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Custom Technology Solutions, Inc - Corporate Blog

First ever SMB Cloud Summit starts to take shape

Preparations for our first ever Cloud Summit – first announced in this blog back in March – are gathering pace.  The summit will bring together our reseller and Managed Services Provider (MSP) partners in the same place for the first time.  We are expecting several hundred delegates to attend from business owners and presidents right through to administrators and marketers. The great majority will be from North America but there will also be allocations from Canada and the Rest of the World too. In addition to showcasing our product portfolio and demonstrating our breadth of expertise across the SMB and the RMM space the event is an  opportunity for partners to learn about how our mobile and cloud software can assist them with business growth and ultimately help them accomplish success. The website is now live, the invitations sent and our sales teams in North Carolina and Ottawa are all geared up for their Summer Recruitment Challenge.  Those team members that successfully rise to challenge and enlist the most partners will win themselves the chance to attend.  As we gear up for the final push for SMB’s single most rousing event of the year I am delighted to have this opportunity to share with you the exciting agenda that is taking shape including: 1. Inspirational speakers We are thrilled to have lined-up some of the industry’s most dynamic presenters to speak about the future direction of business and technology.  Presenting our guest keynote will be Guy Kawasaki .  Currently chief evangelist of Canva , Guy Kawasaki is an executive fellow at the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley. Guy is perhaps best known for his former roles as advisor to the Motorola business unit of Google, chief evangelist of Apple and author of numerous best-selling business books including Art of the Start ; Reality Check ; Selling the Dream and How to Drive Your Competition Crazy . He will deliver a lively and entertaining address about his concepts for the future of the high-tech industry. Kicking off proceedings will be our very own CEO Gary Kovacs who will provide insight into AVG’s vision for the future, the implications for the small business security market online and the need for IT security vendors to look beyond protection for a company’s devices but to its data and people too. 2. Unveiling brand new industry research Gary will be a hard act to follow but I will do my best as I discuss our commitment to building strong, long-lasting partnerships. I will also unveil highlights from our latest research which will ask businesses about their plans to Monetize the Internet of Things and the opportunities this will bring to the Channel. 3. Launching new products Next up, David Haadsma will announce the latest major additions to our product portfolio as well give a sneak preview of AVG SMB’s product roadmap and branding develop. 4. Training, workshops, breakout sessions The Summit is the perfect forum for AVG partners and MSPs to network with their peers and Channel technology providers. You will be able to pose questions to key members of our senior executive team as well as hold technical discussions with engineers and developers in the on-site Tech Lab. From technical training to breakout sessions this event will offer partners a broad spectrum of opportunities to enrich their knowledge and enhance their understanding of how to take their own business forward.  We will also have breakout sessions covering sales, marketing, business, enablement and technology – all of which are essential to today’s ambitious IT providers. 5. Awards Finally at the end of Day Two there will be a gala dinner and an opportunity to pick up AVG awards in a variety of categories. In summary the Cloud Summit is further evidence of our commitment to continuously develop fresh ways for partners to derive value from working with us. Our ambition is to establish this event as one of the best in the industry. A lot of hard work has gone into creating an exciting program of inspirational content and valuable networking opportunities that will help enable sustainable growth and business diversification for all our partners.   I look forward to welcoming you in Arizona. For more information or to register to attend please visit http://www.avgcloudsummit.com/ .

How will you manage the Internet of Services?

When it comes to the Internet of Things many of our small business customers are struggling to understand what all the fuss is about.  And who can blame them.  After all what is so exciting about the ability to connect your vending machine or your refrigerator to the Internet, right?  Wrong. Take my word for it, everyday devices are getting smarter and businesses must follow suit. The exciting part for business owners is that this concept has started to be widely embraced by manufacturers and is present in everything from fleet vehicles to industrial equipment. According to Gartner , the Internet of Things market will top $309 billion in direct revenue by 2020, with most of that money stemming from services This ‘Internet of Services’ will go well beyond simple monitoring of objects.   Analytical software can also be used to extract data to provide critical information about the way devices are functioning and what they are doing.  For example, an IP connected thermostat may reveal ways of saving on energy bills or smart stock control systems to help track and manage stock movements within the business for maximum profitability. Internet connected devices will soon be routinely providing small businesses with information to help them cut costs, improve efficiency and reveal usage patterns leading to increased profitability, productivity and customer satisfaction.  Our own Internet of Things study revealed 38 percent of small businesses expect to adopt smart devices and the Internet of Things within the next two years rising to 60 percent in two to three years’ time. However, the majority will have neither the time nor the resources to mine through this mass of information to extract the most valuable data. Instead they are likely to turn to their IT partners who will use monitoring and management tools capable of interpreting the data to help with simple every day decisions. With the right tools IT providers can use this information to help unlock significant business value from everyday objects for their customers. It is possible, for instance, to monitor vital factory equipment remotely to detect patterns of behaviour associated with imminent failure. When this happens the device automatically sends an alert to someone. They can then carry out preventative maintenance thereby saving many thousands of dollars in lost production time. Spiceworks, an AVG partner, recently asked more than 400 IT professionals for their thoughts regarding the Internet of Things.  In it more than 25 percent of the respondents said they did not know how they will manage the influx of new connected things. In fact, the majority, (59 percent) said they had no plans to do anything about the Internet of Things.  This is a little surprising. Smart devices are spawning a whole set of new opportunities for the services industry. From boilers that tell heating companies when they need servicing to connected cars that continuously collect and transmit data these devices are providing fresh ways for a whole host of established organizations to boost their services income.  IT providers should be no exception. Service-enabling the Internet of Things is a market that can be measured in trillions of transactions.  Recurring services revenues makes the Internet of Services bigger than the sum of all the connected devices in the world – and potentially more financially rewarding for enterprises, developers, manufacturers and small businesses alike. For those more forward-thinking, entrepreneurial services providers the sooner you set up your business to manage the ‘Internet of Services’ the sooner you can capitalize on getting in ahead of the game.

Thoughts on Workplace Privacy

I read about the trend in software to quantitatively monitor the workplace in the recent Sunday New York Times and it gave me reason to pause. Being able to track employees for productivity or mischief sounds appealing. But like anything else, it depends on the use case and the intent of the employer. The NYT piece quotes an example of a restaurant looking for employee fraud that made an unintended discovery instead – its ability to identify the most productive restaurant servers – with a favorable consequence and happy ending. The NYT report noted one purveyor of workplace surveillance “advises companies using sensor-rich ID badges worn by employees. These sociometric badges, equipped with two microphones, a location sensor and an accelerometer, monitor the communications behavior of individuals — tone of voice, posture and body language, as well as who spoke to whom and for how long.” Employees must opt into the system and no conversations may be recorded. The whole idea reminded me of adding “more flair” to the movie Office Space. Humor aside, small businesses need to be educated about employee tracking and know where to draw the line. What is commonplace to track and not track? What obligations do you have to inform your employees? This is an area changing and evolving just as our technology is. Here are a few thoughts and considerations: 1) Be aware of all your legal responsibilities. An employer can be held responsible for illegal acts. Call an attorney and set up some basic guidelines. 2) Be upfront with your newly hired employees. Just tell them that in this day and age you’re going to want security of all data, and want them to be doing their job, not surfing the Net on your dime. 3) Consider policies that you want to apply in your workplace.  You might have new employees sign a document, stating that their Internet and smartphone activity will be monitored. Being straightforward out of the starting gate helps. Having a policy in place helps and is much more straightforward than making rules in reverse. 4) Be careful about monitoring employees and ensure you are complying with all laws and notice requirements.  In many instances, employers may monitor employees’ calls with clients/customers for the purpose of quality control. In the state of California, state law requires that the parties to the call are all informed that the conversation is recorded or monitored. Computer and other devices monitoring is often allowed for employers to see what’s on screens – if the employer owns the network and the screen/devices. Under some circumstances, however, the answer may be no. ie. If there is a union contract that prohibits it. And the trend in BYOD may muddy this. 5) As always, employers should consult legal counsel for advice before implementing employee tracking processes.   Here are a few resources to learn more on the topic, including the non-profit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and Harvard Law . Here at AVG, we feel it’s important for people to realize that when it comes to data privacy – from interactions with employees and clients/customers, to CCTV, to digital footprints and millennials not seeming to grasp the ramifications of social media – privacy is going to be a major issue in the coming years, and beyond.  It’s time for all of us to get wise.

What’s Booming In Small Business

Did you know the number of people aged 55-64 turning to self-employment and opening small businesses has been soaring? It is estimated there are now more than 5 million Americans age 55 and older who have their own businesses or are self-employed, according to the Small Business Administration . Driving this trend, no doubt, are many Boomers who are looking for second acts or who have retired early. For some, it’s because they want to continue to be productive and do something new or more fulfilling. Unfortunately for others, the decision has not been by choice, but they were faced with job loss and the need to continue to work to support themselves.  According to a recent Met Life Study more than 21% of the oldest Boomers are working full-time. Sadly, the Employee Benefit Research Institute reports the proportion of boomers at risk of not being able to maintain their standard of living or run out of money in retirement at 40%-50%. The good news is it’s easier than ever to start your own business. There are more resources – everything perhaps except the funding, that is – available than ever before for anyone who is interested in learning how to launch a small business today, and make it thrive.  So many, in fact, it’s hard to know where to start. This is National Small Business Week in the US – a week to celebrate a major engine that drives our national economy.  If you are interested in starting your own business, this is a good time to get the latest information available on resources and trends. The weeks activities include forums hosted by the Small Business Administration (SBA) that stretch throughout the week in regional venues across the country from San Francisco to Washington, DC. Most will be available online . The 2014 observance starts with a kickoff event at Twitter’s HQ in San Francisco. This seems appropriate given the impact social media has had and is having on business – and especially small business. Incidentally, I was pleased to see the culminating event in DC features a panel on “Veteran’s Entrepreneurship.”  Having served our country and been fortunate to go to a successful business career, both as an entrepreneur and working in corporations, I am keenly aware that Veterans often face a tough time entering and re-joining the workforce. Like Boomers, it has been a group that historically has been over-looked, under-valued, and under-served… Curiously, I didn’t see specific events aimed at Boomers on the 2014 NSBW agenda, but speakers include several prominent women Boomer politicos including Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and Rep. Nancy Pelosi – so that leads to hope. This is not to say the SBA is not attuned to Boomers. In 2012, SBA teamed up with AARP to create a strategic alliance to provide counseling and training to entrepreneurs over 50 who want to start or grow a small business. Utilizing online courses and a network of mentors and counselors, the pair last year trained more 100,000 “encore entrepreneurs” to start and run small businesses. Last month they hosted National Encore Entrepreneur Mentor Month and held more than 100 events – workshops, conferences and seminars.  You can still take advantage of their webinar series.  This month’s webinar is Financing Your Small Business on May 13. Having started several of my own small businesses prior to AVG, I can tell you how critical figuring out the financing piece is.  But today there are more options than ever: a traditional small business loan, equity investment (i.e. Angels and VCs), or the newer crowd funding (ala Kickstarter, Indiegogo ) programs or the leveraged-assets route (think of Airbnb – renting rooms in the apartment or home you own, no upfront investment required.) The latter two are particularly interesting for Boomers, who don’t want to be in a position where they put their retirement nest eggs at risk. The reality is that most ventures do not qualify for venture capital and never will. I’ve started four businesses. I successfully sold two. One I was fired from (by the VC’s) and one I retired from until I actually retire. All four were started with my own money and a willingness to go without pay for six months. My feeling was if I could not pay myself after six months then I had either not worked hard enough or it was not a good business idea. I brought VC money into one of the businesses (an early .com) because of the need to move quickly. I have to say, in my experience, it was a bad mistake. I would not ever do this again. I became an “employee” and was dismissed at the first market downturn so they could package the business for sale. Beware, unfortunately once they make an investment, VC’s often want to bring in their own CEO talent… Here’s the basic advice I give to anybody contemplating starting a new business or heading down the to road of entrepreneurship today. 1. Do your homework. Got an idea? Think it’s good? Do your due diligence. What’s the problem you’ll be solving? Who’s your competition? What’s the business opportunity? In addition to SBA, other online resources abound for finding best practices, useful info, news, trends and helpful resources, guides and mentoring.  Inc. and Entrepreneur are the category stalwarts. Did you know that almost all of the leading business and news publications and websites also have vibrant Small Business focused portals and followings? Check out the Huffington Post , Forbes , CNN Money , Fox Business , NY Times and the Amex Open Forum . 2. Formulate and put your business plans down in writing. This means articulating and documenting your product offering, purchase and partner targets, doing the overall strategy, creating your elevator pitch, as well as doing numbers for projections for your first and five year plan, so that you can pitch and share it. Most of the publications and websites above offer good guides to writing business plans. 3. Take advantage of any technology advantage. This leads us back to Twitter and other social media. It’s today and the future. Learn how it and other online technologies and applications can help you get your business and brand get known. There are many free resources out there. For example, get “The Beginners Guide to Small Business Blogging” by ConstantContact – a free but useful tool from the content marketing vendor. I find Ramon Ray’s SmallBizTechnology.com , a great place to harvest new technology ideas for small businesses. Check out his book “Facebook Guide to Small Business Marketing” and his blog/newsletter. Here’s one example of Tips for Building a Strong Linked In Company Page . Once you’ve gotten your business going, AVG will be a good resource for your digital practices. We often hear about big companies and big data loss but cyber security is a growing issue for small business. We have resources available. Check out our small business blogs at http://blogs.avg.com/category/business . We also offer a very useful Small Business IT Security Healthcheck checklist and an ebook, the AVG Small Business Digital Policy Guide . 4. Network and connect with others. Get out and meet with other entrepreneurs, people in your industry, mentors, experts and potential customers -whether you are looking to run your idea up the flagpole, still in the testing the water phase, or hunting for your first customers or new business leads.  Take advantage of the opportunities from classic Chamber of Commerce events to social network meetups and Linked In Groups. For some more introverted folks that isn’t so easy – but if you are going to run your own business you need to be its #1 ambassador and evangelist. (Toastmasters or individual speaking coaches could help here.) Whatever your personality type, sometimes being an entrepreneur and starting your own business, at least at the beginning, can be a solitary endeavor. If you need the stimuli of working with others, consider a shared or collaborative working environment. Up and coming co-working spaces have sprung up for entrepreneurs and startups across the country- including HatchTodaySF in San Francisco, the Grind in New York and Impact Hub , which started in London and is now global. Some are membership based and rent desks, tables or offices to individuals and small companies on a monthly basis. 5. Don’t get emotionally attached to the idea of the business . Set boundaries on how long you will go before it makes money. Be honest with your spouse/partner on expected financial strains, and have the courage to pull the plug if it goes wrong. Bottom line: Starting your own business is exciting and can be rewarding. Just go for it!    

AVG to sponsor The Pitch 2014

I’m delighted to announce that AVG will be the headline sponsor of The Pitch 2014 . Now in its seventh year The Pitch is one of the UK’s longest running small business competitions and awards thousands of pounds worth of prizes to innovative startups. In 2014, hundreds of business entrepreneurs from up and down the UK are expected to submit their businesses and ideas for assessment by a panel of judges in order to win an exclusive package of prizes and business support. The Pitch is Britain’s top competition for emerging entrepreneurs and gives us an opportunity to show AVG’s passionate belief that a well-connected business is an essential ingredient for success today. Our philosophy is all about empowering small businesses to manage their technology simply and reliably so they can stop worrying about their data and concentrate on growth in today’s fast changing, increasingly mobile workplace. This partnership gives us a superb opportunity to connect directly with many thousands of business start-ups and entrepreneurs. Successful applicants will be picked to pitch their ideas at two regional Boot Camp events to be held in September. These entries will be further narrowed down to 30 who will compete in a live final in October.  Previous winners include Bio Bean , developers of a bio-fuel made from coffee beans, AdvanceToGo , a website that helps private landlords manage property and find tenants, and Cyclehoop , an ingenious solution to bike theft.

Yes, a Mac is Safer than a PC…for Now

Does using a Mac provide more protection against viruses and malware than a Windows PC?  Yes, but not for the reason you may think.  And maybe not for much longer. Despite what you may hear from the Apple community, Macs are no safer than Windows PCs.  Each release of OS X has its vulnerabilities, going back to the ‘80’s.  Most recently in 2010 and 2011 the “ OS X Pinhead ” and the “ BlackHole RAT ” trojans infected hundreds of thousands of Mac users, allowing unauthorized access to their systems. In 2012, hundreds of thousands more were infected by the “ Mac Flashback Trojan .”  The “RSPlug-A (2007)”, “iWorkS-A Trojan (2009)”, and “MacDefender (2011)” viruses and malware additionally affected the Mac community over the past few years.  During 2013 widespread malware attacks both indirectly and directly affected Mac users . The problem isn’t going away.  In fact, it’s only going to get bigger.  That’s because, in my opinion, Apple did not figure out how to protect its users from viruses and malware.  Apple products are great.  But there is nothing so special about OS X or its security features. As we all saw this past year the world’s largest technology, government and financial services firm were hit by hacker attacks.  There is no infallible system.  Any developer will tell you that any software can be exploited.  Apple is no exception. Why haven’t there been more malware or virus attacks on Apple users?  Well, quite simply, in spite of considerable growth in Apple users in recent years, there still aren’t enough of them.  With all the blather we hear about Microsoft’s demise and Apple’s surging popularity, the fact is that 90% of the world’s computers are still controlled by Windows operating systems. If anyone’s going to spend the time and take the risk to devise a malware or virus attack, they’re going to want the biggest return on their investment.  And that’s why Windows users are more vulnerable than Mac users.  That’s all there is to it. So if you’re a small business owner looking to equip your office with Macs or other Apple products, then that’s great.  And if you’re already a Mac enthusiast, then good for you.  But, just be careful what you ask for.  You love your Mac.  You love Apple.  And each year there are more and more of you.  Maybe Microsoft will stave off this trend.  Maybe Apple’s growth will be stunted by the likes of Google and Amazon. If this happens, then hackers and others like them will avoid you because it’s just not worth the effort.   But if the trend carries on, if Apple continues to grow in popularity, if more and more users worldwide are using iPhones, iPads and Macs, then those that create malicious software will set their sights on this community.  That means you.  Which means that you’ll need something like AVG Managed Workplace watching your back.

Six good habits to help protect your small business from hackers

As business owners, we know that we could be doing a better job protecting our data.  We should be more responsible, have better controls and be more secure.  Like the big companies, right?  Hmmm. Right before Christmas, someone hacked into Target’s system and stole encrypted bank pins on top of 40 million credit card number of the retail giant’s customers. Oh, and by the way, this was before ZDNet reported on other enormous breaches of security that were suffered in 2013 by the world’s biggest names in media, government and technology from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal to The U.S. Federal Reserve, Facebook, Adobe, Apple and Twitter. In all cases, private and confidential data was taken. Although there are suspicions, no one really knows who is taking the data or what it’s being used for.  And after the furore dies down, no one can say for sure that the same won’t happen again. These are not dipsy-doodle, little, tiny companies.  These are some of the largest, most well known companies and government organizations in the world who supposedly specialize in technology.  And they couldn’t even protect themselves from getting hacked. So yes, we can take solace that we’re not alone.  But we must also admit:  this is serious.  And that our smaller businesses are not just as vulnerable.  We’re more vulnerable.  Why? For starters, most of us are accepting and storing more credit card and social security numbers now more than ever.  We’re accepting online and mobile payments.  We’re sending out and receiving fewer checks and transacting more virtually.  And when we accept this information our customers are entrusting us to keep it on file so that they don’t have to give it to us more than once. So small businesses responded by storing data in on-premises databases that require nothing more than a simple password to access. Our security is terrible.  And the hosted ecommerce services that we rely on aren’t much better. And who will be to blame if our customers’ info is stolen?  We will.  Our customers will stop doing business with us.  Some may sue us.  Others may tell others or report their problems to the media.  Our credibility would be challenged.  Our reputations may be lost.  We are unable to be trusted.  We are embarrassed.  And we are potentially facing enormous liabilities.  Would you like to be the subject of the next ZDNet slide show featuring businesses that were hacked?  I didn’t think so. So how do you protect against this?  There are ways.  For example, you should always make sure your customer data is stored in an encrypted database. You should have multi-levels of passwords to access any database storing customer information and change these passwords frequently. You should periodically and regularly run background checks on employees handling customer data. You should make sure to have malware detection software running on both your servers (hosted or not) and workstations and ensure that your firewalls are up and secure. You should review and implement the standard network security health check controls like the ones suggested here . You should make sure your Disaster Plan (you have one, right?) has a plan for if a breach occurs. And lastly you should have your attorney update your terms and conditions to hold you harmless in the event of a stolen data incident (although that still can’t stop anyone from suing you, you losing that suit or at the very least suffering the same lack of credibility and reputation issues). It’s a brand new year.  And with it will come even more hacks of private information.  We’ll hear about the big ones from the big companies.  However, the thousands of small companies who will be hacked this year will not make the national headlines.  And unfortunately they will suffer the most.  Let’s hope that you and I are not one of them.

Nope, We’re Still Not Doing Backups Right!

My favorite news of the week is from AVG, with a new survey revealed that the typical small business owner spends more time cleaning his desk than backing up his data .   Oh, and he also spends more time ordering business cards too. “Our research shows that while the great majority of small businesses in North America are relatively savvy about the importance of backup, there is still plenty of market education to do, especially when it comes to mobile and cloud platforms,” said Mike Foreman, AVG’s General Manager, SMB. “In today’s mobile and data-driven world it’s particularly shocking to hear how business owners still spend more time on physical-world activities like tidying their desks and ordering new business cards than digital ones, which suggests that, despite evidence cybercriminals see value in small business data, business owners themselves are still failing to appreciate the true value of the data held within their systems.” I believe this 100%.  My desk is pretty clean. I always have business cards available.  But my backups?  Gee, your guess is as good as mine! I’m going to take this research one step further.  I’m going to bet that even those good, diligent business owners who are spending the appropriate amount of time on their backups aren’t even doing them correctly.  I think I’m one of them.  In fact, I know that most of my clients, as well as I, are just not doing backups correctly.  Yet we know we should be.  We know we’re at fault.  But we still keep making the same mistakes. Why is this? For starters, we don’t check our backups as often as we should.  The applications are running.  The online services are working.  Theoretically.  So what, we should check that the backups are actually happening?  Do you even check? Most of my clients don’t.  I don’t.   And yet we know that technology doesn’t work all the time.  We know that we can’t rely on technology to work when we want it.  So why aren’t we checking that our backups actually backed up?  Do you get alerts if a backup failed?  Do you ever look at your backup application logs to make sure everything worked the way it should? When was the last time you actually restored your backed-up database just to make sure?  This should be done at least every week.  It only takes a few minutes. We are storing your backups locally.  Just because you’re backing up your system to a tape or external drive doesn’t mean you’re entirely safe.  And just because you then store those materials in a ‘fire proof’ cabinet or container doesn’t mean you’re safe either.  If there was a fire in your office things will get pretty…well…hot.  Tapes melt.   Hard drives get damaged.  You can’t keep your backups in your office.  We need to keep multiple copies of them around – in our offices, at our homes, with an online service.  Otherwise we’re leaving ourselves seriously exposed. We’re not backing up our cloud based data.  So many of us are using cloud based applications to run our companies. And we blithely trust our providers when they say they are backing up our data.  But are they?  And even if they are, what happens if they disappear? Or you have a billing dispute? Or you decide to switch providers?  Where’s your data then?  You need to get copies of your backed up data from your cloud service provider.  You need to have physical ownership of these materials.  It’s great that they’re backing up your systems.  But it’s still not enough. We’re backing up the wrong stuff.  Sometimes you think you’re backing up your data, but you’re really not.  You’re backing up database files. So what happens if you need to restore that data?  Where do you restore it to?  If you don’t have the application for the data then the data is just setting there in a database that can’t be used.  Make sure you also have backups of your application installation files too.  That way if things ever go down you can reinstall the application and THEN restore the data to it. Our employees are not backing all their stuff up.  This is the most common thing I see.  And that’s because everyone’s doing stuff from everywhere – tablets, phones, PCs, etc. etc.  Some people save their stuff locally.  Others do remember to save it to our servers.  But you probably aren’t accounting for this very well.  And meanwhile you’ve got confidential materials everywhere and you’re not sure what’s the most recent version and who has what.  You need to make sure that every device your employees are using have an automated backup system on it that’s saving their localized data somewhere that you can get to it. Yeah, you’re backing up your data.  But are you?  Am I?  No, no where near what we should.  Why not take a few minutes to answer these few simple questions to see how your data protection stacks up? Maybe we should all spend a little less time tidying up our desks and a little more time making sure our company information is safe and secure.  I know I will.