Monday, 26 October 2009

How do you choose an IT supplier/support company?

What should you look for in an IT supplier?

ICT is seen as a highly technical and specialist subject and many people find it confusing, especially with the amount of jargon that is used. For the inexperienced or non-specialist ICT Purchaser, choosing a solution or selecting a Supplier can be a daunting task.

Most business people need help with ICT purchasing. 86% of small businesses interviewed for research carried out for Accredit UK acknowledged that the success of an ICT purchase depends upon the Purchaser as well as the Supplier. 71% of businesses also explicitly cited the need for a guide to good practice. Research undertaken by Royal Holloway, University of London, concludes that lack of expertise means that most small firms fail to make best use of their IT.

As a new IT system can be a significant investment, it's important to choose the right system and supplier. Before you choose an IT supplier you should:

* find out whether the supplier can provide all the hardware, software, services, support and maintenance you need
* check whether they will install and configure your system so it's fully operational
* ask whether they will train your staff
* confirm what frontline support they can provide - eg a telephone helpdesk
* ask whether they will take responsibility for system components purchased elsewhere
* investigate what sort of maintenance contracts they provide
get details of what exactly is included in their supply contract
* find out what sort of warranty they provide
* confirm whether they will continue to provide support if you take responsibility for replacing faulty hardware yourself
* find out if they will accept payment for the system only when it is installed and working to your satisfaction
* ask whether upgrades and fixes to software are included in the price
* ask them to provide references from other, similar companies they've helped in the past
* ask whether they will provide you with written documentation that will help you understand your system
* decide whether you feel they understand your business needs
* ask about any experience they may have in your industry
* ask whether they are happy for you to test the proposed system, perhaps under a non-disclosure agreement
* find out whether they are financially viable and able to meet your requirements in the foreseeable future

Monday, 19 October 2009

Don't fall victim to "Scareware"

Report from the BBC
Online criminals are making millions of pounds by convincing computer users to download fake anti-virus software, internet security experts claim.

Symantec says more than 40 million people have fallen victim to the "scareware" scam in the past 12 months.

The download is usually harmful and criminals can sometimes use it to get the victim's credit card details.

The firm has identified 250 versions of scareware, and criminals are thought to earn more than £750,000 each a year.

Franchised out

Scareware sellers use pop-up adverts deliberately designed to look legitimate, for example, using the same typefaces as Microsoft and other well-known software providers.

They appear, often when the user is switching between websites, and falsely warn that a computer's security has been compromised.

If the user then clicks on the message they are directed towards another site where they can download the fake anti-virus software they supposedly need to clean up their computer - for a fee of up to £60.

Con Mallon, from Symantec, told the BBC the apparent fix could have a double impact on victims.

"Obviously, you're losing your own hard-earned cash up front, but at the back end of that, if you're transacting with these guys online you're offering them credit card details, debit card details and other personal information," he said.

"That's obviously very valuable because these cyber criminals can try to raid those accounts themselves or they can then pass them on or sell them to others who ultimately will try to use that information to their benefit not yours."

The findings were revealed in a report written following Symantec analysis of data collected from July 2008 to June 2009. Symantec said 43 million people fell for such scams during that period.

It has become so popular that the rogue software has been franchised out.

Mr Mallon said some scareware took the scam a step further.

"[They] could hold your computer to ransom where they will stop your computer working or lock up some of your personal information, your photographs or some of your Word documents.

"They will extort money from you at that point. They will ask you to pay some additional money and they will then release your machine back to you."

The scam is hard for police or other agencies to investigate because the individual sums of money involved are very small.

Therefore, experts say users must protect themselves with common sense and legitimate security software.

'Steal your identity'

Tony Neate, from Get Safe Online, told the BBC the threats presented by the internet had changed in recent years.

"Where we used to say protect your PC... we've now got to look at ourselves, making sure we're protected against the con men who are out there," he said.

"They want you to help them infect your machine. When they've infected your machine it's possibly no longer your machine - you've got no control over it.

"Then what they're looking to do is take away your identity, steal bits of your identity, or even get some financial information from you."

He added: "They used to be 16-year-olds in their bedrooms causing damage with viruses. Now those 16-year-olds have grown up [and] they're looking for money, they're looking for information."

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Have you thought about how technology could improve your business during these difficult times?
We would love to hear your comments:

For further information on business enabling solutions visit our website

Rethinking technology drives recovery

"We've improved our cash flow, productivity, and customer service. And now we're adding revenues," says Jeff Langley, IT director for Southern Fasteners, a 75-employee distributor of industrial fasteners.

Drawn by the cost savings and advanced capabilities of IP phone systems, the seven-site firm invested in a Cisco Smart Business Communications System (SBCS) in 2008. "Our timing with our new voice network was perfect," says Langley.

Southern Fasteners halved its telecommunications expenses. It also improved customer service and increased employee productivity. And it did it all while the recession was shrinking business for its customers-manufacturers and maintenance/repair operations. The new IP phone network also helped Southern Fasteners rebuild revenues by opening two more branches in new markets.

"Rather than stopping growth because setting up and managing new branches had been such a headache, Southern Fasteners began to rethink their way of doing business," says Jen Wong, principal at Dynamic Quest, a Cisco Premiere Certified Partner that is also a Cisco Select Certified Partner (a reseller that specializes in serving small businesses). "We showed them ways new technology could help."

Together, Dynamic Quest and Langley put the voice network to work, speeding Southern Fasteners' business recovery with these strategies:

Raise Revenues by Getting Better and Bigger

Surpass competitors. "One of our differentiators is that we meet customers' needs proactively and long-term," says Langley. "Communicating and building relationships are key." The voice system and its direct inward dialing capability route hundreds of incoming customer calls daily directly to whatever employee is best able to help the customer, even if that employee is working from home or traveling. It also encourages conversations and conference calls because of their low cost.
Don't lose revenues. Make sure that customers can place orders; don't lose calls. Southern Fasteners significantly increased its annual sales simply by investing in a reliable network to replace a system that failed periodically.
Move into new markets. The communications platform at Southern Fasteners headquarters makes expansion cost-effective because it supports up to 50 four-digit extensions; each branch needs only a router, a switch, and IP phones. Customers perceive that the handling of their calls occurs at their local branch.

Control Labour Costs by Increasing Productivity

Automate recurring tasks. "Our employees can quickly and easily do everything; they have all the tools they need at their fingertips. Four-digit dialing, transferring calls, and unified messaging save everyone time," says Langley.
Reduce technology-related labour costs. Southern Fasteners' employees no longer must stop work every few months while their system is reconfigured. The new system ended that. The firm has also trimmed its hiring and overtime of IT staff, outsourcing service and support of both its voice network and data network to the expertise of its reseller, Dynamic Quest.

Improve Cash Flow and Profits by Cutting Overhead

Reduce telecom expenses. With its new system, Southern Fasteners cut its telecommunications expenses by about $2000 monthly. After its 3-year lease ends, it will own the system outright, and the cash flow increase will rise to $3500 monthly.
Do it yourself, and over the web. Southern Fasteners also saves hundreds of dollars monthly by hosting its own large conference calls. In addition, its IT staff no longer have to travel to branches or manage local providers for simple services such as setting up phones or running call reports. They now do these tasks on the web.

Reevaluate Your IT Suppliers

Choose a vendor with products and services designed for a business like yours. Do your network solutions demand too much time, skill, coddling, or coordination? Does the vendor offer the warranties and financing you need? "Some small businesses think Cisco is too expensive for them. Our experience is the opposite," says Langley. "Cisco is saving us money, and helping us make money."
Find a reseller that goes above and beyond. "Unlike 'order takers,' Dynamic Quest is a partner that helps us achieve business strategies," Langley says. "They have a high level of expertise, take time to understand our needs, and are proactive. They recommend the best solutions, and they ensure our network works."