file, and photo storage per user, Shared Drives, and Vault for email and IM eDiscovery and Archiving. Users can include up to 250 participants in Google Meets. This edition also includes secure LDAP services and a set of advanced endpoint management services.

With this realignment, you can now mix licenses within your domain.  Doing so lets you optimize capabilities and costs to the needs of individual users and teams.

Google is focusing on the collaboration and work environment support most businesses need. The ability to manage document approvals and create custom metadata labels and fields in the Standard and Premium subscriptions are the types of features we expect businesses to use to improve collaboration, work flows, and efficiencies.

The Meh

For organizations currently on G Suite Business, moving to Workplace Business Standard and Premium Editions means losing unlimited storage.  While the vast majority of small and midsize businesses do not need more than 2TB or 5TB of storage, respectively, some businesses may need to move up to the Enterprise tier.

Most of our customers on G Suite Business need Vault archiving for regulatory compliance or to comply with and manage internal policies.  These organizations will need to move to Business Premium or will need Business Standard with Vault as an add-on.

As with most changes, customers will have decisions to make about when to move to the new subscriptions. While you can choose to move to a Google Workspace subscription at any time, the current G Suite subscriptions will only remain available through March 2021.

  • If you are on the monthly flex plan, you can continue to use your current G Suite service until the end of March 2021.  You will need to select and move to a Google Workspace subscription before March 31, 2021.
  • If you are on an annual plan and your renewal date is before March 31, 2021, you can either renew your current service for 1 year or switch to a Google Workspace subscription.
  • If you are on an annual plan and your renewal date is after March 31, 2021, you will need to move to a Google Workspace subscription upon renewal.

The Money

While moving from G Suite Basic to Workspace Business Starter does not impact your costs, moving from G Suite Business to Workspace Business Starter and Premium Editions will increase costs for most G Suite Business subscribers.

For G Suite Basic subscribers, your cost of $6/user per month ($72/year) remains the same with Workspace Business Starter.

For G Suite Business subscribers, your cost of $12/user per month ($144/year) may change as follows:

    • Change to Workspace Business Standard at $12/user per month ($144/year) PLUS the cost of Vault for users requiring Archive/eDiscovery coverage
    • Change to Workspace Business Premium at $18/user per month ($216/year) for complete Vault coverage and the additional features
    • Remain at $12/user per month ($144/year) if you no longer need or want Vault coverage

In April 2019, Google changed and increased pricing for G Suite Basic and Business editions.  To mitigate the financial impact, Google authorized promotional discounts for upgrades and for renewals extended term commitments. For many businesses that took advantage of these upgrades, you saw a modest price increase in 2019, an expected step to standard G Suite pricing in 2020, and may not face another increase in 2021. We are sensitive to the budget impact and are offering options to avoid or mitigate the additional costs.

Your Next Step:

Your best next step is to contact us and schedule a Cloud Advsior session. We will review your current subscription and usage, discuss your options and costs, and recommend a preferred solution that best fits your business’ needs, priorities, and budgets.  For most, the choice will be which Google Workspace subscription is best. For some, particularly those still using MS Office desktop applications, switching platforms to Microsoft 365 may provide a better alternative.  Our team is here to listen, understand, guide, and execute. Let our expertise inform your decisions and support your actions and goals.

9 Cyber Security Tips

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, cyber threats and ransomware attacks have accelerated, exceeding 30,000 attacks per day in the US. Cybersecurity measures have never been more important. The move to remote working environments as well as the vulnerability of global economies in crisis has created an open-season for cybercriminals. No business—big or small—is safe.

Small and medium businesses (SMBs) seemingly have a target on their backs, so strengthening your security posture is essential right now. The good news: There are ways to protect your business against ransomware attacks.

Here are nine tips you that boost your business’ resilience to cyber attacks:

Communicate & Educate

1. Conduct a security risk assessment. Understand potential security threats (e.g., downtime from ransomware) and the impact they may have on your business (lost revenue). Use this information to shape a security strategy that meets your specific needs.

2. Create straightforward cybersecurity policies. Write and distribute a clear set of rules and instructions on cybersecurity practices for employees. This will vary from business to business but may include policies on social media use, bring your own device, authentication requirements, etc.

3. Train your employees. Because cybersecurity threats are constantly evolving, an ongoing training plan should be implemented for all employees. This should include examples of threats, as well as instruction on security best practices, and periodic testing.

Prevent & Protect

4. Protect your network and devices. Implement a password policy that requires strong passwords and monitor your employee accounts for breach intel through dark web monitoring. Deploy firewall, VPN, and next-gen antivirus technologies with advanced threat protection. Ensure your network and endpoints are not vulnerable to attacks. Implement mandatory multi-factor authentication. Ongoing network monitoring is essential, as is encrypting hard drives.

5. Keep software up to date. Be vigilant about patch management. Cyber criminals exploit software vulnerabilities using a variety of tactics to gain access to computers and data. Your IT provider should automate this for your businesses with a remote monitoring and management. Keep your mobile phones up to date as well.

6. Back up your data. Daily (or more frequent) backups are a requirement to recover from data corruption or loss resulting from security breaches. Consider using a data protection tools that take incremental backups of data periodically throughout the day to prevent data loss. Remember that you need to protect your data in the cloud as well as you protect your data on local servers and workstations.

7. Know where your data resides. The more places data exists, the more likely it is that unauthorized individuals will be able to access it. Use data discovery tools to find and appropriately secure data along with business-class Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications that allow for corporate control of data. Eliminate redundant and “Shadow IT” services.

8. Control access to computers. Use key cards or similar security measures to control access to facilities. Ensure that employees use strong passwords for laptops and desktops. Give administrative privileges only to trusted staff as needed.

Respond & Recover

9. Enable uptime. Choose a powerful data protection solution that enables “instant recovery” of data and applications. In fact, 92% of managed IT service providers report that companies with business continuity disaster recovery (BCDR) products in place are less likely to experience significant downtime from ransomware and are back up and running quickly. Application downtime can significantly impact a business’ ability to generate revenue. Can your business afford downtime costs that are 23X greater (up by 200% year-over-year) than the average ransom requested in 2019?

The best defense is a good offense. A robust, multi-layered cybersecurity strategy can save your business. Contact us to learn more and for a free Cyber Security Assessment.

COVID-19 Survey: Revenue Losses and Diminishing Cash Reserves

In a national survey of more than 2400 businesses conducted and published by American City Business Journals finds that small and midsize businesses are seeing severe impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Impacts: Profits, Revenue, Cash, and Survivability

About 69% of respondents have seen revenue decline since the major onset of COVID-19 in March 2020.  Of those seeing revenue decline, close to half see revenue falling by 50% or more year over year.

Additionally, 47% indicate that they have not been profitable and nearly one third report being cash flow negative over the first six months of the pandemic. About 70% of those losing money are losing more than $10,000 per month and 64% will run out of funds within the five months.

About 40% of respondents raised cash through loans or equity investments since March 1, with 91% of these businesses receiving loans from a federal stimulus program, such as the Paycheck Protection Program. These funds were predominantly used to cover payroll and operating expenses as opposed to funding investment or growth.

Change in Focus

With the stark financial impacts, most smaller businesses are changing their focus. Rather than looking forward one to three years, most SMBs are focuses on the current and next quarter. The shift from strategic to tactical is a direct response to the many unknowns of the pandemic, the near-term economy, business sector and market impacts, and government recovery and stimulus plans.

The near-term focus makes sense as we look to minimize costs, conserve cash, and ensure profits and our sustainability.

Where IT Services Can Help

Leveraging the right IT services can help you prepare and react to changes as you navigate the on-going unknowns.  Here are 5 ideas to consider.

Audit your IT services for redundant services.
  • Most businesses find they are paying for multiple services with redundant or overlapping capabilities.
  • In many instances, we see businesses paying for third party services that are available for no additional cost in their productivity suites.
  • Eliminating duplication will require some change of habits, but can dramatically reduce on-going IT costs.
Audit your communication tools.
  • Are you paying for, and not using your available communication tools?
  • Chat, video, and collaboration tools are standard in Microsoft 365 and G Suite, and can reduce or eliminate the need for expensive voice, teleconference, video conference, and online meeting solutions.
  • A modest investment in training/education can help minimize communication costs.
Replace file servers with file services.
  • Most businesses using Microsoft 365 or G Suite are storing files in these systems; these same businesses still run on-premise or hosted file servers.
  • OneDrive, SharePoint, My Drive, and Shared Drives make it easy to save, share, and manage files.  The OneDrive and Drive File Stream clients connect your end user applications to your cloud file services.
  • Moving files from servers to cloud services eliminates the need for physical services, monthly MSP monitoring fees, backup/recovery costs, anti-virus costs, and more.
  • If your staff need to access your on-premise services remotely, you may also be able to reduce or eliminate expenses related to VPN and other remote access services.
  • While you will still want and need to protect cloud-resident files, your cost to store, share, and manage files will be lower.
Move applications and systems from on-premise to cloud
  • You can lower you monthly operating costs and give you the ability to scale your resources and costs up and down as needed on a monthly basis.
  • Make it easier to reduce your physical footprint for potential savings on rent and utilities.
  • Scale your services up and down as needed to avoid unnecessary costs and capital expenditures.
Execute a service and data governance strategy
  • Scale services up and down as needed to manage costs
  • Ensure data is secure, managed, and protected
  • Leverage data archiving services to minimize active account costs

To explore your options and best next moves, contact us for a complimentary Cloud Advisor session.


 

Cumulus Global Goes Green with Renewable Energy Commitment

October 1, 2020 (Westborough, MA). Cumulus Global announces today that the company is now using renewable energy for 100% of its internal electricity needs. This change is part of the company’s on-going sustainability efforts. Cumulus Global switched to electricity producers using only renewable sources, directly and via Massachusetts Level 1 Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). The company participates in a Community Electricity Aggregation Program, known as Westborough Power Choice, that negotiates electric rates based on consumption across all residential and commercial users. With highly competitive rates, moving to 100% renewable energy does not materially impact cost.

“We are proud to continue our efforts to reduce our carbon footprint and lower the impact of our business on the environment and climate,” stated Cumulus Global CEO, Allen Falcon. “This change demonstrates that small businesses can make changes for the better that also help their bottom line.”

Moving to 100% renewable energy is one part of the company’s sustainability efforts. The company has modified workflows to reduce paper. Employees participate in an active recycling program.  And, the company tracks the sustainability efforts of its key vendors and partners.

“Google and Microsoft have been carbon neutral since 2007 and 2012, respectively, and continue to pursue aggressive sustainability goals,” notes Falcon. “We partner with vendors that plan and act to protect the environment.”

The efficiency of cloud computing shifts the use of energy from computers, networking equipment, and HVAC systems in your business, to cloud data centers designed for efficiency.  Leveraging cloud computing helps small and midsize businesses reduce their carbon footprint while enabling their businesses to thrive and grow.

For more information about Cumulus Global and the company’s sustainability efforts, please contact us at info@cumulusglobal.com.

 

About Cumulus Global

Our core belief is that IT should clearly help you achieve your business goals and objectives. Cumulus Global successfully helps small and midsize businesses get more value from existing IT and new cloud computing services. By first understanding your business, we design and deploy secure, cloud forward solutions that empower your team and create a competitive advantage. We partner with Microsoft, Google, and dozens of vendors to match you with the right technologies. We stay with you for the long haul, supporting your team and keeping your IT systems in sync with your changing business needs and priorities.

G Suite Enterprise for Education

G Suite EDU Savings and Meet Enhancements

G Suite Enterprise for EducationG Suite Enterprise for Education Savings

As schools and districts continue to rely heavily on Google Meets, Classroom, and other services that facilitate remote and hybrid learning, Google is extending its 50% discount for full domain upgrades to G Suite Enterprise for Education through October 31, 2020.  Student licenses will remain free provided the ratio of student to faculty/staff licensing is 10:1 or less.

Click here for more information and to request a quote.

Rapid Enhancement of Google Meets

Responding to feedback from educators and competitive pressures, Google is accelerating the rollout of features for Google Meet. As announced at Google’s recent The Anywhere School 2020 event, Google Meets will see the addition of the following features, some of which (as noted) will only be available in G Suite Enterprise for Education.

September
  • Moderator Controls: Teachers will be able to end meetings for all participants once class ends, better manage join requests, disable in-meeting chats, require the teacher to join before students can enter the meeting, and prohibit participants from joining after being ejected or denied entry twice.
  • Larger Title Views: Support for up to a 7×7 grid will let up to 49 students be seen at once
October
  • Breakout Rooms: G Suite Enterprise for Education teacher accounts will be able to split classes into smaller group discussions.
  • Custom Background Support: Students and teachers will be able to blur or replace backgrounds to prevent distractions and keep things consistent for all students.
  • Attendance Tracking: G Suite Enterprise for Education teacher accounts will be able to see and track which students attended virtual class.
“Later this year”
  • Temporary Recordings: This will be available to all Education customers as opposed to the premium recordings only available to G Suite Enterprise for Education, allows teachers to record meetings and share the recording within their district for up to 30 days before the recording expires and is deleted.
  • Hand-Raising System
  • Q&A Features (limited to G Suite Enterprise for Education)
  • Polling : To Engage students (limited to G Suite Enterprise for Education)

 

Work Life Post COVID-19 Will be Different

As reported by the Boston Business Journal, a recent survey conducted by the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, with help form several regional business groups, found that businesses are projecting that 47% of employees will continue to work completely or partially from home post-Covid. If this is the case, the number of remote workers will jump 2 1/2 times from the pre-Covid rate of 18%.

While this survey’s focus was looking at the potential impact on the commercial real estate market in the metro Boston area, we can expect these results to be somewhat similar for metropolitan areas across the country.

A significant, permanent shift in the percentage of remote workers will impact how businesses operate.

To adapt, you will want to eliminate issues that are “inconveniences” when temporary, but should not be allowed to hurt productivity or efficiency in the long term. Some of the changes we have seen and helped businesses deploy include:

  • Changing your infrastructure (and using cloud services) to provide users with secure, direct access to applications and files, eliminating the need for remote desktop or VPN connections to on-premise networks and systems
  • Expanding your use of social communication tools, like Google Chat and Microsoft Teams, to enable the casual and incidental conversations that occur in office
  • Incrementally automating common tasks and work flows to simplify and monitor processes
  • Giving your staff the ability to manage inbound and outbound calls through the company’s voice service, ensuring
    • Call flows, through ACD and IVR menus, work properly
    • Team members can transfer calls to others
    • Staff do not need to use personal phone numbers and voicemail
  • Ensuring your calling groups, like those for help desks, function well regardless of a person’s location
  • Updating threat protections for users, data, and applications outside your physical offices.
  • Selecting video conferencing services that are secure and that provide your team with useful features and controls, such as:
    • Controlled and secure access
    • Ability to share desktops, windows, and browser tabs
    • Privacy tools, such as alternate backgrounds
    • Captioning and transcription capture

As many of these improvements can be accomplished with the tools and systems you already have in place, the cost to ensure productivity is manageable.


Complete this form for a free, no-obligation assessment, or contact us to schedule an introductory call with one of our Cloud Advisors.

Remote Learning + (Privacy x Access) = New IT Needs

While schools, teachers, and families want schools to safely re-open, the reality is that in most areas of the country, remote learning will be part of the plan this coming school year.  In addition to ensuring student access and adapting teaching methods, the move to remote learning creates new communication and privacy issues.  Working with schools and districts across the US, we see new requirements for voice services, such as:

Full Access

  • Even schools with Voice over IP phone systems may not have a way for staff to receive and make calls remotely.  More than forwarding an extension to a home or cell phone, staff should be able to answer, transfer, and initiate calls.  Additionally, unanswered calls should go to the school, not personal, voice mailbox.

Hotline / Service Desk

  • With staff working remotely, provide the ability for managed call groups with either “ring many” or “round robin” features to ensure staff are able to answer student calls quickly.
  • In addition to IT help lines, these service desks can help librarians assist student with research, enable counselors provide better coverage, and ensure calls to administrative offices are answered or routed when staff are working remotely.

Privacy for Personal Phone Numbers

  • Not all staff have school phone numbers that they can use to call, and receive calls, when out of the office.
  • Special education teachers, aids, liaisons, and coordinators, and other staff that need to communicate one-on-one with families, should not have to make calls from, or disclose, their personal home or cell phone numbers.

Cloud VoIP solutions can augment and fill gaps in your current phone services so you can fully support remote teachers, staff, and learners.

With cloud VoIP services, we can easily tailor incremental and point-solutions to your needs while managing per-user and total costs.  Capabilities include:

  • Individual direct dial numbers or extensions
  • Soft phone apps for mobile devices, laptops, and desktops, providing:
    • Ability to make and receive calls on any device without disclosing personal phone numbers
    • Access to all phone service features
    • Access to system voicemail services
  • Single or multi-level call direction menus
  • Service Desk / Agent Pools that provide:
    • Ring many, round-robin, or prioritized inbound call assignment
    • Ability to mark self available or unavailable
    • After-call work period before receiving next call to allow for documentation/transition

Depending on the features and functionality you need, we can deploy native Microsoft and Google voice services or bring in third party services designed to work with G Suite for Education and Microsoft 365.

Please contact us to discuss your needs and explore your options.

Remote Workers Need Voice Services

As remote work becomes a longer-term consideration, we have spent time and money to make sure that our teams can work from home.  Computers, WiFi upgrades, remote desktops, and new cloud services have been parts of the solution. Often forgotten are voice services.  Employees that normally work in the office may not be set up to effectively use your phone system from home.  For some businesses …

  • Employees answering general lines are unable to forward calls to other employees, requiring callers to hang up and redial or the disclosure of personal cell and home phone numbers.
  • Members of hotlines, service desks, and other managed groups cannot receive live calls, forcing them to constantly check and respond to voice messages and dramatically increasing the effort to coordinate activities.
  • Individuals are forwarding business lines to home or mobile phones, mixing business and personal voicemails and calls.

A robust voice service can dramatically improve remote worker productivity.

By moving to a cloud Voice over IP (VoIP) service, or augmenting your current phone services, you can ensure your business communications run smoothly.

  • Robust desktop apps allow receptionists and administrative staff to answer, transfer, and route calls.
  • “Soft Phone” mobile apps allow staff to send and receive calls from personal devices without using or disclosing personal contact information.
  • All voice messages remain within the system, ensuring data privacy.
  • Managed calling groups function properly, maintaining routing, sequencing, and time management features.
  • Employees have access to conference calls, and optionally video call and secure chat services.

In addition, many cloud VoIP services seamlessly integrate with the Microsoft 365 and G Suite ecosystems, improving ease-of-use and providing additional features.

If you need to shore-up your phone service, we have multiple, affordable options we can match to your needs.  Please contact us to discuss your needs and options.

G Suite Enterprise for Education

G Suite Enterprise for Education Savings

G Suite Enterprise for Education

Click for an Overview

(Updated to reflect extension of the offer through September 30, 2020)

With the need for remote learning and hybrid on-site and remote classes, most schools using G Suite for Education rely on the Google Meets.  In September, Google is ending free access to enhanced Google Meets, including larger meeting sizes, recording, and live streaming.

If you need these enhanced features, you need to upgrade to G Suite Enterprise for Education.

Working with Google, we can offer substantial upgrade savings through September 30, 2020.  Normally $48 per user per year, we can offer G Suite Enterprise for Education for:

  • Faculty and Staff: $24 per user per year
  • Students: FREE

As part of our offer, we will also include our value-add basic support services and our ChromeCycle services at no additional cost.

Click here to learn more or to request a quote.


 

The Opening Dilemma

Without a consistent national strategy and leadership, decisions on how to open are economy are left to state and local leaders.  While very few states have me the limited criteria published by the CDC, states are proceeding and are in various phases of re-opening. At the same time, we have failed to contain COVID-19 at the national level. We are not facing a second wave, as the first wave is not over. We see progress in former hot spots, while other areas are seeing record-setting spikes in cases and hospitalizations.

The challenge we face as business owners is how to adapt.

It is one thing to be closed or limited in operations and then re-open.  It is a whole different scenario if we continue to see slow downs, halts, and backtracking.  None of the CARES Act or other relief packages account for businesses need to scale back or close a second time (or third time, or more). Recalling employees only to furlough them again is a damaging cycle. It is hard to plan if you are unsure how you will be able to operate next month or next quarter.

When will this end?

COVID-19 will be behind us when we have a vaccine that is proven to be safe and effective. We will not know this until months after large percentages of the population have been vaccinated, possibly 12 to 24 months from now.  Until then, expect the need for remote work, extra safety precautions, changes to business conditions, and starts/stops with re-opening.

Near Term Flexibility / Long Term Plan

The best advice we have heard, and shared, is to be flexible in the short term while planning for your long term.  In the short term:

  • Understand the phases, guidance, and rules at the local and state level for your business. These may differ for each of your business locations.
  • Understand the phases, guidance, and rules facing your customers.  This is harder to track and manage, but possible if you ask your customers for this information when you engage with them. Doing so will identify issues and help you overcome obstacles.
  • Do not rely solely on local guidance and rules. Unfortunately, re-opening guidance and restrictions have become politicized.  While relying on local rules may provide legal cover, doing so may harm your business if employees or customers get sick.
  • Expect the uncertainty to continue. We scrambled to adjust to closing and continue to scramble as reopening rules come into play and change. Many of the adjustments we made were fine as stop-gap measures.  Now is the time to step back and formalize the changes.  Make sure that your policies and procedures are accurate and up to date. Make sure users are working on company systems and not “shadow IT” services. Make sure your data is on company systems and properly protected.
  • Consider making temporary changes permanent, at least in part.  Many of us realize that more jobs can be done remotely, and done well, than previously thought.  You can take advantage of this long-term in several ways, including reducing the size of your physical offices, recruiting outside of your immediate geographic locations, and offering staff more flexibility.  Doing so can strategically lower costs and improve productivity.

If you want to discuss your near-term or long-term plans, please contact us. We are offering free and discounted services to help you ensure your next steps carry you forward.