3 Questions You Need to Ask Your IT Service Provider

More businesses than ever before are seeing the value of outsourcing their technology management to a managed service provider (MSP) and it’s easy to see why. With a more hands-off approach to technology management, businesses can focus on delivering quality goods and services instead of worrying about their technology. If you are considering jumping on the MSP wagon, consider asking the following questions to make sure you understand what you are getting from your provider.

What Services Do You Offer?

It helps to know what services an MSP is capable of offering to your organization, specifically because it helps to establish expectations and inform your ability to add or remove services according to your specific needs. For example, if you can foresee a situation where your business wants to move to a more cloud-based infrastructure environment, you want to ensure that your provider offers services like cloud hosting and cloud migration. Otherwise, why would you consider them?

How Experienced Are Your Technicians?

When it comes to your technology, you don’t want some greenhorn handling it. You want a seasoned and experienced technician who has had their fair share of time working with business technology solutions. This is especially the case in a world where security needs to be at the forefront of every business owner’s mind. You want technicians who both know what they are doing and are knowledgeable enough to distill complex ideas into easily-understood concepts.

What is the Service Level Agreement?

The service level agreement, or SLA, is an agreement between your business and the service provider which dictates the services rendered and the costs associated with them. It might include information such as how much you pay, which services are included with that payment, how often you pay for your services, and so on. Basically, asking this question helps to determine what kind of expectations you have from your MSP and the services they provide for you based on what you pay.

Get Started with Managed Services Today

If your business is considering working with a managed service provider to fill the technology skills gap that so many companies find themselves with, we encourage you to think local and work with Point North Networks for your needs. Our trusted and trained technicians can work with your team to ensure that technology is never a pain point for your business again.

 

Plus, depending on your specific needs, we can either fulfill the roles of a full-fledged IT department, act as a consultant, implement new technology solutions, operate as a help desk, and so much more. Our services are truly customizable to suit your company’s specific needs.

 

To learn more about how we can support your business goals, call us today at 651-234-0895.

 

4 Steps to Better Solve Employee Burnout

It doesn’t matter if your workplace is your typical office space or if it is remote. There will always be factors that can contribute to burnout. These struggles are not exclusive to the location of the office, and if left unchecked they can impact work performance, productivity, mental health, and so on. It’s important that you have coping mechanisms and strategies in place to address burnout before it becomes too severe to counter.

Let’s go over some of the ways you can encourage employees to prioritize their own mental health to reduce burnout from the workplace.

Minimizing Burnout

Here are some strategies you can use to keep burnout at bay.

Stop, Take a Breath, and Focus

If enough pressure builds up, you’re going to break, no matter how strong-willed you are. You need a break every once in a while. It’s important that you make your breaks as impactful as possible by taking a moment to clear your mind of all the clutter and take slow, deep breaths. Once you’re ready, you can get back to work.

Encourage Communications Across Departments

People rely on others to help them get their jobs done, so you should be prepared to ask for help from other departments or other people at your company to handle tasks as needed. You shouldn’t isolate yourself and your tasks from others who might help you get things done in a more efficient or stress-free way.

 

Be sure to establish clear lines of communication with other departments so when the time comes for collaboration, you’ll know exactly who to talk to and when. Collaboration lightens the workload for all, and it can reduce burnout in spades.

Consider Low-Pressure Hobbies

Some people bring their work home with them, so to speak, when they use their personal time and space to work or worry about work. This kind of stress can wear people down over time and create burnout.

 

We recommend that all employees have hobbies and interests outside of the workplace so they can get their mind off things when they need to. This will help to mitigate burnout and help them do things they enjoy.

Implement Procedures to Help with Stress

One of the best things you can do for your workplace is to implement procedures that take the stress out of work. You can streamline processes by automating them and reducing the margin for error, allowing employees to invest that time in better, less stressful and more meaningful work, thereby reducing stress further.

Combat Burnout Before You Get Burned

If you keep your team engaged in their work, burnout will eventually become a factor, so take steps now to keep it in check. Point North Networks can help you in this effort by making sure that technology struggles don’t exacerbate the problem. To learn more, call us at 651-234-0895.

 

A Good Disaster Recovery Strategy Can Save Your Business

There are countless ways your organization could face down a disaster, whether it’s a high-profile natural disaster, a physical disaster, or a technology-related disaster. If you aren’t prepared to face the consequences, your business could falter in the face of such incidents. How can your business best prepare itself for all manners of disasters?

Disaster Recovery Is a Big Issue

There are two ways to approach a disaster: reactive and proactive. The reactive approach involves the mindset that you cannot prevent the disaster; therefore, there is no reason to try, as you will experience the consequences anyway. The other mindset, proactive, subscribes to the idea that you can be ready for a disaster and can mitigate the damages ahead of time with the right amount of preparation.

 

In just about all situations, it’s better to be proactive than reactive, especially in the case of disaster recovery. Due to the nature of the situations, you never know if and when they will strike, so you had best be prepared to handle natural disasters, physical disasters, and technology disasters. Let’s go over them.

Natural Disasters

A natural disaster is usually what people think of when they think of disasters, and they include situations like fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, and so on. You could even put a pandemic in this category. While the severity might vary, there can be no denying that these situations can impact operations. You need to have a plan to address unexpected weather and illness for your business; the continuity of operations hangs precariously in the balance.

Physical Disasters

A physical disaster has to do with the physical infrastructure of your company, which might include your building, its utilities, physical security breaches, or theft. Examples include burst pipes, HVAC system errors, and power failures. While it might not seem like a massive loss, you can be sure that the accumulated downtime will be costly enough to make you wish you had a contingency plan in place.

Technology Disasters

Technology disasters are the result of technology failures, including the components of systems, as well as cybersecurity breaches. These are the most likely issues you will deal with regarding your hardware, and it will inevitably fail with enough wear and tear. Furthermore, they require a very specific skill set and expertise to maintain. Technology-related disasters like data loss and cyberattacks can both be prepared for, so it’s your responsibility to do so.

How to Go About Planning for the Worst

The general goal of a disaster recovery plan is to reduce downtime and get back to business as usual as quickly as possible. The devil is in the details, here; you need to know exactly what must be done, including metrics and benchmarks you want to hit, in order to successfully prepare for a disaster incident. There are certain things you’ll need regardless of the situation, though, such as data backed up both on and off-site. With the appropriate preparation, you can ensure that these situations don’t derail your operations.

 

Point North Networks can help you build out a disaster recovery plan and test it periodically to ensure your business can recover without a hitch. To learn more, reach out to us at 651-234-0895.

3 Tips to Keep Your Data Safe

3-tips-to-keep-your-data-safe

Data Privacy Week happens this month and it’s the perfect time to assess your company’s overall network security. There are many ways to do this and Point North Networks can cover almost all of them. Here are 3 of the best ways you can start ensuring your data is as protected as it can be.

Get an IT & Cybersecurity assessment

A free IT & cybersecurity assessment from Point North Networks is a great place to start. During your full audit, we will provide you with detailed information on servers, workstations, and networking devices. We will also identify risks from misconfigurations, network vulnerabilities, and user threats. It also includes an internal and external vulnerability scan, a ransomware protection review, and a comprehensive SWOT analysis and roadmap. How much more thorough could that be?

Train your employees

Knowledge is power when it comes to cybersecurity threats. Another way to keep your data safe is to empower your employees to know how to do that. Point North Networks provides employee cybersecurity training that is engaging and relatable, not demeaning. We first assess your organization’s risk using the Employee Vulnerability Assessment and then we help you fight cybercriminals from the inside out with this training.

Get your network on a secure private cloud

Point North Networks provides PCI, NIST, & HIPAA compliant IT solutions to keep your business running safely without missing a beat. Secure cloud hosting infrastructure provides higher security and privacy. It ensures your data is always monitored and accessible and our service provides full-data backup, too.

Contact Point North Networks today to get set up with a free IT & Cybersecurity Assessment during Data Privacy Week.

Why you Should Perform Regular IT & Cybersecurity Assessments

Businesswoman-Using-Laptop

As technology advances, so will the cyber threats that can affect your business. With the rise of remote working and more businesses moving their operations online, your business faces increased risks of being targeted by cybercriminals trying to hack and destroy small and mid-sized businesses without dedicated IT security teams. Here are 3 reasons why it might be time to perform an IT & cybersecurity assessment if you haven’t in over a year.

One weak link is all it takes

One ill-advised employee can damage your company’s reputation. Your spam filter isn’t enough. 48% of hackers and incident respondents spend 1-5 hours per week keeping up with security news, trends, and technologies. Your employees need to be informed.

Point North Networks is Minnesota’s team of cyber security experts. We have a trusted and proven system for training your team to protect itself from cyber security threats.

Your business needs to meet compliance requirements

Many businesses are operating without knowing that parts of their IT plan may not be compliant with their industry.

Our Private Cloud Hosting services from our Minneapolis & Eagan facilities support a wide array of organizations, from healthcare, financial services companies, merchants, and SaaS providers, helping them all to ensure their infrastructure, websites, and applications meet the compliance requirements of FedRAMP, FISMA, SSAE18, HIPAA, and PCI-DSS.

No one wants to lose information

Are you backing things up and storing your information in a safe manner? Have a data recovery plan in place before a disaster happens, like vital information being lost.

Our data disaster recovery solutions cover all device makes and models as well as all operating systems and software. We have extensive experience in recovering data of all sizes and in various industries. We also provide a secure backup of your recovered files through our computer solutions and data recovery.

Point North Networks is running free IT & Cybersecurity Assessments. We will provide detailed information on servers, workstations, and networking devices to identify risks. Take advantage of this by simply scheduling some time to discuss it.

Contact Point North Networks today for your IT Assessment.

3 Easy Actions

3 Easy Actions Every Employee Can Do to Keep Their Computer Clean

Regular computer maintenance is part of maintaining healthy IT infrastructure, but one aspect that can often go by the wayside is keeping your computer physically clean. By this, we mean keeping it dust-free, clean and tidy. We’ve put together a shortlist of everyday actions that employees of any caliber can use to keep their workstations clean. This will help your organization take preventative measures over time and (hopefully) prolong the lifespan of your business’ technology.

Before you begin cleaning up your device, we recommend that you power it down and unplug it from its power source. The last thing you want to do is give yourself a jolt on accident!

Keep the Fans Free of Dust

You may have noticed that dust tends to gather around vents and fans on your computer’s casing. If left unchecked, this dust could affect airflow and become a major problem in the long term. This is why it’s so beneficial to keep things clear; the last thing you want is your computer to overheat due to an easily preventable thing like the accumulation of dust. Use a can of compressed air to blow the dust away from the vent (Note: NOT into the computer–this does the exact opposite of what you want).

Wipe Down Screens and Surfaces

No matter how frequently a device is used, chances are it will accumulate some sort of dust on its surface. This is especially the case with your monitors. If you plan to wipe the dust off of them, we recommend that you use a microfiber cloth specifically for this purpose, and whatever you do, don’t spray anything directly onto your monitor’s screen. The same can be said for your keyboard. If you use a can of compressed air to blow away dust, combined with a microfiber cloth, you should be able to get your device reasonably clean.

 

That doesn’t mean you can’t use a cleaning agent to clean your screens, we find that good eyeglass cleaner works great, but harsh chemicals could cause damage. This works great for smartphones and tablets as well, but spray a clean microfiber cloth, don’t spray the device.

Keep Food and Drink Away

This is more of a preventative measure rather than an actual cleaning tip, but if you can keep your workstation tidy in the first place, the less cleaning you will have to do in the long run. Crumbs and other gunk can easily find their way into your keyboard, especially if you are the type of employee who often finds themselves working through their lunch break. The same can be said for liquids; even water can create problems if it gets under your keys or into your computer’s components, and you better hope that you never spill something sugary on your keyboard. While it isn’t necessarily a death sentence for your keyboard, the effort it takes to clean up after such a spill will make you want to just buy a new one instead. Better to just eliminate the possibility and keep your workplace clear of anything of the sort.

Perform More Thorough Cleaning

Every so often it helps to perform a cleaning that is more than just at the surface level. By this, we mean going into your case and making sure that there is minimal dust clogging up your PC’s components. Obviously this is something that you should only attempt if you are familiar with the innards of a computer, so if you are not adequately trained or experienced in this prospect, we recommend working with Point North Networks, Inc., to make sure your workstation gets the deep cleaning it needs to promote longevity. To learn more, reach out to us at 651-234-0894.

 

Effective Digital Transformation

3 Variables You Need to Consider for an Effective Digital Transformation

For decades, technology has been the driving force behind some of the biggest and most radical shifts in business. Therefore, it makes sense to assume that the keys to your organization pushing past its limits and becoming truly exceptional lies in the implementation of new technologies that change operations in a profound way. The process of digital transformation does not have to be difficult, but it is important in a business environment so that you can stay competitive.

Digital transformation is the process of implementing new technologies and rethinking the relationship that your goods, services, and operations have with them. It can be seen as a way to innovate and make advancements in ways that might not otherwise be possible. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced many companies to accelerate their adoption of technology, so digital transformation is a trend that is rapidly increasing in popularity. To help your company make the best decision possible regarding technology, we have put together an easy three-step process you can follow when implementing new technology for your company.

Make Sure Your Objectives Align with Your Business Goals

The technology you implement should align with what you are trying to accomplish as a business. If your goal is to develop products, consider technology solutions that streamline that process. If your goal is to get the word out about services, consider ways that technology can help you get the word out. If your goal is to provide exceptional customer support, think of ways that technology can streamline the process for customers to receive the help they need when they need it. In other words, implementing technology without a clear and defined goal is not going to help your business; if anything, it will make your infrastructure more complicated and bogged down, so we encourage you to think about what your business does well and how technology can help you do it better.

Lean On Your IT Department or IT Resource

When it comes to your business’ implementation of new technology solutions, you want to take as hands-off a position as possible. Too often management and the C-suite get too involved in the decision-making process regarding IT. It is important to remember that you have an IT department or IT resource for a reason; respect their opinions and consult them on the implementation process. Understand that you may have a biased opinion of the technology because you want it to succeed and you think that it can be a great asset, but know that the ones making the cold and calculated decisions are often the IT resources implementing the solution. Just because something works perfectly for one organization does not mean that it will for you, and you should ensure that any solution you choose to implement is right for your organization well before the implementation process begins.

Get Your Staff On Board

Any new tools you implement will surely come with some resistance from your staff. Sometimes those who have been with you for a while are stuck in their ways and might not immediately see the benefits of implementing great new technology solutions. Therefore, it becomes your responsibility to show them just how much they stand to gain from not just learning your new tools, but mastering them as well. Implementing new technology is most beneficial when it’s done in a top-down manner, meaning the boss shows the employees just how confident they are in the solution by actively using it themselves. Employees are more likely to buy in when they know there is some passion behind it, and they will appreciate any training you can offer so they too can learn as much as possible about it.

Get Started with Digital Transformation Today

Point North Networks, Inc., can help your organization adopt new technology solutions and improve operations for the better. Our trusted technicians can be there for every stage of the process, from design to implementation to training and support. To learn more about how we can make a difference with your digital transformation strategy, reach out to us at 651-234-0895.

adding new tech

Considerations That You Need to Make When Adding New Technologies

It’s no secret that new technology can be useful for a business, unfortunately too many businesses struggle with their technology implementations. When adding new tools to your business, you will need to understand that the more deliberate you are, the more success you will find. Rushing any new deployment is sure to have some types of issues. For today’s blog, we take you through some of the best practices of adding new technology to your business.

Your Business’ Needs

When looking to add technology, you should only do so when you recognize a need for some. Too many businesses add technology that, in theory, will enhance productivity only to have problems supplanting the practical usefulness of their current technology. Of course, there will always be some type of transitional period, but the more a business is identifying problems and deploying technologies as a response, the fewer problems they will ultimately run into.

Take a Beat

Another solid practice to adhere to before you go ahead and start putting new technology in place is to take a bit before you make any financial commitments. Can you make do with the technology you have? Could it just be some strategic alterations you can make that won’t necessitate the time and expense that goes along with new technology? Sometimes it’s just about using the tools you have more effectively, not introducing new tools. Take some time to adjust and monitor, but at the end of that time, if you’re convinced the new technology gives you the best chance to be competitive, then go ahead and go for it.

Assign a Competent Project Manager

A large percentage of new technology implementation failures happen because the people running the project are stretched too thin, or aren’t up to the task of carrying out the project. For small business owners, it is tempting to do it yourself, but your influence is more important in other parts of your business. You need to have a project manager to serve as the point of contact, develop the training regimens and schedules, and deal with the inevitable challenges that arise during the new technology deployment.

Stand Behind Your Choice and Get to Training

Once the project begins, one of the most important parts of implementing new technology is to get your people behind it. Typically, there is some type of pushback, even if people have been complaining about the old technology for some time. Workers get comfortable with one thing and are afraid that their jobs will change for the worse if they are forced into using new technology. Some even think that their jobs will be irrelevant. For the business owner to get their people behind the new technology, you need to explain how it will positively affect their jobs and the company as a whole. By getting people to understand the positive aspects of implementing new tools, they will be more engaged in the training process, and ultimately, get up to speed faster.

Testing

After implementation and training, understanding how best to use the technology is going to be a process. The best way to ascertain this is by testing. Testing the solution, the employees, and the whole workflow is a critical step in understanding what changes need to be made, what policies need to be altered, and how the system works for your business. You’ll want to give your workers advanced notice that there will be training and monitoring as to make them understand that the more committed they are to getting the technology incorporated, the faster things can go back to normal. Additionally, you will want to get feedback from your employees. They are the ones that are using the new technology, after all.

Get It Working

Finally, after all the hand wringing, politicking, testing, and tweaking, your business will have new, and hopefully better technology to use. Adjustments to the tool will be ongoing, of course, but it’s a solid practice to get it as close to finished before you start using it for day-to-day operations.

 

New technology can be extremely useful for a business, but without the consideration that it is going to change the way you do things, it can be a major problem, too. If you would like to talk to one of our IT experts about how we can help your business implement the technology you need to improve your operations, and do it successfully the first time, give Point North Networks, Inc., a call today at 651-234-0895.

password best practices

Password Best Practices from the National Institute of Standards and Technology

Passwords are probably the most important part of keeping accounts secure. That’s why it is so important to follow industry best practices when creating them. Today, we’ll take a look at the standards outlined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in creating the best and most secure passwords.

What Is NIST?

For years, NIST has been the predominant organization in the establishment of password creation standards. They continuously change their advised practices to meet with the current cybersecurity demands. They recently updated their guidelines so we thought we would go over what strategies they suggest, to give you an idea of what makes a secure password.

New Guidelines

Many corporations are currently using the NIST guidelines and all Federal agencies are expected to utilize them. Let’s go through their newest password guidelines step by step.

#1 – Longer Passwords are Better than More Complicated Ones

For years, it was preached that the more complicated the password, the more secure the account. Today’s guidelines refute that notion. NIST suggests that the longer the password, the harder it is to decrypt. What’s more, they suggest that organizations that require new passwords meet a certain criteria of complexity (letters, symbols, changes of case) actually make passwords less secure.

 

The reasoning behind this is two-fold. First, most users, in an attempt to complicate their passwords will either make them too complicated (and forget them) or they will take the cursory step of adding a one or an exclamation point to the end of a password, which doesn’t complicate the password as much, if at all. Secondly, the more complex a user makes a password, the more apt they are to use the same password for multiple accounts, which of course, is not a great idea.

#2 – Get Rid of the Resets

Many organizations like to have their staff reset their password every month or few months. This strategy is designed to give them the peace of mind that if a password were compromised that the replacement password would lock unauthorized users out after a defined set of time. What NIST suggests is that it actually works against your authentication security.

 

The reason for this is that if people have to set passwords up every few weeks or months, they will take less time and care on creating a password that will work to keep unwanted people out of the business’ network. Moreover, when people do change their password, they typically keep a pattern to help them remember them. If a previous password has been compromised, there is a pretty good chance that the next password will be similar, giving the attacker a solid chance of guessing it quickly.

#3 – Don’t Hurt Security by Eliminating Ease of Use

One fallacy many network administrators have is that if they remove ease of use options like showing a password while a user types it or allowing for copy and pasting in the password box that it is more likely that the password will be compromised. In fact, the opposite is true. Giving people options that make it easier for them to properly authenticate works to keep unauthorized users out of an account.

#4 – Stop Using Password Hints

One popular way systems were set up was to allow them to answer questions to get into an account. This very system is a reason why many organizations have been infiltrated. People share more today than ever before and if all a hacker needs to do is know a little personal information about a person to gain access to an account, they can come across that information online; often for free.

#5 – Limit Password Attempts

If you lock users out after numerous attempts of entering the wrong credentials, you are doing yourself a service. Most times people will remember a password, and if they don’t they typically have it stored somewhere. Locking users out of an account, at least for a short period of time is a good deterrent from hackers that use substitution codes to try and guess a user’s credentials.

#6 – Use Multi-factor Authentication

At Point North Networks, Inc., we urge our clients to use multi-factor or two-factor authentication on every account that allows them to. According to NIST they want users to be able to demonstrate at least two of three authentication measures before a successful login. They are:

  1. “Something you know” (like a password)
  2. “Something you have” (like a mobile device)
  3. “Something you are” (like a face or a fingerprint)

 

It stands to reason that if you can provide two out of three of those criteria, that you belong accessing the system or data that is password protected.

 

Security has to be a priority for your business, and password creation has to be right up there with the skills everyone should have. If you would like to talk to one of our IT experts about password management and how we can help your business improve its authentication security, give us a call today at 651-234-0895.