Eleni Leppo

Paving the Road to Complete Cloud Adoption

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, businesses across the country found themselves trying to replicate their office environment at home. Independent insurance agencies using Microsoft 365 had a head start. Their teams could seamlessly move from working in the office to accessing data and collaborating with colleagues at home thanks to the cloud.

When correctly designed and configured, the cloud lets users easily move between the office, home, airport, coffee shop, or wherever they’re located. It is the tool businesses need because work-from-home will be with us for the foreseeable future. Follow the 5 steps below to pave your road to complete cloud adoption and create a flexible, resilient work environment.

1. Map Out Your ‘What, When, and Where’

Before you start moving data, know what you’re going to move, when you’re going to do it, and where data will go. This is typically the order we follow with clients migrating to Microsoft cloud:

  1. Email
  2. OneDrive
  3. SharePoint
  4. Phone systems

Email is first because it’s easiest. We’ll follow up with OneDrive which is where people will store personal documents. SharePoint is next. It will function as your network shared drive and store files, folders, and other company information. Then we’ll move on to phones which we save until close to the end because they’re more nuanced.

2. Don’t Overlook Device Management and Data Security

Wrapping security around cloud systems presents challenges you don’t find with 100% on-premise systems. Suddenly nebulous things like “where” you log in from are part of your identity and your WiFi connection or IP address become data points you can use to identify security threats.

For instance, if the IP address constantly changes because an employee frequently travels, it won’t be flagged as a potential threat. But, if an employee who always works from home suddenly appears to log in from the other side of the country or shows an IP address in New York and 30 minutes later registers a different one in California, the system throws up a red flag, and you can quickly investigate and resolve the issue.

Ways to protect your business through device management

  • Continually track where a device is, what it’s doing, and its health
  • Provide remote assistance to employees experiencing IT issues
  • Wipe data off compromised devices
  • Prevent information from being shared with people outside your organization

3. Have a Plan for Legacy and Line-of-Business Applications

Before you start migrating, figure out what hardware and software you can’t instantly move to the cloud. TAM LAN, QuickBooks, and phone systems typically require additional planning if you want to access the systems through the cloud. Investigate your hardware and legacy applications. There’s almost always a way to get a server-based product to the cloud, but don’t automatically make that course of action your plan. Instead, ask if it’s time to consider a new solution, like VoIP instead of on-premise phones, or an Agency Management System that’s “cloud native.”

4. Know Cloud Adoption is a Journey

As you move to the cloud, shift your mindset too. In the past, you paid a one-time upfront cost for technology. With the cloud, you pay a per user, per month price. The systems you rely on will be continually updated because vendors are constantly innovating. New tools, strategies, and features are regularly released to enhance user experience and improve security. The cloud isn’t a destination, it’s a journey.

Make it your goal to use what you pay for

The biggest mistake we continually see insurance agencies make is not taking advantage of new features. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, many early adopters of Microsoft 365 have been reluctant to test Teams, even though it’s built into their monthly subscription. Now they’re realizing the advantages the platform has and unlocking a new, more productive way of working.

Here are 3 ways your agency can leverage Teams right now:

  1. Stay connected to remote employees through chat
  2. Securely conduct client meetings using video conferencing
  3. Create channels to collaborate on documents and policies in real-time

Regularly educate yourself and your team on what’s available and adopt new technologies to maximize your return on investment. Your subscription gives you access to the vendor’s research and development team, use it.

5. Work with an IT Adviser to Understand Costs

What the cloud will cost varies wildly based on factors unique to your agency, like what level of security you need, your backup and disaster recovery needs, and which applications you use. What you pay depends on who you work with too. Microsoft licensing can be complex, and changes frequently. Work with an IT expert who will show you which licensing agreement your agency needs and ways you can save money such as bundling services.

Let us be your IT advocate

When we work on cloud migrations for clients, we continually act as their IT advocate, offering strategic Microsoft consulting and updates about new releases. Contact us today for a free consultation and discover how to get your money’s worth from the cloud: 855-290-5483.

So, Your Agency Has Mastered Working From Home…Now What?

Like everyone else, we here at KiteTech have experienced swift and unprecedented changes in our lives. In mid-March we emptied our offices and headed home as a reasonable precaution against the spreading pandemic.

Unlike everyone else, our workload immediately surged. At the same time that our employees moved back home, we responded to well over 1000 requests to set up agency employees to do the same. Our employees rose to the challenge and agency clients were thrilled with our efforts. It was hugely fulfilling to help clients in their time of need get set up to work from home.  Our teammates took great pride in serving clients during a crisis, knowing that the precise skills they possessed were in great demand.

Our success didn’t happen by accident. It was the result of preparation. We already had tools and processes in place to work from home. The phone systems, email, and critical applications were just as easily accessible from home as they are from the office. And we already used collaboration tools such as SharePoint and Teams extensively. We needed these to connect staff that work closely together, but live in different parts of the country. We were holding team meetings by video conference well before Zoom became a household name.

In a strange way, this pandemic has leveled the playing field. It’s no longer a competitive advantage to be able to function from home. EVERYBODY knows how to do it now, because it has been a matter of survival to conduct business, educate our children, and gather with our friends.

As a leader, my thoughts have shifted to what comes next. What are the long-term implications of this new reality to our company? How should we respond to mitigate the downside risks and take advantage of the opportunities presented? Here are three broad lines of inquiry our leadership is exploring. If you haven’t already done so, I suggest your agency leadership start considering the same.

1. What is the long-term impact to our culture, and our performance, if our staff continue working from home?

In the short run, we have demonstrated that we can operate just fine from home. But the long-term impact is an open question. Will our culture suffer? What can we do to mitigate that? How will employee attitudes shift in regard to working from an office versus working from home? What will be the impact on performance (and performance management) if employees continue to work from home? How is it going to affect hiring, compensation, and employee retention if we (and our competitors) can hire those who are across the country as easily as we can hire those who are across the street?

As an agency leader, I recommend starting the conversation with employees to understand their attitudes toward these changes. I would also continue the conversation with peers and seek input from experts to understand how all this might shake out. It may be too early to reach definitive conclusions about some of these questions, but it’s not too early to start considering the implications.

2. How is our business model affected by changing attitudes and behaviors of customers and prospects?

Our company has essentially two target markets: independent insurance agencies across the country and various small and mid-sized businesses in the Mid-Atlantic region. For our local/regional practice, we are concerned that increased customer willingness to do business “virtually” rather than face-to-face may introduce more competitors from other geographies. Conversely, this same phenomenon creates greater opportunities to work with insurance agencies throughout the country who may now be more open to working with a provider that is not local.

As an agency, whether you target a specific geography or specific industries, this phenomenon will affect you differently. Are you prepared for the impact? Are you shifting your focus to take advantage of the opportunities?

3. What have we learned about the limitations of our technology that prevent or complicate our ability to serve our customers?

These last few months have given us time to reflect on technical assets on which we depend that are housed in our main office. Fortunately, the list is short and has minimal impact on our operation. But the local infrastructure still must be maintained and poses security and reliability risks that must be mitigated. Eliminating ALL local infrastructure eliminates the maintenance costs and reduces the security threat landscape.

Now is a great time for you to consider this question for your agency.  More than ever, after surviving three months with your staff likely working from home, you know precisely what constraints are keeping you tethered to your office.  Do you have a premise-based phone system? Are you dependent on operating processes that are still not yet “paperless”? Do your producers lack the tools to present quotes and close new business remotely? If any of these are true, there are technology solutions that can help you prepare for the new reality that is being hastily thrust upon you. This is one area where we can help you make wise decisions.

It’s chaotic times like now, when leadership is most necessary. Lead well.

Greg

Meet Kite Technology- Your Baltimore Based IT Team

It sounds cliché, but Jeff Kite really did start his company in his basement over 28 years ago. Nowadays, he’s surrounded by a team of over 30 professionals at his Owings Mills office just outside of Baltimore. We asked Jeff and four other team members to give us a behind-the-scenes look at their lives in and out of the office.

Jeff Kite, President and Founder

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About 15 years ago, my business started to really gain traction. I realized I needed help and partnered with Greg DiDio, who is now our CEO. Greg and I decided early on we wanted to build a different kind of company, one that valued relationships. We genuinely believed, then and now, you don’t have to sacrifice people to deliver extraordinary value to clients.
Those principles that started our journey are now captured in our “Flight Plan,” a list of 26 behaviors every KiteTech employee knows and embodies. If you stroll through our office, you will notice the current week’s Flight Plan behavior displayed prominently on electronic dashboards and in flip-books at each employee’s desk.

A good example of one Flight Plan behavior I am particularly passionate about is: Lean into Client Issues. When something goes awry, people tend to pull back and hope someone else solves the problem. To combat this mindset, KiteTech cultivates a different attitude. Client problems are an opportunity for us to “Lean in,” own the issue and address it head on rather than hide and hope it goes away.

Another behavior that Greg and I strive to model is: Always Ask Why? We work hard to create an environment where our employees are comfortable challenging us. Because Greg and I encourage employees to stop in our office and ask Why?, our team members often demonstrate there is a better way to do things. We have a culture where it’s safe for anyone to disagree and we, the leaders, are open to change when presented with solid facts and a better alternative.

I’ll Skydive – Someday

My wife and I enjoy spending time outdoors snow skiing, water skiing, hiking and traveling. I’ve dreamed of skydiving for years. One day, it will happen. Until then, we keep ourselves busy with other outdoor adventures, including exploring the jungles of Belize and the volcanoes of Hawaii.

Tom Brooks, VP of Business Development – Client Experience

Tom Brooks

From our clients’ perspective, I’m the quarterback. I make sure everyone on our team is in the right position to execute the game plan. For KiteTech to be successful, it requires help desk technicians, project managers, account engineers and many others to perform flawlessly. I represent the voice of the client when there is a need, and I’m happy to step in and coordinate the plan when a problem arises. But it’s truly a team effort. For us to get the ball across the goal line on behalf of our clients, everyone on our team needs to do their part.

With advancements in technology, client meetings are often conducted virtually. Video conferences provide greater efficiency and increased meeting frequency for both the client and our staff. However, when time allows or the situation requires it, I still prefer to meet clients face-to-face, hear their plans and understand how KiteTech can partner with them to help them reach their goals. When on-site, I get to know other members of their team, see their work environment and improve my knowledge of their mission.

Lessons learned as a stay-at-home dad

For 17 years, starting in the mid-1990s, I hit “pause” on my career. While my wife excelled as a mom and rising executive, I became a stay-at-home dad to our six amazing sons. Scraped knees, piles of laundry and teachable moments were my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The discipline, multi-tasking and organizational skills I developed as a dad have served me well. Over the last 10 years, I’ve applied those same principles to serving our clients.

 

Dillon Fornaro, Security Engineer

DillonFornaro

At KiteTech, I’m at the forefront of applying new knowledge and tools to keep our clients safe from emerging threats. We continually update our tools and processes as the nature of the threat landscape changes. What kept us safe last year will not keep us safe this year. I need to focus on internal security too. Part of keeping our clients’ infrastructure protected is making sure our management tools are secured and our team employs standards and procedures consistent with industry best practices. We use the NIST Framework as a guide to stay ahead of the curve.

Compliance requirements are rapidly changing too. By now, our insurance agency clients are familiar with their compliance requirements under the landmark New York Department of Financial Services cybersecurity regulations. For clients in other industries, like healthcare, financial services and nonprofits, we stay on top of a genuine alphabet soup of regulations from FINRA to HIPAA to GDPR.

Educating clients on their various responsibilities under these changing regulations is a big part of my job. Maintaining a secured, compliant environment is a shared responsibility. My colleagues and I can lead the effort to secure their technology, but clients still need to have the administrative, procedural and physical controls in place to keep their systems and data safe.

Coast-to-Coast Traveler

I represent a small but growing segment of KiteTech’s team who have migrated from the Baltimore area to other parts of the country. When my wife was offered a pharmacist residency in Seattle, we decided it was time for a new adventure. We packed up the cat, dog and all our belongings and drove across the country. Technology allows me to work from anywhere, so I didn’t skip a beat professionally when we moved from one coast to the other.

Lauren Tripp, Agency Consultant – Insurance Agency Consulting

LaurenTripp

My approach to consulting is not “one size fits all.” I start by listening intently to understand what a client is trying to accomplish. I can then recommend solutions tailored to their needs while recognizing how they differ from other agencies. It’s often a fine line, though. Agency management systems are designed to work in certain ways. I often need to inform clients if they diverge too much from the system’s intended use – there can be unintended consequences. The trick is to coach clients into understanding when it’s prudent to make system changes to fit their business processes and when it’s better to adjust their processes to fit the system.

I use a data-centric approach to help clients become more efficient, improve workflows and optimize their systems. Recommendations are often made based on what Applied Epic audits and reports highlight. I’ve worked with agencies around the country, both large and small. When a client comes to me with a unique business issue, I have probably seen something similar. I can apply those experiences to help them solve their problem.

Weekend Warrior

Daniel Gilbert, VP of Technical Services – Help Desk

Daniel Gilbert

At the end of the day, technical service delivery is a lot more about delivering happiness than fixing computers. As the Vice President of Technical Services, I get to do both. I lead teams that deploy new technology solutions to clients, proactively monitor and respond to system alerts and provide remote help desk support when something goes wrong.
I really enjoy the analytical and statistical aspects of my job. We have metrics for pretty much everything. In real time, electronic dashboards around our office display current phone wait times, average time to resolve an issue and the level of client satisfaction with each service request. By analyzing these metrics and holding ourselves accountable to our service level agreements (SLAs), we drive continuous performance improvement. The result is happier clients.

My latest initiative is laser-focused on solving problems before clients become aware of them. I’m working with our account engineers to analyze patterns in service requests to identify client architectures that do not meet our standards. We expect this will “quiet the noise” associated with preventable service issues. While I love solving a technical problem for a client, we all win when we prevent the issue in the first place.

What I Learned from the Happiest Place on Earth

I’ve been to Disney World so many times that I’ve lost count. It’s at least 15. As an MBA capstone experience, I got a behind-the-scenes view of Disney and discovered how they “make the magic happen.” I saw similarities between creating an exceptional experience at a theme park and delivering superior technical support. For both, you need to show you care about the client, personally, and are highly capable of providing for their needs.

What Else Do You Want to Know about Kite Technology?

Now that you’ve gotten to know some of our staff, who would you most like to work with? What else would you like to know about us? Let us know! Give us a call (855-290-5483) or send us a message!

Tips for Taking Care of Your Laptop

As work locations change and more users shift to using other devices such as laptops to connect, it is important to ensure that your device is ready for the task. Nowadays, a desktop is similar in overall office application performance compared to using a laptop, and working remotely brings its own set of challenges in order to get the most out of your device. These ideas below are based on a variety of common laptop issues that our Help Desk team works on every day as well as potential disruptions that you may encounter while working.

Update Issues

When powered off or in sleep mode a laptop may not connect to get Windows updates as they are available. As Microsoft typically issues patches multiple times a month, having an old laptop that is not used frequently or a computer that is never rebooted keeps any patches from being applied. Best practice is to log off from your account when finished working and to make sure to reboot your computer on a regular basis to make sure that it can be up to date on any Anti Virus, Windows, or other critical patches to improve security.

Battery Care for Both New and Old Laptops

Batteries in all electronic devices have a limited lifespan (often around ~500 full discharges). With a desktop PC, this is not something that users think about but it can be valuable to remember in order to extend the lifespan of any laptop. It is best to not have laptops or cell phones plugged in all the time when working but rather keep the charge level between 20%-80% if possible to preserve battery health. When the charge is kept in this range, the overall stress and wear on the battery cell is much lower and it can therefore retain much of its original capacity. While your devices are smart enough to not overcharge past 100%, they function much better and for longer when the battery is not sitting on maximum energy level at all times

USB-C Connections

Newer laptops often utilize a reversible USB-C port for charging, connecting to a dock and for accessories. This is quickly becoming the new standard plug for phones and laptops in the wild and it is a great improvement from proprietary charging systems with expensive specialty cables. With this convenience and important nature however comes the need to be extra careful when plugging cables in. Our Help Desk team has found that users need to be more careful when plugging in vs typical USB ports or older style connections. Overall, it and many of the smaller ports used to create thin and light devices may not be as durable as you expect based on experience with older equipment.

Proper Ventilation

In order to avoid overheating and the reduced performance that goes along with it, it is best to use laptops on a flat surface where air can reach the bottom cooling vents. Using a desk, table, or an elevated surface allows the air to flow, fans to function, and the processer inside of a laptop to run at its designed speed. We recommend avoiding placement of a laptop on a bed, couch, or blanket for a prolonged period of time due to this reason. In addition to device slowness, the heat generated can eventually cause damage to the battery and even cause the laptop to be uncomfortable to the touch in extreme cases.

Keyboard Care

While it may seem obvious, keeping your keyboard and trackpad clear of any debris will ensure that your laptop is able to function well while working. There are a lot of sensitive electronics below the keys from LED backlights to switches that can be damaged if ignored. Wipe away any accidental moisture that gets near these areas from drinks or your hands. Use a can of compressed air to regularly clean underneath the keys to remove any crumbs or obstacles preventing smooth keyboard travel. It also is a good idea to turn off your Laptop first and then wipe down with a disinfecting wipe to clean the keys, remove germs and also get visible dirt off of the surface.

Taking the time to take care of your laptop will go a long way in ensuring that your work experience will be a success, regardless of physical location. Ready to learn more about how KiteTech can help your organization with remote work strategies? Contact us today!

What’s the Score?

I’m a sports fan. Along with all the far more serious consequences of the ongoing pandemic, all national sports leagues are on indefinite hold. But you wouldn’t have to stop the games to keep me from watching. All you would have to do is remove the scoreboard. The games carry no interest to me, if I can’t tell who’s winning. In fact, the players would likely lose interest, too.

Without a scoreboard, strategy, talent, and hard work quickly become irrelevant.

The same is true in your business. If you don’t know how your team is doing, there is no motivation to strive to do better or to change course. Mediocrity is sure to follow. ALL high performing businesses keep score. Their “scoreboard” contains quantitative measures and can go by many different names. They may call it a dashboard or a scorecard. Each item on the scoreboard might be called a smart goal, a key performance indicator, or a measurable. Regardless of your terminology the key is that you need to know at regular intervals how your company is doing.

At KiteTech, we follow the EOS processes and terminology for creating our Scorecard.

Here are four steps for creating yours:

1. Identify Your 5-10 Measures

Together with your executive team, identify the 5-10 measures that tell you whether or not you are “winning the game”. These measures should cover all the key elements of your business including customer satisfaction, employee engagement, financial performance, and sales. They should also include key operational measures related to quality and productivity. All these measures must be SMART. That is, they must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Based.

2. For Each Measure – Set a Target

The target is based on what is acceptable performance. It should be achievable and aligned with your budgets and business plans.

3. Record each measure relative to the target at regular intervals

Each measure should be recorded at regular intervals. Ideally, this is weekly. Things change too fast in business to measure less frequently. Consider that you need three or four datapoints to identify a trend. If you measure monthly, it could take you three to four months to identify a problem! For us, financial goals are calculated monthly, but ALL other goals are measured weekly. Measures can be recorded in a spreadsheet or with various online reporting tools.

4. Identify corrective actions as soon as targets are not met

Of course setting targets and recording performance is useless if you don’t do anything about it. That is why this fourth step is crucial. You need to have a regular rhythm to review each and every measure and establish a corrective action if the target is not met. At every weekly meeting, our executive team reviews our weekly measures. We create specific action plans and assign an accountable person when a target is not met.

By identifying your measures, setting a target, recording performance, and identifying corrective actions, you will be well on your way to winning the game!

A Word About Scorecards and COVID-19

When this recent crisis hit, certain targets started getting missed. Having a weekly scorecard, enabled us to immediately quantify the impact, prioritize our actions, and respond. It also forced a discussion, to re-evaluate our targets and key measurables in light of the current reality. Far from constraining our actions because of pre-conceived notions of what success looks like, this preparation permitted us to focus our attention, assess the impact, and operate with more confidence in these uncertain times. I am not so bold as to predict the course of this virus or the impact it will have on the lives of our loved ones or our national economy. But I am convinced that our readiness is far greater and our response will be far more effective than if we had no scoreboard by which to measure ourselves.

Stay safe and lead with a steady hand,

Greg

Greg DiDio is the CEO of Kite Technology Group. He holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering & Computer Science from The Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Loyola University in Maryland. For the last fifteen years Greg has guided Kite Technology from just a few founding members to a leading national IT services provider for independent insurance agencies. Greg believes that healthy, prosperous work cultures go hand in hand with amazing client service. His passion is to build into leaders who are motivated to improve themselves while creating great companies with amazing work cultures.

Are you Prepared to Work From Home?

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more users are working from home. Kite Technology Group would like to highlight a few critical elements that will ensure you have a secure and productive environment when working out of the office.

Internet Speeds

In order to have a good experience working out of the office, we recommend having speeds of at least 25Mbps download at your home. This will allow for smooth downloads, video conferencing/meetings, and remote connection to your office network if needed. If you are not sure what your connection speed is, a free tool such as https://www.speedtest.net/ can help. You can likely call your Internet provider to increase your plan’s speed if the current connection is not fast enough for working remotely.

Strong & Secure WiFi Connection

A large factor in your work from home experience is the strength of your network connection. Wired Ethernet networking is always preferable, but in the event you must rely on WiFi at home to work here are some tips:

  1. It is best to move close to the wireless router and limit the number of walls between your device and the connection point.
  2. Limit the amount of other users streaming video/music or browsing the web if you start to have lag or slowness as these all contribute to slowing down overall speeds and disrupting critical work connections.
  3. We also recommend that users DO NOT access public or unsecured wireless networks such as Starbucks / Library / Non-Password protected networks as these can easily allow for your data to be intercepted and stolen by malicious users. Instead, connect to your phone hot spot if you absolutely need a connection while out of your home network.

VPN to Access Data Securely

When working at home, security should still be a top priority in how you access data. Using a VPN or Virtual Private Network will allow for safe encrypted connection to the internet as well as any office data or devices that you need access to for work. Without this in place while trying to work, you are potentially putting your browsing and data at risk of being intercepted. The Help Desk can assist if you need a VPN setup or if you are unsure about how to connect to your company’s applications remotely.

Windows 10 Computer, NOT Windows 7!

Again going back to security, Windows 10 devices are the best way to connect and work from home. Anything running Windows 7 is no longer supported by Microsoft and not being patched for security vulnerabilities and should NOT be used for work purposes! Even if they are used for non work related tasks, they are at risk if they are connected to the internet in any capacity.

Antivirus Installed on your PC

Make sure you have an up to date anti-virus program running on your computer such as Windows Defender or another offering. While not perfect, these will scan downloads for issues and alert you if there are files that are known to cause system problems. As always, be careful of what you download to a computer, and do not simply click on an email based link without knowing where it takes you. This is the number one way that accounts are attacked and companies are impacted by Ransomware events.

In Summary, here are a few things to think about as you plan to work outside of the office environment:

  • Your workstation/laptop is only used for work. No kids homework or gaming on business devices
  • Web camera and microphone options available if you want to teleconference or attend online meetings
  • Your device can likely connect to multiple monitors for additional screens if needed
  • Noise canceling headphones can help minimize distractionsRegularly sanitize your keyboard, mouse, and work area as well as wash your hands throughout the day**
  • Office Equipment such as Desktops, Printers, etc. should not leave the building as they are configured only to operate in this environment **

Now that most organizations are facing a larger than ever remote workforce, we hope the above list goes a long way in helping you and your team experience greater work-from-home success!

From InsurTech to The Cloud – Jeff Kite’s 6 Trends for Insurance Agencies to Watch

Since starting Kite Technology more than 28 years ago, I’ve spoken with many insurance agency owners. Over the past years, people have increasingly asked questions about security, data and how to make their teams more efficient. The conversations were productive, and I wanted to bring those insights to a wider audience. Here are some of the most common questions and themes from those discussions.

Q: What Trends Should Independent Insurance Agencies Watch in 2020?

There are several to monitor, and each will affect security and productivity.

1. Ransomware’s new chapter

Cybercriminal behavior has shifted in the past few months, and it’s changed how we think about ransomware. In the past, hackers encrypted files but left them in place. You either restored from a backup or paid to get your data back. Now, files are stolen. Cybercriminals publish the breach event on a public website and threaten to expose the data.

2. Increased regulations around security and compliance

Certain steps you take to secure your environment will be prescribed by state governments and regulatory bodies. Some states, like New York, already have their own requirements for which security controls need to be in place. Others are adopting the model laws published by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).

3. Third-party vendors emerge as a mainstream threat

Third-party vendors – especially ones with admin access – are highly attractive targets for cybercriminals because the payoff is bigger. When a cybercriminal successfully targets a vendor, they don’t access one company’s system and data; they can infiltrate every organization working with the vendor.

4. Cloud everything

The cloud really is the best solution for most insurance agencies. Line-of-business applications all have cloud-based offerings. With Office 365, you can access email, file storage, collaboration and Microsoft applications any time, anywhere.

5. Workforce mobility

Younger workforces want to work from any place at any time. 100% remote work is becoming the norm and employers need to secure the hardware, software and data their team uses in and out of the office.

6. InsurTech Innovations

InsurTech uses applications and add-ons to solve problems and create new approaches to standard processes. For instance, before car insurers had monitors you plug into your car, drivers were deemed “good” or “bad” based on traffic tickets and accidents. Now, data from vehicles is collected, saving money for people who really are good drivers.

Q: How Can My Insurance Agency Capitalize on New Technologies and Stay Secure?

Ask for help. 10 years ago, you might have been able to manage your own updates or get help from a family friend, but today’s systems are more complex. Compliance, security and the cloud all require continual monitoring to confirm everything is running smoothly and each endpoint is protected.

When systems aren’t maintained, your team encounters issues and productivity drops because an app isn’t working. Or, you’re exposed to threats because an update wasn’t installed. Managed service providers work proactively to minimize the possibility that something goes wrong.

Q: What do I need to know before Implementing Innovative Apps, Like Those Emerging from InsurTech?

Don’t be tempted by an app or plug-in because it’s flashy and new. Before you integrate it into your workflow, do your research. Ask if it’s tried and true or a flash in the pan. Validate the product you’re considering. Read reviews or reach out to peers at industry events or online communities to see if anyone you know has used the tool.

If you’re unsure, ask your IT expert and adopt proven technologies. Tried and tested solutions keep data and systems secure. Use tools that make your employees more agile and your business will be more profitable.

Q: How Can I Increase Productivity and Efficiency?

The cloud is one option. When you move from on-premise to the cloud, you’re not dependent on your building’s power and internet to work. Cloud based systems are almost always more robust and secure than an on-premise system. You experience less downtime and employees can work from wherever. It allows your team to work how and when they want and makes them more effective at their jobs.

Q: What Should I Look For in an IT Provider?

Find a partner who understands your industry. Many of our staff have insurance backgrounds. They’re seasoned professionals who understand the lingo and concerns. This makes it easier to work with clients on everything from day-to-day business activities to strategic initiatives.

Kite Technology can help you better serve your clients.

Contact us today to learn how we regularly leverage technology for our clients to maximize productivity, reduce costly downtime, prepare for future growth and drive strategic initiatives.

How Kite Technology Keeps Your Insurance Agency Compliant

Meeting compliance is often burdensome for insurance agencies. Requirements constantly change, and many are technical – like making alterations to ensure your server and configurations are up to standard. The process is taxing, even for agencies with internal IT.

When you work with a managed service provider, you access a team with a breadth of IT specializations. At Kite Technology, many team members have insurance backgrounds. We are familiar with the industry and well positioned to research new requirements, follow the latest trends and enact solutions to keep your agency compliant.

Your Specific Compliance Requirements Are the Starting Point

In a meeting, we’ll discuss which regulations apply to your business. We’ll pair your requirements with security best practices to maintain compliance and protect your network. To comply with the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) 23 NYCRR 500 you need a comprehensive cybersecurity program. We will then be able to design a compliant environment through risk assessments, vulnerability scans, and the enforcement of compliant password policies.

From there, we’ll tailor your plan, depending on your compliance needs.

Based on your requirements, we might add controls like a USB lockdown where we prevent removable storage from being accessed on devices. Or, implementing multifactor authentication on your devices and accounts.

For example, one of our newer clients wanted stringent security solutions in place. First, we set up continuous network scanning to ensure no gaps exist. Then, we created a policy outlining controls, firewall settings and user access settings. We documented action items, clarifying how we’ll maintain compliance for our client.

We Audit Our Work

After we’ve implemented vulnerability scanning, our team runs audits. Many of our engineers have insurance backgrounds. As they assess your system, they ensure you’re up to date with the latest regulations insurance agencies need to follow and that security gaps are closed.

Your clients and partners have proof you’re actively securing their data.

Our documents and processes can be reviewed by third parties you work with, providing assurance to your partners that your network and data are secured. Or, if a client or third party presents you with a questionnaire, we’ll work with you to answer the questions.

New Regulations Are Carefully Monitored

To keep your network up to date, we carefully read updates on regulations as they emerge. Plus, because our team constantly conducts risk assessments, completes compliance questionnaire and provides general assistance to insurance agencies, we’re alerted to the latest needs and requirements.

A Partnership That Works for You

Some of our clients want to hand off IT completely. Others want their in-house IT to be involved. We’d be happy to serve as your in-house IT or partner with your internal team

Serving as your IT

If you don’t have an IT team, or want us to fully manage your IT, we’ll work with a site contact. Any updates will be sent to this person. If a process affects workflows, we’ll contact you in advance, explain what will happen and schedule a time for the changes to take place.

Collaborating with your team

If your team wants to be involved, we’ll work together to find the right roles and responsibilities for both parties. This could involve actions related to the audit or explaining changes to your users. Either way, your team stays fully informed. We send regular updates and schedule calls to discuss what’s happening.

Optimizing processes

When we started working with one client, the controller had a list of passwords she reset biannually. When passwords were updated, she checked each one to ensure it met standards. We implemented an automated solution with logical controls and requirements. Now, the controller doesn’t have to check passwords twice a year and the agency has strong credentials.

You Don’t Have to Manage Compliance Alone

Compliance doesn’t have to mean another task is given to an overworked team. We can comprehensively manage your requirements. Contact us today to discuss your needs and how we can help: 855-290-5483.

The Security Risks of Aging Hardware

Change is inevitable. With the rapidly growing and ever-changing field of technology, many businesses are finding it difficult to keep up which is putting them and their clients at risk. Consider that as of January 14, 2020 Microsoft ended support for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008. Yet, we are seeing that these operating systems are still widely used. That is concerning, because as of that January date, Microsoft discontinued developing and distributing security patches and updates for those systems. That means, that to remain secure, agencies should have already upgraded their hardware to current operating systems like Windows 10.

Unfortunately, I find many organizations are resistant to upgrading their equipment and are delaying plans to upgrade. Why is that? Not surprisingly, they cite the investment costs associated with upgrading equipment. They also note a fear of disrupting operations. These reasons fail to account for the inherent security risks associated with continuing to use unsupported operating systems.

Many businesses don’t see themselves as a likely target given their relatively small size. As a result, they don’t feel it’s necessary to go through the hassle of upgrading equipment. However, thinking that the size of your business makes you an unlikely target is a major misconception. Today, malicious users and hackers aren’t necessarily targeting companies based on their name, financials, or status. They are now probing public facing systems that are out-of-date, easy to get into, and most importantly, easy to find. They can do this on a mass scale using a simple search engine. Yup, a search engine. There are multiple search engines on the web that are dedicated to finding and listing vulnerable public facing systems? For example, Shodan, the most popular of these search engines, can be accessed by anyone for free. All you have to do is type a public IP address into the search engine and if any known vulnerabilities have been associated with the address, they will be listed there. If none are listed there now, eventually they will be. It’s just a matter of time as security researchers are constantly updating the records based on their findings. Hackers are constantly writing programs to search through thousands of IP addresses, making the reconnaissance aspect of hacking a breeze and the probability of a company with out-of-date infrastructure being compromised very likely.

Improved security isn’t the only benefit of keeping your hardware up to date. Upgrading also results in your systems running faster and more reliably. It’s extremely important to have someone dedicated to the task of making sure your systems and software are up-to-date and staying informed on the known threats. Upgrade your hardware accordingly and make sure the software you are using is receiving the latest patches as they are released. While the costs may seem daunting, they pale in comparison to the total costs associated with a breach. These costs include costs to clean up, lost business productivity and sales, as well as damage to your company’s reputation.

Microsoft has been consistently reminding the public about the Windows 7 end-of-life for quite some time now. The deadline has now already passed so, if you haven’t already gotten started, it is important to talk to your IT department or service provider now, to develop a strategy for upgrading your aging equipment. The longer you wait, the higher the risk that your business could be targeted.

Article also published in the September issue of Primary Agent magazine.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel – This Cybersecurity Strategy Will Protect Your Business

We’re going to let you in on a secret. For years, we’ve applied the NIST Cybersecurity Framework in our work to secure clients’ networks. We’ve rarely mentioned it because NIST has a reputation for being overly complex, or only for government agencies. It’s neither. The framework is actually a valuable tool and can be right-sized for anyone.

Yes. Anyone.

What is a Cybersecurity Framework?

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework organizes security controls into 5 core functions: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, Recover. When you pop the hood on each function, you discover categories and subcategories which become more technical, providing guidance based on cybersecurity best practices. You don’t need to master this level of detail.

But there are a few tips you should know before adopting a cybersecurity framework, like NIST, to maximize your ROI.

1. Use Cybersecurity Frameworks to Hold Your IT Expert Accountable

When you grasp the key points and purpose of your cybersecurity framework you establish a common vernacular with your IT provider. Then, you’re able to check their policies and procedures against the goals of the framework.

Another way to hold your provider accountable is to ask which peer groups they’re involved with. At Kite, we’re in a group with other IT providers. We open our books to other members who scrutinize our practices and make recommendations.

2. Regulated and Non-Regulated Industries Find Value in Frameworks

With a cybersecurity framework like NIST, obscure requirements can be mapped back to specific categories and sections, providing mechanisms to control risk. It’s granular but flexible and many organizations have incorporated it into their processes. Advisory bodies, like the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), use NIST in their recommendations.

3. Frameworks Prove to Clients You Take Cybersecurity Seriously

Sophisticated, larger clients, like banks and law firms, are likely to send you a detailed questionnaire before signing a contract to discover how you’ll protect their interests. We help our clients complete these forms and commonly see questions like:

  • Are you encrypting emails?
  • Do you have intrusion and detection systems on the network?
  • Do you require employees to change passwords?
  • If you can’t say yes, likely you aren’t going to get that client.

4. You Don’t Have to Check Every Box

Checking every box would be great, but we’d all be broke. Instead, make the framework work for you. Use it to uncover actionable items that will have a significant impact on your security profile.

Use a cybersecurity framework in tandem with risk assessments
The sandwich shop up the street has a different risk profile than someone collecting social security numbers on directors’ and officers’ application. A cybersecurity framework and an assessment will provide recommendations tailored to your business and exposures relative to your peers and other industries.

5. You’ll Uncover Cost-Effective Security Solutions

Not every step you take toward improving your security profile will be expensive, and your IT provider will work with your budget. When we do risk assessments for clients, we look at all deficiencies and start a conversation about the current state and where we want to go. Then we work out the strategy, which often involves simple additions, like auto screen locking computers.

Plus, everything has a price tag. To really evaluate cost, you need to understand what would happen if you don’t act. Think of security as an investment that protects against the astronomical costs of not securing your systems and data. It’s not $10/user/month for a product, it’s $10/user/month to solve a problem that plagues 60% of businesses.

6. Cybersecurity Frameworks Won’t Solve All Your Problems

Unfortunately, you can do everything in your power to reduce risk exposure, but some things are out of your control. That’s where cyber insurance comes in.

Cyber insurance is a vital part of your strategy. If you own a computer, conduct business online or use email you need a cyber liability policy. Otherwise, you’re stuck paying hourly emergency rates for an IT security professional to do a root cause analysis, threat assessment and exposure assessment.

Work with IT Experts Who Understand Risk
When we partner with a business, it’s about more than security. We care about their business, employees and livelihood. To better serve our partners, we employ people with insurance backgrounds. Their expertise and deep understanding of risk informs actions we take to protect our clients. Contact us to learn more.

Is Your Agency Spinning Wheels?

Do you keep encountering the same problems in your agency? Do your producers, managers, and CSRs feel stressed with little to show for their effort? Has your team put a lot of energy into documenting processes only to discover the processes aren’t being followed? Do you add a few accounts, lose a major piece of business, and end up in the same place you started?

I lead a technology company that has struggled with many of these same issues. But it didn’t start that way. For years, our business grew without much difficulty. We were well-positioned to fill a need for many insurance agencies. Our clients sought really competent IT professionals who understood insurance agencies as well as they understood the technologies that serve them. That was us. And then we kind of hit a wall. Processes became overly complicated and roles were unclear. Our profitability and growth suffered. It was then that we discovered a toolset that helped us gain traction and address our pain points. It’s called EOS®, the Entrepreneurial Operating System.

EOS is a simple, yet powerful, methodology for achieving business success. It includes practical tools to bring tremendous focus, role clarity, and momentum to any business. When we deployed EOS, our leadership team raved about how it simplified our priorities and improved the effectiveness of our meetings. Naturally, the business results began to follow.

EOS is designed to strengthen the Six Key Components™ of any business:

1. Vision

The famed management guru the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland said
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” Any effective business management system needs to start with vision. By answering foundational questions that help you discern your agency’s purpose, passion, and destination you can clarify your vision for all your stakeholders.

2. People

Successful agencies start by having the right people in the right seats. The right people are those that share your core values. EOS shows you how to identify these right people to inform your hiring and performance management processes. Once you have the right people you need to get them in the right seats. This involves understanding their specific skills and passions relative to the roles in your agency.

3. Data

Successful agencies also keep score. They know the key measures that determine whether they are hitting their growth and profitability targets. They also understand and regularly track the lead measures that notify them quickly when they are getting off track.

4. Process

Effective executives understand they cannot scale their business unless they standardize their processes. Small agencies can get by using “muscle and feel”. But in order to grow, agencies need their team members to be working together in a consistent manner. Documenting processes does not need to be a tedious and painful experience. You can get maximum value from identifying the major steps to the most important processes and ensuring the processes are followed by all your members.

5. Issues

It’s not that successful agencies don’t have issues. In fact, success breeds change and change inevitably creates MORE issues. But the winners are the agencies that process issues most effectively. EOS provides a framework for identifying the most urgent issues and a simple process for addressing them.

6. Traction

The final component is the engine that ensures progress. It is called Traction™. It includes the planning and meeting rhythm processes that perpetually update your goals and priorities and keep your entire team on the same page. Traction is what ensures that your new habits will “stick” in your organization rather than become just another fad management initiative.

If you would like to learn more about how EOS can help your organization reach the next level, please visit our website. You can also visit the EOS Official Traction Library to learn about books that are available for every member of your organization.

Tech Tips: Slack Shortcuts

The modern workforce depends on collaboration, which is one reason why solutions like Slack have taken off in recent years. Another reason for this is that it’s very user-friendly with many shortcuts built right into the interface. Here are just a few of these shortcuts that can save your business time during the workday.

Navigating Slack

Open direct messages menu – Ctrl +Shift + K

Browse all channels – Ctrl + Shift + L

Previous (unread) channel or direct message – Alt (+ Shift) + Up Arrow

Next (unread) channel or direct message – Alt (+ Shift) + Down Arrow

Access the Quick Switcher – Ctrl + K

Switch to previous workspace – Ctrl + Shift + Tab

Switch to the next workspace – Ctrl + Tab

Return to the previous channel – Alt + Left Arrow

Marking Up Your Messages

Mark all messages in current channel or direct message as read – Esc

Mark all messages as read – Shift + Esc

Mark a message as unread – Alt + Click

Creating Messages

Edit your last message – Up Arrow in empty message field (this shortcut changes to Ctrl + Up Arrow if Use up and down arrows to cycle through your typed history is enabled)

Bold selected text – Ctrl + B

Italicize selected text – Ctrl + I

Strikethrough selected text – Ctrl + Shift + X

Quote selected text – Ctrl + Shift + >

Convert selected text into a numbered list – Ctrl + Shift + 7

Convert selected text into a bulleted list – Ctrl + Shift + 8

Viewing All Keyboard Shortcuts in Slack

For a complete list of shortcuts in Slack, press Ctrl + /.

Protect your Business by Backing up your Data

It’s not always hackers that create dangerous situations for your organization. Threats can come from even unforeseen locations, such as your business’s network. No matter what the threat is, though, you have to be extremely careful about the little things that spell doom for organizations just like yours. One of these is failing to have a data backup solution in place.

When you think about disasters, what comes to mind? Perhaps your mind wanders to electrical storms that short-circuit your building, or a flood that wipes away your infrastructure. Other times, you might think about a hacking attack that exposes sensitive information to onlookers. Regardless of which form your disaster takes, one thing remains constant: operations are affected to the point where it cannot function the way it’s supposed to. This downtime doesn’t have to be permanent to cause major problems for your business. Even temporary downtime can be detrimental to your business’ prolonged existence.

Your employees are another aspect of data backup that you can’t ignore, and it’s all because of the network security ramifications of allowing them to download the wrong attachment, install the wrong software, or visit the wrong website. Depending on the severity of the data breach, you could be looking at either a temporary or permanent shutdown of your business’s infrastructure due to losing important data or certain systems being damaged beyond repair.

This user error is remarkably common in the workplace, even when it’s not related to network security. Certain files could be misplaced or deleted, and without the ability to deploy a data backup, you could be stopped in your tracks. Even minor issues like this can be resolved quickly and efficiently with a data backup plan, so be sure to take preventative measures before they pop up.

Kite Technology can equip your business with technology solutions designed to keep your business alive and kicking even in the face of overwhelming odds. You can learn more about our Backup and Disaster Recovery Services here or reach out to us at 855.290.KITE.

Are you Prepared for the End of Windows 7?

On January 14th of 2020, after a 10-year run, Microsoft’s support of Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 will be ending. Many of you are already enjoying the feature updates of Windows 10 and Server 2016. For those businesses still running Windows 7 / 2008 R2, we want you to be prepared.

What Does ‘End of Support’ mean?

Microsoft provides feature and security updates for their operating system throughout its lifespan. When an Operating System reaches “End of Support”, additional feature and security updates will cease to be released. The system will continue to boot up and function, but any newly discovered security flaws will remain unpatched.

Just How Big Is the Security Risk?

The risk in continuing to run Windows versions beyond their “End of Support” is substantial, because most versions of Windows share some of the same computer code. When new security patches are released for Windows, hackers and researchers will explore these patched flaws to see if they apply to older versions. While not all of them will apply to Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2, a sizeable number will. These vulnerabilities will remain unpatched on older versions of Windows.

Is There Any Way to Stay on Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2?

For Enterprise customers, Microsoft has developed an Extended Support Plan. This only applies in certain conditions and is meant for scenarios where a specific line of business app does not offer compatibility with the most current Windows versions. The Extended Support Plan does not apply to licenses that were purchased with computer hardware (OEM), so most businesses cannot use this option.

What Can I Do?

To avoid the rush, we strongly encourage you to begin planning for a hardware/software refresh that includes an upgrade to Windows 10. You should contact your technology partner directly to get started.

Optimizing Applied Epic

Maybe your insurance agency has used Applied Epic for quite some time or maybe you just migrated to it recently. No matter how long you’ve been using Epic, there are many tips and tricks that will help you navigate it more effectively. Taking a few minutes learning the ins and outs of Epic may save you hours in the long run. Here’s 5 tips that will help you better navigate Epic:

Tip 1. SET YOUR PERSONAL DEFAULTS

Your agency already sets certain system defaults, but did you know that there are still options that you can set as an individual user? Defaults range from setting Servicing Roles to the Agency Structure in a policy application. For example, if you are a Commercial Lines Account Manager, you can set a default so that every time you add a new account, the Format will default to ‘Business’ and the Type of Business will default to ‘Commercial’. Refer to your Welcome Packet for more information about the different default options and how to set them.

Tip 2. LABEL YOUR DESCRIPTIONS

When attaching correspondences and documents in Epic, it is important to include a detailed description of what each attachment contains. Proper descriptions allow you to retrieve information quicker without opening multiple attachments to find what you are seeking. Each attachment includes a comments section allowing you to add more information, if you run out of characters in the description field. Ideally, you should be able to identify the contents of an attachment without opening it. Your colleagues will appreciate it too, when they cover your desk while you are away!

Tip 3. ASSOCIATE ATTACHMENTS TO CORRECT FOLDER/SUB-FOLDER

Keeping information organized provides another way to find information quicker and keep your accounts looking clean. You can accomplish this using Folders and Sub-Folders. Filtering your attachments by Folder View will show you the folders your agency has set up for you to use. Associating attachments to the correct Folders and Sub-Folders keeps related information together and cuts down on the need to use the Search bar. For example, if you need to provide a Statement of Values spreadsheet to an underwriter, you would be able to find it quickly if it is attached in the ‘Statement of Values’ Folder/Sub-Folder. When information is organized, it is a lot easier to maintain and navigate through an account.

Tip 4. USE THE ACCESS DROP-DOWN MENU

The Access Drop-Down menu changes depending on what screen you are on but has prompts that filter information a lot quicker. Say you are on the Policies screen with a specific policy highlighted. Clicking on the Access menu will give you options to pull up information pertaining to that specific policy. It can take you to the policy’s specific attachments, transactions, activities, etc. You can also highlight a specific attachment and find the associated activity.

Tip 5. INPUT INFORMATION INTO POLICY APPLICATIONS

It is important to input policy details into its application in Epic and keep these applications updated throughout the policy term. They should contain premium & commission, limits, deductibles, locations, vehicles, important endorsements, etc. Keeping the applications updated allows you to do a variety of tasks more quickly. Examples include: issuing certificates or Auto ID cards and tracking endorsement history and billing. It also cuts down on time spent reading through a policy to verify coverage information.

So, do you already apply all the tips mentioned above? If so, great! If not, this checklist is a great place to start! You will find over time that using these tips will become second nature resulting in improved performance and better overall account structure.

If you would like some help with optimizing your agency’s use of Applied Epic and taking advantage of all the features it offers, give us a call at 855-290-KITE or visit our website to learn more about our Applied Epic Optimization Services.

Excel Tips that Increase your Productivity

Microsoft Excel has a ton of functionality, but how much of it are you actually utilizing? This week’s tip will help you take full advantage of keyboard shortcuts, so you can leverage the solution to the best of your ability and be more productive.

Align

The most basic Excel formatting you can take advantage of is aligning the values in the cells to the left, right, or center. Here are the keyboard shortcuts for each:

● To center the value within the cell, press Alt+H+A+C.

● To align the value within the cell to the left, press Alt+H+A+L.

● To align the value within the cell to the right, press Alt+H+A+R.

Specific Formatting

Your spreadsheet contents might require specific formatting so their meaning can be effectively conveyed. To assign this formatting, try out the following keyboard shortcuts:

● To return your value to general formatting, press Ctrl+Shift+~.

● To indicate that a value refers to currency, press Ctrl+Shift+$.

● To format a value as a percentage, press Ctrl+Shift+%.

● To properly format a date, press Ctrl+Shift+#.

● To format a value in scientific terms, press Ctrl+Shift+^.

● To ensure that a number is properly formatted, press Ctrl+Shift+!.

● To properly format time, press Ctrl+Shift+@.

Applying Borders

Borders are practically necessary when you’re using a spreadsheet, as they can mean more distinction between values. Here are some shortcuts to try for your cell borders:

● To cut to the chase and apply a border to all of a cell’s edges, press Ctrl+Shift+A.

● To only add a borderline to the right edge of a cell, press Alt+R.

● To add a border to the left edge of a cell, press Alt+L.

● To put a border on the top edge of a cell, press Alt+T.

● To apply a border to the bottom edge of a cell, press Alt+B.

● To easily remove the borders from a cell, press Ctrl+Shift+_.

Appearance

If you thought the previous shortcuts were basic, get a load of these ones. They are the same shortcuts you know and love from various other Microsoft applications.

● To have your data appear in a bold font, press Ctrl+B.

● To type in italics, press Ctrl+I.

● To underline the contents of a cell, press Ctrl+U.

● To strikethrough the contents of a cell, press Ctrl+S.

We hope that you’ll put this list to good use. You could even print it out so that it’s more accessible. Why not distribute it to the employees in your office while you’re at it?

How Agencies Get Hacked

As an IT professional, I constantly stress the importance of training staff how to recognize security threats. The response I most often receive is “We teach our people not to click links, so we’re fine.” But security threats go far beyond the mailbox. I have seen several recent successful attacks that were executed using nothing more than publicly available information and industry knowledge.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that I am a hacker looking to do bad things. Here’s how I could use a combination of easily attainable information and industry knowledge to compromise an agency.

First, I’ll start with a little reconnaissance. Many agencies publish email addresses, direct dial phone numbers, and carrier appointments on their own websites. By using the agency’s website, I can gather a list of employees, learn the agency’s organizational structure, and find the carriers they represent. The agency website may contain a link to a client portal that will tell me the vendor they use for their Agency Management System. If not, most agencies use one of two providers, so I can make an educated guess. I will use this information to craft a plausible story, and then call employees directly:

“Hi Bob, this is Frank calling from support. I’ve been working with on a issue, and we’ve noticed multiple logins from your account. Given the amount of security incidents we’ve seen lately, I just wanted to make sure there’s not an issue. Would you mind getting me connected to your computer, so I can check it out?”

Once an employee lets me in, I will have access to a great deal of information. Under the guise of troubleshooting, I will extract a copy of the user’s documents and mailbox, so I can review the data at my leisure. I will find configuration files, unique software installers, and remnants of a data conversion that will expose the agency’s vendor-designated identification number. I will gain the employee’s trust, by confirming that a problem does exist, but it’s not his or her fault. Someone simply misconfigured the computer. It’s an easy fix, but one that will take some time. I will apologize for the interruption this has caused.

Lastly, I will ask the employee if he or she minds sharing the agency management system credentials with me, so that I can do some further clean up and testing without interruption to the work day. If he or she agrees, I can establish my own access to the agency management system and have unfettered access to the entire client database. Mission accomplished!

In the above scenario, there are several opportunities for the agency to thwart my attempts at access:

It’s common practice for agencies to showcase their entire staff, as well as their email addresses and direct phone numbers. It’s important to reduce the amount of public contact information, so that communication comes through proper channels.

Establish Third Party Policies:

Understanding how third-party vendors contact your staff is crucial to maintaining security. Staff members should be well versed in who may contact them, how that contact will happen, and what information is appropriate to share.

Trust, But Verify: A common tactic of hackers is to convince you that your boss has already approved of what’s being requested, and he or she may be displeased with a delay in response. It’s important to verify the request with your Manager or Supervisor, before taking any action or granting access.

Secure Your Data:

It’s a lot easier to compromise a single computer than a vendor’s infrastructure. So once files are no longer immediately needed, it’s important to attach them to client record, and clean up the local copies.

Security Awareness is about far more than simply being mindful of your mailbox. It’s about being cognizant of where data is stored, how it can be accessed, and how third-party vendors interact with your staff. It’s important to establish a Security Awareness Training program that goes beyond the mailbox, and educates employees on what’s possible, and how it’s executed. I encourage you to make these topics part of your recurring staff meetings, so security is never out of mind.

Article also published in the May 2019 Issue of Primary Agent magazine.

Tech Tips: How to Keep Your Laptop Tidy

Have you ever considered just how dirty your laptop is? Studies have compared the relative cleanliness of a keyboard and a toilet seat… and unfortunately, the keyboard wasn’t the cleaner of the two. This is why it makes sense to regularly give your laptop devices a good cleaning, and why we’ve put together some tips to ensure you safely sanitize a laptop device.

To do so, we’ll start at the screen, and work our way around from there.

Cleaning the Screen

Use a Microfiber Cloth to Clear Dust

Unless you want to ruin your screen (and we can’t imagine why you would) you can’t just grab any old cloth and start scrubbing. Microfiber cloths are ideal for clearing dust from computer (or laptop) screens. Ideally, you will have access to microfiber, but if you’re in a pinch, almost any cloth will work… it may just leave some lint. Having said that under NO circumstances should you use paper towels or tissues.

In addition, try not to press too hard as you’re dusting your screen. You could cause some damage by applying too much pressure.

Carefully Clean the Screen

Remember, we’re working with an electronic device here – water isn’t going to get along with it too well. To protect your laptop, you will want to use distilled water. Soaking a clean sponge, and wringing it out until it’s practically dry, lightly wipe your screen. If there are still spots, you might add a small drop of gentle dish soap into your distilled water. If your device has a touchscreen, check if the soap is safe for its finish.

You have some other options as well, if you aren’t comfortable bringing water so close to your laptop. A cleaning wipe is a good option, as long as it doesn’t contain ammonia or bleach (as these can damage your screen). Whatever you do, don’t use a commercial glass cleaner on your device.

There are screen-cleaning kits made specifically for this purpose, so when in doubt, use one of those. Once your screen is cleaned, you can get rid of any streaks by gently rubbing it with a clean microfiber cloth in a circular motion.

Cleaning the Keyboard

Shaking Out Debris

Most of the cleanliness issue around the keyboard area pertains to debris working its way into the keys. Cleaning out your laptop’s keyboard is much like cleaning out a desktop’s keyboard: hold it upside-down and shake – although you will, of course, want to be very careful while doing this with your laptop. Tilting it slightly can help get extra junk out as well.

Using Compressed Air

Whatever you can’t shake out, you can likely blow out with a can of compressed air. In order to avoid simply pushing the debris further into your device, you should apply the compressed air at a 75-degree angle.

Cleaning the Keys

Finally, the keys themselves. You can use a cotton swab to gently (are you seeing a pattern yet?) get the rest of the grime from them. If the grime is proving stubborn, lightly dampening the swab with rubbing alcohol can help loosen it – on top of giving your keys a nice polish!

Cleaning the Case

Polishing Your Device

Finally, you should get rid of any remaining grime on the rest of your laptop. Similarly to your display, you will want to create a basic cleanser. Again, don’t use bleach, ammonia, or any other store-bought cleansers (unless these cleansers are designed to clean electronics).

For this cleanser, use equal parts rubbing alcohol and distilled water. You will want to make sure that none of this gets on the screen, as the rubbing alcohol can damage it. Barely dampening a sponge – it shouldn’t drip – in your solution, gently clean your laptop’s exterior and (if you so choose) the touchpad. Avoid the ports – we’re taking care of them next, and it would be a shame to damage the device at this point.

Spot-Treatment on Small Details

The rest of the crevices around the device, including the ports, should be gently cleaned with cotton swabs and compressed air. Once this has been done to your satisfaction, give your entire device another once-over with a microfiber cloth, and your device will be clean!

Once this process is completed, your laptop will be considerably cleaner. This means you’ll probably feel a little better about being productive with it!

Tech Tips: How to Find Downloaded Files in Android

Smartphones have become an important part of our lives, whether it’s for personal or professional purposes. Downloading media to devices rather than computers was practically unheard of, but nowadays it’s commonplace. Now that we mention it… where exactly do those files wind up going on an Android device? This week’s tip is all about how to find your downloads on an Android device.

The first method utilizes Android’s built-in File Manager.

Using the File Manager

Your device likely came pre-installed with file management software. To find this software, you need to go through your app drawer. Next, you need to open a specific application. Depending on the device you’re using, you will be looking for Downloads, My Files, or File Manager. When accessing the application, you should see at least one folder for your internal storage. If you have expanded your internal storage with an SD card, your settings might be sending you to your expanded storage. Once you’ve found your download folder, access it. You should see a complete list of all files you’ve downloaded in chronological order. You can, of course, change this preference.

Finding Downloads in Google Chrome

Accessing the Chrome browser application will give you an alternative method of finding your downloads, assuming you used Chrome to download them. Tap the three-dot menu at the top-right corner and select Downloads.

You’ll find your list of downloaded files in this location, where it can be filtered through the use of the hamburger menu button. You can select a file type to sort your downloads by. Furthermore, you can use the magnifying glass search function to find a specific file.

Data is incredibly important for all users, but it’s only helpful if you know where to look. What are some other ways you can use smartphone technology to make your workday easier?

Tech Tips: How to Troubleshoot Your Device’s Sound Problems

here’s nothing quite as annoying as a computer whose volume is either too low or too high. Today’s tip is dedicated to helping you assess and respond to sound problems with your computer or device.

Basic Sound Issues

Small changes in the way you use your device might have an impact on sound. For example, it could just be that your speakers have been turned down too low, or perhaps your external speakers aren’t properly hooked up to your workstation. Better yet, if the speakers have a dial or a knob that lets you control the volume, your internal volume controls won’t do much to resolve these sound issues. In fact, your computer might be muted, which you can notice if you look at the taskbar.

Checking Your Connections

With an external speaker system, there might be some complications with sound. For example, the speakers might not be plugged in, or the USB port or the connectors located on the device’s sound card aren’t working as intended. Make sure that any cables needed for the device to function as intended are connected properly–that means making sure that no cables have come loose. Plus, it’s never a bad time to gauge the quality of the cables. Low-quality wires or those that are fraying and falling apart could also be interfering with the sound.

Confirming Device Playback

You’ll also want to confirm that the right device is playing back your audio. To do this, make sure that the correct device is assigned as your playback device. Follow these steps:

● Open your Control Panel. To find this, you can type “control panel” in the Start menu.

● Open the Hardware and Sound selection, then select Sound.

● Access the Playback tab.

● You’ll see all audio devices available on your computer. Select the right one by right-clicking the associated image and selecting Set as Default Device.

● Click OK.

Of course, not all issues with audio are resolved this easily, so you’ll have to investigate whether or not the sound is being corrupted at the root level or by its connection to your computer. You might be looking at a speaker or sound card problem, so don’t leave out any possibilities.

Four Critical IT Considerations

Most business decisions are not easy and decisions surrounding your business technology are no different. Here, we’ll review what you need to keep in mind when it comes to making decisions surrounding your IT infrastructure.

1. Start by Scrutinizing Security

Whenever you’re considering adding a new piece of technology to your business’ IT infrastructure, your first thoughts should turn to your overall cybersecurity. Is the technology you plan to implement sufficiently secure to do so without undermining the security of your other solutions?

Cyberattacks can very swiftly become costly endeavors, and it isn’t as though the data a smaller business has in its possession is any different than that of an enterprise company… there’s just comparatively less of it. This means that there really isn’t such a thing as a business that is too small to be targeted – it all comes down to a cybercriminal’s preference. Throughout its operations, your business will collect the kind of data that cybercriminals see to be extremely valuable, which means you need to make sure your business’ data is defended.

Considering your security deficits and acting to resolve them is a great starting point to organizing your business’ technology solutions.

2. Delve into Your Data

Speaking of your data, you should also be paying attention to what your data is communicating to you. Leveraging enterprise resource planning solutions can give you insight into your business’ functionality, and where this functionality could stand to see some improvement. From there, you can make a better decision for your company based on what the data says is its biggest need.

However, you should also be careful when leaning on your data. Bringing too many variables into play can lead to false trends and other results that could actually hurt your business. In short, you want to be sure that you understand what data you have and how it applies to each other to better make determinations from it, streamlining your decision-making process and optimizing how you use the data you have.

3. Reflect on Your Business

Any new technology that you add to your workflows needs to be a good fit, in both compatibility with your business’ solutions and with your business’ resources. How well will your proposed solution integrate with your current solutions and workflows? If it doesn’t work well, adjusting your team to the use of the new system may be more trouble than it is worth. You should also consider how ready your planned solution is to scale to your needs. You wouldn’t want to suddenly find yourself with too many or too few resources at your disposal. Furthermore, you will also want to check in on the support that is available, should your new solution go on the fritz. Again, you want to make sure your investment into your solution is a good one.

Perhaps most pertinently, you also need to consider if your employees will be receptive to a new solution. A solution can only be valuable if it is leveraged enough to cover your investment into it, and then some. This means that, if your employees aren’t going to actually use a solution, it isn’t going to be worthwhile to implement it, hard stop.

4. Consider All Options

Before you finalize any decision regarding your technology, you need to take a long look at what you are kicking around, and compare this action to your other alternatives. For instance, let’s say your IT infrastructure will need a new network switch soon. Should you replace it now, or should you wait until an upgraded option is anticipated to be made available?

What could either option cost? We mean all costs, too… the financial cost of replacing your network switch, of course, but the operational costs that this replacement could incur should also be considered. Would waiting until the improvement is available likely create further business deficiencies, or would investing in another model of what you already have put you behind when the new option is made available? Could any of these decisions have an impact on your business’ reputation?

Furthermore, you can’t ignore any regulations you may be responsible to uphold, either. If an older piece of hardware or software means you are no longer compliant to the requirements of your industry, your decision may suddenly be a lot more limited.

When it all comes down to it, the key to effectively making any decision regarding your IT is to accurately calculate the potential costs and compare them to the benefits to be gained. Granted, this isn’t always the easiest thing to do… especially when you still have the rest of your business to attend to, as well.

Kite Technology can help by performing a comprehensive IT risk assessment. We’ll evaluate your network infrastructure and make our recommendations as to your best options. To learn more, or to schedule one today, give us a call at 855-290-KITE.

Fearing Hackers: Why Your Cybersecurity is in Trouble

By now, you should already know the severity of having your network’s cybersecurity breached, but if you don’t, here are the top-5 reasons you should fear online hackers.

Hackers’ Skill and Knowledge

Think about it, you have a job and it is something you spend the majority of your time doing. If it is a specific skill or craft, you build upon your own experience each and every day — the same goes for online hackers. Every day, there are hackers that are trying to bypass the work of cybersecurity companies and, just like anyone else doing the same thing day after day, they get better at it. Hackers know the best ways to penetrate servers through malware, disguise their identity, access a network from an inside device and pay attention to software updates to attempt a zero-day breach.

Neglectful Defense Is Not a Cybersecurity Offense

If your company isn’t constantly revamping their defense tactics, hackers might find access points as you continue to update your servers but not your cybersecurity. When a company arrogantly neglects their cybersecurity but thinks they are okay because they are following the compliance guidelines, they may find themselves in a world of trouble.

So far, the first two reasons may not seem especially significant, but that might just be because of your lack of knowledge with security threats; these next few may grab your attention a little bit more.

Breaches Cause Financial Loss

Cyber attacks may not seem real until you feel the effects personally, but you may want to learn from the statistics of other companies that did not prevent breaches. Cybersecurity companies and companies that have been breached like Marriott, Yahoo, JP Morgan, eBay, and more — can all tell you how detrimental a breach may be, but you do not just have to look at the big names, you can just look at the average cost of a data breach for U.S. companies: $7.9 million. If it still seems unlikely, just realize that there were over 668 million breaches made in 2018 and 1.5 billion the year before that.

How Much Does Your Reputation Cost?

What do you think happens to a company that has a cybersecurity issue? Do people just turn their heads and continue doing business with them as if nothing happened? That is unlikely. Further, if your company is breached and still manages to stay alive after the setbacks, will people want to do business with a company that could not protect their customer’s personal information? Will people want to work for a company that may have had to lay off a large amount in order to pay for the damages from the breach? Again, this is unlikely.

Company Shuts Down

The absolute number one fear of a company being breached is the chance that the damage is too great and there is no overcoming the online hacker. Without a reliable cybersecurity company, this can most definitely happen.

These five fears are something to really consider — admitting to having some healthy fear is okay, it doesn’t mean that you have to lose all thoughts and feelings of hope. For example, it’s probably okay to fear a bear in the woods because you will likely implement defense tactics to keep yourself safe! It is the same with cybersecurity. You can hire a cybersecurity company to not only metaphorically, but also digitally, create a fortress for you to escape online threats. Through products like Fortinet’s SIEM solution managed by managed IT companies like us, you can confidently combat some of that fear and breath a little easier. For more information about what we can do for you, check out our services today.

Prepping for On-Premise Hardware

Cloud computing has changed the way that businesses function, including some organizations that have foregone the on-premise server entirely in favor of it. Unfortunately, this approach can be problematic, as the data security and privacy issues associated with cloud-based resources might prove to be less than sustainable for your particular business.

Businesses that want to host their own IT infrastructure on-premises will need to be very careful about the technology they implement–particularly in regard to choosing hardware and network setup. This might seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Understanding the basics can help your business in the long run when implementing new hardware solutions. Here are a few pointers.

Get a Server Rack

If you’ve never had on-premise hardware, then you probably haven’t thought about what investing in this hardware means, including how long it will stay effective and where you will store it. You can kill two birds with one stone by purchasing a server rack. While it might seem like overkill, having a centralized location for your server units will keep you from suffering from a disorganized mass of wires and components that will need the attention of professionals to unhook properly. A rack can make your server infrastructure much easier to manage, but only if you get the one that suits your interests. Server racks are measured in rack units, or RU, and come in full-height (42U) or half-height (24U). The option for wall-mounted cabinets exists as well.

Whatever you choose, hosting your own hardware will mean that you need a place to store it. Servers are rather hot and loud, so they can range from being a distraction to being dangerous for your business continuity, when not properly managed. Isolating your company’s servers in a room designed for them provides a central infrastructure that can easily be maintained and managed. This brings us to our next point… cooling.

Cooling Your Infrastructure

When thinking about your infrastructure’s hardware, cooling is absolutely critical, and it should be a defining factor when thinking about moving your hardware to a new room. Your server room should, in theory, be climate-controlled with air conditioning and proper ventilation. If you’re using a proper data backup and disaster recovery solution, however, you’ll have a little more leeway in terms of climate control, particularly in regard to the heat given off by these units. If exposed to too much heat, server units will result in hardware failure and downtime.

Some organizations have HVAC systems that stop running when people leave for the day, but this is the last time you want your server units to be exposed to too much heat. Therefore, any server room with air conditioning or refrigeration will need to be set up independently of your organization’s HVAC system.

A Mess of Wires

Adding more hardware to your infrastructure will only make it more complicated, and when there are more machines on an infrastructure, there will be wires and cables that need to be managed. If you’re not careful about how you manage your servers, it might look something like the one below.

A complete renovation is somewhat necessary in order to recover from this situation. The one on the right looks fine, but only because a technician invested a lot of time and effort in making it organized. Labeling everything on the server rack is essential, as moving even a few cables could be enough to harm the network’s performance, and documenting what each unit is for will expedite maintenance on the technician’s end. A label printer with the hardware will make it so that you can label equipment based on names or IP addresses.

Hardware should only be handled by professional IT technicians, so why not invest in your business’ future with Kite Technology? We can maintain and manage your hardware, whether it’s hosted on-premises or in the cloud. To learn more, reach out to us at 855-290-KITE.

Data Backup Carries Powerful Value

World Backup Day is a time when every business should contemplate whether or not they have proper data backup strategies in place. Considering it was about a month ago, did your organization take the time to think about it? Granted, there isn’t a single day in the year that could explain what your data means to your business, the importance of data backup, and that your businesses should always do what it can to avoid data loss.

The Causes of Data Loss

Approximately seven-of-ten companies experience some type of data loss, so you need to do your part to understand what causes it. Consider how much data you could lose from a natural disaster or user error. Natural disasters only account for roughly one percent of all lost data, however, so while protecting against something massive like that is prudent, it is dwarfed by the 78 percent caused by hardware failure or other system malfunctions.

How Does Perception Influence Data Loss?

It’s clear that most of the attention regarding data loss comes from external factors, such as natural disasters or hacking attacks, even though the majority of problems arise from failing to take care of your network infrastructure and hardware. That being said, it’s important to consider whether this fact actually matters. Data loss is data loss, no matter how it happens, and while the consequences of any given disaster might vary, it’s important to keep this in mind.

This isn’t to say that the causes don’t matter–rather, we want you to keep in mind how you can prevent the causes from leading to data loss. Understanding why data loss occurs in the first place is the best preventative measure you can hope to leverage, but data backup is going to be the catalyst that enables you to recover from data loss of any kind.

Guaranteeing Data Backup

Reliability is key to making sure that your data backup doesn’t wind up holding your organization back from a recovery scenario. It’s easy to find yourself in a situation where you need to recover data, only to find that it’s corrupted or unavailable. This is why you always test your backups and store them in the cloud. Not only will they be accessible when they’re needed most, but they will also be practically guaranteed to work as needed. You can never go wrong with data backup. It will pay for itself in the long run.

To learn more about how your organization can take advantage of data backup and disaster recovery, reach out to us at 855-290-KITE.

Using the Windows 10 Snipping Tool

Taking screen shots is a great way to save pictures of anything you are looking at on your workstation as well as providing a visual to someone you are trying to describe an issue to. Many chose to use the Print Screen button, but this only takes a full screen picture instead of a specific window. Did you know Windows 10 has a great tool you can use instead? It’s called Snipping Tool!

To Use:

  1. Click on the Windows Start button
  2. Type the name “Snipping Tool” and select it from the program list
  3. Click NEW and then click and drag your mouse over the area of your screen you want to capture.
  4. Once taken, simply click File to find options to Save or Send As Email to someone.

TechTip provided by Evan, Tier Two Help Desk Technician

Social Media Use in the Workplace

There is no doubt that as a technology, social media has revolutionized the way we interact with others and how we do business today. From a technology management perspective, it also has produced a lot of wasted man-hours over that time. Today, we will look at the pros and cons of social media for the small and medium-sized business, and how to get so the use of it is a net-positive position for your company.

Benefits

If a business owner was to sit and consider the beneficial characteristics of social media for their business it wouldn’t take long to ascertain that the main draw of the technology is that the people that buy the product or service (or would buy it) are on social media. No matter what type of advertising the organization has done up until now, having access to the people that would be interested in the offerings is a massive win. With over 50 percent of adults actively using multiple social media sites, any business has an opportunity to access their customers’ attention.

Another benefit for the use of social media is the nature of social media itself. Being able to understand what people like/dislike, products they will/won’t buy, and services they will/won’t subscribe to can help an organization alter their offerings to make them more attractive; or, at the very least, give marketers a strategy about how to go about presenting their offerings on social media.

Finally, while social media is free, per say, businesses that use it typically pay to advertise or promote the content they share. It gives any business the ability to target their marketing investments to touch the people that would most likely be interested in a product or service.

This provides a litany of benefits including:

  • Knowledge about customers/prospects
  • Interaction with customers/prospects
  • Increased traffic to a company website or store
  • Increased sales leads (and therefore increased sales)
  • Promotion of a business’ authority
  • Promotion of a business’ willingness to help others
  • And many more

While this technology is largely divisive for individual, for the modern business using its benefits only serves to benefit the entire business.

Detriments

The use of social media is not all good for a business, however. While it does give the business a platform to interact with customers, customers are still people and some of them will frustrate marketers. What’s worse is that since social media is constantly evolving, it is not always easy to ascertain whether or not the practices in use are working until they do.

Another problem with social media is that tracking its ROI takes a lot of time. The idea is to be more accessible by the average customer, but since this theory only provides a business with marginal success most of the time, they have to be able to measure how well their social media investments are tracking. If a business lacks a concrete strategy in which to use the platform, it may see their return of their social media investments plummet, which often leads to social media neglect. With 92 percent of millennials expecting every business to have a Facebook presence, not having one can actually be a major problem.

Finally, the worst part of social media for any business is the cost they see in a loss of productivity. Over three-quarters of all SMB employees use social media. That is a massive number. If the average user spends 15-to-30 minutes a day looking at their social accounts, whether that be scrolling down their Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram walls, or watching a funny video on YouTube, they are costing their companies a lot of money. Furthermore, nearly one-third of U.S.-based SMBs have had to deal with malware propagated via social media.

Today, there are two schools of thought on the distraction. One is that since everyone uses social media, that some businesses have begun to give their staff social media breaks, where they are allowed to do what they have to do online. The other, and much more prevalent view is that using social sites on company time is unacceptable. From the employer’s perspective, even if their employees only use social media for five minutes – that five minutes multiplied over 200+ working days per year is a whole lot of distraction. With more and more studies showing that it takes time after being distracted to get back focused again, that’s a lot of time and potential cost incurred by the company for something seemingly minor. If this theory is to be believed, then employees are costing companies thousands or even millions of dollars every year, by just being on social media.

How to Manage Social Media Use

Obviously, the people that manage and use your company’s social media need to have access to it. Since it is a big portion of these people’s jobs, and important to your business’ online success, blocking social media across the network isn’t an option. If you are one a business owner that believes that you are missing out on significant revenue as a result of your workers addiction to social media sites, you have options.

You can try and implement a soft ban, which entails not allowing these sites access on any company-owned device. This would still allow your staff to utilize their personal devices to use their social sites. This could reduce the amount of distraction on your team.

Another option would be to put a complete ban on social media (except for essential employees). While this would be the most effective at avoiding wasteful social media-related behavior, it could also backfire on you. Many of today’s employees don’t feel complete without access to their social accounts and would quickly become disgruntled if they had access to social media one day, and had it blocked the next. This strategy is one that may work best in a workplace that has a limited amount of employees, since you would probably be more apt to be involved in your company’s social media use.

Whichever strategy you choose, you will need technology that allows you to control website access. A content filtering solution allows IT administrators to whitelist and blacklist websites per user, giving any organization the ability to control what their staff can access and what they can’t. For more information about acquiring a content filtering solution, or any other software solution that can help your business be more profitable, contact Kite Technology at 855-290-KITE.

How Technology is Evolving Retail

Unlike the office environment, the technology used in retail has been relatively stagnant. The times are changing, though. It’s been a long time coming, but the technology used in the retail environment is finally evolving to meet the growing needs of organizations. Unfortunately, this has been met with the challenges of implementing said technology in the industry.

Industry leaders are the major hang-up in this case, as they are reluctant to implement the new technology. Even though there has been a significant shift in the past few years toward the adoption of this technology, leaders simply don’t believe they need it. Considering how important customer satisfaction is to the retail experience, you would think that any technology that improves it would want to be used. With consumers demanding a greater user experience that is more personalized, however, it only makes sense that technology like mobile apps and e-commerce would pick up speed.

Business owners need to take the first step by pretending to be on the outside looking in. They need to appreciate what technology can do for a business from the consumer level. On the other side of the equation, you have IT administrators who need to think about the macro effects and immediate budget impacts as well as the long-term benefits of such a solution. Since the massive amount of changes to technology in the business environment, more standardized terms have been implemented to make it easier for people to discuss these issues.

These terms have unfortunately caused there to be little distinction between the variety of available solutions, which has stymied the ability of businesses to make decisions. Let’s look at some of the biggest data breaches out there: Target, TJX Companies, Inc. (think Marshall’s, TJ Maxx, and Homegoods), and Home Depot. All of these companies have experienced data breaches through their point-of-sale systems, all due to poor security solutions in place.

Therefore, the problem isn’t the point-of-sale system, rather the fact that businesses aren’t investing enough in protecting said systems.

There’s no telling if proper IT service management could have kept these situations (and others in the past) from happening, but one thing is clear: all businesses, retailers included, can benefit from IT support and security. We’re hopeful that retail industry leaders will start to pay more attention to how technology can benefit them, and we’re confident that when they do, they’ll see organizations like KIteTech stepping up to the plate to ensure successful implementation, management, and security.

To learn more about how technology can work for you, reach out to us at 855-290-KITE.

Business Data Management

All businesses need to be as efficient with their resources as possible. You might be surprised by the difference you can make simply by using your data more effectively. Stronger data management platforms, or DMPs, can put you in a better position to understand your organization’s needs, including its market and its customers. It’s time to look at how a DMP can make your business more effective and resource-efficient.

Data Management

If you’re new to data management, you might be surprised to find out that your organization creates, receives, and stores a considerable amount of data that can be leveraged to its benefit. Unfortunately, most businesses have this data not in one single location, but strewn across their entire network. Some of this data might even be found on old servers, in the cloud, or on disk drives.

First, you’ll have to determine what your business’ storage needs are. You should aim to centralize your storage without making it too complicated, all while keeping costs to a minimum. KiteTech can help you make the choice that’s best for your business. Once your data is in a convenient location, your data management system will be much more effective.

Data Warehousing

Business intelligence platforms can allow your organization to take advantage of high-end business analysis, but you’ll need a data warehousing solution before you can truly leverage it. A data warehouse is a location where you can run business intelligence (BI) and business analytics (BA) software to improve your business. Innovative software can help you crawl through standing data to discover new trends.

What are BI and BA?

While they might sound similar, BI and BA are two different things. Business analysis is the act of defining how certain strategies and processes work, as well as outlining why they are used. The business analyst will generally identify ways in which these processes aren’t used as efficiently as they could be, or even predict the outcome of a particular situation.

Business intelligence, on the other hand, is using your business’ data to determine what your business is doing, how it’s being done, and the results of such actions. You can use business intelligence to determine metrics for measuring the effectiveness of your business.

Data Backup

Of course, when you have so much data being used in everyday operations, you’ll want to make sure it’s backed up. KiteTech offers a comprehensive data backup solution that you’re sure to find valuable. To learn more about ways to use and protect your organization’s data, reach out to us at 855-290-KITE.

Here are 5 Trends Happening with the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is currently one of the most promising, yet risk-laden, information technology trends that we have today. The combination of the push for more connected devices with the lack of the security they need to remain protected, presents a considerable issue for a business’ network security. Here, we’ll examine some of the IoT’s latest trends, and how they could impact your business.

Updated Security

As we said, IoT devices aren’t exactly known for their security… quite the opposite, in fact. Since the very beginning of the Internet of Things, IT administrators have primarily seen its risks. All it would take for a threat to access a network would be for a vulnerable IoT device to connect to it, providing a bridge for the threat to easily cross. This is why there has been a lot of focus on improving the security of IoT devices. Currently, the various devices that build up the IoT – like wearables, web-connected appliances, audio/media equipment, and consumer-focused networking devices – are specifically meant to be easy to connect to, and as a result, they aren’t difficult to exploit. In addition, there are also IoT devices meant for business purposes – such as automated utility infrastructures, factory equipment, security cameras, and many others – all of which could cause serious issues if accessed by someone outside of the business

Additional Devices

There are currently somewhere between eight and 25 billion IoT devices connected to the Internet (depending on your source of information) although the larger number is probably closer to the truth. This daunting number makes it hard to believe that any network could possibly be safe. However, this is just the beginning, as there will be a predicted 75 billion Internet-connected devices by the year 2025. If this kind of growth is to take place, these devices are going to need to be made much more secure.

Multi-Purpose IoT Devices

By their nature, the majority of IoT devices are designed to excel at a single task. With the anticipated introduction of 5G networks, this has the possibility to change. The enhanced bandwidth of a 5G mobile network would allow for many device limitations to be removed, the management of IoT endpoints to become faster, and have a larger impact on the security structures described above.

Incorporation Into Automobiles

While the automotive industry is no stranger to the Internet of Things, the increased need for data will only make smart devices more necessary as well. Expect to see IoT and other forward-focused technologies make their way into automobiles, as that industry has demonstrated an appetite for data.

The IoT and Edge Computing

While cloud computing is an innovation of the 20th century, its importance has swelled in the 21st. Businesses looking to grow have access to far more options, thanks to the virtualized environments of the cloud, but not all businesses have much use for the cloud in their core technology systems. However, by incorporating cloud technology into some of the extraneous processes of a business in a methodology known as edge computing, even industries that would otherwise be a poor fit can benefit from cloud computing.

There is no question that, as we progress into the information age, the IoT will only continue to have a place in businesses.

Is Multitasking Possible?

It seems that businesses today are obsessed with productivity, and while this isn’t a bad thing inherently, it can encourage you and your employees to pick up bad habits. Unfortunately, those who try to juggle responsibilities are often less productive than people that focus on one task and take it through to completion. Let’s discuss why this is, and how you can better, more productively make use of your time.

Multitasking Isn’t Actually a Thing

As it turns out, trying to do more than one thing at once doesn’t work. The concept of practically multitasking to boost your productivity is 100% bonafide, grade-A nonsense. It isn’t that men or women are better at it, it isn’t that younger people have developed the skill in their ultra-connected world… it’s that the whole idea is a falsity.

At least, in the way that most people view it.

Let’s try a brief experiment. Try drumming your fingers on your desk as you read this blog.

Now, back to how multitasking is utter nonsense.

The issue really boils down to the fact that we define multitasking as the act of doing more than one thing at once. This is something that has been proven to be impossible for the human brain to do. When we think we are “multitasking,” all we’re really doing is mentally switching from one task to another. That’s just how we’re put together, we’re meant to focus on one thing at a time.

We are so often presented with what appears to be examples of practical multitasking, this makes us believe that two separate tasks can be accomplished at one time. It is only natural to resist dismissing the concept entirely. After all, how else do you explain all the people we see all the time singing and dancing, typing on the computer while participating in a separate conversation, or even walking and chewing gum at the same time?

Pride Gets You High

Each time the brain addresses the many mini-tasks that we perceive as multitasking, it rewards itself with a quick hit of dopamine. Dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter, can effectively be described as the brain’s reward to itself. Dopamine can be released no matter how small the perceived accomplishment is. As a result, whether it’s checking email or locking down lunch plans, each tasks we complete releases a little bit of dopamine.

The thing is, our brains really like this dopamine, and so we are then motivated to do what will release more of it.

This is where the compulsion to check social media and email can come from. If we can fool ourselves into thinking we’re doing a lot (even if we aren’t accomplishing anything) we can encourage our brains into releasing more dopamine.

Three Reasons to Resist the Temptation

Of course, mental addiction aside, can multitasking have any other negative qualities or side effects?

Of course it can!

Multitasking doesn’t increase your productivity.

Actually, it decreases it, and technically makes your tasks take longer than they ordinarily would.

Let’s say that we were assigned to do two tasks. Task A should take about 45 minutes and Task B should take about 90. This means that, doing each task one after the other, should take us 2 hours and 15 minutes.

If we were to multitask, shifting from Task A every 15 minutes and from Task B every 30, it wouldn’t actually affect the total amount of time it takes to complete our workload. Both tasks would still take a combined 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete. What’s worse, that by switching back-and-forth between these tasks you make each segment of supposed productivity take that much longer.

If we continue to assume the 15:30 minute intervals, the 45-minute mark that should have seen the completion of Task A would only see each task being one-third done. In fact, Task A wouldn’t be completed until an hour longer had gone by.

Multitasking is stressful.

Trying to multitask inherently makes us feel tired and frazzled, primarily because switching our mental processes the way that multitasking demands ultimately stimulates the production of cortisol in the brain. Also known as the stress hormone, cortisol lingers in the body for much longer than other hormones do. So, there’s a reason that we feel stressed as we multitask: we’re introducing more of a stress-causing hormone to our brain by doing it…. And, of course, it still gets worse.

Multitasking can have a detrimental effect on the brain itself.

Studies have established that multitasking can actually be related to various mental health and cognitive capabilities, if it doesn’t directly contribute to them. One such study showed that multitasking led to severe cognitive drops in adult subjects, bringing their IQ scores to that of an eight-year-old. The same effect can be brought about by a sleepless night.

Worse, further studies have associated the tendency to multitask to a less dense anterior cingulate cortex. This is the area in the brain responsible for human empathy and control over cognitive capabilities and emotions. While it still isn’t sure which of these traits is the cause and which is the effect, it doesn’t cast multitasking in a great light either way.

Multitasking can also affect a person’s emotional intelligence as well. Without a sufficient EQ, an individual could face some challenges in the modern workplace, as EQ covers self-awareness and the ability to maintain social relationships. Most noteworthy, an emotional intelligence training firm known as TalentSmart tested the EQ levels of more than one million people, concluding that more than 90% of industry performers demonstrated high EQ levels.

Summing it up, multitasking could potentially have a negative effect on one’s work, affecting stamina, memory, workplace relationships, and general cognition.

Are you still drumming your fingers, and (without peeking) what were two of the three examples that we offered as “proof” of multitasking’s legitimacy? If you aren’t drumming, you just proved that you can’t actually multitask, and if you can’t remember the examples we used, we may have just proved that multitasking isn’t a practical means of working on a task.

Returning to two of our examples, the secret behind singing and dancing simultaneously or walking and chewing gum at the same time, is the same as the secret behind anything else in the world: practice — or, more accurately, practicing doing these two activities in a unified way.

Technically speaking, this means that these activities no longer qualify as multitasking, as they are each combined into a single action. Someone isn’t singing while they are dancing, they are singing, as well as dancing, as one, solitary skill. The same could be said of someone who can walk as they are chewing gum… two disparate activities have become one action, through extended practice.

How to Stop Trying to Multitask

Seeing as we’ve pretty clearly framed multitasking as a negative thing, it is pretty clear that it is the kind of habit you’ll want to break. As with most bad habits, one of the better ways to get rid of it is to replace it with a good habit. We’ve assembled a few suggested habits to help you avoid your multitasking tendencies:

Ignoring “Free” Time

We’ve all been in that position: we’re working on a project, and we’re currently stuck waiting on a response from a coworker. While this may sound counter-intuitive at first, try to ignore the temptation to abandon your efforts for another task with the intention of revisiting the first task later on. Don’t forget the lesson we learned above…switching between tasks means that neither is completed quite as quickly.

However, you shouldn’t see this as an excuse to sit around and wait all day for a response, either. Try looking at it as an opportunity to evaluate how your project is coming along, to establish an estimated timeline for the remainder of your work. If you do elect to switch tasks, make sure that you switch back promptly once your original task can continue.

Communicate When You Are Unavailable

Chances are, the majority of distractions you’ll have to deal with in the workplace are going to come from internal sources, be it from conversations between coworkers or incoming business communications. For the sake of your productivity, you will have to do your best to either ignore or, if possible, discourage these distractions. Make sure that you signal to your team that you shouldn’t be disturbed with a quick announcement of your unavailability and/or the application of headphones (music/white noise optional).

Disconnect from Distractions

As far as you are able, you need to put a stop to the other distractions that can influence your workday. Take email, for example. While it can be a great communicative tool, it can also lead to distractions. If you can, silence your notifications, and schedule out times to check it. If your attention to something is urgently needed, you will be notified.

Your mobile device is often the same way. Each time we glance at it, our concentration is diminished. With the exception of when an urgent call is expected, try to power it down and put it away. Without its interruptions, you’d be surprised how much can be achieved.

Organize Yourself

Want to know why the to-do list has been used for so long? It’s simple and it works. Mapping out your day’s goals by their priority enables more to be accomplished, and allows you to plan out the breaks that you’ll likely need. This mindfulness will also help your ability to fully focus on the task at hand. This practice, in contrast to multitasking, is known as monotasking.

Rather than splitting your time and attention between two goals, monotasking is the full dedication to one goal at a time. We examined these differences above with our 45-minute and 90-minute tasks. Just as we showed in our example, monotasking enables goals to be accomplished more efficiently.

Tech Tips: Avoid FaceTime Spying

Sometimes threats come to light only after they’ve been around for long enough to cause concern for the public. This was the case with a new bug found in Apple’s FaceTime app that allowed users to spy on others without their consent through group FaceTime calls. Thankfully, a patch has been issued that resolves it, but perhaps the way that it was implemented is the most interesting of all.

The most dangerous part about this threat was definitely how accessible it was to just about anyone who wanted to use it. In fact, it was so accessible that Apple had to disable the feature entirely until it was resolved, inconveniencing users at the cost of security.

Following the release of the update to iOS 12.1.4, Apple turned the feature back on, but until the user applies the patch, group FaceTime will simply be inaccessible. This is one way to handle the potentially disastrous scenario, as instead of giving users the option to continue using the service and putting themselves (and their privacy) on the line, Apple is leaving no room for error or controversy, instead opting to protect themselves and their users until they update their devices.

How to Upgrade Your Device

If you own an iOS device, you can run the update by following this path: Settings > General > Software Update. Keep in mind that you’ll want your device to be charged, and you will need a wireless connection as well. Automatic downloads can also be turned on through this process, meaning that you don’t have to initiate the update yourself.

This just goes to show how we all need to be mindful of what our devices are capable of, and how easy it can be to put our privacy at risk when we aren’t mindful of it.

In general, it’s important to remember that software updates are designed to be implemented as soon as possible, as they often address vulnerabilities or issues with security and performance.

How to Order the Items on your To-Do List

Being in business today means that you have a lot on your plate, it’s as simple as that. Yet, with so many tasks piling up, it can be challenging to prioritize them all so you can figure out where to start. Below, we go over some strategies you can use to make sense out of all the tasks you have on your day and reach a point of productivity.

  1. Eliminate Non-Starters

If you are not currently able to work on a particular task, it shouldn’t be on your to-do list. Therefore, you need to identify which of your compiled tasks you are actually able to complete, and which you can’t do for reasons outside of your control. Once you have determined these, remove them from your to-do list consideration, or make a point of following up on them. These kinds of tasks will likely only frustrate you and slow you down.

  1. Rank Your Tasks by Importance and Urgency

Let’s all be honest here – there are tasks that we all just don’t want to do, which means that there is going to be the temptation to procrastinate doing them until the very last possible moment, hoping that we’ll have the time when it’s down to the wire. However, there are also tasks that unequivocally must be done within a certain timeframe. Yet, even when these two categories overlap, the urge is still there to push back the unwanted task. Resist it – the negative consequences of missing a deadline would be far worse than some frustration now.

  1. Determine a Task’s Value

This is related somewhat to the importance and urgency consideration. What item on your to-do list will deliver the greatest benefit to the company as a whole, and a bit more importantly, to your clientele? Alternatively, which task will cause the greatest fallout if it isn’t completed in a timely fashion? By comparing each item on your list to one another in this way, you can arrange them so that the work gets done in the order it needs to.

  1. What Does the Boss Want?

What does the person immediately above you in the company hierarchy see to be the priority? Whether or not you necessarily agree with them is moot. They are in charge, so if they want things to be done in a certain way, or certain objectives to take precedence over others, that is their prerogative. This is not to say that you necessarily do things in the order they tell you without question, either. If you see a way to do things that is better, pitch it to them – just make sure you have your counterpoints prepared for the ensuing fallout.

This deciding factor works at all levels of an organization, from entry all the way up to the executive suite. After all, the boss’ boss in any organization is, to a point, the customer.

  1. What Are You Ready to Tackle?

It is also important to remember that you’re only human, and there are going to be those days that you just aren’t ready to dive into a big, important project first thing. Knowing your own limits and working style will help you to understand how your time is best spent, which is really the most important factor to productivity.

On a related note, you also want to remember that businesses are dynamic things, and you may suddenly be presented with an urgent, high-priority task – something that your team needs right now. Remaining adaptable and able to pivot between responsibilities is an important talent to develop in business.

Again, it is all about the work that you are prepared to do in the moment. If small tasks need to take precedence over large ones because that’s the only way anything will get done, so be it.

Avoiding Cybercrime

Did you know that almost 90 percent of small business owners feel they are completely safe from attack? It’s unfortunate, but the truth of the matter is that half of these businesses will eventually be proven wrong–they too can suffer from a cyberattack. Are you going to risk becoming one of them? You should know now that there is no reason to.

The good news is that you don’t have to lie down and accept defeat at the hands of cybercriminals. If you take precaution now, the chances of your business being struck by a cyberattack are lessened considerably. If you fail to take action now, you could be among the organizations that are forced to close up shop as a result of a breach. It’s estimated that half of the companies that suffer from a cyberattack will be out of business within six months, and if you don’t prepare for it now, you could be next.

Here are a few tips that can help your business withstand cybersecurity attacks:

Implement updates: Updates aren’t meant to be an inconvenience, but it can sure seem like it at times. By properly maintaining your organization’s software, you’ll have a better chance of succeeding against enemy threats.

Involve your employees: Employees are one of the biggest entry points for cyberthreats, so it’s natural that you involve them in the conversation surrounding security. Take the time to train them on security best practices to ensure they don’t make a slip-up that costs your organization dearly.

Limit user access: If an employee has access to more data than they need to do their job properly, then your organization is potentially exposing more information than necessary to danger. Even if you trust your employees, there’s no reason anyone should have access to financial records or personal information unless they need it for their job, like human resources or accounting. Furthermore, you should have a separate Wi-Fi account made exclusively for your visitors. This keeps your network separate from others who have no business accessing it.

Maintain data backups: In a worst-case scenario, you’ll be glad to have data backups to help you get back in action following a data loss incident. Whether your data is stolen, destroyed, or corrupted, a data backup is critical to the success of any preventative security strategy. Be sure that your data backup solution is cloud-based, encrypted, and password-protected.

Does your business need security assistance or data backup services? Kite Technology can help. To learn more, reach out to us at 855-290-KITE.

Antivirus, Analyzed

Antivirus is a crucial component to any network security platform, but do you know how it works? Below, we’ll go over how your security is improved by an antivirus solution.

What is Antivirus?

Antivirus is a variety of software meant to identify malware and other software-based threats and eliminate them, protecting your computing resources and data. While they aren’t all equally effective, you should have something implemented to protect your business’ key components from the multitude of hazards that lurk online.

What Does It Do?

An antivirus solution has a big responsibility, as there is a diverse variety of malware that could potentially create big problems for a business. Antivirus is what keeps these potential problems from actualizing. When you seek out an antivirus solution, you’re looking for a solution that does the following:

● Enables scans to be scheduled

● Allows scans to be initiated, on anything from a single file to the entire network

● Identifies and eliminates malicious code

● Reports the computer’s overall health and efficiency

How It Works

Based on predetermined and downloaded threat definitions, your antivirus will scan your files to see if any of the code in them matches its reserves of identified threats. By recording and archiving identified malware in the cloud, the antivirus solution is able to be more effective as compared to one hosted locally.

Any executable files that enter the system are scanned. If they happen to meet the threat definitions you have in place, they will be categorically blacklisted, blocked from further action, and quarantined. You have the ability to override the antivirus’ categorization, but generally speaking, a program was blocked for a reason.

Why Should I Pay For Antivirus?

There are a variety of antivirus options out there for a variety of price points, many being free. However, for a business’ purposes, the paid option is generally a better call, just because they are generally more up-to-date on the latest threats. Fortunately, there are many budget-friendly antivirus options out there that can do the job, so this is one investment that will certainly be worth it when all is said and done.

For more information about antivirus solutions or any other means of improving your network security, reach out to Kite Technology and our IT professionals. We can help keep your business safe and running at its most effective. Call 855-290-KITE to learn more.

Utilizing Cloud Solutions

The latest technology can help businesses compete with even large organizations if it’s implemented properly. The cloud is one of these tools that helps new businesses take advantage of goods and services previously inaccessible to those with limited budgets and in-house assets. In fact, the cloud is one of the few solutions your organization can implement that actually grow alongside your business.

Here are some solutions you can implement through the cloud for the benefit of your business.

The Cloud Communications

The cloud is a great way to implement new communications solutions, like your phone system or email. For example, traditional telephone systems can be frustrating to make changes to on a whim. This means that whenever you want to add more endpoints or handsets, you have to run new telephone lines and set up extensions. The cloud makes all of these communication solutions much more freeing compared to the traditional methods as long as you have enough bandwidth to support access to them.

The Cloud for Data Storage

Data storage is one of the biggest uses that the cloud has, especially for budding businesses. With access to files from anywhere on any connected device, employees can be as productive as can be as long as they have the right permissions. If your organization hosts data in the cloud, it can lead to more flexibility in the workplace as well, as work can be done without the confines of the traditional desktop environment. Do be careful to limit data access, though, as employees should only have access to data that is immediately needed for their specific job description.

The Cloud for Application Access

All businesses rely on some kind of application, whether it’s an email client, point of sale software, or a simple productivity suite like Microsoft Office. This means you need multiple software licenses on each of your devices for using the applications. If you store them in the cloud, they can be accessed as they are needed by anyone with an account. This makes patching and updating software solutions much easier than in the past.

Your business can benefit from the cloud in countless ways. To find out where you can start, reach out to us at 855-290-KITE

Are your Mobile Security Settings Up to Par?

While you may not consider it at first, your mobile device has a sizeable amount of personally identifiable data on it – far more than should be left on an unsecured phone at any time. Fortunately, Google has added a considerable layer of protections to Android to assist users with their security. All a user has to do is know how to use them to their fullest potential.

Here, we’ll go over how to activate the built-in defenses to the Android system.

Confirm Google Play Protect is On

Google Play Protect is the security system that Android has to ensure that your mobile apps aren’t endangering your security, always scanning your device to spot threats. While it should be activated by default, it never hurts to check that this feature wasn’t switched off at some point. In Settings, go to the Security section and access Google Play Protect. If all the toggles are active, you have Google Play Protect on your side.

Activate Two-Factor Authentication

While this is actually a feature on your Google account and not native to your Android, it is still key enough to your Android’s security that it warrants inclusion. After all, we’ve established that your phone likely has a huge amount of sensitive data and personally identifiable information on it – adding another layer of protection only makes sense.

To activate two-factor authentication, access your Settings, and in the Google section, access Security and follow the steps provided to start up 2-Step Verification.

Limit Lock Screen Notifications

The fact that Android has the ability to display notifications on a user’s lock screen is extremely useful… until someone else sees something that they shouldn’t have as a notification pops up for an incoming message. Fortunately, the amount of information that these notifications display can be limited so that these messages remain more private. In your Settings, access Lock screen and press Notifications. From there, you can toggle whether or not your notifications show their content or just the application’s icon.

Pinning Your Screen

This one is a handy trick to know if you have a tendency to let other people use your phone with any regularity. If you’d rather not risk them digging into your other applications or files, you can ‘pin’ your screen to a particular application. This means that whoever is using your device is unable to use the other applications and functions that the phone has until you unpin it.

Pinning your screen is a fairly simple process, once you’ve activated this functionality. To do so, access your Settings, go to Biometrics and security, and press Other security settings. Scroll to the bottom of this page and make sure the Pin windows toggle is switched to on, then enter that menu item and turn the Ask for PIN before unpinning switch so it is also activated.

Once screen pinning is activated, you can then ensure that the app that you are allowing someone borrowing your phone to use is the only one they can use until the application has been unpinned. To pin usage down to a single app, open the application and press the Recent button. There will now be a pin icon on the screen, press it to pin that application. When you are ready to allow other apps to be used again, hold the Back and Recent buttons simultaneously. This will unpin your device, but also lock it, requiring your PIN to be input again before it can be used.

Keeping your phone safe can seem like a challenge at times, but properly utilizing its abilities can make it a lot easier and more secure.

Defining the Different Types of Collaboration

Collaboration is critical to the success of businesses both big and small, from the newest of startups to the grandest of enterprises. It’s true that there are very few businesses that are successful without collaboration, yet on an organizational level, there is a lot to consider when planning it out. It’s time to take a close look at what collaboration means for businesses, as well as how it can be leveraged in just about any form.

Defining Collaboration

Some people use the word “collaboration” in the same way as the word “communication,” but they are not necessarily synonymous. Collaboration is the act of people working together as a team toward a goal, while communication is the act of sharing thoughts and ideas with others. Communication facilitates collaboration, but doesn’t define it. Here are the various levels of collaboration that a business can use to its advantage:

● Simple Collaboration: In its most basic form, collaboration looks like quick communications initiated by instant messages or other similar technology. These kinds of tools can still be misused to create distractions, but they can expedite productivity and communication toward a specific goal.

● Document Collaboration: Document collaboration brings the previous concept and implements it on a document level, giving multiple users the ability to work on a single document toward an end goal. This can benefit the task at hand and make sure collaboration happens, whether your employees are in the same room or miles apart.

● Structured Collaboration: Meetings might not be everyone’s favorite thing about the workday, but it’s inevitable that they must happen at some point or another to ensure that people are working toward common goals. Meetings give users the ability to express their feelings or ideas on certain topics, and forms can be used to capture these ideas to gauge interest. By their nature, meetings are designed as collaborative exercises that promote transparency and communication, but only if there is structure to them.

Why Is Collaboration Important?

If a business takes measures to support collaboration in the workplace, it can expect to see improvements to productivity. When more people work on a project, you get more brain power and more thoughts or feedback on it. This can be effective for determining solutions to problems and thinking outside of what employees might normally consider. Collaboration tools can further aid in this process, giving employees more access to solutions and each other.

For information on how you can implement collaboration tools for your business, the professionals at Kite Technology can help. To learn more, reach out to us at 855-290-KITE.

Prepare to be Hacked: How to Minimize the Damage

Hacking is big business. It’s been estimated that cybercrime will cost the global economy $600 billion this year[i]. While some attacks will happen behind the scenes, 93% of them will happen right before your very eyes in the form of phishing attempts[ii].

Phishing is the attempt to obtain sensitive information, such as a password or account number, by impersonating a trustworthy source. These often arrive as emails requesting that you sign in to cloud storage services (OneDrive, Dropbox) to view an important invoice or past due bill. Moreover, they often appear to come from a trusted sender, or even a coworker. In the past six months, phishing attempts have increased by more than 60 %[iii], and 22% of employees have clicked at least one phishing link this year[iv].

If you do the math, it’s very clear that the odds are not in your favor. While threat prevention and Security Awareness Training are crucial pieces of your cybersecurity strategy, I’d like to give you one more piece of advice: Expect to be hacked.

It’s no longer enough to try to keep the bad guys out. We need to shift our focus to understanding what they can access when they do get in, and how we can limit their reach. To do that, we need to understand three key things: What data are we keeping, where are we keeping it, and who has access?

It has long been a practice of agencies to keep a permanent record of every business communication. As these records become digital, hackers gain access to years or even decades of non-public information, often long after these records serve a business purpose. As a result, The National Association of Insurance Commissioners is proposing that all Agencies adopt a strategy for reviewing and purging non-public information that is no longer needed[v]. I would encourage you to make a list of the type of data you’re collecting, determine how long it’s needed (by regulation, or business process), and make a plan for eliminating as much as possible to reduce your exposure.

I tend to find at least three treasure troves of client data in every Agency I meet: The Agency Management System, Email, and a shared location such as SharePoint, OneDrive, or a network share. Often, the data stored in email or the shared location is redundant, and only stored there for convenience. Even more alarming, this non-public information is often uploaded to a personal email or cloud account. In fact, 87% of Senior Managers have uploaded business files to personal accounts[vi].

Remember: What’s convenient for you is also convenient for the hacker. It’s important to keep non-public information in as few places as possible, so that monitoring and protection can be as focused and effective as possible. And it should never be permissible to store client data on personal accounts.

It’s also important to limit access to non-public information, so that a single breach will expose as little data as possible. Do all employees need access to client payment records? Do commercial lines employees need access to personal policies? There are numerous ways to limit access, and there’s certainly one that will work in your Agency. I encourage you to make a list of the roles and responsibilities of your employees. You can use that list to begin building a plan to limit the amount of non-public information that can be accessed and compromised by their accounts.

By expecting a security breach, turning our focus inward, and understanding how non-public information is stored and accessed, we can reduce the amount of data that a single breach can expose. Smaller breaches mean less data to sell to the next bad guy, and this hits the hacker where it hurts the most: The wallet.

[i] McAfee Economic Impact of Cybercrime, Feb 2018

[ii] Webroot 2018 Threat Report Mid-Year Update, Sept 2018

[iii] Webroot 2018 Threat Report Mid-Year Update, Sept 2018

[iv] Webroot 2018 Threat Report Mid-Year Update, Sept 2018

[v] NAIC Insurance Data Security Model Law MDL-668

[vi] Virtru Security Insights

Published in Primary Agent Magazine, February 2019.

Tech Tips: Neat Windows 10 Features

With Windows 10 being a major part of most business’ computing strategy, many people use it at their jobs each day. It has a lot of features not found on any other PC operating system, and more are added regularly. Today, we take a look at four features of Windows 10 that we think can really help your business.

Unpin from Start

Open your Start menu and prepare to be inundated with applications you NEVER use. If this is you, you can get rid of a lot of the stuff that only serves to distract you or your staff. All of these apps can be removed from your Start menu, and many can be uninstalled completely.

By right-clicking on the live tiles on your Start menu, you will be given several options. Two of those include, Uninstall and Unpin from Start. When going through these apps, you’ll find that some of the applications on the Start menu can’t be completely uninstalled, but they can all be removed.

Dictation

If you aren’t much of a typist, you can dictate your text to your machine through the use of a microphone. This feature works in many applications, and within the OS itself. To turn this feature on, access the Settings menu and click on Time & Language > Speech > Related settings. Once there, you will look for Speech, inking and typing privacy settings. Simply toggle the speech settings on.

To utilize the integration, you’ll need to activate Cortana’s listening feature. Do this by pressing Windows Key + H whenever your cursor is in a text box.

Focus Assist

Focus can be fleeting as there are a litany of distractions that could keep you from being as productive as you need to be. Windows 10’s Focus Assist feature can turn your notifications off (based on priority). By going to Settings > System > Focus Assist, you can set automatic rules based on time, location, activity, and receive a summary of the notifications you’ve received when you toggle Focus Assist off.

Cortana, Decision-Maker

If you are the indecisive type, you may be wasting time thinking through inconsequential questions. Cortana has a quirky feature that has her flip a proverbial coin. Just type (or say) into Cortana “flip a coin”. This feature makes the decisions for you.

A lot of Windows 10 is built with the user in mind. It can assist with everything from productivity to simple decision-making.

The Benefits of a Hosted VoIP System

There are many reasons why a hosted Voice over Internet Protocol telephone solution (also known as hosted VoIP) is popular for small businesses. This is due to the many benefits that a small business can glean from such a solution, both in its security and its overall operations. We’ll review some of these benefits here.

How Hosted VoIP Keeps You Secure

By its very nature, a VoIP solution that is hosted in the cloud is going to provide you with a few bonuses over one that you would host yourself that specifically help make your business safer.

● You have experts on your side. A VoIP solution requires no small amount of maintenance to defy the many threats that could potentially corrupt it. Hosting your solution in-house means that you are responsible for keeping it secure and operational. However, having your VoIP solution hosted means that your provider is the one who has to carry out these tasks, freeing up your staff to focus on their work.

● Management and monitoring are easier. One of the biggest threats to your security is presented as you try to juggle too many disparate systems. A hosted VoIP solution is standardized, making it easier to manage and far simpler to catch security breaches that would otherwise come in through your communications.

● Twofold security benefits. In addition to consolidating your chances of being attacked, most VoIP solutions come packaged with comprehensive encryption to protect your conversations from peering eyes and ears. By encrypting each call’s data before it leaves your VoIP device and decrypting it only when the call has reached its destination, a VoIP call is that much more secure than it would be otherwise, protecting your business’ resources and assets.

Additional Benefits

Of course, while security is important for any business’ success, you have other things you need to worry about as well. Functionality is a pretty big one of these. Leveraging a hosted VoIP solution enables you to do a few additional things. For instance, a hosted VoIP solution can feature a few capabilities to help directly improve your operations, like the ability to forward a call to a mobile device, or to set basic phone settings more easily.

We would be more than happy to discuss what a hosted VoIP solution is capable of. Reach out to us at 855-290-5483 to learn more.

Tech Tips: Increase your Productivity with your Smartphone

It’s that time of the year when everyone is trying to get more done and make things happen as quickly as possible.

Mobile devices make this prospect much easier, as work can be done on-the-go in a flexible manner. Here are some tips to get the most out of your mobile devices post-holiday season.

Make Sure It’s Cleared with IT

Before you go all-out with your new mobile device, make sure that it’s been cleared with IT that you can set it up like your own workplace device. This means that the device will have to be compliant with your organization’s Bring Your Own Device policy. If it’s not, you risk the device becoming a hindrance to productivity, as well as your network’s security. Most important of all is that the data on the device could be put at risk.

Organize the Device

If there’s one thing that Android offers over iOS, it’s a higher level of customization that can give the user a much-needed step toward productivity. For example, your home screen can be turned into a mobile command center for the apps that you use the most. If you use your calendar frequently, then you can create a widget on the home screen that shows what you’re up to that particular day. This kind of control makes Android applications great options for functionality.

Limit Your Notifications

Notifications from all kinds of apps can get in the way of productivity, so you should turn off those that are unneeded. To do so, check for notification options in the settings. If the app itself doesn’t have any, you can always check if Android can help you keep the notifications at bay. If you long-hold the application’s icon, you’ll be able to block it on an application level. Android will block or silence the notifications, so they aren’t an issue.

Switch Gears

The modern workplace is well-known for tasks that disrupt the user and require them to switch to something else at a moment’s notice. Thankfully, the Android platform makes this less difficult as a whole. The Overview key can be double-pressed to snap between the last two applications you were using. If you have one of the apps open, you can hold down the Overview key to see the recent apps as previews. From this, you can select the split-screen option from the menu above them. Samsung devices make this process especially easy thanks to the Multi-window setting.

Regardless of the tool, be sure to invest some time getting to know your technology’s capabilities and how you can use them to be more productive.

Google Play Works to Reduce Ad-Fraud

What’s a smartphone without some apps to download to it? With millions of apps to choose from, developers might often have less-than-virtuous motives that put their users at risk for their own benefit. Recently, Google has removed 22 apps from the Google Play Store that were found to contain automated click-fraud scripts. We’ll delve into what these developers were up to with these fraudulent applications, as well as how they would affect the two-million users that downloaded them.

What Are the Apps?

Below you’ll find a list of what the affected apps are:

● Sparkle FlashLight

● Snake Attack

● Math Solver

● ShapeSorter

● Tak A Trip

● Magnifeye

● Join Up

● Zombie Killer

● Space Rocket

● Neon Pong

● Just Flashlight

● Table Soccer

● Cliff Diver

● Box Stack

● Jelly Slice

● AK Blackjack

● Color Tiles

● Animal Match

● Roulette Mania

● HexaFall

● HexaBlocks

● PairZap

What Was Wrong with Them?

SophosLabs detected a cache of apps that are outfitted with a feature they call “Andr/Clickr-ad” malware. These applications are designed to be as flexible as possible with the intention of contacting a common attacker-controller server to download an ad-fraud module. This happens every 80 seconds. The malware opens up a non-visible window that repeatedly clicks on ads. This makes the network look like it’s getting more traffic and generates fraudulent revenue for the developer.

Sophos didn’t identify a specific ad network, but the users who had downloaded these apps experienced a considerable amount of battery drain and an increase in data usage. One interesting note is that some of the ad traffic was identified as coming from iPhones, even though these apps generally only appear on Android devices. The traffic came from “Apple models ranging from iPhone 5 to 8 Plus and from 249 different forged models from 33 distinct brands of Android phones.” This kind of strategy was used to increase profits for advertisers who had to pay a premium for their ads to run on Apple devices. iOS versions of the apps, even those by the same developers, didn’t have malicious code integrated.

Only Download Legitimate Applications

One way to make sure you don’t have troubles with your downloaded apps is to make sure you only download legitimate applications. Here are some ways to determine if the app you want is legitimate:

● Read a lot of reviews: You can find out a lot about applications just by reading some of the reviews. Try to read eight or more reviews to make sure that the app is as functional as you think it is.

● Check the app permissions: Some applications need your permission in order to accomplish certain tasks. Always check these permissions before downloading anything. For example, if an application needs access to your text messages or camera, when it clearly shouldn’t be asking for them, you should think twice before downloading.

● Check the terms and conditions: It might be tempting to skip the terms and conditions, but you don’t want to do this for smartphone apps. Even if you try to read them, the legal language used might be unnerving. Still, the terms and conditions might hold some insights into how the data collected by the application is used.

● Research the developer: Software development is a competitive field, so people are always looking for ways to differentiate themselves and further their ambitions. Unfortunately, ambition doesn’t always lead to ethical business practices. Do some research into who developed the applications and determine if you can trust who created the tool you’re about to download.

The Google Play Store holds countless applications, so be on the lookout for any apps that threaten your device’s integrity. Just stick to your best practices and it’s unlikely that you’ll encounter and download something dangerous.

Want Proof That you Need to Monitor your Solutions?

When discussing the practice of monitoring solutions to prevent threats, it isn’t uncommon for many businesses to put these concerns on the back burner. However, every so often, an example comes around to help inspire businesses to take their monitoring seriously. This time, the example was the arrest of 24 spammers in October for scamming American citizens by impersonating Microsoft support staff members.

Working with Microsoft’s international Digital Crime Unit, the cyber cell of the Delhi police leveraged data analytics to take down illegal call centers that had been targeting Microsoft Windows users in the United States with fraudulent tech support scam attempts.

These scams were pretty predictable, if you know how a tech support scam usually takes shape. First, the employees of the call centers would send out a manufactured notification warning their targets that their systems had been compromised, with websites created for the purpose of supporting their false claims. Once a victim reached out to them, these fraudsters would charge a tech support fee of anywhere from $100 to $500 – but since there was no problem to solve, they would steal data and install actual malware once they were granted access.

However, an employee of Microsoft named Nripenda Kashyap was able to spot these activities through his monitoring systems and thereby send word to the DCU. This report was the catalyst that resulted in raids being conducted on 10 call centers and the arrest of 24 scammers, including the owners of these businesses.

What can we take away from all this?

The first lesson to be gleaned is that there will never be a time that a technology company like Microsoft will alert you of issues that your device is having. Unless you reach out to them for assistance and initiate first contact, you are on your own. The only time that you will legitimately be notified is if you have an IT provider there to help protect your infrastructure.

Secondly, the kind of monitoring systems that companies like Kite Technology offer aren’t something that your business can go without. The DCU filed a lawsuit claiming that tech support scams take 3.3 million users to the tune of $1.5 billion every year. This lawsuit was filed in 2014. How much do you think these numbers have increased since then?

Even if you try to monitor your solutions independently, there is a certain level of expertise that is necessary. Your computer will report dozens of perfectly normal, benign errors every day. An IT pro can spot the actual threat, while a layman might panic at the growing stream of issues.

If you’re intent on incorporating monitoring and maintenance into your IT management strategy, reach out to us first. Not only can we identify threats proactively, we can work to mitigate them before they have an effect.

For more information about our services give us a call at 855-290-KITE.

Tech Tips: How to Avoid a Cyber Attack

Did you know that almost 90 percent of small business owners feel they are completely safe from attack? The truth of the matter is that half of these businesses will eventually be proven wrong–they too can suffer from a cyberattack. Don’t risk becoming one of them! You should know now that there is no reason to.

The good news is that you don’t have to lie down and accept defeat at the hands of cybercriminals. If you take precaution now, the chances of your business being struck by a cyberattack are lessened considerably. If you fail to take action now, you could be among the organizations that are forced to close up shop as a result of a breach. It’s estimated that half of the companies that suffer from a cyberattack will be out of business within six months, and if you don’t prepare for it now, you could be next.

Here are a few tips that can help your business withstand cybersecurity attacks:

Implement updates: Updates aren’t meant to be an inconvenience, but it can sure seem like it at times. By properly maintaining your organization’s software, you’ll have a better chance of succeeding against enemy threats.

Involve your employees: Employees are one of the biggest entry points for cyberthreats, so it’s natural that you involve them in the conversation surrounding security. Take the time to train them on security best practices to ensure they don’t make a slip-up that costs your organization dearly.

Limit user access: If an employee has access to more data than they need to do their job properly, then your organization is potentially exposing more information than necessary to danger. Even if you trust your employees, there’s no reason anyone should have access to financial records or personal information unless they need it for their job, like human resources or accounting. Furthermore, you should have a separate Wi-Fi account made exclusively for your visitors. This keeps your network separate from others who have no business accessing it.

Maintain data backups: In a worst-case scenario, you’ll be glad to have data backups to help you get back in action following a data loss incident. Whether your data is stolen, destroyed, or corrupted, a data backup is critical to the success of any preventative security strategy. Be sure that your data backup solution is cloud-based, encrypted, and password-protected.

Does your business need security assistance or data backup services? KiteTech can help. To learn more, reach out to us at 855-290-KITE.

Resolve to Update your Operating System: 4 Reasons to Adopt Windows 10

Let’s face it; it’s time to replace your workstation. You come into work one day, and a brand-new PC is at your desk. It’s likely smaller than your old one. You press the power button. A pleasant beep and the sound of a miniature category 2 hurricane whirls from the fans coming to life. A few swirling dots later, and you’re greeted with a beautiful image. You enter your password. A “Hi” flashes up on the screen, followed by, “We’re happy you’re here” and finally, “Getting things ready, please don’t turn off your PC.” Moments later, you are presented with a nice, clean desktop image, complete with a sleek black task bar. Your muscle memory kicks in. You click where the Start button used to be, click. “What? Where the heck is the Start Button?!”

User paranoia is real. As a veteran help desk manager, I see firsthand the anxiety created by computer replacements. My hope is this article will remove some paranoia by explaining why PC’s need to be replaced to begin with.

Windows 7 is a good operating system. It’s reliable, familiar, and still supported by Microsoft and third-party vendors. While these are all true, July 2019 will mark the 10-year anniversary of its launch. In January 2020, it will no longer be supported. The technological landscape has changed, and the two primary reasons for that change are: security and mobility.

Enter the more secure Windows 10. In their 2018 Threat Report[1], security firm Webroot declared Windows 10 twice as secure as Windows 7. Windows 7 continued the Microsoft tradition of releasing security updates on a weekly update schedule. IT administrators liked this because they could control the rollout of updates and block any which may have unintended consequences. However, this meant there could be up to a week’s delay before a fix would be made available to patch a security hole. Windows 10 resolves this by checking for updates every 17-22 hours and automatically deploys the updates with no opportunity for IT support intervention. More secure? Yes. There is more potential for something to go wrong when you come in the next day, as well. Unfortunately, this is the price we must pay for improving the protection of your systems and data.

Windows 10 is going to feel more familiar with time, partly because we’re getting accustomed to using smartphones. You might recall that Microsoft first tried to introduce a touch user interface (UI) with its “Metro” UI as part of Windows 8. Windows 8 and Metro never gained mainstream acceptance. But with more and more touchscreen laptops, tablets, and smartphones, Microsoft is highly motivated to build a single UI that works well with both a touchscreen and the conventional mouse and keyboard. To accommodate this transition, Windows 10 combined the tactile philosophy of Windows 8 with the ease of use of Windows 7.

When you click on the Start menu, you have icons which allow you to shut down and restart your PC, as well as access the PC settings, your Pictures, and your Documents. If you ever forget what they do, you can simply hover over them and a help box will appear. Another new feature of the Windows 10 Start menu is when opened, you can type the name of the application you want and select it from the results. There are also “Live Tiles” which update in real time for things like news, weather, recent emails, and photos.

Not only has Windows 10 become more secure, and more touch friendly, some would say the best improvement is Windows 10 loads and wakes from sleep much faster than Windows 7. This advantage may continue to increase, since Windows 10 is still being improved by Microsoft developers.

Lastly, Windows 10 is bringing a friend to the party. Her name is Cortana. Like Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, and Amazon’s Alexa, Cortana is a voice-activated virtual assistant. She can be summoned by saying, “Hey Cortana”. Cortana is my favorite virtual assistant out there. Not only does she do most of what the others do, but she has more personality. Try it out. Ask Cortana, “Open Word”, “What’s my schedule today?”, “What’s the weather?” or for a laugh, “What does the fox say?”. If you ask her, “What’s new in Windows 10?” she’ll return several YouTube video results for you to see all that is new.

One other key feature I have come to enjoy from Cortana are the “Heads up” emails. As an example, Cortana will review my emails and notice if I mention to someone that I’ll take care of something by Wednesday. Cortana will remind me on Tuesday with an email in the morning.

Hopefully your paranoia has subsided. Hopefully your focus is now less on “how will I get my work done in this new environment?” and more on “let’s see how this new environment can help me get my work done faster!” After all, your time is better spent on obtaining and retaining clients, making sure renewals are started far enough in advance, and being able to service that 4:45PM call on a Friday from the dealership about the new car your insured just picked up. While some things in the Insurance world will rarely change, technology will. With this better understanding of why it changes though, the next time it changes on you, my wish for you is that your response will be of curious hope, rather than paranoia.

[1] Htt-ps://www-cdn.webroot.com/9315/2354/6488/2018-Webroot-Threat-Report_US-ONLINE.pdf

Published in Primary Agent Magazine, December 2018

How Much Do I Need to Spend to Keep my Technology Humming?

In my last article, I provided advice on how healthy, operationally mature agencies should be investing their IT spend to achieve high performance. In this article, I will review how much you should expect to spend to maximize the value you get from your technology. I will be reviewing costs associated with six major categories that require IT investment: 1) agency management systems, 2) sales automation, 3) office productivity software, 4) user/desktop experience, 5) proactive management and support, and 6) security and compliance.

1. Agency Management Systems

Market leading agency management systems such as Applied Systems’ EPIC or Vertafore’s AMS360 will cost around $150 per month per user to obtain the comprehensive functionality of a modern agency. This includes features such as policy download, invoicing, claims tracking, sales/renewal management, and financial reporting.

Deploying these applications or migrating to a new system is a significant undertaking requiring a large investment in both labor and capital. For a successful agency management deployment, we typically see agencies spend in the neighborhood of $2,000 per employee in project implementation costs. Agencies who try to cut corners in order to reduce costs are often disappointed with the results. We strongly warn agencies NOT to cut corners, especially when it comes to data conversion preparation and employee training.

2. Sales Automation

Sales automation is generally included in the full featured industry leading products from Applied Systems and Vertafore. If you have one of these products, your out-of-pocket costs are covered above, but you still need to take the time to build workflows and train staff to deploy best practices. If you choose to go a different route and deploy a niche market product, you will likely see much lower rates for agency management. This might be the right solution for you depending on your needs and your willingness to complete the solution through other processes or third-party applications. Depending on the agency management system you select, some of these savings may need to be earmarked for a third-party sales management tool such as Salesforce.com along with consulting to successfully integrate the application and processes with your agency management solution.

3. Office Productivity Software

Generally, office productivity software is provided via Microsoft Office 365 subscription service. A typical agency requires business email and Office applications including Word and Excel. The Office 365 service bundles that include these components start with Office 365 Business Premium which is $12.50 per user per month. If you need data encryption and archiving, your subscription costs could rise to about $20.00 per user per month. Most agencies will require a technology consultant to effectively perform the initial deployment of Office 365. Also, since Office 365 data (email, documents, etc.) are not backed up by default, make sure you are utilizing a backup service so that your data is fully protected. This can add $2-$4 per user month. Finally, the cost will increase if you choose Office 365 bundles that include applications such as SharePoint, OneDrive, Skype, and Teams.

4. User/Desktop Experience

This will vary depending on the specific user requirements but for simplicity, we will consider two examples: a typical office-based user and a typical mobile user. Minimum requirements for a typical office-based user includes a business class PC with an Intel Core i5 class processor, 16 GB RAM, 250 GB Solid State hard drive, running the Windows 10 operating system. This system currently costs about $1000 plus approximately two hours of set up time for your technology provider. For high quality monitors that reduce eyestrain, provide ergonomic benefits, and improve user productivity, expect to pay about $400 for a pair of good quality 22-inch widescreen monitors suitable for business use.

The tool of choice for mobile employees is the 2-in-1 laptop. These devices are convertible from standard Windows 10 laptops to touchscreen tablets. Depending on features, these devices can vary greatly in price. A typical 2-in-1 device with a 13 to 15 inch screen provided by a major vendor (Dell, HP, Lenovo, Microsoft) will cost between $1300 and $1600. Our agency clients typically add a docking station, so they can seamlessly transition to their office environment. This usually adds about $300.

5. Proactive Management and Support

A competent technology provider is extremely valuable in advising you on your technology investment and keeping your agency running effectively. Rates for such service can vary greatly depending on how comprehensive the services are. Proactive, high quality services cost about $100 per user per month (excluding backup/disaster recovery services). At this rate, your provider should be conversant in agency operations and should provide strategic technology reviews. Also included should be help desk support and basic security products such as spam filtering, endpoint protection, computer updates, firewalls, and gateway security. Finally, they should interact on your behalf with your other technology vendors such as phone system supplier, internet service provider, and agency management system vendor.

Backup and disaster recovery costs can vary depending on agency requirements from simple “file-based backup solutions to very expensive high availability alternatives. An in-between solution that will keep your data safe and secure with an “image-based” backup of your systems costs between $300 and $600 per month depending on the amount of data.

6. Security and Compliance

This area is somewhat immature and evolving as the threats, compliance requirements and tools all continue to change. Some of the services you should expect to be procuring include: regular security assessments, security awareness training for your employees, mobile device security, and data encryption. Managed Security services are typically an add-on service costing approximately $ per month.

I hope this overview gives you a sense of the costs associated with key aspects of your agency’s technology. Strategically planning the best use of your technology dollars will go a long way in improving your agency’s productivity and make you more profitable.

5 Cloud Apps Small Businesses Should Love

Businesses of all types have looked to the cloud as a way to receive the goods and services they could use to improve their ability to create revenue, while not having to lay out huge chunks of capital in which to get the dynamic computing infrastructure. Today, developers are creating useful cloud-based applications that not only provide growing businesses the resources they need, they increasingly give workers flexibility, through their inherent accessibility. Today, we will take a look at five cloud-based applications that can really benefit a small business.

QuickBooks Online

QuickBooks has been a major accounting and payroll software for some time, but Intuit, the company behind QuickBooks, has developed the platform in the cloud. QuickBooks Online allows users to create professional invoices, track sales and expenses, manage accounts, automatically download bank transactions, and schedule and send invoices to clients. QuickBooks Online also provides users the ability to work from thousands of different devices, while also providing integration with over 300 other cloud-based applications. Managing your organization’s finances has never been so simple, and affordable.

Evernote

Evernote has moved to the cloud. Like QuickBooks, the Evernote note-taking app has been around for some time, but now that it’s a cloud-based application, users are seeing a stronger, faster, more robust solution than they had before 2017’s migration. Since the Evernote interface allows users to save and archive information found online, it is very much personal information. Evernote has added encryption to their platform, securing people’s information, and providing a trustworthy and feature-rich productivity application completely hosted in the cloud.

DocuSign

Think about how many documents you’ve signed just this year? Imagine if you could forgo the meetings, the appointments, and the expense of travel by just signing official documents through an app? Whether you are making an offer, closing an agreement, or providing access, DocuSign is the right solution for you. Allowing people to remotely sign official documents makes it possible for people who need to get more done faster to do so.

Slack

Slack is a communications platform that provides users integrated options to enhance project management and productivity in the cloud. Slack includes several features designed to help projects move faster, including person-to-person private message boards and instant messaging. You can get everyone on a project on the same page. This enables you to produce more work rooted in success than would be possible without the application.

Asana

Asana is a project management software that allows teams to collaborate by setting projects parameters and milestones and then collaborating to meet those milestones. By giving teams a way to organize, meet their deadlines, share files, and be more pragmatic with their time, more can get done, producing more revenue growth possibilities.

This is a short list of extremely useful applications that work for small businesses, but only you know what business-line applications will work best for your business. If you are looking for a solution to a specific problem, the IT professionals at Kite Technology have the knowledge and expertise necessary to help you choose the right solution for your needs. Call us today at 855-290-KITE for more information.

Are you Strategically Investing in Your Technology?

Working with scores of small and mid-size insurance agencies over the last twelve years has given me an interesting vantage point to compare agencies. I have noted the differences between healthy, growing agencies and those that are stagnant. One of the differentiators between the two groups is their approach to technology. Well run agencies, both large and small, see technology as a valuable investment to be leveraged for the improvement of their business. Those agencies that are struggling usually view technology as an expense that must simply be controlled and minimized. I have watched this differing perspective have a huge impact on agencies’ experiences. As you might expect, agencies who invest wisely in technology have more secure and reliable systems. But good technology investments also extend to better productivity which can improve sales and reduce service expenses. The result is higher profits and greater agency valuation. A healthy perspective on technology can even help your culture and employee engagement.

This article is the first of a two-part series. In this article, I will provide a perspective on how healthy, operationally mature agencies are investing their IT spend to achieve high performance. In the next article, I will provide some parameters for how much you should expect to spend to maximize the value you get from your technology.

For clarity, I am going to review five major categories of IT investment and discuss how healthy agencies approach each. The five categories are: 1) agency management systems, 2) office productivity software, 3) employee experience, 4) security and compliance and 5) proactive management and support.

Agency Management Systems

As your primary line of business application, your agency management system will have a profound impact on your operation. Healthy agencies are investing in proven agency management systems from vendors who have deep experience and a track record for deploying and supporting agency management systems. A complete agency management solution includes more than the traditional accounting, workflow and customer relationship management modules. As client expectations evolve, the tools must evolve as well.

Operationally mature agencies understand that state of the art sales automation tools allow them to differentiate from their competitors as their target clients shift to a younger generation with different expectations for conducting business. They know that younger clients have a higher expectation for serving themselves, so online tools that allow them to pay their premium, request auto ID cards, submit a claim and review their coverages are necessities. Likewise, as producers skew younger, there is greater need for quality mobile versions of the tools that allow producers to manage their accounts, quote and close business. Whether these additional tools are provided by your agency management vendor or a third party, a cohesive solution is a must, so these modules need to integrate well. Most thriving agencies already have their agency management system “in the cloud” hosted by the application vendor. If your agency still has its management system running locally on premise, then you should be planning for the migration to the cloud now.

Office Productivity Software

This category includes software for email, spreadsheets, presentations, document management, collaboration, as well as voice communications. Most agencies are committed to Microsoft for these solutions given the needs to integrate email and documents with their agency management system. Microsoft continues to innovate to provide a more feature-rich, dependable suite of solutions. Healthy agencies are moving to Office 365 or already there in order to get the benefits of the newest features in the Microsoft Office suite, facilitate the “work anywhere” capabilities of Office 365, and reduce their backend infrastructure costs for servers. These agencies also understand that their phone system is a critical part of office productivity and facilitates that “work anywhere” goal. They are re-evaluating the features of their phone system to ensure it has the flexibility to accommodate their workflows irrespective of where their employees are physically located.

Employee Experience

In some respects, not much has changed in user requirements in the last decade. Typical employees in an agency, including CSRs and accounting personnel, still generally require fully functional workstations. Healthy agencies are investing in multiple monitors for efficiency, solid state hard drives for fast performance, and plenty of computer memory. Executives and producers are investing in laptops or combination tablets/laptops such as the Microsoft Surface to get the benefits of a full featured desktop without sacrificing mobility. Successful agencies also stay current on desktop hardware, replacing PCs approximately every four years. They make sure they are using a supported Windows operating system. This means they are well aware that Windows 7 will no longer be supported after January 14, 2020 and they are working now with their IT solution provider to upgrade to Windows 10 before they are out of compliance.

Security and Compliance

The fourth category requiring IT investment is constantly evolving. This is the area of security and compliance. Security threats are growing as are the toolsets and best practices for combatting them. As new regulations kick in at the state and federal levels, the requirements for compliance continue to increase as do the penalties for noncompliance. I advise agencies to work with security providers that are in tune with the specific regulations affecting the insurance industry, are forward-thinking, and are nimble enough to adjust to the changes in security regulations, threats, and tools.

Proactive Management and Support

The fifth and final category is proactive management and support. Most high performing agencies recognize that their IT dollar can be stretched if they engage a solution provider to provide proactive management and support of their users and technology rather than doing it themselves. Some of the attributes you should look for in a quality IT provider are a proactive approach to technology management, competence and urgency when issues arise, and a clear understanding of your agency needs. It certainly helps if your provider is a trusted advisor with strong credentials in the first four categories. Then, your solution provider can be the glue that binds all of these needs together.

Properly evaluating the value of any investment requires an understanding of both the costs and the benefits. Above we discussed maximizing the benefits by making wise technology choices. In the next article, we will look at the cost side of the equation. Stay tuned.

Telecommuting Tips and Tools

When asked about telecommuting, the practice of allowing employees to work from home, many agency owners may acknowledge the benefits but will more frequently focus on their reservations. Some of the main concerns expressed are that telecommuting reduces collaboration, challenges our ability to maintain a consistent culture, and makes it difficult for management to oversee the employees and their work products. Historically, for many jobs it was simply impractical to take the work (and the tools to complete it) home with you. But as today’s technology continues to evolve in a way that addresses most of these concerns, many of today’s agencies are quickly adopting the practice of telecommuting and doing so with great results.

Before reviewing some of the technologies that make telecommuting feasible, let’s first admit that the stakes are high. Agencies that can accommodate telecommuting have a huge advantage over those that cannot. These agencies can attract and retain employees with little regard for where they live. They appeal to prospective and current employees who prefer the convenience of working from home. Such agencies can permit employees to be more flexible with work hours, since a commute is unnecessary at the beginning and end of the shift. Agencies accommodating telecommuting can enter new sales territories without the expense and distraction of opening a remote office. They can expand staffing without introducing the cost and inconvenience of adding office space. And finally, they can selectively permit employees to work from home for a variety of reasons such as treacherous driving conditions, the need to accept a home delivery, or the need to stay home with a sick child.

So, what are some of the technologies that your agency can easily utilize for effective and productive telecommuting?

  1. Document Management– Hopefully this is an afterthought, by now. For agencies that have been paperless for years, they will take for granted that CSRs can obtain and process their work regardless of whether they are in the office. For those that are still pushing a significant amount of paper, this could be a show stopper and render the rest of this list irrelevant.
  2. Access to Agency Management System– Customer data has become so easy to organize and manage from within Agency Management Systems that agencies now depend on them to do business. Therefore, if an agency expects to adopt telecommuting practices, the Agency Management System must be accessible from anywhere in the world. Most new or updated Agency Management Systems on the market these days offer just that, so agents can effectively manage customer information without being in the agency’s headquarters.
  3. Modern Phone System– Even office phone systems are becoming more flexible. With voice over IP technology (VoIP), a remote worker can simply use the Internet to connect a telephone at home to the phone system in the office. Furthermore, with technologies such as softphones, with the right app, any smartphone can act as an office phone, performing all the same calling, transferring, and voicemail functions as a standard office phone.
  4. Web Meeting Applications – Face-to-face meetings have been a popular argument against the concept of remote workers. Now, with applications such as WebEX, Skype, and GoToWebinar, companies are effectively simulating face-to-face meetings over the Internet. If you are looking to do two-way collaboration with a small-to-medium sized group, WebEx and Skype are perfect for meetings. If you are interested in broadcasting to a large audience and require only one-way communication, GoToWebinar is a quality tool for delivering webinars.
  5. Collaboration Spaces – It is a frequent requirement that co-workers share files with one another in a common space, and there are robust platforms which accommodate just that. Services like SharePoint and Google Drive provide the same functionality as a traditional shared drive on a server, but do not require participants to be in the same building behind the same network.
  6. Conversation / Messaging Tools – In a shared office, it is easy enough to speak with co-workers by simply approaching their desk. With instant messaging tools like Slack and Yammer, you can quickly reach any of your co-workers as though you were sitting in the same room together.
  7. Reporting Tools – Another common opponent of the concept of telecommuting is accountability for work performance. Companies are now able to solve that problem by using tools that report data based on employee output. For example, my company uses a product called Brightgauge which generates statistics on how trouble tickets a technician solves and how much time a technician spends working. Organizations in any industry can make use of this kind of tool to measure a remote worker’s productivity and on-task hours.

If your agency hasn’t developed a plan or strategy for telecommuting, it may be helpful to start thinking about what that might look like. This includes determining what positions can accommodate telecommuting and what percentage of the time you are willing to allow an employee to work from home. It will also be imperative to have a process for evaluating your telecommuters’ productivity and success. Whether telecommuting is a big part of your agency’s present or future, adoption of the above technologies and a well-thought-out strategy are both elements of the modern agency. How does your agency stack up?

Article published in Primary Agent Magazine, April 2018

Creating a High-Performance Culture

My first job after college was as an engineer at an electric utility company. When I had been there a couple of years, I remember George, a crusty veteran supervisor, lamenting, “You know, Greg, we hire bright, hungry, capable people and within two short years they’re just as mediocre as everyone else around here!” Two thoughts immediately crossed my mind. First, I vowed that if I ever had the opportunity, I was going to do something about that. My second thought: “Wait a minute! Did George just take a swipe at me?”

Fast forward another decade to 2005 when a business partner and I started Kite Technology Group to help insurance agencies with their technology. I finally had my chance to create the kind of company culture I wanted. Below are seven insights I have discovered about creating a high performing team. Some were learned through the gracious advice of mentors. But too often, the lessons were learned the hard way, by paying the price for my mistakes. My hope is that some of these ideas will spare you the pain of learning the hard way.

Permit Failure

Until your team members have the freedom to fail, they don’t really have your trust. As long as they are looking over their shoulder waiting for you to swoop in and tell them how to solve a problem, they are not accountable for the results. You are. Give your employees the freedom to fail.

Keep Score

Have you ever watched kids playing pickup basketball? You can tell right away whether they are playing a game or just shooting around. The teamwork and intensity is heightened when the score is being kept. The same is true in your business. Every employee deserves to know whether they are winning or losing. If your employees don’t know what success looks like in their job, then you have work to do to create their personal scoreboard.

Feedback isn’t Just for Annual Reviews

People crave feedback. We ALL want to know how we are doing and that our contributions are noticed. Take the time to informally praise behavior at the time it occurs. I have found that employees are much more open to constructive criticism when we as leaders have taken the time to praise their efforts when they do a good job.

Separate Annual Reviews from Compensation Adjustments

There is no question that compensation needs to be linked to performance. The problem comes when the two are so tightly coupled that the review is the context for providing a raise. This creates a dynamic whereby the review becomes a negotiating tactic between employee and employer to justify the increase. This tension costs you any opportunity to have an honest conversation about deficiencies and employee development. I like to do all annual wage adjustments at the same time of year. It makes budgeting easier. On the other hand, I try to spread annual performance reviews throughout the year to better distribute the workload. Decoupling the review from the raise makes for better performance reviews AND for more timely wage adjustments.

Keep Your Employees Busy

Employees want to know that what they do matters. Nothing is more discouraging in the workplace than boredom. If employees do not have meaningful work to do, then they cannot help but feel unimportant. Of course, being busy for the sake of being busy isn’t the answer either. Take the time to make sure employees continually have meaningful work to do. Your agency will get the benefit of the productivity and the employee gets the message that they are necessary.

Employ the Power of Triads

Does this scenario sound familiar? Sally and John have a disagreement. They both come to you separately to state their case. Now you are in the middle and essentially own the problem. The way to avoid this situation is through a triad, a three-way conversation. This keeps you accountable to delivering the same message to both parties and ensures they are on the same page, as well.

Admit Your Mistakes

Leaders are human. We make mistakes. We know it and our employees know it. When we admit our mistakes, we tell others that it is safe to admit their mistakes. Such vulnerability and authenticity is the first step to improving our performance.

I hope you find these seven insights useful. Commit to making just a couple of improvements in your culture and you will be well on your way to making 2018 a more successful year. Best wishes.

Three Trends in Cloud Computing Affecting Insurance Agencies

The shift from premise-based to cloud-based technology is well underway. In fact, it’s likely that your agency already has adopted cloud solutions in one form or another. Here are three trends in cloud computing that are affecting agencies and some thoughts on how your agency should respond to each.

Agency Management

Many agencies already have their agency management system in the cloud, since the three systems with the greatest market share (Vertafore’s AMS360 and Applied’s EPIC and TAM) all have had hosted versions for several years. Hosted agency management permits providers to streamline product support and simplify the enhancement and patch processes.

For those of you considering a move from a premise-based agency management system to a hosted agency management system, there are a few factors to weigh. If you are considering AMS360 your options are simplified as Vertafore only offers AMS360 as a hosted application. For those considering EPIC, you have a choice between premise based or Applied’s hosted environment. We usually recommend having Applied host EPIC.

Exceptions to this rule exist for some very large agencies or agencies that already have a significant investment in recent server hardware and software capable of running EPIC. For agencies running TAM in a local environment, we generally recommend staying local until and unless you migrate to a different agency management system.

There is one caution when evaluating a move of your agency management system to the cloud: make sure you understand the full cost of the move. We frequently see agencies overestimate the savings. No doubt, less investment will be necessary for server hardware and support when moving your agency management to the cloud. But agencies often falsely assume that their Microsoft Office costs and local user support needs will go away, only to find out differently after committing to the migration.

Office 365

Of the approximately ninety insurance agencies that we serve, 25% currently use Office 365. This trend is expected to expand rapidly due to the economic and functional advantages of Office 365 subscriptions. Our estimates indicate that over half of our agency clients will have Office 365 by the end of 2018.

Office 365 provides significant benefits including version upgrades at no additional charge and accessibility to your Microsoft Office apps including Word, Excel, and Outlook from any device wherever you have a web connection. Some versions of Office 365 integrate features that greatly enhance collaboration such as Skype for video conferencing, Sharepoint for document management, and the new Microsoft Teams application, a chat-based workspace for businesses.

Before you replace an Exchange Server with new hardware or make a big investment in a new version of Microsoft Office, check out the benefits of Office 365. It’s likely the best choice for your ongoing email and Office needs.

Data Backup

If you still have agency management, email, or other important files stored locally, then cloud-based data backup should be very important to you. Many of you will remember the days when backing up data offsite meant popping a tape out of a drive and taking it home. Nowadays that process is automated by systems that encrypt and securely send your backup data to a cloud-based repository through your Internet connection. As insurance professionals, you, of all people, know that disasters can and do happen. So, unless all your critical data already resides in the cloud or, God forbid, you still have that old tape drive, you should have a strategy that backs up data offsite.

Even if your data is already offsite, you need to make sure it is being backed up to a different location. The cloud has actually complicated backup requirements because it is common now for agency data to be dispersed to different sites for your agency management system, email, and critical files. Make sure you thoroughly quiz your IT service provider to ensure the security of ALL your critical data regardless of where it resides.

Agencies who have moved agency management and email to the cloud are well on the way to being “fully in the cloud”. But there are still other “local” considerations. File storage, user access/security, and management of printers/scanners still need to be addressed. Cloud solutions are in varying degrees of maturity to address these needs, as well. Now, more than ever, it is important to lean on expert advice. The situation reminds me of a funny Dilbert cartoon:

Pointy-haired boss tells Dilbert he has good news – they just won a huge bid to build a wireless network. Dilbert explains that they don’t know how to build a wireless network. Not to be dissuaded, pointy-haired boss asks rhetorically, “How hard could it be to not install wires?”

Similarly, some agencies assume that the absence of back office infrastructure they can see and feel greatly simplifies their needs. You may not be able to touch your servers when your stuff is in the ether, but it still exists and needs support.