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.

Posted in IT

Beginner’s Guide to Using Office 365 for Business

Thanks to modern innovations like mobile devices and cloud computing, business colleagues can collaborate on project files across great distances. You could have a work team spread out across the country or overseas working on the same documents with input from various contributors being made around the clock. When everything is done on a cloud server, the document is safe from loss, damage or theft and is always available to authorized parties from any location with Internet access.

The most advanced set of services in this regard are in the Office 365 series by Microsoft.

What Is Office 365 for Business?

 

Office 365 is a subscription service that combines cloud storage, business-class email and the latest versions of Microsoft Office suite. The latest upgrades to Microsoft programs are integrated into each level of the Office 365 service, which synchronizes to each new generation of Windows. Updates usually occur every six months.

1. Security Features

Office 365 offers safety features that protect data on all fronts, including the following:

  • Encrypted email: This ensures that mail is only read by authorized personnel, namely senders and recipients.
  • Data loss prevention: This blocks the spread of sensitive personal info, such as social security numbers.
  • Mobile device management: A lot of people refrain from doing business on mobile phones out of fear that such activity could result in data leaks. With Office 365, lost or stolen mobile phones can be remotely wiped and locked out of the cloud so no one can gain unauthorized access to your company’s files.
  • Advanced Threat Analytics (ATA): Office 365 prevents viruses before they arrive with ATA, which scans email attachments for possible malware. If something potentially malignant is detected, the attachment is removed from the email. The recipient still receives the email, but with a message stating why the attachment has been removed. ATA is key to the prevention of viruses and data breaches.

These and other features keep companies safe from data loss, security leaks and viruses. However, not all of the programs above are available in all versions of Office 365. Take note of the security features most crucial for your company and make sure everyone on your staff has a version of 365 with the necessary features.

2. Administrative Features

B2B versions of Office 365 feature a management dashboard where a company administrator can manage user licenses, security elements and program features across a company network.

3. Azure Active Directory Admin Center

All business subscriptions of Office 365 include an Azure Active Directory account, which administrators can use to manage company teams and establish connections with third parties.

4. OneDrive for Business

All Office 365 accounts include one terabyte of OneDrive storage space, allowing users to store thousands upon thousands of documents and files. On Enterprise levels of Office 365, an administrator can bump users up to limitless storage if data exceeds one terabyte.

Which Office 365 Plan Is Right for Your Business?

Office 365 is available in B2B and personal-use versions. However, individuals who freelance for other companies often get the personal version and use it for private as well as business use. Office 365 fees accumulate on a per-user, per-month basis and can either be paid monthly or annually, though the latter option is generally the more economical in the long run. The three basic Office 365 Business tiers each support up to 300 users. So what does Office 365 Business include?

1. Office 365 Business Essentials

For small businesses and startups, the most practical choice is Office 365 Business Essentials, which costs only $5 per month for each user. With Business Essentials, you get access to various Windows business programs, including Exchange, OneDrive, SharePoint, Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.

2. Office 365 Business

Office 365 Business is in some ways the next level up from Business Essentials, offering a host of Microsoft business applications not available with the other version of 365, such as Excel, OneDrive, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint and Word. However, 365 Business does not include Exchange, SharePoint, Skype for Business or Microsoft Teams. Unlike the other levels of 365, Business does not offer custom email domains or the 50GB mailbox. Office 365 Business is $8.25 a month and supports as many as 300 users.

3. Office 365 Business Premium

Office 365 Business Premium is the highest service level, offering all the programs and features of the two other levels, as well as Microsoft Bookings, Microsoft Connections, Microsoft Invoicing, Microsoft Listings, MileIQ and Outlook Customer Manager. Office 365 Business Premium is $12.50 per month for each user and is generally recommended for established businesses with large computing infrastructures. The expanded features of Business Premium are beyond the needs of most smaller companies.

For larger companies, four Enterprise plans offer advanced features for an unlimited number of users:

  1. Office 365 ProPlus is a $12 per month plan that features OneDrive for Business and the Microsoft desktop apps but excludes Exchange Online email.
  2. Office 365 Enterprise E1 includes online Office apps but excludes desktop versions. At $8 per month for each user, this plan is ideal for companies that wish to remain with certain Office versions yet also have cloud storage.
  3. Office 365 Enterprise E3 includes all of the online and desktop apps for $20 per user, per month. This level is popular with major organizations. From a legal standpoint, the advanced email security features of Enterprise E3 are good for companies that deal with sensitive data.
  4. Office 365 Enterprise E5 includes the highest level security and eDiscovery features at $35 per month for each user.

4. Mix and Match Plans

The different levels of Office 365 can be mixed among staff within the same company. If certain people on your team need fewer features than others, those people could use one of the more economical plans and still interact on documents with the rest of the team. Each person can upgrade or downgrade year-to-year, season-to-season, depending on current needs.

Setting up Office 365 for Your Business

The dashboard console requires considerable skill to manage, and some elements can only be controlled with PowerShell commands. Regardless of the size of your business, it is essential to have a qualified Office 365 administrator, either in-house or outsourced, who can handle the management and configuration tasks.

1. Keep up With Changing Features

Office 365 upgrades regularly. As such, users need to keep up with these changes. For some people, this can be confusing if they do not pay attention to these changes. While these upgrades rarely alter the functionality of programs in any major sort of way, they sometimes do, and you could be caught off guard if you are not prepared for a scheduled upgrade and return to find a radically overhauled program.

2. Note Which Features You Actually Use

Not everyone uses Office 365 to its full capacity. Most users only use about a fifth of the overall features offered at a given level. While this is generally a benign issue, it might be useful to do an annual inventory of what you do and do not use on Office 365. Depending on the size and scope of your business, you might find that all the features you do use are also available at a more economical level. Alternately, you might discover that certain people on your team do not need some of the more complex features used by other colleagues and could, therefore, save money by switching to a lower level.

3. Store Local Copies of Current Projects

With Office 365, files are accessed online and edited remotely from wherever you happen to be connected to the Internet. Consequently, you will not be able to access your files when your connection is down unless you have local copies of the files. Therefore, you will need to have a consistent, reliable Internet connection to make Office 365 work for you regularly.

Benefits of Using Office 365

Cloud computing is one of the best ways for businesses to work on projects and collaborate because of the safety and convenience that remote, secure services offer to all organizations, large and small. With cloud computing, all files are backed up, and system updates are always made on the server’s end. The benefits of Office 365 can be broken down as follows:

 

1. Backed-up Files

With data storage, local backup is never truly safe. Even if you back your data up on multiple redundancy drives, it could still be lost if a fire or flood swept through your place of operation. The only way to guarantee the safety of your data is with a cloud service like Office 365. Users can access their data from anywhere, even if a local emergency has turned your headquarters to rubble.

2. Secure Data

In the past, businesses were wary of cloud storage due to fears of hacking. Those problems are a complete non-issue with Office 365, which keeps data protected from hackers and leaks. With Office 365, only you and other authorized personnel can view your company’s data.

3. Accessible From Any Location at Any Hour

Office 365 makes it possible to access your files virtually from any location, be it the office, home or any other setting. On days when you are snowed in and cannot commute to the office, you could log in to your account and access your files from the comfort of your living room. If you are out of town or on a business trip, you could access your files from a café or hotel room on a smartphone or laptop.

4. Coordination and Organization

Whenever you need to contact work colleagues, it can be difficult to coordinate different means of contact unless you have a program that will synchronize each method of communication. On Office 365, each new contact on your mobile phone will be updated to your other devices and vice versa.

5. Manageable Monthly Costs

For smaller businesses, one of the most crippling aspects of overhead is the inflexible, high-rate contracts that services often impose on their customers. With Office 365, you can scale up or scale down according to your current needs. There is no lock-in contract with Office 365, which lets you pay for the amount of service that you need during any given month. If you are just starting up, you could choose a plan that would best suit a small number of contacts, then add more as your business grows. Depending on seasonal business trends, you could scale back or increase contacts for select periods of time.

6. Near-Limitless Mail Storage

One of the more troubling aspects of virtual space management is the amount of room that email can take up on your company server. If you are like most people, you might not even know that your inbox is full until you receive a popup message stating that it is time to clean out your inbox. You can forget about these popups with Office 365 because it provides 50GB of email storage, an amount you are unlikely to ever fill to capacity.

7. Licensing Made Easy

When you run a company with multiple colleagues, it can be difficult to keep everyone on the same page in terms of licensing, particularly when up to three different versions of Windows are being used among staff. With Office 365, these issues are put to rest because the service accepts all licensing and can, therefore, be implemented across your company.

8. Efficient Collaboration

When companies engage in collaborative work on the same documents, updates can be confusing and cumbersome if colleagues are making contributions from different locations throughout the day. For example, if you send a document as an attachment to a team of 10 co-workers, you could have a case where 10 modified documents must then be edited into one. With Office 365, all such confusion is eliminated because each document is updated live, in real-time, with each authorized modification. If you need to revert to an older version of the document, you can because each version is saved.

9. Regular Updates and Synchronization

Computer upgrades are often difficult for companies, especially when the machines involved have different capacities, some of which might not be compatible with the latest Windows. With Office 365, the upgrade issues that often plague computer departments are removed from the equation because the latest Windows versions are automatically installed at the server’s end. Regardless of what device you or one of your co-workers uses to access the cloud, the Windows version will be up-to-date.

Contact PCS for Office 365 Set up and Support

Whether you run a small upstart business or a large company, cloud computing could transform the w   ay that your staff collaborates on assignments and completes team projects. With Office 365, your company’s files will always be backed up and accessible among licensed users from any location. To get the most out of Office 365, you should always have IT services, consulting and support at your disposal. Contact PCS for Office 365 set up and support.