Business IT Planning in the Age of COVID: A Professional Consultant’s Perspective

When Stuart Crawford invited Joe Cannata to have a conversation on The MSP Show, he knew his long-time colleague would show up with some keen insights. When COVID hit in March, many organizations were ill-prepared for the transition to remote work. Because Joe Cannata and the Techsperts team are IT veterans, Crawford knew Cannata could weigh in on how his clients have responded to the transition and what IT resources they relied on to do it.

Mostly, Crawford was interested in uncovering why so many businesses were unprepared for the unexpected transition to remote work arrangements. Was it because they didn’t have Cloud technologies in place? Or were they going in without a plan and a reliable business continuity strategy?

Cannata claims that luckily, most of Techsperts’ clients were already using Cloud computing platforms. “We’ve been telling our clients for years about the benefits of migrating business operations to the Cloud, and luckily our clients trust our expertise,” Cannata claims. “We’ve long been helping our clients transition to Cloud solutions like Office 365 and Microsoft 365 as well as VoIP telecommunications systems.”

Cannata notes that when they recommended these Cloud solutions to clients over the years, the Techsperts team never really had a global pandemic in mind. Techsperts recommends Cloud computing solutions because they lay the foundation for success. Helping clients migrate business operations to the Cloud keeps businesses current and frees business opportunities from being chained to one office, allowing team members to work from anywhere.

Because of this approach, most Techsperts clients we’re already set up for remote working arrangements when the pandemic hit. However, Cannata is quick to mention that there were a few clients who had not yet transitioned to the Cloud. These clients were unfortunately forced into a mad dash to the Cloud once the pandemic made it impossible for organizational teams to enter their physical offices.

“Despite our recommendations over the past few years, some of our more traditional clients had many of the common concerns we hear about the Cloud,” Cannata says. “Some we’re worried about security, others had general wariness about transitioning from familiar, on-premise technology to an entirely Cloud-based arrangement. Whatever their reasons for resisting the Cloud, when COVID hit there wasn’t really a choice anymore, so we were standing-by, ready to fast-track the transition and keep business moving.”

Microsoft Office 365: The Best Cloud Computing Platform for Business

Since the Cloud has been the vehicle through which businesses have stayed afloat during the pandemic, Crawford’s next question for Cannata was obvious: what is the best Cloud computing platform for remote business operations? Cannata was quick to note that while there are many platforms, all with their own benefits, the most suitable and reliable Cloud platform for remote business is Microsoft 365.

“The fact of the matter is, Microsoft 365 is the top option for our clients,” Cannata notes. “It’s not to say that alternative options are inherently bad, but from our experience, Microsoft 365 is the most versatile, familiar, integrated, and user-oriented platform that exists.”

“In my opinion, Microsoft is the leader in innovating toward increased productivity for employees,” Cannata continues. “It’s really hard to keep up with the amount of new and streamlined solutions Microsoft is developing and releasing, specifically for business users. As a result, Microsoft 365 offers fairly comprehensive and seamless resource delivery and can really be taken in any direction and optimized to suit the unique needs of any business.”

What’s Trending: What do Business IT Needs Look Like Today?

Crawford was next curious to find out what kind of IT consultation, support, and services business clients are asking for. When Techsperts talks with their clients, what are the top service and support requests they’re receiving? Cannata claims that the biggest trends in IT service and support these days are all about optimizing an organization’s ability to collaborate and share files and resources. And for this kind of optimization, the Cloud is really the only option.

“I really can’t recommend physical servers to clients anymore – they’re just not the best way for organizations to operate, especially when leadership teams are looking for this seamless kind of resource sharing and team collaboration,” Cannata claims. The fact of the matter is, Microsoft 365 is the ultimate solution for this kind of work – especially in these uncertain times when so much organizational work is happening – at least partially – remotely and online.”

According to Cannata, Microsoft 365 seems to be the no-brainer solution for what most of our clients are asking for, which is collaboration and resource sharing, combined with Cloud security. “It’s a Cloud world,” Cannata claims, “and we’re focused on helping our clients be as secure and productive on the Cloud as possible. Microsoft 365 makes that easy.”

The Techsperts Approach to Business IT Consultation

Next up, Crawford wanted to know how Cannata and Techsperts team approach consultations with their clients. The MSP Show is all about information and strategy sharing – all in the name of helping managed IT providers better understand and serve their client base. For Cannata, strategic IT consultation and planning is all about listening to your clients and building services and solutions from there.

“Most of our clients tell us the same thing,” says Cannata. “They don’t want to rewrite the book and change everything they’re doing – they just want reliable technology that is going to help them keep moving along. At the same time, however, they do want the best IT solutions possible to help ensure that their network is secure and that their set up for optimized productivity.”

It’s simple, clients come to Techsperts with their needs – maybe their systems are slow or out of date, and they’re in need of something easy-to-use, but innovative to help them stay productive and on the cutting edge. Once those needs are expressed by the client, Cannata and the Techsperts team get to work finding the right collection of solutions to satisfy them.

Once again, Cannata claims that 9 times out of 10, the right collection of solutions is already built-in to Microsoft 365. Microsoft 365 offers everything clients are looking for – the familiarity, the innovation, productivity, collaboration and security. Even better? All these benefits are fully integrated in a centralized hub of reliable and secure solutions.

“Our approach to consultation and IT guidance is truly client-oriented,” Cannata explains. “I don’t like just showing up with a menu of solutions or making some over-the-top sales pitch. The reality is, most of the professionals aren’t terribly interested in knowing about everything Microsoft has on the market.”

“It’s our job as consultants to stay focused on listening to the kind of work they do and how they want to optimize it,” Cannata continues. “Then my team and I use our own expertise to make connections and match them with the Microsoft solutions best suited for their needs.”

Cannata explains that no organization wants to overcomplicate things for their teams. In fact, most professional organizations don’t really care to know about the ins and outs of their business technology. They just want the peace of mind that comes with having professional guidance and the up-to-date IT infrastructure required to get work done securely and productively.

The keyword here? Guidance. The reality is, to be a reliable business IT consultant, IT professionals need to help them navigate the constantly changing world of business IT. This is the consultative approach MSP’s should be focused on. The days of simply fixing stuff or selling solutions are gone. The truly reliable and successful MSP is the one who can offer seamless and constructive guidance to business clients who don’t want to get lost in all the details of specific tech problems or solutions.

“Most of our clients don’t understand the ins and outs of what we do – and I would never expect them too,” says Cannata. “I don’t know the ins and outs of being an accountant, so why should our professional clients have to know the ins and outs of business IT? That’s what me and my team are here for. Our clients are the experts on their own operations, and we’re the guides that help them satisfy operational needs with strategic IT solutions. It’s that simple.”

For Cannata, the most important ingredient in this client-consultant relationship is trust, and trust doesn’t come from nowhere – it has to be built and earned. You don’t earn the trust of your clients by trying to storm into their offices trying to fix problems or sell solutions without listening to what they need. The client’s word is the most important.

“Get to know them, listen to them, build a rapport,” Cannata claims. “Once you do that, there’s no selling or convincing involved. Just a relationship of mutual trust and guidance. That’s how you serve your clients.”

A Last Word: Forecasting Cybersecurity in Uncertain Times

Before closing out the conversation, Crawford had one last question for Cannata. With such unpredictable pandemic conditions and more and more people transitioning to the Cloud, are there going to be more incidents of data breach and cyber crime? In short, when it comes to cybersecurity, are things going to get worse before they get better?

Cannata believes there’s good news and bad news. Let’s start with the bad. The reality is that, yes, the biggest threat businesses are up against today is a wide variety of cyber threats. Most specifically, email-borne threats are on the rise, especially with more and more people using email as their primary means of remote work communication.

Cannata claims that of course, end-point security is still important too, but email threats are getting all the more common and all the more sophisticated. He notes that some of these email scams are becoming more layered, increasingly hard to detect, and are evolving faster than many security companies can keep up with.

“Going forward, the biggest problem we need to focus on is raising awareness among organizational employees,” Cannata urges. “Team members need to be trained to know what to look for – they need to be wary and on-guard at all times. No matter how much security you have in place, things slip through the cracks and they usually slip through email. When employees aren’t paying attention or don’t have enough training to determine what to look for, networks are more easily exploited.”

In today’s increasingly ‘online’ business world, cybercriminals seem to always be one or two steps ahead of security professionals. Cybersecurity experts are constantly playing catch-up. It’s always been this way, but in the last five years or so, the frequency and sophistication of these threats has risen significantly and IT professionals like Cannata have seen countless instances of breach and penetration.

“The reality is, cybersecurity strategies have to be layered and one of the most important layers is user awareness,” Cannata continues. “The more equipped teams are to identify threats, the better chance organizations have of stopping sophisticated threats from slipping through security cracks.”

The point Cannata is trying to drive home? One-level defence is not adequate – multiple layers of IT security are non-negotiables at this point – especially with such an increase to online traffic in these uncertain times. Vigilance is more important now than ever and without multiple layers of security, organizations are being negligent and putting their business at major risk.

So, what can organizations do to ensure their cybersecurity approach is layered and sufficiently vigilant? That’s where the good news comes in. First, Cannata claims that a company like Microsoft will continue to evolve and strengthen their cybersecurity standards as conditions change. Second, organizations have the power to take control of cybersecurity planning to lessen the risks involved in remote operations. Cannata recommends regular, quarterly sessions on basic cybersecurity education. Every organization should be committed to this and Techsperts offers these kinds of training services to clients across the tri-state area.

“We stress education and awareness above all else and we help organizations of all shapes and sizes make cybersecurity education a continual priority,” Cannata says. “We approach it by giving organizations three basic cybersecurity categories to focus on and fulfill: endpoint security, email security, and a firewall for edge security.”

Cannata claims that without these three baseline standards, organizations simply aren’t up-to-date in terms of addressing network and internet security sufficiently. These three baselines are non-negotiables for any organization Techsperts manages, precisely because they know that these are the basics required in today’s world to keep an organization’s network and data secure.

Key Takeaways

When talking with a veteran IT professional like Joe Cannata, so many key insights are brought to the surface. For organizations and MSP’s alike, let’s rehash some of the most important points Cannata made in his conversation with Stuart Crawford on The MSP Show.

Cannata’s advice for business clients:

  1. If you’re not already on the Cloud, the time is now to make the switch and Microsoft 365 is the ultimate and most reliable solution.
  2. You don’t need to be a business IT expert to have a strategic and secure business IT infrastructure. Before you go into a meeting with an IT service provider, start by developing a clear idea of how your team works and what improvements and optimizations are important to you. Express these needs to your provider and let them guide you to the right IT solutions.
  3. Cybersecurity is more important now than ever before. If you’re not talking to your team about identifying cyberthreats, you’re not doing enough. Partner with a team of IT professionals who will help you develop a layered and multi-faceted approach to cybersecurity.

Cannata’s advice for IT service providers:

  1. Be an advocate for the Cloud with your clients. You may not be able to convince them all, but never stop reminding them about the business benefits of migrating operations to the Cloud.
  2. Don’t approach consultation with a sales-only mindset. Listen to your clients – allow them to be the expert and focus on filling your role as a consultant and guide. Start with their needs and concerns and then work to find the most suitable solutions. Don’t storm the fortress trying to fix everything and oversell. Remember that your clients are the heroes – you’re there to help them shine.
  3. If you aren’t insisting on a baseline cybersecurity standard for every client you work with, now is the time to start. As business operations continue to go remote, security concerns will get worse before they get better. Insist on a cybersecurity baseline for all clients and explain that you set this standard because you care about their success and continuity.

Crawford closed out his conversation with Cannata by asking him one final question – what would he tell his younger self based on the experience and expertise he’s clocked to this point? Cannata’s answer was simple: stay focused on helping businesses succeed, productively and securely.

“What my team and I are good at is helping businesses work smarter and not harder with strategic IT solutions,” Cannata claims. “If I could tell my younger self anything, it would be the same thing I tell myself and my team today: stay focused on helping your business clients reach new heights. That’s what you’re good at and that’s what motivates you to keep learning, moving, hustling.”

Looking for reliable IT consultation? Want to learn more about the Techsperts approach to customer service and support? Give us a call anytime at (201) 262-5066, drop us a line at info@techspertsllc.com, or visit our website at www.techspertsllc.com to chat with a live agent and book a consultation.