CARES ACT Emergency Funds for SMBs

(UPDATED 4/06/20; Originally published 3/30/20 using information compiled and provided by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce)

4/06/20 Updates – Paycheck Protection Program and Debt Reliev

From the SBA information site.

  • On Friday 4/2, the SBA changed and updated the Paycheck Program Protection loan application and required documentation.  In addition to annual payroll reports and copies of your 940 for 2019, you need to provide quarterly 941’s and payroll reports.  Check with your lender, as you may need to resubmit your application package.
  • On Friday 4/2, the SBA Debt Relief website was changed to state that the SBA will automatically make six (6) months of payments on existing SBA 7a and 504 program loans.  We recommend contacting your SBA lender to confirm.
  • If you apply for the EIDL, you are eligible for a $10,000 forgivable advance (even if you do not close on the EIDL). You may also qualify for a $25,000 bridge loan.  Applying for the EIDL now, however, may impede your ability to secure a Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loan. We recommend speaking with your lender BEFORE submitting your EIDL application.

4/01/20 Updates – Paycheck Protection Program

From the SBA information site.

  • You can apply through any existing SBA 7(a) lender or through any federally insured depository institution, federally insured credit union, and Farm Credit System institution that is participating. Other regulated lenders will be available to make these loans once they are approved and enrolled in the program. You should consult with your local lender as to whether it is participating in the program.
  • Lenders may begin processing loan applications as soon as April 3, 2020.
  • If you wish to begin preparing your application, you can download a sample form to see the information that will be requested from you.

The Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocated $350 billion to help small businesses keep workers employed amid the pandemic and economic downturn. Known as the Paycheck Protection Program, the initiative provides 100% federally guaranteed loans to small businesses who maintain their payroll during this emergency. These loans may be forgiven if borrowers maintain their payrolls during the crisis or restore their payrolls afterward.

Am You Eligible?

You are eligible if you are:

  • A small business with fewer than 500 employees
  • A small business that otherwise meets the SSA’s size standard
  • A 501(c)(3) with fewer than 500 employees
  • An Individual who operates as a sole proprietor
  • An Individual who operates as an Independent contractor
  • An Individual who is self-employed who regularly carries on any trade or business
  • A Tribal business concern that meets the SBA size standard
  • A 501(c)(19) Veterans Organizati0n that meets the SBA size standard

In addition, some special rules may make you eligible:

  • If you are in the accommodation and food services sector (NAICS 72), the 500-employee rule is applied on a per physical location basis
  • If you are operating as a franchise or receive financial assistance from an approved Small Business Investment Company the normal affiliation rules do not apply

What Will Lenders Want to See?

In evaluating eligibility, lenders are directed to consider whether the borrower was in  operation before February 16. 2020 and had employees for whom they paid salaries and payroll taxes or paid independent contractors.

Lenders will ask you for a good faith certification that:

  1. The uncertainty of current economic conditions makes the loan request necessary to support ongoing operations
  2. The borrower will use the loan proceeds to retain workers and maintain payroll or make mortgage, lease, and utility payments
  3. Borrower does not have an application pending for a loan that duplicates the purpose and amounts applied for here
  4. From Feb. 15, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2020, the borrower has not received a loan that duplicates the purpose and amounts applied for here (Note: You may be able to fold emergency loans received since Jan. 31, 2020 into this loan)

If you are an independent contractor, sole proprietor, or self-employed individual, lenders will also be looking for certain documents, such as payroll tax filings, Forms 1099-MISC, and income and expenses from the sole proprietorship.

Please also note that lenders will NOT look for:

  • That you sought and were unable to obtain credit elsewhere
  • A personal guarantee (not required for the loan)
  • Collateral (not required for the loan)

How Much Can You Borrow?

Loans can be up to 2.5 times your average monthly payroll costs, not to exceed $10 million.  You Payroll Cost is the sum of included payroll costs less excluded payroll costs, as follows.

Included Payroll Costs for Employers: the sum of payments of any compensation with respect to employees that is a:

  • Salary, wage, commission, or similar compensation
  • Payment of a cash tip or equivalent
  • Payment for vacation, sick, or family medial leave
  • Allowance for dismissal or separation
  • Payment required for the provisions of group health care benefits, including insurance premiums
  • Payment of retirement benefits
  • Payment of state or local tax assess on the compensation of the employee

For Sole Proprietors, Independent Contractors, and Self-Employed Individuals: the sum of  payments of any compensation to, or income, that is a wage, commission, income, net earnings from self-employment, or similar compensation, and that is an amount that is not more than $100,000 in one year, as pro-rated for the covered period.

Excluded Payroll Costs:

  • Compensation of an individual employee in excess of an annual salary of $100,000, prorated for the period of Feb. 15 to June 30, 2020
  • Payroll taxes, railroad retirement taxes, and income taxes
  • Any compensation of an employee whose principal place of residence is outside the United States
  • Qualified sick leave wages for which a credit is allowed under Section 7001 of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Note that special rules apply for businesses not in operation for all of 2019 and for calculating average wages for seasonal employees.

Will This Loan be Forgiven?

Borrowers are eligible for loan forgiveness equal to the amount the borrower spent on the following items during the 8-week period beginning on the date of the origination of the loan.

  • Payroll costs (see above for criteria)
  • Interest on the mortgage obligation incurred in the ordinary course of business
  • Rent on a leasing agreement
  • Payments on utilities (electricity, gas, water, transportation, telephone, or internet)
  • Additional wages paid to tipped employees

The amount of the loan forgiveness will be reduces if there is a reduction in the number of employees or a reduction of greater than 25% in wages paid to employees. Staffing and wage reductions occurring in the period starting Feb. 15, 2020 and ending 30 days after the enactment of the CARES Act shall not reduce the amount of loan forgiveness IF the staffing or wage reductions are eliminated by June 30, 2020.

What are The Next Steps?

The SBA needs to identify lenders that will facilitate the program. As such, this program is not yet on the SBA’s COVID-19 Resource Center.

You can download the US Chamber of Commerce’s guide here.

We do recommend that you contact your current SBA lender, if you have one, or your business banker. Get on their call list once the program is up and running.  Your accountant and bookkeeper will need to pull financial information, so give them a heads up as well.

5 Tools for Remote Team Success

One of the challenges we face with nearly everybody working remotely or from home, is how to manage teams.  In particular, customer-facing teams and teams whose members normally work together in person require more adaptation.  here are

Managed Live Chat for Web Sites

If done well, Live Chat on your web site improves your ability to engage and service your current and prospective customers. In addition to providing real-time connections to site visitors, robust live chat systems let you classify operators, message between operators, and hand off responsibility for chats. Leveraging live chat, your customer facing teams — sales and service — can work more effectively and with greater coordination.  Contact us to discuss how we can broker tools like Olark, and get you up, running, and trained quickly.

Managed Shared Inboxes for G Suite

Customer facing teams often share an inbox to managing incoming messages.  When the team is remote, tracking who is responsible for each email thread becomes even more difficult.  Tools like Hiver let you manage, route, and track shared inbox messages across your teams.  Contact us for more info and check out this webcast and demo.

Team Planning Tools

Tracking tasks, projects, and dependencies among teams requires some organization.  In Office 365, the Planner app provides a simple format for tracking team members, assigned tasks, and basic dependencies.  As part of the Office 365 suite, Planner integrates with users’ inboxes and calendars, and with personal and shared storage.  Planner can also be added to Teams channels as a Tab.

In the G Suite environment, we recommend Hive as an affordable, easy to use, planning and task management tool.  It is similar in functionality to Planner and other tools, like Trello, and integrates well with your G Suite identity, Drive, and more.

Contact us for help and guidance getting your project tools in place.

Bookings in MS Office 365

Designed for use by appointment-based businesses, Bookings is an Office 365 app that lets individuals schedule appointments themselves.  Customers can select the time, a particular person, or the first available when scheduling. You control available times, available staff, and appointment defaults. If you are reaching out to your customers, Bookings is way to speed up the appointment setting process.

Intranet Sites

With teams working remotely, access to files on in-house services may be limited, difficult, or slow.  Remote access tools like desktop sharing and VPNs add complexity and increase users’ frustration.  Moving files into Intranet sites can provide fast, secure, reliable access.

    • In G Suite, you can turn Drive folders and hierarchies into Intranets in a matter of minutes with OverDRIVE.  The software lets you create and manage web sites quickly and efficiently, using Drive as the content repository.
    • In Office 365, Sharepoint sites provide an easy mechanism to share files and other content relevant to teams.  You can connect Sharepoint to Teams and Groups, giving users secure access to files and resources vai the methods easiest for them.

As you assess your operations and your needs, we are here to help.  Please contact us for a Cloud Advisor Session.  Our assessment and recommendations are free and without obligation.

Zoom Privacy Policy is a Risk

Updated 4/05/20

Updates:

  • 5/05/20: Zoom posted an updated Privacy Policy, back dated to 3/29/2020.  This policy clarifies Zoom’s actions and intents and changes some terms and conditions, indicating that Zoom is now doing the right thing with your personal data.  Zoom has also expanded users’ ability to use passwords and waiting rooms to control meeting access.  We still recommend reviewing the policy and using the “do not sell” process.  We also recommend using conferencing systems within your productivity suite, Office 365 or G Suite, as these are secure and integrate with your email, calendar, and file services.
  • 4/01/20: MIT Tech Review summarizes the security issues with Zoom, including information about a Class Action Lawsuit.
  • 3/31/20: Vice.com reports that Zoom is leaking personal emails and photos to strangers.
  • 3/31/20: The Intercept reports that Zoom is not using End to End Encryption as claimed in their marketing materials and user interface. 
  • 3/31/20: New York Times reports that Zoom, the videoconferencing app whose traffic has surged, is under scrutiny by the New York attorney general’s office for its data privacy and security practices.
  • 3/30/20: FBI Warns of Teleconferencing and Online Classroom Hijacking During COVID-19 Pandemic

On March 18, 2020, the Zoom.us posted changes to its privacy policy that impact all users, even those without accounts attending meetings as guests.  This change follows a dramatic increase in Zoom users (and stock price), as Zoom has been offering its services for free to many businesses and schools.

Under this version of the Zoom’s privacy policy, Zoom is collecting more information, in our assessment, than is necessary to provide users with the service. Zoom also acknowledges providing this information to third parties. The information Zoom is collecting includes, but is not limited to:

  • Name, physical address, and other similar personally identifying information
  • Information about your job, such as your title and employer
  • Your Facebook profile information (when you use Facebook to log-in to Zoom or to create a Zoom)
  • General information about your product and service preferences (including software installed and/or in use on your computer)
  • Information about your device

Per Zoom’s policy, downloading and using the Zoom app provides Zoom with consent to share any personal information they collect with third parties.

In reference to the use of third party services, the policy states

“We use these tools to help us improve your advertising experience (such as serving advertisements on our behalf across the Internet, serving personalized ads on our website, and providing analytics services).”

In other words, Zoom may use the personal information of any person using their services to market to that person across their use of the Internet.

Additionally, we do not see any effort by Zoom to determine the age of individuals using the service, so they are likely collecting and using the personal information of children.

Vice.com is reporting that Zoom’s iOS app sends data to Facebook even if you do not have a Facebook account.

Impact

Our current assessment of the impact is as follows:

  • Data collection is based on the way each meeting participant enters the meeting.  Even if the organizer is on a paid and secure business or education edition, meeting attendees using the free client or entering as a guest are subject to dating mining and sharing.
  • For businesses and schools, some of the data Zoom collects and shares is prohibited under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
  • For schools and libraries, not using the K12 version of Zoom for faculty and students may result in violations of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA)
  • Zoom does provide a means for users to instruct Zoom to “Do not Sell” their personal information. This help with California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”) and  EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) compliance.  It may not be practical to advise all meeting attendees of this option.

In short, Zoom’s privacy policy may conflict with your business’ privacy policy and how you manage and respect your customers and their data. The policy may also create regulatory and legal issues.

Recommendations

If you organization uses G Suite or Microsoft Office 365, you already have the ability to securely conduct audio and video conferencing with services that do not mine and share attendee data.

  • G Suite
    • Hangouts Meet (the new service) is secure and HIPAA compliant.  Individuals outside your organization can join via shared URL, without providing personal information. Through June 2020, Google has enabled all G Suite users to conduct meetings with up to 250 participants and provided organizers with the ability to record meetings. Participants can mute their own audio/video and can present to the meeting. Meeting include dial-in numbers and pins to allow access from phones.
    • Participants can join via web browser or use the free iOS and Adroid Apps.
    • Traditional Hangouts and Chat, while not HIPAA compliant, are still secure and work within organizations and with guests.
  • Office 365
    • Teams (and formerly Skype for Business) is a secure video/audio conferencing service with screen sharing, waiting rooms, and other helpful features.  As with all of Office 365, Teams can be deployed to meet HIPAA compliance. Teams does not collect and share personal information.
    • Teams, by default is device-to-device conferencing.  You can add the ability for individuals to connect by phone for a small monthly fee for each meeting organizer that needs this function.
    • Participants can join via web browser, or use the free apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.

Before adding another service or tool for audio/video conferencing, take full advantage of the services you have. Contact us if you need help with user training and support.

If you are not using G Suite or Office 365, several communications and conferencing services are offering secure, free access for up to 90 days.  These include, but are not limited to, Dialpad, UberConference, Ring Central, and Cisco WebEx. Please contact us for help selecting and deploying the right service for you and your teams.

 

COVID-19 Resources for SMBs

Updated 03/30/20; Additions in italics.

As a service to our clients and to small and midsize businesses, we are collating resources to help you mitigate the economic and business impact of the COVID-19 emergency.

Some of these resources are informational, others are tools that can help you adapt your business to current conditions. This post covers the following topics and will be updated regularly.

  • Tools & Services for Remote / Virtual Work
  • Informational Webcasts
  • Emergency Financial Assistance (updated 3/3o)
  • Customer Engagement Tools
  • HIPAA Compliant Video Conferencing in G Suite
  • Free / Discounted Phone and Communication Services

Tools & Services for Remote / Virtual Work

Informational Webcasts

  • We are posting information webcasts from multiple sources in our News & Events calendar. Please check the calendar for dates and times.
    • Open Office Hours — Cumulus Global
    • COVID-19: General FAQs for Employers — Massachusetts Health Council (MHC) & Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM)
    • The Remote Worker: Effective Virtual Meetings – Brainstorm, a Cumulus Global partner in learning
  • NOTE: While some events may be from organizations in our area, we expect the information to be useful to all small and midsize organizations.

Emergency Financial Assistance:

  • In Massachusetts:
    • The Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation has halted its disaster loan program to avoid conflict with the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program (see below)
  • In ALL States:
    • With the passage of the CARES Act, additional loan programs will be available.  See this post for info on the loan/forgiveness program.
    • The U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program is available to most businesses nationally.  Start here: https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela
      • The Small Business Administration (SBA) has made an important adjustment to the terms of its Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL). Moving forward, EIDL loans will defer payments for the first year (twelve months) of the loan.
    • The SBA launched an Express Bridge Loan Pilot Program offering emergency loans up to $25,000. Click here for information.

Customer Engagement Tools

  • Live Chat
    • Adding live chat to your website can help you facilitate sales and customer service, and can provide a role for your sales team.
    • Contact us to discuss solutions
  • Phone Services
    • Providing remote workers access to your business phone system helps facilitate customer interactions.
    • Contact us if your current phone system does not let you easily extend to employee laptops, tablets, or phones.
    • We have affordable ways to improve communications, often by augmenting your current phone services.
  • Webcast Services
    • Webcasts and video meetings and want to engage customer, employees, and other face-t0-face.
    • If you are running G Suite or Office 365, you have the ability to run video meetings and broadcasts without additional costs.
    • Contact us if you want to learn more or need assistance running a meeting.
    • We can also assist with more advanced web/video meeting services.

HIPAA Compliant Video Conferencing in G Suite

  • Hangouts Meet, the new video meeting service in G Suite can be used for HIPAA compliant video sessions
  • Hangouts named video calls are not covered by G Suite’s HIPAA Business Associate Agreement (BAA)
  • For best practices, administrators should make Meet the default for video meetings and disallow use of classic Hangouts and chat.  These settings can be limited to specific groups of users, if appropriate.
  • Contact us for assistance with these settings and/or user training.

Free/Discounted Phone and Communication Services

  • Several VoIP and online meeting providers are offering free or dramatically discounted services for up to 90 days.
  • These services can be configured to work with your existing phone services to extend access and features to employees that do not normally work remotely
  • Contact us to discuss your needs, workflows, and options.

Resources for Remote Work

To assist you in coping with the impact of the COVID-19 emergency, we are providing this list of resources to help you fully leverage remote work.

We have additional business and technical resources listed in our COVID-19 Resources for SMBs blog post.

(Updated: 3/27/2020 — Updates in italics)

 

 


Fast and Easy Intranets and Customer Portals in G Suite

  • Secure web sites are a great way to stay connected and engaged with your team and with customers
  • While Google Sites is somewhat limited, there are other options
  • OverDRIVE automates the creation of web pages and sites, using Google Drive as the content management system
  • Click here for more information and to arrange a demo or a trial, or contact us for assistance.

Cloud Access to On-Premise File Servers

  • We have the ability to quickly setup remote, mapped drive access to on-premise file servers via the CentreStack cloud service.
  • This service provides a secure, easy to setup and manage solution that gives your team access to your on-premise file server without the need for expensive and difficult-to-manage VPN services.
  • As a month-to-month, affordable service, CentreStack gives those working remotely access to critical files and data.
  • Contact us for more information.

Simple Tools to Coordinate and Manage Tasks

  • With Office 365
    • Most Office 365 licenses include access to Planner, a simple tool for tracking tasks, individually, and across teams, departments and working groups.  Let us know if you need some guidance or training.
    • Teams is a comprehensive tools for social collaboration with built in Wiki’s, file sharing, and audio/video conferencing.  We can help your team learn and use this powerful tool
  • G Suite
    • You have access to Keep for notes and reminders. Contact us for a demo or assistance.
  • Other Tools
    • Hive, Trello, Slack, and others give you social teamwork and project management capabilities that are easy to adopt and use.
    • Hiver let’s you quickly setup shared mailboxes for customer service and team functions (see a webcast and demo here).

Cloud Access to QuickBooks

  • We can move your on-premise QuickBooks (or other application) setup to the cloud and provide secure remote desktop access.
  • Doing so can provide, as needed:
    • Secure access to multiple users
    • Export of reports and data to Excel or other systems
    • Local printing of checks, reports, and invoices
    • Fast, reliable access without VPN hassles and expense
  • Contact us for more information.

Emergency Server Migrations / Hybrid Clouds

  • We have staff on-hand to move file and application servers to the cloud, providing secure access for remote/virtual workers.
  • Contact us to assess your needs and possible solutions.

Flexible Communication Services

  • If you are not able to extend your business phone service to workers at home, please contact us.
  • We have a number of VoIP and number matching services that can fill this need.
  • We can also address other issues, such as the need for separate or additional voice/text services.

Free/Discounted Phone and Communication Services

  • Several VoIP and online meeting providers are offering free or dramatically discounted services for up to 90 days.
  • Providers include, but are not limited to: Dialpad, UberConference, RingCentral, and Cisco WebEx.
  • These services can be configured to work with your existing phone services to extend access and features to employees that do not normally work remotely
  • Contact us to discuss your needs, workflows, and options.

Creating a Virtual Classroom and School

With an increasing level of Coronavirus / COVID-19 infections transmitting via “community spread”, many schools are planning for the likelihood of closings that could range from days to weeks. Distance learning and virtual classrooms can mitigate the impact. The challenge is getting the systems, resources, and training in place quickly, before they are needed. Here is brief guide to planning and execution.

Understand the Experience

Virtual learning is not the same educational experience as a live classroom.  When looking to educate students at home, do not expect teachers to live stream lessons and manage feedback and responses via chat or even video conference.  While this approach can work for meeting, it is unrealistic to expect that students will have the ability to participate or that teachers will be comfortable presenting and managing feedback.

For districts that have already created online learning systems for “alternate learning days”, most assignments take the form of assigned reading, videos, or activities paired with a means of demonstrating execution and understanding.  Online quizzes, writing assignments, photo submissions, etc. are all ways that students can demonstrate they have completed the work and understand the materials.

With so many schools using Google Classroom, it is important to remember that Google Classroom is a tool that coordinates materials and activities between teachers and students.  Parents generally do not have accounts or access.  Successful online learning platforms provide a portal for parents and students to find and locate their students’ teachers and the materials.

Ensure Your District is Ready

Before launching a virtual learning system, you want to make sure your district is ready.

  • Do you have the policies and procedures in place to launch online/remote learning?
    • Several states have specific requirements.
    • You may need your School Board or governing body to vote in policies to comply with state laws and regulations
  • Do students have an appropriate device they can work on?  If you do not have a 1:1 program and are relying on students to use home computers, you should survey your population to ensure that not only is there an appropriate device at home, but the student has sufficient access.
    • Parents may be working from home and need the computer
    • Some families will have multiple children vying for computer time
    • Consider having devices available for loan
  • Do families and students have appropriate Internet access?
    • Depending on your socioeconomic mix (and geographical location), many families’ primary Internet access may be via cell phone or low-speed connection.
    • Consider providing cellular hot-spot devices to families without adequate Internet service (you may be able to add these to existing E-Rate funded programs for cellular data services). Remember that many families will have multiple students and/or parents working from home.
    • Guide teachers on lesson methods. Video may not be a great option if most students will have difficulty streaming
  • Is Google Classroom, or an equivalent tool, in place for all classrooms? Are teachers and students familiar and comfortable using the platform?
    • Now is the time to verify that every classroom or class is setup and that students and faculty can assess and use the tool.  It is hard to provide access codes and help students “get in” remotely; spend some class time verifying everyone will be able to work.
  • Are teachers comfortable using the online tools?
    • Most districts using G Suite for Education, as an example, have varying levels of adoption.  Some teachers are more comfortable using features such as live chat, interactive comments, and online assessments and automatic grading.  Faculty that are not using these features need to learn and practice before these tools become a necessity.
    • Many teachers use online learning tools outside of Google Classroom and G Suite / Google Docs.  Faculty should share tools they are using for quizes, study guides, flashcards, etc. so that teachers have a library of tools.  Identify teachers that can help others learn and use these tools to create a support network.
  • Do you have a portal that guides parents and students?
    • A simple portal, organized by school, grade, and/or subject matter with a page for each teacher/class provides parents and students with an easy way to navigate and access the materials for each teacher or class.
    • Beyond links to the Google Classroom pages, teacher/class pages can include links to other resources, such as:
      • Online reading assignments
      • Videos
      • Other learning apps
      • Kahn Academy lessons
    • You can create a simple portal system in Google Sites or, more easily via Google Drive using tools like OverDRIVE.
  • Set clear expectations
    • Teachers and staff should understand that remote/alternate learning days are full school days
    • Teachers should be working a full day equivalent to being in school, even if the hours and timing are different.

Plan Lessons Carefully

Preparing lessons for online and remote learning differs from prep for a live classroom.

  • Districts should set guidelines for how long each lesson should run.  Typically, this is done by grade range with younger students having shorter assignments.
    • Remember that teachers are not there to engage and keep students focused.
    • Asking a 3rd grader to work independently for 40 minutes may not be a realistic expectation.
    • Break work into smaller segments.
  • Create guidelines for total time on “school work” for each day, knowing that work for each class or subject will add up.
  • Take advantage of multiple learning modalities.
    • Deploy a mix of reading, videos, forms, writing, etc. to keep students engaged and to allow for individual learning styles and strengths
  • Design lessons children can do on their own
    • Do not assume that parents, if present, will have the time or ability to facilitate the process or help with the work.

Communicate and Support

Students, and parents, will have questions and will need help.

  • Make sure students and parents have, or can easily find, teacher email addresses and, if appropriate phone numbers.
  • Teachers should set and publish blocks of time each day when they are available via live chat (and, if possible, video chat) to assist students with questions and assignments.
  • Teachers should monitor and respond to questions via email throughout the day within a reasonable amount of time.  For a student struggling to understand something, an hour to get a question answered feels like an eternity.
  • Teachers should publish times when they will NOT be available for live chat and will NOT be answering emails.  It is fair and necessary for teachers to set expectations and boundaries.
  • If student devices and bandwidth allow, schedule some live group video meetings to allow students and teachers to see each other, interact, and engage.

Be Equitable

Equity goes beyond making sure students have devices and adequate access. Students with special accommodations in the classroom or school setting will need comparable accommodations when working remotely. Providing an equitable learning experience for students with specific needs and support is a major challenge.  And while it may not be possible to recreate in-school supports, you can take steps to ensure sufficient supports or alternative programs are in place for most students.

Remember Your Specials

Physical education, art, and music are an important part of your students’ day, even if they are learning from home.

  • Assign physical activity for students and have them provide a photo/video or parent note to confirm completion.  One district we work with provided 15 minute fitness videos for students to do and counted shoveling snow as an activity. Students submitted a picture or parents submitted a confirmation form.
  • Ask students in general music classes to listen to music and answer a few short questions.
  • For students in choral or instrumental groups, assign practice pieces.  Periodically ask for videos or other evidence of their efforts.

Monitor Program Effectiveness

Regardless of the amount of preparation, resources, and training you put in place, you will have issues and challenges.

  • Actively solicit feedback from students, teachers, staff, and parents about your online learning system and processes.
  • Learn what is working and where improvements, guidance, or changes are necessary
  • Respond to feedback appropriately and quickly, even if the response is “We understand the issue, but do not have a solution yet.”

If parents, students, and teachers trust that their issues and concerns are being heard and will be addressed, the entire learning community will be more tolerant and forgiving as issues do arise.

Ask for Help

Do not forget to ask for help.  Reach out to districts in your area that already have online learning systems and policies in place.  Most are happy to share what they have and what they’ve learned.

Contact us.  No kidding,  We are here to help.  Training, support, networking, or resources.  Take advantage of our expertise and our network of resources.

Coronavirus: Prep Instead of Panic

Updated Mar. 23, 2020. (new content in italics)

Coronavirus is in the news with broad localized impact.  The Centers for Disease Control is urging everyone to prepare for a major public outbreak of COVID-19 will strike the United States. Here is a high level update:

  • Extensive “Community Outbreaks” have been identified by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), with confirmed cases rising at a sharp rate in several areas of the country.
  • Several states, counties, and local governments are issuing lock-down or “shelter-in-place” orders, severely restricting business and personal activities.
  • Many states and local governments restricting meetings and services.
  • School are closing for extended periods of time. Government facilities are closing to the public
  • Employers are restricting travel and meetings
  • Employers are telling employees to work from home
  • Restaurants and bars are restricted to carry-out and delivery only
  • Mandatory quarantines are in place in some areas

What does this mean for us and our businesses?

Experts currently agree that potential for wide-spread outbreaks exists and there is an urgent and critical need to minimize the spread of the virus.  That said, we should expect, and be prepared, to address localized issues.  These can include:

  • Employees being quarantined at home, or while traveling, due to possible exposure or systems.
  • Closing offices to facilitate social distancing
  • School closings, requiring employees to remain home with children.
  • Localized building shutdowns, including government offices, courts, etc.
  • Impact on, or hesitancy to use, public transportation; reduced public transportation schedules
  • Cancellation of conferences, meetings, and events.
  • Hesitancy to travel, or restrictions on travel destinations.

Each of these feels manageable if the inconvenience is only for a limited time. But with quarantines running 14 days (or more) and concerns that the virus might live on surfaces for as long as nine days, these disruptions may create serious challenges.

Question to Ask and Consider

  • Have we communicated a policy to employees that “Safe is better than Sorry”
    • Do employees know to stay home and avoid meetings if they are not feeling well?
    • Should your business alter or halt normal operations?
    • Should you close your facilities to some or all employees?
  • Can your employees easily and efficiently work remotely?
    • Does this include employees who normally work at the office?
    • What materials, documents, or services might they need?
    • Will functions, such as customer service, function properly with remote users?
    • For employees that don’t normally work at home:
      • Do they have sufficient Internet bandwidth?
      • Do they have the software needed to use your VoIP phone service?
      • Do they have an appropriate device (personal or company-provided)?
      • If using personal devices, do they have the necessary software and versions?
    • Can you extend business phone service to workers at home? If so, are you comfortable
      getting this setup?
  • Do you have the ability to replace travel and on-site meetings with video conferencing?
    • Are enough of your conference rooms equipped for conferencing?
    • Is your team comfortable using the equipment and services?
    • For employees who do not normally work remotely or use audio/video conferencing:
      • Do they have access to audio/video conferencing services from their devices?
      • Do they understand how to use the services from their computers or phones?
      • Are they comfortable with using these services?
  • What functions can be scaled back or delayed with minimal impact to operations, cash flow, customer service, etc.?
  • Which functions are critical to your business continuity?
  • Will supply chain issues disrupt your business?
  • How might the evolving economic fallout impact your business?

Steps to Take

As you consider and answer the above questions, and others, you can better understand how to prepare.  For some, enabling more remote work may be as simple as a temporary cloud file service or migrating files from on-premise file servers to cloud file services.  Other businesses might consider ensuring team members have suitable computers at home or company laptops available if needed. Now might be the time to add Teams Meeting or Hangout Meet hardware and services to your conference rooms and huddle areas. And some businesses may want to expand remote access to business systems or relocate applications to cloud servers.

The good news is that you are not alone.  As you monitor events, assess your risks, and plan, we are here to help.

Please:

  • Join our Open Office Hours on Wednesday March 18, 2020 at 2:00 pm ET.
  • Contact us and take advantage of our expertise and, if appropriate, our services.

We are in this together.

Thank you,

 

 

Allen Falcon, CEO and Pragmatic Evangelist

CRN MSP 500

Cumulus Global Recognized on CRN’s 2020 MSP 500 List

CRN MSP 500 Continued Recognition of Cumulus Global as Pioneer in Managed Cloud Services

Cumulus Global, the Cloud Forward service provider, announced today that CRN® a brand of The Channel Company has named Cumulus Global to its 2020 Managed Service Provider (MSP) 500 list in the Pioneer 250 category. The MSP 500 identifies North American solution providers that deliver operational efficiencies, IT system improvements, and a higher rate of return on investments for their customers.

“MSPs are the critical bridge for customers looking to assess, implement and migrate their IT and cloud solutions to drive efficiencies, lower costs and secure your environment,” said Bob Skelley, CEO of The Channel Company. “On behalf of our team at The Channel Company, I want to congratulate the accomplished companies on CRN’s 2020 MSP 500 list and thank them for their commitment to finding innovative solutions that move the IT channel forward.”

For the second consecutive year, Cumulus Global is being recognized for its managed cloud services that deliver desired business outcomes to small and midsize businesses, local governments, and K12 schools. Beyond deployment, training, and support, Cumulus Global helps organizations and teams fully utilize their IT and cloud services for the best value and greatest impact.

“We are honored for the continued recognition as an industry leader,” noted Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global. “I am proud of our team members who measure our success by measuring our clients’ success.”

The MSP 500 list is available in the February 2020 issue of CRN and online at www.crn.com/msp500.


Please contact us for more information or to schedule a complimentary Cloud Advisor session.

Data Protection

Customer Notice Update: Email Advanced Threat Protection

Data ProtectionGiven the demand and need to improve your protection from the devastating impact of ransomware, crypto attacks, and other forms of cyber attacks we are extending the Advanced Threat Protection Priority Opt-in discount period through March, 2020. We understand that adding a service, even a critical service, impacts your budget and costs. Our Priority Opt-In discounts, and other measures (see below), intend to minimize the impact.

Email Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) and Multi-factor authentication (MFA) are necessary, baseline services for protecting your business

Beginning April 1, 2020, we require Advanced Threat Protection for all of our customers’ email service, unless you specifically opt out. Opting out is appropriate if you already have an advanced threat protection service in place.

If you opt out, the cost of our data recovery efforts will not be covered under our unlimited support plans (See our Support Services SLA). When we add ATP to your service, we will discuss with you when we can add MFA.

We will mitigate the cost.

We are sensitive to your budget.

  • ATP requires a technical setup and typically incurs a setup fee along with the monthly or annual subscription.
  • We are discounting both the setup and subscription fees for all customers. For customers requesting Priority Opt-In, we will waive the ATP related setup fees completely.
  • MFA implementation is covered by our support plans as an administrative change.  If you do not have on of our support plans, we will provide an affordable, discounted quote for the project.
  • For customers without an unlimited support plan and/or those that choose to Opt-Out, we will discount our hourly fees for recovery work.

For more information on specific discounts and pricing, and to let us know if you want to Opt-In, to have Priority Opt-In, or to Opt-Out, please visit this web page and complete the form.

We realize that this is a significant change for most of our customers.  We also understand the importance of these protections.  Please contact us with questions or concerns

Thank you for being part of our community,
Allen Falcon
CEO & Pragmatic Evangelist

Managing Chrome the Education Upgrade Price Increase

On January 22, 2020, Google is informing all Chrome Education Upgrade (aka Chrome Management Service) users that that perpetual per-device license price is increasing from $30 to $38 dollars, effective March 9, 2020.

While Google is not unreasonable in raising prices to ensure continued innovation and feature expansion, the timing of the increase is problematic for many schools.  With fiscal years starting July 1, schools and districts have drafted or completed their budgets for the upcoming year.  The timing of the increase impacts purchases planned for the end of this fiscal/school year as well.

Cumulus Global will help you manage the price increase.

You can order your Chrome Education Upgrade / Management licenses now, before the price increase.  Based on your quantity, we are offering discounts up to 10% or more off the current $30 price.  If you are unable to purchase the licenses now, you can also request a binding quote and receive similar discounts off the $38 price through August 31, 2020.

Please complete the form, below, and request your quote.


Request your quote …