There is No Substitute for Good Customer Service

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If you regularly read my blog, you know I am a fan and a loyal customer of C&J. For those unfamiliar with the company, C&J is a bus company that runs regular commuter and traveler services from the Seaocast of New Hampshire to Logan Airport and Boston as well as New York City

I mostly use the service when traveling for business of pleasure, to get to and from the airport. The buses run hourly and with free parking, it makes for a very reasonable, convenient and stress free ride to and from Logan. The buses, which C&J calls coaches ar comfortable, with leather reclining seats, productive with WiFi and clean, complete with an onboard restroom.  There is always cold bottled water and daily newspapers onboard as well. I have found their staff, both terminal and drivers to be friendly, helpful and professional. It’s a great service to have readily available just 10 minutes from my house. 

I’ve also just taken the New York service, for the second time and can enthusiastically recommend it as well. The NYC coach is an executive class coach with 2 seats on one side and 1 on the other. It reminds me of jetBlue‘s Embraer 190‘s. These seats have plenty of leg and recline room.  Like the airport coaches, they also have power at every seat. In addition, there are pillows and blankets and a nice galley and rest room in the rear. The galley has a Keurig with plenty of blends to choose from, cold water and sofa, snacks, fruit and the USA Today. It’s a great way to travel from close to home to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in the heart of Manhattan. 

When I booked this most recent trip, I discovered that we were booked on one of the airport size coaches for the return trip. There was an error on the booking site that didn’t flag that particular departure as being a substitute run to accommodate the additional volume needs on this particular weekend. When I discovered this, I was not too happy.  I did not want to spend the five hour ride on th non executive class coach, with its numerous amenities. Especially as I use the time to get work done and the extra comfort and space makes it much easier. 

I sent an email to customer service and to their credit, they acknowledged the error on their site, apologized and offered to change our reservation to the one hour later departure, at no extra charge. Because the NYC service offers reserved seating, there is a change/cancellation fee and the fare can be different. I was once again impresssed with this company. Truly exemplary customer service and a concern not to let their customers down. I appreciate that and let them know. As did they, signing their message with their standard brand appreciation, “Thanks for riding with C&J.”  Something this loyal customer  will be doing and recommending whenever the opportunity presents itself. 

Black Friday’s coming, are you ready for your techy?

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This was also published in the November 20, 2016 edition of Seacoast Sunday.

It’s that time of year! Thanksgiving is right around the corner and so is Black Friday. If you are into gadgets, or have someone on your gift list who is, here is my annual list of gifts that any techy on your list would be thrilled to receive.

For the past several years, my list has had some common themes. Mostly updated editions of products that I had recommended the previous year, along with some unique items you may not have thought of. This year, there is a plethora of new technology available, though there really is not one hot item that stands out from all the rest.

macbook-proIf you’re in the market for a laptop, there are really only two to look at. For those who are Apple fans, the new MacBook Pro is the laptop to beat. The screen is as crisp as you would expect and while overall, it may seem like it’s just updated hardware, there is one feature that sets it apart from its predecessors. What Apple is calling the Touch Bar. This is not a touchscreen, rather it’s a dynamic bar that sits just above the keyboard and below the screen. It changes based on what you are doing and presents icons or commands you can “touch” to make things happen on the screen. It’s a good development, though I’d prefer to see a full touchscreen myself.

On the PC side, the Microsoft SurfacePro 4 and Surface Book surface-bookare the ones to beat. The difference being that the Surface Pro 4 is really a tablet that can be accessorized to be a complete PC where the Surface Book is a complete PC that can be a laptop or a tablet. The design and durability rival a MacBook Pro, as does the screen. Surface products are fully touchscreen and stylus enabled so you can touch, draw and type. It’s all about what you prefer. If you want a powerful computer that will double as your desktop computer and be ultraportable without compromising features or performance, the MacBook Pro and Surface lines are what you want.

wink-hub-2If home automation is your thing, check out the new Wink Hub 2 from Wink. It’s one of the most capable and simple to use home automation hubs on the market. Its closest rival is the Samsung SmartThings Hub, but I like the ease of use and broad support of the Wink, along with its wide array of integrations to bring management of all your smart-home devices into one app.

If you are not familiar with these types of hubs, they can control your lights, appliances, garage doors, passage doors, water valves, leak detectors, thermostats, smoke detectors, alarm systems, curtains and a whole lot more. You can create all kinds of automated routines with these devices, to say dim the lights and play a certain type of music when the mood strikes you. If your outdoor lights make you crazy this time of year, home automation will put the fun back into them. If you’ve got a techy person in the family, they will have a blast with all the things you can do with a home automation hub. The good news is, they are not too expense. Starter kits run from $100 to $200 and the various devices you can add range from $30 and up.

When it comes to music, it’s tough to top Bose for quality and value, especially sound-sportwhen it comes to their headphones and Bluetooth speakers. I’m a huge fan of the Bose QuietComfort 20 headphones. These are in-ear headphones with a small noise cancelling adapter. They are lightweight and have very impressive noise cancelling. For sport, the wireless Bluetooth SoundSport headphones are sweat resistant and deliver excellent sound in a convenient package. For portable speakers, you can’t do better than the SoundLink series of portable Bluetooth speakers, especially the Mini. These speakers deliver impressive and immersive sounds in a small package that is easy to take with you wherever you are.

echo-dotAnother great idea for gift giving is Amazon’s Alexa powered Echo or Echo Dot. The Echo is the original flagship member of this family of voice controlled devices. The Echo includes a full featured speaker through which you can listen to your music. The Echo Dot is a much smaller version, just slightly larger than a hockey puck that can sit in any room. What makes the Echo’s unique is that they are entirely voice controlled. You can be sitting across the room or even in another room and say “Alexa, what’s the weather like” and the device will respond and give you the current weather and what’s to come. I was very skeptical about these devices when they first came out, but I have two in our house. I can control lights, ask for news, weather, play music throughout the house, set the temperature and more. I know, I’m a geek. My kids tell me this all the time.

Some other devices I think will make great gifts are smartwatches from apple-watchApple or Garmin. These are my two preferred brands as they have great integration with smartphones and are waterproof so you can shower and swim with them. Too many wearables are not, and for me that’s a show stopper.

Drones are everywhere. Most of the really good ones are pretty expensive, as in more than $1,000, so if that’s within your budget, you’ve got lots of options.

fire-tv-stickWith all the talk about cutting cords, streaming media players are a very affordable and hot gift this year. Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Google’s ChromeCast are all very affordable and work well. If you have Amazon Prime, the Fire TV with Alexa Remote is impressive. Just tell it what you want to watch and chances are, you’ll have access to it through your Prime Video library. At the higher end is the Apple TV, which is also an excellent option if you are looking for something in the $100 range.

I could go on with many more recommendations, but I think this will give you more than enough ideas to get you going. There is no shortage of great gifts out there for anyone techy on your list. Have fun shopping and have even more fun giving. Happy Thanksgiving. May we all be able to step back and enjoy time with family and friends and embrace the true spirit of this uniquely American holiday. Thanks for reading.

Business Fundamentals Bootcamp

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bootcamp-logoToday I had the pleasure of being a speaker at the Supporting Strategies of MA and NH Business Fundamentals Bootcamp, held at the Andover Country Club.  From the Supporting Strategies website “Supporting Strategies’ Business Fundamentals Bootcamp program provides tactical education to growing businesses to help them succeed.  At each Bootcamp event, CEO’s and CXO’s of growth-stage companies are educated on tactical issues in areas such as marketing, finance, law and HR by the best and brightest subject matter experts in the local business community.  Visit our upcoming Bootcamp Events page to see our schedule of upcoming events and to register for an event near you.”

I spoke to a group of attendees during a breakout session on Cyber Security.  During this session, I reviewed Internet & Telephone’s strategy to address Cyber Security concerns.  Fundamental to this strategy is our adherence to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cyber Security Framework.  The Framework is built around five key components; 1. Identify, 2. Protect, 3. Detect, 4. Respond, 5. Recover.

The session was interactive, with several questions asked by those in attendance.  I love it when those in attendance engage.  It makes for a significantly better session, as the presentation gets tied to real world scenarios based on the questions that are asked.  This helps to demystify many of the topics and perhaps most importantly, makes it easier for those listening to understand the concepts and relate them to their own experiences, both in the personal and professional lives.

My primary goal for any presentation like this is to educate.  An informed audience is my primary goal.  If just one person walks away with a better understanding of their role in protecting the security of the personal and professional data and computer network, it’s been a successful delivery.

IT Nation 2016

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Last week was a busy week for me and a few thousand other professionals who use professional services automation, remote monitoring and management, remote control and quoting software from ConnectWise.  For the past 12 years, early November has become synonymous with IT Nation, what used to be known as the ConnectWise Partner Conference.

After staying up past 2 AM on election night, I called jetBlue and changed my flight to the 6 AM out of Boston and headed off for my trusty C&J ride to Logan Airport for the flight to Orlando.  A quick Uber over the Hyatt Regency and the first order of business was the noon ConnectWise Advisory Council meeting where we meet with senior leaders of the company and learn about what’s taken place since our last meeting, what’s coming and to provide our input on various ideas or initiatives.  That evening, the conference officially kicked off, though Wednesday was full of pre-conference learning sessions.  Needless to say, I did not stay up too late after essentially catching a little more than two hours sleep (maybe) the night before.

Thursday was the first full day of the conference and it kicked off, as it has for the last 12 years, with a thought provoking keynote from Arnie Bellini, CEO of ConnectWise.  I bought ConnectWise from Arnie back in 2004.  He’s done an impressive job building a company that has an undeniable influence on our industry.  I have a lot of respect for where ConnectWise has come from and where it is going.  This conference is a great example of the incredible Community that has been built around that original piece of software known as ConnectWise PSA.

One of the major announcements this year is the rebranding of all the component products under the ConnectWise umbrella.  PSA is now Manage, LabTech is now Automate, ScreenConnect is now Connect and Quosal is now Sell.  It’s a natural evolution that makes sense and keeps things clear.  The software has matured quite impressively and the company continues to show it is responsive to the needs of the industry, most notably the ConnectWise partners who have and continue to fuel the success of the company.

For me, this event is about keeping a strong connection with a company that provides core line of business software that we use to drive our business.  It’s also an annual opportunity to reconnect with many good friends that have been made over the years.  These are professional colleagues who have truly become friends and who I stay in touch with throughout the year, electronically, on the phone and in person whenever the opportunity presents itself.  Many of us help each other with all manner of things throughout the year.

This years keynote was a visionary look to the future, as one might expect.  Security was a hot topic and one that resonated strongly with me as I work on I&T’s new portfolio of security services that we are offering to our customer base.  It was also an opportunity for other leaders within the company to showcase some of the most significant enhancement that have been made to the software or will be released over the next year.

Friday morning was another keynote, this one by author Keith McFarland, a visionary in his own right.  This keynote had a focus on strategy and how to challenge our businesses to be better and more insightful in our work.  In keeping with the recently completed election season, there was also an interesting commentary on democracies versus dictatorships.  McFarland contends that democracies are great at generating ideas and terrible and getting things done.  By contrast, he contends that dictatorships are great at getting things done but have terrible ideas.  Democraships get great ideas done according to McFarland.  It’s a very thought provoking idea, it not just a timely one.

Between the excellent keynotes where no less than 200 educational sessions geared for new users of the software to advanced users.  There were sessions about business strategy, emerging and established technologies and product sessions allowing you the opportunity to meet with executives and explore their products more deeply.  There was also a vendor hall, or solutions pavilion, with nearly 100 different companies represented.  The range of companies was from staffing to security, backup to hardware and everything else you might expect to find at a technology conference.

Like most conferences, there were also social events in the evening, to wind down from the day, network with peers and just kick back and have a good time.  After a couple of intense days of learning and exploring, it’s a nice way to wrap up a very intense couple of days that help us drive our business strategy for the coming year.

For me, this was also a bit of a milestone event.  Every year before this, I attended as the sole representative of my former company, Jenaly Technology Group.  Last year at this event, I met with my now CEO and COO, poolside one day as we finalized the plans to merge Jenaly into Internet & Telephone.  We signed the papers the following week and announced the acquisition on December 1, 2015.  This year, we returned to our spot, to strategize our goals for the event and our top takeaways and strategies to bring back with us.  Here’s a picture of Paul Cissel, our CEO, me, our now CTO and Doug Smith, our COO.  It’s been a great year and we have some great initiatives we are working on for the year ahead!

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NH Company Central to Recent Cyberattack

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This article was also published in the November 7, 2016 Seacoast Sunday

This map shows the impact on Internet usage of a massive Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack targeted Manchester-based Dyn, an Internet infrastructure services company. 

On Oct. 21, a massive Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack targeted Manchester-based Dyn, an Internet infrastructure services company in the historic millyard along the Merrimack river.

Dyn provides infrastructure services and network intelligence that the company states allows its customers to manage the Internet as if it were their own network. In the simplest of terms, this means massive public websites like Amazon, Ancestry, Twitter and LinkedIn respond faster to you when you visit them. Dyn is one of several companies that provide Domain Name Services (DNS) on the Internet. Every website you visit has a numerical address called an IP address. Just like your home has a number and street address, a website has an IP address. For most people, you know how to get to 123 Any St. just the same as you know how to get to grandmother’s house. Either way you say it, but name or by address, it’s the same place. DNS works the same way. When you go to http://www.cnn.com, that name, called a URL, is translated into the website actual IP address. This is what Dyn and companies like it do for you. They sit between you and the website you are visiting, to be sure you get there in the most efficient way so you have a good experience when visiting the site.

What happened Oct. 21 was a massive, previously not seen, type of DDoS attack. The simplest way to describe a DDoS attack is to compare it to you calling someone on the phone while I stand next to you blasting loud music through a speaker held close to your open ear. The call may go through, but there is no way you will be able to communicate. The hackers sent so much Internet traffic at Dyn’s servers it was unable to service the requests it was receiving. That’s why so many websites appeared to be offline that day. The Internet was not “down,” nor was the individual websites. The path to get to them was being blocked by this massive amount of noise in the way.

I first learned about the attack from my wife. She is a genealogical researcher and works from home. She called me early that morning to say she thought something was wrong with our home network, as she was unable to get to many of her research sites online. A quick check of things quickly revealed our home network was fine, but the Internet was not. Most reports suggest the DDoS attack started before 7 a.m. EDT and lasted until after 6 p.m. EDT, making this one of the most successful hacks in history.

What is unique about this attack, is what was used to perpetrate it. A virus called Mirai targeted Internet of Things (IoT) devices. These are devices that connect to the Internet, but are not considered computers, in the traditional sense, even though in many cases, they really are. They are devices like WiFi connected thermostats, security systems, HVAC control systems, SCADA devices, smoke alarms, home automation systems and more. The list is massive. While more and more of these devices are employing proper security, there are still manufacturers who put out devices with a hard coded default username and password embedded in a chip on the device. Mirai exploits this and on that day, scoured the Internet and found massive numbers of devices with this vulnerability and used them to launch the attack on Dyn. It’s a vulnerability security experts have warned about for years. Most major IoT manufacturers have addressed this, but many have not. It is widely reported chips manufactured by one Chinese company were the major target, based on their poor engineering design.

I am specifically not naming companies that make these chips and IoT devices. While many are known, the investigation is still ongoing at this time and I do not feel it’s appropriate to name names. That’s not the point. The point is this attack exposed a critical vulnerability to our connected world. Some security experts believe this may have been a pre-emptive strike, coordinated to test just how successful such an attack could be. This is likely why the FBI and Department of Homeland Security were involved in the investigation quite early in the day that Friday. There are others who say this was just a group of hackers who tried something and were successful beyond their wildest dreams. There are many theories and many stories being written about this event. We may never know the true extent of the attack or the threat.

What this clearly points out is that disruptions of computer networks are real. So many people expect the Internet to be 100 percent reliable. This attack on Dyn shows it is not, locally, nationally and internationally. It’s an issue that haunts the technology world and one that will take time and coordinated effort to deal with effectively. As I often remind readers, stay safe online!

ChannelPro SMB Forum Boston 2016

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I had the pleasure to speak on a panel today at ChannelPro SMB Forum today.  This event is part of ChannelPro’s Channel Fitness Tour. 

This event brings together IT Consultants and Managed Service Providers like Internet & Telephone to learn about business best practices and new technologies to help our customers. Eric Lawrence, I&T’s sales manager and I attended to represent the company. 

My panel was titled Pump Up Your Managed Services Revenue. It was a pleasure to sit on this panel with Karl Palachuk from Small Biz Thoughts, Ronnie Parisella from MSP Foundry and Paul Smith from Datasmith Network Solutions

We discussed everything from security solutions to mobile device management to Cloud-to-Cloud backup.   We also touched on communication and collaboration as well as VOIP, telecom services and a host of easy add-ons to help customers and improve profitability. 

All in all, a great day of giving back, learning and networking. 

Here are some pictures from the event. 

Thanks to Cecilia Galvin for the invite and the great job moderating the panel.