Blog

Use Technology to Organize!

Are you using sticky notes to manage your Todo’s? Do you have to constantly clean off your computer’s desktop because there are so many icons? Do you have a small notepad for passwords, another for phone numbers, and yet another for miscellaneous snippets of thoughts? You’re not alone. I’ve been there.  Most of us have.

There’s a voice in the back of your mind that says, “I’ll organize all of this some day! Maybe tomorrow!” But tomorrow comes; as do the weeks and months. Before you know it, it’s been 12 years and now this ‘system’ is what you’re stuck with. This system is a three legged table that you’ve gently been eating dinner on for years. It works, but it’s also failed you many times. Do you get a new table? No. You pick up the spaghetti and meatballs. Scrape everything off the floor. Put it back on the plates and sit down again. No. More.

It’s time to stop saying ‘some day’. ‘Some day’ is today!

Lets Begin at the Beginning

The first stop is deciding on what system we’re going to use. For our little project here we’re going to use Microsoft OneNote. There are dozens of worthy platforms out there, so in order to not get bogged down we’ll just go with OneNote. Bear in mind our goal isn’t to teach OneNote; it’s to teach a way to think about organization. OneNote just happens to do this really well; and its available on PC, Mac, Android, and other platforms. If you create a free outlook.com account you can create a notebook online and it will be saved automatically and will never be lost.

Also note that we’ll go over the techniques shown here in the context of running a business. In our example we’ll call the business Fictional Farms. I want you to consider that we chose the organizational model of a business because the principles can be transferred to other areas that need organization.

Let Me Show You What I’m Talking About

A Business is an organization. It’s called an organization because it is comprised of departments that have distinct functions: Executive Management, Finance, Marketing, Operations, IT, etc; Each department has it’s objectives. Sometimes those objectives over-lap but mostly they don’t. Someone in marketing isn’t going to be responsible for handing out payroll checks. So, in OneNote we’ll create a new notebook and when prompted call it “Fictional Farms”

A new notebook will have  a new section and a new page. We’ll ignore those for now. What we want to do is create a section group. Right click in the blank area of the sections and select New Section Group. Call it Marketing. Now repeat this for each department. In my example, the Departments are Business Administration, Finance, Marketing, Operations, and Technology.

UseTechnologytoOrganizeFig1

 Click on the Finance Section Group then click on where it says + Section. When prompted call that section Accounts Payable.

So lets just take a look at what we’ve done. We have a notebook that represents the whole company. We have Section Groups that represent the departments in the company. And we have Sections that represent sub sections in that company. Just like a real business!

 

UseTechnologytoOrganizeFig2

No imagine you want to set up a notebook for your household. What would be the Section Groups? Sections? Subsections? Maybe you’d have a vacation section or a finance section group. This illustrates that sometimes sections and section groups are not always obvious. Don’t let that stop you. Just make a section. Then make a few more, and eventually you should come to realize what can be grouped together.

UseTechnologytoOrganizeFig3

Then there are pages of each section. Do you see how each section is like a tab in a real notebook. So of course you’ll have pages in each section. The beauty here is that you’re not just limited to one or two tab levels. You can build up to larger and larger categories and go down to the smallest detail. And likewise you can have levels of pages. Going back to our Fictional Farms example, you’ll notice that under the General Accounting Section, there is a pages like Assets, Mortgage, and Liabilities. Under liabilities, there are two sub pages; one for a truck loan and one for a tractor loan. Notice how these are under liabilities but are shifted to the right a bit indicating that they are sub-pages.

UseTechnologytoOrganizeFig4

In our last example, since this a business, lets find the Org Chart. We can easily do a search but what if we just want to browse? What section would it be under? You could make a case for it to be under any one of the four main section groups. In this case I’ve just chosen to put it under Business Administration. Once we go in there you’ll notice I have a template for an org chart and the current org chart for the year. I did this to illustrate the use of templates. That way if something changes you can document how it changed over time.

UseTechnologytoOrganizeFig5

There is no right answer here. Don’t be too worried about what’s right and what’s wrong. Don’t let the options overwhelm you. Just begin. Begin wrong if need be. Part of the beauty here is you can change it on the fly, update, iterate, and try again. Don’t be afraid to blow it all away. If you want, don’t blow it away. Just change the name to something like “Fantasy Farms 2018.01” and make a new one called “Fantasy Farms 2018.02”.

Feel free to message me with any questions.

Support@ValenceTechnologies.com

720-507-6880

GDPR: Are you ready?

TLDR Version:

  • GDPR Stands for General Data Protection Regulation
  • It will become enforceable 2018.05.25
  • The law applies to all citizens in the European Union
  • The law aims to protect the personal data of EU citizens
  • The law regulates companies based in the EU
  • The law ALSO regulates companies not based in the EU, but transfer data in and out of the EU
  • Highlights include rules on: how data is accessed by individuals and providers and what it can be used for

Longer Version:

GDPR was put into place on 2016.04.27. As the enforceability date of 2018.05.25 approaches, IT departments, business owners, and individuals should know where they are on this monumental digital protection legislation. Are you ready?

Disclaimer: I’m not a legal expert. I am an IT person with a blog. You may consider the statements here as purely fiction / opinion. However, I will link you to the official European Commission website so you can read everything decide for yourself.

What’s it got to do with me? The arguably the most controversial part of the GDPR states (to paraphrase), that the regulation applies to any company based in the EU or any company not based in the EU but collects data from individuals in the EU. The practical example of this: if Microsoft, Google, or any company under 250 people want to market and sell products that include any personally identifiable information, in the EU, they must adhere to this regulation (there’s a number of different rules for smaller companies). Some technology and legal experts suggest that there might be a ripple effect through out the world because who want’s to do business with a company that is not complying with the GDPR. Take the UK for example. Because of Brexit they are not bound by the GDPR, but because the UK economy is so intertwined with the EU, companies in the UK who do business with in the EU will likely have to conform anyways. Extend that premise to any other company that does business in the EU or with UK companies, FaceBook, or Google and the dots are easy. When you think about it there aren’t that many degrees between you and the EU.

There may also be a number of cost benefit motivators that will drive companies to adopt the change. The first calculation is that there will be a development cost for producing two different classes of offerings (one compliant and one non-compliant). This proposition seems prohibitive if you’re not one of the larger companies. And even if you were a larger company would it be worth it?

OK. So what do I have to do? Well, as usual, it depends. If you’re an individual your best bet is to actually read the pages of the regulation for yourself. Ask a legal expert what this might mean for you (and what it means to them). Then ask another. Then another. Then talk to several IT professionals and ask what they think. Chances are they will each have a perspective and it’s possible that they may not interpret the regulations in the same way.

But. Here are some things that are clearly stated directly from the regulation:

  • The protections do not extend to criminal activities (Sec 19)
  • Protections apply to any EU individual’s data, even if the processing does not occur in the EU (22)
  • A persons agreement should be stated so it is a “clear affirmative act establishing a freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication”. (32)
  • A company processing personal data has 72 hours to contact a person if their data is breached. If the company can’t make it in 72 hours they have to still notify the person and also tell them why they were unable to contact them in time. (85)
  • Fines can be 10 000 000 Euro or 2% of worldwide turnover (whichever is Higher)(Art. 83, ss 4 and 5)

If you are an IT professional your best bet is get with a Legal Professional who is familiar with technology law. Reading through the legalese won’t necessarily translate to obvious technological answers. The gist of the regulation, in the context of practical steps for IT professionals: ask yourself if you’ve done enough to secure personally identifiable data, if users have clear opt-in and opt-out options, and do you have a process in place in the event that systems that hold user data are compromised. There are also some sections about anonymizing data and establishing a purpose built role in your company to manage compliance. Again. Seek professional legal help!

 

 

 

3 “Easy” Password Measures to Increase Your Security

TLDR Version: Strong Passwords, LastPass, Two-Factor Authentication

Why is “Easy” in quotes? Because, lets be real. Easy is relative. Have you ever been hacked? Had your identity stolen? Had to start all over with a new Twitter account or email address? If not, then doing any more than you have to will probably seem like more hassle than it’s worth. But… if you’ve ever had any of these things happen (or the thought sends shivers down your spine), you know the sting of starting an all new digital identity.

Your first stop on the road to online security is us utilizing a strong password. So what is a strong password? Well first, lets take a look at what a weak password is.

Weak passwords typically have the following characteristics:

  • Contains a dictionary word: baseball86, June1997, 1doctor1, happy!
  • Contains an element of your name or someone close to you: $mith, DrB2002, D0raXplora
  • Contains a common password (Link), like “1234” or “password”
  • Has mostly letters or mostly numbers: John1, 1987y
  • Are too short

So, for a strong password I’ll just show an example: 6D^3y!A>kpQU

You’ll notice it:

  • No dictionary words or hints of a proper noun
  • Does not contain a commonly used complex password
  • Has a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols
  • Is 12 Characters long

You’re thinking, “Great. But there’s no way I’m going to do that for the 300 sites and apps I have to log into every day.”

Well that brings us to the next stop: LastPass (or a functional equivalent). LastPass is a password management tool. Create an account, download the browser plug-in, and boom… Every time you log into a site it doesn’t have it’ll ask you if you want it added. Add it and now, as long as the plug-in is running and the site is compatible, it’ll fill in your username and password. No more having to look through your pile of sticky notes or open your spreadsheet of a thousand usernames and passwords. LastPass has a handy password generator (which I used to generate the above example). It has apps for IOS, OS X, Windows, and Linux. There are other password management tools out there (1Password and OS X Keychain to name a couple). Do a search or if you’d like us to do a review on one, let us know.

The last stop is Two-Factor Authentication, commonly referred to as 2FA. You may have seen an example of this if you’ve recently set up a new gmail or outlook.com address. The basics of 2FA work something like this: you take your existing account and add a trusted app or device to it. The next time you sign in, you use your username and password and the system sends a code to your trusted device. This code constantly changes, appears only on your trusted device, and is only used that one time. The thought is that even if someone has hacked your password they won’t have your trusted device. Neat huh?

So now the question is … how easy does all this seem and is it worth it? If you need any help just send us a message!

-R

Valence Technologies is a Boulder based IT Services firm delivering consulting, project management, and support offerings to the Boulder / Denver metro area. We have a range of products targeted at managing business continuity, protecting your IT assets, and delegating your IT concerns so you can concentrate on managing and growing your business. Contact us at support@valencetechnologies.com.

Every client is a Strategic Partner

I like to think that no matter how big we get as a company, we will still maintain the entrepreneurial spirit that lets us treat every customer like a Strategic Partner. I admit that we are a small IT Services and Support firm and I’m totally happy with that. I relish the thought that each of our clients are carefully selected. Its almost like an exclusive club. I would expect no less from the business owners of the communities we service (Boulder and Denver mostly) to be highly selective of who is doing their IT. Although our clientele hail from diverse fields, there is a common thread… Our clients tend to understand the true merits of craftsmanship, know the value of effort is given in due time, and in many cases view their work as a labor of love. So I guess, they’re a lot like us!

-M

A word about providing IT services… from the COO

At Valence Technologies our goal isn’t about just being a help desk, answering IT questions, or even the solutions we provide. Any company, anywhere, can answer questions or produce a list of solutions they’re willing to sell.

We understand that for any business, and particularly for smaller ones, every person and partner brought into the fold is a critical, almost do-or-die decision point. And because of the pervasive nature of technology, that goes double for your IT services provider.

What sets us apart is our ability to listen. We want to know what motivates you and your business. We want to know what irks you and things you’ve been meaning to do, but have never got ’round to doing.

Whether your a doctor’s office or a deep sea diving company or a retired race car driver that needs your home network set up, we relish the opportunity to get to know you and your business. Lets work together to find solutions for your needs.