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IT Companies: Why We Stopped Trying to Be Like Everyone Else

April 19, 2017

Now you might well think that this is going to be one of those come-speak-to-Select-Technology-because-we-are-the-best-in-the-world kind of blogs…

I really want to be open and honest here, and say that there are probably plenty of good IT companies out there. I say “probably” because, in all fairness, we stopped researching the competition.

We stopped trying to be like everyone else.

We no longer look at pricing. We know we’re at the higher end of the IT support market, but that’s a good thing because it gives us the headroom to properly support our customers and provide outstanding customer service.

This definitely bares repeating: We can properly support our customers and provide outstanding customer service.

And, when we stopped worrying about being like every other support company we began to really understand what it takes to be different.

IT companies

There’s no reason to compare our services to any other IT support company out there because the bottom line is that no-one else can be like us, we have a team of people who are dedicated to our core values.

Our services are simply designed with one thing in mind:

Will this solve your problem?

This does often present us with some problems, because when we are up against a so-called competitor in a new business situation our potential new clients get very confused because they are looking for a like-for-like comparison.

But this also plays in our favour time and time again because it allows us to explain, and for you to see how we really do things differently from others.

This is why it really pays for us as an IT support company to be innovative and constantly develop new and better services.

Talk to us today and find out how Select Technology can solve the challenges you face as technology in business evolves.

Slack Vs Microsoft Teams: Office 365 Takes On the Collaboration King

March 17, 2017

Microsoft’s latest productivity tool Teams has been in beta since November, and this week it went live for Office 365 users around the world.

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Some have been touting Teams as Microsoft’s Slack-killer app, with others slightly less enthused about the enterprise offering.

Today we’ll do our best to demystify the subject so that you can stop slacking and figure out which is the best option for your team!

Pricing

Pricing is probably the best place for us to start because Microsoft Teams does not exist as a standalone service in the way that Slack does.

Microsoft Teams has been integrated into Office 365 as a default feature for certain subscription levels.

This means that if you already have an Office 365 Business Essentials, Business Premium, Enterprise E1, E3, or E5 subscription, you now have access to Teams at no additional cost.

You can log into Teams using your existing 365 credentials. There is no additional registration or onboarding necessary.

On the other hand, Slack adopts a freemium business model that incorporates a free tier for users to trial the app or roll it out in a smaller team.

Depending on what kind of online storage, email, and productivity apps you want to integrate with Slack, the annual cost sits at around $140-270 (£115-220) per user.

Microsoft Office 365 pricing starts at $60 (£49) per user per year for its Business Premium tier.

This includes Microsoft Teams on top of Skype for Business, Exchange email, and 1TB of OneDrive for Business storage.

…and the winner is:

Looking at pricing alone, Microsoft Teams is the clear winner.

Even if you upgrade your Office 365 subscription to E3 with full access to the Office applications, you’ll still only be paying $240 (£196) per user per year.

office 365

Third-Party Integration

The Slack App Directory is currently a whole lot more expensive than the Microsoft Teams integrations, of which there are approximately 150 at launch.

Despite Teams boasting many partners, there are currently only a handful of default integrations built into the application.

One of the standout features of Teams is its tab-based interface.

Tabbed navigation enables users to add their own custom tabs based on the specific integrations they need access to.

An example of this would be your Support or Helpdesk teams using a tabbed instance of Zendesk, while your Marketing guys open a Hootsuite tab or two to monitor social media streams and publish content.

A downside to Microsoft Teams is the lack of integration with other third-party tools like Google Drive and Dropbox.

The biggest drawback is the fact that you can only interact with people who are already within your Office 365 network.

office 365

Slack, on the other hand, allows you to invite users via email, with the option to limit their access to particular channels if necessary.

Microsoft has promised us that cross-platform integration is coming, but for now we’ll have to sit tight.

…and the winner is:

This is a tough one; let’s break it down:

  • App Directory Pricing: Teams Slack
  • Cross-Platform Integration: Teams Slack
  • Built-In Integrations: Teams Slack
  • Tabbed Integrations: Teams Slack

There isn’t much to set the two apart in this area.

The main distinction is whether you need a platform that will enable collaboration with groups and individuals outside of your organisation.

If so, Slack is the way to go. Otherwise, let’s keep reading.

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Bots

Slackbot

If you’ve used Slack for any amount of time, you’ll no doubt have dabbled with Slackbot.

Slackbot is a separate private conversation that can answer simple questions, as well as acting as a test environment for integrations.

Microsoft Teams introduces not one, but two bots: T-Bot and the yet-to-be-released WhoBot.

office 365

T-Bot

T-Bot works similarly to Slackbot, enabling you to ask questions about members of your group and other topics. You’ll likely notice some parallels with Cortana in Windows 10.

Moreover, T-Bot offers a choice of user-interfaces, with a tabbed browser-like instance accompanying the more standard chat-style interface which acts more like a conversation with the AI.

WhoBot

Far more impressive is WhoBot, which unfortunately doesn’t have a confirmed release date yet.

WhoBot uses the Microsoft Graph AI as its framework, accessing data from Active Directory and sucking it into Teams to answer your questions about individuals within your organisation.

If you’re looking for someone with a specific skill set or area of expertise, Teams will comb through your organisation’s directory for personal records, communications, or other details that may be relevant.

After finding the personnel you need, you’ll see information such as their department and which manager they report to so that you know exactly where they stand in the pecking order.

…and the winner is:

It wouldn’t be fair to compare our contenders based on a feature like WhoBot which hasn’t been released yet.

Nevertheless, T-Bot already holds its own against Slackbot, and with WhoBot incoming it looks like Slack will have to up its game in the bot department.

WhoBot’s integration with Active Directory is one of many examples where Microsoft Teams benefits greatly from calling Office 365 its home.

This one goes to Microsoft Teams.

office 365

Security

Microsoft has long been dominant on the security front, and Teams is no exception.

Both apps are compliant with ISO 27001, and incorporate two-factor authentication for granular teams and entire organisations.

Teams boasts additional Microsoft SharePoint encryption, as well as a host of other certifications:

  • Cloud Security Alliance (CSA)
  • EU Model Clauses (EUMC)
  • HIPAA
  • ISO 27018
  • SSAE16 SOC 1
  • SSAE16 SOC 2

Teams also integrates with Microsoft Intune, providing a decent level of mobile device management.

One of the defining aspects of Microsoft Teams is the level of functionality in the Office 365 Admin Centre.

Within the Admin Centre, you can adjust features like screen sharing, content access, and profile configuration. You can determine who can use integrations, video, bots, and even Microsoft Teams as a whole.

…and the winner is:

Microsoft Teams.

office 365

Funzies

Microsoft Teams has a meme generator, need we say more?

office 365

But seriously, you can really tell that Microsoft has gone that extra mile with the multitude of memes, stickers, and Emoji goodness in Teams.

Facebook Messenger will come to mind when you use the stickers in Teams. There is a library of sticker sets, designed specifically with business in mind and including categories such as Dev, Legal, and Office Drama.

Slack is well known for its many / commands, with /gif and /giphy commands making it easy to insert your favourite Emojis and animations into chats.

office 365

This is an undeniably solid feature of Slack, but Teams goes a step further by implementing a preview feature along with a scrollable list of search results.

…and the winner is:

Microsoft Teams does more than Slack in this area.

Slack’s /gif and /giphy features are great, but being able to preview content before inserting it into a message is a must-have feature.

Above all, there is now a meme generator built into Office 365!

Microsoft Teams takes this one.

office 365

User-Interface

The screenshot below shows what the Microsoft Teams interface looks like:

office 365

So, on the left-hand side you have tabs for Activity, Chat, Teams, Messages, and Files.

Activity essentially acts like a social media feed for your organisation’s Intranet. The threading and overall appearance is somewhat akin to Yammer.

Teams is like Slack here, so if you are mentioned by name in a post you will see a notification icon appear beside the relevant message.

Chat and Teams, as the names would suggest, are where your conversations are found. There is a text box at the bottom along with icons you can click to access GIFs, stickers, and files.

…and the winner is:

Slack offers far more UI customisation than Microsoft Teams. There are loads of skins and themes to choose from, while Teams only currently offers light, dark, and high-contrast themes.

The Teams interface isn’t terrible but it certainly has some way to come.

Slack wins this one.

office 365

Conclusion

As a Microsoft house, we’re admittedly a little biased.

Having said that, I have plenty of personal experience with Slack, and I’ve always been a fan. It looks great, and offers an awesome array of dependable features.

Slack paved the way for business chat and collaboration, but I’m very impressed by what Microsoft has achieved with Teams. 

Teams is the obvious choice if you’re already working in a Microsoft environment with Office 365.

The only exception to this would be if you need a collaboration tool for chats and meetings with people from outside of your organisation.

Slack is a great choice for smaller teams that aren’t already using Office 365. It is worth taking a moment to consider scaling, however. Office 365 may become a necessity as your organisation grows, making Teams a more viable option.

Either way, these are both fantastic tools with loads more great features on the horizon.

The collaboration competition is certainly heating up, so it will be interesting to see what Microsoft and Slack can come up with.

Talk to us today about your favourite collaboration tool, or let us know if you’re unsure which one to choose and we’ll provide some expert guidance.

Take These 5 Steps for Cloud Migration Success

March 8, 2017

With the recent hullabaloo surrounding last week’s AWS S3 outage, some of you may be wondering if cloud migration is an appropriate next step for your business.

man-person-clouds-apple

We are major cloud evangelists at Select Technology, but we absolutely acknowledge that things can go wrong when moving your business to the cloud in the absence of understanding and correct planning.

Despite its perceived imperfections, some level of cloud migration will benefit your business in almost all cases.

We’re going to look at steps you can take to avoid the pitfalls of cloud migration and ensure your business gets the most out of this amazing technology.

1. Know What You Need

Take a moment to think about what kind of demands will be placed on your connection.

Is your business seasonal or marketing-driven, with surges of traffic based on public holidays or marketing campaigns?

One of the amazing features of public cloud services – especially with a platform like Microsoft Azure – is automation or auto-scaling.

If you can anticipate when your periods of highest demand will be, your cloud service will automatically activate appropriate computing resources during those times.

On the other hand, do you need consistently high bandwidth for live streaming video or hosting VoIP calls with clients and partners?

If so, you might be better off using a private cloud setup that requires less automation.

Cloud computing is a very, very general term, covering literally hundreds of different services.

Taking the time to think about exactly what your business needs will help you reap the fullest benefits of cloud migration, while ensuring you’re not paying for anything you don’t need.

2. Test Before Going Live

Test, test, test before deployment!

Storing data and setting up automation in Azure and other cloud services is a relatively simple affair.

One of the biggest pitfalls of cloud migration lies not in moving your data, but in making sure your applications perform as expected once shifted up into the cloud.

The way your apps operate on-site gives little indication as to how they will act off-premise.

This point overlaps with our next one because it is so important to remember that cloud migration for businesses is often a step-by-step process.

Moving your business into the cloud one workload at a time will give you the feedback you need to anticipate all eventualities before they have the chance to affect your business.

cloud migration

Pre-deployment testing of this sort is best performed by someone with the relevant experience and foresight, so we highly recommend seeking advice externally if your business lacks the skillset in-house.

If you have the IT resource onsite for pre-deployment testing then you’ll be pleased to know that Microsoft offers online instructions on topics like how to Create an Office 365 Dev/Test Environment in Azure.

3. Take Your Cloud Migration Step by Step

The point about testing is a crucial one that illustrates the importance of taking one step at a time.

Running before you can walk, so to speak, will give you far less agility. If you rush to shift your apps up to the cloud, then you will have no idea how they will operate when push comes to shove.

Cloud services are quickly becoming a business necessity but don’t worry if your competitors beat you there.

Performing your cloud migration in a step-by-step fashion will also provide a betting understanding of which services you require.

You may find that some workloads are better off remaining on-site or even automated to reduce costs.

You won’t know unless you take the time to find out!

4. Pay Attention to Security and Regulation

Every workload you move to the cloud should be thoroughly scrutinized to ensure your business’ security requirements are met.

Are you storing sensitive client data or other confidential information such as health or financial records?

GDPR is changing the way data is handled, so keeping your business compliant should be a vitally important part of your cloud migration strategy.

cloud migration

The security of your data, applications, and identities is well protected with Microsoft Azure Security.

“Security and privacy are built right into the Azure platform, beginning with the Security Development Lifecycle (SDL) that addresses security at every development phase from initial planning to launch, and Azure is continually updated to make it even more secure. Operational Security Assurance (OSA) builds on SDL knowledge and processes to provide a framework that helps ensure secure operations throughout the lifecycle of cloud-based services. Azure Security Center makes Azure the only public cloud platform to offer continuous security-health monitoring.”Azure Security

5. Choose the Right Cloud Partner

It is highly recommended that you seek to a managed IT services provider to identify what kind of cloud infrastructure is the best fit for your business.

Those of you who have already figured out what you need will likely also know which environment you want to run; Azure, HPE Helion, AWS, etc.

Be sure to plan ahead with your prospective provider so you can be sure they will be capable of supporting the full functionality your cloud infrastructure as it scales up.

At Select Technology we can look at and simplify your cloud requirements from a business perspective.

Call us today to talk to better understand cloud migration and your place on the modern technological landscape.

The Cloud: Five Misconceptions About Office 365 Holding Your Business Back

February 8, 2017

With a growing number of businesses moving their computer systems into the cloud, you might have been considering migrating to Office 365.

This post was inspired by a recent eBook released by Microsoft called Myths About Moving to the Cloud – What Small and Medium-Sized Businesses Really Need to Know About Moving to Microsoft Office 365.

We didn’t cover everything in the eBook, so be sure to check it out!

There are a fair few differing opinions on the subject, but as your business grows you will ultimately want to look at O365 as a worthwhile investment.

Providing our clients with IT support and services gives us insights into the overall perceptions that individuals and organisations have about modern technologies.

Let’s look at five of the most persistent misconceptions that you may have about Microsoft 365 and elevating your business into the cloud:

1. Office 365 is Just an Online-Only Version of Office

Far from it!

Microsoft has developed Office 365 as a unique cloud-based productivity suite that covers all of your usual office tasks.

However, the applications you know and (hopefully) love like Outlook, Word, Excel, and Skype are still installed on your device. This means that you can access them offline with the option to automatically sync your data when you reconnect to the Internet.

O365 gives you the consistency of offline applications with the added benefit of being able backup and collaborate in the cloud.

2. Email is Unchanged in the Cloud

Wrong!

At Select Technology we’re mad advocates (#madvocates?) of being proactive in our IT support and services, so this next point definitely resonates with me.

One of the best things about Outlook 365 is that moving your business email to the cloud places maintenance into the hands of Microsoft. This means that you can be more proactive by working on your core business, rather than re-actively fighting fires as the arise.

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Office 365 email login is seamless, and Microsoft’s Exchange Online can be set to update automatically, with enough customisation options included to keep you in the driver’s seat.

If you’re still not convinced, bear in mind that you don’t actually need to migrate your email to O365 right away.

Microsoft offers a few different Office 365 plans based on your needs and preferences.

3. Office 365 Will Negatively Impact My Business’ Agility and Security

Never!

As we just touched on, less time spent on upgrades and maintenance equates to more time available for growing the value of your business.

Microsoft 365 makes your business more adaptable and agile, and will often save you considerable sums of money that would have been spent on expensive servers.

As for security, this comes straight from the horse’s mouth:

“To keep Office 365 security at the pinnacle of industry standards, our dedicated security team uses processes such as the Security Development Lifecycle; traffic throttling; and preventing, detecting, and mitigating breaches that many companies don’t have the resources to ensure. And, Microsoft Office 365 has a 99.9 percent financially backed uptime guarantee.”

Microsoft also lists a myriad of acronyms like FISMA, FERPA, and PIPEDA to highlight the endless rules and regulations they adhere to.

4. Monthly Updates Will Cause Issues with My Business Applications

False!

This one’s easy.

Microsoft have enough experience working with enterprise-level clients to know that their cloud offering must ensure operational continuity on all levels – no one would buy it otherwise!

Your business no doubt relies on some kind of critical bespoke solutions. If they can operate alongside Office 2010 or Office 2013, they will probably work with Office 365.

In fact, Microsoft has more than enough industry clout to work with the biggest software houses and ensure optimal integration with O365.

If you’re still worried, then rest assured that you can still keep your older version of Office installed just in case – Gates forbid – something goes awry!

5. Office 365 Migration is a P.I.T.A.

Nope!

Simply put, Office 365 migration is a cinch, but I’d like to use this opportunity to talk about something related.

This actually touches on a common overarching perception of IT being some kind of necessary evil, or expense that is to be tolerated and kept to a minimum.

That may have been true in years past, with clunky hardware sometimes being more of a liability than an asset.

Times have changed.

Another expertly coordinated migration

Another expertly coordinated migration

For us, IT should stand for Investment Technology.

With the incredible advances we’re seeing in the field… that’s exactly what it is – an investment!

Compare it to training your staff.

You might not see the results instantaneously, but as the weeks and months pan out – providing the training was decent – you’ll begin to reap the returns from your investment.

The exact same thing is true of cloud migration and IT support.

Investing in something that will help your business become more efficient and ultimately more profitable can’t be a bad thing!

If you’re ready to look at Office 365 migration or you’re not sure if it’s right for your business, call us today for some free advice.