When choosing a Managed IT provider to handle your company's computer systems consider choosing one that is "born in the cloud".
A lot in the IT world has rapidly changed and many traditional managed IT providers find themselves stuck in the past with legacy architecture, out-dated support procedures, and old technology. In fact a recent survey from CompTIA showed that 44% of MSP's said they only support cloud services when asked to do so by the customer. Which means "traditional MSPs" may be holding their customers back.
In today's competitive environment, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area - you want to make sure your company is using the best technology solutions to save you time and money. Cloud services offer this with near instant scalability and flexibility - increase or decrease the number of users, servers or processing power, all without the need to invest in costly hardware. So when interviewing IT consulting firms a few questions to ask are:
- When were you founded? How long have you been supporting cloud services?
- What cloud services do you currently leverage?
- What CRM and phone systems do you use?
- What technologies are you most excited about?
At Tech Plus Consulting we were founded in Oakland, CA in 2014. From inception we have been using all cloud based services like:
- Salesfoce.com Service Cloud (Enterprise Edition) - We use this tool to manage our customer database, sales and marketing funnels, as well as handle all our support cases and customer service requests. This tool is excellent in that we can scale it up or down as we add employees, and it is designed to be mobile first - meaning we can access everything from our iPhones and iPads in the field. We've even built out a lot of custom Apps - essentially databases tracking our customers assets, managing change logs for client servers and network infrastructure, as well dashboards and reporting to track customer backup schedules and how we have manually tested and verified backups are working in case of a disaster.
- HubSpot - We recently implemented HubSpot to run our blog, landing pages for Adwords and social media campaigns (coming soon!), and handle all our email and marketing automation systems. So this blog post for example is done there.
- G Suite - We use Google's Gmail for Work software suite for all our word processing, presentations, spreadsheets, instant messaging, email, and file storage. This means we can access our files from any device - smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, etc as well as collaborate easily. Sean and I for example can be in two different countries and be editing the same client proposal at once collaborating and working together. Google's file sharing is also great for sharing sensitive information with clients, and managing access permissions so only the relevant staff have access to the files needed to complete their work and nothing else.
- Trello - we use this free project management software to create client project boards. From those we can track all of the project work we working on currently as well as in the future. It has a lot of great features and a killer iOS and Android App to let you snap pictures and add them to cards. I.e. We might take a photo of a server rack for reference showing visually which sets of cables we intend to tidy up, or where in the rack we are putting that new firewall.
- RingCentral - we've never used traditional "POTS" lines or phone systems. We've instead always used cloud based telephony. This gives us free long distance, voicemail-to-email, Zoom Online Meetings (screen sharing, video calling, etc), iPhone App for calling, efax, SMS text messaging, and a really slick Salesforce Integration where by when our customers call it screen-pops their customer profile. Another great thing is when we add staff we are able to instantly assign them a new direct number and extension within 5 min.
- Harvest - we track all our time in this online time tracker that integrates to QuickBooks for automatic billing. It is awesome because from your Apple Watch, Smartphone, or Chrome/Edge/FireFox/Safari browser plug-in you can choose a client and project and start and stop the timer. It automatically prompts for notes and we can pull reports to see exactly where our time is going into (as I write this blog post I've tracked 1 hour 22 min and counting!).
- QuickBooks Online - all our invoicing is done via this cloud tool. It means we can get sign-off on estimates via iPad signature in-person, send invoices from our iPhones, and access all our payroll and accounting statements from any device at anytime. I actually once ran the company payroll from Miami Beach Florida once on a vacation then promptly went back into the ocean for a swim! Also it does an excellent job automating invoicing with reoccurring invoice templates, letting you take payments for free via ACH Bank Transfer (automatically marking them as paid and reconciling the bank statements).
- PandaDoc - we use this tool to eSign all of our client proposals all within the Salesforce Opportunity record. It is super well integrated with Salesforce so when a tech puts in notes from a statement of work within 15 seconds I can generate a contract pulling all the names, addresses, emails, etc out of Salesforce and creating an online document to sign. When the client signs it everyone gets emailed copies and it automatically triggers a workflow to issue PO's to vendors for equipment and schedule the work to be done. I spend something like 25 hours evaluating eSignature tools and absolutely LOVE how simple and yet powerful PandaDoc is to use. I'll write another blog on it soon.
- LastPass with Yubikey's - we take IT Security very seriously and use this enterprise password manager to store all credentials, sensitive information, and assist with the login to all our cloud services. It essentially works by having one password + a physical security key. That Yubikey contains a private and public key built into it. When you login to cloud services like Gmail it sends Google the public key, Google in turn sends back an encrypted code that can only be decrypted by the private key contained within that hardware, and in seconds your logged in securely.
- Meraki Networking Equipment - we are huge fan's of Cisco's fastest growing cloud networking division: Meraki. We run their Firewalls, Switches, and Access Points to be able to manage our network and security. I'l write future blog posts about these items as there is a lot to cover.
We also use Office 365, iCloud, Storagecraft's cloud backups, a cloud based network diagramming tool (I forget the name) and a few other tools. As you can see all of our business systems run on cloud technologies and we are completely paperless. It is what enables us to be more efficient than many of our competitors - our techs are often able to close 2X and 3X the number of cases per day because we use the best cloud tools. We aren't dragged down by ancient technology or outdated business processes, and we are able to use everyone of our tools on a Smartphone or tablet so we aren't chained to the office the entire time or have the need to come back from an on-site to complete paperwork. All of our sign-offs are digital and many of the tedious stuff is automated through workflows and templates. At my last job managing a 30 year old Alameda based IT company before leaving to start Tech+ we had 7 staff do the job my office could do with 2 staff. I am a huge believer in the power of cloud software tools and their ability to improve efficiency, and reduce IT infrastructure budgets.