How to Prevent Cyber Attacks in 2021

It makes sense that Cybersecurity Awareness Month falls in October. One of the scariest things a business owner faces is the fear of falling victim to a cybercrime.  So, what are the business implications of a cyber-attack? Loss of data/intellectual property, damage to reputation, loss of productivity, increased expenses, lawsuits, and more. 

Here are some facts:

In just the last year, cybercrime has increased by 40%.

60 % of cyber-attacks are targeted at small – to medium-sized businesses.

But… only 30% of small- medium-sized business owners consider themselves “very concerned” about ransomware.


Hackers who once went after the Targets and Amazons of the world are now going after smaller businesses who likely don’t have the necessary tools or support needed to prevent & recover from cyber-attacks.

Unfortunately, it is no longer a question of if your company will fall victim to a cyber-attack, but when, so it is imperative that your business invests in quality cyber support.

Some of the things you can do internally:

  • Require regular password changes
  • Implement two-factor authentication
  • Make sure anti-virus software is up to date
  • Install firewalls
  • Educate your employees on best practices

These are all great ways to add an extra barrier of protection to your network, but the best way to prevent a cyber-attack from occurring is to outsource your cybersecurity support to a managed services provider. Today, we have security threats coming at us from every direction. A good MSP can monitor your network 24/7, 365 days a year to prevent attacks before they happen. If a cyber-attack does still occur, they will have a team of experts in place to make sure you recover as quickly and painlessly as possible.

As Cybersecurity Awareness Month comes to an end, it is important to make sure cybersecurity remains a priority all year round. If you are curious about where your network stands in terms of security threats and/or other IT-related issues, reach out to me at sydneye@nowmicro.com to schedule a free network assessment. Visit https://www.nowmicro.com/managedservices to learn how Now Micro can become your managed service provider.

#BeCyberSmart

Does your small to medium-sized business have what it takes to manage IT efficiently and effectively?

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the work from home business model had been gaining popularity. Today, most businesses have adopted this mindset or at least a hybrid model of working from home a few days a week. As workers continue to work remotely, IT organizations face additional challenges including security threats, help desk overload, and increased costs.  

A few things to think about to assess your IT support needs:  

What does your current IT support look like?  

There are typically three answers: You have a dedicated IT employee, an employee(s) takes on IT work as a second responsibility, or you outsource your IT support. Whatever the plan looks like, you want it to be reliable and efficient so there are no implications to productivity.  

A managed service provider (MSP) would be able to take on IT management so your company can focus on its main objectives. An MSP is a company that offers IT support and tech support services on your behalf. The services they provide are customized to your organization’s IT support needs and can include 24/7 helpdesk services, network monitoring & management, cyber security protection, backup & recovery, and cloud management & migration. Managed service providers will work with different vendors to give their customers the best assistance. 

What are your current response times?  

Response times depend on how big your company is, the number of in-house IT employees, and how complex each IT issue is.  

When outsourcing your IT management to a managed service provider, the company can proactively monitor your networks and systems to prevent IT issues from happening in the first place. Whereas without preventative remote monitoring, your IT person only knows there is a problem after it occurs.  

In addition, your IT person goes home at the end of the day and takes sick days, vacations, and time off for holidays. A managed service provider can remotely monitor your networks 24/7, 365 days a year. With a larger team available, MSPs can track assets, hardware health, networks & servers, bandwidth & connectivity, and IT inventory management. 

Can your IT support remotely monitor and perform maintenance?  

With employees working from home, it is important to be able to monitor and perform maintenance virtually. No matter where your employees work, you can rely on a managed service provider helpdesk to resolve issues as quickly as possible so your team can focus on their jobs, not their IT issues.  

How are you ensuring your systems are secure?  

Unfortunately, your company’s network is always at risk of falling victim to cyber-attacks (read more from our blog post on cybersecurity), but this risk increases as employees work from home and connect to their internet.  

It is more important than ever to partner with a managed service provider to ensure you have the highest level of security. MSPs can help your company prepare for cyber-attacks with backup & recovery planning, proactive monitoring of threats, 24/7 helpdesk, security awareness training, network security updates, and much more. 

How are you backing up your systems?  

All companies experience system failures and data loss. It is crucial to have a disaster recovery protocol. managed service providers can help ensure your data is safe and secure when failures occur by offering services such as end-to-end encryption, device & file-level backup, productivity cloud apps (like Microsoft 365), and local or virtual backup solutions. 

Closing thoughts:  

Running a business comes with many risks and headaches. Working with a managed service provider can keep productivity up, prevent issues from occurring and get you back up and running ASAP.  

As a trusted Minnesota managed service provider, Now Micro is here to help with your business’s IT support. For additional information visit our Managed Services page. 

Users: Your largest and weakest attack surface

October is Cyber Security month! When you exclaim that this month’s focus is security to most admin and IT stakeholders, you’re likely to receive a chuckle or an eye roll. They know the truth of the matter. Our mindfulness of security can’t be limited to a singular month. 

It’s an ongoing process that literally never ends.

Who then is Cyber Security month for? I’ll give you a hint. They interface with your organization’s data, devices and services daily and often don’t regard security as their first or even third priority. You got it; Cyber Security month is all about making your users more aware of the threats your organization faces.  

We often spend a lot more time discussing our plans to harden servers, implement new identity security policies or protect our users’ credentials with MFA. Don’t get me wrong, those things are essential in today’s world, but it’s hard not to notice a gap in those strategies. That gap is the users.  

Most experts estimate that 70% – 90% of malicious breaches start with or include some form of social engineering. Our users are every organization’s largest attack surface and softest target. Bad actors know this and are increasingly aggressive and cunning in their attempts. Every user holds something a bad actor would like to get their hands on. 

Take a user who doesn’t need access to any data or systems but needs email to communicate. If that user leaks credentials, it can still be a treasure trove for a bad actor in the form of a global address list harvest or intel derived from exfiltrated emails that allows them to refine and target spear-phishing attempts. When we read about a large breach in the news, we often picture a group coordinating an attack to launch all at once when it’s far more likely that attack started very small and happened over time.

So how do we go about hardening our users? It would be nice if we could just apply a patch or update their firmware, but a more tactful approach is needed. We believe that process is three-pronged.

Communication

Your organization culture around communicating anything IT-related is very important and often overlooked. 

Simply making your users aware of the current threats and where to report them can go a long way to thwarting social engineering. Be consistent with your communications. Set up a shared mailbox so multiple crafting IT-related messages can appear as one unified voice. Apply templates to your emails, so the appearance is consistent. Be concise; not enough or too much information can be harmful. Stick to the who, what, why, and how of the threat. Don’t forget to include where a user should go to report social engineering attempts.

Training

This can mean different things depending on the size of your organization. In smaller organizations, it may mean taking 10 minutes during a company meeting to show examples of social engineering attempts. In larger organizations, it may mean contracting a professional trainer to speak to individual business units or even training leaders in those units to talk about threats to their teams.

Attack Simulation

The benefits of a simulated penetration test against our networks are obvious, but we can also apply this approach to our users. An attack simulation targeting your users with social engineering or a fake malware payload will not only give your organization an idea of its vulnerabilities but is also one of the best ways to raise your users’ awareness. The approach of an attack simulation with training and communication as a fast follow can grab your users’ attention far better than any of these components on their own.

How do I simulate attacks? 

Just like network penetration testing, there are plenty of tools to help you launch attack simulations and parse the data you receive.  

  • Microsoft 365 Defender P2 – If you happen to have Defender P2 or an M365/O365 A5/M5/E5 plan, you have a very robust set of tools for simulating attacks.
  • Choose from a wide variety of templated attacks that help target specific business units, just like a seasoned spear-phisherman.
  • Simulate malware payloads and malicious links with a variety of different delivery methods.
  • Automatically assign pre-built training modules to users that click malicious links or input their credentials.
  • Robust after-action reporting to help you know where to invest in training.   
  • Now Micro Security Awareness Training – If you don’t have Microsoft Licensing, you’re not out of luck, Now Micro has the tools to simulate attacks against your Microsoft or Google environments.
    • Phishing Security Tests
    • Automated Security Awareness Program
    • Security Hints & Tips
    • Automated Training Campaigns
    • Phish Alert Button (Ability to report & delete phishing emails)
    • Phishing Reply Tracking (Track if a user replies to a simulated phishing email & what information)
    • Industry Benchmarks
    • Monthly Email Exposure Check: Monthly reports show which email addresses are exposed on the Internet and are a target for phishing attacks

Recognizing the growing need to protect all your endpoints, including your users, is our focus at Now Micro.  If you have any questions or would like our help, visit our Managed Services page on our website.

Are you prepared for IT threats?

Many things cause a business owner to have nightmares — at the top of the list is a computer failure that stops operations in its tracks. Unfortunately, no company is immune to the threat of data failure. Recently, for retail giant Target, the fear became a reality as nearly every register in all stores throughout the United States went down.

Fortunately, the system outage only lasted two hours. But, that two hours of downtime cost Target roughly $50 million in lost sales and caused their stock shares to drop by two percent. In reality, Target’s ability to go from a catastrophic outage to getting back online in such a short time is a huge accomplishment. With significant IT infrastructure in place to respond, the company could investigate the problem, determine that there had been no data breach, and reboot all systems to full operation quickly. For the company, assuring that no data had been compromised was vital. In 2013, a data breach affected 41 million customers and resulted in a legal settlement costing them millions.

How you protect your data is critical to the success of your business — no matter your size. For a health organization, your data includes detailed medical and insurance information. There are endless client files and records for law offices, financial planners have high-level access to sensitive financial portfolios, the list goes on. No matter the industry, data is critical. In many cases, data security methods are heightened by legally mandated regulations like HIPAA and PCI.

Be Prepared

So, how do you protect your company from cybersecurity threats and data failure? Target spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year. The key is to find an affordable technology partner who you can trust. As seen in the Target event, data issues and cyber attacks don’t only happen during business hours. You have to be prepared to respond 24/7. At Now Micro, we make it a priority to be available when the need for help arises. Our service desk technicians answer the phone live 24 hours a day. But that is only a tiny piece of your Cyber Security response plan. Most of our work occurs before disaster strikes. We help ensure that you have up-to-date systems needed to prevent an attack or data failure and back-ups in place when an attack occurs.

Your Industry Needs

Although all industries need comprehensive data and cybersecurity infrastructure, the needs vary depending on the types of data stored and industry-specific regulatory requirements. Here is a shortlist of how Now Micro customizes our services to serve the cybersecurity needs of different industries:

 Manufacturing

We protect your intellectual property — the core of your ability to be profitable for the long term — and put in place processes to ensure the reliability of manufacturing operations.

 Healthcare

HIPAA and other compliance requirements are critical in the healthcare industry. We address these needs and ensure brand protection, secure connectivity, and offer a unified security platform.

Small and Midsize Businesses

Each small and midsize business has its own unique needs, with expense management a key factor. Therefore, we provide affordable options, giving you access to the same level of expertise that large companies have at their disposal.

Retail

In a retail operation, the ability to continually process transactions without hiccups is critical. We help you ensure the reliability of your POS system while also assisting with compliance needs.

Law & Finance

Legal and financial institutions/advisors need to secure sensitive data and are subject to intense compliance regulations. We help ensure all needs are met and a backup system in place to allow recovery in the event of a data attack or failure.

Ready to Serve

Information technology and cybersecurity are overwhelming topics, but they don’t have to be. Click here to learn more about our comprehensive IT and Cyber Security services. Give Now Micro a call today, and we can work together to define a plan that meets your needs so that you can relax knowing that your business is well cared for.

New Vlog Series: What’s in the Lab?

Now Micro has recently launched a new vlog series called What’s in the Lab. This series features Bernard Carter, Chief Technology Officer, going over various players we have in our lab. Our innovative digital signage & IoT solutions and services help customers from a range of industries better procure, deploy, manage and secure their visual communication devices.

Our first video covers the Lenovo ThinkEdge SE30, a rugged media player built to face the most hostile environments. The SE30 also uses the latest 11th Generation Intel® processors that run Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning to deliver the insights you need. The unit is also fanless and can function in a thermal range of -20 – 60C.

Stay tuned to our YouTube channel every Thursday for the next 4 weeks to see how our solutions and services can take your IoT beyond the edge!

To learn more about Now Micro and our purpose-built digital signage and IoT solutions, visit https://www.nowmicro.com/.

Now Micro Launches Device Management Software, DICE

Now Micro, known for its expertise in computer hardware and services, introduces DICE, a software solution that helps organizations manage computing devices from the time of purchase and throughout the lifecycle of the product.

Last year and continuing today, the rapid shift to remote learning and work from home environments created challenges for IT departments, specifically in the areas of asset management, system security and tech support. Almost overnight, organizations had to purchase, configure and deploy computing devices to support an increased number of remote employees, students and educators.  With this, came all the associated technical support challenges ranging from hardware malfunctions to internet connectivity and general usage challenges such as logging into Zoom calls.  

“You’d be surprised how many organizations are tracking device information in spreadsheets.  DICE not only puts real-time device data at their fingertips, but allows for remote troubleshooting and restoration, saving time and eliminating costs associated with shipping a device back for repair,” says Bernard Carter, CTO at Now Micro.

Previously, organizations might have used numerous spreadsheets and invoices in different places to keep track of purchases and separate software to enable remote technical assistance. Now Micro recognized the need for a software solution that enables quick access to device information through a centralized, real-time online portal.  Streamlining device lifecycle management activities is crucial for organizations who have hundreds or thousands of devices under their supervision.

DICE is available in three versions with the base package included at no charge with every device purchased from Now Micro.  Customers may upgrade to two paid versions that include additional features outlined in the table below. Pricing is based on device count and administer access.

DICE DICE+ DICE Complete
Dashboard Real time device status Geotracking
devices
Order information Driver information Remote device
support
Device information Graphic adapter
information
KVM
Warranty lookup Monitor detection File System
Open API Usage information Console

To learn more about Now Micro and DICE, visit nowmicro.com.

Q&A with Now Micro’s new CTO, Bernard Carter

Now Micro is excited to announce Bernard Carter’s promotion to Chief Technology Officer. After working for the last year and a half as the Vice President of Technology, he will continue leading our commitment to innovating device lifecycle management for our partners.

Bernard Carter has a track record of success in infrastructure, security management, and software development at Fortune 500 companies and in the public sector. In 2013, Carter started working for Now Micro. Under his leadership, his teams have successfully developed hardware and software solutions for IoT, digital signage and device lifecycle management.

How is this new role different from your previous?

BC: My previous role was Vice President of Technology.  This new position reflects our changing role with our customers from procuring devices to really being an integral piece of the device lifecycle management journey.  The concept is a message we have been communicating to our customers for years, but I do think this new role really doubles down on Now Micro’s commitment to be part of the journey/solution and moving beyond a transactional relationship to true partnership.

Anything you would like to plug about DICE?

BC: Our official launch of DICE 4 is next month. I am beyond excited about this release as it reflects feedback from our customers, consultants and technicians.  Having a team to bring all of it together is a distinct privilege for me as it reflects the trust the organization has placed in us building our future with customers.

What are you looking forward to in this role and for Now Micro in general?

BC: Leading a focused technology organization has always been a dream of mine.  My team at Now Micro really gets that technology is more than buying a box- the effectiveness of our technology really has a huge human component, and that value is reflected in this organization and our mission. I am also looking forward to eventually meeting with customers face to face again and having some time to build technology demos/talks to share.

To learn more about Now Micro, Bernard Carter, and DICE, visit https://www.nowmicro.com/.

Chromebooks, Chromebooks everywhere!

Chromebooks stored in Now Micro’s warehouse in St. Paul, MN

The 2020-2021 school year has been one of the most innovating and challenging times in educational technology. According to a survey conducted by the United States Census Bureau, 80% of households with school-age children used online resources for distance learning in 2020, so having the right equipment is essential for quality education. Schools, and also businesses, are having to react quickly to procure, customize and distribute technology to their users.  For many districts and universities this is an impossible feat without the support from Now Micro. 

Over the next month, Now Micro will procure, warehouse, customize and distribute more than 30,000 Chromebooks to students and educators. Flexibility in our warehouse and production processes, combined with highly trained technicians,  allow us to produce roughly 1,000 units a day in our Saint Paul, MN facility.

The imaging center at Now Micro

As a Certified Google White Glove service provider, Now Micro manages the enrollment and configuration of Chromebooks on behalf of the schools. This service saves K-12 schools and universities time, money and organizational headaches and allows them to focus on education.

The Now Micro Certified White Glove Services for Chromebooks include:

  • Enrollment of the device to the customer domain
  • Enterprise enrollment and validation
  • Application of network configuration settings
  • Wireless Configuration (Wi-Fi SSID and Pre-shared key)
  • Management Console Training

Now Micro Imaging services:

  • Populate custom fields in the Google Chromebook Management Console with your required data
  • Assign devices to the correct organization unit
  • Utilize Now Micro’s DICE Portal to allow you to see all of your devices combined with purchasing and hardware data in an easy to use, exportable format
Now Micro staff working on Chromebook customization

To learn how Now Micro can help your organization meet its technology needs, visit https://www.nowmicro.com/ or contact Marty Linden, Vice President of Sales at martyl@nowmicro.com

Notable Microsoft Teams Announcements!

The Most Notable Microsoft Teams Announcements of 2020 (through Oct) 

The later part of 2020 has seen a flurry of updates, previews and announced roadmap items for Microsoft Teams.  Let us look at the announcements that are likely to have the most impact. 

HealthCare: Virtual Rounding and Care Coordination 

2020 has been a stressful time for health care professional across the globe.  From exposure risks to PPE shortages, healthcare providers are turning to technology to provide solutions.   Microsoft has answered this call by announcing Virtual Rounding and Care Coordination.   

Virtual rounding, a Teams app that aims to reduce exposure while health care professionals do their daily checkups on their patients.  The goal is to limit contact to infected or vulnerable patients by leveraging portable carts equipped with video screen, mics, camera’s, and speakers.  This allows healthcare professionals to maintain distancing when physical presence is not needed for diagnostics or treatment. 

Care Coordination, which began its private preview October 1st, allows healthcare to aggregate patient data, provide care plans and test results and communicate with each other regardless of physical location all in a HIPAA compliant platform.  The introduction of Teams for care coordination aims to improve efficiency while minimizing exposure. 

SharePoint home sites for Teams   

The SharePoint home site experience announced in 2019 allows organization to create a new or migrate their existing intranet sites to SharePoint.  With the increasing ability to embed your organizations apps and resources into Microsoft Teams many organizations are hoping Teams will be come the single pane of glass for all needs.   

So why create a home site to serve as your organizations intranet if it will detract from all the work you have done in teams?  

Enter the SharePoint home site app for Teams.  This home site app allows you to deploy your intranet home site through the Teams client. 

The announcement came to us in September 2020 and we are eagerly awaiting release details. 

https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/microsoft-sharepoint-blog/innovations-for-workplace-communications-and-employee-engagement/ba-p/1696149

Teams Breakout Rooms 

Many in person conferences and events will include a keynote or introduction meeting that all attendees are present for before breaking into smaller groups for more granular content.  Recreating this experience virtually has proven difficult.  Microsoft Teams breakout rooms hopes to simplify this experience.  

Teams Breakout Rooms will allow meeting organizer to split attendees into smaller groups and bring everyone back together without the need to drop and rejoin multiple meetings.   

The announcement for Teams breakout rooms came to us in July and we hope to see previews or general availability before the end of 2020. 

Advanced Communication Add-on 

2020 has seen an interesting race to provide more attendees, more features, and more video feeds between collaboration platforms.  The majority of normally in person conferences, large presentations and even college orientations have been converted to virtual events.  2020 more than ever has created a need for very large virtual events.   

Microsoft’s answer to this need is the advanced communications add-on.  At release, the advance communication add-on increased the maximum attendees for Teams live events to 20,000.   

Features coming later this year include: 

  • Teams meeting maximum members increase to 1,000 
  • The ability for a Teams meeting to have up 20,000 overflow participants in a view only meeting experience 
  • Custom Lobby Branding 

To take advantage of these features, the organizer of the meeting/live event will need the advanced communication add-on currently priced at $12 per user/month.  Attendees DO NOT need the add-on. There is also a 60-day trial available through the admin center. 

Considering this new and not quite yet saturated market, I would expect to see more feature announcements coming soon. 

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoftteams/teams-add-on-licensing/advanced-communications#:~:text=%20Advanced%20Communications%20provides%20enhanced%20calling%20and%20meeting,across%20meetings%20for%20your%20internal%20and…%20More%20

Custom Meeting Layouts 

If you are looking to make a good impression on clients or impress you coworkers with your big presentation, Microsoft may have given you a secret weapon.  Teams custom meeting layouts allow you, the presenter to customize what attendees are seeing.  Microsoft Ignite gave us a preview of new tech allowing you to overlay the presenter on a PowerPoint slide.  Who knows, maybe someday virtual meetings may look more professional than traditional in-person meetings with half the effort! 

Improve Meeting Effectiveness with Now Micro and Intel NUC

Evaluating Services and Hardware for Remote Collaboration 

What Should You Consider? 

Events in early 2020 forced nearly every industry to reconsider at least some part of how their employees communicate and collaborate.  Some organizations had a high level of maturity with collaboration and conferencing tools, while others made hasty decisions on tools and hardware to prevent disruptions in the workforce.   

Looking back six months’ later, even if some miracle technology ends the global health crisis tomorrow, the idea of working remotely is most certainly a cat running free of its proverbial bag.  As IT decision makers and admins, it is time to look back at the solutions and decisions we made at the beginning of the year and ask the following questions… 

  • Are our users empowered or hindered by our communications and collab tools? 
  • Are the services and solutions we spun up the best fit and return on investment? 
  • Are the services and solutions secure and compliant? 
  • Have we been able to integrate our existing apps and services into our new solutions? 
  • Do our users have the right hardware and peripherals to leverage the services? 

 In this blog post I would like to highlight a common crossroad that most organizations find themselves at.  I hope to dissect the most popular tools and services on the market and hopefully get the reader to consider somethings they may have not otherwise. 

What Kind of Tool Am I Looking For? 

Let us look at the functionalities that logically separate each tool.  Most tools are not limited to a single functionality, so evaluating what each tool can do and whether you can leverage the functionality now or in the future is important.   

Conferencing/Meeting Solutions 

Conferencing solutions have been a staple in the professional world for over a decade.  However, many organizations found a drastic increase in the number of users that required a meeting/conferencing tool to do their jobs in the early months of 2020.  What defines a conferencing/meeting solution? 

  • Dial-in conferencing 
  • Video and audio meetings 
  • Screen sharing 
  • Meeting chat 
  • Presentation 

Collaboration Tools 

While conferencing/meeting solutions can certainly fall in the realm of collaboration, more purpose-built apps for team collaboration are available.  Some of the features common to tools built for collaboration are… 

  • Persistent chat 
  • Integrated file shares 
  • Document/file co-authoring 
  • Shared notes  
  • Shared application within a collaboration tool wrapper 
  • Whiteboard Persistence 

PSTN Calling Services 

Working remotely can present a challenge to organizations reliant on a on premise resources for telephony.  Ideally, we do not want to be back hauling our VOIP calls through the VPN to our network only to go out to the end destination.  Cloud PBX options have matured rapidly over the past five years.  It is not uncommon to find a VOIP solution integrated with other collaboration tools.  Example of PSTN calling services are… 

  • Cloud PBX – Place calls over the public switched telephone network (Hard or Soft Phones) 
  • Cloud Voicemail 
  • Hunt groups 

What Should You Considering When Selecting a Conferencing/Collaboration Tool? 

Whether you are evaluating a new or existing tool, it is important to identify what considerations will be most pertinent to your choice.  Those considerations can act as a filter and help you to identify which choice may or may not be right for your organization.  

Current Ecosystem 

  • What tools are you already leveraging?  Does your organization have familiarity with a vendor already?  Is there existing cloud infrastructure you can leverage in the new tool? 
  • How will the tool be used?  Considering how existing tools are being used and how they may be used in the future can help you narrow in on the appropriate choice. 
  • Who will be using the tool?  Most organizations do not have the luxury of a single business unit with similar user types.  Often tools that are a good fit in one department, may not lend themselves to another.  Taking stock of the needs of each business unit can inform your selection 

Pricing/Licensing 

  • How much is the tool going to cost?  The pricing a vendor may offer is only a piece of the total cost.  It is important to consider if any other tools can be retired as the new tool is put in place.  An addition in licensing for one tool may result in an elimination or reduction in the licensing for another.   
  • Do you already have licensing or partial licensing?  Many vendors such as Microsoft or Google package total or partial licensing for these tools with licensing you may already own.  It may be possible to pilot or even rollout a new tool with no additional licensing cost. 

Organization Culture 

  • How willing are your users to adopt a new tool?  The tolerance of change is something varies drastically from organization to organization.  Communication, training, and evangelism for technology changes can be the difference between grateful productive user and confused reluctant users. 
  • What is it going take to manage the tool?  Fortunately, the labor investment to manage most cloud tools is minimal when compared to legacy systems of the past.  However, it is important to consider configuration and troubleshooting when factoring management costs. 

Comparing Conferencing Solutions 

Let us look at some of the most popular conferencing solutions.  How do they stack up?   

Comparing Collaboration Tools 

In contrast to the conferencing solutions, a good collaboration tool should be the hub of your organizations business units.  Features like document co-authoring and integrated file shares have been around awhile but are more important in a remote collaboration scenario.  Collaboration tools can also act as a single pane of glass for files, chats and the apps your users need to access.  

Google 

  • Persistent Chat = Google Rooms  
  • File Share/File Collaboration = Google Drive, Document Coauthoring 
  • Notes = Google Keep (collaborative?) 
  • App integration = Support through third party apps like Zapier 

Slack 

  • Persistent Chat = Slack Channels – Public and Private
  • File Share/File Collaboration = File sharing through channel attachments 
  • Notes = no 
  • App integration = no native support 

TEAMS 

  • Persistent Chat = Teams Channels – Public and Private 
  • File Share/File Collaboration = O365 groups backend – Included SharePoint Library for each Team/Channel, Document Coauthoring 
  • Notes = OneNote Shared Notebooks 
  • App integration = Prebuilt app integration for most apps. Free app development tools for customs apps 

Hardware and Device Considerations 

In 2020 we are lucky to have a multitude of services to enable remote workers and drive collaboration even when we are apart.  After we have done our evaluations and made our choices, how do we make sure our users are getting the best out of the tools we have provided?  How do we make sure we are putting our best foot forward to our clients?  

One key area is evaluating the devices these tools will be used on.  We have all been in a meeting where we could not see or properly hear some of the participants.  While sometimes that can be the fault of the service itself or downstream network issues that are out of our control, we can prevent issues that may arise from outdated or legacy devices.  The way we approach collaboration has changed, so it follows that the devices we collaborate on will be changing as well. 

Video 

  • Are the integrated camera’s in our devices sufficient? 
  • Sensor quality? 
  • Low light quality? 
  • Presentation worthy? 
  • Changes in lighting equipment? 

Audio 

  • Integrated microphones and speakers can be problematic 
  • Do your users need to be mobile while collaborating/conferencing? 
  • Headsets or conference speakers? 

Custom Solutions 

As collaboration services integrate themselves into our day to day, looking for ways to improve our interaction with them is a natural next step.  Luckily the choices for purpose-built hardware that pair with almost any service are increasing every day.   

Conferencing Room Hardware 

  • High quality conferencing hardware dedicated to a specific space 
  • Microsoft Teams and Zoom Solutions (Surface Hub, Zoom Rooms) 
  • Audio and video solutions 
  • May include whiteboards or touchscreens 

Mobile Collaboration Stations/Bars 

  • Cheaper alternatives to dedicated room setups 
  • Does not have to be a dedicated to specific space 
  • Offers more options for conferencing and presenting space 

In summary, It’s important, as we push into a new collaboration paradigm that we make sure we select the appropriate tools to enable collaboration but we are also providing the proper training, support and hardware to get a full return out of our investments.