Network Technology Summit Review

Network Technology Summit Review – Laying the Groundwork for Efficient Networks

 

Did you attend our recent Network Technology Summit? If you didn’t have the opportunity to join us, or if you did and could use a refresher, we’re creating a two-part blog series to recap what we and our manufacturing partners covered!  This comprehensive, day-long session reviewed best practices for business systems improvements, equipment upgrades, cost reduction and increased profitability for manufacturing facilities. Having a robust, secure plant floor network is becoming more and more vital for manufacturing, and our summit focused on the best services and products to improve yours.

Network Technology Summit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clean Consistent Power | APC by Schneider Electric

Downtime in manufacturing can be quite costly, but when that downtime is caused by power interruptions, it’s also quite preventable. APC by Schneider Electric addressed this issue during their presentation on how to provide clean, consistent power with Uninterrupted Power Systems (UPS). UPS units are essential to keeping uptime and preventing damages in manufacturing and electrical equipment.

Switching to a Smart UPS can result in 47% savings in eight years. UPS systems typically work at a room level, row level or rack level, and APC offers several options to fit your needs:

  • DIN Rail UPS – Ideal backup power source for cabinet applications requiring Mission Critical Load Support. Applications include water/wastewater, mining/metals/minerals, biotech, food and beverage, AG, oil and gas.
  • SecureUPS Solutions – Ideal for outdoor field cabinet (NEMA 4) applications such as transportation, oil and gas pipelines, water/wastewater pump stations, utility substations
  • Galaxy VS – Compact design with 97% electrical efficiency, simplifies multiple UPS offers into one platform
  • Smart-UPSTM with APC SmartConnect – Cloud based monitoring feature that provides automatic notifications, firmware updates, and advanced support services

Network Best Practices | Applied Technologies

The typical plant network has multiple processors, a single subnet and limited redundancy. Applied Technologies dug into why plant network segmentation is a best practice, and how the plant process defines the network. This starts with defining the plant process areas, the sub-process areas within the line by identifying the PLC(s) within the process area, the drives, IO, HMI connected to the PLC, and the risks/timing of the process.

To implement network best practices, Applied Technologies, coupled with French Gerleman, offers the following network services:

  • Network assessment
  • Network security posture survey
  • Machine level/plant level design
  • Network configuration mock-up
  • Server setup, virtualization and configuration
  • Network troubleshooting
  • Managed services
  • Simplified design, quicker deployment, reduced risk

Virtualization | Applied Technologies

Virtualization is the next step forward in plant infrastructure. Applied Technologies highlighted how virtualization creates a virtual version of a device or resource, such as a server, storage device, network or even an operating system. This is important because each server has numerous single points of failure, such as APPS, OS, CPU, RAM, DISK and PWR. Having servers without virtualization can be costly and inefficient, and PCs and HMIs are prone to failure and can take significant time to recover.

Using virtualization can reduce the number of servers with multiple risk points each to three, with zero risk points. By running APPS and HMIs virtually and servers in data centers, recovery time is seconds, not days! This results in fewer refresh cycles, a significant return on investment and a smaller technology footprint. Virtualization can be scaled as your business needs change and allows you to allocate storage and memory as needed and mitigate or eliminate downtime.

Test & Inspection Troubleshooting Process | AFL

What if you could get accurate results for every single fiber optic test and inspection you have?  The fiber optic test and inspection equipment market has seen a lot of innovation for over 25 years, and now AFL has launched a revolutionary approach to the Test & Inspection Product Overview procedure. Typically, this procedure has four main steps, for which AFL offers a full range of products, that can increase your accuracy and improve your process.

Step 1: Traffic ID & Continuity

Use an Optical Fiber Identifier should be used before disconnecting any fiber, and visual and Wave ID coding to determine Polarity and continuity from ‘End to End.’

  • OFI-BI and OFI-BIPM Optical Fiber Identifiers
  • Visual Fault Identifiers (VFI/VFL)
  • MFIS Multi-fiber Identification System
  • Loss Test Sets -OLTS

Step 2: Inspect & Cleaning

All optical surfaces that are intended to be mated will need to be inspected. Cleaning prior to inspection has led to debris smearing, therefore inspection is a pre-requisite. AFL provides cleaning kits which are field portable, convenient, and available with inspection and loss testing products.

Step 3: Acceptance Testing

Acceptance of fiber network testing prior to commissioning is completed based on Insertion Loss, Optical Return Loss, & Length for the system to perform based on specifications. AFL supplies Loss Test Sets to identify fiber links that can support growth of bandwidth and speeds at the time of commissioning.

Step 4: Trouble & Maintenance

Maintaining a trouble-free network starts from Planning, Testing, Engineering and Maintenance divisions engaged with current network data through a real-time cloud-based database management system. AFL has various products and services to ensure the best results:

  • FS200 FlexScan
  • FLEXSCAN®Quad OTDR Overview
  • TRM® Test Results Manager

If you’d like to learn more about the Network Technology Summit or any of the products recommended in it, please reach out to your Applied Technologies Account Manager or contact us today.

End of Support for Windows 7 and Several Windows Server Versions

 

Microsoft End of Support

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything has a lifespan, and technology is no different.

 

Software companies constantly develop new and improved versions of their products to address the ever-changing needs of users and to combat security threats, building in features and functionality for ease-of use, collaboration and mobility. As new programs are released, older versions are set for sunsetting, which means that support and security patches are no longer available. When this happens, users have the option to do nothing – which means they’re operating without support and with security vulnerabilities – or upgrade to the new version of the software.

 

Such is the situation that users of Windows 7, Exchange Server 2010, Windows Server 2008, Hyper V Server 2008, and SQL Server 2008 will face starting January 14, 2020, when Microsoft support for all of these platforms will end. Applied Technologies answers questions users will need to consider as they prepare for this transition.

 

Question: Why do software companies sunset packages?

Answer: Software companies are always introducing something newer, better and faster, and because of these advancements, they encourage users to migrate to new versions. When they add versions to the mix of offerings, they have to make a decision and draw a line in the sand in terms of when they’ll stop supporting older versions. It’s simply not possible to support multiple companies on multiple versions dating back an unlimited number of years. Instead, they focus their attention on identifying vulnerabilities and areas for improvement in the most current package while looking forward to the next new development to best meet the needs of users.

Typically, the lifecycle for any program is a maximum of ten years, while anything less than five years old will receive mainstream support. That five to ten year mark is a bit of a gray zone in terms of the level of support and attention a program will receive. Today, Microsoft is encouraging the migration to Windows 10 and Microsoft/Office 365 which offers a great deal of enhanced security and mobility for users.

 

Question: What do users need to know?

Answer: The most important thing for users to know is that they will be at a greater security risk if they are still running Windows 7 and Server 2008 or SQL 2008 after January 14, 2020. I can only imagine that hackers everywhere have this date on their calendars, just waiting for the opportunity to see what vulnerabilities they can capitalize on. If a company doesn’t upgrade, they may have a hacker waltz in through a back door they’ll never know about – and one that Microsoft will never patch. Just one machine not properly upgraded can put a company’s entire system at risk. Putting people’s data at risk can also result in serious fines, a major PR crisis, and erode public trust. Companies should not put themselves in this situation and can avoid this by upgrading.

We work with many IT managers who went through what I call “the big change” that happened with the migration from Microsoft XP to Microsoft 7. There were many compatibility challenges that arose, but the great news is, the upgrade from 7 to 10 is much more seamless. Most of the challenges arose from third party software programs which simply were not compatible at the time of rollout. This is not the case with this migration, as Microsoft has worked hard to make 99% of applications compatible. In fact, Microsoft has a site which allows IT managers and users to check the compatibility of programs they’ll need to run on Windows 10.  Reference: https://developer.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/ready-for-windows/#/

 

Question: How does a client go about upgrading?

Answer: The first step in the process is to perform an assessment. Applied Technologies will review all applications and the network environment (including all hardware) to identify if an upgrade is possible with the current setup, and to help us develop the best plan of action to execute the upgrade and roll it out to all users.

There are many options available for this particular upgrade. For example, on the server side, you can move Windows and SQL servers to Azure and Microsoft will continue to provide security updates for 3 years.  Or we can upgrade the operating system and then leave it on premise or move it into the cloud. This provides the opportunity to get the data off of hardware in internal data centers and move towards virtualization of servers and combining SQL databases to reduce risk. There are many opportunities between virtualization and business processes in the cloud, especially if we’re dealing with older hardware that is due for replacement. In many cases, we find that it’s better and more cost efficient to move to the cloud.

 

Question: What are the key decisions to be made, and considerations to factor in?

Answer: We’ll typically look first at where the highest risk exists. What is the most risk that we need to mitigate before end of life? This could be at the server level or on various desktop machines throughout the organization. Once we mitigate this risk, we can tackle the other things.

Assessing hardware can also be a primary decision point for many companies. All desktop machines and devices must be compatible and have enough space and memory to house the new applications. In most cases, if a computer is running Windows 7 most of the time it can run Windows 10, but we must make sure the machines have enough capacity. A rule of thumb for the lifespan on hardware is three to five years, so if we’re dealing with a client whose hardware is nearing its own end of life, we must address what upgrades must be made to manage this migration.

We’ve also found that in the smart manufacturing world, hardware tends to have a longer lifespan because manufacturing applications don’t keep up with the leading edge of operating systems. In these cases, we’ll build firewalls around the systems or take them off the local networks so there is no risk of security breach. This secures the machine so that the overall environment is not at risk, and the facility can operate as usual.

 

Question: How long does the upgrade take?

Answer: This depends on the environment. A large number of PCs can be upgraded quickly if they have standard software. We typically begin with the assessment, and then create a clear schedule and process for the rollout. It typically can take six to eight weeks to plan, especially with desktop migrations where we’ll touch all machines. We tackle the easiest parts of the rollout process first and allow time for the more difficult applications that require additional planning and analysis.

Applied Technologies is currently working on a number of client upgrades, and we’re encouraging everyone to take this upgrade seriously to avoid the security vulnerabilities that will exist after the end of support date. It only takes one hacker and one vulnerability to compromise a company’s network. Doing nothing equates to the decision to leave the door open should a hacker come knocking.

As with all of Applied Technologies services, we focus our efforts on making our clients feel confident, knowledgeable and secure with their company’s IT. Our support for helping clients navigate this important migration is just one example of this commitment and we welcome any questions on this topic.

Please reach out to the team at sales@appliedtech.pro or 636.274.8000 with any questions.

A Network Security Assessment Is Your First Step to Defend Against a Cyber-Attack

Security Threat

 

The statistics around cyber security depict a challenging landscape for businesses of all sizes. Hundreds of millions of consumers have been impacted by data breaches over the last year, and the cost for companies to recover from an attack can skyrocket into the billions of dollars.

 

While the big companies such as Equifax, Target and Marriott have garnered headlines in the evening news, small and medium sized businesses can find themselves to be even more attractive targets for hackers looking to access data. The resulting downtime, loss of revenue, damage to the brand, and potential fines can be impossible to overcome. In fact, the National Cyber Security Alliance reports that 60% of small businesses close their doors within six months of a cyber attack.

 

Regardless of your company’s size, it’s important to acknowledge that you are a target. Applied Technologies can help you be prepared, leveraging our knowledge, resources, and best-in-class solutions on your behalf. Before any of that can take place, the first step is a Security Assessment to identify your current situation and risks, and catalog hardware and software to develop a plan of action that’s best suited for your needs.

 

The Two-Pronged Approach to the Network Security Assessment

The first step involved in your security assessment may involve a diagnostic assessment. This process works very similarly to what your local mechanic might do when diagnosing the health of your car.  Your car, or your system in this case, are plugged into a special diagnostic apparatus that can read what is happening, identify problems and provide guidance as to what components might need attention.

This uncovers a great deal of information for the Applied Technologies team to assess. It can point us in the direction of key vulnerabilities, and provide a reporting of network function, as well as hardware and software tied into the network.

The second piece of the security assessment is a more in-depth analysis of your network, and this process is customized. Our work may take as little as eight hours, or as much as several days:

  1. Fact finding …. Applied Technologies meets with key stakeholders to learn about your specific concerns and goals.
  2. Assess … Our engineers work with your team to assess the network for a more detailed overview of the system.
  3. Workflow … Many breaches are the result of the human factor, so we’ll work to understand security policies and practices within your organization.
  4. Report … Once our work is complete, we’ll provide you with a full report of findings and recommendations, while collaborating with your team to prioritize and create a plan of action. This plan could include security hardware, or managed security monitoring services from Applied Technologies, a topic we’ll cover in our next blog.

What You’ll Learn in Your Network Assessment Report

Each network and each customer’s goals are different, but there are many common things that may be included in your report:

  • Security Risk Report … Executive-level report which calculates a proprietary Security Risk Score along with summary charts, graphs and an explanation of the risks found in the security scans.
  • Security Policy Assessment Report … A detailed review of the security policies that are in place on both a domain wide and local machine basis.
  • Share Permission Report by Computer … Comprehensive lists of all network “shares” by computer, detailing which users and groups have access to which devices and files, and what level of access they have.
  • Share Permission Report by User … Organizes permissions by user, showing all shared computers and files to which, each has access.
  • Outbound Security Report … Highlights deviation from industry standards compared to outbound port and protocol accessibility, lists available wireless networks as part of a wireless security survey, and provides information on Internet content accessibility.
  • External Vulnerabilities Full Detail Report … A comprehensive output including security holes, warnings, and items that can help make better network security decisions, This is an essential item for many standard security compliance reports.
  • Anomalous User Login Activity … A report using mathematical modeling and proprietary pattern recognition to highlight potential unauthorized users who log into machines they normally do not access and at times they normally do not log in.

There may be more (or different) reporting metrics included on your specific report to match your system setup, user behavior, and goals.

 

The Security Journey

The assessment is your first step along the security journey, and we at Applied Technologies make it easy and accessible for you to get started.

Having a security benchmark and identifying your network vulnerabilities it a vital first step in identifying potential risk.  After your initial assessment is completed, we can help map out a security strategy for your company.  This can include conducting follow-up assessments to determine if identified issues have been corrected (to) addressing additional security requirements uncovered by the initial assessment.  Our in-house Applied Technologies team, in coordination with our network of technology partners and leading manufacturers of security technologies can help you obtain a level of security that supports industry standards and best practices.

Don’t Be a Statistic

It’s often said that it’s not a matter of if you’ll experience a breach – it’s a matter of when you’ll experience it. The key is to be prepared to minimize the likelihood of major damage to your company, your reputation and your customers.  Contact us today to learn more.

 

Sources:

https://smallbiztrends.com/2017/01/cyber-security-statistics-small-business.html

https://www.denverpost.com/2016/10/23/small-companies-cyber-attack-out-of-business/

Managed Services Help Solve IT and Business Challenges

Every day, IT professionals face a difficult balancing act. They must focus on planning and deploying technologies to optimize corporate growth and profitability, while at the same time manage the challenge of operating and optimizing highly-complex, integrated, multi- vendor, multi-platform environments.

 

Managed Services can be a viable tool to help you achieve the right balance between maintaining end-user support and helping senior management drive improved technology performance and increase business efficiency to facilitate revenue generation.

 

Selecting the right managed service tools for your business and getting them implemented can be a challenge for any company. We help make the complex simple.

 

Managed Services

Getting Started

When it comes to managed services, there really isn’t one cookie cutter solution that works for everyone. We’ll help you identify the right selection of programs and work with you to smoothly integrate them into your business. We offer a variety of service programs that keep you connected with information critical to maintaining uptime and profitability.

Applied Technologies offers a variety of standard and customizable managed service options through leading industry providers, that can be designed around your specific business requirements.  These include:

  • Carrier Services
  • Cloud Services
  • Collaboration Services
  • Cyber Security
  • Data Center Services
  • End-User Services
  • Network Services
  • Operations Management
  • Print Management

We help address your day-to-day IT management needs so your internal IT staff can focus on strategic initiatives. The depth of our knowledge and experience with traditional and advanced technologies as well as your specific IT infrastructure position us to successfully manage or host all key technology systems.

 

Managed Services Delivery Framework (MSDF)

Our delivery framework uses a robust combination of advanced IT management applications, state of the art IT Infrastructure and industry- recognized processes that gives our offering a unique, global presence with a local feel.

Our Service Desk team oversees all our services, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, ensuring that when incidents arise, you have someone standing by to help. To ensure that all the technology and operational activities are effectively managed, regardless of the time of day, we staff our Service Desk with three tiers of expertise around the clock, allowing you to rest comfortably that experts are actively managing your critical assets.

We provide reliable, secure services using our world-class infrastructure, knowledge and processes. We also work closely with you to review key business needs, cost structures and processes. And through our ITIL/ISO 20000-based systems and processes, we closely monitor every system to ensure your IT infrastructure delivers service levels aligned with business requirements.

 

Managed Services – Key Benefits

Our goal is to help you monitor and manage data and communicate and report business issues in an efficient and timely manner saving you time, money and resources. With managed services, you’ll be better prepared to:

  • Control Costs
  • Focus on Core Business
  • Reduce Risks
  • Adhere to Compliance & Security
  • Quickly Implement Technology

To begin the conversation contact us at sales@appliedtech.pro or call 636.274.8000 to discuss your business requirements with one of our Account Mangers or Practice Leaders.

In Today’s Business World, Collaboration is King

The definition of collaboration is “the action of working with someone to produce or create something.” This action is vital to businesses, who by and large, aim to bring the best minds together to innovate and push their key initiatives forward. But what happens when the team members charged with this are located in different offices regionally, nationally or even around the globe?

 

That’s where technology comes in. There’s a greater need today than ever before to remove the geographical divide and bring teams together in real time, no matter where they’re located.

 

Collaboration

 

Applied Technologies is your partner to make this happen. We have best-in-class technology resources and the strategic skills you need to develop a collaboration platform that will help propel your business forward. Today, we share our discussion with Matt Emrick, Solutions Architect, who has been working with clients for more than ten years on their collaboration initiatives. He has witnessed the industry evolve along with client needs and goals for communication, and offers his insight.

 

In the technology world, what is collaboration?

 

Matt: The world of collaboration is so vast, that it can be challenging for people to wrap their minds around the possibilities. Put quite simply, collaboration is a way for colleagues to connect, communicate and share information in the type of work environment that’s typical today. It’s a fact of business that we don’t all work in the same office. We’re spread across time zones, and have remote work forces in greater numbers than ever before. The business world needed a solution to bring these people together through technology, allowing them to co-create, complete tasks and reach goals.

In many cases, this can be achieved with the implementation of one application. This could be anything from instant messaging to video conferencing, or online meeting places like Webex. In other cases, collaboration is achieved with a longer-term and integrated strategy developed for how a company’s teams need and want to interact. This can involve multiple tools and end points for communication, such as your phone or video conference device, or meeting spaces where everything is combined from chat, project documents, and more. There are many tools and technologies available to help teams be more efficient and effective regardless of their physical locations.

 

Why is collaboration important in today’s business environment?

 

Matt: Collaboration allows businesses to develop and maintain a competitive advantage. Customers, supervisors, fellow team mates, vendors and everyone involved in a project want and need immediate answers and access to information. Collaboration allows you to connect and share information as quickly as possible. The longer it takes, the more opportunity your competitor has to respond to a customer request, and to mobilize a team to address a customer’s needs.

It’s also important because it’s no longer 100% feasible to physically be present for every meeting or work session related to your projects. The world moves too quickly. In the hours it takes to fly from place to place, your team could have completed many projects and provided service for many customers or stakeholders. All of this is done in a much more efficient and cost-effective manner. Your frequent flyer miles may not be quite so high, but your productivity and profitability will skyrocket.

 

How does Applied Technologies help companies with their collaboration needs?

 

Matt: First and foremost, Applied Technologies provides the technology needed to implement collaboration. We partner with Cisco, one of the leaders in collaboration technology who provide a vast suite of tools to enable connectivity from anywhere on any device. Cisco offers many end-point solutions in terms of video conferencing, chat, instant messaging and huddle spaces that allow for a very in-person feel to the conversation. We can help companies create a plan for what they’ll need to meet their objectives, and integrate the hardware and software to bring it all to life.

For some companies, it’s a relatively straightforward solution, and for others, we’re called upon to develop a long-term collaboration strategy incorporating all tools and end points into the overall vision. In these cases, the customer relies on our experience to help them understand what’s available, where the industry may be going, and help them create a plan for what infrastructure must be put in place to make the collaboration they want possible.

 

How has collaboration changed over the years?

 

Matt: When I started in this industry, much of the required infrastructure was located on-site. This represented a big investment for the company in terms of hardware purchase, installation and management. Today, much of the collaboration technology is in the cloud, so that investment isn’t necessarily required unless there is a specific reason that a company would need it on-site. We can help them determine the most effective and appropriate solution for their situation, specifying the infrastructure plan needed to implement collaboration. This remains a big piece of what we do.

The other change I’ve seen is company and employee acceptance and demand for collaboration tools. Ten years ago, pieces of the collaboration puzzle were either simply “nice-to-have” perks, or, companies were just dipping their toes in. Now that people have had time to grasp what collaboration means and what it can do for their business, they want more. They’re hungry for more ways to connect and make their businesses run more efficiently. We’re either adding new layers to our customers’ collaboration platforms to expand their capabilities, putting those operations in the cloud to reduce their hardware maintenance needs, or streamlining things into a single interface to simplify management if it is on site.

 

What is important for companies to know about collaboration?

 

Collaboration Media

 

Matt: In general, the possibilities with collaboration technologies are nearly endless. We live in a world where you don’t have to be in the same room to work together. Tools such as Webex Teams help drive communication and sharing, putting everything in one space. You can quickly find project documents, start a conversation, answer questions or update information in real time. You don’t have to pick up the phone, start a meeting, or email documents. Information is shared in one tool.

There’s also a great deal of power in your VoIP system tied to a contact center solution. VoIP allows for truly unified communications, and provides automation which allows your customers to quickly receive answers to their questions. It ties to all other forms of collaboration for a fully integrated experience.

 

What does the process of implementing collaboration look like?

 

Matt: We begin the process by assessing the customer’s infrastructure to ensure it meets the hardware needs to support their collaboration goals. We’ll identify whether they are best suited for on-premise equipment, and develop the plan for putting hardware and communication lines in place. The Applied team will look at issues surrounding the network. Is everything up to speed to ensure quality of service? Do they have the appropriate internet or WAN setup? Or, does it make sense for their particular situation to have their collaboration system be cloud-based?

Our planning process and the set of recommendations we provide enables us to make the implementation and use of the system as easy as possible for the customer. The systems we deploy are very user-friendly, and require very little training.

 

What are the ultimate cost savings of collaboration?

 

Matt: Aside from the efficiency benefits, there are many cost savings associated with collaboration. Travel expenses are greatly reduced, and video conferencing technology allows for people to feel that they’re in the same room. There is a savings on hardware costs, especially where phone systems are involved, because much of the technology relies on “soft phones.” This means you don’t have to have physical phones on desks. You can initiate calls on any device that’s connected to the system – your laptop, your cell phone, or tablet can work as a phone. Also, having these tools in the cloud reduces your hardware needs, as well as the cost associated with purchase and maintenance.

Ultimately, many companies will point to their operational efficiencies which are much harder to quantify. People are freed up to perform valuable work because they’re not spending their time traveling. Plus, they’re accessible so customers can get a hold of them more quickly. And with a contact center solution, calls can automatically be routed to the appropriate person (or another member of the team if that person is unavailable) for a seamless customer experience with enhanced satisfaction.

_____

Perhaps the key thing we learned from Matt is that through collaboration, virtually anything is possible. The Applied Technologies team has not only the vast catalog of technology from Cisco to draw upon, but also the experience and vision to create a solution that will meet the customer’s goals. Whether it’s an on-premise install or a cloud-based system, Matt and his team will make it easy to give you and your team the collaboration you need and help you envision where you may need to go in the future.   Please reach out to the team at sales@appliedtech.pro or 636.274.8000 with any questions you may have.

Why You Should Be Thinking About Microsoft 365 in 2019

Enter any establishment at any time, in any city around the world and you’re sure to see someone hard at work on a laptop, responding to email on a mobile device, or even participating in a video conference call via tablet. That’s because we’ve long since exited the era in which work meant you were strapped to a desk, plugged into the wall, or tethered to a landline. We can now work anywhere, from your home office or the local coffee shop to libraries and airport terminals. In fact, a Gallup survey recently found that 70% of people around the world work remotely at least once per week, and it’s predicted that 50% of the workforce will be remote by 2020.

 

This ability to be mobile has led to increased need to have accessible files and data, yet many companies report that they are lacking the infrastructure to allow for this in a secure manner.  Enter Microsoft 365, the new platform that will simplify accessibility, enhance security, and aims to stay one step ahead in protecting against vulnerabilities.

We recently sat down with Susan Crincoli, Microsoft Practice Lead here at Applied Technologies, to learn more about Microsoft 365 and how they’re leading the way in empowering a secure mobile workforce through the modern desktop.

Modern Workforce

What is Microsoft 365?

 

Susan: Many people are probably familiar with Office 365, which includes applications like the Office suite, Exchange online, OneDrive and others. Microsoft 365 takes this to another level, adding Windows 10 as well as Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) to help guard against malware and viruses, device management like Intune and Windows AutoPilot, as well as additional authentication processes to access and share documents. The applications themselves are still installed on your desktop, while these advanced features are more behind the scenes. For example, your office data is online, in “the cloud” in multiple data centers in specific geographic locations most accessible to your users. This adds another level of security in terms of the physical security of your data. If disaster strikes one data center, there is a high probability that the others are unaffected.

 

What are common questions you hear about Microsoft 365?

 

Susan: Once people understand the difference between Office 365 and Microsoft 365, their questions begin to revolve around the security of their data. Most companies are still accustomed to having their own servers, and express concerns about moving data to the cloud where they fear it can be accessible by anyone. I explain how it works using the analogy of a house versus an apartment. There is a great deal of upkeep and many security measures that you personally must manage in a home. So much so that you may reach a point where you want someone else to do it for you, so perhaps you move from a house to an apartment. Here, you’re a tenant. You have access to only your apartment. You’re the only one with the keys, so your security belongs to you. You cannot access anyone else’s apartment, and no one else can access yours. Plus, someone else is managing the building for you, so you have less work and responsibility.

 

How does Microsoft 365 enable for a higher level of security?

 

Susan: In Microsoft 365, the built-in security features are the #1 benefit of the system. But it doesn’t stop there. The beauty of working on this platform lies in the continuous updates that take place. These updates are based on the risks assessed in the large volume of data that’s being housed and exchanged in Microsoft’s data centers, where the emails of thousands of companies on Office 365 are being transmitted. The data is continuously scanned to identify threats. The more data being scanned, the more quickly the algorithms are learning and building in protection. Therefore, the companies that are on the system are also learning from this collective volume. It would take much longer for an individual company to learn what threats they could be facing simply because the volume, and the experience with perceived threats, just isn’t there to assess and respond to. If a company did have this kind of volume, it would be nearly impossible to add the staff required to address every threat alert. Microsoft 365 manages all this through use of algorithms, so it’s automatic and proactive.

 

What is the modern desktop, and how does Microsoft 365 fit in?

 

Susan: The modern desktop is a mobile one that can be found on any type of computer or device that can securely connect to a company’s data. This could be a laptop, a home computer, mobile phone, or tablet. Workers and companies alike are finding an increased need to make connectivity, collaboration and accessibility possible. We find ourselves in a time where the remote workforce continues to grow, teams are located in offices around the world, and those who have a physical office are demanding the ability to connect while they’re off-site, wherever they find themselves at any given moment. Their modern desktop allows them to work efficiently and securely in these scenarios.

Microsoft 365 was developed specifically with this in mind. It includes all the functionality of the Office Suite, the collaboration capabilities of Teams and SharePoint, and the added security features such as multi factor authentication to access data. In addition, new 365 features and updates are coming out once a month. This appeals to the tech needs and desires of today’s workforce, especially younger workers who are accustomed to having the latest and greatest. Microsoft is developing features we hadn’t even thought about two or three years ago, and users of the system are the first to be able to take advantage of the newest capabilities. Many studies show that workers value having access to the latest technology, while old technology makes them inefficient.

 

How is Applied Technologies helping companies make the transition to Microsoft 365?

 

Susan: We understand that this can be a new concept for many companies, and it can seem overwhelming. We’re helping companies navigate these waters, and identify the solution most appropriate for their needs from implementation to management of the system. Going back to the apartment analogy, we can do everything from helping them choose the right “apartment,” moving all their belongings (data, in this case), unpacking and setting it all up.

Applied Technologies leverages a tried and true methodology for the transition process, and we’re able to move at the client’s pace. This process begins with a kickoff meeting, development of user lists and categories, communication templates to keep the end users informed, successful sync of active directories, migration of data, and implementation of software programs. Timelines vary based on how quickly the client would like to move, and how much time their in-house IT staff has to devote to the project. It’s a pretty straightforward process, but there are hurdles to overcome in every implementation. This is where our knowledge comes in. We know where the challenges are going to happen and can address them quickly.

Once implementation has occurred, in most cases, clients will rely on us for our managed services, such as the Delegated Administrator. As part of managed services, we can help people know what’s coming and help them create policies around use, security protocols, how to respond to alerts, and ensure they’re following best practices. As new features are rolled out, new policies are rolled out to address them.

Modern Workforce

What is on the horizon for Microsoft?

 

Susan: In January, 2020, Windows 7 will reach its end of life, meaning that Microsoft will no longer support the system or provide updates. Users will either have to pay an extra fee to get support and receive patches, upgrade to Windows 10 on their device, or move to a new Windows 10 device. If they don’t, this opens a whole host of security problems as vulnerabilities in the program will not be addressed. We saw this when Windows XP went end of life. Companies who delayed upgrading faced security breaches and ransomware attacks. We anticipate that many users will transition to Microsoft 365 for this reason. The great news is that Microsoft has been very proactive about testing applications and is currently reporting that 99% of applications are compatible with Windows 10, which is the upgrade from Windows 7 and 8 Pro that are included as part of Microsoft 365 licensing.  which is the version included in 365. This saves the client approximately $200 per device, and removes many challenges in the implementation process.

Our goal is to help clients be ready and feel confident to embrace new technology, and eliminate the fear surrounding an implementation. The modern workforce expects this level of technology, and many have already come to rely on their modern desktop. As the job market continues to become more competitive, having these types of tools in place could have an impact on your employee recruitment and retention.

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Susan Crincoli

Susan certainly painted an exciting picture of the many possibilities that Microsoft 365 can provide to your company and workforce. Her passion for sharing her knowledge shined brightly throughout our conversation. If you’re curious about Microsoft 365, or any Microsoft products or services, Susan and her team can help you understand your options and create a plan for implementing these great tools, giving your workforce the mobility they want and the security you need.  Please reach out to the team at sales@appliedtech.pro or 636.274.8000 with any questions.

How to Implement Successful Connected Enterprise Strategy to Enable Smart Manufacturing

IIoT

“If you build it, they will come.” That famous movie line sticks in the minds of many. While it was an inspirational message for building Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams, it’s not an ideal approach for finding success with your smart manufacturing strategy. Perhaps this is why a large number of these types of initiatives fail, or why large-scale alignment never takes root.

 

Applied Technologies’ vision is to help your manufacturing and distribution facilities achieve success.  In 2018, we were proud to welcome industry veteran Ray Zimmermann to the team, who brings more than 35 years of experience working for corporations such as Anheuser-Busch, Container Corporation of America, and Olin Corporation in the successful implementation of their automation and smart manufacturing programs. The proven process Ray brings to each situation helps to ensure alignment, enthusiasm for the initiative, and measurable indicators that help everyone involved see the progress.

Ray is a vocal champion of the “top-down” approach for the development of a connected enterprise roadmap. He recently shared his insight on how to build a successful plan.

What is a typical automation scenario, and why does it not serve an organization well?

 

Ray: In many industrial facilities, automation is viewed as a technology issue. It’s a very functional and siloed / equipment centric approach in which a piece of software or hardware is introduced to address a very specific situation. At that point, the solution is primarily technology focused… (how do we get this to run). In other cases, the folks on the plant floor – the operational technology (OT) team – are considering how to make processes more efficient and streamlined. They’re focused on one piece of equipment, one process or one department. Traditionally, IT and OT operate separately because they report up through different arms of the company: IT reports through the financial arm and ultimately through the CFO, while OT reports through plant management and engineering.

This approach results in limited success because of three major factors:

  1. It’s fragmented and typically reliant on the scope of a single piece of technology.
  2. It’s a bottom-up situation that’s not aligned with the overall strategic objectives of the organization.
  3. It’s not embraced in a large-scale way across the organization.
How can a comprehensive, top-down approach help to ensure success?

 

Ray: Throughout the course of my career, I’ve been involved in several automation and smart manufacturing initiatives for major corporations who have taken a top-down approach. When this scenario is in place, the chances of achieving success are quite high for a variety of reasons:

  1. The initiative is being driven by leadership to address overall business goals. At that point, they know where they want to go and have created a long-term vision around how to extract business value from the technology
  2. The discussions revolve around how to leverage technology to arrive at this vision. Technology in and of itself will not address overarching organizational objectives, fix organizational challenges, or drive a company into the future. In fact, a technology-driven initiative is a narrow and sub-optimal approach.
  3. It creates departmental alignment and collaboration, removing the barriers between IT and OT and fostering a sense of shared ownership in achieving the business goals.
  4. It ushers in culture change in most organizations, empowering teams at all levels to play a part in changing the way business processes are run.
What are the key steps that must be taken in order for this to happen?

 

Ray: The starting point involves examining your business needs. Where are the gaps? Where does the organization need to go (or how does it need to evolve) to address your market in the future? Some of these will be larger and longer-term in scope, but there are some more digestible initiatives that you can begin chipping away at within the next 12-24 months. The leadership team must identify those with the biggest payoff and put a business change management plan and technology plan in place to start getting some traction.

Next identify a group of people that will play a role in envisioning what the future of your organization looks like. What is your future state? What will you be doing, who will you be serving, and what does my product look like five years from now? The people close to the product and processes will know where these gaps are.

Once the group has identified the gaps, begin assessing the gains. In other words, if we fix these issues, what’s it worth to the organization? You can then begin working on the details in terms of the processes and technology required to arrive at the solution. This brings forward the things that IT people like to talk about, and integrates the things that OT teams like to work on.  This is the part in the process that bridges the gap between the two disciplines, and creates cooperation towards a common, organization-wide goal.

What are the dangers of not embracing top-down enterprise strategies?

 

Ray: One thing has always been true in the world of manufacturing – you must always be in reinvention mode. If you don’t, another company will. I like to use the analogy of the buggy. You don’t see buggies anymore because someone came up with a better product: the car! And someday, cars will be replaced by something else. Or, your competitor may identify a way to make your same product better, cheaper, or quicker, causing you to lose market share. Top-down strategy helps the organization to envision what’s next, mapping out how the organization will get there and identifying what processes and technologies will make it happen.

If that doesn’t wake you up to the importance of top-down strategy, consider this. It’s ultimately more expensive to do it the other way around. A bottom-up approach does not breed success and the chance of choosing the wrong (or outdated) technology solution is high, or the solution chosen is not supported across the entire organization.

A key point to consider: It’s very difficult to end up with a Connected Enterprise and realize the value of Smart Manufacturing  from a Technology perspective with Disconnected Business processes and or Organizations.

Those who embrace this process and forward-planning will be the leaders of tomorrow while the rest risk being left behind – or going the way of the buggy.

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Ray Zimmermann

Throughout our conversation, Ray highlighted the fact that this process doesn’t happen overnight. The great news is that he knows how to lead an organization through a successful rollout. In our next blog, he’ll share that information and show you how to make the process digestible for your team.

To start the conversation regarding your IIoT requirements, please contact us today at 636.274.8030.  

Applied Technologies and the Digital Transformation

Applied Technologies and the Digital Transformation

 

Digital Transformation

 

We often hear that we live in a data-driven society. Platforms like Google and Facebook collect our information, and retailers like Amazon and Walmart know our shopping habits and preferences. Some consider it an invasion of privacy, while others see it as a convenience. Regardless of an individual’s position on the issue, data is king when it comes to business. It helps businesses gather intel into your operations, financials, and yes, your customers’ wants, needs and habits.

Data powers business today. This is what the digital transformation is all about. Applied Technologies is the first stop to help make the transfer and analysis of data possible.

We recently sat down with Eric Frietsch, VP and General Manager at Applied Technologies, to discuss the firm’s 30 years of experience with the digital transformation. Eric explains what it means, provides insight into how your business can benefit, and outlines the role that Applied Technologies plays in all facets of the digital transformation, including network setup, connectivity, data centers, security and more.

 

What is the Digital Transformation?

This is a hot topic in IT right now, but quite frankly, the digital transformation is nothing new. At Applied Technologies, we’ve been involved in various iterations of the digital transformation for more than 30 years. At its core, the digital transformation is about shifting data and doing something with it in order to provide a solution to a business challenge, or to enable a business goal to be achieved. Applied specializes on the front end of this process, setting up the framework, hardware storage, and networking for the transfer of data to take place – taking the data out of machines and devices and routing it to where it needs to go. Applications are then laid on top of the data, allowing for analysis, identification of patterns, and gathering intel to make good decisions that drive better business results. This typically means improvement in productivity, profits, performance, safety, or any other KPI important to the business.

 

How did Applied Technologies get its start in the Digital Transformation

We began 30 years ago in the automation space, which is very geared towards operational technology, or OT. The other half of the company was about networking, connecting devices and people together. Since then, we’ve added partnerships with companies like Cisco, Microsoft, NetApp Rockwell, and many others to offer a holistic digital transformation solution, bridging the gap in the information technology and operational technology space. Our technology partnerships allow us to apply unique solutions geared to each business spec and set of goals. We may be installing similar hardware and software in a number of companies, but it’s configured differently for each vertical market we serve and each set of business objectives they’ve set out to reach.

 

How is the Digital Transformation different today than it was 30 years ago?

Today, the transferring and routing of data is much more sophisticated and complex. We’re connecting more devices – and types of devices – than ever before. Wireless devices, especially in a manufacturing environment, are becoming a bigger piece of the overall network. The speed at which data must travel, as well as how quickly users need to access that data, continues to increase. And of course, security of the overall system is an ongoing concern for every business.

 

 

Tell us more about the role security plays.

There are several pillars to consider in any discussion about security. You have the network and the individual devices to safeguard, as well as the physical security of the system and facility. But a big factor today is social engineering, a situation in which someone portrays him or herself as part of the organization in order to gain access or trust. Sometimes, this can take months. Other times, it’s an email that looks legitimate enough for a team member to click and expose the entire network. The great news is there are network security tools we leverage here at Applied Technologies to help our clients avoid these situations.

 

What industries do you see leveraging their data and systems well?

Every industry from retail and commercial to manufacturing and gaming is working to identify the best ways to leverage their data to help the organization reach their goals. Right now, the concept of “smart manufacturing” is very big. This allows manufacturing and industrial facilities to share real-time data from the shop floor to create better efficiencies and drive profitability. Commercial facilities are transferring data on a variety of issues to help better maintain, stock and improve productivity. The gaming and retail space uses location data and facial recognition technology to track their customer’s habits, wants and needs to provide the right offer at the right time to either keep them on-premises longer, and keep them coming back for more.

Applied Technologies has played a key role in helping to develop the strategy for the infrastructure needs to propel these initiatives, as well as installing and maintaining the systems to make this all possible. This can include the design and installation of data centers, implementation and oversight of managed services, security and uptime monitoring, and putting all of the hardware and software in place to facilitate the secure, efficient transfer of information.

Our experience in top floor and shop floor integration goes back to our origin.  Applied Technologies is a French Gerleman technology company.  Together, we can provide manufacturers a complete Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solution. Our team can not only answer the technical questions but can assist with reviewing the financial and operational benefits of IIoT.

 

Where and how does this process typically begin?

In some cases, a client will call upon Applied Technologies to help them solve a specific business problem through technology. Perhaps they realize they’re losing money on a certain product line, or are having challenges with customer retention. We partner to work through the situation with them, identify the key metrics to monitor, and build a holistic technology solution with the hardware and software needed to move the needle on those metrics.

In other cases, the client has identified their business objectives and reach out to the Applied Technologies team to implement the technology needed to support the initiatives.

Whether the customer has a clear path in mind or they don’t know where to start, we walk through that process with them hand-in-hand to build the solution they need to make their business run more smoothly while increasing profits.

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We enjoyed our time discussing the digital transformation with Eric, who encourages readers to begin their journey if they haven’t already done so.

In closing, we ask you to consider what your data could be doing for you, and how you could be leveraging it to grow revenue and profits. It’s OK if you don’t know where to start, but know that you have access to a wealth of information that could be driving your business into the future. The team at Applied Technologies is here to help you make sense of it, and build the technology infrastructure you need for better business results. Please reach out to the team at sales@appliedtech.pro or 636.274.8000 with any questions you may have.

Why Perform a Network Assessment?

There are many circumstances that can drive a company to need to assess their network devices, topology, connectivity and security posture. Some of most common are:

 

General Inventory:

Organization grow over time, acquire other companies. Many times, devices are often added on the fly and configured ad hoc to get things working. In these situations, focus can be more on getting things done and there can be less thought on things such as strategy, security and compliance. Documentation can often suffer as it can be given a lower priority in fast paced environments

Problem Resolution:

As problems come up, it can be astonishingly difficult to overcome when networks have grown organically over time and documentation is lacking.

Compliance:

Many companies have industry specific regulatory bodies that govern how they must operate. Having a solid network design with detailed documentation is always the foundational requirement to comply with these regulations.

Network Upgrade/Refresh:

This provides an opportune time to “start with a clean slate” mentality. Knowing what its really going on in your network (both hardware and software) not only provides a solid justification for capital investment but ensures that you are making the right capital investments. Overall design with performance, redundancy and security considerations with be your roadmap for the future.

For more information contact us at sales@appliedtech.pro or call 636.274.8000 to discuss your network assessment requirements with one of our Account Managers or Practice Leaders.

Why Should You Assess Your Structured Cable Requirements?

Do you know if your network infrastructure is in line?

 

Often structured cable is only looked at when something goes wrong, or if it’s being expanded. As such, physical network infrastructure tends to grow naturally and lose uniformity. Updating your structured cable can seem like an overwhelming project to undertake, but is important for efficiency and uptime. Thankfully, Panduit is here to help you with that first crucial step: getting an assessment.

Why do You Need an Assessment?
You can’t make decisions if you don’t know what you’re dealing with. Your network may not be failing you yet, but it could be causing a loss of efficiency, and waiting until it does fail will result in downtime. The best way to be prepared is to stay informed. Maybe you don’t need to take immediate action yet, but the only way to know for sure is to have an assessment.
Companies often have “top floors” and “shop floors,” which may have their structured cable configured differently. This can cause delays in troubleshooting issues, security risks, downtime and overall loss of revenue. When companies have multiple locations, this issue becomes increasingly important to resolve.

What’s Involved in an Assessment?
Panduit partners with you to assess your physical network. They have extensive experience and in-depth knowledge of industry standards and guidelines to assess the current state of your structured cable requirements, and help you create a plan moving forward.

Assessments generally take one to three days, depending on the size and previous documentation available. Beyond an initial facility tour and their final presentation of the assessment, your team will not be interrupted. Panduit has a list of partners and a full team of engineers to help with assessments. All you have to do is sign off approval for them to take relevant photos for their report.

Both a detailed report and light assessment are provided. These can range anywhere from 30 to 200 pages including photos. These include outlines, diagnoses of issues and recommendations for solutions or a redesign if warranted. These are presented to the main company stakeholder, and Panduit encourages Informational Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) representatives to attend the presentations.

Taking the Next Step
The information provided is intended to be comprehensive, not overwhelming. That’s why Panduit walks alongside your company to create benchmarks for a long-term implementation strategy. You’ll have a roadmap going forward that both your IT and OT departments can collaborate on. Panduit can also recommend the best products for your situation.
Every situation is different, but Panduit and Applied Technologies are devoted to helping your company recognize and address network issues to help improve your daily processes and prepare for the future.

For more information contact us at sales@appliedtech.pro or call 636.274.8000 to discuss your structured cable requirements with one of our Account Managers or Practice Leaders.