Connection Community Official Technology Community of Connection Fri, 17 Sep 2021 18:56:40 +0000 hourly 1 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.

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

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Made for hybrid work, Poly P5 comes optimized for videoconferencing with 1080p resolution and 4x digital zoom. It also offers a built-in privacy shutter, directional microphone, and integrated USB connectivity for easy plug-and-play connectivity.

Poly Studio P15 Personal Video Bar

Poly P15 comes with 4K clarity, automatic camera framing, and an integrated speaker and microphone array with advanced NoiseBlockAI technology.

Poly G40-T Small/Medium Room System for Microsoft Teams

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Poly G40-T is a small and medium room solution. It delivers powerful Poly signature audio and video technologies for a superior Microsoft Teams experience.

Ready to learn more or to find the device for you? See the complete portfolio of Poly devices for Microsoft Teams today

Windows Central, 2020, 2.7 Billion Minutes of Calls were Made in Microsoft Teams in a Single Day
2 Microsoft, 2021, Introducing Operator Connect and More Teams Calling Updates
3 Gartner, Inc., 2020, Magic Quadrant for Meeting Solutions

Healthcare Landscape After the Pandemic Jul 06, 2021 Dr Keith Nelson Disney World is open! So where do we go from here? Are we back to normal, or is this something new? My guess is that we’ll be living in a slightly altered environment compared with the good old pre-pandemic era, and that the long-term changes will be subtle. For instance, masks will go away, but during flu season, it won’t appear strange that some people will revert back to them at the office, in Costco, or on a flight. Further, I think that people will be more aware of touching publicly exposed surfaces and will carry Purell more often. I would also guess that many of these residual sensitivities will fade over time, as have the reactions to previous mass tragedies like the 9/11 attacks. But in the healthcare universe, it’s another story.

Reshaping the Future of Care

Providers have made changes, many of them long overdue, that will persist and expand in the new environment. Foremost among these is the ability to rapidly increase capacity and responsiveness in the event of a future emergency that taxes the system. This includes space and bed expansion options, improved isolation protocols, improved testing, supply and equipment reserves (shared and owned), a robust virtual care program, scalable digital scheduling, contact tracing, and infection control. The interesting thing about infection control is that it is not something new. It has been a big issue for hospitals for a very long time, given the high number of nosocomial (hospital acquired) infections, particularly as they apply to debilitating lung pathology and wound development. COVID merely brought this problem into the spotlight. This is not dissimilar to the 9/11 event. We weren’t suddenly enlightened as to the threat of domestic terrorism on that Tuesday. Our antennas were already up in the wake of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the constant warnings from the FBI. I recall one very credible threat pertaining to Times Square leading up to the New Year’s Eve Y2K celebration. But it took 9/11, nine months after Y2K, to get everyone’s attention. So now, expect to see a persistent focus in healthcare facilities and the workplace related to the sanitization of shared equipment (especially IT-related) and surfaces, as well as the promotion of non-contact entry, tracking technology, seasonal temperature checks, and expanded smartphone interaction.

I suppose the biggest shock to the healthcare system has been the mainstreaming of virtual care (telemedicine), a subject on which I have written extensively. It is currently uncertain as to the form this category will assume once the emergency officially ends (particularly in the areas of reimbursement and cross-state coverage), but you can be sure it is here to stay and will inexorably expand to align with new technological developments in the areas of remote diagnostics and treatment.

Another game changer is the explosive use of CRISPR (gene-editing) technology, which has now been validated in the areas of both vaccine development and testing. Adopting the World War II mantra “never again,” the capability to quickly develop a vaccine (the COVID-19 vaccine was developed over a weekend after Chinese scientists quickly mapped the coronavirus genome), gives the world a rapid response mechanism in its arsenal for future pandemics, biological warfare, and emerging environmental factors that can cause cellular mutations. The additional potential benefits of CRISPR are vast, including finding revolutionary testing and treatments for cancer, and eradicating ravenous diseases like ALS, Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s, Sickle Cell Anemia, and Multiple Sclerosis.

Finally, the pandemic has also amplified the previously existing need to promote population health, the primary objective of which is to prevent and/or manage chronic diseases in individuals more effectively, especially in the aging population. One only has to look at the comorbidity vulnerability associated with COVID-19 as a convincing argument to address this need.

So take heart, America. We get our lives back, and healthcare is taking a quantum leap into the future (with or without Scott Bakula).

Remote or Not: Managing and Maintaining... Jun 29, 2021 Delia DeCourcy How many devices are you managing right now? And how much time are you (or your small IT team) spending managing those devices?Likely, the answer is more than you were two years ago—or even one year ago. As schools moved to some form of remote learning in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve undergone a digital transformation to ensure educational continuity in the modern classroom. They deployed more technologies and bought more devices to deliver those technologies to remote teachers and students. Or they pulled old devices out of storage and repurposed them.

Either way, the result is your IT team having more balls in the air—or, more accurately, more laptops, Chromebooks, and tablets in the field. This is true even as schools return to face-to-face teaching; those school devices are out there, and they’re likely being used in some capacity.

Keeping track of all those devices can be stressful, especially when you also must push and pull learning apps, install security updates, and endeavor to ensure student safety and data security.

Are you getting a headache just thinking about it?

If so, Lightspeed Systems can be your pain reliever. Its mobile device management (MDM) solution ensures safe and secure student learning resources management with real-time visibility and reporting. MDM equips your IT team with a centralized, cloud-based solution for infinitely scalable device, application, and policy controls and for remote configuration, reporting, and device location across every device and operating system (OS). MDM is just one component of the seamless, flexible Lightspeed ecosystem of cloud-based solutions that provide schools worldwide with reliable filtering, analytics, and device management tools.

Lenovo is partnering with Lightspeed Systems to deliver this ecosystem to schools worldwide as part of their commitment to helping you ensure educational continuity during the pandemic and after, as the modern classroom continues to evolve.

Covering All the Bases for Remote Device Management

Lightspeed MDM makes app management intuitive and flexible with remote configuration and deployment by school, year group, classroom, and student—no matter which major OS is being used. The MDM dashboards allow you to issue, track, manage, and monitor every mobile device in real-time from a single location, enabling straightforward centralized IT control for your school’s entire fleet of mobile devices.

The hierarchical device management platform allows for tier-based administration permissions and visibility, which greatly simplify policy management. Using MDM, your IT team can remotely deploy, change, and revoke hundreds of policies across all devices or a single device, and easily install any app with the press of a button. You can even create start and end policies at specific days and times and remotely lock devices to a single app or for extended periods. So, students won’t be able to spend their spring break working on that big science project, for example (which undoubtably would be a disappointment to the student).

The Self-Service App Library further lessens the IT team’s workload by providing teachers and students access to install approved curriculum and learning tools. If lost, the devices can be remotely located, wiped, and recovered. Altogether, it’s an ecosystem of solutions that, along with best-in-class Lenovo devices, eases the pains of remote device management and creates a more effective and continuous distance-learning environment.

The Key to Maintaining School Devices, Whether Remote or Not

Maintaining educational continuity in any school, particularly during any form of distance learning, starts with students having access to a desktop computer or laptop. The trouble is you can’t protect what you can’t see.

If your school is providing these devices, your IT team won’t be able to ensure they get the updates, patches, and preventative maintenance they need to remain secure and reliable. And chances are, they’re not being updated as they should by teachers or students who aren’t too concerned about device security as long as the computer just works.

It’s also not uncommon for teachers to disable some security measures, such as firewalls, to enable downloading their own software or to allow access to additional sites that help them with their teaching.

Research on endpoint controls shows that:

Based on these statistics, your school needs to do whatever it takes to maintain control over all your devices. But how can you efficiently manage devices that you can’t touch, that aren’t even on your network—and, to make things more complex, that have a mix of operating systems (OSes), as most schools do?

At Lenovo, they think the solution is actually pretty simple: Absolute Resilience® provides a persistent (always-on) and resilient (self-healing, even when tampered with) connection to most every device in your environment. With this fail-safe connection, your team has endpoint management access to all devices (even different OSes) from one management dashboard, even when devices are off the school network and IT staff is working from home.

Absolute is embedded into Lenovo best-in-class endpoint devices’ firmware to give education IT leaders a digital tether that provides an unbreakable connection between them and the device. This tether is tamper-proof and can be enabled almost immediately so you can get the most out of your devices.

The Absolute-Lenovo partnership is part of Lenovo’s commitment to providing schools with the tools they need for a seamless learning experience regardless of where students are learning and which instructional model you’re using.

Complete Management in One Solution

Getting management access into all your devices allows you to ensure device inventory accuracy, manage critical application updates, mitigate security threats, and freeze or reset a lost or stolen device. By tracking where each device is, what it is doing, and preventing or managing application issues for teachers and students, you have the ability to efficiently improve the learning experience.

But more than just providing access and data, you also need a solution that drives security. That means anti-virus compliance, install rate reporting—which will tell your network whether the device is safe or will introduce risk—and an endpoint data discovery scan for sensitive data.

Absolute Resilience®, part of Lenovo’s end-to-end security platform, ThinkShield, has those capabilities—and much more. Absolute is embedded in Lenovo endpoint devices’ firmware to give education IT leaders an unbreakable digital connection with every device. This “digital tether” is tamper-proof and can be enabled with no help from the manufacturer. Application persistence means that Absolute is always there and always-on. The console is easy to use, so you don’t have to have a security expert to manage the remote device. As a result, you won’t have to hire an IT person at the expense of a teaching position.

Addressing the New Device Management Lifecycle

With hybrid learning models being standardized, your IT team needs to rethink the device management lifecycle now that it’s managing and securing more devices remotely. This is made more complex because your team is probably dealing with multiple device models and OSes.

So the team needs a management and security framework that goes deep and wide. A solution like Absolute, which combines the depth your IT team needs with the simplicity of a single pane to manage all devices.

The Lenovo and Absolute partnership supports schools engaged in digital transformation. By streamlining security and IT asset management in a single dynamic console, Lenovo and Absolute make it possible to protect your school’s devices, data, apps, and budget.

Adapting to Industry 4.0 in Manufacturing Jun 29, 2021 Jordan Noonan Prior to the pandemic, manufacturing as an industry was well on the way to transformation with the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies such as robotics, automation, AR/VR, additive manufacturing (3D printing), and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Nonetheless, the recent disruption of various supply chains has only reaffirmed the need to compress the timeframe for digital transformation. How manufacturers adapt—and how quickly—will differentiate the survivors from the rest. With that in mind, let’s take a look at three ways the Cisco Meraki platform helps facilitate transformation.

Harness Wi-Fi 6 for the IIoT 

One key component of digital transformation that smart factories are embracing is the IIoT, where everything from robots to forklifts to tooling carts are being connected to networks. This connectivity centralizes control, increases visibility, and leverages analytics to improve efficiency, reduce downtime, and make smarter predictions. With so many wireless devices requiring network access, providing a strong Wi-Fi 6 foundation is critical to ensuring consistent and high-performance IIoT deployments. Also known as the 802.1ax standard, Wi-Fi 6 has the potential to increase average throughput—per user—by a factor of four. This grants manufacturers the raw material (throughput) they need to fully harness the promise of IIoT.

Monitor Smart Factories with MT Environmental Sensors

Sensor technologies have allowed manufacturers to take advantage of big data to improve manufacturing processes, predict failure, and ultimately improve the efficiency of modern smart factories. Meraki recently grew their platform to include environmental sensors as a standard component of network deployments. Meraki MT is a family of environmental sensors (indoor temperature/humidity, indoor leak, door open/close) that provide real-time remote visibility and monitoring to help protect assets and facilities 24/7. We imagine this technology to be initially deployed in IT closets, ensuring that critical infrastructure uptime is maintained—but there’s no reason to stop there. Wherever manufacturers need to monitor environmental conditions, Meraki can help by simplifying the setup process. MT environmental sensors can be provisioned in seconds, as they are battery-powered and use Wi-Fi 6 wireless access points. And MV smart cameras connect through the network for quick-and-easy deployment.

Become Adaptable with Ecosystem Partners 

To thrive, the modern manufacturer needs to be able to innovate and scale against the backdrop of a complex global supply chain. They must also be able to respond to disruptive external pressures, and do so quickly. Meraki makes it easy to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. With the help of open APIs, paired with a community of technology partners, Meraki can support a huge array of potential use cases outside traditional networking arenas. For example, one such ecosystem partner, Skyfii, enables your Meraki Wi-Fi network to measure visitor and asset movement patterns. Then, you can utilize those patterns to send relevant communications via captive portal, email, SMS, or app push notifications. Skyfii integrates with Meraki MV Cameras to provide reporting and alerting on visitor flow, occupancy, queue times, heatmaps, and congestion. 

Skyfii also integrates with Meraki MT sensors to optimize visitor experiences within your venues. Skyfii correlates the visitor behavioral patterns observed from Meraki Wi-Fi and MV Cameras with changes to environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity metrics from MT Sensors.  

The network has always been about providing connectivity. Without a strong foundation of connectivity, manufacturers will be slow to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies.

Are you ready for Industry 4.0? Contact us for help. As a Cisco Meraki partner, we have a full understanding of the technology you need to create a manufacturing IT and OT ecosystem that will withstand the test of time. 

Reimagine Hybrid Work with the new Windows 11 Jun 28, 2021 Sreeraj Vasukuttan The next generation of Windows, Windows 11, is here! Panos Panay, Microsoft’s new chief product officer for Windows+ devices, unveiled the new OS at special Windows event held last week (June 24, 2021). With Panos Panay taking the stage, the design of Window 11 took center stage as well.  It felt like Microsoft’s design team managed to bring the Surfaceness of a Surface device to its soulmate, Windows. That elegant silky-glassy texture of Surface devices with rounded corners is now carved into Windows 11. In Mr. Panay’s own words, “The new Windows 11 will give you a sense of calm, and it will empower you to be more productive and inspire you to be more creative.”  

You are at the center, so is your task menu

The start menu and start button in Windows 11 will be at the center by default. Microsoft says this design change was made with touch users in mind.  The new start menu will also put your daily apps at the center. Microsoft ToDo was featured a lot in the announcement videos. For me, having an app like Todo on the start menu at the center will help me build a habit of starting my day by checking my work and personal tasks from in Windows 11 itself. A Windows device has been the center of your Microsoft apps and services ecosystem; by expanding app experience to android apps (available through Amazon App store in Window Store), your relationship with your Windows device will also expand. The centered start menu and access to more apps will change the way you perceive your daily Windows experience. Like Panos Pany and Satya Nadella said  , “Windows 11 will put you at the center.”

Designed with Hybrid the Worker in mind

In Windows 11, Microsoft is introducing Snap layouts and Snap groups. With Snap layouts, you can choose layouts for your tabs. There are six different layouts available to choose from. On the right top corner of every open window, you will have an option to drop the window to a layout. You can group the layouts into  Snap groups, and the Snap groups will be available for you along with the individual tabs at the taskbar when you need them. Windows 11 will also remember your Snap groups for later. Additionally, Windows 11 will remember where your tabs and Snap groups were after you undock your device from an external screen.  

For Someone like me who likes to work from anywhere, getting used to both single screen and multiple screens is essential. However, I miss the convenience of moving between tabs opened on multiple screens when I work remotely. I hope that the Ssnap windows and groups s will simulate a multiscreen experience even in a minimalistic single screen set up. Then the new docking experience will benefit me a lot in an office setup.

The universal mute button coming to Windows 11 will be handy for hybrid work. I don’t have to find meeting Window of Teams, or Zoom, or Webex, when I need to mute myself. The other features that would excite the hybrid workers includes share new Windows from task bar while presenting, haptic, Intuitive touch gestures, voice tying, digital pen, etc. 

Built-in personalized version of Teams

Microsoft will bring a personalized version of Teams built into Windows 11. This is a new Teams client designed for the consumer market. It will run on new technology that reduces the app's size and memory usage. Initially, the new Teams client will be available only on the consumer versions of Windows 11 and later will come to the commercial versions as well. The personalized version of Teams in Windows 11 will also get SMS support. Last month, Microsoft announced that you could add a personal account for free if you have a Teams work account.  I am not sure if Teams will ever be as successful as Skype in becoming a household brand for video calling. But it will help people like me who use Teams at work to bring the joy of Teams calling, meeting, and chat to my personal space as well.

Performance, energy efficiency, compatibility, and security

Windows 11 will start and work faster than its predecessor.  Windows 11 users will notice enhanced performance for gaming related workloads with new technologies like DirectX 12 Ultimate, DirectStorage, and Auto HDR.  The updates are 40% more efficient, and they will happen in the background now, instead of requiring you to stop what you’re working on.  Windows 11 will also  consumes less energy, giving better battery life for your devices. Through the App Assure program Microsoft will ensure that your Apps from previous generations of Windows will work on Windows 11 as well. Microsoft said in the announcement blog that they are working closely with the silicon and hardware partners to ensure a lineup of processors and devices of all form factor ready for Windows 11 before its release. Check out the Check System Requirements and Processor Support to see if your current devices are supported.

When it comes to security, Windows 11 will be a Zero Trust ready operating system. Window 11 will come with security technologies like hardware-based isolation, encryption, and malware prevention--turned on by default. Microsoft will also simplify the steps for Windows Hello for Business in Windows 11.  

Availability, Licensing, and Deployment Options

Windows 11 will be available as a free upgrade to Window 10 for eligible customers around the 2021 Holiday season through 2022. Deploying Windows 11 will be as easy as rolling out a new Windows 10 update. Microsoft is also simplifying the update cycles with Windows 11. Windows 11 will only need a yearly quality update compared to the annual update cycles of Windows 10.

Even though updating Windows 10 to Windows 11 as easy as updating Windows 10, the new operating system is much more than a quality update. There are stunning features that should excite you whether you use Windows for work or at home. And you certainly need device, deployment, and management plans set before it becomes available later this year. Connection offers various services around Windows 11 to help you migrate when the time comes. Please reach out if you need help. To learn more, check out our Modern Device Management solutions.

Techsperience Episode 96 – Embracing... Jun 28, 2021 Connection In order to survive, manufacturers must be agile in surviving disruption. Industry 4.0 technologies are reinventing how manufacturers do business and, to stay competitive, companies will need to embrace these technologies to capitalize on the efficiencies, cost savings, and improved uptimes that might be gained.

Host: James Hilliard

Guest 1: Ryan Spurr, Director of Manufacturing Strategy & Business Development at Connection

Guest 2: Dave Martin, Systems Engineering Manager at Meraki

Guest 3: Jordan Noonan, Solutions Marketing Manager at Meraki

Show Notes

[0:55] Introduction of Guests.

[2:05] Where were Manufacturing organizations before Covid?

[3:52] Do companies now have firmer transformation strategies?

[5:15] What are manufacturing table stakes you need to be competitive in Industry 4.0?

[7:28] The plant power problem and how has it changed?

[8:01] Niche use cases that Covid brought to the front for Manufacturers.

[10:01] How do you get Wi-Fi to every part of the factory?

[12:47] Analytics and Data

[14:27] Obstacles towards investment in next generation networking

[15:40] What can this new tech do for your organization?

 [17:00] Who should you engage to start transformation?

[19:28] How do you merge the new network with legacy machines?

[20:53] What do you do to protect your tech when you bring in modern networks to legacy devices?

[24:48] How long does it take to discover a breach?

[26:00] Is there concern about upgrades and automations removing people?

[29:00] The talent shortage.

[30:50] What does the future hold?

Personalizing the Patient Experience Jun 24, 2021 Dr Keith Nelson The current shift in healthcare delivery is toward value-based care and improved patient outcomes. To this end, healthcare providers, who are competing for patients on the basis of quality treatment, are now focusing intently on improving patient experience and engagement.

But how can you make the greatest impact? I would suggest borrowing a page from the hospitality industry’s playbook that focuses on providing a personalized, rather than an assembly line, consumer experience.

Most of us have experienced the traditional assembly line approach when we visit a doctor’s office. First there’s a cumbersome registration process that usually involves being handed a clipboard or being asked to download and print a document packet with multiple generic pages to complete, requiring repetitive entry of your name, social security number, and date of birth on the top of each page.

When you arrive for your appointment, your name eventually gets called in the waiting room, and you’re led to an exam room only to wait some more before a medical assistant (whom you don’t know) enters the room and coldly runs down a list of questions that you have already answered in the patient registration process, and then takes your blood pressure and weight. Then you wait again for the doctor to enter the room. It’s a very impersonal and marginalizing experience. And what if you’re an inpatient stuck all day in your hospital bed? How do you occupy your time and stimulate your mind?

Enter technology. It is now possible to deploy a comprehensive personalized patient information system that generates messaging that is customized for each patient. All curated information is derived from integration with both the Electronic Health Record and/or the facility’s ERP system, and can be deployed on displays in the exam room, at the patient’s bedside (i.e. age-appropriate infotainment, customized education, support groups, dietary options), or through mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. In addition, patient-specific information (i.e. allergies, dietary restrictions, care team, etc.) can be posted on displays outside of the exam or inpatient room to inform providers who are entering.

So now let’s examine a new type of patient journey…


You receive a link via text or email that seamlessly walks you through the registration process, including signing consent forms and uploading pictures of your driver’s license and insurance card. The questions are specific to your medical history—for instance, if you indicate that you have diabetes, then additional questions related to that condition will be asked. Afterward, you will automatically receive appointment reminders, as well as a brief satisfaction survey after the visit.

Exam Room

While you are waiting to be seen by a provider, you can read a digital wall display welcoming you by name, introducing the name and background of the care givers who will enter the room, offering information pertaining to your presenting complaint, and posting important reminders specific to you, such as overdue flu shots, follow-up visits, or diagnostic tests.

Patient Hospital Room

Personalized hospital bedside infotainment can enable customized patient education, entertainment, test scheduling, telemedicine visits, and messaging with the staff, as well as support group connectivity and access to medical records and test results.

Other Uses of the Technology

Additional applications of the customized messaging technology include electronic white boards for the ER and nurse’s station, and philanthropic donor walls to recognize charitable contributors and drive fundraising campaigns.

Ready to learn how you can use technology to provide a more satisfying patient experience? Reach out to the team at Connection today.

M1: How Apple Breaks New Ground Yet Again Jun 22, 2021 Connection In November of 2020, Apple® launched the M1 chip. It had been 14 years since the transition to Intel silicon, and the change was heralded as a renaissance for Apple. Based on the popular ARM chipset found in iPad® and iPhone®—specifically the Apple A14 Bionic chip—M1 wasn’t just a step forward for our favorite devices, it was a momentous leap ahead into the future of computing. As the one-year anniversary draws nearer, let’s take a quick look at all we’ve learned since the release of M1.

“The M1 MacBook Pro is the new laptop gold standard.”*

Brooke Crothers
Contributor, Forbes

The Power of M1

Designed as a System on a Chip (SoC), M1 offers something a standard notebook, tablet, or desktop cannot: centralization. Everything on your system board (CPU, GPU, security, etc) no longer lives “across town” from one another. Now, under a single roof, these disparate components can communicate much quicker. This adds processing power, battery life, and increased performance to the user experience. How much? Quite a lot. As a result of the SoC architecture in MacBook Air®, M1 is faster than the chips in 98% of PC laptops sold in the past year.1 Yes, you did read that correctly. In benchmark tests, M1 reigns supreme over comparable offerings from Intel* and notebooks such as the Dell XPS. Meanwhile, MacBook Pro®, featuring macOS® Big Sur, now offers up to 17 hours of wireless Web browsing and up to 20 hours of video playback.2 That’s up to twice the battery life of the previous generation—and the longest battery life ever on a Mac®.2

“The new Arm-based system has exceeded almost every expectation.”

Dieter Bohn
Executive Editor, The Verge

Pick and Choose

M1 is available for iMac®, iPad Pro®, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini®. That’s nearly the entire current Apple ecosystem. What’s more, if you’re not quite ready to transition to M1, you don’t need to in certain circumstances. Apple is still producing some Intel-powered devices. After all, moving to a new processor type is a big step forward. Just keep in mind that M1 is just as big of a step forward for computing power.

“If Apple wanted to launch something revolutionary, it certainly managed that.”**

Matt Hanson
Senior Computing Editor, TechRadar

Partner with an M1 Specialist

Whether you’re new to Apple,or you have an infrastructure already in place, upgrading to M1 will be a big step up for your business. Connection is an Apple Corporate Reseller with a partnership that goes all the way back to 1984. This means we are uniquely qualified to provide Apple solutions, product availability, and expertise that exceed your expectations. With our help, creating or upgrading an Apple ecosystem is easy. And with our zero-touch deployment service, you can distribute new M1 devices directly to employees without manual configuration.

And, for a limited time, we are offering a special deal on MacBook Pro with M1. Get yours for $200 off—now only $1,099. Give it a go, test the waters, and let us know how we can help make your transition to Apple silicon a painless one.

© 2021 Apple Inc. All rights reserved. Apple, the Apple logo, iPad, iPhone, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, macOS, iMac, iPad Pro, and Mac mini are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.

1. Testing conducted by Apple in October 2020 using preproduction 13-inch MacBook Pro systems with Apple M1 chip and 16GB of RAM. Performance measured using select industry-standard benchmarks. PC configurations from publicly available sales data over the last 12 months. Performance tests are conducted using specific computer systems and reflect the approximate performance of MacBook Pro.

2. Battery life depends on device settings, usage, and other factors. Actual results may vary.

*PassMark Software, 2021, M1 Benchmark Results

†Forbes, 2021, 13-Inch MacBook Pro (M1) Vs Dell XPS 13 9310: Intel Takes A Hit

‡The Verge, 2020, Apple Macbook Air With M1 Review: New Chip, No Problem

**Tech Radar, 2020, Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) Review

Indoor/Outdoor Gunshot Detection Jun 22, 2021 Steve Zitney The world as we know it has become increasingly volatile. Recently, there have been a barrage of violent events, including mass shootings, that have spurred law enforcement and other first responders to put safeguards in place to mitigate and resolve critical events quickly and efficiently. To do this, it is critical to rethink your environment and how you are going to incorporate safeguards to protect responding agencies. 

As communities begin to think about how best to bring employees back to work and the classroom, the question becomes how to ensure everyone’s safety. How do communities better equip first-responder teams with the tools they need to react to critical events? The answer is simple: AmberBox Indoor/Outdoor Gunshot Detection and Alerting Systems. 

Protecting Life through Instant Response Technology

AmberBox has a rich history of helping bring peace of mind to various state and local communities throughout the nation. With a lightning-fast gunshot detection and alerting platform, the AmberBox solution is admired and widely embraced by community leaders and law enforcement organizations, as it works to better serve and protect both victims and first responders in their most critical time of need. The AmberBox solution notifies first responders in a staggering 3.6 seconds of the first gunshot. As a result, first responders can react in the safest and fastest manner possible. 

Through machine-learning algorithms, first responders are able to obtain various valuable pieces of intelligence, including the type of firearm being used, the number of shooters, and the direction of travel through a specific structure. All of these things make an imperative difference in the way tactical teams can respond to and neutralize a critical event. 

Additionally, this information is automatically communicated with dispatch and law enforcement special response teams to allow for administrative decision makers, tactical teams, and emergency medical service teams to seamlessly communicate and work together to determine how best to respond in a fluid, effective manner. 

With installation and deployment as easy as plugging these devices into nearby access points, AmberBox Gunshot Detection is a must-have solution for any community looking to protect citizens. 

The Best Protection When Seconds Count

Trust the experts at Connection and AmberBox to reaffirm your oath to your community that you are doing your part to keep everyone’s wellbeing in mind. For more information about strengthening your organization’s security and protecting lives, contact an Account Manager today!

Don’t Just Back Up—Stay Operational:... Jun 17, 2021 Ryan Spurr So many manufacturing conversations regarding business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) go like this when it comes to the plant floor: “We have an employee who walks around and periodically backs up our machines.” “We can live without some amount of data for a couple of days.” Or the classic, “We can make up lost production time with shifts through the weekend.” It’s frustrating to watch the most business-critical process in a manufacturing company be so undervalued that we don’t apply the same rigors we find in data centers to the profit-generating infrastructure building our customers’ products. 

This approach is an outdated mindset, and the assertions are falsely based on inaccurate risk assessments that wildly underestimate the actual impacts. In my experience, this only works if your goal is to check a box vs. a fundamental strategy of remaining online and operational all the time. Why are manufacturers so hyper-focused on uptime and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) but not on quickly recovering critical machines or an entire facility?

For example, past BCDR strategies worked fine when the only threat to your factory was a computer, disk, or software failure. But today’s plants are packed with a mix of legacy and modern technologies that the business depends upon to produce products uninterrupted. The recent pandemic also taught us that resiliency isn’t just about backups, but how quickly we can recover our facilities’ operations in an automated and unattended fashion. That employee running around with a USB stick may not be available when you need them most, or the backups stopped when that employee took a job promotion at a competitor.

Layer in the mounting cybersecurity events targeting the plant floor, and we are seeing a rapid increase in the frequency, impact, and outage periods. In 2020, manufacturing became the second most targeted industry with an alarming 33% of all cyber-theft incidents occurring in manufacturing. It’s now common for manufacturing plants to shutter for days or weeks as they recover lost data, rebuild machines, and return a plant to operation. Investment into security technology and resources is finite. Recent events are demonstrating that 31% of manufacturing experience unplanned failures in the plant and data centers, often resulting in significant downtime. 

Another reality we must consider is the continued rise in technology adoption amongst U.S. manufacturers to combat global pressures and any prevailing market headwinds. Whatever your company’s level of technology adoption to date—you should only expect more technology to be added into existing processes—not less. 

Manufacturers should all be asking themselves the following questions. How will your organization quickly recover corporate business systems and critical factory technology? How will your business minimize brand, sales, and customer impacts? How will your organization quickly restore your entire operational landscape in a mass security event? Would your organization be able to restore to anywhere, anytime, and with any resource?

The good news is there are many options available to protect your tech estate. Modern solutions exist that appeal to both traditional data center needs as well as the more heterogenous and legacy-based environment we see in factories, warehouses, and research. These solutions provide support for a wide range of operating systems and devices, and they integrate across the OT/IT landscape. Solutions can also span your hybrid environments, protecting physical plant machines, virtual machines, and other services in the cloud like AWS, Azure, Google, Microsoft 365, and more. Employees depend on all these resources, not just ERP.

If your organization lacks experience or skillsets, or is looking for staff augmentation, managed service offerings can also bring expertise in devising an integrated backup and disaster recovery solution that fits your business needs. Many also provide services to aid in the ongoing operational activities around backup, monitoring, and recovery in the event a disaster does strike.

Business continuity and resiliency are becoming more essential in companies as industrial transformation (IX) and technology adoption increase. Combine the financial and productivity impacts with effects on workforce morale, distractions from value-added activities, and impact on brand and deliverables, and your modern organization should be changing its view of business continuity and resilience risks. The risks are no longer realized in the off chance a weather event bears down on your facility, it’s now a combination of catastrophes, cybersecurity, unplanned failure or human error, and workforce disruption. 

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

Find Highly Skilled Candidates for Your Open... Jun 15, 2021 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. One of the biggest hiring challenges small businesses face is competing with large organizations for top IT talent. Big name brands have typically offered better benefits packages, higher salaries, and other advantages that SMBs could not.

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.

Episode 94 – Inside Access: Shifting... Jan 26, 2021 Connection James Hilliard, your host, welcomes Tim Vanevenhoven from Aruba, Tim Kane from Zebra, and Brian Gallagher from Connection to talk about the trends and innovations to get you moving forward in this ever-changing environment. In today’s episode, they are continuing the conversation around retail and dive deep into how to enable a smarter physical store and empower your workforce with solutions from Aruba and Zebra.

Host: James Hilliard

Guest 1: Brian Gallagher, Retail Strategy Business Dev Director at Connection

Guest 2: Tim Vanevenhoven, Director of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships at Aruba

Guest 3: Tim Kane, Retail Solutions Industry Consultant, North America Retail at Zebra Technologies

Key takeaways:

[2:03] The current state of retail.

[3:42] Retailers acknowledge that they will never go back to pre-COVID.

[4:42] Tim talks about the trends among customers in the retail environment.

[5:25] Having a clear path forward is the only way for retailers to win.

[6.11] Retail needs a holistic approach.

[7:05] It is not enough with connecting and securing data, it is about analyzing and acting on that data for better business outcomes.

[7:57] Examples of what retailers are doing and it’s having an impact on their business.

[9:56] Analytics are being used to predict if there could be an issue with the network.

[11:22] Are the employees engaged and enthusiastic about the changes brought by new technologies?

[15:21] Telephones have become the one device that is empowering associates.

[17:05] The “hyper-aware store” and what is providing to retailers.

[18:50] What are the specific technologies Aruba and Zebra are building to help retailers?

[21:09] Are retailers looking at their business from a complete solution standpoint?

[22:17] Retailers are looking for partners more than they ever had in the past.

[23:05] Digital transformation is not an event, it is a journey.

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How Microsoft 365 Defender Can Help Protect... Jan 22, 2021 Sreeraj Vasukuttan I didn’t think 2020 could get any more interesting, but on December 14, I woke up to news about another global scale disruption. SolarWinds reported that one of their software products had been hacked, and the hackers had implanted a code to open backdoors of companies using SolarWinds software. The event was considered a Nation-state attack and the security world is still scrambling today to tie up loose ends.

This is the kind of sophisticated attack that Connection’s Penny Conway and Jamal Khan discussed on an episode of a TechSperience podcast about AI and security. When we learned that Microsoft 365 Defender could detect the malicious code involved in the SolarWinds event, we began calling our customers to let them know that they may already have everything they needed to determine if they were compromised.

Call to Action

I recommend you watch this video from Microsoft that explains how Microsoft 365 Defender can protect you against Solorigate. If you have more questions, please reach out to our Microsoft Customer Success Team for more information about how Microsoft 365 Defender can keep you protected from the Solorigate breach and other sophisticated attacks.

More About Microsoft 365 Defender

Microsoft already offers a bunch of cybersecurity tools, and you may wonder what Microsoft 365 Defender could add. Microsoft 365 Defender is not a bundle of bundles, like Microsoft 365. Instead, it’s a meta-tool that sits on top of Microsoft’s XDR (Extended Security and Response) toolkit. You can utilize Microsoft 365 Defender at various capacities, depending on your licensing mix.

Microsoft introduced M365 Defender at the Ignite 2018 Conference as Microsoft Threat Protection. The idea was to bring the benefits of all the different security products from Microsoft under one roof, so organizations could take a comprehensive approach to their threat defense and mitigation.

Microsoft invests over a billion dollars per year in security services across various attack vectors, such as identities, endpoints, user data, and cloud apps. Microsoft Intelligent Security Graph uses advanced analytics to converge an enormous amount of threat intelligence and security data from Microsoft and their partners across all those attack vectors. Microsoft 365 Defender is built on top of the Microsoft Intelligent Security Graph.

Now, let’s explore what Microsoft 365 Defender means for a security analyst in your organization.

Better Visibility and Coordination 

Most of the new sophisticated attacks are not contained within one attack vector. From a security analyst’s perspective, a unified view of an attack is helpful during mitigation efforts. A unified view reduces the time an analyst spends switching between various security products as part of an investigation. This means the analyst has more time in active remediation, and spends less time pulling information from multiple tools. The value is not just in the unified view; it also collects data from the individual apps and stitches them together into a combined incident queue, so the analyst can get the full scope of the attack in real-time. 

The Use of Artificial Intelligence

Microsoft 365 Defender leverages Microsoft’s AI capabilities beautifully into various aspects of the product. It starts an automatic investigation, and initiates an automatic response, to threats across attack areas. This reduces the progress of an attack event across assets. Here is an example from Microsoft Docs on what this looks like in action: “If a malicious file is detected on an endpoint protected by Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection, it will instruct Microsoft Defender for Office 365 to scan and remove the file from all e-mail messages. The file will be blocked on sight by the entire Microsoft 365 security suite.” Microsoft 365 Defender uses AI and security playbooks to self-heal affected assets too. This means by the time the analyst starts looking at the event, the AI has already started the remediation steps. The implications for the use of AI are not limited to automated tasks, saving time for the analyst to use strategic tasks during an attack event. This also frees up your team’s time to work on higher priority issues. Microsoft 365 Defender uses AI, where manual efforts are not enough to stop the attackers.

How to Get Microsoft 365 Defender

Here’s some good news, if you are licensed for some of the Microsoft security products, you already have Microsoft 365 Defender. Microsoft announced last year that starting June 1, 2020, Microsoft will automatically enable these features when eligible customers visit the Microsoft 365 security center. Any of the following licenses give you access to Microsoft 365 Defender features in Microsoft 365 security center without additional cost:

  • Microsoft 365 E5 or A5
  • Microsoft 365 E5 Security or A5 Security
  • Windows 10 Enterprise E5 or A5
  • Enterprise Mobility + Security (EMS) E5 or A5
  • Office 365 E5 or A5, Microsoft Defender for Endpoint
  • Microsoft Defender for Identity
  • Microsoft Cloud App Security
  • Defender for Office 365 (Plan 2)

Here is the caveat: You need to enable all the supported services that talk to Microsoft 365 Defender to provide it with a comprehensive view of your entire threat landscape, so you should be licensed for those individual apps too. Or you need an overarching license, such as Microsoft 365 E5, E5 Security, A5, or A5 Security. There are always more nuanced licensing compliance issues you may run into when you take an organization-wide approach to protect your security landscape. Book a session with our Microsoft Landscape Optimization Team if you need more help. We’re always happy to answer any questions you have to help ensure your organization is secured against threats, like the SolarWinds hack, and any future events you may encounter.

Industry 4.0 Is Shaping Security and... Jan 20, 2021 Ryan Spurr In manufacturing, 87% of organizations are adopting new technologies and retrofitting legacy equipment in their effort to speed up Industry 4.0 (4IR) adoption. This is no longer just an operational technology (OT) engineering objective. According to a BDO study, even financial leaders now view cloud (74%), IoT (58%), and artificial intelligence (16%) as the leading transformational agents to decreasing costs and increasing productivity. In 2021, as we combine general business sentiment around digital advancement with the headwinds brought about by the pandemic, we are observing an acceleration of investment in industrial solutions that will substantially affect efficiencies, deliver competitive advantages, and bring overall costs down.

What Are the Risks of Industry 4.0?

With any opportunity there is also risk. In the case of investments into 4IR and industrial technologies, the risks associated with integrated legacy equipment, next generation sensors, and edge compute, PLCs and other industrial equipment markedly increase the attack surface. For example, the manufacturing industry was number one target for phishing attempts (38%) and number one for browser exploits (26.5%). This didn’t take into consideration the unmanaged devices or next generation IoT platforms and sensors. As aged equipment is being added to industrial or corporate networks, attackers are recycling older attack methods to exploit vulnerabilities and launch attacks against operations—and ultimately the balance of the organization.

What Are Typical Industrial Security Challenges?

Within manufacturing, there is often little in the shape of enterprise standards, and this results in a great deal of risk. Unfortunately, this chaos is here to stay within OT environments due to the long lifespan and high cost of industrial equipment, along with the variation in sourcing and purpose. The following are some of the most common challenges that we see across industrial landscapes:

• Unsupported Technology: This is a broad challenge that includes unique operating systems, end of life software, antiquated or unsupported hardware and software, and/or lack of modern support for current enterprise security toolsets. 
• Production Impact: I often refer to this as “don’t touch my production line” or specifically, any security, software, or policy management solutions that are controlled by an organization outside of production. The truth is that most security and management toolsets do impact operations in the form of affecting machine performance, closing ports or shuttering processes, or forcing enterprise policies down to unmanaged machines that IT doesn’t understand. This typical response from OT has arisen from years of avoidable events stopping production and lack of awareness of both parties’ needs.
• Visibility, Monitoring, and Integration: Most industrial devices were introduced into the factory for a single purpose and are rarely managed or coordinated with IT. These devices may lack password protection, account management, or federation with any enterprise identity management, and certainly are not monitored for security, access control, or other risks. These risks often also include modern IoT products. While supporting next generation technology, they often lack the ability to be discovered, centrally managed, or logged—and they represent sizeable security risks.
• Resources and Skillsets: Unlike in the typical IT environment, there are seldom adequate operational technology resources and skillsets to manage such a diverse range of specialty hardware, software, and events occurring. Imagine how difficult it is for IT to manage a structured environment built atop policy, standards, and a common team. Now imagine an unstructured team of engineers moving on from the company, leaving little knowledge of the machines behind. Now try to keep these devices operational as well as secure.

All together, these challenges open manufacturers to significant risk for insider and outside security events. Without adequate controls and management, IT and security are unable to have visibility across the entire enterprise. When an event does unfold, your security team has few tools available to respond, remediate, and restore operations with confidence. 

How Can Manufacturing Adapt?

Trends are shifting. The positive news for manufacturers is that 55% of business leaders recognize that increased security risks accompany this industrial transformation. This is creating a more mature view and a coordinated path forward where we combine Industry 4.0 and industrial security investments to ensure the company advances business goals while also mitigating the security risks.

Some of the most common security solutions to consider within industrial environments include:

  • Application, policy, and access control
  • Anti-virus and endpoint protection
  • Backup or offline anti-virus and vulnerability scanning
  • IoT or industrial assessments
  • Artificial intelligence to detect behavioral patterns
  • Secure industrial networking

While most of these solutions are not new to IT, this level of security hygiene may be new to OT, where security has typically been a second thought. Many of the existing and trusted security vendors now provide industrial offerings aimed to alleviate the typical operational technology concerns, improving the level of acceptance and adoption by engineers. These next generation solutions mitigate security risks unique to OT, while offering IT or security teams the integrated ability to predict, prevent, detect, respond to issues.

When it’s not possible or practical to install security suites on top of industrial equipment and sensors, consider leveraging network security solutions that move monitoring and protection software off industrial end points and build it into the network. This offers flexibility in how industrial equipment risks are mitigated since a one-size-fits-all strategy seldom applies in these environments, while also instituting multiple layers of security.

Industrial cybersecurity and industrial network solutions provide a holistic approach to mitigating the inherent risks of the modern-day industrial environments, while unleashing innovation and industrial transformation. Connection offers a full range of IT and OT cybersecurity solutions, services, and regulatory information, along with specialty services aimed at assessing 4IR or IoT risk in your environment. To learn more about how Connection can help you solve your broader industrial and IT security challenges, contact us today.

How Secure Are Your Remote Work Solutions? Jan 19, 2021 Bill Neumann The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically increased the number of remote workers for many organizations. That increase may have caused one or more problems.

  • The legacy network architecture that routed remote traffic through a central corporate network is now under enormous strain, resulting in poor performance, a loss of productivity, and user dissatisfaction.
  • In the rush to deploy an initial solution, the IT staff may not have had time to properly secure that initial solution.
  • End-user computing solutions that may have been secure when operated from within a corporate network may have become ineffective and insecure when used for remote work.
  • Remote work has allowed user identities to become more easily compromised, corporate data to be less secure, collaboration to be more challenging, and device management nearly impossible when users only sporadically connect to the corporate infrastructure via VPN.

Create Comprehensive Security

In general, organizations should employ a balanced security approach across identity protection, infrastructure protection, and information protection—the three “I’s” of information security. Secure remote work solutions should secure the user’s identity, their computer, corporate data, and the user’s applications.

Connection recommends that remote users employ Azure AD credentials (as opposed to Windows AD or Local accounts) to access their computers and cloud-based applications. This type of account can be used for authentication with Microsoft 365, Azure, and thousands of Web-based applications.

Connection offers a variety of services associated with the use of Azure AD accounts, including setting up new Microsoft 365 tenants, configuring Azure AD Connect to synchronize Windows AD and with Azure AD accounts, federating Azure AD with cloud-based applications, hybrid Exchange migrations that move mailboxes to Exchange Online, and Azure AD multi-factor authentication that better secure user identities. These services all help to ensure appropriate user identity protection.

Connection also recommends that organizations use Microsoft Teams for collaboration since Teams employs Azure AD credentials for authentication, provides users with presence information, leverages Exchange Online features for instant messaging, and uses SharePoint Online for video recordings. These integrated capabilities all employ Microsoft’s highly secure cloud infrastructure and information protection mechanisms.

Securing Devices with Cloud Products

Securing corporate data in a remote work environment can be very challenging when corporate data can reside on and transit through end-user computers that are not under direct corporate control. Connection supports collaborative services engagements for deploying the various Microsoft cloud-based management and protection products that help secure data on endpoint computers, including the following technologies:

  • Microsoft Defender for Endpoint ATP—Prevents, detects, and helps organizations investigate and respond to advanced threats
  • Microsoft Endpoint Manager Conditional Access—Controls the conditions under which users gain access to cloud-based applications
  • Azure Information Protection—Allows organizations and users to discover, classify, and protect documents and emails on end user devices
  • Microsoft Cloud App Security—Offers rich behavioral analytics and anomaly detections that provide malware protection, OAuth app protection, and comprehensive incident investigation and remediation

The Microsoft + Connection Partnership Solution

Connection, in partnership with Microsoft, is ideally positioned to architect, design, deploy, and configure secure remote work solutions. We’ve been building data center solutions for our large customer base for decades in response to infrastructure modernization initiatives. Over the last several years, we’ve been supporting those same customers in their relatively new cloud transformation journeys that more recently include secure remote work solutions.

Microsoft has the products and technologies that mitigate many of these issues. Since Connection is a devices and services company, we can help organizations acquire and deploy those products to create secure remote work solutions—built by Microsoft, but purchased, deployed, and configured in partnership with Connection. Whatever your IT needs, we’d love to have the opportunity to discuss developing a secure work solution for you. For more information about remote work security options, reach out to Connection today!

Episode 93 – Inside Access: Shifting... Jan 19, 2021 Connection James Hillard, your host, welcomes Brian Gallagher and a special guest from Apple to today’s episode to have a discussion about the current state of retail. Our experts talk about how important it is to empower your retail employees to engage with your customers. They present the latest mobile device solutions from Apple and services from Connection, with which you'll be able to equip your employees with the tools and technology they need to answer customer questions, speed them through the checkout process, and more.

Host: James Hilliard

Guest 1: Brian Gallagher, Retail Strategy Business Dev Director at Connection

Guest 2: A special guest from Apple

Key takeaways:

[1:08] Brian shares his perspective about the state of retail.

[2:30] You need to think about your business holistically.

[3:27] Our Apple guest talks about the changes that we are seeing now started long before 2020.

[4:22] How is the retail industry approaching employees?

[7:03] Our Apple guest talks about the training directed to empower employees to give more personalized service.

[10:03] Incorporating technologies that make the consumer feel comfortable with.

[12:50] Our Apple guest and Brian talk about employee productivity.

[16:39] Brian and our Apple guest describe the relationship between Connection and Apple to enable retail employees.

[21:03] Focus on a simpler environment and placing the user as the center of the experience.

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The 2021 Security Trends You Need to Follow Jan 14, 2021 Stephen Nardone Whether you are managing cybersecurity, information security, operations security, or physical security, the sense of urgency to address the potential of attack or breach will continue to rise in 2021. With each year, the number of attacks, the amount of successful breaches, and the loss of important data only increase. The reason for this is there is no shortage of “malicious actors” out there—whether it’s organized crime, general criminal activity, or nation state-sponsored activities. Plus, the level of sophistication, the aggressive nature of the attacks, and the ever-increasing capabilities of tools and techniques make keeping pace with threats nearly impossible. It may seem like the attackers are always two or three steps ahead—because, unfortunately, they are. The challenge we all face is how to provide a comprehensive capability involving people, process, and technology to effectively protect, detect, and react against all forms of attack. 

As an information security and risk owner, you have to identify and thwart every attack thrown your way. An attack happens every 39 seconds on the Internet, and while most of them fail, only one has to work. Phishing attacks, specifically, have increased 600% since February 2020, as malicious actors attempt to take advantage of new remote workers. And again, an attacker only has to trick one of your employees to gain access to your infrastructure. 

Where the Industry Is Heading

More and more services and workloads are moving into the cloud. This is logical, as the scale and flexibility that cloud service providers (CSP) have available make for a very smart business decision. As you move more of your workloads to the cloud, security must be a key consideration. Building a strategy that focuses on business analysis and requirement for workload migration selection is key. Review of documented security policies and controls and assurance that they are applied to the migration process is essential. 

Maintaining compliance is, of course, critical to your business, whether it be with external laws such as GDPR, or CCPA, with the NIST standards, or your own internal security standards. Most importantly, performing the proper security analysis and validation testing is a key part of the formula for success. 

Gartner is now talking about the concept of cybersecurity mesh that governs the approach to architecture and controls. There are no longer well-defined physical security boundaries. Personnel accessing cloud services can be doing so from any device, anytime, and from anywhere. Traditional physical network access control is being replaced by access based on the user identity. This can be a person or device. Uniquely identifying every individual, or individual device, is paramount prior to granting access to services, applications or data. Using strong multi-factor authentication is critical to reducing the threat of credential stealing attacks. This is now the world we live in.

Identity and Access Control

As mentioned above, the world is moving to an identity-based access model. Employees want state-of-the-art devices to perform their jobs. Organizations want to enable users to connect from any device, anytime, and from anywhere. In order to support this securely, strong identity and access control systems will be required. Gartner refers to this segment as identity access governance (IAG). 2021 will see the demand for IAG grow significantly, as companies realize that once a user is on the corporate network, it may be too late to ensure effective IAG management. You must be able to ensure that every user and every user system are securely validated, and that access to applications or data is controlled at the individual user access level. Also, multi-factor authentication can significantly reduce the impact on user credential theft.

Zero-trust Architecture

“Zero trust” has been the new buzzword for the last several years, but it will become more prevalent in 2021. Zero trust means that you can no longer simply trust the users and resources that are within your security perimeter. This ties very closely back to comprehensive identity and access management, as well as proper authentication management before users, services, or resources are granted system access. There are several vendors that advertise their ability to perform in a zero-trust architecture, but the most important part prior to implementing any solutions is to determine your requirements, policies, and controls. Then focus on people, process, and technology together to ensure your architecture will meet your requirements. Any technology must work well within your operational parameters, meet your security requirements, and have the proper capability in concert with your security resources in order to provide protection, detection, and reaction capabilities when a breach occurs.

Cybersecurity Resources

The biggest challenge for 2021 is one of the most difficult to solve—there’s a shortage of cybersecurity professionals to meet the demands of the industry. Current figures show that approximately 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs will be left unfilled, because there simply are not the available resources to fill those positions. 

What can you do about this? Certainly, training from within is a great option. Looking to third- party companies to step in and fill the void in implementation, testing, assessment, and ongoing management oversight will also be very necessary. There are many third-party companies that have expert cybersecurity professionals that can assist you in meeting your cybersecurity goals and objectives. The average cost of a security breach in the U.S is $8.6 million dollars. The average cost of a security assessment is between $15,000 and $50,000. Think about that! Connection’s Cybersecurity Solutions Practice is one such organization that can help you meet your integration, assessment, testing, compliance, and managed services needs. Reach out to a Account Manager today to find out more.

Episode 92 – Connection Inside Access:... Jan 12, 2021 Connection In today’s episode, James Hilliard, your host, welcomes Brian Gallagher, Retail Strategy Business Dev. Director at Connection, and Jamal Khan, President Global Digital and Ecommerce at Connection, to engage in a thoughtful discussion around the current state of retail, as well as the importance of developing an omnichannel strategy to meet your customers wherever they are.

Connection’s retail experts discussed understanding the fundamental impacts of digital retail today, evaluated true omnichannel health coming into the holiday season, store operations and labor hours strategies, and how to avoid critical mistakes along the digital retailing journey.

Host: James Hilliard

Guest 1:  Brian Gallagher, Retail Strategy Business Dev Director at Connection

Guest 2: Jamal Khan, President Global Digital and ECommerce at Connection

Key takeaways:

[1:28] Brian talks about the current situation in regards to the impact of COVID on retail.

[2:55] Jamal describes the core fundamentals that teams need to have under consideration in their retail transformation.

[3:46] The six legs of the e-commerce stool.

[7:30] Jamal talks about the value of data right now.

[7:58] Jamal explains the concept of individualized buyer psychology.

[9:17] Brain talks about the customization of the retail experience.

[10:52] What are the mistakes that are happening in retail and how can they be avoided?

[13:24] Brian shares the example of Amazon’s growth.

[14:26] How can your retail company measure progress?

[17:08] Jamal explains the critical value of having the right culture in a company in order to make transitions successfully.

[18:02] What is Connection bringing to the retail ecosystems?

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Drive Manufacturing Productivity and... Jan 05, 2021 Ryan Spurr Cloud has a lot to offer manufacturing companies, including migrating from legacy and outdated information technology. 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. The real question is where do the largest benefits for cloud adoption lie and how do we unlock that to maximize returns, lower total cost of ownership, and aid business in its growth strategy?

Where Does the Benefit Exist?

First, it’s important for IT to take the first steps towards cloud to lay the foundation for connecting the enterprise. Without a solid foundation, organizations will struggle to take full advantage of what cloud services were truly built for: next generation capabilities, flexibility, and scale.

Second, the business needs to assess its business strategy and what it values. Take a serious look at top and bottom-line objectives, and where productivity is constrained due to legacy process and technology. 74% of chief financial officers’ view cloud solutions as the #1 contributor to business impact with the Internet of Things (IoT) as #2. The reason executive teams are looking long and hard at cloud is for its contribution towards radically transforming how an organization operates, most notably people, process, and tools. Locked inside of legacy organizations are massive waste built up over years; it’s this aspect of a business that best illustrates where the most significant benefits are located.

The total cost of ownership for cloud isn’t the pure cost of cloud itself; it’s the impact that cloud will have on IT and future business operations in relation to process, toolsets, and collaboration across the entire value stream.

How Does This Translate into Manufacturing People and Process?

Let’s explore a few areas where manufacturing is adopting cloud solutions to accelerate business outcomes.

Supply Chain
The supply chain continues to be a focus of many organizations. In fact, 55% of manufacturers are adopting and transitioning to cloud solutions. Perhaps more than any other department, the supply chain must interact with third-party suppliers and partners creating a demand for improved collaboration, integration, and data sharing—as well as a need to optimize the flow of materials and services to streamline production and distribution.

Manufacturing Execution and Quality Management

This fact I found surprising: 46% of manufacturers are planning or already adopting cloud for their manufacturing execution system (MES) and 59% for quality control and analysis. After overcoming my personal bias for on-premises production-critical systems and digesting the reasons behind the shift, it became clear to me that manufacturers are seeking rapid continuous improvement. It also empowers production and quality engineers to quickly integrate the diversity of data within the environment to automate, inform, and optimize production facilities. With access to the latest capabilities, modern processes, and the ability to get actionable insight from anywhere, engineers can shorten cycles and accelerate their continuous improvement efforts, yielding impactful business results.

Internet of Things

58% of executives are looking to the IoT to improve operations and expect both efficiency and revenue gains of 12% on average. IoT isn’t new. What is new and impactful for manufacturing is the diversity of offerings, ways they natively integrate with business applications and cloud platforms, the massive volume of them in adoption, and the value they’re generating. Cloud services are built to integrate with sensors, edge compute, and integrate the massive volume of data produced with business systems, business intelligence, and dashboards. For those more digitally-mature organizations, advanced solutions like artificial intelligence and machine learning are tapping into this data to augment and transform how employees work. Organizations are quickly realizing they can better manage this data in the cloud, while also integrating it with MES, QMS, CMMS, and other systems to automate and optimize processes at scale. This is the true goal of industry 4.0.

Whatever the department and use case, digital manufacturing is the real benefit impacting productivity, quality, and even sustainability. Cloud solutions help businesses realize their end state sooner.

How Does Business and IT Come Together? Adding Even More Value!

Let’s also not forget the other aspect of digital transformation, like the actual act of upgrading and deploying a new platform and addressing performance issues. Consider a first-ever implementation of MES. The business change and digital transformation is significant, never mind the complexity of standing up infrastructure to support development, test, training, and production. We often forget about the challenges of procuring physical infrastructure, addressing distribution across geographies, and mitigating performance and scale issues as we lead up to go-live, and post go-live optimization.

Now imagine your organization had adopted cloud infrastructure. Not only could your IT organization rapidly stand up new instances to support the initiative, but it could also distribute, scale, and optimize in minutes to ensure that traditional IT challenges don’t slow progress and impact how employees adopt and use cloud, and remain productive.

It’s also worth noting that many software vendors are now releasing their latest capabilities with a cloud-first model. They’re also integrating with cloud services to optimize how their platform intersects with other business systems, business intelligence, IoT, and middleware—making it easier than ever to streamline how data is exchanged and utilized across the enterprise.

Wherever your organization is with adopting cloud, one thing is clear: Cloud is agile, scalable, and delivers quick time to value. Those manufacturers already adopting cloud are determined to modernize and empower employees, eliminating waste and setting themselves up for the next wave of differentiation. The time has come to jettison your legacy and consider the cloud.

To learn more about the benefits, a roadmap for manufacturers, and how Connection can support you in your cloud adoption journey, be sure to read our Azure Readiness Checklist.

How the Right Microsoft Cloud Security... Dec 31, 2020 Sreeraj Vasukuttan After the rush to remote that happened in March 2020, most companies have rebounded to be able to quickly move employees to remote or hybrid work as the need arises. Employees can meet with hundreds of participants virtually from anywhere with a strong Internet connection, access work applications from any device, and analyze hundreds of thousands of data points to make better decisions and automate tedious yet critical tasks to save time. Enabling those experiences at scale is the grand vision of the cloud. But the cloud allows that data to be shared across more devices, apps, and endpoints, which increases vulnerability to malicious attacks. How do you keep your data, apps, and infrastructure available to remote workers, while ensuring your organization remains stable and secure?

Delivering the right security for customers’ cloud investments is the most significant challenge that the cloud providers face. To tackle this, companies like Microsoft invest billions of dollars in security research and development. However, cloud security is not just about developing the most sophisticated security tools. The security and privacy principles that govern the proactive evolution of practice frameworks and tools are perhaps the important baseline. 

Design Principles for a More Secure Cloud  

Microsoft’s approach to designing solutions for the best security entails three things: security that is built-in across devices and platforms, security that is integrated across people and devices and data, and security that is enhanced by AI and automation. This means built-in multifactor authentication, single sign-on, and password-less sign-on for any device that accesses the resources in the cloud. You may also have various purpose-built security tools designed for each use case, such as endpoints, email, clouds, identities, networks, and IoT devices. And it will all be connected and integrated to a centralized system that uses AI and automation to make the detection and remediation easier for humans.  

The interconnectedness of Microsoft’s individual security tools is perhaps the most important benefit of Microsoft’s security architecture. It allows the threat signals from each purpose-built security tool to flow to a centralized console like Microsoft 365 Defender and further to Azure Sentinel. Your security analysts will have full visibility of the entire cloud investment.  

Related: Strengthen Security and Improve Team Productivity: A Look into Azure Sentinel

Security, privacy, and compliance are closely related, and having a set of principles in place to safeguard the privacy of the company and personal information is a combined effort. When it comes to the privacy of your company and personal information, Microsoft adheres to the following principles:  

  • Control: This means putting everyone in control of their own privacy with easy-to-use tools and clear choices. 
  • Transparency: Being transparent about data collection, and how data is being used, so that everyone can make informed decisions. 
  • Security: Protecting the data that is entrusted to Microsoft through strong security and encryption. 
  • Strong legal protections: Respecting local privacy laws and fighting for legal protection of users’ privacy as a fundamental human right. 
  • No content-based targeting: Not using email, chat, files, or other personal content to target advertising. 
  • Benefit to you: This means collecting data only for the benefit of users, and to make the experience better. 

The Importance of the Shared Responsibility Model

Your cloud provider building their solutions upon robust security principles is the first step in providing you the best security, but the responsibility does not end there. According to the shared responsibility model, the responsibility for securing your cloud investments is also upon you. Understanding the shared responsibility model will help you design better security frameworks and practices.  


As shown in the picture, the responsibility moves from Microsoft to the customer depending on the cloud service type you choose. While it’s not surprising that the on-premises cloud is fully your responsibility, the fact that you are responsible for the operating system, network controls, and applications on IaaS should not come as a surprise. 

The Implications of the Zero Trust Model

The term zero trust was coined by John Kindervag, an industry analyst at Forrester, and now it’s a very popular framework to measure your network security practices. According to the model, you must never trust by default—continuous validation across varied conditions is the only way to trust a user. The zero trust model has resulted in security strategies, such as defense in-depth, that offer maximum protection to your data. Microsoft uses this layered approach in their Azure data centers to protect your data. You can also use this approach to build a security practice for areas in which security is your responsibility.   

Wrapping Up

Protecting your data and privacy should not be an afterthought. Through bedrock principles, proactive frameworks, and ever-evolving tools, Microsoft will help you have the best security around your investment. But understanding the shared responsibility models and implementing the right security design principles will ensure that your cloud investments have long-term security. The first step is to plan properly in the initial phase of your cloud journey. Reach out to our Microsoft Security Experts if you need help

Episode 91 – Three Ways to Support K12... Dec 30, 2020 Connection Penny Conway, your host, is joined by Pamela Aulakh and Kevin Schmid to today’s episode to talk about the three ways that the CARES Act can support K12 education and how schools are leveraging founding for technology and the work they still have ahead of them. Now that schools are deep into the first half of a new school year, it is interesting to evaluate how things are going for teachers and school administrations.

Host: Penny Conway

Guest 1: Pamela Aulakh, Vertical Alliance Manager for K12. Connection

Guest 2: Kevin Schmid. Public Sector Alliances Manager. Intel.

Key takeaways:

[1:25] Kevin introduces himself.

[2:20] Pam talks about her role at Connection as well as her background in education.

[3:58] Pam and Kevin talk about the current situation of teachers and school administrators while navigating the pandemic.

[6:17] What is the new piece of advice that Connection and Intel have to face the near future’s challenges? 

[8:44].Pam talks about how to chose devices to fill not only the current needs but the future ones too.

[11:34] What are the priorities that can be expected at a national education level in 2021?

[12:02] Digital equity.

[13:30] Kevin dives deep into the topic of device selection in order for students to be more productive and teachers more effective in a hybrid educational environment .

[15:23] Pam talks about the current demand on devices.

[16:56] Pam gives advice for schools to ask for and administer the founding received through the CARES Act.

[17:38] How is Intel working with schools to manage timelines and laborage the CARES act founding?

[19:46] Kevin explains how to approach positively the uncertainty of the near future in regards to education. 

[21:21] Pam explains why the disruption that has occurred in education is not a bad thing at all. 

[23:40] A student’s laptop is now a required instruction material the same way a textbook was.

[25:38] Pam and Kevin share the best ways of reaching them.

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Episode 90 – Intel and Cybersecurity... Dec 30, 2020 Connection According to the 2020 Harvey Nash KPMG CIO Survey, security is currently the number one priority across the IT landscape. According to the survey of over 2000 IT leaders before and during the pandemic, 41% of organizations have experienced additional cybersecurity incidents due to remote working. How prepared are you for the cybersecurity challenges that come from long term remote work?

Penny Conway, your host, is talking with the security experts from Intel and Connection about how to build a strategy to protect your data from now on.

Host: Penny Conway

Guest 1: Yasser Rasheed. Global Director (Enterprise Endpoint & Security Products) Intel Corporation

Guest 2: Stephen Nardone. Practice Director, Security Technology Solutions Group. Connection.

Key takeaways:

[1:43] Yasser introduces his expertise.

[2:30] Stephen talks about his background and the expertise he is bringing to the podcast.

[4:36] Three-step strategy on how to build infrastructure and keep it up to date for ongoing protection.

[5:14] Yasser talks about the quickly shifting environment.

[6:45] Stephen talks about the impact that remote work has on cybersecurity.

[10:24] How do you control multiple environments?

[12:29] Stephen talks about effective protection and response technology.

[14:30] Protect, Detect, and Correct.

[16:51] Aspects to have under consideration ahead of time.

[19:08] How is the protection built into the infrastructure of a device?

[20:22] First: Modernize the infrastructure, get the right device.

[21:05] To refresh and update is supercritical.

[21:55] Stephen talks about his role in building the right infrastructure and keeping it up to date.

[25:45] Stephen talks about the importance of looking for the newest technologies and processes on the ecosystem to help identify where the risk is.

[29:03]  Ongoing education for the most critical threat that we have: the human end-user.

[31:15] Constant education is needed.

[33:20] Stephen and Yasser share their closing thoughts about how to continue the much-needed education in regards to cybersecurity.

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Creating a more Secure Remote Workspace with... Dec 30, 2020 Shannon Barnes More people are working remotely than ever before, which leads to increased demands on IT and end users alike. And while employees are working machines harder, companies are pushing PC refreshes further out. Simply stated, IT is being asked to do more with less.

Hear from Yasser Rasheed, the global director of Enterprise Endpoint and Security Products from Intel, and Stephen Nardone, Connection’s director of Cyber Security Solutions Practice, on the state of security in the workplace and the vulnerabilities that should be addressed—and avoided—in today’s environment.

Learn why software security might not be enough to protect company assets and information and how end users can open up vulnerabilities. Discover how IT’s role of managing so many endpoints presents the challenge to maintaining a secure network and how IT should plan for the future when it comes to investing in technology that takes an active role in security.

What should IT directors consider when contemplating software security vs. hardware security for their devices? What’s the case for both?

You can’t start this conversation without just a brief visit through history. When software firewalls first came out, it was pretty much concluded that they were a big mistake, right? So, the key consideration here is of all this software. Coding techniques have evolved. Things have gotten better in the software world in general. Strength of mechanism—what we like to talk about in the cybersecurity world—has been built in.

The key thing is that we’re using the devices. And the other thing is testing, to make sure that there are no software flaws. So maybe do secure code reviews on devices that you’re more concerned about—certainly do some level of security testing—to ensure there aren’t weaknesses in the interfaces. But other than that, hardware security gives you a lot of flexibility and scalability. It also gives you some of the autonomous capabilities that we’re starting to see in networking. It certainly is the direction the industry is going.

I totally agree. We know that—for the last decade or so—many companies have been spending more and more on software security. Yet the problem is getting bigger and bigger. The last data point I heard was that 75 percent of companies attacked by ransomware were running up-to-date software security. Software alone is not sufficient anymore. I think everybody realizes that. We now need to look at how to get hardware to supplement and support software in the right way. But hardware will not replace software. However, it will augment, support, and strengthen software security. Ideally the transition is to do both together rather than have hardware-based security replace software.

How does end user indifference to or naivety about malware impact IT’s ability to maintain a secure infrastructure, and what are you seeing in your respective roles?

The end user is the weakest link in security management. People don’t want to think about security and safety in general—they prefer to believe that everything is going to be well. And the attacker just needs to see a point of weakness somewhere—a 1 percent crack in the dam. That’s what they are going after. The defender needs to protect against everything 100 percent. And that’s a much harder task to do. But it starts with education and awareness at the end user level. Whether it’s the typical case of opening up an email or clicking on a bad link; the rest is history. It could also be someone who writes down their password—say consisting of their dog’s name and a couple of digits—on a piece of paper and making it easy for an attacker. A line of defense is critical.

As Yasser indicated, security users are the weakest link in the security chain. There is a huge problem that exists when trying to educate users on making good decisions. We now refer to users as human firewalls, which really covers the expectation. There are policies and controls that a firewall has to be able to enforce. Users need to understand that their capability to do the same thing is critically important. But what we’ve seen with the vastly increased remote workforce is a 600 percent-plus increase in phishing attacks—specifically targeting users with false COVID-19 information. They are trying to coerce users into clicking on links or open objects that are malicious.

Constant vigilance is what’s really required to help users understand what they need to be doing. There will be some level of consistent training to make sure they’re aware of what’s going on. We must make them aware of the latest attacks out there and what they might need to do to protect against them. You also need to run consistent phishing, envisioning, and testing in the environment to see if you have weaknesses in your employee base. It is critical to do all of that.

Are you finding that guidance is being impacted because a remote workforce is not as tangible as it is in the office, making them a little more relaxed? If so, how do you change that?

They may be more relaxed because they are working outside of the physical confines of the enterprise. The IT administration or the information security teams now have to defend and protect the users and their devices in an environment that is not controlled anymore. This is critical. In every household, there are other people who may be trying to access other websites or bringing in different entry points, if you will, into an environment, which operates as a work environment. Whether it’s a teenager playing games, or someone else trying to access Wi-Fi in the same house, they need to now consider this as part of the perimeter.

With those complexities in mind, whether it’s a home office, on-site, or hotels/airports/restaurants, what security struggles are you seeing that are here today or could come tomorrow?

One, of course, is how are users connecting to the corporate environment? In reality, everybody’s really good at doing that. We’re using VPNs—encrypted, secure tunneling. Some are doing network access control to validate user access. That has been in the industry for quite a while. The remote worker adds another interesting twist on that since the network is now the home network that they’re on.

We just recently did a red team/blue team exercise to put a video together. One of the issues we addressed was the impact of the user being breached on the home network. That’s something that’s feasible, as the malicious actors out there are 10 steps ahead. Now that corporate asset is also compromised, and it’s connecting securely to the corporate network. But is the malware on that system capable of compromising the network? Once it’s securely connected, can it escalate privilege based upon what the user’s privileges are? What can it do to wreak havoc in the network and so on? That’s really the huge, fundamental issue.

Security, in terms of that component, is not something that we typically think about. That’s what the workforce introduced. It’s really important. The concept of zero-trust networking is huge.

Zero trust was a concept but is now a necessity for every organization. They can no longer depend on a perimeter that is within the physical confines of the work environment. Now that the perimeter has eroded, businesses need to defend at the device level. And they need to divide to defend the human level as well. Organizations really need to educate everyone on how to do the right level of protection in the right way, every time, every minute. COVID accelerated that, but COVID did not really introduce the challenge. It’s just an acceleration. Frankly, even after COVID is behind us, we won’t go back to where we were. Security standards are going to new places. And that new norm is in the making today.

Here’s a question for our Intel expert. Yasser, regarding hardware-level security, what impact do Intel vPro® and Intel® Hardware Shield have?

The Intel vProplatform is designed to offer the best security for business environments. Intel vPro includes built-in security capabilities—such as Intel Hardware Shield—as well as remote management support through Intel® Active Management Technology (Intel® AMT). This gives organizations the ability to detect threats and react to them.

As you know, that can be a key component of a business continuity plan as well. There are technologies built into the Intel vProplatform that can be leveraged to provide remote administration and remote support as well as more security on those devices. That’s something to take into consideration.

In closing, when it comes to cybersecurity, what best practices have been identified in 2020? What should leadership consider when strategizing their future IT investments?

To summarize in three steps, I would look at the process in the following way: First, modernize the infrastructure. Get the right devices in place and the right infrastructure on the networking side. Otherwise, you’re dealing with old technology, which is a lot easier for the attackers to break.

Second, keep it current and manage that infrastructure with the right updates and patches and the right hygiene in place to have the right infrastructure in place.

Third, layer in the right level of security with zero-trust techniques—and be sure to educate your users on how to deal with keys, what to encrypt, and what to protect.

Those are all really great points. The biggest issue—and what businesses have learned in 2020—is the concept of business continuity. That’s been the biggest flaw that we’ve seen, in general, especially in the small- and midmarket space. Companies did not have any type of a business continuity plan. When they were forced to move workers out of the corporate environment, they essentially didn’t know how to do that well. That was the case for system performance, operational performance, and security.

One of the beauties of the continuation of the remote work or strategy is that companies that weren’t doing that are sort of continuously operating in business continuity mode anyway. They now have the tools, the techniques, and the strategy to be able to do that. It’s a huge focus, and it’s certainly something that every company needs to be evaluating right now.

What’s next?

Employee diligence in helping prevent malicious access is the first line of defense—but not the only line of defense. As we look to business continuity, users working in an environment not controlled by corporate IT needs to be considered. Invest in the right technology—both hardware and software—to provide barriers against malicious access. For more information on how Intel® technology can take an active role in security for your organization, go to

Notices & Disclaimers

Intel technologies may require enabled hardware, software or service activation.

No product or component can be absolutely secure.

Your costs and results may vary.

© Intel Corporation.  Intel, the Intel logo, and other Intel marks are trademarks of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries.  Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others.

Moving Education Forward in 2021 Dec 30, 2020 Shannon Barnes 2020 got a bad rap—appropriately so—because of all we had to do as a country to get through the hurdles it presented. Decisions were life or death—for people, companies, and education. We reacted and scrambled to stay above water and push through the best we could. 2020 was reactionary, and we did the best we could with the circumstances. Now that the year is winding down and with the release of the vaccine the end is in sight, we will be entering the “next normal”. What does that mean for education? We deployed computers by the thousands in school districts that were purchased not from planning, evaluating, budgeting, then procuring—but rather from the need to get kids into a virtual classroom, essentially overnight, and bring as much content to the delivery of education as we could. The machines purchased were less “you’re the one,” but more “you’ll do for now,” because it was what schools could get their hands on.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Pam Aulakh, Connection’s K–12 Vertical Alliance manager, and Kevin Schmid, Intel’s Public Sector Alliance manager, to get a boots-on-the-ground perspective from the many customer engagements they are having with school districts across the country.

What are some new challenges that schools and agencies are facing when it comes to remote learning that might be less well known, and maybe aren’t making the news the way “Zoom bombing” incidents in classrooms have in recent months?

There are two things to address with that question. The first is about security. Every device that was purchased made a school district’s networking system more vulnerable. Most districts did not spend money toward security components, and they provisioned the devices themselves. With that, districts are slowly coming to realize the importance of addressing security. The second challenge—which districts are really working hard at (and doing a good job solving)—are connectivity issues. This leads to the realization that, when connected, the bandwidth for teachers and students may be insufficient for video calls and more.

Pam addressed critical topics there—security, connectivity, and access are super important topics right now that are taking place behind the scenes. I would add that it creates a manageability challenge. Help desks have been overwhelmed because the paradigm has completely shifted under their feet in terms of how they’re delivering support. This is a challenge that is continuing to be addressed.

Looking ahead into 2021 and beyond, how do you think delivery of education will evolve beyond what’s happening today?

Referring to the help desk, the challenge will be supporting not only district technology remotely, but also family-owned devices. Their customer base changed from staff to include parents of all levels of technology capabilities. Some districts just aren’t set up to be able to help them—adding to the struggle. Regarding the future, there were a lot of great lessons we learned in 2020. The disruption that we’ve experienced is going to change the future for the better. We’re going to continue to see districts offer more-robust virtual and online learning opportunities. Those things that were evangelized by smaller groups of people in a district—in terms of remote and hybrid learning—are now being repeated by millions of people in order to support their students. This new model of learning will be the standard going forward.

The ability to access virtual learning is going to be with us for a while. Think about a rural student who can now access classes they could never take before. Remote learning is a great way for us to not only meet the kids where they’re at, but also to provide them access to content, teachers, and coursework that they just wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. Currently, we see articles discussing how virtual learning is not working right. And you know what, for the most part, we were never wanting or needing to go 100 percent virtual. It does work for some students. But for many students, this isn’t the right learning paradigm to use full time, all the time. As we shift into the future, a hybrid or blended learning model offers the classroom the option to assign some kids to work with digital tools, allowing the teacher time to address very small groups of kids on more of an individualized basis. I think that, as we begin to really start to look into the future, it’s going to be about managing those learning paradigms by leveraging the technology tools in unique and creative ways that actually free up instructional time for the teachers and provide them more meaningful data based on how their students are doing.

Should decision-makers in education and government also be concerned with user experience in the technology that they manage?

Absolutely. When choosing technology, considering how it will be used is so important. An area that we mentioned earlier is video capabilities. You can save money by purchasing a lower-priced device. However, overlooking features for the sake of price may not provide the technology needed to support the way that they’re going to deliver and receive instruction. The IT decision-maker needs to take that user experience into consideration for everything—not just the students, but also for the teachers.

I couldn’t agree more. An IT professional who’s not paying attention to user experience right now is really going to find themselves in a difficult situation. The users are going to demand functionality and won’t understand why you bought a device that barely—if at all—meets the needs of today. You really need to be future planning when you’re buying and purchasing technology today and considering what the true utilization of the technology will be prior to purchase.

And really, the keywords for 2020 and 2021, in terms of technology purchases, should be flexible and agile. When purchasing technology, they need to make sure, as Kevin said, that it serves their current needs, but also is going to serve their future needs—and also be future-proofed.

When it comes to 2020 technology buys, what have we learned?

It was emergency-learning support. It was, “I need it now. Otherwise, I don’t know where all my kids are.” So the buys were to meet immediate need, and districts took what was available that they could procure in large quantities. Now districts are moving forward with more strategy involved in what they’re looking to purchase.

There wasn’t time to evaluate new devices, software applications, and use models. It was simply getting purchase authorizations for devices approved, purchased, and pushed out immediately. Now we have the opportunity to go back and revisit this.

A great example I have is we were discussing different types of devices for a flexible classroom with a customer. They were originally looking at basic touch devices. In the end, they moved to a more robust platform that still had touchscreen for their teachers because of the flexibility and agility the better system afforded. The technology they decided on was a future-proof device. That is a great example of beyond the right now.

The usage paradigms have changed for how applications are being used—and their requirements. We talked a little bit about security and manageability. Videoconferencing is a newer application that school districts are now testing as part of their decision-making criteria for student devices. In business, we have all been in video meetings with blurred or virtual backgrounds. Before 2020, those were nice-to-have features. In remote work environments, it’s actually critical to create some privacy for folks as they’re working from home full time. That background takes a lot of processing power. The requirements to make that happen on a device now look different than they did in the past.

Intel is launching its 11th Generation Intel® Core™ processors now. What would you want education or government IT decision-makers to know about products featuring Intel—which might be a better choice for them? Also, what should be considered with Intel® vPro™ technology when it comes to administrator, teacher, and government devices?

We are super excited about our 11th Gen processor launch. This is a really, really big launch for us. We’re seeing a lot of capability in this processor and what it’s going to enable for the platforms that our various OEM partners bring to market. It’s going to be, if we look at it from an education perspective, one of the most secure and manageable devices that they’re going to find out there. The processors address those big areas we discussed today.

11th Gen processors have improved  performance over prior generations. When we talk about the new usage models that teachers are experiencing now with Zoom, Intel offers built-in artificial intelligence that helps with background noise. They also do CPU offload. We improved performance for videoconferencing and background usage—which has become so prevalent. Finally, was that it has a real focus on battery life. In our internal testing of an 11th Gen product, we got longer battery life   running full HD video1. This really should provide a better impact, particularly as we transition back into the schools. We know that will be happening at some point, and the kids and teachers are going real-world battery life. 11th Gen really addresses our discussion around future-proofing your devices, and the new processors are really made to help with that future-proofing exercise.

The ability to support what the teachers and students need to do on devices with a future-proof strategy is key. The conversation should never be about what the device can do. It should be about what do they need to do to deliver lesson plans and then find the right device to support it. In 2020, we saw that in reverse, where they were just needing a device—any device—that could cover the basics to get up and running. There was no time to think then, like there is now, about user experience and what the goal was for using those devices.

Technology plays a very important role in employee and student experience. Especially now. I would think that IT decision-makers in education and the public sector who are looking to attract and retain the best people would want to put an emphasis on experience—especially as it relates to the devices they provide. How do you see modern technology helping to create the best employee experience?

Equipping teachers with a robust toolbox of technology is great, but it must be balanced with ongoing and sustainable professional development programs that ensure teachers have the skills to use technology the way the purchasers intended. With the current situation, I think we are going to see changes in higher education with teacher preparation programs. Most of these programs graduate teachers with some level of technology skills, but I think that new teachers are going to have the expectation that whatever district they teach in is going to be committed to providing them with the right tech tools for success in new learning environments.

Employees want to use devices that enable them to be their best selves at work. If a teacher is trying to deliver a lesson over video, utilize a Learning Management System (LMS), or needs remote support from their IT organization—and this experience isn’t adequate to meet their needs—at best, you have a dissatisfied teacher. At worst, your teacher has a significant loss in productivity that also impacts the learning outcomes of students. Having the right device that has the right performance, is responsive, and allows employees to work the way that best suits their individual work styles is important.

To wrap up today’s discussion, if you could only give one piece of advice about how to prioritize new PC purchases, upgrades, or refreshes to a school IT administrator—or other IT decision-maker— what would that advice be?

My advice would be to look toward solutions that are flexible and agile that suit current needs but also support future models for teaching and learning.

Many students have been issued devices that may have been adequate in a school setting but may not be as functional for blended or remote learning. School districts are already seeing drops in enrollment across the US. They need to ensure that the students they serve have solutions that meet modern learning requirements. Students need to have enough bandwidth and a device with adequate performance to ensure an overall good experience with videoconferencing and collaboration tools. In addition, student devices need to support remote management and they need to have enhanced security features that protect students.

What’s next
We are now planning for the future. The schools that once strived to have 1:1 devices now demand it. Education devices must be robust enough to deliver on student needs—often meaning there are many applications working in concert to conduct the day’s work. The devices that were “grabbed up” are not necessarily going to fit that bill in the long term. This is the time where we want to plan our technology purchases for years to come.

One good takeaway for 2020 was that we learned a lot. We learned what we need in technology to deliver a robust education in any environment. We found opportunities for professional development that will carry us past a pandemic. Some of us even learned how to make sourdough bread. (That was definitely a 2020 thing!) Now, we move forward, more agile and evolved, planful, and prepared.

If you have questions on choosing the right technology, we are just a click away! Go to and fill out the form at the bottom of the page. We will be glad to get you connected to the resources to help you plan your technology strategy.

Notices & Disclaimers

Performance varies by use, configuration and other factors. Learn more at​  or

Performance results are based on testing as of dates shown in configurations and may not reflect all publicly available ​updates.  See backup for configuration details.  No product or component can be absolutely secure. 

Your costs and results may vary. 

Verified, measured and tested against a premium specification and Key Experience Indicators as part of Intel's laptop innovation program Project Athena. Testing results as of August 2020, and do not guarantee individual laptop performance.  Power and performance vary by use, configuration and other factors.  For more complete information about performance and benchmark results, visit

Processor: Intel® Core™ i7-1185G7 processor (TGL-U) PL1=28W with Intel® Dynamic Tuning Technology (Intel® DTT) enabled, 4C8T, Memory: LPDDR4-4267MHz, 16GB (2x8GB), dual channel and dual rank, Storage: Intel® 660p M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD,  Display Resolution: 19x10 expect Lifestyle workload (4K), OS: Microsoft Windows* 10 20H1-19041.326 Power policy set to AC/Balanced mode for all benchmarks except SYSmark 25 which is measured in AC/BAPCo mode for Performance. Power policy set to DC/Balanced mode for power with UX Slider set to Better Battery. All benchmarks run in Admin mode, Graphics: Intel® Xe Graphics, Graphics driver:, Bios version: TGLSFWI1.R00.3284.A00.2007091654 measured on Intel reference board. Temperature: Tc=60c for all IA performance measurements. Tc=85c for all Graphics performance measurements. Processor: AMD Ryzen™ 7 4800U processor, 8C16T, Memory: 2x8GB DDR4-3200MHz, Storage: Western Digital Corporation PC SN730 SDBPNTY-512G-1101,  Display Resolution: 19x10, OS: Microsoft Windows* 10 Pro 10.0.19041.330, Graphics: AMD Radeon(TM) Graphics, Graphics driver: 26.20.14042.3009, Bios version: F0CN15WW measured on OEM system based on highest available performance profile.

9 or more hours of real-world battery life on laptops with FHD displays: Time taken to drain from 100% to critical battery level while performing typical workflows in a realistic environment. For more complete information about performance and benchmark results, visit

4 or more hours of battery life in a 30-minute charge on laptops with FHD displays: Charge attained from OEM-default shutdown level. For more complete information about performance and benchmark results, visit

Intel technologies may require enabled hardware, software or service activation. © Intel Corporation.  Intel, the Intel logo, and other Intel marks are trademarks of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries.  Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others. 

7 Reasons to Ensure Your Office 365 Data Is... Dec 29, 2020 Jennifer Gibson-Kautz If there is anything that the year 2020 has taught us, it’s to be prepared. Whether we stocked up on paper towels or built the bunker to hold our gallons of hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes, we have all learned that things happen, and we need to be ready for them.

Recently, I had the privilege of listening to my colleague Penny Conway interview Jason Buffington, the Vice President of Solutions Strategy at Veeam. His focus is on developing and accelerating “better together” customer outcomes through Veeam’s strategic alliance partners, like Connection.

Jason was joined by Franklin Nsude, a Senior Microsoft Cloud Solutions Architect at Connection. Their discussion was candid, as they really spoke to the common denominator of IT security and data archiving in everyday business life. They gave the listener clear answers to why Microsoft Azure and Veeam should be part of a data protection strategy.

One thing I learned that really struck me is that the number of Microsoft 365 / Office 365 users who are not backing up their data is staggering. Surprisingly, 76% don’t even realize they have to—or at least, that they should.1 That means, given the roughly 650,000 U.S.-based companies who are using Office 365, over 400,000 do not realize that backing up their Office 365 data is critical. Not only that, but 44% of companies have already experienced downtime that has damaged their brand—and their integrity!

That’s why I’ve put together seven critical reasons an Office 365 environment needs to be backed up:

  1. Accidental deletion and other user errors
  2. Retention policy gaps and confusion
  3. Internal security threats
  4. External security threats
  5. Legal and compliance requirements
  6. Managing Office 365 migration; hybrid email deployments
  7. Securing your Teams data structure

We have all have been in the position of accidentally deleting files, emails, or presentations and have called IT to negotiate a detailed “data safari mission” to get those lost files back. The need for companies to adhere to legal requirements and compliance laws and retention rules can quickly become overwhelming. How does all of this data get managed, saved, and restored?

Mitigating Internal Threats

Of all of the reasons for backing up your Office 365 environment, there are a couple to point out that should be paramount to this solution. The first is managing internal security threats. Some companies have experienced employees attempting to delete incriminating information or adjusting files, but there are other dangers that come from within. Recently, a former Cisco engineer was sentenced to 24 months in prison for accessing Cisco’s network without authorization and destroying servers that hosted 16,000 Webex accounts. This could have happened to any company who had an employee with authorization to access virtual and on-premises servers. That employee connects to the infrastructure undetected, and it could be days or weeks before the damage is uncovered.

Migrating to Office 365 for Increased Security

With so many requirements for security, compliance, and massive data storage needs, many companies are opting to adopt Office 365. The transition to the new platform does require some time to move from an on-premises Exchange to Office 365 Exchange online. There may be a need to leave a portion of the on-premises system in place, and that would require flexibility and control of both environments. With an Office 365 backup solution, they could handle all email requirements for the on-premises environment as well as for the new cloud instance. The right process would also treat all Exchange data the same, regardless of its source. The Veeam backup solution, as Jason explained, allows you to store in Azure Blob, with a Managed Service Provider, or any other object storage.

Keeping Up with Compliance Regulations

As I was having coffee this morning, I read that multiple companies and offices that have to adhere to compliance, legal regulations, and security were victims of a major hack. It turns out that hackers from a foreign government were able to breach a software provider and deploy malware to infect the networks of some U.S. companies, as well as several U.S. government agencies. At this point, there are upwards of 18,000 customers affected by this. Hopefully those agencies have a backup solution for their Office 365 data!

Every Team Needs a Reliable Backup

The other aspect of the need for a solid backup is Teams. The number of people actively using Teams has now surged to 115M per day. Teams far outpaces other platforms, not only in its communication ability, but also in its collaboration. My coworkers and I use Teams for practically all of our communication needs now that we’re working remote. And just from my own usage, the amount of files, chats, calls, and presentations getting to the company Teams environment has to be pretty big. I’m just a tiny player in the Teams playground—and that data needs to get backed up.

Veeam just launched a new backup and recovery for Teams called Veeam Explorer for Microsoft Teams, V5. It includes restoring Teams channels, settings, permissions apps, and tabs. There are advanced search abilities that are baked into the new release. One of the new tools is a restoration of data and components that includes 17 parameters for posts, files, and more. Those who utilize eDiscovery will find this to be a gamechanger! It is intensive, in that you can choose restore your entire organization’s channels or pick out just one file. Veeam is all about performance; this new V5 release runs even faster and has better scalability.

Hearing what Franklin faces every day with our customers and what Jason described as a means to solve so many customers’ challenges makes me think that putting Veeam to work to back up Office 365 just makes good sense. I recommend listening to the podcast to learn more!

1Veeam customer survey, 2019.

Episode 89 – The TIDC Holiday Special Dec 24, 2020 Connection A continued conversation with the leaders of Connection's TIDC - Technical Integration and Distribution Center in Wilmington Ohio.  Logistics companies throughout the Nation have been stressed with supply chain issues, increased shipping needs during the holiday season and an unprecedented number of vaccines being distributed in record time.  All while dealing with Covid compliance and let's not forget to sprinkle in some bad winter weather for kicks.

Listen in while the experts talk the tech that has made their systems "Best In Class"

Host: Penny Conway

Co-Host: Rob McIntosh

Guest: Steven L. Crowthers VP of TIDC

Guest: Mark Wulfhorst Director of Technical Services and Solutions

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Episode 88 – Roundtable of Users and... Dec 23, 2020 Connection In the new age of digital collaboration MS Teams continues to evolve and emerge as the platform of choice for government agencies, businesses and education.  On today's podcast, listen to how teams is being used from the perspective of an administrator and power users.

Our Teams roundtable discusses how they use Teams, what they like about it, and how it works in tandem with their other collaboration tools. Continue to be amazed!

Host: Penny Conway

Guest 1: Jeff Trent — Vice President, Federal Sales — Connection

Guest 2: Rachel Spannuth - Business Applications Specialist - Connection

Guest 3: Rob McIntosh- Marketing Manager Business Solutions Group - Connection

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Episode 87 – E-Rate Changes, Deadlines... Dec 22, 2020 Connection There has been no more important time in the history of our schools and libraries to take advantage of all the E-Rate program has to offer.  Affordable internet and telecommunications during these challenging times is mission critical and E-Rate will help your school or library.   James talks to Tom Halberda on how the E-Rate program has changed over the years and recent changes you need to know.  Find out about approaching deadlines and exactly what E-rate funding can be used for.  Connection expert Tom Halberda walks you through the motions and tells a few E-rate stories you'll want to hear.

Host: James Hilliard

Guest : Tom Halberda,  - Director of E-Rate & Data Center Sales - Connection SLED

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Why Manufacturers Need to Adopt Cloud or... Dec 22, 2020 Ryan Spurr Recent studies have found that 60% of manufacturing employees prefer cloud solutions over on-premises and 74% of CFOs indicate cloud computing will have the most measurable impact on their businesses. So, what’s preventing your business from developing a cloud strategy to promote business growth, digital acceleration, and improved employee productivity?

Why Are Manufacturers Choosing Cloud?

Manufacturing leaders are reimagining their enterprise infrastructure in terms of flexibility, capacity to support scaling strategies, and deliver on business outcomes. More specifically, they’re thinking in terms of how cloud offerings support the modern day workforce, power next generation processes, eliminate silos, and contribute to productivity improvements. Consequently, supply chain, production, and non-essential business applications are all being transitioned to cloud offerings in an effort unleash organizational potential. Cloud impacts don’t end with internal employees; moreover, they have the capacity to reach outside the organization to transform collaboration with suppliers, partners, and in delivering a better customer experience.

Cloud Isn’t Just for Line of Business

It’s not only business stakeholders who seek or may benefit from cloud adoption. With already stretched information technology organizations, growing business adoption of next generation technologies, and a constantly expanding tech estate, it’s important for information technology to take stock of what must remain on-premises vs. what may be offloaded to cloud.

With so many cloud offerings available today, it’s easy for manufacturers to get excited about starting their cloud journey with the most risky or highest value business process and technologies. Think engineering PLM, production MES, or other business assets with significant intellectual property or process knowledge. Of course, your company doesn’t have to start here to bring value to the organization.

Most manufacturers can reap significant value and a lower total cost of ownership by transitioning basic information technology services or non-critical department workloads. Lower risk actions allow information technology to shed complexity while taking meaningful steps toward cloud adoption. Delivering early cloud wins improve upon employee experience, reliability, and overall service delivery while gaining the necessary skillsets and trust when it comes time to tackle higher value initiatives.

On the flip side, the reality is most organizations still struggle to take early steps towards cloud despite awareness, excitement, or leadership support. This is a result of common obstacles such as skillsets, security, cost model complexity, and data or workload transition. Among manufacturing companies, 50% lack necessary technical skills and 43% cite lack of trusted technology partner as obstacles holding back adoption. You do not need to do it alone. These obstacles can be avoided with the right guidance and expertise from partners, ensuring manufacturers select the best fitting services, usage optimization, and services that can jumpstart early transition of workloads.


On the whole, manufacturing organizations are among the top three industries with above average adoption of cloud. With good reason—manufacturers are constantly seeking to counteract an array of headwinds, eliminate waste, and speed up their business. In order to accomplish this, manufacturers must reconsider their tech estate and how it aids in meeting business goals. With ample use cases and proven adoption rates, cloud offerings exist to deliver on both individual department and overall corporate objectives of growth, profitability, and improved customer value.

To learn more about the benefits of cloud for manufacturers and how Connection supports our customers in their cloud adoption journey, read our Azure Checklist for Manufacturers.

Episode 86 – Top 3 Tips and Tricks of... Dec 21, 2020 Connection Microsoft currently has over 115,000,000 daily users and growing every day.  Why the adoption? What are some of the advantages of Teams and what are the top 3 tips and tricks as suggested by Microsoft Experts?  Listen in and learn new ways to use one of the fastest growing collaboration tools for our new virtual world!

Host: Penny Conway

Guest 1: Katie John — Senior Product Manager — Microsoft Center of Excellence

Guest 2: Jenny Gibson-Kautz, - Partner Development Specialist - Microsoft Center of Excellence

Guest 3: Rob McIntosh, - Marketing Manager  - Connection Business Solutions Group

Key takeaways:

[4:37] Remote Work gets a face-lift with teams for a back to office feel from home.

[7:20] Collaboration, organization and a reduction in e-mails through the teams portal

[10:10] Utilizing the @ feature to tag someone and notify within teams

[10:31] Message notification and prioritization

[12:27] Open Federation and sharing teams outside your organization

[14:05] All new Whiteboard Function for interactive meetings

[16:23] Breakout rooms for events, large meetings, trainings and more.

[19:39] Wrap up and summary by Penny Conway

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Episode 85 – Seven Reasons to Backup... Dec 17, 2020 Connection According to a recent Veeam Customer Survey, 76% of Office 365 users don’t realize they need to backup their data, this should make us all feel a little nervous, especially as we are living in a time when cyberattacks are happening all around us.

Penny Conway, your host, welcomes the experts from Veeam and Microsoft to talk about the seven reasons you need to be backing up your Office 365, your new number one priority!

Host: Penny Conway

Guest 1: Jason Buffington — Vice President, Solution Strategy — Veeam

Guest 2: Franklin Nsude, Sr. Microsoft Cloud Solutions Architect

Key takeaways:

[1:28] Franklin introduces himself.

[1:53] Jason talks about his role at Veeam and his career in the data protection space.

[2:55] Who is in charge of backing up Microsoft 365?

[3:38] Reasons why you should back up your Microsoft 365.

[7:31] Franklin shares his view on the matter of public knowledge in regards to backups.

[9:43] Extending the retention period is not the same as an operational backup.

[10:01] Jason talks about Veeam’s history.

[12:11] Creating business continuity through backups.

[13:01] The seven reasons why you should care about backing up Microsoft 365.

[13:25] Reason #1: Accidental deletion.

[14:59] Reason #2: Retention Gaps.

[16:23] Reason #3: Internal threats.

[18:07] Reason #4: External threats and impacts.

[19:20] Reason #5: Legal compliance.

[19:55] Reason #6: Migration.

[21:42] Franklin talks about the possibility to use backup for migration. 

[24:23] Reason #7: Teams!

[30:36] Jason shares about the changes in Microsoft Teams.

[31:35] Franklin talks about one of his experiences migrating data.

[35:00] How to start a backup service. 

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Strengthen Security And Improve Team... Dec 17, 2020 Katie John I’m not a deeply technical person. Within my roles at Connection, I helped IT procurement teams by providing clarity around the licensing and purchasing vehicles of the solution being implemented, while other teams provided guidance around the technical aspects of the solution itself. However, I really wanted to better understand these solutions on both a more technical and practical use case level. Organizations of all sizes across all verticals face more significant challenges than ever in a rapidly evolving modern workplace environment. I wanted more knowledge of how Microsoft’s products could address those challenges and solve our customers’ problems.

I’ve read and researched everything I could get my hands on about the subject. I found such great content on Microsoft’s security products and services in Azure. But, if I’m being completely honest, I still felt a bit shaky in my understanding of the cloud solution, even after reading all the whitepapers, documentation, and training guides. It seemed like a lot of theory and abstract concepts on a page, and It definitely didn’t capture my imagination. I couldn’t visualize many of the Azure security solutions in a real-world scenario, until I turned to one of Connection’s amazing Solution Architects. I asked for help, and he was so gracious and willing to take the time to share his knowledge in a way that made sense to me. He clearly articulated the Azure Sentinel solution and provided me with some fascinating real-world examples of how Azure has solved some difficult, yet commonly shared customer challenges. Now I was captivated!

Whether you’re the head of a dedicated Security Operations (SecOps) team for a large enterprise or you’re wearing all the hats in a one-person IT department, you’re likely already stretched thin trying to keep many network security “spinning plates” in the air—even before COVID hit. Now you’ve probably taken several giant leaps forward into a remote workforce model that has disrupted your traditional perimeter security infrastructure and added quite a few more spinning plates to challenge your bandwidth and resources as you race to adapt.

A Security Virtual Assistant by Your Side

Azure Sentinel is essentially a Security Information Event Management (SIEM) solution, re-invented. It automates so many of your spinning plates in such a brilliant way, without ever threatening the need for human intelligence or replacing human decision making. Imagine being able to automate all your busy work and having time in your day for the more purpose-driven innovation that inspired you to pursue a career in IT in the first place. Sentinel is a virtual digital assistant for security that provides a birds-eye view across your entire enterprise. Through a single pane-of-glass dashboard, you can see the automated remediation, based on the directives you choose. This dashboard is built on the Azure platform and collects data across your entire organization, analyzes this data, provides insights, detects threats, and helps you respond to those threats with built-in automation and orchestration.

Most SIEM solutions traditionally consist of various best-of-breed products, all bolted together and each with their own portal and dashboard. These solutions often result in too many tools, policy configurations, and consoles—and too much time and sheer labor to manage them all. You may have experienced delayed responses to threat reports due to team resource bandwidth, threat-alert fatigue, missed notices in one of your many dashboards, or configuration errors.

What captured me about Azure Sentinel is how scalable it is and how it can meet you right at your point of need. It’s a very agile and comprehensive security tool that may allow a small- or medium-size business to implement a SIEM solution for the very first time, and only pay for exactly what they need. At the same time, Microsoft has made it very easy to integrate this 100% cloud-native solution with an existing legacy SIEM solution to fill the gap and provide needed efficiency improvements. Azure Sentinel can automatically respond to threats and events by following the best of breed playbooks in the partner community and automating your common scenarios, while still providing you with one single dashboard to manage. There is no need to rip and replace. And as your organization grows through merger or acquisition, which often bring various new devices, platforms, and pre-existing infrastructure into your environment, Sentinel can integrate each one and maintain a unified solution.

Sentinel’s Impact On Your Bottom Line

I recently read through the results of a Forrester report on the total economic impact of Azure Sentinel, and based on what I know of Sentinel, I wasn’t surprised!

The study revealed that Sentinel delivers:

  • A three-year 201 % return on investment (ROI) with a payback period of less than six months
  • A 48 % reduction in costs compared to legacy SIEM solutions, saving on expenses like licensing, storage, and infrastructure costs
  • A 79 % reduction in false positives and 80 % reduction in the amount of labor associated with investigation, reducing mean time to resolution (MTTR) over three years
  • Reduced management efforts by 56 %, saving $1.2 million
  • A 67 % decrease in time to deployment compared to legacy on-premises SIEMs

Our Connection Solution Architects and Azure Managed Services Teams have helped many customers craft a complete solution with products—including Microsoft 365 Defender and various Defender XDR solutions, Azure Sentinel, Azure Secure Score, and Power Platform—all working together to detect and remediate threats and improve data quality.

To help you take advantage of this integrated security approach, Microsoft is offering a new Azure Sentinel benefit for Microsoft 365 E5 customers. From November 1–May 1, 2021, new and existing Microsoft 365 E5 and Microsoft 365 E5 Security customers with an Enterprise Agreement (EA) or Enterprise Agreement Subscription (EAS) can get Azure credits for the cost of up to 100MB per user, per month of included Microsoft 365 data ingestion into Azure Sentinel. Plus, you can begin accruing credits in your first month of eligibility. You can learn more about the offer here.

Contact an Account Manager today for more information. The Account Manager will engage our Microsoft specialists, Solution Architects, and Azure Managed Services Teams to answer your questions, no matter what your technical knowledge level is, in much the same caring and truly helpful way they did for me. We can help you build and manage a customized solution that meets the unique security needs of your organization. What would you do with an 80% reduction in the amount of labor and time needed to effectively manage your SIEM?

How—and Why—to Implement an Azure DevOps... Dec 16, 2020 Fuzail Motan The demand for cloud tools for in-house software development has increased exponentially in the last decade. In recent years, Microsoft earned kudos from the developer community and tech analysts alike for acquiring GitHub and making Azure DevOps a robust platform for developers. Azure DevOps offers a comprehensive set of tools for organizations adopting DevOps. In this blog post, I will walk you through the basics of DevOps, how you can benefit from it, and things to look for as you start a DevOps practice. 

What Is DevOps? 

DevOps is not a piece of software, but a methodology that includes a set of practices and tools that can deliver better software products faster by integrating the development and operations functions. DevOps will help you build, test, and release software reliably as well. Historically, Operations and Development teams were isolated from each other, resulting in slower delivery and less efficient products. Under the DevOps model, Development and Operations work more closely together with shared responsibilities and combined workflows from ideation to execution, delivery, and support. 

How Does a DevOps Practice Give You a Competitive Advantage? 

With the current pace of innovation and rapid shift in the competitive landscape, it is essential to adapt to the emerging markets by developing software rapidly. A DevOps practice will give you the agility you need to hit the ground running. Through processes like continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD), DevOps will also ensure that you maintain quality and reliability while delivering software at an increased speed. With DevOps, you can integrate customer logs and analytics, resulting in a better customer experience of your software products. 

The Case for Azure DevOps and GitHub 

Azure DevOps offers a comprehensive set of tools that allows you to run your DevOps initiative in the cloud. The tools under Azure DevOps include Azure Pipelines, Azure Board, Azure Repos, Azure Artifacts, and more. And most importantly, Azure DevOps’s close integration with GitHub (which Microsoft acquired in 2018) makes it easy for developers of any kind to rely on Azure. Azure DevOps and GitHub have become more critical on the backdrop of the recent shift to remote work. Cloud-based platforms such as Azure DevOps and GitHub are more resilient than your traditional on-site developmental practices and tools. With Azure DevOps and GitHub, collaboration is built-in, and the platforms allow collaboration between teams spread across different geographies and time zones. 

Security is the next major concern with fast-paced development. DevSecOps (DevOps+Security) is a growing sub practice within DevOps to tackle these security concerns. By integrating security directly into DevOps, you can adopt DevOps without worry. You can incorporate automated, integrated security tools into every step of your DevOps process. When you use Azure DevOps for DevOps tooling, you will also benefit from Azure’s inherent security benefits. 

How Can Connection Help?

In the current climate, companies must meet the spike in demand by ramping up production while keeping costs under control. Fast and efficient software development using DevOps tools in the cloud is the inevitable path forward. According to a Global Market Insights report, the DevOps market is expected to grow 22% from 2020 to 2026. One thing to watch as you adopt the DevOps model is not to run into quality or reliability issues. Proper planning and implementation can save you money and time. Service and maintenance of your DevOps environment is the next challenge. As part of Connection’s Azure MSP practice, we now offer DevOps services ranging from expert guidance to migration planning and more. Contact us today to learn more.

Microsoft Perpetual Licensing Joins the... Dec 15, 2020 Carrie Alicata The COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably caused many individuals and businesses to embark upon a journey toward a large-scale digital transformation that nobody saw coming. In February, we were having conversations about the merits of moving businesses and school districts into the cloud, and in March, it became necessary. A new set of questions forced the world to consider out-of-the box solutions, and necessity is, indeed, the mother of invention. We found new ways to work, learn, and play; there were new methods to connect and engage with others and the world around us.

While the cloud presented a quick and easy way to help people keep moving forward, there are still many things about the world around us that deserve a little bit of a more hybrid approach.

To that end, Microsoft has been working toward providing a streamlined approach to creating that hybrid environment with their Cloud Solution Provider program (CSP). The goal in creating a single destination for business owners to purchase all their Microsoft licensing is to allow customers to purchase through the Microsoft partner of their choice, rather than being forced to obtain different types of licensing through different sources due to how programs are structured.

Introducing Perpetual Licensing in CSP

Beginning in January 2021, Microsoft will make perpetual licensing available in CSP: the next step in offering customers a more streamlined purchasing experience. With CSP, you can purchase, manage, and reconcile your Microsoft licensing purchases easily and without trying to track orders across various Microsoft partners. This would allow you to download or access keys from your Microsoft Admin Center in virtually the same way you currently manage your Office 365 license subscriptions.

While there are currently a limited number of perpetual licensing products to be available throughout the Microsoft partner network at the full-scale launch in January 2021, Microsoft intends to make more products available in the second quarter. In the meantime, core products, such as Office Standard and Professional Plus, Windows Server, and SQL Server will be available in Q1.

Open License Is Retiring

Microsoft recently announced its plans to retire the Open License program fully in 2022 to align with the goals of their new commerce experience. You will be able to buy new software licenses, Software Assurance, and Online Services, and you can continue to renew existing licenses through December 31, 2021. Starting January 1, 2022, commercial, government, education, and nonprofit organizations will no longer be able to buy services through the Open Licensing program.  If you prefer to buy software-only perpetual licenses, you will be directed to the CSP program. Please note that there is no change announced for the Open Value Licensing program.

CSP: The Way to Be

Being able to purchase perpetual products in CSP lets you access licensing faster, with product downloads and keys being accessible within hours. Moving perpetual licensing into CSP will help you create a hybrid environment for your digital transformation at the rate that makes the most sense for your specific business needs.

To find out more, contact your Connection Account Manager and Microsoft Center of Excellence resources today.

Supporting Toys for Tots in the Holiday Season Dec 14, 2020 Connection This December, our cloud team, our partner Five9, and our Account Managers worked together to send donations to Toys for Tots. Connection is proud to support Toys for Tots every holiday season, and this year, we were excited to get our teams even more involved.

During the week of December 7–December 11, our team earned $1,500 for the charity by educating organizations on the value of contact center as a service (CCaaS) solutions. Everyone was thrilled to get into the spirit of giving to make the holidays a little brighter for some special children. 

Why Does Edge Computing Matter to Your... Dec 14, 2020 Brian Gallagher A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me “What does Edge Computing mean?” It made me flash back a few years to when I first started hearing the term. I also had no real understanding of the definition; let alone the impact it could have on my business. That has definitely changed, and I hope every retailer will look at where Edge Computing can impact your business.

For anyone that might not understand what Edge Computing is, the Edge as it is called, is the position nearest to the point of the transaction or engagement. In retail, this is almost always on the sales floor —or possibly in the warehouse. The entire goal of Edge Computing is to improve an organization’s reaction time in response to the needs of the business. It’s important to understand what Edge Computing involves. Until I did, the benefits made no sense to me at all.

First, here is real-time data that needs to live at the exact point where consumer and purchasing decisions collide. This might include things like inventory availability or selection. When a customer needs to know if an item is available in another size, color, or material, the data needs to be highly accurate and attainable. Next is the gathering and computing of information at the Edge associated with real-time action. This might include alerts to the management team around customer traffic in a particular portion of the store, such as cash lanes. You can satisfy customer needs by ensuring enough open registers to serve customers visible in localized cameras or other sensors.

After this conversation, it struck me that he was not understanding it because he couldn't see how to apply it to his business. We started throwing out ideas, which I thought might be of interest to others.

Related: Enable Smarter and More-Connected Retail Operations

What if your digital signage was smart enough to know if you were a returning customer or a new customer? In this case, you might provide a completely different message and experience. Identifying customers is done at the Edge. What if an IoT device, like a camera, could proactively count customers and share staffing needs with management? Or how about supporting social distancing in your stores by combining cameras, Wi-Fi, and digital signage to manage and communicate current conditions? What if we knew when a shelf was empty and needed to be restocked?

Once I realized what the Edge could do to impact my business, I couldn't stop thinking about applications. While Edge Computing can be applied to all kinds of new technologies, it’s important for every business to understand the experiential and economic impacts. Our employees and customers live for an accurate and speedy experience, which is exactly what the Edge is all about.

Solve Today’s Retail Challenges with Connection

Enable Smarter and More-Connected Retail... Dec 11, 2020 Becky Lawlor Have you ever gone to a store only to discover that they don’t have the size you need or the item you want? You then ask the sales associate if they have the item in the back or on order. In response, the employee simply shrugs and says, “I don’t know. They never tell us when we’re getting a shipment in.”

Now let’s re-imagine this same experience. Except this time, when you ask the store associate if they have the item you want, she pulls out her mobile device, taps the screen once or twice, and tells you, “Sorry, we don’t have any in the back; but, it looks like our delivery truck is only five minutes away. So if you have other shopping to do and want to swing back by in 10 minutes, I’ll have the item available for you.”

Which experience do you prefer? And which one do you think your customers prefer? Naturally, the one where you get answers in real time, and the store associate is empowered with detailed information about every aspect of the store’s operations.

Building these types of connected experiences—where your retail operations are connected all the way from your supply chain to the front of the house—can enable a smarter and more-connected physical store and workforce—and ultimately, deliver a better customer experience.

Enabling a Smarter, More-Connected Physical Store

Providing these types of hyper-aware experiences—where your employees have every detail of your retail operations at their fingertips—requires connectivity between all your retail operations and touchpoints, including your:

  • Supply chain
  • Partners 
  • Call centers 
  • Distribution centers 
  • Sales floor

It also requires a long-term vision of what you want your retail operations and the customer experience to look like. Traditionally, retailers have focused on the guest experience as one aspect and business operations as another. However, with this approach, when you implement a new technology initiative, you’re generally only looking at one part of your operations, such as improving your mobile communication platform or your scanning accuracy. 

When IT projects are approached individually rather than with a long-term vision, you miss the opportunity to connect your retail infrastructure together in ways that enable a smarter, more-connected physical store. And, you miss the opportunity to deliver the kind of connected customer experience described earlier.

“It may sound complicated in the short run,” says Brian Gallagher, Retail Strategy and Business Development Director at Connection, “but in the long run, taking a holistic approach and not piecemealing the technology together is where retailers are going to get the biggest benefit.”

Furthermore, a holistic approach goes beyond the customer experience to improving your employees’ experience as well.

Enabling a Smarter, More-Connected Workforce 

Employees also gain numerous benefits when there is connectivity across all retail operation touchpoints. They can be more productive because answers are at their fingertips, in near real time.

Additionally, this type of connected solution, which relies on edge computing, minimizes the number of systems in use and simplifies communications. Because the solution is installed over mobile connection points, it can seamlessly switch from Wi-Fi to radio waves, depending on what’s available in the environment. This setup improves employee productivity and improves experience using the technology, because any switching of communication systems is automatic.

Finally, having a fully integrated retail operations solution that your employees can tap into via a mobile device also allows them to better serve customers and other employees.

“If you just invest in mobile headsets, for example, your employees may be able to ping someone to get a piece of information, but it doesn’t provide the full picture, and now that employee is stuck. They either have to ask more questions or give a bad answer to the customer or employee in front of them,” says Gallagher. “But when you combine mobile and compute at the edge, information is live, and you get smarter employees and a better experience for everyone.”

Using the Power of Partnerships to Deliver Full Connectivity

To power this kind of fully connected retail experience, partnerships between the right vendors are especially crucial—as partnerships bring an expertise that no individual organization can offer on their own. 

What makes a partnership like the one between Connection and its mobile device partners so valuable is that each vendor brings a critical component to the overall solution. For instance, Connection’s industry-leading network partners can understand which devices and applications are most critical to optimize the experience—and then prioritize the specific applications and devices to ensure their connection and speed are always optimized. This allows devices throughout the supply chain to always have the most accurate information.

Similarly, by working with mobile device partners with expertise in building enterprise-level data capture and automatic identification solutions, Connection can provide mobile computing devices and software to help the workforce stay connected and improve the customer experience.

This multi-vendor partnership also offers other unique advantages, such as the ability to:

  • Bring together best-of-breed network edge solutions
  • Mutually certify products for interoperability purposes
  • Innovate for better user experiences with performance enhancements and new features
  • Collaborate on joint opportunities to aid in customer needs
  • Provide priority support escalation between technical teams

From small retail stores to the mega-enterprise, retailers have been taking advantage of the kinds of connected solutions Connection can offer through its strong partnerships. And, it’s enabled these retailers to keep pace with the extreme transformational speed of technology today.

Give Your Retail Business an Edge

Customers expect seamless omnichannel experiences—where data flows across mobile, Web, and brick-and-mortar stores—so that their interactions with retailers can be as convenient and personalized as possible. By adding edge computing technology that allows for data to flow not just across customer channels, but across all retail operations that impact the customer experience, the result is an even more-connected and exceptionally delightful experience for your customers.

Taking a long-term, strategic, and holistic approach to your retail infrastructure and investing in connecting your network at the edge will give you a strong return on investment. You’ll see improvements in key metrics, like workforce productivity, better employee-to-employee communication, and smoother supply chain operations. But most importantly, you’ll be able to deliver a better customer experience by instantly answering their questions.

For more information about smarter, more-connected retail operations, reach out to Connection today!

Vonage Helps You Get Telemedicine Right Dec 10, 2020 Brian Gilman At the beginning of 2020, we had healthcare in a rhythm. You could approach almost every visit to a healthcare facility with certainty. You would make an appointment, visit in person, and if necessary, tests would usually be run. In March, everything changed, and expectations shifted immediately. For public safety, any visit that could be remote, was. Telemedicine, long a blip on the consciousness of health IT and considered nice to have, suddenly became mandatory. Many healthcare centers quickly shifted into a telemedicine model to ensure they could continue to provide the care patients need and expect. Doctor’s visits, triage consultations—even therapy sessions—via video chat soon replaced in-person visits, ensuring uninterrupted medical care for patients from the security of their own homes. This rapid shift came with growing pains that are still being felt—and will continue to be felt—in the coming year.

But not all solutions are created equal. Patients expect a connection to be seamless. They expect all aspects of the process to be private and secure. They want to log into the platform and to have things work without unexpected issues. They want it to feel natural. Their visit no longer begins when they walk through your door and ends when they leave. It’s much more interconnected, and there are ways you can provide that experience consistently.

If you get it right, you can see huge advantages.

Reduced No-Shows

The right solution can send reminders either through SMS or chat that request confirmation. When patients affirm their attendance, the likelihood of a no-show goes down. This can save money for the practice and help to reduce the time spent waiting for someone who will not arrive.

Improved Patient Satisfaction

recent study by JMIR reported that on average, telehealth video visits are rated at 95% satisfaction. This leads to happier patients overall and greater loyalty over time.

Reduced Wait Times

When a doctor participates in telemedicine, the time it takes to prep each patient greatly decreases. No longer do patients wait in a waiting room and then in an examination room. They log on to their visit, talk directly with the doctor, and then go on their way. The rooms no longer need to be sanitized and cleaned between patients, and the doctor can meet with and help more patients in a single day.

Expanded Access to Care

While many patients live near their doctor, not everyone has access to reliable transportation. In fact, the American Hospital Association found that due to transportation issues, 3.6 million Americans forgo medical care. This may be especially true for doctors and specialists whose practices are farther away or are located outside the states where their patients’ live. With telemedicine, the distance is no longer an issue—anyone can have access to care regardless of location or the ability to visit in person.

Better Patient Outcomes

Care doesn’t stop at the door. With the right telemedicine solution, providers follow up with patients even after they finish their visit. Whether that’s appointment reminders, access to test results, or discharge instructions, ease of access makes patients more likely to follow through with requests.

The Right Provider for Seamless Telemedicine

The right solution is key to seeing these benefits and more. But how do you know the solution you’ve chosen provides the benefits you need while keeping patient data secure and ensuring compliance? That’s why Connection partners with Vonage to provide a seamless API-based system.

API-based Communication

An application program interface, or API, is not as complicated as it sounds. It is a tool that allows you to integrate programmable chat, video, and voice, into any application you choose and to connect with your patients. This allows your patients to feel comfortable and connect no matter what communication method they prefer—all on a single, unified platform.

The Vonage API Platform offers:

  • Video: live video chat that allows for face-to-face interaction
  • Voice: high-quality, scalable, and flexible voice communication with user context and data
  • Messaging: MMS, SMS, and social chat apps like What’s App, Facebook Messenger, or Viber
  • Authentication: Two-factor authentication that is used to validate an account, ensure security, and prevent fraud

And if you aren’t planning to replace your entire communications system, Vonage APIs can embed these capabilities into your existing platform or system, so legacy operations won’t be disturbed.

Safety and Compliance 

Focus on compliance is of the utmost importance to Vonage and Connection. From HIPAA to HITECH, meeting the regulatory standards and protecting patient data is always our goal. And the Vonage solution is designed to help you build apps with compliance and security in mind.

The authentication API, Vonage Verify, encourages patient confidence that their data is in safe hands. You can also trust the Vonage Video API to help you create video apps that fully encrypt all communication and digitally archive patient and practitioner interactions.

Only Pay for What You Use

Many healthcare providers reference cost as preventing them from purchasing new communications technology, but we believe cost shouldn’t stand in the way of the right solution. With the API-based Vonage Communication Platform, you only pay for what you use. This means you get the platform you want without paying for services you don’t need.

Getting Started

Do not wait to get the solution you need. This year has shown that, now more than ever, preparedness will be key to continuing to provide services to customers, patients, and partners during these challenging times. Connection and Vonage in partnership have helped many healthcare organizations implement a seamless telemedicine solution so they can more easily connect with their patients and improve outcomes. It’s easier than ever to reinvent how you communicate. Contact Connection today, and we’ll help you get started on your journey to a better telemedicine experience.