Connection Community Official Technology Community of Connection Tue, 23 Nov 2021 14:03:00 +0000 hourly 1 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 Walton 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 Rich Drummond 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

A picture containing indoor, electronicsDescription automatically generated

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 Chris Russel 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.

Telemedicine After the Pandemic May 20, 2021 Dr Keith Nelson COVID-19 has forced a myriad of changes to healthcare delivery, but none more compelling than the mainstreaming of telemedicine. Initially, the urgent necessity of connecting patients to providers without potentially exposing either party to the spreading virus drove a swift band-aid adoption of remote communication technology. Not surprisingly, challenges resulting from this rapid deployment quickly surfaced in the form of compromised security, transmission glitches, a utilization learning curve, limited hardware availability and a cumbersome user experience, among other difficulties. It was a classic “learn as you go” scenario. 

In order to facilitate global telemedicine implementation, the government relaxed a number of category-killer restrictions that had been in place prior to the pandemic—most notably interstate treatment barriers and HIPAA data privacy oversight—as well as instituting payment parity with in-person visits. The end result was a broad adoption of the technology across all age groups, including the historically technology-challenged senior population. So, now with the emergency abating, the question is—where do we go from here?

It is now evident that telemedicine has become wildly popular with both patients and providers and has ushered in a new era of convenience and increased productivity. Initial concerns about overutilization and fraud have not materialized to any significant degree to date, and the technology shift has fostered new innovations that are improving patient outcomes. These are powerful arguments for continuing and expanding the use of telehealth services. 

It remains to be seen if the market forces will result in long-term legislative and reimbursement changes to the system once the current period of regulatory relaxation and financial incentives expires. Although the jury is still out on this, most experts believe that the genie is out of the bottle. Accordingly, medical providers need to be thinking about building a long-term telemedicine strategy that replaces the reactionary band-aid solution(s) currently in place. In so doing, it is important to design a system that allows for flexibility to accommodate future growth, innovation, and utility. To this end, let’s examine some of the current and emerging uses and benefits of telemedicine:

• Decreased Infection Exposure: This holds true for the current pandemic, future outbreaks, and the seasonal flu. It reduces the petri dish scenario in hospitals and medical offices, as well as public forums such as mass transit environments.

• Improved Patient Scheduling and Throughput: Typically, more patients can be seen in a given period of time leveraging this technology, and patient no-shows are both minimized and less disruptive when they occur. Further, patient wait times are markedly decreased (reducing backups), and providers can optimize their time by consulting from any location (including when they are in transit). Lastly, whenever physical visits are needed, patients can be directed to the appropriate provider, as opposed to having them choose the emergency room, which is a money drain for the hospital.

• Better Capacity Management: A decrease in physical visits means less office space and resources needed.

• Improved Chronic Disease Management: Remote patient monitoring of vital signs, glucose levels, weight, etc. enables providers to preempt emerging health problems for chronically ill patients. The number and expanded utility of tech innovations that provide at-home diagnostics are rapidly accelerating—and we’ll be discussing them here in a future post.

• Critical Care Management (eICU): Feeding patient telemetry and video into the inter/intranet allows for a central monitoring process, which in turn yields greater efficiency and the ability to redeploy staff. The most compelling use cases are related to critical care and stroke patients.

• Integration and Analytics of Patient Fitness Data: Access to patient fitness data from a smart watch or smartphone enables a retrospective view of heart rate, BP, and sleep patterns, which lends valuable historical insight leading up to a medical event.

• Improved Provider Collaboration: Multiparty video connectivity, shared white boards, real-time data exchange, and mobile access enhance the provider collaborative experience. Further, the technology breaks down geographic barriers and time zone differences through the integration of efficient scheduling and language translation options.

• Inexpensive Geographic Expansion: Telemedicine enables multifactorial interaction between provider and patient, ranging from simple video visits to providing satellite office care through the use of diagnostic equipment and a nurse or PA at the remote site. Consequently, a hospital could penetrate new service areas without the costs of building a new facility. As the technology curve advances, one could imagine robotic surgical procedures being performed remotely by a top surgeon, with support personnel situated locally. Another compelling efficiency is the ability to conduct remote second opinions for cancer, saving the patient the trouble and expense of scheduling and travel to a far-off facility.

A well-planned telemedicine solution should have the flexibility to accommodate the above use cases, and have a stable, efficient, secure, and user-friendly platform that is integrated with the institution’s EHR system. Other important considerations are the ability to seamlessly integrate diagnostic and remote monitoring equipment, process credit card payments, provide scheduling capability, offer virtual waiting rooms, verify insurance coverage, provide store-and-forward capability, and enable language-translation integration. Certainly, there’s a lot to think about, but as history has consistently shown, good fortune always favors the well-prepared.

Lenovo Helps Bring Student Engagement to... May 18, 2021 Delia DeCourcy As the digital transformation of our schools continues to take form, there’s an increased need to ensure that educators are given the tools they need to keep students engaged—whether learning is taking place remotely or in the classroom. Lenovo Education’s robust instructional software suite provides just that: a suite of products that teachers can use to ensure learning is seamless. From digital curriculum that meets state standards through our partnership with Exploros, to WeVideo and Book Creator—two creativity apps built for Chromebooks—this software utilizes technology in a new way to unlock students’ imagination and create lifelong learners. 

Keep Curriculum Intact and Aligned to Standards, Regardless of Where Learning Takes Place

Right now, teachers need a solution that brings subject matter expertise and engagement strategies to life, both face-to-face and remotely. Teachers need an approach that:

  • Works in synchronous or asynchronous learning models
  • Preserves the ability to guide learning, yet enhances the ways in which students can engage socially and emotionally
  • Provides proven, pedagogically sound content that aligns with school- or district-wide curriculum goals, as well as state and national standards
  • Increases digital equity by being accessible and meaningful to students of all demographics, regardless of special learning requirements or needs
  • Produces real-time data for insights into attendance, progress, and learning-standards achievement
  • Integrates with existing frameworks and platforms, including Google Education Suite, Canvas, and other ecosystems

In short, teachers need to be enabled to focus on the art of teaching, not just content orchestration. Exploros brings all of these essentials together, saving teachers’ time and increasing student engagement and academic success. 

Exploros is built around state and national standards, strategies that teachers know, and approaches to instruction that are supported by professional organizations. Its full-year courses provide excellent content, innovative student tasks, and student performance analytics, so teachers can adjust and personalize instruction. Exploros has more than 650 lessons—and is well on its way to 1,000 lessons—covering digital citizenship, social studies, and English language arts accessible through Lenovo devices. Embedded in its lesson plans are visual supports, primary source documents, paintings and pictures, videos, and graphic organizers to catch and keep students’ attention.

Accessed through Lenovo best-in-class devices, Exploros supports educational continuity that is essential in today’s modern classrooms. Together, Lenovo and Exploros provide the technology and infrastructure to keep students learning, no matter where learning takes place. 

A Solution that Meets Today’s Teaching Demands

Video is popular with learners, and now it’s a perfect match for the educational challenges of 2021 and beyond. By becoming creators on WeVideo, students engage with content conceptually, ensuring a deep and lasting understanding of essential concepts and standards.

Millions of students across grade levels and subjects use WeVideo in remote, in-person, and hybrid environments to create, collaborate, and express themselves with authenticity. Its interface enables teachers to provide timely and personalized feedback to each student.

Additionally since WeVideo is cloud-based, students can use any hardware to build PCs—from Lenovo tablets to Chromebooks to PCs. Content created on the WeVideo Video Editor App syncs with the secure WeVideo Cloud, and can be edited with full creative control on Real-time collaborative editing capability means students can work together on a project from anywhere, at any time. 

WeVideo gives learners powerful editing tools, accessible even on a Chromebook. It’s easy to activate and manage licenses through the Google Admin Console. What’s more, it’s built to fit your existing infrastructure and support the needs of teachers and administrators by offering:

  • Command and control of your platform and user settings
    • Integration with existing systems
    • A safe place for students to search, create, and share videos

IT administrators will appreciate the simplified provisioning and management capabilities, almost as much as teachers and students will enjoy indulging their creative spirits, while bringing learning to a whole new level.

With tools like WeVideo, teachers can be confident in their pursuit of student creativity and educational continuity, and students can be more engaged in learning and let their personalities, and in-depth subject knowledge shine.

A Digital Book for Today’s Education Digital Consumers 

In classrooms worldwide, educators are constantly on the hunt for new apps that enhance the classroom learning experience—and create the educational continuity that a pandemic can fracture. Enter Book Creator—a Chromebook creativity app that produces more than 2 million books worldwide, per month. The app allows students and teachers to create multimedia digital books to capture stories, portfolios, science reports, and more. It’s a flexible software that seamlessly gives students an easy and creative platform for collaborating, communicating, and demonstrating critical-thinking skills.

Book Creator provides a blank slate to free students’ creativity and personality—and templates to help nudge that creativity along. Of course, it’s not a book in the traditional sense. It’s a digital book that students fill with text, video, audio, and illustrations with the click of a button, and instantly publish and share. Students can work on the digital book alone, or collaborate across devices on a single topic, or across the semester or school year to produce a digital book that showcases their knowledge, creativity, and personality.

Teachers can also use Book Creator to create homework assignments or learning modules to custom-fit curriculum and lesson plans.

From a user perspective, Book Creator’s experience is the same, whether the student and teacher are face-to-face or connecting remotely. And teachers and administrators around the world love that it’s easy to deploy and manage—with just a click of a button in the Google App Hub, administrators can activate and assign licenses to different users, and track usage throughout the school year—all from the Google Admin Console.

Technology that Empowers Teachers

As schools scramble to redefine teaching in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic—and establish a seamless model that will continue after the pandemic—Lenovo’s instructional software suite coupled with best-in-class Lenovo Chromebooks offer solutions for keeping students engaged and maximizing your technology budget.

8 Reasons Enterprises Are Embracing... May 14, 2021 Becky Lawlor Is your team spending too much time and money on support, maintenance, and administration of legacy physical infrastructure? Are you struggling to scale your on-premises environments or finding that the cost to operate traditional disaster recovery solutions is becoming cost-prohibitive? 

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it’s time to shift more of your operations to the cloud.

According to Gartner, by 2024, more than 45% of enterprise IT spending will be in areas that encompass moving to the cloud.1 It’s a trend that COVID-19 has helped accelerate, with many enterprises now needing to securely and efficiently support more remote workers and new digital initiatives. More than half of IT decision-makers have reported spending significantly more on cloud services than planned due to the pandemic.2

But why should you select Microsoft Azure over other cloud providers?  

If you have an extensive Microsoft footprint already, turning to Microsoft Azure to support your cloud strategy is the most straightforward path. But there are many other reasons why Azure remains the most popular supplier of public cloud services.

At Connection, as we’ve worked with medium and large enterprises to support their migration and ongoing cloud management, we’ve found that these are some of the most significant benefits of using Microsoft Azure: 

1. World-Class Security

With new cybersecurity threats emerging daily, security must be a top priority for every enterprise. Microsoft Azure has made security a foundational component of its platform, investing over 1B+ USD in security research and development. 

Other stand-out security features included in Microsoft Azure include:

  • Data protection: Microsoft uses advanced encryption processes to protect all data stored on Azure, including multi-factor authentication, proxy card access readers, and biometric readers and scanners. 
  • Threat intelligence database: One of the most sophisticated systems globally, Microsoft tracks more than 8 trillion daily global threats to identify new threats before they impact customers.
  • Automated monitoring and threat detection: Microsoft uses automated monitoring of cloud environments and artificial intelligence to identify potential threats, including DDoS and phishing attacks. Administrators are also automatically notified of potential threats and have the visibility and tools to respond quickly and efficiently.
  • Threat protection: Azure helps defend your hybrid environments from multiple attacks and threats by natively coordinating detection, prevention, investigation, and response across endpoints, identities, email, and applications.
  • VPN gateway: This security service gives you access to several tools to keep data secure while supporting remote workers with access to vital applications, data, and environments.

2. Most Comprehensive Compliance Coverage

Microsoft adheres to some of the most rigorous security and compliance standards in the world. They lead the industry with over 90 global compliance certificates, including over 50 certificates specific to global regions and countries and more than 35 compliance offerings specific to the needs of key industries, such as health, government, finance, education, manufacturing, and media. Microsoft was also the first to embrace the new international standard for cloud privacy, ISO 27018. And its built-in compliance controls make it easy to create, deploy, and enforce compliant environments with internal policies and external regulations.

3. Unique Hybrid Cloud Capabilities

Azure stands out in the marketplace of cloud providers for its unparalleled hybrid capabilities. Its hybrid services facilitate a reliable and consistent platform between on-premises and public cloud. Azure also provides a more comprehensive set of hybrid functionalities, including VPNs, file sharing, monitoring, content delivery networks (CDN), and point-to-point connectivity to improve usability and performance and make it easier for you to migrate apps or data and track usage.

4. Simplified Disaster Recovery and Back Up

As the volume of data continues to increase exponentially, preserving and protecting data has become more complex for IT administrators. Azure simplifies data recovery by allowing you to back up virtual machines, SQL workloads and on-premises VMware with a single click. Additionally, Microsoft helps you keep critical applications running and minimizes downtime through its built-in disaster recovery tools.

Real World Results of Azure Back Up 

Download our case study to learn how one advertising agency gained more confidence and control in their back up solution while paying 556% less by utilizing Connection’s Azure Managed Services.

Download the case study

5. Powerful Combination of PaaS And IaaS Services

Microsoft Azure offers Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS). IaaS gives you the advantage of scaling on demand and paying only for what you use and eliminates the complexity of buying and managing your own infrastructure. Azure PaaS offers these advantages as well as access to sophisticated development tools and pre-coded application components built into the platform, which lets you cut your coding time and add development capabilities without adding staff.

6. Built-In Scalability

Scalability is a primary reason many enterprises make the shift to the cloud. Because cloud services can scale on demand, you can minimize business risk from a cost perspective while providing more flexibility to meet variable user demand. Azure makes it easy for enterprises to scale automatically—in or out as well as up or down—to meet workload demands. This gives you the flexibility to expand or decrease server capacity and existing hardware or software resources. Azure supports autoscaling on IaaS, PaaS, and virtual machines (VM). 

7. Easy to Learn

Microsoft Azure uses familiar tools such as Visual Studio, ASP, NET, and programming languages like Visual Basic, C++, and C#. Microsoft also provides extensive documentation and certification courses and has a strong network of trusted partners who can help with migration and ongoing management of Azure.

8. Cost-Efficient Pricing Structure

Microsoft Azure’s consumption-based pricing structure allows you to pay only for what you use. This allows enterprises to better manage their IT budgets and decrease infrastructure costs. It can also help cut down on IT administration costs because Microsoft Azure handles ongoing maintenance. However, if you lack the proper service support, your shift to the cloud may be more expensive and take more time than expected, resulting in additional costs. So it’s essential to make sure you have the experience and expertise in-house or through a trusted partner to guide you through your migration.

Make Your Move to Microsoft Azure

Migrating to Microsoft Azure can deliver many benefits to your enterprise, but as with any cloud migration, it’s also an involved process. To ensure you can maximize the benefits of Microsoft Azure, you want a trusted partner who will:

  • Make sure Microsoft Azure is the right fit for your organization
  • Help you determine which applications, workloads, and virtual machines to migrate
  • Assist with configuring an Azure environment and executing a smooth migration
  • Ensure you have the right security strategy in place
  • Configure monitoring, backups, and disaster recovery so you can efficiently operationalize your new Azure environment(s)
  • Fill any technology and management gaps

Connection can help you get the most out of your Microsoft Azure investment. Read our white paper, Optimize Your Existing Microsoft Azure Environment, to learn how we can help you increase performance, reduce overall costs, and more.

[1] Michael Warrilow, Ed Anderson, Colleen Graham, “Cloud Shift Will Shapte IT Strategies for Executive Leaders Through 2024,” Gartner, Jan. 25, 2021.
[2] State of the Cloud Report. Flexera. 2020

The Age of the Citizen Developer May 13, 2021 Mark E. Johnson The Developer Is Dead! Long Live the Developer!

The roles of developers as we know them are not dying, but they are shrinking in their numbers. Does that sound crazy? I know, but it’s not, and here’s why. You see, the developer, as we’re used to thinking about them, has already evolved over time from the role Software Engineer—you know, that person with the CS degree that we either are or know whose role has changed in the company over the past 20 years. Initially, they were the person solving problems for companies using programming languages, like some version of C++ or C#. They use methodologies like Agile or Scrum. Then they seemed to be doing a lot more with Java and JavaScript. They’re constantly taking on more and more of the needs of the company but never having enough time to do everything we want from them.

And now everyone is getting in on the “developing” game. Kids born in roughly the last quarter century don’t remember a time before user generated video game mods. They’ve grown up creating their own mods to Minecraft and other games. We’ve gone past hacking our DVRs to building our own Raspberry Pi IoT controllers to make our own arcade games, programming our own home automation, and more. And it’s not just the people with Computer Science degrees. If you haven’t done something like this yourself, then I’ll bet you know at least one or two people who have.

Citizen Developer

The change in mindset stems from thinking about developers as this sort of “other” person. Highly skilled programmers have changed in the past 5 years. A lot. People today, from nine or ten years old and up, are creating or hacking their own code in a variety of ways. It is much less about knowing specific programming languages and much more about not being afraid to try something, to play around with it. This has created the birth of what we now call “citizen developers”: people who aren’t afraid to try something to see if they can solve the problem themselves. With all of the support platforms online, it’s no wonder that fewer and fewer people are waiting for someone else to solve those pesky little day to day issues that come up in their lives. Heck, sometimes that’s even how tech billionaires are made!

In 2016, Microsoft released Power Apps, and it has really taken off in a big way. Power Apps has what is referred to as a “low code”option where people with minimal programming experience or knowledge can develop Web apps for computers and mobile devices. In their own words, it is a “suite of apps, services, connectors, and data platform that provides a rapid application development environment to build custom apps for your business needs.” Power Apps and other low code platforms are changing the way that we work in much the same way that that spreadsheet software, such as Microsoft Excel, has changed the modern workplace—and there’s no going back. The genie is out of the bottle, and once you learn a tiny bit, you won’t want to put it back.

The New Age of Apps in the Workplace and, Well, Everywhere

How often have you been frustrated by something seemingly small that there just doesn’t seem to be a solution to? I don’t mean that coworker who refuses to clean the microwave after using it. I mean your boss tells you that they want you to start gathering information from the seven buildings that make up your company’s operations in this country so that you can track maintenance requests. You have to put them in a spreadsheet and call the site managers of each location to determine when and how maintenance problems are getting addressed. As you start gathering information, you realize that this is no easy task, because each site’s site manager has a different process, and some of them make no sense to anyone but them. What a nightmare! If only there was software that could automate that and pool all of the data so that you could run reports for your boss on demand. Well, you know there is, but that sort of software is expensive, like Maserati expensive. But what if you could build something—simple at first, but that you could expand when you have time later? What if it started by creating a singular way to log maintenance requests, log the maintenance work, and log the results? What if everyone could access it easily from work or home, and you could run reports in it like you already do in other areas with Microsoft Dynamics?

Enter the citizen developer. Their attitude that, “If it sounds simple, and you understand what goes into making up the data elements of the problem, then you can build an app to do it much the same way that some whiz bang go-getter in 1995 was building spreadsheets to solve problems.” By storing, organizing, and presenting data, you are that whiz bang person today. That’s right. And this is something that you can do to solve problems at home, at work, for your religious community, non-profit where you volunteer, or wherever else there are simple problems that need solving.

It really can be as simple as drawing out what you need to track and building the interface in a Web-based environment with minimal or even no scripting. Once you get more comfortable with Power Apps, you can add scripts or use features like Flow to automate tasks. Then you can start running monthly or quarterly reports that are emailed, as if by magic, to your boss. Or creating a smartphone-optimized interface for anyone in the company to be able to submit maintenance requests and even track them. Your boss will be thrilled.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t merely simple tasks that can be solved in Power Apps. There are complex apps and entire environments being built here. The main requirement is that it is housed in Microsoft Azure. One example of a complex website built this way is The JFK Files. It uses Power Apps to leverage the dynamism of the Azure cloud environment. The actual breadth and depth of the site is pretty amazing. The site utilizes varied data sources to analyze pictures using facial recognition capability, analyzes complex search algorithms, and more.

I encourage you to play around on the site and think about what the different functions are doing and how that function could be applied to things in your work or just in your life in general.

The Future of Software Development

If you haven’t already started thinking about what you could do to simplify your job or some other aspect of your life with Power Apps, then stop and ask yourself what sort of data modeling and reporting would you do if you could plug into almost any type of data source? I mean from Adobe to Zendesk and just about everything in between. And, yes, that list includes YouTube. There are hundreds of existing connectors, and if what you want doesn’t exist, you can learn to create your own and even post it. Your connector could help others and build cred in the Microsoft tech sphere and on your resume. This is really big, and your limitations could simply be your own imagination. What’s more, since anything you build in Power Apps is built within a standardized environment, if you get promoted out of your job to VP of Site Operations, you can make sure that the person hired to take over for you can easily manage the apps you built and can continue expanding them. That way you can continue helping your company to advance into the new decade. Now are you thinking about what you could do with Power Apps to simplify your job or other aspects of your life? I bet you are!

So, is the developer really dead? No, but the role has evolved, thanks to tools like Power Apps, and it looks very different than it did just ten years ago. Power Apps is technology that you can use to really stand out, too. Smart hiring managers that see Power Apps listed in the special skills section of a resume are increasingly putting that resume on the top of the pile. You do not have to change careers to be a developer any longer. Simply put, if you see using spreadsheets as a simple way to put information together, get answers, and maybe even solve problems, then you can be a citizen developer—regardless of whether your title is Customer Service Manager, Administrative Assistant, Bookkeeper, or Site Operations Manager.

If you want to talk to a Microsoft Expert about Power Apps, we’re here to help. Get in touch with Connection today!

Don’t Set It and Forget It: The Benefits... May 06, 2021 Liz Alton If you’re thinking about embracing cloud computing but you’re concerned about security, you’re in good company. Cloud computing offers businesses a variety of benefits, from reducing latency to providing access to data when and where it’s needed. When used strategically, it can increase flexibility, reduce costs, and make it easier for companies to scale on-demand.

However, security remains one of the biggest considerations when choosing cloud computing. Here’s a closer look at how secure the cloud really is, and why ongoing monitoring can be your secret weapon to help keep your data protected.

Cloud Security By the Numbers

Just how big is cloud computing? And how secure is it? Let’s dive into the numbers:

Cloud Security Settings and Support

Even when you partner with a cloud provider that has a good track record and strong security setting, it’s important to remember that there are multiple layers to a strong security plan. One of the benefits of working with a trusted cloud provider is that they have extensive, multi-layered security protocols in place. Most cloud providers also employ an army of people whose job it is to ensure that security issues don’t happen—and when they do, that they’re quickly resolved. For many firms, having access to that level of on-site technology and talent simply isn’t financially feasible. The security support is a valuable asset when you’re considering whether to do business with a cloud provider.

The second puzzle piece that needs to be taken into consideration, when storing data in the cloud, is the security settings. Maximizing your security requires making the most of the best tools a provider offers. For example, Microsoft Azure has a variety of security features available, such as its security center, compliance tools, and certifications. Whether you’re shoring up access management or complying with specific industry guidelines, it’s important to maximize cloud security solutions and settings to help protect your data. Yet it’s also critical to recognize that these foundational steps are just the start.

The Future of Cloud Security Is Visibility and Monitoring 

Once the foundation of your cloud security has been laid, it’s important to develop a plan for ongoing monitoring. With the threat landscape and the way cloud products are constantly evolving, real-time intelligence is essential. The way to think about this from a strategic and technological standpoint is: Do you have the cloud visibility you need? 

The importance of visibility can’t be overstated. In fact, CSO Online notes: “Unsanctioned apps are essentially shadow IT—applications employees use without permission or support of IT or security. Any app that does not meet corporate guidelines for security represents a risk that the security team might be unaware of. Sanctioned app misuse might be an authorized person using an approved app or an external threat actor using stolen credentials. Security teams need to be able to tell the difference between valid and invalid users by detecting out-of-norm behaviors.”

In other words, the real issues with cloud computing begin to arise when you try to “set it and forget it.” Cloud computing security isn’t a passive activity. You need a proactive plan in place that gives you visibility into who is accessing your data, how it’s being used, and whether there are any activities that violate policy or are out of the ordinary and require additional investigation.

Ongoing Cloud Monitoring Services

Ongoing cloud monitoring solutions and services can help you rein in security risks. Automated tools that leverage policy-based rules and AI can constantly scan your data and environment for a variety of known and emerging threats. Cloud monitoring services allow you to track and respond to potential security issues in real-time. A variety of technology solutions can be deployed by your team or used as part of a robust monitoring package provided by a partner.

A managed cloud services provider like Connection can also help you ensure that you have the human capital and cloud security expertise to quickly respond to any threat. When an anomaly is detected—such as a threat file within your data or an unauthorized access attempt—it can be immediately investigated and remediated. Cloud monitoring partners can also ensure that your migrations are completed efficiently, and that security settings maximize the benefit of a provider’s tools to further minimize the chance of ongoing risks. Monitoring solutions can also be paired with backup and disaster recovery for another layer of support.

If you’re ready to move your data to the cloud, take the security considerations seriously. As more and more information moves to the cloud, it’s becoming an increasingly profitable target for data breaches and other cybercrimes. However, today’s leading cloud providers offer an array of tools and settings that can provide a secure foundation. When combined with ongoing monitoring services or solutions, you can gain the full benefits of cloud computing while knowing that your company’s most valuable asset—its data—remains protected and secure.

Managing Information Security with... May 04, 2021 Jake Giffin Microsoft continues to expand the capabilities included within their various cloud subscription plans. In the first part of our series, we covered what to keep in mind while building security policies and how Microsoft security tools can be used in that process. Today, we are going to look at some of the foundational, introductory attributes that can help you with your information security journey. As I approach this conversation with clients, I often ask, “Have you have gone through any formal data discovery or classification effort?” Many times, they are discussing the process and maybe even starting it, but it has not been completed. So how do you see the project through?

Azure Information Protection (AIP) Scanner

If you have rights to AIP Plan 1, you have a tool that can be used to point to your on-premises file shares. One thing to keep in mind here is the licensing, especially if you have a mix of levels (Office 365 and Microsoft 365) for different user types. AIP Plan 1 needs to be licensed for any user that has created content on the storage target that the scanner is pointing to. As you can imagine, this can be very challenging to determine if you are pointing to large data volumes. Let’s assume that the licensing is not an issue that needs to be addressed. The AIP Scanner acts as the discovery engine for analyzing the on-premises repositories for sensitive information that may need to be classified and protected.

What if you already have some users embracing cloud storage? If these destinations are not completely locked down, users could be leveraging personal accounts for company data. How can you find out if unsanctioned apps or platforms are being used currently?

Azure Active Directory (AD) Cloud App Discovery

This functionality comes with the Azure AD Premium Plan 1 entitlement and gives the IT group visibility into shadow IT within the organization. Cloud Discovery utilizes the full catalog (over 16,000 cloud apps) from the full Microsoft Cloud App Security (MCAS) platform. Outputs such as log analysis, cloud application risk assessment, and usage analytics by application/user/IP address are all available for consumption.

Policy Enforcement

Now that you have a better understanding of the data repositories and any cloud storage currently in use, you will need to determine which data the organization deems as sensitive and how you want the user population to be able to interact with this data. This may be the appropriate time to revisit current company policy and any regulatory considerations. Make sure that written security policy aligns with your actual technology enforcement and delivery. In my next post in this series, we will start down the enforcement path with topics like rights management, retention labels and policies, and data loss prevention (DLP) rules.

If you’re ready to get started or want more information, our Microsoft specialists are only a phone call away. You can also learn more about our Modern Work and Security Services. Reach out today!

Meet the Challenges of the Changing... Apr 30, 2021 Delia DeCourcy When the pandemic started, you probably scrambled a bit to quickly develop educational continuity plans that ensured students could continue learning remotely, at least part-time. Likely, you increased the use of current technologies that created seamless learning experiences or rolled out new ones. If this was the case, you weren’t alone.

And when the pandemic is over, those technologies aren’t going anywhere. The classroom is changing. Although most schools are back to some form of in-person instruction, classrooms are unlikely to return to how they were two years ago. Schools worldwide have discovered the benefits of distance learning in certain situations, interactive apps that drive collaboration, creativity, communication, critical thinking, and software that alerts them if students act inappropriately. Many schools have realized that those benefits aren’t restricted to fully virtual or even hybrid teaching models.

Most importantly, they discovered some technologies could be safely used regardless of where students are learning. That’s no small thing when districts are charged with protecting student information, data, and learning environments.

This class evolution is a good thing—and in truth, it was occurring even before the pandemic. Mentally compare your modern classrooms to the classrooms you sat in. Teachers’ chalky hands and boxy televisions have been replaced with smartboards and online videos. Typing into a computer has replaced hand-copying notes from the blackboard, and engaging content that students can take ownership of has replaced yawn-inducing lectures. This last point is particularly significant because when students take ownership of their learning, good things happen.

Enhance Teaching and Learning

To continue this evolution, your school must continue to find the right tools—the right computers and tablets as well as the right software—that strengthen the classroom environment and create a seamless learning experience, no matter where the learning takes place. For instance, there are many apps, but not all provide the bang for your buck that you demand while others are not even built with educational considerations (like student data privacy) in mind.

Because of this, carefully vetting any new technology before you invest is more important than ever. You need software that is portable via the cloud, so that students can accomplish their assignments anywhere, at any time. You need technologies that support the four Cs teaching approach and apps that are compliant with privacy laws, don’t track your students or collect data on them, and create safe learning environments. 

Perhaps most of all, you need apps that students enjoy and find engaging. Implementing that technology is still a challenge, of course; the lessons we’ve learned during the pandemic haven’t changed that. Although we can deploy devices that are protected from hackers and safe for students, safety is precarious. If the devices aren’t properly updated and maintained, they may quickly fall under a cascade of errors that open them up to attacks. So you need some way to maintain control of your devices and apps, even when they’re not on your school’s network.

Fortunately, there are technologies out there that can reliably help. This includes apps such as Book Creator and WeVideoAbsoluteLightSpeedSentinelOne, and Exploros software. By deploying those technologies and others across security, engagement, and device management, you can continue to evolve your classrooms for the future. 

Lenovo Believes In Better Outcomes

Lenovo is committed to supporting educational continuity—partnering with innovative companies to give schools the technology to create better student outcomes and to get the most out of your technology investments. With Lenovo technology, you get:

  • Cybersecurity and student safety apps that track, assess, and protect remote devices 24/7. IT administrators can secure student devices against cyberattacks, manage versions, monitor device health, and report device and software usage. Plus, comprehensive content filtering and student monitoring keep students safe.
  • Instructional resources that challenge students with engaging learning tasks. These allow teachers to provide interactive lessons, web-based VR content, and high-quality, standards-based STEM activities.
  • And, of course, best-of-class devices to run all of this school-friendly software.

Together, these features and benefits provide engaging, seamless educational experiences in the classroom today, tomorrow, and when unforeseen events occur.

Why Business Continuity and Disaster... Apr 29, 2021 Liz Alton If the past year has taught IT and business leaders one thing, it’s to expect the unexpected. And more critically, to have the plans in place to adjust and adapt quickly and effectively. From the rapid shift to remote work to the growing number of cybersecurity attacks in the wake of COVID-19, the last 18 months have been a master class in resiliency.

However, all too often, business strategies look at disaster recovery functions and their business continuity planning as two separate functions. When a real crisis strikes, you need the capability to stay online, get back up to speed quickly, and know that your data is protected throughout the experience.

Here is a closer look at the business case for why your 2021 strategy should include both continuity and disaster recovery as pillars of an integrated approach to business resiliency.

Understanding Business Continuity

Businesses typically treat business continuity and disaster recovery as two separate functions within IT. Business continuity focuses on the plan you have in place to keep key systems operating when disaster strikes. By having a plan in place that protects your most critical functions, you can continue to help employees be productive and simplify the process of serving customers.

Whether you experience an unexpected weather event, get hacked, or there’s a critical technology outage, your employees and customers can’t complete the business of the day without access to critical systems. Continuity planning may include plans for how the business will operate remotely or failsafe solutions that kick in to keep applications online and data accessible when primary systems fail. Business continuity plans typically:

  • Assess an organization’s unique risk landscape
  • Highlight the most essential systems and priorities to keep operational
  • Set targets for getting key systems or processes back online
  • Quantify the impact or risk of downtime and how it would affect the business
  • Identify the tools, strategies, and teams needed to support business continuity
  • Develop baseline plans that can be continuously updated and offer an actionable reference to employees when a disruption occurs

The Role of Disaster Recovery

Disaster recovery, by comparison, is all about the scenario planning and how you’ll respond in the event of specific incidents. It picks up after the immediate crisis has been dealt with, and refers to issues such as restoring data, recovering interrupted applications, and getting back to normal operations. According to FEMA, 40% of small businesses fail to reopen after a disaster, and 25% of those that do reopen will close within a year of a significant disaster.

Disaster recovery gets into the tactical step-by-step solutions the business will utilize to reestablish minimum functionality. Disaster recovery plans typically include:

  • Detailed guidance for getting systems functioning effectively
  • Specific tools or support services that can aid with the restoration of data
  • Outside partners, in the form of as-a-service offerings, that can aid in disaster recovery with specialized expertise as required
  • Reference documents that outline critical processes your subject matter experts can use to help eliminate delays—especially if relying on processes that don’t get used frequently
  • Testing procedures that stress test disaster recovery solutions to ensure they’ll deliver in a crisis

Neither Is Enough on Their Own

The fundamental goals of each of these areas are different, though complementary. Business continuity plans help limit downtime, and disaster recovery is the strategy your business will use to bring data and systems back online to full performance. However, it’s not until you combine the two that you’re ready for agile, effective responses to disastrous events.

What does that look like in practice? The unprecedented challenges of the past year have highlighted why companies need policies, procedures, and technologies in place to stay resilient. However, continuity and disaster recovery have often been treated as unrelated silos. They may be planned in isolation, implemented by different teams, and even rely on tools and services that don’t communicate well. Business resiliency is changing the way business and IT leaders look at these critical pieces of the IT infrastructure and strategy road map.

How to Cultivate Business Resiliency

If an organization is ready to commit to a more robust approach to business resiliency, Connection can help. Business resiliency is a detailed, end-to-end process and set of tools that helps organizations:

  • Identify the full range of potential disaster and threats that could affect their business, from natural disasters to cyberattacks
  • Highlight the most critical systems, data, and parts of the business that need to be brought up to operating at standard levels
  • Communicate the company’s priorities for both employees and customers
  • Assess the business’s current human capital and technology infrastructure—as well as policies—to identify gaps and opportunities for improvement
  • Address basic security challenges and provide a roadmap for additional related security offerings
  • Plan and implement industry-leading technology deployments to support continuity and disaster recovery
  • Explore managed services solutions, as appropriate to a unique situation
  • Reduce communication silos and help teams work together effectively through clear, prioritized instructions

An effective business resiliency strategy is a crucial component of your business’s IT and overarching planning. Even if you’ve got strong disaster recovery and business continuity plans in place, if they’re operating as separate strategies they’re failing to develop a strong, effective, long-term scaffold that will keep your business thriving and operational no matter what unexpected challenges you encounter. If you’re ready to take the first step but not sure where to start, Connection can help. Contact us today to learn more about our business resiliency services and solutions.

Solve Your IT Hiring Challenges Apr 22, 2021 Tim Duffy We have all heard that small and medium-sized businesses face enterprise-sized challenges, and that is certainly true in IT hiring. Securing IT talent is one of the top five initiatives of technology leaders, and with today’s competitive market, organizations across the U.S. are facing hiring challenges for technical positions.

As IT becomes more complex and challenging, small and medium-sized companies are finding it difficult to find that ideal IT candidate. When it comes to recruiting top IT talent, a significant challenge that small businesses face is over-sized competition from larger organizations. Bigger companies often offer stronger benefits packages, higher salaries, and other perks that SMBs typically cannot.

The Problem at Hand

At small and medium-sized businesses, HR, IT Directors, and Managers are not typically set up to recruit and identify the best IT talent for a few reasons:

  • HR and Hiring Managers simply don’t have time to spend on recruiting, as their business and IT demands take up all or most of their time and focus.
  • Once a position is posted, they do not have the time and bandwidth to properly pre-screen candidates.
  • HR does not have the IT network to leverage that will recruit the IT requirements and skillsets necessary to identify the best candidates.
  • IT job requirements continue to change and are becoming more demanding.
  • As the IT environments continue to become more complex, teams don’t have the internal resources to train and utilize their current staff.
  • Lack of budgets and benefits usually are smaller and not as robust versus larger companies.
  • Small and medium-sized businesses are challenged to provide the necessary resources to an ever-changing employee landscape to support an evolving remote and virtual workforce. As a result, they don’t have a national hiring network to leverage to meet those demands.

But small and medium-sized companies do have their own advantages. So what are they doing to compete to attract the best IT talent?

We are seeing trends that small and medium-sized companies are offering more to potential IT employees. Here’s what you can do to attract and retain IT talent:

  • Highlight that you’re offering more challenging and robust IT positions that meet business demands—it’s not simply help desk and tech support positions anymore.
  • Deliver the opportunity to become more well-rounded and the chance to expand individuals’ skillsets in areas they might not be able to in a larger environment.
  • Provide more competitive salaries and benefit packages that include performance incentives and company performance.
  • Offer more perks, such as flexible schedules and the opportunity to work remotely, in addition to more defined career paths.
  • Identify when to hire “just in time” contract specialty skills that you need for a project and when to invest in areas to hire fulltime employees.
  • Work with IT services partners to expand your ability to identify the best IT talent—which saves you time and effort so you can focus on your core business areas.

Related: How to Attract the Best IT Talent in 2021

If you’re looking to hire, but need assistance, working with a trusted partner can help you accomplish your goals. Employers looking for specific IT skills can gain access to a larger talent pool and more qualified candidates. By working with a partner that deals solely with IT and has a solid track record of success, you increase the likelihood of finding that unicorn candidate you’re looking for. Talk to a potential recruiter and ask if they sort talent not only by skill type and level, but by industry expertise. If so, you’re on the right track. Even if they don’t have a unicorn today, they’re in the best position to corral one for you when they come along.

If you’re ready to get started, reach out to Connection and speak to our IT Staffing/Recruiting team. We offer staffing solutions designed to attract and hire IT talent in a time-efficient and cost-effective manner. We’re here to help you get the talent you need.

Can You Afford to Not Have a Hybrid Cloud... Apr 21, 2021 Liz Alton It’s an ongoing question that IT and business leaders wrestle with: Where should critical data be stored, and what level of protection does it need? These are just a couple of the many factors that go into complex decisions that need to be made regarding how data is handled. However, when a recent Microsoft Exchange data breach compromised up to 30,000 organizations and made headlines, it brought the question back to the forefront. What are the pros and cons of having data in the cloud versus on-premises, and how can you balance security and access in today’s digital-first and remote-enabled landscape?

It’s All About the Data

The essential question that drives the on-premises versus in-the-cloud debate isn’t really storage; it’s data. Data is an organization’s most important asset. It’s the record of every transaction, insights on customers, the way to track productivity, and your proprietary intellectual property. According to one study, more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created daily. When evaluating the best solutions for where a company’s data should live, it’s important to consider factors such as:

  • Security: Can you outsource the security of this data to another organization? What’s at risk in the case of a potential breach?
  • Compliance: Are there regulatory or other industry compliance situations that must be factored into the conversation?
  • Speed: How quickly does data need to be accessed? Are issues like latency and bandwidth considerations?
  • Reliability: What are your uptime requirements?
  • Costs: What’s your budget? Storing data in the cloud can be cost effective if it’s frequently used, while in other use cases on-site storage of archived data can be more effective.

The Call of the Cloud

The cloud has been one of the most explosive areas of growth within business computing over the past decade—and in many cases, adapting to digital-first interactions and remote work accelerated the adoption of cloud even more over the past year. Cloud computing has allowed companies to move applications, data, and workloads out of the data center and onto public or private cloud solutions that increase flexibility, reduce costs, and enable modern IT management.

TechCrunch recently reported: “There is a prevailing notion that while the cloud infrastructure market is growing fast, the vast majority of workloads remain on-premises. While that could be true, new research from Synergy Research Group found that cloud infrastructure spending surpassed on-prem spending for the first time in 2020—and did so by a wide margin.”

One of the main advantages that’s often cited for cloud is cost. By moving data off-premises, there are several costs that are reduced or eliminated. These can include:

  • Hardware, such as servers
  • Licensing for software
  • Space for server rooms
  • Electricity and power costs for cooling
  • Staff time for maintenance

Many cloud providers have also embraced flexible consumption models, or a “pay-as-you-go” approach, that allows companies to shift the cost of computing from capital expenses to operating expenses and better control their ongoing expenses.

There are other advantages of cloud, including the ability to scale up or down as business needs demand. In addition, companies can leave upgrades and ongoing management to their cloud partners, freeing up IT resources and time for their most important strategic priorities.

Related: Azure vs. Amazon vs. Google Cloud: Which Provider is Right for you?

Why Some Workloads Stay On-Premises

Despite all the advantages cloud offers, most companies are opting to keep at least some of their workloads on-premises. On-premises simply means that applications are deployed, data is stored, and workloads are powered by machines that are housed on-site in a data center.

Maintaining an internal data center requires that companies have the hardware, space, and IT talent to configure, maintain, and oversee these IT assets. That can mean both upfront investments and ongoing costs—and in certain use cases, it’s the best way to go.

There are three significant advantages of on-premises deployments and storage. The first is that companies retain control of their data and assets. As highlighted at the beginning of this piece, a cloud-based data breach can have significant consequences for those it impacts. Retaining control over your applications and data means that you limit the third parties with access, and you reduce the chances of a data breach. When you retain control over your IT infrastructure, you’re also able to customize the environment to fit your unique specifications.

The second related, but separate, reason is security. Cloud environments are perceived as having additional security risks because you’re relying on outside organizations to manage security settings and enforcement. The reality is that cloud companies deploy sophisticated, multi-layer security protocols and have teams of experts. However, whether it’s the perception of increased risks or the reality, it’s important to note that security concerns drive many companies to keep their workloads on-site.

The third consideration is proximity. On-premises deployments are increasingly being seen outside the traditional data center in Edge environments. Some common examples might be a small storage and compute deployment on a factory floor to support robotics process automation, or within a warehouse to enable an AI sensor network. In situations where latency of even a few seconds matters, on-premises deployments can help close those nanosecond gaps.

How to Choose What’s Right for You

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution that works for companies deciding where to house their data. Instead, it’s important to go through a systematic approach and ask the right questions to determine how best to serve the information under consideration. Increasingly, organizations are embracing both cloud and on-premises as part of a hybrid solution. Hybrid IT infrastructure allows organizations to develop plans that best fit their unique needs in the moment, and flex to adapt to the changing environment and business needs over time.

For many organizations, the reality of today’s computing environment is complex. Cloud services offer the flexibility and cost savings that remote work and modern workloads demand. Yet regulatory considerations, security, and internal policies may require that some applications and data remain on-premises. By understanding the pros and cons of each of these computing options, it’s possible to make decisions that keep your computing environment modernized and a source of competitive advantage.

Don’t navigate this alone. Contact Connection today to speak with a technology specialist who can help you determine the solutions and services to best meet your unique organizational needs.

My Network Is Killing My Smart Store Goals Apr 20, 2021 Brian Gallagher I never realized how complicated the term “network optimization” really was or how it affected my business until the day I called our IT Director from the sales floor to complain about Wi-Fi. My IT Director went on a rant about AP coverage, bandwidth restrictions, and ISP issues. I remember sort of blanking out, trying to guess what all those acronyms meant. I am sure there were more challenges—these are just the ones I remember him yelling in my ear. That was more than 10 years ago, long before we had smart anything, so I know network optimization is way more complicated and way more important today.

A Smart Store can only be as versatile and productive as the network it is running on. The interesting thing is that an optimized network is one that is customized for the specific brand. It really does make my head spin, which is why I encourage everyone to engage great partners like Connection.

Related: The Future of Retail in 2021: The Smart Store

Think about it. We know that every retailer is balancing their Smart Store network demands between business productivity and customer engagement activities, and the poor IT leaders are stuck in the middle charged with sorting it out. In a real world scenario I saw recently, the compliance team was rolling out sensors for all of their refrigeration units that will monitor product quality, the customer experience team wanted to launch a new personalized shopping app, and the marketing team was testing a new personalized marketing campaign that changes the digital signage messaging based on a camera application that determines if the shopper is male or female, older or younger. This was all great stuff, but the POS still needs to process payments and transactions, etc. How can the store’s network keep up?

If you’re ready to optimize your network (and you should be!), I have two pieces of advice. First, understand the big picture goals for the organization by building a strong six-month to 36-month business plan. Be sure to include the leadership from every single department. The great thing about our smart innovations is they impact every part of the business. Assume that every team within the organization has a vision for how technology can optimize their performance. In 100% of these scenarios, the network must be available. Secondly, work with a third-party partner versed at mapping out network traffic flow, usage probabilities, and flexibility. An optimized network must have all three components. The ability to understand the intricate details of every network component should not sit on your IT team’s shoulders. These components have flexibility and optimization designed specifically to create unique customization for your business.

The combination of these two objectives may take some additional time up front, but the long-term returns will be amazing. A long-term plan is the only way to win in retail today. In no time at all, you will be able to run instead of crawl with new Smart Store technologies. The backbone of your business is data and connectivity. Now is the time to get ready for the future.

If you need help mapping your network optimization, or are ready to take the next steps, reach out to Connection. We have the experience to help you establish and execute a plan that meets unique business needs.

Your Secret Weapon for Successful Digital... Apr 15, 2021 Liz Alton For nearly a decade, companies have been discussing their digital transformation. And in the past year, the pandemic and the rapid shift to remote work dramatically accelerated many companies’ digital transformations. In fact, McKinsey notes that years of digital transformation were consolidated into just a few months. Now, as companies consider the best way forward into the next few years, digital transformation is in the spotlight. One of the most important aspects that makes digital transformation successful is employee adoption. Here are some ways to get employees on board and ready for your plans.

Related: Skype for Business Online is Going End of Life: Are you Prepared?

Share the Larger Context of Your Vision

Employees are much more likely to become excited and work with you on digital transformation initiatives if they understand what you are trying to accomplish. In the words of Simon Sinek, it’s critical to know your why. This goes for the executive team signing off on a digital transformation, the IT team that’s implementing it, and the employees you’re asking to adjust their processes. Help employees understand what you’re trying to accomplish with your digital transformation by answering concerns like:

  • How it will improve the customer experience
  • How it will make employees’ jobs easier
  • What the overall benefit is to the company: grow, achieve, or become more profitable
  • How the changes will improve the company’s impact

As Deloitte notes, business and technology strategy have become inextricably combined. The choices companies make for technology growth can create opportunities or constrain a growth period. By highlighting how your technology choices make it easier to implement your company strategy, you can foster greater employee buy-in.

Give Stakeholders a Voice in the Transformation

Transformations that are dictated from the top down can be the hardest to get buy-in for. It’s easier to get employees engaged when you give them a voice in how a digital transformation is designed or how it will unfold. Consider asking employees to weigh in on the pain points they’re dealing with. What technologies, processes, or organizational demands do they struggle with? Are there processes that could benefit from being digitized or streamlined?

For example, when a retail company recently asked employees for feedback, the biggest pain point they cited was needing real-time information to answer customers’ questions. Asking a customer to follow them back to a terminal and then wait while they searched for inventory information wasn’t efficient. Instead, employees wanted to be armed with tablets that had real-time availability data. Because their input was critical to this investment, associates were eager to implement the new system and the transformation was a significant success.

By showcasing where employee feedback has been used to select specific tools, prioritize investment, or even just test and support the rollout for new technologies, there’s a greater sense of buy-in and engagement that can help drive your digital transformation’s success.

Invest in Training

One of the greatest barriers to adopting new technology is a lack of knowledge. Employees may be concerned that they don’t understand how to use the new system or device. Others may be concerned that new technologies will create unnecessary work or can slow down the well-honed processes that they’ve developed after months or years on the job. Overcome these objections with targeted training designed to help your employees confidently make the most of new systems.

A common mistake companies often make is providing a demo of how software or a technology works and then deeming that to be sufficient training. Demos do play an important role in helping familiarize your team with new technologies. But it’s important to significantly invest in training so employees understand what resources are at their disposal, how best to use them, and what steps they should take to make the most of them. When considering training, here are some best practices to remember:

  • Address a variety of needs. Different types of users—and people who use the system with different frequencies—may require slightly different perspectives.
  • Tap into a variety of opportunities to help users learn. Some may benefit from real-time or in-person instruction, while others may prefer self-paced video, audio, or written references.
  • Have office hours or a support person available to answer questions, revisit key parts of the training, and ease the transition during the first few weeks of using a system. Dedicating a resource to answering questions as they pop up can help eliminate frustration and smooth out the transition to a new system.

Have a Rollout Plan

Design a rollout and deployment plan that allows for support and transition time while your team adapts to new technologies. Not all technologies have a hands-on component, but this is especially critical for those that do, or those that have behind-the-scenes solutions that might directly impact mission-critical processes. In addition to training, your rollout plan should also incorporate hands-on guidance and feedback sessions throughout the first few days or weeks of using the new solution. A few options to consider include:

  • Stay connected throughout the deployment. Ten-minute stand-ups or quick email check-ins can help you keep a pulse on how things are going, head off problems before they become larger issues, and identify individuals or teams that might need additional support or training.
  • Reward success stories. If an employee has a big win or the technology has enabled a success story, share it. Capture the lessons learned that other employees might be able to benefit from. The more you can showcase technology tools transforming your workplace, employee experience, and customer offerings for the better, the more successful you’ll be.
  • Conduct more formal assessments such as surveys, interviews, focus groups, or town hall discussions to understand how your digital transformation is affecting employees. Often, a digital transformation is a work in progress, and ongoing feedback gives you a chance to refine what you’re doing.

Demonstrate Strong Leadership

While digital transformation from the top down is often not well received, executives and leaders set the tone for how it’s embraced. Think about the way your attitudes, language, and adoption of new technologies set the standard in your business, and look for options to model the kind of response you want. Consider the following ideas:

  • Be optimistic about the value of new technology and digital transformation. Find positive ways to frame investments, from improving the employee experience to offering something new.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of being present. Attend trainings, personally introduce speakers who will be discussing the changes, and provide the signals that this process matters. Reach out to your direct reports and underscore the importance of taking part in these events.
  • Be knowledgeable about digital transformation. Depending on your role and organization, this might mean participating in trainings or simply doing the research and being able to speak to the strategic importance of key aspects of digital transformation.

Planning your digital transformation requires more than investing in hardware or choosing new software products or devices. It’s important to remember that employee engagement and adoption is the X-factor in any new technology initiative. Improve your team’s success and drive a high-impact digital transformation initiative by focusing on employee engagement.

Communicating your mission, giving teams a voice in the workplace transformation, and having a well-developed training and rollout plan can all increase employees’ willingness to help make your digital transformation a success.

Nervous After the HAFNIUM Attacks? It’s... Apr 06, 2021 Katie John If you missed the recent news, there has been a significant nation-state attack on Microsoft Exchange on-premises servers this year. This hack affected both on-premises and hybrid environments. However, customers who were fully operating in the cloud and utilizing Exchange Online were protected. If you have completed the emergency action steps recommended in my last blog post and are now considering how to better protect your assets and data against future attacks within the constraints of your budget and resources, this is a good time to investigate cloud computing. 

Why Change? 

Microsoft has been urging their customers to move to the cloud for a number of years now. But, like so many people, you may be part of an organization that resists change in favor of continuing what has proven successful in the past. So why change now? Personally, I can relate. Deep down I hate change—which is funny since I’ve spent my entire career working in an IT industry that changes and advances by the minute. I gravitate toward timeless things like cardigan sweaters, vintage teacups, and classic novels. I am a power user of all the latest modern workplace technology, yet I still love the tactile feeling of scribbling meeting notes with pen and paper. When changes are announced in my department, it takes me a bit longer than most to learn, adopt, and pivot, because I find comfort in how I’m accustomed to operating. 

During our recent CNXN Live virtual conference, our President of Global, Digital, and eCommerce, Jamal Khan, posed the following challenging question to all of us, “Why should we change when what we’ve been doing has served us so well?” This simple yet powerful question has stuck with me ever since. Despite my aversion to change,I recognize the tremendous value in digital transformation and cloud computing in the era that we live in. 

For all of us who avoid or delay change, we still must recognize that migration to the cloud is absolutely beneficial and vital to modern security. Just because certain things served us so well in the past does not mean that they will continue to serve us well going into the future; this flawed assumption will most likely harm us instead.   

One sad example of this harmful line of thought can be found by reflecting on World War I. In the beginning, military and civilian leaders were slow to adapt their old-fashioned strategies and tactics to the new weapons of 1914. They operated based on previously effective methods, and as a result they suffered enormous losses from modern technology. The constraint of urgent need propelled leaders forward into modern innovation, which helped to turn the tide and end the war.

New Weapons for a New Battle 

Today we find ourselves in a new kind of global battlefield with highly sophisticated modern technology in the hands of nation-state attackers. Their singular focus is bent on exploiting our digital security weaknesses. Will we continue to defend ourselves with security weapons designed for a rapidly fading era of “castle and moat” security? Will we struggle and suffer because we are slow to adapt? 

In every conversation I sit in with Microsoft leaders, field teams, and consultants, they are stressing how important it is to move to the cloud. They urge this shift for many reasons but most importantly for more effective security, so we can defend together against state sponsored modern digital warfare and sophisticated infiltration tactics. We must face the stark reality that today’s bad actors have access to far more resources than any individual business or organization can muster alone. Simply stated, if we resist change and continue to rely on our own hosted security walls that served us well in the past, we will be outgunned. The common claim of on-premises environments being more secure is a flawed argument that has been proven wrong over and over. Why would we keep trying to cobble together our own protection when we could be embracing state-of-the-art cloud security capabilities that Microsoft and others have invested so heavily into building up and scaling out for our use? 

Microsoft invests a staggering amount into developing advanced security solutions around their cloud to protect the data and infrastructure their customers have entrusted to them. Sure, security in the cloud is a shared responsibility between you and your provider, but Microsoft is making sure their part in the equation is state-of-the-art. They have countless security features and building blocks for a new era of zero-trust security, from identity and access management and cloud security to threat prevention and information protection. They are constantly adding new security solutions and recently announced many new additions. 

Overcoming Obstacles to the Cloud 

You may recognize the need for change but are facing challenges that seem insurmountable. Migrating to the cloud is easier said than done, right? Maybe you haven’t even started, or you’ve dabbled a bit and migrated a few workloads but don’t know how best to take a bigger leap. There tend to be five main obstacles that stop companies from completing their journey into the cloud. 


Most terminology used in reference to cloud computing tends to be abstract and unclear—phrases like “journey to the cloud,” or “hosted in the cloud.” Even visual representations typically depict intangible fluffy clouds. No wonder tangible, self-hosted data centers feel safer! The cloud seems like nothing more than a thinly protected mist leaving your data exposed in a faraway sky. Do you want to learn what the cloud really is and how to make it work for your own business growth and transformation? We have dedicated Azure cloud consultants on our Microsoft Customer Success team who will take the time to educate on what the cloud really is: massive physical data centers available for your use in regions around the world, paired up for mirrored redundancy, disaster recovery, and fault tolerance. These data centers also have hardware and security superior to anything an individual organization could accomplish with their own limited CapEx budgets. Our specialists can carefully supplement your existing knowledge to help you build an actionable migration plan based on educated business decisions.


Cost is often one of the biggest causes of hesitance when moving to the cloud, with many companies unsure how to properly scope what it will cost. The good news is there are multiple ways to save money, especially if you already have on-premises Microsoft Server licenses. Between Azure Reserved Instances and Hybrid Use Benefit, you can make sure to implement a cost optimization strategy that will fit your budget. In order to make sure you’re getting the most value out of your migration, we recommend working with a trusted partner. Our Microsoft Landscape Optimization teams are experts in helping you assess your entire estate down to the user level and providing cost analysis, time to value road maps, and recommendations for the most affordable SaaS solution packages customized to your organization to give you a clear and achievable path forward.


With cyberattacks on the rise, security is a major concern now more than ever. It’s no longer a lone hacker you need to worry about, but actual cyberwarfare. Many companies believe that keeping their data on premises makes them safer. However, if you look deeper, you will find that often less time is invested in securing individual environments. As the cloud is expected to protect thousands of companies, Microsoft ensures that they invest heavily in security to make sure your data is safe from malicious actors. Monitoring that environment is equally important, and we recommend you work with a trusted Azure Managed Services partner. A partner can monitor and manage your cloud environment to make sure your data is not at risk, and you know quickly if something changes. Making sure your security stack is robust and your data is safe is a number one priority. If you need help, our Security Optimization teams can assess your current infrastructure and show you ways to better protect your data in the cloud such as overlaying Microsoft Azure Sentinel onto your existing infrastructure investment, so you won’t have to rip and rebuild. Microsoft even recently announced 30 new connectors for Sentinel to help you integrate with ease.

Skill and Resources

Migration itself can be daunting. Many businesses do not have the in-house skill or the resources to handle the migration effort. Your IT team has plenty to keep them busy without adding a cloud migration to the mix. You don’t have to go it alone, though. An experienced guide can help you manage and migrate without all the stress. There is no need to pull your IT team away from other important projects. If you’re looking for assistance, our Microsoft Professional Services teams can help you assess what is needed, plan the solution that best works for you, and even perform the migration for your team.    

Managing Bandwidth

Moving to the cloud is tough enough. But if you don’t have the resources to manage, back up, and monitor it once you’ve migrated, your new cloud environment won’t be sustainable. There are real risks to leaving your cloud environment unmonitored. As I mentioned before, cybersecurity is something that needs to be top priority. We specialize in helping companies keep their cloud environment safe. Our Azure Managed Services Team can take that busy work off your plate and manage it for you, so you can preserve your valuable time and resources to focus on development and growth.

Getting Help When You Need It

Here at Connection, we have so many customers who have started their journey toward change with many of these obstacles. Our Microsoft Customer Success Team has repeatedly helped turn seemingly impossible business challenges into successful outcomes—from small businesses with extremely limited staff and budget, to K–12 school districts with even less budget, and even financial and healthcare institutions with endless regulation and privacy requirements. Behind each one were IT teams who successfully navigated their unique circumstances with our help, moved to the cloud, and were able to continue operating as usual when the news first broke of the Exchange attack. If you want help, our team is here for you too. We will take the time to learn and understand your business, provide excellent guidance, and journey alongside you to make the impossible a reality. Get in touch today to learn more about our cloud services or contact us today. We’re here for you.

The Reality of Improving Learning Outcomes... Mar 31, 2021 Michelle Petrovic As schools rapidly shifted to remote learning and hybrid learning models during the pandemic, new challenges emerged. Students in under-privileged communities are facing some challenges in greater numbers than other student populations. Limited Internet access, a lack of computers, or outdated technology makes learning harder. Educators—and the teams supporting them in school districts—have been working to find new strategies to help students succeed. Here’s a closer look at how printers are helping at-home students and educators in hybrid settings achieve more.

What the Pandemic Taught Us about Learning at Home

The pandemic offered one of the first large-scale opportunities in recent history to explore how students both struggle and succeed with learning from home. The digital divide gave students different challenges. Yet across the board, educators have embraced what Education Week calls whole student learning. There’s a greater focus on building relationships, taking a project-based approach to learning to get kids the support they need, and ensuring that well-being is part of the educational conversation. 

The concept of whole student learning is leading to larger questions: What support do students need to ensure they thrive if learning remotely? What steps can educators, school districts, and parents take to support students in the classroom and online, while limiting the number of those who fall behind? In a recent piece from the MIT Technology Review, the authors explore the different strategies being used to ensure that learners don’t fall behind. Technology is leading the way, and one surprising area many school districts and educators are looking toward is printing.

One significant trend is promoting virtual identity safety—or giving each student what they really need to learn. Identity safe classrooms “are those in which teachers strive to ensure students that their social identities are an asset rather than a barrier to success in the classroom. Acknowledging students’ identities, rather than trying to be colorblind, can build the foundation for strong positive relationships. This, coupled with challenging opportunities to learn, can help all students begin to feel they are welcomed, supported, and valued as members of the learning community.” From a technology standpoint, taking this approach allows students to customize their learning needs. For example, a student who struggles with reading and might benefit from the ability to print text in different colors could thrive instead of being penalized for learning differently. Providing the technology support students need to thrive in remote and hybrid environments is also opening up important conversations for the future of learning.

And one of the most interesting innovations that’s being explored is around how printing can improve learning outcomes.

Reading Digitally vs. Reading on Paper

Whether you’re teaching younger students to read or looking for strategies that help older students retain information, reading is often the keystone. Students accustomed to learning in traditional classrooms are often reading from printed books, or a mix of digital sources and printed supplements provided by teachers. At home, many were forced to do all their reading and learning digitally—on a laptop or a tablet, for example.

Studies show that the impact here isn’t simply one of delivery; it can have lasting impacts on the way students learn. Education Week reports that “among young adults who regularly use smartphones and tablets, just reading a story or performing a task on a screen instead of on paper led to greater focus on concrete details, but less ability to infer meaning or quickly get the gist of a problem, found a series of experiments detailed in the Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.” While reading on a screen makes it easier to retain details, it potentially leaves students struggling with the information. Less ability to infer meaning or quickly get to the core of a problem can greatly inhibit a student’s ability to retain key messages, react to a challenge or assignment, or meaningfully contribute to classroom or group discussions.

Education Week also reports that reading on paper can promote more abstract thinking. “Using a digital format can develop a ‘mental habit’ of triggering a more detail-focused mindset, one that prioritizes processing local, immediate information rather than considering more abstract, decontextualized interpretations of information,” wrote researchers Mary Flanagan of Dartmouth College and Geoff Kaufman of Carnegie Mellon University.

Reading in Color Can Improve Reading

The black and white text on an e-reader can be easier to port around. However, research has revealed that the ability to use color in written text can help improve a student’s ability to learn. Think about the physical process of reading. When a student is reading a text written in English, eyes begin on the left side of the page and sweep right until the end of the line. While the eyes move back to the beginning of the next line—the “return sweep”— the reader gets a moment to think about what they’ve consumed.

Yet, the Atlantic reports, “That sweep is also where many of us mess up. We lose time. Most people don’t go all the way back to the first word, for example. We tend to land on the second or third word in a line, and then make another backwards movement to get to that first word.” Color gradients can be used to help pull our eyes along. Imagine a paragraph where each sentence is a different color. For a student who’s struggling to focus and develop the skills or motor coordination behind the return sweep, the ability to print text in different colors like this at home can be a significant advantage.

Using Color to Support Educational Experiences

The ability to print goes beyond just capturing reading benefits. The ability to use color in lesson plans, images, and text can help improve retention, create specific learning moods, and help students process different pieces of information. As ATD reports, color affects learning in several key ways:

  • MIT researchers found that people performed 5–10% better on tests when color was used; the effect also boosted memory over time. 
  • When presented with information in black and white, the brain fills in known colors. For example, if you were to show an image of strawberries in black and white to individuals who had seen the fruit before, they’d likely recognize and envision them as red.
  • Human N Health reports that different colors can help stimulate the brain and help process different things. For example, blue may cultivate calm and creativity while red makes it easier to focus on a repetitive task. Pink can have a calming influence, yellow can stimulate happiness, and orange can align with critical thinking and memory.

What’s the Best Educational Technology Printer Solution?

If you’re a school district that’s determined to give students the ability to print at home, or a district looking for a cost-effective solution to improve learning outcomes through better classroom access to printing, Hewlett Packard is the brand that comes to mind. HP’s Learn from Home solutions have made it easier to adapt to learning from home, whether your students are fully remote or you’re creating high-volume printing solutions that make it easier for educators to customize the hybrid classroom to their needs. 

HP PageWide Pro is a powerful solution for educators or departments with high-volume needs, including printing supplemental materials to drive student success in remote and hybrid learning scenarios. Models are available as both printers and multi-function devices that let you scan, fax, and copy. In addition, the PageWide Pro offers these benefits:

Love the features, but afraid to buy this printer in case it doesn’t deliver? HP has eliminated the risks with a money back guarantee that you can read more about here.

HP OfficeJet Pro is a popular choice, with its small footprint and built-in wireless features. It’s easy to set up and works well in a busy house where learners need quick access to printed documents. With its all-in-one design, users can print in color or black and white, scan, copy, and fax. Reasons why at-home learners love it include:

  • Using the HP Smart print app, it’s possible to send documents to your printer from anywhere.
  • It scans both sides of a page at once and can save time with Smart Tasks, simplifying recurring needs such as scanning homework to submit.
  • It offers best-in-class security and self-healing WiFi that helps keep you connected and keeps your data safe without drama.

Do your students need access to printing—especially color printing—to help address learning challenges? Unleash their creativity, make it easier to read, and give teachers the tools they need to develop strong abstract thinking skills. Don’t navigate this important decision alone. Contact Connection today to speak with our educational technology experts. We can help define your goals, recommend the best printing solutions, and get printers to the locations you need them most—quickly and affordably.

7 Ways Technology Changes the Way Women... Mar 30, 2021 Liz Alton This Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating the more than 12 million women-owned businesses in America. Technology has changed the way the world lives, works, and creates new businesses. One area where technology has made a significant impact is shifting the way women are launching startups and growing their enterprises. From securing funding to tapping into larger networks of mentors, technology has opened the world of women founders to more resources than ever before. Here’s a closer look at how technology is changing the way women build businesses and seven key strategies for using technology to take your efforts to the next level.

Working from Anywhere, Anytime

Building a business often happens outside the typical nine-to-five schedule—or in addition to it. Technology has made it easier for entrepreneurs to stay connected and work anywhere, anytime they want. A variety of devices, from smartphones and tablets to laptops, let women launching and running businesses connect with clients and customers, guide their teams, and complete work on the go. But the technology innovations don’t stop with emerging hardware. Software solutions such as Microsoft 365 make it easy to access data from anywhere, while options like Adobe Document Cloud make it possible to close deals and sign contracts from a world away. As you define your most important mobility and business challenges, technology can help you overcome them quickly and efficiently.

Expanding Awareness Through Digital Advertising

One of the biggest challenges growing businesses face is reaching customers. With digital advertising, women entrepreneurs can more rapidly scale and grow their businesses. Today, it’s possible to reach customers through digital advertising on social networks, PPC ads, and much more. Fast-growing brands can even tap into advertising on emerging television networks. Some of the more innovative marketing strategies that women are using to build businesses right now include:

Developing Digital Experiences for Customers

It’s harder than ever before to host a live event or take part in an industry conference face-to-face. But a host of new tools is making it easier than ever before to reach buyers, prospects, and existing customers—no matter where they reside. Women entrepreneurs are carefully crafting their brands and developing compelling online experiences for customers with solutions such as:

  • Hosting webinars and digital events with platforms like ON24 and BlueJeans
  • Conducting face-to-face video calls, product consultations, and video-based technical and product support using tools such as Zoom and other videoconferencing suites
  • Sharing files and curating presentations with filesharing solutions such as Dropbox. With Dropbox Paper, it’s easy to share branded presentations, proposals, or quickly get an initial take on a design or deliverable.

Kickstarting New Opportunities

Raising the capital to start a new business—or effectively bootstrapping it—presents an important challenge to entrepreneurs. The emergence of platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo is giving women business leaders new opportunities to find support and fund the growth of their boldest ideas. Crowdfunding is changing the way women seek financing, especially early in their journeys, and research shows that women founders are more successful than their male counterparts on these platforms.

Adapting to a Digital-first Business Environment

In the face of COVID-19 and the subsequent recovery, many businesses have been forced online. Even companies that formerly operated with a largely brick-and-mortar footprint are relying on social media customer service, website transactions, and digital-first consultations. Technology has made it easier than ever before to bring your brand and transactions online. Some of the most powerful assets you can tap into include:

  • Developing and hosting a website with ecommerce capabilities so customers can shop, purchase, or consult a sales expert from your branded site
  • Taking advantage of digital platforms for content marketing—from publishing helpful blog posts to hosting webinars that can help customers learn more about your products and services
  • Embracing a wider range of technology-enabled smart payments systems, from PayPal to Square
  • Considering the addition of emerging payment solutions such as Sezzle, Affirm, Afterpay, and others that extend credit to digital shoppers who may not have access to traditional credit cards or may be seeking alternatives

Networking and Connecting with Mentors and Colleagues

As the saying goes, success in business sometimes comes down to who you know. Women building businesses can benefit from networking with other founders, mentors, and professionals. However, connecting with the colleagues and mentors you need to help you grow and add capacity to your business can be a challenge. Technology has made it easier to network with mentors and colleagues, letting you take advantage of opportunities such as:

Expanding Capabilities with Managed Services

All too often, hiring a full-time employee—or even a part-time dedicated resource—simply isn’t in the budget. However, as women rely on technology to build their businesses, managed services providers are giving growing companies access to best-in-class technology, customized advice, and cost-saving strategies that make it easier to grow. A managed services provider can help with nearly any aspect of a business, from supporting contracts for specific technology to cybersecurity expertise. Managed services providers make it easier to gain access to the customized talent and resources you need to grow your business—while keeping your budget and growth objectives in mind. Growing a business is one of the most exciting journeys you can undertake. With a plethora of resources available through technology, today’s founders can network, advertise to customers, find help for their most important challenges, and build a durable brand that stands the test of time. As you consider how to launch your business or take it to the next level, don’t forget to explore the pathways to profitability paved by emerging technologies.

How to Leverage Wireless Networking to... Mar 25, 2021 Ryan Spurr For most manufacturers I engage with, their wireless networks have long been an afterthought. Most are deployed haphazardly to support spontaneous requirements like conference rooms and supervisory mobile devices, rather than as part of a broad industrial strategy. There is nothing wrong with this. It’s a product of how demand for wireless has evolved in industrial spaces over the years and often reflects tech adoption within factories and warehouses. 

It is worth asking why this is? For many companies, wireless access points are nothing more than moving packets from point A to point B, but does wireless hold more potential than that? Is wireless changing how we empower our workforce and integrate new technologies? Are there new capabilities to aid smart manufacturing and the industrial transformation underway? 

The short answer is YES! 

In fact, you may be surprised how quickly this technology is changing to meet the needs of our time. In this brief examination, I will touch upon how wireless solutions can radically transform the future of manufacturing and whatever comes next. Before we highlight what is changing, let's reflect on the typical challenges and the rationale for adopting these new solutions.

It’s so easy for manufacturers to look only at the typical reasons for upgrading wireless. These generally include focuses like capacity, ease of maintenance, security, and supportability. Surprisingly, in manufacturing, these reasons are not always sufficient to justify investment in new wireless, because as the adage goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But what if our wireless networks were becoming something so much more? 

Unify Devices with a Modern Networking Approach

Instead of the typical approaches to the investment decision by way of IT lifecycle, let’s reimagine a decision-making process that includes consideration of capabilities to enable business excellence and growth. Modern industrial transformation driven by the rapid adoption of equipment from mobile devices, scanners, sensors, AVGs, augmented collaboration, wearables, and tracking solutions demands a different pedigree of network to support its objectives. With the advent of Industry 4.0, everything in the environment is becoming smart, connected, and ready to transform our businesses. When connected and integrated into our operational processes, these technologies create new advantages for manufacturing businesses focused on reducing costs, improving quality, and increasing throughput. More importantly, they must ride atop of a strong foundation, and that should compel manufacturers to move to next-generation wireless.

With Industry 4.0 and new business technologies as the genesis for change, let’s examine how wireless solutions are evolving to connect and enable a smarter business.

  • WiFi 6: Also known as 802.11AX, this next-generation wireless standard delivers on the capacity to add more devices, transmit simultaneously from all devices at faster speeds, and improve energy efficiency, meaning all those devices with batteries will last longer. WiFi 6 also offers better coverage and signal management, which is hugely important for factories and warehouses full of metal, machines, computers, and robots emitting interference. With an astounding 46+ billion devices expected to be connected by end of 2021 it's no wonder why we must be prepared with modern networks capable of handling these devices.
  • BLE + Zigbee: Today’s access points now include Bluetooth Low Energy antennas or other technology standards like Zigbee. Simply put—these devices do far more than their predecessors. 
    Adopting these newer technologies makes your access points capable of much more than basic wireless. More importantly, it means that a wide range of new devices and business use cases can be solved with corporate wireless solutions, making the business justification for them more appealing. 

    Imagine that you don’t need to implement one-off infrastructure to connect a sensor or tracking device. These next-generation access points can now act as the foundation for unlocking a wide range of IoT and tracking solutions, simplifying how organizations adopt Industry 4.0—while alleviating many historic infrastructure hurdles to scale and transfer across facilities. 
  • Industrial Protocols: Traditional enterprise networking has long focused on ethernet and lacked the ability to support industrials protocols. That is quickly changing with solutions that now natively support industrial protocols like Modbus, Profinet, BACnet, or OPC-UA, to name a few. What does this mean? Not only can we process industrial protocols, but we can intelligently secure and optimize the lateral traffic between industrial devices such as PLCs, RTUs, and more, while simultaneously integrating these devices with the balance of our enterprise. 
  • Industrial Security: It’s now widely understood by executives that with the adoption of Industry 4.0 comes increased risk and an expanding attack surface. With 60% of business leaders viewing security as the biggest challenge for IoT deployment and scale, coupled with the long lifespans and unsupported industrial equipment, security solutions at the edge, networking, and across the enterprise have never been more critical. Next-generation wireless devices now include embedded security and sensors, deep packet inspection of industrial protocols, operational technology context, and full integration with corporate Security Operation Centers (SOCs), plus Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) platforms.

This approach allows modern networks to introduce threat awareness to the very edge, not just where the enterprise network meets the industrial network. This change allows for security monitoring of traffic at cell zone layer 0-1, including devices such as PLCs, RTUs, and sensors. IT/OT convergence is now possible, alleviating risks and challenges while meeting both stakeholders’ needs.

  • Resilience with 4G/5G: Many wireless solutions offer redundancy options on the local area network, but what happens if your network goes down? How do you continue to operate critical machines, sensors, mobility, and communications uninterrupted? Many wireless solutions now offer secure cellular backhaul options ensuring flexibility with Secure WAN (now referred to as SD-WAN) connectivity options and serving as a backup to minimize plant disruptions.
  • Fit for Environment: In addition to all the significant IT and OT capabilities already discussed, another area to be aware of is the diversity of most access point product lines. Not only can they unlock new value, but many come in new formats designed to operate in some of the most challenging and regulated environments typical of the industrial space. These include high IP ratings that protect against liquids, particulates, and high impact ratings. Options also exists to meet hazardous locations or intrinsically safe mandates to prevent spark or explosion. Because of these new formats, any manufacturer can operate wirelessly in harsh environments inside and out. 
  • Edge Compute75% of data will be created and processed outside a traditional data center or cloud by 2025. As a result, we now see many wireless solutions offering edge compute solutions and allowing operational technology teams to distribute containers and virtual machines atop edge compute on the access points themselves. This capability transforms how DevOps design, deploy, and support intelligent solutions across the entire enterprise, including the operational technology environments. This capability allows manufacturers to make decisions at the edge and change how data is processed and integrated with data centers and the cloud.

All combined, next-generation wireless solutions enable smart manufacturing adoption, integrate operational technology with information technology breaking down long-standing barriers to digital innovation, and deliver security solutions with the promise of a single pane of glass. With a shared network at the foundation, today’s modern wireless networks are now a prudent investment allowing for more than just checking email. Manufacturers can now set a course for a more digitally integrated and operationally excellent organization.

To learn more about Connection’s Manufacturing Practice or to discuss the challenges and networking solutions highlighted in this article, contact us today.

What’s Working Today to Attract and Retain... Mar 23, 2021 Liz Alton As part of Women’s History Month, we’re taking a closer look at how leading companies are attracting and retaining women employees. According to a recent piece by Built In, women account for around 34% of the workforce at today’s largest technology companies. Despite advances in recent years, there’s still a gender gap in today’s technology employment landscape. If you’re interested in making your hiring or employee retention strategies more inclusive, here are seven ideas to consider.

Eliminate Biased Language from Job Descriptions

Attracting great candidates—and making technology jobs and companies welcoming to female candidates—starts with the very language companies use to fill their opportunities. Experts on the topic recommend removing gendered words—even terms such as “guru” and “rock star” can have an impact on applications. Describing your culture as competitive, dominant, or cutthroat may also drive away female candidates. Some other solutions to consider include:

  • Check your pronouns and use gender-neutral terms.
  • Use tools use as Textio or The Gender Decoder (which is free) to find gendered language in your job descriptions and find more inclusive alternatives.
  • Include your diversity and equality objectives, commitments, and statements in your job advertisements (and on your employer brand site) to help candidates better understand your culture.
  • Evaluate your qualifications. The Harvard Business Review has discussed that women often won’t apply for a job unless they’re totally qualified. Using broader experience ranges, highlighting the soft skills needed to success in a role, and eliminating arbitrary degree requirements from roles that don’t require them can all help you attract a more diverse candidate base.

Address Bias in the Interview Process

Once you’ve considered how you’re positioning your open job requisitions, it’s important to consider how you’re sourcing and interviewing talent. Often, bias in the sourcing and interviewing process can be implicit. For example, an employee referral program relies largely on the personal networks of your team; if you’re already struggling with diversity challenges, you may be less likely to recruit women and other diverse candidates for technology roles or to any role within a technology firm.

It’s also important to look at your interview process. Risk Management Magazine reports that half of women who went through interview processes for technology roles have had a bad interview experience—or know someone who did. For employers interested in developing more women-friendly sourcing and interview strategies, here are a few options:

  • Diversity your sourcing channels. Partnering with organizations such as The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) can help you reach into a broader candidate base.
  • Embrace software that anonymizes incoming applications so details such as name and gender are obscured for the first round of reviews. The Harvard Business Review reports, “We recommend that they implement anonymized recruitment where possible, especially at the early stages of applicant screening. When you have evidence that gender, race, age, or other differences are affecting your selection process, despite their not being relevant selection criteria, you have error in your processIn other words, extraneous information about one’s identity is causing you to make less accurate decisions.”
  • Incorporate objective measures of a candidate’s qualifications, such as skills testing, score cards, and structured interviews to help eliminate bias and ensure that hiring decisions are about a candidate’s ability to deliver outcomes rather than first impressions.
  • Offer bias training to all your interviewers to help raise awareness of these issues and how they manifest during the interview process. Develop diverse interview committees to incorporate a variety of perspectives and help female candidates feel comfortable during the process.

Attract Women in Technology: A woman at a server rack running diagnostics.

Build an Inclusive Employer Brand

The power of the employer brand is on the rise. Workers evaluate a company’s values, workplace, and culture before taking interviews and accepting offers. Promoting diversity and inclusion in all ways, including promoting more gender diversity, begins with being aware. Deloitte Insights recently highlighted the dearth of women speakers at technology conferences, noting that one speaker audit found that from 2016 to 2018, just 27% of keynote or standalone speakers at technology conferences were women. With concerted effort, the numbers are changing, but it raises an important question: How visible are the women at your company? Building an inclusive employer brand to help attract more women candidates and employees can include:

  • Feature successful women executives and employees as part of your worker profiles. Highlight their career paths, why they chose your company, and how they’re growing there over time.
  • Promote women speakers and participation in industry events to highlight the female talent at your company and reinforce your employer brand.
  • Highlight relevant benefits and cultural context, from female-focused employee resource groups to parental leave policies. This can help women determine that your company is a good fit for their long-term goals and interests.

Focus on an Inclusive Day-to-Day Work Culture

According to The MIT Sloan Management Review, “New research from Accenture and Girls Who Code (GWC) shows that, when taken as a percentage of the total U.S. workforce, there are fewer women in tech today than there were in 1984. Incredibly, 50% of women who take a tech role drop it by the age of 35.” Often, the changes that make a significant difference center on your day-to-day culture. If you’re looking to take steps to improve this, some options include:

  • Determine whether you have implicit systems or cultures that could be limiting inclusiveness. One common example within tech is the “brogrammer” stereotype. Understanding where that’s at play—and taking steps to address it—can help your culture feel more welcoming to a wide variety of candidates.
  • Align benefits and incentives around policies that reward everyone and support the unique challenges some women face. Generous parental leave programs can help equalize the impact of parenting on careers, for example.
  • Make space for women’s unique needs when they arise. One topic that’s come up at technology companies where I’ve worked is having a dedicated space for mothers who need to pump. Proactively addressing these issues can help women maximize productivity and feel like their needs are recognized in the culture.

Establish Women-Focused Success Programs

Once you’ve hired fantastic female talent, it’s important to take steps to retain them. The MIT Sloan Management Review notes, “Women-specific support programs are also an important part of inclusivity… targeted support from mentors, sponsors, and employee resource networks can help level an uneven playing field.” Establishing women-focused success programs, support structures, and infrastructure can help support long-term success. Some options to consider include:

  • Pair new women hires with mentors or sponsors who can help answer questions and provide guidance on questions, challenges, and career advancement opportunities.
  • Establish a women’s employee resource group (ERG) with a clear mission and business-aligned goals to promote the success of women company-wide. Here’s a guide to creating ERGs that work.
  • Network with organizations that champion women in technology, such as National Center for Women & Information Technology and the League of Women Coders. Looking for more ideas? Here’s a great list from CIO.

How to Attract Women in Technology: a diverse group of women gathered around a monitor focused on their work.

Consider Establishing Flexible Work Schedules

As MIT Sloan noted in the above referenced sample, many women in tech leave their jobs before age 35. A whole host of reasons apply, but BCG Consulting offers employers one option to stem the tide: “Our research shows that flexible-work options—giving employees a say in when, where, and how much they work—is a key lever in retaining female employees.” They go on to note that women at companies without flexible work policies are more likely to seek other employment. However, the authors also emphasize that this can be a valuable asset to your holistic employment planning.

Yet they also underscore the reality that many women face disproportionate responsibilities around childcare, elder care, and other family responsibilities. Flexible work can help mitigate this. Some best practices to keep in mind include:

  • Ensure that flexible work arrangements don’t limit an employee’s ability to advance within the company.
  • Embrace the idea that there’s no single approach to flexible work; what works for one employee’s situation may not work for another’s needs.
  • Keep programs “reason-neutral.” BCG advises, “Flex-work programs need to be available to and utilized by both women and men. They should not be gender-specific or designed to support one particular situation (such as a woman’s return to the workforce) to the exclusion of other.”
  • Address internal culture and concerns to build and support day-to-day culture and manager/employee relationships that set flexible workers up for success.

Promote Women to Management and Leadership Roles

The final principle of retaining female talent is having a clear priority of promoting women in management and leadership roles. CIO tackled the gender divide in technology, noting that “Providing clear pathways for women to be promoted to management and leadership roles is a key element of retaining female tech talent. If you fail to have any women in management or leadership positions, then incoming talent may feel career growth within your company is only afforded to their male colleagues.”

The initiative becomes critical on two levels. First, high-caliber talent that can’t advance will go elsewhere to find new opportunities. Second, when job hunters are evaluating your work culture, a lack of women in management or executive roles can give pause.

There are a number of strategies companies can explore here, including:

  • Perform a baseline analysis to understand how you’re currently doing with regard to gender diversity and leadership roles. Are women significantly represented?
  • If women aren’t represented, what steps can you take to set benchmarks and goals to address the gap?
  • Consider tapping internal talent for promotional opportunities and executive roles before bringing in outside talent. This can expand the opportunities that women leadership has within the company, while also promoting an overall sense that career growth is possible within your organization.
  • Include female leaders in the hiring process. Representation—and diverse perspectives—are key.
  • Explore the future growth aspirations and plans of the candidates you’re hiring. Take time to understand the growth they’re interested in, and make an effort to understand how you can position women for that success even before you make an offer.

Attracting and retaining more women talent is an important step toward growing the diverse, successful employee base that can help your company achieve its goals. By raising awareness of how each step of the process can impact gender diversity, your organization will create the culture, benefits, and recruiting process that bring women to your teams.

If you’re still working on your own processes, sometimes working with an outside partner for recruiting the best IT talent outside of your own framework can help. Connection has a robust program for helping you find the right IT talent and will work with you to meet your diversity goals.

Learn more about Connection’s IT Staffing Augmentation Solutions.

Managing Information Security with Microsoft Mar 18, 2021 Jake Giffin Information security is not a new topic, but it is still a large challenge for most clients I speak with. Many can say that there are at least written security policies around the handling of data, but how many are confident with the controls that are in place? How much technology enforcement of written policy truly exists? According to IBM, the average cost of a data breach globally is $3.86 million; the U.S. came in highest at $8.64 million. Then there is also the potential impact to the company’s reputation.

So where does someone even start? Well, I asked Connection’s Manager of Cyber Security Solutions Practice, Bill Virtue. He mentioned there are three areas to focus on:

  1. Understand the environment—Often, you’ll inherit the environment and the underlying configuration from a previous owner. You need a comprehensive understanding of what tools are in place and how well they are tuned. 
  2. Understand the data—Where is all the data stored? Who has access to it? What data does the organization deem as sensitive? What data is in use? 
  3. Understand the user environment—Even clients that had a good handle on this likely need to revisit with the remote work impact of the global pandemic. How has technology delivery evolved? Has the organization conducted a dark web analysis to identify any currently compromised credentials? 

Microsoft’s Information Security Tools

What capabilities do your Microsoft products provide you? That depends on the level that your organization committed to already and the timing of these efforts. Like many things that tie back to Microsoft licensing, there are a lot of different ways to get to the end goal. You will need to identify the approach that makes sense for your organization. 

If the Microsoft 365 ecosystem is just one of many software as a service (SaaS) platforms in use, bringing the framework and security rules through Microsoft Cloud App Security (MCAS) may be the way to go. This would allow the full Cloud Application Security Broker (CASB) functionality to support the information security initiatives across the multi-cloud structure. 

If most of your organization’s active data will live within the Microsoft ecosystem, then leveraging the inherent tools may help accelerate the deployment of new capabilities. Azure Information Protection (AIP) contributes through rights management, the ability to apply sensitivity labels, retention labels and policies, and tools like AIP Scanner to help identify data in traditional shared storage. 

To incorporate more automation, the Microsoft 365 E5 Information Protection and Governance bundle can be added, which is also part of the larger M365 E5 Compliance bundle (requires M365 E3) or full M365 E5 suite. As I said earlier, there are a lot of options depending on what is needed, and our Microsoft specialists are ready to answer any questions you might have.

Next time, we will start at the beginning of the maturity curve and talk about some of the introductory capabilities of Microsoft’s products. Please reach out to us here at Connection if you have any questions in the meantime.

The Impact of Women in Technology Mar 16, 2021 Connection Technology is a field that is often thought of as male-dominated, and though men do seem to be the face of modern technology, women have been innovating, inventing, and leading the way to new advancements for just as long as men have. This Women’s History Month, we want to celebrate just some of these inspiring figures in the history of tech. From the first programmer to one of the inventors of the Internet—and beyond—we’d like to share a timeline of women’s accomplishments in technology. Some of these names are probably familiar to you, but we also hope you learn a little something about our industry.

A Short History of Women’s Contributions in Tech


Ada Lovelace published the first algorithm, to be run by Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, making her the first computer programmer—before we were able to actually invent computers, even.


Edith Clarke was an electrical engineer at GE. She invented the Clarke calculator, which could solve line equations with hyperbolic functions ten time faster than any other process.


The women at the Moore School of Engineering set up the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) to calculate bomb trajectories in WWII.


Evelyn Boyd Granville became the second African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale University. She used her considerable talents to help with the Apollo space program, including calculating celestial mechanics and trajectories.


Grace Hopper invented FLOW-MATIC, the first data processing language to resemble actual English and a predecessor of the influential programing language COBOL.


Margaret Hamilton is credited with coming up with the term “software engineering.” She led a team that developed the in-flight software for the Apollo missions and Skylab.


Katherine Johnson was instrumental to calculating the launch window for Alan Shepard’s first space flight. Later, the astronaut John Glenn refused to use the numbers calculated for his orbit by electronic computers unless they were verified by Johnson.


Sister Mary Kenneth Keller became the first American woman to receive a Ph.D. in Computer Science. She went on to advocate for the use of computers in education and to encourage women to get involved in computer science.


Radia Perlman invented the spanning tree protocol (STP), one of the foundations of the Internet as we know it.


Shafi Goldwasser received the Gödel Prize in Mathematics for co-inventing probabilistic encryption, the basis for modern data encryption security.


Marissa Mayer was hired as the first female engineer at Google. She became part of the 3-person team who created AdWords (now GoogleAds), Google’s primary revenue generator.


Ruchi Sanghvi became the first female engineer at Facebook. She was instrumental in creating the platform’s News Feed, rolled out in 2006.


Ginni Rometty became the first woman to head IBM, serving as president, chairperson, and CEO.


Gladys West was inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame for her work in developing GPS technology.

The Future

These women and their innovations still have an impact on our world today, and this is only a small handful of the incredible minds that shaped technology. We can only begin to imagine what the future holds for today’s women in tech!

Hybrid Learning: An Improved Approach to... Mar 15, 2021 Bob Knauf To look at the glass half-full, one of the great things that has emerged over the course of 2020 is the digital acceleration taking place in education. Instructors have found that having the right tools can make a dramatic difference in remote and hybrid learning environments. Tools that are easy to use and allow teachers to untether from their laptops have the power to create a more natural and dynamic experience for everyone involved. So, what’s in the secret sauce? Poly’s personal audio solutions, such as headsets and speakerphones to room-based systems, like cameras and video bars with speaker tracking, are now emerging as the key ingredient in making everyone feel like they’re in the room together again.

Three of the 10 largest school districts in the country, as well as thousands of others, have chosen Poly to help them navigate distance learning. While each institution’s remote teaching needs are unique, we’ll walk you through a few general approaches to hybrid learning with which Poly can help with.

Providing Teachers Personal Equipment

When it comes to optimal flexibility, providing an educator with their own distance learning equipment is a great way to go—especially as schools open and close according to COVID-19 measures. Set your instructors up for success with a high-resolution camera, like the Poly EagleEye Mini and a noise-canceling headset like the Savi 8200

Shared Devices

Some classes require robust video and teachers need the ability to naturally move around the room to provide demonstrations. Meaning, sometimes shared remote teaching setups are a better fit. In these situations, the Poly Studio Family provides a powerful and portable solution for teachers sharing equipment. These simple, all-in-one video bars are easy to get up and running fast with no PC or Mac needed and work flexibly with almost any meeting platform.

Institutions like Franklin Pierce University have found success using the Poly Studio X Family to instruct students at a distance or from their dorm room. “We now think of the classroom as a place for both in-room and distant learning which has added a whole other dimension to teaching,” Frank Cohen, Associate Professor at Franklin Pierce University said. “Poly delivers as close to an in-classroom experience as you can get.”

Additionally, we’re excited to introduce Poly EduCart 2, a mobile solution to bring exceptional video to wherever you need it most. The EduCart 2 includes a Poly G7500 and an EagleEye camera mounted within the cart enclosure. This sturdy cart was designed to be easily rolled from room to room or all the way across campus.

The EduCart 2 can accommodate a variety of Simply Order Monitors from your preferred supplier in the dimensions that best suit your organization’s needs. To add a whole other dimension to the learning experience, the Poly G7500 supports whiteboarding and wireless content sharing if you choose a monitor with touch screen capabilities. Wireless content sharing is a powerful tool to use in the classroom to allow students to share content from their personal devices.

Connection® Public Sector Solutions and Poly empower educators to deliver exceptional, high-impact learning experiences in and out of the classroom. Keep everyone safe while making collaboration easier and faster with Poly.

For more information about Poly solutions for your hybrid classroom, contact us at 1.800.800.0019 or visit today!

How AI Is Transforming Manufacturing Mar 11, 2021 Ryan Spurr We only need to look toward prominent Industry 4.0 models to see how artificial intelligence (AI) impacts the future of manufacturing. It’s baked into the roadmap and is arguably a vital part of the end state. Artificial intelligence can ingest a combination of data from sensors, machines, and people and then apply it to algorithms designed to optimize operations or achieve lights out manufacturing. 

Back in reality, we have some time before leading organizations achieve this pinnacle state of manufacturing, let alone the industry as a whole. Only about 9% of manufacturing organizations are leveraging Artificial Intelligence today. In the interim, what role does artificial intelligence play in industrial and process transformation? Are there business use cases that deliver reasonable value today? Do all artificial intelligence use cases require extensive expertise?

There are two routes an organization should consider in answering these questions. The first is to assess the readiness of a manufacturing organization’s ability to design and implement AI-based solutions in-house. The second is the ability to leverage AI-based solutions and expertise as part of commercial offerings. 

Most organizations lack the skillsets, scientists, data, and infrastructure readiness to pursue unique differentiating processes or solutions. Today, most manufacturing organizations have disconnected machines, people, and processes, all of which are not particularly suited to AI or machine learning (ML). One is more likely to find paper than a technical foundation for implementing and accelerating artificial intelligence. In this respect, the manufacturing trade has a long way to go—but don't let that dissuade your organization from experimenting and investing in artificial intelligence. Like with other longer-term initiatives, it takes time to upskill employees, change the culture, and implement some of the underlying investments necessary to tackle artificial Intelligence.

While your organization may not be positioned to become the next Skynet, most manufacturers are surprised to find how quickly commercial solutions are adopting artificial intelligence to enhance or transform traditional manufacturing processes. The more our manufacturing practice digs into this topic, the more impressed we are by meaningful usage to deliver incremental or even game-changing business outcomes.

Let’s explore some of the readily available artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions used by manufacturers today:

Workplace Safety

One of the most adopted use cases has been leveraging artificial intelligence in workplace screening and safety, driven primarily by the pandemic. It’s possible to use AI to identify employees, conduct thermal screenings, or to monitor employee interactions for contact tracing and facility sanitization. The same technologies have also led to long-term solutions associated with workplace safety events before they happen or speeding up post-incident root cause analysis (for example, think slips, trips, and falls). These solutions lead to healthier employees, a safer workplace, and continued operations.

Machine Maintenance

All manufacturers strive to keep their facility and critical production equipment operational. AI/ML contributes significantly to modernizing maintenance management, moving it from a responsive or regular maintenance posture towards a predictive or prescriptive one. Reimagine a world where there is a 75% reduction in maintenance windows, 28% reduction in annual maintenance spend, and 30% reduction in parts maintenance.

By combining sensors and machine data with artificial intelligence, maintenance managers can quickly identify both eminent failures and provide predictions of when failure may occur. Some manufacturers have taken maintenance management further with prescriptive maintenance. This approach combines predictive failure data with other business data (workloads, shift schedules, cost, and risk factors) to optimize the entire maintenance management lifecycle. Artificial intelligence is used to determine when to maintenance, how long equipment may operate without failure, prioritizing equipment maintenance, and even recommending spare part levels. Artificial intelligence makes it possible to increase uptime, reduce maintenance labor costs, and alter spare parts costs on your balance sheet.

Building Management and Physical Security

Many manufacturing organizations struggle to balance the costs and need for live security teams against protecting company assets and employees. Most forgo traditional physical security, leaving their facilities’ and employees’ safety at risk. With advancements in cameras, building management systems, and artificial intelligence, companies can now afford to implement security solutions that identify common security scenarios, such as guest or delivery vehicle arrival, theft, or active shooter.

Machine Vision

 Another area to broadly keep an eye on is artificial intelligence combined with machine vision. While some use cases are not new, the industry has seen rapid adoption in hundreds of proven use cases ranging from production, warehouse, and logistics optimization, quality inspection, and even fleet management. In addition to functionality, these solutions have also become affordable, leading to their rapid uptake.

In warehouse and logistics, we now see manufacturers using machine vision and AI to reduce transactions and increase capacity. For example, this alters how pallets are prepped, ensures customer orders are packed accurately, and reduces employee transactions by eliminating scanning. Such solutions can reduce up to 90% in pallet scanning time while also improving logistics throughput, increasing customer order accuracy, and reducing return rates.

Another area is fleet management, where companies have rapidly adopted the concept of in-dash cameras monitoring everything outside the vehicle from signs, other vehicles, pedestrians, and driving patterns. Most of these solutions optionally include in-cab monitoring and other safety features benefiting drivers, not just employers. These solutions are affordable with benefits including route and fuel optimization, insurance premium discounts, and reduction of at-fault incidents.

With heavy commercialization and affordability, these solutions are now accessible to any manufacturing organization and often self-fund returns in weeks or months.


With an ever-increasing number of devices and limited cybersecurity resources, we are leveraging artificial intelligence to help tackle the most considerable cybersecurity challenges. Operational technology environments produce massive amounts of security logs and data, along with their respective networks, security appliances, and applications. Artificial intelligence can help sift through the noise and assist by autonomously detecting intrusions, malware, fraud, employee behaviors outside normal baselines, and ultimately elevating threat intelligence.

As you can tell, artificial intelligence is being adopted quickly within commercial solutions across the entire value chain of the manufacturing industry. These AI solutions unlock immediate opportunities to implement and deliver against top and bottom-line objectives and steer their companies towards more advanced use cases down the road.

In fact, among manufacturing leaders, 34% are investing in artificial Intelligence and 19% in machine learning-based initiatives to augment their workforce, solve critical challenges, and start their organizations on a long-term transformation. Even 16% CFOs view artificial Intelligence as playing a crucial role in business results, putting it in third place behind only cloud computing and the Internet of things (IoT).

Combining AI/ML with other technologies such as sensors, machines, and human inputs will dramatically improve operations and likely lead to new forms of innovation and productivity in the industry. While your organization may not possess the skillsets necessary, don't let that prevent you from investing in commercial solutions that can jumpstart your AI/ML journey.

Connection’s Manufacturing Practice is passionate about industrial transformation and works to establish a portfolio of solutions to meet your organization’s challenges. We have a range of artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions to solve manufacturing challenges today.

To learn more about Connection's Manufacturing Practice, or to discuss the challenges and solutions highlighted in this article, contact us today.

HAFNIUM’s Microsoft Exchange... Mar 10, 2021 Katie John “It’s massive. Absolutely massive.” That is how a former national security official is describing the recent attack on Microsoft Exchange Server by a state sponsored threat group from China called HAFNIUM. Four zero-day vulnerabilities in Exchange Server are being actively exploited in widespread attacks by this group, and now other cyberattackers are joining in as well.  The attack was announced by Microsoft on March 2nd, 2021 as they rushed urgent patches out to the public. The vulnerabilities exist in on-premises Exchange Servers 2010, 2013, 2016, and 2019.  

Exchange Online is not affected! 

Microsoft announcement: New nation-state cyberattacks - Microsoft On the Issues 

Microsoft guidance: HAFNIUM targeting Exchange Servers with 0-day exploits - Microsoft Security

New MSRC guidance: Investigating and remediating on-premises Exchange Server vulnerabilities

Companies and organizations that use Microsoft’s Exchange program in a self hosted on-premises environment should assume that they were hacked sometime between Feb. 26 and March 3. 

If you are still hosting on-premises Exchange, stop reading right here, take the following emergency steps, and then come back to finish this blog later… 

  1. Patch if you haven’t already. If you do not have the dedicated IT to apply the patch you could use the one-click Mitigation Tool  released by Micrsoft.
  2. Assume you have been hacked and start looking for activity
  3. If your team does not have the capability to hunt for activity, contact your Connection Account Manager today. They can connect you with our Microsoft professional services team who have the skill and resources to help you do so. If you do not have an Account Manager, contact us here and we can assist you.
  4. Back up your server data immediately

At least 30,000 organizations have been hacked in this latest attack… Police departments, hospitals, state and local governments, banks, infectious disease researchers, law firms, higher education institutions, defense contractors, policy think tanks, NGOs, and more. No industry or sector was spared unless they were operating in the cloud.  

If you have been infiltrated by HAFNIUM, I am so sorry. It was not your company’s fault. The blame lies squarely on the enemy who did this. If you need help, Connection’s Services Teams can help you hunt and patch. But don’t stop there and allow it to happen again. For better protection, I cannot stress how important it is to move to the cloud. I will explain it further in my follow up blog. In the meantime, please reach out your Connection account team for further assistance. If you are not a customer yet, call us at 1800. 800. 0014, or send us a message, we will reach out to you.  

Azure vs. Amazon vs. Google Cloud: Which... Mar 09, 2021 Liz Alton Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Google Cloud are locked in a battle for the title of Leading Cloud Provider. AWS currently holds about 33% of market share at present, followed by Azure at 18% and Google Cloud at 9%, according to the latest analysis by Statista.

Yet the rapid adoption of cloud over the next 12 months promises to shift the landscape—and the large cloud providers are fighting hard to win customers and influence the business world. For business and IT leaders, there’s a critical question to consider: Which solution is right for your unique needs? Here’s a closer look at what factors you should consider when determining the right cloud service for your organization.

What Factors Should You Consider When Choosing Cloud?

With the explosive adoption of cloud over the past year, companies are focusing on finding technologies that enable agility, resiliency, and the ability to deliver winning digital-first experiences. Computer World notes, “Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) is a model where a third-party provider hosts and maintains core infrastructure, including hardware, software, servers and storage on behalf of a customer. This typically includes the hosting of applications in a highly scalable environment, where customers are only charged for the infrastructure they use.” With companies focused on getting more done with lean IT teams and reducing costs, partnering with IaaS cloud providers is a key strategic priority in 2021.

Aligning Your Cloud Strategy to Your Business Objectives

Finding the right cloud partner requires an in-depth understanding of your business objectives. Each of the major cloud providers can often provide what you’re looking for; the key is to define whether Azure, AWS, or Google Cloud represents the best partner. Questions to consider include:

  • What’s your current technology stack comprised of? Do you have existing partnerships (e.g., Windows and Microsoft) that make a provider a natural choice?
  • What features are you leveraging? For example, do you plan to implement Kubernetes or other features to support any area of your business?
  • How will your data be stored? Do you have special security requirements?
  • Does your cloud partner need to support open source solutions?
  • What pricing models are you looking for? What’s your budget?
  • Do you need support for specific end cases, such as edge computer, IoT, or serverless solutions? 
  • What are you considering in terms of hybrid cloud or multi-cloud solutions?
  • Does the partner have a software ecosystem that provides the integrations or third-party solutions you need?

By defining your requirements upfront, you’ll be able to better parse through the data to determine which cloud providers are the best fit for your needs both today and over the long-term.

AWS: A Look at the Pros and Cons

Overall, AWS has been recognized as a Leader in the latest Gartner Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure and Platform Services. They have a dominant position in the market, and Gartner notes: “AWS is a very strong performer in most Gartner use cases, and a strong candidate for hybrid cloud and edge use cases. AWS has a future focus on attempting to own increasingly larger portions of the value chain that delivers cloud services to customers.”


  • They lead in market share and have a wide global distribution, while being backed by market giant Amazon.
  • Gartner reports that the financial health of AWS is strong and contributes significant profit to Amazon’s bottom line.
  • ComputerWorld reports that “the key strength for the market leader continues to be the breadth and depth of its services, with more than 175 across compute, storage, database, analytics, networking, mobile, developer tools, management tools, IoT, security and enterprise applications, at last count.”


  • As Amazon faces increasing regulatory scrutiny, it’s important to evaluate whether that increases the risk for AWS customers.
  • AWS, notes Gartner, has experienced some negative interactions with the open source market.
  • Pricing can be a challenge, according to ComputerWorld, as some customers may not fully understand how specific architecture choices contribute to their bottom line.

Related: Connection is here to help: AWS Migration Services

Microsoft Azure: A Look at the Pros and Cons

Overall, notes Gartner, “Microsoft is strong in all use cases. This includes the extended cloud and edge computing use cases, where many of the other vendors struggle. Azure is particularly well-suited for Microsoft-centric organizations. Microsoft has an investment focus on making architectural improvements to the Azure platform and providing a broad range of enterprise-focused services.”


  • Microsoft Azure provides an end-to-end set of solutions that often work well for established businesses. In particular, organizations that are already working with Windows and Microsoft have a comfortable advantage.
  • Partnerships with large enterprise providers, including Oracle and SAP, help ensure a seamless migration and ongoing operation for companies with those workloads.
  • Azure is strong on both containers and serverless compute, highlighting opportunities for agile architecture and DevOps support.
  • Azure has continued to expand its support for developers, with tools such as Visual Studio Codespaces, Azure DevOps, and integration with GitHub.


  • One area Gartner highlights in the 2020 Magic Quadrant is the lack of availability zones, noting, “As a result, Gartner continues to have concerns related to the overall architecture and implementation of Azure, despite resilience-focused engineering efforts and improved service availability metrics during the past year.”
  • The lack of capacity guarantees can be limiting for customers undergoing rapid digital transformation.

Related: Connection Makes Migration Easier: Microsoft Azure Services

Google Cloud: A Look at the Pros and Cons

Google Cloud lacks the distinctive footprint of AWS and Azure, but it’s growing quickly. It was also named a Leader in the most recent Magic Quadrant for Cloud Computing Infrastructure. Overall, Gartner notes, “Google has evolved by enhancing its strengths and attacking its limitations to providing a strong offering in every use case, other than the edge use case. Google has a future focus on building out hybrid capabilities and partnerships with telco providers.”


  • Google has taken a leadership position in developing new solutions, including Kubernetes and TensorFlow.
  • With an innovative posture in the market, Google Cloud has strong positioning with the developer community and integrates with the open source world.
  • Differentiating points include Google’s ability to rapidly process data, and their offering of a variety of solutions that take aim at data, data analytics, and eliminating lag.


  • While Google Cloud has made strides to close capability gaps, it’s still third in the market and lacks the established services and relationships of some of its competitors.
  • Gartner notes that Google Cloud is a smaller player within the company’s total revenue, raising the need to watch its long-term performance and health.
  • As part of its go-to-market strategy, Google Cloud has focused on smaller projects and hasn’t built as much of a reputation as an end-to-end platform partner. Closing that gap and shifting perceptions is a strategic priority in the next few years.


The price of cloud computing varies significantly depending on the volume of usage as well as the specific use cases an organization requires.

  • AWS offers payment solutions including pay-as-you-go, pay for what you reserve, and the ability to spend less by using more. 
  • Azure’s payment options allow customers the opportunity to trial the solution for free and to get a customized quote. In addition, a number of free offers, enterprise-grade cost management tools, and price-math and pay-for-usage programs help keep pricing in check. 
  • Google Cloud’s pricing includes options for free trials, pay-as-you-go, and the ability to estimate costs based on usage.

Final Thoughts

There are different options on the market that can help you choose the right cloud provider for your needs. By understanding your business requirements and the strengths of each hyperscaler, it’s possible to choose a partner that can both support your immediate infrastructure needs and provide the platform to support your long-term innovation.

You don’t have to navigate the process alone. Connection’s cloud computing experts can help you define your cloud adoption road map and select the best solution for your company. Get in touch today to start the conversation. 

Proud to Be Named HPE Partner of the Year Mar 09, 2021 Connection Great news for anyone looking to take their IT-as-a-Service experience to the next level—we’ve been named HPE 2020 Federal GreenLake Partner of the Year! That means when you partner with Connection, you know you’re getting the highest level of service and support in the industry.

A huge thank you to the HPE team for this incredible award. Our technical specialists and the Federal team at Connection Public Sector Solutions are thrilled to be recognized for their hard work helping customers realize the performance benefits and savings of the latest IT-as-a-Service technologies.

Check out the full press release and reach out to an Account Manager to learn how we can help you transform your organization with HPE GreenLake.

Microsoft Mesh: Are You Mixed Reality Ready? Mar 08, 2021 Penny Conway Microsoft announced Mesh last week, the latest in mixed reality powered by Azure. Mesh is the future of mixed reality experiences and will work with Teams to improve to your virtual office environment. The Ready Player One vibe has me excited as an employee and a cloud enabler. I know what you are thinking, “Well, we would love to do all that cool mixed reality stuff, but we can’t get there without solving the basic challenges of the cloud." Which usually is security and cost optimization.  

While a mixed reality office could be the future of work - let's start with the basics of Azure.  

6 Azure Basics You May Not Know 

Use Azure Hybrid Benefit to save up for the cloud  

You can access your existing On-Premises Microsoft environment, by utilizing the Hybrid Benefits program while migrating Windows Server and SQL Server to Azure. When you exchange licenses for your on-premises machines, the Hybrid Benefit program can help you save up to 40% on Windows Server and SQL Server Virtual Machines on Azure. Azure Hybrid Benefit applies to both Enterprise Agreement and CSP customers. It’s the easiest and best way to optimize your costs out of the gate.  

Related: Azure Hybrid Benefit: A Refresher! 

Save more using Azure Reserved Instances  

Leverage Azure Reserved Instances and Azure Cost Management to maintain even more control over your overall cloud spend. Cost saving in the cloud should not be an afterthought. With Azure Cost Management and Azure RI, you can get control of your cloud cost up front and can get the most out of the cloud without breaking your budget.  

Related: A Crash Course in Azure Reserved Instances 

Take the first step in Zero Trust model using Azure AD 

You can move an existing Microsoft 365 Azure AD license to Azure AD with on-premises AD. You’ll need to deploy multifactor authentication and add conditional access policies to make your environment more secure against identity threats. Mitigating identity-related security risks are one of the top priorities that all industries face. Azure provides the best-in-class identity management tools in Microsoft 365 and Azure, ensuring you don’t fall prey to preventable attacks. 

Related: Azure Active Directory and Microsoft Intune: A Match Made in a Mobile-First Heaven 

Back up your data using Azure Backup Services  

Use Azure Backup Services to replace existing on-premises or off-site backup with a cloud-based solution that is reliable, secure, and cost-competitive. Experts recommend at least three backup copies. Many companies follow this best practice and ensure at least one copy is stored in the cloud to be used as an indisputable backup. Azure back up services will ensure that your data is safe and secure, should your data center get hit by a cyber-attack or a natural disaster. Recovery, from anywhere, is much easier using the cloud.  

Related: Remote Work Has Exploded: Can Your Disaster Recovery and Cloud Backups Keep Pace? 

Enable secure remote work using Azure Windows Virtual Desktop  

Use existing Microsoft 365 licenses to deploy Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) on Azure to workers to log in remotely to a centralized resource. By using WVD, you gain full control over your data in scenarios where a worker must access your resources from a remote location that is not connected to your network. WVD on Azure is secured from the public network, keeping your data and trade secrets safe.  

Last month of Windows Virtual Desktop offer: New customers can save 30% on Windows Virtual Desktop computing costs for D-series and Bs-series virtual machines for up to 90 days when using the native Microsoft solution. You should redeem this offer before March 31, 2021  

Related: Top Benefits of Windows Virtual Desktop on Azure 

Proactively detect and remediate threats using Azure Sentinel

Use Azure Sentinel as a single pane of glass, cloud-native SIEM and SOAR solution. Collect security data at scale, detect previously undetected threats, and investigate threats using artificial intelligence to respond to incidents rapidly. You should connect your Microsoft Defender XDR system or a third-party security system to Azure Sentinel and have your entire security landscape under one umbrella. Having access to all your security data in one place allows you to quickly respond to any threat to your business.  

Azure Sentinel-Limited time data grant: Now through May 1, 2021, Microsoft 365 E5 and Microsoft 365 E5 Security customers can receive a data grant of up to 100 MB per user/month to ingest Microsoft 365 data. Your Connection Account Manager can confirm your eligibility for this grant.   

Ready to Reimagine with Azure?  

Once you’ve got your Azure foundation, Microsoft Mesh will be just one example of how the cloud can take major computational challenges off your plate and turn them into out of the box capabilities. Tools like Mesh in addition to Azure Cognitive and Services will allow you spend less time than traditionally needed to prepare and use your data for the office of the future. Just imagine virtually handing your co-worker a piece of paper, creating a synthetic voice for your brand or building 3D interactive chat bots. All of this is possible when you partner with a cloud enabler like Connection. To dig more into Azure or to take advantage of any of the offers and solutions we’ve covered, reach out to us today.  

6 Features of Microsoft Teams that Help You... Mar 04, 2021 Jennifer Gibson-Kautz If you have read my previous blog posts, you’ve probably noticed I am a bit of a Microsoft groupie. In fact, if it were announced that Satya Nadella was coming to speak at a conference near me, I would be camped outside the venue in a sleeping bag waiting to be one of the first in line. In my opinion, Nadella promotes his vision with strong clarity and grace. He has the future dialed in, and I for one am sitting up, taking notice, and taking notes. With his guidance, Microsoft’s mission to help people do more all started with Skype, which eventually transformed into Teams. And I’d like to take a deep dive into what Teams has become.

In October 2020, Microsoft held its fiscal Q2 earnings call. Nadella and his CFO, Amy Hood, delivered a powerful message that Microsoft had blown away Amazon cloud services by 14 billion dollars in yearly earnings! On the heels of that message, they introduced this company mantra: “Thecloud should be modeled on what customers need to succeed today, not on some arcane and industry-driven acronyms from 10–15 years ago.” 

The reason Microsoft is the top cloud vendor is due in part to Satya Nadella’s vision. His view of how Microsoft lives and grows into the “digital estates” of customers places Microsoft at the set point (if this were tennis) in the cloud game. I want to point out a few of the focused growth areas Satya drew on regarding the task of touching “the digital estate of every customer.”

  • Azure as the world’s computer: Announcing seven new data center regions in Asia, Europe, and Latin America and adding support for top-secret classified workloads in the United States.
  • Hybrid computing: “Accelerating innovation to meet customers where they are.”
  • Data governance: “End-to-end view of an organization's data estate across on-premises, multi-cloud and SaaS apps that previously was impossible.”
  • Teams Growth: drove the demand for Microsoft 365 up 28% over the previous year.

As it happens, Microsoft has begun taking up a good portion of my own digital estate. When I use my Microsoft products and connected apps every day, I am reminded that the Office 365 of yesterday has mutated into a seemingly robotic, bionic right arm for me in my work.

I used to log in to my computer, open my Outlook, and clean through the requests, meeting invitations, and sent files to review. Then I would have to move to my storage files, find the proper folders, or open a new window to set a meeting. It was disjointed, and if I forgot where I saved something, it could be a while before I retrieved it.

So, what do I mean about a robotic right arm? With Teams, I no longer must jump to several separate locations to get a job done. My work is all done within one platform. So before you start with me about the complexity of Teams, consider this. Teams integrates, not only all the Office suite of products and applications, but it also works with other apps located in the gallery in Teams. But that isn’t all! I know, I am starting to sound like an infomercial. Still, there are six useful features in Teams that I truly believe make my work life easier:

  1. Presenters are now able to see the meeting chat while still in presenter mode. I was in a meeting a few weeks ago, and the presenter commented that since he was presenting the material and sharing his screen, he couldn’t see the chat for questions. Microsoft has now updated their sharing feature, so you can see who is chatting. Not only that, but there are also completely new meeting settings that allow you to disable chat during a meeting. I like this feature for one main reason: no more blue bubbles popping up while I am trying to watch what is being shared. Another new feature is an update to the presenter view. You no longer must bring in a PowerPoint deck, hold it in your tray, and then share that screen. You can pull it directly from Teams! Watch this new tutorial for more info.
  2. Teams meetings can now be set as your default meeting type. When you set your default meetings app as Teams, you no longer have to add a meeting from a dropdown. It is already aligned to work directly from Outlook.
  3. Noise suppression settings are now available in Teams. One of the biggest adaptations I have noticed during the work from home shift is our acceptance of each other’s family life. We recognize there are members of our family with us as we work. The formal work/life boundary has been altered. For example, I was in the middle of recording a podcast in December about the Top 3 Tips and Tricks of Microsoft Teams. During the recording, my co-panelist was talking about her favorite Teams features, when a delivery driver arrived at her front door, setting her dog barking. She tried to carry on and continue talking, but her dog was too thrilled to have a visitor. If only Teams had released their noise suppression settings a couple months earlier! Now if anyone’s dog or family member gets a little rambunctious during a Teams call, we can use the feature to return peace and quiet. Just look for “noise suppression” in the Settings bar under Devices.
  4. Mobile Teams apps allow you to continue meetings from anywhere. Another feature that makes my work life run smoothly is that I can access Teams across all my devices. True story—I was on my way back from an appointment, and was invited to an impromptu work meeting. Being away from my desk, I previously would have had to miss that meeting. But now since I have Teams on my iPhone, I was able to join the call from my car, and when I got to back to my office, I transferred the meeting on my phone to my laptop. It was seamless, and I was able to stay in the loop on an important project.
  5. 5-minute warning. Speaking of meetings, I tend to ramble or even go off topic. When I am in a meeting, Teams is now able to alert me when there are 5 minutes left to the scheduled time. It will not close the call, but it tells you that there’s 5 minutes left. Nice feature for us chatty people!
  6. Teams Agenda is here. A handy new addition to keep us on task is the agenda feature. You have a view of all your upcoming meetings for the day or week—depending on view. You can copy an invite from an upcoming meeting and share with others to join. I no longer have to exit Teams, open Outlook, and open the calendar to find a meeting. It can all be accessed in Teams. Do you see the pattern here?  The days of using 3 or 4 separate products to collaborate, chat, consult etc. are gone.

When I started using Teams as the replacement to Skype, I liked its meetings and chat features. But now Teams has evolved so much that I can’t imagine using it for just meetings anymore! For more information on the newest features of Teams, be sure to check out Microsoft’s Teams blog. It’s updated regularly with information on new products and how each feature works. And for any questions you have, be sure to reach out to one of our Microsoft Specialists here at Connection. They’re ready to work with you work to determine how best to align Microsoft 365 and its portfolio to your needs.

The Azure Migration Journey from the... Mar 02, 2021 Sreeraj Vasukuttan Working for Connection’s Microsoft team for the last five years, I’ve seen us transition from a licensing reseller to a solutions designer. That transition also turned my coworkers into “customer success champions.” My colleague Bert Sawicki is such a champion who focuses on setting up customers for long-term success with Microsoft Azure. Recently, I got a chance to talk to Bert about how he helps our customers achieve long-term success with Azure solutions.

Sreeraj Vasukuttan: What excites you most about your work? 

Bert Sawicki:
Being able to provide clarity to customers and guidance around complex Microsoft Licensing programs and helping chart the best path forward to maximize the Microsoft investment. Also enabling customers to take full advantage of all the features of their Microsoft deployments.

SV: What are some of the most significant challenges you face when designing solutions for our customers?

BS: The most significant challenges I face are related to trying to decode Microsoft verbiage in the terms documents and keeping up with the vast licensing changes that occur monthly, so I can communicate that to everyone who needs that information.

SV: What do conversations about moving to the cloud look like? What’s unique about Connection that appeals to our customers?  

BS: The key to a successful migration to the cloud is planning and fully understanding not only your environment, but also your goals and the reasons for moving to the cloud. It is also critically important that you understand the cost and pricing of cloud services and have an accurate estimation of what the cost will be once your environment is in the cloud. No cloud migration will be successful if the costs end up being more than you’ve anticipated. The resources we have here at Connection do an outstanding job of answering all the necessary questions and getting a deep understanding of your goals and understanding what you think the journey will look like.

SV: How do people usually feel about those initial dilemmas of moving to the cloud once they are mid-way through their journey?

BS: Many of the people I’ve worked with find the move the cloud is easier than they thought, and a lot of the apprehension is based on the concerns about migrating the resources and limiting downtime. There are many ways to reduce necessary downtime, and we help with architecture and strategy for these migrations. We’ve also noticed that upper management can be reluctant about moving to the cloud even though there are many benefits. Sometimes the challenge is merely educating management on the cost of cloud services and the security we can achieve that can be as good or better than on-premises infrastructure. Microsoft spends a billion dollars a year on security, so getting that through to management is always important.

SV: What does the customer journey look like once they have finished their Azure migration? What are some mid-journey aspirations that you see?

BS: Once you have migrated resources to Azure cost optimization, security and governance become their top concerns. One of the great advantages of cloud is the ability to deploy resources instantly and not having to wait for hardware to show up. This can be a double-edged sword, as resources have been created, but not yet effectively managed. So policies must be put in place to manage resources deployed in Azure. Azure also opens many new avenues for you to build and deploy applications. However, application and data modernizing efforts do not have to happen in isolation. Security and cost optimizations must be a recurring objective in every phase of your cloud growth. Some of my customers who gained maturity in the initial migration are now stepping into the next phase of their cloud journey, and they come back to me for help in those areas. My job is to understand their motivation and direct them to the right Azure Services team here at Connection.

Ready to migrate your operations to the cloud? Check out our Azure Services, and begin your journey with confidence.

7 Tech Companies Owned by Women of Color You... Feb 25, 2021 Connection The landscape of entrepreneurship has shifted, and women of color are leading the shift. In fact, 89% of all new businesses started by women are founded by women of color. As of 2019, 50% of all women-owned businesses are owned by women of color. While these businesses are spread across every industry, seeing women succeed in tech is something we are always excited to see. We’re celebrating the end of Black History Month and the beginning of Women’s History Month by honoring some of these incredible women and introducing you to their amazing companies. We hope you’ll join us in supporting pioneers who are making history by working to break down barriers, build up communities, and inspire others! 

Kimberly Bryant—Black Girls Code

The technology industry thrives on innovation. What better way to drive growth and effect real change than to increase diversity in the next generation of STEM creators and innovators? Kimberly Bryant launched Black Girls Code with the mission to introduce young and pre-teen girls to computer programming—providing increased access and exposure to the skills, opportunities, and encouragement to succeed in STEM professions. 

Jasmine Crowe—Goodr

What happens when you combine technological innovation with a passion for sustainability and helping others? Just ask Jasmine Crowe, Founder and CEO of Goodr, an organization focused on closing the divide between America’s food supply chain and hungry communities. Her company wants to solve the logistics challenges that divert 72 billion pounds of food into the waste stream every year. Delivering the right data, analytics, and support, she’s able to help companies use that food before it goes to waste—creating healthy, nutritious meals for some of America’s 42 million people in need. Now that’s an amazing use of technology! 

Kathryn Finney—Digitalundivided

Setting out to make the world of tech more inclusive, Kathryn Finney founded digitalundivided in 2012. Her efforts have helped fuel innovation in the startup community—unleashing fresh ideas and empowering new voices with funding support that creates opportunities and economic growth for Black and Latinx women entrepreneurs everywhere. 

Julia Collins—Zume Pizza and Planet FWD

Julia Collins is the first Black co-founder of a billion-dollar company. Zume Pizza is a robotic food prep company that automates—you guessed it—pizza. She also is the founder and CEO of Planet FWD. Her most recent venture works to reduce climate change with regenerative agriculture. Her continued entrepreneurial spirit makes us sure we’ll be seeing more amazing ideas in the future.  

Jessica Matthews—Uncharted Power

Jessica Matthews founded Uncharted Power, a renewable energy startup with a mission to address the power problem in underserved communities. Matthews calls herself a mash up of Bill Nye the Science Guy and Beyoncé—which we think is spot on. Showcasing business savvy and an impressive understanding of the need for renewable energy, Matthews has grown an amazing company. Uncharted Power even attracted Magic Johnson to its board of directors to help expand the company’s programs throughout the U.S.

Asmau Ahmed—Plum Perfect

Finding the perfect makeup match for your face can be tricky. That’s why Asmau Ahmed created Plum Perfect, an app that analyzes your skin tone to help you find the perfect makeup match. It scans images of the user to determine their ideal shades and recommends everything from foundation to lipstick. The invention seems small, but for many women, it can end hours of scouring shelves and frustrated searching for that perfect shade. We can certainly appreciate helping people find the right product for their unique needs!

Laura Washington, Esosa Ighodaro, and Regina Gwynn—Black Women Talk Tech

We’re ending with a trio, not because they don’t deserve individual recognition, but because of the amazing work they do together. All three women are tech leaders who have built amazing companies on their own. Ighodaro is the founder of CoSign, a magazine that helps people find their style. Gwynn founded TresseNoire, an app that provides hair styling advice and connects you to a digital stylist. And Washington founded Fundr, an analytics platform which assesses the potential for success in startups. But together they have created Black Women Talk Tech, a network for Black businesswomen helping each other to grow their businesses and mentor each other to greatness. 

Do you have a role model, mentor, or inspiration you’d like to share? Let us know who you’re celebrating this February and March. Leave a comment below or reach out to us on your favorite social media platform. 

How to Attract the Best IT Talent in 2021 Feb 23, 2021 Patrick Dja Konan Despite the pandemic and current economic challenges, the IT industry remains one of the top sectors, and companies across the U.S. are having difficulties finding IT talent to hire. The demand for IT workers has significantly increased over the last two months due to the surge in remote work, IT support, cybersecurity, and digital transformation projects.

According to CompTIA, IT companies in the United States increased by 22,000 workers in December, and at the same time, IT jobs grew by 391,000 positions.

How Do You Hire for Your IT Positions?

Before the pandemic, companies had tried adding new perks, such as enhanced employee benefits, on-site childcare, on-site gyms, catered meals, and more, to attract job seekers. And while this strategy did have some success, many companies were still having difficulties finding IT talent, and most openings were unfilled for at least six months on a national average. As we are all trying to adapt to our virtual work era, those perks have less influence in today’s IT job market.

Time for a New Strategy

Here are 5 simple keys to help fill your IT openings:

  1. Focus exactly on what you are looking for.
    Everyone wants a “rock star” with various skillsets, but in today’s industry, IT workers are becoming more and more specialized; therefore, keeping the nice-to-haves off the job description and prioritizing the top five must-haves will help increase your pool of candidates.
  2. Determine if this is a skillset you would need fulltime on your IT team or just for a specific project.
    I understand some companies have policies concerning contractors, but some skillsets are simply more useful on a consulting basis, and the sooner you can determine that, the faster you can find the right person.
  3. Don’t wait to compare resumes before scheduling interviews.
    One of the biggest hiring myths is that you need to review and interview multiple candidates before choosing one to hire. Although you might want to compare resumes, we recommend that you interview candidates as you receive them if they match what you are looking for. Also, make an offer if the candidates fit the position and your cultural environment. The IT job market is too competitive to wait on the perfect candidate.
  4. Cut down the interview timeline without sacrificing your interview process.
    Have a defined process and set expectations upfront with candidates as well as provide immediate feedback. Timing is everything. IT employees are in high demand, more than ever. By shortening the interview timeline and providing immediate feedback, you can make sure you don’t miss out on an ideal candidate. This simple change can play a significant role in your hiring process.
  5. Find a strategic hiring partner that can work as an extension of your HR team.
    Staffing companies have a proactive approach that allows them to stay in constant communication with quality IT talent. The right IT staffing partner understands the current market trends and know what type of opportunities would attract the right IT candidates. You just must find a partner you can trust!

At Connection, we have a dedicated team of IT experts with over 30 years of staffing experience that can work with your company as a strategic hiring partner and provide recruiting solutions to fill your technical openings in a time-efficient and cost-effective manner.

Information Warfare in 2021—Are You... Feb 19, 2021 Stephen Nardone I first became exposed to the concept of information warfare in 1989 when I worked for the government as a leader of a security evaluation program. We all learned that a devastating cyber attack to rival the impact of Pearl Harbor was a possibility. At this time in our cyber history, it was difficult for many people to truly understand what an “electronic Pearl Harbor” could mean. There had not yet been many significant security breaches, but we had experienced the Morris Worm, which took down what was then known as the Internet. So the premise was not that far-fetched—but not nearly as many people were familiar with the Internet then.

Now, with the passage of time, the increase in technology and skills, and the massive amount of money spent on offensive security techniques by cyber criminals, as well as nations states, information warfare is now a reality. Not only is it reality, but it has been in active use for years. We have verified intelligence related to several attacks attributed to nation-state actors going back several years. We have seen a few vendor products hacked that are attributed to compromise of government agencies and commercial industry.

Become a Cyber Exterminator

Any company that has services actively running on the Internet is not safe. Malicious actors troll the Internet and the Dark Net, looking for easy prey. Your organization may not be the primary target. But if you are susceptible to breach, you are likely to be leveraged to (a) assist in the development of cyberattack skills for adversaries, or (b) be the unknowing launching pad for an attack on another company, organization, or institution. One last fact before we move on to how we get our heads wrapped around this. Cyber attacks do not execute with shock and awe. The attackers are smart and savvy at their craft. They find a hole, compromise services inside your network, and then execute low and slow, staying under the radar, so they can maximize their impact before they are likely to get caught—like cyber termites in your network foundations.

During speaking events, I always have a few key takeaways for the audience. My top one is—become a student of threat. If you still think that your company is not big or notable enough to be attacked, you are dead wrong.

Students of Threat

If you’re concerned about a potential break-in at your home, you prepare to address that threat: an alarm system, cameras and motion sensor lights around the perimeter, upgraded locks, and of course—my favorite—a great dog. You identify the threat, and you prepare a protection, detection, and reaction strategy to address it. Why would you not, as a security risk manager or owner, take the same approach to address a very real threat to your organization? A threat that can and will attack you from 5,000 miles away. Subscribe to threat services and feeds, and routinely read security sites (safe ones of course) that contain vulnerability, threat, and active attack information. Recognize that you must have a comprehensive incident response plan and the trained personnel and technology to operate this plan. Prepare for the “when,” not the “if.” You will experience a cyber attack.

Students of Risk

My second takeaway is to conduct frequent comprehensive technical security testing of your entire ecosystem, to ensure you understand how that threat translates into direct risk to your organization. One of the most critical objectives is to establish an effective security risk testing strategy to uncover and document your risk. You also need to document a risk mitigation roadmap based on risk criticality and priority. Having a risk roadmap will allow you to focus on the most critical security risks, in priority order. This is the best way to focus limited resources and budget toward the reduction of risk of breach and to improve the breach detection and response capabilities.

Here are few things that you need to do:

  • Regularly perform external and internal security penetration testing (fixed and wireless).

You need to know what an attacker will see and try to exploit from the outside in. And you need to know what they will be capable of doing when they are on the inside. (For example, how easy would it be for them to escalate privilege and steal sensitive data or take over a domain controller?) Invest in very experienced third-party resources to help you here—those that use the same tools and techniques as the malicious actors.

  • Regularly perform social engineering testing.

Your employees are essentially a human firewall. How strong is their policy and rule set? Is it consistent across all human firewalls? Do those human firewalls that protect the most sensitive data have an enhanced rule set? Will they click malicious links or expose sensitive data over a phone call? You must test to determine these risks. Similar third-party resources can also help you here.

  • Regularly perform application and Web security penetration testing.

What will the attacker be able to see and do, when they target your externally facing Web services or gain access to applications from the inside? The skills to test Web applications are very unique, a higher skillset than your average penetration tester. Turn to your third-party partner for extra backup.

  • Create a risk roadmap or risk register.

Frequent and comprehensive ecosystem security testing is essential for success. You must utilize a third party to do this. A group of experts, who have very little understanding of your infrastructure as configured, no preconceived notions, and target your enterprise just as a malicious actor would, will uncover the warts. Organize and prioritize the documented risk data and socialize with your leadership so they understand how important the risk is, and what they need to do to support you to mitigate it.

Prepare for the “When”

Think of how much easier it is to follow all aspects of a baseball game when you have the program. You know who the players are, what positions they play, and plenty of relevant statistics and history. Now you have context for following the game. The same is true for an information security program plan. You document it so all of the players know their roles and what level of oversight, ownership, or support they have to run the plan. The overall information security program is only as strong as the sum of all its parts. Any kink in the chain can cause a break. One of the most important parts of any information security program is clear guidance for all on what to do when something looks suspicious, or when the breach occurs.

What should your plan cover? Here is a good outline:

  • Organization of Information Security
  • Authentication and Privilege Management
  • Security Policy and Management
  • Communication and Operations Management
  • Personnel Security
  • Physical Security
  • Asset Management
  • Identity and Access Management
  • Roles and Responsibilities
  • System Architecture and Integrity
  • Application Security
  • Data Security Management
  • Systems Security Management
  • Security Risk Governance
  • Security Incident Management
  • Disaster Recovery
  • Business Continuity
  • Security Education and Awareness
  • Audit and Compliance Management
  • Summary (This is the way)

Have a third party help you with this as necessary, but make sure you create the program. This will prepare you for the “when” and help you mitigate damage.

2021 Manufacturing Trends: Offsetting... Feb 18, 2021 Ryan Spurr 2020 has come and gone, but the lingering effects of the pandemic and economic downturn continue, combined with the always present pressure to manage costs, quality, and productivity. Even as demand returns, supply chains balance out, and operations return to a modicum of their previous throughput levels, most manufacturers are faced with the continued challenge of increased costs and lowered productivity levels—all while the challenge of operating in a different world where non-essential employees are remote and essential employees necessarily focus optimizing safety, rather than operations.

Unlike prior years, 2021 kicked off with manufacturing leaders grappling with the need to achieve strategic goals while offsetting these additional challenges. It’s a “double whammy” for most organizations and forces leaders to rethink their investment in modernizing process and technology as they envision what a next-generation workforce might look like. Organizations need to figure out how to more permanently address these risks while readying their businesses for top- and bottom-line growth. 

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that in the manufacturing industry we must plan for—and permanently institute—a more digitally integrated operational model capable of continued operations with employee resiliency, workforce disruption, and safety in mind. 

The good news is that 74% of manufacturing executives have a positive outlook for 2021 with the balance of manufacturers expecting a return to growth by midyear. We also know from prior recession research studies that how manufacturers react now will dramatically impact what comes next. For example, those companies that act fast to invest in process and technology transformation post-recession saw a resulting 54% increase in revenue in the years that followed. Precision investments into operations will allow manufacturers to eliminate waste and silos, improve productivity and quality, and reduce the risks associated with employee resiliency and skilled labor shortages for years to come. 

Industrial Transformation Is the Driver for Change

Prior to the pandemic, investment in modernizing operations and transforming process, people, and technology were viewed as the next great waves of productivity for the manufacturing industry. Despite its promise, few manufacturers actually accelerated investment and scale of these solutions. Why? Transformation requires substantial retooling, upskilling, and change that organizations may not be ready to adopt. The other reason? It requires investment and wasn’t the most critical objective for their business. 

Coming off a one-two punch of economic downturn and pandemic, manufacturing leaders have seen increased costs and lowered productivity. Most importantly, they discovered how wasteful those manual, paper-based, and siloed business processes are and how they’ve affecting the agility, resiliency, and competitiveness of their business. In 2020, leaders woke up to the hidden waste, and it’s the reason we are seeing a dramatic shift, including 85% of CEOsand 58% of CFOs now viewing smart factory or industrial Internet of things (IIoT) technology investments as key to their future business success. 

With focus turning to Industry 4.0 as the driver for industrial transformation, how do we overcome the obstacles to adoption, execution, and scale? The answer is simple. Start where you had the most challenges in the prior year or where productivity is lowest. Listen to employees who tell us they are fed up with wasteful—but necessary—tasks like logging or traceability on paper, manual handoffs between employees, checking measurements, verifying equipment meters, and other monotonous and siloed non-value-added tasks. Not only are these wasteful tasks, but when employee turnover, sickness, or quarantines create gaps in how on-site tasks are performed, the old way of operations breaks down—or stops. 

Leverage the organization’s Lean Six Sigma experts and culture of continuous improvement to guide what to change and how to prioritize. To succeed and scale Industry 4.0, we don’t have to start with the most exciting or complicated use case—we simply start with proven use cases that resolve visibility, inefficiency, and waste by instrumenting processes and unlocking data across the value stream. This approach not only shortens time to value, but it also delivers scalable precision cost cutting and a digitally integrated process and workforce—freeing them to work on higher value challenges. According to a recent study, most organizations investing in Industry 4.0 will yield an average 12% in efficiency gains across multiple subindustries so the effort will be well worth it.

And if technology is still a concern, there is good news there as well. Over the past couple of years, the marketplace has unleashed affordable and relevant enabling technologies to instrument your operations. These range from sensors, real tracking, smart buildings, data acquisition and protocol conversion for PLCs and legacy machines, edge compute, and software to integrate manufacturing into the balance of the enterprise. The technology has come a long way and is likely to be the least challenging element of industrial transformation.

Industrial Infrastructure

When building a skyscraper, we don’t forget about installing a robust foundation—so why would we omit infrastructure necessary to support digital transformation? Most manufacturers are plagued with legacy unmanaged infrastructure hobbling the ability of operations to digitally adopt new technologies and effectively integrate the factory with other departments or business systems. With a predicted 80% of all manufacturing data being connected, computed, and utilized at the edge where processes are performed, it’s no wonder why 76% of manufacturers are seeking to integrate communications, infrastructure, and intelligent processes between operational technology (OT) and IT. This inability to converge has long resulted from diverging objectives, performance requirements, and skillsets. 

This is our legacy, but it doesn’t have to be our trade’s future. The traditional obstacles to creating modern and integrated infrastructure have largely been resolved by vendors introducing new solutions that combine the needs of OT and IT professionals, leaving these issues in the past. Today’s manufacturer can acquire next-generation networking, power management, automated backup, disaster recovery, and unlock newer IoT technologies like BLE, Zigbee, MQTT, and OPC UA with a single integrated landscape that accelerates, not stifles, industrial transformation. We also can increase adoption of containers down to the OT edge, radically changing how manufacturers design, deploy, and maintain OT and IT software.

Ensuring your operational technology environments are built to support today’s and tomorrow’s transformations will be key to operational agility and productivity.

Industrial Security

With all great opportunity comes risk. Manufacturers environments include a diverse landscape of end of support devices and adoption of next-generation technologies; many without thoughtful consideration and planning for how they will be introduced maintained within the environment. It’s because of this we are seeing an increase in industrial attacks in operational technology environments. In fact, 74% of OT professionals experienced at least one breach in the last 12 months with an alarming cybersecurity attack success rate of 33%. With guards down or preoccupied by larger issues over the past 18 months, we are seeing a rise in industrial attacks taking advantage of the 50%+ unmanaged OT devices operating with little or no security infrastructure to protect them.

To improve the situation, we must understand why these devices are unmanaged, unprotected, or disposed to cybersecurity attacks. The technology in these spaces have long life spans, out-of-support hardware and software, sometimes are leased or owned by a 3rd party, have compute or performance limitations, or simply were introduced with little thought around security hygiene. The lack of visibility and monitoring keeps IT security teams up at night while operations engineers are focused on keeping machines online and delivering quality product on time and at target cost. Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Like with industrial infrastructure, this long-standing compromise between security operations and productivity is no longer an obstacle. Solutions now exist and were designed to support operational technology while optimizing and securing the environment. These technologies complement the environment, allowing those responsible for corporate security to have full visibility of all network traffic and—when events do arise—to partner with manufacturing leaders on how to respond, remediate, and implement prevention of future security events. The joint approach to security in OT will deliver better protection for the business while also unleashing engineers to digitally innovate.

Related: Industry 4.0 Is Shaping Security and Operational Technology—Can Your Organization Keep Up?


The modern manufacturer has so much demand for technology that one must make decisions about what part of their tech estate to maintain on-premises, what creates unique differentiation, and what represents table-stakes or are candidates to move to cloud services. If your organization is not as current as the competition, you may be faced with the decision of catching up and accelerating your adoption of technology to remain competitive. In either case, cloud has much to offer manufacturing companies. 

With 45% of manufacturers planning or acting on lift-and-shift to the cloud there exists proven benefits appealing to IT and business leaders alike. While we often think of cloud as a replacement for infrastructure—and it can be—cloud can also offer manufacturers a means to break away from legacy process transformation, accelerate innovation opportunities, and bring about more agility and resiliency. Cloud should be viewed from the stance of total cost of ownership—and the impact it has on the entire organization not just on the operational cost of software and hardware. It’s this larger view of the role cloud plays that is contributing to 74% of CFOs viewing cloud as most impactful technology initiative in support of business results.

Converting Data into Meaningful Value

Lastly, instrumenting and digitally connecting process and people is core to the success of Industry 4.0 but data is the real currency of Industry 4.0. Unlocking, connecting, transporting, and storing data is only the beginning of what industrial transformation is all about. Ultimately, the goal is to make decisions at the edge with limited employee interaction, to augment and improve employee productivity, and to automate real-time signaling into business process and systems. For example, properly leveraging data can result in the optimization of supply chains, research and design, production planning and execution, and the way we service and support our customers. With proper utilization of digitally integrated factories and data, manufacturers can achieve revenue impacts of 5–20%. Revenue outcomes like this are the true drivers for leaders to invest in foundational technologies that enable their businesses to become digitally integrated and to achieve the long-term benefits of leveraging data with purpose and precision.

The new year is sure to bring about improved economic conditions, but it’s also fraught with uncertainties for manufacturers as they navigate the side effects of the pandemic, political transition, and economic downturn. One decision within leadership’s control is the choice they make when it comes to investment in long-lasting industrial transformations that will offset today’s risk while unleashing innovation and value for years to come.

To learn more about Connection’s Manufacturing Practice, or to discuss the challenges and solutions highlighted in this article, contact us today.

There’s a New CSP Azure Plan—What Does... Feb 15, 2021 Carrie Alicata In October 2019, Microsoft quietly launched a new commerce experience for Azure in their Cloud Solutions Provider (CSP) program called the Azure Plan. This new plan was meant to provide a single platform for customers consuming products in Azure, regardless of whether they are purchasing through a partner, through their Microsoft Account rep, or are a Microsoft direct self-service customer.

The New Azure Plan

As of February 1, 2020, new customers and customers purchasing a new subscription in CSP are expected to sign the new Microsoft Customer Agreement instead of the previous Microsoft Cloud Agreement. The new Azure plan is aligned to the Microsoft Customer Agreement and was launched to temporarily operate side-by-side with the existing CSP pay-as-you-go offer, providing existing customers with some time before being transitioned into the new model.

Why Is the Azure Plan Relevant Now?

The Azure plan provides a clear billing cycle from the first to the end of each month, where the previous CSP Azure plan was aligned to the partner’s billing cycle. A partner billing cycle can vary between Microsoft partners, and can cause confusion if you transfer from one partner to another. With the new plan, even if you need to change providers, you can expect your billing date to stay the same. The goal is less confusion and less worry, no matter who you use for your CSP. 

Additionally, the Azure plan provides access to Azure Cost Management, an adaptation of the tool previously provided through Cloudyn. As your CSP partner, Connection can help in areas such as tracking and controlling cloud cost to prevent overspending and increase predictability for your cloud costs.

Cost Management Benefits

Recently, I was pulled in on a customer issue where they had purchased Azure Reserved Instances for their virtual machines but were not seeing the savings they were expecting. By working with Azure Cost Management, we were able to identify the amount of storage they truly needed and determine where Azure Reserved Instances could be used to save them money. 

Cost management can help you optimize the virtual machines you have and ensure they’re the right size. You can also identify when VMs are not being used so that they can be removed.  The goal is to make sure you are not wasting money on unused or underused VMs and only pay for what you use. By transitioning to the Azure plan early, you can start taking advantage of Azure Cost Management today.

When you choose a CSP partner, you get more than just a means to make a transaction. When you partner with Connection, you get a partner who understands the way business is changing and who can help you make the necessary moves to stay ahead of the competition. Our Azure Managed Service plans and other innovative Azure Marketplace products can help you continue your transition to the cloud.

While it is not required for customers who are already using the pay-as-you-go model in CSP to transition today, that change will be coming. If you have further questions or are interested in learning more about Azure Cost Management or Connection’s Managed Service plans, contact us today.

5 Healthcare Digital Innovation Trends for 2021 Feb 09, 2021 Becky Lawlor 2020 was a year of disruption. The ways we work, shop, and learn were upended as interactions moved primarily online for safety. But perhaps no industry has been transformed by the embrace of digital technology and services as much as healthcare.

In the half century since video telehealth technology first became available, adoption rates have barely budged. Pre-COVID-19, adoption rates for family medicine were at 0.15% in the U.S., according to Gartner. But COVID-19 has dramatically changed the acceptance of telehealth—breaking barriers to virtual care adoption that had been unmovable for decades.

The Health and Human Services (HHS) reported that in April 2020, nearly half (43.5%) of Medicare primary care visits were via telehealth, compared with 0.1% pre-COVID-19. Popular telehealth platforms have also seen a dramatic increase in demand. Teladoc, for instance, reported that in Q2, total visits rose 203% YOY. Similarly, health systems like NYU Langone Health reported an “unprecedented” 4,435% increase in nonurgent virtual care visits and a 638% increase in virtual urgent care visits. 

While access to vaccines will likely make a return to more in-person health services possible by late 2021, healthcare has been permanently transformed. According to McKinsey, 76% of consumers are highly or moderately likely to continue to use telehealth going forward.

But the adoption of telehealth isn’t the only thing that’s changed since 2020. The pandemic and an embrace of digital technology overall has impacted healthcare in other ways too. Here are five trends emerging from these changes in 2021.

1. More strategic and comprehensive implementation of virtual care

At the start of the pandemic, expanding access to virtual care services was an urgent necessity, and there was little time for comprehensive strategic planning. Telehealth solutions deployed were largely use-case specific—reflecting not only the need to ramp up access quickly, but also the marketplace. 

Given that telehealth adoption is here to stay, healthcare systems will be looking to take a more long-term and holistic approach. This will require moving away from use-case solutions to building a platform-type solution for general virtual care services. According to Gartner, “an array of digital products and services can be supported to form a connected care pathway that reflects highly personalized patient use cases” through the implementation of hardware and software that are agnostic and interoperable.

To achieve this goal in 2021 and beyond, healthcare systems will need vendors who can partner together to provide a digital services platform that will underpin their entire virtual care offering.

2. Expansion of digital tools beyond telehealth

The uptick in telehealth has bled into other areas of healthcare—pushing more digital innovation and services, such as patient intake and registration, patient-facing apps, and remote patient monitoring (RPM).

For providers, having tools like a digital patient registration system yields numerous benefits. It not only eliminates the need to manually transfer patient data from clipboards into their EHR, but can reduce mistakes, save time, reduce phone calls, and help reduce no-shows through automatic appointment reminders. Additionally, patients can easily pay co-pays or past due balances within the system, which can increase collection rates.

“Digital registration systems also play to patient satisfaction,” says Dr. Keith Nelson, Director of Healthcare Strategy at Connection. “Before patients go in for their first visit, providers can send a link to a patient’s phone or computer enabling them to fill-in all of their information online. They don’t have to sit in a waiting room, which cuts down on the total time they spend in the office or facility.”

Patient-facing mobile apps will also continue to grow and increase in functionality in 2021. “Most hospitals have an app, but they are usually limited in their functionality,” says Nelson. “Instead of just being able to use them for things like medication refills, scheduling appointments or making a payment, there are new features that hospitals can add to improve the patient experience and offload staff responsibilities. For instance, instead of dietary staff having to come around and get patient orders, patients can directly place their orders through the app. An enhanced app can also enable a patient to message doctors, access customized education, and even use wayfinding inside hospitals.”

3. Focus on infection control solutions for technology

While healthcare-associated infections have always been a major concern, especially in hospitals where a significant portion of infections occur, COVID-19 has pushed worries of infection spread to new levels.  Consequently, healthcare facilities across the board are hyper-focused on preventing infections from occurring.

With technology being more heavily used than before in the healthcare environment, it’s critical the equipment be sanitized to avoid the spread of infection. However, determining which hardware is able to withstand the abrasive disinfectants used in clinical settings is necessary to avoid damaging devices and IT equipment.

“It can take a lot of research to identify which laptops, monitors or tablets, for instance, can be wiped down with specific harsh solvents used as disinfectants,” says Nelson. To help eliminate this tedious and time-consuming task, there is now an online tool that makes it easier to find hardware that is infection-control ready. For example, one can search by equipment type (laptops, keyboards, scanners, etc.) for antimicrobial coating or wipe-down capabilities as well as for features such as RFID technology for user ID.

“From monitors and laptops, to desktops and power strips and other IT equipment, it’s all aggregated into a search page to make it easier to find the right solution for each type of technology equipment,” says Nelson.

4.  Increase in IOMT devices will drive better asset management

The significant growth of the Internet of medical things (IoMT) has led to a need to manage these devices throughout the healthcare organization. Innovative partnerships and solutions from companies like and Cisco Merakimake this simpler by enabling seamless location and sensor data flow from Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) tags to wireless access points to apps.

These technology partnerships make it easier for healthcare systems to roll out, manage, and maintain IoMT solutions with limited additional capital expense. In addition, the systems can be expanded to enable the tracking of patients, staff, and essential medical equipment. And because technology is based on BLE, it’s a low-cost solution that gives administrators a vitally needed real-time view of operations and assets.

5. Return to work, but differently

Eventually, doctors will return to providing more in-person care, and patients will begin coming back for more elective care services. But the lessons from COVID-19 will remain.

As normal seasonal viruses, such as the flu, will continue to visit us in the future, many of the same tools that have been effective with COVID-19 can continue to help. State-of-the-art temperature scanning that uses thermographic cameras with AI and IoT-based systems and sensors can be integrated seamlessly with a healthcare practice’s infrastructure to help monitor individuals or groups entering healthcare facilities. And next-generation mobile identity technology can be implemented to provide touchless entry in areas such as at doors, parking lots, and turnstiles to further reduce contact points for contamination.

Finally, continuous location tracing (CLT) technology, which allows healthcare providers to direct a path for an individual through their facility, alongside alerts and information sharing apps, can help aid in reducing infection spread. Employees can be alerted of contaminated areas and violations of social distancing—and all information is anonymized to protect employee privacy.

Bringing It All Together

As we move into 2021 and beyond, digital innovation and transformation will continue to persist and increase across healthcare. As a result, healthcare systems need a comprehensive strategy for digital services like telehealth, IoMT asset management, and patient-facing technologies like a digital patient registration solution. Successful implementation of these digital services and other innovations will require a technology partner who can plan and implement digital transformation goals. The best partner will be one that can provide end-to-end assistance—including hardware, software, and platform support.

The Importance of Enhancing Industrial... Feb 04, 2021 Ryan Spurr For as long as I’ve been working, there have been long-established differences between operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) networks. Over time, technology has evolved to make it easier to integrate both networks, as well as to combat their increasing attack surface and the threats that accompany them. However, few manufacturers have modernized their industrial networks. This leaves many organizations at a higher risk of cybersecurity events while also stifling their productivity, agility, and adoption of next-generation technologies that will transform their operations.

The Difference Between IT and OT Networks

Operational technology requires a network with high levels of resiliency, availability, and industrial protocols. Perhaps one of the largest challenges is organizational. Trust and flexibility are very important to manufacturing. The manufacturing team must trust that their network will not be patched or modified during production. And should they need to adjust the factory line, they can do so quickly and with minimal interruption. This all comes down to the need for a network that will aid them in the delivery of cost, quality, and throughput goals. 

On the flip side, those responsible for cybersecurity (CIO, CISO, or InfoSec) are deeply concerned with the risk of a potential event and security regulations. This includes topics like ensuring good security hygiene, visibility across all networks and devices within the enterprise, and the ability to detect, investigate, and remediate security events. However, this is often not achievable because the networks and equipment at most risk are owned by OT and are often selected without thought for cybersecurity and overall long-term management, and are off limits to traditional network, security, and IT teams.

What Is at Risk?

Having different organizations involved is not the real risk. Many organizations with integrated OT/IT security policies have successfully worked together to improve security posture and industrial operational capabilities. The real problem is the unmitigated risks and the network itself.

Most operational technology environments are full of diverse industrial products, end-of-life operating systems, and major limitations not typically found on an average managed device. For example, only 55% of organizations that use SCADA or Industrial Controls System (ICS) have role-based access control—or can even support it at industrial endpoints. Attackers are going after high-value targets and their operational technology networks. A compromised network results in major remediations costs to repair operational, financial, and reputational damage. Whether it’s lack of security tools, or end-of-life and unpatched industrial network gear, the results are the same: exposure to a significant level of risk. 

Due to the long lifecycle of operational technology, most manufacturers will never be 100% latest and greatest. This means OT will never be capable of complying with the latest security standards nor support the security monitoring tools necessary to combat threats. Modern networking augments these endpoint shortfalls and provides alternatives and additional layers of security to protect both operational technology and the balance of the organization.

The Good News

Technology has come a long way in regards to addressing the convergence challenges of IT and OT organizations while also unlocking next-generation capabilities to improve operations. Today’s reality includes solutions that allow both sides to achieve their goals with entire product lines of industrial switches, routers, firewalls, and software suites designed to turn your industrial network into a security platform. 

For example, in the past, a switch owned by operational technology wasn’t visible to IT, it didn’t support deep packet inspection, it didn’t perform access control or scan for potential threats in network traffic, and it surely did not integrate network logging with the enterprise team’s security information and event managements (SIEM) platforms.

Now, solutions providers like Connection can readily deliver highly resilient industrial switches that integrate into existing networks easily while also providing a single pane of visibility to security teams, offer deep packet inspection of both ethernet and industrial protocols, and monitor all traffic down to the edge. Combine this with the ability to allow both IT and OT to manage the network devices themselves, and now your organization can introduce the latest networking technologies to advance manufacturing while also transforming your industrial security posture. Whatever challenges exist in your environment, there is a network that can deliver security and a platform that supports your organization’s growth and industrial transformation goals.

To learn more about how Connection supports our manufacturing customers with their broader industrial and IT security challenges in networking, security, and industrial transformation, visit our manufacturing showcase today.

The Future of Retail in 2021: The Smart Store Feb 02, 2021 Brian Gallagher I have to be honest. I am going to completely change my game plan for 2021. I have spent the past several years arbitrating conversations between investing in digital transformation, balancing budgets, and enhancing brand image. While every organization agreed all three points needed to be considered, the reality was only one truly ever won: the budget. I think the entire retail world is finally aligned—and I could not be more excited. It feels great, but I’m going to need a whole new set of talking points. This year, we will finally experience the new vision of retail—Digital First Retailing.

Here Comes the Smart Store

The first technology investment every retailer should consider is the smart store. Just as the world has developed an affinity for the smart home, a smart store is the business version. Why not let the physical store and technology eliminate monotonous tasks and provide new information and experiences? Given what we have learned about safety, employee satisfaction, and customer experience, it only makes sense to have the store do more of the work. Edge computing can enhance employee and customer experiences in real time. IoT devices can eliminate mundane chores and increase safety. Camera systems can guide engagement while also increasing safety. The possibilities are unlimited. Make sure the physical store is supporting your digital efforts for the overall benefit of your customers and employees.

Related: Enable Smarter and More-Connected Retail Operations

A Clear Case for Mobility

The second investment must be in mobile first everything. As retailers, we love to think about the end results—but here it is crucial to start at the beginning. Only a sound, securely managed foundation and smart network can deliver the experience that is right for your brand. As customers and employees alike now expect a great mobile experience, aligning your business is the only way to win. A mix of mobile devices and internal and external applications will only succeed if the infrastructure is solid before reaching for a ton of new applications.


Investing in a smarter store and infrastructure will provide the ideal roadmap for launching everything from internal applications to immersive experiential applications like autonomous shopping. Customers have aligned their expectations. Retailers need to sprint out of the gates in 2021 as the time to invest is now. I am thrilled to switch up my conversation to make retail better for everyone. Welcome to 2021.

Factory Compromised by a Cyber Attack? What Now? Jan 28, 2021 Ryan Spurr In Q3 2020, one of the world’s largest furniture manufacturers experienced a ransomware attack affecting operations for nearly two weeks. The frightening truth is that this isn’t an isolated event, but a developing trend in manufacturing. With 74% of operational technology (OT) professionals having experienced breaches over the last 12 months, our realities have shifted from potential risk, to a near certain security risk being realized with OT infrastructure. With a growing attack surface and increasing threats, what are manufacturers doing to align organizational resources and mitigate the possibility of a cybersecurity event?

Typical Operational Technology BCDR Challenges

The first real challenge for manufacturers is the idea of cost savings vs. cost avoidance. Let’s be honest, business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) is all about risk. As with most cost sensitive, value-add minded manufacturers, we don’t always wake up to the risk levels and potential impact of cybersecurity events until they happen. It’s not that we don’t invest in security, it’s just that we haven’t taken it as far as we should and more specifically, into OT.

The good news is that 61% of manufacturing executive leaders now recognize these risks and are working to resolve cybersecurity as part of their overall technology investment strategies. This opens the door for the organization’s disparate departments to align on common goals and implement long awaited infrastructure and organizational change holding manufacturers back.

The second challenge for manufacturing is downtime. While the cost of downtime is diverse depending on the subindustry, surveys have shown downtime events to cost as much as $260,000 per hour. Whichever way your company defines and prices out downtime, it seriously disrupts operations’ ability to deliver product and distracts all support resources from more productive activities.

A third challenge is data protection and recovery. With any event, there will be some downtime to restore operations. Without successful automated backups, however, there may be nothing to restore—turning what should be a routine recovery into a worst-case event. 75% of IT managers could not restore all of their lost data from backups. It’s no longer enough to just have a policy and procedure—it’s important to ensure it’s implemented, automated, tested, and dependable.

What Steps Are Manufacturers Taking?

With leadership support and broad industry awareness, security minded organizations are addressing the following as they develop successful industrial BCDR programs:

Recognize OT and IT Differences—It’s important to understand there are major differences in technology, protocols, skillsets, and general business needs from what IT is typically accustomed to. Keeping this in mind enables organizations to come together and implement BCDR solutions that meet both OT and IT, and better prepare the organization.

Take Inventory—Most organizations do not have full visibility into the wide range of operational technology in the factory, warehouse, and research labs. Most IT BCDR solutions are designed for modern or “in support” technologies. Taking stock of all the technology enables teams to assess where risk exists, age of infrastructure, and aid in the start of an action plan. 

Tailor Policy and Procedures—Most BCDR policies and procedures were introduced with enterprise business systems and typical enterprise office-worker environments. As a result, these policies do not take into account the complex heterogeneous nature of OT environments. Policy drives everything, including culture, decision-making, and budget. Accommodate OT infrastructure into your BCDR policies to accelerate security adoption and accountability within OT.

Invest in Necessary Skillsets—As with any risk program, education is an important element of business change. Ensure that IT and OT personnel understand each other’s domains, the business and technology risks, and invest in skillsets that allow teams to implement smarter security hygiene in the future.

The Solution

When it comes time to assessing solutions that will protect and minimize risk for manufacturers, consider the following:

  1. Support for End of Life or Wide Range of Operating Systems
  2. Automated Backups
  3. Fast and Simple Restoration
  4. Bare Metal or Dissimilar Hardware Restoration
  5. Off Host Backup Management
  6. Ability to Scan and Detect Backups (aka, get more value out of your backups)

Remember that the solution will be utilized to protect and recover industrial equipment. Make sure your solution can support a diverse range of technology, recovery to bare-metal, and a quick restoration process. It’s also important to take into account which job roles will be a part of implementation and restoration. Consider solutions that allow both OT and IT individuals to participate. 

It’s Not Just About Security Events

While cybersecurity is top of mind, realize that business continuity isn’t just about cybersecurity events. I’ve seen enough examples to know that other events can impact operations beyond catastrophes or cybersecurity. Human error, patching failures, third-party modifications, and even hardware can lead to downed machines. While the root cause may be different, the same remediation efforts will be put into motion.

Having a robust industrial business continuity and disaster recovery program in place will help in the event of a major cybersecurity breach, and pay dividends in other, equally likely, everyday events. 

To learn more about how Connection supports our manufacturing customers with broader industrial and IT security challenges, reach out today.

You Need a True Disaster Recovery Plan.... Jan 26, 2021 Victor McElwain Any kind of interruption to your business can be catastrophic—from a power failure to a natural disaster to a security breach. Most companies these days have recovery strategies in place. I’m sure yours does. But how comprehensive is it? And have you been able to fully test it? According to a 2018 Spiceworks survey, 95% of companies polled said they did have a disaster recovery plan, but 23% also admitted that they never tested it—even though 27% of respondents also admitted to having experienced lost revenue as the result of an outage.

Most disaster plans include many procedures, so today I’d like to specifically talk about the data center component—and how the features of VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM) can make your data center recovery more efficient and secure. If you are still working on developing your overall disaster recovery plan, take a look at Liz Alton’s post Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Strategies for tips.

Four Disaster Recovery Misconceptions

1. If you’ve got a backup strategy, you’re all set. That’s a good starting point, of course, but you need to be aware of its limitations. You might be thinking that if you’ve got Veeam or any other backup solution, and you back up your data regularly, you should be able to execute an instant recovery. And it’s probably sufficient if you need to recover some corrupted files or restore someone’s desktop image.

But what if your entire building loses power for over 24 hours? Would your solution allow you to reboot and restore your whole infrastructure all at once? Can your backup storage handle that kind of load? Do you have hosts that can connect to the backup device quickly? Do you have enough hosts to run everything—and are they already configured to access everything necessary? How will users connect to the new environment once it’s up and running?

When deployed correctly, VMware SRM addresses each of these questions and lets you easily test each part of the solution so that your end users have an opportunity to make sure that it works as expected.

2. Disaster recovery solutions are expensive and require you to buy identical hardware for two separate sites. Actually, the requirements for an SRM solution are actually pretty simple: you need a network connection between two VMware vCenters, a host, and a datastore. They don’t have to be identical hardware or even storage—you just need to make sure that you have enough space for replication and snapshots of the source VMs and that you have enough hardware or the ability to quickly add additional hardware. SRM can even utilize and connect to a VMware cluster on AWS or any other third-party hosting solution, which means your disaster recovery site can easily be hundreds of miles away from your primary location.

3. Disaster recovery is automatic. It’s definitely not, and you really wouldn’t want it to be. For an effective disaster recovery plan, you need to come up with a set of criteria that must be met before you trigger the decision to fail over to your disaster recovery site. That way you can also decide to proactively fail over to avoid an unplanned outage in the event of a forecasted natural disaster, for example.

4. If the test goes well, an actual failover will have no issues. Unfortunately, there’s no substitute for the real thing. When you test recovery at your disaster recovery site, the test executes in a “bubble” of a certain set of VMs. But when the real thing happens, everything you have switches to the backup at the disaster recovery site, and suddenly a VM is missing the C:\Windows\Temp folder and its IP reconfigure fails. So even if your tests run smoothly, you still need to be prepared for issues that can arise from a full failover.

Key Features of VMware SRM:

  • It’s all integrated and gives you a fast and predictable recovery times.
  • SRM can integrate directly with certain storage vendors to leverage storage level replication.
    • Replicate raw disk mappings (RDM) and visualize replicated RDMs as part of the recovery plan.
  • SRM can utilize snapshots at the disaster recovery site to give you a simple recover to X point in time that is defined by you.
  • Return to regular operations with ease using the original recovery plan through automated failback.
  • Zero-downtime application mobility: SRM can enable live migration of applications at scale between two sites when using a certified stretched solution.
  • Self-service provisioning allows application tenants to provision disaster recovery protection using blueprints in VMware vRealize Automation.

How Do I Start Improving My Disaster Recovery Plan?

The first thing you should do is sit down with your stakeholders and ask the question: if all of our systems when offline, what would we do? How long would it truly take to get back up and running, and what would be the financial impact? Connection has a deep understanding on how to deploy and validate disaster recovery solutions for a variety of solutions—some of which you may already own. As a VMware partner, our data center team can work through all the steps to design, deploy, and document a solution that will give peace of mind to all stakeholders in your organization.