What are Managed IT Services and Who Needs Them

Understanding the True Value of Managed Services - Image 1

You are an internet company.

Most internet companies like Google, eBay, and Amazon are synonymous with the West Coast. As a result, it is hard to conceive that your business in Burnet or Marble Falls is an internet company, but it is.

Whether you like it or not, your company thrives on your ability to access the internet effectively and consistently. Moreover, as the number of devices that connect to the internet increases, the quality of your internet connection and networking directly impacts the efficiency of your business, including all the work you do via email.

So, what happens when your internet goes down? Or when you can’t receive emails? What happens when your software systems do not work as they should?

Your business grinds to a halt, and neither you nor your employees can get any work done. In these instances, it is crucial for you to have a plan in place to minimize the amount of downtime your business experiences due to technical disruptions.

To alleviate the losses incurred by technical malfunction, HCTS is offering Managed IT Service Contracts to businesses in Burnet, Marble Falls, Horseshoe Bay and the surrounding Highland Lakes area.

A Managed IT Service Contract allows your business to have a set amount of monthly service hours available. It is a peace-of-mind policy that ensures that if a major (or minor) IT problem appears, you can get help quickly from world-class professionals that work in your hometown.

HCTS has multiple decades of experience in IT problem solving for Fortune 500 companies and governments organizations. We want to use our experience to enhance your business. Call us at (830) 637-2910 or visit our website to learn more about how Managed IT Services by HCTS can help increase the efficiency and profitability of your business.

Simple IoT for Small Business

Small business owner

For businesses in the Highland Lakes area, effective implementation of IoT can be a differentiating factor that can improve your business. According to Gartner Inc., by 2020, more than half of new businesses will include IoT in their business processes. When implemented correctly, the Internet of Things can increase an enterprise’s productivity and shave waste, create sustainable ecosystems, or increase revenue streams by informing data-driven business decisions.

Below are 5 simple steps to help determine whether IoT will improve your business processes.

  1. Choose an IoT Partner. Alone, you go fast, together, we go far. Choose a partner experienced in IoT implementation and benefit from collaboration and their experience. Implementing an out-of-the box solution with limited IoT knowledge and capacity cannot yield the same results as working with an experienced team. It takes three things to create an IoT solution: network connectivity, hardware, and an IoT platform.
  2. Start small on a specific business problem. Starting small allows you to get your feet wet and decide whether IoT technology can add value to your business by isolating a segment of your business and testing there.
  3. Define success. After you determine where to start, determine what success you would like for the project. Is it reducing cost? Is it reducing man-hours? Is improving customer experience? Depending on the goal, create a set of measureable metrics that indicate the success or failure of your pilot project.
  4. Choose a time-frame. Now that you have the problem to solve and the metrics to determine success, set a trial period that makes sense for your project and the information you want to gather. Some helpful time frames are 30-60-90 days.
  5. Learn fast. Learn often. In a recent survey of companies implementing IoT initiatives, 64 percent agreed that learning from stalled or failed IoT initiatives helped accelerate their organization’s investment in IoT. Regardless of the success or failure of the project, what you learn will help your business better understand its process.

 

HCTS is passionate about equipping businesses with the resources needed to maximize their potential. If you are considering integrating IoT into your business process, schedule a consultation to learn about all the possibilities available for you.

The S in IoT stands for Security

By 2020 there will be an estimated 212 billion IoT objects connected to the internet. An IoT object is any device with an on/off switch connected to the internet. We are currently sharing a series of blog posts to help you navigate what IoT means for your home, business, and city. Previously in our series, we discussed what IoT is, its implication for your home, for small businesses, and for the cities we live in. In our latest installment, we are covering the security risk associated with IoT.

Whether at home, at work, or in cities, the gains garnered by IoT are hard to beat. Effective IoT lowers the cost of doing business, increases productivity, improves the overall experience in cities, and allows one a firmer handle of real-time data. However, the multitude of connected devices opens our homes, businesses, and cities up to new risks in network and identity security from bad actors.

An industry joke goes like this: “the S in IoT stands for security.”

There is no S in IoT. In the same way, IoT devices are notoriously lacking in security measures. The lack of security in IoT devices is alarming considering that, according to a recent report, IoT attacks grew 280% from the prior six-month reporting period.

Digging deeper, it is apparent that a large chunk of this growth stems from Mirai—malware that infects IoT devices like wireless cameras and home routers that have standardized factory passwords and turns them into controllable bots. The malware co-opts thousands of unprotected IoT devices and directs them to send signals to overload specific networks.  In fact, a Mirai attack happened in 2016 and shutdown sites like Etsy, Pinterest, Netflix, The New York Times, SoundCloud, and Twitter, among other major websites. Estimates project that roughly $110 million in potential revenue was lost in this attack.

One consistent factor in attacks that compromise vast networks is when devices in use maintain their default username and password set in the factory. Because these passwords are standardized, hackers infiltrate devices operating with unchanged passwords and then are able to dictate the action of those devices at-will.

If you own any device that connects to the internet, you need to seriously consider what security protocols you want to take to protect your network. If you are in the Texas Hill Country, schedule a consultation with HCTS. We have multiple decades of experience installing the networks for Fortune 500 companies and U.S. Embassies abroad. We value any opportunity available to protect and serve our neighbors in the Highland Lakes.

IoT for Cities

 

By 2020 there will be an estimated 212 billion IoT objects connected to the internet. An IoT object is any device with an on/off switch connected to the internet. We are currently sharing a series of blog posts to help you navigate what IoT means for your home, business, and city. Previously in our series, we discussed what IoT is, its implications for your home, for small business, and in our latest installment, we are tackling how IoT will affect our cities.

Cities across the world are using IoT devices and sensors to improve the quality of life of their residents. Many of these innovations coincide with Smart City initiatives. For instance, in Vienna, the capital of Austria, officials installed Wi-Fi extenders in traffic lights to ensure residents could access the internet throughout the city. In Chicago and Amsterdam, waste officials reduced the amount of consistently overflowing trash-bins and wasted time of workers going to quarter-full trash bins by including sensors to monitor dumpsters.

Closer to the Hill Country, San Antonio has invested heavily in Smart City and IoT initiatives.  In 2016 San Antonio rolled out stand-alone kiosks stations in H-E-B stores where residents can address traffic citations as well as video-conference with judges regarding their case. Moreover, San Antonio deployed $8 Million in 2017 to push forward their Smart City projects.

Each example provided highlights a glaring fact – Smart City initiatives happen in big cities, not in rural communities. One major reason is telecom companies historically and today focus predominantly on serving large cities. As a result, big cities can more easily leverage previous infrastructure investments alongside being the first to benefit from cutting-edge improvements.

The imbalance of high speed internet access exacerbates the urban/rural divide and puts small towns and their businesses at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing the benefits of IoT. Consequently, across the U.S. underserved communities desiring the advantages of advances in IoT technology have banded together and addressed them communally.

In fact, businesses in Winthrop, a town of 1,400 in Minnesota, were tired of terrible network connection affecting productivity. As a result, they gathered a cohort of 25 similarly-sized municipal allies to develop RS Fiber. The co-op is owned by local customers who have access to high-speed broadband internet and have voting rights in rates and operational decisions.

As well, Chattanooga, Tennessee, a city of about 100,000 people, had an electric co-op that wanted to use IoT sensors to improve the efficiency and consistency of their service. Large internet providers would not help, and so they installed fiber optics to connect their IoT, which then enabled them to open their fiber optics as a public utility. Chattanooga now has the fastest internet in the U.S. for $70/month. Due to this innovation, Chattanooga is dubbed “Gig City”, VW chose to open a new factory there in 2011, and the downtown area is a hub for tech startups.

Interestingly, Pedernales Electric Cooperative is in the initial stages of studying the feasibility of implementing a smart-grid with IoT sensors similar to the one pioneered by EPB in Chattanooga. Furthermore, according to their most recent Strategic Plan, P.E.C. in Initiative 10 is also considering leveraging their grid updates to provide affordable data access services to cooperative members. Initiative 10 is in the beginning stages, and if it were to progress into reality, it would be a multi-faceted boon for businesses and homes alike to have access to a high-speed broadband network.

As the name HCTS implies, we are an innovative technology company nestled in the heart of the beautiful Texas Hill Country. We are in business to ensure that your company and home can benefit from all the advantages that technology provides. While we feel blessed to work and reside in this area, we also know that the location and terrain sometimes create difficult issues in the area of technology. Schedule a consultation, and we will work with you to ensure all your networking needs are met so that you can fully benefit from every technological advance.

 

Small Business and the Internet of Things (IoT)

Internet-of-Things-Trillion-Dollar-Industry-Image-Source-teamarin.net_By 2020 there will be an estimated 212 billion IoT objects connected to the internet. An IoT object is any device with an on/off switch connected to the internet. We are currently in a series of blog posts to help you navigate what IoT means for your home, business and city. Click here to read our last blog about IoT in your home.

The Internet of Things is no longer reserved for the Fortune 500 companies with thousands of employees and millions in expenditures. In fact, Bob O’Donnell, president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research believes “the biggest potential impact for IoT is, in fact, going to be in small businesses, not big ones.” His point is rooted in that over 89% of all US businesses have fewer than 20 employees. Every small business owner is strapped for time and has an endless list of tasks. O’Donnell notes that by leveraging IoT sensors, high quality wireless networks and modern cloud-based software small business owners will be able to increase their productivity and reduce their costs.

The first step for small business owners in the Texas Hill Country to harness the power of IoT is to ensure the strength and full functionality of internet networking within the premises of the business. Without a strong networking foundation, it impossible to benefit from data-tracking and automation of IoT. As you consider IoT, schedule a consultation with Hill Country Technology Solutions. We will use our decades of networking experience to ensure your business has the foundation necessary to transition to the next generation of technology applications.

After you establish a strong network base for IoT devices, below are a few practical ways of introducing IoT technology to improve the efficiency of your business.

Boosting energy efficiency:  By introducing sensors and trackers (including smart home services such as Tado, Nest, or more advanced lighting systems such as Loxone), the use of heating and lighting can be controlled remotely, and money can be saved.

Better delivery: If your small business has a delivery component to the services offer, try using your smart-phone to tap into traffic-tracking apps like Waze (which is free!) that will help you intelligently plan your delivery route.

These recommendations just scratch the surface of what is possible with IoT. Ultimately using IoT tools allow you to make smarter choices that reduce waste and improve production for your small business.

HCTS wants to help your small business leverage technology to increase the revenue of your small business. Call HCTS today to (512) 466-2974 or email info@thehcts.com to schedule a consultation.

Home Automation with the Internet of Things (IoT)

 

By 2020 there will be an estimated 212 billion IoT objects connected to the internet. An IoT object is any device with an on/off switch connected to the internet. We are currently in a series of blog posts to help you navigate what IoT means for your home, business and city.

 

One of the first IoT devices was created in the early 1980s when programmers at Carnegie Mellon connected their refrigerator to the internet to ensure a cold Coca Cola was in the fridge before they made the trip to get one. Today refrigerators are still on the cutting edge of the IoT wave, but now they are more sophisticated than checking to see if a Coke is cold.

For instance, the Samsung Family Hub has a camera inside the refrigerator, so you can see the contents from your phone while shopping at the grocery store. Moreover, the Samsung Family Hub has an interactive connected touchscreen where you can buy groceries from your fridge, manage the schedules of your family with a synchronized calendar, play music around the house, and even watch TV. The Family Hub’s functionality is extensive and demonstrates the range of possibilities for the IoT and smart home technologies to coordinate our busy lives.

In addition to the internet, everything is getting smarter, harkening back to the quote I began this series with: “Anything that can be connected, will be connected.”[1] With that ethos in mind, it makes sense that now we have door locks, door bells, light bulbs, fans, blinds, smoke alarms, garage doors, mowers, washers, dryers, TVs, etc., connected to the internet and capable of being managed from anywhere with your cell phone.

As our homes become more connected, we constantly deal with new generations of devices incompatible with older generations of devices, and home environments with hodge-podge sets of appliances and gadgets that do not synchronize effectively together. To make sure IoT is reaching its full potential in your Highland Lakes home, we recommend that you schedule a consultation with HCTS. We will take the time to understand your current situation and share with you the most effective and convenient way to fully synchronize the technology in your home.

Working with HCTS means your home will have an enterprise grade network professionally installed by network experts with multiple decades of global networking experience. An enterprise grade network allows you to get the most out of your devices as well as support the bandwidth demands of devices of today and new technologies yet to be released. Additionally, HCTS is an authorized Control 4 dealer. Control 4 gives you the ability to personalize the controls of the IoT devices in your home to make them more comfortable, convenient, and secure.

If you live in the Highland Lakes area, and you would like to learn the most effective ways to implement home automation, call us at (512) 466-2974 or email info@thehcts.com.

[1] A Simple Explanation of “The Internet of Things” by Jacob Morgan

The Internet of Things (IoT)

 

“Anything that can be connected, will be connected.”[1]

The emphasis on connectivity is the ethos of the Internet of Things.  Consider today there are about 8.4 billion IoT objects in use,[2] and by 2020, it is estimated there will be 212 billion IoT objects connected to the internet.[3]

So what exactly is the Internet of Things? IoT is the network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and connectivity which enables these objects to connect and exchange data. Simply put, the IoT consists of any device with an on/off switch connected to the internet.[4]

The conceptualization of the IoT was most notably publicized in 1999, when in a speech before Proctor and Gamble, Kevin Ashton, the Executive Director of Auto-ID Labs at MIT, theorized the capacity for machines to be connected to computers that could track and manage their output accordingly. IoT is predicated on computers being able to process multitudes of data faster and more accurately than human managers. As a result, in order to reduce waste and cost, every device that can gather and track information is connected to a system that can analyze the data and manage the devices in its network to improve efficiency.

The promise of IoT is efficiency and convenience, which has enabled the number of IoT devices in use to skyrocket. The conditions are ideal for IoT to thrive as it becomes increasingly easier for individuals and machines to access the internet. IoT devices will increasingly play a part in our day to day lives. In the next few blogs, HCTS will help you navigate what IoT means for your homes, your businesses, and your city in the Highland Lakes.

 

 

[1] A Simple Explanation of “The Internet of Things” by Jacob Morgan

[2] Newsroom Press Release, by Gartner February 7, 2017,

[3] Internet of Things by Larry Dignan October 3, 2013

[4] A Brief History of the Internet of Things by Keith D. Foote, February 16, 2016

 

The Importance of Quality Home Networking

Would you buy a high-performance Lamborghini sports car and fill it with unleaded regular gasoline?[1] No! When you use a generic modem from the store or your internet service provider for your high-end home theater and your smart home electronics, you are effectively putting cheap gas in a luxury vehicle.

The most important piece of having a smart home is network stability because the network is the foundation. It’s not just “nice to have.” It’s a requirement.

Regardless of how much you spend on a home theater or a smart home system, its performance is only as good as the network it runs on. The speed of your home network is directly tied to the speed of your devices. Each piece of equipment might say it can reach lightning fast speeds, but if your network is throttling your bandwidth, your smart home automation system will never operate at full performance.

The network is the single most important thing. The more devices you connect, the smarter your home is, and the more you use cloud-based services, the more important your network becomes.

How do you know if your network is not operating at full capacity? Ask yourself if you experience any of the following situations:

  • lower than expected download speeds
  • poor quality video streaming
  • hearing every other word of a conversation on a Voice over IP (VOIP) phone service
  • having intermittent wireless connectivity
  • your connected devices just don’t seem to work well (or consistently)

If you have experienced any of these, then you have a network breakdown. The “secret” ingredient, or the fix, is an enterprise grade network for your Hill Country home. Luckily for you, HCTS has multiple decades of experience designing and installing business class IT infrastructure for Fortune 500 companies and governments all over the world.

Some may argue that an enterprise network is overkill and too expensive, but an enterprise network is the best choice. Having this grade of network capacity allows you to have the capability to accommodate and support new technologies as they roll out. Moreover, enterprise networks use higher quality CPUs which allows more streams on high bandwidth traffic.  This means your high-end electronics today and the new ones that come will run at the capacity they were designed to operate. Reach out and let HCTS help you get the most of your home electronics.

 

[1] The Backbone of a Connected Home by Jamie Lee Corpuz

How to Know if Your Business Can Benefit from Better Networking

For most small businesses, downtime due to lagging networks or network failure is the second highest business cost after HR. It is also one of the widest reaching problems a business can face, affecting everyone from clients and suppliers to employees and managers.[1]  One way to determine whether your businesses should invest in improving the quality of your network connections is to answer the following questions.

Does your business:

  • Leverage the internet for 50% of your business operations or more?
  • Deploy 3 or more computers, including phones, laptops, and desk side machines?
  • Employ 2 or more employees?
  • Conduct business at multiple (two-four) locations?[2]

If you answered yes to any of the previous questions, then you need to review your current network setup because your company can benefit from a faster network. Many variables affect how fast your network is running, and we at Hill Country Technology Solutions have seen everything. Whether you are not sure about the performance of your network or are constantly waiting on a lagging computer, we recommend taking the following steps to ensure your business is reaching its full potential:

  1. Call HCTS at (830) 637-2910 or visit our website to schedule a meeting to learn more about how we can improve the quality of your network.
  2. Share your specific business goals with HCTS, and we will review your current network setup and help develop a plan to help you reach your goals.
  3. Partner with HCTS to manage your IT solutions to ensure maximum productivity for years to come.

Why HCTS?

HCTS has multiple decades of experience designing and installing business class IT infrastructure for Fortune 500 companies and governments all over the world. Call us at (830) 637-2910 or visit our website to learn more about how we can help you increase your bottom line.

[1] “The True Cost of Downtime in 2016”  by Graham Leitch

[2]  “The Impact of Internet Speed on Business Productivity” by Ephraim Batambuze III

What makes a home smart?

Whether you were introduced to the concept of a smart home from The Jetsons, or in my case, Smart House, it’s time to break down what actually makes a home smart. Spoiler alert – it’s not a robotic nanny.

The steps to convert your existing home to a smart home are pretty simple, and if you have internet connection in your home, you are already on the right track.

First, for a home to be smart, it must be connected. If you have an appliance or gadget connected to the home Wi-Fi, and information can be shared across devices, your home is connected. A smart home is a connected home, but a connected home is not a smart home.

In order for a connected home to become a smart home, the devices and appliances in the home must be connected to Wi-Fi as well as actively work in-sync with one another. Additionally, the devices are programmed to work together at specific times and are controllable at one centralized hub, which you can access locally and remotely.

A home can be smart to varying degrees, and there are many products on the market introducing consumers to starter-smart home technologies.  A few products that are a great start to becoming a smart home are Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Nest Thermostat, and Ring Video Doorbell.

These products are innovative, and DIY projects, but they are a piece-meal approach to home automation. The more comprehensive option is a Control 4 system professionally installed by Hill Country Technology Solutions. Control 4 gives you the ability to link all your smart products on one easy-to-use platform that you can manage at home or remotely. HCTS professionally installs Control 4 and has an unmatched depth of experience with technology infrastructure. To learn more about our products and services, call us at (830) 637-2910 or visit our website.