3 Innovative Uses for Microsoft 365 Forms

uses for microsoft 365 forms_now it connects

Forms make it easy to collect the information you need from your customers and team members. Microsoft 365 offers three options for creating forms that automate the information collection process. If your team runs on Microsoft 365 or SharePoint, discover how Microsoft Forms, OOTB SharePoint forms, and Power Apps can automate and simplify your data collection efforts.

1. Microsoft Forms for Simple, Public-Facing Forms

Microsoft Forms is Microsoft’s answer to Google Forms. Simplicity is the name of the game. Microsoft Forms are a breeze to put together and easy to share. You can send your Microsoft Forms questionnaires to people outside your organization or within it. They make great customer-facing forms to collect customer satisfaction surveys. Use Microsoft Forms to collect RSVPs or get feedback on an office initiative. Microsoft Forms are designed to be highly collaborative between team members, with entire teams gaining access to the data the form collects. As such, this platform may not be the best choice for collecting sensitive information.

To create a form with Microsoft Forms, access the app through your Microsoft 365 account. Choose from preloaded questions or create your own. Don’t forget to update the look of your form to align it with your brand. Once you’re ready to send it out, you can share your form via a link, as an embedded form on your website, or with a QR code.

2. OOTB SharePoint Forms for Simple, Internal Forms

For simple forms meant exclusively for your internal team, you can’t beat out-of-the-box (OOTB) SharePoint forms. These forms live on your team’s SharePoint platform and are accessible only to authorized users. OOTB SharePoint forms are simple and utilitarian. You cannot brand your form or use question logic, but you can ask simple questions to collect data from your team.

OOTB SharePoint forms are great for managing your company’s referral program or collecting information about a project or process. Form creators can set permissions so users can only see the information they submit, which can help keep sensitive data secure.

3. Microsoft Power Apps for Everything Else

Power Apps gives creators the most control over their forms. While it’s possible to create simple forms, Power Apps shines when a form requires question logic and customized fields, locked-down permissions, and a branded user experience.

Creators can use Power Apps to create a stand-alone form or customize an OOTB SharePoint form. Power users of Power Apps can pull in data from SharePoint and external sources to use in their form, customize fields, and use question logic to tailor the user experience to user responses. Power App forms can be branded and shared through SharePoint. They are only accessible to people on your internal SharePoint platform.

Microsoft 365 offers three robust ways to survey customers and collect information from your team. For help putting these tools into practice at your business, get in touch with Now IT Connects today.


Introduction to Microsoft Azure

introduction to microsoft azure_now it connects

Hitting a wall with your local server network? Keeping your company’s data on local servers can limit your productivity and your ability to scale your business. When we encounter businesses who’ve reached this stage of frustration with their local servers, it’s likely we’ll recommend a cloud-based solution such as Microsoft Azure.

What Is Microsoft Azure?

Azure is Microsoft’s cloud-based server product, where your data is stored remotely on the cloud rather than in a server closet in your office. It offers companies Microsoft’s computing expertise and reliability as well as multilayered security and scalability. Manufacturers, health care organizations, retailers, and financial service providers all use Azure to run their business networks.

How Can Azure Help Me Save Money?

Not only is Azure often more affordable than other cloud-based network options, such as AWS, it can also save you money in the long term. Azure is more than cloud-based storage. It’s powerful software that helps you understand your company’s data better. This can lead to cost savings in other areas of your business. Azure also offers ways to optimize your workloads and your spending on cloud computing to optimize your costs.

Can Microsoft Azure Help My Team Collaborate?

When your company’s data is managed on Azure, it empowers apps, software, and your team to communicate more effectively than is possible on a local server network. You can gather data from across different systems and view and analyze it from a single dashboard. Azure can host and support your favorite collaborative tools, such as Teams, OneDrive, and Outlook, too.

What Does It Take to Migrate to Azure?

Moving your entire network from local servers to the cloud may seem like a big deal, and it is. Fear of the unknown and the work of moving a network to the cloud keeps many companies from taking the plunge.

But with the right support, migrating to Azure or any other cloud-based network can be the move that takes your business to the next level. It can improve your team’s productivity and make it possible for you to scale your business.

Now IT Connects has helped all sorts of businesses move to the cloud. Give us a call or shoot us an email today to learn how we can help you take your business to the next level.


Cloud-Based Computing for the Remote Workforce

Cloud-Based Computing for the Remote Workforce

The past year definitely made the case for cloud-based computing, as the cloud is what empowered many companies to move to a remote workforce in 2020. Cloud-based technologies have more than proved their worth these last 12 months. If you’re still running your business off local servers in your office, or have hobbled together several cloud-based technologies out of necessity, it’s time to get strategic about the cloud.

The Case for Cloud-Based Computing

Imagine a workweek where every tool you need is at your fingertips, whether you’re at the office or at home. These tools work seamlessly together. The document or spreadsheet you’re working on is automatically saved and backed up, so you never lose your work or your data. You never accidentally delete an email. The recording of your last meeting with your client is available to review as soon as it wraps up, and you can share your notes from that meeting with your colleagues with a click of a button. When you log off for the weekend, you know all of your data is safe from harm because it’s protected by two-factor authentication and automated backup.

That’s what cloud-based computing can do for your workweek. It takes away many of the frustrations you have about storing and sharing files, collaborating with your team, and backing up physical servers.

Choosing a Cloud-Based Server

So, how do you go about moving your operations to the cloud? Find an IT partner like Now IT Connects! Having a knowledgeable, professional, and cloud-smart team like us takes the stress out of setting up your new work environment. We have the product expertise, know-how, and experience to develop a cloud-based strategy for your company.

Our favorite cloud computing tool is Microsoft Azure. It’s built specifically for businesses and contains hundreds of apps so you can move your entire operation to the cloud. Azure uses AI and machine learning to uncover data insights and keep your data safe.

Microsoft Exchange is an email and calendaring tool that helps teams communicate more efficiently. It’s highly customizable, has tools to foster collaboration, and makes setting appointments a breeze. Microsoft Exchange email servers are highly secure so your inboxes and data are continually protected.

Making the Migration to the Cloud

It’s easy to grasp the benefits of migrating your business operations to the cloud. The hard part is making the move to your new cloud-based system. Migrating any process from one tool to another is complicated and time-consuming, which is why we recommend you work with an experienced team of IT professionals. The Now IT Connects team will work with you to design a cloud-based solution for your business, then complete the migration and implementation for you.

Ready to learn more? We’re here to help. Contact Now IT Connects today to discover with the cloud can do for you.


5 IT Tools Your Business Needs in 2021

5 secure IT tools for 2021_Now IT Connects

With a remote workforce and cyberattacks on the rise, you need to be sure your data and your customers’ data are secure yet accessible. After spending much of 2020 helping our customers safely move to a remote workforce, the Now IT Connects team has come up with a list of must-have IT tools for 2021. Which ones do you already use, and which ones are you going to adopt this year to keep your data safe and your team productive?

1. Two-Factor Authentication

With the rise in cyberattacks in recent years, securing your data is more important than ever. Two-factor authentication is an affordable, powerful way to immediately improve data security. It requires your team to use two login methods to access their email, web apps, and other business tools. Two-factor authentication can protect your data from phishing and from bad actors gaining access using weak or stolen passwords.

You’ve likely run into two-factor authentication at your bank or other online retailers. To get access to protected accounts, you need something you know, such as a password, and something only you have, such as your phone. Anytime you’re texted a code or asked to verify your account through email after you’ve entered your password, that’s two-factor authentication.

Other systems use a two-factor authentication app that generates a random code for you to use after you enter your password. AuthPoint and Duo are our favorite two-factor authentication apps. To use them, your team downloads the AuthPoint or Duo app on their phones or smartwatches. When they log into a connected account, the app will send a push notification on them to approve or deny the login.

2. Cloud Backup

With so many people working remotely, offsite access to files and collaboration tools is essential to your team’s productivity. Cloud backup not only provides a fast and secure way for your team to access the information they need from home, it also protects your data from being lost or erased on physical servers. Cloud backup is also affordable, as it requires no infrastructure investment from you.

The Now IT Connects team recommends a SaaS backup for Microsoft 365 and all associated apps in their suite, including Exchange, OneDrive, SharePoint, and Groups. This SaaS solution is easy to set up and integrates with all Microsoft products and will back up all files on your Windows computers.

3. Endpoint Protection

Endpoint protection tools are the applications on your computers and other devices that protect your network from cyberattacks. Examples of endpoint protection tools include the antivirus and antimalware apps on your laptop, desktop, or mobile device. They are your last line of defense against cyberattacks.

With so many endpoint protection tools available, it can be difficult to decide which ones to use at your business, and another thing altogether to manage these tools. That’s why we recommend Webroot’s suite of endpoint protection tools. It allows your managed IT provider to monitor and update your endpoint protection tools across all devices from a single dashboard they access on the cloud.

4. Microsoft 365

If you run your business on Windows, integrating the full suite of Microsoft 365 products into your business is a smart move. Not only does this product include the full Office suite, it also includes video conferencing, project management, cloud storage, email, and calendaring. Built-in security features ensure your data is protected.

Microsoft 365 is the most underrated and underutilized tool you likely already own. When we fully integrate Microsoft 365 into our customers’ businesses, we’re often able to save them money and improve their team’s productivity and collaboration.

5. Managed IT Services

If finding, installing, and monitoring these IT tools seems like a full-time job, it is! That’s why most businesses partner with a managed IT service provider to take care of IT. At Now IT Connects, we work with our customers to identify the secure IT tools that will best serve them and their team while keeping their data secure. We handle all updates, upgrades, and security remotely and in real time so your team doesn’t miss a beat.

To work with a managed IT provider or learn more about the five secure IT tools your business needs in 2021, get in touch with the Now IT Connects team today.


3 IT Books for Your Summer Reading List

IT blogs for summer reading_Now IT Connects_Clearwater Minnesota

Need some summer reading while you’re out on the boat or up at the cabin? The Now IT Connects team is here for you! Crack open one of these tech books this summer.

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee is a fascinating, inspiring book about the future of artificial intelligence and other advanced digital technologies. The book looks at how these innovations will affect industries of all kinds, from logistics to professional services. If you want a sneak peek at how technologies will revolutionize how we work without getting bummed out, we recommend The Second Machine Age. Buy it here.

Mobilized: An Insider’s Guide to the Business and Future of Connected Technology

Mobilized: An Insider’s Guide to the Business and Future of Connected Technology by SC Moatti is a close look at the intersection of mobile technologies and human nature. The book discusses how basic human needs and desires fuel innovations in mobile technology, and then helps entrepreneurs use this knowledge to dream up the next Facebook, Uber, or WhatsApp. Buy it here.

Digitize or Die: Transform Your Organization. Embrace the Digital Evolution. Rise above the Competition

Digitize or Die: Transform Your Organization. Embrace the Digital Evolution. Rise above the Competition by Nicolas Windpassinger examines the Internet of Things, or IoT, that surrounds us and makes the case to businesses on why they need to embrace this game-changing technology. The book covers how the IoT is already disrupting many industries, and how businesses can survive and thrive in the coming IoT revolution. All proceeds from the book benefit the Alzheimer’s Association and Fondation de France! Buy it here.

We hope you enjoy your time off with these tech titles! If you’re inspired to update and upgrade your business’s IT, we’d love to hear from you.


3 IT Resources to Add to Your Reading List

IT books and resources_Now IT Connects_Clearwater Minnesota

Last month, we shared the Now IT Connects team’s favorite IT blogs. Now, it’s time to take a look at some longer reading.

Practical Microsoft Azure IaaS

Get the most out of your Microsoft Azure cloud computing infrastructure. Practical Microsoft Azure IaaS: Migrating and Building Scalable and Secure Cloud Solutions is geared for IT nerds like us, but it has valuable information for anyone who operates on Azure, too.

The book provides a helpful guide on how to set up, manage, and scale your cloud infrastructure. Get into the weeds on visualization, switching, firewalls, and storage provisioning. You can also read all about Azure’s security infrastructure and how Microsoft uses automation to make Azure more efficient.

The SANS Institute Reading Room

The SANS Institute is a computer security education and research organization. It maintains a vast database of resources on everything from cyber security and IT forensics to IT auditing and legal concerns.

The SANS Institute Reading Room attracts more than 75,000 unique visitors a month and features nearly 3,000 articles. While some resources require a SANS login to access, many others are available to the public for download. We recommend blocking time out to go down the Reading Room rabbit hole and find something that interests you.

Network World Newsletters

So technically, these newsletters aren’t long, but since you can receive six newsletters every month (including one daily newsletter) if you’d like, Network World’s newsletters can easily fill up your IT reading bucket. Choose from the Daily News or Data Center editions to stay up-to-date on networking and data centers. The Storage newsletter is all about data storage and storage infrastructure. If you’re interested in the IoT, don’t miss the Internet of Things newsletter. Insider Alert and Enterprise Stories editions share how-tos, reviews, and other information.

Can’t get enough IT news? The Now IT Connects team feels the same way! Join the conversation with us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


Cloud-Based IT Tools Help You Stay Securely Connected, Wherever You Are

cloud-based IT tools_Now IT Connects_Clearwater_Minnesota

The ability to work remotely has become a critical element of small business operations. Giving employees the option to work from home is also a great recruiting and retention tool. Working remotely can be a boon for business owners, too. Cloud-based tools give you the flexibility to manage your business from anywhere, anytime.

We’ve found the two largest obstacles that get in the way of businesses adopting cloud-based tools are 1.) not knowing which products will best support their operations and 2.) concerns over data security. The Now IT Connects team is here to help you with both. Here’s a look at some of the most popular cloud-based business tools and an easy and affordable way to secure your data wherever you are.

Keep Tabs on Your Business from Afar with Cloud-Based Tools

At the most fundamental level, cloud-based tools help you communicate more efficiently and productively. File-sharing and collaboration tools such as Datto Workplace and OneDrive make it easy to collaborate on files, too.

At Now IT Connects, we find the suite of apps available through Microsoft 365 is a powerful solution for small business owners. Microsoft provides a one-stop shop for project management (Teams, Project), communication (Teams, Outlook), and collaboration (OneDrive, SharePoint).

Use a VPN to Secure Your Connection

Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is a secure way to access your files and data on a public network, such as the Wi-Fi at your favorite coffee shop. A VPN replaces the IP address of the network you’re on with one from the VPN provider. This protects any data you transfer over public Wi-Fi.

Using a VPN is an affordable and easy way to protect your data while you’re on the road. Microsoft offers a VPN through its Azure cloud product. WatchGuard also offers a VPN with some of its products.

Cloud-based tools help businesses stay productive and connected even when the team is working remotely. Offering flexible work options such as working from home can help you attract and retain employees while making it easier for you to keep tabs on your business while you’re out-of-office.

For help getting your cloud-based tools set up, contact Now IT Connects today.


3 IT Blogs for Your Summer Reading List

IT blogs for summer reading_Now IT Connects_Clearwater Minnesota

Looking for some beach reading? Now IT Connects has some recommendations for you!

The Now IT family tends to nerd out on all things IT, so this list may be skewed toward techies. If you don’t happen to be of that particular persuasion, feel free to share this list with anyone who gets excited about cyber security, Microsoft, and tech podcasts.

IT Blog 1: Network World’s Security Blog

Network World is a massive site filled with everything you’d ever want to know about IT, from cloud computing and data centers to storage and unified communications. If you’re looking to go down the IT rabbit hole, this is a great place to start.

We love the Security blog on Network World. It features cyber security news, tutorials, and reviews as well as alerts for critical updates on popular products. One hot topic on Network World right now is how to keep the IOT secure (The IOT is the “Internet of Things.” It includes devices such as Amazon Echo, Google Assistant, the Nest thermostat, and your vehicle’s entertainment system, among hundreds of other devices).

IT Blog 2: The Dozens of Microsoft Blogs

Yeah, the second blog on our list is technically a few dozen blogs. But if you run Microsoft software on your network, this blog is a must-read. Microsoft has a blog for what seems like every product, plus topic blogs on security, privacy, diversity in tech, and Daylight Saving Time, of all things.

If you have a question about a particular piece of software or are wondering what’s coming down the pike at Microsoft, this blog’s for you.

IT Blog 3: WatchGuard’s Secplicity Blog

Our clients know what big fans we are of WatchGuard security appliances. We’re equally fond of the company’s Secplicity blog on cyber security. It’s written by IT professionals for IT professionals, but has valuable information for anyone who manages IT or purchases products.

If you’d rather listen to your cyber security news than read it, Secplicity also produces the 443 Podcast. Its episodes make Sunday afternoon vacation traffic much more bearable.

Want more blog recommendations or help with your network security? Contact Now IT Connects today.


3 IT Disaster Recovery Tools

3 IT disaster recovery tools_Now IT Connects_Clearwater_Minnesota

Have you put together an IT disaster recovery plan for your business? If not, check out our blog for tips on how to get started. Once your plan is in place, you may be looking for recommendations on ways to keep your data secure and safe. Here are three of the top tools Now IT Connects recommends to clients to prevent and mitigate damage from IT disasters.

1. Barracuda Intronis MSP

Now IT Connects is a managed service provider. We support our clients by managing their devices in-office and in the field, monitoring their hardware, software, and applications, and prioritizing alerts or updates. It’s a big job, and Barracuda’s Intronis MSP product helps us do it.

Intronis MSP allows us to keep your network and email secure and back up your data. It gives us secure access to your systems remotely so we can monitor and update your systems in real time without stopping by your office and interrupting your day. It offers three data backup solutions to help you restore systems and protect data. Barracuda Backup helps get large, multisite networks up and running. Intronis Backup is a software backup solution that helps you recover files, emails, applications, and your servers. Barracuda also offers on-premises and cloud backup through Office 365.

2. Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Azure is a disaster recovery system that backs up your servers and data to Microsoft’s robust and secure cloud. If you’re considering managing your own, physical, off-site backup, check out Microsoft Azure before you pull the trigger. Azure can restore in two to three hours what would take days to restore physically.

We like Microsoft Azure because it’s highly scalable and very secure. Plus, we can use it to test our clients’ backup recovery plans without shutting down their systems. Whether you’re a startup business or established company in growth mode, Microsoft Azure is a great disaster recovery and backup solution for you.

3. WatchGuard Data Loss Prevention (DLP)

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to prevent data loss in the event of a disaster is to prevent the loss in the first place. WatchGuard is one of our favorite firewall vendors. But they offer robust data loss prevention solutions, too. Data lost to intentional or accidental leaks can swiftly turn into a PR or reputation disaster. Just ask Equifax.

WatchGuard’s DLP product has built-in rules to help you stay compliant with HIPAA, PCI DSS, and other industry regulations. It will scour attachments in emails before sending to find sensitive data before it leaves your servers. If it finds any, it will prevent the data from being leaked.

If you’d like help identifying the right solutions for your disaster recovery and backup plan, Now IT Connects is here to help. Contact us today to learn more about the tools we use and how they could protect your business.


Microsoft OneDrive: The File Storage Tool You Have but Never Use

Microsoft OneDrive_NowIT Connects_Clearwater_Minnesota

Earlier this month, we shared some of our favorite but oft-overlooked collaboration tech tools. Today, we want to talk about the one tool most of our clients already have but never leverage: Microsoft OneDrive.

OneDrive is primarily a single-user tool that has file-sharing and collaborative capabilities. But that doesn’t make it the weakest link in the suite of Microsoft apps. Here’s why Now IT Connects loves OneDrive and why you should, too.

Create, Edit, View, and Share on the Go

Ever arrived at a meeting only to realize you forgot all the documents you were planning to review or share? With OneDrive, all of your files are at your fingertips. Access them on your phone, tablet, or laptop, even when you’re offline. Your changes and additions sync immediately across all your devices as long as you have an internet connection.

Keep Track of More Stuff

Not only can you add documents to OneDrive, you can use it to snap photos of your meeting notes, the business card of a networking connection, or work receipts for reimbursement. Never misplace a card or lose a receipt—OneDrive will have you covered.

Restore, Recover, and Protect Your Files

Ever save over a document you intended to save as a different file? We’re all busy, and it happens to the best of us. OneDrive can help you recover files that have been accidentally deleted or altered. You can also customize how you protect your OneDrive data so it’s always safe.

Yes, You Can Collaborate, Too

While we think OneDrive may become your personal favorite, it’s also a great way to collaborate with others. You can create links to files you wish to share with a client or supplier or invite team members to work on a document with you in real-time. You’ll even be able to see their cursors in your Word doc.

The Now IT Connects team would love to help you discover if you already have a OneDrive account and to help you set it up. Wondering what other Microsoft apps you may have already that you could utilize this year? Let’s schedule a time to find out.


Leverage the Collaboration Tools You Already Have

Collaborative tools for teams_Now IT Connects_Clearwater Minnesota

If you’re like us, you’re always on the lookout for your next collaboration tool. Many employees now work outside the office or spend time out on the road or in the field. Or, maybe you outsource some of your tasks to vendors. Finding tools that empower everyone to communicate, collaborate, and stay updated is more important than ever.

Often, our clients ask us for recommendations on collaboration tools that would work well for them. Usually, it’s an easy answer: the best tools are likely the ones you already have but don’t use! If you have Microsoft 365 (and at this point, if you don’t, let’s talk), then you’ve got several of our favorite collaboration tools already. All you need to do is identify and use them.

Outlook Tasks

Yes, Outlook is an email and contact management tool. But if that’s where your use of Outlook ends, we’ve got great news for you. It’s also a great tool for fostering team collaboration.

Outlook’s tasks function can help you get rid of paper to-do lists and sticky notes and get organized. Create a task and assign it to yourself or someone else in your contact list. Use its prioritizing feature to rank tasks by urgency. Add a start date, a due date, or both, then set reminders. If it’s a task you or someone on your team must repeat, you can set up recurrence, too. Pretty slick for an email application!

Outlook Calendar

Outlook’s calendar function is another collaboration tech tool. It goes way beyond setting aside time for a meeting. You can invite collaborators, share calendars, book meeting rooms, and RSVP right in the app.

You can also use Outlook calendar as a scheduler. Show yourself as busy or available so team members know when they can reach out. Invite people to a Skype meeting right from your calendar. Once your meeting is done, add notes from your OneNote app.

OneNote

Speaking of OneNote, it’s another collaboration tool you likely already have and don’t use. Microsoft bills it as a digital notebook. You can take text notes, draw, take and store photos and videos, and clip web pages to read later. OneNote allows you to share your notes and invite others to collaborate on notes, too. This makes it a great tool for creative teams that work remotely.

SharePoint

SharePoint is one of the most overlooked tools anyone with a Microsoft 365 account has at their fingertips. How nice would it be to have a single place you and your team could go to find and share files, share company news, ask questions, submit requests, and even track purchasing and production. Your team can access your company’s SharePoint site from their phones, keeping them connected wherever they are.

Microsoft Teams

Think of Teams as an internal instant messaging system, web conferencing platform, phones system, shift manager, and scheduling tool all rolled into one. The most robust version of Teams is an application for companies with Business Premium versions of Office 365. But you can get a free version of Teams with chat, file sharing, and video calling for free. Yup, free.

Datto Workplace, aka OneDrive on Steroids

We’ve talked about Workplace on our blog before. It’s a file sync & share (FSS) application designed just for business. Think of it as a Microsoft OneDrive on steroids. You can sync, access, and share files from your desktop or mobile device anytime, anywhere. But Workplace also provides highly secure infrastructure and data privacy tools that you can ramp up or dial back as you require. It also offers HIPAA and SOC 2 compliance for health care and financial companies.

Interested in integrating any of these tools into your workflows? Contact Now IT Connects and we’ll help you and your team get set up.