What Makes a Great MSP?

For most business owners, the prospect of choosing a good Managed IT Services Provider (MSP) to set up and/or manage their IT systems (learn more about what an MSP is here) is just as daunting as trying to figure out all their technology needs by themselves. What are the right questions to ask? How do I tell if they are doing a good job? What services does my business need, and what is irrelevant or overkill? Business owners are usually far too busy running their business to research and understand all the concepts, standards, and lingo that MSPs deal with every day, and conversations can often slip into lost-in-translation territory, as a seemingly simple question results in mind-boggling and frustrating technical answers. Read on to reset your brain and consider how best to choose an MSP, and how best to evaluate your existing MSP and make sure it is doing right by you and your company.

MSPs are intentionally flexible businesses, as they are designed from a service-mindset, wanting to give their clients all the support they need in whatever field they work. Technically, there may be differences in how different engineers like to configure devices or how different reps like to word emails, but functionally, MSPs exist to help you with your IT. So, specific technical requirements aside, the best way to choose or evaluate an MSP is not so much related to what they are doing, but how the work is being done and how you are treated in the process.

Think about the best service provider you have ever worked with. The cleaning company who cleans your business. The utility company who supplies your fuel or electricity. The flight attendant or travel agent for your recent business trip or vacation. What aspects of that experience made it the best to you? Most likely, it had to do with a few critical categories: timeliness, friendliness, effectiveness, and expertise. These are some of the most critical categories to evaluate an MSP in, since we use the same metrics to measure pretty much any service we receive. When you call your MSP for help, how quickly do they respond? How friendly and effective are they when resolving your issue? Do they seem to know what they are talking about? Do they anticipate future issues for you before you encounter them? Think less about the service itself, and more about how the interactions went. If your MSP was unable to resolve an issue, or referred you to another provider for support, chances are any other MSP would have done the same thing. Considering that, how happy were you with the interaction otherwise?

The other side to take into consideration is the type of support you want. Some MSPs will only sell you the “total package” supporting everything so they can charge you as much as possible. Other MSPs can be more flexible. Consider first the IT environment of your business. Do you have users using both Mac and Windows workstations? Do you have a central server and networking devices like switches and wi-fi access points? Do you want your MSP to support your mobile devices, like tablets and smartphones? Do you already have someone on staff that can do basic helpdesk stuff like rebooting computers, installing updates, and resetting passwords, or will you need an MSP to help with everything?

Also consider your non-IT environment. Do you have third shift workers that might require 24/7 support availability? Is that something you want to pay for every month, or just as you need it? Where do your staff work from—office, home, work sites, etc.? How do they connect to the resources they need to work?

Finally, think about the times that you have reached out to other tech companies for support. Think about the aspects of that experience that you think could have been improved and apply those to your search for an MSP. Was it difficult to get to speak to someone on the phone when you needed help? Did you have trouble understanding the person you called for help when you did get through? Did emails go unanswered for extended periods? Make sure you have a direct phone number you can call, preferably to a specific person, so you never have to worry about being neglected by your MSP. Consider finding an MSP that hires all their support staff directly and does not outsource their work. Also, look for an MSP who can explain things in a way that makes sense to you and not just to another tech person.  Annoyed by all those marketing emails you started receiving after you called in for help? Make sure your MSP is not sharing your contact info with its partners or adding you to marketing mailing lists without your express permission.

Overall, finding the right MSP can be tricky, and while the most obvious indicator may be the price tag, the proof is, as they say, in the pudding. If you are signing a contract, what is the duration? Are you being asked to sign a long-term contract to even start to work with an MSP company?  You are the consumer, make sure you get what your business needs that provides you flexibility. An MSP who knows they will do a good job will not need to get you to sign a long contract to work with them.  If you are being asked to sign a long-term contract, make sure there is a clause that allows you to back out of the agreement without penalty, or at the very least make sure there is an evaluation period, so you have a chance to try them on for size before you must stay the entire duration of the contract, even if you are not satisfied. Use these questions to help frame your opinion, and if they do not match up to your expectations, then check out another option. You do not want to get locked into a contract with a company that turns out to be far less than you had expected. Make them earn your business!

Is your business growing and you are at a point where IT needs are surpassing your internal capabilities? Are you reading this article and thinking about how your current MSP is just not hitting the mark? Reach out to us here at Vermont Panurgy to see if we would be a good fit! We are dedicated to our clients’ success, hire locally, and work flexibly across multiple platforms and environments. We are always transparent with our clients with causes of issues and recommendations for solutions. We know that in today’s IT world, providing MSP services really means partnering with each business, and we want you to know who you are partnered with, and that we are committed to the success of your business. Call us at (800) 974-1115 option 2 or email info@panurgyvt.com to start the conversation today!

Windows Updates and Your Business

You’re working on your computer, it’s halfway through the second week of the month, and all of a sudden, your PC starts to slow down and lag. Unsure what is going on, you plod forward, hoping whatever is causing the problem will correct itself eventually. After some minutes go by, a notification pops up in the corner letting you know that updates have been installed and the PC will reboot in the evening. Okay, you think. That explains it, things should be good now that it’s done, right? At the end of the day, you close your laptop lid and assume all will be well tomorrow.

The next morning you open up your PC, having forgotten all about the previous day’s issues and alert. But something doesn’t seem right. Certain websites aren’t loading properly. Some documents seem to have trouble saving. Emails aren’t sending. You click the start menu only to find that pernicious little orange dot on the power button is still there! The computer didn’t reboot like it said it would! You then have to reboot it yourself to get things working, and finishing the updates adds more time and causes much more thumb-twiddling than you’d prefer.

What happened? Well, in this case, when you closed your laptop lid, it either put the computer to sleep or into hibernation, which prevented the scheduled reboot from taking place. As much as Microsoft tries to make updates automatic and not affect your work significantly, there are some fundamental obstacles in the way preventing those updates from occurring. All well and good when it happens to you, but what about when it happens to your employees who are less familiar with their technology? What if it happens to your remote employee who doesn’t know a lick about computers other than what you’ve taught them? Will they know what to do?

When dealing with workstation updates in a business, the benefits of being able to monitor, manage and deploy those updates remotely are many. Foremost, you don’t have to rely on your employees to let you know when they’re having trouble. Daily scans will tell you if a PC is pending a reboot, hasn’t checked for updates in a while or is having some other issue preventing updates from occurring properly.

You can also schedule updates to occur at a certain time on a certain day, overriding the automatic process in the Windows operating system and giving you more control. You can create an SOP where all your users make sure to leave their PCs on and connected to the internet on the third Thursday of the month, for example, and have all the updates run at that time.

Complimentary configuration options, such as changing power settings on a PC so that it doesn’t go to sleep when you close the lid, can improve the efficacy of your update plan as well, and can be applied with scripts through the remote management tool so you don’t even need to tell the user anything. You can make sure your PCs are awake to install the updates when you tell it to, and you can tell the PC to reboot automatically even if someone left themselves logged in.

When dealing with Windows servers, managed updates become even more useful. Not only can you schedule those updates to apply overnight, you can specifically time them so they don’t interfere with backups, antivirus scans, cleanup tasks or other tasks that usually run overnight. The precision with which you can schedule your updates ensures that you can minimize the impact of downtime even if you have third shift staff working overnight.

On top of all this, Microsoft includes manufacturer updates for the major PC manufacturers such as HP and Dell in their update catalog, so not only will your machines get the Windows Updates automatically, they’ll also receive the most important firmware, driver, BIOS and other updates from the manufacturer of their PC. No longer will you need to worry about running HP Support Assistant or Dell SupportAssist on modern PCs every few months, keeping them only for diagnostics and uncommon situations where a needed update hasn’t made it to the Microsoft catalog yet.

As you can see, managed workstation updates can take a lot of the headache and anxiety out of having a team on PCs. It’s just one aspect of remote IT monitoring and management, but a vital one that should not be overlooked, especially if you have a team spread across many locations working remotely. Periodic reviews of the managed configuration can help you find areas of opportunity for education and performance improvement in terms of users that aren’t following SOP or aren’t rebooting their PCs manually when required.

Are you interested in learning more about how managed workstation updates can help your company? Vermont Panurgy provides remote workstation update and review services for businesses of all shapes and sizes, and we would be happy to have a conversation with you to see if it’s a fit for you too. Give us a call at 1-802-658-7788 and press 2 to speak to one of our sales representatives and learn more!

Microsoft Teams Phone: A Case Study in Early Adoption

With relentless reliance on dependable phone systems for day-to-day operations in pretty much every business sector, even considering the potential of upgrading or moving to a different system can cause most business owners distress. The cost, the downtime, the business impact — it’s almost too much. It’s completely understandable then that many businesses, which have significantly upgraded their network infrastructure in recent years, are still running on antiquated phone systems.

The pandemic caused a sea shift on phone systems for those of us who needed them for everyday operations. When everyone was suddenly forced to work remotely, office phone systems routing calls around a building with local hardware became obsolete overnight. Call centers shuttered as no one was there to take the calls to keep the business running.

Luckily, many  on-site or “on prem” phone systems included the capability to forward calls to external phone numbers, so most businesses were able to eventually jerry-rig a system to forward calls to cell phones of people who needed to get them. But it is undeniable that the pandemic shutdown permanently changed the typical working landscape. Nearly every business out there is now adjusting to a much more significant portion of remote work, which necessitated calls being taken remotely and not on prem.

Most businesses aren’t getting rid of their offices or storefronts though. There will continue to be a need for desk phones, conference rooms, and presentation halls. Thus, business phone systems need to be flexible enough to accommodate both types of workspaces: remote and on prem.

Enter cloud-based phone systems. When you rely on a server in the cloud to centrally manage your phone system, the ability to connect to remote workers becomes much more straightforward. Partnering with a provider that has proper security concerns, versatile utility, and reliable support makes the process even easier. For businesses with a significant portion of workers working remotely, moving the phone system to the cloud is the most logical move.

Here at Vermont Panurgy, after much consideration, we decided to go with Microsoft’s phone system solution: Microsoft Teams Phone. Relatively new to the VOIP phone system game, Teams Phone comes with the backing of the Microsoft brand and is integrated into a communication platform (Microsoft Teams) that we had already been using since March 2020. Microsoft Teams Phones has a decent and ever-growing marketplace of compatible accessories, as well as integration with smartphones, which for us, relieved a potentially significant cost to change. Microsoft is also able to host a business’ phone numbers directly.  With Microsoft Teams Phone, you don’t need to get a phone number from your local provider and forward it to your VOIP system; your phone numbers are all included in the subscription cost for Teams Phone. You can even port existing phone numbers over to Microsoft. One less bill to worry about! And often one significantly cheaper too!

Our experience setting up the Microsoft Teams Phone system was surprisingly smooth. All the configuration of the phone system is done in the Teams Admin Center, with everything necessary under the Voice tab. Microsoft’s documentation is thorough, which provides ample information for typical questions; if needed their support is timely and with the proper level of technical aptitude.  We were able to get the whole system set up and tested quite quickly.

We got our team up to speed on how to use the new interface and got everyone connected in the methods according to each user’s preference (i.e., using a desk phone, mobile app, computer headset, etc.).  We made plenty of calls to each other to test out the various options and methods of use and everyone got comfortable quickly.

When we flipped the switch and went live with Microsoft Teams Phone, our clients immediately noticed an improvement.  With clearer calls, less hold time and more reliability, it was an obvious upgrade. After dealing with a few hiccups, we also noticed a vastly improved user experience. Our Exchange calendars are now integrated in with our Teams availability. Now, if one of us is scheduled as busy, call queues skip over that person and automatically go to the next available agent. Direct extensions are easy to implement, and everyone has a direct phone number as well as an extension from the main line. The auto attendant machine-voice-lady has a reasonable cadence to her voice, and being able to type in changes and updates rather than having to re-record a whole welcome message makes our ability to update our clients on important notices simple and efficient.

One of the greatest benefits of being an early adopter of something you believe in is watching it get better. Since we adopted Microsoft Teams Phone, we have seen Microsoft fix a few annoying bugs, add more features and improve the reliability of their system. Just a few examples of those recent improvements are: dynamic 911 capabilities; the ability to integrate existing SIP phones from certain manufacturers; and additional functionality for Teams desk phones.  We expect Microsoft will continue to tweak and improve Teams Phones to keep up with industry changes.

Having experienced changing to Microsoft Teams Phone ourselves, and being the helpful MSP neighbors that we are, Vermont Panurgy is ready to help your company transition away from your antiquated phone system to the flexible, multi-platform, cloud-based phone system that is Microsoft Teams Phone. Give us a call today to discuss how we can help!

Ransomware by Industry


The more you know about your vulnerability to ransomware, the more prepared you’ll be to mitigate or even prevent attacks. This infographic from the Microsoft Detection and Response Team (DART) gives an at-a-glance of ransomware attacks by industry. View the infographic for a reality check on your own knowledge of ransomware trends.

New Talent Development Classes – Relevant Training for Today’s Evolving Workforce

Here at Vermont Panurgy, we have witnessed firsthand as our clients and trainees have undergone radical transformations in their workplace, roles, expectations and procedures. Meetings are now primarily virtual, oversight of daily labor is greatly reduced, productivity measurements have had to adjust, performance reviews are more challenging, the list goes on. If you’ve had to re-envision your own job and the roles of your team, welcome to the club!

We understand that changes in the work environment require new tools to keep getting the job done. That’s why we are working hard to identify and prepare new Talent Development courses to help your employees and management stay confident, skilled and able to keep tackling their jobs. Here are some brief descriptions of just a few of some of our new classes, tailored specifically for the modern workplace.

Managing the Virtual Workplace

A survey undertaken by Owl Labs found that during COVID-19, nearly 70 percent of full-time workers in the United States were working from home. Of those surveyed, they indicated that after the pandemic ends, 92 percent expect to continue working from home at least one day per week, while 80 percent anticipate they will work from home at least three days a week. Make sure you’re on top of the virtual workplace trend with this one-day Managing the Virtual Workplace training course.

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry, also known as AI, is a method for implementing change that is rooted in being positive, sharing stories of things that work well, and leveraging people’s strengths and the power of co-creation to initiate lasting, powerful changes that can make an organization the best it has ever been, because of people who care and are committed.

This comprehensive course focuses on appreciative inquiry using the 4-D model. Through a tangible approach, attendees will come away from the course ready to apply what they have learned back in their own workplaces.

Managing Difficult Conversations

Participants will learn the benefits of positive intent, active listening skills, and asking strategically relevant questions to get to the heart of any conflict or situation. Participants will study the processes of framing their conversations, selecting environments beneficial to their conversational goals, and creating safe environments when speaking. These tools will ultimately help learners get to the root of any problem.

Collaboration

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb

This proverb demonstrates the advantages of collaboration, which are essential in today’s business world. Collaboration involves people working together to produce a shared goal or result. Working collaboratively ensures greater success, or as the proverb says — going farther.

In order to be successful, organizations must learn what collaboration entails, what a collaborative environment looks like, gain an understanding of the advantages and obstacles, and how to develop strategies to improve a collaborative work environment.

Building Better Teams

Teams are the most important foundation on which successful organizations are built, and trainers who facilitate Building Better Teams as a one-day training course will help business leaders create effective, motivated, and productive teams. This courseware has been designed to impart to workplace leaders the value of working as a team.

These team builders will learn to: develop and enforce team norms and ground rules; generate and approach contracts; identify their own unique style and represent that in their team dynamic; leverage their knowledge to grow and lead effectively; build trust and develop the team’s maturity as a unit; and communicate with presence and impact.

Let us know if we can answer any questions or suggest other classes to help you or those who work with and for you to meet the needs of your evolving workplace.  Contact: Diane Stowell at dstowell@panurgyvt.com or (802) 658-7788 ext. 224. 

Training: The Key to Avoiding Turnover

virtual training icons

Over the past few years, across nearly every industry, region and skill-level, our business culture has had to quickly readjust expectations on what “employee churn” and turnover looks like and how it can impact business. The global pandemic and resulting workforce and lifestyle adjustments have reshaped employees’ expectations of what a good job looks like, and employers are struggling to keep up.

Now, with labor shortages being felt across the board, an exiting employee no longer has as much potential for replacement as was once the case. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the cost of replacing an employee is around one-third of that worker’s annual earnings. Do the math for if you had to replace your highest-paid employee. That’s expensive!

Back in 2019, even before the pandemic, the labor market was tight, with unemployment levels falling to their lowest point since 1969. When the pandemic hit, office workers and their employers had to quickly adjust to remote work environments, while service-industry workers were dismissed in droves or forced into awkward workarounds intended to accommodate prevailing health-related concerns.

Employees suddenly were faced with a reckoning. Their once-familiar jobs had turned into something entirely different; technology became a requirement for non-tech-savvy people, jobs that were supposed to be focused on human interaction (management, HR, etc.) now included added difficulties of trying to connect over screens and cameras; in short the work environment was in shambles.

Employees responded to this sudden sea-change with what appears to be a collective reckoning. Faced with jobs that barely resembled what they had applied for, or what they had been doing only a few months ago, employees began to ask themselves if these jobs were really how they should be spending their time.

This resulted in one of the biggest shifts in modern history, with the Labor Department reporting that nearly four million workers in the United States quit their jobs in April 2021 alone. Workers are quitting, with a primary reason being lack of future development. And with the labor market remaining tight, it appears that the departing workers are not returning to the workforce at other companies, but rather dropping out altogether in favor of possibly more risky yet more flexible options like contract work, entrepreneurship, the gig economy, etc.

Employer Response: Increase Retention

People shaped as a heart

The most obvious solution to this issue for employers is to increase employee retention. Address the needs of the employees and they won’t walk out on you, and you can avoid the high costs of turnover. If we know the most common reason people are quitting is due to lack of future development, the best way to keep those employees happy is to meet that need.

Larger companies could potentially readjust their hiring and promotion models to place higher value on advancement rather than external hiring for higher-up positions, but small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) do not have nearly as much internal professional movement. It’s easy to feel stuck when you’re the office manager of a small dentist’s office. To what promotion could you aspire?

For SMBs and large businesses alike, the most reliable solution to helping employees see opportunity and potential is talent development. Regardless of whether an internal promotion is a possibility, psychology shows us that when people grow skills relevant to their job and/or personal passions, they tend to be more satisfied with their jobs, managers, and responsibilities. The more satisfied they are, the better they perform, and the less likely they are to leave. Higher retention leads to better workforce satisfaction and performance overall, which allows the employer to focus on growth, expansion and success, instead of struggling to fill continuously emptying seats. It’s a win-win!

Wondering what kind of training your employees might benefit from? According to a recent survey from Adecco, 44% of 500 senior US executives said that the American workforce lacks “soft skills” or “talent development” such as communication, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. Even if your workforce is well-seasoned in the technical or office programs they’re using on a daily basis, soft skills or talent development are often-overlooked opportunities for growth that will not only improve the employee’s job satisfaction, but will also improve the overall culture of your business, as employees take the skills they learn and apply them to interactions with their coworkers, subordinates and management.

If you are looking for training opportunities for your workforce, look no further than Vermont Panurgy’s Learning Center. All of our classes are taught live by real-life, highly-experienced instructors, either virtually or in person. We offer classes in a range of categories, from PC Applications to Technical certification, Graphics & Internet Applications and Talent Development. Take a look at our most recent Class Schedule to find dates and prices, and reach out to us today to get your workforce signed up. Not sure what to sign up for? Give us a call and we can help you find the best learning opportunities for your team.

Never forget, a skilled team is a happy team. See you in class!

McCann & MullenLowe – Microsoft Teams Case Study


When bringing two companies together through acquisitions, you are often bringing in a different culture with different technology. This can often make it difficult to efficiently collaborate. Sharing files and streamlining communication is a common problem. Two of the leading agency networks, McCann and MullenLowe, needed help to create a single platform which enabled their employees to work together through close collaboration. Microsoft Teams provided the solution they were looking for.