Posts for small-to-medium business users facing questions about their technical environment.

Whether buying a new server, new cloud storage, a new computer, or a new software program, you’ll want to think carefully about what information will move over to the new system.

The default is to just “keep everything,” but that’s usually a mistake. Just like when you move to a new office or house, moving systems creates a natural opportunity to purge items that are no longer useful to your business. To avoid cluttering up a new system with outdated information, we help clients develop a data migration strategy.

What is Data Migration?

Data migration is the process of moving data from one system to another. That could mean a data storage location, a database or an application. You will undergo a data migration anytime you:

  • Replace an existing application
  • Buy new computer hardware
  • Move to the cloud
  • Bring data into a new database or data warehouse
  • Build a new business process

The ETL Process

Data migration is a one-time process that moves data from one system to another. It doesn’t matter where the data is housed – on premises or in the cloud. The transfer of data can be as simple as export-import – or significantly more complex. If the records in system A and system B have different fields or a different schema, the data must be manipulated before it can be brought into the new system.

ETL stands for extracting, transforming and loading. In the ETL process, the data is first extracted from the old system, then it is transformed (either manually or with a software program) so that it fits the format of the new application or database. Then the final step is to load it into the new system.

data migration for small business

 

 

Types of Data Migrations and Their Challenges

Data migration processes happen on three levels – storage, database and application.

Storage migration

When you do a technology refresh, this is the time to identify obsolete data to reduce storage space and make it easier to quickly find what you’re looking for. We use a variety of storage migration tools to make this process fast and simple. However, what we can’t do is tell you what’s important to keep and what can be discarded. You have to decide that. We’ll ask you questions like:   

  • How many documents do you have with names like brochure-final4.docx? Do you need to keep the prior versions for any reason?  
  • Why you have the same content in more than one location? Is it for cloud backup? Or are you working around security settings in your systems to make the content available to different audiences?   
  • What is this obsolete content costing you? For example, video files take up a significant amount of space. While storage is relatively cheap, employee time is not. When you add up time spent dealing with system performance issues, organizing clutter, and looking for the right content, the overhead costs can become significant.  

Database migration

A database migration occurs whenever you change database vendors, upgrade the database software, or move a database to the cloud. In a database migration, IT professionals look for compatibility issues. Is there enough storage? Will performance be impacted? How do we protect records that require privacy or security? Are there integration points that can fail? Often, a database migration or upgrade is done in a testing environment before being moved to production.  

Application migration

An application migration is the most complex type of migration. The challenge is that each application has its own data model, so the data may have to be significantly manipulated before being brought into the new application.  

You want to think about the ramifications of keeping – or discarding – old records and historical data. For example, in an accounting system, you can start with an account opening balance or you can import every transaction. In a CRM system, you may want to purge anyone you haven’t talked to in a year. We help clients figure out the best application migration strategy for their situation.  

  • Will you have to keep the old system running in parallel – just in case? Could you transfer the data to a spreadsheet instead? Do you have compliance requirements you must adhere to? 
  • What is the value of that data? A company that sells SAT preparation tests to high schoolers has a finite time period to sell their solution. There’s no point in keeping a record of who was in high school 5 years ago. But a repair company may have a 5-10 year lifecycle between visits, and want to keep those records.  
  • How much does it cost to keep this data? Some applications, like email marketing software, charge by the record. Crossing from 4999 contacts to 5000 may cause the price to spike. If 2000 of those people haven’t opened your emails in 3 years, you’re better off deleting them in the move to a new application. 
  • Will system speed be impacted? How many users need to access that historical data or that legacy software feature? Can the old solution be retired? 

Data Migration Tools

The advantage of using IT professionals for your data migration is that we have access to a variety of tools to make the process faster and easier. If we can’t find a tool out of the box, we can sometimes build a script to make the ETL work easier. It depends on the scope and scale of the migration project, but in all cases, we look for ways to simplify and automate the process wherever possible.  

In many cases, the software vendor has tools we can leverage. Here’s one example of what Microsoft makes available for clients wanting to transfer hosting to the Azure platform: https://datamigration.microsoft.com/ 

Our Approach to the Migration Process

With the implementation of any new software, or development of any new database or application, we’ll discuss how to manage your legacy data and find an approach that best fits your business. In our planning, we’ll work with you to determine whether the data migration is a one-time data transfer process or requires ongoing data integration and management.  

We’ll look for ways to simplify your IT environment, seeing if we can consolidate databases, and make sure employees can access your systems from any device, especially when they’re not working on premises. In today’s environment, mobility and remote access is a requirement for any new system. That’s why many companies are moving to the cloud. 

Let us help you determine your application requirements and build streamlined business processes, so you have a solution that works for you now – and in the future.  Book a free exploratory session today!  

Why is data migration important?

Data migration is necessary when upgrading or consolidating your hardware storage or server. Data migration ensures that you don’t lose your data during the transition.

How long does data migration take?

Down time during data migration depends on the amount of data that is being transferred. Some migrations can take hours. Your IT professional can provide an estimate based on the scope of the project.

What is the ETL process?

ETL stands for Extract, Transform and Load. ETL plays a key role in the data migration process. It allows you to gather data from multiple sources and consolidate it into one location.

Is it hard to migrate data?

Data migration can use up a lot of labor if you don’t know what you’re doing. Hiring a professional will ensure a smooth migration.

According to Warranty Week, extended warranties are a $40 billion business. Manufacturers make lucrative margins on warranties, because they know that most people will never take them up on the offer. For personal electronics, extended warranties aren’t usually worth the money because the chances of needing a repair are low; the cost of repairs or even replacement isn’t significant; and you can usually live without the item for a while.

However, when you’re considering computer warranties for your business, you have completely different factors to consider. For that reason, we almost always recommend getting the extended warranty.

For workstations we recommend three year warranties, and on servers we recommend five. Most computer manufacturers will allow you to renew the initial warranty twice. After five years, most equipment is beyond its serviceable life and should be considered for replacement.

Why extended warranties on business computers are different

We think of warranties as the cost of doing business. Just like you wouldn’t buy a car without car insurance, buying computer equipment without a warranty is risky. For many reasons.

1.     Computer equipment is vital to business operations

If your server goes down and employees can’t work, you’re losing far more money than you would have paid for the warranty.

Without access to the same-day service warranty offered by the manufacturers, you may be waiting days or weeks for repair. If the server requires replacement, it will probably take two to three weeks for it to be delivered and configured.

In another scenario, we have a client that travels regularly for business (at least they did before the pandemic). Their risk of damage or loss is significantly higher than the average laptop user and the client didn’t want to risk losing a high-value client by not having a laptop. Getting the manufacturer’s extended warranty meant getting same day service or replacement, wherever they are in the world.

2.     Parts aren’t always available

Manufacturers typically keep an inventory of components exclusively available to their warranty customers. For older equipment, you may not even be able to buy the part on the open market. Equipment over five years old is usually no longer supported.

3.     The cost of replacement is high

A manufacturer’s original warranty is typically three years, but business computers are usually replaced every five years. For that reason, businesses are usually allowed to renew their hardware warranty to cover all five years. Investing in a server is a capital expense you can build into your business budget. When a server has to be replaced mid-way through its expected life, it means another large cash outlay. Plus, the costs can compound substantially because you also reconfigure other network components.

4.     Service costs

The manufacturer warranty includes professional services. A manufacturer rep will repair the equipment and bring it up to date with the latest software and security patches.

What happens if you never need the extended warranty?

Count yourself lucky! Just like you don’t want to get in a car crash to get value from your car insurance, the extended warranty provides peace of mind and protection for your business.

Businesses should continually be evaluating how to lower their risk. Buying extended warranties for computer equipment is one way. Doing regular business backups is another. And having an IT Partner you can rely on is the third.

If you’re looking for better IT service or support, please give us a try. Our small team is right-sized for growing businesses. We’re based just outside of Detroit Michigan, but ready to service companies anywhere in the USA.

 

IT quiz

Is it worth getting a warranty on a laptop?

For a personal laptop, it most likely isn’t worth it. However, you should invest in a warranty on a business computer.

Should I buy an extended warranty?

Most times on personal computers you won’t need to use your extended warranty. However, business computers should get the extended warranty, and sometimes can get extra time added to it for free.

What is a warranty on a computer?

A warranty for your computer is like insurance for your car. If something goes wrong, the manufacturer will repair or replace the pieces to keep your computer in top shape.

Do computers come with a warranty?

When you buy a brand new computer, it should come with a manufacturer warranty. Most times, this doesn’t last very long and to be safe you should purchase the extended warranty.

Computers. Whether you love them or hate them, every business depends on them. When your computer or a software program isn’t working correctly, it can be incredibly frustrating. So when should you call an expert for IT support? How can you get the best outcome?

When to Call IT Support

You want to have the right balance between having your IT team on speed-dial and staying up all night to troubleshoot a problem. Our recommendation is to:

1. Check all the obvious solutions.

  • Is the computer plugged in?
  • Are the cables connected tightly?
  • Is the monitor on?
  • Is the internet working?
  • Have you rebooted the computer?

We’re not trying to insult your intelligence. These things happen all the time. We once got a call because someone unplugged the server to plug in a coffee machine. Oops. Doing the basic perimeter checks saves time, money and frustration for everyone involved.

2. Spend 10-15 minutes diagnosing the problem.

  • What changed recently?
  • Is there anything new plugged in?
  • Was anything new installed?
  • What happened right before the problem started?

If you can’t figure it out in this short amount of time, document what happened.

3. STOP THERE. Call an IT support professional.

One of the biggest mistakes we see office professionals make is getting in over their head with do-it-yourself technical troubleshooting. They spend hours reconfiguring, reformatting, and reinstalling their system. By the time we get involved, the clues to “what happened” have been erased and overwritten, making the problem much more difficult to diagnose and solve.

Getting Better IT Support

We all know the quality of technical support can vary widely. At some point, every one of us has been on a call with a support technician who is completely clueless. Also, IT support may not be instantly available. You may have to wait. But here are some tips for getting the best IT support available for your business if you don’t have dedicated internal IT support.

1. Have a relationship with an IT service provider.

Some businesses prefer using a managed services provider that continually maintains their systems for a set recurring fee. Other businesses prefer to pay by the hour for a break-fix technical support. There are pros and cons of both approaches. But either way – pick an IT consultant and stick with them. They’ll get to know your business and you’ll get to know them.

2. Be kind. Be patient. Be calm.

Support technicians like to help people. You may be frustrated, but “you’ll catch more flies with honey” and have a better support experience if you keep your cool. If the support task will take a while, go grab a cup of coffee or work from a backup device if you can.

3. Document what happened.

Capture a screenshot or video when possible. Preserve the scene so your IT team can find clues to the origin of the problem.

4. Keep your systems up to date.

When systems go out of support (like Windows 7 for example) you will find fewer and fewer IT professionals who are willing or able to provide technical support. Any critical software program should be kept current.

5. Know your passwords, administrators and configurations.

For every one of our clients, we maintain a “red binder” that holds all essential information about the IT environment. When you have to reset passwords and track down who has admin permissions, it slows down the technical support process significantly.

And…ALWAYS have a reliable backup that you could restore if the problem cannot be fixed. Some problems are unrecoverable. Major malware attacks. Catastrophic hard drive failures. In these cases, the best option is to go back to the setup before the problem occurred.

If you’re looking for business IT support in Michigan or in the cloud, reach out to us. Our IT team is right-sized to give you personal attention and pragmatic advice. Reach out at support@eclipse-online.com or by calling 586.263.1775.

Low code vs. custom software development

Low code / no code applications are growing in popularity. These apps promise to give anyone the opportunity to develop functional, helpful applications. With simple drag and drop features, and API integration, these low code apps can become part of larger business processes.

Low code apps are primarily used in the following ways.

  1. Database capabilities. When a user wants more depth than Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, low code solutions provide a relational database that can be used to manage almost anything. For example, Airtable provides a growing number of user-created templates that are used to manage things like:
    1. Marketing campaigns
    2. Job applicants
    3. Projects
    4. Events
    5. Products
  1. Mobile apps, portals and websites. Solutions like Appy Pie and AppSheet allow businesses to create their own mobile application or website without knowing code.
  2. Business platform creator. Solutions like Monday and Kintone come with pre-built blocks to automate your sales, accounting, and marketing teams, to allow teams work from one central dashboard.
  3. Business solution extender. Microsoft PowerApps are designed to add functionality to Dynamics 365, Microsoft 365 and other Microsoft tools.
  1. Workflow and integration. Almost all low code apps combine data from multiple platforms. Either out-of-the-box or with solutions like Zapier, ITTT (If this then that) and Microsoft Power Automate, workflows connect popular apps and services to each other.

Low code apps sound great. Let’s go!

Hold on a second. Low code apps remove the need to know a programming language, BUT… that does NOT automatically make them easy to use – or the right solution for your business.

As a custom software development company, we see companies dive head-first into low code apps without a proper strategy or evaluation. The result is frustrated business users and half-baked solutions that create as many problems as they solve.

We’re not against low code apps.

We use them for our own clients when it makes sense to do so. But a solution (by definition) solves a particular problem.

Let’s say you own apartment buildings. You want a better way to document the condition of an apartment on the occupant move-in date.  You can solve this problem by:

  • Taking pictures and filling out a form. Scan and store those materials in a folder associated with the apartment unit.
  • Buy an off-the-shelf application that creates an apartment inspection report.
  • Use a low code app to create an apartment inspection report.
  • Use a custom developed application to create an apartment inspection report.

No matter how you decide to solve the problem, you need to define:

  • What information do you want to collect?
  • How will it be standardized and categorized? (Unit, Kitchen)
  • What level of detail is required? (Inside of oven?)
  • What field types best suit each item? (free form text, dropdown field with a scale 1-5, multiple choice options, etc.)
  • Where will the information be stored? (File, CRM system)
  • Are there conditions that trigger an action? (Dirty carpet –> Carpet cleaning –> Work order for maintenance)

That’s just a short list of questions for a relatively simple business process.

Only part of a software developer’s job is writing code. Much of the work is about properly defining processes and understanding the exceptions to that process. Think of low code apps like a power tool. They can make a job go faster, but only if you know how to build something in the first place.

10 common low code software issues

We want you to go into your next software development project understanding some of the common problems we see in all software development projects, but in particular, low code do-it-yourself (DIY) projects.

  1. Not gathering the requirements first. Just like the simple example above, you need to think through the steps of the business process before you begin creating it. Otherwise, what happens is that you may accidentally create multiple processes with conflicting rules – or realize you don’t capture that information in the first place.
  2. Not structuring the data correctly. Non-technical users find it challenging to structure the data correctly, to reduce the duplication of effort, but also to get the value needed from the software. Programmers think about how tables relate to each other, and how changing a record will impact other areas of the database.
  3. Over-complicating workflows. Start simply. Get one thing working correctly and build on it. When you have too many moving parts and too many systems involved, it can be difficult to understand where the process is breaking down.
  4. Not documenting your work. One of the lessons every young software developer learns is the importance of creating good documentation as they go. That way, if you’re getting an unexpected result, you go back to the last changes you made.
  5. Spending too much time on the wrong things. Do you really want to build and maintain your own app? It’s easy to spend hours learning how to use this low code app, only to find yourself having to learn more and more to accomplish what you really want. It’s also easy to get stuck on devilish details that make little difference at the end. Is this the right font? Should this red be more red?
  6. Getting deep into the project and realizing you’re stuck. You may run into scalability or security limitations that can’t be overcome. We see this all the time with companies wanting to replace Microsoft Access. If you eventually find that this low code solution won’t meet your needs, can you easily export the data to bring it into a different system?
  7. Having integration limitations. This may be hardware or software. Sometimes a low code app seems perfect for managing a singular task, like collecting data from an IoT device, but integration may not be easy – or even possible.
  8. Billing surprises. Billing can be by user, by record count, by systems involved or functionality added. Seemingly small expenses can add up, and it may be difficult to truly know the full expenses going into the project.
  9. Outgrow storage limits. Some systems (both low code and commercial) have storage limits. Once you exceed a threshold, you get bumped up to a higher expense tier.
  10. Limited reporting. One of the requests we get all the time is to build reports. How long did this process take? How did we do this season compared to last? Make sure your solution has the ability to get the reports you need to run your business.

If a no code or low code solution is capable of meeting your needs, we’re all for it… but when possible, we recommend building solid solutions that become foundational to your business.

Low code apps vs. software development

Some people believe the myth that custom software development is prohibitively expensive. Software development can be very affordable, and even a bargain compared to manually managing processes or trying to do-it-yourself to create your own database or app.

We primarily use Django, a Python framework that provides a fast, secure and scalable way to develop custom applications. While Django is not designed for the average business user, we think that’s a good thing. You can get what you need – with better performance – and without the trials and tribulations of doing it yourself.

As a technology advisor for growing businesses, our goal is to get you the outcomes you want. That may mean recommending an off-the-shelf / SaaS business application, a low code app, or custom software development.  We can help you consider all your options to make the best decision for YOUR business.

Reach out for a no-obligation 30-minute consultation to discuss your needs.

IT quiz

What is low code development?

Low code is an approach to application development that’s very visual and includes little to no coding to build. It enables people of all experience levels to create applications using drag and drop features.

Why is low code development important?

Low code development offers application development for those that aren’t very tech savvy. Companies must build applications to work across a wide range of devices. Low code makes that easy for any employee.

Why should I get custom software?

Custom software is specifically tailored to your business needs. You will get software with every bell and whistle you need, extra security and long-term support.

Can you build an app without coding?

Yes. There are plenty of no-code and low code app builders running around. Create an app in minutes, without any coding experience.

Microsoft Teams 101

Microsoft Teams is part of the Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) suite of solutions. This one-stop shop for businesses enables people to collaborate and communicate from one central space.

microsoft teams apps

Microsoft Teams replaces Skype for Business, and augments other features built into Microsoft 365,  like SharePoint, OneNote and Planner. You can also incorporate other popular desktop apps into Teams. Built-in enterprise-level security protects your data from cybersecurity attacks and data breaches.

As you might expect from the name, Microsoft Teams is built around the Team concept. You can have organization-wide teams, departmental teams, and project teams that include both internal and external users (depending on your security settings.) Within each team, you can have “Channels” that inherit the security settings of the Team and can be used to focus conversations around a project, topic, or client.

The real value of Teams is how much it does within one tool. You may want to consider using Microsoft Teams for:

1. Chat

Microsoft Teams is possibly best known for its chat features. Chat with coworkers or clients within Teams, Channels, groups of friends or one-on-one. If your organization allows guest use, you can chat with other Microsoft Teams users outside of your organization.

If you need to add someone to a group message after it’s been created, you can. You are able to include the prior chat history, part of it, or none of it. Use an @Person tag to call someone’s attention. Attach files, stickers, gifs, or emojis to your messages. With one click you can turn a chat into a video call or schedule a future meeting.

2. Video calls / phone calls

Zoom has become wildly popular as of late, but some people still have security concerns about Zoom. Microsoft Teams replaces the functionality of Zoom, but adds more features and natively integrates with Office 365 applications. You can call your team or anyone with Microsoft Teams. To call a landline or cellphone of a non-Teams user requires a Microsoft Office 365 Calling Plan.

Because Calls are integrated with Office 365 calendar, your status will automatically move to “busy” when you’re on another phone call or in a meeting. Host video calls with up to 250 participants, where you share your webcam, share your screen, or write on a whiteboard.

3. Calendar

You don’t have to move to Outlook to setup a meeting. Stay right in Teams to schedule a new meeting. The scheduling assistant helps you pick a time that all participants have open.

microsoft teams new meeting

4. File Sharing

Any file in your computer can be shared through Teams. SharePoint syncs natively with Teams, giving you access to company files through your Files tab. Other files can be created, uploaded, and seen under the Files tab in any specific team. How to share files.

5. Applications

Teams comes with thousands of applications to help you and your team thrive. Applications can be easily added to your team with one search. They have apps for analytics, productivity, sales, human resources, and some just for fun. Keep your team organized with a to-do list and scheduling app or keep morale high with an app for appreciation or recognition.

microsoft teams app search

If you’re overwhelmed with email and tired of cobbling together applications, take a look at Microsoft Teams. Microsoft is investing heavily into its development – and has even made it available free of charge for non-Microsoft 365 users. (Although, we have to say, the biggest advantages come from the Microsoft 365 integration.)

Want to learn more about Microsoft Teams?

As a Microsoft 365 Partner, we can help you understand your deployment options and get you off to a smooth start. Schedule a time with us and LET’S TALK.

 

Microsoft Teams FAQ

What is the difference between a team and a channel?

A team is like the company as a whole, and is made up of different channels. The channels are dedicated to a specific department, project, or topic.

Can a deleted team or channel be recovered?

Yes. Your admin should have access to recover a deleted team or channel. Go to your team, click more options > manage team. Go to the channels tab, find the channel in the deleted section and click restore.

How many people can be in a conference call?

Up to 20 people can be on the same video or phone call.

How to share files on Microsoft Teams?

Share a file in any chat you’re in. You can also go to the Files tab of a channel and upload or create a new document for all on the channel to access.

Are Microsoft Teams apps free?

Microsoft Teams integrates will all Office apps and offers more free apps with a subscription to Teams.

7 Work at Home Productivity Tips

The good news is that there are plenty of tools out there to help manage employees, keep coworkers connected, and help your office stay productive.  In our last post, we shared how to setup remote access to enable employees to work from home . This time, we’d like to focus on how to manage people and technology in a remote environment.

1. Use collaborative technology.

If you don’t already have Microsoft Teams or Zoom, now is the time to invest in these solutions.

As part of the Office 365 productivity suite, Microsoft Teams is a collaboration tool for with features like:

  • Conversation channels
  • Video conferencing and screen sharing
  • Integration with Office 365
  • Shared document spaces

Zoom is a video conferencing tool with features like:

  • Screen sharing
  • Chat messaging
  • Meeting recording
  • Breakout rooms

Both tools work on both PCs and mobile device. Microsoft has made Microsoft Teams available for FREE.  Zoom is always free, but with limitations.

2. Let employees working at home use office equipment.

If employees don’t have computers or extra monitors at home, consider letting them take their work equipment home from the office. Keeping the same tech set up will make for a smoother transition and increase productivity.

Forbes work from home tech tips

3. Move to Office 365 or G-Suite

Office 365 and G Suite are great tools to utilize at a time like this. They have great data security – even with everyone out of office. Both systems come with collaboration tools like:

  • Shared files
  • Shared calendar
  • Video conferencing
  • Documents can be edited simultaneously

Additionally, G Suite and Office 365 have tons of online support articles, live chat and telephone support. Outsourced technology professionals like us can help troubleshoot your problems and repair your systems if you’re having issues.

4. Encourage employees to create a dedicated office workspace.

There are benefits and challenges when working from home. Maintaining a work-life balance is always challenging, but especially when suddenly everyone is at home.  The kids. The roommates. The significant other.

One key to creating separation between home-life and work life is for each person to have their own space to work – and use that space ONLY for work. Even if the space is small, make it as functional and welcoming as possible. Create a spot near a window for fresh air. Buy a portable file cabinet to keep papers close to you, but neatly out of sight. Make sure you have a comfortable chair that supports your back and creates a good ergonomic position for working.

Mind Tools – working from home

5. Encourage employees to stick to a schedule.

Keeping a daily routine helps employees create normalcy. Encourage your team to keep getting up early, showering, and getting dressed for the day. It’s difficult to be in a business mindset when you’re in your pajamas and haven’t brushed your teeth.  Employees also need to schedule breaks for lunch – and quitting time for the day. When the lines between work and play start to get blurry, sticking to a schedule and a work space will make things clearer.

Employees can support their mental health by making time for:

  • Meals
  • Self-care
  • Exercise
  • Walks outside
  • Chats with friends
  • Cooking nutritious meals
  • Maintaining order in their space

These activities don’t have to cut into work time, and actually, in the long run, will make employees more productivity.

Stack Overflow working from home tips

6. Consider adding “water cooler” chats for employees to connect.

Most of us find friends at work and love catching up with them on our lunch and breaks. That can’t happen without the communal office. Create a channel for your team to stay connected and chat about fun, non-work topics. Boost morale by creating employees their own chat group or optional video conferencing time just for socialization. Starting with a silly riddle or trivia question can be a fun way to divert the brain quickly from work talk.

BBC Work from home the right way

7. Give employees the technology needed to be productive – and protect your business.

For some businesses, initially enabling employees to work from home was a mad scramble to keep the business operating. Now that it appears this situation may endure for a while, businesses need to think about how to improve remote operations to help employees stay productive and to protect business data. We’re seeing clients:

  • Buy anti-virus software for employee home computers
  • Invest in CRM software to enable better collaboration on sales opportunities
  • Setup VOIP software to route phone calls professionally to cell phones
  • Move their documents and file storage to the cloud
  • Improve software integrations

Providing secure, remote access for employees is not a “one size fits all” solution, but instead, requires a consultation to understand your unique needs. Use the form below or contact us at 586.263.1775 to get started.

Today, many people regularly work from home offices, coffee shops, and hotel rooms. The constant availability of the internet combined with the speed and performance of today’s laptops has made remote work easier than ever.

Remote work vs. in-office work

For various reasons, some employers discourage or don’t allow remote work. Manufacturers may feel it’s unfair to let operational staff work remotely when plant and warehouse workers have to come in. The office environment is naturally conducive to building friendships, fostering teamwork and encouraging collaboration. In an office, employees have fewer distractions and it’s easier to keep company information secure. You may not have the technology in place to allow remote work.

Amidst concerns about Coronavirus, employers who didn’t setup remote work capabilities in the past are now looking for ways to keep the business running. One of the easiest ways is to allow employees to work from home.

Obviously, working remotely and in-office are not the same. You don’t have the same fluid interactions between employees as when they’re within walking distance from each other. Paperwork and contracts can’t be passed around. Some software systems may only be available on premise.

So, what exactly do you need to do before letting your employees work remotely so they can be productive, and your business can continue to function smoothly?

5 Key Considerations When Setting Up Remote Access for Employees

1. Off-site data security

Decide which employees are eligible to work from home, and what software and systems you’ll make available to them. Most employees are loyal to your business, strive to act in a professional manner, and would never intentionally cause a data breach. Despite good intentions, studies show that employees are consistently the top source of data security breaches.

In the office, you can have layers of firewall protection and data security monitoring built into your local area network. Offsite, you can implement security protections in various ways.  However, if you don’t already have the technology in place, it will take time to setup.

Some of the simpler ways to enforce data security standards are by:

If your company works with sensitive information, you want to be especially careful in setting up remote access. You’ll want to limit access, printing or downloading for records like:

  • Patient health records
  • Trade secrets
  • Sensitive financial or security information
  • Compliance or legal data

In addition to working with the software vendor to configure the application security settings, call an IT Service Provider like us (586.263.1775) to help setup the remote working environment.

2. Devices used for remote work

Decide who will provide the computers and laptops employees use for remote work. If your company buys them or allows employees to take company equipment home, you have more control about what you allow on the device. Make sure your employees are familiar with any new IT Policies related to remote work equipment.

Microsoft Office 365 and other IT vendors have software available that enables employers to wipe remote devices in the case equipment is lost or stolen.

3. Enabling secure off-site file access

What about file access? If employees aren’t working in the office, how can they access company files? You have two main options here – a VPN or the cloud.

VPN – Virtual Private Network – You can restrict access so that employees must exclusively connect through a VPN, providing a direct, encrypted connection between their remote device and the main office server. This is a way to offer full, but secure access to remote employees. Be prescriptive about which VPN tools employees use. Consumer-grade free VPN applications may expose your company to malware or adware. Learn more in our prior article about setting up a small business VPN.

The other option for file access is to use a cloud software like G-Suite or Office 365. If you already have a cloud software set up, you’re good to go! If not, migrating to the cloud is a great way to keep files secure while giving employees access to their work anywhere.

Both G-Suite and Microsoft Office 365 can be set up relatively quickly. If you have a large amount of data or lots of users, the process will obviously take a bit longer, but is worth it in the long-run. These software suites include email, calendar, spreadsheets, documents and a whole host of other business productivity tools. See which Office 365 applications are available, depending on the plan you select. We are happy to help you figure out the most expedient and practical way to get started.

4. Video communication tools

You probably already rely heavily on email for communication. That likely won’t ever change. What does change with remote work is that you should consider adding a video communication tool to share desktop applications and see friendly faces via webcam. Video communication tools to keep everyone in touch and on task. Some of our favorite tools are:

  • Microsoft Teams
  • Google Hangouts
  • Zoom

5. Set expectations for remote employee work

Let everyone know your expectations for office hours, availability, and results expected. Especially when remote work is new, make sure employees know how to login, how to communicate and who to call if they experience technical difficulties.

Working remotely can be challenging for everyone at first. Don’t get discouraged.

Keep in mind that some employees will have difficulty working from home. They may have children or other family members clamoring for their attention. They may not be comfortable with video chat and need extra time to learn technology and change their processes to find new ways to collaborate. Be patient and keep in close communication. It’ll make the entire process run much more smoothly.

Need help setting up remote workers?

We’re here to help – as much or as little as you need. We can do everything from ordering and shipping laptops, to setting up remote access, to helping review your IT policies and procedures. Our team is here to help your business thrive by supporting remote work through a strong business continuity plan.

Give us a call at 586.263.1775 or email info@eclipse-online.com.

 

Working remotely FAQs

How to help your employees working remotely?

Make sure your employees feel safe, connected, and know how to get in touch for questions. Set goals for your workers, check in frequently and be proactive.

Are there benefits to remote work?

Remote work gives you a lot more flexibility to balance work and home life. You no longer have to commute, saving time and money. Remote work can also eliminate regular office distractions, making you more productive.

How good is Microsoft Teams' security?

Microsoft has a built-in enterprise-level security system in place.

How do you help your employees working remotely stay productive?

Keep in contact with your employees and make sure they stay in the loop. Advise them to take breaks as they would if they were in office, and to create their own special work environment at home.

How many software programs do you use to run your business? Do you even know?

With the rise of online hosted software applications, you might have quite a few. You login and logout of different applications all day long without even considering there may be an easier way to work.

Clients often tell us “everything is in QuickBooks” or in their manufacturing system, but when they step back and reflect on overall operations, they realize that’s not true.

  • Orders are coming in through their eCommerce website
  • Sales being managed in Outlook or in a CRM system like Hubspot
  • Emails being sent to customers using MailChimp
  • Support is being managed with ZenDesk

Missing the big picture

While each department is self-sufficient and able to get their work done, having siloed business systems eventually creates problems because you don’t have a full view of your business. Some real-world recent examples we’ve seen include:

  • Salespeople trying to sell to customers with large overdue balances.
  • An inventory system with 5000+ SKUs, detailed product descriptions, shipping weights and cut sheets that don’t exist in QuickBooks, making it difficult for the company to get a detailed understanding of profitability by product.
  • The customer updates their address in the online web store, but because this information isn’t updated in the manufacturing system in real-time, the order is sent to the wrong address, creating extra expense and an unhappy customer.
  • Online orders come into a salesperson’s email inbox, which then has to be typed into the manufacturing system, leaving room for error.

There are hidden costs when your business information is disconnected like this because you can’t see the full picture. Connecting your systems will give you new insight and save you a lot of trouble in the long run. Integrations will also improve your business by:

  • Reducing human errors made because of multiple systems
  • Cutting down data security risks with fewer systems and passwords involved
  • Offering a full view of your business from angles you’ve never had before

Developing a streamlined process

Before we actually do any software integration work, we help clients come up with a process for updating the multiple systems to decide:

  • When should a record or system be updated?
  • Which system takes priority?
  • What’s the “one source of truth”?
  • Who has authority to make changes?

Sometimes these processes are straightforward:

Other times, these processes are more complex, and need to be flow-charted:

  • Is this a multiple item order?
  • Do we have all the inventory in stock?
  • Are there raw materials in stock?
  • Do we need to manufacture or assemble any of these items?
  • Are these all fast-moving inventory items?
  • Can we have items drop shipped?
  • Should we split the delivery?
  • Which warehouse should we ship from?

Signs that software integration should be considered

See how many of these apply to you:

  • You don’t trust the data.
    • You have to check multiple systems to make sure information is correct
    • You spend a lot of time in meetings, on phone calls and walking down the hall to clarify and verify information
  • You’re spending too much time on low value administrative work
    • Employees are re-keying information into multiple systems
    • You have spreadsheets for everything
    • Employee turnover is high because the work is boring and repetitive
  • Mistakes are happening
    • You can’t deliver because the parts aren’t in stock
    • Customers aren’t getting the right information or shipments
    • Information is mis-typed from one system to another


You’ve decided. You need to integrate your software applications.

Once you’ve decided that integrating your software applications is something you want to explore, give us a call. We’ll help you understand what’s possible and how to achieve your goals.

If your software has API access, we may be able to get away with low-cost integration tools without having to create a custom code. There are a few low-cost tools on the market like Zapier, Microsoft Flow, and IFTTT.

If these aren’t enough, we can recommend how to use software development to integrate your systems.  We’ll work with you to understand your business, goals and systems to make a recommendation that best fits your needs.

 

LOOKING FOR SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT EXPERTS?

Every day we see how profoundly software development can make a difference in our client’s businesses and lives. Software can dramatically increase efficiency and reduce frustration. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help, schedule a call with us! 586.263.1775.


Why is system integration important?

Integrating your software systems is important because it’s the easiest way to stay up to date with our evolving technology. An integrated system will cut down data security risks, streamline your processes and reduce errors.

What are some benefits of system integration?

Benefits of integrating your software are: • Reduced costs • Streamlined process • Easier collaboration • Less security risk • Reduced errors

What is involved in software integration?

All of your current systems will become one system without duplicate information. This will streamline your process and reduce errors. Find a software development team to help you get started.

What are examples of integrated software?

Software integration is many systems becoming one. An example of integrated software is Microsoft Office – containing most programs you need in an office (Word, Excel, Outlook etc.)

Business Software: The Software Selection Discovery Process

You need software to run your business efficiently, but with so many software programs on the market today, how do you know which one is right for you?

If you run a quick Google search, you’ll find “Top 10 lists” in a multitude of business software categories:

  • Accounting software programs
  • Customer relationship management software
  • Email marketing software
  • Shipping software
  • Invoicing software
  • And the list goes on and on and on….

Just looking at CRM software, you can see just how many options there are!

With so many options available, we recommend working with technology experts (like us!) to get clarity about what you really need. Otherwise, you can get blinded by fancy features that you don’t need – or compromise with a solution you’ll outgrow too quickly.

We work with clients every day to help them find the right small business software. Here’s how the process works.

The Software Selection Discovery Process

First of all, we offer a totally free, no-pressure Explore the Possibilities discovery call for anyone looking to work with us. We’ll spend 30-minutes or so getting to know you and your business challenges.

If you want us to do a more in-depth software selection discovery process, we can help you find the right software that is the best fit for you today and meets your future plans, and meshes well with other departments and other software applications you use. This project can be quick or more in-depth, depending on your unique situation.

Clients have REPEATEDLY told us that the software selection discovery process is money well spent. Implementing software that doesn’t fit your needs is painful – and expensive. We’ll work within your budget to make appropriate recommendations.

STEP 1: Understanding your needs and your business.

Before engaging an IT Consultant – us or anyone else – start to ask yourself questions like:

  • Who will use the system?
  • Why do we need this software?
  • What data needs to be collected? Where is this data?
  • Do we have other systems that do part of this process?
  • Are we willing to change our processes to fit a new system? Or would we rather customize a system to fit our business processes?
  • What’s our budget for this? Can we expect an ROI on this technology investment (or is it a foundational cost of doing business?)
  • Are we already “committed” to an IT infrastructure / solution set that would be best to continue (Google, Microsoft, Linux, SAP, etc.)?

While you may be able to answer many of these questions on your own, as your IT Service partner, we bring an outsider’s objective perspective. Our work with clients exposes us to a broader array of business and technical challenges, and can help you avoid mistakes others have made by:

  • Knowing what other companies have done in similar situations
  • Finding simpler solutions
  • Understanding “marketed features” vs. “actual functionality” to avoid surprises
  • Making sure you have the resources to manage and maintain the system
  • Think of items you might never consider (ex: technical compatibility, overlapping functions, security, speed, etc.)

STEP 2: Understanding your software options

Once we know what you need, the next step is investigate software options. The choices are to:

  1. Find commercial-off-the-shelf packaged software (like QuickBooks) that works out of the box.
  2. If no commercially available software fits your needs, we may recommend software development as an approach to meets your unique needs.
  3. The third option is to take a hybrid approach. Using software you already have or would buy, we may recommend the purchase of add-ons or build integrations to meet your specific needs. To integrate or extend an application, you’d want to verify that the software you buy has SDK or API extensibility.

Pros and Cons of Off-the-shelf Software

Pros

Cons

  • Low cost upfront
  • Support is included/easily added
  • Quicker installation and use
  • Community support
  • Software partner will have a proven track record (reviews, testimonials, online feedback)
  • Can usually integrate or add-on more features later
  • Multiple resources available for consulting and support

 

  • You will likely need to change your business processes
  • May be paying extra for features you don’t need and won’t use
  • “Marketed” features may not be as robust as they seem
  • Doesn’t offer competitive differentiation
  • Support might cost extra
  • Support staff and consultants won’t know your business well
  • Forced software feature changes are outside of your control
  • Price may increase over time

 

Pros and Cons of Custom Development

Pros

Cons

  • Can provide a strong competitive advantage
  • You are in control of the features
  • Often simpler to use
  • New features can be added over time
  • Your development and support teams get to know your business well
  • Modern software development platforms are well-supported and well-documented
  • Typically requires more time and resources up front
  • Project can creep in scope without careful management
  • Requires a trusted relationship with your software developer

 

STEP 3. Make a recommendation.

Which approach is right for you?

It depends.

I know you hate to hear that, but it’s true.

The last step of the discovery process is to give you our professional recommendations, and answer questions you have about the tradeoffs among your options.

In theory, the commercially available off-the-shelf software is the simplest solution. If we can find software that fits your requirements, we can help you get started right away with the purchase and implementation. Most software programs offer some options for configuration (like whether you want to use cash basis or accrual accounting for revenue recognition in QuickBooks). You may be able to do this yourself, or you may want help with the setup.

The catch with commercially available software is that you may need to change your business processes to work the way the software works, which means training employees on the new system.

If you love your current software, but you just wish it had this one extra feature… or would like to create a workflow to automate sending data to another system, we might be able to help you find it or build it. Commercial software often has upgrade and add-on options that offer just what you need. If not, we can custom develop one.  This way, you keep the software features that work and change those that don’t work, creating exactly what you need.

If none of these options are cutting it, we can build a custom software application. This could be a small, one-screen system or a significant multi-year project. If we decide to go down the road of software development or software customization, the next step would be to create a Software Development Blueprint, which we’ll explain in more detail in a later post.

Need help selecting software?

Let our IT consultants help! Our clients tell us they choose to work with us because:

  1. We are software agnostic, focused on what fits your needs, not what makes us the most money.
  2. If we can’t find an off-the-shelf software solution that meets your needs, we can do the software development.
  3. We have the expertise. In our 20+ years, we’ve seen the IT infrastructure and software systems of hundreds of businesses.
  4. We’re a right-sized small business, neither a one-man band, nor a huge IT consultancy. Our services are personalized to fit your needs. Our prices and policies are fair.
  5. We’re committed to helping you achieve your business goals with greater efficiency and less frustration.

Book an Explore the Possibilities call today! 586-263-1775

business technology quiz

What is the difference between off the shelf software and customizable software?

Off the shelf software will be available at major retailers to purchase ready to go. They will include common needs, but possibly not all. Customizable software is a software that can be created based on your own business’ needs.

How do I choose a software that's right for me?

3 Steps to choosing a software: 1. Write down all business needs 2. Search your software options (this may introduce a need for an IT Consultant) 3. Decide if off-the-shelf, customizable, or creating a new software is right for you

What software is the cheapest?

Any off-the-shelf software is going to be cheaper than a custom software or creating a new program. You may need to pay extra for add-ons as well as support once you’ve already purchased the software, making it more expensive in the long run.

What are pros of a custom software?

Custom software advantages: -Can provide a strong competitive advantage -You are in control of the features -Often simpler to use -New features can be added over time -Your development and support teams get to know your business well -Modern software development platforms are well-supported and well-documented

What are pros of an off the shelf software?

Off-the-shelf software advantages: -Low cost upfront -Support is included/easily added -Quicker installation and use -Community support -Software partner will have a proven track record (reviews, testimonials, online feedback) -Can usually integrate or add-on more features later -Multiple resources available for consulting and support