Benefits of Managed IT for Architecture Firms 

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Architectural firms have unique IT needs, and rely on specialized software and applications, large data storage, and seamless connectivity. Employees working in-office and remotely need to be able to access, share, and collaborate on files, blueprints, schematics, and 3D models. Managing your network infrastructure can be a time-consuming and complex task, and unforeseen IT issues can have serious consequences in terms of diminished productivity, disrupted deadlines, data loss, and compromised security.  

Managed IT services can provide myriad benefits for architectural firms.  

Customized IT Solutions 

Every architecture firm is unique and IT needs may vary. In an industry that requires highly specialized software, large file storage, and CAD support, a Managed IT services provider with experience in the field of architecture and building design is invaluable, offering custom tailored solutions to meet your firm’s specific needs.  

Streamlined Operations

The architecture industry demands precision and efficiency. By outsourcing IT management, firms can streamline operations, reduce downtime, and ensure that teams have access to the resources they need. This translates into greater efficiency and allows architects to concentrate on their core competencies without getting bogged down by IT issues. 

Enhanced Cybersecurity 

Protecting sensitive client information, intellectual property and proprietary design plans is essential to your business. Managed IT services provide robust cybersecurity measures, including firewalls, antivirus software, and threat detection monitoring, ensuring that valuable data is secure. 

Proactive Maintenance and Support 

Rather than waiting for issues to arise, a Managed IT services provider takes a proactive approach to maintenance and support. Regular system updates, software patches, and preventative measures will be implemented to address potential problems before they impact daily operations. Round-the-clock monitoring means issues are addressed promptly, minimizing downtime and providing a stable and reliable IT environment. 

Cost-Effective Solutions 

Managing an IT department in-house can be financially burdensome, particularly for smaller architecture firms. Managed IT services offer a cost-effective solution, with a predictable payment schedule, your business can budget effectively, strategically allocate resources, and avoid unexpected IT expenses.  

Improved Communication and Collaboration 

Architectural design demands effective collaboration. Managed IT services ensure that your team has access to seamless communication tools, file-sharing capabilities, and real time collaboration platforms, whether working in the same office or remotely. 

Data Backup and Recovery 

It goes without saying that data loss can have devastating consequences for architectural firms. Managed IT services include comprehensive data backup and a robust recovery strategy to protect critical files and avoid disruption to operations.  

Compliance and Regulation 

Following regulations regarding client confidentiality and data privacy is essential for architecture firms, both to meet legal obligations and maintain client trust. Managed IT service providers understand industry-specific compliance standards and will ensure that your business adheres to them. 

An efficient, secure, and accessible IT system is critical to your company’s success and effective management and monitoring is an often-complex task. Among the many IT challenges architectural firms face is integrating the latest technology into existing infrastructure, performing proactive maintenance, and ensuring security, compliance, 24/7 monitoring, and ongoing management. This is where Managed IT services can help, by providing customized, comprehensive IT solutions that allow you to focus on what you do best and position your business for success. 

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As cyberattacks become increasingly sophisticated, it’s more important than ever to safeguard your digital front lines. Any business, no matter how small, is a potential target for hackers. In fact, smaller businesses are often less invested in security, and therefore more vulnerable. Preventing an attack is far less costly than dealing with the aftermath. Human error is the cause of more than 80% of cybersecurity breaches, with the cost to businesses worldwide growing by more than a trillion dollars a year. This includes direct financial loss, destruction of data, theft of intellectual property, lost productivity, restoration costs, and reputational damage. 

Here are the most common cybersecurity threats, and the proactive measures your business can take to avoid them. 

Insider Threats 

Employees are both the first line of defense against cyber-attacks and the most common cause of security breaches. Insider threats – whether intentional or not – can pose significant risks to your business. Creating an internal culture that prioritizes security is essential to combat threats that target your employees. Every business should conduct comprehensive training sessions on best practices for security and the potential consequences of cybercrime. Employee education should include training about using secure and unique passwords for every account, two-factor authentication, and the importance of reporting suspicious activity. Make sure your team really understands the role they all play in keeping your entire company safe.  

Make sure your IT professionals monitor network activity for unusual or unauthorized behavior and implement strict controls to restrict employees’ access to sensitive information based on their roles. This is even more important if your company supports remote work and/or has employees who use mobile devices for business purposes. It’s smart to use mobile device management solutions which allow you to control access, enable device encryption, and remotely wipe devices that are lost or stolen.  

If your business collaborates with third-party vendors and suppliers, don’t be afraid to ask them about their cybersecurity practices. You can even include language in your agreements or contracts regarding security requirements to stay vigilant about potential risks introduced by your supply chain. 

Phishing

Phishing – when an attacker attempts to gain access to personal information by posing as a legitimate contact – is the most common cybersecurity threat, responsible for 90% of all data breaches. Phishing most often takes the form of an email that appears to come from a trusted source, providing a link to click asking for a user’s credentials (username, passwords, etc) or a request to download a file. The attacker can then use the information to access the company network and steal sensitive data, or to install malware on the victim’s computer.  

Cybercriminals are adept at using social engineering to manipulate “weak links” within an organization into divulging sensitive information. One such technique is spear phishing, a targeted version of phishing where the fraudulent email is personalized for a single recipient. 

Users should be taught how to recognize and avoid phishing attempts using the following guidelines: 

  • If an email looks suspicious, do not open it and report it immediately. 
  • Don’t click on unverified email links and don’t open attachments from unknown senders.  
  • Don’t give out your login credentials to anyone. If you receive a request to change your password, verify the source first. 
  • Use unique passwords for everything and avoid using names, birthdates or other easy-to-guess information. A random password generator is the safest bet.   
  • Use two-factor authentication. 

Ransomware

A ransomware attack is when your company’s data is held hostage in an attempt to extort payment. This is done by installing malware that encrypts an organization’s data and makes it inaccessible until the ransom is paid. A computer can be infected with malware delivered via email or websites and the user may not be aware that their data has been compromised until it’s too late. Businesses that fall victim to ransomware face not only data theft, but lost productivity, damaged reputations, and potential lawsuits. 

To protect against ransomware, establish a robust backup system, and an IT recovery plan to ensure critical data can be restored quickly in the event of an attack. Your business should have endpoint protection solutions that can detect ransomware and mitigate threats. These solutions go beyond standard anti-virus software to secure “endpoint” devices like laptops, phones, and IoT-connected smart devices, blocking unauthorized applications, employing encryption, and allowing centralized IT monitoring. This is especially important as remote work becomes the norm and the number of endpoint devices increases. Any device with a network connection is a potential entry point for ransomware and may be targeted by cybercriminals.  

And once again, educating employees on security best practices is essential to prevent ransomware attacks. Ongoing training about the use of strong passwords, not clicking suspicious links in emails, and not opening files from unknown sources remains the simplest and most effective way to protect your business.  

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)

DDoS attacks work by flooding a network, service, or website with excessive traffic in order to cause business disruption and costly downtime. This can result in problems accessing your website, slow or unresponsive servers, and error messages. IoT devices with default logins or weak security protections are particularly vulnerable to attack, which can then spread to compromise and control other devices on the network. This group of infected devices forms a robot network, or “botnet.” Botnets can be controlled by a single source and used to carry out large-scale attacks. In addition to crippling operations, DDoS attackers may attempt to extort payment in return for stopping the attack. 

Network administrators should make sure all devices are secure, and closely monitor network traffic. DDoS protection services can be employed to detect abnormalities and identify and filter out illegitimate traffic before the server is overwhelmed. Distribute resources across multiple servers and locations to ensure that a single point of failure can’t bring down your entire infrastructure. 

So What Should Your Business Do?

Be proactive by implementing robust security strategies. Create comprehensive employee training to protect sensitive information and maintain the trust of customers and business partners. Partner with a Managed IT firm who will have your back every step of the way.  

Remote Readiness in the 2020’s

The arrival of our new decade — and the pandemic that came shortly after — changed where and how we all work. That change came far more rapidly than any of us could have imagined.  

While the businesses with mature IT systems were able to weather the storm with relative ease, many businesses with less mature IT systems were forced to make drastic changes without being afforded the luxury of time to research and plan for the transition.  

As a result, many businesses were effectively forced to overpay for IT solutions that didn’t quite suit their needs.  

What is IT Maturity?

IT Maturity is about how effective and efficient a company’s IT systems are in relation to their people, products and processes. A company who follows best practices, understands the full landscape of their IT systems, and regularly invests in their technology would be seen as having mature IT systems.  

How To Be Remote Ready

At Nessit, we take remote readiness extremely seriously. As the IT partner for each of our clients, we are only as successful as our least successful remote team.  

Having successfully managed this transition to remote work for countless clients and for Nessit itself, we know a thing or two about remote readiness.  

For example, we helped a client with a desktop-only environment develop a mature IT system tailored to their specific needs which would allow for secure remote access into existing desktop infrastructure.  

This enabled the client to save ~$30,000 in upfront capital expenditures and a further ~$2,000 per month in recurring management costs. Over the course of the next 5 years, that amounts $150,000 in cost savings for a system that perfectly suited their needs.   

Another client had an IT system set up to accommodate team members working onsite from two separate offices. This client had no plans to move towards remote work; as such, they had previously been putting most of their IT budget towards on-premise enhancements.  

We were able to help them seamlessly transition to 100% remote work with minimal additional upfront capital expenditures by guiding them towards long-term cloud-based investments in their IT systems to allow for enhanced current and future use.  

For those unaccustomed to managing a remote workforce or simply seeking to streamline an immature or bloated incumbent IT solution, preparing for remote work — or even knowing what questions are most important — can seem like a daunting task.  

Here are the questions we ask when helping any company find the mature IT solution that best suits their needs for remote work. Asking these questions is a great place to start to ensure your team remains productive, efficient, streamlined, and collaborative, so that your business can weather any storm.  

Can I Run My Business Remotely, Today?

The first question is to determine which of the following three categories your business currently falls within.  

  • Assumptive Yes: We planned for this! We still have some questions, but are feeling confident. 
  • Maybe?: Some staff may be able to work remotely, but many are not. We’re not totally sure.  
  • Not Even Close: Remote work doesn’t fit our business model. 

If your organization is a maybe, or a not even close, ask yourself the following questions: 

Have I determined which staff members or roles can work remotely, those that can’t work remotely, and those where remote work might be possible with some changes? 

These will depend on your business and your employees. There are solutions available that allow for almost anyone to be able to work remotely, but given other business considerations, they may not make sense for you.  

Does my team have a plan in place to address systems and equipment needs of employees who may not be set up to work from home? Can employees use their personal computers?  

A great rule of thumb here is to refer to your office IT policy. If employees are not currently allowed to use personal devices on the company network, it shouldn’t be allowed at home.  

Does my team have a secure, unified video conferencing & collaboration platform to use?  

Which functionalities are “nice to haves” and which are “can’t function without it?” 

It is important that employees are able to collaborate as easily when remote as they were when it was as simple as popping into a neighboring office. The functionalities your business will need for that may be unique; seeking input from key employees can be very useful here.  

Will my company data be safe outside the office? Have we implemented two-factor authentication for sensitive applications? 

Do all devices that will be used remotely have the latest version of their operating software, security software, and line of business applications?  

Do my remote employees have access to and know how to use a business grade VPN? Have I purchased enough licenses for all the employees working remotely?  

Has my team been educated about being aware of phishing and other attacks that may take place?  

Does my company have a plan in place to regularly check in with remote staff to confirm they’re comfortable working remotely and have the tools they need?  

Unfortunately, the malevolent actors out there only become more and more sophisticated. It’s important to ensure employees are up to date as well, because the consequences of a breach can be quite severe. 

If you are in an industry with higher than usual security requirements, making sure you understand and currently comply with those requirements needs to come first and foremost.  

Each organization needs to determine what level of security is right for them in order to adequately protect company data when employees access it and work on their home WiFi, in coffee shops, and in public workspaces.  

For some organizations, Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, are a sufficient solution when paired with two-factor authentication. Other organizations with more stringent security requirements may need device level software firewalls and/or intrusion detection and centralized reporting.  

Have I ensured there are backups of our servers  so staff can keep working when extra network traffic causes primary servers to go down? Do employees know where to backup data to ensure business continuity in the event of device failure.  

No one ever plans on a network going down or devices failing, but even so, the consequences of not being prepared for these contingencies dwarfs the cost of putting them in place.  

Does my company have guidelines in place for remote employees, including proper use of company assets and security guidelines? Does my team know about them?  

If you are only beginning the transition to remote work, such guidelines may not be formalized. Formal guidelines will provide employees with clarity about what is and is not acceptable and very well may help preempt major headaches down the road.  

Is my IT infrastructure and network designed to handle increased remote traffic?  

While your network may seem to be working just fine when everyone is onsite, changes in the demand placed on your network by a remote workforce can impact the overall functionality of your network.  

For example, when everyone is in the office, there are no restrictions on download or upload speeds. But for remote employees, the best possible download speed becomes limited to the speed of an office file upload.  

Even if fractional differences in speed don’t seem that significant, employees cannot possibly be as efficient as they could be if they are constantly waiting for things to load.  

That can be exacerbated when there are numerous programs running that occupy significant RAM. If an employee has Zoom, Teams, Excel, and other role-specific software constantly running, that employee may be spending a lot more time twiddling their thumbs than we’d like to realize.  

Have I reviewed and confirmed that existing policies and customer agreements allow us to work remotely when feasible, prudent, and contractually admissible?  

So, are you Remote Ready?

Download our checklist to share with your team.

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Running a business means having a lot of plans – business plans, marketing plans, growth plans – but what about a business continuity plan? Your business continuity plan includes details on what you do if something goes wrong at your business. This could range from natural disasters to cyberattacks to hardware failures. You want to be prepared for anything that could go wrong, which will save you time and money in the long run.  

When it comes to your IT systems and data, having a solid business continuity plan helps you deal with issues when they arise and keeps your business on track. We know most people don’t think about their IT systems on a daily basis (except us) until it breaks down. And when that happens, what do you do?  

What Happens When IT Systems Fail?

As a business owner, do you know what steps to take if your IT systems suddenly aren’t working the way they should?  

Think about it:  

  • If your file server goes down and no one has access to company files, do you know what to do? 
  • Do you have a plan in place if one of your remote staff suddenly quits, and you need to retrieve your company equipment?  
  • How do you recover if someone on your team falls victim to a phishing scam and your company experiences a cyberattack?  

You may be thinking, there’s such a small chance of any of this happening that you’ll just deal with it if it ever happens. You can absolutely take that chance. But while you’re dealing with it when it does happen, your business will be at a standstill. You may not have access to your company data, finances, files, email, and more.  

Having a business continuity plan in place means you’ll know who to call, what to do, and how long it will take to get back up and running. You’ll know exactly what to do, and exactly what to tell your employees and your customers / clients.  

What does a business continuity plan include? 

1. Inventory of equipment and IT systems – Understanding the full scope of your IT systems is a crucial step to creating a business continuity plan. 

2. Threat analysis and risk assessment – Depending on what type of business you have, threats come from different directions. Knowing where those threats and risks may come from is necessary to create mitigation and recovery plans.  

3. Mitigation activities and strategies – There are steps your business can take to reduce risk (like providing cybersecurity training for employees), which may be required to get insurance coverage. 

4. Data backup and recovery plans – Having regular backups of your data can help get your business back up and running quickly if you lose access or data is accidentally deleted. 

5. Alternate work locations – One silver lining of COVID was the way companies adapted to a fully remote workforce. In your continuity plan, define alternative work locations for your employees to ensure your customer is taken care of. For those requiring physical plant, this may be developing key relationships within your industry to set up shop temporarily. 

6. Contact information for key personnel, suppliers, and IT teams (like us!) – Knowing who is in charge of your various IT systems and who to call will help expedite the process to get your business back on track after an issue.  

Once you create your plan, put it to the test! Once a year, spend a day scenario planning. QuickBooks has stopped working and all company financial data is missing. You realize someone or something has deleted the ‘Finance’ folder from your server. Was this an accident or is my business in the middle of a cyberattack? 

Most of the businesses we work with are not experts in IT, and that’s where we come in. We can help you create and implement a business IT continuity plan for in-house and remote teams. We can be your IT partner to ensure your systems stay up and running, and we’ll take care of your business if and when those systems go down.  

Let’s chat about your IT needs!