Is your IT environment up to date or lagging behind the times? If your company is like most small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs), it’s likely that your IT department is doing everything it can to stay current, yet is limited by expertise and capacity. For many SMBs that have an “in-house IT person”—someone who wears many hats including office administrator, HR and operations—it’s rare that IT innovation is a top priority amid the wave of immediate day-to-day needs that require attention. 

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In a recent blog, How to Fast-Track Your Digital Transformation Journey in 2019, we explained the urgency companies will face in 2019 to digitize their service offerings before the competition does, recognizing that this is the year digital transformation will make or break companies everywhere.

 This topic is related, as 2019 will bring more vulnerability and threats to SMBs’ IT infrastructure than before, with the power to halt production, or worse, cause unrepairable damage to mission-critical data. Use this 6-part checklist to get your IT infrastructure to a good, solid place for the year ahead. 

1. Security: Cover Your Bases with the Basics—Employee Training & 2FA

SMBs are constantly encouraged to look at their IT security to ensure it’s protected from cybersecurity attacks and hacks. IT companies, like us, can perform penetration tests and other vulnerability assessments, but there’s something even more straightforward that you can do today: train your first line of defense—your employees—on how to spot phishing emails and sites that may expose your company to a breach. People today are socially engineered to give out their information without batting an eye—from online purchases and subscriptions to signing up for emails and promotions—causing your company’s network to be rife with vulnerabilities.

 The other quick security improvement you can make is setting up two-factor authentication (2FA) on as many company accounts as you can. 2FA is an extra layer of protection beyond a username or password that requires the actual user to confirm their identity in an additional way. Have you ever logged into a new program, and it sends a code to your phone to verify your phone is really yours? That’s an example of 2FA. It’s easy, powerful and will stop hackers even if they obtain passwords.

WHAT TO DO NOW: Ask your IT provider to conduct an employee training session, or to send ongoing education materials to your company, to keep everyone abreast of the latest scam tactics. Secondly, ask your IT provider to setup two-factor authentication on as many company accounts as you can. Microsoft 365 has 2FA capability and is one of the main platforms you’ll want to secure. 

2. Recovery: Have a Disaster Recovery Plan That You Will Actually Use

Most companies don’t have a disaster recovery (DR) plan—and that’s especially true for SMBs. If your business is the type that primarily operates online and relies on data to serve customers, a DR plan should be at the top of your priority list in 2019. For those that do have a plan, you need to test it on a regular basis as updates to your environment occur: every time you add a new program to your infrastructure, you need to update your DR plan.

The main goal for any DR plan is to ensure your business can continue operations uninterrupted if a cyber breach occurs. It’s essentially the process of cloning images of your backup machines and virtualizing them to ensure they’re talking properly to one another on an outside VPN. By testing this plan, you can ensure all of your servers show up in recovery form just as they do regularly. To take DR seriously, there are three questions you should be asking:

  • Can we quickly recover from an IT disaster?
  • Can we recover using our DR backup plan?
  • Can we test and use our DR plan on a whim?

WHAT TO DO NOW: Now that building a DR plan is at the top of your priority list, read The Beginner’s Guide to Disaster Recovery. This blog will get you up to speed on the affordable technology and DR services available to you and your team, giving you a firm place to start.

3. Resources: Get Projects Off the Ground and Off Your List with the Right Resources

If you’re an SMB, we know you’re pressed for resources that can recommend, advise, plan and execute IT projects that have been looming on your list. A managed service provider (MSP), is your best partner in this scenario and will work with you to review the projects you should, or want to complete in the year ahead. Some of the projects that might be on your list are:

  • Migrating a server or servers
  • Moving to the cloud for storage
  • Refreshing your environment
  • Manipulating or analyzing data
  • Monitoring internal networks

Common projects like these often turn into bigger problems for SMBs that don’t have proper resources or knowledge, and they end up taking a backseat or being the victim of a false start. A MSP is nothing more than a business vendor acting as an extension of your IT department. It’s the fastest, easiest and smartest way to ensure your IT projects don’t fall by the wayside, and in turn, cause your company to fall victim to 2019—the year that digital transformation promises to make or break companies everywhere.

WHAT TO DO NOW: Find a managed service provider (we’re here and waiting for your call) and talk to them about what projects you have on your list. If you don’t have a list, talk to them about what your current IT environment looks like and where your business plans to go in the coming years. A good MSP will review your environment, recommend a prioritized list of IT projects and execute.

4. Strategy: Make Sense of Your IT to Get the Most for Your Business and Budget

Let me ask you this: what does your IT roadmap look like? Chances are, your answer is in the ballpark of, “we don’t have one; our business is too small for something like that.” Al contrario!

If you have a business, making money is likely a top priority—but without an IT strategy, you’re most likely overspending on an underperforming IT environment. An IT roadmap will solidify your plan for things like cloud migration, storage and security, ensuring it makes financial sense.

An MSP is the best place to start for an objective look at your IT environment. Without the hefty paycheck of a Chief Technology Officer, but with all the knowledge and processes that come with that role, an MSP will ensure your IT plan benefits all areas of your business, allowing disparate departments and functions to work together in the most efficient way.

WHAT TO DO NOW: Get an IT infrastructure assessment, or as we like to call it, a Fit Check. This exercise will document your current environment, analyze financial and technical data, create a roadmap for the future, prioritize and classify issues, and provide a financial analysis to justify change. Take the first steps to streamline your IT strategy by scheduling a Fit Check today.

5. Data: Use the Data You Already Have to Streamline, Upsell & Grow Your Business

The amount of data available to businesses today is overwhelming. When used strategically however, it has the power to launch a business lightyears ahead of its competition. At minimum, data can help you tailor and upsell services to customers based on behavior patterns and trends.

Through the use of mobile phones, apps and the internet, businesses have the ability to capture a plethora of data, analyze it and use it in ways that can improve internal operations and the customer experience. Some of the most common ways companies are using data to their benefit include:

  • Monitoring and improving employee productivity
  • Assessing the effectiveness of customer support
  • Addressing customer satisfaction and buying trends
  • Finding opportunities for cross-selling and upselling

If you’re not using data to your advantage in 2019, it’s likely that your internal and customer-facing operations will suffer. But you don’t have to accept that fate. Rather, take the time to learn about Business Intelligence (BI) and the tools available. Companies that have embraced BI reported increased revenue, improved internal operations, boosted productivity and reduced expenses.

WHAT TO DO NOW: Read this recent blog, Business Intelligence: The FAQs & The Future to learn: business intelligence basics, the competitive advantage of BI, what to do with large amounts of data after you collect it, and the future of BI for businesses of all sizes. You won’t regret it. 

6. Lifecycle Management: Make a Smart Plan for Replacing Your Hardware Equipment

For an SMB, the concept of “lifecycle management” as it relates to IT can sound intensive and time consuming. All it really means though is knowing the lifespan of the hardware you have, and determining when it’s the best time to replace it. Especially as your business grows, it’s important to budget annually and on a multi-year basis for hardware replacements and purchases.

Most IT hardware equipment lasts between five to seven years. But instead of making one big capital purchase to replace all of the equipment in your organization at the same time, a lifecycle management plan will outline a refresh cycle for items like laptops, printers, workstations, tablets, phones, switches, firewalls, access points and so forth. 

Your plan may also reveal that adopting a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy is the most viable course of action, or that it’s smarter to move to a hybrid cloud model which lets companies shift workloads between on-premises, public and private clouds as their needs change.

WHAT TO DO NOW: As you begin to take inventory of your hardware’s lifespan, take a moment to see if the hybrid cloud is right for your business. Read, The Hybrid Cloud: The Secret to Success You Already Have, to find out what factors make your business right for a hybrid cloud approach. 

By now, you know that 2019 is going to be a pivotal year for companies as digital transformation takes hold. So if there were things on this list that your company has yet to tackle, ask yourself: if not now, when? Use these tips, plus download this quick-reference checklist, to start itemizing what you already have in place and what you don’t.

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