My friends laughed at me when they heard I was going to be audited!

Laserfiche tax auditSeveral years ago, I got a letter that my business was going to have a random sales tax audit. When I shared the news with several of my friends that were also business owners, they laughed and predicted that the auditors would find all kinds of things that would cost me additional taxes and fines. To say the least, I was worried even more after talking to them.

The day the audit was to begin was one on those days when you just knew nothing was going to go right. It had snowed the night before, and then the wind had come up, so traffic was miserable. The wind chill and traffic delays had put everyone in a bad mood, including the person who showed up at my office two hours late to start the audit.

She sat down and started by telling me that for a company my size this would be a two or three-day process and that she would start by looking at copies of our invoices for the past 3 years. I told her that I had gotten rid of all my paper invoices after I scanned them into my Laserfiche document management system and that we would have to look them up on-line. Now, that put her in an even worse mood. She said in her twenty years of being an auditor for the State of Minnesota, she had never heard of such a thing–everyone knows you need to keep paper copies of all your important information. I assured her that I would assist her and that she had nothing to worry about.

I don’t think she was convinced, but we started the process. First, she asked for a list of AR and AP for a certain period. She watched, and within a few seconds, I had the info on the screen, but she was not satisfied because she didn’t have a piece of paper with the information on it. I hit the print button and quickly got the reports into her hands. Then she demanded that I show her a certain item that was purchased and the proof that it was sold to a customer. For me, this was a simple search and I had the information in seconds. She was amazed, but not happy until she had piece of paper, so I printed it for her.

Then, I think, it became a game. She would ask me for something and I would easily find it. She picked a serial number of a computer we purchased and wanted to know who it was sold to. That was no problem for me; I just did a quick full text search on the serial number and Laserfiche did it’s magic, on my screen were all the documents related to that serial number. I was able to show her not just the one document she was looking for, but every document with that serial number on it: the packing slip, the bill from the vendor, the work order to install it, the invoice billing the client, and even the service orders when we worked on that computer.

After a few hours of this, the game was over. She was convinced. She said that in 20 years of auditing, she had never experienced anything like this. We were the best company she had ever audited.

Later, my friends were anxious to hear a great story of how miserable the auditor had made my life. They were shocked, and maybe a little saddened, when I told them that it was a really great experience and it was over before I knew it. Not long after that, some of those friends became customers and now use the document imaging system I sold them. They can’t wait for an auditor to show up at their doorstep, because they are prepared for it.

If this sounds like something you are interested in, just let me know and I will be happy to give you a free demo.

Are you looking for ways to archive your email and user files?

email archivingI was talking to a customer a while back and he proudly announced that he has never delete an email. I thought to myself that this is not something to be proud about. It is like saying I have never change oil in my car. A car needs maintenance and so does your Outlook email client. A few minutes of time a week can help keep your email client running smooth.
archiving
It is fairly common to keep unneeded mail in both the Inbox and Send folders. In case you didn’t realize, there is a copy of every E-mail sent kept in the Sent Items folder. Often it is not necessary to keep years’ worth of these. I recommend that you go to each folder, scroll to the bottom and delete old e-mail you no longer need. You can use windows keyboard short cuts to help in this. If you click on an email you want to delete and scroll down and hold the shift key and click on an email item, you will select all items in that range. Then if you hit the delete key, you can delete the block of emails all at once.
Also, don’t forget to look in personal folders you have created and delete emails no longer needed there.
When you delete email it is moved into the Deleted Items folder, it normally stays there unless you empty it. To empty the Delete Items, go to that folder, select all the deleted items you wish to get rid of, and press the Delete key.

If you would like to see how much space you are using in Outlook, it most versions you can click on File options it top ribbon. Then in the window displayed next to the mailbox cleanup icon, you will see a graph displaying how much storage you are using.
outlook arrow

Some people recommend that you archive email to a PST file. That is something that is helpful for those who do not like to delete emails. But, I would be cautious. Here is an article that explains the downside to using PST files to archive email.

Another alternative is to create a folder in windows and move the email you want to archive into it. Here is a good article that explains it. This is very easy and cost effective way to archive email.
Alternative to PST files – Simple way to store email

Manually archiving email either to a PST or to a file folder is not an effective solution for many organizations because you must rely on the users to routinely archive their email. And, it is easy for a user to accidently delete important data.
If you want to be more diligent or you have regulations that you need to comply with, I suggest you look at finding an archival product to hand this. There are lots of products on the market. They can be categorized as either on premise or hosted solutions.
On premise solutions are the most common. An example of an on premise solution that works well for a small organization is GFI Archiver. It is a software based product that is install on an on-site server. It costs $35/user for software and $10/yr./user for maintenance.
GFI email archiving

The advantages of a solution like this is that it is fully automated, so no user involvement is needed in the archive process. This particular product archives emails, calendar items, and files. It has good security and excellent search capability. The disadvantage is the upfront cost and that you would possibly need to add a server onsite.

Hosted archiving solutions, sometimes called cloud archiving or Saas (software as a service), are becoming more common. They are easy to implement and maintain. An example, is a product that I am familiar with, Securance Email Archiver. It is an add-on to Securance SPAM filtering application. I believe it cost less than $10/user per month. This is a really great solution for small organization.

Another solution is use Laserfiche ECM software to store your emails.  The advantage of this solution is that you can search all of your documents and emails in one simple search.  You will find that it also has a much better search engine than the other solutions mentioned above.

The 10 Disaster Planning Essentials for a Small Business Network

The 10 Disaster Planning Essentials for a Small Business Network

hosted desktop is a good disaster recovery plan

A disaster can happen at any time on any day. It’s also likely to occur at the most inconvenient time.

If you aren’t already prepared, you run the risk of having the disaster coming before you have in place a plan to handle it.

With summer coming up, it’s the perfect time to step back and implement these 10 disaster planning essentials. Make sure that in the event of a disaster, your company can get back up and running in no time.

flood1. Have a written plan.

As simple as it may sound, just thinking through what needs to happen if your server has a meltdown or a natural disaster wipes out your office will go a long way in getting it back. Your plan should contain details on what disaster could happen and a step-by-step process of what to do, who should do it and how. It should also include contact information for various providers and username and password information for various key web sites.

Writing this plan will also allow you to think about what you need to budget for backup, maintenance and disaster recovery. If you can’t afford to have your network down for more than a few hours, then you need a plan that can get you back up and running within that time frame. You may want the ability to virtualize your server, allowing the office to run off of the virtualized server while the real server is repaired. If you can afford to be down for a couple of days, there are cheaper solutions. Once written, print out a copy and store it in a fireproof safe, an offsite copy (at your home) and a copy with your IT consultant.

2. Hire a trusted professional to help you.

Trying to recover your data after a disaster without professional help is business suicide; one misstep during the recovery process can result in forever losing your data or result in weeks of downtime. Make sure you work with someone who has experience in both setting up business contingency plans (so you have a good framework from which you CAN restore your network) and experience in data recovery.

3. Have a communications plan.

If something should happen where employees couldn’t access your office, e-mail or use the phones, how should they communicate with you? Make sure your plan includes this information, including multiple communication methods.

4. Automate your backups.

If backing up your data depends on a human being doing something, it’s flawed. The number one cause of data loss is human error (people not swapping out tapes properly, someone not setting up the backup to run properly, etc.). Always automate your backups so they run like clockwork.

5. Have an offsite backup of your data.

Always always maintain a recent copy of your data off site, on a different server, or on a storage device. Onsite backups are good, but they won’t help you if they get stolen, flooded, burned or hacked along with your server.

6. Have remote access and management of your network.

Not only will this allow you and your staff to keep working if you can’t go into your office, but you’ll love the convenience it offers. Plus, your IT staff or an IT consultant should be able to access your network remotely in the event of an emergency or for routine maintenance. Make sure they can.

7. Image your server.

Having a copy of your data offsite is good, but keep in mind that all that information has to be restored someplace to be of any use. If you don’t have all the software disks and licenses, it could take days to reinstate your applications (like Microsoft Office, your database, accounting software, etc.) even though your data may be readily available.

Imaging your server is similar to making an exact replica; that replica can then be directly copied to another server saving an enormous amount of time and money in getting your network back. Best of all, you don’t have to worry about losing your preferences, configurations or favorites. To find out more about this type of backup, ask your IT professional.

8. Create network documentation

Network documentation is simply a blueprint of the software, data, systems and hardware you have in your company’s network. Your IT manager or IT consultant should put this together for you. This will make the job of restoring your network faster, easier AND cheaper. It also speeds up the process of everyday repairs on your network since the technicians don’t have to spend time figuring out where things are located and how they are configured. And finally, should disaster strike, you have documentation for insurance claims of exactly what you lost. Again, have your IT professional document this and keep a printed copy with your disaster recovery plan.

9. Maintain your system.

One of the most important ways to avoid disaster is by maintaining the security of your network. While fires, floods, theft and natural disasters are certainly a threat, you are much more likely to experience downtime and data loss due to a virus, worm or hacker attack. That’s why it’s critical to keep your network patched, secure and up-to-date. Additionally, monitor hardware for deterioration and software for corruption. This is another overlooked threat that can wipe you out. Make sure you replace or repair aging software or hardware to avoid this problem.

10. Test, test, test!

A study conducted in October 2007 by Forrester Research and the Disaster Recovery Journal found that 50 percent of companies test their disaster recovery plan just once a year, while 14 percent never test. If you are going to go through the trouble of setting up a plan, then at least hire an IT pro to run a test once a month to make sure your backups are working and your system is secure. After all, the worst time to test your parachute is AFTER you’ve jumped out of the plane.

One thing that many people forget is the important information that you have on paper.  This would be really expensive to have a off-site copy of these critical documents.   That is why I recommend you look at implementing an electronic document management system such as Laserfiche.  Once you have your paper documents in Laserfiche, disaster planning is easy, just like any other data you have on your server.

 

What Are The Five Most Common Disasters That Strike Small Businesses

hosted desktop is a good disaster recovery planThe challenges that small businesses deal with never end — and for the small number of employees who have to take on these tasks, it can quickly get overwhelming. No wonder, then, that many small businesses have all but ignored the important task of developing a disaster recovery plan, which involves understanding the risks of the disasters that small businesses face, figuring out how best to prevent against the deleterious effects of these disasters, and implementing a business continuity solution to minimize downtime.
Importantly, the disasters that cause small organizations the most damage are the ones that many business owners may not consider to be all that common, such as hardware failure and power outages. This blog post aims to illuminate five common disasters that small businesses face, so that business owners have a sense of perspective when considering the importance of a disaster recovery strategy.  You would probably guess the most common disasters are caused by floods, tornadoes, and other major storms.  You will be surprise to learn that common causes are much smaller problems that have huge impact on businesses.flood
1. Hardware failure
One of the most disruptive disasters that can strike a small business at any time is hardware failure. Whether it is a clicking hard drive in an email server or a fried motherboard inside a central file server, any kind of hardware failure can result in the inability to access critical data. Possibly the worst aspect of hardware failure is that it is inevitable, yet completely unpredictable. In fact, a recent survey of nearly 400 partners by data protection firm StorageCraft revealed that 99% of them had experienced a hardware failure, with 80.9% of those failures attributable to hard drive malfunctions.1 Failed hardware leads to downtime and lost productivity, both of which can cost small businesses dearly.
2. Software corruption
Permanent corruption of server data, such as corruption of the server’s operating system or damage to line-of-business applications that run on the server, could lead to significant downtime. Even the most sophisticated storage apparatuses are not immune to software corruption: a study by CERN, the world’s largest particle physics lab, revealed software corruption in 1 out of every 1,500 files.2 Software corruption could severely disrupt small businesses that do not have a backup and disaster recovery solution in place.
3. Cyber-attacks
pdf virusViruses, worms, Trojans — any and all forms of malware can wreak serious havoc on small businesses. According to the National Small Business Association’s Year-End 2014 report, 1 out of every 2 small businesses reported being the victim of a cyber-attack, with the average cost of each cyber-attack exceeding $20,000.3 The consequences stemming from cyber-attacks – such as data theft, data corruption, and permanent data deletion — can seriously affect businesses and their customers. Though deploying a firewall and security software is an important first step, having a fallback continuity strategy in place in case cyber-attacks get through to a company’s systems is crucial.
4. Power outages
Blackouts, power shortages, and other power-related issues are not as uncommon as many businesses think. In fact, a 2014 survey by power management firm Eaton Electrical revealed that 37% of IT professionals had dealt with “unplanned downtime due to power-related issues in the last 24 months,” with 32% of outages lasting longer than four hours.4 Even more concerning are the high costs of downtime; according to a May 2013 survey by research firm Aberdeen Group, the average cost of downtime for small companies was a whopping $8,581 per hour.5 Electrical issues are real — and they are costly.
5. Natural or site-wide disasters
Natural disasters, such as include tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes, can cripple small businesses. Even more threatening are fires, floods, and other common catastrophes that can occur regardless of a particular geographic location’s propensity toward certain natural disasters. Since these disasters and catastrophes almost always lead to site-wide damage, small businesses with only one or two locations are especially vulnerable. No amount of money spent can prevent site-wide and natural disasters from occurring; the only recourse for businesses affected by these calamities is to get back up and running as soon as possible after they happen.
Conclusion
The aforementioned disasters that could befall a small business are relatively consistent across different organizations and industries. Understanding these disasters is just the first step; the next, and more important, task is for every small business to figure out how best to guard itself against these threats.
Adopting business continuity services is essential for every small business looking to protect their data and quickly recover from disasters. Business continuity services ensure that all of a business’s digital data is securely backed up off-site and recoverable whenever necessary. If you would like to learn more about our business continuity services please contact me at larry.phelps at marconet.com


1 “Which Hardware Fails the Most and Why.” Web log post. StorageCraft Recovery Zone. StorageCraft, 2015. Web. 30 June 2015.
2 Panzer-Steindel, Bernd. Data Integrity. Tech. CERN, 8 Apr. 2007. Web. 20 June 2015.
3 2014 Year-End Economic Report. Rep. National Small Business Association, Feb. 2015. Web. 15 June 2015.
4 How ‘Software-Defined’ Is Redefining the Modern Data Center. White Paper. Eaton Corporation, Oct. 2014. Web. 19 June 2015.
5 Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery: Don’t Go It Alone. Analyst Insight. Aberdeen Group, June 2013. Web. 10 June 2015.

source – used by permission of efile inc.

Six Humorous Reasons to Go Paperless

no paperless solution here in Minneapolis Minnesota1. Look at the nearest calendar…See what year it is?
That’s right. It’s 2014. There are all kinds of old science fiction movies that predicted we’d be tooling around in flying cars by now. They may have overshot a bit, but the fact remains that technology had improved leaps and bounds. So much so that there really isn’t a good reason not to be paperless.

paperless in minneapols2. Paper cuts become a distant (and unpleasant) memory.
Seriously, have you ever had a paper cut? Pure torture. I’ve heard that the
CIA uses paper cuts to get terrorists to talk. I know I’d be singing like a
bird as soon as they got near me with a sheet of paper.

3. “Now where did I put that receipt?”
How many times have you searched through your filing cabinets for one receipt,
only to find it stuck to the bottom of your keyboard? In a paperless system
you could run a quick search and spend that wasted hour doing something
productive…Like checking Facebook.

4. Your office will probably be less likely to go up in flames.
You know all of those filing cabinets that are crammed full of papers?
How about all of hose cardboard banker’s boxes (also full of papers)
that are shoved into a utility closet? Have you heard the term
“fire hazard”? All it takes is one nimrod employee’s carelessness and
suddenly you’re up close and personal with the local fire department.

5. You need more space.

There’s an entire TV show devoted to people that keep useless stuff
around to the point of having no more room. Piles and piles of junk
piled into precariously tall towers that promise to come crashing down
upon your head at any moment. It’s called hoarding, and that’s basically
what you’re doing with all of those files. When was the last time you
actually used anything in that dungeon of a file room, anyway? Digitally
back it up, have a company bonfire with all of that paperwork, and then
use that space for something better…Like a foosball table.

paperless Minneapolis minnesota6. No more printers.

Have you ever tried to change the toner cartridge in a printer? I don’t care how technologically savvy you are, it’s no fun. Sure, the instructions are right there in front of you but they might as well be written in Chinese. I’ve seen simpler directions come with a desk from Ikea. Of course, you’re also going to end up covered in
printer ink, so have fun spending the rest of the day looking like a Kindergartener that got a little too excited with the finger paints.

I hope these allegedly humorous reasons helped you think about why you
need to look at going paperless in your office. But, if you are sure
that these reasons weren’t that humorous or helpful. I would love it if
you can send me an humorous reason to go paperless.