We all had a wonderful time at the open house last week! Thanks a million to everyone who joined us. You made our night: there was a great turnout–clients, friends and family, colleagues from ShoreTel and Datto, and of course, the excellent staff from Al-Amir.
After ten years of doing what we love to do, it was very gratifying to come together with such a diverse group of people we’ve had the pleasure of supporting, interacting with, and being supported by.
Once again, it was such a thrill for us to have you there, and if you’re reading this now and weren’t able to turn up, we look forward to seeing you next time.
–Let’s take note of Corey Kennedy, a massively valuable member of the team, who shot these lovely photos.
There’s nothing like the power of new technology to destabilize a business: Tools designed to make life easier can just as easily lead to huge problems. To avoid being overwhelmed by unexpected shifts in technology, smart organizations strategically forecast potential issues and needs. By preparing in advance, they stay ahead of the competition and implement change in a structured, agile way.
Unsure of where to start? Here are some of the tech trends and needs that are likely to shake up your business’ IT in the coming year
Mobile: Americans now spend more time consuming digital media on a mobile device than they do on a desktop or laptop computer. This shift has already affected many businesses, and its impact will only grow. You might consider developing your own app or using a third-party app to promote your services. Many consumers also now expect mobile payment and account options. If nothing else, invest in a website that is responsive and readable on mobile devices. Advertising should be optimized, and make sure email communications and newsletters work nicely on smaller screens.
The cloud: Your business probably already relies on the cloud in one way or another, but a major move to the cloud can mean substantial savings on hosting costs. Moving to the cloud can also cut down on operational demands: Remote servers receive regular, automated updates from specialized professionals, so your team will no longer be responsible for maintaining on-site hardware. The cloud also offers benefits in terms of security, collaboration and remote access. Consider whether you might benefit from moving to the cloud and remember that many vendors and platforms are becoming increasingly cloud-based.
New technology: You may not know what The Next Big Thing is, but you know it’s coming. Smart businesses operate under the assumption that changes will happen. You may opt for valuable updates to your current tools or discover an entirely new trend breaking into the industry. Either way, be open to new technology and developments that will help propel your business forward. Adaptability and agility pay off.
Training: Once you’ve invested in tools for your business, make sure you get your money’s worth. One easy way to sink tech ROI is by failing to train employees to use workplace technology. Don’t assume that they will easily pick up or use new software. When you make a change or hire a new team member, train them. Webinars, automated courses or in-person workshops give your employees the knowledge they need to utilize technology, leading to increased efficiency and output.
Always remember that technology is meant to make life easier, not harder. And while today’s technology landscape is always full of surprises, there are also predictable problems. The demand for mobile, the cloud, new breakthrough technology and poorly trained teams can represent major stumbling blocks for any business if caught off guard. They also present great opportunities to add value and increase efficiency. Consider them when forecasting your IT strategy and budget for a significant competitive advantage.
Minimizing the IT growing pains at your business
You did it. Your hard work, skill and vision have paid off, and your business is now thriving. Launching a sustainable business is no small feat.
Growth, however, brings with it a whole new set of challenges. Many teams struggle to adapt their small, agile organizations to the demands of a growing customer base and increased profits. Reimagining infrastructure becomes a key priority, and within that, tech plays an essential role. Here are 10 things to keep in mind to minimize the growing pains when it comes your technology infrastructure.
Do your homework. Many business owners opt for the cheapest or easiest technology when they are just getting started. If that’s true for your organization, you could probably benefit from reevaluating your options. Now that you have a bigger budget and more complex needs, research alternatives and make sure you’re choosing the appropriate tech solutions. Don’t be afraid to speak with an advisor before making an investment.
Consider specialty solutions. As organizations grow, their staff often shifts from a small cohort tackling a range of problems to a synchronized team of experts. Technology should follow the same pattern. A spreadsheet may have been sufficient to track expenses or manage a customer list in the early days, but as your company grows it may be time to invest in a CRM or versatile bookkeeping solution.
Consider specialty staff. Don’t expect your other employees (or yourself) to know everything about your IT. It may be easier and more efficient to bring on someone who exclusively handles your systems. If you’re not ready for a full time staff member, consider hiring outside support.
Include technology in your budget. When a business is growing rapidly, it can be tempting to direct all of your funds toward development and marketing. An operation without strong infrastructure is not sustainable, however, and overworked or outdated systems could lead to disaster. Make technology an ongoing priority in your budget.
Find solutions that scale. Cloud-based platforms can easily scale up or down. Explore solutions that can adapt and increase capacity and features as your needs evolve.
Secure everything. Any business is susceptible to security risks and viruses, but the more valuable your data is, the more appealing it is to hackers. Now is not the time to skimp on security.
As you grow, simple data entry and other processes can become increasingly bulky. Large corporations increase efficiency by automating many menial tasks. Streamline where you can so that your growing staff can optimize productivity.
Evaluate your legacy systems. Part of growing is pushing beyond your comfort zone. Reevaluate your legacy systems regularly and determine whether their capabilities align with your strategy. If not, will an upgrade improve the situation, or do you need to look for alternatives?
Document and standardize. As your organization becomes more complex, it’s important to create standards and track developments on the IT front. Standardization simplifies and increases predictability for staff, and appropriate documentation lets the IT team resolve issues more quickly.
Watch the trends. You’ve made it this far in part because you’re quick on your feet and conscious of your market. Keep an open mind about the role technology can play as you grow, and pay attention to the technology solutions your competitors are using.
Shawn, better known as the “mistress of managing” at CHR, joined our team recently after working with us for more than five years as a client, in her work as a legal and executive assistant. With her great sense of humor, she’s already brought a new level of fun to the office. Here are a few fun facts about the woman who steers the ship at CHR:
Q: What’s your favorite thing about working at CHR?
A: “The people! They are so accepting and very helpful. They’re just awesome in general.”
Q: What’s your favorite thing about Portland?
A: “It’s not bad for a city! I grew up in central Montana, so I appreciate how clean it is here compared to other cities. I like Portland, it’s got everything you need.”
Q: What’s something surprising about you?
A: “I play a good game of pool! Back in the day, I even won a city wide competition.”
Q: What have you been reading recently?
A: “Inferno, by Dan Brown.”
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
A: “I love spending time in my garden, ceramics and summertime croquet games with my friends.”
Information technology is a broad and sometimes daunting industry. There are multiple facets to IT, such as information security, information communications, data storage, telephony and much more. Below are five best practices for your business, and whether you are part of a multi-national corporation or a local, specialized company, they can help ensure your IT success.
Create a plan
Before diving into your IT problems and practices headfirst, we recommend taking a step back to analyze what you hope to accomplish. Revisit your company mission and core values, then apply those goals to your IT strategic plan. Set goals for how you want to spend your IT budget and long-term and short-term objectives. The business objectives for your company should closely match those of your IT strategic plan. Ensure that your plan is results-driven—the more specific, the better.
Streamline the process
Voice and data convergence is allowing all networks to be combined into one stream that can save time, money and headaches for your company’s IT department. Converged data streams allow for problems and delays to be pinpointed quickly, as opposed to a model where multiple streams are being juggled and problems are harder to identify.
The cloud is now
The cloud has fundamentally shifted the way businesses save information. Cloud storage allows for greater flexibility and easier access to information for employees. Cloud allows for service providers to manage computing so businesses can focus on other things. The size of your company may determine whether SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) or IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) is the best option. Cloud computing can deliver additional flexibility in providing IT services and free up staff to work on other projects.
Keep security as a top priority
Information security is a must-do for every company, no matter the size. Investing in high-quality security is more cost-effective than paying to cover losses. Also develop an incident response plan in case a breach occurs (see No. 1—planning is key!). As information shifts to cloud storage and the IoT (Internet of Things) expands, there are more avenues than ever before for hackers to access sensitive information. Do your research, enlist the help of IT consultants, and find a solution that works best for your company needs.
Manage collaborative communications
Effective communication is crucial to any high-functioning business. New technology programs are making communication easier than ever. How much will you restrict or accept new technologies into your organization? Collaborative communication systems can combine different segments of business communications under one roof (i.e., email, file sharing, web conferences and calling). What will work best for your team, and how are you going to manage these systems? Will they all be cloud-based, or does everyone need to use the same system? Additionally, making sure communication solutions are mobile-friendly gives workers flexibility. These systems come in varying sizes and with different tools, making it easy to find one that works best for your business, no matter the size.
CHR can help you evaluate all of the above, either from the beginning or any step along the way. Having worked with companies of all sizes with varying IT and technology needs, we have the experience to help your business.
Starting a new job is stressful, and even the most eager new hires can become frustrated during onboarding. Providing a positive experience those first few days lays the foundation for a productive employee relationship – and can improve the bottom line.
Smooth onboarding processes offer substantial financial and operational benefits. Computer-based onboarding reduces errors and the amount of time HR and other staff members would otherwise spend directing new hires. Just as importantly, the sooner employees knows their way around a new position, the sooner they can get to work. Organizations that take advantage of computer-based resources can customize the process to their individual needs and improve the experience for both the employee and the organization. Here are some guidelines you should keep in mind when onboarding an employee into your system.
Make a digital checklist. A to-do list seems like the most obvious of onboarding principles, but many small businesses lack any sort of organized procedure at all. Online lists can notify supervisors or HR as a new hire progresses.
Remember the little things. Do you have a login and password ready before your new staff member walks in the door? Does your team use a standard email signature? Have printers, scanners and other hardware been linked to the new account? There’s nothing more embarrassing than being late to your first meeting because you couldn’t figure out how to operate the printer.
When in doubt, write it out. Step–by-step instructions or manuals for setting up voicemail and phone systems, changing passwords and using other basic resources will help your new employee settle in.
Minimize the paperwork. Much of the standard new hire paperwork, including I-9s, W-4s, direct deposit information and insurance forms can all be handled digitally. Digital forms can be stored in a centralized location and also limit opportunity for human error and skipped boxes that require unnecessary follow up.
Go social. Add your new hire to organization or team Facebook groups, LinkedIn accounts, email lists and employee discussion portals. If you have rules regarding social media usage, make sure they are clear from the get-go.
Be ready to teach. If employees will be using software – whether it be Microsoft Word or a customized CRM – make sure they have the training and preparation to use it effectively. Outline a procedure for online courses, training videos or in-person coaching sessions. Remember that even experienced pros need to be informed about your organization’s standards and best practices.
Streamline the cultural training. Consider digitizing cultural and HR onboarding needs by offering online videos, exercises and quizzes on company culture, sexual harassment rules, technology usage agreements and other expectations.
Shop it out. Specialized software and cloud-based solutions can centralize the onboarding process and sync with hiring and talent management platforms. Consult with your IT experts to determine which option will work best for you.
Above all, be patient. We were all new at some point. And of course, if CHR Creative can help in any way, please let us know.
You probably remember painfully well how many days (or weeks) it took to do your last computer system upgrade or security update, even your phone system. Not only is it time consuming to implement it all, it takes weeks – if not months – to plan for such an upgrade due to the sheer volume of knowledge necessary to learn what needs to be done, and then how it will physically get accomplished.
This is where an external IT consulting company can help your organization navigate and get through a transition most effectively, and probably more economically in both the short- and the long-term than only in-house expertise. Here’s what you can expect from an outside IT company or consultant:
1. Broad-based expertise
Experienced consultants have a broad depth of IT knowledge, and they are trained to know many different systems and software. This is what they do for a living and it’s their livelihoods. As a general course of action, a consulting company will come in and analyze what you’re currently using and provide you with recommendations. They can advise on a variety of tools and systems that will work best in your environment, whether it’s a large company or a small office, a non-profit or a governmental agency, or anything in between. They’ve tested many products and have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t.
2. Depth of experience
Professionals bring real experience in implementing projects for a significant number and variety of different organizations. There’s a good chance they’ve seen it all. That makes problem solving and overcoming any hurdles even easier. They are used to developing a wide range of project scopes and change management plans. They’ve worked with a variety of different management structures and can help overcome resistance within the internal teams.
3. Quicker deployment
A successful IT consulting company will come in and analyze the unique needs for your organization, keep the important internal resources where they belong and not try to reinvent the wheel with every project. This in turn will save you time and money. A good IT consulting team knows how to go about the process of putting a procedure plan or template in place, one that has already proven effective. Letting the experts help not only gives peace of mind, but it can mean quicker deployment. You can scale as needed to get the job done.
4. Independent objectivity
An external IT team can bring an independent, objective point of view and push what needs to really get done. Often change (even if it’s positive) is met with resistance, especially in the planning stages and immediately upon deployment with any project. An IT consulting team can help facilitate discussion with company stakeholders, outline goals and answer questions, concerns and objections to drive the project towards a positive outcome. While internal staff may fret over making certain people happy, an independent consulting company can be more objective through the whole process.
5. HR flexibility and money savings
You still get the specialized expertise that your company needs, but you’ll have a much smaller outlay compared to what you would pay internally. You can work with IT consultants on an on-going basis, or as needed on a project, and have the flexibility to scale up and down. While you may pay a higher hourly wage for a consulting service, in the long run you will save money by saving on salaries, perks, employee benefits and tax contributions. This overall provides you with a more efficient and cost-effective solution to your IT needs.
In summary, IT consultants can provide you with specific expertise, help you complete projects on time and save you money while meeting your organization’s goals. Always ask for references and customer testimonials when selecting a consultant. As always, we’re happy to help answer any questions.
We are pleased to announce that CHR Creative was once again named as one of the Portland Business Journal’s Fastest Growing Companies in Oregon and SW Washington. We found out that we were listed #55 this year while celebrating at a fun-filled, Hawaiian-themed event last night at the Oregon Convention Center, moving up from last year’s #76 out of 100.
The Portland Business Journal’s annual PBJ100 award examines privately held companies in the region, ranking them by percentage revenue growth over a three-year period. We continued to grow over the past year adding 3 additional staff members and increasing efficiencies and technology expertise.
We are most proud of how we’ve been able to successfully maintain our very first relationships while continuing to grow year after year. It never ceases to amaze me how high the integrity is of Portland-area companies and nonprofits that we work with, and we are proud to have such wonderful clients in both the nonprofit and commercial sector.
Thank you to all of you who have trusted us with your IT and communications systems.
Email scams are on the rise, and getting more difficult to identify
There is a type of malicious email referred to as phishing that we’ve been seeing in increasing numbers over the past year, so we wanted to provide you some basic tips on general email safeguards.
Definition of phishing
Phishing refers to an email scam technique that is generally used to gain access to sensitive, personal information, to ultimately commit fraud and/or identity theft.
The essential pattern of most phishing emails
Phishing emails seldom contain viruses, so they’re difficult to filter out with technical means. Instead, we must rely on the user’s best judgement. Keep a keen eye out for emails that contain these red flags:
Many of the people who create these emails do not speak English as their native language, so if you notice spelling and grammatical errors within the subject line or body copy, be wary.
May have links
Sometimes, but not always, phishing emails will contain links. A recent phishing email many people received claimed to be from the IRS, which contained a link that appeared to go to the IRS website. If you hover your pointer over the link, however, you will sometimes see that it doesn’t match the actual organization’s web domain.
Have a call to action; often for sensitive information
Phishing emails often have a call to action – such as “You must click on the link below and sign in to keep your account active.” This type of message often appears in phishing messages sent out claiming to be from large banks, retailers, and social media sites. Be very cautious here – when you click on that link and sign in, you may be unknowingly giving your username and password away to thieves – even if the site appears to look like the real thing.
Can appear to be from someone you know
Even more alarming is that recently, criminals have gotten very good at making emails appear to originate from people you actually know. Called spear phishing, these emails may even look like they’re coming from your boss or co-worker.
Example of an email received from one of our clients:
Hi [real employee name]
Please send me the list of W-2 copy of all employees’ wage and tax statement for 2015,
Kindly prepare the report in PDF and send via email.
[Real CEO’s name]
Because the recipient was cautious, and suspected the email was fraudulent, the request was rejected.
Basic tips to help protect you in your email endeavors
Always be skeptical when people ask you to provide sensitive information. If in doubt, call (don’t email) the person or organization in question and get confirmation that the information contained in the message is valid.
Always delete email sent from unfamiliar sources that contain attachments. If you’re not sure what the attachment is, do not open it. If you recognize the source, but weren’t expecting anything – call to ask if they sent it and what it is.
Never enter your username and password on a website you’re unfamiliar with OR that does not contain a valid security certificate – even if it looks legitimate. You can confirm the site is using encryption by looking for the lock icon in your browser. Every browser is slightly different, but here’s what they generally look like:
This is an encrypted website – note the lock icon next to the site address. When you click on the lock, you can get more details on the certificate, including this one, which shows that the security certificate is valid.
Never open attachments from unknown sources. Even if you get an attachment from a co-worker, family member or friend, do not open it without confirming that they sent it. Viruses sometimes send email from the computers of people who have been infected, frequently without their knowledge.
Never follow links in emails that do not appear to go to the correct location. Hover your pointer over the link and read the address to see if it looks legitimate.
When emailing, always use your common sense, and ask CHR Creative’s IT help desk to help you evaluate any suspicious emails if you’re unsure. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us at 503.427.1808. We’re open Monday – Friday from 8AM – 5PM PST.
May these tips help keep you safe both at work and at home.
With several leading nonprofits among our client base, we’re well-versed in the challenges these organizations often face in managing their technology needs. Compared to your for-profit counterparts, nonprofits are less likely to have resources available to invest in IT in a systematic manner, and you are less likely to have the in-house resources available to manage those technology systems.
The reality is that nonprofits are focused on the causes they were founded to support, not on IT infrastructure. According to the 9th Annual Nonprofit Technology Staffing & Investments Report, nonprofits on average have 4.6 technology-responsible staff – each of whom supports about 28 organizational staff members. At CHR, we’re often able to find economies for our nonprofit clients that your time-strapped internal IT teams have been unable to identify – freeing up more funding to accomplish key missions.
By focusing on what we do best – keeping your IT systems updated and secure – you can focus on what you do best – moving your cause forward. Each nonprofit’s needs are unique, but there are some universal actions to consider to help your organization – and its donors – feel confident that systems and data are safe.
1. Have a backup plan. Where is your data stored, and how often is it saved? A number of backup options are available, including saving your information to the cloud, to ensure that you don’t lose your lifeblood of donor information and funding history – not to mention the time required to rebuild this database if your data or systems are compromised. We also recommend redundancy: More than one location is best. Some data needs to be backed up daily, while weekly is adequate for other data.
2. Keep your staff informed of what’s safe. It’s important to give guidance to your staff about what they can and cannot do while at work or via remote access, or even on their own devices. Make sure they know how to create and maintain safe passwords, and know not to carry flash drives around with your most critical data. We also recommend regular training sessions to keep everyone up–to-date on current threats like phishing emails, malicious links, dangerous websites and ransomware.
3. Keep your software and operating systems current. Staying on top of security patches and support will help limit your system vulnerabilities and keep your systems safe.
4. Secure your wireless network. It’s a basic security precaution, but many people overlook the necessity of changing the default settings when installing a wireless router. This provides an easy route into your network for hackers. Use a strong password and don’t forget to enable encryption.
5. Restrict access to your most important data. Even with a small organization, you should evaluate who needs the ability to log in remotely. We recommend that only a select few people have access and that passwords are changed regularly.
Above all, it’s important to have a plan. CHR can help you ensure that your nonprofit’s unique IT needs are met, allowing you to focus on your core mission.