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Small Business Technology Needs in 2020


Dan: That's right, good morning. It is time for BitWizards ' Tip of the Wand. On the phone with me I have, well, because they can't come into the studio right now, I have Vince and Sam. Good morning, guys.

Vince: Good morning.

Sam: Good morning.

Dan: Yeah, one of these days, we're going to get you guys back in the studio. It could be '20, '21 or '20, something like that.

Vince: Well, instead of let my people go, let my people back in, back in the studio.

Dan: No kidding. Let's get this dog gone show on the road, shall we? Shall we get the United States of America back to work and get the economy going again? Because it's slowing things down. I'm glad we're starting to open up a few things. I know you guys have still been working, but some people just haven't had a chance to work.

Vince: Well, more and more things are opening back up. And we've got one of our close customers there, RealJoy Vacations is getting back in the groove again now, as we have short term rentals and visitors coming back in, so we're excited about that. We want them to get back on their feet and get going, they've been pretty hard hit. And we want all the restaurant owners and folks out there to start getting back going. The Chamber's got a thing going on right now called Spend Local [ inaudible 00:01:14]. And we want people to get out there and spend money in our local small businesses, and make sure that we get our economy that going and moving forward.

Dan: Yeah, that's a very good point, Vince. You know, we can get a lot of things online, but you can get a lot of things locally as well. And we all live and work in this area, it's great to spend locally. I love that idea, that the Chamber's doing that.

Vince: Yeah, we're pretty excited. Well, let's jump right on in here to some Bits & Bytes.

Dan: Let's do it.

Announcer: BitWizards ' Bits & Bytes.

Vince: Yeah. So today what we wanted to kind of talk about is thinking more strategically about your business. Most small business owners got into business because they love something or they were passionate about it. And it might be that you loved making food, and so you opened up a restaurant, or maybe you became a real estate agent because you liked showing people's houses, and making them happy and making their dreams of home ownership come true. Or maybe you were into antiques, or right here maybe you just loved water sports and so you opened up a water sports place. But when you're passionate about something like that, and you try to stay ahead of what's going on in that particular thing. You live, eat and breathe it. But as you've heard us talk about before on the radio show, all businesses today are IT businesses, and IT is a strategic enabler. And so you need to think of IT every year. And every year we have Accenture, and Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Mackenzie, and they look at the strategic IT trends and they report on them. They usually do sort of a David Letterman top 10 thing and tell you all about that. And they divided up into small, and mid market, and large businesses. And as a business owner, you should pay attention to those trends and figure out how to interweave them with your passion, so that you can stay ahead of the trends and be competitive, and grow your business.

Sam: And one of the analysis companies, Spiceworks, they're reporting that 88% of businesses expect their IT budget to grow or stay steady over the next 12 months. I think we're probably seeing even higher numbers in that now, as the workforce has shifted to be a little less centralized. So then we're relying even more so on technology now to facilitate business, and be able to adapt to changes in the environment. So what the Spiceworks report says is the companies with less than a hundred employees, so standard small, medium sized businesses, companies with less than a hundred employees, will designate about 35% of their budget to hardware, about 31 of it to software, 22% to hosted and cloud based services, which we'll talk about a little bit more, and then 11% to manage services. That's having people jump in and assist with you.

Vince: So Dan, let me ask you : you're in the radio and you're in the DJ business, and you go out and you host weddings, and you do stuff in addition to what you do here at Cumulus. How has technology changed the type of stuff that you're doing within your business and your career?

Dan: Oh gosh, technology has a lot to do with success in my business. Because you got to reach out and find clients, clients always want to look at your Facebook page. Not only that, it's easier to get music and it's easier to connect with them. There's so much information available about all the different things that we do in our business, that you reach out and you have to grab that technology, that information, I should say. You're always grabbing information, and brides are always asking about newer and better things, and you better stay on top of it and you better stay current.

Vince: Well, that's the truth. You know, Sam and you are both kindred spirits in that realm. Because Sam also has that other business on the side, which includes DJ-ing, and then also providing equipment for weddings and stuff like that. And I'm sure he's run into more than one bridezilla.

Sam: Oh, plenty of them. But I've got to say, it used to be in the early days, pulling around crates of vinyl and setting up record players, and knowing what you do and don't have, and being ready for it, where a band maybe way more versatile because they can just play whatever you throw at them. But with Spotify now, and even just be able to buy MP3's for less than a buck a piece, there's really, any request that ever comes in whenever there's a DJ-ing situation, it makes it easier. But it's more than just the technology that is behind the businesses, it's the technology that fuels the business as well, across the board. Like you were saying, Vince, having a digital marketing strategy, or ensuring that there's security in your business because you've got things locked down, or ensuring that there's reliability in your business because you have things backed up. So there's a lot more to the technology in any company, than just do we use technology on a day to day basis to achieve what we're doing? Because some might people may think, well, my business isn't really in the IT field.

Vince: Yeah. And a couple of things kind of thinking about this, as we talk about small business trends and what people are looking at, you mentioned a website. And one of the big small business trends for 2020, was SMB websites, we're going to focus on voice and chat bot enhancements. You know, everybody's using Alexa these days, everybody's using Siri and Cortana, and all those different things.

Sam: You just triggered people's smart devices all over.

Vince: I did.

Sam: All their devices are saying, " Yes, can I help you? Yes?"

Vince: But you know-

Sam: I should say, [Shma-shmexa 00:06:55] and **Shmortana** and [ Shiri 00:06:57 ].

Dan: Yeah. Siri, close down.

Vince: Shut up Siri.

Dan: Siri, play Journey. Okay, we got them.

Vince: But you know, small businesses are looking for ways to provide that mobile experience, that access to information about their business, and sort of being thought leaders within their business space or what they know. And they're looking at ways to do that. Voice is one, where they can interact with customers, and the website or things can respond to them. Another one are chat bots. A lot of people don't know about these things, but they're like little bots or little pieces of functionality, that exist on a website. They're built on sort of an AI platform, and AI as a service, or artificial intelligence as a service, where it kind of learns. You set it up with a set of questions that your customers might ask on the website that are repeated or that type of thing. And then over time, this thing looks at the responses from people as they ask, either verbally or they type in questions, and it answers. And so, it gives that appearance of having a human being, and someone there that's always there to answer their questions.

Dan: Yeah. And you know, something else I'll add to that, because it's not only questions, but just a little bit different on the website. On some websites, and I don't have this, but it would be good to have, your calendar is already out there. So if they want to book with you, they can see if you have open dates, and they can send you a request for a particular date. That takes a lot of time versus talking to people and saying, " Well, I don't have this particular date open," so the technology in that I think is pretty good as well.

Sam: It's pretty powerful stuff. In fact, there really are a couple of options on how to achieve that. Of course, you can always go with the custom software route, which Vince will be able to speak to about getting custom calendars on your website. I know, from when I first started working here, it was for setting up a booking engine for some resorts, onto their website. But actually even with the Office 365 tooling, a lot of this is now built into your Office 365 account, to where you can have your clients schedule appointments with you. And they even have a bot in there that will go back and forth with the bot on their end, and find the best time to set up an appointment between the two parties.

Vince: And if you take that, and then you tie that in with like say, mobile payments or payment processing within your website, you've got a booking engine 24, seven, and you can take a person's deposit. So if you're a service business like that, and somebody really cares about it, they want to book that date. They can pick that date right there, pick what dates are available, and write you a note about what some of their key items are. And they could do this at two o'clock in the morning when they're just up watching Leave it to Beaver, or something.

Sam: That's right. And the AI isn't something futuristic, it's something that's already happening now. In fact, there was an announcement in the news this week that Microsoft has now built one of the world's largest super computers across all of their data centers in their Azure cloud platform. Which means there are all of these computer brains spread out all over the country right now, that are able to learn behavior and respond. Now it's not AI, like you would see in the movies where it's going to go crazy and destroy the planet.

Vince: That's coming.

Sam: It's the AI that is learning, it's machine learning. It is identifying patterns and trends, and learning from those to be able to give good answers to people that are asking questions on your website, in human, natural language. It's pretty amazing stuff.

Dan: And I take it you guys can set all that stuff up?

Vince: Well, absolutely. We can do that because we have basically three lines of business here. We've got, of course the manage IT and infrastructure, but we also have software engineering, and then we also do digital marketing. So we can go in and set up all rounds of this from the user interface, to the software that integrates with it, to the IT infrastructure that's needed to support it. And that's one of the key things about BitWizards, because we are a strategic enabler for you. And we stay on top of those IT trends, and we bring those ideas to our customers on a regular basis. Through our manage IT services, we provide a virtual CIO service, and every quarter we sit down, we review your entire IT with you. We give you a printed document that tells you all the different things that are going on with your current systems, and how you might improve on them in the future, and make them better to enable your business to do more, for your people to be more productive, and for you to service your customers better.

Dan: And the one thing about that is when you guys all set all this up, it is managed, that sometimes you'll catch something before even the customer knows that something is going bad, and you'll fix it. And it's just seamless to the customer.

Sam: Absolutely. So a good example of that would be if somebody's hard drive is filling up. We'll set up a system on our end that will be constantly monitoring all of the workstations, just to check to see is the RAM okay, is the hard drive okay, you're not using too much of the CPU power? And if it does, so if the hard drive hits over 90% because one of your kids downloaded the entire movie collection from Disney from some shady website, and they download it to your machine and now the hard drive is 90% full. We have a couple of things in place. One, we'll get an alert about that, 24, seven, they'll let us know that that's happened. And immediately our system will kick in and start cleaning up some of the temporary files, and emptying the recycle bin, and doing a few different standard little things to identify it. But then we also get a notification for us to go in and have a look and investigate, to give you a call to say, " Hey, it looks like your hard drive filled up. That could mean you're going to have a really hard time getting work done tomorrow when your computer is running slowly, let's see what we can do to get it cleaned up." And so that's that proactive monitoring, and reactive resolution to that.

Dan: Gosh, that's great. I mean, that's like genius and magic all at the same time. All right, guys, let's move on.

Announcer: BitWizards. What's up our sleeve?

Vince: Well, if we could get some folks to call in at 664-1260, we'd love to hear from you. With that, we've got a couple of questions already sort of primed here that typically people ask us, and one of them is, " Can you help my applications run faster?" Well, the answer to that question is absolutely we can. There's some basic maintenance, like defragging your hard drive on a regular basis, making sure that you clean up the temp files, making sure there's enough space on your drive, that we make sure so that your applications are tuned and ready to go. But what we often find is that business owners try to hold on to old technology way, way too long. And today's modern applications, the more you get on them, they're more CPU and RAM heavy, and so we also take a look at that. Now, I know that some of the business owners I know, scoff that that's the first thing out of the IT person's mouth is, " We got to replace the computer." Well, that's not where we go here. The first place we go is we look at the computer and make sure that it's tidied and kept up. It's kind of like that maintenance that you do on your house to make sure that it's set and ready to go, so that the roof doesn't leak and your air conditioner is serviced, that type of thing. Those are the types of things that we do first. And then as your technology gets obsolete, we come up with an obsolescence plan to help you stay with the latest and greatest. You don't have to be at the very tip of the spear or at the bleeding edge, but we definitely don't want you to be at the butt of the shaft either. You need to be somewhere in the middle.

Sam: And we, constantly monitoring all of the applications for our clients to see when the application has changed. So a lot of times that might be a server is now out of date, and so for you to get to the newest version of it, then there's an upgrade path. And we work with our clients and with those support companies to make sure that the applications are always being kept up to date, so that helps make sure that they run faster. Or if they have a service model of that application that may not have existed five or 10 years ago when you bought this line of business application, there may now be a version of it that you can subscribe to and access it from anywhere, just through a web browser. And so we help also with those migrations to get people to be able to work more efficiently. And so as Vince said, sometimes the answer is to throw some newer hardware at it, because it's just slow and it's just out of date. But a lot of times there's a lot of work we can do ahead of that to prolong the longevity of the hardware, to make sure you're getting the best bang for your buck across the board there. We will even optimize the network. We'll tune the network itself, so that certain traffic on the network can get higher priority. If you're having a voiceover IP for your phones and you want to make sure we can then quality of service, it's called QoS. We can make sure that that phone traffic gets a little bit more preference than somebody checking Facebook or watching Netflix at their desk. So the phone calls go through, even if it means somebody else has to buffer their YouTube watching for a few seconds.

Dan: That's interesting. Let me interrupt just for a second. By the way, you're listening to BitWizards ' Tip of the Wand, we have Vince and Sam on the phone with us. And you're welcome to call in with questions. The number here is 664-1260, I encourage you to call in if you have a question for these two. These are the experts, if you have a question call in now. Okay guys, sorry.

Vince: No, that's great. Thanks for calling out, hopefully we'll get a few people to call in. One of the other questions that we often get from business owners is, " Why do I need to update my software or hardware?" The idea is if it isn't broke, don't fix it. Well you know, unfortunately with technology, there's a lot of moving parts here. There's just-

Dan: Hey Vince? We got somebody calling in, man.

Vince: Awesome.

Dan: News talk 1260, hello, you're on the air. Do you have a question for Vince or Sam?

Caller 1: Yes. I'm semi retired, I'm 68, and I have no computer savvy at all. How could I go about learning the computer?

Dan: So you don't have a computer, but you'd like to get one. Is that the idea?

Caller 1: Well, no, my wife has one, but I need to learn it. She has no patience to teach me.

Dan: So you're looking to learn what, the Windows part of it or what?

Caller 1: Well, just start with the basics. Basic computer knowledge.

Dan: Okay. How would a person go about learning the basics of computer stuff, guys?

Vince: Well, one of the things I know that you can do is down at the library, they have computers there, and they usually have very helpful staff that can walk you through and show you different key items, like how to get around on the computer and how to get the types of information and things that you want to get done. You know, straight forward, you know how to use a mouse and how to get onto the computer, that's the easy stuff. After that, basically how to get around in a web browser. How does it work? Mail is another one that you would want to learn about. And some other places that you might look at, sometimes out at the local colleges and things like that, they have computer science departments, and sometimes you can go over and you can talk with them. You can take a course over there. But there's also a lot of online resources like lynda. com, that'll take you through the basics.

Sam: That was actually going to be my recommendation, is a website called Lynda, it's L-Y-N-D-A, lynda. com. And they have a lot of training resources from the very basics and foundations, all the way up to some more expert level training. They were bought out by Microsoft actually, so you know there's a reputable company behind it, and that the training is all solid, and I've learned a lot of good stuff on there. So lynda. com is great, but as Vince was saying, even the library will offer a lot of online stuff.

Dan: Perfect. So does lynda. com, is that a free source or is that a paid source?

Sam: It is a free trial, and I believe that some of the content is always available, but then there are different plans that you can jump into to get ongoing training with them.

Dan: I see.

Caller 1: Sounds good, guys. Thank you very much.

Dan: Did they answer your question?

Caller 1: Yes, sir. Thank you.

Dan: Okay. Thanks for calling in, I appreciate it.

Caller 1: All right. I appreciate your program, bye bye.

Dan: Bye bye.

Vince: Another one, Dan, that I just thought of there, if we don't have another caller, is that sometimes the Boy Scouts will be working on merit badges or things like that. I know there's now a computer merit badge, and they may be willing to come out, them or the Girl Scouts or maybe American Heritage Girls, and kind of walk through some of our citizens out there, that would like to know a little bit more about computers and how to get around with them, and how to make them be an effective tool for themselves.

Dan: Yeah. There's probably a lot of people like that, that are a little apprehensive of jumping on a computer, maybe they're later on in the years and they just really have never had the need for it, but would like to. And so that's good information and good sources, you guys.

Sam: Absolutely.

Dan: All right. You ready to move on?

Vince: Absolutely sir.

Dan: Well, let's do it.

Announcer: BitWizards, from the Spell Book.

Sam: So today's term, we actually referenced it a little bit earlier, is managed services. In From the Spell Book, we often demystify some technical geek speak and a lot of times it's an acronym. But today it's managed services, or as you'll see the acronym part is MSP, a managed services provider. And that's because many day to day business activities can be outsourced as a means of cutting costs, increasing overall efficiency within a company. I know for small businesses, as small businesses grow, they go through different phases, and Vince can attest to this. When you first start out your business, you are it, you're everything. You're the owner, you're the worker, you're also the janitor, you're the front desk, the HR and you're-

Vince: Sales, finance.

Sam: That's right. But as your company grows, you realize, of course, there's better uses of your time as an entrepreneur, as a business owner. And so you start outsourcing some of this work, whether that's hiring part-time laborers that then become full time employees, or whether it's starting to outsource some of the work. And so I know a lot of people anymore do not attempt to do their own bookkeeping in house. It's a lot more efficient to get a third party to do your bookkeeping, or to do your payroll for you. So that's one less skill that you have to keep in house, and that is relatively affordable to do that. Well, those are managed services across the board. For us specifically, we look at information technology activities as a great opportunity for managed services. And that's because again, while you may be pretty comfortable around a computer and you may be pretty comfortable with even some of the line of business software that you've purchased to help run your business, at some point, you have to stop and say, " How much is it worth my time to fix somebody's Outlook for the 16th time, who came to work for me, just because they keep dragging..." So this is actually one of our clients who came to us, came to us because the CEO and the CFO, chief financial officer, said that they were tired of helping this one employee who constantly dragged her Outlook icon into the recycle bin on her desktop without realizing she did it. And so she thought she had deleted Outlook every time, and so then the CFO would have to jump on her computer and pull the icon back out of the recycle bin and put it back on the desktop, so that she was happy. And he said, " I realized I should not be doing this all day every day, I need people who can do this for me." Now, hiring an IT staff is a really big step because you go through a long process of evaluating someone's technical ability, and their cultural fit on your team. But with managed services, you get all of that functionality and all of those features of having a large IT department, but it's on a pay as you go type basis.

Vince: And one of the things about managed services that are important is at the core, it centers around things that large businesses already do. They do proactive maintenance on their computer systems up front. They monitor and patch them in real time so that they stay up to date. The biggest way that people can get themselves in trouble is by not patching and keeping their computers updated. There are constant, constant security updates and things like that. The operating system gets updated, that would be your Microsoft Windows or your Mac OS. And then on top of that, you have each one of the applications that potentially needs to be updated. Then you start to talk about things like web browsers, where your web browsers have plugins and things like that And those applications need to be updated. But also at the core, you've got your hardware, and your hardware also has potential vulnerabilities and things that happen to it to help it run better. Because no software or no hardware, firmware that ever gets sent is sent bug free. They're going to have stuff that's in them. There are going to be new scenarios, or there's going to be new things that come out that are going to cause those things not to operate as optimal as they should be, or introducing new bugs into the system. It's not a closed system. And so what they do is that those things need to be patched, and they need to be updated regularly. So that is one of the core tenants of managed services. The other one is, is that you have a help desk. You basically have a help desk, somebody that you can call anytime that you need help, anytime that you need any questions answered, somebody that's looking out for you, they're there and available to you. And BitWizards provides that as an all you can eat model, some places charge you by the hour for that help desk. What we do is we charge you per employee or computer operator. And then from that, we provide you that help desk from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM Central Time, which covers across the entire time zones in the United States. And then we also offer weekend support as well on an ad hoc basis.

Dan: Gosh, that would be so good to have as a business. Because your business is making widgets and selling widgets and so on, your business isn't about trying to keep your computer up to date and trying to find those patches and fixes that you're talking about. How many people that are doing the widget business, know how to update their computers all the time?

Sam: And oftentimes it's easy to think well, it doesn't happen all that often. But if you talk to your employees, you may realize just how much time gets wasted in frustration, where someone, their email was working yesterday, it was working the day before, and all of a sudden today it's decided to stop working. And so that time that they take to stop and try to figure out what in the world happened, and they realize, " Oh, I logged into the wrong account on my computer." But by that time it's been 15 minutes and they're frustrated, and your customers are frustrated. And so there is actually a lot of time lost. And that's why our help desk is, like Vince said, it's 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM, that's so that we can have that eight to five business hours, nine to five nationwide for our clients. So that if somebody is coming to work, they have someone they can reach out to when they need IT help, when they need some support. And so, we will always have resources available for them to pick up the phone and speak to a human being that can help walk them through the specific issues that they're dealing with, that's not outsourced to another country, we're all local here, we're all under one roof. And we have a team of professional and experienced and certified technicians available to help as soon as your employees run into any issues, which cuts drastically back on the amount of loss time and frustration that your organization has to go through.

Vince: We can help you whether it's one or two employees, or whether like Heartland Steel or RealJoy vacations, where you have 100 to 150 employees. Or if your offices are spread out nationwide, we can help support your team and make sure that you get those strategic best practices, and forward thinking, and patching and things that need to get done with your IT.

Dan: yep. Contact BitWizards to help you take care of your business. And guys, you have a client you'd like to talk about, I'm sure you do.

Sam: I do, yes. So I actually want to take a moment just to celebrate some of our clients. Because we've had some pretty strict lockdown measures in our area that have, of course, affected all of the local businesses, but none so much as the tourist industry, especially here in the Destin-Fort Walton Beach area. And specifically even within that group, the short term rental industry. Now, one of our clients is RealJoy Vacations. They do short term rentals, they have several hundred properties all up and down the Emerald Coast. And of course, this last week, I got the email from them saying that the governor had lifted the ban on short term rentals in the area, and so they're back in business and they are taking calls again now. And so I want to take a moment to celebrate them. They've been with BitWizards for quite some time, as their IT provider we do very holistic IT for them from top to bottom, taking care of all of their employees, all of their workstations, all of their networks and wireless access points so that we can help them succeed. And so we're just so excited to see them back in business again, and opening their doors.

Vince: And the last thing I would say about that is their leadership over there is really, really phenomenal. Not only did they, they took it in the shorts to make sure that they could cover all of their employees, keep them employed, all the housekeepers and maintenance folks and stuff that they've got there. They've got a large workforce, and I have to say they worked really hard to make sure that they could keep everybody gainfully employed and ready to go, so they could come back and be in business and service their customers, and make sure that people didn't end up out on the street.

Dan: Gotcha. Okay, guys, we're out of time. We'll talk to you next Tuesday, it's BitWizards ' Tip of the Wand.