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6 Ways to Bring Social Media Into the Classroom

social-mediaA recent Harris poll found that 86% of American teachers were not using social media in the classroom, and 62% have no plans to do so. Although many schools and teachers are hesitant to bring Facebook, Instagram and the latest social sites to their students, others are finding ways to use them to engage classes, enhance learning and build critical thinking skills. Here are some ideas you may want to try:

1. Get the Scoop on the Latest News
Follow current news stories with a scoop.it account. Start a class page, open an educator account, and assign students to post articles and comments to the page.

2. Create Student Bloggers
You might inspire the next Hemingway or Angelou by having your students create their own blogs. This will give them the opportunity to write for each other, and make comments that show critical thinking. Free sites such as Edublogs are helpful for getting started, and offer features such as customized themes, full privacy options and global projects.

3. Create Education-centric Pinterest Boards
Fashion and cooking is just one side of Pinterest. You can establish a classroom Pinterest page and have students pin photos, artwork and links about any subject. The possibilities are endless—you can set up pages for healthy eating, study tips, supplementary learning material and more. Here’s a Pinterest page that explains the phases of the moon using Oreo cookies!

4. Propel Learning Into the Twittersphere
Twitter isn’t only for personal use. Encourage your students to create an academic Twitter account and create a class hashtag. Then ask students to find a picture or article that supports a specific topic, or retweet a relevant post from someone they don’t know. For younger students, you can set up a class Twitter account for them. Have a class-versus-class tweet-off to see who gets the most followers, and award a prize.

5. Engage Students With Instagram
Along with teacher’s helper and official whiteboard cleaner, you can add a new classroom job for younger students—Instagram photographer. Designate a specially-decorated tablet for this purpose, and have a student take pictures of key events from each day. They’ll be thrilled to be selected for this role, especially during field trips.

6. Connect With Facebook
While some schools block Facebook and consider it a distraction, others have successfully established closed Facebook groups where students can connect with each other online for class projects, clubs, athletic teams and alumni events.

Remember, before you get started with social media, you’ll need to review your school’s guidelines. Once approved, you’ll also want to teach the concept of good digital citizenship, and have your students take a safety pledge that can set a foundation for responsible social media use. Additionally, make sure to delete your classroom accounts at the end of each year.

Single Path has many additional suggestions that can help you safely weave social media into your school day. Ask us how to get started!

5 Ways To Keep Your Teachers and Staff Up-to-Date on Technology

If a teacher from just ten years ago time-travelled to a classroom today, he or she would be amazed at the changes that have reshaped classroom learning in such a short time. From interactive whiteboards to classroom response systems, to handheld devices and document cameras, classrooms are bursting with new and dynamic opportunities. But all those changes come at a price, and not just those that come out of your budget. Today, teachers are challenged to do more than keep up with the daily demands of educating. Keeping up with technology, and all the latest trends and tools, is a job in itself!

Let’s face it. Not every one on your staff is equally tech savvy. Some members of your team can master advanced tools in a heartbeat, others struggle with even basic technology demands. So how can you keep your staff—your entire staff—up-to-date on continually and rapidly evolving technology expectations? Here are five things we think are vital in keeping all your teachers and staff knowledgeable about, and open to, the opportunities that are out there.

1.Start Small
Baby steps aren’t just for infants. When new technology presents itself, it’s sometimes best to put a toe in the water before jumping in. In an article on the website edutopia.com, Josh Work, a Middle School Administrator from Maryland says, “The school where I teach is currently within its post-BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) implementation age. We started with a small cohort of tech-savvy teachers to pilot a BYOD program with selected classes. Starting small was definitely beneficial, as we were able to troubleshoot issues and best prepare ourselves for the school-wide BYOD rollout. Front loading any work is always helpful in education, especially when developing resources for teachers who struggle with technology.”

Also, introducing complicated, multi-faceted tools slowly, one or two elements at a time, can not only ensure its successful integration into your curriculum or processes, but reduces stress or resistance from those who are nervous with new technologies.

2. Build a Tech Team
Those who are most tech-savvy on your team can lead the way for the rest. Creating a support team that is flexible and available to train others is essential for the success of any new tool. Your Tech Team can consist of teachers, administrators and support staff. By working together across multiple areas and grade levels, they will not only vet new tools, but master them, and spread that knowledge.

Part of a Tech Team’s responsibilities may include creating a Professional Development plan for the team, and then carrying it through.

Says Josh Work, “Aside from just having dedicated time for teachers to meet, create a homegrown professional learning community (PLC) that focuses on monitoring tech integration throughout the school. This PLC can be powerful and insightful while supporting those that need additional help.

3. Find Time
Even those tech experts on your team can’t learn a new tool overnight. When introducing new technology, make sure your timeline includes their education, as well as that of the entire team. It may take weeks, months or an entire year for a new tool to be fully incorporated. Don’t rush it. Build in time for experimenting. Give teachers the opportunity to play with the new system before they need to utilize it every day.

Says Emily Davis, a Teacher Ambassador Fellow of the U.S. Department of Education, as written in an article on fosi.org, “Utilizing technology well as an instructional tool involves scaffolding, and often a steep learning curve. Educators need time to develop their individual skills, apply these skills within their classrooms, and reflect on what works best. Instead of bombarding teachers with new tools and programs, take a step back and allow educators time for mastery.”

4. Learn From Your Students
It seems every school has at least a handful of students who know more about technology than your staff. Many of their students have been using computers practically since birth, and adapting to changing technology is a way of life for them. These students are a great resource for you! Ask them what technology they are using. Ask them what new trends are happening, and what’s around the corner. Then ask yourself: how can this be used in the classroom?

5. Include and Communicate
Some members of your team may feel new technology is being pushed on them. This is especially true from those members who struggle with new tools. They might not understand why a change is needed. The best way to overcome this? Be open. Ask what teachers or staff struggle with, and show them how new tools might help. Every new technology should have clearly established goals and objectives. Will the new technology help struggling learners, or support differentiated or personalized learning? Will it make parent communication easier, or classroom performance more transparent? The more you share your goals with those who will use the tools, and the benefits of using them, the faster your team will embrace them, and the more enthusiastic they will be to use them.

According to a blog post from the educational resource-provider Pearson, “Keeping up-to-date with technology requires you to jump in and explore new territory. Set aside a few moments at the end of the day to scroll through your Twitter feed, focus on a few tools instead of many, reflect on your student’s progress and what’s working best. Education technology can transform your teaching and learning, dive in—it’s worth it!”

At Single Path, we work with teachers and staff on finding, building and integrating effective technology tools. We work with teams that are tech-savvy, and those that need a little more handholding. Wherever your team stands on the technology curve, we can help you get in front of it.

The Four Main Steps When Choosing Technology For Your School

Choosing new technology applications for your school is a difficult decision; especially since choosing the wrong ones can drain resources that are best utilized elsewhere. So how do you make sure you are making the right decision and maximizing your investment’s ROI?

Here are four important steps to take before you make any significant technology decisions for your school or district.

1. Set Your Goals
Before you purchase any software or new technology it’s vital to set real objectives. Maybe your main goal is to improve communication with parents. Maybe your objective is to create an environment that supports differentiated or personalized learning—allowing high achievers to move ahead while supporting other students who may fall behind. Your goal can even be something as simple as automating reporting procedures to give your educators more time with their students.

Also, while introducing new technology always poses challenges, incorporating it into the classroom can be particularly tricky. If a new purchase requires classroom integration, you’ll want to ask these specific questions according to gettingsmart.com:

  • What will students be able to do?
  • How long will it take for them to do it?
  • At what percentage of proficiency will they be able to perform this task?
  • How are they going to demonstrate that the objective was met?

Most importantly, for any technology purchase, make sure you answer the question: “Why do we need this?” Identify four-to-six concrete, tangible goals. If you can’t do that, then it’s likely you don’t need the application at all

2. Evaluate The Tools
Now that you’ve defined your need, you need to look at your options. The most obvious evaluation: does this application answer your “Why do we need this?” question. But that’s not the only criteria. For example, does the application work within your existing platform? An Apple-based product might not work within a Windows network.

You’ll want to make sure you are getting your technology team involved to help ensure the application is compatible within your current environment. You’ll also want to make sure your educators or administrators are up to the task of implementing the tools into their classrooms or their daily schedules. Which leads us to …

3. Align Professional Development With Your Goals
After purchasing the technology, do you have a plan to incorporate it into the school environment or classroom? You’ll want to set realistic time-lines for implementation, training and communication. Depending on the technology, this timeline may span two weeks, or an entire year.

Ask yourself questions like: what are our short term objectives and our long-term ones; who will train the staff in using the new technology; do we want to incorporate the application in steps, or all at once? For more complex tools, you may choose to implement the technology gradually. This can help curb resistance from those hesitant to embrace change, and ensure buy-in from the entire team.

Set aside time to explain the benefits of the new technology with your teachers and staff. Show them how this new tool can help achieve the goals you established at the start. You may also choose to do formative assessments once a month in the beginning, just to make sure everything is working as expected, and then transition those assessments to once a week until all the tools are working smoothly.

If you’re unsure what steps you need to take, ask other school districts that may have already incorporated the application. They may have sage advice on the processes you should implement to make your new technology successful.

4. Evaluate and Re-evaluate
Whenever you incorporate new technology, it’s important to continuously look at your progress. Are you meeting the objectives you hoped to meet? If not, are there new or different steps you can be taking?

According to ISTE.org, leaders need to continually assess how effectively the technology is applied at all levels. This includes regular evaluation of the technology itself, the extent the technology has impacted student assessment and achievement, if teachers are successfully applying the technology, and defining clear metrics to measure success.

Whether you are setting up new curriculum or new technology—if you aren’t doing the critical thinking, then you may end up failing. Single Path can work with you every step of the way so your investment is successful, from helping you determine the Why? to facilitating the fulfillment of those goals, mapping objectives, and even helping create a professional development plan.

There are plenty of application options out there. By working with a partner like Single Path, and taking these critical steps, you can ensure your technology choices are the right ones.

Eight Ed-Tech Trends for 2017

 

There is no such thing as a sure thing in education. What’s trendy today may be irrelevant tomorrow. But there is one thing we can be sure of: educators are always looking at new ways to improve the student experience.

We think you’ll be hearing a lot more about these trends, including robotics, coding and makerspaces. We can’t wait to see which make lasting impressions.

1.Coding
For students, computer literacy is becoming almost as critical as the 3 R’s!  A basic understanding of coding gives students deep insights on how computers work, and what is possible. Movements like The Hour of Code can teach kids coding in interesting, fun and captivating ways, such as by creating a simple Minecraft game or by making music.

The Hour of Code instructional videos can be found on sites like Code.org and Tynker.com. They even have suitable activities for preschoolers. Other valuable sites include General Assembly’s Dash, where students can create a simple webpage.

While many teachers may not have a basic knowledge of coding, there are many resources for teachers to learn along with their students, including many free teacher-oriented courses at Code.org.

2. Virtual Reality
Virtual reality can be an amazing and captivating experience. Augmented reality devices let students go on field trips to visit pyramids, explore planets or dive into the deepest oceans. Google Expeditions has more than two hundred field trips available, each with talking points and discussion questions for teachers. At RYOT.org students can watch a news story and then immerse themselves into the middle of it.

Educators have many options when it comes to virtual leaning devices, from simple phone apps to inexpensive Google Cardboard viewers, to pricier virtual reality headsets that can run hundreds of dollars each.

3. Information Literacy and Civic Online Reasoning
“Fake news” has received a lot of press recently, and recent studies have shown students have a difficult time differentiating authoritative news with phony news. A recent study by the Stanford History Education Group “shows a dismaying inability by students to reason about information they see on the internet.” Schools are starting to become actively engaged in teaching students how to find accurate, valid and credible sources online. School librarians, computer and classroom teachers can work together to promote civic online reasoning and information literacy.

4. Makerspaces and Maker Mindsets
The makerspace movement—the trend toward making students makers and not just consumers of information—is quickly growing. According to Vinnie Vrotny, director of Technology at the Kinkaid School in Houston, as quoted on Iste.org: “This particular movement is not fringe; it’s becoming much more mainstream. And much like the 1:1 movement, it’s giving us a new lens through which to look at traditional curriculum. It’s giving us permission and acting as a catalyst for making changes to teaching.”

According to Jeff Knutson, Senior manager of education content for Common Sense Education, makerspaces can start modestly, “A makerspace could be something as small as a corner of your classroom or an activity that you do that encourages students to become makers, to make something with their hands.”

5. Robotics
What could be more fascinating than creating something that moves, performs tasks and even speaks? As costs decrease, the use of robotics in schools is rising. Unlike coding, which limits a student to a screen-experience, robotics can capture a student’s attention in a real-life and collaborative environment, engaging all their senses.

Popular products that promote robotics include Wonder Workshop’s Dash and Dot, Ziro robotics kits and Lego® Mindstorms®.

6. Wearable Technology
According to Easybib.com, “Sooner or later, we’re going to be able to communicate with all types of devices; ones that we wear and everyday objects around us.” These include devices that will connect with sensing capabilities, communication capabilities and even data.

For example, ID cards and wristbands can show the location of students or visitors, and be used for cashless payments at the school cafeteria or campus store.

7. Improved Parent Communication
According to the Southwest Education Development Laboratory, as reported by the National Education Association, “When schools, families, and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more.”

There are many ed-tech apps available to improve parent-teacher communication, such as the text-messaging app Remind and the popular ClassDojo app. Seesaw is popular with elementary and middle school students for documenting student work and assignments.

Going one step further is ClassTag, which lets teachers schedule parent meetings, ask for event volunteers, and send parent surveys. Look for more apps that promote two-way parent-teacher communication.

8. STEAM
Of course you’re familiar with STEM, but how about STEAM? That’s science, technology, engineering and math—with the arts mixed in. The arts “can be a gateway to all kinds of fact learning,” says Cheryl Williams, interim CEO for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). For example, “Music is very mathematical.”

While some of these trends are likely to fade, we think many of them will stick, or transform in interesting ways as technologies continue to evolve, become more affordable, and easier to use. A partner like Single Path can help you find the trend that best fits your need, and the best path to incorporate it into curriculum.

Let us help you. Visit us our website to learn more.

5 Reasons Giving Blood is Good For You

The Single Path blood drive is back. You may know that one pint of blood can help up to three other people, but did you know that donating blood is also good for you? By giving, you can:

  • Uncover potential health problems
  • Reduce harmful iron stores
  • Lower your heart attack risk
  • Decrease your cancer risk
  • Get psychological benefits from knowing you’re helping others

WHEN:
Friday, February 3, 9am-3pm

WHERE:
The Lifesource Mobile Coach in the Single Path parking lot, 905 Parkview Blvd., Lombard, IL

SIGN UP:
Visit lifesource.org. Select Make an Appointment > CreateLogin or New Donor (you don’t need to create a login)>Search by Group Code 226G.

SIGN UP:
lifesource.org, group 226G

This event is open to the public, so please invite your friends, family, customers, networking partners or anyone else who is eligible to give. And you don’t have to roll up your sleeve to participate—we need your help coordinating and running the drive. Questions? Call Bill Borbas at 630.812.2356 or email [email protected]

6 Ways That 1:1 is Revolutionizing Learning

One-to-one learning is making a massive impact in the classroom, and it goes far beyond swapping textbooks for devices and software. Technology is changing the learning experience itself and opening new pathways to the 4Cs—critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.

Instead of using static, one-size-fits-all textbooks, teachers are developing student-centric curriculums tailored to their community. The old model that prepares students to work in Industrial Age factories is being replaced by personalized learning. We are even shifting away from classrooms and grade levels, toward placing students at the level where they belong.

Here are six exciting ways that 1:1 is revolutionizing the classroom:
1. It inspires challenge-based learning
In a 1:1 classroom, students can actively solve authentic, real-world problems. The teacher and textbook are no longer the primary sources of information—students learn by doing and finding their own answers. The teacher asks a question, facilitates conversation about why things like deforestation and pollution happen, and helps students find credible digital resources to express their opinions. Students use their devices, collaborate and develop action plans, like the fourth grade class that figured out that shrinking page margins could save more than six million trees a year.

2. It adds dimension to math instruction
Digital tools give students the repetition they need to understand math concepts and learn at their own pace. This was the basis for Khan Academy, though now the site offers much more than math instruction. Technology is turning students into teachers. Kindergartners are creating their own instructional math videos, demonstrating their understanding of concepts, and explaining their knowledge and thinking—a cornerstone of learning today.

3. It formulates success in science class
In science labs, students can create a social media page for Archimedes, Mendel and Edison. They can learn about human muscles and skeletal structures in 3-D. Older students can dissect a virtual frog on YouTube, with younger grades watching and asking questions. The older students become content experts and mentors, while younger pupils learn, and get an advance look at what it’s like to be in a higher grade.

4. It brings history to life
Unlike textbooks, 1:1 resources make historical topics engaging and timely. For example, teachers can ask students to pretend they’re Abraham Lincoln and write Facebook posts to get elected. They can ask them to decide who Martin Luther King’s online friends would be. Or set up an interview with a WWII veteran on Google Hangouts. Students can have the option to write a report about the Titanic, create 3-D stories, games and animations using apps such as Alice and Scratch, or make their own movie. The possibilities are endless!

5. It immerses language students in culture
Digital resources give language students a far richer learning experience than they could ever gain from a textbook. Rosetta Stone® is well-known for helping students learn a new language. Other sites help students understand a country’s culture, outside influences and the impact these countries have made on students’ lives. Even connecting with foreign pen pals is fast and easy with Google Hangouts.

6. It’s a canvas for a vivid, new art class
The Internet gives students an unprecedented opportunity to take field trips to museums all over the world. Instead of looking at drawings, paintings and sculptures in textbooks, Google Art Project invites students to actively explore the art world, and search by featured topics, artists, mediums, art movements, historical events, places and more. They can even save their favorite artworks!

If you’d like help implementing these and other 1:1 ideas in your classrooms, ask about Single Path’s professional development services at 866.609.PATH or contact us.

5 Ways SMBs Can Better Manage Their Data

Data management is not just for big business; it’s good business. Small businesses still accumulate great amounts of data, and using that data effectively can reap great benefits in terms of profitability and customer loyalty.

Ronald D. Williams, President & CEO of Business Evolution says, “All data is good data and all businesses have data. They just need to recognize it as data and its value.”

However, managing that information can be a monumental effort, especially for companies that don’t have resources assigned solely to this task.

Here are the steps you can take now to get data working for you.

1. Develop a simple data storage system and ensure access for all

A cluttered computer desktop with random folders and mismatched file names is a near-certain way to ensure your information is impossible to sort, find and use.  Creating a file naming structure, an organized and central data storage system and instituting a policy for employees to follow, is a critical first step.

Just as important is ensuring there is enough storage space to hold those files, and a way for all employees to share and access them.

Our past blogs on cloud computing (April 21st and April 27th) include great insights into the importance of allocating space and a system that can be accessed at all times, by all employees.

2. Ensure industry compliance and security

It is essential to develop a data management plan that includes data quality, data integration, data governance, master data management and data analytics. But many industries also face a complex list of regulations, and maintaining a secure database should be a top priority for every business. A leak of information, a cyber-attack or the mis-sharing of critical files can be devastating to your reputation and the after effects can be long lasting and crippling. Read our May 18th blog post for more information on the importance of data security.

When considering security, businesses should consider both external and internal threats. Human error can compromise data, and so can a malicious employee. Data should always be encrypted and access closely monitored.

3. Avoid clutter

As a small to mid-size business, too much data can be as much of a problem as not enough data. Redundant data can create too much clutter and demand storage space and their associated costs that are simply unnecessary. Too much data can also quickly bog down a storage system; few things are more frustrating than a slow and inefficient network.

One strategy to avoid clutter is to implement a tiered system of storage. Tiering means identifying the most important information, and ensuring it has a higher level of protection and access. For example, sales reports and customer information can be backed up in encrypted and redundant systems, while less critical information can be managed and stored locally.

4. Backup data

Data backup is simply not an option. Redundant and off-site storage ensures data is not lost in case of a catastrophe, system crash, human error or cyber-attack.

Almost 62% of small businesses (according to YSFmagazine.com) that encountered natural disasters lost crucial data in the last three years. All of these losses could be have been avoided with more effective backup storage systems.

5. Outsource data management

Small businesses that are not equipped to fully manage their data should rely on an experienced data management company. A partner like Single Path allows businesses to focus on their daily business and their productivity.

A partner like Single Path can also mean significant cost savings versus hiring additional staff, as well as the time and costs associated with ensuring regulation compliance and investing in the latest, and maybe unnecessary technologies. At Single Path we provide a comprehensive resource for all your data management needs including online cloud computing data backup and recovery, private vault backup, virtual server hosting and business continuity, and disaster recovery.

The Five Biggest Technology Trends Impacting Your Business Today

There has never been a better time for small and medium sized businesses to level the playing field against larger companies. With today’s advances in digital technologies, any sized business can enhance communication and information sharing, take advantage of real-time analytics and more.

But developing proper strategies is critical. Industry experts have identified five technology trends that are making the most significant impact on small to medium sized businesses: cloud computing, security, mobility, IT services and big data solutions.

Cloud Computing
As we have detailed in our previous blog posts on cloud computing (A two part series, April 21st and April 27th), when implemented correctly cloud computing provides numerous benefits including increased flexibility, improved office collaboration, expanded accounting capabilities, significantly lower IT costs, and the ability to access a vast array of analytical tools.

SMBs continue to jump on the cloud bandwagon. According to a study by Intuit and Emergent Research, nearly 80 percent of small businesses will be fully adapted to cloud computing over the next four years, more than doubling the current rate.

Security
With new technologies and greater access comes an increased risk of security. While cyber security threats to larger companies will always attract greater attention, small companies are hardly immune. In fact, many security experts expect attackers to focus more attention on smaller firms, due to the perception of lax security. They are aware that SMBs still house a considerable amount of valuable data such as intellectual property, personal customer information, bank account numbers, and credit card information.

Unfortunately, cyber victims often are not aware of security leaks for months or even years after they happen.

Anti-virus software and traditional firewalls are not always enough to stop malicious attacks. SMBs must continue to invest in new security technologies, and a consistent back up policy to restore or access corrupted files is critical. Regular training to keep users informed of new threats, and how to avoid them, is also a key component to maintaining technology security.

Mobile
Many businesses still think of mobile applications as merely a convenient way for professionals to email each other and take advantage of limited business applications. But a well-planned mobile strategy can heap significant benefits.

In fact, 55% of small and 65% of medium sized businesses now view mobile solutions as critical to their businesses (the SMB group).

Is your business taking advantage of mobile technology in your daily business operations? In previous blogs (including those from March 22nd and April 1st), we touted the advantages of incorporating a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) strategy.  Still, rules for network and information access need to be implemented and maintained, security protocols followed, and a structure put into place that allows fast and safe access to files and sharing of information.

Your employees are not the only ones who have gone mobile; so have your customers. Mobile payments are now commonplace, so businesses need to be equipped to receive them, and web content should be mobile-optimized.

Mobile solutions can even reveal new business opportunities, such as identifying
 when customers who have downloaded a retailer’s mobile app, enter a store. This information can then be used to augment personalized service.

IT Services
In order to take full advantage of the latest technology, many small businesses are turning to managed IT services. Service providers create a digital environment that meets a company’s unique requirements, and then fully manage its resources. These services can lead to increased operational performance, decreased operational risk, lower costs and faster innovation.

Managed IT services also eliminate the need for companies to hire additional IT staff.

Finding the right partner is key. A consultative partner like Single Path, who works with you to provide customized solutions, rather than one who relies on pre-set and rigid plans, is imperative. Your partner should focus on your business goals and long-term problem solving, rather than only fixating on immediate needs. With technology ever-shifting, your partner should be poised to keep you on a successful technology roadmap.

Big Data Solutions
Knowledge is power, and the ability to gather data is increasing rapidly. With new and better information, businesses can adapt strategies to improve business operations and customer experiences.

Data can be accumulated via sales receipts, social media posts, customer surveys, Google Analytics and more. Companies that are collecting this data and know how to analyze it gain valuable insight into how their business is running, and how to improve their bottom line.

As customers grow more reliant on technology, they will expect businesses to keep up. Per a 2015 report from Forrester Research: “Digitizing your business isn’t about technology: it’s about customer obsession—and in 2016, it will be among your ten critical business success factors helping position your firm for success in the Age of the Customer.”

Is your business already implementing these trends? If not, you may find yourself unable to compete against more flexible and more adaptive competition. Fortunately, Single Path is well versed in working with SMBs to ensure they are taking full advantage of the digital technologies that can drive their business success today.

9 Facts to Know About the Risks of Moving to the Cloud, and How to Manage Them (Part 2 of 2)

As we discussed in our last post, there are many good reasons to take your business to the cloud. But as with any business decision, there are costs, risks and ways to protect yourself. Here’s what you need to know, whether you choose private, public or hybrid cloud technology:

1. Remember That Cloud Security Still Beats On-Site Solutions
Security is a major concern in the cloud, but the best cloud providers use much stronger security practices than you could implement yourself. They’ve invested in infrastructure, tools and processes that provide the highest levels of security and privacy certifications. Ask a prospective cloud provider these key questions, and expect detailed answers:

  • Where does your data reside?
  • Is the data encrypted?
  • How do you move data from the cloud?
  • What are your security governance policies and procedures?

Security breaches are always painful, but if you’re in the legal, healthcare or financial industry they can have disastrous implications. Ensure that your cloud provider is as much of a stickler for security as you are, whatever line of work you’re in.

2. Know Your Provider’s Site Maintenance Schedule
Just like everyone else in the IT world, cloud providers perform site maintenance, but it may not be at a time that’s convenient for your business. The last thing you want is unexpected downtime and lost productivity, so learn your provider’s schedule and prepare your staff to work offline during scheduled downtime. A good partner will give you better uptime than you could achieve on-site.

3. Ensure High Service Quality
Service quality is one of the biggest concerns that keeps businesses from moving to the cloud, especially issues related to availability, performance and scalability. Ask these questions before signing a contract:

  • What are your minimum service levels?
  • What remedies are in place when a failure occurs?
  • What disaster recovery and business continuity procedures are in place?
  • How portable is my data?
  • What is your change management process?
  • What are your infrastructure and security standards?
  • How quickly do you identify and solve problems?
  • What is your escalation process?
  • What is your exit strategy?
  • What is your termination process?

4. Work With an Expert in Data Migration
Moving workloads to the cloud is a complex task. Choose a partner with good project management skills and a solid understanding of what it takes to make the transition. Better yet, work with a company that has taken its own business to the cloud.

5. Plan for Upgrades
Cloud providers upgrade apps regularly, which means you and your staff will have to keep up with new versions. Here’s an effective solution—assign a few key people to learn the new application, and have them share their knowledge with the rest of your team.

6. Protect Yourself From Terminated Employees
Employee termination becomes more complicated in the cloud. Terminated employees can access your data from almost anywhere, and they can potentially hack into it. Establish a protocol for changing passwords and preventing access for unauthorized users.

7. Prevent Accidental Changes to Sensitive Information
Accidents will happen, and they can blow up quickly in the cloud. Anyone who has access to your network can perform live edits—even by mistake. Protect yourself from mishaps, and make sure that the person who handles your company’s social media accounts doesn’t accidentally put his or her own personal posts there.

8. Realize that You’re Now a Bigger Target
The relatively small information on your desktop computer may not have been tempting to cybercriminals, but now that your data resides with data from thousands of other companies, you’re at a higher risk.

9. Make Sure Your Cloud Provider Asks You Questions
An experienced cloud provider will ask about your business too, including:

  • What are your demand patterns?
  • When do you get the biggest influx of data?
  • How much do you expect your data to grow?
  • Do you need control over the region where your data resides?
  • What is your SLA expectation?

By 2020, 78% of small businesses will have fully adopted cloud computing, more than doubling today’s 37% (Forbes). Yes, the cloud has risks, but many businesses are willing to take them in exchange for lower costs and greater business continuity. And remember, you don’t have to jump in feet first. Single Path will help you enter the cloud at the pace that makes sense for your business.

12 Reasons to Move Your Business to the Cloud (Part 1 of 2)

Cloud computing is transforming the way small companies do business. Currently, 37% of U.S. small businesses have fully adapted to cloud computing, and an Intuit study predicts the number will jump to 80% by 2020.

Cloud computing is computing based on the Internet, instead of running programs from computers or software downloaded on a physical computer or server in your building. If you’ve ever updated your Facebook status or used Gmail, you’ve used cloud computing.

You may be wondering how changing from a physical to a virtual system can enhance your business performance. Single Path recommends these 12 reasons for making the switch.

1. Lower Costs
The cloud offers you significant savings. Instead of making a huge capital investment every three to five years for new hardware, you’ll pay a monthly fee for your IT service. Better yet, encourage your employees to bring their own devices (BYOD). The cloud gives you a more predictable budget and better cash flow. You’ll also reduce costs for installation, maintenance, hardware, upgrades and support.

2. Better Collaboration
When employees save and access files in the cloud, everyone can easily work from the same master document. Users can upload, edit and make comments, making the cloud perfect for building collaboration.

3. Document Control
When you move to cloud computing, all files are stored centrally and everyone sees the same version. You won’t have to worry about sending files back and forth and emailing attachments that can only be worked on by one person at a time, or confusing file content, formats and titles. Additionally, employers can track and manage individual progress on assignments, and limit which documents employees can access.

4. Improved Flexibility
Today’s employees expect the ability to access any document from any device at any time. If you’re in the cloud, they can. The cloud makes it easy for employees to work from anywhere 24/7, and for business owners to run their business 24/7, from anywhere.

In addition, it’s easy to scale your cloud capacity up or down as needed. In fact, CIOs and IT directors rank “operational agility” as a top driver for cloud adoption.

5. Greater Integration
Businesses in the cloud can integrate with various cloud-based providers to get help with everything from human resources to marketing to accounting. With other companies handling your business operations, you’ll have more time to focus on other business priorities.

6. Disaster Recovery
Every business should invest in a disaster recovery plan, but it’s not so easy for smaller businesses that lack the money and expertise.

The cloud solves this problem. According to the Aberdeen Group, small businesses are twice as likely as larger companies to have implemented cloud-based backup and recovery systems. The cloud saves time, takes care of backups and disaster recovery together, avoids large initial investments and third-party expertise is built into the service.

7. Automatic Software Updates
When your servers aren’t in your office, you don’t have to maintain them. Cloud suppliers handle everything for you and provide regular software updates—including security updates—so you can focus on running your business.

8. Security
Cloud-based businesses don’t have to worry about lost devices and the data they contain. Should a device go missing, you can access data from anywhere, and you can remotely wipe the device. In addition, cloud providers must meet stringent requirements for monitoring and security, affording you enterprise-level protection.

9. Competitiveness
The cloud gives small businesses access to the same technology that was once only available to enterprise-level competitors. It levels the playing field and makes your business more nimble.

10. Environmentally Friendly
When you’re in the cloud and your needs fluctuate, your server capacity scales up or down to match. So you only use the energy you need.

11. Scalability
Speaking of fluctuating needs, when you’re business is in the cloud, you can add or remove resources and employees easily, without making any large investments.

12. Freedom
With hardware, security, backup, disaster recovery, updates and other IT issues off your plate, the cloud frees you to run your business instead of worrying about IT issues.

If you’re thinking it’s time to move your business to the cloud, ask Single Path about our Managed/Cloud Services. In our next post we’ll discuss the risks of cloud computing, and how to prepare for them.