SMB Nation Blog
© AP Screen shot of the home page of HealthCare,gov.
Open enrollment is always tempting to ignore. When those weighty health insurance booklets arrive demanding that you make important elections right before the holidays, millions of Americans set them aside and either decide to look later -- or never. Whether that's because they're happy with their employer-sponsored health plan and don't intend to change it or simply because they neglect the choices until it's too late, experts say ignoring open enrollment is becoming increasingly costly.
More than half of employees find that bad choices cost them about $750 per year -- roughly $62 per month. And those who keep the same plan as the previous year aren't exempt. That's because a lot could change under the hood of your health plan from year to year, said Matthew Owensby, senior vice president of supplemental insurance provider Aflac.
"People think that they've gone to the same doctor and had the same plan for years, so they don't even bother to check if that doctor is still in their network," he said. "They just don't realize that the plans themselves can change."
In fact, roughly two-thirds of the consumers who went to a doctor or hospital that was out of their health care network -- a gaffe that leaves you essentially uncovered or underinsured -- had no idea they were doing it, said Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer at UnitedHealth (UNH).
Plans also can change co-payments, prescription drug coverage and other easily overlooked details that could also leave you with unexpected costs, she said. Taking a few minutes to review your plan now could help you sidestep these unexpected costs and potentially lower your future health care bills. Better yet, it doesn't necessarily have to be time-consuming. Madsen suggests that employees focus on just a handful of key items:
Changes: Look at whether your plan has changed providers, deductibles or co-payments. Most plans will provide a summary of these changes. Besides reading through those changes and evaluating how they might affect you, make sure that all of your doctors remain "in network."
And while you're considering changes, think of your own. Are you sicker or healthier than you were last year? Did you develop an illness, go on any sort of regular prescription? Did you have a child, or do you plan to in the next year? Big changes in your life suggest a more careful review of what's covered.
Costs: What did you spend on health care last year, and do you expect it to be roughly the same this year? If so, compare the options your employer provides side-by-side to see if an alternative plan could result in lower overall premiums, deductibles and co-payments. Look, too, at whether your plan offers mail-order pharmacy options, which can help people who have chronic ailments get their medications at a discount.
Small business owners are already thinking ahead to 2018, with a recent survey suggesting they are excited to bring new ideas to fruition but challenged to stay on top of advancing technology. In fact, 90 percent of small business owners plan to hire one to two new employees in the upcoming year, just one of the many ways in which small businesses are poised to evolve and expand, according to the results of a new nationwide survey released by Microsoft Store.*
Nearly half of business owners surveyed identified their top challenge as staying ahead of rapid changes in technology in 2018. Additionally, 23 percent emphasized that budget constraints were top of mind in maintaining and growing their endeavors. For the newer small business, budget was their top challenge, which is expected for businesses in operation less than a year.
St. Louis-based radiologist Dr. Jennifer Nicholas, a Microsoft Store customer, partners with radiologists in Haiti to facilitate trainings using Microsoft 365. She says, “The program we are using in Haiti relies on technology that is easy to use, so the radiology residents can access their curriculum, participate in lectures, and complete exams. The project is funded by grant money, so I try to make the most of every dollar without sacrificing the use of the latest technology.”
Despite the challenge to keep pace with digital innovation that companies face today, survey respondents cited the many benefits of being a small business owner including work life balance. Eighty percent of respondents say they currently maintain enough freedom and flexibility to support their work-life balance. Respondents maintain a high level of mobility, working off-site and in multiple locations instead of at a fixed venue. The younger the business (less than one year old), the more likely it is to have employees who work primarily from mobile devices. As companies grow, mobile use gives way to other devices and digital options for how work gets done.
In navigating the demands of both budget and technological readiness, over 30 percent of small business respondents said they are likely to turn to familiar sources (a family or close friend) for technology guidance or help with their computers, email or software. With 26% of respondents stating they have a formal relationship with a support or service establishment, small businesses said comfortable, human interaction was key in how they sought help.
“I worked with Microsoft Store Business Sales Specialist Jo Otey to discover how a tablet like Surface Pro, and tools like Skype for Business, Forms and Translator would provide me with a way to seamlessly facilitate the radiology curriculum remotely,” says Dr. Nicholas. “Joining me in Haiti, he was instrumental in helping the radiologists set up their professional email addresses, and gain access to Microsoft 365 Business, which helped me execute my vision.”
Expansion into digitally run businesses also requires some safeguards, though not all small businesses feel equipped to take the necessary steps to protect themselves alone. In fact, nearly one quarter of small businesses say they have yet to take any measures to introduce digital safeguards and protect their sensitive data. For those who do want to address the security of their data, 70 percent suggested they would prefer to pay for support in matters of cybersecurity, rather than do it themselves. For those actively addressing the security of their data and devices, 30 percent are using encryption software, and nearly 40 percent are ensuring their employees are using anti-virus software.
As small business owners plan for both the exciting upcoming moments and potential challenges of 2018, Microsoft Store is there with technology in hand and true small business solutions in mind. Resources in every Microsoft Store like business sales specialists, who know the changing needs of small business owners and are armed with the latest research like this survey, are critical in making decisions about which solution is right for individual businesses. Ongoing, free opportunities like workshops, Office Hours and networking events give business owners continuing education about the changing technology landscape and the chance to meet other, likeminded, small business owners.
Microsoft Store can also provide information on the latest technology solutions for small businesses, like Microsoft 365 Business, which includes Office 365 productivity and collaboration tools for empowering your employees, as well as device management and security tools to safeguard company information across Windows 10 PCs, mobile devices, and apps. From a single console, small business owners can implement and manage security policies to ensure PCs are up to date and secure, preventing security vulnerabilities that cyberthieves often exploit.
Visit your local Microsoft Store to meet with a business sales specialist, experience Microsoft 365 and other technology solutions, and discover free resources like Office Hours that will help you to achieve more.
Here’s to a great 2018 for you and your business.
* SurveyMonkey. “Small Business Insights.” Survey. 11-15 Oct. 2017.
Based on a sample of 1,300 self-identified small business owners with a range of 1 to 200 employees in the United States.
— Cutting-Edge VR Systems, “Google Expeditions,” Plus D&H’s Trainings & White Glove Services Open Unique Opportunities for VARs to Profit While Enhancing STEM/STEAM Curricula —
HARRISBURG, PA – October 30, 2017 – D&H Distributing, a major provider of SMB and consumer technologies to the North American high-tech channel, is invigorating its linecard for the education vertical with virtual and augmented reality solutions that will usher-in “The Classroom of the Future.” D&H is training its resellers via streaming webcast sessions and VAR engagement events, and through its K-12-dedicated “White Glove” services program which includes amenities such as laser-based product tagging, pre-assembly, configuration, and device management. Efforts include acclimating VARs to a “curriculum-based sales strategy,” which aligns with spring as opposed to the typical fall IT purchasing season, to accommodate the budgeting process for this marketplace. Such will give K-12 decision-makers the necessary lead time to allocate funds to these breathtakingly immersive solutions.
In addition to training, D&H is offering preconfigured “Virtual Reality Kits,” or customizable product bundles around the Google Expeditions platform, including VR headsets, routers, cases, tablets, smartphones, monitors, and more. The cutting-edge “Google Expeditions” app allows teachers to immerse students in lessons via stunning, 360-degree photographic environments utilizing a headset/smartphone/tablet combination. For example, students can virtually walk through a factory on the other side of the country, trek the surface of Mars, or immerse themselves in a dinosaur-inhabited, prehistoric landscape.
Other products include the HP’s Sprout Pro by G2, an interactive, all-in-one computer that incorporates extraordinarily detailed 3D scanning. Scans can be used with a 3D printer, allowing students to create, color, and manipulate items such as artwork, shop class projects, or engineering designs on-screen, then physically produce those items as dimensional, real-world prototypes.
“The implications of VR technology in the classroom is remarkable, introducing a new era of immersive, 3D teaching techniques that until now have been mostly seen in science fiction,” said Peter DiMarco, vice president of VAR sales at D&H Distributing. “We’re educating our VARs, not only with product knowledge, but also by helping them navigate the potentially complicated K-12 space. Armed with this information, pre-configured VR product bundles, and competitive pricing, our resellers can be among the first to introduce these virtual teaching techniques to classrooms, profiting from the emerging trend.”
D&H’s latest Solutions Lab webcast, “VAR Curriculum: Tech for the Future of Teaching,” outlines both the HP Sprout Pro G2 all-in-one and the Google Expeditions-compatible solutions, helping VARs to familiarize themselves with these offerings. It also covers D&H’s “White Glove Services” support program for K-12 VARs, which includes amenities such as laser-based product tagging, pre-assembly, configuration, and device management. The session is available for streaming on-demand at dandh.com/solutionslab.
In addition, D&H has developed a “K-12 Advisory Group” of resellers in the this vertical, who meet during D&H’s trade events to engage with D&H management and discuss trends and challenges in the field. The group’s feedback has helped to shape the direction of D&H’s K-12 offerings.
Promoting STEM/STEAM via Virtual Technology
Demand for items such as 3-D-capable computers, scanners and 3-D printers, plus 360-degree, VR/AR learning platforms is growing in K-12 settings, as educational institutions seek new ways to engage students via cutting-edge, technologically-enhanced environments. Such high-tech solutions have typically been applied toward STEM fields, e.g., science, technology, engineering, and math.
This initiative has expanded to include art and design, since educators are finding that students learn better and comprehend concrete concepts such as math and scientific principles more readily when artistic disciplines such as design and graphics are incorporated into that learning process. It has led to the evolving acronym “STEAM,” incorporating “Arts” into the formerly “left-brain” initiative.
A Wide VR/AR Ecosystem of Products
A plethora of products are being leveraged to support these virtual and augmented reality teaching techniques, including the following (some models forthcoming):
- Chromebooks and Chrome management platforms
- PCs from HP and ASUS
- Virtual reality headsets and systems by Samsung, HTC, VIVE, Lenovo, Ematic, and Xtreme Technologies
- Tablets and digital pens from Wacom and ASUS
- Classroom-appropriate routers from TRENDnet
- 3D printers from MakerBot, ROBO 3D, and XYZprinting
- Drones and robotic toys from Mota, Zooppa, Xtreme Technologies, UBTECH, and Sphero
- Build-your-own-computer coding kits for children from Piper
- Accessories including trunk cases, mats, chargers and more from Pelican, Siig, and Startech.com.
On the software side, Google apps such as Daydream (which includes tools that manipulate objects within the virtual scene), the Tango 3D simulator, and the WorldSense tracking technology deliver similar virtual experiences. And the forthcoming Google Expeditions AR promises to project a 3D image into a live space such as a classroom, wherein students can walk around the projected image and view it from all sides with compatible hardware.
“We’re dedicated to helping resellers seize this opportunity, teaching them to communicate how these solutions fit into a district’s curriculum and enhance experiences through immersive technology,” DiMarco added. “Virtual reality makes this an exciting time to be a solution provider—in addition to a student or an educator.”
About D&H Distributing
D&H Distributing believes the most important element of doing business is developing relationships for mutual success. The company continues to build upon its 99-year-old culture by providing its manufacturers, co-owners, and partners with the utmost customer care, consultative guidance, and multi-market expertise. As one of North America’s leading technology distributors, it delivers a wealth of enablement resources and hands-on support services that empower resellers in the IT channel.
The company engages with solution providers, integrators, and VARs to meet current business challenges, as well as forecast their evolving, real-world needs and prospects for lucrative growth opportunities. D&H maintains a special focus on independent VARs expanding their competencies in areas such as hosted and cloud services, the modern mobile workplace, comprehensive SMB server networks, and cross-market expertise across the small business, education, healthcare, and government verticals, to name a few. The company's value proposition includes professional marketing resources, a new transactional service model, dedicated Solutions Specialists, and a highly-lauded webcast training venue; plus reseller engagement events such as technology trade shows, roundtable opportunities, training “track” sessions, and hands-on "lab" sessions.
The distributor is headquartered in Harrisburg, PA, in the US and in Brampton, Ontario, in Canada. Additional warehouses are located in Atlanta, GA; Chicago, IL; Fresno, CA; and Vancouver, BC, Canada. Call D&H toll-free at (800) 340-1001, via www.dandh.com, or follow the distributor’s Facebook and Twitter feeds, https://www.facebook.com/DandHDistributing/ and @dandh.
By: Tiffany Wissner (WENTZEL) Microsoft
Last month at Microsoft Ignite we introduced a new vision for intelligent communications, which includes Microsoft Teams becoming the primary client for communication and collaboration in Office 365. Today we are sharing more detail on our planned roadmap for adding Microsoft Skype for Business capabilities to Teams, so you can plan your onboarding.
Messaging – Teams offers rich instant messaging capabilities today, with persistent chat, as well as private 1:1 and group chat. We expect to deliver additional messaging capabilities in Teams by the end of Q2-2018. Features will include screen sharing during chat and federation between companies.
Meetings – Teams offers collaborative meetings capabilities today, including screen sharing, meeting chats captured in the channel after the meeting, and the preview of audio conferencing. We expect to deliver additional meeting capabilities in Microsoft Teams by the end of Q2-2018. These features include meeting room support with Skype Room Systems, and cloud video interoperability capabilities that allow third party meeting room devices to connect to Teams meetings.
Calling – Today, Teams offers many calling capabilities. Later this quarter, we plan to ship voicemail for Teams. By the end of Q2-2018, we will enable you to use your existing telco voice line to activate calling services in Office 365.
Beyond bringing existing Skype for Business core capabilities to Teams, we are excited about new intelligent communications coming to Teams. As shown at the Ignite Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business General Session, customers will be able to record a meeting and store it in Teams, have transcription added, and be able to search the meeting for key terms. These features will begin rolling out at the end of Q2-2018.
As part of our vision for intelligent communications, we are also taking the opportunity to simplify the naming of our premium communication offerings. PSTN Conferencing will now be known as “Audio Conferencing;” Cloud PBX will now be known as “Phone System;” and PSTN Calling will now be known as “Calling Plan.” We want these names to be more intuitive to both IT and end users as we further integrate communications with collaboration.