IT Support and the Worker-Driven Tech Revolution

As you’d expect from an event with “consumer” right in the title, the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show kicking off Tuesday in Las Vegas isn’t particularly focused on business’s needs. But the business IT site Information Management has an interesting take on why enterprise should be paying attention to CES anyway.

For one thing, a lot of much-discussed tech trends, from gamification to next-generation tablets, apply to companies as much as to consumers.

Even more, though, these days consumers—who, after all, are also workers—are often the ones driving the adoption of new tech in the workplace. If a delivery driver finds an app that makes it easier for him to steer around traffic as he makes his deliveries, you can bet he’ll use it, even if it hasn’t been approved by the IT department. In fact, it can sometimes be the techies who slow down adoption of new things because of security or reporting concerns.

Does that mean computer specialists’ only place at the office is to put a brake on the rampant spread of new technology? Of course not. A modern IT support service—whether it’s an internal department or an outside contractor—needs to be more involved than ever in the day-to-day life of an office.

Thwarting the adoption of new tech is not just futile, but it can lead to employees inadvertently do things that may be illegal, or counterproductive. Instead, IT support staff need to help employees at every level think through their tech needs and find ways to use the best tools for the job, and use them safely.

That requires not just on-demand IT support, but IT consulting to figure out strategies to stay on top of trends and let workers’ innovation work for the company, not against it.

Meet Jobe Diagne, Tech Support Engineer

Jobe Diagne

Jobe Diagne

Jobe Diagne grew up in Cambridge. When he went to college, he thought he’d focus on marketing and communications. But then he took part in Year Up, an intensive training program for young people from the city. The experience introduced him to the technology field, and he’s never looked back.

“I just knew I wanted to be in IT,” he said. “I love what I do.”

Jobe is 32 now, and he’s worked in the field for eight years, largely in the IT departments of large corporations. He’s been at for just a few months, but he’s finding the environment a pleasant change.

“I just like the management style,” he said. “They’re open to suggestions and changes.”

Another aspect of the work that he likes is seeing how different areas of IT operate. His job mostly consists of dealing with client issues, from simple things like resetting passwords to responding when a server goes down. Eventually, though, Jobe wants to get into networking and systems administration. Since works as a team, he’s able to start getting involved in that area as well.

“This, to be honest, is the best stepping stone for me,” he said.

Jobe lives in Worcester, and when he’s not working he spends plenty of time with friends and family. In May, he became a first-time uncle when his twin brother had triplets.

“I don’t look at a computer when I’m out of work,” he said.

Meet Josh Mindes, Tech Engineer

Josh Mindes

Josh Mindes

Josh Mindes is brand new to, with just a few weeks on the job, but he’s jumped in with both feet. Working in tech support, he pulls clients’ tickets and gets to work addressing their problems.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I was really into gaming and computers,” he said.

An uncle who worked in IT introduced him to the field, and he took to it quickly, ending up with a degree in engineering and then several years of work in technology.

Josh, who’s 26 now, said he’s getting to know’s clients, reading tickets as they come in and then looking up documentation on the companies’ histories. He’s also glad to have approachable colleagues who can help him out and share the tricks they’ve learned.

“We take our work seriously, but there’s time to have some fun,” he said. “People gladly help you out.”

Josh said some of the client issues he deals with are simpler than others. One ticket was from an office worker whose screen was suddenly upside-down. That took less than a minute on the phone to solve.

“I called and told her ‘control, alt, up key,’” he said.

Other times, Josh said, he has to work with outside vendors like Quickbooks and Apple to resolve clients’ problems. When one woman had an issue with her Apple computer, he said, instead of just referring her to Apple’s support team, he called the computer company himself and conference her in.

“I just didn’t want to leave her hanging,” he said.

Outside the office, Josh has an active social life. He’s signed up for a Boston softball club starting in August, and he’s looking for other chances to play sports. He also plays music with friends, and he loves going out to eat.

“I’m always at a new restaurant,” he said.

Meet Marcus Norman, Systems Engineer

Marcus Norman

Marcus Norman

Marcus Norman prides himself on being a laid-back guy. It’s a characteristic that serves him well in sometimes stressful job of migrating clients to new servers.

Marcus said that, while no one likes dealing with transferring all their systems to upgraded equipment, it can be relatively painless with a little advance planning. He said he makes sure clients are well informed about the process and can schedule the work around their busy times.

“We just try to plan everything ahead of time,” he said. “We try to make it so they have a say.”

It helps, Marcus said, that he’s been “doing computer stuff forever.” As a high-school student, he found he could figure out work-arounds for problems he was having with his own machines. “I like to dissect how things work,” he said.

These days, Marcus is 25, and high tech is both his job and his hobby. At home, he has his own server set up so he can stream his music to his TV, and he’s even built a virtual private network connected to his mother’s and aunt’s houses so they can share media with each other.

“I only do it because it’s cool,” he said.

Marcus brings the same love of tinkering to auto repair and home improvement projects that he does in his spare time. “Anything where you can kind of get your hands dirty,” he said. “I’m always trying to keep myself busy.”

After two years at, he finds he’s able to help out the newer staff, pointing them to solutions he’s found for various issues that come up. He likes the work environment because everyone works together and gets to be involved in multiple aspects of IT. Besides, he said, it’s a fun environment.

Even when he helps out stressed-out high-level clients, Marcus said he tries to keep calms so everything works as smoothly as possible. “I’m a pretty personable person,” he said. “So I try to work with them.”

Windows Azure, Leap Day and Cloud Computing

On Feb. 29, many users of Microsoft cloud computing service Windows Azure found their systems unavailable, and, for some, the outage continued into the next day. Microsoft has apologized, issued refunds to affected customers and promised to learn from the incident.

The company says the problems were the result of a “Leap Day bug,” an error related to date/time values. In a blog post, Bill Laing, vice president of Microsoft’s Server and Cloud Division, wrote that the problem emerged from the system’s attempt to create “valid-to” dates one year in the future, which Azure figured would be February 29, 2013. Since that day doesn’t exist, the certification creation failed, and users ended up being shut out of their cloud systems.

Then, Laing wrote, Microsoft inadvertently sent out an update package that wasn’t compatible with some companies’ host agents, which meant a delay in getting back to business.

The issue occurred at a time when many businesses are considering whether to go the cloud computing route, and for what operations. Azure is a prominent name in the space, along with products from Amazon, Google and other companies.

It may not be surprising that there would be bugs in cloud systems. They’re complicated, and pretty new. Windows Azure only became generally available in 2010. Then again, there are also plenty of potential pitfalls in storing data and software on-site. Keeping multiple computers updated with new software and security systems isn’t easy, and local servers—not to mention employees’ laptops—are vulnerable to all sorts of disasters. IT support firms can clarify these issues and help businesses choose the best tools—whether local or virtual—for their needs.

In response to the Leap Day problems, Microsoft has promised a number of improvements to its methods. Among other things, Laing wrote, the company will test its offerings better to avoid problems related to time and date values, work to detect errors more quickly and make customers’ dashboard interfaces more consistently available. The company also pledged to improve customer support and communications tools so that, in the event of an incident, those affected will have quicker access to better information about what’s going on.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is giving a 33 percent credit for the affected billing months for all users of the affected services—Azure Compute, Access Control, Service Bus and Caching—even if their service wasn’t interrupted.

Microsoft must be hoping the slip-up won’t hurt Azure, especially since cloud computing is more and more on the minds of businesses that are choosing how to deal with their data most simply and affordably. In its quest to win over those potential customers, the company also recently cut the price of Azure, following Google and Amazon, which have done the same for their cloud offerings.

Is the Desktop Dead?

Sounding the desktop death knell as mobile devices edge them out of the market

In the past, a cost chasm separated the laptops from the desktop. Mobility, it seemed, came at a price. Businesses opted to buy the more pricy laptops for those who needed it most, furnishing the rest with the more reasonably priced desktops. The dropping prices of laptops reduced the gap in price to a mere $50. A mere $50 it seems, that most companies are finding it easier to justify.

It’s not just the competitive pricing that’s contributing to the untimely demise of the desktop; a growing trend to bring your own device to work (BYOD) has seen companies save on hardware costs as employees prefer to utilize their own devices instead of the trusty old desktop. Cloud technology provides centralized functionality that helps to promote the use of personal devices such as tablets, smartphones and laptops.

This year’s sales figures reflect the changing landscape with laptops taking 68% of the market, up from previous years which saw a more even 50/50 split. There are several inherent advantages to owning a laptop:

  • Mobility: the smaller, thinner and lighter the laptop gets, the more portable they become
  • They take up less desk space
  • Increased productivity as employees are able to take them home to work
  • Negates the need to work late at the office which increases employee satisfaction
  • Telecommuting is possible as the employee does not need a computer at home and at the office

The laptop is not the only device that is giving the desktop a run for its money. Tablet sales increased by 150% over the last quarter, making it one of the fastest growing hardware markets in the business. Microsoft will be developing Office applications for the iPad which will bolster support for this emerging technology. Cloud technology negates the need for large software purchases or large volumes of information to be stored in giant desktop hard drives.

It’s not only the emerging technologies that threaten the denizens of the desk; it’s also their old nemesis, the Apple Mac. Apple Mac sales have increased by 20.7% while desktop sales dropped by 5.9% overall. This means that Apple managed to take a large bite out of the PC pie. Those who love their desktops need not fear. The good old desktop isn’t dead just yet. It still has its advantages over the new devices which include:

  • Large screens which are important for those who spend lots of time on the computer and like to see all the little details
  • Ergonomics; good office chairs and desktops are far more comfortable than hunching over a laptop
  • Storage on a desktop can’t be beat
  • Typing on a real keyboard is much easier than a laptop’s often cramped keyboard can afford

It seems the days of the desktop dominance are numbered, so enjoy them while you can.

Cloud Computing for Small Business

Should you move your small business to a cloud computing platform?

Cloud computing centralizes your software and data on an Internet platform rather than on your desktop, laptop or on a server. Since the users will be sharing storage space, bandwidth, memory, software and processing power, you can amalgamate these functionalities and have one good system rather than furnishing all your staff members with powerful PCs or laptops replete with software and security packages. This holds many advantages for the small business owner:

  • Software tools are accessed online and don’t have to be installed on each computer. This means a reduction in software costs and IT department calls to install or maintain software on each and every device. You can even rent software rather than buying expensive packages upfront.
  • Massive savings on IT costs. Cloud hosting companies automatically load updates and patches and maintain your software and data. Your IT costs are reduced and the hosting company provides all your support, negating the need for an on-site IT department or specialist.
  • You save on hardware costs as expensive servers and data storage devices become a thing of the past.
  • Increased security: Anti-virus software, firewalls and spam protection is available on cloud at a fraction of the cost that a small business would have to pay independently for the same level of protection.
  • No unforeseen expenses: A service contract with your cloud provider covers all the IT maintenance and troubleshooting you need in a month. This makes for predictable monthly expenses as you pay a fixed monthly fee.
  • Broader telecommuting possibilities: Being able to access your information and software enables employees to work from home or on their own personal devices. This means no late nights at the office which improves employee satisfaction and increases off-site work options.
  • Great opportunity for new businesses: New businesses have a lower initial outlay and faster deployment. Since cloud is location and device independent, you don’t even have to have your office up and running to start making money.

Not everything about the cloud is silver lining. Unscheduled downtime will prevent you from accessing your data or using software that may be integral to the functioning of your business. Instead of having other computers which can be utilized to keep business ticking over, you are completely dependent on the availability of your cloud provider.

You must have sufficient security protocols in place to ensure the safety of your data. Establish policies on security for employees who work off site or use their own devices to access data and software. If security policies are in place, your data should be safe.


IT Security and Training reduce Cyber Attacks

Increase in cyber attacks cost firms nearly $50K per year 

Cyber attacks for reasons political, financial or fun have spread exponentially over the last year. Increased spending on security and training is doing much to stem the flow of information into the wrong hands. A Symantec survey of 1, 425 IT managers across 32 countries revealed that the $35 billion currently spent on it support services and security support is expected to rise to over $49 billion in the next three years, with many companies opting for security through cloud computing packages. With data breaches effecting even the biggest corporations (the recent hacking of Zappo comes to mind), everyone is taking security more seriously. The survey found that cyber attacks in 2011 cost companies an average of $470,000 in lost revenue, downtime and loss of brand confidence.

Cyber attacks include spam, viruses, fraud, data theft, vandalism and denial of service. A poll by Juniper Network had 77% of respondents saying cyber attacks are more frequent and severe than they have been in the past, while 90% of respondents claimed to have suffered a data breach in the last year.

The rapid increase of attacks comes as employees bring their own devices into the workplace. 29% of breaches in security occurred on tablets and Smartphones and 34% on employee laptop computers. As employees increasingly introduce personal devices into the workplace, security has to be installed and protocols established to secure sensitive data.

Companies who turn to IT consulting specialists and invest in security and training for employees suffer a far lower rate of security breaches. The survey revealed that top-tier companies who used IT consulting firms to bolster security and staff training benefitted from two and half times fewer attacks than companies who did not invest in security.

Downtime is by far the most frustrating consequence of compromised security. Here the advantage of investing in an IT consulting firm to provide security is self-evident. The companies which had not made adequate investments in security suffered 2 765 hours of downtime a year in comparison to the relatively few 588 hours that secure companies endured.

Not utilizing IT consulting specialists or investing in security and training means damage and downtime that is sure to cost more than the initial security investment would have. It makes financial sense to invest in protecting customers and data from cyber attacks. As more employees bring their own devices to the workplace, it is imperative to establish security across the board and protocols aimed at securing data on all devices.