Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

New Service Improvements

Posted on: June 2nd, 2017 by Julian Lombardi

You may have noticed us to be very quiet as of late, we have been busy at the drawing board developing a new service plan for our clients and here’s why:

After our first year in business, we realized that we were not truly delivering the type of service which we envisioned when we set out to start this company. While we have transitioned what was a very reactive service into proactive monitoring and management, there was still something missing. Being firm believers in continuous improvement, we spent the last few months developing a service plan that could fill in the gaps and we ended up with what we believe is a vast improvement with simplicity at its core.

Here were some of the negatives of our old service plan:

  1. Too many optional items: Our legacy plans had too many optional items making the decision process long and tedious. Critical and what should be non-negotiable items such as anti-virus and off-site backup were optional items creating decision hurdles which at times led to gaps in protection.
  2. Basic and unstructured consulting services: Our legacy plans do offer technology consulting but it is done at a very basic level only analyzing outliers in our client IT environments. The process also lacked any structure or standardization.
  3. No standard pricing mechanic: All legacy plans are based on the number of users but many other factors were allowed to impact the overall price. This has led to unclear pricing for both present monthly bills and future monthly bills (where staff changes in the client organization)
  4. No method to alleviate Microsoft Office licensing challenges: Something we have noticed at almost all clients is a lack of standardized Microsoft Office licensing and/or poor quality email services.

 

Here is how we fixed these major items:

  1. We removed almost all optional items from our service plan. The only option remaining is remote-only or on-site and remote service plans. Anti-virus is included and off-site backup is included (No more pay per GB). This ensures that clients are always protected and don’t have to worry about what brand of anti-virus, or how many GBs they need to backup.
  2. We completely redesigned our consulting methodology. We have broken consulting into two categories: standards alignment and vCIO. Standards alignment is a frequent evaluation of client IT infrastructures against a defined and documented list of standards and best practices we have developed in-house. We then take the output of that process and produce a technology summary document which highlights all of the major categories in the IT infrastructure and defines an associated risk level. The technology summary is simplified and easy to understand for client management and decision makers.
  3. We have done away with all of the complexity and made it very simple. There is a set price for every user per month. That’s it! Every user who is added or removed, increases or decreases the total monthly cost.
  4. Office 365 Business Premium is included in all new service plans whether you use all of it, some of it, or none of it. All primary users will have Office 365 and fully licensed Microsoft Office suite. Users who do not have an organizational workstation will be given Office 365 Business Essentials (does not include full Microsoft Office). This means no more worrying about Microsoft Office licensing on new computer purchases or on upgrades for staff computers. Clients will automatically receive the latest version of Microsoft Office.

 

Our goal is to consistently provide the best value that we can to our clients and while this is a long journey, we feel this takes us another step closer.


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Contact us for more information and a quote if interested in upgrading from your current service plan!

IT Project Management Basics: Planning a Project (Part 2)

Posted on: October 25th, 2016 by Julian Lombardi

 

Greetings! We left off last month with the initial steps to managing a project. This month we are going to resume where we left off and move into the planning stage. We spent enough time on introductions last month so let’s just get right into it.

 

Determine detailed requirements

By this stage you should at least have a preliminary set of requirements. From here, it is important to drill-down further and create a detailed and specific list of requirements. Now is the time to also add new requirements here that previously were forgotten or missed. This includes refining the assumptions identified, resources, schedules, costs that were outlined in the initiating phase.

Determine the project team

This is where project team members would be chosen. They will be responsible for working on the project and reporting to the project manager so choose wisely!

Creating a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

A WBS is a crucial element of any project. Its purpose is to break down the overall project into smaller more manageable tasks. This will help everyone on the project team and all stakeholders understand what needs to be done to reach project completion and will help break down roles and responsibilities among the project team.

Estimate Resource Requirements

Estimating what resources will be needed is helpful in determining the approximate cost of the project. This includes staff, facilities, equipment, subcontractors, and others. The outcome of this process will be used to gain resource commitment and buy-in from management.

Develop a schedule and budget

Now that there is some idea of the tasks to be done (WBS) and the resources needed (resource requirements), it is time to develop a preliminary schedule for the tasks and the project as a whole. Also, there should be enough information gathered to estimate a preliminary budget. Both of these should be compared against the original constraints outlined in the project charter (initiating phase) to reconcile a final schedule and budget.

Risk Analysis

Identify risks associated with the project, perform qualitative and quantitative risk analysis, and plan for responses to any of the outlined risks. This area should outline various types of risks, using a new application, some examples are:

  • interface too difficult for staff to use
  • may not work on computer systems
  • don’t have the server capacity required
  • security/privacy associated with new application

 

Identifying risks like the above and developing appropriate and realistic responses will help evade disaster that could off-road the entire project.

Kickoff Meeting

Hold a meeting with all key stakeholders, project team members, management to review everything accumulated. This will ensure everyone is on the same page and will hopefully gain final buy-in from all parties involved.

 

That’s all for part two of our project management tips! Hopefully you appreciate this streamlined approach compared to last month’s more in-depth look. This series should be capped off by the end of this year so stay tuned next month for part three.

IT Project Management Basics: Initiating a Project (Part 1)

Posted on: September 13th, 2016 by Julian Lombardi

With the summer all but over and everybody returning back to their regular routines, we thought this would be a good time to get back on track with our blog posts. This month we will be starting a series of posts concerning IT project management and why it is so important. In our experience, it is often overlooked by small businesses due to the agile and sometimes fast-paced nature of these organizations. Perhaps, it is all the excitement generated by new and shiny technology that attributes to a lack of planning. Either way, project management is crucial to success and widespread adoption/acceptance of a new implementation. For the purpose of this series, some examples of IT projects you might encounter are:

  • New firewall/router configuration and installation
  • Server configuration and installation
  • Significant volume workstation installation (5 or more)
  • Replacing corporate phone system
  • New website

 

The above items should give you an idea of what we mean when talking about a new IT project. The five main process groups associated with project management are: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring/controlling, and closing. This post will start with the first process group of project initiation and while this is not meant to be a definitive, detailed guide to project management, we hope it puts you on the right track. Enough of introductions, let’s get started!

Your organization decides that it is time to replace that old, dusty server that has been chugging along for the last 10 years. Where do you even begin? Do you call your IT provider and say “Hey, can you get us a new server?” and then close your eyes hoping to walk into the office to see a brand new server in the networking closet? You may get lucky and everything works out for the best but we’re here to say that there is a better way to go about it for both your organization and your IT provider.

The first step is to choose who will manage the project. It is really important that there is someone placed in charge of overseeing the project and monitoring the status. Without this person, it will become exceedingly difficult to keep a project on track. We find that it is good practice to try and find someone well-versed in the overall topic. For example, with a server replacement project, it is good to have someone who has some fundamental IT knowledge at the very least. Also, they should have a base understanding of what the purpose is for taking on the project.

Once a project manager has been chosen, it is helpful to determine the corporate culture and the existing systems of the organization. For example, some organizations might be very cloud-centric. That is going to have a significant impact on your decision making process. Maybe instead of replacing the server with an on-premises solution, you might want a cloud solution. Knowing your organization will really help define those variables. Defining the existing systems goes hand-in-hand with knowing your corporate culture because of a theory called gap analysis. The basic concept of the theory is to understand where you are now, where do you want to be in the future, and what steps or action need to be taken to get there. Your corporate culture will often dictate or point you in the direction of where you want to be in the future while existing systems will tell you where you are now.

The next area is to understand the business case or in other words stating the case of why you think the project should be done. The reason why a business case is so crucial is because without it there is no real indication of whether the project will satisfy the needs. For example, maybe the reason for doing the project is because there is a new feature you would like to take advantage of. With a business case, you can most often clearly define whether or not, satisfying the need is going to be worth the resource investment associated. In other words, is X amount of dollars worth the investment to gain Y feature(s).

Outlining the preliminary requirements, assumptions, and risks will be a key step to starting a project. Small businesses are often sold the wrong product/service simply because this step was skipped. When you go to a supplier and present them a need for a solution, it is the responsibility of you to outline all of your requirements. Unfortunately, product and service providers are not mind readers and while they can support the process by fishing and surveying for more information, it is hard for them to gauge exactly what you have in mind. This list can be built up further at the beginning of the planning phase but at least having a starting point will help in the long run to prevent scope creep (project scope changes/increases as a result of scope not being clearly defined at the beginning of project). Assumptions and risks also need to be clearly defined as no one can account for 100% of the outcomes of a project, there will be risks or assumptions that need to be made in order to prepare for worst case scenarios, delays, or unforeseen outcomes. Not including these could account for project failure or delays at any stage of the project.

Along with the above, an effort should be made to outline measurable objectives. After all, how can you know if the project has helped improve anything if you can’t measure its impact? For example, a replacement server might be measurable with additional storage, faster hardware (better performance), improved redundancies, among other items.

The last major item of this phase will be to develop a project charter which should summarize many of the above details into a simplified format.
I know the above is a lot to process but it truly is important and should be shaped to fit your organization. As mentioned earlier, the above is a guideline to improving your organizations project management strategy.

Keep an eye out for the continuation of this series which should come sometime next month.

Knowing your Clutter feature

Posted on: July 7th, 2016 by Alex Tam

Knowing your Clutter feature.

Many of you are using Microsoft’s Office 365 email service, by default it provides a helpful feature by sorting some of your less important communications into a subfolder labeled “Clutter”. Office 365 does this by keeping track of those message that you seldom read, these include emails that are automatic notifications from subscriptions or marketing related.

Clutter’s algorithm differs itself from the “Junk” folder, that is still reserved for items that you have clearly labeled as such in the past, as well as obvious spam or potentially malicious emails (scams and phishing).

That being said, many users find this extra folder troublesome with expected emails ending up there and being overlooked. Turning this feature off is simple:

 

  • On the far upper right, click the gear icon for your Mail settingssettings

 

  • Under Mail > Clutter in the left, untick the box that says “Separate items identified as Clutter”. Click Save and go back.clutter

Overture Group Collaborates with TechSoup Canada

Posted on: May 26th, 2016 by Julian Lombardi

 

Is your non-profit located in the Greater Toronto Area, Mississauga, York or Durham Region? We have great news for you – Overture Group has teamed up with TechSoup Canada to offer comprehensive IT evaluations to non-profits located in our service area (GTA, Mississauga, York Region, and Durham Region) and we’re providing it free of cost!

This offer is first come, first serve, so be sure to sign up if your non-profit is located within the service area and would like to get free access to a team of tech consultants.

What is being offered?

Overture Group is offering a comprehensive IT assessment which includes:

  • Kick-off meeting for introductions
  • 1-2 full day(s) of on-site survey
  • Hard copies of the tech evaluation
  • Final presentation to present solutions (in-person meeting)

 

Learn more and sign up for your free evaluation:

Registration Page

TechSoup Canada Page

We will contact you directly to confirm your participation and assessment start date!

How To: Choose the Right IT Provider

Posted on: April 25th, 2016 by Julian Lombardi

 

Choosing the right IT provider for your business is a serious decision and shouldn’t be taken lightly. This company or individual will be responsible for the well-being of various elements critical to your organization’s operations. Let’s go over what to look for when you’re choosing an IT provider; whether it is the first time or if you are considering replacing your current provider, these tips will help you make the right decision.

 

Don’t let past experience ruin your opinion of IT providers

Your provider should feel internal to your team and not as an outsider. Unfortunately, there are dishonest providers out there who give the rest of us a bad name; along with being unreliable, and difficult to work with. That being said, there are also a lot of great providers out there that will exceed expectations. Working with them for even a brief time will completely change your views on what IT can really do for you. Negative past experiences with outsourced providers have lead some organizations to skip “external” IT support altogether and attempt to delegate the issues to internal staff. This might seem like a good idea but it can backfire and make you wish that you didn’t make this decision. It costs nothing to meet/interview providers so why not do it? It might take some time to find the right provider but you will be happy you did it.

 

Make sure they are the right “fit” for your organization

What do we mean by right “fit” for your organization? We mean that they fall in line with your organization’s culture; they can adapt in and thrive with the processes and people and become an extended hand of your organization. This is something that you will have to meet the prospective provider to figure out. While meeting with them, try and get a feel for the kind of person they are. You can do this by analyzing the various aspects of the person representing the provider. For example, how are their communication skills (verbal and written)? What does their body language say? Do they emulate the kind of person you would hire as an employee? The checkboxes and alarms should be similar to conducting a candidate interview and, following some of the same principles should give you an idea of what to expect from the person going forward. Also, try to find out who will be involved in your day-to-day operations. For example, you might meet a sales representative at first visit, but what about who will be handling technical requests? It is ideal if you can meet/speak with everybody who will have a role in your organization’s IT success.

 

Prioritize soft skills over technical knowledge and experience

This doesn’t seem right, hear us out. Why wouldn’t you want the most technically-proficient provider handling your IT? More often than not in the small business sector, the IT environment in your organization doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, our experience shows that having a simplified IT environment correlates to limited/no downtime. This means you don’t need a technician with a long list of dated enterprise accreditation and credentials to look after your environment (if your setup correlates with the scope of your organization). While technical experience plays a role, it is far more important to have a provider you can effectively communicate with. We have come across many individuals with 20+ year technical backgrounds that have the following issues:

  1. Inability to differentiate between small business and corporate IT. They end up implementing complicated solutions with high maintenance requirements resulting in an IT footprint that is unsuitable for SMB’s.
  2. They are seen as difficult to get along with among the staff at the organization as they don’t know how to be “down to earth”. They are unable to turn off technical jargon and communicate effectively depending on the audience which leads to them being perceived as a means to an end as opposed to a valued member of the team.

 

Don’t underestimate your IT needs

“We are too small of an organization, we don’t need IT help.”

This is an example of what we hear from time to time. It may be true to some degree but it could also end up being a terrible mistake. First, let’s dissect why people say this; we think the reason stems from a stigma out there that IT support is unattainable for small businesses. Whether it is because these organizations believe the support is too expensive or just a fear of the unknown, we are not really sure. To clarify, IT support with the RIGHT provider is attainable for any small business, even as small as one employee. Consider this: as a small business owner, you believe your operations are too small to get IT help. In the event of a terrible system crash and data loss, chances are that you could go out of business or another major setback that could have been prevented. Can you trust yourself that you have a proper disaster recovery plan in place? Don’t ever be afraid to reach out and get an evaluation or assessment done on your environment, no matter how small of an organization you are. You owe it to yourself as a business owner to make sure all aspects of your business are in order, even IT.

 

There are IT providers everywhere, don’t excuse or put up with bad behaviour

The truth is that IT providers are a dime a dozen. There is a provider out there to meet any organization’s needs. The tricky part is finding one that fits yours. While there are hundreds of providers out there, good and bad, only a small subsection will be able to fit your organization. It is worth every ounce of effort to find the provider that “fits” your company, the difference could be like night and day.

Don’ be a hostage. There’s no benefit or excuse for poor behaviour (ie. Rudeness to staff, procrastination, repeat mistakes). Allocate time to meet with various providers, get a feel for what kind of service comes with the budget you have. Do yourself and your staff the favour and see what’s out there before that one critical mistake is made which damages your business.

 

How To: Remove Malware and Unwanted Programs

Posted on: April 11th, 2016 by Julian Lombardi

 

Over a span of time using computers, many people find themselves in a situation where they have gained some unwanted passengers along the way. These unwanted passengers are often in the form of malware (viruses, spyware, adware, etc.) and other potentially unwanted software. What’s the harm in having these guys around? Isn’t the age old saying “the more the merrier”? Well not in this case. These pieces of software are like the troublemakers at the party of your computer journey; they cause security issues, slow down the computer, and many other frustrating issues that will make you want to throw the computer right out the window. The below steps will ensure your unwanted guests are swiftly removed.

NOTE: These steps are provided for informational purposes. Users should follow at their own risk. Every computer is different and can have a different reaction to the below steps including but not limited to: blue screen/Windows corruption, loss of Internet, and other major issues. Overture IT Group Inc. holds no responsibility for damage caused by the steps outlined below.

 

1)      Remove the program through Control Panel

What you’ll want to do first is actually remove the program using proper uninstallation techniques. This means going to Control Panel and removing the program. The reason why we do this step first before anything else is because we want to systematically remove traces of the program so that nothing is left behind.

 

2)      Use AdwCleaner

The next step is to run this handy tool called AdwCleaner. It can be downloaded at: http://www.bleepingcomputer.com/download/adwcleaner/

This tool is so simple to use, just download and run it (no installation required). You will get a new screen where you can click scan, wait a bit for it to find unwanted items, then select the clean button. After it is done, it will ask you to reboot; when it starts back up it will display a small log that shows you what was removed.

That is pretty much all there is to it.

 

3)      Use Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free (MBAM)

MBAM is a great program that has helped us out of a lot of binds over the years. They offer a free version and a paid version. For the purposes of cleaning infections, the free version is what you need. However, if you like the product I strongly suggest you support the company and purchase the paid version. It can be found at: https://www.malwarebytes.org/antimalware/

It does require an installation, after that you just follow the on-screen menus to run a scan of your machine. Go take care of something else for a while and when you come back you’ll find it is completed and it will list what was found so that it can be removed. MBAM has a great detection engine and will find those pesky files that other anti-virus/cleaning tools are unable to find.

 

4)      What happens if none of this works?

If you try all of the above steps and still you seem to be plagued with malware or other unwanted software, contact an IT professional. They will be able to assist in making sure you are virus-free.

 

Contact us today for help with malware removal!

 

How To: 4 Easy Tips to Speed up your Computer (Windows)

Posted on: March 21st, 2016 by Julian Lombardi

 

The day comes for everybody when they power up their computer, sit and wait as they watch it boot up, and realize they could have gone for a walk around the block and still be waiting. The purpose of this post is to give some easy tips that anyone can do to help speed up their computers.

1)      Remove Unused Programs

We can’t even begin to count the number of computers we have worked on with hordes of unused/unwanted programs. Anything from that Ask Toolbar that came bundled with an Adobe Reader download to full software suites that were never used. Our philosophy is simplicity always wins, the less waste you keep on your computer, the better.

2)      Remove Malware

Sometimes you may encounter software online called techie names like: Registry Booster, Speed Optimizer, PC Fixer, and more. While these programs have names that sound nice, most of the time they will be illegitimate malicious software. Much like many of the other viruses, spyware, adware that you may encounter, these need to go or your computer will never be fast (or secure) again. Stay tuned for our next blog post as we will be covering this topic in-depth.

3)      Run a Legitimate PC Optimization Tool

While much of the software out there that claims to speed up your computer is a lie, we recommend one in particular that has gotten us through the years. Check out a tool called “CCleaner”. This tool is simple but effective. Simply open it up, customize your options (If you don’t want website history removed make sure you deselect it), and run the cleaner. It also has a registry cleaner which is quite helpful (backups to the registry are recommended first! CCleaner will prompt you about this)

CCleaner Website

4)      Tweak the System for Performance

There are a couple easy ways that give significant performance boosts. One of them being power options; if you check your power options in Control Panel you will see it might be set to “Balanced” or “Power Saver”. Simply changing to “High Performance” will yield noticeable results.

The other tweak which in our opinion is the most significant improvement you can make is to disable many of the Windows visual effects. To do this: navigate to “System” in “Control Panel” > Select “Advanced System Settings” on the left menu > Click “Settings” under “Performance”. You will notice that “Let Windows choose what’s best for my computer” is selected. If we change that to “Adjust for best performance” it will take a few seconds to turn off all visual styles and effects but you will notice a huge performance increase. This works especially well on older computers.

Armed with the above tips, you can take back control of your computer and quit playing the waiting game.

 

Contact us today if you need help with these 4 easy tips!

SSDs for Business

Posted on: February 26th, 2016 by Julian Lombardi

 

Small to medium sized business users are already used to working off the cloud and virtualized systems, perhaps not even knowing it. Likely your database, CRM, and webapps are all part of this decentralized ecosphere. As a result, we have seen a significant decrease in the average local storage footprint as large disk space is now available but not needed.

Virtualized workstations have numerous advantages from both the user and administrative standpoint. However, adoption has not been picking up as fast as projected in the small business sector. This can be a result of higher than expected initial costs, licencing subscriptions, network requirements, and not to mention that supporting a virtualized environment also results in higher technical proficiency and departmental/contractual costs as well.

For the time being, local workstations have their advantages: easy to know upfront costs, comprehensive warranty for the lifetime of the machine (3-5years), easily re-purposed if branch site or user is moved, and licensing that not does expire as long as the product does not reach end of life status.

Taking a cue from Intels’ “Tick-Tock” processor development and release cycle, where a tock is a major architectural and model change, and a tick is an improvement to the model. We can apply the same thinking to upgrading local workstations. It is an exciting time where Solid State Drives (SSDs) are no longer in the enthusiast user segment and have become inexpensive enough to implement across a large number of workstations in a business environment. The hard disk has always been the slowest horse at the race, neigh, the conventional platter hard disk wouldn’t even be in the race when it comes to the competition that is happening inside a computer, the CPU, chipset, and RAM have long been processing data much faster than the hard disk can read and write from. Slow boot-up, log in, opening Outlook, installation, and updates are all primarily due to the conventional spinning drive not being aable to concurrently handle the high multi-tasking instructions given by the user and apps. Looking at the chart below, the very last entry is the Western Digital Black, it is a very respectable conventional hard disk that offers both high end performance and reliability, however, we can see that it is still dwarfed by the speed of any SSD. Take into account that the drives in your workstations are not premium “Black” drives but instead middle level offerings by Seagate or Western Digital.

Cost per GB for SSD’s is still well above conventional disks so the drives we would recommend would be smaller than what the workstations came with, but would be more than enough for the operating system, large Outlook files, and a very reasonable surplus for apps and documents. This will also encourage users to make use of the more secure and backed up network storage available to them.

Suffice to say, the i3, i5, or i7 CPU, and 4+gb of RAM is sufficient to tackle any office productivity that will be thrown the users way for the coming years, but an upgrade from your “participant medal” wearing dinosaur-aged hard disk will bring the most user noticeable and effective increase in workstation performance.

SSD Benchmark

Benchmark credit : Techreport.com A comparison of read speed from current available SSD’s on market. Note the bottom entry “WD Caviar Black 1TB”

 

Contact us today to see how SSDs can speed up your office computers!

Office 365: What’s With All the Buzz?

Posted on: February 17th, 2016 by Julian Lombardi

It seems these days that no matter where you go someone is mentioning Office 365. While Office 365 has been out for a number of years, it still gets a lot of attention. You may be wondering what is it and why should you care; in this post, we are going to go over what Office 365 is and what makes it so popular.
What is Office 365?
Office 365 is a suite of office productivity software that is accessible online. Microsoft has taken the liberty of offering many of its enterprise software products in the cloud (including Microsoft Exchange, Sharepoint, Skype for Business (Formerly Lync), and others). That covers the infrastructure side of things, but Office 365 also offers client software such as Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and the rest of the Office suite.

What Makes it so Popular?
The reason why Office 365 is so popular is because of what it offers and how flexible it is. The software mentioned above typically costs businesses hundreds or even thousands to buy upfront through regular retail channels. With Office 365, businesses can pay a very low monthly fee and have enterprise level software at their disposal. Also, the software is all in the cloud so it doesn’t require any expensive hardware to run it. Office 365 provides 24×7 technical support and offers a 99.9% service guarantee. The service runs out of an easy-to-use web portal that really eliminates the need for full time IT staff involvement. See below for the official Office 365 website:
https://products.office.com/en-ca/business/explore-office-365-for-business

Overall, Office 365 is a great service out there especially for small businesses. The dynamic of being able to add/remove software licenses as needed on the fly is really critical for smaller organizations and it doesn’t get much easier than this. Registered charities should spend some resources looking into Office 365 as it is offered as a free donation from Microsoft.

Contact us today for more information about Office 365