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.

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

 

You KNOW you could have / should have done more to protect your business data… but now it’s too late and your computers have been compromised.

What should you do in the event of a data security breach?

 

1. CALL IT DATA SECURITY PROFESSIONALS ASAP!

Just like a fire or medical emergency, time is of the essence. The attack may still be underway or causing further damage.

  • In the case of a virus or malware, the more people who open the email, the more computers will be infected.
  • Hackers can continue downloading files as long as they have open access. Less than 48 hours after a breach, the attacker will have control of a network – you need to act fast.
  • If the threat is coming from inside the building (an employee or contractor who either inadvertently or with ill intent caused the breach), you’ll want your IT team to be able to clearly see the source of the issue.

You don’t want a junior IT guy giving it his best shot. If you don’t have an experienced IT partner, NOW is the time to find one! (Note, however, that just like calling 911 to summon a helicopter to medically evacuate you off a cliff and into to an emergency room, finding an IT partner during a data security crisis is likely to be both difficult and expensive.)

The risk here is that if you have under-trained IT personnel panicking and changing settings, it may be difficult for your IT team to understand what really happened and diagnose the root cause of the issue. Don’t make the problem any worse than it is. Call in IT Professionals.

2. Assess and contain the damage.

Your IT professionals and senior leadership team need to set aside blame (at least for now) and be in tight communication about what happened and how to proceed in fixing the data security breach.

Hopefully you have a disaster recovery or business continuity plan in place, along with documentation of your passwords and backup of all your systems.

Your damage control team needs to decide:

  1. Is the breach contained?
  2. How severe is the damage?
  3. What steps do we need to take now?
  4. Who needs to know? If sensitive data was exposed, you’re likely legally required to notify those who are potentially impacted and/or government agencies.
  5. How can we prevent this from happening in the future?

3. Take data restoration steps.

Every situation is unique. Some actions need to be taken immediately, while others may happen over the coming days, weeks and months. Depending on what happened, restoration from a data security breach could mean:

  • Restoring files from backup
  • Changing all passwords
  • Taking a system offline until security updates can be applied
  • Paying the ransom on the ransomware (which is a terrible idea, for so many reasons!)

4. Communicate.

First to employees and then to anyone affected outside your organization, you need to clearly communicate:

  • What happened
  • How you’re fixing the issue
  • Any steps those impacted need to do to protect themselves

5. Get committed to data security.

Small businesses are not immune from cybersecurity attacks. With fewer resources to fight and recover from a breach, it’s even more important for you to Integrate security into your platform. One component of our data security offerings is to use Microsoft 365 for:

  • Identity & access management
  • Threat protection
  • Information protection
  • Security management
  • Device and application management

We also believe strongly in user data security training.

Many employees share passwords, not considering the data security ramifications. In over 63% of data breaches, attackers gain access through weak, default, or stolen user credentials.  Your technology and people need to work together to keep your business protected from malicious cybersecurity attacks.

Beyond user training, there are a few other ways you can safeguard your business:

Microsoft 365 for Data Breach Recovery

One of the solutions we use in our data security practice is Microsoft 365, which has all the perks of Office 365, plus advanced security and device management tools. Microsoft 365 helps us both with remote network monitoring, but also for data breach recovery.

Here’s some of what Microsoft 365 can do after you’ve been breached:

  • Automatically investigate and mend endpoint threats
  • Recommend what to investigate and remediate
  • Investigate company-wide emails to remediate threats
  • Visualize a hacker’s lateral movement
  • Recover OneDrive files
  • Remove ransomware

Call Us for Data Breach Prevention

We don’t want to be your 911 IT emergency call. We want to be your day-to-day IT partner who keep your IT systems health and your systems secure with IT services like:

  • Continually monitoring network traffic for anomalies
  • Maintaining backups and testing restore procedures
  • Having a “red book” of system admin credentials and vendor contact information
  • Enforcing IT policies and procedures
  • Keeping hardware and software up-to-date

Don’t wait until it’s too late – give us a call today – 1.586.263.1775.

 

Data Breach FAQ’s

What is the most common cause of data loss?

The most common cause of data loss is hardware failure – make sure you’re always backing up your hardware! Other causes include; human error, software corruption, theft, and viruses.

What happens when there is a data breach?

A data breach puts ALL of your personal and financial records at risk. This makes you vulnerable to identity theft, compromise of customer data, compromise of employee data, loss or risk or intellectual process, and virus attacks.

How to protect yourself after a data breach?

Take data restoration steps: 
1. Restore files from backup.
2. Change all passwords.
3. Take systems offline (if needed) until security updates can be added.
4. Integrate security into your platform.

How serious is a data breach?

A breach in your hardware will always be serious. It can lead to destruction, alteration, loss, or access to all personal data. Assessing the problem ASAP will lessen the blow.

Planning an office move soon? Don’t leave your technology moving requirements until the last minute.  In fact, the sooner you let your IT staff know about the move, the better.

1. Start Planning ASAP – and don’t forget to notify your IT Professionals! 

The sooner you get started planning, the smoother your transition will be. Let your IT Pros know as soon as possible. They will think of things most people never consider, like:

  • Type and location of cabling
  • How to protect equipment during the move
  • How to setup and protect your new server room (if you have one)
  • Ways to make the transition seamless to your customers
  • Physical and cyber security measures

2. Decide whether to stay open or close your doors during the transition.

A seamless transition is the goal. If you are going to close your office for the move, make sure to notify your customers. Let them know when you’ll be back and how to reach you during the transition.  If you decide to stay open, set up an offsite or remote location in advance. Whichever way you decide to go, planning ahead is going to help the most in the long run!

3. Inventory your current IT equipment.

Now is the time to take a look at every piece of IT equipment that needs to move along with you. All the big devices need to be unplugged and tagged with where they need to go (room number, desk number, room name, etc.) to make for an easier move. The smaller items that can go into bags are pieces like:

  • Cables
  • Power cords
  • Keyboards
  • Surge suppressors
  • Pointing devices
  • Any other odds and ends

Don’t forget to tie up and tag all bags, if it’s not tagged it won’t be moved!

Create an inventory sheet to help you keep track of all your IT equipment.

4. Decide what equipment to discard or donate.

After you’ve inventoried all the equipment, it’s time for some spring cleaning. Anything outdated or not used often, like old fax machines – toss. Slow or outdated computers? Eclipse can help you properly dispose of those electronics! If you are getting rid of computers, make sure to properly erase your hard drive before disposing or donating.

Some IT equipment can be leased and might need to be returned or renewed when moving locations. This is a great time to upgrade your electronics and hardware, so it’s ready when you move into the new office.

Are you still running Windows 7? Time for an upgrade! Several popular Microsoft products are going out-of-support in January 2020.

5. Decide what to upgrade or replace.

Replacing or upgrading your equipment all at once can be hard on cash flow. Create a budget for new hardware purchases, those that you need immediately and those you can plan for over the next three to five years.

Moving is a great time to think about migrating to the Cloud. Not only can you eliminate servers, but there are many other pros:

  • More secure and reliable than on-site servers
  • Virtual environment can get up and running faster
  • Lower total cost- only pay for what you need
  • Accessible for remote work

6. Consider your phone system.

Will you get a new phone number? Put plans in place to minimize call downtime. If you have an on-premise PBX system that you want to keep, plans need to be made to move the hardware. You may also decide that this is a great time to evaluate a cloud phone system, also known as a VOIP phone. The cloud system can easily be set up in both locations, ensuring that the lines are active during the move.

7. Get the new internet set up.

Internet service needs to be set up and working before you move in. Even if you are able to keep the same service provider, your static IP addresses may change. In this case, your firewall will need to be reconfigured at your new location. You also may need to update your DNS records to point to the new public IP address, and/or notify people who connect to your network of this change.

8. Protect your data!

Everything is already backed up, right? You have offsite storage, right? Have you tried restoring your data recently? This is the time to double and triple check the restoration process. Count this under “anything that can go wrong will!” This is the time to call in the IT Pros to ensures you’ve done this correctly. Missing a step (like not having a password) can make your restore process fail.

9. Develop a site plan.

Get in contact with your IT professionals when you begin the office layout process. We can save you major headaches later by advising you of the best ways to setup your new office with:

  • Cabling
  • Server room
    • Security
    • Climate control
    • Amount of space
    • Power supply
  • Camera Security Systems

10. Develop a moving day plan.

On the day of the move, everyone should know their role. If you already have your electronics bagged and tagged, the setup on the other side will be much easier. Walk through the day with your:

  • Movers
    • What goes
    • Where it goes
    • Time of move/how long to move
  • IT Pros
    • When to set up
    • Where to set up
    • What needs to be set up
  • Employees
    • On site vs. off site
    • Phone and email coverage
    • Personal responsibilities

Eclipse Consulting for New Office Setups

We can help you from the planning stages through to providing ongoing IT Support for your new office. Please reach out to our team to find out pricing and availability by calling us at 586.263.1775 or emailing us at info@eclipse-online.com.

 

Hire IT Staff or Use Outsourced IT Services?

Today, every business depends on technology. That means every business much find a way to manage technology to:

  • Reduce the risk of data loss and data security breaches
  • Reduce downtime 
  • Minimize frustration
  • Increase productivity and efficiency 

Small business owners frequently start out by managing their IT systems themselves or by relying on consumer-oriented technical support providers like GeekSquad. But as companies add employees and customers, DIY computer management is not enough. You need dedicated, reliable, expert IT support. 

Even if you have an internal IT professional, we believe it’s in almost every company’s best interest to have an Outsourced IT Services provider. Here’s why: 

1. Strategic IT Decisions

When a small business owner or manager tells an employee to do something, they usually just do it. Part of the job of an external IT support team is to push back when the management team is moving the wrong direction. Setting an IT strategy will keep your software, hardware, processes and employees in alignment.

2. Wider Array of IT Skills

An outsourced IT services provider can bring in different consultants for your project. Software development. Microsoft. QuickBooks. Along the way, your needs may change. An external technical team can change along with you.

3. Better IT Support

Because an external IT support team works with multiple businesses and immerses themselves in the technology solutions they offer, they can often correctly diagnose and correct IT support issues much more quickly. Plus, they’ll often available after hours when needed.

4. No Payroll Hassles

Hiring and firing employees is both stressful and risky. With an IT services provider, you can grow and shrink your IT expenses more easily. 

5. Less Frustration

While there may be many hidden costs of working inefficiently, one of the biggest tolls is the emotional stress and frustration of having technology problems. “Why isn’t my email working?” “But we JUST bought that server…” “I thought we were backed up.” “How did we get hacked?”

Metro Detroit Outsourced IT Services Provider

Is it time to outsource IT? Are you looking for a new Metro Detroit IT services provider? Do you need someone to work with your website designer to connect the website to your backend systems? Here at Eclipse Consulting, we’re affordable, fair and professional. We’re a Southeast Michigan IT Services Provider that serves small-to-mid-sized businesses. Set up a meeting to see if we’re a fit for your needs.

Request a Tech Check
Michigan IT Outourced Services

Your Small Business IT Budget: Do More With Less

With year-end just around the corner, companies are thinking about their business strategy, marketing strategy and IT budget for the coming year.

Your IT budget should reflect your priorities, and align with your overarching business strategy – and that means you need to have an IT strategy! Not having an IT Strategy can create chaos – and cost you significantly more in the long run – often in hidden inefficiencies, like:

  • Manual workarounds and duplication of effort
  • Losing customers due to poor customer experience
  • Continually “putting out fires” and reacting to the latest crisis

How Do You Stretch Your Small Business IT Budget?

1. Review Your Current Situation

Where are you wasting time or working inefficiently? Are there areas of your business that are continually causing frustration?

Many of us are guilty of hitting the proverbial “snooze alarm,” promising ourselves we’ll find a long-term solution later. For example, we’ve had clients who spent years manually re-entering website sales orders into their accounting system for processing and shipping. By creating an integration between their eCommerce platform and accounting platform, they were able to save hundreds of hours each year and re-allocate those resources to work on more valuable projects. Use a project management software to keep on top of your priorities.

2. Develop a 2-5 Year Business Plan

Before you can develop your IT strategy, you must first develop your business strategy. It doesn’t have to be written in stone, but you should have a good idea of key decisions like:

  • Do you plan on adding employees or hiring contractors? Will they work remotely or in an office?
  • Do you plan on adding new locations or recruiting distributors?
  • Will you expand your product or service offerings?

Your business goals should drive your IT strategy. For example, if you are planning to add virtual staff who will work from their home offices, you’ll want to leverage SaaS solutions and perhaps have a virtual VOIP phone line and other communication tools to keep the team in sync.

3. Simplify Decisions with an IT Roadmap

Make your decisions once. Continue to execute. We continually advise our clients to “pick a lane.” If you go (almost) all Microsoft, your systems are virtually guaranteed to work well together. By contrast, if you have a smattering of Google, Apple, Linux and Microsoft solutions that each serve difference purposes, you have a higher risk that your integration points will fail.

An IT roadmap will save you money in the long run because you have clarity about what you need today – and in the future. If you plan to move to the cloud in a year, and your main business server fails, you may decide to accelerate your cloud migration rather than replace the server.

An IT roadmap will also help you mitigate cyber security and data security risks. Your IT team will ensure you have proper protections in place.

4. Ask Your Accountant About 2018 Capital Expenditure Spending

At the end of every year, your accountant should be able to tell you if it’s advantageous to your taxes to make big capital expenditures this year – or wait for 2019. Timing your capital expenditures correctly can sometimes save you big money.

5. Seek Expert IT Advice

Our favorite tip for stretching your small business IT budget is to seek expert IT advice. We don’t say this to be self-serving, but… our experience repeatedly shows us that many small business owners and managers don’t understand their options. Many of our clients didn’t grow up with computers. They started out old-school. Sometimes the CRM system is an Excel spreadsheet with notes.  The calendaring system is a whiteboard with the current jobs written on it.

There is often a faster, easier, more efficient way to accomplish your daily tasks. We would love to help you explore those possibilities! You can schedule a FREE session online or call us at 586.263.1775. We are an experienced Metro Detroit Michigan IT Services firm– with clients locally and across the country. We’re known for our dedication to small and growing businesses.

Request a Tech Check

Small business has increasingly become dependent on technology. In fact, we often say,

“Every business is a technology business.”

When it comes to small business technical support, you often can’t afford to hire full-time IT staff – and even if you do have one IT professional – that one individual doesn’t always have all the skills needed to keep business operations running efficiently.

Evaluating Small Business IT Consulting Services

When hiring an IT Services company, here are 5 questions that can help you get the best fit for your company’s needs.

1. How will you be billed?

IT service company consulting fees vary based on the billing model. Common models include:

Managed Services – You pay one set price per month, and in return, your computer network is kept running smoothly. This model provides predicable income for the service provider and a budget-able expense for an organization. The challenge is gaining clarity what’s within scope of the set fees.

Set Price Services – Some IT service providers offer set fees, similar to getting an oil change on your car. This pricing model works well for small, discrete jobs.

Time & Expense Services – This billing model allows you to fluctuate your IT expenditures based on cash flow and the intensity of your current IT initiatives

However, you are billed, a good IT services provider will help you find the resolution to the problem but can’t always resolve the problem.

  1. The problem may not be worth fixing. It may be easier and less expensive to buy a computer than repair one that’s 10 years old.
  2. The problem may not be fixable. The hardware and software may be incompatible, and your only choice is to replace one of the system components.
  3. The problem may reoccur. We can remove malware, install anti-malware software and provide recommendations for IT policies and procedures to stop the problem from recurring, but we can’t guarantee your systems won’t become re-infected.

2. Where will the work be performed?

Very few IT services need to be performed on-site any more. While some clients may hire us because we’re a Detroit IT services firm, we actually support clients across the country. Even when clients are right in our township, it’s often simpler and more cost effective to login remotely. That said, when you need software training or have multiple hardware and software issues that need to be diagnosed and resolved, it can be valuable to have local IT professionals come on site.

3. Are you a value-added reseller (VAR) or an independent IT advisor?

Value added resellers typically make a commission on top of the IT services revenue. An independent IT advisor may make an affiliate fee – or may not. The reason you want to know is because a VAR is not going to be as objective. They have a particular software solution to sell. They’re not looking for the BEST software solution for your organization. They’re looking for a good fit with the software they sell.

Now, if you’ve done a software evaluation and you know you want to implement QuickBooks Premier (for example), it makes sense to work with a QuickBooks Pro Advisor who knows the software inside and out. We partner with small business software VARS all the time.

As an independent IT consulting firm, we start with questions like “What’s possible?” “What’s the BEST way to achieve your business goals using technology?”
That may mean looking at several small business software solutions – or even custom software development. We begin with the end in mind and work backward toward the right software solution.

4. Do you do software configuration or software customization?

When an IT consulting firm says they do software configuration, what they mean is that they set it up for your organization. In the case of QuickBooks Premier, they’ll ask you a series of questions, like:

  • When’s your fiscal year end?
  • What states do you pay sales tax in?
  • Are you on a cash or accrual basis?
  • What financial reporting do you need?

The system already supports these options, so the main job of the small business IT consulting services firm is to ensure you understand the questions, and that the software is setup correctly.

When the term is used correctly, software customization can mean a multitude of things, but it ALWAYS involves software programming. Software customization includes:

  • Taking a base pre-packaged software solution, like QuickBooks, and adding features that are unique to your organization. For example, you may take orders in from the web and create an auto-look up of shipping weight and zip code to create a custom shipping cost.
  • Building custom integrations between two software programs.
  • Building an entirely new software program that’s customized to meet your needs. However, this is more commonly (and more accurately) called custom software development or custom software programming.

5. Do you outsource software development overseas or do you use US-based IT professionals?

In this global Internet-connected economy, it’s easier than ever to outsource software development overseas. While you may be able to lower the cost of your IT project, you also need to consider:

  • Business & industry expertise: With most offshore developers, you can’t just “hand off” a project. They don’t understand your business or industry. Can you develop a scope of work that is 100% clear on what you expect to have built? Will the offshore development team understand how to handle exceptions?
  • Communication: How will you communicate your needs? Working with an overseas developer means much more than overcoming a language barrier. Understanding how to translate ideas to software code is a challenge for all programmers.
  • Quality: What’s the quality of the software code? How will it be tested?
  • Support & Upgrades: Will anyone else be able to support the software? How will you upgrade and enhance the software in the future?
  • Privacy: Will your sensitive data and proprietary processes be protected?

Finding the Right IT Services Partner

Very few small businesses today can thrive without leveraging technology to boost efficiency and track metrics. Very small businesses may be able to get by with GeekSquad-type support. As your business grows in size and complexity, it pays to find a strategic technology advisor who has understands both your business goals – and your business challenges. If we can help, please let us know!

What other questions do you ask when you’re hiring an IT consulting firm? Leave us a note in the comments below.

technology business

buy your first small business server

Congratulations! Your business has grown and you’re starting to think about building out your IT environment to handle more employees, contractors and data.

When you only have a handful of employees, it’s easy enough to share folders and files on a few PCs. But as your business grows, file permissions, speed and reliability become more important. That’s usually the time where business owners start to consider buying a server.

Is it time to buy your first server?

Here are a few questions we ask our clients:

  1. Do you have 5 or more employees?
  2. Do you have central files, databases and software you want to share access to?
  3. Do you want to create an IT infrastructure that can grow and scale with your business?
  4. Are you concerned about data processing speed and network availability?
  5. Are you looking for better backup and recovery processes?
  6. Are you concerned about client confidentiality and sensitive data access?
  7. Do you have compliance / governance needs?

The more these answers are YES, the more benefit you’ll get from buying a server.

What are the benefits of buying a server?

Servers are built to be faster and more reliable than PCs. They can help you enforce IT policies to implement:

  • Better data security
  • Consistent backups
  • Company-wide patches and upgrades
  • Corporate-level access permissions

What should you consider?

  1. Price. We don’t know many companies with an unlimited budget. On-premise servers start at about $2000 and can go up significantly from there, depending on its configuration. We recommend you buy a server that will meet your needs for the next 3-5 years, without overspending on features you don’t really need.
  2. Features. Before you buy your first server, you’ll want to have some idea about how much memory and hard drive space you’ll need. You’ll also want to make sure you have an operating system that’s compatible with the software programs you intend to use. While we can’t make blanket recommendations in an article, we can recommend you request a Server Assessment.
  3. On premise vs. cloud. Cloud computing is a trend that’s not going to slow down anytime soon. Rather than having a server on-site in your office, many businesses are opting for servers hosted on Azure or Amazon. These servers work similarly to a physical on-premise server, but you rent the server instead of owning it, and the cloud hosting provider will guarantee the up-time of the environment.
  4. Plans for upkeep. Just like your computers, your server will need to be regularly updated, monitored and maintained. Even if you choose to go with a virtual server, you’re responsible for maintaining everything within the server walls – the software, databases, etc. Most companies choose to outsource this work to technology consulting companies (like ourselves) rather than hiring IT staff.
  5. Warranty / Service Level Agreement – If you buy an on-premise server, we recommend you get the 3-year extended warranty in case anything goes wrong. All cloud hosting providers will provide some sort of uptime guarantee. Ensure you understand what is covered under that service level agreement.

 Want help buying your first server?

Our staff of IT professionals are happy to help. A server evaluation usually takes about an hour of billable time, which (of course) varies bases on the complexity of your business. That’s not much – especially when you consider that there’s NO obligation to buy the server from us or to use our services.

We continually hear from companies how either they wish they would have asked us first because they “got sold” way more technology than they needed, or they bought a server that didn’t meet their needs at all and then couldn’t return it.

We prefer happy customer stories when the customer is delighted they called us, and how we saved them time, money and endless headaches down the road.

Request a Technology Check Detroit Michigan