Blog

  • March 15, 2013

    Congratulations to the 2013 Helios Apollo Award Finalists!

    This year’s nominees were reviewed by an independent selection committee who look for organizational practices that support innovation, collaboration, and agility through employee learning and development. Jenn Crenshaw, Chief Human Resource Officer at New Signature, was honored to be a member of the 2013 selection committee. Other members of the committee include: Joe DeNoyior, Managing Partner at Washington Financial Group; Angela Galyean, former Vice President Human Resources at GeoEye; Kathleen Ferris, former Senior Vice President, Human Resources at L3-STRATIS; and Jaime Nespor, Group Publisher at SmartCEO.

    As a past Helios Apollo Award Winner, New Signature congratulates all the 2013 Helios Apollo Award Finalists! The Helios Apollo Awards recognizes employers, like New Signature, who are focused on the future by using employee learning and development as strategies to drive business impact and engagement. Participating organizations recognize these programs are not only necessary in providing them a competitive advantage, but that they contribute to employee retention by developing strong managers and providing meaningful projects, credibility through enhanced certifications, and succession planning through promotional opportunities. Their efforts not only benefit the end client, but the individual and the community as well.

  • March 12, 2013

    Office 365 “Wave 15″ Service Upgrade In Full Swing

    If you are an existing Office 365 customer you will have received, or will soon receive, an email informing you of the timing of your Office 365 “Wave 15″ Service Upgrade. In basic terms, the Service Upgrade is Microsoft upgrading your Office 365 account to the online versions of Exchange 2013, SharePoint 2013, and Lync 2013. This is great news for you, because there are a lot of fantastic new features in the 2013 products that you can immediately begin to take advantage of once the your upgrade has completed.

    If you have questions about this upgrade you are in luck! Microsoft has published a couple of great websites to help you understand this transition. These include the “Office 365 Service Upgrade Center for Small Business” and “Office 365 Service Upgrade Center for Enterprise“. The “Service Upgrade Resources and Welcome Kit” section is a great place to start. It contains resources for your service upgrade, including how-to articles and technical content that will be of interest to current Office 365 users; email notifications to send to your organization about the service upgrade; and information about how to get the most out of Lync, SharePoint and Office after the upgrade. It has specific information for administrators and IT Pros, and for users and power users.

  • In The New Era, Microsoft Releasing Innovative Products With Velocity and Frequency

    2012 was one of the biggest release years in a long time for Microsoft, but this is the new normal for Microsoft who has reinvented itself from a company that released new software every 3+ years, to a company that is releasing new software and upgrades every 3-6 months both on-premises and in the cloud. In this new era, Microsoft has rapidly built a track record of building and releasing software, solutions and devices that have generated massive new opportunities (and ROI) for businesses that adopt them. A lot has happened in just a couple of months, so here is a quick recap of the releases we have seen to date in 2013, and some exciting ones that are around the corner:

    • Office 365 Wave 15: Released, existing tenants being upgraded on rolling schedule.
    • Office 2013: Released.
    • Exchange Server 2013: Released.
    • SharePoint Server 2013: Released.
    • Lync Server 2013: Released.
    • Lync 2013 Mobile Apps: Released.
    • Windows Azure Virtual Machine: Summer/Fall 2013.
    • Windows 8 “Blue”: Summer/Fall 2013.
    • Windows Phone 8 “Apollo Plus” update: Summer/Fall 2013.
    • Dynamics CRM Windows 8 App: Mid-2013.
    • Dynamics ERP Windows Azure-hosted Versions: Mid-2013.
  • Deftly Deflect Disasters

    What is a Disaster Recovery Plan?

    A Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP) is a living document that describes how you would respond to a technical or physical disaster that denies you access to your offices and/or computer systems.  One goal of the DRP documentation process is to make decisions and do research ahead of time, so that during an emergency you can act faster and with more certainty.

    This blog post takes a brief look at DRP planning only as it relates to IT systems and services.  Non-IT issues related to contingency planning are a whole subject unto themselves.

    Disaster PlanningWhat’s the benefits of having a plan?

    Having a plan in advance of a disaster can save much needed time as well as reduce stress.  For example: if your server room is flooded then you may need to restore from your offsite backups.  Restoring all of your data across the web can take days, so most offsite backup vendors will, for a fee, ship you your data on a disk drive.  It’s best to check now whether your vendor offers that service, how much it will cost, and how quickly they can get your data to you, as all that will determine how quickly you can get back in business.  Once you’ve gone through the DRP documentation process, you may realize you need to look for a different offsite backup vendor.  Finding pitfalls like these in advance of a disaster can make any potential recovery much faster and smoother.

    Going through the planning process also forces you to look at how critical each type of data is to you, and in doing so you can decide whether you have adequate protection for that data.  You may find you have a key database that is not being backed up offsite and now you have the chance to rectify that before a problem occurs – potentially averting a bigger crisis.

    What should the plan include?

    You could start with contact information for key staff, suppliers, ISPs, 3rd-party hardware and software support, including phone numbers in case email is down.  For example, contact and account details for your phone service vendor so you can arrange for new lines or set up redirects and forwards to cell phones.

    The plan should also include sample, high level scenarios and how you would handle them.  For example: if your offices had power but a flood elsewhere in the building prevented you from accessing them,  would staff be able to connect in and work remotely? Are systems already in place to support that?  What happens if the flood was in your server room? Do you have backups offsite? How quickly can you recover them and get the most important data installed on a new server? Where would you put the new server? Is there a company in town that rents short-term office space complete with computers and Internet connection? Is any of your infrastructure, such as email, hosted in the cloud and immune from such localized disasters?  That’s a lot of questions, but that’s part of the DRP process – asking the “what if?” questions.

    You don’t need to go into exacting detail, as details often change, but the plan should cover potential emergencies at a high level.

    As part of the planning you might conduct a business impact analysis to estimate the effect of losing access to systems and data.  In this way you can identify the key systems and data that you need to get back online as soon as possible after a disaster to continue your organization’s work.

    What do I do with the plan?

    It is a good idea to review and check the continued accuracy of the document on an annual basis, or when you have a major change – such as a move to new offices.

    You should keep bound copies of the plan on paper off-site from your offices just in case you lose access to the network and/or the offices.

    How can I prepare for a disaster?
    Having a DRP plan in place and reviewed annually is a good start. It takes a few hours each year to collect and check data for the document but the payback in a disaster situation can be massive.

    Another approach is to move some of your servers and services to a robust, hosted cloud infrastructure, such as Microsoft’s Office 365 service. Office 365 provides hosted email, online file collaboration and communications technologies that can help keep your business running should a disaster strike. By using Office 365, you outsource the disaster prevention to your hosting provider who should be in a better position to create a highly reliable and resilient service that will be there when you need it most.  Hosted services are also often available for some HR functions such as time-sheets, and also many accounting functions.  Of course, one aspect of moving to the cloud is that you must carry out DRP planning for loss of internet access in your office – as a result, you might decide it is time for an additional backup internet line, in case the primary line fails.

    Where can I find out more?
    New Signature has experience with disaster recovery planning, and we would be happy to work with you to create DRP documentation customized for your organization’s needs.  We also have plenty of experience with migrations to hosted platforms, so if you are looking to outsource some of your risk management to a hosted provider then please do give us a call.

     

  • March 11, 2013

    The Lowy Institute Website Wins IMA Outstanding Achievement Award!

    New Signature is proud to announce the Lowy Institute website has won the Interactive Media Awards Outstanding Achievement Award in the Nonprofit Category. The Outstanding Achievement award recognizes that the Lowy Institute website excelled in all areas of the IMA’s judging criteria and represents a very high standard of planning, execution and overall professionalism.

    As part of the design and build process, the New Signature team spent extensive time analyzing earlier versions of Lowy Institute’s website, visitor analytics, and usage patterns. This work led to a series of strategic recommendations for the redesign project. The subsequent design and development effort of this award-winning website took place with this larger strategic framework.

    The Lowy Institute is an independent, nonpartisan international policy think tank located in Sydney, Australia. Ranked as Australia’s top think tank, the Institute provides high-quality research and distinctive perspectives on the trends shaping Australia and the world and fresh policy options on these questions.

  • Make and Receive Video Calls Today With Lync 2013 Mobile Apps!

    The Microsoft Lync team (@msftLync) has announced that Lync 2013 Mobile apps will be available this week for Windows Phone (available today) and iOS (available later this week). The Lync 2013 Mobile app is as in the past FREE. This is exciting news because Lync 2013 Mobile brings a number of improvements and new features that will have a real impact on how you communicate with your colleagues, partners and customers. Lync 2013 for Windows Phone extends the power of Lync to your mobile device – including voice and video over wireless, rich presence, instant messaging, conferencing, and calling features from a single, easy-to-use interface.

    One of the most exciting feature additions for me is that you can now make and receive VoIP and video calls. This is a massive win for those of us who are on the go, and prefer to have meetings “face-to-face” with video, instead of just relying on audio.

    For those few who haven’t yet purchased a Windows 8 device, such as a Surface RT or Surface Pro, and instead are using an iPad–the Lync 2013 Mobile app for iPad provides desktop and application share viewing. Now when in meetings (and using your an iPad) you will have access to all the content shared by others.

  • Washington Post Capital Business: New Signature integrates giving to serve disadvantaged people

    Charitable giving highlights: The company gave nearly $287,000 in cash and in-kind donations last year. It also hired five graduates from Year Up, one of its nonprofit partners.

    Define the company’s corporate philanthropy.

    We started New Signature a decade ago to deliver an amazing customer experience. We encouraged an integration of social responsibility into every aspect of our business and empower employees to apply their expertise to solve local, societal problems.

    Which causes does the company support?

    As a firm, we decided to serve disadvantaged groups within the local community. The groups we focused on have been urban at-risk youth, those experiencing homelessness and individuals with disabilities. Urban at-risk youth has been the biggest commitment we’ve made. There’s a two-part reason for doing so. One is selfish. As a local business, our future employees, consumers and partners are the youth. If we’re not investing in that, we’re taking a very shortsighted view of our business. I often don’t view this as philanthropic because it is creating opportunity for us. Secondly, we live in this community. The people we are trying to impact are the people around us.

    You can read the entire article, “New Signature integrates giving to serve disadvantaged people“, published on March 10, 2013 and written by Vanessa Small on the Washington Post Capital Business website.

  • March 9, 2013

    Dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Joslin Diabetes Center!

    New Signature is a proud sponsor of the 8th Annual Dodging Diabetes Charity Dodgeball Tournament and will be fielding the New Signature Red Staplers team to compete this Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 9:30 am. 100% of the money Dodging Diabetes raises goes directly to charity! Anna Tiedeman Irwin and Elizabeth Kramer founded the Dodging Diabetes® charity in 2005 to raise money to defeat diabetes and to educate people about what it really means to live with diabetes. Both Anna and Elizabeth have brothers who live with Type 1 diabetes. Through annual dodgeball tournaments, Dodging Diabetes® has netted more than $60,000 for the Joslin Diabetes Center. This year Dodging Diabetes will support both Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Joslin Diabetes Center.

  • March 8, 2013

    Cleaning House with Windows Intune

    Windows Intune Managed Software allows for installation and uninstallation of MSI and EXE packages.  However, some applications rely on scripts to uninstall that don’t allow for silent options.  Windows Intune doesn’t support (at this time) deployment of basic scripts like .bat files that can be used to work around that problem.

    As a result, there are software packages that can be installed but not uninstalled in a straightforward way via Windows Intune.  In Windows Intune Managed Software Deployment options you will see the ‘Uninstall’ option grayed out when Windows Intune can’t automatically uninstall a package.

     

     

    We ran into a situation recently where a client had an old, unused application deployed to a few dozen computers.  They needed it removed efficiently and without user interruption.

    The deployment package for the program was packaged as an EXE and the EXE installer had no switch available for a silent uninstallation.  To work around this, we pulled up the properties of the uninstall shortcut for the application from the Start Menu:

    The application uninstalls itself using msiexec:

    C:\Windows\SysWOW64\msiexec.exe /x {XXX63XXX-DXXX-4XXX-9XXX-XXX3545A6XXX}

    Note the /x tells msiexec to uninstall the application.  We pasted this into a notepad document and added the /qn switch to make the uninstallation process silent for the user.

    C:\Windows\SysWOW64\msiexec.exe /x {XXX63XXX-DXXX-4XXX-9XXX-XXX3545A6XXX} /qn

    We saved this notepad doc as a .bat file.

    Next, we used a 3rd party tool to package the .bat file into an EXE file.

    We uploaded the EXE to Windows Intune as a Managed Software package and performed QA by deploying to a single computer in its own group.  As soon as it was deployed we saw in task manager the EXE package started running, and the application was removed silently right away.  We then used the Windows Intune Managed Software options to deploy the uninstallation utility to all computers in the environment.

    A few hours later we checked the Detected Software section of Windows Intune and observed the number of workstations with the offending application detected had plummeted.  Within a day the application was completely removed from the environment.

    More information about removing software packages using Windows Intune can be found here: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj676597.aspx

  • The Omniscient Cloud: Azure AD

    Over the past 13 years, Microsoft has emerged as the gold standard when it comes to identity management through their flagship directory service, Active Directory. Thus, when it came time to deploy their own enterprise-focused online services, it was natural to extend Active Directory into the cloud and Windows Azure Active Directory was born.

    Azure AD differs from regular Active Directory in a number of key ways. For starters, it’s completely enclosed within Microsoft’s datacenter. For customer who wish to extend their existing AD environment into the cloud, the simple solution is to spin up a virtual machine within Azure, and promote that machine to a domain controller. Is this Azure AD? No, it is just a regular domain controller living in Microsoft’s cloud. For many customers that wish to build a disaster recovery site, or to guarantee a “hot” copy of AD, this solution works perfectly fine.

    However, for many customers who have already taken advantage of Office 365, Dynamics CRM Online, Windows Intune or Azure itself, an Azure AD instance has already been spun up and is working behind the scenes. In addition for other smaller customers, the cost and time to spin up AD on-premises outweighs the simplicity of using Azure AD for all authentication purposes. Best of all, because Azure AD support two-factor authentication, you can provide a higher level of authentication, out of the box, than an on-premises AD. Another use-case scenario which we’ve seen increasingly is that a custom application may need the ability to identify and authenticate users. Azure AD supports popular web identity providers such as, Microsoft Accounts (nee Windows LiveID), Google, Yahoo and Facebook, in addition to being able to integrate with OAuth, SAML, WIF and ADFS. Why have an application construct its own identity store when it could be plugged into Azure AD and used within minutes? Azure AD will not only know everything about your organization through directory sync, but can expand to know everything about all users accessing its features. Omniscient, indeed!

    Microsoft announced this week that Azure AD now has three higher level features: two-factor authentication, as mentioned, for global administrators, federation directly between Azure AD and AD, as well as access to Azure AD through the standard Azure portal (rather than a separate site).

    How to get started, then? For customers with an existing Office 365, Windows Intune or Dynamics CRM Online tenancy, you’ll want to either:

    * Login to Windows Azure with a global admin account
    * Sign up for Windows Azure with a global admin account

    For customers that don’t have an existing tenancy, you can simply build a new domain from within the Azure AD console. It’s important to note that if you have an existing Azure account and Office 365, if that account is not a global admin, you will not be able to see the Azure AD tenancy when you go into the console. You also will not want to promote regular accounts to global accounts in order to make use of two-factor authentication, because this will break support for common applications such as Outlook. Instead, follow Microsoft and New Signature’s best practices, and keep your global admin accounts discrete, not tied to email, and used infrequently. If you’ve done this, it should be quite easy to setup two-factor authentication.

    Azure AD is not yet omnipotent, however. It doesn’t support group policies for managing endpoints, because it’s mostly concerned with identity. Having said that, Windows Intune does support a subset of group policies, so for customers who wish to be fully “in the cloud” they can use Azure AD for authentication and Windows Intune to control staff’s devices. We anticipate as both products mature that they will continue to overlap the features set of on-premises Active Directory. The holy grail of cloud services is now within reach for many organizations: by shifting file services to SharePoint Online, mail to Exchange Online, device management to Intune and identity services to Azure AD, a customer can reduce or eliminate almost all of their on-premises infrastructure. For more information on the service, the Azure team has released a simple video of the new features and how organization can use them to the greatest effect. Enjoy!

    Interested in taking advantage of the cloud? Contact New Signature to see how (and when) you can shift workloads to the greatest effect.