9 things MSPs want you to know - managed solution

9 things your service provider wants you to know

The relationship between enterprise IT and service providers can be difficult. IT has frustrations in achieving optimal service levels. Service providers, as it turns out, have an equal number of bugaboos when it comes to their enterprise clients' readiness for and acceptance of provider intervention.
We asked providers across a range of services what advice they can offer to smooth out some typical bumps in the road for their clients. Here's a look at what they had to say.

1. Focus on the business users' needs, not the technology.

One of the biggest mistakes that enterprise IT makes when engaging a service provider is focusing too much on finding technology to solve the problem instead of fully understanding the problem that needs to be solved.
Consider the problems that can arise if you take a "technology first" approach to data management. Stan Christiaens, CTO at service provider Collibra, which specializes in data governance, says focusing on the technology rather than the problem can create chaos, especially if different technologies are pieced together and critical information is siloed in different groups and departments within the organization. Such a hodgepodge strategy erodes user trust about the reliability of data.
"There needs to be a much greater emphasis and focus on the business users and the processes and methods they use to find the data that's most important to them," Christiaens says. Once you understand that, he explains, IT can help create governance rules and policies accordingly, enabling business users and data scientists to find, understand and trust the data they need to fuel critical insights.

2. Don't get caught in the 'expert' trap.

Companies must be careful to choose services that work for the whole company, not just one person. Catering to power users can get you into a heap of trouble.
This is especially true when it comes to services that rely on certain skill sets. "Just because you have someone on your team who is an expert with a specific tool or programming language doesn't mean it is what's best for your specific enterprise system," says Steve Logue, senior business development manager at Surety Systems, which focuses on ERP systems.
Logue gives the example of a client, a women's apparel company, that had implemented a system primarily because it had an in-house developer who could build custom programs and outbound interfaces for the application. The developer subsequently left the company, making it difficult for the remaining users to "future-proof" the system, he says. For instance, that developer's custom-built programs might break if users installed patches that the software vendor had intended for the off-the-shelf version of its system, Logue explains.
Companies should make sure that the services they choose will still work even if an expert user isn't around to maintain the system. Most providers nowadays have tools that need little customization and easily adapt to updates.

3. Know the problem you need to solve.

"One of the most challenging things for solution providers is that the customer often doesn't have a complete understanding of the problem they're trying to solve," says Jeremy Larkin, CTO at Imgix, a provider of real-time image processing and delivery services.
Therefore, service providers often spend a lot of time trying to understand the client's enterprise environment when the client should have had that information ready before the engagement began.
Larkin acknowledges that "it kind of makes sense" that clients may not fully grasp their own problems, because "part of the reason they're outsourcing in the first place is they have something they don't know how to solve on their own." But it nonetheless "makes things very hard on us, because it means they often can't [provide answers] we need to structure the best solution for them," he adds. "At the worst, it could mean they end up buying something that doesn't actually solve their core issue."
Carlos Meléndez, COO at Wovenware, a software development and engineering company in Puerto Rico, agrees. "By providing more information to service providers, IT teams would help bring more value to the projects and to their own organizations," he says, adding that they could also "potentially save money."
A good place to start is to know the requirements of the system you want to develop. Meléndez encourages IT to work with end users to make sure they capture the correct requirements.
Knowing the requirements in advance enables service providers "to efficiently develop a system that meets the company's needs," Meléndez says, adding that it also enables them "to bid their project fees based on the actual requirements rather than factoring in potential scenarios."
Part of the problem, according to Meléndez, is that IT sometimes sees service provider relationships as opportunities to offload responsibility. "System development is a partnership. To get the greatest value, it shouldn't be about transferring responsibility from the IT team to the service provider, but rather about both strategically collaborating throughout the process," he says.

4. Be prepared to share details of your current IT infrastructure.

Clients that aren't well acquainted with their own IT infrastructures create problems for service providers.
"One of the biggest issues we face on a consistent basis is a lack of knowledge about the current IT infrastructure," says Emil Sayegh, CEO of Hostway, a global cloud and managed hosting provider. "So, before we can begin on transitioning to a public/private/hybrid cloud or dedicated infrastructure, it requires an assessment by one of our solution architects."
When a service provider is forced to study a client's architecture, timelines are delayed, requirements must be revisited, and costs start to rise.
"We run into situations where software is cobbled together running on multiple operating systems and on multiple generations of hardware — and it's still on physical servers," Sayegh says. "It's much better if the customer has made some transition to virtual servers, which is a good steppingstone to the cloud."

5. Remember: Training isn't a one-time exercise.

When engaging service providers, IT shops have been known to budget for initial training on the application but not for ongoing instruction. That's a big mistake, says Sarah Lahav, CEO of SysAid Technologies, a help desk and IT service management provider.
"Things will change," she says. Additional training will be needed when new people join the IT team and new features are added to the system.
Therefore, IT's contracts with service providers should allow for as-needed training.

6. Identify a point person to act as IT's sole liaison with the service provider.

Service providers may have difficulty interacting with IT departments that have multiple silos, so it's important for IT to choose someone to act as a single point of contact.
Nathan Ziege, director of application development at software development and technical services provider GlowTouch, says the client must appoint a technical liaison who can work across the entire enterprise IT team to gather specifications and resolve incidents.
For instance, if Ziege's team is working on an API and runs into a problem downstream with a billing system, they want a champion on the client side who can bring in the person responsible for the billing system.
"Whoever represents the enterprise IT team should be someone who can reach across the various departments within IT to get all the relevant teams on board and ready to participate," Ziege says.

7. Make sure your provider understands how you like to communicate.

Communication can be a big hurdle for service provider-enterprise IT relationships. Service providers must know at the start how the client likes to communicate, including the key systems they use.
"Working on an internal infosecurity team for a security service provider provides an interesting perspective on improving communication," says Katie Ledoux, an information security analyst at security provider Rapid7. "For both sides, whether you're on an internal IT team or a service provider, the first step must be setting expectations, defining goals and adapting to each other's communication styles."
She emphasizes that knowing the specifics of a client's approach to communication — "when to use email, phone, ticketing systems etc. versus more casual channels like Slack or other chat platforms" — can help teams work together more effectively. "No one wants to disrupt another team's workflow," she says. "We know it's not effective."
Make sure to stipulate in your contract the communications systems essential to enterprise IT's workflow.

8. Be as clear as possible about your expectations.

Every business relationship involves certain expectations, but IT doesn't always make its expectations completely clear in contracts with service providers.
One detail that's often overlooked is the metric IT will use to gauge whether its expectations have been fulfilled. "Trust can only be built and maintained on the basis of mutual clarity. Therefore, transparency of IT's priority measurements for each service provider relationship is foundational to success," says Michael Hubbard, global vice president of ServiceNow's Inspire advisory program.
Enterprises must be clear from the outset which metrics, such as cost, quality, availability, value and adoption, they plan to use to judge how well the service provider met their needs.
"Service providers can optimize their delivery in many ways, but don't make them guess on your priorities, nor on how you will measure their achievement," Hubbard says.
He recommends an exercise where the enterprise envisions a future headline it would share in an internal memo defining the success of the engagement with the service provider. The headline would include quantifiable outcomes, such as cost savings, the project's deadline and projected ongoing returns on investment.
Hubbard says this exercise helps everyone work toward the same goal. "Day in and day out, especially in times of crisis or tough decisions, this anchors the team," he says. "When weighing the options of going right versus left on a topic, asking which route best supports the outcome quickly drives to a preferred direction of action."
SysAid's Lahav says enterprise IT should manage contracts by the "spirit of the agreement" rather than the "letter of the law."
"Service providers rarely try to fail against contracted service levels — it's bad business to do so," she says. So, while some type of remedial action may be necessary to address persistent failure, she suggest that, in general, if a service provider is working hard to meet tough service-level targets, it might be better to evaluate the provider's performance on a monthly basis, in the context of the full duration of the contract, rather than on short-term results.

9. Understand that service providers have been hired to help, not harm.

Enterprise IT teams can be wary of working with third parties, especially if it wasn't their idea to hire a service provider. Therefore, service providers spend a lot of time — sometimes too much time — trying to convince IT that they are there to help.

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government community cloud - managed solution

Azure Gov enables digital transformation | US Veterans Affairs

By Susie Adams as written on enterprise.microsoft.com
For the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, giving veterans access to information that is both clear and easy to understand is crucial, not only to help veterans make informed decisions about their healthcare but also to improve overall patient satisfaction and outcomes. Last month, in support of its initiative to enhance veterans’ access to quality healthcare, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs launched Access to Care – an online tool that allows public access and transparency to key data to help veterans, their family members, and caregivers make more informed decisions about healthcare. What you might not have known is that this online tool is powered by Microsoft Azure Government and SQL Server technology.
Built and hosted in multiple Microsoft Azure Government regions, the VA’s Access to Care site features highly-scalable, public-facing websites, giving veterans and their families an online portal that combines and simplifies complex data such as new and established patient wait times, satisfaction scores for access to primary and specialty care, and timeliness of urgent appointments. By using the site, veterans and their families can also quickly compare their VA facility with others and, where possible, provide an easy comparison to private sector facilities.
In addition to running on Azure Government, Access to Care uses Bing Maps to identify and plot the nearest VA facility locations on a map. Users can zoom, pan, and select the pins for each facility for more information. Through this mobile device-enabled interface, the site can answer veterans’ questions, such as:
o How quickly can the VA see me?
o How well does my VA’s care compare to other hospitals?
o How satisfied are veterans with their access to care?
o How is the VA doing with access overall?
According to a VA press release, “This tool is another example of VA leading the way,” said Dr. Poonam Alaigh, Acting Undersecretary for Health. “No one in the private sector publishes data this way. This tool will instill a spirit of competition and encourage our medical facilities to proactively address access and quality issues while empowering Veterans to make choices according to what works best for them and their families.”
Dr. David J. Shulkin, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, reinforced in the press release the importance of this work, saying, “No other health-care system in the country releases this type of information on wait times. This allows Veterans to see how VA is performing.”
“The VA is actively embracing digital government and taking things to a whole new level. Through the power of cloud technology, we are able to take information of great importance to Veterans and our stakeholders, such as the Access to Care website, and make it directly available to our constituents. The Access to Care site is an example of the new types of tools the VA will be pursuing that will foster transparency and empower the Veteran and our constituents to help them understand how the VA as a whole is doing and their local VA as well when it comes to access and quality of care.” – Jack Bates, Director, OI&T Business Intelligence Service Line, Veterans Affairs
A VA blog post also states that the new access and quality web tool is a work in progress and will continue to evolve and improve as stakeholders provide feedback. Leveraging agile development methodology, the VA and Microsoft teams supporting this initiative are planning several development sprints throughout the next few months. Version 2.0 of the site went live on May 1.
Microsoft is proud to be part of the VA’s initiative to enable greater transparency and to enhance the way it supports veterans around the world. This work expands on Microsoft’s commitment to provide the VA with the deepest set of services, capabilities, and compliance standards to help it best achieve its mission. For example, in March, the VA issued a FedRAMP High agency ATO to Microsoft Azure Government—a critical step in the agency’s readiness to use the cloud. By building and hosting Access to Care on Azure Government, the VA is continuing to embrace digital modernization and improve its services for veterans around the world.
To learn more about Access to Care, visit www.accesstocare.va.gov. To see how Access to Care works, please visit a demo in the VA’s blog post.
This work is further proof that worldwide government agencies like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are choosing Microsoft as their partner to deepen their innovation and accelerate their digital transformation journey.
Microsoft offers the most complete, trusted, and secure cloud solution for our nearly 6 million government users across 7,000-plus federal, state and local organizations, empowering them to achieve more through digital transformation.

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microsoft gets the pentagons - managed solutionMicrosoft Gets the Pentagon’s Highest Cloud Security Rating for Unclassified Data

By Phil Goldstein as written on fedtechmagazine.com
Last month, the Defense Department gave Microsoft’s Azure Government cloud platform its highest certification in terms of security for unclassified data.
In a company blog post, Tom Keane, general manager for Microsoft Azure, noted that Azure Government is “the first commercial cloud service to be awarded an Information Impact Level 5 DoD Provisional Authorization by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA).”
Such an authorization allows all DOD customers to use Azure Government for the most sensitive controlled unclassified information (CUI), including CUI of National Security Systems. FCW reports that Microsoft already held FedRAMP High, FedRAMP Moderate and FedRAMP Accelerated approvals under the General Services Administration's Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program.
“This achievement is the result of the collective efforts of Microsoft, DISA and its mission partners to work through requirements pertaining to the adoption of cloud computing for infrastructure, platform and productivity across the DOD enterprise,” Keane noted.


According to a March 2016 DISA guide on cloud computing security guidelines, “CUI is information the federal government creates or possesses that a law, regulation, or governmentwide policy requires, or specifically permits, an agency to handle by means of safeguarding or dissemination controls.”
CUI can encompass numerous kinds of information, including unclassified information concerning items, commodities, technology, software, or other information whose export could reasonably be expected to adversely affect U.S. national security and nonproliferation objectives.
This includes dual-use items; items identified in Export Administration Regulations, International Traffic in Arms Regulations and the munitions list; license applications; and sensitive nuclear technology information.
CUI can also include Personally Identifiable Information, Protected Health Information; and other data requiring explicit CUI designation (i.e., For Official Use Only, Official Use Only, Law Enforcement Sensitive, Critical Infrastructure Information, and Sensitive Security Information).
Level 4 authorization accommodates CUI or other mission critical data, according to DISA. Level 5 accommodates CUI that requires a higher level of protection than that afforded by Level 4 as deemed necessary by the information owner, public law or other government regulations. Level 5 also supports unclassified National Security Systems (NSSs) due to the inclusion of NSS specific requirements in the FedRAMP +Control and Control Enhancements.


Microsoft has had to set up separate cloud infrastructure to achieve the certification. Keane noted that Information Impact Level 5 “requires processing in dedicated infrastructure that ensures physical separation of DOD customers from non-DoD customers.”
Keane added that DOD authorizing officials can use the Azure Government authorization “as a baseline for input into their authorization decisions on behalf of mission owner systems using the Azure Government cloud DOD Region.”
According to FCW, “the company said it has built multiple data centers to provide DOD with exclusive services for Azure and Office 365 U.S. Government Defense services.”
Over the past few months, Microsoft ran a preview program with more than 50 customers across the Pentagon, including all branches of the military, unified combatant commands and defense agencies.
“We are thrilled to announce the general availability of the DOD Region to all validated DoD customers,” Keane said. “Key services covering compute, storage, networking and database are available today with full service level agreements and dedicated Azure Government support.”
Katell Thielemann, research director for the public sector and U.S. federal government at Gartner, told MeriTalk that the approval is significant for both industry and the government “in that it sends a strong signal that companies like Microsoft are taking both security and Federal-specific requirements very seriously.”
“The FedRAMP and DISA review processes are stringent, lengthy, and costly. Federal agencies, and the DoD specifically, are looking for ways to leverage all the benefits of the cloud, but their mission environments demand high levels of data protection and security,” Thielemann said.


How to Survive Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday brings a lot of great things, like crazy discounts, free shipping codes, and the best deals for online shopping.  The holiday also brings a  lot of bad things, like data breaches and server crashes.  As your employees (and customers) may be online shopping all day, don't let your company data go unprotected.  A Backup and Disaster Recovery (BDR) solution can keep your business safe while the sales commence.

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Securing productivity, collaboration and enterprise data is critically important as organizations digitally transform.

3 Obvious Reasons You Need A Backup & Disaster Recovery Plan

  • You need to protect your company data from security threats and hackers. Did you see all the recent news of political breaches by hackers who exposed “secure” data?
  • Natural disasters do occur and 90% of companies that experience one week of data downtime go out of business within 12 months.
  • Systems do crash, data gets erased or corrupted, viruses attack.
With vast quantities of vital data moving through your business, even with limited resources and budget, it is critical for an organization to have a true business continuity and disaster recovery plan in place. This is the only solution to deliver an advanced insurance policy against loss of data and downtime.
Managed Solution provides a Business Continuity/Backup & Disaster Recovery Service to protect data from loss and prevent costly downtime in the event of a catastrophic server failure.


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5 Reasons to Break Up with Your Google Apps & Move On To Office 365

Valentine's Day is a time for love - and also a time for break ups.
Here are five reasons people are dumping Google Apps and switching to Office 365.
    1. Passwords.
      Google's approach to logging in and managing various e-mail identities is complicated. To make matters worse, employees often have trouble telling whether they're logged in to the company's virtual e-mail system or their own personal Gmail account. Also, be prepared to be bombarded by ad-supported content. Text ads are Google's main business, so you're pretty much always looking at them. Some may be relevant, but many businesses will be wary about opening their private company e-mails to marketers, even if anonymously.
    2. Permissions in Projects/Scheduling.
      Time and time again, this has been difficult to manage with Google Apps. Usually, it requires a third party plug-in. If your company is starting a new project that needs to be shared ASAP, good luck waiting for all those plug-ins to download.
    3. Google Docs.
      Google Docs will not replace Microsoft Word when it comes to producing slick, professional looking documents. It can be difficult to format a document in Google Docs, which has very limited formatting capabilities. Often times, this means you have to format the document in word, and then upload it to Google Drive as a Word document. So why not skip the extra steps?
    4. Google Presentations and Connectivity.
      Think your work is automatically safe in Google Drive? Think again. Connectivity can still be an issue, a scary prospect when Google Presentations freezes up in the middle of saving a document.Google Presentations does not have the same level of features as PowerPoint so design features are limited. This means if you want to really impress your boss with your next big presentation, you won't find the tools and features you need with Google Presentations. The good news is PowerPoint has endless features and options to help you nail that proposal.
    5. Google Spreadsheets.
      Data entry in Google Spreadsheets can be buggy with lines disappearing without warning. Functionality can be complicated. Even simple formatting can be difficult. Fans of Microsoft Excel, prepare to be disappointed."I once worked on a project at work for about 4 hours, inputting information and employee names into a Google Spreadsheet. I shared it with my boss after telling her I had finished the project. When I went into work the next day, more than half of the information I had put in got deleted through no fault of my own - meaning I had to redo more than half of the project and waste about half of my day (thanks Google)."

Breakups aren't always easy, but sometimes you just have to let them go (we're looking at you Google Apps).. eat chocolate and try

Office 365 instead


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