How to Hire an IT Company, Even If You Know Nothing About IT

Choosing outsourced IT services for your small business can be challenging, especially if you’re not an expert on the topic. It’s easy to feel intimidated by the complexity of technology, and some vendors may even hide behind buzzwords and jargon. To ensure you’re choosing the right company for your needs, do your research and ask questions. A well-trained expert should be able to answer them in plain English.

There’s a lot at stake. Cybercrime is a growing threat. IBM estimates that a business is attacked an average of more than 16,850 times a year. That means every business faces more than 46 attacks a day! Your IT partner will help keep your network and data secure. It will also drive efficiencies as well as cost-savings and ensure your business technology runs smoothly.

Here are several important questions to ask when evaluating outsourced IT companies.

  1. How long has the firm been in business? How many employees does it have? How many clients are those employees helping?

These introductory questions help you get a picture of your prospective IT vendor and give a feel for the personality and communication style of the person you’re speaking to. You can also ask about the company’s client retention rate and its approach to customer acquisition.

  1. What is the typical size of the companies it likes to help?

Does it focus on businesses with one to 10 employees or enterprises with 1000+? Different-sized businesses have different needs, and those needs require different skills and expertise. An IT company could certainly excel at helping businesses of various sizes, but the expert needs to be able to articulate that to you.

  1. Does the IT consulting company specialize in a particular industry?

Depending on the nature of your needs, a generalist might be fine, but if you are looking for sophisticated services or work in a niche with unique regulations, there could be benefits to partnering with a firm with domain knowledge.

There are also advantages to working with a firm that has a diverse client roster. Ask how the company’s experience in other fields benefits your business.

If you have a specific project in mind, such as moving from a standard server model to the cloud, ask about this, too. The vendor’s representative should be able to describe similar completed projects. Ask if any part of the project surprised their team and if they learned anything that could inform your endeavors.

  1. What is the last threat the IT company helped a client protect itself against? How was the threat detected? How did the event unfold?

The vendor’s response will shed light on its experience and approach as well as its communication style. Look for honesty, transparency, and self-reflection. Did the firm and its clients change anything as a result of the attack?

  1. How will this IT company support and protect your business?

The outsourced IT company’s understanding of cybersecurity is important but so is its logistics. How hands-on is it? What level of support will you receive? Whom should you call if something goes wrong on the weekend? Which team members will you be interfacing with regularly? Details matter, and to avoid surprises, it’s best to have them on the table before you move forward.

  1. How much do their services cost, and how long do they take?

These questions may seem obvious, but don’t overlook their interconnectedness. If an IT company’s price is much lower than other proposals you’ve received, it could be because it is planning to invest less effort in supporting your business.

Look for vendors with a big-picture approach willing to take ownership and work as an integral part of your team. Because business infrastructure issues are so interconnected, an IT company isn’t doing you any favors by swooping in to fix ad hoc problems. If it doesn’t express a desire to assess and understand your business’s architecture in its totality, be wary.

  1. What is the #1 job of a system administrator?

The answer is simple: to protect and preserve the integrity of client data. If a potential IT vendor doesn’t answer with something similar—something that demonstrates its commitment to maintaining its customers’ data, security, privacy, and effective work flow—proceed with caution.

Choosing the right IT partner is a big decision. Asking intelligent questions will help you better understand if a vendor is right for your needs. Remember, even if you’re not an expert in cybersecurity, the person you’re speaking with should be able to provide thoughtful and clear responses to your questions.

The team at Anderson Technologies, a St. Louis IT consulting company, is happy to discuss any of the questions above, or anything else you might like to ask. Feel free to give us a call at 314.394.3001.

If the Presidential Election Could Be Hacked, So Could Your Small Business

It sounds like a scene from a Hollywood thriller. A nefarious foreign entity hacks the 2016 United States presidential election, tampering the results to ensure their favored candidate takes the highest office of the free world.

But truth is stranger than fiction. Just as no corporation is immune from cybercrime, neither is the government. Let’s take a closer look at why a presidential election hack is plausible and what that means for your business as well as society at large.

IT Security Is About More Than Budget

The government certainly has the budget to take every step necessary to create and preserve a secure network, but it’s easier than one might think to overlook a vulnerability. In some ways, large organizations are more susceptible to these lapses than their smaller counterparts because there are so many people involved, vast networks to protect, and ample opportunity for miscommunication and missteps.

Look at the 2015 security breach at Target, the largest of its kind to affect the retail industry with more than 40 million credit card numbers compromised. In the wake of the crime, we learned the culprit was basic malware, and Target’s security specialists flagged it, but the retailer failed to properly respond to the warnings.

It is also incredibly difficult to protect a business from a hacker who has an intimate familiarity with an entity’s infrastructure and security configurations. The FBI reports the electoral system is secure at a national level, but it is vulnerable to individual incidences. For example, cyber criminals could replace a booth at a polling station with one equipped with a chip that fraudulently alters data. Or they could hack into any number of local polling stations that allow the transfer of election results via a network to falsify vote tallies. A big budget doesn’t guarantee an organization makes all the right moves nor does it make it invincible to determined and informed cyber criminals.

Are Cyber Attacks a New Threat to Data Security?

For as long as we’ve had software and for as long as valuable data has been stored digitally, cybercrime has posed a danger. Technology has made tremendous advancements, but as our lives become increasingly digital, we become more vulnerable. We have more to lose, and criminals continue to hone their craft.

The frequency and size of security breaches continues to grow. It is estimated by one former Yahoo executive that as many as many as 500 million people were affected by a security breach at Yahoo, in which personal information like phone numbers, birth dates, passwords, and security questions were stolen. Never before have we seen an attack of this magnitude on a single site.

Cybersecurity issues have always existed, but with more high-value data available—like the results of a presidential election—the stakes are elevated.

What Does Government Security Have to Do with the IT Security of Your Small Business?

Technology plays a big part in our lives, powering everything from communication to driverless cars to a new generation of “smart-home” appliances. Naturally, we face a new crop of security risks and challenges. It doesn’t matter if it’s software powering the electoral system or your local business, there could always be a vulnerability. Threat-free software simply doesn’t exist, and we can’t always predict the problems and vulnerabilities that come with new developments.

You must take steps to protect your business and adopt best practices. Make sure you have a correctly configured firewall in place, change your passwords regularly, use routinely updated security software on all your devices, and back up critical data.

Just because the elections could be hacked doesn’t mean they will be, but the government would be foolish not to take precautions. Your business needs to do the same. Anderson Technologies, a St. Louis IT consulting company, can help. Give us a call at 314.394.3001 to discuss your business’s approach to IT security.