You’re listening to Leadership powered by Common Sense with your host, Doug Thorpe. Here’s Doug.


Doug Thorpe: Well, hello again, everyone. You’re listening to another episode of Leadership Powered by Common Sense. I’m your host, Doug Thorp. Today we’re going to have a journey down the Technology highway. I’ve got a guest who himself runs a technology company that specializes in helping small to mid-sized businesses with their technology support. He’s a gentleman I met a number of years ago. We were doing a local networking event, and that’s how we met. We actually literally lived down the road from each other, and that’s a relative term in modern day you speak. But nonetheless, we can get we can get to each other in about 30 minutes if we want to. So anyway, it’s my pleasure to introduce to you a gentleman named Roland Parker. Roland, welcome to the show.


Roland Parker: Thanks, Doug. Great. Great to jump on your show.


Doug Thorpe: Well, you can immediately detect a little bit of an accent in Roland’s speech.


Roland Parker: South Texas.


Doug Thorpe: Accent. Deep South Texas is what he likes to say. But with that, Roland, share with everybody you’re really interesting backstory on what brought you to Texas and your business here locally.


Roland Parker: So I’m from a country called Zimbabwe, which used to be known as Rhodesia, and my family had actually migrated there in the 1890s when it was Southern Rhodesia became Rhodesia in 65 and then Zimbabwe in 1980. And my wife and I started Empress Computers in Zimbabwe in 93. And then, you know, life always throws a few challenges at you. We actually grew the company to one of the biggest in the country. And then on the 23rd of September of 99, she had a car accident. So her her neck was snapped at C6, C7. And so she’s got limited mobility in her arms and no hand movement or anything below them. So suddenly our life was turned upside down. My kids were five and eight at the time of her accident, and then while she was in the rehabilitation center recovering from that, the country erupted in violence. So they did a big farm invasion where they were taking over the white owned farms, and that violence then spread to the cities. So we found ourselves in a situation where, you know, there was a lot of violence. People were being tortured, picked up. Some people were being murdered. So we got to the point where we had been involved in supporting the opposition for a period of time. And then the target was put on our back and we just felt it was unsafe to live there. So we opened up a world map and said, you know, where in the world are we going to go? So we looked at Australia, we looked at Europe, we looked at the UK, and then we looked at the US.


Roland Parker: And since my wife’s accident, she can’t take the cold with her. So she was like, Wherever are we going to go? It’s got to be warm. So that kind of was we cut out the UK, decided, look at Australia, look at the US. And when we decided on the US there was a. The three big stakes that stood out was California, Florida and Texas. And we quickly determined, boy, Florida’s got sorry, California’s got great weather, but the cost of living, the business environment, it was just like, wow, there’s no way we’re going to be able to start up a business in this type of atmosphere. Florida seemed to be more tourist retirement. So Texas seemed to be very open, lower cost of living. And it was it seemed to make the most sense. So we looked at Texas, then we found Houston. And when we’re looking at Houston, we saw this little thing that popped up that said, I love Katy. And I said, Oh, look at Katy. There’s this town called Katy, Texas. It’s close to Galveston, close to the big city of Houston. We can get anywhere very wheelchair friendly and was like seemed to make sense. So we made this decision in January 2003. We got our visas from the company, signed a five year lease on our premises, wrapped up our house in Zimbabwe, bought a house over the Internet, and were physically here in Katy, Texas on the 25th of March. So two and a half months. We just made that huge leap of faith and landed in Katy and then it was like, okay, yeah, now what do we do?


Doug Thorpe: Wow. Well, for those of you that have gone out and started businesses, I challenge you to tell me a more challenging story than than what Roland has shared there. Boy, the personal burden of of your wife being disabled from that car wreck. And thankfully, she survived it. Right. But yeah.


Roland Parker: And you know, the great thing is she works every day. So even though she’s got limitations, I’ve got to put her in a chair and move her from time to time and to type, she’s got to put a splint on her finger. So she types one handed, but she can answer the phone with using this part of her wrist bone types with one finger. And then when she uses her mouse, her left hand’s got to come across and actually click the button because her fingers don’t work. But she takes the calls, puts in tickets, transfers, calls to the technicians, keeps everybody on track. She’s got a camera system so she can see where everybody is. And she keeps all of us guys in track. And, you know, we’re a staff of 15, so she’s got a busy schedule keeping on top of everybody. But it’s amazing how you can adapt to new conditions.


Doug Thorpe: Right, Right. Well, kudos to her and you for bringing all that together and working it. And I can attest she’s she’s a wonderful lady and a whale of a taskmaster. I know. Keeping the crew together, keeping you guys honest. So talk to us a little bit more specifically about what your business does and how you serve your community.


Roland Parker: So our biggest. Sector at the moment is that we do it support for businesses. Typically they’ve got 20 to about 200 employees in their organization. Most of them don’t have an internal IT. Some of the bigger ones do, but they rely on us for cybersecurity, keeping them safe, checking their backups, monitoring their networks so that they they don’t go down. And most importantly, in this day and age, keeping them safe and secure from the cybersecurity threats that are out there. And, you know, as time has evolved, we’ve had to have a overnight staff because we found that most of the hacks that were occurring were at about 2 to 3:00 in the morning, which is ideal time if you’re in China, Russia, Eastern Europe, that’s when they’re going to be hitting the US markets. Everybody’s asleep. And if you tech department doesn’t have that overnight team to be able to monitor the situation, then what happens is by the time they get to work at 830 in the morning, it may be too late. So we’ve got a full 24 hour monitoring system where live technicians are making sure that people are safe and secure. And then it’s just taking a proactive approach. You know, we get alerts if your hard drives getting full, if you’re running out of memory, if somebody’s trying to get into the system. So by proactively fixing issues before they become a problem, we can prevent a lot of downtime. And of course, worst case scenario, we’ve got to make sure your backups are in order. We testing your backups and if your whole system were to go down, we can actually take your company, spin it up as a virtual server in the cloud and get you up and running in the cloud while we restore your local operations.


Doug Thorpe: Yeah. Well, as many people know, especially those who have a high degree of sensitivity to their tech platform, whatever it may be, it could be just your simple internal network for similar, as you said, taking orders, issuing service tickets, fulfilling deliveries. But there clearly are a lot of companies that are even deeper into the technology for the work they do. And having that kind of support and backup is always part of the PNL that has to be looked at. But, you know, I think back on the days when I had a company and ran my own tech platform and did have to rely on some outside support from time to time, even when I compare what I had to deal with then versus what companies have to deal with now. And I’m thinking specifically of the whole cyber security aspect of it, because that has just gone off the chart. I mean, I had I had firewalls and I had security and some things like that. But to be truthful, we and this was back around the 2003 timeframe, we didn’t talk that much about cyber security per se. We were worried about brute force attack through a firewall to get into our data. But we didn’t think about ransomware and phishing schemes and all of that.


Roland Parker: It’s it’s just crazy. I mean, this is a multi trillion dollar industry and a lot of the time all it takes is one employee to click on a link, respond to a text message, open an attachment, and they can expose the entire environment, which is why you’ve now got to have a multi layered approach. And a big thing at the moment is, is something called zero trust. Your traditional antivirus has gone, by the way, that’s been replaced by next Gen Antivirus, which has endpoint detection and remediation. So if a file changes, we can isolate it. But the zero trust really comes in where we can say instead of looking at a file and deciding is this good or is this bad, we simply say these are the known good files and we’re not going to accept anything else. So we literally lock down the entire system and we can say if somebody opens a link on attachment or an executable inside a PDF tries to run. The Zero Trust program will block it from running. And if you can block it from running, there’s almost a zero chance of it getting through. So if you couple that you have your firewall, you have your zero trust, you have your endpoint detection and remediation. And worst case scenario, you’ve always got your backups.


Doug Thorpe: So is there such a thing as having a company that is not likely to be hit by one of these attacks?


Roland Parker: Everybody from a one man band upwards because the small businesses have become the low hanging fruit. In the past, people would say, Well, it’s only going to happen to the big guys. And the big guys hit the news. But the small guys are getting hit now more than ever. And there’s certain industries that are hit more than others. Cpa firms. Law firms, because they they have so much sensitive information. So you can imagine if like a CPA firm were to get hit, they’ve got everybody’s tax returns, Social Security numbers, their annual salary, their address, phone numbers, everything is on there. So when they get hit, they’re expose thousands of people’s documents that are then going to end up on the dark web. So it’s ultra critical that if you can if you have sensitive information like that, if you’re a financial investor, if you’re a CPA. To be compliant, you’ve got to have all of the security in place, not protecting just yourself, but all of your client’s information.


Doug Thorpe: Yeah, I know. You know, myself in Once Upon a long time ago, my my business focus was in mortgage finance. And that too, is a target rich environment for personal data. Social Security numbers, connections with other financial instruments, you know, investment funds, property holdings, stock trades, all of that kind of information that goes into that classic mortgage file. And you’re probably going to appreciate this. I had to close a company that was related to all that as a byproduct of the crash of 2008. So I had some hard drives on my servers that had some pretty sensitive data on it. And I wanted to be diligent. And I called the gentleman at the time who was doing most of my tech support. I said, What is the best way to get this erased so I can get rid of these servers? And he said, Well, there’s this program and there’s that program. And he said, But there’s one really foolproof way to do it. And I said, Yeah, what’s that? And he said, Do you want to take a ride with me? And I said, Sure. He said, So let’s load these machines up in my truck. And next thing I know, we’re driving down this farm road and he gets out his 36 shotgun and we line him up and we just obliterated him.


Roland Parker: Yeah. If you’re going to take him out, you might as well have fun doing it. Just blast away.


Doug Thorpe: You know, we we peppered those servers. You know, they were older technology. They really weren’t going to serve anybody well. And even thinking about giving the chassis to a nonprofit didn’t make a lot of sense. So we shot them up until we exposed the hard drives and then we shot those. Yeah.


Roland Parker: You know, smashing it with a £5 hammer, taking it to the shooting range, drilling a hole through it. Those are all great things that you can do to make sure that that data doesn’t end up there. Um, but, you know, these days, there’s things like wire transfer fraud is just going through the roof and they’re getting so clever because they now are copying the person’s signature, the email. They they’ll make one little change to the, to the URL and then they pretend to be that person. So sometimes ransomware is on the increase. But that wire transfer fraud, they pretending to be somebody change the information, change the wire transfer information and next minute they’ve got the wire transfer funds and trying to try to clear up that messes. You can get the FBI involved, but trying to get your funds back when it’s left the country is difficult.


Doug Thorpe: Yeah. Yeah. Horrible. Horrible. Well, let me shift gears just a little bit. Let’s talk about from a business ownership standpoint and and that basic investment in technology systems and services to support. The first question that comes to my mind, what is the shelf life of a suite of technology today?


Speaker4: Well.


Roland Parker: If you’re talking about laptops. They typically you’re going to get about five years out of it. Desktops, you can get 5 to 7 years and servers are going to be about seven years. Now, sometimes if you’re in a fast, rapidly moving environment where you’ve got to keep up with the latest technologies, people will change them every three years. But typically laptops 3 to 5 years. Desktop five, five years. Sometimes seven years. But, you know, they keep improving technology, improving speed. So sometimes if you if you’re it’s actually your programs that almost force you to get newer faster, especially if you’re doing AutoCAD or anything like that. Yeah, you don’t want to be paying while you’re gone. You’ve got a very expensive engineer or CAD designer sitting there on four year old equipment when you could cut his production time down dramatically by by going with the latest technology.


Doug Thorpe: Yeah. Yeah. That’s always a paperchase of sorts in knowing when to pull the trigger and make that next incremental investment in new equipment. Of course, now, as I recall, the a lot of the accounting rules, you can depreciate that stuff pretty fast, get it charged off and turn it around so you don’t have that long tail depreciation cycle to keep track of.


Roland Parker: One of the things we do for our clients is once we do the onboarding, we’ll sit down with our clients every quarter and we actually go through all of their computers and we start saying this next quarter, these are the machines that need to be replaced. So they’ve got a plan. You know, they know what they’re going to be spending in 2023, 2024, 2025. It’s we lay it out for them when we recommend when those machines should be either upgraded or replaced.


Doug Thorpe: Well, that’s that’s powerful. Good stuff. Well, what about the question of moving your company to the cloud? At first I’m going to ask a real basic question. What does that mean to a business owner?


Roland Parker: So. Going to the cloud can be a good move, but it’s not always necessary. People think, well, it’s going to be easier to move to the cloud. Sometimes it’s more expensive. So really, at the end of the day, the cloud is just a server somewhere. But it’s not on on your premises. So we like to do a rule of thumb. If all of your employees work from the office and you don’t have that many remote workers, it makes more sense to actually have an on premise server and keep keep it secure and locked down locally. Now, as you get to a situation where you have an increased number of remote workers or multiple locations, then it makes more sense to say we’re going to go in the cloud. And it really depends on what programs you’re using. So if your QuickBooks is in the cloud, if your programs that you need to run your business on the cloud, then sometimes you can say, Well, let’s move to an Azure Active Directory and move everything to the tower. And sometimes you have a hybrid situation. You still keep your on premise server, but then you also operate in the cloud system.


Roland Parker: So your servers synchronizing with the cloud and you have cloud synchronization using SharePoint using Ignite. There’s a lot of different features that are out there. Some people will use Dropbox, but we found that there’s a lot of vulnerabilities. If you relying on more of a consumer grade product to run your business on. Because if if you get compromised, that can spread like wildfire because with cloud synchronization, whether it’s OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive, if you’re synchronizing with all of your computers, if one person gets infected, it’s basically spreading like wildfire throughout your environment. So you’ve got to be careful on how you set it up. The same thing when you’ve got remote workers. If they’re either remoting into your on premise server or they’re logging on to your server in the cloud, if you don’t lock those machines down that you’re giving access, if that person uses the own device, you can say, you know, you we’ve got our servers in the cloud or at the office, you can log in with your home computer. Bad move. Never do it because you don’t have control over their environment.


Doug Thorpe: Yeah.


Roland Parker: Then what happens? That machine gets infected. You don’t have any eyes on it. You don’t have control. They log into your environment. Next thing before you know it, they’ve actually spread ransomware throughout your entire environment because you allow them into your secure environment with an insecure computer.


Doug Thorpe: Yeah, the facetious thought going through my mind is we had Covid pandemic symptoms before we ever had Covid because of the way these computers share things and virally infect each other. Not in the same biological sense, but in the practical sense. So the other thing I’m thinking about, you and I share the geography down here in the Houston area that was so gravely impacted by Hurricane Harvey back in 2017. How many of your clients went underwater during that event?


Roland Parker: So all of the people that we were managing, we actually had our tech team go out in advance. Shut the service down, move them into a secure place. When the water receded, of course, we had them backed up and then we made sure that the environment was clean, got them back up and running. But the people that weren’t managed and that’s the danger, a lot of them. Lost everything. We knew one company, the server was left in the rack, but it and where the water filled up, it actually covered the hard drives, destroyed the raid, destroyed the motherboard. They had all they had four hard drives in the server that was completely lost and they did not have a backup. So we sent it off to a forensic data recovery place, costing 4500 dollars. They were able to get the data back, but they had four weeks where they couldn’t do anything. So it can be pretty catastrophic. And even if you go through a forensic data recovery center, sometimes they can’t get the data. So working with an IT team to make sure, you know, you should always be sitting down with your team and going, let’s have disaster preparedness. What should happen if there’s an earthquake fire, a ransomware attack, a theft? All of these scenarios should be discussed way in advance before disaster strikes so that you can say, should this happen, these are the protocols to follow and you simply follow those protocols when you’re coming up towards that event. And then there’s no. People aren’t running around getting frantic because they know we’ve got to set protocol to follow and we just simply follow those protocols.


Doug Thorpe: Yeah. Yeah. And I guess I had the good fortune in this arena by virtue of kind of growing up in my career, so to speak, in the banking world. And I mean all the way going back to day one for me in the banking world, I can remember data security and data handling being a critical issue, even though parts of our bank I’m going to tell my age. Parts of our bank were still on the old what was then called a mainframe computer, but we still had backup protocols. We still had those disaster recovery plans. People had roles and responsibilities we had calling trees, all of those things that play out when there is a disaster happening. And I guess that got into my DNA. So as I’ve gone on to do other things, I still when I think about a business and I think about data, I think about those kind of it’s almost like there’s a mental checklist I’ve got that I can’t get rid of.


Roland Parker: And and for some people, they don’t think about it until it happens, but sometimes it’s too late. So either way, you’re going to have downtime if you don’t prepare. So that’s why we like to go through what is, you know, how quickly do you need to be up and running should something happen? And then depending on how quickly you need to be back up and running is how quickly we can get we can set up your environment. You know, do you have to have two premises, two servers that are mirroring each other? Do you have to have a backup in the cloud that we can spin up a virtual server? What does that look like? How are your employees going to connect to it? So you’ve really got to go through each scenario and then you look at what would happen, you know, if somebody broke into your premises and stole your computers. What would happen if you had a fire, if there was a flood, if there was a ransomware attack and really go through who’s responsible, What are we going to do and what the steps what steps should you take in the in the event that that happens?


Doug Thorpe: Yeah. Yeah. So the the you see a kind of a I guess I’ll call it a framework or standard based on size of the company of how the complexity of all these solutions stacks up. Is there a is there a base case scenario for that small start up company? And and then what what’s the next breakpoint in your mind of when people need to expand and upgrade?


Roland Parker: Well, the first thing, even when you start in that set, setting up your company, you’ve always got to think of. I’ve got to at least have three different backups. So I’ve got to have my computers. Even if you’re running in the cloud, I’ve got to have local backups and I’ve got to have a secondary backup in the cloud. So even if you’re a one man band. You know, something like a hard drive, failure, theft, fire, flood, whatever that could that could take you down completely. Because if you lost all of your client’s data, if you weren’t able to operate, you may be shut down. So you always want to make sure, okay, have I got a backup? And think about that right from the beginning. Data security. And then you really want to put a good antivirus system, a good backup, and at least put in a firewall. So if you’ve got those three things, firewall, good antivirus and and a backup, that’s a good starting point. As you get bigger, you then start to need 24/7 monitoring. You need to have the zero trust because you just that much more vulnerable. The bigger you are, the more chances you have of an employee clicking on a link and an attachment, especially as you’re growing and the focus is on growth. Sometimes you lose the focus on security at the same time. So you’ve got to start putting those things in place as you go. So I would say, you know, 0 to 5 employees. Just make sure you’ve got a good antivirus firewall and three different backups. And as you get beyond five, you then start really needing that that monitoring service that comes from a managed service provider.


Doug Thorpe: Yeah, I think that’s that’s really helpful to think about. And I do see situations with entrepreneurs that I work with. They fundamentally just haven’t thought about this. They’ve, they’ve got maybe a some form of enterprise software that they’re using where there’s cross team collaboration and activity going on. But if it’s a licensed software, like a software as a service kind of cloud based thing, they think, well, I’m okay. That’s all my my vendor does all that for me and it’s all good, but you better be checking on those guys. And if so.


Roland Parker: And and what you got to remember is that they’ve got so you’re you’re doing software as a service, you’re logging into the cloud and you’re thinking, that’s great. The problem is if your machine gets compromised and you don’t have multifactor authentication set up, then what happens is if somebody gets onto your machine, they’ve got the keys to the kingdom, they can go through all your records, they can encrypt all your stuff, they can delete documents, they can do whatever they want because they’ve got control. So don’t fall into the complacency of thinking, Well, my stuff’s in the cloud, I’m going to be okay. The same thing with with getting Office 365. You know, you think, well, my emails are hosted by Microsoft. I’m okay if my hard drive dies or my laptop gets stolen, I can just reinstall Microsoft Office and it’ll sync with the cloud. The problem is Microsoft does not back up your emails. So if you delete something by mistake or a malicious person gets in there and starts deleting things, it’s gone. Microsoft doesn’t back it up. So with your emails, you’ve got to have multi-factor authentication, you’ve got to have security around it, and then you’ve also got to have backups of your emails.


Doug Thorpe: Yeah, I think that’s a critical element to think about because so many businesses are able to run with these third party solutions. This software as a service is the popular name for it. And to your point, people get a false sense of security. Well, that’s where I do. My business is over on that platform and now I’m okay. But there are still the vulnerabilities and these risks and and troubles that can come from it. So, you know, being aware of your risks and responsibilities, when you arrange those kind of contracts, you need to ask a lot of questions and you need to think about these these risky things that you’re citing here. Bottom line is smart move on a business owner’s part would be to call a guy like you to consult with and just ask the question, What should I be thinking?


Roland Parker: Yeah, because at the end of the day, you know, you you’re not an IT professional. You want to look after your own business and you want to leave the thinking of the security and the backups and the integrity of your data to somebody like an IT professional because you don’t know what you don’t know. And whether you’re a plumber, a lawyer, a CPA, whatever the case engineer, concentrate on your business and get an IT professional involved to make sure that everything is being backed up, that everything’s secure, and that your staff can run efficiently.


Doug Thorpe: Yeah. Yeah. Well, Roland, this has been great. And thank you for sitting in with us, taking some time out of your busy day to do that. If people want to get a hold of you and learn more about their options for getting these managed services, how should they do that?


Roland Parker: Probably one of the best ways they can go to our website and press computers, tech, tech or they can just give us a call to 816479977 and we’ll just schedule an onsite assessment. We don’t charge for that and we can just sit down with you and have a conversation and see if it’s going to be a good fit to protect your environment.


Doug Thorpe: Yeah, great, great. Good stuff. And as always, folks, we will have that information in the show notes. Just click the links below here and you’ll be able to hop in and get a hold of Roland or his team. And with that, Roland, I’m going to say one last time. Thank you for sharing all this. I think it’s really critical and important, and thank you for your wisdom and experience.


Roland Parker: Thanks for great chatting to you. And we’ll hopefully we’ll see you soon at one of the networking events.


Doug Thorpe: Yeah, I need to do that again. And folks, at this point, I always like to remind you that if you’re listening to this show on your favorite streaming service, we do have a video version over on YouTube channel by the same name Leadership Powered by Common Sense. And I encourage you to hop over there. We’ve opened up a membership community on the YouTube channel. You can get some other private perks and benefits by becoming a member of that community. So go over there to YouTube leadership powered by common sense. Check it out and give us a note. Tell us if you’ve got some ideas or questions about future episodes. We certainly entertain those ideas as well. So for now, we’re going to sign off, say goodbye, and wish you the best.


Speaker4: Thanks, Doug.


Doug Thorpe: You’ve been listening to Leadership Powered by Common Sense. Hosted by Doug Thorpe. If you would like to know more about the coaching and advisory services he provides, visit Doug