Ransomware Protection

With most of the world now connected to the Internet, malware has spread to more computers across the globe. One of the most troubling and costly trends in recent years has been the rise and spread of ransomware, which is a type of malware that renders a user’s files unreadable until they pay a ransom.

Ransomware attacks have increased in the last year, affecting 621 entities between January and September of 2019. Ransomware attacks can occur when a company doesn’t have adequate security measures in place. In some cases, an attack will start from one compromised computer and spread to other computers on the company’s network. During an attack, a company’s files and data can suddenly become locked down. The individuals or organizations behind the attack often demand a ransom before it will free the company’s data.

As attacks of this nature increase, companies across the business, government and medical sectors are wondering how to prevent ransomware from taking root on computers and spreading across networks.

Protecting Your Business from Ransomware

During the second quarter of 2018, the typical ransomware payout was $36,295. Due to the high-cost nature of recent ransomware attacks, businesses have grown concerned about their online security. Each time you update a set of security programs and install the latest patches, a new round of viruses are being written to bypass security. Many of the recent cases of ransomware attacks have started with one machine and moved to connected computers on the same network. Ransomware often goes undetected, at least initially, even by some of the savviest computer users.

Knowing how to detect ransomware is crucial for all companies that hope to stay competitive in the increasing online economy. In most industries, system problems that last just a few hours can cost a company thousands of dollars. When ransomware spreads across a company’s computer system, it becomes difficult for IT techs to contain and remedy.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts a user’s hard drive and makes all files unreadable until a ransom amount is paid to the entity behind the attack. A ransomware virus will generally infect a computer in one of two ways: through a drive-by download or from a phishing email.

In a drive-by download scenario, a person might visit a website that appears legitimate, only to have the browser overtaken by a prompt that offers a false dilemma, such as asking the user to confirm the download. If the user presses “no” or “deny,” the threat actor uploads the ransomware to the user’s computer anyway.

With phishing email, a user receives a message that appears to be from someone they know or a company they work with. The email might ask the user to visit a website to provide more information. If the recipient clicks on the link, a similar situation to the drive-by download can occur, where a popup appears and takes over the computer, locking out the user.

How Does Ransomware Work?

Once a ransomware virus downloads itself onto a computer, the virus makes files on the machine un-viewable. The virus can also spread to peripheral drives and other computers on the same network. When a ransomware virus infects one computer on a company network, the whole entire company could effectively have its system breached, pending the isolation and removal of the virus in question.

Ransomware is accompanied by messages that inform the victim that computer files and data will not be readable until a ransom amount has been paid. The virus keeps the files in an unreadable state by encrypting different file types with strange extensions, such as .xyz, .locky, .vault, .zzz, .petya, .ttt, and .aaa. Even if the ransom amount is paid, the files might remain unreadable. Often times, the ransom goes up to a higher amount.

U.S. law enforcement agencies advise against paying ransom to the threat actors behind these attacks because doing so can encourage further ransomware hits. Instead, victims can try decryption software, which can sometimes unlock affected files, making them viewable again. Scan the affected computer for malignant attachments and return the system to an earlier state, if possible. Backing up an operating system when it’s virus-free makes it easier to restore the machine in the future, if necessary.

Ransomware Targeting Businesses

In its August 2019 report on ransomware attacks, antivirus firm Malwarebytes tracked a 363 percent increase in incidents over the prior year. The rise in recent ransomware attacks on businesses has spurred a 34% increase in cyber insurance since 2017. The fact that threat actors have cost businesses thousands of dollars in the span of months is an indicator of the growing sophistication of the viruses in question. As such, IT techs must be knowledgeable about how ransomware targets businesses in today’s online environment.

Individuals were once seen as soft targets by the entities behind ransomware-type viruses. In recent times, however, threat actors have stepped up their efforts to target companies and large corporations. The idea here is to infect the machines of one or several staff members at a target company and spread the virus onto other machines in the company’s network.

How Does Ransomware Spread Across a Network?

When ransomware is initially encountered on a network computer, the virus targets the company’s domain controller to spread itself across the network. This is done with a self-enacting PowerShell script, which decodes and opens a reverse shell that allows the threat actor to penetrate the first in a sequence of network computers. The domain controller then duplicates the virus onto other machines in the network. Such viruses will typically enact a number of tasks, such as the suspension of system files and the execution of pre-installed infections.

Some of the worst cases of network attacks have started on the machine of an unsuspecting company employee who opens an email or clicks on a link that immediately overtakes the machine. Often times, the individual will initially try to end the program and only report the matter after it becomes obvious that files cannot be opened or that an unknown extension file cannot be ended in Task Manager. By the time the matter is reported to IT staff, the ransomware will have spread to numerous other computers on the company’s network.

Company networks tend to be more vulnerable when certain computers within the network are older and lack the capacity for today’s more advanced security patches. A ransomware virus might download on to one of these machines and then spread to other computers on the same network. Ransomware can also spread across a network when infected files are shared between colleagues on a company cloud server.

Recent Ransomware Attacks

During the first quarter of 2019, ransomware attacks saw a 195-percent spike over the prior quarter. During that same period, ransomware attacks on individuals dropped by 33 percent. The shift has marked a change in tactics among threat actors, who have recently grown more emboldened to target larger businesses.

In 2018, the FBI received 1,394 complaints about ransomware attacks, which were estimated to be responsible for $3.6 million in losses for the parties affected. However, such figures have not taken into account the number of computer users that have not reported such attacks to the authorities. The true number of ransomware victims, both knowing and unsuspecting, is expected to be far higher.

The healthcare industry has been a frequent target of ransomware attacks. In its 2018 report on Internet crime, the FBI noted 337 cases involving hospitals, companies and people in the public and private healthcare sectors. The attacks resulted in $4.7 million in losses.

Between June 2018 and June 2019, companies within the U.S. were the target of 53 percent of the world’s ransomware attacks. Canada came in second at 10 percent, followed by the U.K. at nine percent with Brazil and Italy each with seven percent of global ransomware incidents.

How to Prevent & Detect Ransomware

There are things companies can do to help prevent a ransomware attack. Remind employees to be cautious with any emails they receive. If they can’t verify that an email is from a particular organization or individual, encourage them to report it. It’s also a good idea to be careful when visiting websites and to ask employees to double-check the URL before they click “enter.”

One way for employees to verify that a website is the real deal before they visit it is to have them search for the site on Google, rather than click through an email or type in a link.

It’s also important for a business to back up files and data regularly. Duplicate all of your company’s data on external drives. Once copied, disconnect the external drive from your computer. Perform this step every day, if necessary, to avoid the loss of any critical data.

If you think that ransomware has downloaded onto a network computer, turn off the machine and report the incident to your company’s IT department. Check other company computers to see if the virus has spread.

To stop the virus, IT techs will quarantine the first computer and run diagnostic tests. The computer should not be reconnected to the network until it’s either virus-free or restored to an earlier back-up version. In some instances, IT might need to wipe the computer and reinstall everything.

To keep your company safe from ransomware attacks in the future, hold training sessions frequently. During these sessions, have IT techs cover all the basics of ransomware prevention with your team members. The topics covered in these sessions should go into detail about the warning signs, such as seemingly innocuous or friendly emails and the links contained within such messages.

Have your workforce undergo testing to ensure that they know how to identify potential threats. Your IT team might design a fake phishing email and send it across the network to see whether all of your company’s rank and file and informed enough about ransomware to pass the test.

Contact PCS to Protect Your Company’s Data Today

The rise of ransomware has followed the general pattern of malware viruses. As security systems grow tighter, threat actors work harder to bypass security patches and system firewalls. Every time that a new patch is devised to protect computers from existing threats, cyber thieves and hackers are working on their next round of attacks. Consequently, ransomware could make its way onto your company’s computer system. if the people on your workforce do not how to prevent ransomware from taking root on the company network.

Of course, not all companies know how to deal with the spread of ransomware. Regardless of the markets you serve, your team should ultimately be able to focus on its own areas of expertise while working and interacting online and via cloud servers without fear of viruses, hijacked files and ransom messages.

At PCS, we provide data backup and protection services for small businesses, schools, hospitals, insurance agencies, accounting firms, and various other companies. Contact us today to learn more about how our services can protect your company from ransomware attacks.

Posted in IT

Should My Business Be Using the Cloud?

Today’s businesses require larger and larger computing infrastructures. At the same time, companies are looking to smart-size and trim overhead. Since the early 2010s, the new option of cloud computing has allowed businesses to scale down their computer arsenals and handle more tasks online. The benefits of cloud computing help both large business operations and smaller business processes.

What Is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing is a type of on-demand computing service where a third-party provider manages your company’s software and storage. With cloud computing, you can outsource vital computing tasks and minimize the size of your in-house operations. There are three basic types of cloud computing services available for today’s businesses:

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is a cloud service model where an entire business computing infrastructure is handled remotely at the server end. IaaS is an ideal option for any large company that wishes to smart-size its in-house staff departments and outsource IT tasks to an offsite third party. IaaS is also the preferred choice of smaller businesses that wish to keep their in-house computer arsenals to a minimum and save money on IT-related costs.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS): Platform as a Service (PaaS) is a cloud service model where a third-party cloud server manages a company’s computing platform remotely. With PaaS, the server handles various aspects of a computer platform, including networks, servers, operating systems, software, middleware and more. PaaS is ideal for businesses of all sizes that wish to trim or eliminate their in-house computing platforms.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS): Software as a Service (SaaS) is a cloud computing model where you can subscribe to a software program and have it operate on a third-party server. SaaS is a good option for any company that wishes to minimize its in-house computer network and avoid the technical aspects of software maintenance. With SaaS, you never have to take time out for software updates or to synchronize various in-house devices for compatibility because all updates are universally adaptable and pre-tested for bugs.

You can further modify the aforementioned computing services by choosing between three basic types of cloud models:

  • Public: With a public cloud model, a third-party provider handles all of your cloud services. As a subscriber business, your company would pay for the service on a month-by-month or year-by-year basis, scaling up and scaling down as necessary.
  • Private: With a private cloud model, you would build your own cloud with the help of a software program. You would control the cloud and therefore be responsible for the programming, maintenance, upgrades and software installations.
  • Hybrid: In a hybrid cloud model, your operations would be split between a public and a private computing model. The hybrid model option is one of the most significant benefits of cloud computing for small businesses that need to adjust slowly to online operations.

A company could easily switch from one cloud model to another during the course of its development.

The Challenges of Using the Cloud

The business benefits of cloud computing are numerous, but challenges could arise if you do not carefully navigate the transition process. Here are 12 common hurdles you could encounter when you transition to cloud computing.

1. The Learning Curve

When you first make the switch to cloud computing, it can be difficult to adjust your business infrastructure to this virtual realm unless you go with a platform-as-a-service (PaaS). With PaaS, your involvement is prescriptive and therefore something you can scale up or down and roll out at your own discretion. This way, your business can implement process changes as you are ready for the changes throughout the PaaS transition.

2. Bumpy Transitioning

Adapting to a cloud-based infrastructure involves a period of transition. If you have a large workforce with differing tech skills across departments, or a smaller team with varying levels of abilities, certain segments of your workforce might have difficulty switching to cloud-based processes. Therefore, you might need to retrain your staff and prepare for larger training or workflow challenges, especially if your company is giant and micro-compartmentalized. A smaller company might navigate the transition more quickly because you can potentially train all staff on the new processes and procedures at the same time and move through any points of confusion faster.

3. Uncertainty About Your Needs

To fully assimilate to a cloud-based infrastructure, you will need to have a clearly defined business objective. If you sign on for a cloud service, it will change your business operations. Therefore, you must be determined to actively engage your business in the migration process. At the same time, you should choose a service that will help your company navigate the process of migration.

4. Trust Issues

If you are new to the cloud, you might have reservations about its structure. Will it be safe and secure? Will your workforce be able to adapt when all is said and done? Will the cloud provider be able to maintain its uptime and provide technical support when necessary? In 2019, the answer to these questions is yes, providing you choose a reliable service.

5. Time, Volume and Security

For companies that are long-entrenched in the formats of paper documents and local hard discs, the concept of having everything digitized and remotely accessible can seem daunting and riddled with security issues. However, the benefits will be tenfold in terms of the space you will save once you have moved your business to a secure cloud server. You can cut down on the volume of physical file storage and save time finding and accessing files when and where you need them. For a small business, this accessibility increases your capabilities, and for larger businesses, this also streamlines processes across entire teams and increases your employee’s abilities to get things done.

6. Going Overboard

When you first make the switch to a cloud-based business infrastructure, it is important to only make as many moves as your company can handle at a time. If you go full-transition on day one, the change could be confusing and cost you buy-in — especially if you have a large team with varying degrees of tech knowledge.

7. Sufficient Space and Backup

If your company comes to rely exclusively on cloud computing, you will need to rearrange your workspace to accommodate this new setup. Depending on the size of your company, this might entail having access to several ISPs and sufficient redundancy, both remote and local, for backup in the event of a mass outage. You will need to restructure your budget to cover these fail-safes.

8. Miscalculated Costs

Some companies miscalculate upcoming business costs in advance of a major change. The common mistake is to look at things from a cent-per-service model without considering how this could multiply over the course of a month or year. A safer way to determine costs and benefit from the switch is to take stock of your least-used in-house services and possibly subtract them from the list of services you migrate to a cloud server. Moving only certain parts of a business to the cloud, like email, can benefit smaller companies that might only have one office. Moving the entire business to the cloud can help larger companies that have employees that travel frequently or work in many different locations.

9. Radical Modifications for a Cloud Service

If you radically restructure things to conform to a cloud service, it could be a case of too much change with too little preparation or foresight. On the other hand, if you are unwilling to adopt any aspect of your business to accommodate the cloud-based model, you could end up missing out on the benefits of making such changes. The solution is to adopt modestly at a slow but steady pace.

10. Security Assurance in a Cloud Setting

If you have concerns about the security of a cloud server, you can always hire a third-party analytics firm to examine the server’s security. The firm could then offer reports on the degree to which the server is foolproof. This way, you can judge if you are making a safe choice when you subscribe your company to a cloud server.

11. Leasing vs. Owning

If you are ready to move your computing infrastructure to a cloud server, you should compare the benefits of leasing versus acquiring. If you subscribe to a cloud at a fully leased rate, the costs could be higher in the long run than if you simply acquire and finance the storage. Granted, leasing makes it faster and easier to implement cloud, but it could be more cost-effective to acquire.

12. Considering a Hybrid System as You Transfer

When you move your company computing to a cloud server, the lengthiest task will involve transferring your company records. The task could be especially cumbersome if your records are long and yet not even cloud-ready. As you embark on this task, you should have an interim plan to ensure your company runs smoothly until the records are fully cloud-based. Consider implementing a hybrid system to navigate the lengthy transition between local and cloud-based computing.

Why Businesses Should Make the Switch

Although some companies are wary of using the cloud, the benefits of cloud computing far outweigh the risks, especially when working with an IT company like PCS to make the switch. Businesses of all sizes can save money and trim overhead when they sign onto a cloud server. Here are nine advantages of cloud computing for business operations.

1. Scale Up and Down

If your company engages in online commerce, the fluctuations in traffic might be hard to accommodate if you run everything in-house on local system software. When you run your businesses operations via cloud-based system software, it could be a whole lot easier for your team to scale up and down to meet market demand on a season-by-season basis.

2. Maximize IT Processes While Reducing Costs

With cloud computing, you can reap the benefits of a large, in-house IT department at only a fraction of the cost. Cloud computing makes it possible to smart-size your company down to a team of workers who can handle the majority of business operations on a remotely implemented software system. You would no longer need to invest in a vast arsenal of computers and peripheral devices or hire a separate team of workers to maintain such equipment.

3. Implement and Deploy With Less Overhead

Once you hire a cloud server for your computing needs, system updates will be rolled out instantly on the other end, allowing your team to proceed with business unabated. Overall, this setup is far more efficient than most in-house IT departments, where system updates can cause compatibility issues with assorted network devices. With cloud computing, system updates are universally compatible with all connected PCs, laptops and mobile devices.

4. Easily Set Up a Multi-Region/International Infrastructure

If your company is spread across multiple regions, nations and continents, a cloud-based system could make it far easier to roll out updates to your computing infrastructure. Each software system and version update would be implemented on the server end, allowing your staff to log in from any location with internet access.

5. Enjoy Infinite Storage Regardless of Physical Space

Once you have the entirety of your company records stored on a cloud server, you could do away with paper files and operate a more compact business operation. If your company headquarters is large, the space that was once reserved for filing cabinets could be rearranged for other uses. Alternately, you could move your operations to a smaller, less sprawling set of office spaces and trim your monthly rent expenses. Theoretically, you could even run a large company from out of your home once you have all the computing and data storage handled on a cloud server.

6. Expand Your Team in Far-off Territories

For smaller businesses, one of the greatest cloud computing benefits is how it allows you to expand your workforce into other territories. If you operate from a single location, you could hire people in other cities, states and countries and have them work for your company as telecommuters. When you hire a new employee, he or she could simply log into your cloud-based business database and work on projects from a PC, laptop or smartphone.

7. Utilize an Easy-to-Manage Disaster Recovery Plan

In a local storage-only company infrastructures, system crashes and data loss can be costly and disastrous for any business. When you run everything via the cloud, you could organize a more readily accessible disaster recovery plan. All your data could be remotely stored on two or more remote servers for instant access and retrieval. If a major power outage affects your area, you won’t have to worry about brownouts frying your motherboards and computer devices because your computing system will primarily exist in the virtual sense.

8. Take Advantage of Instant Software Rollouts and Data Backup

Tasks such as system updates and database backups can be time-consuming for any business. With a cloud server, you can leave those tasks to the techs on the server end and devote more in-house hours to productive tasks. Best of all, there is less risk of update failures or incompatibility because all software updates are pre-tested at the server end for universal compatibility with modern-day computing devices.

9. Utilize Flexible Payment Options

For startup businesses, cloud computing is a far more affordable option than in-house tech because you can start with minimal services and scale up as your company expands. This stands in marked contrast to the pre-cloud model for new businesses, where you would need significant startup capital just to launch. With cloud computing, you could keep your overhead as low as possible and order more services as your business becomes more profitable.

Choose PCS for Cloud Computing Services Today

If you are thinking of moving your large or small business to the cloud, choose a service with maximum security and customer support. At PCS, we offer cloud services that are designed to be scaled up or down according to the needs of a given month. Contact us today for more information and to request a quote.

Posted in IT

Psst! It’s Phishing that’s the Danger

Pronouncing the word — Phishing — might provide a verbal stumble (it’s “fishing”), but it creates mayhem for everyone who uses a computer or digital device, often with devastating results.

What is Phishing?

Phishing is the illegal practice of trying to trick someone into opening a malicious email, then interacting with them to benefit the intruder and harm the recipient. Invaders try to gain access to your usernames, passwords and sensitive information.

Who Is Targeted by Phishing?

Everyone is a target, from small-business owners and government employees to students and retirees. If you have an email address, you’re at risk. There’s even a subdivision called Spear Phishing that directs attacks at senior leadership and high-profile candidates ranging from corporate executive to major nonprofits and government leaders.

What Happens When You Click the Link

The most common result is that you’ve released malware that harms your computer. It allows the intruder to gain access to private information such as usernames and passwords. But it can get worse. Some intruders will shut down your computer and force you to pay a ransom to regain access. It’s ransomware, the ultimate digital blackmail.

Why Phishing Works

Phishing is everywhere because of our digital world, with emails as a prime example. In 2017, hackers sent about 269 billion (that’s billion) phishing links and expect to reach 333 billion by 2020.

Phishing is a fear monger, which allows it to work so effectively. It occurs with delivery notices (FedEx, UPS, etc.) voicemails, coupons, false invoices, faked accounts and late health club notices. The idea is simple; create fear or tension in the recipient and get him to react. By creating this emotion, many people click on a link — what do you mean I owe the IRS?  If even one person in your organization or company clicks on the link, the invader can compromise and devastate your entire network.

Are Small Businesses & Organizations Safe From Phishing?

No. Remember it is software programs (powered by artificial intelligence) that are searching for computers. They don’t know if you’re a mom-and-pop or a billion-dollar corporation. Sometimes, they’re not after your information but your clients’ or customers’ data.

Help. How Can I Protect Myself From Phishing?

No perfect method exists, but you can minimize entry with these actions:

  • Question every mail. Sometimes you can tell if it doesn’t seem quite right.
  • Question every pop-up. Don’t let a pop-up tantalize you into action.
  • It’s amazing how people are afraid to ask an administrator or technician simple questions about security.
  • Hover over the link. You can often tell something is “fishy” about it.
  • Never send an email confirmation.
  • Question every attachment. Many journalists will NEVER reply to an email that has an attachment. They want to remain virus-free.
  • Security systems are constantly changing. You can only protect yourself by having the latest security updates and a strong malware program and following common-sense security rules. If you have an organization or business, you must ensure that your IT tech not only understands your network but that he is familiar with the most recent security protocols.
  • When in doubt “go old school.” Use what I refer to as “high-speed voice technology.” If the email is from someone you know and it looks fake, pick up the phone and call them to verify.

Contact us PCS for help managing your network security and protect your company’s data today.

Posted in IT

Case Study: Working with Other Tech Firms

An IT Plan When Your Company Expands

 

What made this PCS client unusual is that they are a highly skilled tech firm in their own right. They had deep expertise in audiovisual systems integration, event staging and AV managed services. “You might assume that they would have an attitude that says, ‘We can do this,’ referring to their own skill set,” said the PCS team member who was the lead on the account.

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But they understood two fundamentals about business: The first was that the client didn’t try to shoehorn their expertise into another technical area, and if they did, they knew the effort would drag their staff into an area that was not their core competence. While they had talent in their field, they did not have network or workstation experts, the precise reason they ultimately brought in PCS to help.

The other reason is the spigot analogy. They didn’t have to maintain a standing IT staff with demand hours that might fluctuate. By bringing in PCS to handle the workflow, they didn’t have to worry about whether they suddenly needed one technician or five to service their growing pains. PCS had the ability to handle the need. If they took charge of IT functions in-house, they would have to hire extra employees. The firm had a plan and was confident that they would grow. Of course, what they didn’t know precisely was the pace of that growth.

What gained PCS an initial approval stamp was a short-term project completed on time and within the agreed-upon budget.

They turned to PCS when a previous IT partner was incapable of managing their growth while providing timely service.

The client’s growth pattern panned out as predicted. They grew from two offices to three and 80 employees to 135.  

At day’s end, PCS’s team leader said this client had a firm grip on current needs but was incapable of anticipating future changes with a crystal ball that gave a point-by-point checklist. “What made it work was involving us at the beginning of their strategic planning so that we could both create and implement the IT component of their expansion plans.”

PCS estimates that they saved the firm more than $100,000 in annual IT costs. “As they grow, that figure will increase, but the high standard of our service to them will remain the same,” said the PCS team leader.

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Case Study: IT Support for School Districts

A School District’s Report Card

 

When a New Jersey school district started to face a growing deficit, auditors who examined the systemwide expenditures recognized that the time was ideal for a review and restructuring of its IT department.

The school district called in PCS for an assessment, and the project started with a small, initial step and a single technician. “The technician assigned to the project was a highly skilled person who demonstrated an exceptional work ethic and had the social skills to make it easy to work with,” recalls the PCS partner who directed the team.

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After a short trial period of three months, the school system expanded PCS’s project responsibilities, ultimately replacing eight staff members with four technicians.

People ask the inevitable question: How can 50 percent fewer technicians manage and excel compared with a workforce that was twice its size?

“PCS has an entrepreneurial spirit,” says the team leader. “We’re not on staff, which means we are more vulnerable for replacement, and that keeps us on our toes.”

The other qualities that helped PCS obtain and keep the contract were the depth of its team’s skill set and continuous training.

“As an independent IT service, we have a formal and informal screening process before we hire and send someone out to the client,” the team leader said. “Many companies that hire in-house refer to the new person as their ‘IT guru,’ and yet the individual is only average — or in some cases, below average — as an IT technician. But because that tech might know more than the person doing the hiring, the organization hires them. And it all seems good until the problems begin.”

PCS also understands because they’re not on staff, it is mandatory that their teams remain more responsive to trends and to constantly seek greater efficiency in an organization’s IT system. “Unless you’re always looking to improve, your work effort becomes stale,” said the team leader.

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Case Study: Non-Profit IT Support

Stabilizing the Merger of Statewide Non-Profits

 

A statewide non-profit came to PCS with IT problems related to growth and the merger with other like-minded organizations. The merging organizations had a similar goal: helping to stabilize people’s lives, getting them on their feet and then entering society as a “whole” person.

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But in those combined efforts, the IT collided in a mini-crash. How do you meld all the IT components into a unified IT system with a fully integrated network and internal IT support speaking the same language? In short, the mergers were more than growing pains. They had about 17 different units that need integration, and the organization grew from several hundred people to a staff of more than 1,400. And the inability to smoothly integrate all these components threatened a logistics nightmare.

On the surface, most of the units had an IT person available. But the scale of the integration was beyond their skill set. “An IT person who manages a basic network might be fine for everyday problems that arise, but this merger, both complicated and costly, required a team from PCS and a consulting engineer to pull it off,” said one PCS staffer who worked on the project. “It was the proverbial pieces of the puzzle that you had to put together, ensure they stayed together, and you had to do it with the clock running.”

The usual expected time for the integration of all the networks should have been several months. PCS completed it in a month.  It continues as an outside consultant to the non-profit when network-wide issues arise that need that “next level” of expertise. “We always help our clients but resolving issues, in this case, was even more satisfying because of the good these non-profits do on behalf of their clients,” said a PCS executive.

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Case Study: Manufacturer IT Solutions

An IT Meltdown — Literally

We often use the word “meltdown” to indicate a lack of control, but seldom do we witness it in real life, especially in the IT world. But a Pennsylvania-based manufacturer of plastic components for the food industry had a “real life” meltdown when IT issues arose, culminating in the mountings to their storage system overheating, crashing their entire network. It was a critical problem that occurred at their corporate headquarters but affected several operating plants in different states.

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The meltdown resulted in a two-day loss of manufacturing for the plants before the company could restore their IT network.

“That was a huge loss of time, money, workers hours and delivery schedule because of the failure,” said Anthony Mongeluzo, PCS CEO and president. “They had a full-time administrator on staff, but the complexity of the problem, the replacement of physical infrastructure and the extra technicians that could have sped up the restoration process was lacking. It’s easy to say, ‘all hands on deck,’ but if no one has the specific skill set necessary, you need more than willingness before you can return to normal operations.”

After that painful episode, the manufacturing company brought in PCS to evaluate their IT environment. PCS implemented an initial upgrade and a complete overhaul of their infrastructure that would result in a large virtualization project.

The manufacturer was so pleased with the results that they called PCS in to help integrate their IT network with a newly acquired printing company.

“Acquisitions of companies that might be using a different platform for their IT can be devilishly difficult,” Mongeluzo said. “Some of the secret lies in the prep work before you go live, but you don’t want a team handling it that’s never done it before. There are dozens of ways to go wrong before you flip that final switch.”

The integration went off smoothly, and the manufacturer decided to add a full-time PCS technician stationed at the corporate offices.

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Case Study: Law Firm IT

A Frantic Phone Call … PCS to the Rescue

A True Story

 

It was a warm, late afternoon in May when the call came in after business hours. “Our entire computer system is down, our tech can’t fix it, and someone said you could handle the job,” said the shaky voice on the phone. “Can you fix it?”

Any time your IT system fails, it’s a major problem, whether you’re a company of one or a thousand. This was a major league problem. The caller was a partner at a national law firm with more than 500 lawyers, who recognized that their billings, impending deadlines and obligations were in jeopardy if they were not online the next morning.

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PCS immediately dispatched two of its best technicians to the law firm in Philadelphia, arriving in less than an hour. Back at PCS headquarters, two other technicians — working remotely — stood by, poised to help.

The infrastructure had a “heart attack” because their virtualized environment crashed, said a PCS technician on the rescue team. “We had to stabilize the system, create some desktop support and completely reconfigure their network,” he said.

One lawyer, who watched the PCS duo working on the system, walked over and said: “Do you have any idea how many billable hours we’re going to lose if you don’t get this up and running?” The technician responded with a shoulder shrug and said: “We’ll fix it.”

“It was a perfect storm, which no one anticipates until you’re in it,” said Anthony Mongeluzo, PCS’s CEO and president. “The law firm had gotten comfortable with the system, and they let a few IT people go. The only person on deck was a junior administrator, who lacked the expertise, experience and the crisis checklist to handle a true IT emergency. They turned to another outside IT vendor for help. The vendor knew the depth of the problem and the need for speed were beyond them. They recommended PCS.”

Before midnight, the PCS team was able to resurrect the network and IT system. Before the lawyers returned to their desks the next day, there was no trace of the problem, and they didn’t lose a billable minute. PCS provided new, detailed recommendations on how to prevent a repeat. Within a few months, the law firm turned over their entire IT function to PCS.

“It was a happy ending for the law firm,” said Mongeluzo. “When I got the call thanking me, I said, ‘It’s what we do.’”

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Tech Trends 2019

The future isn’t easy to predict, especially when it comes to tech. Technology is accelerating at an ever-faster pace and plays an integral role in our work and personal lives.

While predictions are not easy, they are interesting and useful. Being involved in the tech business, the team at PCS has insight into what might be next in tech. We’ve compiled our top four technology trends for 2019. These are the technologies that will make the biggest advancements and have the most significant impacts on our lives in 2019.

1. Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence, or AI, has been an important tech trend for the past few years, and we’ll continue to reach more milestones this year. AI will be the driving force behind many of the other technologies that make a significant impact in 2019.

AI refers to the ability of computers to think similarly to humans or use human reasoning to guide how they operate. Using AI, machines can take in information, analyze it and use it to improve how they function or to reach conclusions. AI powers applications such as speech recognition, machine vision, big data analysis and much more. It’s the technology that enables machines to learn how to play games like chess and Go well enough to beat professional human players.

An AI-powered robot has even been granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia. The robot is named Sophia, and she can:

  • Talk
  • Learn
  • Express emotions
  • Remember people she’s met

Since her creation, Sophia has traveled around the world on a publicity tour, and in 2019, she’ll star in her own reality show. The company that created Sophia, Hanson Robotics, has also launched a Kickstarter campaign for Little Sophia, a 14-inch tall robot designed to help kids learn about coding, AI and other tech topics.

How AI Will Evolve in 2019

In 2019, we’ll continue to see AI develop technologically, politically and culturally. More businesses, including those outside the tech industry, will also start to integrate AI into their operations. According to a recent survey conducted by PwC, 20 percent of organizations intend to roll out AI enterprise-wide in 2019. AI certainly won’t reach its peak in 2019, but more businesses will move from pilot programs to implementing AI into their daily activities on a broader scale.

According to Deloitte Analytics senior adviser Thomas H. Davenport, there are three stages companies will go through as they work toward fully implementing AI:

  1. The first stage he calls assisted intelligence. In this stage, companies make data-driven business decisions using big data, the cloud and science-based approaches to decision making. Most companies using AI are at this stage.
  2. In 2019, we’ll see companies moving to the next stage — augmented intelligence. In this phase, machine learning programs will use an existing data management system to support human analytical capabilities.
  3. Further into the future, we’ll enter the autonomous intelligence stage, in which computer systems can act upon the information they receive.

If you want to get started with AI or expand your use of AI in 2019, it’s important to formalize your approach so you can make the most of this technology. Bring together developers, IT professionals and business leaders to create an AI strategy and assign AI-related responsibilities. It can also be useful to focus on using AI for specific tasks rather than complete processes. You can use many AI algorithms for multiple similar tasks with some slight modifications. This enables you to quickly scale your solutions across your organization and get results faster.

Also, pay attention to regulations and standards related to big data and AI, such as the General Data Protection Regulation, which governs commercial use of customer data in the European Union. The evolving AI policy landscape will have an increasingly significant impact on businesses in 2019.

2. Smart Drones

Smart Drones
Drones are another technology we’ve been hearing about for some time that will really take off in 2019. This year, we’ll see smarter drones and increased use of drones in various industries.

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVS), are small aircraft that operate without a human pilot on board and are typically controlled remotely. Drones were originally developed for military applications, but today they have many uses. They are often affixed with a still or video camera but can also carry a range of other sensors.

Consumers fly drones recreationally. Businesses use them in a slew of different ways:

  • News organizations take aerial photos and videos
  • Utility companies and government organizations conduct inspections of infrastructure
  • Scientists attach sensors to UAVs to collect research data
  • Farmers perform soil analysis and shoot pods filled with seeds and nutrients into their fields

The list of applications goes on and on.

One application we’ve heard about for some time is the use of drones to deliver items, such as fast food and small packages, to consumers. Amazon made its first Prime Air delivery in 2016, but drone delivery is not yet widely used. Amazon has been working on drone delivery for some time and says its Prime Air service will one day use drones to deliver packages weighing up to five pounds within 30 minutes.

How Smart Drones Will Evolve in 2019

While there are still some hurdles to overcome, we’re making progress toward drone delivery becoming a reality, and 2019 will be a big year for it. Last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration approved 10 companies — not including Amazon — to be part of a pilot program to advance drone deliveries. This month, Airbus started a new trial project in which drones deliver packages to ships located offshore in ports. Using UAVs in this way is expected to make deliveries up to six times faster and reduce costs by as much as 90 percent.

One thing that is helping advance the UAV industry? The rise of autonomous drones. UAVs are increasingly able to operate with humans on the ground beneath them directly controlling them. This will enable operators to launch and fly drones from anywhere in the world, making the use of drones much more efficient and cost-effective.

Regulations are another important topic related to drones. We’ll continue to see the regulatory landscape regarding UAVs evolve in 2019. This year, we will likely see a new requirement from the FAA for the remote identification of drones, which will allow regulators to see which drones are in the air at any given time. This project will lay the groundwork for unmanned aircraft system traffic management, the long-term objective. This system will enable fleets of drones to operate autonomously on a large scale. If you plan on using UAVs for your business, it’s crucial you stay up-to-date on the regulations that apply in your area.

3. Virtual Doctors


Another one of the latest technology trends for 2019 is virtual health, also called telemedicine. This digital approach to health care has been expanding in recent years and will break into the mainstream in 2019. This year, we’ll start seeing newer innovations and greater acceptance of virtual health.

Virtual health refers to the use of information and telecommunication technologies to deliver health care services to patients at a distance. It may also refer to medical professionals using these technologies to confer with others in the health care field.

There are various technologies that doctors may use to treat patients remotely:

  • Synchronous Video Conferencing: One common approach is the use of synchronous video conferencing. This allows patients to video chat with their doctor using their computer, tablet or smartphone during a virtual appointment.
  • Asynchronous Video: Patients may also use asynchronous video to, for example, send a prerecorded health history to a doctor.
  • Remote Patient Monitoring: Another type of telehealth is remote patient monitoring. This refers to the use of smart devices that record medical data, such as blood pressure or heart rate information, and send it to a doctor. This might be a specialized device, but it could also be something like a smartwatch.
  • Mobile Health: Another approach is mobile health, which refers to the use of mobile devices such as smartphones to provide information or send health-related messages. Mobile health may involve the use of mobile applications, targeted texts or mass notifications about a disease outbreak or other health risk.

Telemedicine is most useful for minor, everyday health issues such as colds, the flu and bronchitis. Talking with a doctor over live video can save patients considerable amounts of time as compared to physically going to a doctor’s office. Patients can video chat with their regular doctors or with a doctor they only see virtually. Telemedicine can be especially valuable to people who live in remote places and don’t have quick access to a physical doctor’s office.

According to a recent study by the American Medical Association, around 15 percent of doctors work in a practice that uses virtual health technologies to interact with patients. About 11 percent work in practices that use telehealth to communicate with other medical professionals. The researchers also found that the use of telemedicine varies by specialty. Radiologists, psychiatrists and cardiologists use it the most to interact with patients, while allergists, immunologists, gastroenterologists and OB-GYNs use it the least.

How Virtual Doctors Will Evolve in 2019

This year, we’ll see the use of virtual health increase in part due to changes in reimbursement. In 2018, the CHRONIC Care Act and new billing codes were introduced and helped pave the way for increased adoption of telemedicine. Further changes in these areas will bring telehealth further into the mainstream in 2019.

Technological advancements will play a role as well. Virtual medicine innovators have already started using AI to improve diagnoses, recommend treatments and more. As these systems gather more data, they’ll become more valuable and play a more integral role in health care. 5G, the next generation of mobile communications technology, will also support the use of virtual health technologies.

4. Self-Driving Cars


We can expect some major announcements from self-driving car companies in 2019. Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently said that the company is on track to release a fully self-driving car before the year ends. Alphabet Inc. subsidiary Waymo plans to open an 85,000-square-foot facility in Mesa, Arizona, in the second half of this year, which will help it add to its existing fleet of around 600 self-driving vehicles. These are just two of many companies working on autonomous vehicle technology.

Even if these promises do come true, regulations might still require a human to be behind the wheel. That’s how Waymo currently operates its autonomous car ride-hailing service, and Musk offered this caveat to his promise.

What exactly do Musk and other leaders in the autonomous vehicle space mean when they talk about self-driving vehicles? A fully autonomous car would be one that would not require the driver to take any action to operate the vehicle safely. No such vehicles are currently available for purchase, but there are some partially autonomous cars available.

To better describe autonomous vehicles, researchers define five layers of autonomy.

  • Level One: The car may control individual systems one at a time. Examples include cruise control and automatic braking.
  • Level Two: The car can operate two automated functions at once, such as acceleration and steering. These vehicles still need a human driver for safe operation.
  • Level Three: Under some conditions, the car can operate all safety-critical functions, but the driver must be prepared to take over when alerted.
  • Level Four: The car operates completely autonomously in many driving scenarios but may still occasionally require a human driver to take over.
  • Level Five: The car can operate completely autonomously in every situation.

How Self-Driving Cars Will Evolve in 2019

We won’t see any level-five vehicles in 2019, but there’s a good chance we’ll see some level four cars on the road, at least as part of tests. Level-four vehicles may even be available to the public and may not require a safety operator.

Self-driving vehicles will be introduced in some areas before others. Currently, autonomous car companies operate their vehicles in areas where driving conditions are relatively favorable and predictable. Places with calm weather, simple traffic patterns and slower speed limits are likely to see the first self-driving vehicles.

Several companies are either operating or testing self-driving ride-hailing services in select cities around the country, including:

  • Waymo
  • Uber
  • General Motors

These three and more are at varying stages with these initiatives and may make some major announcements related to them this year.

There are still technical and legal hurdles to overcome before we get to level-five autonomous vehicles. Eventually, we’ll be able to work, hang out and even sleep as autonomous cars drive us around. The broad adoption of self-driving vehicles is expected to result in safer roadways, smoother traffic patterns and less need for infrastructure such as parking lots. While we’re not quite there yet, the automotive and tech industries are expected to make some noteworthy strides this year.

Contact PCS to Learn More About Information Technology in 2019 and the Future


At PCS, we’re technology experts who keep up with the latest IT trends for 2019 and beyond, and we’re here to help you navigate the ever-changing world of tech. Our IT services can help you make the most of your technology while freeing you up to focus on your core business.

We’re dedicated to building relationships with our customers, providing outstanding customer service and making tech easy for the companies we work with. We offer managed, project-based and rapid-response IT services. To learn more, browse our website or contact us today.

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