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Channel agents and telephony resellers are facing stiff competition these days. Line access or voice service isn’t as easy to sell as it once was, and the convergence of digital voice and data has made things even less simple. Business customers demand comprehensive solutions that can address a variety of business problems, and they tend to seek out those solutions from the advisors they trust. The “advisor” could be a software reseller, an accounting professional, the local IT guy, or the professional that delivered great telco, voice or network access.
Convergence isn’t only for voice and data solutions; convergence is the combining and compressing of channels delivering those solutions. MSPs and “pure” IT resellers are also feeling the squeeze, finding telecom agents and channels among those challenging the VARs and MSPs operating today. Marketing budgets are increasing, but differentiation is not. Reselling is a crowded space and everyone has become a service provider. Having the right messages to win new customers and retain existing ones is essential not just for success, but for survival.
Once a channel partner or provider has established a solid customer relationship, it is important to capitalize on that goodwill (and develop even more) by delivering the other value-added services the customer needs. Access, connectivity and voice solutions are just a start when it comes to servicing small and growing business customers. Having come from an application hosting background, I am very aware of the demand for mobility and “always-on, always-available” computing services among businesses small and large. When the partner is working with the customer and is solving connectivity and telephony problems, the likelihood of successfully selling additional IT solutions to address mobility is quite high. The challenge has often been with the investment required for training and certification; development of new competencies which are viewed as diversions from the core business. Evolution of technology, markets and demand suggests that offering a broader base of solutions isn’t a diversion any longer, it has become a core requirement.
Secure remote access to on-premises systems, managed hosting on cloud servers delivering always-on service or disaster recovery, and collaboration tools that keep everyone on the same page – these are the solutions that savvy businesses are looking for, and which represent the additional value channel partners and service providers could be delivering to their valued customers. After all, if the customer can’t get what they need from their trusted reseller/advisor, they will find somewhere else to buy, removing their “advisor” from the mix. Most business owners would agree that it takes less to nurture and maintain existing customers than it takes to find new ones, so the investment in offering and delivering value-added solutions is well worth it.
The best way for channel partners to retain their customer relationships is to offer a full range of solutions and value-added services to meet the variety of needs of their business clientele. MyQuickCloud, for example, is a highly successful partner solution and add-on for resellers of IP telephony services and line access. MyQuickCloud offers very flexible and affordable secure remote access and cloud hosting solutions that do not require investments in training or certification to resell, giving channel partners and telecomm agents the right stuff to beat out the competition and keep small business and growing enterprise customers happy and coming back for more. Partners leverage their expertise and creativity in developing solutions with MyQuickCloud, resulting in cost-effective and powerful network, application and continuity services not previously available.
MyQuickCloud secure remote access creates a secure business cloud from on-premises systems, with hosted or co-located cloud servers, or any combination of on-prem or offsite hosts. The on-premises capability leverages investments in existing infrastructure and adds value and capability to locally installed systems, a benefit which is not available with traditional hosting models. Able to be positioned as simple remote access, managed hosting or complete disaster recovery, MyQuickCloud gives channel partners a simple yet comprehensive approach to meeting customer computing needs regardless of the applications in use or mobile devices to support. MyQuickCloud is also used by installers and support technicians, enabling remote access to client on-prem systems, turning service and support into a more streamlined and efficient effort and improving customer service and retention.
I wrote an article a while back about how it all comes down to 3 applications for small businesses… applications to address fundamental business requirements. Among those requirements is the need to communicate. Whether it be via voice or electronic mail or other means, every business communicates and every business needs communication tools. Chief among the communication tools is the voice service (telephone), whether it be on-premises or hosted, digital voice or IP (not much analog out there anymore) or some combination of all of the above. Extending telephone systems to service a remote and mobile workforce or to connect multiple business locations is a high demand business and has proven to be very lucrative for many partners. Adding value to these solutions by delivering remote access or hosting service simply increases the overall value of the system and allows business customers to take full advantage of mobile, connected and integrated working models.
published on Sleeter.com blog, now Accountex Report, January 22, 2013. This is an oldie but a goodie… perhaps more relevant now than ever.
With the accounting industry moving towards cloud computing and fully online working models, users of Intuit QuickBooks desktop editions may believe that their best option is to migrate to a web-based edition of the software rather than continuing to use the version of QuickBooks they have come to rely on. While QuickBooks Online Edition may seem like the best option for anytime, anywhere access to financial applications and data, it might not provide the functionality or features that QuickBooks desktop edition users need. When the business needs the full capability of the desktop edition product, hosting that solution with an application hosting service provider may be the right answer.
“Hosting” QuickBooks desktop editions means that a hosting service provider installs and manages the QuickBooks software and the company data files on their own cloud-based servers. Users don’t have to install QuickBooks on their PC, because they use the Internet to connect to their QuickBooks software and company data hosted by the service provider. Whether the service is accessed by clicking on an icon on the local PC desktop or by logging in via a web page or portal, the underlying technology is still Windows and QuickBooks.
check out MyQuickCloud for QuickBooks Remote Access and Managed Cloud Hosting
The Department of Labor is finalizing a rule to update overtime protections for workers. “In total, the new rule is expected to extend overtime protections to 4.2 million more Americans who are not currently eligible under federal law, and it is expected to boost wages for workers by $12 billion over the next 10 years.”
This is a difficult subject for everyone involved – workers and business owners alike. Increases in minimum wage, increases in employee health care costs, and adjustments to wage and hour regulations all serve complicate and cost businesses more. Fair payment for time worked, a living wage, and protections for workers from employer abuse are things that are expected – deservedly so – by employees. Definitions vary, as do circumstances, so a one-size rule never really fits all and someone, somewhere, feels the burn.
A USA Today article on the subject describes Labor Secretary Thomas Perez as saying “the salary threshold was originally intended to exempt high-paid executives but instead has denied overtime to low-level retail supervisors and entry-level office workers who often toil 50 to 70 hours a week.”
On the other hand Dan Bosch, head of regulatory policy for the National Federation of Independent Business, was described as saying that “many small businesses can’t absorb the added cost and will instruct employees to work no more than 40 hours a week, bringing on part-time workers to pick up the slack”. From Trey Kovacs, policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute: “The Obama rule puts a huge cost and regulatory burden on employers, who will face pressure to cut back on benefits and full-time employees”.
A bill was introduced on Thursday by Republican congressional leadership hoping to block the proposed overtime rule. The proposed legislation, Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act, is intended to ensure that the Department of Labor takes a “balanced and responsible approach to updating federal overtime rules.” Sponsors of the legislation include members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Part of the bill’s consideration may be the burden of record keeping and information management that just keeps growing ever larger. The current DOL changes, for example, now suggest that businesses must keep time and attendance records in detail for their salaried employees who might qualify for overtime compensation. Getting employees to keep time cards or complete timesheets may not be an easy thing to do, yet punching a timeclock and tracking their hours may become their new normal. Some employers, on the other hand, will elect to simply raise workers’ base pay to the new threshold, avoiding paying the overtime and skirting the need to keep detailed time records.
The extension of overtime protection to another 4.2 million Americans, and boosting wages by $12 billion over the next 10 years is the expectation for the new rule’s impact, although opponents suggest that employment (and employers) will suffer, reducing their workforces while absorbing costly HR management processes just in order to comply.
The rule is likely to touch nearly every sector of the U.S. economy, with the most notable adjustments occurring with nonprofits, retailers and hospitality (hotel and restaurants), as these are the industries generally having management-level workers whose salaries are at or below the new threshold. Whether the outcomes of the rule will be as expected remains to be seen, but it is certain that many businesses must now put in place software, systems and processes which will help not just help them comply with new wage and hour rules, but deliver enough intelligence to support better personnel management, employee scheduling and labor cost containment.
Today’s workforce is a mobile workforce. Technology has enabled businesses to allow their employees to reach beyond the office walls, doing business and operating effectively from just about any location. SaaS, online access to business data, and smart phone technologies have brought flexibility in working models previously only imagined by the workforce tethered to business locations and office computers. Yet this flexibility comes at a price if the business is to keep up with securing and protecting data assets as readily as it extends access to them. The bad guys are well aware that mobile computing and remote access working models are growing in adoption with businesses, and are finding ways to take ever-greater advantage of the situation.
Teleworking, which is not quite the same thing as telecommuting, is on the rise and it doesn’t look to be a trend that will slow down any time soon. According to GlobalWorkplaceanalytics.com, “telework is defined as the substitution of technology for travel”. Those who work sometimes from an office, but sometimes not, are teleworkers. Working at the office during the day and then taking work home at night makes you a teleworker. The primary tool of the teleworkforce is the smart phone – the mobile computer with built-in connectivity and enough processing power to handle many basic office workloads.
- 50% of the US workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telework and approximately 20-25% of the workforce teleworks at some frequency
- 80% to 90% of the US workforce says they would like to telework at least part-time. Two to three days a week seems to be the sweet spot that allows for a balance of concentrative work (at home) and collaborative work (at the office).
- Fortune 1000 companies around the globe are entirely revamping their space around the fact that employees are already mobile. Studies repeatedly show they are not at their desk 50-60% of the time. http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics
The number of teleworking employees is on the rise, and so is the variety of devices used to facilitate mobile working. Smartphones, tablets and phablets and, of course, laptop computers are used by mobile workers – often in addition to the company-supplied desktop in the office. The variety and number of computing devices per user is growing. Knowing this, businesses must take increasingly expansive steps to strengthen and secure remote access systems and business data, yet many organizations are just beginning to fully realize that the mobility they extend to their users is part of the reason for the increasing number of data breaches and attacks against business information systems.
Cybercriminals and their crafty programs are often able to steal important information or access a network by first infecting computers and devices used for telework. Many of the devices available to the attackers are not company-owned, but are introduced to the system by contractors, vendors and employees (BYOD or bring-your-own-device users).
Even if the device isn’t a vehicle delivering a nasty payload into the network, data breaches may still occur when business information is stored on an improperly secured device. Most people who work with computers have some recognition of the potential for virus attacks and malware, but far fewer recognize the threat potential of attacks against mobile devices such as phones and tablets, and even fewer may implement meaningful protections on those devices.
“To prevent breaches when people are teleworking, organizations need to have stronger control over their sensitive data that can be accessed by, or stored on, telework devices,” said Murugiah Souppaya, a NIST computer scientist. 
Providing guidance and information to the public on such topics, NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) is revising its publications on telework to cover growing use of BYOD and how contractor and vendor devices are increasingly used to access company information resources. Two new publications – one for organizations and one for users – are now available for review and comment. You can find them here.
“As one of the major research components of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Information Technology Laboratory (ITL) has the broad mission to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology through research and development in information technology, mathematics, and statistics.” [NIST Information Technology Laboratory Mission]
The rising number of threats, attacks and breaches caused by compromised devices used for teleworking is nothing to take lightly, and protecting against them shouldn’t be approached as a merely perfunctory obligation. Organizations must create and consistently update policies and requirements relating to protecting information accessible by remote workers if they intend to reduce business risk and provide assurances to stakeholders and customers that the information is adequately guarded. But it doesn’t stop with the policy; businesses must also make an effort to properly educate their users (employees, contractors, vendors, etc.) on those policies, ensuring that all parties involved understand the responsibilities and requirements and strictly adhere to them.
SEC Watchful Eyes Focus On Cybersecurity and Protecting Personal Information #cybersecurity
Information privacy used to be a fairly simple thing. Systems – what systems there were – weren’t so interconnected and information wasn’t so easy to share with thousands (millions) of people all over the world. Security used to come down to gaining physical access to the information, which was usually on paper. If you couldn’t get to the paper, you couldn’t get to the information. Yet those very analog days are long gone, and most of us have come to recognize that our personal information assets are no longer so tangible that we can touch them and feel them and keep them secured safely in the lockbox in the closet. What’s disturbing about the landscape of security in the cyber-world is that it is risky to trust not just the systems but the users – including the folks you want and need to trust – with your personal information. It isn’t that you can’t trust anyone these days. You just can’t trust that everyone is taking the precautions necessary to protect YOUR information. You need to be sure.
Trust has always been an essential element in business and finances, and in every business relationship there is some element of it present. The prudent customer performs necessary due diligence before entering into any business arrangement, but there are often factors taken for granted in the review; factors which are overlooked or remain unconsidered, often due to an essential level of trust which is placed with the other party. This is among the issues identified by the SEC as it relates to broker/dealers and their recognition of the importance of securing their clients personal information. Yet recognition of the risk and responsibility isn’t always enough, especially with the number and makeup of bad actors out there. As the threat landscape changes, so must the approaches and technologies used to protect information from those threats.
Consumers place a high level of trust with their financial advisors and generally provide them with a great deal of personal information, and the broker-dealers and advisors generally recognize the importance of protecting the personal information they are entrusted with. The problem is that these entities too often approach the problem of information security and protection as something with static and unchanging requirements. Compliance in establishing a baseline of protection is met. A lack of ongoing diligence required to adjust to new threats and changing conditions… not so much. According to a summary report on the subject issued by the SEC in February 2015, the “vast majority” of examined broker-dealers and advisors have adopted written information security policies, yet the report goes on to discuss additional measures and constant reviews which should be applied to better guard the personal information of consumers.
Most of the examined firms reported that they have been the subject of a cyber-related incident. A majority of the broker-dealers (88%) and the advisers (74%) stated that they have experienced cyber-attacks directly or through one or more of their vendors. The majority of the cyber-related incidents are related to malware and fraudulent emails.
National Exam Program Risk Alert issued By the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”); Volume IV, Issue 4 February 3, 2015
Among the agencies placing focus on the issues of cybersecurity and personal information protection is the SEC. Within the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) is an office called the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE). The OCIE exists to “protect investors through administering the SEC’s nationwide examination and inspection program”. Registered entities examined by this office (in Washington, DC and the Commission’s 11 regional offices) include broker-dealers, transfer agents, investment advisers, investment companies, municipal advisors, the various national securities exchanges, clearing agencies, and certain self-regulatory organizations (SROs) such as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB).
In February 2015, OCIE published a summary of observations of the findings from a SEC-sponsored Cybersecurity Roundtable which included SEC Commissioners and staff as well as industry representatives. The roundtable discussion, held in March 2014, focused on the important part cybersecurity plays in preserving the integrity of the market system and protecting customer data. On the heels of the roundtable came a Risk Alert published by OCIE, in which it announced a series of examinations and tests aimed at the identification of cybersecurity risks and assessing the preparedness of the securities industry to meet the challenge. After all, federal securities laws require registered investment advisers to adopt written policies and procedures reasonably designed to protect customer records and information.
The watchful eyes of the SEC are looking directly at broker-dealers and advisers, bringing additional attention to messaging about the requirement for these entities to protect consumer personal information. The message is more likely to be heard when it includes the threat of censure and big fine. In September 2015 the SEC charged an “investment adviser with failing to adopt proper cybersecurity policies and procedures prior to a breach”. According to the SEC release, the firm “failed to establish the required cybersecurity policies and procedures in advance of a breach that compromised the personally identifiable information (PII) of approximately 100,000 individuals, including thousands of the firm’s clients.” Also in September, the OCIE communicated another Risk Alert notifying of their intent to focus on cybersecurity compliance and controls, including information about the next round of examinations which will include more testing to evaluate firms’ implementations of procedures and controls around information protection and cybersecurity.
Gathering information on information security and privacy practices is not always easily accomplished for the SEC OCIE. FinCin (US Dept of the Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network), on the other hand, seems to get more reports of breaches from broker-dealers than does OCIE. Maybe it is due to the advisor wanting to take more the role of the victim rather than admittance of culpability in any way, but the OCIE reports that roughly 65% of broker-dealers that acknowledged receiving fraudulent emails, for example, reported them to FinCen, yet perhaps 7% or fewer actually reported the information to law enforcement or other regulatory agencies. It is the public report of the breach which gets the attention, and which continues to spur the efforts within the OCIE.
Public reports of cybersecurity breaches occur with too much frequency. Sadly many of these events are due to failures or weaknesses in basic controls – failures which might have been identified if testing and review of basic processes, systems and controls was part of regular procedure. With some of the largest data breaches possibly resulting from hacking of 3rd party vendor systems and platforms, review and assessment of vendors and suppliers must also be folded into the realm of consideration. Failure to protect personal information of consumers and clients is risk to not just the firm or the client, but also to the entire market. Risk reduction and management is among the focus areas for OCIE, a charter which supports the recent creation of the Office of Risk and Strategy, and which recognizes the challenge in gaining the information necessary to effectively inform the SEC and the market on cybersecurity issues.