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Should SMBs Focus on Big Data or Relevant Data?

When contemplating the utility of “Big Data”, many small and medium sized business owners perceive the processing of perhaps millions of data points to drive different strategies to be a lot like drinking water from a fire hose. For many SMB owners, all the talk about how Big Data can revolutionize initiatives across the full scope of a business is very reminiscent of how CRM software was marketed in its early stages; that processing a bunch of data points would reveal exactly what customers want.

Admittedly, Big Data has made some headlines, including statistician Nate Silver’s use of massive numbers of data points to accurately predict the Presidential and Congressional races in 2012. While the impressive accuracy of Mr. Silver’s predictions put himself and Big Data in the spotlight, he was quick to acknowledge that processing massive amounts of data to anticipate future events/actions was not an end-all solution and that it was subject to a variety of limitations including the proliferation of meaningless and/or inaccurate data and that some things are simply not predictable due to statistical anomalies.

Cast in this light, SMBs trying to get a handle on the signals being sent in the form of Big Data are unlikely to find competitive advantages there and are compounding the problem by ignoring something far more valuable; relevant data. This migration away from Big Data carries a bit of irony in that one of the best resources for collecting relevant data, especially for smaller companies, is the customer-specific information that can be derived from a targeted CRM program. The focus on customer-specific information accomplishes three things that can increase the accuracy of resulting assumptions:

  • The data has a high likelihood of being accurate – Tracking the interactions between a customer and the company doesn’t lend itself to a lot of interpretation. In these situations, the signals provided by the customer such as purchases, for example, are both highly specific and accurate.
  • Direct application – Information that applies directly to the customer avoids the inaccuracies that can occur when one set of data points is used to hypothesize an outcome on an unrelated subject.
  • The absence of noisy data – The collection of relevant data eliminates ancillary information that can corrupt accurate intelligence.   

SMBs will gain far more value and traction by leaving the processing of Big Data to others. Instead, by focusing on relevant data that applies directly to customers, preferences, and actions the results of company initiatives can be forecasted with high accuracy.


Network Security Tips for BYOD Road Warriors

One of the biggest risks of business travel has always been theft but, until a few years ago, the items that were at risk were typically in the physical possession of the traveler. If a theft occurred, the total loss was most often limited to the value of the stolen goods. This paradigm has now changed completely as people travelling for business regularly access their company’s network using their personally owned mobile devices.

This practice, referred to as BYOD, can improve the productivity of road warriors dramatically, but also increases to potential for loss if the theft of a device facilitates an intrusion of the company’s network. This potential for devastating losses necessitates that steps should be taken both before and during business trips to minimize the risk of losing a network connected device or having it hacked.

  • Lengthen passwords to include characters, numbers, caps, etc. – Easy to crack passwords are a little bit like walking down the street with money hanging out of your pocket; it makes you an easy target. Adding diversity to a password using characters and other options can serve as the first line of defense for your device. Changing your password when you’re home at the end of the trip is also advisable.  
  • Make sure that anti-virus protection is up to date – The developers of anti-virus software are constantly sending out security patches to fix vulnerabilities that have been detected in operating systems as well as applications. Before each trip, make sure to download new patches and upgrades to your devices to ensure maximum protection.
  • Be wary of Wi-Fi hotspots – Travel often includes downtime, whether it’s waiting for the next flight, unscheduled time in the hotel,  or a couple of hours between meetings. If you use open hotspots while travelling, be especially careful of pop-ups, which can be sent through either a legitimate open system or an illicit hotspot. In either case, the nefarious pop-ups can be programmed with malware designed to broadcast data, access codes, and other information back to the hackers.
  • Log off – Two primary ways that devices are lost or stolen is when they are left unattended or are left behind. A lost/stolen device that is still logged on can provide an easy route to all kinds of information, including access to the company network. 

The advent of BYOD has resulted in many benefits but there are dangers as well, which tend to be escalated on business trips. Following these steps can help road warriors secure their devices as well as the sensitive information they hold, which can be far more valuable than the device itself. 


Education and BYOD

The integration of technology in the education process presents a variety of challenges with two of the primary issues being hardware costs and the constant need for upgrading and replacing outdated or heavily used devices. Following in the footsteps of the “bring your own device” (BYOD) movement in the corporate world, a growing number of school districts are either implementing BYOD or contemplating it for use in the classroom as a solution to both shrinking budgets and the rapid pace of computing innovation/obsolescence.

The introduction of BYOD to the classroom, much like its adoption in the business environment, presents advantages of savings on cost outlays for hardware as well as increased productivity from the use of devices that travel with the user. Additionally, BYOD usage increases the availability of resources and enhances the collaborative process for the user.

These advantages, however, are accompanied by a variety of challenges as well, including:

  • Leveling the playing field between devices – Across a classroom of 25 students there may be 25 unique devices running at different processing speeds, which can punish students using low end tablets while also slowing the teaching process. One solution to this challenge would be to set minimums on device specifications as part of a BYOD policy, but shifting the cost to the parents of each student may present additional challenges.
  • Security – The exponential growth of access to school district networks by privately held devices presents many of the same security risks as business-related BYOD. As hackers increasingly focus on the ease of illicitly accessing networks through mobile devices, school districts will have to develop extra layers of security to protect against malware and the loss of data.
  • Restricting access to distractions such as apps and social media – Location-based BYOD access control will likely provide a solution for controlling access to social media networks while in class, but the downloading of apps on devices while students are off-campus can present the same security risks that IT departments for business networks see on a daily basis.

While a high percentage of schools currently forbid the use of smart phones and other mobile devices, a growing number of school districts are adopting BYOD policies. Many of these programs are being deployed exclusively at the high school level, but the ubiquitous use of mobile devices by younger children, combined with increasingly restrictive education budgets makes it appear that BYOD will be adopted at progressively lower grade levels. 


6 Reasons Education is Heading to the Cloud

Cloud computing, which has revolutionized the ways that businesses procure services, is now being embraced by education systems, specifically K – 12, dealing with a myriad of challenges resulting from shrinking budgets. The relatively recent and ongoing migration from local servers to the cloud delivers a variety of benefits for budget-challenged school districts, including:

  • Reduction in local IT expenses – This is one of the first benefits of moving to the cloud as services are billed on a per use basis rather than as a fixed expense. By shrinking IT costs related to hardware, personnel, infrastructure and office space, resources can be re-allocated to the core elements of the educational system.
  • Storage – Storage is currently one of the most popular services being used by school districts, providing an efficient option for housing data, records, and other information.
  • Collaboration – Students and teachers can work simultaneously on reports, homework, projects, etc. using cloud-based services. Whether accessed via mobile device or desktop, collaborative efforts no longer require everyone working on a document to be gathered in the same place.
  • The option to go paperless – Being able to offer lesson plans, research and other content through the cloud results in substantial cost savings via the elimination of homework packets, textbooks, class work and other information that would otherwise be distributed on paper.
  • Cloud-based services are a logical extension of “bring your own device” – Despite the inherent challenges, the adoption of BYOD in school systems is gaining traction for the same reason that cloud services are; tight budgets. The advent of pocket-sized computers and tablets, as well as  their use by elementary to high school aged students, presents opportunities to reduce hardware and software outlays while also putting an educational tool within reach on a 24/7 basis. 
  • Improved efficiency for teachers and students – Going paperless allows for homework and reports to be collected in virtual folders, thus eliminating the collection of printed work, physical storage, and forgotten/lost assignments. With cloud services, “The dog ate my homework” will be a thing of the past.       

Drastic budget cuts are forcing school districts to become ruthlessly efficient across the scope of their operations. The move to procuring services from the cloud fits within this objective while also delivering a collection of benefits that improve the processes of both learning and teaching.


3 Common IT Outsourcing Mistakes

While outsourcing IT can deliver a number of benefits to businesses ranging in size from small to large, the process includes some commonly made mistakes in the allocation of services that can diminish results substantially. Here are three common IT outsourcing mistakes and tips on how to avoid them.
* Buying on price – The process of selecting the best company to support your company’s IT needs is a lot like almost everything else that your business will purchase; you get what you pay for. The reality here is that every company that is bidding for your IT business needs to make some sort of profit to keep their doors open. A service provider that can turn a profit on a substantially lower bid versus other firms has to cut corners somewhere, whether it’s done with non-certified technicians or a skeleton staff that won’t be able to get to a big IT issues for a few days. If a potential provider’s pitch focuses on pricing while minimizing service quality you’re probably looking at a big and possibly costly disappointment sooner or later.
* Buying a “fixer” – Different IT support providers will have different core competencies, ranging from fixing problems to others that can develop comprehensive timelines that will need to be followed to enable your company to grow at the fastest rate possible. While a company that can fix problems is a good thing, if that’s all they do it won’t be enough. Unlike your car, your company’s IT infrastructure will need to evolve as your business expands, which will require a support provider capable of anticipating needs, developing plans and then executing them to meet future demands.
* Minimizing communications with your provider after the outsourcing process is finished – IT systems, as well as your business, exist in dynamic environments where change occurs on a constant basis. Ensuring that your IT support provider continues to grow with your company will require constant communication from both sides to optimize opportunities and minimize potential problems. Remember, you’re outsourcing your company’s IT requirements, not abandoning them.
Outsourcing IT can deliver the kinds of benefits that can make the difference between exceeding objectives and constantly reaching for them. Optimizing these benefits is a matter of working with a provider of IT support that has the core competencies to maintain and evolve your company’s IT infrastructure to facilitate its growth over the long term.

Securing Network Endpoints: 4 Measures Every Business Should Take Now

One of the biggest challenges for an IT department tasked with securing its network is the exponential growth of the “endpoints” that are used to access that network. The job of securing the corporate network is made even tougher for businesses that have adopted “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) policies that allow employees to connect to the network using personally, versus corporate, owned laptops, tablets, smart phones, etc. Because any device that is being used by employees for remote access to the corporate network can also be used by hackers for the same purpose, securing these endpoints is a necessity. 
Here are 4 measures you can take now to enhance endpoint security:
* Define and assess all remote access software that is being used by employees – Remote access software, and a subset known as “remote desktop” software, allow employees to access network resources, often through connections that are inside the business’s physical location. Examples of software that enables employees to control their onsite computers via remote control include “LogMeIn” and “GoToMyPC”. Access enabled by these types of software can provide exploitable weaknesses which should be assessed immediately.
* Make sure antivirus protection is updated and operational – A common method for hackers to gain access to networks is to start by circumventing or disabling outdated antivirus and/or malware protection at a user’s endpoint. Check all network endpoints to ensure that employees’ devices have operational and current antivirus/malware protection.
* Establish administrative access levels – One of the most common mistakes in network security is to assume that preventing entry is the only line of defense. By tiering access levels to proprietary information with additional pass code formats, a second line of defense can be established that can significantly limit damage in the event of a breach via a vulnerable endpoint.
* Develop a plan to stay current with new endpoint protection technologies – Another common mistake in network security is to leave defenses static, rather than evolve them as new technologies become available. Considering that hackers trying to access corporate networks are always developing new methodologies, the best way to protect your network is to upgrade protective measures on a regular basis.        
It’s very possible that the weakest aspects of your network are its endpoints. Take these four steps now to enhance network security, minimize potential damage, and stay current with evolving technologies.
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