May 2014

Are you leveraging social media for your business? Along with this monthly newsletter, I maintain a company facebook page and twitter account. I try to make a relevant post every couple of days. This keeps us engaged and top of mind with our clients. I got a call out of the blue last week from the Kansas City Star, who noticed one of my timely tweets and interviewed me for a short article! It’s easy and it works.

You’ll notice on my regular tweets and posts, as well as the newsletter below, that very little of the content is my own. I certainly do provide my own content from time to time, especially in this monthly blog post. However, I am too busy to prepare an entire newsletter or regular technology posts on my own. I can prove with many years worth of history, that if I tried to bite off that much work, nothing would get sent out. I am able to share good content from others with just a few clicks. I have several sources for that content:
• Industry partners (you’ll note articles in my newsletter from Microsoft, Lenovo, Cisco, HP, etc.)
• Subscriptions (There is an industry group that has a searchable content database that I subscribe to, so I can quickly provide articles on specific topics)
• My own surfing – I read many other blogs and IT news sites for my own benefit, and often share from those
• Peers – Every day I see posts in my feed from other IT professionals that are great. We all borrow from each other from time to time

I don’t get a lot of feedback from these posts, but don’t get discouraged. The point is to keep our name out there, so many will see the post and move on. That’s fine! I do hear from many of you that enjoy the newsletter. However, providing the relevant content will pay off in time, just as this news article came along for me.

The news article was about the ebay password breech, and the interview and article tied in nicely with last month’s blog post about passwords. You can read the article at the Kansas City Star.

I do use a couple of tools that help. Constant Contact manages the mailing list and sends out my newsletter each month. Can you believe some people do unsubscribe from my list? Well, at least I don’t have to manage that as Constant Contact does it for me. Sendible allows me to share content on Facebook and Twitter at the same time. I also link all of my monthly newsletter blog entries to my blog on WordPress for extra exposure. Let me know how I can help!

April 2014

Well that didn’t take long. We didn’t make it out of April and there is already a serious vulnerability that won’t be patched for Windows XP – a serious Internet Explorer flaw. US-CERT, a division of the Department of Homeland Security has advised US citizens to stop using Internet Explorer until it is fixed, as they could find no practical workaround.

I try to be neutral about such things, but I gave up Internet Explorer long ago for Google Chrome. It’s faster and more stable, and I wouldn’t go back for anything. There are very few sites that won’t work with Chrome so I recommend you check it out.

It’s been a busy month as I also sent out an advisory a couple of weeks ago about the Heartbleed vulnerability which affected secure websites.

With Heartbleed, it’s important to note that there have still been no confirmed instances where the vulnerability was successfully exploited, so while a very serious issue, it seems maybe it was caught before real damage was done. However, there are two important steps you should take just to be safe:

1. Change your password on all secure sites
2. DON’T use the same password – each site needs a strong and unique password

I know, I am groaning right along with you. Multiple passwords are a headache. However, the way most of these hacks work is they break into some silly meaningless site where security doesn’t seem to be important. Maybe you signed up for a rewards card or you posted a question in an online support forum. They get your name and password, and then they follow the money – bank sites, shopping sites where your credit card info is saved, financial sites, etc. And guess what – you used the same login and password on one of those sites, I guarantee it.

What I do is I use a strong and unique password on all sites of concern. I do compromise and reuse the same password on many of those other sites, as long as I am sure there is no personal information or financial information attached.

The best way to manage all these passwords is to use a tool like LastPass. It securely manages the passwords for you. I’ll be honest, it is an added risk, because if my LastPass account is ever compromised, I’m in real trouble. But my LastPass vault has over 150 entries – I couldn’t possible manage without it.

Let me know if you have questions or need any help!

March 2014

I think Spring might be coming. Got a glimpse of it this weekend! I’m excited about the forecast this week – I’m not sure how many would agree with me, but I just love a good spring day-time thunderstorm. Dark outside with rumbles of thunder and the rain pouring down – of course it’s like snow, the first one or two are fun, and then I’m ready to move on.

Don’t forget that Microsoft ends support for Windows XP next week. Despite what some are reporting, there has been no meaningful extension of support. They have agreed to extend malware updates for 1 year, but that is only one small piece of the puzzle, and certainly it’s intended to help home users buy a little more time. There is no justification for using XP in a business setting any longer, and we haven’t come across any compatibility situation that could not be addressed.

We’ll get to start this process over again, as support for Windows Server 2003 ends next spring, and it is also still widely in use for small businesses. I am a strong proponent for making wise investments in technology and ensuring that you get the most return out of that investment that you can, but in the case of XP and Server 2003 it is time to move on, and the benefits will justify the expense. Let me know what questions you have.

Don’t forget that spring time is a great time to review your Internet & Phone service bills. These recurring charges add up to a significant expense. Let me help you review your current situation and advise you on the new options available. It’s not unheard of for us to help a client to increase bandwidth and save thousands of dollars at the same time, many times with the same carrier. I’m happy to review your bills and help, just give me a call!

Toll-Fraud is still a big issue we are seeing out there, so it is extremely important to make sure that you have the proper security measures in place on your phone system. I’ve listed some guidelines below to assist you in securing your system. Please note there may be other factors to consider, and if you would like us to audit your security, we are happy to help.

Use strong voicemail-box passwords and change them routinely. Do not keep default passwords. Consider passwords longer than 4 digits.
Consider not allowing your users to make calls from their voicemail-box.
Review user rights and limit the ability to forward or conference to an outside number to only those users needing that feature.
Phone systems should be behind firewalls or have the built-in firewall enabled. Review your firewall configuration for maximum security.
Contact your PBX vendor to discuss the proper security measures to be taken on your system.

February 2014

The Target data breach keeps coming up in the headlines and I have a few thoughts I would like to share on that subject. Publicly, the breach has been blamed on an HVAC company. I’m here to tell you, if the login for an HVAC subcontractor was able to access the information that was obtained, the fault for this breach still solidly belongs with Target and their network management team.

This incident brings up a lot of important issues to consider and lessons to learn. If your employees have access to the networks of clients vendors or other partners, or if you allow others to access your network, we should all be asking ourselves the following questions:

Is this access still necessary?
Do we routinely review this access, and disable when it is no longer needed?
Do we have sufficient policies in place to govern the use of this access and any data that may be obtained, both intentionally and unintentionally?
Are both parties taking proper precautions to ensure the access is properly secure and protected?
Do both parties have a written agreement regarding this access, addressing all of these issues?
Have you conducted a recent audit of your security policies, in conjunction with your IT provider? I’m sure that HVAC contractor wishes they had – and even though the real fault probably lies somewhere else, will that company survive this incident? Doubtful.

Another important issue raised is a new term you’ll start hearing, the “Internet of things” or “Internet of Everything”. We’ve reached the point where most people are “connected” – via computers, cell phones, tablets, we almost can’t unplug. The next revolution is connecting “things” to the Internet. As wireless access becomes more prevalent, and costs to connect continue to fall, sensors will be installed in all types of devices. From HVAC systems to refrigerators, exercise equipment, shelves & cupboards, doors to potting soil, even individual product packaging.

Sensors can track location and behavior and even provide situational awareness, allowing machines to make analytical decisions. Imagine getting a text that the mayo has been outside the refrigerator for 30 minutes! Gartner estimates there will be over 26 billion “things” connected to the Internet in the next 6 years, far more than the 7.3 billion PCs, Smartphones and Tablets estimated for 2020. Of course, there are many convenience, safety & security applications for this technology – but how else will this level of connectivity affect our lives? I guess we’ll see!

January 2014

With great pride, I presented an award to Marty Peralez this month for his 10th anniversary with the company. Marty is an invaluable part of the team and I can’t believe it’s been 10 years. Marty lives in Gardner with his wife and 2 sons, and is heavily involved in Soccer. We’re glad to have him around! Marty will be headed out with his wife for a well-deserved skiing vacation soon. With Marty’s anniversary, 5 of our 8 staff have been with the company more than 10 years.
Don’t forget about the upcoming End of Support for Windows XP. We’re in the final stretch. I expect higher prices and availability issues as we get closer to March, so I recommend getting in now while you can. Office 2003 is also becoming unsupported on April 8th. That’s not as big of a concern but something you should be aware of. As I’ve mentioned before, a lot of times the bigger issue becomes 3rd Party apps that will no longer support the Microsoft software.
I’m working on lots of new solutions for phone service – virtual, private cloud and on-premise. Lots of new ways to do things, we have something that will fit your business model. More information to come next month!

November 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

This week is usually a little slow unless you are in retail. It’s a good time to take a few hours and assess your business results for the year. Compare 2013 results to your budget and business plan, and start thinking about your plans for 2014.

From what I’m hearing, it’s been a decent year for many businesses. That makes this the time for tax planning as well, so I thought I would pass on a few small business tax planning tips. These are just ideas, and you should check with your tax professional to see if they apply in your situation .

1. Get GOOD help. I learned this lesson the hard way – the first several years in business, I tried to have our tax returns prepared as cheaply as possible. Eventually, I learned that a year-round relationship with a CPA that understands small business is an investment that pays off in many ways. You’ll earn that investment back quickly, and not just in tax savings.
2. Section 179 depreciation – This provision allows businesses to deduct some investments in equipment and property in full this year rather than depreciating the expense over several years. The tax savings helps pay for the investment! Shameless plug – many businesses use section 179 depreciation with investments in IT and phone systems. This provision is set to expire at the end of 2013, although it has been extended in the past.
3. Setup a qualified retirement plan – such as a SEP or SIMPLE IRA plan or a 401(k). Along with the tax savings, these plans are a great benefit to you and your employees.
4. Make a charitable donation – share the wealth with others
5. Write off bad debts – I hate doing this as much as anyone, but if the money truly isn’t collectible, it doesn’t do you any good to carry that amount on the books. Write it off, which will reduce your tax liability. It also helps me move on, when I don’t see that amount on the AR report every time.
6. Clean up your inventory – along the same lines as bad debts, writing down or writing off old and unusable inventory is the right thing to do.
7. Accelerate expenses – you may be able to prepay some 2014 expenses such as January rent. This will carry some of your profits into next year.

If you haven’t had the best year, and are expecting better days ahead, then you may want to reverse some of these tips – hang on to bad debts and old inventory, and write them down next year. Also, defer some expenses into 2014 if possible.

Windows XP – The End is Near

Are you ready for the end of Windows XP support? The upcoming deadline of April 8, 2014 is not a trivial matter – please take a minute to read below to learn more. If you have any questions, we are happy to help!

The background: Windows XP was released in 2001 – 12 years go. Sales were ended in 2008, and mainstream support ended in 2009. End of extended support is April 8, 2014 – meaning there will be no more security patches.

I am a big proponent of getting the most for your investment, and I don’t make recommendations to upgrade to the latest thing just for the sake of upgrading. The end of support for XP is a serious concern for any business. The lack of fixes for security vulnerabilities will mean that your computer will be a sitting duck on the Internet. Viruses and malware will quickly spiral out of control.

Further, XP has been a hindrance to 3rd parties (think anti-virus, printer drivers, websites, etc.). I expect these companies will also end all support for XP in April or very soon thereafter. Websites will not display properly, new printers won’t work, etc. Already, the current generation of Intel processors will not run XP! All of this adds up to a headache you don’t need in your business. If your business requires some level of compliance (healthcare, banks, law firms, CPAs), you simply have no choice, and would be exposing your business to significant liability with XP.

The good news: Windows 7 is excellent. It is much more secure than Windows XP, and much more stable. It will be supported through 2020, 7 more years. A new PC today will come licensed for Windows 8, meaning you can transition down the road with no licensing cost. If you have one of the very rare applications that will not run on Windows 7, you can run “Windows XP Mode” within Windows 7 for no charge. This will allow you to use that legacy application while managing the risk within a controlled environment.

The bad news: Time is of the essence. Microsoft estimates that over 20% of users are still on XP. We are about 6 months away from the deadline, and it’s going to get significant press as we get closer. I expect this to cause issues with hardware availability and increase pricing in early 2014. Please don’t wait till March!

This is also an opportunity to review the use of technology in your business. Do you need all those desktops? Is there a place for laptops or tablets? Would fast new Solid State hard drives (SSD) save valuable time? Could Windows 8 and touch screens benefit some departments such as sales?

Lastly, I will leave you with my philosophy on hardware upgrades. I suggest replacing computers on a 4 year schedule – that lets you get the maximum ROI possible. It’s important to factor in the ongoing costs of a machine. Payroll is the largest expenditure for most of us, and it’s important to maximize the return on that investment also. If a new PC could save one employee 5 minutes per day, that’s over 21 hours of capacity per year! If that employee’s burdened cost is $25/hr, that’s over $540 per year, or if that employee generates $100/hr in income, that’s $2100 per year for 5 minutes in savings. Sometimes, hanging on to that 8 year old PC that takes 15 minutes to boot is penny wise and pound foolish.


Sept 2013 – Sue’s 10th Anniversary

With great pride, I presented an award to Sue Balas this month for her 10th anniversary with the company. Sue does all of our accounting and has been a blessing for our company. She is an amazing mother and I’m happy that she shares some of her time with us as well. Next month, she and her husband Tom will be headed to Key West for a weekend getaway courtesy of Network Innovations – a well-deserved reward! Congratulations Sue!
A great staff is the hallmark of any successful company, and I’m very proud of ours. Our small staff of 8 has a combined 77 years working for Network Innovations. I’ve been very lucky that these great people have come and chosen to stay!

August 2013 – Free Cloud

If your bottom line could use a boost, one of the best things you could do is have us evaluate your telecom expenses. We work with companies every day to evaluate their current bills for voice and data services (phone lines, Internet connectivity, branch office connections), evaluate their current needs, and align them with the best solutions. We’ve helped several companies reduce their telecom expenses by over $50,000 per year! However, we can help even if your telecom expenses are just a few thousand dollars per year. Give me a call – your bottom line will thank you.

I do have one more thought to add to our cloud discussion.  I need to point out that in all cases I was referring to paid cloud services.  Free cloud services are pretty much never appropriate for business use, and Google gave us a reminder of that this month.  In a legal brief filed by Google on July 13th, they cited a statement recently made by the Supreme Court “Indeed, a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties”.   Even with paid cloud services, privacy and security remain the most significant concerns, and it is imperative that you understand and trust the service provider’s privacy and security policies.  However, certainly as these developments indicate, any data you entrust with a free cloud provider should be considered fair game.  The service provider is free to use and expose that data in any manner they choose.   Keep in mind, if you send email to a gmail user, (or other free cloud service), you are also surrendering your expectation of privacy.

July 2013 – Hybrid Cloud

Introducing Chris Turner!   Chris is our new Marketing and Service Coordinator.  I’m sure you will be hearing from her soon, but feel free to give her a call at the office or send her an email at to say hello.

Chris is a highly experienced professional with a background in employee development, corporate communications, client experience, event planning and project management.  She spent the last 16 years in the banking arena working with everything from sales and marketing to vendor management, risk management and client communications and strategies.  Chris has experience with branch design, process redesign and quality control.  She has several years of training and development experience and enjoys developing relationships with clients.  When she is outside the office, Chris is very active in the Blue Valley School District and is also a volunteer for Girls on The Run Kansas City.  Chris enjoys spending time with her husband and three kids as well as spending time with family and friends.  In her spare time Chris enjoys running and is training for the Kansas City Half Marathon.

To wrap up our cloud discussion, let’s talk about Hybrid Cloud.  This is of course the “best of all worlds” scenario of integrating local systems, private cloud and public cloud solutions as appropriate for each application.  You’ve probably been using Hybrid cloud for years and didn’t even know it.  Is your website hosted by an outside provider?  And possibly your email?  That’s hybrid cloud, and you were doing it before it was cool.

Hybrid cloud is what we should be talking about.  Very few business models fit into just one cloud philosophy.  We need to look at all of the applications and functions crucial to your business, and find the right solution for each.  If a public cloud solution can meet one of your needs (like email) for less money, that’s the way to go.  If a private cloud solution gives better access to product literature for your field reps, let’s do it.  If your Line-of-business (LOB) application is more secure on local servers, keep them.  And let’s back it all up to private cloud storage!

The technology cloud is vast and ever changing, just like its namesake.  Equal parts bleeding edge technology and established, proven technology.  Don’t be afraid, let us help you use the cloud to achieve the end result we are all looking for:  efficient, productive tools that you can leverage as a competitive advantage in your business.