How Tampa Business Executives can use IT to their Competitive Advantage

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How Tampa Business Executives can use IT to their Competitive Advantage

Tampa business executives are seeing an increase in great employees to hire and the business opportunities. But we all face competitors in our marketplace. There are many ways to grow your market share. Have you considered how your IT strategy can be used as a competitive advantage?

Here are some questions that you should ask to identify where your company can succeed over your competitors:

  1. What are my key value propositions, and how do they compare to others?
  2. What do we need to do to be competitive?
  3. How satisfied are my company’s customers?
  4. How can my IT strategy build on my company’s capabilities rather than narrowly looking at my company’s operations?
  5. Are our existing IT capabilities allowing us to provide the goods and services to our customers?

Consider the following when answering the questions above about your company’s competitive advantage.

Real Cost of IT Downtime

Your company’s data and network infrastructure matters. When your network or applications unexpectedly fail or crash, downtime can have a direct impact on your bottom line and ongoing business operations. Downtime is to be expected but how much does the downtime actually cost your business?

The industry average cost of downtime is dependent on a lot of areas. The monetary losses vary when you consider your revenue, industry, the actual duration of the outage, the number of people impacted, the time of day, etc. For example, losses are significantly higher per hour for businesses who are based on high-level data transactions, like banks and online retail sales. If you experience an unplanned outage during peak traffic time, obviously the damage will be more significant.

IT downtime affects customer retention, employee productivity and standing in the marketplace. It is extremely expensive, and in ways that can make or break the success of your organization.

Common Costs Associated with IT Downtime

  •  Lost sales revenue
  • Lost employee productivity
  • Stunted external communication from loss of phones and email.
  • Internal business processes such as inventory tracking/ERP, billing, HR, intranet, etc. could go down.
  • Cost to IT service company to restore IT systems
  • Financial impact of customer dissatisfaction
  • Compliance violations, if applicable
  • Missed deadlines that result in employee overtime
  • Priority shipping charges

Many companies have grown their IT network using a mish mash of purchasing of servers and desktop computers. Then they hire a “break and fix-it” IT service guy to handle the problems. These “break and fix” IT service providers will come in and may be able to fix the problem. But you will be charged a high hourly rate. Maybe you have a contract with that company but then you’ll use your block hours that are allotted to you or still charged an hourly rate for IT support or project work. 

Flat-Rate Managed IT Services

Many companies are looking at the benefits of a “Flat-Rate” managed IT service provider, like mpsWORKS. Our incentives to keep your network running smoothly align with your goal of continuous uptime for your business. The “flat-rate” provider will take a proactive IT approach to reduce the risks of downtime and support any problems in the network or with user-errors without any additional charges. 

The flat rate IT model allows small businesses to better project their IT expenses and so can invest more money and time into expanding your own business opportunities for your company.

Business Continuity

Has your business been inaccessible during power outages from severe weather events like Hurricane Irma or other major storms? The rate of high strength storms seems to be increasing in Tampa so is your business ready for another period where you and your employees have reduced access to your office? During Hurricane Irma in 2017, many Tampa area businesses were inaccessible for 7-14 days due to storm related damages and power outages. What is your company’s plan for the next Hurricane?

Weather is not the only continuity risk facing businesses. Fire risk and cybersecurity risks don’t care where in the country your business is located. Total server and data loss would be catastrophic to most companies and these risks are always present.

So, if you worry about losing productivity or upsetting customers if your business is closed during and after a weather or other catastrophic event, you need to have a plan for remote access to your business data and phone systems. IT solutions like cloud computing and Voice over IP (“VoIP”) phone systems give employees remote access from anywhere to your business data and network and allow the business to maintain at least minimal operations.

Business continuity plans are developed with your specific company’s needs in mind. Here are some of the areas to keep in mind when developing your business continuity plan:

PEOPLE

What are the best solutions to addressing the safety and business continuity for employees, customers, vendors, and suppliers? 

Safety considerations are paramount when developing your plan because it may not be safe to expect your employees to drive to the office when there are unsafe driving conditions like flooding, or downed trees and powerlines. 

Are your customers local or mostly out of town? Local customers may be much more willing to put up with your closed business than out of town customers. What is your customers’ tolerance for your company’s disruption?

How would your vendors or suppliers handle your business being closed for 2 weeks? What changes do you need to make in how to handle those relationships?

BUILDING

Your company’s physical attributes and location will be part of your business continuity plan. Large local Tampa Bay are companies like Raymond James in St. Petersburg have purposefully put their second HQ location in Wesley Chapel, FL to provide an alternate physical location for business continuity purposes. Management at Raymond James recognized the wind and flooding risk in St. Petersburg meant they needed a place where key employees could work from in the case of a hurricane. Their business in financial services leaves them no option to completely shut down their business during mandatory evacuations. 

EQUIPMENT

Think about which equipment is critical for your business operations. What is the most vulnerable to failure – computers, software, servers/network, phone systems, specialty/manufacturing tools or copiers? Which of these pieces of equipment need to have plans in place to secure them in the case of an unplanned shut-down?

DATA

How critical are your data and documents to successfully running your business? Which types of files are the most important and how does access to these documents affect your company’s productivity?

INVENTORY/PRODUCT – What is your strategy to deal with inventory stock, supplies, or new materials in the case of a disaster?

OPERATIONS – What are the critical operations and what is the plan to continue those operations during a business continuity disaster? Look at solutions to any disruption in operations, accounts receivable/payable, payroll, manufacturing, mail room, etc.

Cybersecurity and Disaster Recovery

Cybersecurity is at the forefront of most small business owners’ minds because hackers don’t seem to care whether your business is a good target or not, just whether there is an opportunity to cause havoc or make money off your company’s stolen data. Small businesses are at risk and can follow this multi-layer approach to adapt and protect your company from viruses and other nasty malware:

Patching

Ensure your business operating systems are running at peak performance and that all system vulnerabilities are addressed by always having the latest patches.

Anti-virus and Network Monitoring

Anti-virus and network monitoring examines all files and traffic, and filters them against all known threats. Your business should keep virus definition files current to ensure these systems are running at peak performance.

Backup and Disaster Recovery (BDR)

Have in place a full-system backup to protect your back-office systems when an attack occurs. A Backup and Disaster Recovery service provides a recovery option for unknown threats and even the most catastrophic failures.

Endpoint Backup

Enable real-time data backup on employee workstations and other endpoints to prevent business-critical information from being compromised.

Secure File Sync and Share

Put in systems for employees to collaborate securely from any location and using any device. Secure File Sync programs grant access and editing controls for specific documents, such as Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. This allows employees to recover documents that are maliciously or accidentally deleted.

Education and Awareness

Your company’s leadership and employees need to be educated and aware of cybersecurity risks, new ransomware strains and best practices for spotting phishing attempts, suspicious emails, and other security risks. Best practices for users can be implemented into a company’s culture to strengthen your employees’ ability to be the front-line defense against cyber threats. Phishing training can be provided by your IT service provider. That is an effective way to improve your employee’s email and online habits that can cause security problems.

Education and Awareness

All business owners should have their company set up with some kind of data backup service. But often companies don’t realize that they have limited options to get the company’s network back up and running following a data breach even with their data backup plan. The biggest problem to overcome is how is your business going to access that stored data if the physical hardware, the server is compromised?

If your company can not risk a long outage from your business IT network, then you need to ensure that, in the case of a server disaster, there is a plan to “spin up” a new server so your data and software applications are quickly available to your employees.

What is a “BDR”?

Backup and Disaster Recovery plans or “BDRs” are the solutions to provide continuous, secure backup and provide rapid data restoration through a cloud-based network in the case of a network disaster. With a BDR your company’s server can be available again within hours. If you just have a data backup solution it might be days to get access to your data and how much does that downtime cost your business?

The risk of a server being damaged and unusable doesn’t only come from a fire to your building or the extended closure of your facility due to a hurricane. A network disaster could be a successful ransomware attack or unexpected server crash from human error or software failure. Only 40% of businesses manage to successfully recover their data after a major IT disaster hits – a statistic that scares many business owners.

To avoid hindering productivity or extreme data loss, businesses are putting into place a BDR as a combination of data backup and disaster recovery solutions that work cohesively to ensure a company’s business continuity. It differs from backup because it isn’t simply about creating a copy of your most important files.

A BDR is a full solution with local data backup plus additional features like cloud disaster recovery. This involves maintaining copies of enterprise data in a cloud storage environment. The offsite storage is a security measure. It allows rapid redeployment of server data to get companies back to business quickly.

Four key ingredients to a successful BDR solution include: Redundancy, Availability, Support and Reliability. Your IT provider can determine the solution that best meets the needs of your company.

The Cost of Your IT

What about the cost of IT is hampering your strategic business growth? Is it that you are tired of constantly upgrading your PCs and Servers which seems like every 24-48 months? Do you have to pay expensive IT support staff just to keep the servers up and running? Is the problem that your IT costs are unpredictable so you never know when you’ll have the extra capital for the next strategic business project?

There are options available to small businesses that improve the predictability of costs and provide enterprise level IT service at a price that is possible for a small business.

Cloud Computing

Cloud Computing means your company doesn’t need onsite servers because the server you use in the cloud provides all your needed computing power. All sizes of businesses can benefit from cloud computing because their employees have access to their desktop, software applications, email and data from any device, anywhere. If your employees need to be on the road visiting customers or working from home or other remote locations, they can have access to all applications needed to conduct your business.

With cloud computing your business needs less or even no IT staff so your company can focus on growing your business, not your back office. Companies who don’t want to invest in expensive server upgrades or new desktops appreciate that storage and RAM is scalable so you only pay for what you use instead of over investing in depreciating assets.

Per User Cost

Pricing for a business cloud is based on a per user cost. This gives businesses a predictable monthly charge without the unexpected hardware repairs or replacement costs. Microsoft licensing is included so businesses always have access to the most up-to-date versions of Microsoft Office and Exchange server licensing. Any sized company looking to streamline their IT service should consider whether the cloud is a better way to run their company’s computing network.

Nearly every business relies on secure and dependable technology to make their business run smoothly.

Tampa companies can work with local IT service providers, like mpsWORKS to determine what are the best technology solutions to keep your company’s business performing in the marketplace and provide competitive advantages over your industry competitors.

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