HOW CAN MY STAFF WORK FROM HOME? SEVERAL MAJOR TECH COMPANIES OFFERING FREE TOOLS TO SUPPORT WORKERS DURING THE COVID-19 OUTBREAK

We’re getting a lot of enquiries at the moment about “how to enable staff to work from home” and “how to set up remote workers / VPNs”, and it looks like self isolation may be a good plan for a lot of people over the next few months.  Obviously if your staff are under the weather the first plan should be to send them a get well soon card, honey, lemon juice and a bottle of whisky (please note we are not trained medical professionals), but for those staff who are chosing to work from home or are self-isolating there’s plenty of tools out there to enable “business as usual”.

The good news here is we’re seeing many of the major tech brands putting offers in place for these tools to help small businesses, education bodies and healthcare providers cope so we wanted to put together a small list which we’ll do our best to update as necessary.  If you know of any other offers, especially from local Oxfordshire businesses, please let us know and we’ll add them.

If you’re still struggling with getting your heads around the best way to move forward pick up the phone – we’re happy to give a free 30 minute phone consult for any Oxfordshire based businesses.

And finally, if you see any other offers or more importantly work out why people are panic buying loo-roll we’d love to hear from you…

MICROSOFT – OFFICE 365 E1 AND TEAMS

So starting the list is Microsoft who are offering their Office 365 E1 license for free as part of a 6 month trial for new customers – great product but have a good think about licensing after those 6 months if you’re going to hang around!  They’ve also beefed up the functionality of the Free version of Microsoft Teams, definitely worth taking a look.

For more info start here…

GOOGLE – HANGOUTS FOR G-SUITE USERS

Google are offering Google Hangouts, their multi-user conferencing solution, for free for existing G-Suite users.

For more info start here…

CISCO – WEBEX INCREASING FREE FEATURES

Cisco are increasing the free functionality of their popular online meeting solution Webex – worth a look if you want to enable teams to keep collaborating and meetings to continue.

For more info start here…

LOGMEIN – FREE EMERGENCY REMOTE WORK KITS

LogMeIn are providing some functionality for Health Care Providers, Educational Institutions, Municipalities & Non-Profit organizations, and current LogMeIn customers.

For more info start here…

ZOOM – INCREASED FUNCTIONALITY FOR FREE VERSION

Zoom are increasing the functionality of the free version of their impressive online meeting platform, removing the 40 minute limit on free meetings and offering free functionality to schools.

For more info start here…

DISCORD – UPPING FREE USER LIMITS

Discord are upping the free user limits from 10 to 50 on two of their features, Go-Live streaming and Screenshare.

For more info start here…

CHECKPOINT – REMOTE ACCESS VPN

Checkpoint are making their Remote Access VPN, Mobile Security and Endpoint Security products available for free to support remote workers.

For more info start here…

CLOUDFLARE – CLOUDFLARE FOR TEAMS

Cloudflare are making Cloudflare for Teams available to small businesses worldwide for free for at least the next six months. They will evaluate the situation in six months and make a determination about whether they will extend the length of the free offer.

For more info start here…

Testing day at Oldbury Fire Station

Part of our project for GovTechCatalyst Competition from Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service includes practical tests on sites and with the help of Jenny Hill – Watch Commander and part on the Intelligence & Innovation from West Midlands Fire Service we were able to conduct all our test satisfactorily.

Real fire, smoke and criticals conditions were the key for gathering the right data.

Critical and rational analysis from the result data.

Debriefing meeting in order to achieve the very important feedback from the end-users.

Oxon Tech Ltd are 1 of the 5 successful organisations who have progressed to the 1st phase of the GovTechCatalyst Competition

We are happy to announce that Oxon.Tech are 1 of 5 organisations who move to the 1st phase of the #GovTechCatalyst Competition from Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, this is exciting times for us and we are honoured of being part of this selected group.

Tweet from Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service

WHY (AND HOW) SMBS SHOULD STRATEGICALLY ADOPT TECHNOLOGY

There is no question that a small business can benefit from technology, as has been proven time and time again. However, an issue can arise if a business bites off more than it can chew, so to speak, and ultimately creates a spike in costs. A responsible business owner will resist this temptation and prioritize the solutions they need over the ones they want – building profitability and generating capital needed to make other improvements.

In this blog, we’ll examine some of the implementations that can deliver a good return on investment to a small business.

MANAGED IT SERVICES

For the small or medium-sized business seeking maximum value for their dollar, managed IT is a great choice. For a predictable, scaled monthly fee, a managed service provider (also known as an MSP) will make sure that a company’s information technology solutions are functional before a problem or issue arises. What’s more, a relationship with an MSP can also provide invaluable access to specialized vendors, enabling you to leverage some of the best solutions available.

As alluded to above, one of the biggest values that an MSP provides is in the hands-on experience that its technicians have, both on-site and remotely. A company whose solutions aren’t in working order is a company that is hemorrhaging money via downtime, and so it is crucial that a company in this situation has the means to resolve and ideally avoid downtime, continuing its productivity and revenue generation.

One of the biggest benefits to investing in managed IT services is the speed at which you will see a return on that investment. Comparing the cost of an MSP’s services to the multitude of costs that these services help you avoid will help to illustrate how much an MSP can help you. How much are you spending on break/fix services, hiring and onboarding an in-house technician, updating and upgrading your hardware and software, and weathering downtime? All of these costs can be consolidated and/or eliminated with an agreement with an MSP.

HYBRID CLOUD

The cloud is growing at an explosive pace, and for the business or organization with specific needs where accessibility and security are concerned, a hybrid cloud platform may be the best strategy to leverage this industry-shaking technology. Private clouds, while secure, are costly to implement and maintain. Public clouds are more affordable, but there are some major concerns among businesses at the thought of blindly entrusting crucial data to another organization. While the security of such methods is improving, there is an understandable need for control among many business owners that disqualifies the public cloud as a viable option.

The hybrid cloud is the integration of these two halves, joined together to eliminate the downsides while preserving the advantages. This also provides control over a business’ data and applications while allowing the scalability to leverage it as needed. Arguably best of all, the hybrid cloud can add the productivity that your business needs to increase revenue and profits. These reasons are large contributors to why the hybrid cloud is swiftly being considered an inevitability for all businesses by many industry experts.

BRING YOUR OWN DEVICE (BYOD)

Nowadays, just about every business has a wireless network. This has led, in conjunction with every employee coming to work with a smartphone in their pocket, to a need to manage the devices that connect to that network. Allowing employees to utilize their personal devices for work purposes brings great benefits, but requires a solution to help eliminate the risks and threats that these devices bring in from the outside. There is also no shortage of incidents where inappropriate and shortsighted mobile behaviors on a wireless network have brought issues to a business. This is why you need to take the necessary steps to protect your network through the enforcement of BYOD policies.

A BYOD policy needs to take many things into account to be seen as having a worthwhile value to the organization, from how many devices are being brought into the company to the cost of the mobile device management software to the affect that introducing these devices into the workflow has on productivity and collaboration.

Of course, you should also keep in mind that some employees and most of the visitors you receive to the office will see no problem in using your business network to access things that aren’t conducive to your business operations, eating up resources that should be used for other things. This is why any BYOD implementation also needs to see to including access control and permissions within its mobile device management policies. This will provide you with benefits from heightened efficiency to enhanced security, leading to a potential boost in revenue generation – all the while enjoying the diminished costs that leveraging BYOD provides to your business’ budget.

It’s true that adding new technology solutions to your business can carry a hefty expense with it, but the right solutions can offset that cost with improved company operations and diminished security risks. The professionals at Oxon Tech have the experience and know-how with IT solutions to ensure that the right solutions are the ones that go into your business, in the right way. For more information about some of the things we can help you to improve in your organization’s IT, give us a call at 01865 594100.

IS YOUR CLOUD SOLUTION ACTUALLY A MONEY PIT?

The cloud has proven to be an extremely useful tool for the modern business. Not only does it provide anywhere-anytime access to applications, processing, storage, et al; it also delivers those products as a service, allowing you to budget for recurring costs rather than major upfront ones. This provides your organization with functional, supported, and secure computing environments that eliminate a lot of the support costs that traditional computing environments require. It sounds like a perfect scenario for small and large businesses alike, but things aren’t always what they seem, as a lot of cloud users have found that they have incurred several hidden costs by using cloud platforms. Today, we take a look at these hidden costs.

A study from Research In Action polled 468 CIOs about their cloud usage and the costs associated with them. Many admitted that cloud investment was one of the largest expenses their organization would have from a technology point of view. The study went on to find that while a majority of CIOs considered the “hidden” costs of this technology, much of the concern is alleviated by the reputation of their vendors. Some of the potential problems they considered include:

Having to put forth more effort to properly manage vendors, and their corresponding Service Level Agreements (SLAs).
Bottlenecking and the impact poor cloud performance could have on brand perception, productivity, and customer support.
The increased cost of solving complex problems inside cloud environments.

Are these concerns justified? Sure, but they are hard to measure. Many businesses just haven’t developed a system to properly quantify the perceived loss in revenue tied to cloud inefficiency. In fact, most companies don’t have updated, automated methods in use to track and manage their cloud performance.

COSTS OF SCALABILITY

Many organizations also run into cloud cost overruns when dealing with the scale of their cloud platforms. Costs associated with over-provisioning (buying too much), under-provisioning (buying too little), management, and administration of cloud hosted environments present costs that may not look significant up front, but over time can have negative effects on the overall profitability of a business. Understanding the amount of space/processing you’ll need to meet your organization’s needs is almost always going to be a fluid situation, but understanding how they affect your business’ bottom line is crucial to mitigate unwanted monetary responsibilities or cost overruns associated with the cloud platforms you utilize.

GOING TOO FAR

Cloud platforms are nice, but you don’t have to look much further than your personal situation to see how the ease of use these platforms provide can get expensive pretty quick. For the individual, costs add up quick thanks to cloud-based streaming media and other platforms that come in a subscription model. You’ve got Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, and many, many more that are relatively cheap. Microsoft Office 365 is exceptionally useful and affordable, providing unparalleled value for about any computer user. The more you subscribe to, the more costs add up, which is why you’ll want to design, and stick to a dedicated plan to avoid overextending yourself, or your organization.

Utility computing in the cloud, whether it be applications, storage, processing, or some other form, is extraordinarily valuable, but only if you understand how to avoid paying more than you should for your cloud assets. The knowledgeable technicians at Oxon Tech can help you come up with cloud deployment strategy, while also helping you avoid cost overruns typically associated with these assets. Call us today at 01865 594100 to learn more.

HOW TO AVOID BECOMING THE NEXT DATA SECURITY CAUTIONARY TALE

Data security isn’t a matter to be taken lightly, as too many businesses have found out the hard way. Unfortunately, there are far too many simple ways to correct common security issues – enough that it’s foolish not to do so. We’ll review a few ways to fix security issues, after discussing one of, if not the, most egregious security failings in modern history.

THE EQUIFAX PROBLEM

Sometime between May and July of 2017, the credit-reporting giant Equifax suffered a massive data breach that, as of this writing, exposed 148.1 million records containing the personally identifiable information of their customers. In other words, this breach exposed the data of almost half of the population of the United States of America.

In the aftermath of the Equifax data breach scandal, former CEO Richard Smith was cross-examined by Congress. Upon hearing Smith’s defense of “human and technology errors,” Chairman of the House energy and commerce committee Greg Walden quipped, “I don’t think that we can pass a law that fixes stupid.”

HOW TO FIX YOUR BUSINESS’ SECURITY

While Walden may be correct that stupid can’t be fixed by legislation, it may be able to be mitigated through the faithful enforcement of certain standards and practices. These standards should be enforced both on an organizational level, and on a case-by-case, personal basis.

First, let’s review what you should enforce in your organization:

  1. Compliance should be the baseline – Unfortunately, compliance with regulations often does not equal true data security. Instead of looking at compliance as being the ultimate goal for your business, consider it the first step to your business security strategy.
  2. Vulnerabilities need to be promptly remediated – It is astounding that so many exploits rely on known vulnerabilities… a full 99 percent of them.  Furthermore, other attack vectors often utilize vulnerabilities that are a half a year old at least. Patching these vulnerabilities as soon as possible will help cut down on threats to your business’ data and infrastructure. 
  3. Data security needs to be centralized, organized, and assigned – While security should be a shared responsibility throughout the company, there needs to also be someone taking lead and accepting responsibility for ensuring that data is properly distributed in a secure fashion. Part of this responsibility should be to implement access controls, ensuring that the data only can spread to whomever it needs to and no one else.

ENCOURAGING YOUR EMPLOYEES’ SECURITY

Of course, your employees are largely in control of how secure your company remains. This could be a bad thing, unless they are also held to certain best practices that keep data, and the accounts that can access it, secure. There are a few basic rules you can enforce among your staff to help encourage them to act securely.

  1. Lazy credential habits – There are a variety of behaviors to adopt that can better protect the accounts and solutions that your employees have. First of all, the classic password problem: reusing the same password for every account. If one or more of your employees does this, each one is essentially creating a master key that someone could use to access everything in their life, including your data. Neglecting to set a passcode of some sort for a mobile device can cause the same issue. An effective way to remedy this kind of behavior is to utilize a password management system. That way, your employee can reduce the number of passwords they have to remember, without sacrificing security.
  2. Oversharing – While you can’t necessarily control what your employees do in their off-hours, you should reinforce how easily a cybercriminal could piece together their passwords through some examination of their social media, especially if they subscribe to the lazy credential habits we just reviewed. See if they’ll avoid sharing personal anecdotes or information without first restricting the audience that can see that particular post. At the very least, they should have their social media accounts set so that only their approved friends can see their content. Furthermore, do your best to avoid oversharing from the office. Images can easily show confidential information if you aren’t careful, by accidentally capturing an invoice or your customer relationship management solution pulled up on a screen in the picture. Review what you are about to post before taking the image and before you share it online. 
  3. Using the wrong Wi-Fi – While public Wi-Fi connections may be convenient, you should remind your employees that this convenience comes at a price: the security of public Wi-Fi is suspect at best. They should be warned against doing anything especially important over a public Wi-Fi signal, like banking or checking their email.

Data security is a critically important consideration, in part because there are so many ways that it can be undermined. We have some solutions to offer that can help keep your business secure (despite what may sometimes seem to be your employees’ best efforts). Reach out to Oxon Tech at 01865 594100 today!

WHEN IT COMES TO SECURITY, TWO FACTORS ARE BETTER THAN ONE

The password isn’t nearly as secure as it used to be. Hackers have begun to take advantage of extremely powerful solutions designed to brute force their way into accounts by using software to rapidly guessing thousands of passwords per second, making it extraordinarily difficult to prepare yourself for them.

What’s the best way to guarantee that passwords aren’t going to be the downfall of your company? A great start is by taking a close look at password best practices and two-factor authentication.

To get started, let’s review the best practices for creating a password. The best practices for creating a password include the following:

  • Use complex passwords: Your passwords should always be a complex string of letters, numbers, and symbols, including both capital and lower-case letters. Try to keep them as random as possible, without including any specific words or phrases if you can help it. This reduces the chance that your password will be guessed by a hacker.
  • Use different passwords for each account: If you use the same password for every single account you have, you run the risk of one password exposing multiple accounts to hackers. Using multiple complex passwords can make them difficult to remember, however, which leads us into our next point.
  • Use a password manager: If you’re following password best practices, you’ll notice that remembering passwords is difficult–especially when they are all different and complex. A password manager can store your passwords in a secure vault for access when they are needed, allowing you to use complex passwords at all times without needing to remember them. It sure beats writing down passwords in a Word document or elsewhere, and it’s much more secure than doing so. There are even password managers for businesses that let employers dish out certain credentials to staff in a safe, secure way.

While password best practices are important to ensure maximum security for your accounts, they’re often not enough to secure your business. Hackers are always trying to find new ways to crack even the most powerful of passwords. This is where two-factor authentication comes in. A hacker might be able to replicate the password, but can they replicate your accounts needed for access?

Two-factor authentication works by using a device or email account as a secondary credential for accessing an account or network. The obvious example is a smartphone, which can receive an SMS text message with a code needed to log into an account. Others might have codes sent to secondary email accounts. Either way, the point is that these types of credentials can only be received by the holders of the device, which is much more difficult for a hacker to take advantage of. There are even some types of two-factor authentication that utilize biometrics and near field communication technology (NFC), allowing for even more complexities that hackers will sigh and shake their heads at.

If your business needs to protect sensitive data, two-factor authentication is definitely one line of defense you will need. Oxon Tech has a solution for you. To learn more, reach out to us at 01865 594100.

4 WAYS A MANAGED SERVICE PROVIDER CAN HELP YOUR BUSINESS

How much does your business rely on technology to keep your organization running forward? As business technology becomes more complex, it’s becoming increasingly popular for organizations to have their own internal IT departments to manage and maintain it. Yet, small businesses don’t often have the necessary funds for such a feat. How can your company afford quality IT service? You can start by pursuing managed IT solutions from a managed service provider.

Unlike break-fix IT solutions, which depend on your technology breaking down, managed IT solutions aim to keep your technology in proper working order, as well as take action to proactively treat issues before they become long-term problems. Here are some of the best ways that managed IT can help your organization take better advantage of its technology.

GUARANTEEING FLEXIBILITY

Let’s say that you choose to hire more employees for a specific department of your business. This means that you have more users, which can lead to more software licenses needed, more email accounts to archive, more endpoints to secure, and much more. Basically, as your workforce needs change, so too must your managed IT service agreement. Oxon Tech offers scalable solutions that can be customized to fit the needs of your business.

SUPPLEMENTING IN-HOUSE MAINTENANCE

Let’s say that you do have an in-house technician or a small group of workers dedicated to IT maintenance. They might be able to get most of their work done, but generally speaking, your in-house technicians probably have their hands full. They might have their hands full with acting as help desk support, or they might be too busy maintaining the status quo to help the everyday worker with their technology. A managed IT provider helps to augment and work beside your in-house team to create greater success for your organization as a whole.

WORKING WITH YOUR VENDORS

You work with a lot of vendors to give your company the access to the products your organization needs to be successful. This includes hardware vendors for your workstations and server units, software developers for all of your productivity suite needs, and any other service providers that you have. Reaching out to all of these can be time-consuming, which is why managed service providers like Oxon Tech offer vendor management services to create a single point of contact to keep your attention on your business and not your vendors.

IMPROVING OPERATIONAL EFFICIENCY

Your business will generally function better by working with a managed service provider. The reason for this is simple: hands-off IT maintenance that takes up little, if any, of your time. Oxon Tech can remotely monitor and maintain your business’ technology infrastructure to provide as much of a hands-off approach to IT maintenance as you can get. To learn more about what Oxon Tech can do for your business, reach out to us at 01865 594100.