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Benefits of Outsourcing IT Support

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IT Support projects, more often than not, need technical experts to be available for 24×7 support activities. Another demand with respect to IT Support project is the need of extremely capable and reliable technical engineers who can provide quick resolutions or workarounds to live issues. For such reasons and more, major IT giants and worldwide business clients consider IT Support Outsourcing.

Some of the most common benefits that IT Support Outsourcing brings to a client is as below:

Subject Matter Experts – IT Support projects demand the involvement of technical and highly proficient professionals in the specific area of IT, which is facilitated by IT Support Outsourcing vendor. It is impossible for a client to hire technical experts in all the fields and thus offshoring such services is the best option. The ability of IT Outsourcing vendors to provide quick resolutions means increased system up time and subsequently increased customer satisfaction and retention.

Assured quality – Service level agreements combined with the skilled labor force guarantees operation efficiency for a client when IT Support Outsourcing is chosen. The included financial penalty of downtime assures uninterrupted and high-quality services from the vendor providing IT Support activities. The end-user support provided is improvised and services are delivered with accuracy in lesser time in IT Support Outsourcing.

Enhance business needs – Without the responsibility of providing support to the ongoing projects, the business executives can concentrate on core business needs and ways to revamp them to provide higher customer gratification. Thus, with IT Support Outsourcing to the rescue, clients can improvise upon core competencies and internal business structure.

Better control over operating costs – When IT Support Outsourcing is opted for, the contract between the client and the service provider usually lasts for a year or more. This provides a better control over the costs of running a project and enables the business to predict the expenditure of managing a project over a long duration.

Cost Saving and Time Saving – The responsibility of maintaining skilled labor force and the requisite infrastructure to carry out the IT activities lie with the IT Support Outsourcing vendor. Subsequently, the client does not need to invest time or money in hiring highly skilled employees or in setting up a robust infrastructure.

Globalization and Local market – Clients looking to secure local markets for their products can easily use the assistance of an IT Support Outsourcing vendor to capture the required market areas. Globalization is easily achieved with the aid of a global outsourcer.

Round the clock response – With IT Support Outsourcing, there is no fear of losing business due to unexpected issues or network problems. Since the network engineers and technical engineers work round the clock to assure continuous service, the overall benefit with respect to customer satisfaction and prevention of any kind of severe business damage is achieved.

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A Practical Approach to Data Protection

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Where to start with “A Practical approach to Data Protection”

Customer Data Protection

When someone says data protection people’s eyes glaze over, it’s understandable that the data protection act of 1998 is important not just to businesses but the public in general. The Data Protection Act will however, be replaced in 2018 by GDPR.

Don’t worry, this article is not going to depths on the data protection act, instead we want to focus on what you can do to protect your data and the clients data.

This article applies to everyone in business no matter if you are a one man band with client contact details held on your mobile phone, a shop owner who does or does not have to comply with PCI DSS or a multi-national corporation. If you have data about your business and/or your clients held anywhere (even on paper) then this applies to you!

First Thoughts on Security Considerations

As Microsoft Windows has developed, one of the key issues that Microsoft has tried to resolve is that of security. With Windows 10 they have taken a leap forward in protecting your data.

Many people seem to have focused on the working of the licence for Windows 10 and what it allows Microsoft to do; removing counterfeit software etc. Is this wrong? Of course not. In fact if you are in business and your systems have counterfeit software you are opening yourself up to data loss in a big way.

Pirated software usually has additional code in it that allows hackers to gain access to your system and therefore your data. With Cloud Based services these days, using legitimate software should be easier than ever, after all the monthly cost of a copy of Office 365 is a pittance.

Whilst we are on Cloud Based systems, it is worth remembering that unless you encrypt your data on the cloud then chances are it could end up in the wrong hands no matter how security conscious the vendor is. New hardware is already being developed that will take care of this for you, but it isn’t here yet, so be warned.

We will come back to security a little later after we have looked at the severe fines that you could incur by not taking Data Security seriously.

This is about BIG companies isn’t it?

No, definitely not, your companies data security is the responsibility of everyone in your company. Failing to comply can be costly in more than just monetary terms.

Throughout this article I will drop in a few rulings from the ICO that demonstrate how important it is to take these issues seriously. This is not an attempt to scare you, neither is it a marketing ploy of any sort; many people believe that getting “caught out” will never happen to them, in fact it can happen to anyone who doesn’t take reasonable steps to protect their data.

Here some recent rulings detailing action taken in the United Kingdom by the Information Commissioners Office:

Date 16 April 2015 Type:Prosecutions

A recruitment company has been prosecuted at Ealing Magistrates Court for failing to notify with the ICO. Recruitment company pleaded guilty and was fined £375 and ordered to pay costs of £774.20 and a victim surcharge of £38.

and here’s another:

Date 05 December 2014 Type:Monetary penalties

The company behind Manchester’s annual festival, the Parklife Weekender has been fined £70,000 after sending unsolicited marketing text messages.

The text was sent to 70,000 people who had bought tickets to last year’s event, and appeared on the recipients’ mobile phone to have been sent by “Mum”.

Let’s look at the simplest way in which you can protect your data. Forget expensive pieces of hardware, they can be circumnavigated if the core principles of data protection are not addressed.

Education is by far the easiest way to protect data on your computer’s and therefore in your network. This means taking time to educate the staff and updating them on a regular basis.

Here’s what we discovered – shocking practices

In 2008 we were asked to perform an IT audit on an organisation, nothing unusual, except that a week before the date of the audit I received a phone call from a senior person in that organisation, the call went something like this:-

“We didn’t mention before that we have had our suspicions about a member of staff in a position of authority. He seems to of had a very close relationship with the IT company that currently supports us. We also suspect that he has been completing work not related to our organisation using the computer in his office. When we told him about the up-coming IT audit he became agitated and the more insistant we were that he should comply, the more agitated he became”.

This resulted in this individuals computer being the subject of an all but forensic inspection, apart from an un-licenced game, we found nothing and believing that the information we were looking for may have been deleted we performed a data recovery on the disk drive.

The results caused consternation and required us to contact the ICO. We found a lot of very sensitive data that did not belong on that drive. It looked as though it had been there for some time and most of it was not recoverable suggesting it had been removed a good while ago.

As it turned out the disk drive had been replaced several months before and the IT company had used the drive as a temporary data store for another companies data. They formatted the drive and put the new operating system on thinking nothing of it.

It just goes to show that formatting a drive and then using it for months won’t remove all the previous data. No action was taken other than a slapped wrist for the IT firm for poor practices.

So who should be trained?

The best way to demonstrate the importance of data protection is by using top-down learning sessions where management is trained first, followed by junior management followed by the staff. In this way it’s obvious to management as well as the staff the data protection is not something that one person does it is in fact the duty of every employee within a company.

A data breach will affect everybody within the company not just the person responsible but, those ultimately responsible as well.

The training is not lengthy or difficult, but it should be provided by an expert in the field or a company whose expertise is beyond doubt.

In-house training on this subject is not recommended as it is only an outsider who will be taken seriously and who will have the 3rd party credibility required to enforce the importance of the issue.

Information Security is everyone’s business

Information Security Awareness Training: Here’s what should be covered:

  • Provide an easy-to-use online 40 minutes information security awareness training course for your employees to log on and learn best information security practices from.
  • Provide best practice course content of your compliance requirements.
  • Teach employees in simple non-technical language, how and why hackers hack.
  • Instruct employees in the best methods of protecting your systems and the sensitive information you process.
  • Explain employee inherent responsibilities for protecting your business information and identifying and reporting suspicious activity.
  • Supply this information efficiently and effectively, an information security threats risk assessment should be completed.

A good threats and risk assessment should answer the following questions:

  • What do I need to protect and where is it located?
  • What is the value of this information to the business?
  • What other vulnerabilities are associated with the systems processing or storing this information?
  • What are the security threats to the systems and the probability of their occurrence?
  • What would be the damage the business if this information were compromised?
  • What should be done to minimise and manage the risks?

Answering the questions above, is the first and most crucial step in information security risk management. It identifies exactly what your business needs protect and where it’s located and why you need to protect it in real cost impact terms that everyone should understand.

Don’t end up like these guys:

Date 22 December 2014 Type:Monetary penalties

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined a marketing company based in London £90,000 for continually making nuisance calls targeting vulnerable victims. In several cases, the calls resulted in elderly people being tricked into paying for boiler insurance they didn’t need.

In plain English, make it very clear to every employee within the company exactly what their responsibilities are to the data that is within their grasp on an everyday basis, explain how to protect it, explain why we need to protect it and point out the consequences to the business of not doing so.

Most un-trained employees would probably think that data protection has little or nothing to do with them; but, if a data breach occurred the company could lose business when the news hits the press, that may lead to lay offs due to lost business. It really does fall on everyone in the company from cleaning staff to the CEO to take responsibility.

Who should deliver the training?

This topic is not something that any training company can deliver correctly. You really need to work with real security experts, companies that are highly qualified and well experienced.

Unfortunately, in the IT industry many individuals and companies have presented themselves as IT Security Guru’s and most are just scare mongers with an agenda. They want to sell one specific service no matter if you need it or not.

However, there are some very well qualified, genuinely helpful professional companies out there.

In 2011 I was fortunate enough to be at the eCrimes Wales when Richard Hollis from the RISC Factory spoke. His presentation spoke to the audience in a way that few others did that day, it established him in this authors mind as my go to person in the UK on data security issues. I managed to grab a quick word with him during a break and he was really helpful.

Why do I rate Rich so highly? Well his background is interesting to say the least, a background in service for the NSA means he knows what he’s doing and has more knowledge in this area than the average Joe. It also means that where other IT Security experts see an issue, Rich sees a much bigger picture.

Of course many other companies offer similar services and in the current economic climate it is good to shop around if you need to.

Getting started

First of all, watch and re-watch the video (linked below) and find it’s second part on YouTube, watch that as well. Take notes during the video and get those steps planned out in your mind, answer the key questions about your company, data and security.

Next, speak with your IT department if you have one, your IT support company if you don’t and see if they have any cost effective idea’s that you can implement without impacting on your IT budget too heavily.

You can start protecting your company data from outside sources for a couple of hundred GB pounds by installing the right kind of Firewall, with cloud based updates 24/7.

Quality Anti-Virus with built in Anti-Malware doesn’t have to cost the company a fortune either, but again, take advice. Many of these products slow the computer system down so much that they have a negative impact on performance. One of the most famous of these (beginning with N) is often sold in High Street electronics, stationary and consumer goods stores as being “the best”; in fact it is the best profit margin and not the best product, it slows the system down and needs a special piece of software to remove it completely!

Store sensitive data in an encrypted area of a RAID storage drive system with restricted access control. A NAS drive is a cheap and effective way of achieving this.

Don’t store sensitive data on Cloud Based systems like Dropbox, sure it’s cheap and easy to use, so if you are passing none critical data such as graphics, logo’s and promotional material; great! If you are passing your accounts to your accountant, a new product schematic to a machine tooling company etc. – use something else that has better security.

Nothing personal against Dropbox and similar products, but like Microsoft OneDrive as it is now both have been hacked in the past. Although the security has been improved dramatically, you should not take the risk.

Finally take advice from real experts when you have any doubts. People like Richard Hollis have dedicated their careers to security. As they park up outside a company for a meeting they have already analysed several security considerations automatically. When they walk through the front door they make a dozen more calculations and risk assessments. All before they even sit down and talk to you about your concerns.

Layers: Security is all about a layered approach. Think of it as an Onion. Here’s an example at a Physical level for a company that I used to work for many years ago.

As you entered the building you could not get past reception unless they “Buzzed you through” the security barriers in the reception area. These were swipe card controlled for staff.

Swipe cards for staff allowed them access only to those areas they were authorised to enter; so for example only IT support staff and some developers had access to the server room. Note here that unlike some companies the cleaner did not have access to the server room or to the developers area of work.

Get the idea?

On an electronic level, all critical systems were duplicated with independent power, backup power from a generator that had backup power from a UPS system.

Firewalls separated the different LANs and the inside from the outside of the company. Each department ran on its own LAN with connections between LANs for only those people who absolutely needed them.

You can carry on to much lower levels of protection like making sure that all USB drives are encoded and encrypted so that they can only be used to move data between the companies own PC’s.

These sorts of security measures are actually very simple to achieve, they are not rocket science, nether do they have to cost you an absolute fortune.

Remember – Plan, Do, Check, Act – repeat as required. But always get advice from professionals. Believe me, the kid next door who builds his own computers and sells them doesn’t know enough about the threats to your company.

If you are in the UK, consider undertaking Cyber Essentials the government scheme to get businesses to a minimum standard to protect data. This is seriously worth while looking at; during the recent NHS attack, none of the NHS Trusts that had completed and been certified Cyber Essentials standard establishments were penetrated.

We trust that you have found this article interesting, please tell your friends.

One final thing, May 28th 2018 will see GDPR replace the data protection act and businesses within the UK will need to be ready for the change, don’t wait. Get started today.

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How to Do Celebrity Voice Impersonations

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How do I perform celebrity voice impersonations?

The last major league baseball player to hit four-hundred, was Ted Williams. People would often come up to Mr. Williams, and ask him, “Ted, what is the secret to your great hitting?” Though nowadays, Ted actually has his own website dedicated to the subject, back in the day, the answer was usually something a little closer to “I just can.”

The truth is, Ted had little secrets he would do such as counting the stitches on the ball as it rotated towards him, and making sure the ball was in his “happy zone.” But the fact of the matter is, there are two types of people, those that can just “do” and those that can “teach how they do.”

As a professional voice talent who specializes in celebrity voice impersonations, often times people will ask me the same type of question. The answer, is pretty much the same. “I just can.” But I will at least attempt to break down the thought process that I utilize when I attempt to impersonate voices that do not come immediately natural to me.

But before we run, we must at least learn to walk. I believe there are four impersonations that nearly everyone on the planet can do. The first three are Macho Man Randy Savage, Sylvester Stallone and Jimmy Stewart. Though they all stem from different areas of it, each of these voices begins and ends in the throat (as opposed to other more difficult areas which I will delve into momentarily), and they all fall into a range of pitch that is very user friendly to nearly everyone who has completed puberty. All without having to stretch the vocal muscles very far.

Which leads me to the fourth person, William Shatner. Even a three year old can impersonate the unique, “Stop and Start” and “quick” manner in which Mr. Shatner speaks. Almost everyone can grasp that timbre and manner of speaking enough to at least do a passable impersonation, good enough for being a hit at parties. However, truth be told, a very good William Shatner impression is almost impossible to come by.

For a great William Shatner impersonation, check out the Frank Caliendo video linked at the bottom of this page. Notice that he’s just not speaking in quirky sentences about Spock and Spaceships. He lowers his voice at the right times and applies the right emotions to it, and if we can think of the “impression” as an imaginary, physical, “ball-of-voice” for a second, then you can understand that the key to what makes this a great impression as opposed to a party trick, is that Frank moves that ball around through all the physical areas of his body that all humans use when speaking. More specifically, he gets Shatner’s pitch, and moves it through the same areas that Shatner does. Any of us can get the timbre and the vocal mannerisms down to pull off a Shatner, but what separates the men from the boys is actually getting the right pitch and movement first, and then applying the unique vocal mannerisms.

So, now you see why I separated the four into two specific groups. By understanding Shatner, now we can go back and understand a little more clearly why the first three are so easy to duplicate. Though Savage might be a gravel type voice, Stallone might be a deeper one, and Stewart might be a little higher pitched, again, none of them provide much of a stretch for us. On a scale of octaves, they’re pretty much right up everyone’s alley and their timbre and mannerisms are so unique, that anyone can throw them into a conversation and the listener will know exactly who you are impersonating. Not a big deal. Uniqueness is what makes them easy.

This is why I’m rarely impressed with Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonations as well. Aside of perhaps, Darrell Hammond who does a spot on version for all of the same reasons mentioned above on Caliendo’s version of Shatner.

Again, unique voices are a piece of cake. It’s the normal voices that are difficult. It’s why we’ve yet to see anyone truly do a great President Obama impersonation yet. Clinton, Reagan and The Bush’s made it easy. If you want to be really impressed, watch the following video. This is not really Harrison Ford.

So what other areas, besides the throat, are important?

Every voice obviously comes from the throat. Obvious, because that’s where the vocal chords are. But to some extent, every person also combines the nasal area, in addition to the chest and diaphragm areas of their bodies in their everyday vocal communications as well. The first key to doing a good impersonation is to identify which of those areas the voice you are attempting comes from. This is what makes doing a Morgan Freeman impersonation for example, exceedingly difficult if the voice doesn’t already come natural to you. I’d venture to guess that a good lot of the male population can find the right deep tone of voice, necessary for the impersonation. But can they apply the correct “rasp” to the voice, and then skillfully bring the voice from the diaphragm and sell it to the world through the nasal passages, all the while finding the right mixture of Freeman’s unique inflections? Not as easy for sure. But that’s the key. If you want to hear a good example, there’s one on my website.

In addition, and equally as obvious, is the mouth. One of my greatest challenges as a voice talent is concentration on proper enunciation. I have a tendency to speak very colloquially and fall prey to my Ohio accent at times. But, where I find difficulty in doing my commercial and promotional voice overs, I find treasure for doing impersonations, as these deficiencies in “proper” speaking means I can more easily pick up on the “flaws” that otherwise make a person or celebrity unique, and therefore make the impersonation more achievable. Gerad Butler and Sean Connery roll their S’s for example. Richard Burton requires a tightening of the mouth and a rolling of the R’s in a very Shakespearian manner. These are just examples, to show how important enunciation and mouth movement is to the process. For more, check out how strongly I enunciate my P’s and B’s on my Jesse Ventura impersonation linked below.

At any rate, no, this isn’t the end all de facto lesson on doing Celebrity Voice Impersonations, but it will get you started.

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10 Things to Evaluate When Buying a Home

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Buying a home is a lifetime investment and you need to be very cautious to avoid losing money, buying the wrong house, or buying in the wrong neighborhood. Buying a house is a process that involves a series of steps with the goal of making the wrong choices. Sometimes, when buying a house, you need the help of professionals; for instance, for inspection to ascertain that the house is in the right condition. If you are considering buying a house, here are 10 things you should evaluate:

1. The roof

The roof of a house plays a key role in ensuring your valuable items and family members are safe from different weather conditions. It is important to understand that roofs have a lifespan, depending on the materials used, and the type of roof. Therefore, before you buy a house, ensure that the roof is in the right condition and that it has not exceeded its lifespan to avoid a leaking roof. You can have a roof contractor carry out an inspection to avoid incurring additional roof repairs or replacement after buying the house.

2. The plumbing system

The house’s plumbing system should be working properly to avoid additional costs. Ensure that you like the way the toilet flushes, check the drains, water pressure and faucets in bathrooms and kitchen. In addition, you need to know how long it takes for hot water to get to the shower, whether there is a water softener and the age of the water heater. Most water heaters have a lifespan between 10 – 15 years depending on the model, how they were maintained, and how often they were used as well as other factors. Therefore, checking the age of the water heater will help you know when you should replace it; thus helping you to determine whether it is worth buying the house.

3. The size and the floor plan

When buying a house, you are obviously thinking of settling down with your family as well as about your future. The size of the house and the floor plan are some of the factors you should consider in order to make the right choice. Depending on the type of family you want to have, the size of the house will be a determining factor, because a large home can offer enough space for your family and friends when they visit, as well as a home office. However, you will have to pay more for a larger home – both in mortgage and utility bills.

4. Location

Your neighborhood plays a key role when buying a house because it not only affects the value of the house but also availability of resources and security. You should gather as much information about the neighborhood as possible to make sure that it is safe and has all the facilities (social amenities) you need. Consider the proximity of your home to your place of work and ease of access because you will need that every day. However, you should know that the location might determine the value of your house.

5. Electrical systems

Just like the plumbing system, your electrical system should be working properly to avoid possible injuries and accidents. A good electrical system also has little or no maintenance and repair costs after you’ve bought the house. Therefore, when evaluating the electrical system, make sure you know how much the electrical system can handle, whether the electrical sockets are upgraded to take grounded plugs or the type of electrical system used to wire your house. If you cannot o the assessment yourself, hiring an electrician is a better option.

6. Kitchen appliances

You will need to use your kitchen every day after buying the house. Hence, checking the condition of the microwave, refrigerator, kitchen range, dishwasher and other kitchen appliances. If the house has a gas range, you should know whether it has a pilot light or an ignition starter and above all, know if these kitchen appliances will be sold with the house. You can make up your mind whether you want them or you will buy your own kitchen appliances depending on what your preferences and budget estimates are.

7. Interior environmental hazards

It is important to look for interior environmental hazards in a home to avoid exposing yourself and your family to health hazards from toxic substances. For instance, in an older home, you need to look for any asbestos coating on the furnace, pipes, heating systems and on water heaters. Make sure that the basement is tested for the presence of any poisonous gases e.g. radon which is carcinogenic and may cause lung cancer. You should also be on the lookout for carbon monoxide and vermin to make sure that your home is safe. Finally, an inspector should determine whether the house has any lead-based paints because they are poisonous. In fact, homes that are offered for sale should not have any lead-based paints under federal laws.

8. Structural problems

Although you cannot buy an old house in perfect condition, it should have few or no structural problems. If you buy a house that has numerous structural problems knowingly or unknowingly, you will end up spending a lot of money trying to fix them. Know the state of the interior walls, roof, gutters and downspouts, flashings, doors and windows. Remember to inspect the floor too, as well as the fence and other structures in your house.

9. The Bedrooms and bathrooms

First of all, you need to decide how many bedrooms and bathrooms your house should have and then start looking for such a house. This will be determined by your preferences, family size and budget. You will then evaluate the conditions of the bathroom and the bedrooms, their size and closets as well as the flooring. Your bathroom should have tiles for easy cleaning as well as a showerhead or a bathtub or even both. If you are thinking of adding extra room in future, have an architecture advice you whether it is possible after considering lot usage, space planning and city regulations.

10. Check outside the house

Finally, evaluate the exterior part of your house because it also plays a role when buying your home. Does it have enough landscaping and a fence, where are the lot (or property) lines and the condition of the garage? Don’t forget to check the condition of the fences, patio and the deck.

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