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Cloud Business Solutions for the Virtual Office

Cloud Business Solutions for the Virtual Office

Virtual offices become the business solution of the now

The term “cloud” is a term as elusive as it is enormous, and a virtual office these days often appears to be anything you want it to be. The sky, after all, is a big place. And fitting lightning in a bottle is no easier than pinning a hard-and-fast definition on the digital computing donkey known as the cloud. When it comes to software deployments, cloud application deployment can mean different things to different people. Unfortunately, this amorphous ambiguity has tangible, deleterious effects on the user community. At its core, a cloud business solution implies real-time data access, and a virtual office is simply a cloud-based environment that enables secure and complete data interaction from anywhere in the world.

Remote Worker in a Private Cloud

SaaS vs. Managed Application Hosting

Let’s begin with the simple admittance that not all clouds are created equal. In cloud computing, you can make a vast sky-and-earth distinction between web and private hosting environments. Let’s lightly look at both.

 

Web-based solutions:

Purely web-based applications are hosted by a vendor, not the customer. The customer accesses these applications over the internet, often through a simple web browser. Technology consultants often call these deployments “software as a service” (SaaS). This is due to their subscription-based costing model.

 

Private cloud business solutions:

Private cloud deployments replicate on-premise versions of the software. Customers work with a surrogate hosting partner. The hosting of the application isn’t controlled by a software vendor.

 

These are the basic options for cloud deployment in a computing environment. This is important to know because if you choose the best cloud business solution for your company infrastructure, you can expect tremendous impact on your company’s capabilities. Thus, you can achieve your strategic objectives.

 

Does your hybrid cloud lining need a business solution tailor?

In software circles, “tailor-ability” refers to the customization capabilities of an application. Can you safely tailor your application to the needs of your organization? Compare this to core code modifications that were common and often detrimental to ERP implementations of earlier eras. An easy customization process ensures that your cloud solution can adapt to your business like a good ERP lets you easily upgrade.

 

In this new world, software vendors tout themselves based on toolsets. These computing tools allow customers to tailor an application. The IT department, or an IT consultant, can then address idiosyncratic needs. These solutions promise maintainability and upgradability. And all is well in the world.

 

However, as software vendors move enterprise platforms increasingly to web-based cloud architectures, the highly touted tailoring functionality can vanish faster than a morning mist in the desert. Moving from traditional office to virtual office is obviously the future of application management, but a web-based infrastructure can limit users.

 

Fortunately, a hybrid cloud environment assists companies with needs that revolve around complex business environments. Premiere data centers, secure virtual conference rooms, remote worker empowerment, and even futuristic capabilities like machine learning, all become accessible and customizable computing tools.

 

 

Will SaaS be enough?

As cloud deployments go, hybrid cloud computing can save companies time, money, and headaches. This is especially true if SaaS is not the most applicable cloud management application available. Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS, is a management tool that is ideal for companies with standard requirements. Cloud infrastructure for configure-to-order environments, for example, needs highly adaptive and robust capabilities. Virtual office services create a cloud-based business address for remote teams to securely meet.

 

An ideal solution often isn’t the first choice of companies moving to cloud services. Cloud applications are as diverse as the businesses that could benefit from a computing solution that transcends a physical office. What if the sales cycle ends with meeting rooms in the cloud that aren’t specifically helpful to the software buyer? You might regret ever giving out your phone number.

 

 

Are you on-premise and going cloud?

I once heard the CEO of a software vendor describe his own transition to the cloud this way: “On-premise vs. cloud has become a matter of customizability vs. configurability.” That is to say, if you are bound to the web-based or SaaS version of the application, and you’re in search of customizability or tailor-ability, you’re out of luck.

 

Unfortunately, this memo has been slow to reach the prospective user community. Sales engineers demonstrate the software in its on-premise form, on locally-deployed machines, with the full gamut of features and capabilities, only to have the customer ultimately sign the dotted line for the web-based cloud version of the application, a neutered version, bereft of many of the bells and whistles that were so brightly touted during the beauty contest that was the software selection phase. Tricky cloud.

 

What happens when tire meets the cloud terrain of virtual office?

Companies frequently move through a software selection cycle that ends with a cloud-based solution deployment:

  • Closing the sale and finally owning the software license
  • Implementing the purchased software
  • Training employees and customizing the solution based on business needs

In the third phase of cloud-based application deployment, disappoints surface. For example, clients often struggle to implement an enterprise resource system in a large, and complex business environment. One customer came to us amid such disappointment. Company management purchased an ERP application in the cloud in its Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) form. In this case, “cloud” meant an underpowered, web-based subscription service version of the application. Vapor-ware.

 

 

What are some alternatives to SaaS?

Alternatives available in private cloud hosting become necessary in complex environments common in the manufacturing and distribution industry. Frustrated with the limitations of the web-based version, our customer first came to us scrambling to understand just what they had been mandated to implement and whether there were any other options for implementing the software that did not so badly hamstring the organization. Had the management team received an impartial explanation of “the cloud” and its variants, they may have averted many of the frustrations of trying to implement an enterprise system in a complex business environment with a tool that was frankly too underpowered to be up for the task.

 

A business cloud solution can surface confusion.

If you’re looking at a web-based cloud version of a software, ensure that the vendor’s demonstrations use that specific version. Similarly, if you’re deliberating between the on-premise application and a version of the cloud, work for answers to the following questions:

  1. Web-based applications operate largely on the server, and operate in a shared environment. This normally limits the amount of server-side tailoring available. Given the thin or zero-client environment, what kinds of tailoring capabilities are available in such an environment?
  2. Reporting solutions frequently operate on the server, creating challenges when trying to develop custom reports. Does the web-based solution have answers to these challenges?
  3. User-defined data is often a key capability in complex manufacturing and distribution environments. How does the system in question handle these requirements when deployed in a web-based manner?
  4. What options are available when it comes to cloud-based versions of the application? How do they differ, in terms of features and capabilities?
  5. What are the core capabilities of the application, in terms of both configuration and customization? Are these capabilities present in all versions?
  6. Are there any specific modules of interest that might be affected by a cloud decision, such as field service or product configuration? Do these modules differ in their capabilities based on their cloud versions?

Addressing these concerns at the time of selection verses the time of reflection is key. Nobody wants to reflect on an overlooked version of a software, especially when making the decision to move to a business solution in the cloud.

 

 

In-House, Web-Based or Private Cloud Solutions

In-House, Web-Based or Private Cloud Solutions

If only purchasing software for business enablement could be as simple as tapping a button in an app — click once for on-premise installation, twice for web-based deployment, thrice for private cloud solutions. When considering software, users normally think about features and capabilities intuitively — making big decisions seem easy at first. This stems from the hope that core data and program logic is consistent across platforms.

Server virtualization, the World Wide Web and cloud computing have changed the dynamics of software development, acquisition, installation and deployment.

 

However, new technology often becomes a point of stagnancy, or even complacency, for businesses. This can sometimes result from hesitancy, but it’s often caused by oblivion.

private cloud solutions

 

How Will You Know What You Don’t Know?

 

Technology changes quickly, and the evolutions now, more often than not, push web-based and private cloud solutions away from the realm of preference and into the world of necessity. When I first entered the business field in the 90s, I never would have imagined that I could license a software application on a subscription service, much like I do a newspaper or magazine. My mind hadn’t even conceptualized the idea that a software application could be accessed entirely through the World Wide Web. Back in the day, we were just trying to make it through Y2K in one piece. But as the technology advanced, the options and opportunities presented themselves, and now more than two decades later, I increasingly work with companies engaging software in a cloud context.

 

 

IT Symbiosis

 

The industry shift to public and private cloud solutions has not only changed the very way in which applications are deployed, it has also leveled the playing field. Your company can now outsource some or all of your IT needs, allowing for growth within a predictable technology budget. A partnership with a managed services firm provides updates, compliance, security, training — all from a specialized team built specifically to adapt 24/7 to the volatile growth inherent to IT. Companies no longer need to house their own elaborate, expensive IT departments to keep up with the times. In light of recent cybercrime upswings, this is a critical time to focus on the survival of small and midsize businesses, which often face closure upon ransomware or other security breaches.

 

Since technology evolves on a daily basis, it’s always time for your team to consider new possibilities to protect the future of your business. If your architecture is outdated, or you’re overdue for a security audit, it might be time to get a full analysis of your IT infrastructure. Moving from on-premise servers to hosted, cloud-based environments can be one way to ensure business continuity. That said, “the cloud” might not be the right fit for your business, so let’s look more closely at business enablement through three common deliveries, which can be infinitely customized into hybrid forms.

 

 

The Basics

 

The deployment of an application normally takes on one of the following forms:

  • On-Premise: In an on-premise installation, the application is installed on an on-premise, in-house server. It can be like having a furnace closet or an underground mad scientist laboratory, depending on the size of the company and the specific technology burden.
  • Cloud-Hosted: Cloud-hosted applications are installed on a virtual server, which means they are hosted in the cloud. Hosted solutions often replicate an on-premise architecture. Ease of backups, cybersecurity, updates and compliance are common reasons businesses choose cloud-based solutions. This option allows organizations to leverage 100% of the application features that are available in an on-premise install.
  • Web-Based: A web-based deployment foregoes installation entirely — it’s based on subscribing to an application that is already installed, deployed, and interacting with the application through web-based protocols.

 

A common trope of cloud computing with regard to on-premise installations has to do with the limits in physical contact that it presents — you can’t go down the hall and hug your servers. I’ve never actually tried to hug a server, but I think it would feel rather strange to do so. This hug-ability factor speaks to the level of control that companies possess when they install an application on their in-house server stack. There might be problems with this approach, but at least the company owns the problems and their resolutions. Moreover, when it comes to hugging, data is a much more recognizable object of affection. I can think of countless times that I have tried to “get my arms around the data” when working on a project. Access to the data layer is often an important feature, especially when performing custom reporting, and in some cases, the abstraction of the data layer present in web-based applications may make it hard to understand just what is happening to the data itself, making reporting a challenge.

 

Purely web-based versions of an application provide the core capabilities, but the features and functionalities available in a web-based version tend to be limited when compared to their on-premise counterparts. Consider Microsoft’s Office 365 suite. While highly similar to a client install, there are some limitations to the things we can accomplish in the web version of Excel, for instance, when compared to its client-based counterpart. Working with ERP systems, I’ve found this trend to be consistent — if you’re leveraging a web-version of an application, expect to be privy to a subset of the overall functionality available with an on-premise version. And if you’re utilizing a version that is entirely web-based, tailor your expectations accordingly.

 

Speaking of tailoring, the ability to alter an application to fit your company’s needs also tends to be greatly reduced in web-based applications when compared to on-premise counterparts. By tailoring, I am referring to the ability to insert user-defined data or business logic into your application and have this custom functionality work in conjunction with the application’s standard behavior. In some ways this limitation is a good thing, as I’ve certainly seen companies entangle themselves in their own tailored threads. Conversely, a little tailoring can yield big gains in efficiency and effectiveness. As it is, a company purchasing web-based software out-of-the-box should understand what is in the box and only in the box, and that the box can’t be easily repurposed.

 

Depending on the application in question and the needs of the business, I‘ve found private cloud solutions to be a nice midpoint between the two poles of on-premise and web-based architectures. Cloud hosting specifically allows companies to possess fully-featured applications in the cloud, avoiding the problems associated with on-premise installations. This affords a measure of control unavailable with pure web-based applications. Moreover, it creates the levels of functionality and customizability that allow companies to do more than the basics. And should the company need assistance in the management of their application stack, we can cleanly pull in additional resources to lend a hand. Hosted applications also offer a variety of administration options — from in-house talent to partnered resources — and can adapt efficiently to new technology.

 

IT Strategies for Remote Teams (Video)

IT Strategies for Remote Teams (Video)

Brad Feakes Director Professional Services
Brad Feakes

SVP Epicor Services, Professional Services

Daryl Sirota – Director, Technical Services
Daryl Sirota

Technical Services Director

 

Brad and Daryl talk about IT strategies for remote teams

 

Brad and Daryl sit down this week for a Q&A style chat to unravel a few of the complex IT issues in today’s work from home (WFH) environment.  At a high level, Daryl emphasizes how we should not make the mistake of trying to plug pieces of cloud software together expecting them to work properly.  That is almost impossible to do effectively without the appropriate policy to guide the technology.  You will need to understand how you will provide guidance to your end users faced with a variety of remote work environments (working for a cafe, home office, etc) and the new tools you will use to manage staff.

 

They move on to talking about some of the end-user WFH problems from asking the question “what does work from home mean?”  to discussing what technology can be used to help get users up and running while also creating business efficiencies.

 

Throughout the discussion, Daryl covers a variety of other topics such as data security, public vs. home wifi, two-factor authentication, remote access vs. remote control utilities, data access, machine vulnerabilities and many other topics.

 

Brad and Daryl do an excellent job of taking some big, complex issues around WFH and explain the issues that every business owner needs to be aware of as they navigate moving their staff into the cloud and potentially hiring a company like EstesGroup to help them with their remote IT management.

 

Of course, you can always reach out to our managed IT services team.  We’ll help you throughout the entire process of moving your company into the cloud and help you avoid the costly mistakes that can put your entire business at risk.

 

Are you having issues with or have questions about your current IT management? Contact us today.

EstesGroup and Alliance Machine Interview (Video)

EstesGroup and Alliance Machine Interview (Video)

Bryan Provo, President

Alliance Machine, Inc.

Bruce Grant, President & CEO

EstesGroup

 

Bryan Provo explains why working with EstesGroup is critical to his success

 

Alliance Machine’s Bryan Provo is President of his family’s 2nd generation manufacturing business based in Elk River, MN, north of the Twin Cities. For 30 years, his company has delivered high-value solutions to the aerospace, defense, medical and technology industries. 

 

When EstesGroup originally engaged with him over 5 years ago, Bryan’s mind was fixed on having hardware on-site (exactly where cybercriminals could access it). In conversation with Bruce Grant, Bryan explained his transition from wanting full access to his own hardware to wanting complete IT and security management from EstesGroup experts.

 

Bryan explained the challenging times that brought on his IT change: “I felt it was too difficult to manage the hardware portion.”

After a nasty ransomware experience two years ago, Bryan set out to find a managed IT service provider and, after many phone calls and after reaching out to multiple vendors, he partnered with EstesGroup. He realized, in his own words, “They had exactly what I was looking for.” 

 

Bryan summarized the success of bringing EstesGroup fully aboard for his IT needs: “It’s been an absolute heaven-sent.”

As you will hear in the interview, Bryan has experienced, and thoroughly knows, how difficult server crashes were before EstesGroup began managing his IT. Please listen to Bryan Provo explain various strengths of his partnership with EstesGroup in the following short videos, taken from the full interview with Bruce Grant:

Why EstesGroup Managed IT?

Why EstesGroup Cybersecurity?

Need help with your ERP or IT systems? Contact us today.

How You Can Strengthen Your Network and Security with Passwords

How You Can Strengthen Your Network and Security with Passwords

We’ve all done it, at least once. Some of us maybe more than a couple of times, and I know there’s few that are repeat offenders. You know what I’m talking about – the bane of the security admin’s existence – default passwords.

Those are the usernames and passwords that come with every device. Even in this day and age, most systems don’t REQUIRE you to change the credentials that get you system admin rights. The bad guys know that and use it to their advantage.

When most of our business and personal systems are protected with just a name and a basic password (and maybe a trusted network range?), that’s pretty easy pickings for someone with a brute force tool or a sniffer to find out your secrets. And once the bad guys have your credentials, then what? Well after that is when the real dangers begin.

When’s the last time you changed your voicemail PIN from 0000? Perhaps your home router is still admin/password even though the FBI issued a warning for everyone to change it? And how many ERP users keep system admin “manager” around with the default password of… you guessed it. And those accounts open the door wide to anyone wanting to get in; good and bad.

If you have systems exposed to the bad guys (and we all do!) then this post is for you. STOP IT! Even if you told me “Well, none of those systems are internet exposed”, I’d ask “where are the bad actors in your network?”. If you said “outside the firewall”, I’d respond with something like “I dare you to create a share/folder called “payroll” and see how long some curious netizen (aka employee) fell into that folder looking for something juicy.

Imagine splaying your entire infrastructure wide open to someone who just happened to know that Netgear uses admin/password for all their routers? Or that your company name is NOT a good password?

So what’s a concerned system admin gonna do? It’s easy in theory and hard in practice. Here are some digital security tips that will create a stronger password security strategy:

1. Change the default username and change the default password.

2. Start using stronger passwords, not [email protected] We recommend pass phrases, or a sentence that you can remember but the bag guys will have a hard time guessing.

3. Enable account lockout so that if “x” bad passwords are guessed in a row, the account is locked FOREVER (not reset after 10 minutes, thank you Microsoft). Helpdesk notification of such a lockout will put you in the know.

4. Remove admin credentials from being used on untrusted networks. Yes, your users are untrusted! Create a management VLAN, or a specific set of IP’s that can RDP, or shutdown the access from outside devices altogether.

5. Enable multi-factor authentication. This can easily be enabled in Office 365 and Active Directory, and if your devices leverage that directory then they automatically get that 2FA protection as well.

6. Hack yourself! Run a network scanner, or hire an outsourced IT firm to investigate for you, find the unsecured devices and fix them before the bad guys do.

7. Let us help you! We can run an ethical scan IT Assessment Detective scan of your systems, attempt to break into your systems, and give you a full reporting of your IT weaknesses. As “they say” knowledge is power.

So, don’t let your next phone call to the EstesGroup be “help me, I got hacked!” And let our managed IT services company help you run your business better with a strong password security strategy – before the bad guys teach you a lesson.

Interested in Outsourcing your IT? Or have a question on data security? Ask us, we would love to chat.

An Independent Look at the Epicor 10.2 User Experience

Are you ready for an Epicor 10 Demo?

Epicor ERP is a powerful platform with thousands of manufacturers using it to run their businesses. With power often comes complexity, and that’s been the case with earlier versions of the system. There is no perfect ERP system, and the ever-changing balance between functionality and usability is a constant series of trade-offs. Epicor ERP Version 9 often required multiple servers, performance tuning was critical, it had a Progress data base layer, even when running on SQL, and the user experience was challenging. A personalized Epicor ERP demo is the perfect beginning to your Epicor consulting journey.

 

Epicor invested $25M in Epicor ERP Version 10, developing a completely new platform. The system was written and optimized for Microsoft .NET Framework and the Microsoft Data Platform, including Microsoft SQL Server. Users will experience a big increase in performance (over Epicor 9) and find the system easier to manage.

 

What you’ll see in your Epicor ERP demo

According to Epicor, here are the Top 5 user ERP system experience enhancements for Epicor ERP 10.

  •  Responsiveness – Performance has doubled and scalability has quadrupled across virtually all aspects of the system. ERP 10 is much more hardware efficient, which dramatically lowers hardware costs.
  • Simplicity – ERP 10 services are hosted purely using Microsoft Windows® components, including Internet Information Services (IIS) and Microsoft .NET. An all new management architecture makes deployment and migration much easier.
  • Mobility – Touch-enabled devices are now supported for a new navigation system and a re-architected Epicor Web Access (EWA) browser client.
  • Collaboration – Epicor Social Enterprise is included with ERP 10 and is a new way for ERP users to interact with each other and with ERP data.
  • Choice – ERP 10 can be deployed on premise, hosted, or access via subscription. It is also much easier to create a high-performing virtualized infrastructure.

The current version, Epicor 10.2, introduces some really exciting capabilities that you’ll see in your ERP demo, including Active Home Page and Epicor Data Discovery (EDD). Here are some highlights:

  • Developed using the latest web standard, which makes the system mobile-friendly and responsive.
  • Manufacturing role-based KPIs, examples: Percentage of Jobs without Scrap or Non Conformance, Manufacturing Hours and Indirect Hours.
  • Finance and Supply Chain role-based KPIs, including: Price Variance, Open PO Count and Amount, and Negative Inventory Items/Out of Stock.
  • Customization capabilities to modify out-of-the-box KPIs or create entirely new ones based on existing or newly created BAQs.

 

Epicor Consulting: How can we help?

What do you want to see? Our Epicor consultants will show it to you. The best way to get an in-depth look at the new Epicor 10.2 functionality is to experience it firsthand! Our Epicor consulting team can give you a demo of the full system, or one of our ERP specialists can walk you through a specific module. We can help you with project planning, including Epicor budgeting so you experience increased revenue at every step of your ERP upgrade. Your personalized Epicor ERP demo can even show you the newest managed ERP hosting capabilities.