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Category: IT Processes, IT Purchasing, IT Support, Uncategorised.

Slow Computer Frustration Fix Warning…Practically your whole business – bar the furniture – is on your computer system these days. So, looking after your business means looking after that system. We’re taking a look here at how we can help you to understand how to do that because, even if you employ an IT Support Manager, you’re going to have to know what to expect from him or her! Are you or your IT Support Manager doing the following things?

KNOW YOUR IT SUPPLIERS – Meet them all to be very clear about what they do for you, how much they’re costing you, and review your reasons for signing them up. Great IT suppliers will bend over backwards to help you make life easier come budget time and will have useful ideas for you. Ask them what they’re best at, what they’re renowned for, and how they’ve helped their most successful clients.   When you have to undertake a special project, knowing who to go to for help will save you time and effort. You can often get some superb ideas from suppliers who’ve dealt with similar projects many times before.

KNOW YOUR SERVICE CONTRACTS – check the contract dates, diarise reviews, and read the summaries. Renegotiating old contracts can find you quick savings, sometimes you’ll even find obsolete services you’re still paying for, and you’ll be able to plan much better for contract renewals or tenders.

PRODUCE A FLOW CHART – This should show how all your IT systems integrate, which systems actually do work together rather than should work together. How do your IT systems fit in with the business goals? Such a flow chart should highlight efficiency improvements to start working on and enhance your ability to spot vulnerabilities and fix problems.

IDENTIFY CRITICAL AREAS – Which systems are most/least critical for business continuity? Checking they are being backed-up is the minimum you should do. Ensure you document recovery processes, times and objectives. Know where to locate your disaster recovery plan! When trouble hits (and it will) you’ll instantly know what to do.

FUTURE FINANCE – Avoid traps like over-ambitious spending and set aside a budget for the IT work inherent in important upcoming changes like office moves, restructuring and acquisitions. Such projects heavily impact IT! IT systems do wear out and become obsolete so account for this too. If you employ an IT Manager or outsource – ensure they are briefed appropriately by the person in charge of finance and consulted for their advice about any such upcoming changes.

PAST EXPENDITURE – review the projects and expenditures you have previously approved (or get your IT Manager to do so) and decide which commitments you want to alter, re-approve, cancel, delay or reprioritise.

MORE THAN ONE PERSON ON YOUR IT TEAM? – You or the IT Manager should meet with each member of your team and ask what they like and hate doing in their job. Gain an idea of their skills and weaknesses. Also ask each member if they have any great ideas, something they feel would transform the business. As a result of this you might decide to make changes to your team, but you don’t want anyone to mess up your plan by suddenly leaving. A lack of development opportunities is the number one cause of staff turnover. Listening to your team members will at least show you what development opportunities are possibilities and those free ideas could be very useful indeed.

PRODUCE AN IT OPERATIONS MANUAL – If you have more than one person looking after your IT this will show how the IT Department functions, including external parties, as well as the disaster recovery plan. Having one in place builds confidence amongst your IT team and the wider organisation.

PLAN – Create a 6-month IT plan. Outline any changes, upgrades, and improvements that you can envisage based on the company’s goals. Share this plan internally, and with your most trusted IT suppliers. The more people who are prepared for your plans, the easier you’ll find those plans to execute. Trusted external suppliers can share their own experiences from other clients, help you avoid pitfalls and help you plan the resources you’ll need to get hold of. This is especially true if you outsource your IT Support.

CONSIDER FULLY OUTSOURCING – If you don’t want to get into funding the cost of an IT Manager AND his or her sickness/holiday cover and all the other inherent staffing issues ….

If you don’t want to carry the entire burden of maintaining IT when you’re also trying to develop your business – lean on a reputable IT support company. That way you’ll have more freedom to bring in more business and work on growth.

By making sure you get the right IT support services to meet your needs, you and your business will benefit.

Spam Detection in Emails

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Category: Business, IT Processes, IT Purchasing, IT Security, IT Training.

If you’re in the habit of checking the news online you will have noticed that almost daily now there are reports of data breaches by attackers. Cyber security headlines are all too frequent and alert us to the skill and persistence of hackers.

Many organisations still rely on traditional security controls in the form of technology such as anti-virus software and firewalls, etc. to protect their critical assets but it is now clear that this is not enough. The increasing importance of employee security awareness is often overlooked with companies providing little or no basic awareness training.

Personnel and processes are often disregarded when it comes to improving security, partly because the security risk they pose to an organisation is difficult to measure and track.

These days, this a crucial issue with cyber security, but businesses that (very sensibly) put in place IT software security often struggle to get senior management to address a risk that they haven’t been able to quantify, or even prove exists.

The problem is that as the technical, on-line security of organisations increases, attackers are looking instead to a much weaker area: employees.

Read more »

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Category: IT Purchasing, IT Support.

As an IT support provider we often come across internet connection problems with home based businesses and small businesses and these are down to many factors but one recurring issue is the use of “home” routers. I.E Those basic routers often given away by Internet Service Providers.

In most instances these are perfectly adequate for home use as they offer a reasonable performance at a reasonable price… usually free! But they are generally not made with the best hardware and therefore don’t always offer the best performance. It’s a bit like comparing a Mercedes S Class with a Ford Focus – they are both cars, both have engines, both have 4 wheels, both get you from A to B but the Mercedes can just do it all better and faster.

If a reliable and resilient internet connection is important to you as a business then here are our recommendations.

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Category: Business, IT Purchasing.

A key part to our IT support at The PC Support Group is total focus on providing high levels of customer service and part of doing this is a policy of recommending Tier 1 suppliers when purchasing hardware. What difference does this make to our customers? Well this is best demonstrated by providing some feedback on my recent experiences.

Typically when purchasing hardware we look at machines from the likes of HP, Compaq, Toshiba, Sony or similar, which in most cases are slightly more expensive than brands like Acer, Mesh, Packard Bell, etc.

As part of a Microsoft Small Business Server 2008 installation there was a requirement for one server whilst another job required a number of high end “gaming” PCs. The Server was purchased from HP and at the request of the customer to save some money, the “gaming” PCs were purchased from one of the 2nd Tier manufacturers.

The HP Server unfortunately failed to power up and after phoning the supplier we were advised to phone HP directly. An HP technician then asked a number of pertinent questions to determine the cause of the failure and diagnosed a faulty power supply. The result – A new power supply was shipped out that day, it arrived the following day along with a return label for the broken unit.

RESULT – A fully functional computer in less than 2 days.

Comparing that with our experience of the Tier 2 supplier. Phone an 0871 premium number, wait up to 10 minutes, speak to someone who is obviously working from a standard script and after 2 days of tests we determine it is the memory. Wait four days to have a return label posted out after which we have to phone another 0871 premium number to arrange a courier to pick up the entire PC. After getting a slot two days later, the PC is picked up and after a further ten days the replacement is returned. That is almost THREE weeks after receiving the faulty unit.

Now maybe we have been unlucky but this is not unusual so we will continue with our policy, knowing that our customers will ultimately save time and money in the long term.

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Category: Business, IT Purchasing, IT Support.

Ensuring you have the right amount of memory (RAM as it tends to be called in computer terms – Random Access Memory) in a PC is essential to ensure its smooth operation, maximising the user’s time and minimising frustration.

One of the problems we constantly come across with customers is that the information generally available to businesses regarding memory requirements is inaccurate or misleading and results in most business PCs being woefully under-specified, leading to wasted user time and frustration.

Remember a worker on only £12,000 per year losing only 15 minutes a day due to poor performance of a PC is costing the company over £400 per year whereas 1Gb of RAM typically costs about £40+VAT.

The problem is that most web sites provide minimum requirements for certain operating systems but they don’t account for the real world where a typical user will have a number of applications open at the same time (e.g. a few pages on a Browser, a Word document and a spreadsheet). Each of these applications users further memory and if the PC doesn’t have enough then the information has to be put somewhere else, so it uses the hard disk which massively slows down operations as a hard disk reads and writes data significantly slower than RAM.

Here’s The PC Support Group’s guide to typical RAM requirements for business PCs.

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Category: IT Purchasing, IT Support, Mobile Computing.

Up until recently I was a total Blackberry fan. Not because it is a great phone; it just did what I needed it to do; that is, make and receive calls, text and send and receive emails. That’s what I did with it for the last 18 months with my old Curve.

I never enjoyed the experience; I just got it to do what it needed to do. However about a week ago, I opened a package from the postman with excitement: it was my new HTC –Hero. I did think the phone might be a bit gimmicky and not really do what a phone is supposed to. I was partially right: it is a bit gimmicky, but useful in a fun way with Google maps, calendar, email screens, nice touch screen and a high quality display.

It also has a host of downloadable applications that are readily available in the market place and mostly for free. I managed to download Sun Tzu Art of war and it is displayed nicely and in readable format, as well as games such as Labyrinth.

The email was quick and easy to setup and use. It synchronised quickly and easily with my machine so the Outlook calendar as well as my contacts were there in a flash. There was even a quick synchronisation with Google email. Where I thought it wouldn’t meet my expectorations is its use as a mobile phone/texting machine. What I found was that it can do these things well and actually surpasses the call quality that I had from the Blackberry on both the speaker phone and handset mode.

The phone also offers conference calling and has great social functionality; tying your Facebook account with your contacts list and having Twitter availability.

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Category: IT Purchasing, IT Security.

Trading standards officers have reported that an increasing number of UK consumers are being tricked into buying fake goods by companies pretending to be UK based.

Unfortunately many people think that to have a .co.uk web address you have to be a UK based company but it’s estimated that nearly half a million sites with a .co.uk address are operated from overseas.

Trading standards officer believe the “co.uk” suffix is lulling consumers into a false sense of security. In fact it offers no protection whatsoever, and certainly doesn’t mean the site is operated by a UK company.

You can reduce the risks when selecting companies on line by:

  • Searching for any user reviews of the site;
  • Double clicking on the padlock symbol in the corner to reveal details about the company that registered the site; and
  • Trying to connect the site to the real world by finding phone numbers or UK addresses.
  • Call the telephone number (if there is one) and see who you get to speak – ask a few questions about where they are based

Nominet who is responsible for giving out domain names in the UK has no plans to change the rules for gaining UK web addresses. Basicaly anyone prepared to give their name and address, and pay £5, can buy a co.uk domain name for a two-year period.

So when shopping or choosing any service on line, do your homework and stay safe.

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Category: IT Purchasing.

All Businesses want to shave off costs where possible. In fact, both in your personal life and in business it makes sense to look for the best deals. However in terms of IT support and equipment, the best deal is not necessarily the cheapest. What businesses and individuals often forget are the associated costs with what seems like the cheaper deals.

For example, the cheapest company may not have a turnaround time that is quick enough, or may not guarantee the availability of a critical service (for example an internet connection).

I recently dealt with a company that had purchased a bundle offer for Internet, IP phone and telephones. This was all wrapped up in nice cheap deal that saved money on calls and seemingly provided all the support needed, which was great until it all went wrong.

The connection between the package provider and the Internet went down, and suddenly none of the phones for the businesses multiple sites worked and nor did their internet connection. This problem went on for 4 days, and the company could not contact the provider by telephone or email. They were simply being ignored. All items previously ordered through the internet had to be ordered using a mobile phone. As customers and potential customers could not contact them, the loss business they faced was immense, not even considering other losses such as the damage to their reputation. To add to this, they could not redirect phone calls (due to the inability to contact the provider) and another company would take up to 10 working days to port the services.

To avoid the situation described here, I often ask companies to do a simple sum: If every person in your business is unable to work for 1 full day, because of computer system downtime, (by this I mean if they could not access email, documents, online research, ordering, banking, etc…), how much would this cost the business? You should then search for the right IT systems with this figure in mind.

Consider this, even 99% guaranteed availability with an internet connection means you could be without a connection for over 3 days each year! If this happens you want to know you can contact someone who will help. Is an extra, say, £30 a month worth this improved service for your business?

Another thing to consider is the computer product selection process. Buying products from the cheapest supplier makes sense: after all it doesn’t change the product… or does it? When purchasing a product it is often fruitful to look around at various suppliers and average out the price. This is the maximum amount you should be paying rather than the cheapest. When selecting a supplier, also consider the service they provide, the delivery terms and conditions, and other people’s experiences with the supplier. After all, when you get those much needed PCs and find out that some have problems, do you want to wait 10 working days for them to replace them. Would you not rather have a supplier that will replace the goods within the next 2 days? And tell me, it isn’t worth paying that little bit extra for this level of service?

Cutting cost at the expense of service is almost always a bad idea unless it is a service that you don’t require. This is something to keep in mind the next time you are considering purchasing IT equipment or services.