Connection Community Official Technology Community of Connection Fri, 13 May 2022 17:04:45 +0000 hourly 1 TechSperience Trends Episode 2: Legacy vs.... May 12, 2022 Connection Since COVID-19 hit, cloud-native apps have become critical to the daily operations of most companies. At the same time, a lot of people are still using several legacy apps in addition to cloud apps. Looking forward, how should companies successfully migrate their legacy apps to the cloud? How should they decide which ones should move? In this episode, we explore the pros and cons of both legacy and cloud-native apps.

Host: James Hilliard
Guest: Ian Moyse

Show Notes:
[0:39] Introduction of guest

[1:06] Without the cloud, could humanity have survived the last 18–24 months?

[3:30] Were you surprised we didn't see more failures with the cloud in that time period?

[6:00] What do you think smaller organizations and users of the cloud have learned in the last year?

[11:25] What cloud applications are you surprised saw growth in the last 18–24 months, or are there some that are on the verge of seeing more adoption?

[15:43] For smaller businesses, it’s an even greater undertaking to migrate legacy workloads to the cloud. How do they overcome?

[21:06] How should companies address their home-grown legacy apps and how do they get them to the cloud?

[29:20] Where are we going to find the talent to fill cloud positions?

[35:35] What does the cloud landscape look like in ten years?

TechSperience Trends Episode 1: Cloud Myths... Apr 28, 2022 Connection It’s time to put some common cloud myths to rest. Here are the most pervasive myths about the cloud and some clarification about what the cloud can actually offer your organization.

Host: James Hilliard

Guest: Jeff Doolan, Vice President of Microsoft at Connection

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Show Notes:

[1:02] Introduction of guest

[1:40] Technology myths in general

[3:08] Where do these myths start?

[4:52] What are the top three cloud myths that you think are being perpetuated?

[6:10] Where did the myth that “cloud is expensive” come from?

[10:51] Is the cloud actually cheaper?

[12:45] Can we confidently say that public cloud is secure?

[16:32] Who should be involved in early conversations to ensure security is at the forefront in a cloud migration?

[21:56] Is it still a pervasive myth that “I lose control over my data in the cloud?”

[26:05] Should companies put all or some of the data in the cloud?

[29:23] How do you stay up to speed on cloud information?

A Day in the Life of a Connection Partner... Apr 26, 2022 Hallee Quinn Becoming a Partner Development Specialist (PDS) at Connection is a great way to grow within the company. As a PDS, I have different types of tasks that I do on a daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis—which keeps things interesting! For instance, some days I put on my creative genius hat and come up with new incentives and fresh marketing ideas. Other days require me to put on a trainer hat and educate sales about various cutting-edge products. These varied tasks help you determine your strengths and give you the freedom to build on them. Some of what I do includes:

  • Rolling out price changes to help us stay ahead of the competition
  • Setting up programs to help our Account Managers get competitive pricing
  • Creating marketing materials for the Sales Team and customers
  • Creating and promoting incentives that help partners stand out and get attention
  • Overseeing internal Focus Days that elevate products and build a pipeline for business
  • Assisting Account Managers with product questions (Always be a go-to product expert!)
  • Browsing Open Quotes and proactively contacting Account Managers on ways to help win business

A large part of this job involves building relationships within the workplace. One of the biggest roles I have is working with global IT leaders. For instance, over the past four years I’ve been working closely with experts from HP. Through them, I’ve been able to learn about everything from ink, toner, and print hardware to personal systems and beyond. I’ve found—in this position—making yourself available as the go-to will help you become more successful.

The sky is the limit for a Partner Development Specialist. It’s up to YOU to make it your own role. Sound like fun? Find out for yourself by applying today.

Empower Your Manufacturing Employees with... Apr 26, 2022 Ryan Spurr There has never been a more exciting time to start your journey when it comes to sensors. There are so many technologies and options in the marketplace. The choice for which options you leverage depends on your business goals, existing infrastructure, and how you plan to scale proof of concepts everywhere. 

This is where Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) sensors set a new standard for companies seeking to deliver quick time to value, leverage existing and trusted infrastructure, and provide a growing array of long-lasting and beneficial sensor technologies to instrument any part of the manufacturing value stream.

Technology that Scales Quickly

We have seen this written about extensively. Engineers implement a sensor or smart technology in a single plant only to learn it cannot scale across the business into other plants, office spaces, or global operations. This is what the industry calls “pilot purgatory,” and it’s where well-intended initiatives go to fail. Why is this the case? 

While the technology selected might have met its purpose, the chosen technologies didn’t meet corporate policies, cybersecurity requirements, nor did they integrate in any thoughtful way with the existing IT or plant technologies used across the business. This lack of trust, integration with the larger enterprise, and its ability to rapidly scale with little friction limited its future. What if we could select technologies that are pervasive, could ride atop many brands and infrastructure solutions, and could scale up to meet the ambitions of the engineers and leadership alike?

BLE-based sensors are replacing many of today’s legacy technologies for just these reasons. These devices support extended battery life, integrate with IT’s trusted network technologies from Cisco, Meraki, Aruba, Juniper, and can ride atop a widening range of infrastructures such as wireless access points, beacon extenders, mobile devices, and even smart cameras. 

To learn more about how wireless networking is evolving to include technologies like BLE, check out our prior blogs.

What makes this all possible? All of these devices are pervasive in any office space, factory floor, outdoor yard, or warehouse and are now packed with BLE antennas, creating a mesh network of native gateways anywhere in the enterprise. This is huge! It means that we can deploy smart sensors in any department for any process improvement initiative and quickly scale it everywhere. 

Beyond the ease of deployment or scale, imagine what this does to the cost of technology acquisition and the dreaded need to provide business justification (aka, return on investment). If information technology has deployed smart cameras and next-generation wireless access points in all facilities, the cost to deploy sensors just went way down. You need only to acquire a software license and sensor—whether on a limited quantity to run a proof of concept or at volume. Either way, you can quickly acquire, connect, and evaluate if a sensor combined with people, processes, and technology will yield the desired business outcome and meet target KPIs.

Couple this infrastructure with a growing number of BLE-based sensors, and you can start to imagine how this technology isn’t just impactful for a limited few or engineers with the skillsets to deploy. Now any department in the enterprise can apply sensors to solve business objectives like safety, health, environment, capital asset management, and even continuous improvement studies. 

Temperature and Humidity: Many types of sensors exist, but temperature and humidity are some of the most commonly deployed. It’s simple to understand and can be easily correlated to the conditions of just about any business, industry, and process. From monitoring cold storage, setting control limits in factories, monitoring facilities to optimize energy and employee comfort levels, and even monitoring workplace health conditions. We have many customers even deploying this technology into IT network closets, data centers, and other environments that might impact the performance of critical technology and require alerts in the case of cooling issues or fire.

It's also important to understand that technology is no longer working in isolation. For example, I mentioned BLE-antennas embedded into smart cameras. Not only might a temperature sensor collect data and alert for specific conditions, but these sensors now work in tandem with smart cameras and business management systems. When the temperature meets a threshold, it might not only alert a key stakeholder but also correlate a specific event detected by the camera—such as an IT employee leaving a data center door open or an operator leaving a fridge door open—making it easier to determine the cause of the event and aid in employee retraining or corrective action.

Employee Safety and Mustering: Unlike temperature sensors, there are now many sensor options aligned to support environmental, health, and safety use cases. This includes smart sensors that can monitor multiple environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, particulate, TVOCs, and ambient noise. 

On the worker-safety side, sensor-based badge technology allows for all employees to have BLE-based sensors attached to their badge with push buttons to alert for help (think slips, trips, falls, or equipment injuries), quickly locate the employee anywhere in the facility to aid in the emergency response process—and in the event of a fire or facilities event—track the safe mustering of all employees and guests.

Continuous Improvement Events: Data is critical to any kaizen event, but what if the data you seek isn’t readily available? What if the team’s next step is to validate its assumptions? How might you leverage sensors to help identify the root cause or even support the team in identifying ways to improve? With sensors that can track the real-time flow of people, vehicles, and things, or take any number of measurements, sensors layered atop of a BLE-based infrastructure can be an elegant way to collect real-time data over a period of performance. That data can then be used to support root cause, corrective action, and verification efforts.

Predictive Maintenance: For any manufacturer dependent on factory machines or facilities equipment like HVAC, moving away from traditional maintenance approaches to a real-time data-driven model is essential to improve visibility of potential equipment issues, proactively maintain equipment that may fail early, and avoid costly downtime. 

While sensors are not the only option to support predictive maintenance (e.g., industrial IoT data acquisition and automation can also help where PLCs exist), sensors can play an important role, especially in situations where equipment is less sophisticated. Think of a simple pump, that legacy motor with no connectivity or intelligence, or other physical equipment that can vibrate, wobble, overheat, or smoke. Sensors can be applied to these types of equipment to ensure proper operation, generate alerts with drifting performance criteria, automate specific downstream tasks with ERP, MES, or Maintenance Management software, and provide plant teams with excellent visibility into their critical equipment.

Automation: An everyday but straightforward use case is how to automate a call for help or trigger a specific business process. Simple BLE-based sensors now exist that allow you to place push-button sensors anywhere in a factory, warehouse, or office location to drive automation. Common examples include placing engineering support calls to support operators who must call for supervisory or engineering support to address a machine equipment failure or quality issue. Another example would be to call material management or line-side stocking teams to replenish material at a specific location. Some companies use the same technology for less glamorous tasks like alerting facilities and janitorial staff to a cleanliness issue in a bathroom. Whatever the situation, you can see how a simple, customizable button might be used across a manufacturing facility to alert, integrate, and automate tasks.

End-to-End Manufacturing Visibility

Sensor technology is rapidly evolving and easier to acquire, deploy, and integrate data to bring business value-based outcomes. BLE is a popular and practical technology to automate wasteful activities, deliver cost-effective solutions, and improve business processes and customer experience. If your business is looking to explore sensor technologies or automate various business processes aligned with corporate goals, engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology and the many use cases that may benefit your organization.

Create a Safer Manufacturing Workplace with... Apr 21, 2022 Ryan Spurr When it comes to location solutions, so much attention is spent tracking materials, products, and vehicles. Automation and business system integration in these typical areas can deliver outstanding business outcomes for manufacturers, but what about our most valuable assets: employees?

Regarding employee-based location solutions, peoples’ initial thoughts typically point to one of two places. First, tracking employees for more nefarious purposes like ensuring employees act a certain way and do what they should. This is often frowned upon by unions and can create distrust among employees. The second is employee safety or workplace enhancements that improve the employee experience. With the latter, we can include employees as part of the business change and put improvements in place that visibly improve or protect their interests.

If your company values safety, health, and environment, or has strategic initiatives in these areas, consider how location technology can play a part in improving employees’ well-being and help your teams measure success. Let’s take a quick look at how these technologies come together to make all this possible.


Next-generation location solutions like Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) are becoming pervasive with the implementation of modern wireless access points and beacons. For example, both Aruba and Cisco Meraki access points include BLE antennas. This means that the infrastructure necessary to leverage BLE location services may already exist (if your IT organization recently upgraded wireless), or your organization should be considering this with its next upgrade.

To learn more about Bluetooth Low Energy technologies in more detail, check out our prior blogs. This is a game-changer for other business functions like HR, Safety and Health, and Facilities because it means that you can quickly adopt safety-based location solutions at lower entry-cost points, and the same solutions can promptly scale to any site in the company. If there are gaps in the deployment of BLE-enabled access points, beacons can be added that can connect to existing wireless or wired networks, extending the range or coverage where BLE doesn’t exist. This is especially useful where access point density is limited, in bizarre corners of buildings where wireless signals are weaker, or in the case where wireless may not exist at all.

Tags and Sensors

With the proper infrastructure, we can turn our attention to how we tag employees, deploy sensors that monitor the safety conditions of the environment, or push buttons that allow employees to alert for help. 

Employee tags have come a long way. For example, today’s tags are the same size as an employee badge or contained within a retractable lanyard adaptor and last years on a single battery. Some options exist with programmable buttons that can be used to call for help or trigger another desired business event. Sensors can monitor temperature, light levels, humidity, air quality, and even occupancy levels. All of this comes together to ensure that conditions are optimized or alerted to when employee safety might drift towards or breach control limits. Together, this can create a smarter workplace and better working conditions that help to attract and retain employees while keeping everyone safe.

Software and Quick Time to Value

Lastly, it’s software that integrates all this technology and delivers business value. Today’s software is easy to acquire, deploy, and brings value in minutes. For example, you can buy a starter kit from many partners, enter license keys, and be online in under 15 minutes with little effort. This makes proof of concepts and scaling a breeze. The software provides many out-of-the-box capabilities, dashboards, alerts, and event management. And when you have outgrown the basics or wish to integrate the data with business systems, these same toolsets offer application programmer interfaces (APIs) to bring higher forms of data integration and automation to the business.

Driving Safety through a Connected Workplace

Safety and employee experience are top of mind for almost every manufacturer we engage. Keeping employees safe, productive, and retained are goals worth pursuing, especially in today’s marketplace. Bluetooth Low Energy infrastructure, along with a wide range of safety, environmental, and employee-based solutions is a great place to initiate your next smart initiative that aims to empower and protect your very most valuable asset, your employees. If your business is looking to explore location technologies or automate various business processes, engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology and how its many use cases can benefit your organization.

A Full-Circle Connection Customer Success... Apr 19, 2022 Makayla Mota When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, educators were faced with huge challenges while transitioning to virtual learning. At the time, Cindy Danielsa former Principal turned Professional Learning Consultant and certified MIE at Connectionhad been working with and training K–12 teachers. She quickly transitioned her own approach, and began virtually training educators on how they could use Microsoft 365 to better reach students and organize their classes and content. Amid the chaos and questions regarding education in those first few months, she had a lingering thought:

Why Are We Not Helping New Teachers?

Never one to shy away from challenges, Cindy reached out to a former professor at the University of North Carolina with the hopes that she could offer training to students enrolled in the Teaching Fellows program at UNC Chapel Hill. Here, Cindy met Dr. Jennifer Diliberto, the Director of UNC Chapel Hill Teaching Fellows and Clinical Associate Professor of Special Education and Literacy. The two formed an immediate bond and immediately set up a series of Microsoft Pilot Academies for Jen’s students.

“I look at things as an opportunity,” Jen says, “and now is a prime opportunity to make sure that we do, in teacher education, what we should have been doing for a long time in making sure that our pre-service teachers have a level of comfort with teaching face-to-face as well as virtually. So, we just organically started digging into all of the Microsoft tools last year and for me, as an instructor, I’ve embedded the use of Teams in all of my projects.”

Through Cindy’s Microsoft training, Jen continued incorporating Microsoft tools into her own teaching, in turn, allowing her students to experience first-hand the power various Microsoft programs can have in the classroom. After struggling for a way to log case studies virtually, Jen began using OneNote and creating sections for each of the exceptionality areas and then pages for each of the cases.

“Through all of Cindy’s wonderful trainings, we’re helping to give the students some ideas of how they might be able to utilize the tools,” Jen shares.

Powerful Education Tools for Better Learning Outcomes

Dasia Toone is one of those students. She is a bright and energetic student teacher enrolled in the UNC Chapel Hill Teaching Fellows program. She is currently teaching in an EC Resource class for K–5 students in Durham, NC. The night Cindy covered Flipgrid in Jen’s class a light bulb went off. Dasia had been struggling to extract information from one of her 4th grade students, explaining that he is very verbally expressive but checks out when it comes time to write.

“We only have 30 minutes and half of those minutes are transition times, so we had to get down to the nitty gritty and it just wasn’t happening. I could see that this student was getting frustrated. We really were working on detail and beginning, middle, and end in his writing. I went to class, and we started talking about Flipgrid and I thought—hmm maybe I could try this with my student and so we tried it literally the next day.”

Flipgrid is a video discussion app that allows teachers to create prompts for students to respond to. The student is then allowed to create a video answering the prompts and presenting material. It excels at allowing students to be creative and silly and has a unique and special power to draw out even the most introverted kids. I know because I have seen it. I have seen it work wonders in the classroom for both students and teachers. As Dasia talks about her student and the strides that he has made using Flipgrid this year, her eyes light up and a giant smile plays across her face. The pride and accomplishment of reaching a student and presenting another option to something that may have been difficult for them is written across her face, and soon all four of us on the Teams call are grinning from ear to ear. Education is powerful, and when teachers are presented with the right tools, they can do anything and all students can succeed.

“It has been a turnaround for that student. I am seeing him write, or speak, more in detail without that frustration and he is able to really give us some quality work. I would say that it has been a transition for me, as well. Going into this program, my teaching philosophy was a bit anti-technology. I had this idea that you couldn’t truly learn if there was so much access to technology. I am already seeing a shift as to how much I use it as an elementary school teacher. It has been a way to break through to my students.”

Dasia is also using Flipgrid for her social emotional check ins. A few weeks ago while doing a Flipgrid prompt, her student got visibly frustrated and had a meltdown. Dasia then flipped the activity on its head asking her student to create a 5-minute video on how he was doing that day. The student responded so well that she has incorporated this technique into her solution strategies.

“He likes that a lot because he doesn’t have to talk directly to me, but he knows I am going to listen to it and comment. He has a little room where he escapes for privacy, even though he knows I am going to see it. He gets to perform and express himself—through his writing and his emotions—to the computer.”

Empowering the Students of Today

Dasia has also seen him grow tenfold in confidence over the course of the year, even taking on a mentor role to new students, something she doesn’t think he would have ever done without that Flipgrid confidence boost.

“We have some behavioral issues, and he is generally resistant to everything I say except Flipgrid! He loves it. We also just got a new student, so yesterday he made a Flipgrid and showed the new student how to make a Flipgrid alongside him. It was really cute.”

As Dasia speaks about this student and the ways that he has grown, she suddenly has another idea of how she could use Flipgrid with her 3rd grade math students. She envisions asking them to be the teachers and creating videos explaining the mathematical concepts they are learning for each other, explaining that Flipgrid is so versatile that you can use it for any subject. She’s excited and vibrant and I can see what a great teacher she is already, and the impact Microsoft tools have made on her teaching style thanks to the training and innovative leadership of Cindy and Jen. Teaching has gone through a big and tumultuous transition these last few years, but through my conversation with Cindy, Jen, and Dasia I see a whole lot of hope and promise for the future of education. These three educators have impacted so many students—from K-12 to Higher Education—in the past two years by using various Microsoft Education tools and tailoring them to their specific classroom and the struggles they face. Training educators on how to use Microsoft tools makes the possibilities limitless.

The Power of Wow

Before we end our conversation, I ask if there is anything anyone wants to add about their experience using Microsoft in the classroom and Jen says, “the wow power,” and laughs. I ask her to elaborate.

“I had a meeting with a student just a little bit ago, who’s one of my interns, and she needed some support with her own learning. I was sharing Immersive Reader because she’s doing a lot of reading right now. She said that what’s always been so hard when doing research is getting through all of the material and reading it. So having the screen reader and using the dictation piece can be so empowering—to anybody, not just someone with a disability. It equals the playing field for someone with a disability, but then it just makes life simpler. I was telling the student you can have the Immersive Reader read the article while you’re listening, then you don’t have to focus on deciphering and comprehending the words. You just need to focus on comprehending the language, and then you can take notes while it’s reading to you. Kind of like you would during a lecture, right? Wow. So, yes, the wow power.”

Inside Look: Connection’s Technology... Apr 13, 2022 Connection Interested in becoming a Connection employee? You’ve come to the right place. Follow our Inside Look series to find out what it is like to work in different departments within our organization. You will learn about our open positions and hear from our department leaders on what they watch for in candidates during the interview process. This month we’re featuring our Technology Integration and Distribution Center.

What’s it like to work in Connection’s Technology Integration and Distribution Center (TIDC)?

It’s great to be able to work in the tech industry and know you’re making a difference to companies in the various markets—not only local and national businesses, but also healthcare, retail, manufacturing, and the public sector, including education and state, local, and Federal government.

Connection is a fast-paced business servicing communities throughout North America and—in some accounts—worldwide. The warehouse work is consistently busy, so the day often flies by fast. The facilities are modern with breakrooms, outside social areas, training rooms, an electronic serviced cafeteria, strong physical and digital security, and an amazing culture.  

There is plenty of variety in the work offered across the different departments. Not only are there career opportunities for advancement in the company, but individuals are also able to continuously improve their skills—including handling of different equipment, working with supply chain programs like JD Edwards, and gaining experience in receiving and shipping. With these new skills, you can often move to Lead and Supervisor roles.

And if you’re more technically inclined, there is a whole other part of the operation that focuses on computer configuration, integration, and deployments to the North American markets. This is often referred to as Configuration Services and includes many technical roles, from entry-level configuration technicians through senior technicians to system engineers, project managers, and technical management. What is also exciting here is you can enter the business in the warehouse and work your way into a technical role, while the company assists you in obtaining industry recognized certifications. You may also choose to grow into sales or pre-sales solutions in other departments. 

Working in the Connection warehouse offers a lot to choose from, whether you’re an entry-level warehouse position, a new sales associate, an experienced supply chain international shipper, a quality control expert, a service or configuration technician, a project manager, or a system engineer. Connection’s TIDC has something to offer everyone!        

What is the structure of the department?

There are many departments within the TIDC. In general, there are Warehouse Operations, Quality Control, Inventory Control, Receiving, Shipping, Configuration, and Depot Services. Each of these departments offer career opportunities within the department, as well as movement and advancement to other departments. The departments are generally managed by a Director or Sr. Manager, who will usually have Supervisors or Leads running floor operations. The Directors report to a Vice President over different areas of Configuration and Operations. Also, within the Wilmington location, there are corporate department positions available, for example, entry-level Sales and International Shipping. 

What are the relationships between the TIDC and other areas of the company?

There are many “connections,” so to speak, from the distribution center to other areas of the company, including, in some cases, working directly with our customers and partners. To start with, the TIDC is closely aligned with Product Management, Corporate IT, Finance, and especially with Sales. We have several groups that serve on companywide committees like Safety, Security Compliance, and Facilities Management. In a few areas, we also work directly with our customers and Sales organizations. For example, Project Management works directly with Sales Support, and Service Delivery and our Configuration System Engineers interface with customers on setup. Some departments interface daily with individual departments: Inventory Control often communicates to Finance, and Shipping and Configuration work with Corporate IT platforms, and Human Resources stays in constant contact with all departments.   

The TIDC is hiring! What does it take to be successful in your department and at Connection?

To be successful, you need to offer a positive attitude, try your best, and show up willing to contribute every day. You’ll be working at a company that takes customer service seriously. We watch industry trends and listen to employee and customer feedback—so be prepared to listen, learn, and share.

If someone reading this was coming to interview tomorrow for a role in the TIDC, what interview tips would you give them? 

Candidates should come prepared to share what's important to them today and their aspirations for the future. We like to have an open, honest dialogue to understand your priorities and how we can help you achieve your goals.

What can new hires expect from joining the TIDC?

At first, it will seem like a lot of information coming at you all at once. Don’t worry; try your best, reach out when you have questions, and know the rest of your team is ready to help you learn and excel. Depending on the role, you will be offered training in different areas of operations or configuration. Expect that every day will be busy, often performing work that's similar day to day but also may shift depending on customer needs.  

Also, be sure to wear supportive, comfortable shoes because the building is quite large, and sometimes we have to hustle between other departments. We’ll also provide specific dress code recommendations that will best fit your new role.

And finally, why Connection?

Connection is a multi-billion-dollar, Fortune 1000 company celebrating 40 years of innovation in the fast-paced world of technology solutions and services. We are here to stay and grow. We care about our customers, our employees, our partners, and the changing markets. We invite you to come work for a company that offers competitive industry wages with dynamic opportunities and the room to grow your career in the direction that you choose. Stay local or set goals that may take you to other areas of the country. Whatever you’re interested in, there’s a good chance we can help you achieve your career goals. 

Ready to take the next step?

Could you see yourself working in our TIDC? Browse some of our current open positions or contact one of our hiring managers directly.

Hiring Managers: David Evans, Alisa Pisarcik, Rick Lawrey, or Robert Bush

Inside Sales Account Manager - SLED

Hiring Manager: John Milburn

Imaging and Install Technician – Corporate – Configuration Services

Hiring Manager: John Milburn

Master Scheduler

Hiring Manager: Nathan Byers

Program Manager TIDC

The Impact of Collaboration in Healthcare Apr 12, 2022 Dr Keith Nelson Collaboration in healthcare is generally defined as two or more healthcare professionals working together to optimize the treatment plan and health outcome for a patient. The backgrounds of the participating professionals can range from primary and tertiary care providers, to pharmacists, geneticists, physical therapists, social workers, dieticians, and/or any other allopathic or alternative therapy practitioners.

The tangible benefits of such a collaboration include a reduction in medical errors, medication errors and duplicative tests, as well as innovative brainstorming, quicker patient throughput, and improved provider satisfaction that accompanies a democratized and collegial care process. From a broader perspective, it seems reasonable to expect a reduction in the large number of annual patient visits currently taxing the healthcare system as well as the number of inappropriate treatment plans and unnecessary surgeries.

A 2017 study of 286 patients conducted by the Mayo Clinic found that as many as 88% patients seeking a second opinion leave the office with a new or refined diagnosis and 21% of them receive a significantly different diagnosis.  With this in mind, one could argue that the existing pervasive environment of medical silos is among the most serious deficits in the American healthcare system. Patients typically see a primary care provider (PCP) for an ailment, and often then get referred to one or more specialists in a very disjointed process which involves jockeying for appointments, a significant time commitment, traveling, paying additional fees, and ultimately reporting back to the busy PCP.

But There Has Been Progress Toward Improvement

Obamacare ushered-in a great number of changes in the delivery of healthcare.  In general, the sector has been shifting from a fee-for-service system to a pay-for-performance/value-based system.  This evolution, in which healthcare providers assume financial risk, is forcing doctors and hospitals to become more efficient in order to survive, and to have skin in the game when it comes to patient outcomes. One outgrowth of this systemic shift has been the incentivization to create Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and patient-centered medical homes, where a primary care physician becomes the coordinating advocate (or general contractor) for a patient.  But these are small steps because the tertiary/specialist silos still exist and separately report back to a single source, leading to delayed and sometimes disorderly case coordination and follow-through. Accordingly, there is a clear need to get everyone in the same room, and we’re thankfully starting to see motion in this direction.

The most visible current example of such a collaborative approach is the engagement of multidisciplinary tumor boards at hospitals to evaluate and treat cancer patients.  Although the majority of institutions limit tumor board activity to only the most complex cases, there is a growing movement to apply them to every cancer patient. To this end, given the successful track record of this approach, it seems like a natural extension for providers to create collaborative boards to manage other chronic diseases, beginning with diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and arthritis.

One great area that could see substantive improvement is collaborative medication management. Prescription inertia where various specialists myopically write scripts for a patient to address a medical condition that intersects with their specific discipline, and where there is no intercession by a coordinating party (PCP), has created a runaway train. It is certainly not uncommon to see senior patients with a bag full of medications – a situation that often leads to many unintended consequences resulting from unanticipated drug interactions. Although interoperable EHRs have mitigated prescription and comorbidity miscommunication to some degree, they are not universally deployed and there is still the problem of PCPs being unwilling to challenge the judgment of their vaunted tertiary care colleagues.

Follow the Money

Finance continues to be the driving factor of change in healthcare (and just about everything else), although government subsidies and oligopoly positioning have historically insulated the sector, resulting in glacial progress when it comes to improvement in operational efficiency. But we seem to have hit a tipping point now that U.S. health expenditures represent north of 19% of the GNP. Consequently, innovations such as value-based care (where, again, providers are at financial risk), population health management and collaborative care have been gaining wide acceptance. Not surprisingly, these types of initiatives rely heavily on technology.

Leveraging Technology

On the most basic level, collaboration requires a real-time exchange of accurate information.  This has been the driver for the promotion and subsequent adoption of Electronic Health Records, a movement that was the centerpiece of the HITECH Act which was part of the 2009 Obamacare Affordable Care Act.  Although most healthcare providers have adopted an EHR, interoperability between disparate entities remains an obstacle to a large degree.

When it comes to approaches to achieve tactical/procedural improvements to patient care and workflow efficiency such as population health and chronic disease management, many technologies are being employed.  Among these are sophisticated analytics of voluminous data from multiple sources, AI-driven clinical decision support, telemedicine and remote patient monitoring (including access to wearable fitness device data). For care coordination, timely and often frequent communication between the provider(s) and patient is essential, to wit: secure email, texting/DM, patient portals and apps – the digital front door.There’s clearly a lot of work to be done in order to break down the isolated silos in healthcare, but hopefully with some elbow grease, compassion, ingenuity, focus (“Be the ball, Danny”), and probably an instinct for financial preservation, we will enter a new era with vastly improved, highly personalized and efficient patient care.

Jumpstart Advanced Tracking with Mobility Apr 07, 2022 Ryan Spurr When it comes to location solutions, most often fixate on larger-scale fixed infrastructure and complex use cases. In the case of RFID, we think of choke points or dock doors with fixed readers and antennas. For Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), we think of next-generation wireless access points with embedded BLE antennas. Whatever the use case and infrastructure, these depend upon a significant investment into equipment that must be budgeted, planned, installed, and tuned. For many organizations, this leap to larger installations may be harder to sell to leadership and financial officers or fraught with many challenges and lessons learned along the way.

What if there was another way to jump-start your location and tracking initiatives? What if you could start down this path without all the fixed infrastructure, making it easier to vet the technology, gain buy-in, and prove the value to leaders?

To learn more about Bluetooth Low Energy or Passive RFID technologies in more detail, check out those past blogs.

The good news is that there is an alternative to launching location solutions without significant investments into infrastructure. It’s actually where many of our partners recommend that you start your journey. Why? Because location solutions are more than just the antennas used to read them. Most manufacturers have complex environments full of RF interference, complex use cases, and various assets or products to be tracked. Starting with bounded use cases and less complex hardware makes it easier to address early decision points and gain familiarity with the technology, without the full-up installation and hardware acquisitions.

Start Simple Approach

  1. Understand the Use Cases: What problems does the business have with people, processes, and tools? Where is waste, human error, or opportunities to automate needless tasks? What is the cost of not acting? How will automation improve KPIs or business outcomes? Taking stock of why you might apply enabling technologies to make the business better is always the first step. It will aid partners like Connection, peers, and business stakeholders to understand how to help you, what technologies to apply, where you’re seeking to start or scale to—and most importantly—assist your team in justifying any investment.

  2. Identify What Needs to Be Tracked: Different location technologies have various pros and cons. These technologies are applied differently depending on what you want to track. What are the objects you plan to locate? How do you track them today? How often must you update their location (seconds, minutes, hours, or days)? What systems track these objects (ERP, WMS, MES, CMMS, or SCADA)? What is the environment like (hot, cold, indoors, outdoors, rugged, clean areas, or any specific regulations)? What is the nature of the objects? This last question is fundamental, since it will dictate what technologies might support tracking. It will impact how location tags are affixed, how they perform, and what kind of tag might be required. Understanding the objects in your use cases may be the most complex aspect of location solutions. This is why teams spend so much time upfront understanding how things are managed within operations to select the best fitting tag technologies to maximize the use case.

  3. Start Simple with Mobility: You can start with fixed infrastructure, but many use cases can begin with a mobility-first proof of concept. In fact, for some organizations utilizing mobile devices with built-in BLE, RFID, and 1D/2D scanning is a great short and long-term solution. Today’s smart mobile devices can do it all. These devices are much more affordable, allowing an individual or team to acquire a limited number of mobile devices as part of the proof of concept. They can then procure different tags to validate which tag or technology type will work best with the object being tracked and its environment. And perhaps equally important, they can validate the location software on the devices and business integrations to ensure automation is feasible and meets business outcomes.

Starting Use Cases for Location via Mobility

Material or Finished Goods Tracking: Many of our customers seek to track materials or finished goods. This can take on different forms, depending on what they produce and how it’s managed (think process vs. discrete-based). Tracking solutions are a great fit if there is something of value or criticality to optimize and ensure that products are traced and delivered on time to customers or that materials are regularly misplaced.

With mobile devices, we can quickly look up what we’re tracking, where it was last, where it is now, and if we need to get more granular—we can use the mobile device to narrow into exactly where that thing is. We can also use these devices to scan barcodes, RFID, or BLE tags and integrate that data into business systems as we do with traditional barcode-only scanners. This means the same device can scan legacy tracking and modern solutions from the same device.

Manufacturing Tools and Production Equipment: Let’s face it, things go missing! Whether items are misplaced, buried around or near other objects, or hoarded by an engineer unwilling to part with an in-demand tool—losing equipment and tools can impact how plants get work done. With mobile tracking solutions, employees can quickly locate an item on a map (using active tracking like BLE) or Geiger Location (using passive RFID) to home into that missing thing.

IT Hardware, Machines, Fixtures, and More: One of the most pervasive and scalable solutions, for smart mobile devices with location capability, is tracking things in support of production. These could be IT assets, fixtures, production equipment, facilities equipment, or anything that requires locating, validating its identity, and collecting data against. With mobility tracking, engineers, facilities, or support teams can quickly find equipment anywhere. And because the mobile devices are smart, you can leverage these devices to perform other job duties like paperless forms, working with business systems or maintenance applications—and even collaborating with peers.

Keep the Manufacturing Process Moving

Smart mobile devices with location solution technology are a great way to evaluate or jumpstart automation location use cases. Mobility is an affordable and practical technology alternative vs. fixed infrastructure. With easy-to-deploy hardware and software, it’s an excellent start to automate wasteful activities, deliver cost-effective solutions, and improve business processes and customer experience. If your business is looking to explore location technologies or automate various business processes, don’t hesitate to engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology and how its many use cases can benefit your organization.

How to Optimize the Factory and Supply Chain... Apr 06, 2022 Ryan Spurr When people think of location solutions, they often think of RFID first. While other technologies now exist, RFID maintains a relevant role in locations solutions driven by its strong market presence and partly due to its robust implementation base, maturity, and reliability. Passive RFID may be an older technology compared to other standards, but it continues to evolve and maintains many benefits worthy of its continued usage in manufacturing.

What’s New with RFID Tags?

While all elements of the technical stack have evolved over the years, the first thing to consider with RFID is tags. Tags have dramatically transformed over the decades. Today, tags come in many shapes and sizes, specifically to optimize how tags attach, operate, and optimize how you locate objects being tracked. In addition to their advancing diversity, tag prices have dramatically reduced (they approach pennies for high volume use cases). Tags can also be printed using industrial RFID label printers, making it easy for manufacturers to replace traditional 1D/2D labels with RFID labels, while maintaining existing label processes and human-readable content. And just because RFID tags are typically passive, don’t think all tags must be “boring.” High-end RFID tags exist that can support high-temperature environments like kilns. Some collect sensor data such as temperature, humidity, or vibration, and others can even provide tamper evidence to ensure supply chain protection.

Moving up the stack, antennas and readers have also evolved. While some of the very same technologies exist, antennas come in many different flavors, making it easier to apply RFID in a broad range of use cases, minimizing the impact on the environments utilized within, and improving execution effectiveness. When I first implemented RFID decades ago, the antennas were simple, bulky, and visible. Today’s antennas include table mats, under workbench mounts, floor pads, door-jam attachments, and all-in-one dock door setups, and they can be mounted just about anywhere. Gone are the days when RFID was only relevant at limited choke points. Manufacturers are free to envisage many new scenarios to leverage this proven technology both in tags and supporting infrastructure.

Where—and How—to Begin Tracking with RFID

For those without any location solutions in place, another consideration is how and where to start your RFID journey. Like any initiative with boundless use cases and technologies, it’s best to keep it simple. First, RFID uses, of course, radio frequencies. And radio frequencies in manufacturing environments may be complicated by electronic emittance from machinery or limited by shelving, other physical facility structures, and—most importantly—the objects being tracked themselves. Therefore, it’s vital to assess the feasibility of RFID with your use case and environment. To address this, most initiatives require a site assessment, a review of the objects being tracked, and the risks to the radio frequency. All of this leads to the selection of the best-fitting tag(s). 

This is where many clients waste their valuable time money—or fail altogether—so it’s essential to leverage a partner with deep RFID experience who can quickly assess and recommend tags and antennas that deliver results for your intended use case. 

In addition to fixed antennas and reader infrastructure, many organizations start out leveraging RFID smart mobile devices. Most RFID software platforms are designed to work with fixed and mobile RFID technologies. Starting with a lower-cost mobile RFID device makes it easier to test the performance of tags in different use cases. This includes the often sought-after “geiger counter” functionality or the ability for employees to hunt for misplaced objects while walking around the facility. Leveraging mobile devices in the proof-of-concept phase also speeds time to value, lowers phase one implementation costs, and quickly allows your organization to prove the technology. So don’t try to do it all; take a bounded approach that leads to quick results, confidence, and continued support from stakeholders to scale or invest in more complex implementations.

Bring It All Together with RFID Software Options

Lastly, it’s essential to acknowledge what makes all this hardware work—software. This is perhaps the area of RFID I’m most excited about because my past was fraught with expensive RFID software systems, limited functionality, and never-ending challenges to maintain and keep operational. Today’s RFID software partners have robust platforms designed for on-premises and cloud, providing full integration capabilities with a wide range of hardware and business systems, making integration with business processes and applications that we wish to automate far more straightforward and productive.

Popular use cases include:

• Tool tracking: Due to a low profile and lower cost, RFID tags make an excellent option for tracking tools. Many organizations will have mobile or fixed readers to quickly scan tools as they leave tool closets or cribs, move between work cells or larger facility spaces, and arrive at the final destination. Many organizations also use tags to ensure tools are returned, and in hoarding situations, tags can be helpful in quickly locating coveted equipment or tools.

• Job or product tracking: Many organizations, especially in discrete manufacturing, have high-value parts or finished goods they wish to track through crucial process points or at a more granular level to automate traceability and integration with business systems, improve visibility, and ensure these products can be located in the event of misplacement. Tagging job paperwork, products, or packaging through the process can easily allow companies to improve how they track and optimize their workflows incrementally.

Are you looking for a use case sure to get the attention of any CFO and deliver a strong return on investment? Many organizations will utilize product tracking (whether on the product or its final packaging) to optimize the shipping process, correlate with sales orders, and streamline manual financial and customer invoicing processes to speed up how manufacturers get paid.

• Pallet or packaging tracking: Every manufacturer is different. Some products are destined for the customer and never return to the facility as part of a larger product lifecycle. For those that do have reusable pallets, specialty packaging, or products that return to the facility for repair or services, RFID tracking is a great way to track products as they arrive at customers (think about offering your clients automation and advanced supply chain notifications (ASN)) or fully automating the receiving process and delivering real-time information to an eager customer looking to ensure it hits your dock.

• Supply chain tracking: For those high-value or high-risk supply chain challenges (whether a permanent capability or as part of a short-term root cause analysis activity), RFID tags exist that can collect environmental data associated with the proper care during delivery and storage. Tamper evidence tags can also be utilized to ensure products are not compromised in transit. Whatever the case, these technologies can be used to optimize, protect, and automate various aspects of the supply chain to ensure products safely reach the ultimate customer and don’t compromise your brand.

There are many ways the technology can be applied to make manufacturing and the supply chain smarter. RFID is a practical technology to automate wasteful activities, deliver cost-effective solutions, and improve business processes and customer experience with its long-standing precedence and diversity.

If your business is looking to explore location technologies or automate various business processes aligned with corporate goals, contact an Account Manager today. They can connect you with Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology and the many use cases that may benefit your organization.

Tracking the Supply Chain: Why GPS... Apr 05, 2022 Ryan Spurr Most locations solutions we think of include asset or material tracking inside of a typical facility. These are tried and true use cases to improve operations with technologies like RFID, wireless, and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). But what about outside of the four walls? How does a modern manufacturer track high-value products in transit or across the supply chain? How do we track forklifts, vehicles, and trucks in transit? How do we optimize operations in a yard or extended outdoor territory where operations might be equally important or benefit from data to optimize processes, reduce theft, and improve safety?

The solution is simple: Global Positioning Systems (GPS). This technology isn’t new. Heavily used in military, commercial, and civilian life, we have come to rely upon this technology to locate and navigate our world. The business use cases for GPS are no different. Low-cost GPS sensors and products now exist to make it easy to track any business asset, whether on corporate property, in the woods, or in transit to a customer.

Along with a range of proven business use cases and underlying technologies, the deployment, management, dashboards, and data integration have all significantly improved to benefit how manufacturers add smart value chains. Imagine a world where a GPS sensor can last five years on a single charge. When the sensor breaches a virtual zone, the sensor awakes to transmit its location, shares zone status and other metadata, alerts key stakeholders, and triggers integrations that further automate business processes. These features are a reality today! And utilized in use cases from theft detection, inappropriate employee behavior detection, safety, and customer experience.

Powerful, Flexible GPS Technology

The technology couldn’t be easier to acquire and deploy. At the heart is a GPS-enabled device. Many types exist with form, fit, and function-changing abilities that adapt to use cases and the object it is attached to. These devices are battery operated, utilize low-bandwidth communication technologies, and even maximize how and when they communicate to get years out of a single charge. In addition to location, many of these units can also detect other data about their environment—via embedded sensors—including impact, temperature, and humidity.

Today’s sensors can communicate in a variety of means, adjusting and providing options for manufacturers based on their specific deployment use case. Two of the most common connectivity options include cellular and LoRaWAN. The first should be obvious to most. These sensors and their services include options like 4G or 5G—and often use lightweight protocols such as IoT. Cellular is best used when assets are in transit over longer ranges, or outside of the typical business possession—like in a yard or outside a production facility. For use cases that are localized, LoRaWAN is a great option with a range of up to 15 miles. It’s simple to deploy LoRaWAN gateways that securely connect to existing network infrastructures.

Lastly, connecting and integrating data couldn’t be easier. All providers of GPS technologies today include dashboards that are easily managed and help you get everyday value, triggers, and application interfaces that drive automation options within business systems, cloud services, and third parties.

Vehicle Tracking, Fuel Optimization, and Safety
Telematics isn’t a new topic—but for those manufacturers with a fleet of service vehicles, sales vehicles, or delivery trucks, modern telematics can be anything from tracking the location of a vehicle to fuel and route optimization, safety and accident awareness, and a whole range of outstanding features that optimize vehicle management. Best of all, these solutions are easy to deploy and bring significant return on investment in areas like efficiencies, cost reductions, customer experience, and insurance fees.

In-Transit Tracking: Not all manufacturers make products that warrant in-transit tracking, but for those with high-value products, theft across the supply chain, or who have regulatory compliance to ensure safe delivery, GPS solutions can make this all very simple. This is especially true for industries with reuseable totes or containers. While some industries use passive RFID to track key logistics points—like shipping and receiving—GPS solutions allow you to track something in real time, provide updates on location, and can send alerts on adverse conditions that might lead to a change of course, damage, or even theft.

Outdoor Asset Tracking: Some manufacturers produce large products outdoors or have a requirement to track people, forklifts, tools, and vehicles in an expansive outdoor facility. These use cases are no different from that of an indoor facility, other than the technology used to track it. GPS can provide easily deployed location sensors with little to no outdoor tracking infrastructure. They can also integrate with business systems like MES, CMMS, ERP, and CRM to streamline operations.

How Can Your Business Benefit from GPS?

There are many ways the technology can be applied to make manufacturers’ extended enterprise and supply chain smarter. GPS is a practical technology to automate wasteful activities, deliver cost-effective solutions, and improve business processes and customer experience with its easy-to-deploy platforms—constraining you only to your imagination.

If your business is looking to explore location technologies or automate various business processes aligned with corporate goals, then engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology and the many use cases that may benefit your organization.

TechSperience Episode 103: How Public Sector... Mar 22, 2022 Connection Learn more about the stimulus packages that have passed since COVID-19 and how it impacts information technology in the public sector space.

Host: James Hilliard

Guest 1: Jeff Chabot, Public Sector Segment Director for Schneider Electric

Jeff is the Segment Strategy Director of the Schneider Electric Federal Sales Team. His team is responsible to lead the sale, customer support, design, and implementation of critical power, cooling, and management solutions in U.S. government information technology environments within and outside the continental United States. In his 22 years at Schneider Electric, Jeff has held various sales and sales leadership roles in commercial sales, state and local government sales, and federal government sales. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Science from Rhode Island College.

Show Notes:

[0:30] Introduction of guest

[0:45] What are the choices and funding that are currently available for the public sector?

[2:00] What should be at top of mind for State and Local to consider with the American Rescue Plan?

[4:05] Is there a time period that teams need to spend these funds?

[4:33] Within State and Local, what are some of the top areas where they can spend their funds?

[5:00] Where are IT professionals spending these funds?

[6:10] Where are K–12 focusing their purchases?

[8:05] Are there similar types of spending in Higher Education?

[8:57] What is the application process that IT professionals need to be aware of to access these funds?

[10:19] How smooth has the process and experience been for folks so far?

[11:13] Anything else we should know about the American Rescue Plan?

[12:25] Have funds started to be released for the new Infrastructure Plan?

[13:40] How is broadband defined now and how is it a part of the Infrastructure Plan?

[15:42] Will more rural areas see more funding for broadband investments?

[16:38] What are all the aspects of broadband that are covered in the Infrastructure Plan?

[19:43] Could the Infrastructure Plan help with supply chain issues, inflation, and efficiency?

[20:51] When can people begin to apply and access the funds from this new Infrastructure Plan? [21:22] What are some tips that you have that would make the most sense for people to spend these funds?

Inside Look: Connection’s Marketing Department Mar 21, 2022 Connection Interested in becoming a Connection employee? You’ve come to the right place. Follow our Inside Look series to find out what it is like to work in different departments within our organization. You will learn about our open positions and hear from our department leaders on what they watch for in candidates during the interview process. This month we are featuring our Marketing Department.

What is it like to work in Connection’s Marketing Department? 
We foster a collaborative approach, drive marketing best practices across the organization, work hard, and have fun. A majority of the team is remote or hybrid—and we all have access to leading tools and apps, including Marketo, Uberflip, Workfront, Salesforce, and more!

How is the Marketing Department structured?
The Vice President of Marketing, who reports to the Chief Growth and Innovation Officer, leads a marketing team of approximately 50 people that make up: 

Program Marketing: Aligns closely with our Strategy Marketing and Event Marketing Teams, Product Management, and the Industry Solutions Group to drive demand generation programs.

Brand and Integrated Marketing: Builds brand awareness and develops integrated multi-channel campaigns working with cross-functional teams

Event Marketing: Aligns with teams across the organization to deliver high-quality events that are strategically aligned to our business goals. Drives overall planning and execution for virtual and face-to-face events for customers and internal employees—start to finish.

Creative Services: An in-house team of designers, writers, email and Web developers, a full-service video team, and producers that support the entirety of our creative needs.

Segment Marketing: Manages sales enablement aligned with campaigns for our enterprise, small/medium business, and public sector channels to drive revenue goals.

What are the relationships between the Marketing Department and other areas of the company?
The Marketing Team engages with almost all departments within the company and often works with our leadership team on strategic initiatives to propel the business. 

What kinds of personalities mesh best within the company?
• Energetic
• Assertive
• Curious
• Collaborative 
• Team player
• Communicator 
• Strategic
• Accountable
• Intelligent 
• Eager to learn, inspire, and lead
• Resilient

What does it take to be successful in the Marketing Department and at Connection?
Integrity is one of our core values at Connection, so be prepared to be accountable and work hard. You should be results-oriented, ready to grow your passion for our brand, and intent on putting the customer first. 

If someone reading this was coming to interview tomorrow, what tips would you give them? 
Be prepared to provide an overview of your accomplishments in marketing and results they garnered. 

What can new hires expect from joining the Marketing Department? 
You will have the opportunity to collaborate with cross-functional teams and have a direct impact on driving Connection’s business goals. As part of a dynamic workforce, you’ll also have ample opportunity for professional development and advancement. 

Why Connection? 
Our teams combine several of the top things you should look for in a career: the longevity and stability of an established Fortune 1000 company and the creativity, flexibility, and energy of a startup hungry to make its mark on the world. We are made stronger by a multitude of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. It’s what makes Connection unique—what drives us to innovate and create technology solutions that stand apart from the crowd. We’d love for you to be a part of that fabric, to share your ideas and experiences with a team that thrives on fresh thinking, creativity, and helping others.

Ready to take the next step?
Can you see yourself working in our Marketing Department? We are hiring! Check out our open positions below or contact one of our hiring managers directly.

Hiring Manager Jill Godett
Marketing Manager – Content 
Partner Marketing Manager – Intel
Partner Marketing Manager – Lenovo

Hiring Manager Lola Small
Marketing Programs Manager – Public Sector Remote

Hiring Manager Melissa O’Connor
Sr. Event Planner

Top Three Teams Features Educators Are... Mar 15, 2022 Makayla Mota Education has shifted in both amazing and challenging ways over the past two years, and educators have been at the very forefront of that change. Microsoft Teams, both in the classroom and at a school administrator level, has also experienced that shift while providing exciting updates to ease this ever-evolving transition. However, keeping up with every update and new feature and then beginning to use them in the classroom can be daunting! So, what are the top three Teams features educators and schools are underutilizing?

Education Insights

Adding the Insights tab in your Class Team is the number one way you can provide additional support for your students. Insights provides real-time analytics of when and how students are using Teams and engaging with the content provided in your class. Insights is presented with easy-to-read data and visualizations that make it easy for educators to track the student experience and to ensure that the student’s academic, emotional, and social needs are being met whether it is through in-person or virtual instruction. Teams takes data from Assignments, Channel engagement, Files, OneNote Class Notebook, Meetings, Reading Progress, and Reflect to populate the Insights dashboard allowing educators to fully assess the student using a continuous cycle of identification, reflection, discussion, and action.

Educators and educational leaders can access Insights though their Teams personal app or as a tab within their Team.  


Insights Complete Guide for Educators

Step-by-Step Tutorials

Insights Blog Post

Reading Progress

Reading Progress in Teams is AMAZING! Built into Assignments in Teams, Reading Progress allows students to submit their own recordings of reading fluency checks, either with a text provided by the educator or ReadWorks, freeing teachers to access the recordings at any time to build differentiated lessons based on student needs, comprehension, and reading levels. The teacher can allow for multiple attempts as students gain fluency and confidence. With a built-in AI component, educators can save time utilizing the AI-assisted review for student errors and to capture words per minute and accuracy rate automatically as teacher listen and review. Reading Progress data is collected in the Education Insights dashboard, providing educators with the data needed to plan for effective planning.


Introduction to Reading Progress in Teams

View reading Progress data in Insights

The Educator and Student's Experience with Reading Progress

Class Notebook

Utilizing Class Notebook in your Class Team seems like a no-brainer, right? But whether educators are overwhelmed with tools or simply too busy to add content they are missing out on hands-down one of the best Microsoft programs ever. OneNote is essentially a digital binder; the Class Notebook component is built into your Class Team and contains three sections:

The Content Library: a read-only space where the teacher can share handouts and content with students.

The Collaboration Space: a space where everyone in your class can share, organize, and collaborate.

The Student Netbooks: a private space shared between the teacher and each individual student. Teachers can access every student notebook, while students can only access their own.

The Class Notebooks feature creates a safe space for students to access the content needed to learn, provides a collaborative resource for group work, and opens up a communication portal with their teachers to check in, ask questions, and see classwork and progress. Truly a no-brainer for educators.


Use OneNote Class Notebook in Teams

Set up a Class Notebook in Teams with Existing Content

Class Notebook in Microsoft Teams

Interested in learning more about Microsoft Teams in the classroom? Reach out to your Connection Account Manager to explore our Microsoft professional development services.

3 Areas Where AI Can Improve Retail Operations Mar 10, 2022 Brian Gallagher If I had to pick a single game changer in retail, hands down it would be AI applications. During my 20 plus years as a retail leader, I saw a lot of change, but all that change had one thing in common—it was all linear and driven by human experience and expectation. I can’t count the number of times that our senior management teams would say, “This is a good first step” when, in reality, we needed to take leaps or even a complete shift in direction. Experience is always important, but it is also limiting. What we were really missing was the ability to takes flying leaps instead of tiny baby steps. AI has changed how retailers will win going forward.

Every retailer can apply AI solutions to one or multiple parts of your business today. AI engines simply need data, and as retailers, we have more data than we ever knew what to do with it. The good news is this past and future data collection can finally be put to good use. AI needs to be integrated into every facet of our retail business model—and here is how it might affect your business.

Customer Experience

Every retailer, from the smallest boutique to a global mega-retailer, can use AI to help customers find what they need quickly in an omnichannel supported way. AI allows customers to get assistance the minute they need it, whether it be product information, virtual fitting rooms, or customer feedback.

These experiences can manifest themselves in any number of customer touchpoints including mobile devices, digital signage, or voice-bots. Digital signage using computer vision can also measure customer engagement and serve up real-time advertising that speaks to the audience. POS system captures data about what was purchased that is used to generate new product recommendations. Digital signage collects data about which types of customers are shopping and when, so that merchandising can make better decisions about product promotions. All this leads to more accurate segmentation and experiences that are tailored to a customer’s patterns and preferences.

Employee Productivity

In a retail world where employee availability is forever changed, the ability to use AI across the entire employee journey can provide huge returns. An AI engine can more quickly and accurately identify the best candidates to interview or even identify unique locations for resourcing employees. But even past the hiring process, AI completely changes how an employee is trained, which delivers more effective learning and faster onboarding. The ever-active motion of hiring and training can be deployed faster with better results.

Once an employee is hired, AI might have an even bigger impact on employee performance and job satisfaction. AI solutions can improve productivity by simply eliminating the unnecessary, anticipating the necessary, and modifying the motions. A productive, engaged employee will always work harder—leading to longer tenure, less turnover, and higher customer satisfaction.

Supply Chain Demand, Planning, and Logistics

It makes sense that a better understanding of trends and driving factors can improve your ability to anticipate demand and react accordingly. AI helps retailers improve forecasting, make pricing decisions, and predict future trends. AI analytics can help you order the right amount of stock so that stores won’t end up with too much, too little, or either in the wrong location. Omnichannel data provides a maximum benefit to the supply chain. AI can truly see trends that the human brain cannot normally comprehend and certainly not as quickly. Maintaining an accurate inventory is also a major challenge for retailers. By connecting data from more parts of the omnichannel business and applying AI, retailers gain a comprehensive view of the entire supply chain.

AI in Retail Operations: Trust and Understand the Outputs

There is one huge difference in each of these experiences compared to the past. There is no human programming or human anticipation. The days of product teams deciding that a customer that buys white sneakers probably wants white socks are gone. The AI engine has looked at every piece of data imaginable and can decide what to promote based on customer demographic, time of day, micro-location, and a million other factors that the human brain could never begin to absorb.

Trust your AI. Understand and trust your outputs. As leader, we all want to rely on our experience and work in our comfort zone. The investment in AI for your business will provide tremendous benefit, but only if we trust the decisions it produces.

For more information about how Connection and our partners can help improve your business through AI or other technologies, please visit us at or

A Day in the Life of a Business Development... Mar 08, 2022 Savannah Davis As a Business Development Specialist, I am building relationships and trust among Account Managers, Sales Managers, and Directors in our company. Account Managers reach out to ask for help finding solutions for their customers’ needs, and I collaborate with them to find a fitting solution and to also help grow their book of business. Not only do we work with Sales, but also with the Product Management department to grow our business numbers and focus on implementing their ideas.

We use reports to help bring topics to Account Managers to dig into their customers more and help present information to their customers. As Business Development Specialists, we educate the Account Managers and customers on our product line. We also advocate to the Product Management department for what resources our sites need, as well as present ideas that we have.

We get the pleasure of not only working with multiple departments at Connection, but also with top partners like HP, Microsoft, and Lenovo. These partners provide products that are crucial to companies.  You can’t go anywhere without seeing some form of technology. With all the constraints that have been happening due to the pandemic, we can help find alternatives to keep businesses, healthcare organizations, and schools moving and not skip a beat.

There is so much excitement that comes with the role! It’s the excitement of closing a great opportunity AND seeing the Account Manager’s excitement when it’s closed, knowing you had a hand in it—chasing numbers, growing the business, and building wonderful relationships along the way. The Account Managers want to work with me and my team because they trust us and we bring value to their business. We are standing next to them and winning together! If we lose, we stand back up together and go after another opportunity. There is always another opportunity, and if they don’t see one, we find one for them.

Since the pandemic we’ve been hearing, “We’re all in this together.” Well, that’s what it’s always been like working as a Business Development Specialist at Connection. It’s more than just coming to work to do your job—we are bringing value to people while experiencing the excitement of sales.

Firsthand account of what working at Connection is really like
TechSperience Episode 102: The Tour De Force... Mar 01, 2022 Connection Finding the “best in class” IT resources to meet all for your wish-list items can be a challenge, especially when trying to future-proof your infrastructure and remote workforce all while maintaining security protocols and budgets during a world pandemic. Tech expectations continue to increase and the need for collaborative IT solutions has become paramount. 

What have other companies done to roadmap their next 5 years of success?  How have they overcome some of these challenges and mitigate the disasters of a wrong decision?  Find out on this episode of TechSperience as we explore a “tour de force” of tech collaboration.

Guest 1: Laura Belincky – Sr. Business Development Manager, BSG

Guest 2: Brian McGuffin – National Business Development Manager, BSG

Guest 3: John Maslanik – Business Development Manager, BSG

Guest 4: Brian Chandler – Director, Business Development Manager’s Team, BSG

Guest 5: Derek Olson-Sr. Manager, Business Development Manager’s Team BSG

Host: James Hilliard

Show Notes:

[0:38] Introduction of guests

[1:30] How do you start the process of learning about your customers and what their pain points are?

[2:55] What's your favorite place to go to learn about a new customer?

[4:30] What's a unique place where someone has been able to uncover new information about a customer?

[5:31] Currently, what are the biggest pain points you are hearing from customers where solutions providers can help?

[8:16] Besides logistical pain points, what are some personal pain points we are hearing from customers?

[10:48] How do you start imagining the resources that you can provide a customer when they ask for products and/or services?

[13:20] How does bringing in more team members to sit in on meetings allow for more potential resources to the client?

[15:25] Are customers surprised that Connection can offer more services than they initially thought?

[19:05] How often do you find a customer is willing to talk to another customer about their experiences?

[24:40] Could you design a new data center from the ground up?

[26:33] What are your goals when engaging customers?

BLE Is Catching on Fast in... Feb 23, 2022 Ryan Spurr Location solutions are nothing new in manufacturing. The most common include manual tracking solutions involving scanners or automated technologies like Passive RFID. But over the years, a new tracking technology has entered the mainstream: Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). BLE is quickly being adopted compared to its peer technologies—and there are three big reasons why.

BLE Is Already Ubiquitous

First, BLE is becoming pervasive across various technologies, lowering deployment costs, and simplifying development. Unlike technologies like RFID, which require separate antennas, readers, power, and cable runs, BLE is built into many modern technology platforms you may already own or be considering. It’s compatible with many tablets, mobile devices, and smart scanner technologies, making it a clear choice when combining mobility with location solutions.

We also see that many network device companies now include BLE antennas in their access points. This is important because manufacturers can quickly deploy location capabilities across the factory, warehouse, offices, yards, or anywhere where IT manages wireless access. It also lowers the cost to deploy use cases, increases the return on investment of both the network and department initiatives, and speeds the time to value. It also has one other outstanding benefit. If a use case is successful, it can quickly scale to any facility or department with IT-managed access points, eliminating the dreaded “pilot purgatory.”

BLE Has More to Offer than Wi-Fi

Second, BLE is an active location technology, meaning it doesn’t have to wait for a tag to enter the range of an antenna to excite it. BLE solutions actively broadcast, making it an excellent option for any use case that requires near-real-time location updates. Unlike Wi-Fi-based solutions (mainly being phased out over time in favor of the newer options), the BLE standard utilizes power more efficiently, resulting in longer battery life, easier maintenance, and more capable location tags.

You Can Add BLE to Virtually Anything with Tags

Third, BLE tags come in many different sizes, shapes, and capabilities, making it easy for manufacturers to tackle that first use case. Following that first proof of concept, it can quickly move onto new use cases where form, fit, and function differ while leveraging already existing BLE-enabled access points, beacons, and mobile devices across the IT infrastructure.

Tags can be affixed in different ways, come with programmable buttons, share metadata about their health and battery life, and many can even collect additional data like temperature, humidity, or vibration. As a result, BLE tags can significantly complement any manufacturer’s smart manufacturing initiatives, such as:

  • Tool Tracking: Manufacturers have various tools from torque wrenches, dies, and specialty gear. Unfortunately, many organizations struggle with tool availability, utilization, hoarding, misplacement, and theft. For companies with internal or regulatory mandates around high-value asset tracking, ensuring accountability, possession, and location as part of audit processes may be critical. The manual processes to augment these business challenges can be costly, inaccurate, and inefficient at best. BLE tags atop of BLE-enabled access points and software can automate these tasks with existing maintenance management and capital asset management systems, freeing employees to work on more meaningful activities.
  • Product Tracking: Not all materials or products warrant tracking, but for those situations where tracking critical materials, regulated materials, or real-time visibility is vital to inform business systems or employees, BLE-location solutions are a great fit. The technology can be used to ensure products do not violate specified zones (whether driven by regulation, safety, or corporate policy), to track the flow of materials and products through crucial process points, or to make high-value products easy to find, or be tracked from production to shipping, and ensure delivery against the proper sales orders. Whatever your specific business needs, location solutions can be creatively applied to automate, improve visibility, and reduce human error or potential for undesirable escapes.
  • Employee Safety: No employee likes to be tracked (and it’s even more complicated in union shops). However, there are many situations where location solutions can positively benefit employees and their safety. Building on the BLE technology stack, multiple solutions make workplaces safer and justify location solutions from the employer and employee perspective. For example, in today’s current climate of pandemics or close contact events, BLE-based badges can make it easy to quickly assess which employees must be notified of potential close contact situations and streamline response teams tasked with sanitization. Leveraging BLE-based badges with buttons, organizations may provide employees an emergency alert feature, making it easier for an injured employee or peer to call for help and navigate safety officers or medical teams to the correct location. Lastly, mustering with BLE-based badges can ensure all employees get out quickly and safely, alerting facilities and first responders of a successful building evacuation or aiming teams to specific employees requiring assistance.

There are many ways the technology can be applied to make manufacturing smarter. It’s easy to imagine how deploying real-time location solutions can benefit your business, especially if you have specific challenges that would benefit from IoT automation. With long tag lifespans, active data communication, and endless use cases, Bluetooth Low Energy solutions are a fantastic location technology that can build upon IT-managed infrastructure, scale, and deliver automation to help manufacturers improve visibility, provide real-time integration with business systems, reduce costs, and drive productivity. If your business is looking to eliminate wasteful transactions, augment stretched-thin workforces, or add a practical automation capability to support your business goals, then engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology and the many use cases that may benefit your organization.

Safe and Flexible Education with Microsoft Cloud Feb 22, 2022 Katie John It was a normal weekday morning in October, and my day began with quiet, unassuming routine. The smell of brewing coffee gave me the inner strength to get up, throw on my slippers, and stumble out of the bedroom to make sure my two teenage daughters were on track to get to the bus stop on time. I ran down the mental checklist of things they tend to forget to ensure they would be ready for the day. Teeth brushed? Lunch packed? Stray biology textbook and homework gathered up and stuffed into a backpack?

After the sixthexasperated, “YES, Mom!” I put them on the bus with a quick wave and a sleepy mumble, “Love you, guys. Make good choices!” I shut the door, shuffled to the coffee maker, and sat down at my desk to get ready for the workday. Five minutes later, the phone rang, jolting me out of my spreadsheets and data reports, and that was the end of anything resembling normalcy that day.

The call was an automated message sent to all parents from our school principal stating they had been alerted to a school shooter threat planned for that day. They were working with the police to investigate whether the threat was authentic or a prank. Once the buses arrived at the high school, all the kids began hearing the same message over the intercom. The morning spiraled into a chaotic whirlwind of rumor, misinformation, fear, and stress.

Over 2,000 parents descended on the school campus in a panic. Traffic was backed up for miles as parents tried to get to their children. I spent most of the day texting with my daughters to make sure they were safe, and to keep them calm while trying to keep myself calm and clear-headed at the same time. A lot of things happened that day, but I can tell you the one thing that didn’t happen was any sort of academic learning. It did turn out to be a prank threat, and thank goodness, the culprits were found and arrested a few weeks later. As I later reflected on the events of that day, I was struck by how easy it is to steal education away from children with one simple fake social media post or anonymous fake tip.

If you are a parent, a teacher, a student, or a school staff member, the sad reality is that you’ve probably been through either a vaguely similar or exact same experience at least once, if not multiple times in the past year. I wish I could say this was the only time this happened to our school. Unfortunately, the day I just described has happened to us three times now. It shouldn’t be this way, and we have much work to do as a society to make both our K–12 and higher education systems safer for our children, grandchildren, and future generations. While there is no one single magical fix, I do believe in the power and potential of technology and cloud adoption as one piece of a larger solution.

Imagine a school where teaching and learning could happen from anywhere. What might our family’s day looked like if the principal could have sent that automated message before the school buses arrived? What if her message was not simply to inform us of a threat, but also to inform families that in response, on-campus learning was cancelled for that day, buses were turned around, and education for the day would seamlessly pivot to live remote learning? What if teachers were able to initiate virtual classrooms and continue the same real time class instruction that they had planned for that day, using technology tools they are proficient in, while students logged in from home? What if education was not so easily threatened or derailed? How much more learning can happen when young minds are not consumed and preoccupied with tremendous fear and stress?

Human connection is essential. We were not designed to do life alone. The recent pandemic clearly showed us the truth of this, as so many children struggled with depression after months of quarantine, remote learning, and separation from friends and extended family. Full-time remote learning may be necessary for some unique situations, but it isn’t the best solution for all students. There is value in brick-and-mortar schools and the sense of community and connection they bring. However, teaching and learning should not be confined or limited to a school building. Flexible education is essential.

As businesses are shifting to a hybrid work from anywhere model, education also needs to shift to a hybrid and more flexible learn from anywhere model. Many schools are already beginning a cloud journey toward this future. What many of our customers are discovering this year is that cloud adoption with Microsoft solutions can open so many doors for education and learning, such as:

  • An increase in digital equity and inclusion
  • Access to massive compute power for research and projects
  • Accessibility tools through Microsoft assistive technologies to meet the unique needs of every student
  • Secure and connected campus environments

Having the ability to provide this learning platform for our students, no matter where they are located, can give school administration the freedom and confidence to be able to decide with a moment’s notice, “There is a security risk at our normal learning location. Let’s continue learning today from somewhere safe.”   

Along the journey to a cloud-based platform, there are very real and undeniable challenges that schools are facing:

  • Limited budgets and funding
  • Time and resource bandwidth constraints for IT administrators to manage thousands of users, devices, and large amounts of data
  • Lack of training for both teachers and students to successfully utilize the technology available to them
  • Security concerns around user identity, data, and information

In a collaborative partnership with Microsoft, Connection’s Public Sector division is successfully addressing each one of these challenges to help both K–12 and higher education institutions overcome hurdles and build a cloud platform for better learning outcomes now and for the future.

We have teams working with schools daily to provide help in so many ways:

  • Funding experts who are well versed in current available funding and grant programs available for technology in the classroom
  • Cloud Advisors who provide no-cost consulting, guidance, and cloud architecting for our Microsoft customers
  • Our Microsoft Customer Success Team can recommend the most cost-optimized licensing paths and purchase programs
  • Our Managed Service Provider program alleviates the burdens placed on IT teams of managing your environment and keeping your users and data safe with robust 24x7 security monitoring
  • Microsoft Innovative Educators (MIEs) provide professional development customized to your unique school needs through technology training academies and classes for staff and teachers

I think we all agree there are very complex challenges around education in our society today. Threats to safety is one of them. There are no easy answers or a quick fix. But cloud-based technology is no longer just a fancy “nice to have” accessory. It is a viable solution to several of our most difficult challenges. Microsoft has invested an incredible number of resources into developing tools for education and has made them widely available to help every student and teacher on the planet achieve more. Adopting these technologies is not beyond your school district’s ability to achieve. Contact us, and we will work hard alongside you to help build a secure learn from anywhere environment for better education outcomes and safety for both teachers and students.

Black History Month: Celebrating Black... Feb 01, 2022 Connection Happy Black History Month! To start this month of celebrating achievements by Black Americans, we’d like to take a look at five Black pioneers who made groundbreaking contributions to our favorite field, information technology. 

Evelyn Boyd Granville was only the second African American woman to receive a PhD in mathematics from a U.S. university—earning her degree from Yale in 1949. In 1956, she began work as a computer programmer at IBM, where she became part of the team that worked with NASA on the programs that would guide the early space program. Her work on the Apollo program in particular means she helped get us to the moon.

Roy Clay, Sr. is most well-known for helping to start the Computer Science division at Hewlett-Packard (HP) in 1962. After teaching himself to code, he started a job at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, CA, where he met David Packard. At HP, he became the director of the team that developed the HP 2116A, one of HP’s first minicomputers.Not content with success just for himself, he also used his time at HP to create initiatives that would help other Black computer scientists thrive in Silicon Valley. In 1971, spurred by his interest in electrical safety, Clay left HP to found ROD-L Electronics in Mountain View, CA, where he invented the dieletric withstand test or high potential (hipot) safety test. ROD-L Electronics is now just as well known for their contributions to the local community as they are for their technology. 

Clarence “Skip” Ellis was the first Black person to earn a PhD in computer science, earning his degree from the University of Illinois in 1969. He joined a team at Xerox, where he developed systems for computer supported cooperative work (CSCW) and groupware—think Google Docs or Microsoft Teams. His team created OfficeTalk, one of the first groupware systems. In addition to laying the foundations for CSCW, Ellis was also part of the team that worked on Alto, the world’s first PC. The strides he and his team made in developing the hardware, interfaces, and programs for a personal computer would eventually help Apple’s team develop their Lisa computer and Microsoft create their MS-DOS software. Our recent move to remote hybrid work might not have been possible without Ellis’s contributions.

John Henry Thompson created the programming language Lingo, which was used in Adobe Director (previously Macromedia Director) to help render visuals, such as images and video, in code. Another self-taught coder, Thompson learned as many programming languages as he could in order to invent his own. With Lingo, he developed a programming syntax that was more like spoken language, making it easier for beginners to learn and get started coding. Lingo was also instrumental in the explosion of multimedia and interactive programs on CD-ROMs and on the Internet in the 1990s, as the primary programming language of Adobe Shockwave. The Internet as we know it might look very different without Lingo. 

Mark Dean is the co-creator of the personal computer that IBM released in 1981—and even holds three of the company’s nine original patents. He led the design team that developed the first gigahertz processor chip, as well as the first color monitor. Working with engineer Dennis Moeller, he developed the Industry Standard Architecture system bus, which allowed PCs to support plug-in devices like disk drives and printers. In 1995, he was named the first African-American IBM Fellow.

TechSperience Episode 101: RTO and the... Jan 20, 2022 Connection In 2022, many companies are navigating how to return to the office safely and smartly. In this episode, we address this challenge and explore some possible technology solutions surrounding RTO.

Guest: Tony Dancona, Digital Workspace Evangelist and part of Connection Lab. With more than 25 years of experience in virtualization and end-user computing, Tony is considered a thought leader in the industry. He currently serves on different Technical Advisory Board including Dell Technologies, VMware and CRN Channel Company IOT.

Host: James Hilliard

Show Notes:

[0:20] Introduction of guest

[0:45] What did work look like in 2008?

[2:36] What does work look like currently?

[3:45] How are customers defining in-office collaboration?

[4:40] Are we lacking anything from working remotely?

[6:15] How do we make today's office safe?

[8:01] What technologies are you seeing most organizations trying to implement today to keep their offices safe?

[10:13] What benefits are there to utilizing some of this technology?

[11:25] Can some of this technology allow for exceptions?

[13:13] What technologies are companies looking at inside work environments?

[16:23] What verticals can this technology impact?

[17:31] How do we make offices smarter than they were a couple of years ago?

[20:51] What have been the advancements in conference technology?

[23:03] Give us a high-level primer on the Connect Aware app.

[27:50] To utilize the features of this app, what technologies are required?

[29:03] What changes do you expect to see in physical offices in the coming year?

The Noninvasive Glucometer Jan 18, 2022 Dr Keith Nelson Diabetes is a dreadful disease that effects nearly every system of the body, most notably the kidneys, eyes, peripheral nerves and the circulatory system. There are two varieties of diabetes, Type 1 (genetic –  usually expressed early in life), and Type 2 (acquired – largely diet-related), and both involve an inability of the pancreas to produce adequate levels of insulin, which controls the body’s glucose (sugar) levels. The causes of Type 2 are varied, but mostly involve a combination of genetic predisposition, excessive body weight, poor nutrition and physical inactivity. Advanced stages of the disease often lead to blindness, lack of sensation in the limbs which in turn leads to pressure ulcers, compromised circulation leading to amputation, and end stage renal (kidney) disease requiring dialysis or, if the patient is lucky, a kidney transplant. As of 2020, 463 million adults were living with diabetes and 374 million people were at risk for developing the disease (prediabetic).

Managing diabetes involves, depending upon disease severity, diet control, exercise, oral medications and daily insulin injections. The goal of the latter is to maintain a stable and acceptable level of blood glucose throughout the day. In order to accomplish this, an individual must periodically measure his/her blood glucose levels in order to optimally balance the frequency and dosage of insulin injections. On a day-to-day basis, this typically involves pricking one’s finger and then applying a drop of blood to a paper strip which is inserted into a small electronic device (a glucometer) that generates a blood glucose value.  Given the repetitive nature of this painful exercise, there is great interest in an effective measurement alternative. One such alternative is the continuous glucose monitor (CGM), which is a small device containing an electrode sensor inserted into the skin for 2 weeks at a time (usually in the upper arm) and a transmitter to relay the numeric readings to a peripheral device like a smartphone.  This device in turn could be integrated with an insulin pump to precisely balance the body’s insulin levels.  An example of a CGM is the Free Style Libre.  

It shouldn’t be surprising that the holy grail for monitoring glucose levels would be a non-invasive glucometer, which would enable a painless, on-demand (or continuous) glucose measurement. Such a device would facilitate the precise management of the disease, which would likely prevent or delay the onset of the serious health complications previously mentioned.  Unfortunately, the development of this technology is easier said than done.  Complicating factors include population variance in skin thickness, soft tissue, fat, and the size and depth of blood vessels. 

There have been many attempts to develop a non-invasive glucometer over the last 50 years, applying diverse measurement techniques including bioimpedance spectroscopy, microwave/RF sensing, fluorescence technology, infrared and near-infrared spectroscopy, optical coherence tomography, optical polarimetry, raman spectroscopy of the interstitial fluid, reverse iontophoresis, and ultrasound technology. Experimental devices range from handheld and wearable appliances to patches and contact lenses. With respect to the latter, many scientists have turned their attention to targeting the eye for measurement as opposed to the skin, as there is easier access to glucose-containing bodily fluids (tears) and less anatomical variance from person to person.

Which brings us to today . . .

Looking through a lens made from a very large grain of salt, there are three recent commercial initiatives in particular that I believe warrant our attention. The first is from Rockley Photonics, a company that offers advanced health monitoring technology for smart watches, including those from Apple (which invested at least $70 million in the company). They are using infrared technology, which they claim is up to one million times more accurate than the LED technology used in smartwatches today and can perform continuous monitoring of numerous biomarkers such as hydration, blood pressure, core body temperature, lactate, and glucose levels.

A second offering is from Know Labs. They claim their non-invasive Bio-RFID sensors (using radio waves) can identify different molecules in the body, such as glucose, oxygen, alcohol and metabolized drugs. The company says it will be available in both wearable and small handheld forms.

Finally, an Israeli startup, Hagar Tech, is similarly using radio frequency wave and AI technology to measure glucose under the name G-Wave.  They claim the accuracy is 95% compared to off-the-shelf handheld finger prick devices currently in use.

On the surface, all three of these initiatives sound promising, especially given Apple’s substantial investment in the category. Still, considering the long history of failed attempts and the associated hundreds of millions of dollars spent on R&D, only time will tell if all or any of them will prove successful and become commercially viable.  But if the grail is finally realized (nod to Harrison Ford), the amount of reduction in suffering, and the number of lives saved, would be incalculable. If you’re looking for a striking example of a game changer, this would be it.

Microsoft Purchase Program Changes Jan 13, 2022 Carrie Alicata Microsoft announced new pricing and changes to how you’ll procure licensing, including Microsoft 365, through your Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) like Connection. So, here’s what is changing and what you can expect:

A New Billing Model

Microsoft is introducing a new billing model for Cloud Services called New Commerce Experience (NCE). Under NCE, you’ll have these three options to pay for your Microsoft 365 licenses:

  1. Month-to-Month Commit: Month-to-month payment
  2. Annual Commit: Annual or monthly payment options 
  3. Multi-Year Commit: Annual or monthly payment options 

If you’ve just purchased or are renewing as of March 10, 2022, you’ll be enrolled in the NCE billing model with these term options. If you’re currently purchasing, there will be promotions available through June 2022 to help you move and save money. 

A New Pricing Model

On August 19, 2021, Microsoft announced global list price increases to their Microsoft 365 user licensing. These price increases are effective on March 1, 2022:

  • Microsoft 365 Business Basic, from $5 to $6
  • Microsoft 365 Business Premium, from $20 to $22
  • Office 365 E1, from $8 to $10
  • Office 365 E3, from $20 to $23
  • Microsoft 365 E3, from $32 to $36
  • Office 365 E5, from $35 to $38

There are no current changes to pricing for education or consumer.

How to Reduce Financial Impact to Your Business

Through the end of June 2022, Connection—as your CSP partner—is offering promotional pricing when you renew, transition, or start your licensing journey. As a tip, if you’re currently a monthly subscriber, moving into an annual commitment will lock in your pricing before March 1, 2022. 

Annual commitments will also give you the option to save money on your licensing. If you’re currently purchasing licensing month-to-month, making a 1- or 3-year commitment on select products will afford you the best price. You’ll have the option to schedule renewal changes with your CSP partner ahead of time, and plan out your licensing journey for the year ahead. 

How to Maintain Flexibility for Growth

The month-to-month flexibility to change licensing and user counts is a requirement if your business is experiencing rapid growth or uncertainty. This option is still available, but as a premium service. To maintain the flexibility needed for your business, you can anticipate a 20% higher cost over annual or multi-year pricing. We encourage you to work with us, as your CSP partner, to take advantage of any promotions to offset increases through June 2022. 

Key Dates to Help You Plan

December 31, 2021—The last day to transact in Microsoft Open Business

January 10, 2022—NCE is generally available

March 1, 2022—Microsoft 365 price increases are effective

March 10, 2022—All new cloud services licensing will be transacted through the NCE

June 30, 2022—Promotional offers end in the NCE

July 1, 2022—All renewals of cloud services licensing business to be renewed in the NCE

October 1, 2022—All customers purchasing cloud services will be transferred to the NCE.

Bookmark this blog and subscribe to our Microsoft Tech Insights to receive continual updates, FAQs, and announcements about the NCE for Microsoft cloud subscriptions through Connection.

What It Takes to Be a Great Connection... Jan 11, 2022 Andrew Plewa Connection Account Managers act as a point of contact for customers—building long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships, and always striving to find the products which best fit individual customer needs. Are you passionate about serving customers? Have you got what it takes? Find out more about the daily life of a Connection Account Manager!

What do you do on a day-to-day basis?

Our Account Managers work with clients to solve IT needs—discussing ongoing projects, using Connection’s team of subject matter experts to create hardware, software, and service-related quotes, and statement of work. Additionally, you will research and call new organizations to grow your business.

What do you learn when you start as a Connection Account Manager?

You will gain a firm understanding of what Connection can offer to fulfill customers’ IT needs. Develop patience and determination to successfully meet expectations and deliver value to all of your customers.

What are the most challenging aspects of the job?

Account Managers are always challenged to be patient, determined, and focused.

What makes a good Account Manager?

Be the hardest working person in the room and make yourself accountable. It’s also important to under-promise and over-deliver with every client interaction. The time and energy you devote to this will help you accumulate clients along your tenure.

Any advice for newcomers?

Count small wins every day! Success is just a culmination of small wins each day. Small wins are tangible progress points that show that you are on the way to reaching your goals. Be determined to succeed and work at it!

Connection Recognized by Women’s Forum of... Jan 06, 2022 Connection Connection was recently honored by the Women’s Forum of New York at its sixth biennial Breakfast of Corporate Champions for our work promoting diversity and gender parity in the boardroom. The Women’s Forum’s “Corporate Board Initiative” recognizes S&P 500 and Fortune 1000 companies that meet, or exceed, 35% representation of board seats held by women. As we continue to strive for gender parity, we are proud of our efforts and pledge to continue our work promoting diversity in the boardroom and throughout our company.

About the Women’s Forum of New York

The Women’s Forum of New York is a network of women leaders representing the highest levels of professional achievement across all sectors, industries, and spheres of influence in New York City. In 2021, the Forum founded their Corporate Board Initiative to accelerate the advancement of women on corporate boards across all industry sectors. The initiative focuses on the game-changers: CEOs, Chairman, Nom./Gov. chairs, and Directors who can truly accelerate the advancement of women on boards, with the overarching goal of achieving gender balance on corporate boards by 2025.

Learn more about their initiative.

TechSperience Episode 100: Windows 11 Is Here Jan 04, 2022 Connection Windows 11 Pro has arrived. Why should you make the switch? Listen in for more information on what you can expect from the upgrade—features, timelines, security, and more.

Host: James Hilliard

Guest 1: Burt Kersey, Lenovo Channel Account Executive

Guest 2: Ashley Lofaro, Microsoft OEM Senior Partner Development Specialist

Show Notes:

[00:19] Introduction of guests

[00:43] What are some of the promises of Windows 11?

[02:49] What can we expect from Lenovo devices as we start seeing Windows 11 roll out?

[06:00] What can we expect from the graphics interface of Windows 11?

[06:49] Can we set up custom desktops based on what you’re using with Windows 11?

[08:30] What’s the timeline for Windows 11 adoption and what are the conversations you hope to be happening during the transition?

[10:30] Are machines bought within the last year likely to accept Windows 11?

[13:55] What do teams that recently made a move to Windows 10 need to consider?

[14:53] What do teams that recently made a move to Windows 7 need to consider?

[15:46] What if a team buys Windows 11 machines, but needs to be on Windows 10 for a period of time?

[16:22] What are some things we can expect from hardware manufacturers like Lenovo to integrate with the security in Windows 11?

[19:30] What should IT teams be considering while looking at their networks before rolling out a more robust OS?

[21:51] What type of conversations do you anticipate you’ll be having with teams looking into Windows 11?

[24:08] Is there something that Lenovo is looking at from a supply chain perspective to get customers the gear they need to support Windows 11?

TechSperience Episode 99: Addressing QSR... Dec 30, 2021 Connection Learn how Connection's partnership with Elo can help to address the new changes within the QSR industry, including staffing shortages, changes in customer demand and behavior, and supply chain issues.

Host: James Hilliard

Guest 1: Brian Gallagher, Retail Strategy Director, Connection

Brian is a Retail veteran who has spent the past 5 years supporting the adoption of new technologies in retail to deliver amazing experiences to customers and employees.

Guest 2: Luke Wilwerding, Sr. Director of NA Sales, Elo

With over 20 years of interactive technology experience, Luke is at the forefront of innovation as retail customers create new shopping journeys that push engagement, creativity, information, and commerce.  Elo solutions can be found across all verticals, with many of its' over 25 million installations deployed in many of the most popular retail chains and luxury brand stores across the globe. Working with some of the biggest retailers around the world, Luke is in a unique position to understand what’s coming next in retail.

Show Notes:

[0:38] Introduction of guests

[1:28] What industry trends were QSRs seeing in early 2020?

[4:40] In mid-2020, how did the retail industry adapt to Covid-19?

[8:45] From a supply chain standpoint, what technology inventory began to run low as a result of Covid-19?

[10:45] Have the changes been beneficial from a customer standpoint?

[16:38] How can kiosks help with new and evolving employee responsibilities?

[18:30] How can Elo products support the new POS capabilities needed?

[21:01] What's it like to manage the complexities that new technology products bring?

[23:56] What impact would adopting new POS systems have on retailers' networks?

[25:45] What products are available to improve QSR employee productivity?

[29:00] How has the ease of use of employee technology products improved?

[34:52] What's the experience look like when customers start the conversation with Elo?[36:53] What's an innovation that you expect in the coming months to a year in the QSR space?

5 Healthcare Technology Trends for 2022 Dec 30, 2021 Alexis Ford COVID-19 created change in the healthcare industry that will persist in the years to come. The pandemic has caused patients, providers, and payers to become increasingly accepting of new technologies that alleviate workplace stress and facilitate better patient care amid industry challenges.

One such challenge is the mass exodus of healthcare workers who retired early or are leaving the field due to the pandemic. Of course, even before COVID-19, healthcare struggled with workforce shortages and burnout. As far back as 2005, 75 percent of nurses were attributing workplace stress and insufficient patient care to workforce shortages.

However, there is hope for the future. The pandemic served as a call to action for a new eager generation of aspiring providers, creating an uptick in medical school applications. Overall, applications to medical schools increased by 18 percent in 2021, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, with some schools seeing application surges as high as 35 percent more than the previous year.

This new generation of healthcare providers has a different relationship with technology, not only because many medical schools are integrating technology into their curriculum but because they have grown up in a world perpetuated by technology. Given this relationship, they will be even more open to innovative and technology-driven solutions.

Among these solutions, here are the top five for 2022 that are making the future of healthcare better for everyone.

1. Taking Telehealth to the Edge

Telehealth has always existed on the fringes of healthcare, but the pandemic made it the default mode of patient-provider interaction. Even with the return of in-person visits, telehealth use has increased 38 fold from pre-pandemic levels, as patients and providers alike enjoy the flexibility of having the option for virtual appointments.

Telehealth generates enormous amounts of data. Much of this comes from connected technologies, like sensors and Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) devices. In order for telehealth to continue to expand and provide value, facilities need to invest in edge computing where the massive amount of decentralized data generated by telehealth can be processed and analyzed in real time.

Edge computing reduces the amount of bandwidth required for processing and storing massive amounts of data across telehealth technologies. It also minimizes latency for faster decision-making and communications among providers and patients, which is especially critical for situations where every second counts.

Democratize Healthcare at the Edge

Telehealth creates new opportunities for patients who live in “care deserts,” or 30 or more miles away from quality healthcare. Eighty percent of U.S. counties lack access to some form of essential care, but telehealth enables patients to receive these services no matter where they live.

With nearly 75 percent of all doctor, urgent care, and ER visits able to be safely and effectively handled by telemedicine, access to telehealth in rural areas could help close a longtime health gap.

Telehealth programs, including remote monitoring, can be implemented without edge computing. However, without an investment in edge computing, telehealth data must be pushed to a centralized location such as a provider’s data center or a major cloud provider. Unfortunately, processing telehealth data at a centralized location is slower and bandwidth intensive. 

With edge computing, data is processed close to the point of creation which limits the amount of bandwidth and time required to support a modern telehealth initiative.

Edge computing also makes new technologies such as remote patient monitoring more accessible. IoMT-connected monitoring devices can provide information on patients wherever they are, at the facility or at home. When applied to telehealth scenarios, providers and patients benefit from the real-time data access provided by edge computing. For example, a doctor can be video conferencing a patient while also receiving health data, allowing them to better assess patient complaints and provide an educated treatment plan.

Additionally, remote monitoring devices boost patient outcomes by empowering patients to take control of their health. With these devices, they can monitor their own vitals, make their medication regimen work around their schedule, and send their physician updates.

Connection's Telemedicine Solutions can help you take telehealth to the edge, providing you and your patients with more convenient, safe, and collaborative healthcare tools.

2. Smart Data Processing with AI/ML

In addition to facilitating telehealth, an edge investment enables better performance of AI/ML implementations (artificial intelligence and machine learning) and big data initiatives. Running AI/ML efforts close to the point of data creation enables a provider to identify patterns locally and streamline training models for faster processing and improved accuracy.

86 percent of healthcare professionals whose organizations have adopted AI found that the technology helped them make better use of data, and 79 percent said it helped them reduce provider burnout by automating tedious back-office tasks.

There are several ways AI/ML can move the healthcare industry forward. But research and development, population health management, and revenue cycle management are key emerging areas where organizations are unlocking the benefits of this technology.

Accelerate Research

AI can improve cancer identification by looking at samples and identifying abnormal areas faster and more accurately than humans can. For example, Children’s Health of Orange County is working to build an edge infrastructure to support an AI initiative that helps clinicians provide faster and more accurate diagnoses.

Boost Accuracy for Population Health Management

In 2019, only 21 percent of healthcare organizations were using analytics to manage population health at scale. But with smart data processing at the edge, the trend is growing.

Edge computing allows for fast analysis and integration of health data with other socioeconomic and environmental data, providing insights about whether a patient is at-risk, likely to be readmitted, or struggles with noncompliance. With this information, providers can make more informed treatment decisions and make better long-term care plans. 

Automate and Analyze: Revenue Collection

Payment and claims management is a burden for any provider. Efficiently designed AI/ML initiatives can lighten this burden.

AI can automate processes that previously were handled manually on a case-by-case basis. For example, prior authorizations are the most burdensome, transaction-heavy parts of the revenue cycle, requiring staff to complete a series of repetitive tasks. AI can alleviate the burden on providers by automating these steps and anticipating changes on future authorizations. 

Claims departments are utilizing ML in a similar way. On average, health claims have a 9 percent denial rate. ML can be used to learn why claims are being denied, apply intelligence during claim review, flag missing information, and prompt human interference. This allows the system to predict which claims will be denied and correct the situation before they are ever submitted.

3. A Wider Playing Field for Robotics

Surgical robots have been around since the 1980s, first offering surgeons assistance in the operating room via robotic arms. Surgical assist capabilities in robotics have evolved to allow procedures to be done with minimal invasiveness, reducing recovery time and mitigating infection risk.

Today, with increased network optimization, faster processing speeds (with edge or 5G), and heightened security, robotics-assisted healthcare procedures can be completed in a wider array of locations.

Alleviate Labor Shortages

Healthcare robots have spread from the surgical theater to other parts of the industry, mitigating the workforce shortage by performing simple but time-consuming tasks to free up workers to focus on patient care.

AI will continue to support this increased emphasis on robotics by allowing human-supervised robots to act more autonomously, performing surgeries, moving freely about the hospital to perform tasks, such as linen transportation, disinfection, and even patient interaction.

Enhance Workplace Infection Control

Healthcare robotics played a large role during the pandemic, checking patients for fever, disinfecting hospital rooms, and delivering medicine and food. Robots are also playing a larger role in patient care. Robots equipped with screens and specialized sensors can be used to interact with patients without putting providers and other patients at risk of infection.

Facilitate Operations Management

Behind the scenes, robotics help with logistics, inventory tracking, and supply management. Today, this looks like robots navigating elevators and hospital floors to transport medication and supplies throughout the facility.

However, trends are moving toward robots playing a more crucial role in supply chain management in the future, facilitating initiatives like perpetual inventory and strategic sourcing.

4. Without Security There Is Only Instability

Healthcare systems became a primary target for cybercriminals amid the pandemic. Rushed technology adoption and organization changes left them vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks. These attacks are detrimental not only for compliance reasons, but they can also completely disrupt operations by forcing a hospital or an entire healthcare system to move its network offline and resort to pen and paper, putting patients at risk.

In the last year, there have been 706 major healthcare data breaches (over 500 records), compromising the healthcare data of more 44 million individuals.

While technologies and tools such as robotics, IoMT, and advanced data computing provide exciting new opportunities in the realm of healthcare, they also provide potential vulnerability points for ransomware attacks.

To combat cybersecurity attacks, organizations must build more resilient centralized networks, fortify infrastructure, ensure device security, and work in best-of-breed cloud configurations. Connection can help protect your data, manage your mobile devices and network, and migrate seamlessly to the cloud.

5. Improving Surgical Outcomes through AR/VR

The use of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) is growing in the surgical arena and post-op recovery, currently being used in state-of-art facilities. AR augments what is seen in reality by using image overlays and location-specific information, while VR creates a new digital environment that replaces the current real world. AR and VR differ in their healthcare applications, but they are both being used to improve surgery and post-op care.

Minimize Invasive Procedures

When performing surgery, a surgeon typically uses an anatomical roadmap gleaned from 2D imaging, such as scans and x-rays. This acts as a terrific guide when performing an open surgery where the patient’s anatomy is exposed. But today more surgeries are being performed using less invasive means to lessen recovery times and mitigate infection risk.

AR can be used to provide crucial visuals to guide surgeons during less invasive procedures. By creating a 3D rendering of a patient’s anatomy and superimposing it on their live video feed, AR gives surgeons much more detail during an operation.

For example, smart glasses combine medical image processing with 3D AR visualizations. That way, an orthopedic surgeon can perform minimally invasive procedures more accurately by projecting three-dimensional representations of the patient’s internal anatomy into the surgeon’s limited field of view.

Enable Better Practice and Education Opportunities

Surgeons can also use these 3D renderings to practice their surgery beforehand. For example, Medivis uses a combination of AR and AI imaging to provide surgeons with a 3D holographic visualization of a patient’s anatomy, allowing the surgeon to create a plan and even practice procedures beforehand.

VR is emerging as a vital training tool for our next generation of surgeons. Using goggles and headsets, students can be taken on a 3D tour of the human body while an instructor narrates. Furthermore, VR can be used to educate patients and alleviate anxiety by showing them exactly what’s going on in their body and how a surgery will be performed.

During surgery, a physician using an AR tool can enable remote access for expert colleagues, residents, or students to see what they’re seeing and hearing and offer feedback. It can similarly be used for patient rounds.

Improve Pain Management

Another area where VR is emerging as a potential solution is pain management. In this scenario, VR works as an interactive distraction, encouraging patients to manage their breathing or focus on what’s in front of them rather than the pain.

During COVID, Hoag Hospital treated nearly 200 inpatients with VR technology and asked them to rate their pain before and after a 15–30 minute session. The results were encouraging, with patients reporting lower pain levels and showing decreased activity on MRI scans of pain-processing areas of the brain.

This study and the growing body of research indicate that VR is a promising, risk-free pain management solution that could even abate the use of opioids.

Prepare for the Future of Care

As the healthcare industry becomes more comfortable with technology, what are now revolutionary trends will become commonplace in the years to come. But healthcare organizations shouldn’t wait until then to start exploring.

At Connection, we help healthcare organizations prepare for the future of care by providing the tools and guidance they need to implement edge infrastructure, AI/ML, robotics, and other innovations successfully and without compromising security. Get the most from your technology investments and make your organization better for your patients, providers, and the communities you serve. If you are interested in learning more about how Connection can help your organization implement the technologies discussed in this blog, connect with one of our healthcare experts today!

2022 Retail Technology Trends Dec 28, 2021 Brian Gallagher As painful as 2020 was for retail, the lessons learned may have saved the industry from long-term doom. Retailers were forced to think differently. Forced to drop the lessons learned over decades of prior success. Forced to accept a new world and the new expectations of consumers. 2021 became the ultimate testing ground for retailers to understand the true relationship between shifting customer expectations and the ROI available to the business.

I believe that history will look back at 2020 and 2021 as one of the most meaningful 24-month periods in the history of modern retail. 24 months that have defined what our customers expect and what our employees will demand. While not all retailers will embrace these lessons, the lessons are clear.

Everyone is looking forward to returning to normal and moving past the pandemic. Here are 5 key technologies that retailers should embrace in the new age of retail.

  1. Smart stores improve experience and optimize available labor: We all understand the new age of smart homes. The same concepts are now an expectation for consumers who engage in retail across so many different channels. The amazing thing about a smart store is the ability to meet customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX) expectations at the same time.
    Smart store technologies are wide reaching, but some of the most impactful areas include AI, CameraVision, and IoT Devices. AI solutions that allow business to react in non-linear ways to elevate a shopping experience are creating the new “WOW” experience. CameraVision is driving new digital marketing, checkout, and security solutions. IoT devices are eliminating mundane tasks and activating more productive employee activities. It sounds scary, but in reality these solutions are attainable and can provide amazing new experiences for customers and employees.

  2. Store associates need mobile technology upgrades to support CX and EX: We can all agree that we live in a mobile world. We must also see that mobile retail is our best opportunity to engage employees, support customer expectations, and deliver results. There are approximately 6.4 billion smartphone users worldwide in 2021 and retailers need to embrace this world across all positions within the brand. As new employees are hired, how do they want to learn? Mobile. As employees are communicating with each other and customers, how do they want to communicate? Mobile. When a customer engages an employee either digitally or in-person, how do they expect to be serviced? Mobile. The savviest retailers will look to elevate the role of associates in the overall store experience through mobile technologies.

  3. Omnichannel experience must be seamless and accurate: Having an omnichannel strategy no longer simply means operating both a brick-and-mortar location and an online store. The pandemic allowed every retailer to understand how the digital and physical presence work together in a new model. Customers expect to meet uniform and engaging shopping experiences across channels, including websites, various marketplaces, and social media platforms. The key for retailers now is blending these digital and physical experiences to meet consumers where they are and how they want to engage. It should be easy for them to find the product they want, order, checkout, and receive it, when they want.

    This seamless Omnichannel strategy requires a highly integrated technology model combining real-time information shared securely across hundreds of networks with hundreds of potential customer engagement points. Meet the customer where they are with accurate and meaningful experiences.

  4. New ways to pay are not optional: It may seem impossible that payment methods are changing so rapidly. It was just 5 short years ago that EMV was required and, now, the number of payment options are exploding. It seems like out of nowhere Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) solutions have exploded in popularity with major retailers like Walmart and Macy’s. By using BNPL apps that are integrated into a retailer’s checkout, customers can shop with thousands of stores, receive an order right away, and pay for it over six weeks—completely interest-free. It’s just one more example of how retailers are responding to changes in consumer shopping habits.

    Customers want convenience and it’s now one of the main experiences that retailers can provide. These payment models are only going to continue to grow in popularity—benefiting merchants who adopt the solutions early and begin the process of educating customers on the benefits of these interest-free payment options.

  5. Networking and security infrastructure is priority: Finally, the foundation of our new digital world can take center stage. For years, retail’s CIOs and CSOs have begged for investment. They warned of the ramifications to both customer experience and business productivity if smart investments were not supported. It’s good news, sort of. Investments will be made to support all of these exploding technologies. But retailers must now invest in infrastructure, while also implementing these new technologies at the same time. The digital foundation has never been more critical.

Prioritizing and implementing all of this technology is a heavy lift for most lean IT retail organizations. Identifying the right partners to support fast and efficient deployment will be the key to all digital success. A great partner like Connection can support our new retail digital world from conceptual design through configuration and deployment.

If you’d like to talk more about how these technologies can impact your business or how Connection can help bring them to life, please contact us today!

Connection Celebrates the Season of Giving Dec 21, 2021 Connection Generosity takes on many forms in Connection culture. Whether it is employees donating unused Paid Time Off to coworkers going through a difficult time, taking advantage of the Volunteer Time Off program to give back to their community, or organizing fundraisers, our employees always come together to help those in need.

This holiday season, as part of our Connection Cares program, our team organized two initiatives to help us give back to our communities. We partnered with One Warm Coat, a non-profit organization dedicated to keeping people warm, to collect coats for children and adults in need. The goal was to motivate employees to donate gently worn coats of all sizes at one of our locations or make a monetary donation online to help us raise $1,000 toward this initiative. Connection employees rose to the occasion to support our first coat drive and we are thrilled to report that we have collected hundreds of coats and raised $4,700 in donations. Thanks to everyone who helped our neighbors in need by supporting this drive!

Our employees also had the chance to do something great for the kids this holiday season. Since November, we have been collecting new toy donations and funds for our toy drive initiative benefiting the Toys for Tots Foundation. This year, our team collected hundreds of new toys and raised more than $3,000 to help brighten the holidays for deserving children.

We are incredibly proud of our team and their commitment to helping those in need. To support their efforts—and our communities—Connection has pledged an additional $10,000 in corporate funds to our employees’ holiday donation campaign, contributing $5,000 to both the One Warm Coat and Toys for Tots programs.  

We love and always look for opportunities to get involved with great causes like these, especially in time for the holidays—when giving is so important. For more information on the ways we get involved in serving our communities, check out our Connection Cares page.

VMware Workspace ONE: Enhancing and Securing... Dec 20, 2021 Kaitlin Sherman Working 9 to 5 in the office is quickly becoming a standard of the past as more companies are adopting modern practices like remote work opportunities and bring-your-own device programs. While these new opportunities are enticing for employees, the shift to remote work has posed unique challenges for IT, forcing already strained teams to rethink how to support new and varied environments. As usual, VMware is ahead of the game. When IT teams augment their environment with VMware’s Workspace ONE, managing and securing a diverse EUC environment becomes as smooth as silk. 

Unsurprisingly, security remains a top concern for most organizations. In Gartner’s latest report, The Top 8 Security Risks and Trends We’re Watching, securing the increase of remote workers and devices poses the biggest security threat to companies. Legacy tools simply cannot keep up with a stream of increasing users, endpoints, and apps as they lack visibility into off-network PCs. When 95% of breaches originate at endpoint units, security protocols must be flexible, scalable, and agile. VMware’s Workspace ONE alleviates several security issues by replacing siloed management tools with a single cloud-based modern management system complete with intelligent automation and a familiar console. Further, Workspace ONE replaces the tedious task of configuring policies by providing 100% cloud policy management that can be deployed in minutes anywhere at any time. Off-network PCs are now visible with Workspace ONE, and patching is kept up to date.

It is impossible to discuss the management of remote workers without delving into the topic of cost. Legacy infrastructure is designed to manage devices on the company network, and it’s clear that business is trending more and more towards remote work in the future. Because of this, teams are required to spend more time and money to deploy, manage, and support the increasing volume and variety of remote devices. Workspace ONE streamlines device setup and management by utilizing features like policy templates, pre-packaged applications, automation, and drop ship. The below table demonstrates the full power of Workspace ONE’s time and cost savings to organizations.

Source: Traditional vs. Modern Management, VMware

Possibly the most overlooked aspect of remote work is the employee experience. Modern employees want a seamless experience while using familiar devices. Legacy systems create disjointed and inconsistent delivery of apps and services, resulting in employee dissatisfaction and frustration. By implementing Workspace ONE, employees can connect and use all devices seamlessly from day one by using single sign-on. Most rewarding for both employee and IT teams alike is the ability to recover devices, gain insight into device performance, and provide support without needing to access the physical device.

In short, adopting Workspace ONE alleviates more than one pain point. It allows organizations to deploy, manage, secure, and troubleshoot all devices—whether remote or not—through one familiar management platform. Named Gartner’s Leader in the 2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Unified Endpoint Management, Workspace ONE provides businesses and employees alike with a clear path to continued development and success.

To learn more about the benefits of VMware Workspace ONE, you can download this free white paper. [link to white paper is in turn-in]

Azure Chaos Studio: The Art of Predicting... Dec 17, 2021 Leandro Rocha At the beginning of November 2021, Microsoft made a lot of announcements at Ignite, and one of those that caught my attention was the Azure Chaos Studio. The Azure Chaos Studio is a managed service for improving resilience by injecting faults into your Azure applications.

Chaos engineering first became relevant at Internet companies that were pioneering large-scale distributed systems. For example, in 2010, Netflix decided to leverage the Chaos methodology to answer their demand to move from physical infrastructure to AWS cloud and help them make their services more resilient. This would help them avoid downtime, as failure of individual components in the cloud architecture would not necessarily compromise the availability of the entire system.

Inject Failure to Prevent Failure

Chaos engineering leverages the failure injection to proactively test how an application or system responds under stress, so you can identify and fix failures before they end up in costly outages. It is essential to highlight that the failure injection process doesn’t happen randomly without a purpose. Instead, it is a well-defined and formalized scientific method of experimentation that provides several benefits to distributed systems and microservices. The failure injection is categorized into five levels: resource, network and dependencies, application, process and service, infrastructure, and people.

The experiments could be applied to help with things you are aware of and understand, something you are aware of but don’t fully understand, things you understand but are not aware of, and things you are neither aware of nor fully understand. There are no limits to Chaos experiments. The type of tests you run depends on the architecture of your distributed system and business goals. The most common Chaos known tests are used to simulate the failure of a micro-component, turning a server off to see how a dependency reacts, simulating a high CPU load, producing latency between services, emulating I/O errors, and producing sudden traffic spikes.

Controlled Chaos 

The Chaos principles should be applied continuously to help you expose issues early. Ideally, it would help to leverage that when deploying new code, adding dependencies, observing changes in usage patterns, and mitigating problems. According to the 2021 State of Chaos Engineering report, the most common outcomes of Chaos engineering are increased availability, lower mean time to resolution (MTTR), lower mean time to detection (MTTD), fewer bugs shipped to product, and fewer outages. In addition, teams who frequently run Chaos engineering experiments are more likely to have >99.9% availability.

Nowadays, large tech companies such as LinkedIn, Meta (formerly Facebook), Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and more traditional industries like banking and finance are practicing Chaos engineering to understand their distributed systems and microservice architectures better and help them ensure the reliability of every new feature.

As a Microsoft Azure Expert MSP, our Cloud Solution Architects and Engineers have the knowledge and experience to help you reduce disruptions by improving the reliability and availability of your Azure applications leveraging Chaos engineering experiments. Let’s get in touch and dive into the Chaos engineering conversation and see how it can help you evolve in your cloud deployments

Manufacturing in 2022: Not Accelerating... Dec 15, 2021 Ryan Spurr Some people will insist on introducing new concepts or rebranded terminology with their 2022 predictions, but let’s be clear: that’s all hype, as little of significance has changed. Don’t get me wrong. There are many advancements in all sorts of enabling technologies relevant to manufacturing operations and information technology. The real momentum is less about any individual technology and more about what is fundamentally changing within the sector, and I can assure you that it’s not technology-driven.

What has changed is the culmination of business headwinds, a need for competitive advantage, and a heightened appetite for change. What does this all boil down to? Acceleration.

Digital Transformation Is Ramping Up

Before the pandemic, there was a great deal of hype around smart manufacturing. Still, most organizations were not addressing substantive technology convergence, adopting newer enabling technologies, or dramatically reshaping their business process to prepare for the future. Those that did pursue new technologies were primarily focused on small proof of concepts that by themselves didn’t scale or move the needle. 

The pandemic changed all preconceived notions and has struck a nerve in the manufacturing sector. It’s changing how leaders look at radical business change from workforce gaps to supply chain disruption to meeting demand in new ways. Starting with the pre-pandemic trade wars, workforce shortages, and growing global competition, the pandemic only catalyzed the already in-motion undercurrents in manufacturing. This is why “74% of CEOs say their organizations are pursuing large-scale digital transformation initiatives” as they grapple with offsetting headwinds, building more flexible and resilient operations, or gaining competitive advantage in the future. 

The various market forces are quickly changing how organizations address business change and technology adoption. Together, they point to the need for a larger vision, alignment with organizational change and departmental needs, and the intersection of technology at a scale and velocity we haven't seen for decades in this industry. The adoption of new business models and processes, accompanied by enabling technology, will accelerate in 2022 as manufacturers play catchup or seek to lead.

Convergence: It’s Past Time to Integrate OT and IT

What good is accelerating next-generation technologies like sensors, machine vision, artificial intelligence, remote management, and industrial IoT platforms if manufacturers haven't created an OT/IT integrated infrastructure? 

The stark reality is that most organizations haven't come to terms with the infrastructure divide between operations and information technology. In fact, some in the marketplace are theorizing the days of the IT department might be numbered. Will IT play a role in the future of technology and process? Or will business units adopt entirely new strategies for their digital future? Whatever the case, the future is a fully integrated technology company despite which organizations own it. This future has integrated infrastructure and focuses on digitally native processes, workforce optimization, and client experience.

Converged networks and infrastructure will lead to expanded productivity, create environments employees want to work in, and establish new competitive advantages. The near-term future will comprise a fully integrated environment that will unlock data silos, support the scale of smart technology pilots, and create a value-chain more resilient and focused on long term optimization.

The investment must include infrastructure that meets the needs of operations (think uptime, resilience, speed, and configuration control) and information technology (access management, visibility, and threat reduction). Today, solutions exist that make convergence achievable while also meeting the vast needs of multiple departments. Convergence is one of the most stark changes underway as it lays the foundation for years of continuous improvement, and next year will only see this trend accelerate.

One Buzzword Allowed: Hyper Automation

What would a prediction be without a buzzword? While I’m not usually a fan of them, I love Gartner’s coined phrase “hyper automation” because I think it articulates the expansion of automation in today’s manufacturers, encompassing it both in breadth and depth. For organizations that rely on Lean/Six Sigma methodologies, there remains a massive amount of waste in most manufacturing processes. The headwinds associated with the post-pandemic world are great catalysts for long-term change no manufacturer should let pass by. If uncertain about whether to capitalize on automation in this time of change, you only need to look at research that shows that Industry 4.0 technologies coupled with process change can raise productivity by up to 40% and create a more flexible factory. Those organizations that capitalize on automation will outperform their peers and create sustained competitive advantage while mitigating today’s business challenges. 

Automation isn’t always about robots—many other approaches allow manufacturers to automate their way to success. The first area of expected growth is office automation and includes automating back-office processes, tasks, and low-value activities across applications, platforms, and businesses. Over time, these small automation activities (whether organization-wide or democratized to employees) will free up traditional workers to focus on higher-value tasks and fuel productivity improvements in areas of the business where it’s long been stalled.

The second area expected to grow is in the form of industrial automation. While it’s been around in various forms for decades, the modern version will see a world that breaks down traditional OT expectations connecting both industrial controls systems, facilities, workers, and different IoT technologies into a single interconnected platform. This will enable manufacturers to integrate everything to reduce human error and waste, augment workforce gaps, improve quality, and streamline operations in a whole new way that isn’t just limited to the factory. 

Expect automation to be one of the most prominent trends for many years to come. It will mitigate many of today’s business challenges while readying organizations to scale with demand in the out years.

More Integration: Data and Edge Technology

74% of leaders are looking to tackle existing data silos, whether connecting operational technology for the first time or delivering data to different internal stakeholders. With infrastructure convergence, improved industrial security, and next-generation automation solutions, the next critical element remaining is the acceleration of data acquisition 

Data acquisition is hugely important and will challenge the traditional SCADA-only or siloed operational infrastructure model. Gaining competitive advantage isn’t just about real-time visibility and insight for plant workers on the floor—it’s also necessary to bring valuable data to the supply chain, material planners, design engineers, producibility engineers, quality engineers, and other up or downstream employees.

Unlocking data across the value chain will empower employees to tackle everyday business challenges and enable entirely new solutions. Many of those new solutions will integrate and operate at the edge. Edge solutions might include machine vision or artificial intelligence or fuel advancements into how business systems and workers integrate with the factory. 

Tapping into data to drive workforce visibility will unlock new solutions typically considered a no pursuit and create a wildly more flexible and resilient manufacturing organization. With continued uncertainty of the long-term impact of the pandemic, workforce and supply chain disruptions, and a rapidly changing employee model, expect data and edge integration to be a critical focus area for manufacturers.

It Always Comes Back to Security

Security was a huge focus in 2021, mainly because cybersecurity attacks propelled manufacturing to the second most targeted industry in 2020. Security will continue to be a critical investment in 2022 for similar reasons, but due to the acceleration of the very platforms and technologies driving business change and how those technologies will introduce new risks as companies converge infrastructure and vertically integrate data across enterprise infrastructure. 

Spending surveys indicate IT budgets are increasing and forecast how companies are taking this joint investment in new technologies and cybersecurity seriously and incrementally investing 2022 budget in accounting for such risks. In traditional IT cybersecurity solutions, companies are also funding industrial security hardware, software, and services to ensure that the historical gaps in industrial security are not exposed going forward.

In the end, security is as vital as ever. Integrated OT/IT security budgets, investments into managed cybersecurity solutions, and improvements in overall security hygiene from networks to monitoring to response will all accelerate in 2022.

Invest in Your Workforce to Ensure Productivity

When it comes to the tools manufacturing frontline employees use, let’s be honest—for decades, most manufacturing operations have placed less value on the technology this portion of the workforce uses. In the past, it might have made sense. Operations were largely manual tasks filled by a never-ending supply of low-cost or replaceable labor. Technology inserted into the factory is also cost-allocated back to product costs so that less technology may support higher profit margins. 

Today and into the future, technology is quickly becoming the standard for achieving competitive advantage, critical to attracting and retaining a workforce, and an ever essential means to improving productivity. So it is crucial that we not forget about the committed and trusted workforce that remains. 

We must also recognize that job roles and the type of work we ask our employees to execute will also shift. For example, many frontline workers’ “activity is becoming more digitized and automated, which calls for higher-level skills—and upgrading existing jobs to attract the next generation of workers.”Offices may have been forever altered, but factories must continue to operate. We must recognize that people are not going away. For most manufacturing subindustries, the utopia of a “lights out” factory is unachievable. Manufacturers will continue to rely upon employees to conduct operations with or without automated solutions in place. It’s essential that we reskill, upskill, and enable the workforce with productive, intuitive, and purpose-built technologies that make it easier for them to perform their job duties while also supporting an innovative and technology-rich environment that attracts and retains the best talent.

The future is unwritten but what is certain is the manufacturing industry is under tremendous pressure to change. “A digitally progressive organization is a future-ready organization that's able to pivot, scale up or down, and maintain stability” amongst competitive landscapes as well as disruptive forces. Those companies that take on today’s challenges with a multifaceted business process and technology investment strategy will indeed outperform their competitors in the short and long term. Connection’s Manufacturing Practice understands the acceleration of foundational technologies and investment into a mix of smart technologies is sure to focus on manufacturing 

Managing Factory Equipment from Anywhere Dec 09, 2021 Ryan Spurr Before the pandemic, there was a trend of shifting engineering to a “shared engineering service” model. This was largely driven by the need to attract and retain talent in the form of a workplace benefit, or a consolidation effort, as previously seen with organizational constructs like IT or procurement services groups. More specifically, this effort involved locating engineers in places where they desired to live, and where there were robust workforce pools and educational institutions versus placing engineers in remote locations across the country where factories resided.

During the pandemic, with engineers and support resources sent home, a different trend emerged. Rather than being concerned with attractive workplace locations, the need for engineers to work from anywhere was focused on keeping the workforce healthy while also keeping the factory operational. 

The truth is that both work approaches have long been used in some fashion to provide employees or top talent with degrees of flexibility, albeit on a lesser scale or case by case basis. Fast forward to today, when we find both approaches are leading to systemic and essential changes in how modern manufacturing companies operate. Manufacturers must deliver both workforce flexibility (aka, work from anywhere) and the need to provide resilient operations (aka, engineers manage machinery from anywhere). 

Connect IT with OT

It’s impossible to connect the factory and its equipment with engineers when many of the equipment isn’t connected or integrated with IT. OT/IT convergence is quickly becoming a top priority for manufacturing leaders as they seek to create a more vertically integrated company capable of driving smart manufacturing initiatives at scale.

Modern operational infrastructure and security are essential to connecting critical equipment to the balance of the enterprise, as well as engineers working from anywhere. According to Forrester, manufacturers will increase investment into smart factory infrastructure by 40% in 2022.
Therefore it’s important to consider the underlying infrastructure from industrial networking, industrial security, edge compute, and industrial IoT (IIoT) software necessary to properly connect, integrate, and automate the factory with the balance of the technical estate. Topics include east-west traffic management, industrial deep packet inspection, industrial protocol support, integration with corporate SIEM/SOC for monitoring of potential security threats, and the kind of hardware support that advantages a factory’s high availability needs and organizational requirements.

Provide Engineers with Real-time Data Visibility 

It’s critical for engineers (whether facilities, maintenance, or industrial controls) to keep tabs on their machines, sensors, and other smart products. Relying on traditional air-gapped SCADA platforms or onsite inspections limits engineers’ effectiveness in the modern remote or resilient environment.  Engineers (and all support roles realistically) should have real-time access to key data and machine health. 

Therefore, in addition to connecting equipment or operations with IT, it’s crucial to also focus on data acquisition in the production line and environment systems. The heterogeneous nature of factories implies implementing modern Industrial IoT (IIoT) platforms capable of connecting with almost any industrial machine. These solutions must support a wide range of device drivers and industrial protocols. They must also be capable of quickly integrating devices and protocols natively with IT solutions, including data center, cloud services, and remote monitoring to mobile devices or any company-owned asset used by employees. 

Accessing and Controlling Your Industrial Equipment

Connecting and controlling industrial equipment is another focus for remote teams. For example, today's solutions offer engineers the ability to connect securely to industrial equipment or smart machines to monitor, troubleshoot, and take action with the PLC or device itself and manage a fleet of edge compute solutions in the factory or field-deployed smart products.

While connecting and controlling machines is essential, so is the ability to monitor, troubleshoot, or conduct kaizen events remotely visually. The powers of observation still play an indispensable role in designing, building, deploying, and supporting equipment in factories, wherever they exist. The ability to use modern camera solutions, AR/remote collaboration headsets, and integration with the most common collaboration platforms also contributes to engineers’ improved and connected workplace.

The Future of Remote Factory Management

Whatever your company’s drivers for business change, engineering talent exists everywhere and includes salaried employees, contractors, and third parties. The need to connect engineers from anywhere is core to any future smart factory and modern technology strategy, a critical tool for the modern workforce and talent management, and essential to managing digitally integrated factories or smart products domestically and globally.

Connection’s Manufacturing Practice understands the challenges and goals in modernizing factories, exploring new smart product services, and how it all integrates with the larger IT and corporate  strategies. To learn more or to discuss remote management further, contact one of our manufacturing specialists today!

What’s Next for IT? Top Trends for 2022 Dec 07, 2021 Shawna Stewart In 2020, we (albeit unexpectedly) were forced to move our infrastructure to support a remote workforce. In turn, 2021 compelled us to address how we collaborate and best work together in this new landscape. Now, in 2022, we can expect to see the priority shifting to the security of our new (and potentially vulnerable) networks. Combined with the continuing problem of ever-growing data challenges and privacy concerns, IT professionals will have their work cut out for them in 2022. Here is a peek at some of the things that may impact your business in the upcoming year.

Cybersecurity Mesh

Anyone in the IT industry knows that malware, cybersecurity, and other threats are increasing, and attacks are becoming more mature. Data growth is a big concern for 2022, but protecting your data should be one of your organization’s highest priorities. Because the “traditional” security perimeter is all but gone due to employees working remotely on a large-scale basis, this will lead organizations to make decisions that will have them viewing their security from a different angle. Organizations should be doing their best to respond to these attacks before they happen, where possible. Cybersecurity mesh, by definition, is a flexible architecture that brings together best of breed, standalone security solutions to work together to improve overall security.

The trick to cybersecurity mesh is understanding what level of security you want to have and how to get there from where you are now. The thought here is that organizations that adopt a cybersecurity mesh strategy will have integrated security that will allow for a productive, cooperative, and secure infrastructure and this will allow for a reduction of the costs involved when an isolated security attack occurs.

Data Fabric

Data is one of those things that is forever growing, and because of this, solutions are always required for simplification of said data, as well as complete access to it. Making clean and organized data available from multiple access points will remain on the list of technology priorities but finding this solution in a cost-effective manner is the continual roadblock. Considering the amount of data that grows year over year while dealing with the fact that skilled professionals in the data and analytics field remains relatively constant, finding appropriate people within an organization to handle this growth is a regular challenge. Data fabric is a 2022 trend, which effectively has been renamed with a new buzzword that is the most recent in a long line of trends that address the issue of “How do we deal with a constant data explosion in the most economical way?”  

Privacy-enhancing Computation

Loss of customer trust as a consequential result from privacy incidents and dealing with data protection and privacy legislation on the international stage is going to be, if it is not already, a priority for CIOs in 2022. Protection of personal and otherwise sensitive information from an IT department, whether it be a data issue or on a software or hardware level, and the analysis of infrastructures and allowing for information to be shared securely without violating confidentiality is the current landscape of concern over security. The main concern is, “How do we change our employees’ online behavior to keep our company protected from privacy legislation?”

Cloud-native Platforms

Cloud-native platforms use cloud computing to give organizations elastic and scalable capabilities to deliver faster value and reduced costs to the bottom line. Although this trend is something already in play in most organizations, it still has a lot of traction left, especially where organizations are trying to change their applications to be more resilient and manageable.  

AI Engineering

Information technology professionals need to utilize great effort to integrate AI within applications. This is accomplished with the Internet of Things, as well as AI engineering to operationalize artificial intelligence models. Unfortunately, there is a perception that as much as this is a valuable place to spend IT budget, many of these projects waste money and time on projects that never quite make it to the infrastructure. Also, many organizations do also have a hard time showing and retaining value from these solutions. AI engineering is an integrated approach for operationalizing AI models. 

One artificial intelligence technique is generative AI—machine learning approaches that learn about content and uses said data to create code and targeted marketing. This should be employed delicately, as it also opens the door to fraud and identity issues if not kept in check.

If you are concerned about these, or any other IT trends, please contact your Connection Account Manager. They can connect you with one of the skilled technology professional experts to help you to navigate the choppy waters of technology indecision and help put you on a path with the best possible move-forward strategy. 

What Making Decisions at the Edge Means for... Dec 02, 2021 Ryan Spurr We hear so much about computing moving to the edge. Predictions like 75% of data will be created and processed outside of traditional centralized data centers leave us to wonder what future is there for the data center. Unlike past shifts, this doesn’t imply all compute will move from the data center to edge, just as it didn’t for edge to cloud. It means that today’s edge compute capabilities are significantly improved, integrate with more things, and act at the point where the process executes. Today’s edge can also pass relevant data up the stack to other stakeholders, including engineers, maintenance, supply chain, quality, and leadership. 

Contrast the technology predictions with corporate objectives, and this will make more sense why edge computing technologies are advancing in their adoption. According to a recent survey by Deloitte, 74% percent of CEOs say their organizations are pursuing large-scale digital transformation initiatives ranging from optimizing processes to addressing workforce shortages to creating a more resilient company. More important than any single rationale for change, the research indicated the path forward wasn't mutually exclusive. Today’s manufacturing leaders cannot select a single smart factory initiative by itself. Instead, leaders must identify multiple initiatives that ride along shared enabling technologies to deliver more significant long-term benefits for the business. 

The Move to the Edge

The future of manufacturing isn’t just ensuring your company is digitally connected. It’s augmenting your existing workforce to improve productivity, filling gaps due to labor shortages, creating a more sustainable organization, and developing a more competitive and resilient business. How is your organization tackling these business challenges? Is it looking to an integrated business strategy and leveraging enabling technologies effectively? Will your smart initiatives not only connect and integrate data, but also drive improved action by both employees and machines?

For those companies investing and reaching the “use” phase, 73% are leveraging data and edge automation to fuel industrial change. Beyond using this technology to connect heterogeneous devices across the factory, organizations can capitalize on automation and decision-making at the edge. It’s because of this value add that we see a future in edge compute and smart solutions. It’s also important to understand that not all use cases support “lights out manufacturing.” Improved decision-making at the edge can take two forms: autonomous and augmented workforce.

Augmented Workforce

Not all manufacturers have a workforce issue, and many do not view job elimination in alignment with their core values. This doesn’t mean automation isn’t possible—it’s just not the same use cases. There are many areas where automation can augment employees to reduce fatigue, stress, and mundane or error-prone tasks from a process. The truth is that some tasks aren’t a good fit for people. Eliminating non-value-added tasks leaves retained employees to focus on higher-value activities.

Examples of automation augmentation include paper elimination, data entry, or providing recommendations at the edge to operators from data gathered by equipment, environment, and business systems. These are a mix of monotonous tasks no employee really enjoys, along with data not typically available. Freed of boredom and empowered with meaningful insight, these valued employees can improve how machines operate through adjustments, observation, or experience to ensure their process area delivers better results for the company. And that’s good for business and employees.

People matter. Through augmentation, we can see a future where automation and valued employees co-exist by outfitting low-value positions with automation or augmenting existing roles with job aids. This action allows us to take those workers who choose to stay and invest and reskill them for new roles in the company while still meeting corporate goals and offsetting the broader workforce challenges.

Autonomous Workforce

On the other hand, if businesses continue to experience increasing no-show rates as well as labor churn, at some point, organizations must discern how to remain operational. Some manufacturers are already reaching a point where they must choose—wait to hire or pursue automation.

Automation doesn’t only mean robots. While robotics is always an option for the proper application, most manufacturers are full of waste in manual processes from traceability collection, measurements, data entry, handoffs, and workflow mired down in manual transactions. Such transactions continue to be impacted by absenteeism or labor shortages, drive down production, and affect operational resiliancy. 

For those companies that choose automation, there exist many practical options available to start the journey.

  • Process and Regulatory Control: Almost all factories require process controls for safety, proper operation, and quality. For some manufacturers, there are regulatory, internal compliance, or corporate policies. Today, many options exist to collect real-time data and compute to ensure process compliance. Combine monitoring with decisions at the edge; factories can quickly identify unsafe work conditions, quality defect precursors, drift in process controls, or even detect and remediate an event that would trigger an audit or regulatory risk. 
  • Maintenance Management: All organizations have some form of machine or facility maintenance, including building equipment, HVAC, and production equipment that must be monitored and maintained. Maintenance inspections and updating business systems with machine status can be laborious and people-dependent. The typical maintenance monitoring tasks can be fully automated by connecting and integrating with maintenance software, including proactive action, maintenance ticket creation, and even some emergency actions like machine shutdown.
  • Quality Inspection: Employees are involved in all sorts of visual inspections. Today’s edge computing and machine visions combined with software are capable of many visual inspection use cases leading to improved defect detection, quality, and speed. Machine vision provides decision-making to fully replace a manual inspection or combine with expert employees to extend their scale and effectiveness across multiple work cells. 
  • Setup and Configuration: Yes, even robotics can be more effectively integrated into existing processes to augment or address workforce gaps. Take a largely manual factory work cell with a simple machine load/unload scenario. Many operations with CNCs, automated production lines, or other machines require employees to retrieve parts, load a machine, review the work order for job-specific details, load a configuration file, wait for the machine to process, and then unload the machine. Suppose your organization can no longer hire skilled workers to operate this work center. In that case, this is an example where decisions at the edge, combined with integration and automation, can allow a work cell such as this to become fully autonomous.

Agility Is Key

The ability to ingest data and camera feeds from any device in the factory and combine it with robust and scalable compute offerings means companies can solve a wide range of business challenges, with or without employees. And in a world with labor shortages, high turnover, and increasing business costs, making decisions at the edge implies resiliency, digitally lean platforms that systematically improve over time, and solutions that empower companies to advance their corporate goals.

Whatever business headwinds your company faces, automation and decision-making at the edge are increasingly common. Connection’s Manufacturing Practice has a range of practical solutions to help your business augment employees, manage workforce gaps, break down data silos, and improve productivity.

To learn more about Connection’s Manufacturing Practice or to discuss the automation and edge decision capabilities highlighted in this article, contact one of our manufacturing specialists today

TechSperience Episode 98: How TIDC Is... Nov 29, 2021 Connection In the unprecedented COVID era, the Connection Technology Integration and Distribution Center (TIDC) is still making things happen and doing more with less. Here’s how they are mitigating the current constraints on labor, supply chain challenges, and the COVID-19 delta variant.

Host: James Hilliard

Guest: Steven L. Crowther, VP of the Technology Integration and Distribution Center

Guest: John Milburn, Sr. Director of TIDC Operations

Show Notes

[0:40] Introduction of guests

[1:00] What are the biggest changes in customer demand?

[2:58] The Amazon effect and customers wanting goods sooner

[4:55] What were some of the things Connection did to adjust to changing customer demands?

[7:22] Where do we stand now with the work disruption that COVID-19 brought on 18 months ago?

[9:33] How can customers rely on Connection to get gear into end-user hands?

[10:32] What has been the change in the labor force and the equipment they need?

[11:35] What impact did the labor shortage have on customers’ needs for technology?

[13:07] What are some of the top IT requests due to the labor shortage?

[15:28] How can customers get insight through the TIDC about current technology offerings?

[16:44] Is the labor shortage crisis easing up?

[18:40] What should organizations be planning for in early 2022 to make sure they get the right gear as more people rejoin the workforce?

[19:38] Where do we currently sit with supply chain constraints?

[24:30] Are we having to introduce customers to new products due to supply chain constraints on their preferred products?

[25:37] When will the supply shortage end?

[26:00] What should we be thinking about to stay ahead of supply chain issues? [27:30] Are there certain technology products that you think might be limited in the coming months?

We Are Now an MSP for Microsoft 365 Nov 23, 2021 Carrie Alicata Recently, Connection introduced our Managed Services offering for Microsoft 365 to complement our Azure Managed Services Provider (MSP) offering—an event I have been eagerly anticipating for some time. In fact, leading up to the announcement, I was working very closely with a small non-profit that had no established IT person, let alone an IT department, and I couldn’t help but think that this customer would find great value in our managed services.

You might wonder what managed services are in the Microsoft 365 space, what the value is to these services, and who would benefit from them most.

COVID-19 propelled our world into a hybrid model. Shopping online became more relevant than ever before, restaurants offered more take-out, and people found gig jobs based heavily in new technology. With all these changes, Teams and Microsoft 365 took center stage in providing solutions for employees everywhere to work from anywhere. The applications in Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, Power Apps, and third-party apps that you connect to through your Microsoft 365 subscription need to be configured to your specific business for your employees. You need security and compliance tools but might not have the skills or resources—not to mention time—to keep everything running smoothly. If you find yourself struggling to manage your IT environment in this new hybrid era, you might need a skilled managed services provider on your side.

Why Connection?

As a managed services provider, we have a team of experts who are available 24x7 to help deploy, monitor, and secure your modern workplace environment to make sure you are taking advantage of all the features of your subscription purchases, while keeping an eye on your environment to make sure that any threats or risks are identified, addressed, and eradicated as quickly as possible.

Our team is available to answer questions and handle any issues that arise, regardless of the hour or day of the week. We can assist with setting up a new environment and assigning licenses to users, configuring the specific settings you want for different users or user groups, and taking full advantage of the communication and collaboration tools within Microsoft Teams. We can also set data retention policies as well as manage Intune device management policies.  

Could I Benefit from Connection’s Managed Services for Microsoft 365?

Any customer could benefit, but just how these services would make a difference depends on the size and scope of your environment and what your goals are. A small customer like the one I was working with that might be operating with one person managing the entire technological infrastructure would benefit insofar as they would have a team behind them to help guide them through securing and personalizing their environment for their individual needs. This customer may be new to the cloud or could use some guidance, suggestions, or even just an extra hand with the day-to-day tasks.

A mid-sized or larger customer could also find value in having the mundane tasks handled elsewhere so they can focus their energy on more important tasks and projects to further their business goals rather than getting caught in the weeds of monitoring for viruses, malware, or even internal policy violations that put their company’s data at risk.

With all the news of bad actors today, it can’t hurt to have a trusted team by your side to keep your company secure while you sleep.

If you’re interested in learning more, please reach out to your Connection Account Manager today.

How You Can Bridge the Cloud Skills Gap Nov 18, 2021 Eric Johnson Has uncertainty brought on by the pandemic changed the way your company works? This unplanned shift has revealed the gaps that many companies have in cloud technology and has therefore accelerated cloud adoption. Due to continuing uncertainty, more organizations are now charting new courses for their journey toward cloud computing and digital transformation. In fact, just a few months into the pandemic, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that the company had seen two years of digital transformation in two months.

This skyrocketing demand for cloud solutions and services has exposed a skills gap. Companies heading full-speed to the cloud are struggling to find the bandwidth—as well as the necessary knowledge—to keep up with quickly evolving demands. Organizations are looking everywhere for IT staff skilled in cloud computing, cybersecurity, and data management.

Why Is the Cloud Skills Gap Conversation So Important Now?

Lack of in-house cloud skills and losing valuable skilled talent due the ongoing reshuffling in the job market are the top reasons that many of my customers are struggling to adopt cloud in an effective way. IT talent shortage is a big concern for most corporations, as the 2020 Challenges in Cloud Transformation survey found that 86% of respondents believe their lack of in-house skill will slow down cloud projects. If you’re unable to implement cloud solutions effectively, you could actually be spending more money than you need to—it’s estimated that companies overall have lost $258 million in the past year due to the slow pace of adoption.

How to Address the Problem

There are a few ways to address this gap. You can train your existing staff—offer incentives to get certified in these modern technologies. Microsoft, AWS, and Google offer various certifications that encompass numerous skill paths—and Connection has services that can help you deploy certification training at your organization.  

An Alternative to In-house Skilling

While enabling your IT staff to earn more certifications is a good thing, it’s hard to keep up with cloud technology’s rate of change. As soon as your team is certified for the latest and greatest, something new is already taking over. Hiring employees who are already certified is also a good idea in theory—but usually, they’re in such high demand that you end up spending too much time on a candidate search. To complement your existing team’s new knowledge—and to help prevent this game of infinite catchup—you might find it effective to work with a third party who can implement and manage new cloud solutions for you.

How Connection Can Help

Our cloud expertise covers the most in-demand cloud services such as, cloud advisory, migration, and managed services. We also have solutions for all the major cloud platforms, including Microsoft 365 and Azure. So start closing that skills gap today. Talk to one of our Account Managers to learn how we can help simplify your cloud journey.

Robots in Healthcare Nov 17, 2021 Dr Keith Nelson Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, mankind has been dreaming of creating a machine replica of a human in the quest for both loyal assistance with a variety of activities and for companionship. Reflections of this pursuit in popular culture have flooded movie and TV screens over the years in a myriad of forms including Robby the Robot (Twilight Zone), the Lost in Space Robot (Danger, Will Robinson!), Data (Star Trek), C-3PO, the Terminator and the titillating Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina. Meanwhile, in the real world, non-humanoid machines, like the Roomba vacuum and delivery drones, have been steadily developed, mostly to perform singular functions, and have created a category distinction between human-like androids and robots assuming an alternate, nonanthropomorphic form.

A robot is defined as a type of automated machine that can execute specific tasks with little or no human intervention and with speed and precision. To wit, robots can be guided by an external control device, or be completely autonomous. It is the latter which is the stuff of dreams (and nightmares) and is the canvas upon which to develop a functional evolution from simplistic Boolean and AI program routines to the holy grail of sentience and the ability to learn and to evolve.

Robots have a multitude of potential applications that transcend nearly every business vertical. Most, as defined above, are programmed to perform specific tasks with great precision – case in point, the industrial robots seen in factory production lines. Hence, there are many different types of robots and, based on the task(s) that a robot is designed to perform, Gartner segments them into four (4) categories: Personal, Smart, Logistic and Industrial. I have taken the liberty of adding a sometimes-overlapping 5th category, Humanoid, to the mix. Let’s review these.

Types of Robots

Personal Robots

A personal robot is a robot that has been designed and created to be used by an individual. It will assist the user in their daily life and tasks, help in family life, do some repetitive tasks around the house or, in some cases, become a daily companion. Personal robots perform tasks autonomously based on given rules or algorithms.  Examples of vendors and products in this category are: Moxie from Embodied, Robo Temi, and Pepper by SoftBank Robotics.

Smart Robots

A smart robot is a robot that works autonomously in the physical world, learning in short-term intervals from human-supervised training and demonstrations or by their supervised experiences on the job. They sense environmental conditions, recognize and solve problems and can work alongside people (for example, in workspaces, as hospital/surgical robots, or in retail or warehouses). Hence, they are sometimes called “cobots” (collaborative robots). Smart robots don’t require complex and precise programming. Instead, smart robots can be trained by showing them the movements required to complete a task.  Examples of vendors and products in this category are: SoftBank Robotics’ Whiz or the aforementioned Pepper, LG’s CLOi line up (including PorterBot for the airport, ServeBot for hotels, and GuideBot and CartBots for the store and market).

Logistic Robots

A logistic robot is a smart robot designed for work in a warehouse or logistics facilities, often alongside people.  Examples of vendors and products in this category are: Geek+, Locus Robotics, XYZ Robotics.

Industrial Robots

An industrial robot is a robot used for manufacturing and requires complex and precise programming. They are often used to perform repetitive or dangerous tasks and sometimes placed in cages (as they don’t have enough sensory capabilities to work along with humans). For the purpose of this discussion, industrial robots also include agriculture robots.  Examples of vendors and products in this category are: FANUC, Motoman Robotics, Kawasaki.

Humanoid and Anthropomorphic Robots

Humanoid and anthropomorphic robots are those with a body shape built to resemble the human or particular animal body in form and/or function. This represents a crossover category of the above listed segments. Great examples are the Boston Dynamics (Dancing) Atlas and Spot, Honda’s Asimo and the UBTECH Walker-X.

There are seemingly limitless potential applications for robot technology within the boundaries of current technology, which is driving a burgeoning business sector and frenetic research and development activity. That said, one of the biggest obstacles to the wholesale adoption of robotics today is cost.

Some Examples of Diverse Robot Types and Uses

  • Autonomous Vehicles and Drones (civilian and military)
  • Bots (virtual)
  • Surgical Robots (e.g. DaVinci, Medtronic Hugo)
  • Manufacturing/Assembly
  • Warehouse Inventory Management (pick and pack; replace human-piloted forklift transport and conveyor belts)
  • Delivery (FedEx/UPS, Walmart, Amazon, Domino’s)
  • Lab Research
  • Bomb Defusing
  • Fire Fighting

Robots for the Healthcare Theater

Given the considerable breadth, diversity and expanding potential of the robotic technology landscape, I thought it would be worthwhile to highlight a few current use cases specific to the healthcare sector.

Clinical Use Cases

  • Patient Rounds (Telemedicine) – Examples: InTouch Health (Vita), AVA Robotics, Double Robotics, VGo. Patients respond enthusiastically to the robot interactive experience, and the technology gives providers workflow flexibility, and allows for both more frequent check-ins with the patient and the mitigation of travel stress.
  • Robotic Surgery – Examples: The aforementioned Intuitive Surgical DaVinci Robot, Medtronic Hugo. One can envision a future where surgeries are performed by a remote expert surgeon working in conjunction with a local surgical support team.
  • Restricted Zone Coverage (e.g. area with infection, toxic agent or radiation exposure). This is particularly compelling in an epidemic or pandemic situation.

Operational/Administrative Use Cases

  • Room Sanitization (disinfecting and cleaning) – Examples: CIRQ+, Ava Robotics, Xenex. There are three types of cleaning robots:
    • UVC – Sterilizing with UV light. Must avoid human skin and eye exposure. Only sterilizes what it can see (projected line of sight).
    • Fogging – Creates a wet mist in the air. Must wait 30 minutes before people are allowed into the treated space to avoid inhalation of the disinfectant. Uneven surface coverage (cleaning agent stays where it lands). Used extensively by airlines.
    • Electrostatic Spraying – Uses an electrode that introduces a positive electric charge to the disinfectant solution, yielding extensive and creeping surface coverage, especially in hard-to-reach areas. Recommended by the CDC. Low moisture. Disinfectant agnostic. Treatment area almost immediately available to occupants.
  • Visitor Assistance (delivering information, wayfinding)
  • Supplies/Food/Beverage/Medication/Linens Delivery (hospitals) – Example TUG Robot

Affordability Factor

The cost of purchasing a robot depends upon the type of machine and the level of sophistication of the technology that is needed to perform a desired function. On the higher end, a fully autonomous robot that performs patient rounds can be purchased in the range of $32,000 to $80,000, but there are leasing programs that start at around $1,000/month.  On the low end, the Double Robotics self-driving, semi-autonomous robot with object avoidance technology sells for $4,000, making it affordable for nearly any telepresence scenario including patient rounding, hospital visitor assistance, and student proxy presence in a medical school classroom.

At the end of the day, robots clearly represent an extremely promising supportive technology to enhance the delivery of healthcare.  From an aggregate category perspective, robotics most certainly addresses the widely adopted healthcare Quadruple Aim of improving the patient experience, improving the provider experience, lowering costs and improving patient outcomes. As with most technologies, new use cases will emerge over time, driving greater innovation to meet those challenges. I would argue that the biggest bang for the buck and the majority adoption trigger will be the development of multifunctional robots that allow for the maximization of their use, thereby lowering the investment threshold. But then again, how can you put a price on Ah-nold?

Edge to Cloud: How Do We Get There from Here? Nov 11, 2021 Ryan Spurr In industrial automation, we spend a lot of time focused on connecting things at the edge and doing something useful with data. This might include machine-to-machine automation, edge decision making, or passing data to business systems (think CMMS, ERP, and MES). In my last blog, I discussed data acquisition and protocol management, the integration of data with other components, and the challenges of connecting a diverse range of things.

Let's be honest: Connecting machines across east-west traffic on an industrial network is one thing. But what about connecting almost anything across domains and corporate infrastructure from the customer with the cloud?

Besides the immediate obstacles that cross your mind, there are also some outstanding reasons to connect to the cloud. First, connecting sensors, machines, and systems in the factory helps to instrument end-to-end manufacturing processes. Connecting those same things to modern cloud services unlocks a whole range of capabilities and can lead to competitive advantages. Second, embedding edge compute and connectivity into finished goods creates new business models for manufacturers. The cloud is full of modern offerings to build a brand new client service on top of including software as a service and cloud infrastructure. In fact, the majority of cutting-edge business system platforms are first offered in the cloud, and then eventually on-premises, if at all. Changes in cloud capabilities and availability are what has driven manufacturing to become the #1 spending industry for public cloud offerings.

Connecting things to the cloud is just the beginning. We also must aim to understand why we’d invest in these technologies. What problems are we trying to solve? What stakeholders are involved? How will we measure success? It’s important to understand what corporate goals your company seeks to achieve and how these solutions solve a multitude of business challenges, or uncover new growth opportunities.

Once we understand how to improve process or meet corporate objectives, connecting things to the cloud has never been easier. There are a wide range of enabling technologies—from data acquisition and edge hardware, software with vast driver and protocol libraries to support the complexities of operational or fielded devices, and automation that easily integrates with modern platforms, including the top cloud services like AWS, Azure, GCP, and more. These technologies make the task of interconnecting anything easier and set a foundation that allows your manufacturing business to address a wide range of existing and future pains points. Because of these technologies, the business potential (most importantly, return on investment) is much higher than the initial use case.

Of course, there are other great reasons to invest and connect data, and integrate with cloud, besides access to modern processes, scalable and resilient global resources, or speed to value. On the operational side, other benefits might include gaining access to high performance computing, digital twins, scalable AI solutions, and business systems designed from the ground up to integrate with modern data and IoT protocols—making digital process integration more of a reality.

Whatever your organization’s interest in the cloud, it’s clear that manufacturers are adopting cloud solutions to improve operational excellence or to transform customer experience. Connecting and integrating all things at the edge to the cloud is the next practical step to deliver information to a diverse range of stakeholders. By leveraging modern technologies, we can connect all things that matter across the value stream, and leverage cloud to bring that data to life.

You don’t have to go it alone! Connection’s Manufacturing Practice can help you connect, acquire, integrate, and use industrial data to improve visibility, automate processes across complex infrastructures, and achieve new business outcomes. Let our team work with your experts on the right technology stack and software to integrate your industrial operations with cloud.

To learn more about technologies and services that connect the edge to the cloud, contact one of our manufacturing specialists today!

These Teams Tips Will Change the Way You Work Nov 09, 2021 Nick James With 145 million daily active users, Microsoft Teams has become an integral part of most companies. You may be a frequent user of Teams, but are you using it to its full potential? As a workplace productivity hub, Teams can help you achieve everyday tasks in less time. If you are new to Teams, the apps may be overwhelming and confusing. Here are some tips and tricks to improve your efficiency.

Shortcuts for Everyday Tasks

  • Go to Search: Ctrl + E
  • Turn your camera off: Ctrl+Shift+O
  • Mute yourself: CTRL+Shift+Spacebar
  • Background blur: Ctrl+Shift+P
  • Zoom: Ctrl+= to zoom in or Ctrl+- to zoom out
  • Go to your files: Ctrl+6

How to Translate Messages from One Language to Another

You can translate messages to your base language in Microsoft Teams on a message-by-message basis. Next to the specific message you want to translate, simply click the ellipsis button and select Translate.

How to Use “Do Not Disturb” to Finish Your Projects in Ninja Mode

When trying to hit a deadline for a project in ninja mode, constant pings can be a productivity killer. The Do Not Disturb option is just what you need. To turn on Do Not Disturb, click your profile icon in Teams and set your status to Do Not Disturb. If you want to make sure you don’t miss any important messages from your boss when you’re in Ninja mode, select:

  1. The 3-button ellipsis next to your profile picture
  2. Settings
  3. Privacy
  4. Manage Priority Access

How to Get Your Message Noticed When People Are Busy

I hesitate to post this tip, so use it sparingly and ONLY if the message is truly urgent! To send an Urgent Message Notification, look below the text compose box, and you’ll be able to check Urgent or Important to grab the recipient’s attention.

If you mark a message as urgent, the recipient will get it every two minutes for 20 minutes, which makes it difficult ignore, but could also make an enemy. Hence, my suggestion is to use this option thoughtfully.

How to Run Meetings Like a Boss

Meeting Notes: You can take notes directly from the meeting screen instead of having to go back and forth between different programs. The meeting notes will create a panel on the side for taking down meeting notes. To select Meeting Notes in Teams:

  1. Select the More Options ellipsis button once the meeting has started
  2. Start Taking Meeting Notes

Together Mode: Together Mode places all your meeting participants together in a shared background, such as an auditorium. To select Together Mode:

  1. Go to the Settings tab after selecting your profile.
  2. Check the Turn on new meeting experience option.
  3. Start a video call in Microsoft Teams with five people or more.
  4. Select the three dots while you are on the call and then select Together Mode.

Whiteboard: Whiteboarding has to be enabled to use it in Teams, but once it is, it’s a great way to interact remotely. I use it when drawing out technological concepts for clients when scoping calls to make sure we’re on the same page, and to diagram architectural concepts. To enable Whiteboard in Teams:

  1. Select Share
  2. On the right-hand side  of the screen, select Whiteboard

Conduct Polls: When you need your team’s help to make a decision, you can now survey a meeting chat. Microsoft Forms allows multiple answers and anonymous polls too. You can also conduct surveys on channels and one-to-one chats. To conduct polls:

  1. Select FORMS under the message box (you may have to click the ellipsis)
  2. Create your poll and type your question and the answer choices
  3. Select your options for multiple choices, share results automatically, and keep the poll anonymous

I hope some of these tips and tricks are helpful and improve your Microsoft Teams experience. As a Microsoft partner, Connection takes pride in helping companies deploy and configure Microsoft Teams. In addition to deployment and licensing optimization services, we now offer Teams workshops to help companies achieve long-term success with Teams. These are free workshops for eligible customers. Check out our workshop information, and let us know if you are interested.

Microsoft Ignite 2021: Top Announcements and... Nov 04, 2021 Sreeraj Vasukuttan This year’s Microsoft Ignite conference happened this week, from November 2–4. I was really looking forward to the session from Scott Guthrie called Innovate Anywhere From Multicloud to Edge, as well as a presentation about Power Platform. But after attending many of the sessions, I must admit that the Microsoft 365 session, Empower Everyone for a New World of Hybrid Work by Jared Spataro, became my favorite. This is where groundbreaking additions to Microsoft 365, such as Microsoft Loop and Context IQ, were announced.

I am excited to share some of the top announcements and some new insights from this year’s Ignite. Read on!

Microsoft Loop, Context AI, and Mesh

Microsoft Loop is the new collaboration app coming to Microsoft 365 that is built on top of Microsoft’s Fluid framework for document collaboration. It’s hard to describe the utility of Microsoft Loop from the videos and blogs Microsoft shared around it yesterday. But if you take a “don’t try to understand it—feel it” approach, I may say it almost feels like a unicorn in your office. The collaboration capabilities that Loop brings to your table could indeed be groundbreaking. Like Jared Spataro said, modern worker collaboration is the new atomic unit of collaboration in the digital age—akin to the assembly line in the industrial age. Loop sets the stage to help the modern workers to become the new atomic unit of production. Loop consists of workspaces, pages, and components. Loop components can be added to a Teams chat or an email, but it’s all tied to the Loop app in the background. I can’t wait to tell my colleagues, “Let’s cancel that document collaboration meeting; I will meet you in the Loop.” 

In addition to Microsoft Loop, Microsoft will bring Context IQ to Microsoft Editor. As Jared Spataro describes, Context IQ takes AI-based suggestions for all your writing in Microsoft 365 to the next level. It can not only predict your words but also suggest documents and email of collaborators in real-time. This would save you a ton of time every day searching for documents and email addressess. In essence, Context IQ will champion the interconnectedness of your Microsoft experience. 

Microsoft Mesh will be fully available for Teams later this year. Microsoft Mesh is a brainchild of Microsoft’s visionary technical fellow Alex Kipman, who is also behind Microsoft’s HoloLens. Mesh is built on top of Azure, and with it you can realize virtual workspaces in Teams, but its possibilities are not limited to Teams. Mesh supports HoloLens and many other devices of different form factors. 

Microsoft Viva Suite Is Now Fully Ready for You

In addition to the fantastic Microsoft 365 announcement like Loop, Context IQ, and Mesh, Microsoft made a follow-up announcement for Viva at Ignite. Microsoft Viva, Microsoft’s new employee experience platform, is now fully available for you with all its components—Viva Connections, Viva Learning, Viva Insight, and Viva Topics. Microsoft Viva is also now available as a Viva suite. 

What Does This All Mean for Your Hybrid Work Plans?

Microsoft 365, with Teams at its center, is growing as a highly integrated yet elegant framework that could transform work and employee experience to a new level. You may not find this level of integration in any of the workspace software out there. But Microsoft 365 is still only the building block for your success. It’s up to you to use it to its full advantage. This is where Microsoft’s “the art of possible” approach run through partners like us will play a massive role in your success. Connection offers Microsoft 365 workshops that will help you realize your full potential with Microsoft 365. 

We are adding new workshops to our workshop lineup every month. Microsoft will pay you for these workshops if you meet their eligibility criteria. Reach out to our Account Managers to learn more.

Read Microsoft’s Ignite Book of News for Ignite news from other areas like Azure, Dynamics 356, and Power Platform. 

Automate Your Way to a Competitive Advantage Nov 04, 2021 Ryan Spurr Connecting and integrating machines is not an easy task in manufacturing. The heterogeneous nature of all the things contributing to manufacturing processes is staggering. Typically, systems are made up of a wide range of legacy equipment, operating systems, and industrial protocols, and cobbled together by generations of engineering and M&A. So how do manufacturers connect and integrate such a complex landscape? How do organizations speed toward high-value levers associated with a smart factory and unlock new productivity, quality, and cost management forms?

In our previous blog about process instrumentation, we discussed the role of sensors and integrating those into the business. Unlike modern sensors—most of which are built atop newer technologies and leverage modern protocols native to business systems, middleware, and cloud platforms—manufacturing is a wash of legacy industrial machinery with most not capable of connecting and integrating with much of anything.

And let’s be honest—most of these machines are older and limited in their ability to connect and integrate with modern IT and cloud infrastructure. These machines are usually comprised of robots; industrial control systems; third-party leased equipment; building management systems controlling the environmental conditions of a plant, tools, pumps, CNCs; and one-off specialty machines designed in-house to serve a unique purpose.

Further complicating an operational team’s efforts, most machines represent a significant cybersecurity risk to the typical manufacturing organization. Ultimately, technical complications and business risks result in an operational environment usually bifurcated with only select machines integrated into the balance of the business. This results in a lack of visibility, as well as limited data collection and automation against key portions of plant processes and business operations. It limits the organization’s ability to integrate with business systems like ERP or MES, next-generation cloud services, and more exciting solutions like artificial intelligence or machine learning. 

It’s this obstacle of connecting and integrating that prevents business advancement and digital transformation. For older manufacturers with built-up technical debt, the problem is only more profound. Up against startups or newer firms built from the ground up, older firms find themselves competing with newer machines, modern processes, and tight integration with current business systems. All of this makes these organizations more efficient—and that means more competitive and able to deliver a better customer experience.

Connecting and integrating machines requires an entirely different approach, but it’s not impossible and doesn’t have to be complicated. Modern software and hardware solutions exist to easily connect the unconnectable, leading to a “no machine left behind” strategy that allows organizations to connect even the oldest devices capable of basic I/O or serial connections, as well as leveraging modern industrial devices standards and protocols. 

Because of these technologies, manufacturers can now connect almost anything in their operational tech estate, creating new ways to read and write machine data to automate factory operations. This allows manufacturers (even those with high technical debt) to quickly connect their operational equipment with SCADA, business systems, cloud services, business intelligence and reporting, AI/ML platforms, and even automate between machines. Most organizations start with a single bounded challenge in their plants. Still, it’s easy to see how this capability can quickly become a powerful change agent to a manufacturer’s industrial transformation objectives and lead to long-term operational excellence.

It’s also important to point out that this technology has no physical boundaries. Let’s face it: our companies are radically changing. We often focus only on the machines that exist in the typical four walls of factories, warehouses, research labs, and office buildings. Machines are also present in smart products, remote facilities, vehicle fleets, and even under the possession of customers. Machines outside the four walls represent key business processes worth connecting, integrating, and optimizing. The same solutions that allow manufacturers to transform the typical operational equipment can also be leveraged to connect outside of a facility to drive improved productivity and customer experience, and to deliver new business models to drive top-line revenue growth.

Whatever your business objectives, most manufacturers are dealing with workforce shortages, increased operational costs, and seeking more resilient solutions to drive productivity in a challenging economy. At some point, organizations must decide how best to work through lack of skilled talent and how best to utilize their employees. Consider automation as one option to augment your workforce, eliminate error-prone non-value-added activities and defect escapes, and deliver improved operations that help your business gain and sustain a competitive advantage.

Want to learn more about how Connection advises clients on these topics, and the outstanding solutions we have available to digitally transform your operations? Contact one of our manufacturing specialists today.

A Day in the Life of a Connection Account... Nov 02, 2021 Katie Hallowell What does an Account Manager do?

An Account Manager is a project manager—a time management task master! Someone who builds relationships with clients by understanding their business strategy—not just from a technology standpoint but holistically. Asking questions to better understand a customer, their role, and their company allows Account Managers to establish a mutual trust while supporting them with tech solutions as they grow. We are a true partner and extension of our customers’ IT team.

What does a typical day for an Account Manager at Connection look like? 

The time I spend on any/all of these tasks of course varies by day, but typically I’m moving between tasks such as:

  • Checking on orders/backlog
  • Updating cases to get things moving
  • Conducting both internal and external calls (some are hour-long meetings with existing clients or 5-minute prospecting calls to new potential clients
  • Attending trainings on new tech
  • Collaborating with resources
  • Strategizing with vendor partners

All day, I’m constantly learning and growing because technology solution selling is never stagnant.

How did you become an Account Manager? What attracted you to this job? 

My career background is varied and none of it includes being in sales (except a couple part time retail jobs in my early 20s). Understating that technology is at the forefront of everything, I made a career change. It was a jump into something new, and I’m glad I did it. What attracted me to the job is my interest in staying current and that technology never stands still—plus, this position gives you the opportunity to develop your unique style into your own book of business. Most importantly, as you grow this business you do have the support of Connection behind you, plus the resources that come with the position.

What do you feel is the key skill or attribute needed to succeed in your role?

My well-roundedness. My natural curiosity of the world—always having a willingness to learn and having a competitive nature—mostly with myself. I believe having that natural competitiveness along with the willingness to keep learning and adapting really helps in sales. I think another attribute is my general friendliness, passion for helping others, and having a varied work experience. I do have 10 years of experience in the biomedical field in positions, ranging from pre-clinical tech, to analyst—to telephony admin—and more.

What is your favorite part of the job?

Relationships—the foundation of every transaction! Building relationships with peers at Connection, vendor partners, clients of course, management, coaches, training staff, specialists, solution architects, and all the awesome people who support us logistically daily in operations—we cannot do this job without them! A business is not one person—it is a team sport!

What’s the best part about working at Connection?

It’s not just a company, you are part of a community—embrace it! Truth be told, this position is not easy and comes with its challenges, but it also comes with great satisfaction. Any task in life worth doing has its challenges (I’ve been through many challenges in every role I’ve held elsewhere, but not every company has the sort of support I have found here). The differentiator at Connection is that people don’t just say they care—they show they care by being accessible. As people grow here, they work to support those after them. The tenure here is proof. The sense of being part of a technology revolution which is helping companies overcome obstacles—especially in these times— that is what drives me!

It’s Time for Your School to Embrace... Oct 29, 2021 Pam Aulakh 2020 brought many challenges to learning, and now districts across the country are working to address what has been termed “learning loss”—or the term I prefer “unfinished learning.” Some of the funding that schools are using to help support these programs include ESSER funds from the CARES and ARP Acts. We are seeing a trend where more schools are adopting an adaptive curriculum and addressing student engagement with STEM programs. Some of this is due to the requirements behind the ARP ESSER funds, but most of it is because schools recognize the need to prepare students for their future, which includes globally competitive markets based on technology.

Science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) are grouped together to create powerful learning opportunities where students have the chance to uncover their interests and explore ideas that may not come out of traditional, single subject curriculum. Sometimes, STEAM is misunderstood to be its own separate subject, but connecting these subjects encourages educators to integrate other disciplines into lessons and allow students the opportunity to apply learning in new and creative ways. Consider a lesson on money. This lesson could easily have science, technology, and engineering incorporated by extending the lesson to include a hands-on practical learning experience. The extension could be asking students to build a structure with materials that have a cost associated with them. It could be constrained to certain dimensions and required to hold a specific amount of weight within a cost budget. At the end of the lesson, students could create a “shark tank” type of media presentation to convince investors to support their project.

Not every lesson or STEAM engagement should be scripted. A true STEAM environment nurtures curiosity, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, communication, and citizenship. STEAM environments allow for movement, conversation, respectful disagreements, and collaborative support of ideas. I’ve had a lot of engagements with senior executives at some of the world’s largest engineering firms and asked them what they are looking for in their future workforce. While they all want their employees to have technical skills, they were very clear that they are looking for employees that are creative, understand how to work with people, and can help to create a culture of innovation and collaboration amongst peers. STEAM learning isn’t a trend, and it isn’t going away. If you are looking for what types of STEAM learning tools to add to your lessons, start with adapting one lesson you already teach and extend it to include STEAM. When you are ready to move beyond that and incorporate other disciplines such as computer science, look for products that include a robust curriculum. Most importantly, know that it’s okay if you aren’t an expert on things like coding and robotics. Be honest with your students and allow your students to be the functional experts while you remain the facilitative expert.

Why Is BCDR Big Now? Get Our Expert Perspective. Oct 26, 2021 Bonnie Garay When thinking about different topics to write about, I saw Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BCDR) and knew that was the topic for me. You may be asking yourself: Why is a Microsoft Solution Specialist excited to write about BCDR, and how does Microsoft Licensing come into play? Let me start by bringing you back in time to my first career as a branch sales manager for a consumer lending company in the early 2000s. This is when we still had (gasp!) paper files in filing cabinets, typewriters, and kept original copies on location. One of the most perplexing company policies I had to follow was maintaining a 3-ring binder with the office’s Disaster Recovery Plan. It was confusing to me that we had to keep it in the office because it had confidential information, but would be needed if the office couldn’t operate. In the event there was a fire, flood, or other disaster that we physically couldn’t reach the binder, we would be out of luck—which I thought was absolutely bizarre. As a workaround, I saved the important phone numbers in my flip-phone and made sure my employees had both mine and our district manager’s numbers at home. My biggest concern at that time was about natural disasters.

Fast forward to 2021, and the way in which companies conduct business has changed drastically, becoming more and more complex and dependent upon technology. This also means companies not only have to plan for business continuity after natural disasters but also cybersecurity threats, such as malware and ransomware attacks. In his blog post, 15+ Scary Data Loss Statics to Keep in Mind in 2021, Branko K. says that 40–60% of small businesses won’t survive a data loss. He also notes that the financial costs of downtime is roughly $4,500 per minute. Not only do you need to be able to recover data, but you also need to recover your applications that you use to run your business.

How to Stay On the Right Side of that Statistic?

  • Step 1: Have an actionable BCDR plan written out
  • Step 2: Be able to execute that plan
  • Step 3: Test that plan

This appears to be pretty simple and straightforward, right? Nope! That is why a Microsoft Solution Specialist who works for Connection is writing about BCDR. Microsoft has put so much effort and resources into their security offerings, as well as Azure Backup and Azure Site Recovery, to ensure businesses don’t succumb to attacks.

What is right for your business? Where do you start? What is RPO and RTO? Do you have a plan already? When was the last time it was tested? Here at Connection, we have certified security, cloud, and licensing experts to assist in your journey, no matter where you are along the path.

Let’s work together today to make sure your organization is on the right side of the 40–60% statistic and is one of the companies that stays open after a business disaster.

Three Simple Steps to Protect Your Data from... Oct 22, 2021 Penny Conway Over the past few years, your inboxes, social media feeds, and targeted Web banners have been filled with warnings of cyberattacks. Chances are your IT department has piled on the security subscriptions on the network and devices in the name of zero-day attacks. What many IT leaders may be underestimating though, is the potential threat with unfettered access that may have been on the last Microsoft Teams meeting with them.  

In 2008, an employee of an architectural firm in Florida walked into her office one night and erased 7 years of worth of blueprints and drawings—worth $2.5 million. The reason: she thought the company was trying to replace her (they weren’t, oops!). 

In May of 2021, a part time employee for a New York Credit Union deleted roughly 21.3GB of data—including files and directories. The reason: she was fired and two days later her access still wasn’t revoked by the IT support firm.

The truth is, data loss isn’t always about protecting yourself from malicious outside attacks. The threat could be internal, and not even be malicious like the examples above. Every day, millions of employees are sitting in their homes, accessing and generating new company data in Excel, Word, or PowerPoint and sharing it all through tools like Outlook and Teams. Their kids, spouses, crazy uncles—even the family dog—are just a few mouse clicks away from accidentally deleting something important. Sure, you could rely on the Recycle Bin for immediate restoration, but what about a loss that goes unnoticed beyond 30 days? Microsoft’s shared responsibility matrix clearly lays it out. You are responsible for your data. Consider taking these easy steps to protect it.

  1. Take account of your data sources—like Office 365—and have at least two additional copies of the data, plus the original.
  2. Keep that data on two different media types. One great idea is to have a copy of that data moved into Azure or another cloud platform.
  3. Leverage a turn-key solution (like Veeam Backup for Office 365) when deploying Office 365  that allows you to seamlessly move the data back and forth—or access when you have a data loss.

As your partner, we can help you with backing up your data with professional one-time services or ongoing managed services. With your data growing rapidly by the day— don’t wait for something to happen to form a plan.

Process Instrumentation Has Never Been More... Oct 21, 2021 Ryan Spurr In a world challenged by workforce shortages, resiliency risk, and lack of real-time workflow visibility, there has never been a more impactful time to enable business change and drive measurable outcomes. Automating non-valued added tasks, quality and regulatory compliance, and operational excellence through sensor technologies helps manufacturers augment these challenges, optimize their businesses, and support future top- and bottom-line growth.

The funny thing about sensors or instrumentation is that they are no more evident than in our personal lives. From thermostats to cameras to security to modern vehicles, sensors are everywhere. They improve every aspect of life, from optimizing home energy costs to reducing the severity of accidents and alerting us to critical situations. These enhancements free us to focus on more meaningful activities—like not adjusting the thermostat multiple times a day or turning off the sprinkler system when it’s raining outside. Who has time for all that? 

The same is true for business. By instrumenting business processes, we can increase process assurance, eliminate non-value-added activities, and leverage our high-value people assets to focus on more meaningful tasks. Sensors will soon become so pervasive that they will radically change not just key process points but become embedded in every activity across the supply chain. In fact, according to a recent study, 90% of IoT decision makers believe IoT is critical to their company’s continued success and strategically necessary for digitally transforming operations.1 By the end of 2021, it’s anticipated that sensor adoption will rise from 57% to 85% as the technology becomes accessible and viable for all manufacturers.2

What Are Sensors?

It’s an answer that is constantly evolving. Arguably anything can be a sensor in today’s modern and connected manufacturing world. The only real requirement is to collect meaningful data to augment process and people. These sensors are then connected and integrated with business systems, data platforms, and third parties to inform people across the value chain. Today, there are hundreds of variations, each sensing and measuring data about the environment, machines, vehicles, materials, finished goods, and people. 

Common examples of sensors include temperature, humidity, and vibration. These are heavily utilized across industries to monitor safety, quality, and equipment performance. And they are often heavily utilized to ensure compliance with regulations. Temperature sensors are even more complex than they first appear. Temperature may be sensed by air, on surfaces, or in liquids. The temperature ranges include standard environmental conditions, freezing temperatures, and high temperatures.

Because of their increased adoption, sensors now exist in all forms. Their application simply depends on the use case they aim to solve. Today’s sensors can measure pressure, air particulates and quality, voltage and amperage, liquids, luminescence, gases, and so much more. Devices come in commercial and industrial formats, and many are even designed to comply with standards to support specific industries, or safety requirements such as intrinsically safe situations where explosion risk due to spark exists.

Connecting and Securing Sensors

Like any machine, we must connect, integrate, and secure the technology to ensure it can bring the anticipated value to the organization. Unlike most ICS or legacy machines, sensors are not high bandwidth consuming technologies. 

For example, a typical temperature sensor might collect a data point every 10 milliseconds but only communicate every 5 minutes. The batching of collected data allows sensors to minimize the most energy consuming task of connecting and sharing data. This lightweight and industry standards-based approached allows modern sensors to last years on a single battery charge and offers a diverse range of connectivity and data transport options. In fact, sensors have a diverse array of options when it comes to connectivity.

Another example includes sensors where safety or monitoring is critical to factory operations. Such sensors are typically hard wired with power over ethernet (PoE). This eliminates the need for electrical outlets or batteries and ensure reliable power and connectivity. 

For non-wired sensors, multiple options exist—including 802.11, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Zigbee, cellular (public 4G/5G, private 5G), and LoRaWAN. Each of these standards have their benefits and limitations.

For example, BLE-based sensors have a limited range of roughly 15 meters, but they consume very little power, can connect to BLE-based beacons or mobile devices, and can even ride atop of next-generation IT and OT-owned wireless access points with BLE embedded antennas. BLE sensors are a rapidly popular option due to their simplicity and ease of deployment. They lower total infrastructure costs, and allows manufacturers to leverage existing IT infrastructure to connect any BLE-based sensor across the entire company, while eliminating data silos associated with the traditional bounded legacy infrastructure. Be on the lookout for even more technologies like this as BLE becomes a dominate connectivity option.

Depending on the type of sensors and connectivity options, the ease of provisioning and security control vary. Some solutions, such as those built atop of trusted network partners, can also integrate into zero-trust policies, leverage profiling, and meet stringent security requirements. Asset visibility and management—along with security—are important especially as new technologies, like sensors, increase the potential risk footprint for manufacturers.

Sensors Are Evolving

As with any technology, sensors continue to evolve in new and exciting ways. We are even seeing hybrid sensors combine to unlock new value into industries like food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, or sensitive technologies that require monitoring during transportation and storage. These devices not only streamline product identification but can ensure compliance, quality control, and chain of customer protection by including temperature, humidity, vibration, and tamper detection sensors on the passive RFID tags.  This can be especially beneficial in the pharmaceuticals industry where traceability requirements for products in storage or transit are mandated by the FDA.3 

Another form of sensor beyond convention is machine vision. Smart camera technology has moved past the traditional security use cases by combining edge intelligence, machine learning, and object identification. Cameras are outfitted with a range of technologies that allow them to record video while also sensing events, environmental conditions, and leveraging artificial intelligence in creative ways to collect data from existing investments. 

For example, by using smart cameras, a manufacturer can now quickly collect data from HMIs, digital displays, or non-digital dials and indicators. This creative approach eliminates the need for humans to manually collect data from legacy technologies and offers a simple approach to collect data from an “unconnectable” source. As a result, cameras are forging a new form of sensor by essentially replicating any task the human eye can discern.

Leverage Sensors to Transform Business

There are many investments a manufacturer can pursue in their journey to Industry 4.0. Most can be long and costly endeavors. What I love about modern sensors is they are simple, have a litany of application and proven use cases, and deliver quick ROI. Best of all—they are generally low cost and offer few entry barriers, making them great for both digital leaders and laggards. But the overall trend is that sensors play a key role in countering headwinds and offsetting workforce and process challenges. They deliver improved monitoring, quality, and visibility across all processes areas.

Regardless of your organization’s appetite for technology, sensors are just a part of the larger industrial transformation underway in manufacturing:

88% of manufacturers who have implemented sensor technologies already report a return on their financial investment.2  

One out of three company decision-makers decided to further invest in IoT adoption within the organization.1

Combining sensors, modern networks, and edge compute, the industry is already leveraging or accelerating industrial transformation (IX). With a diverse range of sensors, edge compute, connectivity, and security offerings, manufacturers can now tackle any number of process improvement initiatives that fuel automation to improve quality, drive throughput, and reduce costs.

To learn more about Connection's Manufacturing Practice, or the sensor solutions highlighted in this blog, contact one of our manufacturing specialists today.

1 Microsoft, 2020, IOT Signals
2 HPE, 2017, Internet of Things, Today and Tomorrow 
3 FDA, 2003, Final Guidance Document FDA-2003-D-0143
3 Tech Challenges K–12 Schools Will... Oct 20, 2021 Jennifer Zalewski The COVID-19 pandemic brought new and unexpected challenges to K12 educators striving to empower learning from anywhere. Lack of proper equipment, connectivity, and a quiet, safe space for students to learn were only a handful of reasons why students’ grades around the country included an unprecedented rise in F’s. Now that we’ve been learning and educating in a hybrid or remote environment for over 18 months, what could possibly go wrong in 2022? Educators are living with an everyday unknown. Many districts have been back in the physical classroom full time. However, what happens when there is a positive COVID-19 case? Lesson plans for face-to-face learning could change drastically tomorrow, which means teachers must pivot to ensure learning does not come to a halt. How do schools maximize learning outcomes without skipping a beat? Here are some of the technology challenges that should be addressed to ensure a positive hybrid or remote learning experience.

Hardware Inadequacy

Inadequate hardware will continue to affect the state of learning initiatives moving into the new school year. According to the June 2021 household pulse surveys from the Census Bureau, of the 44 million U.S. households with children in public or private school, over 9 million do not always have access to a computer for educational purposes and nearly 9 million do not have Internet access. Providing a 1:1 notebook/laptop solution to support this ever-changing environment, and continuing to empower students to achieve more regardless of where learning takes place, is crucial now more than ever. Many schools have adopted more Web-based consumer-centric solutions. However, what many do not realize is that where these devices are reliant on the Web and don’t tend to have the memory needed to save files locally, this could and will hinder the overall learning experience. In fact, it can create a gap where students cannot access the files and assignments they need, when they need them. Schools that have adopted Windows-based devices for their student body are not only setting them up to be productive, whether they are connected to the Internet or not, they are also providing them with a solution that will prepare them for life after K–12. In addition, the desktop version of Microsoft Teams enhances the classroom experience with a more user-friendly, single learning environment to engage with classes, learning applications, course materials, and assignments—all without leaving the platform.


There is still a large gap where students do not have the proper Internet connectivity to log into their virtual classroom, video calls, access the Web to find content for a project, etc. Although Emergency Connectivity Funds (ECF) are projected to reach schools in the fourth quarter of 2021 to help close the homework gap with Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and other devices to those who lack sufficient connectivity to engage in remote learning, there will still be challenges with supply chains. Broadband providers are seeing delays of more than a year when ordering Internet routers, becoming yet another victim of chip shortages choking global supply chains and adding challenges for millions still working from home. With a shortage of broadband routers available, students may fall behind in classes due to their inability to connect to the Internet. This could prevent them from accessing course material on the Web, collateral for a project, or communication from teachers. Windows OEM devices are nimble enough to be productive online or offline, since files can be accessed locally and Office applications can be used to their full potential. This also ensures an inclusive learning environment for all students to be connected when completing schoolwork from home.


What about security? K12 schools are getting hit with a barrage of ransomware attacks, worsening the damage to children’s education brought on by the pandemic, and hurting the ability to return to some semblance of normalcy for the new school year. Ransomware attacks have shut down schools across the country as schools embraced technology more quickly than they were adopting cybersecurity protections. That gap in protection is often worse at schools with less funding and in lower-income districts that have less money to invest in cybersecurity. In our more connected world, this brings up the concern of protecting student and teacher data. It is imperative for schools to embrace solutions that keep them out of the headlines after a ransomware attack. Microsoft has adopted a modern approach to security called Zero Trust, which is based on the principle to never trust and always verify. This security approach protects Microsoft as a company, as well as their customers, by managing and granting access based on the continual verification of identities, devices, and services. Schools can leverage zero trust within their institution to help protect users, devices, and data—not to mention, create a safe and engaging learning environment, meet privacy standards, and ensure continuous compliance.

How Can Connection Help?

Connection offers 1:1 Windows OEM devices to K–12 institutions for a secure, productive, and inclusive environment regardless of where learning takes place—empowering students, teachers, and staff to achieve more.

In addition, we can offer the right services to deploy devices remotely through Windows Autopilot, with simple registration or white glove services, through our Technology Integration and Distribution Center (TIDC) in Wilmington, OH. This gives IT staff and schools more time to focus on other projects, all while saving money. As a direct Cloud Solutions Provider (CSP), we can offer competitive pricing on cloud subscriptions such as Microsoft 365 Education Suites, Azure, or Windows 365, and provide direct IT support at no additional cost. Additionally, Connection is the only global reseller that offers professional development through our in-house Microsoft Innovative Educators, making us a certified Microsoft Global Training Partner. Get peace of mind and connect with our team today!

Microsoft Has New Tools to Help with... Oct 20, 2021 Robin Camirand Working at Connection—one of the top five Microsoft partners—and working my way through a second IT degree gives me a unique perspective on the tumultuous years we are going through. So much has changed in the world of information technology in the past few years, and security and compliance have become the top-of-mind concern for many of my customers. 

A New World of Security and Compliance 

There was a time when hacking into an organization’s infrastructure was done solely for bragging rights. Sadly, that is no longer the case. Hackers are now profiteers whose careers are rooted in deception, bypassing systems, and holding individuals and companies for ransom. They’re capable of deleting and destroying years of sensitive data critical to one’s existence and stopping business in its tracks. Often it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars in remediation, reclamation, reputation management, upgrading frailties within an infrastructure, and paying out to get what was stolen.  

It’s irresponsible for prospective business owners not to consider safeguarding their data, processes, and communication. Every business needs to be cognizant of exceeding baseline security measures in every effort to protect itself, its employees, and customers. And every business needs to be mindful of compliance needs for the sake of government requirements that exist to protect its employees and its consumers. 

Now in 2021, there are compliance standards that need to be adhered to in just about every industry with a customer base, be that in the world of finance, healthcare, retail, or even manufacturing and industrial market segments. You must protect sensitive customer information like social security numbers, names, addresses, credit history, net worth, average spend, D&B info, etc.—as well as proprietary company information, such as R&D info, new design, competitive intelligence, information management…the list is endless. Additionally, there are compliance standards to follow, such as Sarbanes Oxley, HIPAA, FISMA, FERPA, PCI-DSS, NIST 800-171, and GLBA, to name a few. 

The Largest Security Company No One Knows Exists

My go-to recommendations used to be baked-in functionality and security in a networking solution, such as firewalls, biometrics and MFA—hardware or software-based—limited access, VPN for remote users, encryption for email, and financial transactions. While these are all still strongly recommended, I have some new tools to share with my customers.  

I lean heavily towards Microsoft tools not only because it’s my job to recommend Microsoft products, but also because Microsoft has the most extensive portfolio of modern security and compliance tools out there. Microsoft security and compliance tools are also highly integrated with each other. The joke that goes in Microsoft security circles is that Microsoft is the largest security company in the world that no one knows exists. The list of tools that I regularly recommend to customers includes Microsoft 365 at the Enterprise level coupled with an EMS and security add-on. I also recommend Azure AD for MFA, conditional access, DLP controls that are built-in for Microsoft 365, Azure Information Protection, 365 Defender for XDR, Azure Sentinel for SIEM, and more.  

Sometimes You Need More Help than Security Tools

But sometimes knowledge about these products is not enough. So my job involves connecting you with the right teams in Connection’s Microsoft Services. We have an extensive team of Microsoft Certified Professionals at every level. We will take the time to educate, inform, assess, and strategize using tools provided by Microsoft to recommend and streamline solutions using our signature Microsoft Licensing Optimization process. Our consultants and architects can provide a comprehensive look at your environment and make recommendations to ensure you achieve long-term success adopting Microsoft security in your organization. Furthermore, if you lack expertise in deploying and optimizing new tools, we have many services under our Modern Work and Security Services framework. Give us a call, and we’d be happy to walk you through our Microsoft security services stack. 

Connection Named One of Forbes’... Oct 15, 2021 Connection We’re proud to share that we were recently named one of Forbes’ Best-in-State Employers for the second year in a row! Forbes started this list in 2020, and Connection has again been named one of the Best-in-State Employers in 2021. We are one of only seven companies named to the list headquartered in New Hampshire, a state we love to call home. We’d like to thank all of our employees for their feedback and for making Connection a rewarding place to work and grow a career.

From Forbes and Statista:

“America’s Best-In-State Employers 2021 were identified in an independent survey based on a vast sample of approximately 80,000 Americans working for companies with more than 500 employees in the USA. Across 25 industry sectors, 1,329 employer brands were ranked among top employers. Brands were able to win in more than one state.”

Microsoft Azure Is Higher Education’s Best... Oct 14, 2021 Sreeraj Vasukuttan Just as other industries leaders have, educational leaders have certainly recognized the urgency of cloud adoption. Gartner describes this as the “cloud now” awakening happening in response to the disruptions of 2020. However, in the education sector—especially in higher education—the aspiration to adopt the cloud must be carefully aligned to the ongoing challenges. And cloud is exactly the right technology to help you adapt to the ever-changing educational landscape.

The declining demand for four-year degrees is perhaps the most pressing challenge for education leaders to address. High school graduates are questioning the worth of expensive degrees, more so than before the pandemic, and are ready to choose alternate paths.Many students are concerned about whether or not the skills they gain in college will meet the demands of the modern workforce of 2025. The inevitability of hybrid campuses and the need for better virtual learning experiences are the sector’s second biggest challenge. The disconnect that students felt when institutions scrambled to adopt remote learning in 2020 has made them more doubtful about the four-year path. Finally, many students are concerned about the digital security and safety of hybrid campuses.

An increasing number of colleges and universities are adopting more flexible, personalized, and safer learning experiences to address these concerns. Additionally, institutions are adopting pedagogy that accounts for more engaging and collaborative virtual learning. The public cloud can be your ally in these efforts and help you change the story from the inside out.

Build Customized Applications with the Help of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

You could envision technology solutions that will solve for some of the above challenges that higher education is facing. Then use the variety of resources in the public cloud to build solutions that provide a brand new experience for your students. It could be better virtual classrooms using virtual desktops and cloud PCs, or using the advances of data and AI in the cloud to deliver a more intelligent and personal experience for each student. The important thing to understand is that it is not about the resources or apps in the cloud. Instead, it’s about how you build innovative solutions using them. Take the example of Duke University that used Azure Cognitive Services (AI), Azure Machine Learning, and Azure Storage to build a customized solution that securely stores and analyzes large amounts of data from various sources to develop innovative treatment solutions for patients. In another example, DeVry University delivered a unified lab experience for students using Azure Labs. Finally, Sheffield Hallam University uses Azure Virtual Desktop, Azure Labs, and Red Hat technology to transform the virtual campus experience for its students.

Prepare Your Students for a Cloud-driven Future

The digital economy is accelerating, and technical skills will be more in demand everywhere. While we need to upskill students’ technical competencies, the core skills required to support a technology-driven future are also in shortage. Per recent U.S. labor statistics, “By the end of 2020, there were 1.4M unfilled Computer Science jobs. Meanwhile, the number of graduates is only 400K a year.” The world desperately demands more cloud technicians and engineers. With the pace at which our technology cloud is evolving, a traditional four-year degree won’t satisfy the demand. The need for role-based and skill-based training should be supplemented with conventional degrees to ensure that the students are skilled accordingly. The good news is that companies like Microsoft are expanding their upskilling initiatives for students to help them gain the most up-to-date cloud skills. You can utilize the subsidized access to the cloud and training to help students be more prepared to enter the cloud-driven industry.

Improve Campus Security with Security in the Cloud

Many of us won’t soon forget the prevalence of “Zoom bombing” in 2020. Even though Zoom immediately addressed the product’s security and privacy issues, the headache these incidents caused was significant. If you had adopted Azure and deployed Azure Sentinel in your hybrid campus and ingested Zoom logs into it, Azure Sentinel could have spotted potential malicious activities. Unfortunately, confronting Zoom trolls is not the only threat for hybrid campuses. The invaluable student data behind these virtual experiences is targeted by cybercriminals who could deploy sophisticated malware attacks, resulting in massive data breaches.

Cloud technology can help you avoid breaches like these. Storing data in the cloud and running applications in the cloud is inherently more secure than hosting it all on-premises. Microsoft’s Zero Trust model is a methodical approach to security that is hard to replicate in your own local data center. You can further improve your security by utilizing Azure AD to implement multifactor authentication, single sign-on, and password-less sign-on—that help you reduce password related risks. Implementing Azure Sentinel—Microsoft’s SIEM solution in conjunction with Microsoft 365 Defender—Microsoft’s XDR system will improve your security posture in pre- and post-breach scenarios.

Connection Can Help You Migrate, Manage, and Optimize Your Cloud Investments

Building innovative solutions in the cloud will help you change your environment for the better. But many of you may be simply taking your first steps to the cloud to help save on capital expenses or to avoid buying new expensive hardware. Those are great first choices, but also consider strategies that take a long-term approach to cloud adoption and utilization. Connection offers many services that can help you get the most out of cloud, including our complimentary Cloud Advisor Services as well as our affordable Managed Services. Connection also holds an Azure advanced specialization in Windows Server and SQL Server Migration.

Can Public Cloud Be More Secure than Your... Oct 14, 2021 Leandro Rocha If you’ve been doing any research into the cloud, you’re probably aware of some of the security myths—like the cloud is more prone to breaches than on-premises data centers. Also, there is a perception that with cloud, things are outside your control, so you cannot meet compliance requirements, and anyone can access your data. The truth is that public cloud can be more secure than your own data center. Think about it: Top cloud providers like Microsoft Azure, Amazon (AWS), and Google (GCP) need to make their data centers as secure and reliable as possible because they host workloads for hundreds of thousands of customers. However, there is one thing to keep in mind—securing your resources in the public cloud is always a shared responsibility.

The security tasks can vary depending on the model you choose to host the workloads. For example, in your traditional data center, you have the full responsibility of ensuring that you are applying the proper security controls and physical access to the data center. However, in the cloud, that will change when choosing to host workload in IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. It is crucial to remember that, regardless of the type of cloud model you choose to deploy, your workloads, data, endpoints, accounts, and access management always will be your responsibility.

How to Secure Your Piece of the Public Cloud

Cloud providers have tools to help you ensure you have adequately set up security in your cloud environment. Still, you need to know how to use those to avoid misconfiguration, which is considered one of the top problems related to security. Also, policies and security benchmarks may help you build the guardrails to prevent misconfiguration and keep the governance and compliance rules required by your business.

In most cases, traditional on-premises data centers rely on a perimeter-based security approach, which means that once someone is inside of the security perimeter, they could have access to everything in your local network. Instead of relying on the perimeter-based security approach, cloud providers operate under the zero-trust model, bringing security to the users, data, applications, APIs, devices, networks—wherever they are—instead of forcing them onto a single “secure” network.

When you decide to keep your data in the public cloud, you can choose the country and region in which you want to store and keep the data. Azure, AWS, and GCP have data centers spread around the world that can help you to be in compliance with privacy standard laws and regulations, such as GDPR, HIPAA, and ISO/IEC 27018. Additionally, replicating and storing the data in different data centers or regions will contribute to your organization’s business continuity and disaster recovery strategy. The cloud itself also has built-in resources to avoid breaches and data exfiltration, as well as to provide secure access, encryption, and DLP.

Trust No One—Always Verify Identity

Finally, I can’t forget to talk about Identity, a core subject in security. By having your user identity verified and validated, you can access data, applications, control devices, etc. Adopting the least privileged access helps to avoid a lot of security concerns related to identity. Additionally, the cloud has some advantages by relying on technologies such as machine learning and automation to identify, investigate, and remediate issues.

As you saw, the traditional data center will require more responsibility, resources, and investment. In addition, it could be cumbersome to implement and manage the necessary level of security to avoid problems such as vulnerabilities, data breaches, hacker attacks, and so on. Besides that, it is almost impossible to keep up with the innovation and speed brought by cloud, which certainly will contribute to the agility, mobility, and security required in the digital transformation journey.

Don’t Manage a Crisis Alone

Finally, during a security crisis, you will need to focus your efforts on finding the problem and solving it. In this case, the MTTR (Mean Time to Respond/Remediate) really matters when you need to reestablish reliable and secure access to services and devices. If you’re getting flooded with alerts at 1:00 a.m., you most likely won’t have your entire team available to help remediate the issues. To help you keep your business secure and avoid disruptions, Connection can provide support 24x7x365. Our highly specialized and certified team will proactively monitor your environment, take action as necessary, and provide guidance to guarantee your peace of mind. Whether your organization is operating as 100% cloud, hybrid, or multi-cloud, we can help you.

Episode 97 – The Hybrid Workforce Is... Oct 13, 2021 Connection As we celebrate Cyber Security Awareness month, Connection in partnership with Intel, bring you a timely podcast to help your organization stay safe from cyber threats and help educate hybrid workers on best practices.  Intel and the Connection Security practice collaborate and talk candidly with James to unveil some insights you many never have considered. Remember - "Do Your Part Be Cyber Smart"


Host: James Hilliard

Guest: Steve Nardone - Senior Director of Security Solutions

Guest: Yasser Rasheed - Global Director of Enterprise Clients at Intel 

Show Notes

[0:55] Introduction of guests

[1:30] Is the hybrid workforce here to stay?

[3:33] Will there be more cybersecurity attacks as a result of the new hybrid workforce?

[6:10] Will the equipment of remote workers be able to protect them from cyberattacks?

[7:20] The 3 areas we'll be spending the remainder of time: "zero trust", hardware matters, and continuing to be students

[8:08] What does "zero trust" mean in the IT security community today?

[10:00] Who should own the "zero trust" mentality at an organization?

[12:15] How do you prevent user cybersecurity fatigue? 

[14:31] What's an example of a great approach an organization is taking to get their end-users (hybrid workers) engaged with security?

[15:40] The importance that hardware still has in cybersecurity efforts

[18:23] Are there tools built into the hardware that can be added protection?

[20:25] What are newer security capabilities in machines, and how do they compare with what was running three years ago?

[23:10] What does it mean to become a "student of risk"?

[26:15] What's the difference between being a "student of risk" and a "student of threat"?

[27:44] What should an end-user do to raise a security alarm?

[29:30] Do we need to change how often we prepare for security attacks?

[31:50] What's something we can take away with to do something more securely than yesterday?

Azure Migrate: Are You Ready? Oct 11, 2021 Stephanie Brenner Today, 95% of Fortune 500 companies are using the Azure Platform in their IT landscape.

More and more organizations trust Microsoft to host their infrastructures, data, and applications. We are seeing a boom in using Azure as a cloud-hosting platform for businesses, both large and small. In my 8+ years of building Microsoft solutions, I see firsthand that the interest levels in Azure are growing exponentially. Not a day goes by that I am not speaking with clients about Azure services.

Three of the most common questions I get during an Azure discovery call include:

  • How can I use Azure services?
  • How do I move my resources to Azure?
  • How much will this all cost?

All these questions can be answered by engaging with Connection’s Cloud Advisors and Architects. For those organizations who have a current infrastructure, applications, or other workloads that they intend to migrate, Azure Migrate cloud migration services are for you!

Make Your Organization More Secure, Efficient, and Flexible

Azure Migrate is a free and easy to use hub within the Azure portal that can not only assess your current on-prem infrastructure to determine your Azure readiness, but there are also tools which can be utilized to migrate resources too. Supported resources for assessment and migration include VMware, VMs, Hyper-V VMs, physical servers, databases, web apps, and virtual desktops.

The first step to deploy the Azure Migrate appliance is to have an active Azure subscription. You may already have one set up from using other Microsoft cloud subscriptions. Your Connection Microsoft Solutions Specialist can get you set up through our Cloud Solution Provider program. The subscription itself has no cost associated, but rather, once you begin to consume billable services via Azure (VMs, storage, etc.), you will begin to be billed based upon your consumption.

The Azure Migrate appliance is an agentless tool that can be deployed as a physical or virtual server. The deployment of this appliance can be completed using a template or PowerShell.

This tool will collect data from your on-prem server environment to store in Azure, so that you can move forward with an Azure readiness assessment. Knowing the exact level of effort required to migrate your workloads to Azure is key to any successful cloud migration. In most cases, there are additional application dependencies that need to be analyzed to ensure all your infrastructure is moved to Azure in the proper order and no resource is left behind.

When you begin an Azure Migrate project, your data is encrypted to guarantee your sensitive information is secure. This data can be deleted when you delete the project.

How Can Connection Help?

Our team of Cloud Advisors, Solutions Architects, and Solution Specialists work side-by-side with you to deploy the Azure Migrate appliance and assist with the proper assessment to fit your migration plans. We have the know-how to sift through the collected data, provide best-practice recommendations, and give you the confidence you need every step of the way during the Azure migration process.

Additionally, we will review pricing estimates and how to right-size your environment. This cost optimization is invaluable. Without professional guidance, an Azure migration can become quite overwhelming. Every service within Azure has its own set of parameters to start using the service. Do you know all the different levels of redundancy and what they mean to your organization? Can you migrate a larger VM from on-prem to a smaller VM in Azure? If you don’t know the answers to these questions before starting your Azure journey, your monthly costs may be much higher than expected. We love to help right sizing Azure environments. We never want you to overspend or over deploy.

Need a Partner to Migrate Your Resources? We’ve Got You Covered!

Connection’s Cloud Advisors come with decades of experience in completing cloud migrations of all sizes. Let our team of experts work with you to scope out the breadth of your migration project and take on all or part of the work.

Azure MSPs Address Bandwidth Challenges and... Oct 08, 2021 John Ryan When was the last time you created and maintained an Azure production environment for your commercial business or public institution? If you are like most people, I expect your answer would be “never.” For a select few, I realize the answer may be once or twice—or in a few rare circumstances: more. Regardless of your number of encounters with Azure, we can all agree that the ever-expanding and ever-evolving Azure solutions offered by Microsoft are invaluable to an organization’s abilitity to survive and thrive. But the knowledge and skills to effectively deliver your data center in the cloud to your internal—or even public—end-user community is something that requires a distinct dedication and ongoing effort. 

Carving out the time to gain these crucial Azure competencies is easier said than done, let alone reserving the time in your daily calendars for ongoing Azure environment monitoring, maintenance, finetuning / optimization—all while continuing your Azure education—on top of everything else to which you are already committed.As society and industry marches forward through these ever-changing times, it is becoming increasingly more important for us to have access to time- and money-saving expertise to facilitate the focus on growing and maturing our business at hand. Allow me to introduce Connection’s Azure Managed Service Provider (MSP) program. Connection also holds the highly-sought-after Azure Expert MSP status that we recently earned from Microsoft.

Connection’s Azure Managed Service Provider plans grant you access to a team of expert resources aligned around providing guidance for your digital transformation into the Microsoft cloud. Embarking on this journey with Connection will save you time and money in not having to train others or learn these skills yourself. And we all know that trained new hires come at a premium. Our Azure professionals will help you speed along to the meaningful cloud solutions you need in Azure, all while keeping eyes on being secure, staying compliant, and keeping within budget. Whether you need a soup-to-nuts approach as you begin your Azure migration, or need some guidance with particular critical pieces of your cloud infrastructure puzzle, our team can help you preserve the bandwidth of your own staff and accomplish your goals more quickly, and with less anxiety.When you gain access to our team, our tools, and tried-and-true best practices, you can be assured of realizing every dollar spent is in the vein of Azure right-sizing for cost optimization—with health monitoring and patching, security and compliance reviews, direction on backup, and access to support all included for one predictable monthly price. Connection’s Azure Managed Services options will help you beat the Azure bandwidth and skill-gap issues you are likely experiencing with your IT staff as more and more workloads are moving to the cloud, and succeed in the digital transformation needed for your business—with flying colors!

How to Value Your Time as a Cyber Pro Oct 05, 2021 Contributing Writer If you search for ”What does a cybersecurity specialist do?”, the answer will almost certainly include key aspects of your role. For example: developing, testing, analyzing, and implementing security systems, responding to threats and attacks, developing threat prevention strategies, and reporting to your team and the business.

What it won’t talk about are all the routine jobs that get in the way of more important tasks and take far more time than they should, such as patch management, checking system configurations, working with multiple consoles, dealing with employee mistakes, and teaching good cyber hygiene. 

As many of these jobs can now be automated, how can you build a convincing case to get more time for tasks with the greatest value rather than jobs you simply have to get done?

Here are five easy ways to justify the tools you need to improve your working day, career prospects, organizational security, and more.

Your Salary

It may seem obvious, but as a cyber pro you’re a valuable resource. According to one source in April 2021, the typical salary range for an IT Security Specialist was $103,944–$123,648. The average was $113,558.1

Assuming you work a 40-hour week and receive 25 days of paid holiday a year, this equates to around $60 for every hour you’re actually working. But how many hours are spent on tasks that should be below your pay grade? And what percentage of your time do they take up? If you’re spending 10% of your time on routine tasks, that’s at least $10,000 that could have been invested in tools that free up your time, help you be more productive, and deliver greater business value.

The Costs of a Data Breach 

In a recent report by Kaspersky, they found the average financial impact of a data breach on small and medium businesses was $101,000.2 For an enterprise it was $1.09 million. Another Kaspersky study found that speed of response was vital.3 For successful attacks, financial losses were 32% lower if the breach was responded to in less than a week, but rose to $118,000 and $1.34 million respectively for responses taking more than a week. This easily justifies the cost of tools that support rapid threat detection and response initiatives.

Your CISO’s #1 Priority

In a third Kaspersky report, when asked “How is your performance in your role measured (KPIs)?”, the top answer was “Quality and speed of incident response handling.” Of those surveyed, 76% of CISOs mentioned KPI.4 This answer was ahead of compliance track record (59%), reduction of incidents year-on-year (52%), and overall number of incidents (51%).

Your CISO wants you to respond to security incidents as quickly and effectively as possible—another excellent justification for having the best available tools.

The Cybersecurity Workforce Gap

In many disciplines, if a team or individual has insufficient time or skills for the work they need to do, they’ll look to recruit additional talent. 

Unfortunately, according to (ISC)2, 64% of respondents reported a shortage of dedicated cybersecurity staff, and 56% said this put their organization at risk.5 The report estimated the cybersecurity workforce gap (the difference between the number of skilled professionals that organizations need to protect their critical assets and the actual capacity available to take on this work) to be 3.1 million cybersecurity specialists worldwide.

If a business can’t recruit its way out of the cybersecurity talent shortage, then this is a very strong case for maximizing the resources it already has. This starting point for which should be to stop doing unnecessary tasks. Spend saved time on upskilling and certification so you’re ready to take on increasingly advanced IT security tasks and roles.

The Tools Are Out There

Although endpoint detection and response (EDR) has something of a checkered history in terms of being difficult to use, the latest generation of products can integrate with your existing endpoint security—and be as easy to use. They can also incorporate a high level of automation for many routine tasks, and help you address a variety of issues around IT security infrastructure complexity. 

Meanwhile, managed detection and response (MDR) allows you to offload particularly taxing tasks like detection, threat hunting, and incident investigation. It also lets you receive guided response scenarios and advanced, round-the-clock protection against threats that can otherwise bypass your traditional security barriers.

Using these tools can make you more efficient by focusing your time on critical tasks that really demand your involvement. They also help you leverage advanced models to significantly increase analyst throughput and minimize mean-time-to-respond. Not only that, implementing them will help you deliver even better value as a cyber pro, significantly reduce the risks of a costly data breach, pressure management to recruit hard-to-find staff, and keep your CISO happy by helping them deliver their #1 KPI. 

Need Help?

Whether you want to strengthen your internal defenses or combat the latest threats with expert external guidance, Connection can help. We also offer cloud-enabled Kaspersky Optimum Security so that you can be protected from old, current, new, unknown, and evasive threats—all without prohibitive costs or complexity. Contact an Account Manager for more information at 1.800.800.0019.

1, 2021, IT Security Specialist Salary
2 Kaspersky, 2020, IT Security Economics 2020: Part 2
3 Kaspersky, 2020, Incident Response Analyst Report
4 Kaspersky, 2018, What it takes to be a CISO: Success and leadership in corporate IT security
5 (ISC)2, 2020, Cybersecurity Workforce Study
Back to the Basics on Threat Vectors and... Oct 04, 2021 Christine Barry When you’re thinking about cybersecurity and protecting your company from ransomware and other threats, you can’t think in terms of a specific method of attack. What we know and continue to learn about cyberattacks is that they evolve quickly. Ransomware threat actors have had decades to improve their skills and build their criminal platforms and infrastructures. Many businesses and other organizations are still trying to catch up.

While we cannot anticipate every possible attack scenario, we can operate on a handful of assumptions that we’ve observed throughout the world over the past several years:

  1. An attack on your company is likely to start with an email attack that may already be underway. Email is still considered “the number one threat vector” because it works so well. Phishing attacks are most common, and malicious links and attachments are possibilities. These attacks generally have two purposes:
    1. Steal authorized user credentials to be used for login attempts
    1. Infect the network directly with malware downloaded to an endpoint that is attached to the network
  2. Your online forms, e-commerce sites, and other Web applications are being scanned by bots right now. Threat actors look for vulnerabilities, open ports, and other opportunities to gain administrator access to your application. They may attempt to log in with credentials stolen through a successful phishing attack, or with credentials purchased through a data dump. The application threat vector includes these attacks as well as attacks on APIs and mobile applications.
  3. Bots are attempting to penetrate your network, and they never stop hunting for a poorly secured door. The network threat vector is constantly changing, scaling up and down as companies add smart devices to their networks or move their domains and resources to the public cloud. A secure network strategy will consider every edge of the network, including resources like the smart thermostat, the self-serve kiosk, and users who now work from home. Even if the threat actor enters your network through an email or Web application attack, your network security is still in play:
    1. Segmenting your network will stop threat actors from moving laterally through the network and gaining access to your entire set of data and user accounts. Network segmentation works like a water-tight door on a ship; it contains the threat to a smaller space and minimizes the damage of the breach.
    1. Intrusion detection and prevention systems, data leak prevention, and other real-time security features can detect pre-configured patterns, anomalies to learned patterns, and other activities that indicate an active threat. Administrative alerts and reporting will enable IT teams to act as soon as possible.
  4. There are attacks that are sitting out there in the wild, waiting for your users to step into sight. These reside in the Web threat vector and include the following:
    1. Drive-by downloads and social media attacks, which are attacks that automatically download in the background when a vulnerable user system visits a compromised website or social media platform. Victim devices normally have outdated browsers or some other unpatched vulnerability.
    1. Infected ads can attack a device used to visit a legitimate site. In this scenario, a third-party ad company has accepted an infected ad and placed it on a legitimate website that sells advertising. The ad company may be a trusted partner to the website, but it made a mistake in accepting the malicious ad.

Planning Based on Threat Vectors

It’s simply not possible to anticipate every type of attack, so security plans must be based on threat vectors. In the context we’ve discussed here, it would look like this:

  1. Protect your entire email deployment. Whether it’s in the cloud or on premises, it’s still vulnerable to phishing attacks and malicious attachments and URLs. Your defense here must be able to identify likely phishing attempts, stop advanced threats and other malicious attachments, and allow administrators to respond quickly to threats that get past defenses. Users should receive ongoing training so that security remains top of mind.
  2. Applications are subject to so many automated attacks that robust automated protection is required. This includes protection from attacks like DDoS, brute force, credential-stuffing, OWASP and zero-day attacks, and many more. Advanced bot protection will also protect the site from spambots and scraping. Your company can’t set up separate defenses for each of these attacks. A powerful and properly configured web application firewall will protect your applications from all these bots and attacks.
  3. A firewall is a common technology, and almost every workstation or networking device that connects to the Internet provides some firewall protection. It’s good to have these firewalls, but if you lack a network-wide firewall solution, you should consider yourself as having no firewall at all. The network firewall that you need will defend against advanced threats, bots, intrusion, DDoS attacks, malware, and more. Features like network segmentation, application control, and secure remote access must also be considered, and your firewall should be able to defend on-premises, multi-cloud, and hybrid deployments.
  4. Web security and filtering solutions defend users against web-borne threats like drive-by downloads and infected ads. This solution should not only defend against the latest threats, but also include features like social-network regulation, remote filtering, and visibility into SSL-encrypted traffic.

Since this post is based on threat vectors, we haven’t discussed the importance of a good backup. It should go without saying that you have a data backup in place that considers the location and value of your data, as well as how much data you are willing to recreate if you must perform a data restoration. (Think of this in terms of minutes, hours, days.) Unfortunately, we cannot “go without saying” because backups are often configured once and then never reconsidered or tested, even though data may move to new locations or simply decline in value while more critical data goes unprotected. It’s best to think of backups as data protection and a critical piece of your cybersecurity and business continuity.

Barracuda offers solutions to protect these threat vectors and your data from advanced threats like ransomware. Their simple Ransomware 1-2-3 strategy lays out a complete defense against ransomware, and Barracuda Advanced Threat Protection provides the updates needed to make sure our solutions can defend against the latest ransomware variants. Contact Connection today to learn more.

Congratulations to the 2021 IT Superhero... Sep 23, 2021 Connection All summer long, we collected nominations for Connection’s first ever IT Superhero Awards contest, a new program to recognize the unsung heroes of the IT world. The response was amazing! We received stories of extraordinary IT professionals from across the country—each submission overflowing with appreciation for the hardworking folks who keep our organizations moving forward. Now it’s time to announce the winners!

Partnering with TechCrunch, it was an honor to present the IT Superhero Awards at this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt. While it was hard for our panel of industry expert judges to single out the winners from so many exceptional candidates, we’re proud to share the 2021 IT Superheroes:

  • Best Team Leader— Patrick Flaherty, Lead Site Reliability Engineer at Buckle
  • Best Rookie—Joshua Martin, IT Specialist for Kendal at Lexington
  • Best Catch—Christina Fisher, Technical Support at Hinman, Howard & Kattell
  • Most Unshakeable—Patrick O’Reilly, Director of Information Technology at Pinkerton Academy
  • Best Superpower—Gregory Ledford, Technology Support Specialist Technician with the State of North Carolina Department of Public Safety

Gregory Ledford was also awarded the grand prize of Ultimate IT Superhero for his achievements. Congratulations and well done!

Jamal Khan, Chief Growth and Innovation Officer at Connection presented the awards at the live ceremony, saying “The tremendous contributions of IT professionals deserve to be recognized. It’s a privilege to partner with TechCrunch to honor the people who kept us all connected, safe, and productive during a challenging year. Congratulations to our IT Superhero Award winners—and to all the IT Superheroes out there who are so deserving of our appreciation and thanks.”

Congratulations to our winners—and a huge thank you to the rest of the superheroes hard at work in IT departments everywhere! To learn more about the IT Superhero Awards contest and the winners, see all the details at

Windows 365 Cloud PC Breaks the Hardware... Sep 23, 2021 Megan Burke In 2020, the pandemic brought the world to a near screeching halt—and we’re only just beginning on the path to recovery. Fortunately, we had enough technology to keep things moving when things began to slow down. From facilitating biological and medical research to treat and thwart COVID-19 to providing platforms for work, socializing, and education, our tech let us carry on with our lives. But the massive technological demand did come with a price tag: inventory constraints and supply chain disruption left the world scrambling for even an etch-a-sketch to use to work from home.

Technology has had to evolve more rapidly than ever because of the global pandemic. While there was a myriad of technological advances over the past year, the recent release of Windows 365 Cloud PC comes at a time where the problems it solves are not just “pain points”—it allows us to resolve major roadblocks to the ways we conduct business, socialize, and teach and learn online.

The Benefits of Windows 365

The challenges we are facing because of the pandemic are not likely to fade away any time soon. For example, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, China has plans to keep their border restrictions for at least another year, which will no doubt hamper international business operations. Any economic recovery, anywhere in the world, will be hindered by new outbreaks of the virus, as well as restrictions put in place to slow its spread. Instead of focusing on innovation, engineers at one of the largest investors in hardware startups are scrambling to source components to ship to partners across the world.

So, in a time where hardware is not only uncertain, but constrained and limited at best, Windows 365 gives you the ability to purchase a PC based on your needs with almost zero restrictions. No matter the hardware you have, you can customize Windows 365 to meet your specific needs on a per user basis—gone are the days of battling with shipment and lead time issues. Instead of needing to order new devices, you can just deploy Windows 365 to existing devices, which can also help your business reduce its carbon footprint.

Microsoft has recently highlighted one of Windows 365’s valuable use cases. A remote Canadian territory, Nunavut relies solely on satellite-based infrastructure, and VDI technology has been their only option for connecting with other parts of Canada and the world. With Windows 365, they can use any available hardware and have their own personalized version of Windows ready to use. Now engineers, architects, and nurses have access to the communication and collaboration tools they need. They can also return or travel to the other end of Canada to clinics and workspaces and log in with the same access they left off with, thanks to the “PC in the cloud that follows you wherever you go.”

Pricing, Editions, and Licensing

Easy to use and easy to manage, Windows 365 offers a premium, familiar yet innovative experience for both users and your IT team. For IT admins, infrastructure is no longer a factor with deployment and management, which is consistent with current management tools such as Microsoft Endpoint Manager and Azure AD. Provisioning is no more complicated than assigning an Exchange Online license to a user.

You can choose from two editions of products, Business or Enterprise. The Business edition is intended for small and medium businesses of up to 300 users with no license prerequisites and no domain setup. Business licenses are also offered at a discount with the Windows hybrid benefit for customers with an existing Windows 10/11 pro license. With qualifying licenses, Windows 365 Enterprise can be purchased for an unlimited number of users and is for organizations that want to manage their Cloud PCs with Microsoft Endpoint Manager and take advantage of integrations with other Microsoft services, including Azure Active Directory and Microsoft Defender for Endpoint.

Once you determine which edition is right for your organization, you can choose specs based on CPUs, RAM, and storage needs. Users can run specs that supersede the physical hardware to achieve astounding operating speeds, regardless of network connections or hardware capability. A Windows 365 license is then simply assigned as a Cloud PC Windows instance, and they are granted a new dedicated Windows device. Any device that can connect to the Internet can connect to a Windows 365 Cloud PC, but a traditional keyboard and mouse setup offers the most optimal experience.

And you can rest assured apps that worked on Windows 7, 8.1, and 10 will work with Windows 365. Microsoft is committed to ensuring your apps are compatible, even extending help to fix them if you experience issues at no additional cost with your subscription.

Next Steps

Technology is the framework of the human mind, the tangible results of imagination and innovation. We never see the future coming because of our traditionally linear thinking. To embrace change and capitalize on the innovations as a result of evolution not only means survival, it means a trajectory of inspiration coming to life in ways we can’t possibly predict. Microsoft is riding this wave already, with a corporate mission “to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” So, I challenge you to rethink how you view change and to leverage the technological advances and partners at the forefront such as Microsoft and Connection to help you lay your own scaffolding of imagination for the greater good in this ever-changing world.

Deliver on the Promise of Modern Work with... Sep 21, 2021 Josh Rodgers Among other things, it’s safe to say COVID-19 has changed the way we work forever. The pandemic was a one-of-a-kind catalyst in transforming how we balance our lives and our work—and the ongoing impact of the coronavirus will remain a powerful force in daily life for the foreseeable future. Now no status quo is safe—as Gartner noted in August 2020, “Any location where people work can be a smart workspace.”

The modernized workplace is adaptable, flexible, and responsive to the needs of its people. It gives them the tools they need to succeed in unprecedented times. Even before the pandemic, Forbes observed that a modernized workplace provided its people with “flexibility regarding where and when employees work.”

Communication Tools that Work for You

As we move into the era of hybrid and remote work, merely having the correct licensing or telephony solution in place is no longer enough—you must properly educate and prepare hybrid and remote users (and management) for the best way forward and implement onboarding strategies meant to work on day one. The challenge can seem formidable: how to provide flexibility, nurture collaboration, and increase productivity? With Microsoft Teams, the tools are all there—it’s a matter of knowing how to best utilize them.

From assessment and goal-setting, to implementation, a DIY approach to Microsoft Teams can appear daunting. Fortunately, you don’t need to go it alone—at Connection, our Microsoft experts are always ready to guide customers to the solution that meets their needs.

Our approach to Teams calling preparation is two-fold: First, we hold a Teams Meeting Workshop with your organization. In this one-on-one, deep-dive planning engagement, we work with you to clarify Microsoft Teams with Phone System capabilities and Advanced Communication scenarios. Next, in our Teams Calling Workshop, we help you design, plan, and learn more about action plans for the deployment of Microsoft Teams Calling with Phone System.

After the workshops, we can also provide white glove services to deliver full implementation, solution design, and licensing recommendation, ensuring a successful deployment of the entire Teams solution.

Your Partners in the Future of Collaboration

Organizations will continue to evolve in their goals and expectations as hybrid, fully remote, and other structural changes continue to be part of the emerging new workplace. Connection’s mission is to act as trusted advisor throughout the entire process, removing guesswork, demystifying the licensing process, and delighting clients as we guide the way. In Microsoft’s own words, “The modern workplace requires companies to meet new employee expectations, connect a more distributed workforce, and provide tools to create, innovate and work together to solve business problems.” It is the combination of those tools—via Teams, flexible licensing options, and Surface hardware solutions—and Connection’s decades-long dedication to excellence and customer success where challenges are met and where we help you navigate, envision, and create your own modernized workplace. Let’s talk today so you and your people can talk and collaborate tomorrow—and beyond.

Connection Cares: Hope for Hunger with... Sep 17, 2021 Connection At a recent event with our partner Microsoft, Connection Business Development Managers from our Business Solutions Group were thrilled to participate in a virtual giveback with Impact 4 Good. With the charity’s help, our event participants decorated canvases that will be printed onto shopping tote bags and filled with food to be donated to the Food Bank of the Rockies. Inspired by the fun and spirit of giving, the team also decided to donate the prizes they won during their week-long event to the Food Bank. We were able to add $325 to the donation, which will provide additional meals to the community.

Mitch Jelniker, Corporate Relations Manager from Food Bank of the Rockies, thanked the team for their help, saying, “Not only will those 40 hand-decorated food bags be filled with fresh food, but the added donation will also help us provide 1,000 nutritious meals for Colorado families facing hunger!”

About Food Bank of the Rockies

Food Bank of the Rockies provides food and necessities to people in need through signature programs and by teaming up with hundreds of Hunger Relief Partners to serve communities across Colorado and Wyoming, the largest food bank coverage area in the contiguous United States. They believe that for a community to thrive, every member must have the resources they need to flourish, and they strive to provide equitable access to proper nourishment for all.

What You Need to Know to Have Successful... Sep 09, 2021 Liz Alton Hybrid work models are quickly becoming the norm as companies discover the advantages of remote work and where in-office teams can add significant value. In one recent study, 72% of executives said they anticipate offering hybrid work models. However, making a shift to hybrid work requires making significant cultural, process, and technological shifts in how you approach day-to-day operations. If you’re considering hybrid work or refining your model that’s already in play, here are some considerations.

Defining Hybrid

The Harvard Business Review notes, “to design hybrid work properly, you have to think about it along two axes: place and time.” Many companies are focused exclusively on the place aspect of the equation. It’s understandable why; the reality is that putting the collaboration systems in place that enable teams to connect from anywhere, or offering employees working remotely the secure solutions they need to make remote work a success, location is a critical element.

However, hybrid work requires considering the time element as well—especially in a post-COVID world where managers and companies want to promote employee success. An employee who is working in the office may opt for a longer day to maximize their exposure to the team, while remote workers may favor an early start or a later night depending on scheduling factors. As you develop an approach for hybrid work, think about both location and timing as part of your overall strategy.

Process Design

Some of your critical business processes may need to be redesigned—and simply retrofitting technology around an existing suboptimal process isn’t typically the right approach. The Harvard Business Review highlights the dangers of that approach: “New hybrid arrangements should never replicate existing bad practices—as was the case when companies began automating work processes, decades ago. Instead of redesigning their workflows to take advantage of what the new technologies made possible, many companies simply layered them onto existing processes, inadvertently replicating their flaws, idiosyncrasies, and workarounds. It often was only years later, after many painful rounds of reengineering, that companies really began making the most of those new technologies.”

Take the shift to hybrid work as an opportunity to step back, ask what is working, and what needs to be let go.

Building Equity

One area to consider is how to build greater equity between the staff who are in the office full-time, versus those who work remotely most or all of the time. Team members who are consistently in the office will have access to managers, equipment, and perhaps even opportunities that arise because they can walk over and say hello or ask an IT colleague for assistance with solving a technical issue. Developing solutions that create greater equity in how resources are accessed can provide you with a significant advantage for getting the most out of remote and hybrid teams. Some solutions include:

  • Regular check-ins: Encourage managers to have one-on-one meetings with their direct reports at least once per month; every two weeks or weekly is even better. Daily or weekly stand-ups and check-ins with teams and departments help ensure information is being shared and people are getting face time.
  • Implement a ticketing system for IT issues and equipment requests: One strategy that can help build equity into the IT support process is using a ticketing system. When a team member needs help or wants to upgrade their technology, a ticketing system makes it easy to implement a review process that’s fast and fair regardless of where team members are working.
  • Offer virtual and onsite development opportunities: Access to professional development opportunities, from formal trainings to lunch-and-learn sessions, can make a significant difference in a worker’s career. In a hybrid work environment, developing solutions workers can participate in on-site or off-site can help ensure that your workers are learning and growing no matter where they spend most of their working hours.


Hybrid workers will be flowing in and out of meetings, digital collaboration solutions, and more—whether they’re in the office or working from home—and your software and hardware solutions need to consider this new, flexible approach to work. There are some best practices to consider when adapting your technology strategy to hybrid work environments:

  • Remote work-ready devices: Smartphones, tablets, and laptops—along with secure home networks and printers—can help your team stay connected and productive when they’re out of the office. However, it’s also important to work through how they’ll access your systems when they’re in the office. Will their devices require a docking station? What monitors will they connect to when they’re working?
  • Conference rooms: Meeting spaces are also used differently in a hybrid work environment. Technology can help cross the remote and in-office divide with larger screens that allow anyone to connect. Dedicated sound solutions can also make it easier to speak and hear in a busy conference room environment.

Hot Desking or Hoteling

One of the most common questions employees and managers have is: Where in the office will employees work when they don’t have a dedicated space? Hot desking or hoteling can be a solution when employees don’t need permanent seating due to hybrid work arrangements. With hot desking, a rotating bank of hot desks provides flexible seating for anyone who’s in the office. With hoteling, hybrid employees can reserve a specific desk for when they’re going to be in the office.

As you design your hot desking or hoteling space, it’s important to consider what employees will need. Easy-to-access spaces that are quiet and secure for making conference calls may be required. In other cases, employees may need more open space that facilitates communication or collaboration. Now may be the opportunity to shift to a different seating or office layout configuration than what you’re used to.

Rethinking the way we use our space is a critical element of success. “Meetings will happen more often in open spaces with movable boundaries, and individual focus work will happen in enclosed spaces like pods or small enclaves,” says the Harvard Business Review. Considering the implications for space usage for common areas, conference space, and other factors can help ensure all staff have the right type of space for their needs.

Supporting Trust

Trust is a critical element of the hybrid work environment. How can employers know that their teams are maximizing productivity, no matter where they’re working? Collaboration solutions, project management tools, and productivity analytics tools can all help you better track work in the new hybrid working environment and redesign processes and solutions that give employers visibility into what’s working, notes PWC. Over time, as employees show their ability to navigate the hybrid work environment successfully it’s possible to build confidence in the model long-term. Hybrid work solutions are likely to become the norm, both for practical reasons and to better support the needs of in-demand workers. Getting your technology and processes ready for the hybrid revolution that’s happening today can be challenging—but you don’t have to go it alone. Contact Connection today to speak with one of our expert consultants and explore how our team of hybrid specialists can solve your most critical issues.

Top Benefits of Azure Virtual Desktop Sep 08, 2021 Sreeraj Vasukuttan I remember how excited I was when Microsoft announced a preview of Windows Virtual Desktop in 2019. Well, at the time it was called Windows Virtual Desktop. Recently Microsoft changed the name to Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD), which paves the way for the new Windows 365 Cloud PC. When I saw the first demos of AVD, I thought virtual desktop as a service (DaaS) would be the next big thing. With Windows 365 now part of the mix, I can confidently say cloud/virtual DaaS will be.

I followed the AVD space. I read reports that there was a steady three-digit adoption growth for AVD. Then I saw a massive spike in demand for AVD in March and April of this year. Our Microsoft team at Connection has been getting many customer inquiries about AVD since the transition to remote and hybrid began in March 2020. It’s clear that the work-from-home transitions drove increased interest in AVD. But what are the benefits of this service? Let’s examine the case for Azure Virtual Desktop during pandemic times and beyond. 

Why Choose AVD for DaaS?

As a DaaS offering, AVD is highly cost-effective compared to scaling up a traditional virtual desktop environment in your own data center. With the business disruption during COVID-19, companies were trying to find ways to extend their remote work infrastructure while keeping their operating expenses low. Companies already on a Microsoft ecosystem, such as Windows 10 Enterprise or Microsoft 365, had additional incentives to make the shift; I will explain why further down. 

Another driver for AVD during this time is that it lets organizations control apps and data while allowing their employees to access those resources from their own devices. This is something that a traditional VDI/RDS environment can also provide. However, the cost advantage of AVD, when combined with security and control, creates a winning combination.  

If IT decision-makers consider the end-user benefit, another reason to choose AVD is the superior experience of Windows 10 and Office 365 that it can provide. The right user experience increases productivity. You don’t want to frustrate your valuable employees with a clunky experience while they work from home.  Now, let’s explore what makes AVD a robust offering that could have sustainable growth even after more employees return to the office.

The Azure Advantage 

With AVD, the infrastructure and management components of a traditional on-premises virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) disappear into the cloud—just like a dinosaur-shaped cloud merges back into indescribable formations on the backdrop of the beautiful blue sky on a sunny day. (Read my post on Windows Server/SQL Server end life for more dinosaur metaphors.) Thanks to this merging, Microsoft is taking back critical components of a traditional VDI—such as brokering, load-balancing, compute, storage, and diagnostics—from your plate, which will let your precious IT talent focus on other strategic areas with growth potential. 

Hosting your desktops on Azure also means you get Azure’s state-of-the-art security features. I believe Azure is considered the most secure public cloud platform, and AVD provides the best DaaS security model for customers.  With AVD, users can only access their virtual machines (VMs) by going through the Azure Active Directory authentication system. This means companies can use multifactor authentication and conditional access according to their needs and depending on the employee profile. Also, Azure uses reverse connect technology that lets you run a VM without keeping any inbound ports open. This means that the VMs on AVD are not exposed to the Internet directly.

Windows 10 Multisession 

Unlike the traditional RDI, Azure Virtual Desktop allows multiple sessions on a Windows 10 VM. This means that an organization can have multiple users access the same virtual machine while reducing the cost of maintaining multiple VM licenses. Also, these sessions are isolated from each other, which gives higher security and privacy.  

FSLogix Profile Containers 

The FSLogix piece solidifies my above point about the superior Windows 10 and Office experience on AVD. Microsoft acquired FSLogix a few years back and integrated its profile container technology into its Azure and Microsoft 365 ecosystems. With FSLogix profile container technology integrated to AVD, Microsoft has revolutionized the way the end-user experience works in non-persistent virtual machine sessions. An AVD user profile will follow a user even if they do not use the same virtual machine session every time they access AVD virtual machines. 

The integration of FSLogix containers also significantly impacts how your Microsoft Apps (formerly Office 365 ProPlus) and OneDrive experience work with AVD. FSLogix with AVD can provide you the most productive Microsoft 365 Apps experience. The FSLogix technology on AVD also allows OneDrive to sync when the user roams through non-persistent sessions.

Access AVD from Any Operating System

Another reason why AVD is a win for the end user is through the flexibility that Microsoft offers for AVD across diverse operating systems. A user can access AVD in Windows, macOS, iOS, or Android. The client OS flexibility of this sort goes a long way to BYOD scenarios that companies may want to use while they extend their remote work footprint. 

The growth drivers for Microsoft products are not just based on better technology; they include how Microsoft makes it easier for existing customers to adopt those technologies and how they use their partner ecosystem to help customers solve business problems using those technologies. In AVD, Microsoft makes the adoption easier for you by making the AVD license free with most Microsoft 365 licenses and Windows 10 Enterprise licenses. The cost savings alone can be a significant driver for companies—with a Microsoft software ecosystem—to adopt AVD. Not to mention, Windows 7 EOL customers get free Extended Security Updates on AVD.

As a Microsoft Gold partner with a services practice and expertise in Azure, Connection can help your organization adopt Azure Virtual Desktop. As an Azure Managed Service Provider, we can also supervise your Azure environment for you. Reach out anytime to one of our Account Managers with questions about desktop virtualization.

Windows and SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2 End... Sep 08, 2021 Sreeraj Vasukuttan I often imagine Windows Server 2008/2008 R2 and SQL Server 2008/2008 R2 as mighty old dinosaurs that lived for millions of years, waiting for that giant asteroid to fall from the sky. It’s a sad beginning, but read on and I’ll point you towards a few transformational paths that could save them both on the land and in the cloud.


Extended Support Dates in Effect

Windows Server 2008/2008 R2 and SQL Server 2008/2008 R2 have both met their end-of-life dates: July 9, 2019 for SQL Server 2008/2008 R2 and January 14, 2020 for Windows Server 2008/2008. If you’re still running any of those machines, you’re doing so at your own risk—especially in this age of cyberattacks.

The good news is that the fate of these dinosaurs is not quite as bad as the real ones that lived millions of years ago. It’s not that you can deflect the end-of-life asteroid by sending a space rocket at them; it’s that our mighty old dinosaurs can take a few evolutionary paths to exist in the Microsoft universe (in their current form or even fancier new forms).

Wandering Down Three Microsoft Paths

Path 1: The first path is the traditional evolutionary path of upgrading to a newer version of Windows Server and SQL Server. Here, you get the most updated features and a sought-after security landscape. The latest versions of Windows Server and SQL Server available are Windows Server 2019 (reaching general availability in early October 2018) and SQL Server 2017. You can upgrade to the on-premises versions or the cloud version on Azure (recommended by Microsoft). I would also like to mention Windows Server 2019 if you are thinking of going for the latest version. The only caveat for upgrading to the latest version of the on-premises server product is the price change. Check out this blog post to get a clearer picture of how price changes might affect your organization.

Path 2: If you do not want to upgrade to the latest server versions—don’t worry—Microsoft has you covered. Microsoft announced a few options for those who want to continue on Windows Server 2008/2008 R2 and SQL 2008/2008 R2. Through free Extended Security Updates (ESU) in Azure you can continue to host your Windows Server/SQL Server 2008/2008 R2 instances for three more years. That means you can continue running them in Azure until January 14, 2023 (Windows Server 2008/2008 R2 ) and July 12, 2022 for SQL Server 2008/2008 R2). On July 14, 2021, Microsoft announced that they are extending the free ESUs one more year. This means you could continue running SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2 free in Azure until July 12, 2023 and Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2 for free in Azure until January 14, 2024.

To save more money, you could simply move your Windows Server 2008/2008 R2 and SQL 2008/2008 R2 to Azure by using the Azure Hybrid Use Benefit. The only cost you would incur would be compute and infrastructure. With the use of Azure Reserved VM Instances for Windows Server and Azure SQL Database Reserved Capacity, you can also save further on the compute cost.

Path 3: The last path is to not evolve at all. Microsoft also announced extended security updates. You will be allowed to run Windows Server 2008/2008 R2 and SQL 2008/2008 R2 for 75% of the current operating system cost, and continue to receive security updates. For this extended support, you must have Software Assurance or the Enterprise Subscription agreement. This extension option is also a direct replacement for Windows Server and SQL Server Premium Assurance, that Microsoft discontinued prior to the announcement of this new option. Windows Server 2008/2008 R2 and SQL 2008/2008 R2 were the ones set to take advantage of the Premium Assurance offer. Customers only receive three years of these extended security updates, instead of the six years they would have received with the old Premium Assurance. However, on the FAQ part of the extended support announcement, Microsoft says they will honor the commitment for those who have already bought the Premium Assurance.

Bridging the Skills Gap: The Benefits of IT... Sep 07, 2021 Patrick Dja Konan In early 2020, the global health pandemic forced companies across the world to quickly enhance their technology capabilities and transition to a virtual workplace. Although most companies were somewhat able to adapt to this “virtual world,” the continuous changes of the IT landscape have significantly increased the demand of IT workers and created a skills gap within many organizations. According to CompTIA research, 93% of employers report an overall skills gap in their IT professionals, expressing a disparity between desired skillsets and existing ones. Finding qualified IT talent has become even more challenging in this competitive market, and companies are exploring various options to bring in the right technical person. When talking to customers, one of the suggestions we make is to leverage IT consultants to get the help and expertise they need. Here are some of the benefits of hiring IT consultants. 

Get the Specific Skillset You Need 

As mentioned above, the IT landscape has significantly changed, and there’s a high demand for cloud, security, AI, and big data specialists. Due to the high demand and limited number of fulltime employees with these skillsets, hiring an IT consultant or IT service company can be a way to bring in a specialized/ expert level of experience needed for a particular project.

Quick Interview Process

For the most part, hiring a contractor requires fewer steps. Most contractors do not require a long notice to begin a new job. If you work with the right staffing partner, you should be able to interview someone, hire them, and have them ready to start within 5–10 days. This allows hiring managers to get the technical support needed quickly.

Additional Support

Whether it’s backlogs, new projects, or leaves of absence, hiring a contractor can help fill the gap. Though the pandemic was difficult for all of us, IT employees were desperately needed and overworked to keep up with the transition to remote operations and technical challenges employees faced on daily basis. Bringing on a contractor to increase the bandwidth or allow team members to take time off can significantly boost your team’s morale, as well as their emotional and mental health. 

Help Your Company Save Money

In addition to the difficulties of finding IT talent in today’s market, IT salaries have skyrocketed, and companies are paying a premium to fill IT openings. When adding the costs of onboarding a fulltime employee, benefits, and other hiring and recruiting costs, companies are spending an absurd amount of money to remain competitive and attract IT talent. Hiring an IT consultant can help you bring in the desired skills with no strings attached while saving money. 

The current IT job market is very competitive and presents difficulties for many companies to find and hire qualified IT talent. Connection has over 30 years of experience in IT staffing and provides companies across the U.S. with tailored recruiting solutions to help fill both contract and fulltime positions. Hiring managers can leverage our guaranteed contract (30 days or more), contract-to-hire (ZERO conversion fee after 90 working days), or direct-hire (we offer two budget-friendly options: 16% or 18% fee) programs, to bring the right IT talent to their teams. You can learn more about our services or reach out to an Account Manager today. 

Smart Manufacturing May Start with Better... Sep 02, 2021 Ryan Spurr I had to think long and hard about this blog. Let’s be honest, phone systems are not new. The concept of unified communications isn’t new either. So, what is new? And what should we take into account when considering a new unified communications platform?

I discovered that unified communications platforms are getting more compelling, more integrated, and more beneficial. Over the last few years, and even the last 18 months, the world has changed how it uses technology to get work done. 

In our personal lives, technology is changing faster than in the workplace. Just consider how you communicate outside of work with friends and family. If my toddler has hijacked my phone, it’s no problem. I locate the nearest tablet, smartwatch, or home screen to accept that video call from a friend. We’re spoiled with outstanding digital experiences—and we want the same at work.

During the pandemic, we’ve seen the fastest business process and technology transformation ever. And I’m not talking about Industry 4.0 here—I’m talking about the more mundane aspects of work we’ve taken for granted. While not all jobs have been affected similarly, we’ve seen a change in salaried and frontline-worker communications in manufacturing. 

Salaried workers are capable of working from anywhere. More importantly, 56% of employees seek a hybrid option and 30% seek a purely remote option, which indicates employees expect a choice for remote or flexible work options. This ask goes beyond remote-work approval from HR or management—involving technology changes to support this evolving work style. The pandemic has allowed most employees to work from home, a second home during a family vacation, or just knowing that you can be anywhere to get work done. 

The options are slightly different for frontline workers, who must be in the facility to manufacture products or support physical activities. That said, the pandemic changed these workspaces and expectations for communication too. 

For example, imagine a weekend shift where a specific machine fails and requires an onsite visit from an industrial controls engineer. For many companies, the pandemic pushed these folks offsite or limited their onsite exposure. That same engineer now expects to leverage unified communications to speak with onsite technicians or frontline workers to walk them through the troubleshooting process remotely. The frontline worker who may not have had access to a phone before the pandemic, can now use a tablet or a smart mobile scanner to take the call. Leveraging industrial scanners and technology reduces the need for an engineer to drive into the facility, speeds time to recovery for the factory, and improves the employee experience so that engineers can still make it to their kiddo’s soccer game.

Beyond the personal benefits to employees, this offers a considerable advantage for post-pandemic work. The shift changes how employees communicate while travelling, at events, in new office configurations like hot-desking or shared workspaces, and in the consistent communication experience from facility to facility. If you have hybrid workers returning to the office after 12 months, you can bet they will expect seamless technical expertise in their workspace. If that experience isn’t good, employees may start to think differently about the relationship and explore new opportunities with employers who get it.

There are benefits in the industrial workspace as well. Modern communications lead to greater productivity, fewer third-party visits, and lower travel and expense costs. Another trend that started before the pandemic—enabling engineers and top talent to reside anywhere in the country—may also accelerate due to new unified communications solutions. For leaders, this will help with local top-talent shortages, as a physical presence becomes less critical and you can effectively communicate with any employee on any device, anytime, anywhere.

This is a massive differentiator for employers that choose to ditch the legacy communications platforms like PBX, and explore new solutions that create talent benefits and optimize the workforce.

Beyond the human-capital rationale for improving communications solutions, here are just a few of the reasons manufacturers are also considering UCaaS:

  • Cloud-based platform that eliminates existing telephony and PBX from the tech estate
  • Quick time-to-value with a rich set of features
  • Third-party integrations with CRM, data, and collaboration platforms
  • Voice, text, and alternative communications options
  • Integrated security
  • Diverse hardware support
  • Simpler billing and management

Let’s also not forget the customer experience. There are modern alternatives for Call Center as a Service (CCaaS) that focus on customer experience, while also delivering a rich set of features and business system integrations that improve call center productivity. Your business can now integrate with customer resource management (CRM) systems, streamline customer-facing processes, and double your call center capacity with the same number of agents. Unified communications are becoming more than just phone services.

Each manufacturing business is different and will benefit uniquely from modern unified communications. It’s important to understand that the workforce is changing, and tight labor markets call for outstanding employee experiences to attract and retain talent. The headwinds affecting manufacturers also require creativity regarding cost savings, productivity, and getting work done. Advancement doesn’t always have to take the form of the most exciting or forward-leaning technologies like artificial intelligence. Unified Communication solutions are a great way to alter your tech estate, manage costs, improve integration with business systems, improve productivity, and deliver a great employee experience. Don’t wait! Ditch the legacy and reimagine how your workforce communicates to get more work done.To discuss your next-generation communication challenges and learn more about Connection’s Manufacturing Technology Solutions, contact our manufacturing specialists today!

Manufacturing Security: Is Your... Aug 26, 2021 Ryan Spurr Okay, we get it! Security is a huge risk in manufacturing. We already have end point protection, firewalls, and corporate security policies. What else do we need?

Manufacturing has indeed become a huge target. In fact, it was the second-most-attacked industry in 2020, up from eighth position the prior year.1 While threats are one thing, 33% of cybersecurity attacks in manufacturing succeeded and 35% resulted in operational or plant outages.

This is a big deal! It means what was once deemed by manufacturing leaders as a risk avoidance topic has now become a very likely outcome. With the increased sophistication in attacks, legacy system vulnerabilities, and massive amounts of logging, the old mindsets like “air gapping” or firewalling are no longer enough. Even with robust security hardware, policy, and industry compliance, it’s no wonder why 40% of organizations are not confident their teams would be able to handle a data breach.3 So what should manufacturers explore next to improve their security posture?

Detection, Containment, and Remediation 

It’s important to note that most manufacturing organizations still haven’t taken security seriously or implemented the necessary investment measures. But for the purpose of this blog, let’s assume your business has a strong OT/IT relationship and has implemented a thoughtful mix of network, physical, and software security solutions across factories, warehouses, and the traditional IT landscape. 

These actions by themselves go a long way to minimize the all-likely risk and hinder the spread and efficacy of attacks. But as we know, these measures alone cannot prevent your business from shutting down operations for days due to ransomware or another cyber incident. Remember, it’s all about detection, containment, and remediation. It’s this last point where many organizations struggle in response to a cyber event. 

Does your organization have a security operations center (SOC)? Is it staffed 24/7/365? Has your organization integrated your security solutions and logging into SIEM/SOC? Do you have a well-laid response plan when threats are identified?

If you answered no to any of these questions, your organization is at risk. According to 65% of organizations, the top barrier to security operations is a lack of visibility into the security infrastructure, 69% of security operations are ineffective due to a lack of visibility into network traffic, and only about 50% of SOCs have threat intelligence.3 To make things worse, 35% of attacks occur between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.—when most IT and Security workers are offline4—leaving your organization vulnerable and allowing threats time to propagate and affect your industrial infrastructure. 

A Lack of Security Resources

Security is a risk avoidance business conversation, and it’s expensive. Implementing the necessary solutions and staffing are costly endeavors for even the largest of organizations. And when done correctly, these security solutions produce massive amounts of data that must be consumed, analyzed, and actioned. For most manufacturing organizations, this is a daunting task for already thinly-stretched IT organizations. Even those who take this topic seriously struggle to find the talented security professionals necessary to staff their security operations. It’s not just an HR challenge, 87% of organizations face moderate to extreme security risk due to security talent shortages.

Manufacturing is also adding complexity and rapidly transforming its technology landscape, especially in the operational technology environments. With technology across the entirety of the average manufacturing tech estate, organizations are facing integration across their whole technology stack—industrial control systems (ICS), endpoint protection, network, data center, cloud services—and across a heterogenous range of brands. Most manufacturers are still trying to integrate their core business systems (like ERP, MES, and SCADA), never mind focusing on the integration, orchestration, and real-time response management necessary for security operations. 

Is this what manufacturers want to focus on? Is this where your organization’s finite resources should be aimed? Or perhaps, like with other areas of our businesses, we should explore new models or services that allow us to get these necessary capabilities by augmenting with a trusted partner?

The Answer Is Clear

Security is fundamental, especially as manufacturers become more digitally integrated and reliant upon technology. That technology should enable operational excellence—not distract from the core mission to design and produce products. While manufacturers must invest in security solutions, it doesn’t mean they must “roll their own.” Like cloud adoption in the manufacturing sector, we see massive growth in managed services adoption in areas like security operations (SOC as a service). Manufacturers are revisiting the costs and complexities of their security operations to that of a managed security operations service. In doing so, they quickly realize the benefits of augmenting an essential element of their business with an existing pool of talented security professionals executing with the best processes and toolsets. 

In addition to improving your overall security posture (or meeting essential compliance requirements like ISO27001, NIST 800-171, or CMMC), you will also open your organization to advanced security capabilities and services to evolve your cybersecurity program over time or as business requires. And for those organizations that need it, most managed security operations partners offer additional services like remediation, root cause analysis, and other post-event services to help you act quickly. 

As IT, OT, or business leaders, I implore you to consider the option of assigning security operations to trusted partners who focus on nothing but security and maintain the necessary talent to monitor and act. Managed security services can offer manufacturing leadership confidence that their security operations will rise to the occasion and allow the organization to focus on manufacturing, operational excellence, and growth. 

Contact us today to learn more about Connection’s Manufacturing Practice, our Security Experts, or to discuss next-generation security challenges highlighted in this article.

1 IBM, 2021, IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index
2 Industry Week, 2021, Bombardier Suffers Cyber Attack
3  Ponemon Sullivan Privacy Report, 2019, Two-thirds of Security Workers Consider Quitting Because of Burnout
4 Arctic Wolf, 2020, Security Operations Annual Report
5 CyberEdge Group, 2021, Cyberthreat Defense Report

Struggling with Cloud? Sometimes, You Just... Aug 24, 2021 Leandro Rocha It’s been almost ten years since I started working with cloud technologies. Back in 2011, I began my first cloud project to migrate a customer from Exchange Server 2007 to Office 365, a couple of months after Microsoft released Office 365. At that point, most of the customer’s doubts and uncertainty were related to network requirements, skills to handle the new technology, and data security. Ten years have passed, and network latency, upskilling, and security are still considered a concern and priority when adopting the cloud.

Uncovering True Cloud Benefits

Nowadays, moving workloads to the cloud has become a priority for most companies, as they seek to lower costs, as well as bring agility and innovation to their businesses. However, some organizations keep struggling to take advantage of the benefits provided by the cloud because they lack the in-house expertise or bandwidth to properly manage their new cloud instances. This has led to myths that the cloud is expensive and not as secure as an on-premises environment—not to mention the idea that moving to the cloud forces you to choose only one vendor.

But if you can partner with someone who has the experience and technical skills to handle the cloud, you’ll be able to find your way to true cost savings, increased security, and more business agility. For example, you can build some guardrails to control the budget, choose the familiar technology that you already know and have been working with, or leverage the cloud to improve the security of your workloads even when they’re running on your local data center.

Cloud providers like Microsoft and Google are now working on technologies to extend the benefits and management of hybrid and multi-cloud environments to help customers with their cloud adoption. Technologies such as Azure Arc and Google Anthos may offer many advantages to your business, including governance, control, apps modernization, security, and more.

By the way, multi-cloud solutions have become more common, and with that, the concern of having the right skills to manage workloads through different cloud providers has become more prevalent. It is a fact that price, types of services offered, the way you spin up and configure workloads, and how the environment is built all change from one provider to another. It can be cumbersome having to manage resources spread throughout the distinct clouds.

Cloud Questions that Must Be Answered

So how do you get the skills to work with Azure, Google, or AWS? And how do you know how to answer all the questions you may have about cloud? For instance, is the hybrid or multi-cloud approach better for your business? If you already have workloads running on cloud, how can you avoid blowing up your budget? Could the cloud be a solution or a problem to data sovereignty? Is the cloud able to provide the security required by your business? Would it be possible to preserve the investment already made in your local data center if you decide to migrate to the cloud?

Nearly everyone has these kinds of questions—and more—when they begin to discuss a possible cloud migration. But don’t worry. You don’t need to feel overwhelmed or make these decisions alone. As moving to the cloud becomes more of a “when” rather than an “if,” you’ll need a trusted partner to help guide you through these questions and ensure you can make a smooth and solid transition. As the cloud changes and innovates faster than you can imagine, it’s crucial that you work with a business partner that has experienced professionals, cloud competencies, and certifications. It will make all the difference in achieving your goals and expectations.

Smart Glasses: Bringing Mission Impossible... Aug 19, 2021 Dr Keith Nelson Perhaps the biggest advance in healthcare IT innovation has been the inexorable evolution of mobile connectivity. The progressive technology drive has always been toward smaller (less obtrusive), faster, smoother, and safer devices. Nowhere is this more evident than in the jump from desktop PCs to laptops to tablets and finally smartphones, giving our hands greater freedom. And now we’re focusing on taking the next step: completely removing our hands from the equation. One ubiquitous example of progress in this direction is the introduction and wide adoption of voice-enabled technology like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant, all of which are currently limited to audio input. The next step in this evolution involves adding visual input in the form of head-mounted cameras, visual output displays (tiny optical viewing screens or transparent heads-up displays), and wireless connectivity—together defining the category of smart glasses. Typically, audio capability is present as well, and, increasingly, so is computer processing.

The most well-known of these devices is the seminal, highly publicized Google Glass. Staying true to the aphorism that necessity is the mother of invention, such wearable computer interface devices were conceived with specific use cases in mind. I’ll detail a few below, but, as with the introduction of any new technology, the number of creative applications will no doubt rapidly expand as product evolution advances.

As a primer, there are currently two evolving categories of smart glasses technology: augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR). Augmented reality superimposes a non-manipulative computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world. For example, the name of a plant will appear as you gaze at it, or a direction arrow will guide you as you navigate an unfamiliar neighborhood. Mixed reality allows the user to interact with the added virtual element. A good example of this is a surgeon superimposing and correctly positioning an x-ray over the patient’s spine during an operation. There are very few mixed reality applications available today, but this is where it’s all headed in the near future.

Humble Beginnings: Google Glass Smart Glasses

Google Glass is a small, lightweight wearable computer with a transparent display for hands-free work. It has been through many iterations, starting with a camera, display, and voice activation (not exactly smart glasses—it was used primarily for remote mentoring/training with no fancy virtual/visual enhancements), and progressing to AR functionality. At one point, Google had ostensibly discontinued work on the device, but they have recently re-energized their developmental efforts. One large limitation of their technology is that it only has a display for the right eye, which limits the extent and quality of the user’s immersion experience.

The Next Generation

Examples of current advanced devices include:

  • MR – Microsoft Hololens
  • AR – Realwear HMT-1
  • AR – Vuzix M300
  • AR – Epson Movario
  • AR – Lenovo ThinkReality A6
  • AR – Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2

Additional Product Feature Considerations

When comparing smart glasses, beyond clinical functionality, one should also consider battery life, waterproofing/resistance, shock resistance, safety certifications, data security provisions, EN 60601 compliance, temperature extreme resistance, head tracking, gesture controls, local device integration, local speech recognition (i.e. for noisy environments), and/or language translation.


Smart glasses communicate wirelessly (cellular networks or Wi-Fi) to the cloud, where their function (i.e. interactivity) is managed using middleware and AR software. An example of this is HPE Visual Remote Guidance (VRG) software, which enables hands-free wearable devices (as well as phones and tablets) to connect via cellular networks or Wi-Fi to the enterprise, used in conjunction with Vuforia’s AR development software.

Healthcare Use Cases

At the end of the day, the value of any healthcare technology is determined by its ability to drive improvement in both efficiency and patient outcomes. To this end, the following are examples of currently employed and rapidly evolving use cases that are showing great promise.

  • Augmented Mentoring (Education and Guidance): A physician performing patient rounds or surgery can enable remote expert colleagues, residents, or students to see what they’re seeing and hearing and offer feedback. It can similarly be used for grand rounds. Conversely, a remote category-expert physician can guide an attending resident who is treating a patient. In addition, remote guidance can be applied to aid a technician in the repair/maintenance of capital medical equipment and IT infrastructure.
  • Vein Visualization: AccuVein, currently in use in hospitals, can project a map of a patient’s veins onto their skin, making it easier for healthcare workers to find a vein on the first try.
  • Surgical Visualization: Medical image processing combined with 3D AR visualization enables orthopedic surgeons to perform minimally invasive procedures more accurately by projecting three dimensional representations of the patient’s internal anatomy into the surgeon’s limited field of view.
  • Surgical Planning: Medivis’ combination of AR + AI + imaging enables physicians to visualize the patient’s anatomy holographically, resulting in a much more detailed vision of the body’s architecture than is possible using traditional 2D scans.
  • Data/Image Access: A provider could call-up x-rays, test results, anatomical guide, or historical skin lesion images without averting their eyes from a patient or a surgical field.

And, in the words of Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny, there’s more. You can count on an avalanche of new solutions coming down the pike as hardware advances in terms of process speeds and connectivity, and concomitantly evolves into more personally integrated delivery vehicles such as contact lenses and implants—all together enabling extraordinary breakthroughs in software development. And the great news is that the patient is the ultimate beneficiary.

Connection Cares: Connection and Cisco... Aug 10, 2021 Connection Connection Cares empowers employees to make a difference—both within our communities and our company. As part of Connection’s continued efforts to give back, we were able to donate $1,000 to the Pittsburgh Penguins® Foundation Technology in Education program through our Connection, Cisco, and Penguins virtual event. Our donation will help bring technology into the classroom and even the playing field for all students, no matter their economic background.

“Connection and Cisco are valuable partners to organizations like ours,” stated Erik Watts, Chief Technology Officer at Pittsburgh Penguins®. “Both play an integral part in our strategy and response plans to ensure business continuity. The value of their partnership is only exceeded by their generosity to worthy endeavors such as the Pittsburgh Penguins® Foundation Technology in Education program.”

Cisco is committed to inclusive access to digital skills training and supporting those who use technology to educate. Through programs like Cisco Networking Academy and social investments in education, Cisco creates new opportunities for individuals to thrive.

We are proud to support the Pittsburgh Penguins® Foundation Technology in Education program.

Attention, Manufacturers: How Confident Are... Jul 28, 2021 Ryan Spurr OK. So you have a backup plan in place. Now the real question is, how prepared is your business to recover from those backups in the event of a cyber incident, equipment failure, or catastrophe?

If you’re like most manufacturers, backup and disaster recovery are checkboxes meant to comply with industry standards, regulations, or insurance requirements. Manufacturers are well-intentioned but don’t necessarily invest in or implement robust disaster recovery (DR) solutions because it’s viewed as cost avoidance, not cost savings. Even if your business does take business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) seriously, most have poorly documented processes that have never been tested, or worst yet, had their disaster recovery solution fail when they needed it most.

The truth is that only 54% of organizations have a documented DR plan, only 50% of organizations are routinely testing their DR solutions, and 73% of organizations experienced DR failures following an outage. This is discouraging news! Statistics such as these are primarily focused on corporate IT BCDR, which means they aim to protect the well-funded and managed data center applications. Most manufacturing organizations lack any clear BCDR strategy when it comes to the operational side of the house, including production equipment, automation, edge compute, or the non-carpeted world.

How confident are you in your existing disaster recovery solutions? Have you tested them? Can you restore your data to any location, including the cloud? Is your operational technology (OT) footprint growing along with your risk levels for protecting and minimizing business disruptions?

Considerations for Modern Disaster Recovery

Backup and disaster recovery are not new, but all manufacturers should consider a few things as they take stock of an evolving tech estate and the growing risks, such as cyber incidents.

First, take stock of the entire landscape, including operational equipment in factories, warehouses, and labs. These processes are critical value creation points for most manufacturers. Any outage that impacts operational goals like shipping, customer commitments, and revenue and profit should be closely scrutinized.

Second, including both IT and OT, does your disaster recovery solution support a diverse range of operating systems, recovery objectives, hardware, and regulatory requirements? Are you able to recover to bare metal in the factory? Is it automated to minimize reliance on employees or under-skilled resources?

Third, does your DR solution support a hybrid landscape? 74% of manufacturing CFOs view cloud as the most impactful technology to support business results leading to 45% of manufacturers adopting some form of cloud solution. With the rapid adoption of cloud services, it’s essential to understand that your DR must recover to both on-premises data centers and recover solutions such as Azure, Office 365, AWS, GCloud, Co-Location, and other services within your tech estate. Even if your business systems are 100% on-premises, you must anticipate an event where you cannot successfully recover to your corporate owned data centers, and whether your DR solution has the capability to recovery to temporary locations like cloud services in a worst case scenario.

Lastly, does your organization have the resources and skillsets to support backup and disaster recovery? Or better yet, do you want to own this responsibility? BCDR objectives are just that—they don’t articulate how the goals must get done, nor do they require that an already-stretched IT team deliver the service organically. Manufacturers depend on robust DR solutions that work, but these solutions are frequently not the most exciting or well-supported objectives for a manufacturing company.

Ask yourself, would it be better to augment or outsource your BCDR solutions to a company better suited for the task? Would this open up my staff to focus on more value-added challenges for our business? The answer is probably YES. Utilizing a world-class disaster recovery service frees you from many of the distracting and monotonous tasks of managing a successful DR program.

New Solutions for DR Success

Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) is a great option to augment or replace your existing DR solution. Whether you’re focused on documents, business applications, or data, consider how DRaaS can be used to reduce downtime and quickly restore business operations.

Modern DRaaS offerings are built to integrate with a diversity of infrastructure and partners, meaning we can recommend you a trusted service provider that understands your technology estate and can successfully manage the backups and disaster recovery process. These offerings also help to optimize network flexibility, accelerate recovery times, ensuring your business meets its recovery time objectives (RTO) and recovery point objectives (RPO), along with regulatory compliance, transparent pricing models, and a range of support services.

With advanced automation and orchestration, manufacturers can effectively recovery their diverse hybrid landscape with greater visibility, price predictability, meet insurance or regulatory compliance requirements, and most importantly, access expert advice, services, and fast recovery times to keep their business operational. To learn more about Connection’s Manufacturing Practice or to discuss challenges and solutions associated with modern disaster recovery strategies, including Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) as highlighted in this article, contact us today.

Why Backup as a Service Makes Sense for... Jul 23, 2021 Ryan Spurr In recent months, I have written on the growing importance of effective business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) programs, especially in light of the increased risks to manufacturing organizations. We only need to turn on the news to see in plain sight why manufacturing became the second most targeted industry in 2020 and why 33% of all cyber-theft incidents impacted manufacturing companies. But security threats are not the only potential risks we should be considering.

Most manufacturers are also dealing with complex hybrid tech estates, multiple locations, plant infrastructure, regulatory compliance, legal retention, and perhaps most impactful of all, maintaining the talented staff capable of operating the existing backup and recovery technologies themselves. So how are manufacturing organizations rethinking their approach to modern backup strategies?

In most instances, it’s probably not what you would think. Manufacturers and IT leaders realize that their ability to execute backup services isn’t a core competency. It also recognizes the increased relevance of a backup strategy that works when needed most. 

As a result, manufacturing companies are shedding their on-premises backup offerings in favor of backup as a service (BaaS). As with other as-a-service offerings, BaaS is constantly evolving by introducing best practices into the solutions, offering professional services, support a wide array of compliance and security postures, and better integrate with the heterogeneous hybrid environments most organizations now operate within.

Important Backup Considerations

With so many manufacturers moving into Microsoft 365, it’s essential to understand that backup and data protection in these environments are a shared responsibility. When you reference Microsoft’s service agreement, you will find that, “We [Microsoft] recommend that you regularly back up your content and data that you store on the services or store using third-party apps and services.” Add in user errors such as accidental deletions, insider threats, or ransomware, and you will find that backup services are a necessary part of your cloud strategy. Just moving your file and data storage into cloud services doesn’t absolve your organization from the responsibility of a thorough backup regimen.

Compliance and legal readiness are another set of considerations. Organizations must protect source systems and their backups concerning regulations like SOC2, ISO 27001, GDPR, and others on the compliance side. On the legal side, ensuring data retention matches industry and corporate policies, along with the ability to support e-discovery or legal events, is also crucial in the event your organization must comply with legal actions. The ability to effectively back up, protect all data, and recover when necessary is critical to meeting the complex challenges of operating within a global and regulated economy.

My favorite example often starts with, “But our business doesn’t have anything of value.” This statement couldn’t be more contrary to real-life business impacts and illustrates the short-sighted thinking of leadership. Just look to the JBS events in 2021, where one of the largest meat packaging manufacturers was hit with ransomware. The cybersecurity incident resulted in large-scale global production outages while also impacting 1/5 of the U.S. meat supply chain. According to an article in Bloomberg, “cybersecurity wasn’t considered a priority and didn’t show an immediate return on investment” to warrant outlays in the necessary preventative or responsive measures to protect the business. It’s an important lesson. Your business doesn’t need to have unique intellectual property or manufacture the most sophisticated technologies in the world to have your business, customers, or suppliers impacted by a lack of a robust and effective BCDR program.

Whatever manufacturing industry you operate within, it’s time to start rethinking how you invest in both defensive and reactive measures to security and insider threats, as well as to general failures that can impact business operations. Most manufacturers have pushed off these investments due to cost allocation, affordability, or short-term financial cost savings. Despite this position, it’s been repeatedly proven that all manufacturers will be impacted, and those impacts will cost far more than the initial investment.

Backup as a Service: Augment and Focus on What Matters

The good news is there are many options available to protect your tech estate. Modern cloud solutions exist that appeal to the more heterogeneous and legacy-based environment we see in factories, warehouses, and research. BaaS solutions can also span your hybrid environments, protecting physical plant machines, virtual machines, and other services in the cloud like AWS, Azure, Google, Microsoft 365, and more. Employees depend on all these technology resources, and the inability to turn to backups to quickly recover when needed will harm your business’s ability to execute.

Consequently, manufacturers are turning to backup as a service to reduce complexity, eliminate tech estate, and ensure they have access to secure and scalable backup solutions. With advanced automation and orchestration, organizations can effectively back up their hybrid landscape with greater visibility, price predictability, meet insurance or regulatory compliance requirements, and most importantly, access expert advice, services, and fast recovery times to keep their business operating when the unexpected strikes.

If your organization lacks experience or skillsets or is looking for staff augmentation, managed service offerings also bring expertise in devising an integrated backup and disaster recovery solution that fits your business needs. Many BaaS providers also offer services to aid in the ongoing operational activities around backup, monitoring, and recovery if a disaster strikes.

Backup as a service is quickly becoming an essential component as industrial transformation (IX) and technology adoption increase. Combine the financial and productivity impacts with effects on workforce morale, distractions from value-added activities, and impact on brand and deliverables, and your modern organization should be changing its view of business continuity and resilience risks. The risks are no longer realized in the off chance a weather event bears down on your facility—it’s now a combination of catastrophes, cybersecurity, unplanned failure or human error, and workforce disruption. To learn more about Connection’s Manufacturing Practice or to discuss the challenges associated with modern backup strategies, including backup as a service, contact us today.

Microsoft Career Coach Prepares Students for... Jul 20, 2021 Carrie Alicata Last weekend, I started a conversation with my freshman son about what he might want to do after high school. I remember my dad gave me a college and university guide when I graduated from sixth grade, and by the time I was a sophomore in high school, I was filling out forms and calling schools to get info packets, eager to begin that new phase of my life. For my son, the conversation was terrifying, and he quickly changed the subject.

Between the COVID pandemic and a fair amount of uncertainty about what the job market will look like and where the economy will be when they graduate, students right now are faced with a lot of challenges that are completely new territory. Even for me, graduating from high school in 2000, the future seemed so full of unknown potential advancements, but now the workforce is rapidly changing to companies offering full work from home, hybrid, and even remote training environments.

For a high school kid, I’m sure not knowing what they want to do or how they will fit into that workforce is intimidating. Some colleges and universities are reporting a decrease in the number of applications they are receiving as students explore alternative options towards a career path.

Microsoft recently announced a new tool that I really wished I had had as a college student called Career Coach. It works in conjunction with Microsoft Teams—which just keeps getting more and more impressive as it develops—to try to help students identify their career goals, find opportunities to develop relevant skills, and connect to people who can help them along the way, such as alumni, faculty, and peers.

Career Coach works best with a LinkedIn Learning subscription but also helps by providing a searchable interface so students can explore careers based on their skills, strengths, and interests. Students can utilize the tool to discover what skills they have, which skills they need, and what the job market looks like for their chosen profession. They can then get in touch with alumni in those fields to get real guidance while they move through their higher education. Students will be able to find volunteer opportunities, internships, and co-ops that fall into their fields of study as well as receive updates on advisor appointments, notifications about career fairs and the options to connect with potential employers.

They can build a real-world skill set by searching the repository of courses available at their institution, in Microsoft Learn, available Microsoft certifications, Microsoft 365 training, and LinkedIn Learning if they have a subscription. Developing these skills can provide a stronger foundation and give students an edge on entering the workforce as well-rounded applicants who will become a true asset to the companies that hire them.

The prerequisites for Career Coach are an Office 365 Education tenant with Azure Active Directory, a subscription that includes Microsoft Teams, and LinkedIn connections in Azure Active Directory. To get Career Coach, you can purchase the add-on SKU through Connection on either Microsoft’s CSP or EES agreements.

To learn more about Career Coach, please reach out to your Connection Account Manager today.

Skype for Business End of Life Is Here:... Jul 15, 2021 Sreeraj Vasukuttan Skype for Business Online goes end of life on July 31, 2021. In our last blog about Skype end of life, we talked extensively about the need for moving users to Teams sooner rather than later. However, if you haven’t moved your users yet, it’s not the end of the world. We can help you plan your last-minute move. And if you have Skype for Business Server—which will not retire on July 31, 2021—we will discuss the implication of the Skype for Business Online retirement on your hybrid environment. We’ll also show you the benefits of moving your Skype for Business Server users to Teams sooner.

What Will Happen On July 31, 2021, and the Day After?

Skype Business Online (SfB Online) will be fully functional until July 31, 2021. After that, your SfB Online environment will be in a state of transition, waiting for Microsoft’s Assisted Upgrade program to move users to Teams.

Remember, the day after Skype for Business Online goes end of life, the services that integrate with it also will go end of support. This includes: third-party audio conferencing providers (ACP), Skype for Business Online Cloud Connector Edition(CCE), hybrid voice configurations, and Skype Meeting Broadcast. 

The assisted upgrade provided by Microsoft will begin in August 2021. According to Microsoft, “the duration of each customer’s upgrade will vary by volume of users and characteristics of their deployment, but generally users within a tenant will be upgraded within 24 hours from the start of the upgrade. During this time, users will still be able to access Skype for Business Online. Once the upgrade has completed and users log out of Skype for Business Online, they will only be able to use Teams to initiate and receive messages and calls as well as to schedule and host meetings.”

You will receive Assisted Update notifications from Microsoft in Teams admin center and Microsoft 365 Message Center as early as 90 days prior to the end-of-life day. 

As Microsoft MVP Tom Arbuthnot has reported on his blog, you can now also request a service extension for your expiring SfB Online account beyond July 31, 2021 through Teams Admin Center. The requests are subject to Microsoft’s approval though. In his blog he mentions that the third-party Audio Conferencing and the other services (mentioned above) will not get an extension. 

The Implications of Skype for Business Server Not Going End of Life

Microsoft allows you to run Skype for Business Server and Teams side-by-side. But keep in mind, if you have a hybrid setup of Skype for Business Server and Skype for Business Online with users homed in Skype for Business Online, you must transfer them to Teams Only mode before July 31, 2021. 

Skype for Business Server is not retiring on July 31, 2021. Skype for Business 2015 mainstream end date was October 13, 2020. However, the extended support is available until October 14, 2025. This means you will have to pay for technical support, and Microsoft will provide free security updates—but not quality updates—until October 14, 2025. The latest on-prem version of Skype for Business Server, Skype for Business Server 2019, is still going on mainstream support. The extended support of SfB Server 2019 will also end on October 14, 2025.

From a technical point of view, you need to manage the Skype for Business Infrastructure and you will pay extra if you decide to be on either SfB Server 2015 or 2019. Maybe you still want to keep Sfb Server for specific requirements. If so, consider a hybrid approach with Skype for Business Server and Teams to allow interoperability. 

Even with interoperability, there could be communication breakdowns between your Skype and Teams users. With a Teams-only mode, your Teams users can receive calls, chats, or attend a meeting originated in the on-prem Skype. But the Teams users are not allowed to do those activities in Skype. The other coexistence modes—Skype for Business with Teams Collaboration and Meetings—do not give your users the full experience of Teams. After all, your users are counting on the modern meeting calling and collaboration experience in Teams. 

We Are Here for You If You Need More Help

Please reach out to us if you need more help. Our Teams Rapid Readiness team can help you quickly assess your Skype for Business Server environment, determine your overall readiness, provide a roadmap, business and technical requirements, meeting and calling device strategies, deployment best practices, and design considerations. Furthermore, our Professional Services team can migrate users, transfer you from Enterprise Voice to Teams Phone System, or direct routing, and bring Skype for Business Server calling/meeting devices to Teams.

Microsoft Inspire 2021: Windows 365, Azure,... Jul 15, 2021 Sreeraj Vasukuttan Inspire is Microsoft’s annual partner event, where Microsoft celebrates partner success of the year before and sets the stage for the new year. Yesterday at Inspire 2021, Microsoft announced Windows 365, its new cloud PC offering, and it looks really cool. Microsoft choosing the Inspire venue for these massive product announcements is nothing new.  For example, at Inspire 2016, Microsoft announced Microsoft 365, their flagship SaaS offering now.  Inspire is more exciting when Satya Nadella drops new products and offers during the keynote. It naturally sets the stage for us for the year to come as well.

Get ready for the top product announcements and offers from the event, with comments from our team members to follow.  

Windows 365--a simplified Cloud PC for hybrid work world:  

Windows 365 is your new Cloud PC from Microsoft designed to support hybrid work scenarios with a simple out-of-the-box desktop deployment experience built on top of Azure Virtual Desktop. There will be two variants of Windows 365---Business and Enterprise, to be available starting August 2, 2021. Windows 365 will follow a familiar per-user, per-month pricing model. Windows 365 will support Windows 11 in the cloud as well, once it’s available later this year. Finally, Windows 10 Pro licenses will be eligible for a hybrid use discount of Windows 365. Microsoft hasn’t announced the pricing for Windows 365 yet. Please subscribe to our newsletter for Windows 365 pricing updates.

Better platform experience of Microsoft Teams with new Dynamics 365, and Viva announcements:

To enable a better platform experience in Microsoft Teams, Microsoft will now let you view and edit Dynamics 365 data in Teams for free. With this, you can have a more integrated ERP, CRM experience of Dynamics 365 in your organization without having to pay for more licenses. Form a user experience perspective, your Dynamics 365 user can get maximum efficiency with their Dynamics experience in Teams itself with the added benefit and features.

Microsoft Viva, Microsoft’s new employee experience platform within Teams, will get additional integration partners and new features. For example, Viva Connections will get new work-class integration partners, while Viva Learning will add more learning partners. In addition, Viva Topics will soon get features such as SharePoint Syntax taxonomy integrationMulti-geo support, and user opt-in, as suggested experts, etc. The improvements to Microsoft Viva will further enhance the platform experience of Teams. Check out our blog post to learn more about Viva and the role of employee experience platforms in the era of hybrid work.

New Azure benefits for partners and customers to boost cloud adoption:  

Microsoft announces new partner benefits for Azure Synapse and Azure Stack HCI. Azure Stack HCI will see product enhancements such as Azure Stack support Automatic Virtual Machine Activation (AVMA) feature for Windows Server and Secured-core server. Azure SQL will become an Azure Arc-enabled resource starting July 30, 2021.  

Microsoft is adding one additional year of exteneded support for customers who are hosting Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2 on Azure. As Windows Server/SQL 2012 and 2012 R2 are apraoching end of life, Microsoft is making Extended Security updates available vailable in Azure for free and as paid option for on-prem with Software Assurance.  

To increase the doption of Azure Virtual Desktop Microsoft is now offering Azure Virtual Desktop promo that includes free access to Azure Virtual Desktop for streaming first-party or third-party applications to external users. This promo ends December 31, 2021.  

Now here’s what Connection’s Microsoft team members think about Inspire 2021: 

Ashley Lofaro, Partner Development Specialist for Microsoft OEM devices said “I am excited about the new Windows 365 for its built-in security and Zero Trust that allows employees to work from anywhere while keeping their business data is secure. This is a needed option for customers to have the flexibility that hybrid work requires.”   

Belynda Talbott, Business Development Manager-Microsoft said “I am excited that Microsoft announced the inclusion of Dynamics inclusion within Teams. I think it will increase the value and usage of Teams and this in turn should increase usage as well as the demand for workshops.” 

Katie JohnSr. Product Manager-Microsoft said “I was Inspired by the way Microsoft is addressing the biggest challenges and opportunities that such a rapid worldwide change is presenting us. I am excited to hear how we as partners can play a key role in what is sure to be a historic next 10 years.. All the keynotes and sessions were so informative, but I especially loved the announcements on how Microsoft  will integrate Dynamics more with Teams to further the Teams platform as the front-end future of work and 'the end of context switching.”

Leandro Rocha , Sr Cloud Solutions Architect  said "I always feel excited and grateful for all of those technologies and solutions provided by Microsoft to improve community life and transform business. I am looking forward to attending sessions related to Hybrid and multi-cloud strategies with Microsoft Azure and Security to defend against threats because I see it as crucial to the business while embracing cloud. On the VDI side, I’m eager to see more about Windows 365 and its relationship with Azure Virtual Desktop." 

Jenny Gibson-Kautz, Partner Development Specialist for Microsoft Software said “I found the new integration of Dynamics365 into Teams for all users very exciting. It may be a strategic move to develop a wider user base of Dynamics suite.  Dynamics has also been fortified with stronger AI and security features.” 

Matt Smith, Mgr MS Customer Success said I’m excited about the Windows 365 announcement, the ability for people to work securely from anywhere on any device with no change in user experience is a game changer.  I’m looking forward to learning more about the solution and how it’s sold and positioned with clients.  I’m also excited about VIVA and looking forward to learning more about this product/ service.”  

Shannon Barnes, Product Manager for Surface devices said “As Connection has a great track record in serving Industry Solutions, I am hearing at Microsoft Inspire today great alignment to better serve these vertical markets. Manufacturing, Retail, Healthcare, and more are getting a great focus by both of our organizations to serve our customers better. We are in a fantastic position to move customers forward with Microsoft Surface and Surface Hub devices."

Let us know what you think if Windows 365, Teams Dynamics 365 pairing, and the Azure offers in the Comments. Check our Microsoft brand page to learn more about the Microsoft practice at Connection or to reach out to our Microsoft experts.

Supporting the “4 Cs” of Instruction... Jul 13, 2021 Delia DeCourcy Books have always been an essential part of education. From picture books that help kindergarteners learn their ABCs to five-pound trigonometry textbooks, students read books to reinforce the lessons their teachers are presenting and help that knowledge soak deeper into their brains.

But seventh and eighth graders in Shady Hanna’s classes in the Ottawa Catholic School Board have flipped that traditional educational model on its head: They’re using digital books to show Mr. Hanna how deeply they understand topics.

For his science, English, and French classes, Mr. Hanna created a digital book using Book Creator, a Chromebook creativity app, that covered the topics they would be learning in class. He left blank spaces for students to put in their work after they researched the topic and found the answer. For one example, he asked students to find an image for the different types of physical systems and then place the images in blank boxes.

Bringing elements into the digital books is easy because Book Creator integrates music, YouTube, PDFs, spreadsheets, code creation, and more, and students just need to work two buttons throughout the process. Students would add pages to show their expanded knowledge on the subject, delete pages they found redundant, or modify pages as they saw fit. 

For the students, this was a lot more engaging than writing longhand in a notebook off a smartboard or even typing on a computer. Students were able to work on their books from home or in-person with the same experience, which is essential for ensuring educational continuity during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. And book building taps into the four Cs approach to teaching that Mr. Hanna (like many other teachers) uses, which emphasizes communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.

Tap into Students’ Natural Storytelling Habits

When their peers are interested in a project they created, students are more motivated to do well. We know from experience that peer interest and interactions drive improved engagement, quality of work, and interest in school.

Book Creator provides a blank canvasor rather, a blank “page”—for that. Drawing on a vast library of teacher-approved media resources, students can add a mix of text, video, audio, and images to create a unique digital book that demonstrates their knowledge and critical thinking on any topic. If the blank page is overwhelming, Book Creator provides templates—including the fun and popular “comic” template that creates a comic-book look—to kickstart the process.

Students can even record their own audio and video directly in the program or import it from social media platforms. (It’s called “app smashing” when you use two or more apps together to create a project or complete a task.) Book Creator integrates with all kinds of content, such as embedded music, PDFs, spreadsheets, code creation, and more.

Teachers can turn on collaboration on individual Book Creator projects to allow teamwork on the same digital book at the same time across different devices. This facilitates classroom-wide engagement, small groups, or one-and-one collaboration.

Creating the digital book requires just two buttons, keeping the process simple. Publishing is effortless and immediate, with completed work easily shared with teachers, classmates, and parents.

Simplicity for Teachers and Administrators, As Well

The software’s flexibility and capability to enable educational continuity is why Lenovo is partnering with Book Creator. Lenovo is dedicated to helping you maintain the same learning experiences remotely as in-person, and Book Creator facilitates that. Because of this partnership, Lenovo users can make a single purchase of Book Creator licenses with Chrome device purchase or post-purchase.

Book Creator offers simplicity for IT teams, as well. It integrates with Google Classroom and other school tools, and a Google Cloud partnership enables control via Google Admin Console. Buying and rolling out new licenses—and ensuring you’re only paying for what students and teachers are using—is super easy. Administrators can install them with the click of a button in the Google App Hub, activate and assign licenses to different users, and track usage throughout the school year—all from the Google Admin Console.

Easy to deploy and manage on your best-in-class Lenovo Chromebooks, Book Creator provides crucial support for the four Cs of learning—empowering students like those in Mr. Hanna’s classes to unlock their potential while learning through creative exploration.

Creating Educational Videos—Problematic and Limited?

Well, maybe not. Using WeVideo’s cloud-based app, combined with downloadable mobile apps, teachers can deploy a common digital foundation for creating, editing, and viewing videos. WeVideo is an easy-to-use, online, cloud-based video editing platform that works in Web browsers and mobile devices. Because it’s a cloud-based solution, your students just need a license, not the physical software, to get all the video capability of a PC on a Chromebook. And their projects are stored securely in the cloud, which—besides protecting the project from a hardware failure—also facilitates real-time collaboration.

A Little More About WeVideo

WeVideo offers teachers a way to consistently maintain engagement with students while at the same time honing students’ skills in critical competencies like communication, innovation, collaboration, critical thinking, and community building.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers are striving to maintain continuity in education, but many aren’t accepting hard copy assignments. Instead, they’re giving students more freedom to choose how to structure their projects. Along with creating their own digital books, one of the favorites for today’s students is video projects. And when teachers give students that freedom, the results can blow you away.

WeVideo offers the same experience in an in-person classroom setting as in a remote setting, which makes it a great solution for creating a seamless learning experience, regardless of where students are learning and what instruction model you’re using. Lenovo is committed to helping schools ensure educational continuity, which is why they partnered with WeVideo.

WeVideo includes project templates, collaboration tools, secure storage in the cloud, and a built-in media library with licensed and royalty-free images, video, and music clips. Students can drag and drop video elements; arrange, trim, and splice clips together; add text and audio; stylize their video using a WeVideo theme; then export and sync it through the cloud. With the click of a button, they can share the final product on, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

There’s a simplified version with just one timeline to edit for younger students. Older students can have an unlimited number of video and audio layers, allowing them to create elaborate videos with tight editing for concise storytelling.

WeVideo is easy to learn, but if students get stuck while building their videos, they can turn to the one- to three-minute online videos and on-demand webinars on the WeVideo website that give users more details about using advanced features.

Easy to Use and Compliant with Privacy Requirements

WeVideo promotes deeper learning while making it fun and easy for students to safely express their ideas with creativity and authenticity. It’s easy to learn, it works with Google Classroom, and provisioning and managing WeVideo is easy for administrators through the Google Admin Console.

Because it’s compliant with privacy regulations, WeVideo ensures a safe cloud environment for student content and collaboration. To ensure student privacy, no data about them is collected, stored, or shared. School account administrators can control student memberships, how they can share projects and their media, and what other activities they interact with among each other. Now, your students are just as engaged in learning about the Green Revolution as they are in crafting a dance to the latest trending song. That’s a pretty good story.

Considering Microsoft Teams as Your Meeting... Jul 09, 2021 Sreeraj Vasukuttan In the new world of hybrid work, online meetings are the delicate thread on which your entire team is balanced. Hybrid employees that have multiple bad meeting experiences in a day—due to connectivity issues, lack of correct tools, etc.—will experience a drop in productivity. During the pandemic, online meetings and calls steadily rose as a medium of work. According to Microsoft’s latest report, meeting numbers in Teams jumped to 2.7 billion meeting minutes in one day in March 2020.1 And the total monthly Teams calls rose to 650 million in October 2020.2 For hybrid teams with office goers and remote workers, meeting and calling will continue to be the preferred medium through which people connect, collaborate, and get work done.  

Why Is Microsoft Teams the Right Meeting and Calling Solution for You?  

The demand for Teams will continue to increase because your hybrid workers want a dynamic meeting and calling experience. With features like meeting backgrounds, Together Mode, noise cancellation, meeting apps, and a webinar function. No other platform brings all these capabilities together in the calling or meeting space like Teams. Gartner recognizes Teams as a leader in meeting and calling. According to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant report, “Microsoft has advanced Teams’ meeting features and capabilities well past the previous iterations of its meeting solutions based on Skype for Business. This is expediting adoption of Teams not only from its Skype for Business customer base, but also across the broader market.”3

Additionally, Microsoft has made many of these updates accessible to a broader set of customers through promos and competitive pricing. From an organizational perspective, Teams consolidates the security, compliance, collaboration, and communication needs of a company under Microsoft 365. This could save you tens of thousands of dollars on communication and collaboration tools. As a result, more customers are now eager to choose Teams as their calling and meeting platform of choice, or they are bringing Teams to coexist with other meeting and calling platforms—such Webex or Zoom—so the employees can choose the meeting and calling experience they prefer.  

IT Considerations for Adopting Teams Meeting and Calling

Before you adopt Teams meeting and calling for your tenant, you must be prepared to optimize for a diverse set of meeting and calling scenarios. Some of them are:  

  • The needs of your organization branch into meetings with chat options, contained meeting in Teams channels, meeting rooms, live events, and webinars. Setting up the right security, and privacy policies for each scenario is important. 
  • Audio conferencing (free through CSP) is becoming a crucial component of your Teams meeting strategy, especially after the shift to hybrid work. With audio conferencing, you could run all-inclusive meetings—regardless of employee location. 
  • The Teams calling options for your organization would be a combination phone system with calling plan, phone system with operator connect, and/or phone system with direct routing. Understanding the calling needs of your organization will help you choose the right combination of calling options in Teams. 

When assessing your meeting and calling requirements, you will need to account for device demands as well. This means asking some of the following questions as you build a plan.

  • What kind of headset, camera, or conference room equipment does each user need to be successful at each type of work scenario?
  • Are your current meeting and calling devices Teams certified? 
  • How many of your old Skype for Business devices are still compatible with Teams? 
  • Do your Webex or Zoom devices provide interoperability with Teams?

Ensure success with Connection’s Teams Calling and Meeting Workshops + Poly Devices

To help you prepare for your Teams rollout, Connection now offers Teams calling and meeting workshops. They are free of cost for qualifying customers. Learn more about Teams calling and meeting workshops.

The Teams Meeting Workshop will use the “art of the possible” approach to get you up to speed with:

  • Network readiness
  • Adoption and change management
  • Teams meetings and meetings rooms
  • Rooms and device strategy
  • Hosting virtual events with Teams 
  • Audio conferencing with Teams

The Teams Calling Workshop will use a proven framework to help you plan:

  • Use case and scenario discovery 
  • Environmental and site analysis
  • Management scenarios for calling  
  • Evolution of voice management scenarios 
  • PBX-to-Teams journey 
  • User, business, and administrator roles in Teams calling 

IIn addition to workshops, Connection’s Microsoft and Poly teams can help you even more with your Teams-certified device planning. This will include assessing device scenarios and recommending the right equipment for the right use case.

More on Teams-certified Devices from Poly for Hybrid Work

Microsoft is constantly innovating in the Teams meeting and calling space. Poly has kept pace and now offers the most comprehensive portfolio of Teams-certified devices available. Ready to cover every meeting and calling scenario, Poly offers Teams-certified headsets, desk phones, speakers, cameras, room devices, and more.Device selection has become even more critical as we shift to a hybrid work world. You will have to support your employees with meeting and calling devices that work in various office and home scenarios. Here are few Teams-certified devices from Poly designed for various calling and meeting scenarios. 

Voyager Focus UC

Poly Voyager Focus UC stereo Bluetooth headset helps you keep focus on the conversation, not the background noise. It features sophisticated noise canceling and immersive stereo sound.

Poly Studio P5

A close-up of a cameraDescription automatically generated with medium confidence

Made for hybrid work, Poly P5 comes optimized for videoconferencing with 1080p resolution and 4x digital zoom. It also offers a built-in privacy shutter, directional microphone, and integrated USB connectivity for easy plug-and-play connectivity.

Poly Studio P15 Personal Video Bar

Poly P15 comes with 4K clarity, automatic camera framing, and an integrated speaker and microphone array with advanced NoiseBlockAI technology.

Poly G40-T Small/Medium Room System for Microsoft Teams

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Poly G40-T is a small and medium room solution. It delivers powerful Poly signature audio and video technologies for a superior Microsoft Teams experience.

Ready to learn more or to find the device for you? See the complete portfolio of Poly devices for Microsoft Teams today

Windows Central, 2020, 2.7 Billion Minutes of Calls were Made in Microsoft Teams in a Single Day
2 Microsoft, 2021, Introducing Operator Connect and More Teams Calling Updates
3 Gartner, Inc., 2020, Magic Quadrant for Meeting Solutions

Healthcare Landscape After the Pandemic Jul 06, 2021 Dr Keith Nelson Disney World is open! So where do we go from here? Are we back to normal, or is this something new? My guess is that we’ll be living in a slightly altered environment compared with the good old pre-pandemic era, and that the long-term changes will be subtle. For instance, masks will go away, but during flu season, it won’t appear strange that some people will revert back to them at the office, in Costco, or on a flight. Further, I think that people will be more aware of touching publicly exposed surfaces and will carry Purell more often. I would also guess that many of these residual sensitivities will fade over time, as have the reactions to previous mass tragedies like the 9/11 attacks. But in the healthcare universe, it’s another story.

Reshaping the Future of Care

Providers have made changes, many of them long overdue, that will persist and expand in the new environment. Foremost among these is the ability to rapidly increase capacity and responsiveness in the event of a future emergency that taxes the system. This includes space and bed expansion options, improved isolation protocols, improved testing, supply and equipment reserves (shared and owned), a robust virtual care program, scalable digital scheduling, contact tracing, and infection control. The interesting thing about infection control is that it is not something new. It has been a big issue for hospitals for a very long time, given the high number of nosocomial (hospital acquired) infections, particularly as they apply to debilitating lung pathology and wound development. COVID merely brought this problem into the spotlight. This is not dissimilar to the 9/11 event. We weren’t suddenly enlightened as to the threat of domestic terrorism on that Tuesday. Our antennas were already up in the wake of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the constant warnings from the FBI. I recall one very credible threat pertaining to Times Square leading up to the New Year’s Eve Y2K celebration. But it took 9/11, nine months after Y2K, to get everyone’s attention. So now, expect to see a persistent focus in healthcare facilities and the workplace related to the sanitization of shared equipment (especially IT-related) and surfaces, as well as the promotion of non-contact entry, tracking technology, seasonal temperature checks, and expanded smartphone interaction.

I suppose the biggest shock to the healthcare system has been the mainstreaming of virtual care (telemedicine), a subject on which I have written extensively. It is currently uncertain as to the form this category will assume once the emergency officially ends (particularly in the areas of reimbursement and cross-state coverage), but you can be sure it is here to stay and will inexorably expand to align with new technological developments in the areas of remote diagnostics and treatment.

Another game changer is the explosive use of CRISPR (gene-editing) technology, which has now been validated in the areas of both vaccine development and testing. Adopting the World War II mantra “never again,” the capability to quickly develop a vaccine (the COVID-19 vaccine was developed over a weekend after Chinese scientists quickly mapped the coronavirus genome), gives the world a rapid response mechanism in its arsenal for future pandemics, biological warfare, and emerging environmental factors that can cause cellular mutations. The additional potential benefits of CRISPR are vast, including finding revolutionary testing and treatments for cancer, and eradicating ravenous diseases like ALS, Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s, Sickle Cell Anemia, and Multiple Sclerosis.

Finally, the pandemic has also amplified the previously existing need to promote population health, the primary objective of which is to prevent and/or manage chronic diseases in individuals more effectively, especially in the aging population. One only has to look at the comorbidity vulnerability associated with COVID-19 as a convincing argument to address this need.

So take heart, America. We get our lives back, and healthcare is taking a quantum leap into the future (with or without Scott Bakula).

Remote or Not: Managing and Maintaining... Jun 29, 2021 Delia DeCourcy How many devices are you managing right now? And how much time are you (or your small IT team) spending managing those devices?Likely, the answer is more than you were two years ago—or even one year ago. As schools moved to some form of remote learning in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve undergone a digital transformation to ensure educational continuity in the modern classroom. They deployed more technologies and bought more devices to deliver those technologies to remote teachers and students. Or they pulled old devices out of storage and repurposed them.

Either way, the result is your IT team having more balls in the air—or, more accurately, more laptops, Chromebooks, and tablets in the field. This is true even as schools return to face-to-face teaching; those school devices are out there, and they’re likely being used in some capacity.

Keeping track of all those devices can be stressful, especially when you also must push and pull learning apps, install security updates, and endeavor to ensure student safety and data security.

Are you getting a headache just thinking about it?

If so, Lightspeed Systems can be your pain reliever. Its mobile device management (MDM) solution ensures safe and secure student learning resources management with real-time visibility and reporting. MDM equips your IT team with a centralized, cloud-based solution for infinitely scalable device, application, and policy controls and for remote configuration, reporting, and device location across every device and operating system (OS). MDM is just one component of the seamless, flexible Lightspeed ecosystem of cloud-based solutions that provide schools worldwide with reliable filtering, analytics, and device management tools.

Lenovo is partnering with Lightspeed Systems to deliver this ecosystem to schools worldwide as part of their commitment to helping you ensure educational continuity during the pandemic and after, as the modern classroom continues to evolve.

Covering All the Bases for Remote Device Management

Lightspeed MDM makes app management intuitive and flexible with remote configuration and deployment by school, year group, classroom, and student—no matter which major OS is being used. The MDM dashboards allow you to issue, track, manage, and monitor every mobile device in real-time from a single location, enabling straightforward centralized IT control for your school’s entire fleet of mobile devices.

The hierarchical device management platform allows for tier-based administration permissions and visibility, which greatly simplify policy management. Using MDM, your IT team can remotely deploy, change, and revoke hundreds of policies across all devices or a single device, and easily install any app with the press of a button. You can even create start and end policies at specific days and times and remotely lock devices to a single app or for extended periods. So, students won’t be able to spend their spring break working on that big science project, for example (which undoubtably would be a disappointment to the student).

The Self-Service App Library further lessens the IT team’s workload by providing teachers and students access to install approved curriculum and learning tools. If lost, the devices can be remotely located, wiped, and recovered. Altogether, it’s an ecosystem of solutions that, along with best-in-class Lenovo devices, eases the pains of remote device management and creates a more effective and continuous distance-learning environment.

The Key to Maintaining School Devices, Whether Remote or Not

Maintaining educational continuity in any school, particularly during any form of distance learning, starts with students having access to a desktop computer or laptop. The trouble is you can’t protect what you can’t see.

If your school is providing these devices, your IT team won’t be able to ensure they get the updates, patches, and preventative maintenance they need to remain secure and reliable. And chances are, they’re not being updated as they should by teachers or students who aren’t too concerned about device security as long as the computer just works.

It’s also not uncommon for teachers to disable some security measures, such as firewalls, to enable downloading their own software or to allow access to additional sites that help them with their teaching.

Research on endpoint controls shows that:

Based on these statistics, your school needs to do whatever it takes to maintain control over all your devices. But how can you efficiently manage devices that you can’t touch, that aren’t even on your network—and, to make things more complex, that have a mix of operating systems (OSes), as most schools do?

At Lenovo, they think the solution is actually pretty simple: Absolute Resilience® provides a persistent (always-on) and resilient (self-healing, even when tampered with) connection to most every device in your environment. With this fail-safe connection, your team has endpoint management access to all devices (even different OSes) from one management dashboard, even when devices are off the school network and IT staff is working from home.

Absolute is embedded into Lenovo best-in-class endpoint devices’ firmware to give education IT leaders a digital tether that provides an unbreakable connection between them and the device. This tether is tamper-proof and can be enabled almost immediately so you can get the most out of your devices.

The Absolute-Lenovo partnership is part of Lenovo’s commitment to providing schools with the tools they need for a seamless learning experience regardless of where students are learning and which instructional model you’re using.

Complete Management in One Solution

Getting management access into all your devices allows you to ensure device inventory accuracy, manage critical application updates, mitigate security threats, and freeze or reset a lost or stolen device. By tracking where each device is, what it is doing, and preventing or managing application issues for teachers and students, you have the ability to efficiently improve the learning experience.

But more than just providing access and data, you also need a solution that drives security. That means anti-virus compliance, install rate reporting—which will tell your network whether the device is safe or will introduce risk—and an endpoint data discovery scan for sensitive data.

Absolute Resilience®, part of Lenovo’s end-to-end security platform, ThinkShield, has those capabilities—and much more. Absolute is embedded in Lenovo endpoint devices’ firmware to give education IT leaders an unbreakable digital connection with every device. This “digital tether” is tamper-proof and can be enabled with no help from the manufacturer. Application persistence means that Absolute is always there and always-on. The console is easy to use, so you don’t have to have a security expert to manage the remote device. As a result, you won’t have to hire an IT person at the expense of a teaching position.

Addressing the New Device Management Lifecycle

With hybrid learning models being standardized, your IT team needs to rethink the device management lifecycle now that it’s managing and securing more devices remotely. This is made more complex because your team is probably dealing with multiple device models and OSes.

So the team needs a management and security framework that goes deep and wide. A solution like Absolute, which combines the depth your IT team needs with the simplicity of a single pane to manage all devices.

The Lenovo and Absolute partnership supports schools engaged in digital transformation. By streamlining security and IT asset management in a single dynamic console, Lenovo and Absolute make it possible to protect your school’s devices, data, apps, and budget.

Adapting to Industry 4.0 in Manufacturing Jun 29, 2021 Jordan Noonan Prior to the pandemic, manufacturing as an industry was well on the way to transformation with the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies such as robotics, automation, AR/VR, additive manufacturing (3D printing), and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Nonetheless, the recent disruption of various supply chains has only reaffirmed the need to compress the timeframe for digital transformation. How manufacturers adapt—and how quickly—will differentiate the survivors from the rest. With that in mind, let’s take a look at three ways the Cisco Meraki platform helps facilitate transformation.

Harness Wi-Fi 6 for the IIoT 

One key component of digital transformation that smart factories are embracing is the IIoT, where everything from robots to forklifts to tooling carts are being connected to networks. This connectivity centralizes control, increases visibility, and leverages analytics to improve efficiency, reduce downtime, and make smarter predictions. With so many wireless devices requiring network access, providing a strong Wi-Fi 6 foundation is critical to ensuring consistent and high-performance IIoT deployments. Also known as the 802.1ax standard, Wi-Fi 6 has the potential to increase average throughput—per user—by a factor of four. This grants manufacturers the raw material (throughput) they need to fully harness the promise of IIoT.

Monitor Smart Factories with MT Environmental Sensors

Sensor technologies have allowed manufacturers to take advantage of big data to improve manufacturing processes, predict failure, and ultimately improve the efficiency of modern smart factories. Meraki recently grew their platform to include environmental sensors as a standard component of network deployments. Meraki MT is a family of environmental sensors (indoor temperature/humidity, indoor leak, door open/close) that provide real-time remote visibility and monitoring to help protect assets and facilities 24/7. We imagine this technology to be initially deployed in IT closets, ensuring that critical infrastructure uptime is maintained—but there’s no reason to stop there. Wherever manufacturers need to monitor environmental conditions, Meraki can help by simplifying the setup process. MT environmental sensors can be provisioned in seconds, as they are battery-powered and use Wi-Fi 6 wireless access points. And MV smart cameras connect through the network for quick-and-easy deployment.

Become Adaptable with Ecosystem Partners 

To thrive, the modern manufacturer needs to be able to innovate and scale against the backdrop of a complex global supply chain. They must also be able to respond to disruptive external pressures, and do so quickly. Meraki makes it easy to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. With the help of open APIs, paired with a community of technology partners, Meraki can support a huge array of potential use cases outside traditional networking arenas. For example, one such ecosystem partner, Skyfii, enables your Meraki Wi-Fi network to measure visitor and asset movement patterns. Then, you can utilize those patterns to send relevant communications via captive portal, email, SMS, or app push notifications. Skyfii integrates with Meraki MV Cameras to provide reporting and alerting on visitor flow, occupancy, queue times, heatmaps, and congestion. 

Skyfii also integrates with Meraki MT sensors to optimize visitor experiences within your venues. Skyfii correlates the visitor behavioral patterns observed from Meraki Wi-Fi and MV Cameras with changes to environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity metrics from MT Sensors.  

The network has always been about providing connectivity. Without a strong foundation of connectivity, manufacturers will be slow to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies.

Are you ready for Industry 4.0? Contact us for help. As a Cisco Meraki partner, we have a full understanding of the technology you need to create a manufacturing IT and OT ecosystem that will withstand the test of time. 

Reimagine Hybrid Work with the new Windows 11 Jun 28, 2021 Sreeraj Vasukuttan The next generation of Windows, Windows 11, is here! Panos Panay, Microsoft’s new chief product officer for Windows+ devices, unveiled the new OS at special Windows event held last week (June 24, 2021). With Panos Panay taking the stage, the design of Window 11 took center stage as well.  It felt like Microsoft’s design team managed to bring the Surfaceness of a Surface device to its soulmate, Windows. That elegant silky-glassy texture of Surface devices with rounded corners is now carved into Windows 11. In Mr. Panay’s own words, “The new Windows 11 will give you a sense of calm, and it will empower you to be more productive and inspire you to be more creative.”  

You are at the center, so is your task menu

The start menu and start button in Windows 11 will be at the center by default. Microsoft says this design change was made with touch users in mind.  The new start menu will also put your daily apps at the center. Microsoft ToDo was featured a lot in the announcement videos. For me, having an app like Todo on the start menu at the center will help me build a habit of starting my day by checking my work and personal tasks from in Windows 11 itself. A Windows device has been the center of your Microsoft apps and services ecosystem; by expanding app experience to android apps (available through Amazon App store in Window Store), your relationship with your Windows device will also expand. The centered start menu and access to more apps will change the way you perceive your daily Windows experience. Like Panos Pany and Satya Nadella said  , “Windows 11 will put you at the center.”

Designed with Hybrid the Worker in mind

In Windows 11, Microsoft is introducing Snap layouts and Snap groups. With Snap layouts, you can choose layouts for your tabs. There are six different layouts available to choose from. On the right top corner of every open window, you will have an option to drop the window to a layout. You can group the layouts into  Snap groups, and the Snap groups will be available for you along with the individual tabs at the taskbar when you need them. Windows 11 will also remember your Snap groups for later. Additionally, Windows 11 will remember where your tabs and Snap groups were after you undock your device from an external screen.  

For Someone like me who likes to work from anywhere, getting used to both single screen and multiple screens is essential. However, I miss the convenience of moving between tabs opened on multiple screens when I work remotely. I hope that the Ssnap windows and groups s will simulate a multiscreen experience even in a minimalistic single screen set up. Then the new docking experience will benefit me a lot in an office setup.

The universal mute button coming to Windows 11 will be handy for hybrid work. I don’t have to find meeting Window of Teams, or Zoom, or Webex, when I need to mute myself. The other features that would excite the hybrid workers includes share new Windows from task bar while presenting, haptic, Intuitive touch gestures, voice tying, digital pen, etc. 

Built-in personalized version of Teams

Microsoft will bring a personalized version of Teams built into Windows 11. This is a new Teams client designed for the consumer market. It will run on new technology that reduces the app's size and memory usage. Initially, the new Teams client will be available only on the consumer versions of Windows 11 and later will come to the commercial versions as well. The personalized version of Teams in Windows 11 will also get SMS support. Last month, Microsoft announced that you could add a personal account for free if you have a Teams work account.  I am not sure if Teams will ever be as successful as Skype in becoming a household brand for video calling. But it will help people like me who use Teams at work to bring the joy of Teams calling, meeting, and chat to my personal space as well.

Performance, energy efficiency, compatibility, and security

Windows 11 will start and work faster than its predecessor.  Windows 11 users will notice enhanced performance for gaming related workloads with new technologies like DirectX 12 Ultimate, DirectStorage, and Auto HDR.  The updates are 40% more efficient, and they will happen in the background now, instead of requiring you to stop what you’re working on.  Windows 11 will also  consumes less energy, giving better battery life for your devices. Through the App Assure program Microsoft will ensure that your Apps from previous generations of Windows will work on Windows 11 as well. Microsoft said in the announcement blog that they are working closely with the silicon and hardware partners to ensure a lineup of processors and devices of all form factor ready for Windows 11 before its release. Check out the Check System Requirements and Processor Support to see if your current devices are supported.

When it comes to security, Windows 11 will be a Zero Trust ready operating system. Window 11 will come with security technologies like hardware-based isolation, encryption, and malware prevention--turned on by default. Microsoft will also simplify the steps for Windows Hello for Business in Windows 11.  

Availability, Licensing, and Deployment Options

Windows 11 will be available as a free upgrade to Window 10 for eligible customers around the 2021 Holiday season through 2022. Deploying Windows 11 will be as easy as rolling out a new Windows 10 update. Microsoft is also simplifying the update cycles with Windows 11. Windows 11 will only need a yearly quality update compared to the annual update cycles of Windows 10.

Even though updating Windows 10 to Windows 11 as easy as updating Windows 10, the new operating system is much more than a quality update. There are stunning features that should excite you whether you use Windows for work or at home. And you certainly need device, deployment, and management plans set before it becomes available later this year. Connection offers various services around Windows 11 to help you migrate when the time comes. Please reach out if you need help. To learn more, check out our Modern Device Management solutions.

Techsperience Episode 96 – Embracing... Jun 28, 2021 Connection In order to survive, manufacturers must be agile in surviving disruption. Industry 4.0 technologies are reinventing how manufacturers do business and, to stay competitive, companies will need to embrace these technologies to capitalize on the efficiencies, cost savings, and improved uptimes that might be gained.

Host: James Hilliard

Guest 1: Ryan Spurr, Director of Manufacturing Strategy & Business Development at Connection

Guest 2: Dave Martin, Systems Engineering Manager at Meraki

Guest 3: Jordan Noonan, Solutions Marketing Manager at Meraki

Show Notes

[0:55] Introduction of Guests.

[2:05] Where were Manufacturing organizations before Covid?

[3:52] Do companies now have firmer transformation strategies?

[5:15] What are manufacturing table stakes you need to be competitive in Industry 4.0?

[7:28] The plant power problem and how has it changed?

[8:01] Niche use cases that Covid brought to the front for Manufacturers.

[10:01] How do you get Wi-Fi to every part of the factory?

[12:47] Analytics and Data

[14:27] Obstacles towards investment in next generation networking

[15:40] What can this new tech do for your organization?

 [17:00] Who should you engage to start transformation?

[19:28] How do you merge the new network with legacy machines?

[20:53] What do you do to protect your tech when you bring in modern networks to legacy devices?

[24:48] How long does it take to discover a breach?

[26:00] Is there concern about upgrades and automations removing people?

[29:00] The talent shortage.

[30:50] What does the future hold?

Personalizing the Patient Experience Jun 24, 2021 Dr Keith Nelson The current shift in healthcare delivery is toward value-based care and improved patient outcomes. To this end, healthcare providers, who are competing for patients on the basis of quality treatment, are now focusing intently on improving patient experience and engagement.

But how can you make the greatest impact? I would suggest borrowing a page from the hospitality industry’s playbook that focuses on providing a personalized, rather than an assembly line, consumer experience.

Most of us have experienced the traditional assembly line approach when we visit a doctor’s office. First there’s a cumbersome registration process that usually involves being handed a clipboard or being asked to download and print a document packet with multiple generic pages to complete, requiring repetitive entry of your name, social security number, and date of birth on the top of each page.

When you arrive for your appointment, your name eventually gets called in the waiting room, and you’re led to an exam room only to wait some more before a medical assistant (whom you don’t know) enters the room and coldly runs down a list of questions that you have already answered in the patient registration process, and then takes your blood pressure and weight. Then you wait again for the doctor to enter the room. It’s a very impersonal and marginalizing experience. And what if you’re an inpatient stuck all day in your hospital bed? How do you occupy your time and stimulate your mind?

Enter technology. It is now possible to deploy a comprehensive personalized patient information system that generates messaging that is customized for each patient. All curated information is derived from integration with both the Electronic Health Record and/or the facility’s ERP system, and can be deployed on displays in the exam room, at the patient’s bedside (i.e. age-appropriate infotainment, customized education, support groups, dietary options), or through mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. In addition, patient-specific information (i.e. allergies, dietary restrictions, care team, etc.) can be posted on displays outside of the exam or inpatient room to inform providers who are entering.

So now let’s examine a new type of patient journey…


You receive a link via text or email that seamlessly walks you through the registration process, including signing consent forms and uploading pictures of your driver’s license and insurance card. The questions are specific to your medical history—for instance, if you indicate that you have diabetes, then additional questions related to that condition will be asked. Afterward, you will automatically receive appointment reminders, as well as a brief satisfaction survey after the visit.

Exam Room

While you are waiting to be seen by a provider, you can read a digital wall display welcoming you by name, introducing the name and background of the care givers who will enter the room, offering information pertaining to your presenting complaint, and posting important reminders specific to you, such as overdue flu shots, follow-up visits, or diagnostic tests.

Patient Hospital Room

Personalized hospital bedside infotainment can enable customized patient education, entertainment, test scheduling, telemedicine visits, and messaging with the staff, as well as support group connectivity and access to medical records and test results.

Other Uses of the Technology

Additional applications of the customized messaging technology include electronic white boards for the ER and nurse’s station, and philanthropic donor walls to recognize charitable contributors and drive fundraising campaigns.

Ready to learn how you can use technology to provide a more satisfying patient experience? Reach out to the team at Connection today.

M1: How Apple Breaks New Ground Yet Again Jun 22, 2021 Connection In November of 2020, Apple® launched the M1 chip. It had been 14 years since the transition to Intel silicon, and the change was heralded as a renaissance for Apple. Based on the popular ARM chipset found in iPad® and iPhone®—specifically the Apple A14 Bionic chip—M1 wasn’t just a step forward for our favorite devices, it was a momentous leap ahead into the future of computing. As the one-year anniversary draws nearer, let’s take a quick look at all we’ve learned since the release of M1.

“The M1 MacBook Pro is the new laptop gold standard.”*

Brooke Crothers
Contributor, Forbes

The Power of M1

Designed as a System on a Chip (SoC), M1 offers something a standard notebook, tablet, or desktop cannot: centralization. Everything on your system board (CPU, GPU, security, etc) no longer lives “across town” from one another. Now, under a single roof, these disparate components can communicate much quicker. This adds processing power, battery life, and increased performance to the user experience. How much? Quite a lot. As a result of the SoC architecture in MacBook Air®, M1 is faster than the chips in 98% of PC laptops sold in the past year.1 Yes, you did read that correctly. In benchmark tests, M1 reigns supreme over comparable offerings from Intel* and notebooks such as the Dell XPS. Meanwhile, MacBook Pro®, featuring macOS® Big Sur, now offers up to 17 hours of wireless Web browsing and up to 20 hours of video playback.2 That’s up to twice the battery life of the previous generation—and the longest battery life ever on a Mac®.2

“The new Arm-based system has exceeded almost every expectation.”

Dieter Bohn
Executive Editor, The Verge

Pick and Choose

M1 is available for iMac®, iPad Pro®, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini®. That’s nearly the entire current Apple ecosystem. What’s more, if you’re not quite ready to transition to M1, you don’t need to in certain circumstances. Apple is still producing some Intel-powered devices. After all, moving to a new processor type is a big step forward. Just keep in mind that M1 is just as big of a step forward for computing power.

“If Apple wanted to launch something revolutionary, it certainly managed that.”**

Matt Hanson
Senior Computing Editor, TechRadar

Partner with an M1 Specialist

Whether you’re new to Apple,or you have an infrastructure already in place, upgrading to M1 will be a big step up for your business. Connection is an Apple Corporate Reseller with a partnership that goes all the way back to 1984. This means we are uniquely qualified to provide Apple solutions, product availability, and expertise that exceed your expectations. With our help, creating or upgrading an Apple ecosystem is easy. And with our zero-touch deployment service, you can distribute new M1 devices directly to employees without manual configuration.

And, for a limited time, we are offering a special deal on MacBook Pro with M1. Get yours for $200 off—now only $1,099. Give it a go, test the waters, and let us know how we can help make your transition to Apple silicon a painless one.

© 2021 Apple Inc. All rights reserved. Apple, the Apple logo, iPad, iPhone, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, macOS, iMac, iPad Pro, and Mac mini are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.

1. Testing conducted by Apple in October 2020 using preproduction 13-inch MacBook Pro systems with Apple M1 chip and 16GB of RAM. Performance measured using select industry-standard benchmarks. PC configurations from publicly available sales data over the last 12 months. Performance tests are conducted using specific computer systems and reflect the approximate performance of MacBook Pro.

2. Battery life depends on device settings, usage, and other factors. Actual results may vary.

*PassMark Software, 2021, M1 Benchmark Results

†Forbes, 2021, 13-Inch MacBook Pro (M1) Vs Dell XPS 13 9310: Intel Takes A Hit

‡The Verge, 2020, Apple Macbook Air With M1 Review: New Chip, No Problem

**Tech Radar, 2020, Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) Review

Indoor/Outdoor Gunshot Detection Jun 22, 2021 Steve Zitney The world as we know it has become increasingly volatile. Recently, there have been a barrage of violent events, including mass shootings, that have spurred law enforcement and other first responders to put safeguards in place to mitigate and resolve critical events quickly and efficiently. To do this, it is critical to rethink your environment and how you are going to incorporate safeguards to protect responding agencies. 

As communities begin to think about how best to bring employees back to work and the classroom, the question becomes how to ensure everyone’s safety. How do communities better equip first-responder teams with the tools they need to react to critical events? The answer is simple: AmberBox Indoor/Outdoor Gunshot Detection and Alerting Systems. 

Protecting Life through Instant Response Technology

AmberBox has a rich history of helping bring peace of mind to various state and local communities throughout the nation. With a lightning-fast gunshot detection and alerting platform, the AmberBox solution is admired and widely embraced by community leaders and law enforcement organizations, as it works to better serve and protect both victims and first responders in their most critical time of need. The AmberBox solution notifies first responders in a staggering 3.6 seconds of the first gunshot. As a result, first responders can react in the safest and fastest manner possible. 

Through machine-learning algorithms, first responders are able to obtain various valuable pieces of intelligence, including the type of firearm being used, the number of shooters, and the direction of travel through a specific structure. All of these things make an imperative difference in the way tactical teams can respond to and neutralize a critical event. 

Additionally, this information is automatically communicated with dispatch and law enforcement special response teams to allow for administrative decision makers, tactical teams, and emergency medical service teams to seamlessly communicate and work together to determine how best to respond in a fluid, effective manner. 

With installation and deployment as easy as plugging these devices into nearby access points, AmberBox Gunshot Detection is a must-have solution for any community looking to protect citizens. 

The Best Protection When Seconds Count

Trust the experts at Connection and AmberBox to reaffirm your oath to your community that you are doing your part to keep everyone’s wellbeing in mind. For more information about strengthening your organization’s security and protecting lives, contact an Account Manager today!

Don’t Just Back Up—Stay Operational:... Jun 17, 2021 Ryan Spurr So many manufacturing conversations regarding business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) go like this when it comes to the plant floor: “We have an employee who walks around and periodically backs up our machines.” “We can live without some amount of data for a couple of days.” Or the classic, “We can make up lost production time with shifts through the weekend.” It’s frustrating to watch the most business-critical process in a manufacturing company be so undervalued that we don’t apply the same rigors we find in data centers to the profit-generating infrastructure building our customers’ products. 

This approach is an outdated mindset, and the assertions are falsely based on inaccurate risk assessments that wildly underestimate the actual impacts. In my experience, this only works if your goal is to check a box vs. a fundamental strategy of remaining online and operational all the time. Why are manufacturers so hyper-focused on uptime and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) but not on quickly recovering critical machines or an entire facility?

For example, past BCDR strategies worked fine when the only threat to your factory was a computer, disk, or software failure. But today’s plants are packed with a mix of legacy and modern technologies that the business depends upon to produce products uninterrupted. The recent pandemic also taught us that resiliency isn’t just about backups, but how quickly we can recover our facilities’ operations in an automated and unattended fashion. That employee running around with a USB stick may not be available when you need them most, or the backups stopped when that employee took a job promotion at a competitor.

Layer in the mounting cybersecurity events targeting the plant floor, and we are seeing a rapid increase in the frequency, impact, and outage periods. In 2020, manufacturing became the second most targeted industry with an alarming 33% of all cyber-theft incidents occurring in manufacturing. It’s now common for manufacturing plants to shutter for days or weeks as they recover lost data, rebuild machines, and return a plant to operation. Investment into security technology and resources is finite. Recent events are demonstrating that 31% of manufacturing experience unplanned failures in the plant and data centers, often resulting in significant downtime. 

Another reality we must consider is the continued rise in technology adoption amongst U.S. manufacturers to combat global pressures and any prevailing market headwinds. Whatever your company’s level of technology adoption to date—you should only expect more technology to be added into existing processes—not less. 

Manufacturers should all be asking themselves the following questions. How will your organization quickly recover corporate business systems and critical factory technology? How will your business minimize brand, sales, and customer impacts? How will your organization quickly restore your entire operational landscape in a mass security event? Would your organization be able to restore to anywhere, anytime, and with any resource?

The good news is there are many options available to protect your tech estate. Modern solutions exist that appeal to both traditional data center needs as well as the more heterogenous and legacy-based environment we see in factories, warehouses, and research. These solutions provide support for a wide range of operating systems and devices, and they integrate across the OT/IT landscape. Solutions can also span your hybrid environments, protecting physical plant machines, virtual machines, and other services in the cloud like AWS, Azure, Google, Microsoft 365, and more. Employees depend on all these resources, not just ERP.

If your organization lacks experience or skillsets, or is looking for staff augmentation, managed service offerings can also bring expertise in devising an integrated backup and disaster recovery solution that fits your business needs. Many also provide services to aid in the ongoing operational activities around backup, monitoring, and recovery in the event a disaster does strike.

Business continuity and resiliency are becoming more essential in companies as industrial transformation (IX) and technology adoption increase. Combine the financial and productivity impacts with effects on workforce morale, distractions from value-added activities, and impact on brand and deliverables, and your modern organization should be changing its view of business continuity and resilience risks. The risks are no longer realized in the off chance a weather event bears down on your facility, it’s now a combination of catastrophes, cybersecurity, unplanned failure or human error, and workforce disruption. 

To learn more about Connection’s Manufacturing Practice or to discuss the challenges and edge compute solutions highlighted in this article, contact us today.

Find Highly Skilled Candidates for Your Open... Jun 15, 2021 Connection When Connection employees clock in each day, you can expect an entire company ready to go above and beyond for our customers. The IT Staffing Team is no exception, from our Staffing BDMs to our IT Focused Recruitment team. We are vigorous and determined to deliver top tier talent to your organization. 

In the extremely competitive and fast-paced market of IT staffing, we are relentless and strategic when we search for the talent to fill our customers’ mission-critical roles. On average, candidates receive 3–5 offers prior to their final decision on which to accept. With candidates in such high demand, it’s crucial to work with a team that is in the trenches daily to help uncover the talent your organization needs. 

What to Expect from Our Team:

  • First-class talent acquisition: Our team is seasoned and understands the IT business in depth, including market trends.
  • Quality over quantity: You will receive candidates who only possess the skillset you need. We don’t have a “dart board” approach. You will save time and effort by only viewing quality candidates.
  • Extreme ownership: From sourcing, vetting candidates, and presenting and scheduling interviews—all the way to extending offers and handling timecards (for contract/contract-to-hire roles)—we own every step of the process. 
  • Nationwide expertise: We have filled positions in all 50 states, from challenging rural areas to overly competitive urban locations. Our team has contacts that have likely worked jobs in your area.  
  • No upfront cost or fees: When you work with our team, we don’t charge any fees upfront. You don’t pay until you select a candidate from us. 

Focus Areas:

  • End User Support: Helpdesk Technician, Desktop Support, IT Support Specialist, Tier I, II, and III Support Engineer, IT Specialist, IT Technician, IT Coordinator
  • Network Infrastructure: Network Administrator, Network Architect, Network Engineer, Cloud Architect, Cloud Administrator, Database Administrator, Systems Administrator, Security Engineer/Analyst 
  • Application Development: Application Developer, Programmer/ Analyst, Software Architect, Software Developer, Software Engineer, Software QA, Web Developer

What Our Customers Have to Say

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with the IT Staffing Team at Connection for the past 14+ years. Initially, the relationship was solely a supplier of computer equipment and professional technical services and consultation. Over the past 10 years, while serving in management, I’ve relied on Connection for IT Staffing. I have hub offices across the country and having Connection as a business partner to validate and prescreen candidates is vital. Connection has always presented us with quality professionals.”

–Balfour Beatty Construction, a leader in the commercial construction space

“We have been using Connection for our IT staffing needs for over five years, and we have had nothing but the best service when it comes to quality, availability, and selection of candidates. It’s been extremely easy to provide our requirements and get an extremely fast turnaround for our needs.”

–Proquest, LLC, a global information-content and technology company

Challenging Market, Challenging Times

It’s no secret that the IT staffing market is as competitive as it’s ever been, and it’s even more challenging to find targeted skillsets. Let us do the digging for you and take the pressure off while you maintain your focus on your day-to-day responsibilities. Rest assured, your Connection IT Staffing Team is devoted and takes each position on as if it were our own. When you land the top tier candidate for your position, you win, and we win.Ready to find the right skilled candidates to fill your IT positions? Contact us today!

Connection Earns Microsoft Azure Advanced... Jun 14, 2021 Connection Great news for everyone out there who wants to make the jump to the cloud! Our team has recently been awarded a new Microsoft specialization for our expertise in helping organizations migrate to Azure. 

We’re proud holders of Microsoft’s Windows Server and SQL Server Migration to Microsoft Azure advanced specialization—a new endorsement that validates our team’s extensive knowledge, experience, and expertise in migrating Windows Server and SQL Server-based workloads to Azure. Microsoft awards the advanced specialization only to partners that meet stringent criteria around customer success and staff skilling, as well as pass a third-party audit of their migration practices. 

A big thanks to Microsoft for the new specialization—we look forward to helping customers migrate to the cloud and optimize their Azure investments. 

If you’re interested in the benefits of Azure, our team of cloud experts and dedicated Microsoft specialists offer an extensive portfolio of services, from Azure Migrate Assessments to Azure Managed ServicesCloud AssessmentsMicrosoft Modern Work and Security Services, and more. To learn more about Connection’s Microsoft Azure advanced specialization, read the official press release.

Connection Named Aruba Federal Public Sector... Jun 11, 2021 Connection We’re excited to share that Connection has been named Federal Public Sector Partner of the Year by Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. Our Public Sector team was presented with the honor at Aruba Atmosphere ’21, where top partners were recognized for their performance, technical capabilities, and dedication to customer service excellence. 

Our Federal customers are constantly searching for new ways to be more efficient and effective, and we’re proud to help them design, deploy, and support the latest technology solutions. The entire Connection team is dedicated to delivering the very highest levels of service—and it’s a true honor to be recognized by our partners for that commitment. Thank you to Aruba and our fantastic customers!

To learn more about the Aruba Federal Public Sector Partner of the Year Award, read the official press release.

Honored to Serve the Needs of the Federal... Jun 10, 2021 Connection Today, we’re proud to announce that our public sector subsidiary, Connection Public Sector Solutions, was awarded one of the GSA’s 2nd Generation Information Technology (2GIT) Blanket Purchase Agreements. As part of this purchase agreement, we will be able to better serve our Federal Government customers and efficiently deliver the technology solutions they count on for success.

Our Public Sector team has been hard at work developing solutions that meet the unique needs of our government customers, and this contract will allow them to offer our customers greater flexibility and a more efficient path to IT procurement.

To learn more about our participation in this purchase agreement, read the official press release.

Manufacturers Focus on Smart Devices, but... Jun 10, 2021 Ryan Spurr In today’s intelligent manufacturing world, we spend so much time focused on sensors, data acquisition, and advanced solutions like machine learning that we often overlook one critical foundational element: power management.

With smart factories comes an increased need to connect our factories and yield more intelligent operations and the basic need to keep this new technology powered. In a recent survey, 31% of respondents experienced downtime, and 48% reported at least one outage in their plant. So whether we are powering factory equipment, lighting, security cameras, physical access control, or the next generation of smart sensors, power is at the root of our ability to operate.

Power Management Problems to Consider

With all this industrial transformation comes challenges. Let’s explore some of these challenges your manufacturing organization should be considering with the deployment of Industry 4.0, or any technologies associated with plant operations.

  • Power Placement: How do we ensure we have electricity wherever technology is placed? As we install sensors, beacons, and other smart controls in ceiling, walls, or perhaps in places we have already exhausted typical electrical access, we must also consider how we will power them.
  • Reliable Power: How do we provide power backup? This technology is often core to operations or an overlay for auditing, safety, or regulations. Regardless, this technology becomes vital to optimizing processes and ensuring compliance. Therefore, these devices are becoming essential and must have power at all times.
  • Clean Power: How do we not affect the technology or processes due to power surges or fluctuations? Process equipment and electronics—especially those most sensitive technologies—depend on clean and consistent power not to interrupt or negatively affect their operation. Therefore, clean power is as important as having power.
  • Power Management: How do we simplify power deployment, monitoring, and ongoing management? Implementing smart power solutions allows our controls, facilities, and information technology employees to deploy power-based solutions more quickly while also improving monitoring and maintenance over time.

How to Solve the Manufacturing Power Problem

Let’s explore some of the power technologies available to support manufacturers as they build out new factories, modernize with smart technologies, and look to improve uptime across the board.

  • Industrial UPS: This isn’t new, but the technology has evolved to provide clean reliable power with better management and protection. Today’s UPS solutions include surge protection, clean power delivery, battery monitoring, and integration with management systems, making it easier for the organization to keep the status of all batteries or proactively address at-risk UPS units before an event occurs. 

    The battery technology is also changing. Most UPS units sold are acid-based batteries, but we see the adoption of lithium-based batteries as costs and availability improve. As a result, lithium batteries are set to make up 40% of the market in the coming years, delivering better UPS capabilities such as fewer or no battery replacements, 3x less weight, 10x more discharge cycles, and 4x faster charging. 

    We should also be mindful that UPS units scale with the use case. Solutions come in all shapes and sizes, from small form factors to protect a single machine, factory or line protection systems, data center, or entire site power backup solutions. 
  • Power over Ethernet (PoE): While it doesn’t solve all power applications, another area of power management to consider is power over ethernet (PoE). With IEEE or IEEE, PoE and POE+ allow us to deliver clean reliable power directly from existing network cables. Imagine, instead of requiring an electrician to pull permits and wiring to that new industrial monitor or sensor in the ceiling, you just run the same ethernet cable you planned to from your PoE-powered switch to the smart device. Now your unit is powered, connected to the network, and your smart devices are ready to go.

    With the IEEE standards, you get DC Power up to 15W and 30W per port, or with UPOE or UPOE+ you can get up to 60W or 90W of DC power per port, respectively. With a surge of POE-compatible devices, we are observing many manufacturers deploying this cost-effective and flexible technology to deliver network and power to end-user terminals, wireless access points, industrial devices, touch screens, VOIP phones, cameras, sensors, and lighting, digital signage, and so much more. 

    The next time the factory floor layout changes, the production engineering team can connect network cables without running any new electrical simplifying and speeding up change events. The next time your IT professionals discuss investing in upgrading networks, take this event seriously and partner with IT to get smarter networks with PoE as part of the architecture.
  • Mobile Smart Devices: As our process equipment and unattended smart technologies transform, so do the devices employees use each day. This includes tablets, scanners, smart devices, and wearables. While each of these products typically comes with power charging, many other solutions are available, making it easier and more reliable to power these units. Whether your organization is looking to provide smart power lockers to protect, charge, and make it easier for employees to get a device, or to offer next-generation wireless charging solutions, power docking, and more. Keep an eye on how smart devices are rapidly changing how they charge intelligently and fit the type of culture, environment, or demanding requirements of your staff.
  • Managed Power Services: With so much workload placed on industrial and IT teams, we observe a rise in augmentation of existing teams with managed power services. With newer power solutions, these smarter power devices are capable of integrating with corporate monitoring platforms to support monitoring from the center. They can also allow for managed power services that enable power as a service offerings. These services integrate all power technologies and provide real-time battery monitoring, alert management, and on-site services when necessary. Such augmentation unlocks your team to focus on more critical business initiatives while outsourcing and delivering improved power reliability.

With 85% of manufacturing CEOs expecting smart factory or industrial internet of things (IIoT) technology investments as key to their future business success, we know manufacturers are investing in industrial transformation (IX). However, manufacturers must not forget about foundational infrastructure to ensure the resiliency and dependabilities required to keep our intelligent factories operational. 

To learn more about Connection’s Manufacturing Practice or to discuss the challenges and power  solutions highlighted in this article, contact us today.

Remote Patient Monitoring Creates Healthier... Jun 08, 2021 Dr Keith Nelson As telemedicine became mainstreamed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the practice of remotely monitoring patients has concomitantly been elevated in terms of both importance and use. The applications here are numerous, but currently primarily concentrate on post-hospital-discharge of high- risk patients and chronic disease management. The former is largely employed to prevent hospital readmissions by identifying emerging complications early when they can be easily addressed. The latter is similarly directed toward keeping patients healthy, but on a longer-term basis through frequent monitoring of their health status, customized treatment protocols, and frequent communication/intervention. 

Examples of prevalent chronic diseases whose course could be improved through the use of a monitoring program include:

  • Asthma
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity

Typical remote physiologic measurements today come from home-based devices measuring blood pressure, blood glucose, blood oxygen content, weight, respiration flow, and medication adherence, all of which communicate their data (through either Bluetooth/Wi-Fi or cellular transmission) to an Internet- or cloud-based platform that is monitored by a medical provider, and increasingly intermediated by artificial intelligence. But given the success and future potential of remote patient monitoring (RPM), innovation is advancing at an impressive rate. Newly introduced technologies include wall-mounted non-contact measurements of respiration, heart rate, and activity/movement using ultra-wideband radar, leveraging smartphone cameras to measure blood pressure, heart rate, respiration and circulation via light reflectivity and a 12-lead electrode T-shirt that produces a medical-grade EKG. And looking forward, it is not outlandish to expect technologies such as affordable home-based CRISPR blood tests to diagnose cancers or a myriad of other specific diseases, smartphone-generated MRI-quality medical imaging using near-infrared light, or clinical decision support software that will perform functions like interpreting an EKG or stethoscope sounds for the patient.

So Who Pays for This Stuff?

There are currently two primary financial models for the deployment of an RPM program: purchase or lease. The cost of the equipment and services is borne by the provider; however, these expenses are most often reimbursable through insurance. In January of 2021, CMS released new guidelines regarding RPM reimbursement. The payment schedule (below) forms a foundation that could, create a significant profit center for providers (monthly recurring revenue). This is in addition to mitigating or eliminating the 2% CMS penalty for excessive hospital readmissions.

CPT Code 99453 (Setup)
Remote monitoring of physiologic parameter(s) (e.g., weight, blood pressure, pulse oximetry, respiratory flow rate), initial setup and patient education on use of equipment.
One time setup/education of $21 (regionally adjusted).

CPT Code 99454 (Equipment and Monitoring)
Remote monitoring of physiologic parameter(s) (e.g., weight, blood pressure, pulse oximetry, respiratory flow rate), initial device(s) supply with daily recording(s) or programmed alert(s) transmission, each 30 days.
$69 per patient/month (regionally adjusted)

CPT Code 99457 (Interventions)
Remote physiologic monitoring treatment management services, 20 minutes or more of clinical staff/physician/other qualified healthcare professional time in a calendar month requiring interactive communication with the patient/caregiver during the month.
$54 per patient/month (regionally adjusted)

CPT Code 99458 (Interventions)
Remote physiologic monitoring treatment management services for each additional 20 min.

The Bottom Line

Remote patient monitoring leads to improved disease management and lower hospital readmissions, resulting in healthier patients, reduced costs to the provider, and the establishment of a new provider profit center. I’d call that a win-win-win.

If you want to know more about remote patient monitoring and how it can help your healthcare organization, reach out to Connection today.

Visibility, Device Protection, and Online... Jun 04, 2021 Delia DeCourcy According to a Hanover Research report, 30 devices went missing on average at each school between January and September 2020 as students and teachers took devices home for distance learning in response to COVID-19. What’s more, thirty-six percent of school-issued devices were dark from August to October 2020, meaning they hadn’t connected online, anywhere, during that time.

“Device drift” is when schools lose track of computers and tablets that they have issued for remote learning. If you’re dealing with device drift, you’re not alone—41% percent of schools reported feeling challenged tracking devices in the Hanover Research report, “Distance Learning’s Impact on Education IT.

Visibility: You Can’t Secure What You Can’t Manage, and You Can’t Manage What They Can’t See

Education continuity means creating a seamless learning experience regardless of where students are learning. Persistent visibilitywhich means always-on insight into where devices are and what they are doing—is key to managing and securing your devices for long life and ensuring students and teachers have the tools they need to learn, no matter where they are.

The question is, how do you create that visibility into devices that are off premises, that you can’t touch and manually update or secure? How can you discover where a device is, take action on missing devices, and improve your recovery rate?

The solution is Absolute Persistence® embedded into the firmware of Lenovo devices. Absolute gives you unparalleled line-of-sight to your devices and data. Secure your data, devices, and applications with an unbreakable connection to every endpoint—on or off your network.

Beyond giving you visibility into devices, Absolute can even protect other essential applications by helping them self-heal. That’s why Absolute is an integral part of ThinkShield, Lenovo’s comprehensive end-to-end security platform. Lenovo and Absolute’s partnership supports schools engaged in digital transformation. 

It begins on the factory floor, when Lenovo embeds Absolute into devices’ firmware to create an unbreakable link that gives security professionals device control through endpoint visibility and geolocation, geofencing, and device freeze, even off school networks. By seeing every endpoint and the apps and data on it, you know which blind spots to fix, know what needs to be done to meet and report on data and privacy compliance, and have the data to make better decisions. 

Increase Your Odds of Reclaiming Your Dark Device

When it’s time to reclaim a device, the digital tether tells you where that device is, and if it hasn’t logged on, there are log reports to reference last known locations. You can use Absolute to freeze and send a message to student devices with a friendly nudge to remind them to return the device. Or, if they aren’t responsive, you can lock the device remotely so it isn’t of use to the student (or anyone, for that matter).

Device Protection: How to Be the Superhero Who Protects Your Schools from Cyberattacks

The global education sector has seen a 20% increase in cyberattacks as criminals exploit newly implemented virtual learning environments. Threats range from nuisance adware to severe malware like trojans and backdoors, but the most common, by far, is ransomware. The education sector was the most affected by ransomware of all business sectors in 2018 and ’19, according to a report from Malwarebytes Labs. 

Schools have become enticing targets for attackers because of stored personal information on students and teachers, and security updates often aren’t installed on devices that have been loaned out for remote learning. Furthermore, students and teachers are frequent victims of phishing scams. They typically use simple passwords across multiple services, making them susceptible to credential harvesting and password-spraying attacks. When hackers infiltrate your devices, they lock them up so they can’t be used for learning. Suddenly, the capacity to simply teach students is lost.

Like a superhero who fights off the bad guy before the villain has a chance to steal the money, SentinelOne can defeat intruders before they hijack your devices. SentinelOne enables your school to automatically detect and manage devices as they join your network and extends protection and control to cloud-based assets and applications running on them. Lenovo pre-enables SentinelOne on all laptops, desktops, and Chromebooks, so that you can ensure a seamless and engaging experience for students, whether they’re learning face-to-face or remotely.

SentinelOne is the only cybersecurity solution encompassing AI-powered prevention, detection, response, and hunting across endpoints and cloud workloads in a single autonomous platform. It gives your IT team full transparency into everything happening across the network at machine speed so that you can defeat every attack at every stage of the threat lifecycle.

By autonomously detecting and responding to attacks, SentinelOne helps mitigate limited human resources. This helps focus the attention of your busy IT team on the most severe and impactful security issues. If an attacker successfully infiltrates a device, SentinelOne can rollback the device to a healthy state, including decrypting encrypted files. 

Online Safety

Your school is charged with taking care of the whole student, not just shoving information into their head. So, you likely want to know when (not if) your students are engaging in inappropriate behavior or looking at a site with inappropriate content. 

But how can your teachers and administrators know what’s going on in a student’s head—especially in a remote learning situation? How can you supervise collaborative and online communications? How can you protect students from inappropriate or illicit online content at home or school?

With an increasingly encrypted Web, it’s trickier to get the information you need to protect students. Getting search term reports, creating selective access to Google services, and tapping into YouTube controls all require SSL decryption. But more than 60% of school IT personnel say they aren’t decrypting SSL at all. Completely blocking YouTube and social media is always an option, but those platforms can often be used for learning in today’s (in-person and remote) classrooms. That’s why 40% of schools allow YouTube access for everyone.

Even when schools use filtering on their devices and networks, that filtering usually has limitations. They typically only block about half of the graphic content on the Web. They often send too much noise—and too many false alerts—when trying to analyze websites in real time. And often, schools have to rely on separate filtering solutions for when devices are on campus or off, which adds complexities to the process.

Why paint this gloomy picture? Because we know how you can get help to erase that picture and replace it with one where students are safe and you have the knowledge to help them stay that way. 

Lenovo is committed to helping schools through this digital transformation that is required for educational continuity. That’s why they’re partnering with Lightspeed to provide schools worldwide with an ecosystem of cloud-based solutions with reliable filtering, analytics, and device management tools. This includes advanced artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor, interpret, and flag warning signs in emails, Google docs, social media posts, Web searches, Microsoft Teams and Meetings chat—really, nearly everywhere students are interacting online.

Your IT team can use Lightspeed’s AI to automatically block millions of inappropriate, harmful, and unknown sites, images, and videos. Its SmartPlay’s patented agents and mature database effectively block millions of inappropriate videos, thumbnails, and “recommended by” YouTube content so that YouTube can be a safe teaching tool. Customizable policy controls enable admins to set parameters and selectively permit content without being overly restrictive.What would you discover—and prevent—with Absolute, SentinelOne, or Lightspeed on your Lenovo devices? Now may be the time to find out. Read more about Lenovo’s best-in-class solution suite in the Solutions for Education Catalog.

How Modern Fleet Solutions Improve First... Jun 03, 2021 Steve Zitney Over the course of the last 100 years, the way our first responders answer their respective communities’ calls for service (CFS) has vastly changed as technology in this landscape has progressed. Perhaps the most notable change is the way in which first responders travel to engage with the citizens in distress. Patrol vehicles, fire apparatuses, and ambulances, specifically, have undergone a series of dramatic changes that have vastly improved response times and effectiveness.

When computers first made their debut in the early 1930s, no one ever suspected that technology could be condensed into a clamshell device that could be mounted in a patrol vehicle. But that’s exactly what the majority of mobile data terminals (MDT) utilized by first responders are. Imagine what a difference these sophisticated devices could have made for first responders back then. 

Now, when answering a call for aid, a law enforcement officer or fire crew has a GPS device deliver the most efficient route directly to a specific address—shaving off precious minutes that could make all the difference in a critical scenario. Perhaps even more importantly, with an MDT, dispatchers can provide updated call information while the first responders are en-route. Not only can they relay verbal information, but they can also send pictures of persons of interest and records from surrounding jurisdictions via a collective records management platform. 

Law enforcement, in particular, has seen MDTs have a significant impact in the way they perform daily duties and move through the community. They can use MDTs to write up reports while they’re patrolling their assigned areas—instead of having to wait until they return to the office to hand write and submit their reports. Now they can submit incident reporting directly to the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) directly from their patrol vehicle. In cases of traffic stops, they can scan a driver’s license, import that information into a mobile citation, and issue a printed ticket to a violator all in mere minutes. These technologies keep officers available in their patrol areas, which has been proven to deter crime in areas where it was previously prevalent. 

MDTs have also made a difference in how efficiently firefighters and EMS teams can respond to community calls for aid. They can easily document their efforts while administering aid, and they can also use translation services to overcome language barriers and ensure community members receive the proper care.For communities looking for new, innovative ways to better serve and protect their people, outfitting their first responders with modern MDTs, as well as a durable wireless router and antenna, is a great first step. Give your first responders the tools they need today—our experts work with all levels of state and local government to create efficient, cost effective solutions. Contact us to learn more. 

Microsoft Viva Delivers a Better Way to... Jun 01, 2021 Sreeraj Vasukuttan On February 4, 2021, Microsoft announced Microsoft Viva, their new employee experience platform. The announcement created a buzz in the Microsoft sphere of the Internet for a couple of weeks, but then slowly faded away. In the first week, our customers were asking, “What is this Viva thing that Microsoft just announced? Is it a new product from Microsoft?” It took a while for me to wrap my head around Viva, but at last, I found the answer. Viva is not necessarily a new product line from Microsoft. Instead, it’s how Microsoft has branded a set of new and repackaged employee experiences built within Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Teams.

Why does Microsoft need to call out employee experiences and create a dedicated platform for them? There are products within Microsoft Teams and Office 365 that are geared towards employee experiences. I think, by being a facilitator for 2020’s remote work transition with Teams, Microsoft has been watching and analyzing new employee experience patterns. Also, they have been conducting studies of remote work to predict better where things are going in that area. All the significant studies published recently—not just the ones published by Microsoft—about remote work point to one interesting conclusion:

Employers and employees think that remote work has accelerated productivity, and fewer employees want to go back to the office full time; however, the sense of disconnect, digital fatigue, and burnout has increased among employees.

Therefore, helping companies reinvent employee experiences in a hybrid work world has become essential for Microsoft. I don’t believe that Microsoft Teams or Microsoft Viva alone will solve all these challenges at once. But building apps and services around Teams with the employee experience framework is an effort in the right direction from Microsoft. 

Employee Experience and Return to Office Plans

As you build your return to office plan for 2021 and beyond, you must consider both the physical and the digital worlds where your employees inhabit. The HR department must ask questions like, “How I can make my employees’ digital lives more meaningful? What do they need more (or less) of in their forty-plus hours of staring at a screen each week? What is at stake if I don’t take a proactive step towards building a better digital world for my employees?” Then work with the leadership teams to invest in modern collaboration platforms, apps, and devices that will provide better employee experiences. 

Microsoft Viva is one piece of the puzzle. If you are already on Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Teams, bringing Viva to your employees is not that complicated. For example, Viva Connections—one of the modules in Viva—is free, and your IT staff could roll it out with few changes to your SharePoint Online settings.

Microsoft Viva: Description of Modules, Pricing, and Availability 
Microsoft Viva is comprised of four modules: Viva Topics, Viva Connections, Viva Insights, and Viva Learning. 

  • Viva Topics will collect and organize the knowledge around any topic in your organization’s Microsoft 365 environment using Microsoft Graph and AI. Viva Topics is generally available now. The price is $5 per user, per month. 
  • Viva Connections will work as a SharePoint app within Teams. You can use Viva Connections in Teams to bring curated news and articles to your employees. Viva Connections will also bring content from Yammer and Microsoft Stream. Viva Connections is now generally available, and you can start using the module at no cost if your users are licensed for Microsoft 365 and SharePoint.
  • Viva Insights will work as the workplace productivity and wellbeing portal for your Teams users. Viva Insights will be tied to MyAnalytics and Workplace analytics in Microsoft 365. Headspace integration and Virtual Commute that Microsoft announced last year for Teams are also going to be included in Viva Insights. The Insights app is now available in Teams with minimum features. More features will be available later this year. The Insights app in Teams is free, but additional features like MyAnalytics and Workplace analytics might require an additional license. 
  • Viva Learning is the enterprise-grade learning management solution in Teams. The app will bring Microsoft’s own learning apps like Microsoft Learn, LinkedIn Learning, and third-party learning apps to Teams. The Learning app in Teams will be available at no cost, but you will have to pay for subscriptions within the app. Viva Learning is currently in private preview and will be generally available later this year. 

If you don’t have in-house expertise in deploying services like Microsoft Viva or understanding the licensing nuances of it, you can reach out to our Modern Work and Security Services team. We’ll be happy to get you started.

How Edge Compute Is Redefining Automation in... May 27, 2021 Ryan Spurr In manufacturing, edge computing is not new. Factories have long had compute solutions in the plant, including programmable logic controllers (PLCs), local plant micro data centers or servers, and extensive use of traditional computers for kiosks, process equipment, signage, and workbenches. Because of what manufacturing has long done, edge computing is something we are all very comfortable with.

What has changed is adopting new industry standards, integrating the operational technology environment with information technology or the balance of the enterprise, and adopting Industry 4.0 and artificial intelligence. Among manufacturing leaders, 91% are planning to invest in creating digital factories (or smarter factories than they have today). Driven by this shift, 80% of manufacturing data will be computed at the center of business processes1 (what we call the “edge”) vs. on-premises data centers or cloud. 

This shift doesn’t replace the need for data centers or cloud infrastructure. Instead, it only implies that a new generation of technology will allow manufacturers to conduct intelligent operations inclusive of automation and decision-making at the point closest to where people and machines operate. In fact, 76% of manufacturers seek to integrate communications, infrastructure, and process between OT and IT. With the decisions processed at the edge, we empower the plant to be more resilient and independent while offsetting unnecessary network traffic and costs associated with transporting to and from data centers. It also creates a more scalable architecture that addresses operations and information technology needs and enables a new approach to innovation by lines of business.

Let’s examine ways the modern concept of edge computing is transforming in the market:

  1. Edge Compute Is Everywhere: I must point out nearly everything in the marketplace is being equipped with some form of computing technology, whether on the low or high end. If you take away nothing else from this article, understand this. Everything from cameras, sensors, tags, networks, appliances, scanners, and screens is becoming intelligent. I expect at some point very shortly, everything we buy and place into our factories will be capable of connecting to networks or cellular services, processing data, and interacting with employees and other devices in the environment.
  2. Next-Generation Edge Compute: As discussed earlier, computers for end users or factory equipment are not new. What is new is the proliferation of edge compute devices designed specifically for industrial environments and intended to replace the traditionally used personal computers or services sourced by IT or engineers. While all manufacturers share many things in common, most have unique environmental, process, regulatory, and safety requirements. For example, in the biopharmaceutical manufacturing industry, we must employ good manufacturing practices (GMP), or in the food and beverage industries, we must adhere to food and drug standards. In either case, we are talking about challenges associated with chemicals, biohazards, sanitization, and the potential for explosion. 

    The next-generation edge compute devices address these industry-specific regulations or standards by providing devices that are both safe, and fit for purpose. For example, this allows plants to prevent sparks from causing explosions or fires, protect from liquids or harsh sanitization chemicals, and fanless and sealed units to eliminate issues with dust or particulates from the manufacturing process. 
  3. Industrial Touch Terminals, Kiosks, and Digital Signage: Not every use case requires a dedicated terminal for frontline workers. We now see rapid adoption of next-generation shared devices in the form of shared kiosks, industrial terminals used with process and test equipment, and digital signage. Historically, each device would require another computer or device to operate. Today, most of these solutions integrate edge compute within the interactive touch screens, allowing for a more intuitive and productive experience for frontline workers. Other benefits include simplifying deployment or ensuring units are suited to endure the harshest or riskiest of environments.
  4. Networking Edge Compute: The notion of what is intelligent and can house compute capabilities has also changed. No longer is compute reserved for end-user devices. Instead, we are also seeing edge compute embedded within network and security appliances. This allows for trusted corporate and industrial networks to both securely route packets and provide computing capability anywhere along the network from edge to data center.
  5. Edge Data Center: It’s also important to point out that there is no one-size-fits-all in manufacturing. It’s not like there are only edge devices, and then on the other side of the line, there is a data center or cloud infrastructure. In manufacturing, we require a more complex, scalable, or resilient structure. As such, you can now procure a wide range of data center products built for industrial spaces. These products are robust and range from basic servers to high-end compute solutions with powerful processors and graphics capabilities designed to withstand the harshest of environments.
  6. Embedded Components: Industry 4.0 isn’t just taking place in our factories or warehouses. Manufacturers are now creating more intelligent products, serviceable or returnable containers, and new managed services that require compute solutions anywhere outside the traditional four walls. Depending on the product, this might include a next-generation edge compute device discussed earlier or leverage components embedded into the design of their products. In addition, many OEMs offer unique embedded technologies like chips, memory, touchscreens, sensors, and communication modules for connectivity, making this next step to innovative products easier.
  7. Software, VMs, and Containers: Lastly, we cannot close on the topic of edge computing without mentioning virtual machines and containers. In addition to edge compute hardware itself, many of these devices are poised to support custom software, virtual machines, and containers in new ways. As a result, DEVOPS teams have more options in designing, deploying, and managing software and data at the edge and across the entirety of their tech estate.

With 2.1 million manufacturing jobs going unfilled through 2030, we know manufacturers are looking for new ways to streamline and automate business processes for the better. Combining sensors, modern networks, and edge compute, the industry is already leveraging or accelerating the industrial transformation (IX). With a diverse range of edge computing offerings, manufacturers can now tackle any number of process improvement initiatives that fuel automation to improve quality, drive throughput, and reduce costs while also combatting potential shortcomings with lack of talent. To learn more about Connection’s Manufacturing Practice or to discuss the challenges and edge compute solutions highlighted in this article, contact us today.

1 IDC Worldwide Predictions for Manufacturing 2019

How to Optimize Your Patient-facing App May 25, 2021 Dr Keith Nelson These days, every hospital and medical provider group has a proprietary app, the purpose of which is to improve the patient experience and, presumably, increase operational efficiency and productivity for providers. Speaking to the former, in today’s highly competitive, value-based healthcare environment, improving patient satisfaction and engagement has become a top priority for medical providers. And the patient-facing app (Digital Front Door) is one of the most powerful tools employed to achieve this goal.

Accenture estimates that the three app functions most desired by patients are appointment scheduling, prescription refills, and some access to medical records/test results. This is considered the bare minimum needed to drive patient app engagement. However, most hospitals increasingly have been adding other beneficial features to improve the user experience and empower patients by enabling them to take greater control of their healthcare journey.

Who’s Developing Your App?

As far as app development is concerned, the largest organizations typically either develop entirely internally, or team their in-house resources with a subcontracted app development firm—which may or may not have specific healthcare subject matter expertise. Medium-sized and smaller organizations usually outsource the majority of the development work or leverage the patient experience modules associated with their Electronic Health Record software (e.g., Epic MyChart, Cerner CareAware), which tend to be relatively limited in scope, less user-friendly, and less engaging. Generally speaking, the majority of hospitals have either not yet endeavored into the realm of enhanced app development, or have developed relatively limited, often non-compelling offerings. As a healthcare provider, it is important to develop a strategy that will best serve your organization and maximize the app’s impact on your patient population.  

Add the Right Features

Of course, as previously mentioned, the other primary purpose of an app is to improve the efficiency, productivity, and branding of your organization. You can leverage the app to promote your services, differentiated assets, and accomplishments; reduce the workload of your staff; streamline the registration and post-discharge processes; and receive patient feedback, in addition to many other things.

Examples of advanced app features include:

  • Welcome Message (leveraging geo fencing)
  • Entertainment (cable TV, streaming services)
  • Wayfinding
  • Physician Contact Numbers/Email/Texting
  • Customized Education/Videos
  • Pre- and Post-Appointment and Discharge Instructions
  • Appointments (scheduling/reminders/calendar)
  • Test Results
  • Medical Records
  • Nurse Call
  • Dietary Ordering
  • Support Groups
  • Patient Registration
  • Telemedicine
  • Integration with Home Monitoring Equipment and Smart Watches
  • Gift Shop (for visitors/family)
  • Prescription Refills
  • Medication Tracking
  • Retail Supplies (disposables, DME, OTC)
  • Parking (location, directions, and payment)
  • Patient Tracking (for authorized relatives)
  • Patient Feedback/Surveys
  • Restaurants/Food Delivery
  • Uber/Lyft

In planning a comprehensive app development strategy, it is important to incorporate infrastructure considerations that will support the current and future features you plan to make available. These can range from designing an optimized network and access points and beacons (wayfinding, geofencing, Wi-Fi access) to EHR/ERP integration, security, and seamless performance continuity after EHR and OS updates.

Outsourcing App Development

Connection can reduce the burden on your IT staff by teaming you with the market leader in healthcare app development. Leveraging our partner’s depth of experience and Connection’s unparalleled infrastructure support in networking and security, your organization can optimize your proprietary patient-facing app platform by letting you choose from a suite of customizable off-the-shelf app modules or designing customized features developed from scratch. The result will be a unique digital front door that will elevate patient satisfaction, increase productivity and reduce the workload of your staff, all without stressing your internal IT team.  Ready to learn more? Contact us today.

How to Navigate a Global Chip Shortage May 21, 2021 Connection Whether they are following headlines about chip and technology shortages or have encountered long waits for specific items, consumers and business buyers alike are increasingly becoming aware that supply chain issues may be impacting technology availability. The New York Times recently reported that a global chip shortage has hampered automobile production, while Statista notes that brands (including Apple) faced shortages that led to production delays. If you’re interested in learning more about the global chip shortage—and how to create a strategy that optimizes your technology access—read on.

What’s Driving the Semiconductor or Chip Shortage

It can be helpful to take a step back and ask what is driving the semiconductor or chip shortage. CBS News recently reported that 75% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured in Asia. Some of the challenges have been traced back to COVID and, in particular, how this year-long period has highlighted some of the fragility of the global supply chain. However, the shortages we’re currently seeing are impacted by a wide variety of factors:

The core issue is a raw material shortage.When you think about what devices use a chip, your first thought may be your desktop computer or laptop. However, we live in a world where devices are increasingly being made smart. It’s not just the CPUs and GPUs that go into your computing equipment; it’s every smart home device, every networked computer, every automobile with computing features. All these devices rely on the same core underlying infrastructure and raw materials. Raw materials shortages have become an increasing problem as chip usage reaches an all-time high.

Long lead times make the issues harder to address.
Ordering components for a PC begins a long time before that device is manufactured; in some cases, months or even a year or more. Complex supply chains have many moving parts, and companies are managing relationships that span multiple companies, geographic regions, and much more. A number of companies have announced plans for plants to manufacture chips in the United States. While companies have invested in the capacity to help reduce the impact, it’s important to remember that because of these long lead times, these changes may not alleviate short-term challenges.

There’s been a wide brand impact.
The challenges go beyond the name brands American consumers are familiar with. Globally, these shortages are impacting nearly all brands that rely on these items.

Chip shortages affect more than just PCs.
Outside of integrated circuits, these shortages are having an impact on a wide range of devices, including audio, Wi-Fi chips, imaging devices, and displays. Many industries compete for these materials, not just PC manufacturers. For example, auto manufacturers have had to limit production due to a lack of raw materials. We are also seeing impacts to printer and PC accessories availability. All these devices use the same raw materials and will be challenged with availability.

Companies are exacerbating the situation by stockpiling chips.
It was recently reported by CNBC that some companies—for example, those in China that have been hit with sanctions—are stockpiling chips to ride out the shortage. Across supply chains, these types of actions can further compound shortages and make it difficult for manufacturers to get the supplies they need.

What Are the Consequences of Chip Shortages?

While industries have been dialed into this issue for some time and focused on solving the problem, it’s important to consider how the situation may impact you as a buyer. As outlined above, national, global, industry, and company initiatives to correct for these challenges will take some time to fix.

When you’re purchasing technology and equipment for your business, you may experience:

  • Longer wait times to have orders fulfilled and shipped
  • Specific brand or device shortages that require you to choose an alternate brand or model
  • An increase in prices that can be passed on to buyers

There’s absolutely no need to panic. Government and private sector conversations are happening on how to address and alleviate the chip shortage. However, some experts suggest the impact may carry into 2022. As an informed business buyer, looking ahead and having the right strategy can help ensure you have access to the technology you need and the ability to minimize any inconvenience to your business.

What Steps Can You Take to Mitigate the Impact of Chip Shortages?

Connection recommends several proactive steps you can take today to help minimize the impact, alleviate challenges, and manage expectations.

Plan Ahead
The number-one strategy buyers can use to limit the impact of a chip shortage is to plan ahead. If you anticipate needing technology at any point in the next 6 to 12 months, consider ordering it now while it’s available—or so you’re at the front of the line as companies work through their production backlog. Ordering products before they’re urgently needed will allow you to get the technology you need without having to compromise or troubleshoot around a long-term delay. For many companies and individual consumers, this is a different approach to our “just in time” technology buying habits. Take time to assess whether you need to acquire new technology as part of your ongoing hardware lifecycle management, to support projected growth, or to have inventory on hand to replace non-functioning equipment.

Expect Some Delays
Even if you place an order now, fulfillment times may be longer than expected. Where possible, plan for delays. Not every order is going to be one you can plan ahead for. Someone with a damaged or stolen laptop, for example, may need an immediate solution. Communicate with your vendor to understand timelines, and set expectations with your users accordingly. By knowing your place in line, opening communications, and checking ongoing status, you’ll have the latest information on hand. Where possible, practice and counsel patience.

Flexibility Is Key
As a company or individual buyer, you may have a preference for which brand or model of technology you’re purchasing. However, if you’re willing to be flexible you may be able to solve the problem. Imagine onboarding a new employee: If the brand of laptop you always buy is on backorder, you may be able to obtain a device today that can enable them to be productive. It might not be the exact model, brand, or device you’re used to using, but that employee can be productive using it for the short-term.

Evaluate Virtual Solutions 
Hardware isn’t always the only option. For example, virtual desktop infrastructure can be used to give your users a PC-like experience on a different device, such as their tablet or mobile phone.

Chip shortages are impacting industries around the globe, and technology buyers may see some impact over the next several months. But don’t despair. By being proactive, flexible, and strategically thinking ahead, it’s possible to mitigate the shortage’s effect on your business and have the technology on hand to keep your employees connected, productive, and moving forward. Connection can help you create a plan to meet your needs. We will guide you through the shortages and find a strategy that works for you and your business. Reach out to Connection today to get started.