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Vcxo Blog

What's your business’ New Years' resolution for 2021?

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2020 was a rough one for small and locally owned businesses. But you've made it through. Now it's time to look forward to 2021. No one knows what is going to happen over the next year. But, if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that a well-managed, adaptable, and secure business operation plan will be able to maneuver the unexpected better. Here are 5 tips to help your business be prepared in 2021.

1. Refortify Your Cybersecurity. 2020 was a banner year for cybercrime attacks with so many people scrambling to work remotely while focused on the pandemic rather than security.

While the news that the US Government and several major corporations were hacked might prompt a person to take a "why bother" attitude, a better approach is to make sure that your business has a level of security and accepted risk that is appropriate for your missions while keeping you from being low-hanging fruit for criminals.

Governments and large corporations are targets for a variety of geopolitical reasons. Despite spending billions on security, they are still sometimes successfully attacked although the fruits of the attack are often limited due to the depth of security controls in place.

Since small businesses tend to do very little in terms of cybersecurity they are targets to a much wider range of cyber criminals. While you may not be able to resist nation-state level attacks, the likelihood that your business will face them is significantly less than that of a large government or corporation. What you likely will face is a variety of less-skilled attacks that are every bit as capable of causing ruinous harm to your business. Being among the easiest targets for a criminal is not a position you want to be in.

New regulations have been passed such as CMMC in 2020 that mandate cybersecurity protections for government contractors- even those that do not handle secret information. The underpinnings of CMMC are based on National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) guidelines. Most businesses should work to implement many of these principles, and many are compelled by various regulations and due-care requirements to do so.

All businesses should ensure that they are not only escaping the label of "easy pickings" but also becoming more and more secure over time with an ongoing security improvement program.

2. Invest in improving networking and communication systems. Seamless and secure access to company data and staff communications is critical to operations. Last year, many businesses scattered data storage and voice communications across multiple platforms using a variety of tools as they attempted to work from home or otherwise practice social distancing. Often company or personal cell phones served as the lifeline between co-workers and customers. Data may have been passed using non-secure methods like email, thumb drives, or other non-encrypted means. Home computers may have been set up as remote VPN terminals allowing unprotected hardware to introduce cybersecurity vulnerabilities to the company network.

With these things in mind, consider a true disaster and recovery plan for situations as diverse as a pandemic, a snow day, or a flooded building from a busted water heater. Beyond that, make a plan for improving your company infrastructure to support employees that need or want to work from home post-pandemic. Streamline cloud storage and cloud-based email communication and a reliable backup. Implement a VoIP communication system that incorporates not only work from anywhere voice calling from an app on a cellphone, laptop, or PC, but also, video conferencing, and encrypted messaging. Extending the office to where an employee works with a unified communication platform will win you, the business owner, kudos from employees because now you are organized, have a plan, and are ready for anything the comes at your company.

3. Make your operations pandemic proof. Hopefully, we won't have another shutdown this year, but that's not certain. If the worst happens again, have a plan. This could include designing multiple failover solutions for everyday operations, virtual disaster planning for remote employees, or working with multiple suppliers and vendors.

This investment doesn’t have to be a sunk cost for a temporary solution to survive the pandemic. Many experts agree, that although we may all get back to work in the office eventually, the technology will allow the flexibility to have a mix of in-office employees as well as talent that may work from home, or another part of the world. It opens up opportunities to expand our business’ reach beyond just our local market, because we can virtually be in front of customers, no matter where they may be.

4. Try out some new business tools. Innovation is good anytime. But, when times are rough, innovation is critical to survival. Milton Berle famously stated, "If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door." That quote reminds us that the path to success isn't always obvious or reliable. Be prepared to create avenues of opportunities that may not have existed before.

5. Double down on advertising and marketing. When revenue drops, marketing budgets tend to be the first thing on the chopping block. Resist this temptation. When you lose customers, the last thing you want to do is hinder your ability to attract new customers. Explore PPC advertising, boost your social media presence, start a podcast, partner with another local business to capture a new audience.

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Business Technology Everywhere . . . Managing Technology for Remote Working

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We recently started a campaign highlighting “Business Technology Everywhere”. I want to take a moment and talk about what this means. Technology everywhere focuses on the seamless integration of on-site and cloud systems. It promotes the innovative technology structure that allows you to be more productive and untethered to onsite office systems.

The advent of smartphones and other IoT devices combined with moving business functions to the cloud has changed the behavior and expectations of customers. Customers expect more access, greater flexibility, with less cost. These changing expectations mean businesses must quickly put customers in touch with exactly who they need—right when they need it. So, when a traditional on-premises PBX phone system can’t integrate with your teams’ mobile devices or goes down because of a thunderstorm, you leave yourself open to poor customer experiences. For these reasons, and others, more and more businesses are making the switch to a cloud-based unified communication platform.

Most traditional PBX phones are operating with antiqued technology. Their systems do not take advantage of host technology or smartphone capabilities. New VoIP cloud-hosted phone systems are a game-changer for the office phone. Modern VoIP systems offer mobile apps for easy progressive call management. It allows you to accept, and route office calls on your cell phone or desktop as easily as using a traditional phone unit. You can access your office contact list, transfer to extensions or voicemail, and place calls on hold. Additional VoIP features include in-app video conferencing, direct messaging, file sharing, and moving a caller from your desk phone to your cell phone with a single button.

The rise in hosted services extends throughout business operations. Take for example, information management, fewer and fewer small businesses are building out their server closets and buying expensive software. Instead, businesses are making the move to cloud computing, IAAS (infrastructure as a service), and SAAS (software as a service). Hosted technology and subscription services have proliferated through small businesses because it is affordable, reliable, and accessible. However, there is a common misconception that cloud computing and hosted data storage is more secure than on-premise. To this, we say, Yes and No.

Cloud computing and hosted platforms are great for business continuity. Hosted platforms deliver more uptime to your business by providing uninterrupted access to business systems from anywhere at any time. In the event of a natural disaster, yes, your data is secure in the cloud and your business can continue from another location. However, cloud computing introduces a new set of security issues.

Simply transferring data to a hosted service doesn’t alleviate your business’s responsibility for securing that data. Cloud servers are vulnerable to cyber-attacks, unauthorized access, ransomware, and more. To keep your cloud infrastructure secure, it is good practice to have policies that pertain specifically to cloud security and identity management. If you are moving your business to the cloud it is important to know the benefits and the risks associated with cloud computing and how it will affect your business.

To get the most from your technology, work with a business technology specialist. Many IT support providers are familiar with plugging in workstations and downloading antivirus. But there are many more factors in technology that affect your business’s operations, risk, and liabilities. Don’t risk it. Work with someone who knows.

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Inc. Magazine Unveils Its Annual List of America’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies—the Inc. 5000

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For the 2nd Time, IntelliSystems is on the Inc. 5000,
Ranking No. 4384 with Three-Year Revenue Growth of 74.97 Percent

Augusta, GA, August 12, 2020 – Inc. magazine today revealed that IntelliSystems is No. 4384 on its annual Inc. 5000 list, the most prestigious ranking of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies. The list represents a unique look at the most successful companies within the American economy’s most dynamic segment—its independent small businesses. Intuit, Zappos, Under Armour, Microsoft, Patagonia, and many other well-known names gained their first national exposure as honorees on the Inc. 5000.

“It is an honor to be included in the Inc. 5000 list,” says CEO Kevin Wade. “This accomplishment and recognition really belongs to the whole IntelliSystems team. They work harder to deliver a superior client experience that goes beyond any other technology company in the area.”

Not only have the companies on the 2020 Inc. 5000 been very competitive within their markets, but the list, as a whole, shows staggering growth compared with prior lists as well. The 2020 Inc. 5000 achieved an incredible three-year average growth of over 500 percent, and a median rate of 165 percent. The Inc. 5000’s aggregate revenue was $209 billion in 2019, accounting for over 1 million jobs over the past three years.

Complete results of the Inc. 5000, including company profiles and an interactive database that can be sorted by industry, region, and other criteria, can be found at www.inc.com/inc5000. The top 500 companies are also being featured in the September issue of Inc., available on newsstands August 12.

“The companies on this year’s Inc. 5000 come from nearly every realm of business,” says Inc. editor-in-chief Scott Omelianuk. “From health and software to media and hospitality, the 2020 list proves that no matter the sector, incredible growth is based on the foundations of tenacity and opportunism.”

The annual Inc. 5000 event honoring the companies on the list will be held virtually from October 23 to 27, 2020. As always, speakers will include some of the greatest innovators and business leaders of our generation.

IntelliSystems is a leading business technology company in Georgia and South Carolina. Their mission is to help businesses harness the power of technology to achieve success. For more information, visit: www.intellisystems.com.

CONTACT: Christian Romero, 706-722-2024, christianr@intellisystems.com

More about Inc. and the Inc. 5000

Methodology

The 2020 Inc. 5000 is ranked according to percentage revenue growth when comparing 2016 and 2019. To qualify, companies must have been founded and generating revenue by March 31, 2016. They had to be U.S.-based, privately held, for profit, and independent—not subsidiaries or divisions of other companies—as of December 31, 2019. (Since then, a number of companies on the list have gone public or been acquired.) The minimum revenue required for 2016 is $100,000; the minimum for 2019 is $2 million. As always, Inc. reserves the right to decline applicants for subjective reasons. Companies on the Inc. 500 are featured in Inc.’s September issue. They represent the top tier of the Inc. 5000, which can be found at http://www.inc.com/inc5000.

About Inc. Media

The world’s most trusted business-media brand, Inc. offers entrepreneurs the knowledge, tools, connections, and community to build great companies. Its award-winning multiplatform content reaches more than 50 million people each month across a variety of channels including websites, newsletters, social media, podcasts, and print. Its prestigious Inc. 5000 list, produced every year since 1982, analyzes company data to recognize the fastest-growing privately held businesses in the United States. The global recognition that comes with inclusion in the 5000 gives the founders of the best businesses an opportunity to engage with an exclusive community of their peers, and the credibility that helps them drive sales and recruit talent. The associated Inc. 5000 Conference is part of a highly acclaimed portfolio of bespoke events produced by Inc. For more information, visit www.inc.com.

For more information on the Inc. 5000 Conference, visit http://conference.inc.com/.

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Your Office Misses You!

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We are halfway through 2020 and most businesses still have not returned to normal operations. Employees are scattered between home and the office. Many businesses have chosen to keep their employees remote indefinitely, in what is viewed as a progressive move toward a modern business networking environment.

Working remotely is a powerful tool that has been broadly implementation across many businesses, industries, and job functions this year. Now it feels like, the cat’s out of the bag. If employees can be productive at home, then why come into the office?

Working remotely does encourage employees to connect more often while they are off-site. It keeps communication channels open and helps your team stay connected. It eliminates annoying work commutes, traffic jams, and gas costs. Working from home is comfortable, convenient, conducive to a work-life balance this is slightly more skewed toward life. All of these are great. But a remote work environment cannot successfully simulate intangible benefits the office environment brings to your team.

I want to take a moment and champion the traditional office.

First, let me state, your employee’s health and safety are paramount. Never take chances when it comes to illness or injury. Make sure your staff knows that you are putting their safety first and that they are welcomed to raise any concerns they may have.

At IntelliSystems, we have team members who work remotely for a variety of reasons, that can be either personal or professional. But, once the need to work remotely is gone, they are welcomed back to the office.

Why is this important?

Communication channels change in a remote work environment. You can lose the casual spontaneity that happens in face to face interaction that builds relationships, encourage collaboration, and strengthens company loyalty. Face to face communication is essential for effective and efficient communications.

There is a commonly used, not so scientific, communication rule called the 55/38/7 rule. It suggests that 55% of communication is non-verbal gestures such as, posture, facial expression, and eye contact, etc. 38% is voice tone and just 7% of communication is the actual words spoken. Posture, countenance, and tone add context to words that affect and alter interpretation. Without context, the meaning is either muddled or completely lost, or worse incorrectly assumed by the other party. Who has not read an email or text message and thought the person on the other end was rude or irate, when in fact the sender had no idea of your interpretation and reaction? You cannot interpret tone in an email, and many office problems arise from this scenario.

In a work-from-home environment face to face conversations turn in to video calls, conversations become short direct messages, and emails . . . well, emails do not change much. According to the 55/38/7 rule, when you reduce communication to the electronic transfer of words without tonal context, you lose 93% of the message. You lose the way we understand each other, the way we relate to each other, and the way we elevate co-workers to teammates. Communication and collaboration can become perfunctory.

The office is a community where we share, collaborate, and support each other. Coworkers build important rapport by simply saying good morning, asking how a teammate is doing, or chatting in common areas. Members of my staff who work in different divisions or different capacities enjoy palling around. They make lunch plans. Discuss family life and personal milestones. They ask each other for advice and opinions. They celebrate personal and professional events together and provide support and solace during difficult times. When your team is remote it is easy for employees to become siloed and disconnected from the office community. They can lose sight of the interconnectedness between team members, which can jeopardize the company’s mission, culture, and production.

A well-organized staff knows how the work of one person affects the work of another. They understand that everyone has the same objective even if they have different tasks and responsibilities. And they can overcome obstacles and find success together. Simply put a safe, harmonious, and respectful office brings out the best in the entire team and enables us to accomplish work we could not do alone.

I know people are going to disagree with me. I know they are going to shout “coronavirus!”. So, let me reiterate, your employee’s health and safety are paramount. Never take chances when it comes to illness or injury, and make sure your staff knows that you are putting their safety first so that they can raise any concerns they may have.

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What do cybercriminals want?

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Every week we encounter a business owner, executive, or manager who confidently states that they do not need to worry about cybersecurity because, “We don’t have anything a hacker would want.” This statement is baffling to us because what most hackers ultimately want is not data – They want money!

Cybercrime has proliferated throughout the United States at an astonishing rate mainly because it is very profitable. In 2019, ransomware is estimated to have cost over $7.5 billion in the United States, according to cybersecurity firm Emsisoft. Small to medium-sized businesses, local governments, and education systems continue to be a popular target for cybercriminals because they have the means to pay and often lack adequate cybersecurity.

Hackers profit off business-targeted cybercrime in several ways. Here are two threats every business should be prepared for:

Ransomware

Ransomware has become a frequent security threat to US businesses of all sizes and industries over the last decade. Since reporting cybercrime isn’t mandatory, and because many businesses try to hide ransomware attacks, it is hard to know the exact number of victims. However, the FBI received over 2,000 reported incidents of ransomware in the United States in 2019, according to the FBI IC3 2019 Internet Crime Report. This represents a 37% increase in ransomware attacks since 2018. As the frequency of ransomware has increased, so too has its impact on business.

Ransomware used to be an expensive nuisance, where hackers intruded on your network, encrypted your data, and sold you a key to unlock it. Your data could be completely worthless to the hacker on the black market. But if it was worth something to you than it was exploitable to a hacker.

Businesses continue to increase their cyber risk by moving more information, processes, and systems to the internet. The COVID-19 pandemic caused many businesses to migrate nearly all daily processes online to accommodate work from home orders. These hasty migrations have increased many businesses cyber vulnerability and hackers have noticed.

Hackers are using new strands of ransomware to seize business production systems, capture devices, and lock up servers, in addition to shutting down cloud service providers and thwarting back-up and disaster recovery systems. In 2019, A US Coast Guard facility was forced offline when ransomware took over cameras, access systems, and critical monitoring systems, seriously jeopardizing the base’s security systems. The incident was reported by the BBC.

Hackers are adapting and improving their ability to cripple operations and infrastructure, which means you may not be able to just restore from a backup to defuse ransomware in some cases anymore.

It is estimated that ransomware related costs will reach over $20 billion by 2021. More and more businesses and government entities are deciding to pay ransom demands, leaving hackers emboldened and well-funded.

Ransomware is a product line for career cybercriminals intending to make a profit. Ransomware exposes kinks in IT infrastructure, backup and disaster recovery systems, and employee training. Many businesses quietly pay the ransom to avoid expensive reconstruction costs and bad publicity, and thus, richly rewarding hacker-groups.

Ransomware attacks have become so lucrative to hackers that even hackers seem a little surprised by their success. Over the last few years, the average ransom demand has skyrocketed. The inflation cost on ransom demands plays like a price adjustment to a previously undervalued product line. In fact, according to ransomware recovery vendor, Coveware, in 2019 the average ransom payment increased by 184% from Q1 to Q2.

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Compromised Business Email Accounts

Like ransomware, compromised business email accounts are a security risk for businesses of all sizes. Business email is at the heart of organizational communication, privacy, integrity, and security. Hackers can use compromised business email accounts to impersonate vendors, company employees, especially executives and business owners, in a virtual confidence game where they attempt to profit through fraud, manipulation, and intimidation.

By relying on phishing and social engineering techniques, cybercriminals manipulate or intimidate victims into relinquishing something of value such as account or network access, and financial information. Hackers have been known to use business email accounts to distribute fraudulent invoices, redirect electronic payments, spread viruses, malware, and ransomware, fake system failure or outage notifications, and more. These types of attacks are incredibly successful because they do not require a great deal of technical knowledge and rely mainly on the fallibility of people.

In 2019, Verizon Data Breach Investigation Reports showed that 94% of known malware was delivered by email. For this reason, organizations see phishing as their biggest security risk for the simple fact that it is easier to trick an employee than a security program.

The best way to prevent cyber-crime is to understand the tactics and motives behind attacks. Educate employees on cyber risk and cyber-crime. Empower employees to recognize and respond to cyber-threats.

The undeniable success of cybercrime means three things:

  1. Cybercrime is not going away.
  2. Anyone can become a victim.
  3. Cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility.

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Telemedicine - Old Technology Gets a New Life

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When you work in technology it's easy to focus on the “new”. The latest system updates, new applications, hardware upgrades, new security threats, and new responses. We are always working to keep up with the latest thing. However, sometimes the next big opportunity for innovation is an under-utilized existing technology.

Telemedicine has been around for decades. It is prevalent in rural areas where medical facilities and personnel, specifically specialists, are sparse. There are some rural counties in the southeast that do not have a single cardiologist in residence or critical access hospital. For these areas, telemedicine has been a lifeline. But, for suburban and urban areas, telemedicine was never able to find a footing.

For a long time, insurance companies would not cover telemedicine appointments, which hindered local brick and mortar medical offices that rely on insurance-based revenue, from actively adopting the technology. As expected, doctors who were unable to generate revenue through telemedicine appointments had a lower adoption rate for telemedicine technology, especially in urban and suburban areas where physical appointments were still the norm.

However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals, clinics, and doctor offices everywhere turned to telemedicine to help triage patient traffic, which is critical in the effort to suppress exposure to COVID-19.

In the last few years, insurance companies have begun developing telemedicine services for subscribers. For example, United Healthcare is currently partnering with telemedicine companies to provide a free virtual healthcare service for members, including members covered under Medicare and Medicaid. Additionally, independent virtual services are popping up on websites and mobile apps, such as MDLIVE, SteadyMD, and NURX. These companies are positioning themselves to be viable alternatives to traditional office visits and are therefore creating competition for local primary care providers, or any medical provider whose specialty could be moved to a virtual platform.

While COVID-19 instigated many service-delivery changes to many industries, in healthcare it exposed an inconvenient truth. Most working adults do not want to spend an afternoon sitting in a doctor’s office and waiting room for something simple, routine, and non-invasive when telemedicine is available.

Obviously, there are limitations to telemedicine and virtual medical services. You cannot receive a vaccination, imaging/radiology, or biopsy via telemedicine. However, the ease of use and affordability certainly means that more patients will be exploring telemedicine options for basic and non-invasive medical services.

Finding a way to capture this market demand will become vitally important for local medical providers going forward. Thankfully, telemedicine technology is accessible and affordable to implement. Both Microsoft Teams and IntelliSystems’ Elevate are HIPAA compliant platforms. These programs allow for secure calling, messaging, video conferencing, and cloud storage. Many offices are already implementing these tools for internal staff collaboration. However, the technology can also be used for secure virtual patient appointments.

Microsoft Teams offers a built-in booking app specifically for medical practices that will allow physicians and patients to schedule appointments, follow-ups, and send reminders. Teams’ video conferencing tool includes consent opt-in notices, customizable backgrounds, a virtual lobby, and cloud recording. The Call2Teams integration enables calling and conference in Teams from nearly any telecom system, including on-premise and VoIP systems.

The constantly evolving spread of data security threats and network attacks combined with the complexity of HIPAA regulations means healthcare providers need as many security and compliance tools as possible. The advancement of collaboration tools with built-in HIPAA compliance, like Microsoft Teams and IntelliSystems Elevate, means physicians can be more agile and progressive in how they approach patient care. Never before has it been simpler to meet the demand of patients while satisfying technical and administrative safeguard requirements.

Contact our IntelliSystems to learn more about telemedicine technology. We have in-house Certified HIPAA Security Professional who can assist you in researching and planning telehealth technology in your medical practice.

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