SKY’s the Limit for Website Development

How Anderson Technologies Helped SKY Investment Group Reach a New Audience

Have you Googled yourself recently? If you own a business or oversee the marketing of one, an internet search is the first step in evaluating your company’s online presence. Social media marketing and web search optimization can be researched and learned. Functionality and ease-of-use must be tested and refined.

First impressions are everything. What does a potential customer or client see when they discover your company? This was the question Carol Bingham, Senior Administrator of SKY Investment Group, asked herself when deciding to give her organization’s online presence a makeover after thirteen years in operation.

Telling the Right Story

Creating an updated site is different than designing a site from scratch. Making sure the new design provides clear navigation and an elevated user experience not just for first-time visitors but also for existing clients is key. Our goal is always to guide users to what they’re looking for quickly and easily.”

The investment management company based in Hartford, Connecticut, hadn’t changed its website in over ten years. The site lacked functionality, making it a challenge to attract new clients. “No mobile capabilities, improperly marketed,” Bingham describes. Beyond that, the information presented on the site was out of date. Incomplete or languishing sites are an unintended sign to search engines and potential clients that a company is stagnant.

“Our business had changed in ten years,” says Bingham. “We became much more aware of who we are.” SKY’s site was created three years into the company’s growth, and the site’s content and organization still reflected its youth. This upgrade served as a rebranding opportunity. “Three years into existence, we tried to be everything to everybody,” Bingham says. The new site not only provides a better user experience for clients but also describes how SKY has changed as a company, allowing potential clients a laser-focused view of their investment options.

When Narrative Meets Creative Vision

Bingham had a personal connection to the Andersons and their established IT company, so naturally SKY reached out to Anderson Technologies when it was time for an overhaul. Director Farica Chang, who has spearheaded many web development projects for Anderson Technologies, took charge of redesigning SKY’s site to better suit its story.

“Creating an updated site is different than designing a site from scratch,” Chang explains. “Making sure the new design provides clear navigation and an elevated user experience not just for first-time visitors but also for existing clients is key. Our goal is always to guide users to what they’re looking for quickly and easily.”

Because SKY is a financial institution, marketing had to be handled delicately. The SEC strictly regulates how investment management companies advertise themselves—namely that they directly oppose the solicitation of clients. SKY’s appeal needed to dwell in conveying services honestly and directly, rather than with flowery filler words. “Carol was instrumental in making sure the presentation did not overstep the bounds of these regulations,” Chang says.

Goals for the new website included simplicity, readability, and neatness. Bingham wanted a crisp interface with “no frills.” SKY’s vision for the site included their contact information, directions to the company’s physical location, clear layout and navigation of available services, and a warm introduction to the team. Users needed to be attracted to SKY’s character and transparency—without a sales pitch.

I wanted to create a site that helped convey this warmth and trust.”

“During the discovery process, what immediately jumped out to me were the personal stories Carol and her husband Bob shared that illustrated how they go above and beyond to serve their clients,” Chang recalls. “I wanted to create a site that helped convey this warmth and trust.” This meant creative elements like colors, structure, and photographs were imperative. They planned a new site design featuring clean, bright layouts with generous white space and gentle curves.

Photos and fonts are important design elements, but communication is the biggest component of a website development project. “Building a website is a collaborative effort between the developer and the client,” Chang says. “We bring technical experience, but no one knows your business better than you.” Strong communication between Chang and Bingham resolved every problem that presented itself, and the Anderson team always took SKY’s needs and concerns seriously. “Member security is super important to us,” Bingham says. “Farica was amazing at finding the right platform.”

The Next Chapter

After SKY’s site face lift, Bingham knew the website could no longer be once-and-done without updates and attention paid to the big changes in the internet landscape. There are still a few markers Bingham would like to reach before the site feels complete.

Building a website is a collaborative effort between the developer and the client. We bring technical experience, but no one knows your business better than you.”

One of the most valuable tools in the internet marketing tool belt is search engine optimization (SEO). The internet and its search components are always changing. Refining the text on SKY’s site—such as updating new contact information and incorporating specific search keywords—and partnering with high-domain sites for backlinks are two methods the company plans to use to rise in the ranks.

In addition to maintaining the strict guidelines for financial institutions, new web policies also warrant changes to SKY’s previous web approach. Because SKY’s clients can potentially access the site from the EU, they need to become compliant with the new GDPR law. That update is something Anderson Technologies’ web development team has implemented on many sites – including our own. Integrating a cookie consent bar and new Google analytics settings not only brings the site up to GDPR compliance but also provides a more accurate record of who accesses the site.

Though SKY Investment Group still has many design ideas to incorporate in the future, their new site tells their company’s story much more successfully. It leaves room to grow, too—and the Anderson Technologies team will be ready to take on the challenge when that time comes.

Does your website need an update? Is your web presence lackluster and preventing customers from learning what you offer? Anderson Technologies can evaluate where your company might benefit from design and marketing help. For a free consultation, call 314.394.3001 or visit our site today!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

As we embark on our annual 35-mile ferry journey into Lake Michigan to experience our family Christmas “up north,” we have so much to be grateful for, including our relationship with you.  We hope you are able to share time with the ones you care most about during the holidays.

May kindness, generosity, and love fill this season with joy.

We wish you and your family a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a very wonderful 2019!

All the best,

Mark, Amy and the Anderson Technologies Team

Christmas 2017 on the shore of Lake Michigan

The Andersons

Happy Thanksgiving 2018

Thank you for another productive year.  We are grateful for our work family, wonderful clients, and business associates.  Your trust and support over the years has encouraged us to always strive for excellence.

In 2016, our family spent Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts and was reminded of the difficulties our ancestors experienced in pursuit of religious freedom.  We are so appreciative of their example and feel blessed to live in our great country of opportunity.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

With much gratitude,

Mark, Amy and the Anderson Technologies Team

5 Tasks to Tackle: Prep Your Business for 2019

Don’t wait until the last minute to prepare your small business for 2019!

The end of the year is a busy time. Small businesses especially need to have a plan for growth in place well before the New Year. Taking detailed stock of your operations helps uncover improvement opportunities and provides ideas.  Our “5 Tasks to Tackle” will help rocket your business forward.

  1. Assess Your Business

Properly preparing for 2019 involves taking a step back and looking at the big picture to determine if any operational changes are needed. If you’ve never performed a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) on your business, now would be a great time to do so! This strategic process illuminates avenues where your business can expand, highlights areas previously neglected, and reveals what your clients are demanding. Whole-business reviews shed light on issues pushed to the backburner.

  1. Audit Your Hardware and Software

2019 is the last hurrah for popular older applications and operating systems.  Microsoft’s extended support for Windows 7 stops on January 14, 2020.  Adobe Flash reaches end-of-life on December 31, 2020.  If you’ve been holding out on upgrading, act now before you’re forced to scramble.

Hardware always breaks down on its own schedule, and it never happens at a convenient time. Keeping your hardware monitored and upgraded prevents unexpected crashes. We recommend replacing your hardware every 5 years at a minimum to keep pace with newer technology and reduce the risk of unexpected hardware failures.

Are you using updated versions of important software? Are there other programs that could do the same work more efficiently or save you money on licenses?  Take stock of your needs and plan for the necessary budget to replace equipment in an organized fashion.

If your business would benefit from hardware or software upgrades, the end of the year is a great time to take advantage of an IRS Section 179 tax deduction (consult your tax advisor for applicability). Splitting the hardware and labor costs between fiscal years may also be a beneficial consideration.

What about storage? Are your computers’ hard drives cramped? Are physical records filling your office space? Move towards a paperless office and further protect that digital storage by implementing cloud services.

  1. Improve Your Web Presence

When is the last time you took a good, long look at your website?  These days, if your website isn’t built on a framework that supports mobile devices or if you don’t update it regularly, your search result rankings suffer for it.  A neglected website may also inadvertently send the wrong message to potential clients.

How does your site perform in search results? If search ranking is lacking, it may be time to look into SEO (search engine optimization) best practices. Google now flags websites without a properly installed SSL security certificate as unsecure; this affects page rank and traffic in search results. Partnering with a development team helps ensure your web presence reflects the true excellence of your business.

On March 25, 2018, GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation, passed in the European Union) went into effect. If your site receives visitors from the EU, you are held to this standard and expected to comply with changes. GDPR centers on protection of user information. For most sites, compliance is relatively simple, and a knowledgeable GDPR compliance developer can perform a quick audit to identify the updates needed to bring your site up to par.

  1. Audit Your Backup and Security Policies

Have you audited your backups this year by performing a test restore to confirm everything is functioning accordingly? In case of a ransomware attack, do you have hourly on-demand backups in place? Disaster recovery protocols need management and oversight, but it’s easy to forget them because they tend to be out of sight and out of mind – until something bad happens.

Passwords should be updated regularly. Do you have a policy in place for changing passwords on a cycle appropriate for your industry (especially if your business needs to comply with HIPAA regulations)? The importance of updating passwords cannot be stressed enough. Recently, the National Institute of Standards and Technology released new Digital Identity Guidelines that drastically altered what constitutes a strong password.  While we’re waiting for internet protocols to catch up, password managers such as LastPass can help keep track of complex passwords across various websites.

Did you know 1 out of 9 employees (and 1 out of 4 nonprofit workers) spend time working from home or on the go? Is your business prepared and secure enough for this expanding number of teleworkers?

When was the last time you took a close look at your office security policy? What about communications?  Take this time to assess your technology policies and ensure your business is ready to start the new year capable of handling any opportunities that come your way.

  1. Review Your Social Media Strategy

Social media may seem daunting at first – but start small, and it will become a natural part of your marketing routine.  Ask yourself some questions before you begin: What platforms make the most sense for your business?  How can you represent your organization in a fun and engaging way?  Does a blog seem like a good way to reach out to potential clients while simultaneously increasing your site’s search engine optimization ranking?

As our world becomes increasingly internet-based, your business needs to make a strong digital first impression.  Maintaining a social media presence on the web, even if it’s on a single work-focused site like LinkedIn, provides an opportunity to tell potential clients who you are.  Perform a search for your business online and take control of its narrative.  Encourage current happy customers to post a review on Google or write a testimonial for your website.

Don’t feel compelled to implement a massive new strategy that involves updating five or six different social platforms every day.  Do what makes sense for you and balance your time, but don’t neglect this powerful tool to reach out to those who would benefit from your products and services.

 

Don’t wait for 2019 to prepare your business for growth in the New Year!  These five tasks will take your business a long way.  Build your own successful strategy and allow our team to assist you. Anderson Technologies performs an infrastructure audit annually for its managed services clients.  Our team of experts can take a fresh look at your business and make sure you have the right technical solutions in place to support your company’s goals for the coming year.

If you don’t already receive IT services from Anderson Technologies, contact us today to schedule your free initial audit!  Call 314.394.3001 or email info@andersontech.com now.

Seven Core Values: The Building Blocks of Anderson Technologies

We strive to be the best in every area of our niche, and that includes our company’s values. Just as your company’s values are important to us, we know that ours are important to you.

Foundationally, these seven core values express the heart of our company, and they guide our team members both in the office and out working with our clients.

Integrity 

Be truthful and demonstrate strong moral principles. Act honestly, lawfully, and honorably. Hold yourself to the highest ethical standards. Accept responsibility for your decisions and actions.

Respect

Exhibit compassion for others by recognizing each person’s views and values in all communication. Be mindful of your interactions and treat everyone as you wish to be treated. Endeavor to provide honest feedback; share opportunities for improvement and give praise when deserved.

Dedication

Show commitment to your work and persistence to see all tasks to the highest standard of completion. Strive for excellence. Apply due diligence and resolve to deliver results that clients appreciate and value. Move quickly past failures and learn from mistakes. Take pride in and ownership for all you create.

Team-Oriented

Work together with colleagues to produce unsurpassed results. Assist in helping everyone engage to the best of their ability. Communicate openly and seek to contribute your value in a way that benefits the entire solution. Foster a collaborative environment with a shared sense of purpose.

Dependable

Strive to be trustworthy and reliable. Demonstrate you can be counted on when needed – whether internally or externally – to assist in achieving goals and delivering solutions.

Initiative

Assess and initiate tasks when opportunities arise. Adapt to spontaneous situations with an eagerness to rise to the occasion and master new challenges. Look for ways to improve processes and develop skills.

Client Focus

Identify each client’s needs, principles, and insights – not just for the work at hand but also for the ways these elements help achieve overall business goals. Appreciate each client’s nuances and apply your knowledge to enable a rewarding partnership. Strive to meet clients’ needs with service and solutions that exceed their expectations.

 

Core values are the building blocks of Anderson Technologies, and they help us provide you with unparalleled service. For more information about how our core values can make a positive impact on your small business, call 314.394.3001 or email us info@andersontech.com.

Cyber Symphony: The St. Louis Children’s Choirs Sings IT Praises

Everyday reliability keeps your business running smoothly. But sometimes situations arise that require an extra layer of dependability. When an important client is visiting or you’re preparing for a major event, the last thing you want to see is the “No Internet Connection” notification at the bottom of your computer. A downed server, network, or website can bring your entire operation to a standstill.

Such was the case with The St. Louis Children’s Choirs (SLCC), a non-profit organization serving around 500 students in the metropolitan area. “We have six different ensembles for students grades one through twelve,” explains Choir Director Dan Mayo. “Based on a combination of age and where a student might be in terms of their musical development, we’ll place them in the best fit ensemble.” SLCC presents four major concerts each year, giving aspiring choral students the opportunity to sing for their communities in settings both small and large, including Powell Hall, the home of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

2018 is an important anniversary year for the organization, so extra fundraising pushes, coordination with alumni, additional concerts, and the milestone 40th-anniversary gala meant more promotion and web traffic than ever. “It’s been a crazy year,” Mayo says. But juggling all the duties associated with a significant anniversary becomes much more difficult if your tools keep breaking.

“We were having issues with server and internet downtime, a lot of phone downtime as well,” Mayo explains. Acting Chief Operating Officer Pam Jones knew Mark and Amy Anderson through a relative and was subscribed to the IT TechWatch newsletter. When SLCC decided to upgrade their IT vendor, Anderson Technologies was a clear contender.

“I was grateful that Mark didn’t come in and just try to sell us on the hype,” Mayo says. “Mark was just an honest guy who came in and told us what he thought we needed to address, and we just got a great vibe from him.” The team’s knowledge and reliability spoke for itself as well. Our managed services experts have tackled all of SLCC’s problem areas with other clients, leaving a track record of success and innovation.

“We felt really confident in the level of work that [Anderson Technologies does],” Mayo recalls. “We just had a feeling that we were going to be in very good hands.” SLCC officially signed on for managed IT services in February 2018.

Learning to Site Read

The most important project Anderson Technologies completed with SLCC was a situation no one expected. When SLCC’s website was hacked in early 2018, Anderson stepped in to mitigate the damage.

Mayo describes the situation as an emergency. “I think somebody got into the back end of the site. So we were like, ‘Once we get our board approval and everything we’re going to go with [Anderson Technologies], but in the interim can you please fix this?’”

SLCC’s previous IT vendor was unable to recover the site from a malware attack, leaving our team to migrate the site to our own hosting servers and restore a backup copy. Anderson Technologies Director, Farica Chang, who has years of experience implementing website security and mitigating malware problems, addressed the attack immediately. Several plugins, pages, and custom icons had been deleted, requiring a piecemeal approach to return the site to its original state.

“[Anderson Technologies] was super responsive,” Mayo says, “really quick on it … turned over every rock, crossed every t, dotted every i to make sure we could get back up to functionality as quickly as possible. That was yet another reason why we were confident to present our board with the information and say, ‘This is going to be a really great pairing.’”

Harmonizing Hardware

What kind of music do you expect to make when your instruments are out of sync and out of tune? SLCC knew it was time for hardware upgrades, but they weren’t sure where to start.

“We needed some new equipment, and we needed some people to think outside of the box a little bit,” Mayo says. “It just didn’t seem to be a priority for the group we worked with previously.” When seeking a new managed services provider, SLCC made hardware innovation a priority.

One aspect in particular SLCC needed updated was their storage methods. “At the time we were keeping large physical hard drives here on site and not really backing them up,” Mayo says. SLCC required a way to store massive media server files and student information in a failsafe, secure way.

Anderson Technologies outfitted the organization with a new backup methodology involving both local and cloud based storage. Two storage methods ensure files are safe in the event of a disaster. “In case we have things like a fire that melts the whole place down, we can actually recover from that type of situation,” Mayo says. “It’s a much better solution.”

Wi-Fi Signal from Flat to Fortissimo

Network reliability is another area of improvement SLCC wanted to focus on. Mayo in particular struggled with the wireless connection in the rehearsal room, an area that also houses his daily office. Spotty internet service and wireless coverage led to big problems like losing valuable work time or dropping calls over their VoIP phone system.

Anderson Technologies installed a Meraki firewall and new wireless access points to extend the range and security of SLCC’s wireless internet. “That’s worked like a dream,” Mayo says. “It’s been great to have [internet and phones] working reliably every day so that we don’t get any situations where we have to shut down the whole office for the whole day.”

Keeping Tempo for 40 More Years

There is nothing more important to SLCC than reliability during their important anniversary year, and Anderson Technologies firmly guaranteed that their system would ease those worries. “You know, ‘The phones are all down, the internet’s down, why are we even here?’ It would all happen at once,” Mayo says. “Part of it is just we were cobbling together some older and/or cheaper pieces of technology to make it work, but we had some weak links in the chain.”

A concise assessment of SLCC’s IT needs combined with a clear timeline of solutions allowed the organization a smooth delivery of their anniversary events without any major hang-ups. Anderson Technologies’ continued partnership with SLCC provides them with the freedom and peace of mind to continue serving St. Louis’s young choral aficionados for another 40 years. “We’ve had the much more stable setup that [Anderson Technologies] promised us,” Mayo states. “It’s definitely worked as advertised.”

For more information about how Anderson Technologies can tune your IT to make sure every note is perfect, contact us here or call 314.394.3001.

3 Key Ingredients of Our Managed Services “Secret Sauce”

Over the past 20-plus years, Anderson Technologies has seen what works really well in the IT industry and what should be avoided. Simply completing a project is the bare minimum needed from your IT partner and shouldn’t be where managed services ends. Along with technical knowledge and skill, three key traits improve the relationship between client and IT team more than any other – excellent communication, logical systemization, and earned trust.

Technical Knowledge and Skill

One of the primary reasons you hire a managed services team is for their technical expertise and they should be capable of handling most any technical challenge you face. This really isn’t a secret! Additionally, dedication to maintaining a high level of technological skill should be key for any IT firm.

It can be difficult to determine if a managed services provider prioritizes technical skills, especially for a small business owner who isn’t familiar with the technology industry, but there are a few clues for the layperson. In addition to checking their history and references, information like certifications, education, and satisfied customers can reveal much about a managed services provider, even before they’re hired.

Fixing what’s broken is the fundamental requirement for any managed services team but when building the Anderson Technologies team, technical knowledge and skill is only the first ingredient we look for, and just the beginning of the “secret sauce” of IT services.

  1. Communication

A huge part of managed services is acting as an interpreter.

Every industry has its own language, whether it’s attorneys, dentists, non-profits, finance, manufacturing, engineering, etc. It’s probably easy to remember an incident when communication was a barrier rather than a bridge. The best managed services providers can explain a problem and its solution in laymen’s terms as well as industry-specific vernacular, and easily translate between the two for clients. Poor communication between system administrator and client makes gathering accurate information and completing a project successfully unnecessarily difficult.

Clear communication is vital to not only providing clients the best service but helping them understand what needs to be done and why it is important.

Hand-in-hand with excellent communication are the systems and processes a managed services provider follows to deliver truly excellent service.

  1. Logical Systemization

A huge part of systemization is establishing ideal methodologies and creating processes and specialized documentation designed to produce consistent, repeatable results. Taking the time to develop these best practices and build a structure around them can be easily overlooked by busy entrepreneurs. Members of an effective managed services team should be enthusiastic about combining technical and communication skills into this vital process documentation. Keeping accurate and detailed records not only helps you, the client, but maintains a consistent level of service throughout the team and ensures requests are resolved quickly and correctly.

Systemization and record keeping aren’t incidental to the best managed IT services teams – it should be built into their approach from the beginning. Included in Anderson Technologies’ managed services plans are an extensive client onboarding process, regularly scheduled proactive maintenance designed to prevent breakdown, periodic audits of client infrastructure, systems for tracking project progress and responding to user support calls.

Process documentation and customized methodologies enhance the performance of managed services providers, and, even more important, the performance of the client.

  1. Earned Trust

For some IT firms, an individual’s technical ability trumps everything else. But the system and network administrators hired to interact with your most confidential data and technological vulnerabilities should be a team you can implicitly trust.

When building our managed services team, Anderson Technologies seeks those who align with our core values: Integrity, Respect, Dedication, Team-Oriented, Dependability, Initiative, and Client Focused.

These qualities are the most important ingredients in our “secret sauce.”  They define our organization’s character, which has been developing over two decades.  It is who we are as a team and what we represent and strive for every day as a company.

The best managed services firm goes beyond that skill to provide service on another level. Excellent communication, logical systemization, and earned trust combine to make the secret sauce that comprises an IT managed service that truly shines.

Anderson Technologies looks forward to sharing our “secret sauce” of managed IT services with you. If you need assistance, call 314.394.3001 or email info@andersontech.com.

St. Louis: A Great Home for Small Businesses, Including This IT Company!

St. Louis, known as the Gateway to the West, may have a “flyover” connotation in other parts of the country, but did you know St. Louis is one of the best places for start-ups, affordable housing, and award-winning free attractions?

St. Louis is 19th on the 30 Hottest Cities for New Business, and 23rd (out of 182) in 2018’s Best Large Cities to Start a Business.

As a small business and IT company in St. Louis, Anderson Technologies is thrilled to be a part of this thriving community!

If you’re a small business owner in St. Louis, what’s not to love about this city?

Sitting on the great Mississippi River is the Gateway Arch—the tallest man-made monument in the United States. The architecture and construction make the Arch unique, and St. Louisans are proud of it. If you’re looking for a beautiful view of this river city, take a tram to the top!

Forest Park is probably the second most well-known location in St. Louis. This backbone of city life is home to many of St. Louis’ free attractions and claims 500 more acres than New York City’s Central Park. There you’ll find the History Museum, Art Museum, The Muny outdoor theater, and the renowned St. Louis Zoo, which continues to hold its place in the top 10 zoos in the United States.

The elegant Powell Hall, where music lovers from all over the Midwest come to enjoy concerts, is home to the award-winning St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. The Fabulous Fox Theater, exquisite and not far from the Hall, hosts Broadway shows and concerts.

Sports lovers are all over St. Louis. The Cardinals baseball team is held in high regard. The St. Louis Cardinals have been in the World Series four times in the last 13 years, and only the Yankees have won more World Series than they have. The St. Louis Blues hockey team also has a broad base of loyal supporters. Red and blue t-shirts and jerseys, depending on the season, are seen all over the city.

The St. Louis Science Center is another major attraction. The Science Center itself is free, but it also hosts amazing exhibits from the Smithsonian and other organizations. There’s currently a “Destination Moon” exhibit through September 3, 2018. From the dizzying OMNIMAX theater to agricultural experiences like the “Let It Grow” exhibit, the Science Center provides creative learning experiences that almost every local child has grown up visiting on school field trips or on a day of educational family fun.

Jefferson Barracks is a little south of St. Louis. It is an active military installation and has a civil war museum and national cemetery where veterans from every American war are buried. Cahokia Mounds, in Illinois, is just across the river. Cahokia is the Midwest’s native ancient civilization site that was larger than present-day London during its peak.

St. Louis is also home to quirkier attractions like Laumeier Sculpture Park, Turtle Playground, and the City Museum, where kids (and adults) can jungle gym through a 600,000 square foot building, go down a 10 story slide, and absorb interesting aspects of the city’s culture.

The sidewalks that line St. Louis’ small businesses bustle with friendly Midwestern faces. Most St. Louisans will look a stranger in the eye as they pass on the street and ask them “How’s it goin’?” and comment on the weather. St. Louis has a diverse population, so you’ll also find many different types of great food. Toasted ravioli and gooey butter cake are St. Louis specialty treats, and we like to claim the invention of the waffle cone at the 1904 World’s Fair. We also enjoy internationally-acclaimed barbecue and tender pork steaks as we watch thunderstorms roll in over the horizon.

And we can’t forget St. Louis Bread Co.—the original name and home of Panera.

While Missouri tends to be known for its humidity and hot summer temperatures, spring and fall are lovely with wildflowers and changing leaves. The old aphorism “If you don’t like the weather, just sit tight for a minute” rings true here. Missouri’s weather morphs with the winds and sometimes likes to fit all four seasons into a week—or a day! Plus the much-maligned humidity fosters brilliant green landscapes, lush trees, and thick grass.

Winter brings ice skating and sledding down snowy hills in Forest Park. Summer means lazy weekends on the rivers or lakes. With fall comes festivals and hiking or leaf-gazing walks through Tower Grove Park. In spring there are fun outdoor adventures at the Botanical Gardens, the Zoo, and Grant’s Farm.

The St. Louis area is a great place to play and stay and a wonderful place to run a small business.

Our St. Louis IT company couldn’t ask for a better home.

Anderson Technologies is a St. Louis IT company but isn’t limited to the St. Louis area. If you would like more information about our IT services, call 314.394.3001 or email us info@andersontech.com.

Cloud Storage Service Provider Keeps Things Working Smoothly

Is Your Cloud Provider Working for You?

By now, most companies are working hand-in-hand with cloud providers. Cloud storage is unavoidable, incredibly useful, and becoming more relied upon every day, especially for companies moving toward a paperless office. Therefore, an important question to consider is: are your providers working for you, or do they end up being a hassle?

Cloud services should be seamlessly integrated into your network and IT system as a whole for best practice. Above all, cloud services should be reliable and secure. If they are affecting productivity or leaving you vulnerable to data breach, it’s time to start thinking about changing to a new cloud service provider!

Assess Your Needs

Every company has specific needs their cloud provider must meet. Usually, this includes security, reliability, speed, and regulation compliance related to their industry.  Companies in the medical industry need a provider that is HIPAA compliant, while organizations in the investment industry need one that’s SEC/FINRA 17a-4 compliant. Whatever your needs, it’s vital to ensure that your provider meets those standards.

Your company’s unique environment dictates different network and system requirements. For instance, a company that centers on remote access requires different security measures compared to a company that works solely from a single main office. Budget, granular permissions, and whether you need a dedicated server environment must be taken into consideration when assessing and choosing a cloud service provider.

Cloud Provider Warning Signs

There are several cloud provider warning signs to look out for.

Data loss and lack of flexibility or scalability are major red flags. Data loss should never happen. If you lose data due to a failure within the cloud provider, they are either not testing backups or not doing them—neither of which is acceptable. If there is an outage and you don’t get your data back, that alone is reason to switch.

Some cloud providers also fall short with granular file-based permissions and cloud applications that don’t allow companies the control they need over their files and don’t allow them to assign permissions for individual employees. The lack of cross-platform support and poor mobile apps is another reason companies switch providers. As your company grows, scalability becomes incredibly important. You should be able to double your cloud infrastructure in the same day. If the cloud provider isn’t prepared for an increase in infrastructure, it’s a problem. Flexibility is one of the driving forces of cloud computing, so don’t be dragged down by poor scalability.

How to Assess Your Cloud Provider

According to Joseph Baker, systems administrator at Anderson Technologies, companies should pay attention to four things when assessing their cloud providers:

  1. Uptime/Service Level Agreement (SLA)

The most important thing to look at is uptime/SLA.  Major companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Dropbox have very good guaranteed uptimes and SLAs.

  1. Data Ownership

Some cloud companies claim that if data is stored on their servers, it’s theirs. They are not going to use it to copy your business, but if you don’t pay your bill or if you decide to migrate, they could legally hold your data ransom.

  1. Data Center Locations

Partner with a cloud service that has data centers in the same part of the world as you to decrease latency. Many low-cost cloud vendors are located in China and India, but the latency will be noticeably higher than with a domestic choice.

  1. Multi-Tenant or Single-Tenant “Dedicated Server” Environments

Some businesses care about multi-tenant environments. This means your data is stored on a remote server along with someone else’s data, or even a few different clients’ data, depending on resources needed. This is generally safe and the data is segregated, but sometimes there are compliancy requirements, and there is a chance that if someone’s data is infected, it might affect the entire server. If you want the peace of mind and are willing to pay more, a single-tenant “dedicated server” is another option.

After checking these things, don’t forget to look at the front-end, too. Make sure you ask the following questions:

  • How do I access the cloud provider?
  • Is the provider antiquated and forcing me to use outdated Internet Explorer or can I use any browser?
  • Does the provider have a smartphone app?
  • Does the provider work with Mac, Linux, and Windows?
  • Will my legal compliance be met?

Compliance isn’t always ubiquitous, even among the bigger companies. If your company has a specific compliance requirement, request the specific certification for it from your cloud vendor.

Is Your Provider the Most Economical Option?

There are a wide variety of cloud service providers, and each with different options and services, depending on what you need and are able to afford.

If speed and reliability aren’t a priority for you, it may make sense to go with an overseas data center. There will be some latency, but the vendor will be cheaper.

For cloud storage, you want to purchase a plan that fits your needs. If you know that you need somewhere close to 500 GB, it is wise to purchase that right off the bat so you have it and won’t need to change plans. If your company is planning to grow, but you don’t know at what rate, a “pay as you grow” plan may be your best solution. You will pay for what you use on a per GB basis.

Some providers charge overages for unexpected traffic spikes. If you have a cloud-hosted website, this could mean outages or huge overage charges to keep your site online. Keeping your cloud services economical depends on what’s important to each individual company.

Speed, reliability, and ease of access should always be vetted before making a decision. On the most basic level, as long as your internet is decent, you should be able to upload something and walk across the office to another workstation and access the file.

Hybrid solutions are another option to consider. Many companies like having cloud storage in conjunction with physical storage, just in case something happens to either storage service. They also like knowing that what they have is theirs instead of being reliant on another company. Hybrid solutions can be cost efficient and simple to implement.

OneDrive Might Be the Solution for You

Anderson Technologies recommends using Microsoft’s Sharepoint OneDrive and Office 365 because they quickly, reliably, and seamlessly integrate with many common Microsoft applications. It’s one of the only cloud providers that can be combined with other apps—and still work! Not only does it work, but Office 365 is HIPAA, FISMA, and HITRUST compliant, which can be a big relief.

Baker says that once someone switches to OneDrive, they note that “their previous cloud application didn’t allow them the control they needed over their files,” nor did they have the ability to permission them out to employees. “OneDrive uses NTFS permissions which is the same thing as all the versions of Microsoft Windows, so a lot of people are used to setting that up, and it’s a little more intuitive.”

Contributor at Forbes and owner of Evans Strategic Communications LLC, Bob Evans says, “Microsoft remains an absolute lock at the top due to four factors: its deep involvement at all three layers of the cloud (IaaS, PaaS and SaaS); its unmatched commitment to developing and helping customers deploy AI, ML and Blockchain in innovative production environments.” Behind Microsoft, Evans ranks Amazon’s and IBM’s cloud services as the next best options.

Originally, consumers dismissed OneDrive because it wasn’t as feature rich as Dropbox, but with so many people moving to Office 365 and the improvements Microsoft has made to the system, it’s now a much more viable option. OneDrive is extremely reliable with an uptime of 99.9% for each of the last four quarters.

Are You Ready for a New Cloud Service Provider?

If you are paying for a service you aren’t getting, or if you have lost data because of unreliable services, talk to your IT provider about a more reliable and economical system.  Managed IT services can assist you in the migration process if you choose a new cloud service provider, and help with all IT needs.

Your time is valuable, and you want your cloud service to be working for you! Call Anderson Technologies at 314.394.3001 for a free consultation.

User Frustrated by Critical IT Issues

How 5 Critical IT Issues Are Compromising YOUR Business

Are you sure your company’s IT technology is efficient and secure?

In a recent study of St. Louis small businesses, Anderson Technologies found common technology problems. While not all apply to every business, it’s important to be aware of IT issues that could one day strike your company. It’s also best practice to evaluate your business’s individual IT needs—you may have a weak spot you never noticed before!

Without your knowing, an issue may have been improperly addressed by professionals. During our initial infrastructure assessments, we found a disheartening number of instances when another IT support firm told a company it resolved a problem when it unfortunately hadn’t. Could this be happening to you?

In our recent study of businesses audited in 2017, Anderson Technologies found a pervasive set of problems that included firewall misconfiguration, missing Windows patches, lax password policies, unchecked backups, and failing workstation hardware. After receiving IT consulting from Anderson Technologies, these St. Louis businesses experienced vast improvements in security and performance.

In the event of a hacking breach or physical devastation, the following five components work together for security and prevention of lost data. An evaluation of these common problems, along with help from your managed IT services provider, can bring your business up to speed.

  1. Hardware Firewall: Your Fortress Barrier (Or Is It?)

The number one issue we discovered was problems with firewalls. One hundred percent of the small businesses we assessed operated with hardware firewalls that were either out of date or not performing to their utmost capability.

Envision your firewall as a fortress barrier. If the wall collapses, the entire city becomes vulnerable. A firewall protects your system from outside attackers and is your first line of defense. To be effective, firewalls must be updated regularly, and patches should be audited. If an update isn’t applied properly, it’s imperative that it be corrected quickly.

There are two types of firewalls. The first is a hardware firewall. This physical device stops a threat before it ever gets into your system. The second is a software firewall, a security application installed on your computer or server. Many small businesses believe a software firewall provides adequate protection, but it allows the threat onto the local area network before it can be stopped. In other words, a software firewall is not a wall fortifying your city of information. It’s the guard who raises the alarm that the enemy has already infiltrated.

To make matters worse, one-third of the companies we analyzed did not have anti-virus and anti-malware software on their servers! Make sure you’re not a sitting duck for a hacker to target.

At Anderson Technologies, we use a multi-layered approach to cyber security. If malware makes it through the first layer, there should be other defenses available to detect and stop it before it reaches your vital information.

  1. Keep Your PC Agile: Microsoft Windows Updates and Patches

The number one reason for keeping Windows updated is for security; the next is to make sure the operating system is running at maximum efficiency.

If your computer’s operating system isn’t updated with the latest patches reviewed by your security team, your computer is more easily compromised. Many times, if you’re not prompted for the update, you may think that your computer is automatically updating. It’s wise to seek out updates or patches that aren’t pushed through. Keep an eye on them, or have a managed IT services provider monitor these updates in case something doesn’t get installed properly or shouldn’t be installed due to a vulnerability.

Aside from security, Windows updates fix software problems and keep your operating system running smoothly with the latest technology. Using earlier versions of Windows, such as Windows XP, Vista, or early versions of Windows 7, compromises your security. Some of these operating systems are no longer supported by Microsoft, which means Microsoft is no longer making security updates and patches for those versions. For instance, Microsoft stopped releasing updates for updates for Vista in April 2017.

Every St. Louis business we audited last year had major problems with their Windows updates and patches. All companies were missing critical security updates and patches, and almost 70% of them had other general software problems. Don’t let your computers lose their agility or security.

  1. A Responsible Key Keeper: Password Policies

Do you use the same passwords for various sites or systems?

Are your passwords set to never expire because you or your employees have a difficult time keeping track of multiple credentials?

Forty percent of the companies we audited last year had their passwords set to never expire. This is a major liability. Never changing a password increases the likelihood it will be compromised and used to access secure information. Changing passwords routinely using a password protocol (and ensuring those updates are not predictable) will help your business stay ahead of the hacking game. Although your employees may feel that having secure passwords is difficult in a constantly changing environment, there are applications that can help. Using an application such as LastPass provides a secure repository for your access credentials and keeps your employees from having to remember complex passwords.

Stolen passwords are something Anderson Technologies hears about regularly. They’re going to continue to be a problem until businesses make it a priority to come up with a system for managing strong passwords.

In addition to periodically updating your passwords, outside IT support can help you put a company policy in place that ensures employees are creating complex passwords that truly protect your business.

  1. Fire Drill: Audit Your Backups for Integrity

Backing up servers is vitally important to any business. If something happened—a flood, fire, or malware attack—would you be able to recover?

Do you know how often your backups occur? Do you know how to make sure they’re working? Do you know how to recover your data? If not, check out our blog on why you need better backup solutions.

In a fire drill, each component of the evacuation is carefully tested. Could your backups withstand such a test? Even if you know you have a solid backup system, you should still regularly check it for issues and test it periodically, or have a managed IT services team do this for you. We often see flaws in backup systems due to IT companies who say they have addressed backup weaknesses but failed to catch a vital issue.

Backups can be performed in a variety of ways. Many businesses choose to back up to cloud services. If you choose this route, you could recover your data from anywhere and on any machine. Other businesses choose to back up to a local source, like an external hard drive that can be taken off premise. Either way, the goal of the backup is to have your system up and running again quickly after a disaster.

Depending on how often your data changes and the specific regulations within your industry, backups should happen regularly, whether it’s every hour, every day, or every week.

Half of the companies we audited had some, but not all, data backed up, and another seventeen percent of businesses had no backup system in place at all.

Do you need to rethink your system backups?

  1. The Aged Workhorse: Antiquated Workstation Hardware

Technology ages rapidly.

The capabilities of current computers versus even five years ago is astounding. Machines are much more efficient than they used to be in their processing and energy consumption.

If your hardware is seven years old, you’re working on an ancient workhorse needing to retire.

Over 80% of our audits last year had issues with workstation hardware. If you’re on an antiquated machine, you probably notice the slow speed or glitches. Many businesses operate on a limited budget and may feel they aren’t ready to prioritize hardware purchases because the existing machines still work. Time lost due to slower machines, data lost due to hardware malfunctions, and potential risks of unsupported software are much more expensive than purchasing new hardware.

Computer processor speed, solid state disks, memory capacity and screen quality have all made incredible progress in the last few years. Each of these enhances the user experience and makes your computers and employees vastly more efficient.

We found that workstations were less than half as likely as printers to be kept up to date and monitored. Computers should be replaced at least every five years to keep them up to speed and at their greatest security advantage. Your server’s functionality is no different. Just because you might not work on them every day doesn’t mean they aren’t working for you! It’s time to retire that old machine and employ a nimbler one to improve your day-to-day processes.

Do you think your company could be suffering with any of these issues?

Contact Anderson Technologies’ IT consulting team to help resolve any of these problems. Email us at info@andersontech.com or call 314.394.3001 to start addressing your business’s security issues today.