As a manager or employee at a cannabis business, you might be wondering, “IT-wise, we’re a pretty simple business. We don’t have that many devices, much software, or much self-stored data. What would I need an IT services company for? And what would the nerds at an IT services company know about my business?”
In this blog post, we’ll show you the top ways an IT services company can, in fact, help your cannabis business. But to respond to some of the points above:
- Technology shouldn’t be viewed in isolation. It plays a big role in your operations and customer service. Slow or unreliable IT can result in lost customers and lower productivity, and be a cap on your growth.
- Having fast, secure, and reliable IT can be a competitive differentiator, allowing you to deliver a better customer experience or produce products more efficiently.
- You may be small now, but you also want to grow, right? An IT services provider can help you design a system that’s scalable and lets you open multiple locations while keeping your IT simple and centralized.
- The nerds at the IT services company will know plenty about your business and how best to support and optimize your tech if, like GeekTek, they have a lot of experience working with cannabis companies. (We’ve helped many cannabis businesses to deploy their PoS systems, set up their physical and cyber security, etc.)
Anyway, that’s the gist of why you would want to get help from an IT services provider. Now let’s get into how an IT services company can help you, focusing mainly on two key elements: security and compliance, and software.
1) Cannabis Cyber Security Services
Physical security is already a high priority for a lot of cannabis companies. Marijuana Business Magazine estimates that retailers in the industry spend about $30,000-$40,000 on a typical security system, and cultivators about $80,000-$100,000.
But cyber security should be a high priority for cannabis businesses, too.
For one, you may be required by regulations such as HIPAA or state data retention laws to protect the privacy and security of your data and to keep it from being lost or deleted. California requires businesses to maintain any records “related to commercial cannabis activity” for at least seven years, for example, with penalties for non-compliance of at least $1,000 to as much as $250,000 depending on your size.
Second, successful cyber attacks can disrupt your business by preventing you from accessing your systems or by deleting your data, and if publicly disclosed as some cases require they can tarnish your image.
Hackers can target cannabis businesses in multiple ways:
- By physically stealing local hardware including servers, iPads, and PoS terminals
- By installing malware on traditional PoS terminals
- By hacking in to your insecure Wi-Fi
- By hacking in to insecure IoT devices like off-the-shelf, consumer-grade security cameras
- Through social engineering, for example by calling and pretending to be a representative of your PoS or seed-to-sale software and telling you you need to reset your password
- By sending you an email with a malicious link or attachment
How MSPs Can Help
IT services companies, especially ones that specialize in supporting this industry, can help cannabis companies with their security and compliance needs in multiple ways.
If they’re knowledgeable and experienced, they can help you analyze your current tech for security holes or compliance violations and work with you to fill the gaps and upgrade your systems.
They can also help you implement and manage your security and compliance measures, including by:
- Installing, managing, and monitoring your network-level firewall
- Installing, updating, and managing your antivirus
- Teaching your employees security best practices
- Setting up your backups so they’re secure and “gapped”
- Keeping your operating systems and applications up to date with the latest security patches
And if you’ve experienced a security breach or been hit with a non-compliance penalty, an IT services provider can help you identify and isolate the issue, fix or remove it, and plan and implement measures that keep it from happening again.
2) Cannabis PoS Support
We hear a fair amount of complaints about cannabis PoS systems and other software: performance problems, integration issues, printer issues, API issues, etc.
It’s true that there’s no perfect cannabis software out there, just as there’s no perfect cannabis company. Overall, legal cannabis is still a young industry that’s still finding its way and learning from its mistakes, just as the early PC market did 30-40 years ago (“Thanks for making us all feel old, GeekTek blogger!” You’re welcome!), which includes its software companies.
At the same time, in our experience at least, a lot of these issues can be traced not to the software itself but to the hardware and networks they run on, or to an imperfect installation.
Things that can impact your cannabis software performance include:
- Underpowered local servers (limited CPU and RAM, slow HDD)
- Software and firmware not being updated
- Using low quality WiFi routers/access points
- Not having enough wireless access points or positioning them incorrectly
- Having too slow of an internet connection
How MSPs Can Help
The best time to bring in an IT services company is /before/ you move forward with a PoS system or other software. They can take a look at your business – or your business plan, if you’re just getting started – and tell you what cannabis software you should consider.
There’s specialized, cannabis industry-specific software for pretty much every stage in the seed-to-sale process, from grow software to manufacturing, supply chain management, compliance, and payment software.
(This whitepaper from Cannabiz provides a great, comprehensive overview of the software landscape, if you’re interested: https://cannabiz.media/cannabis-software-stack-report-now-available/.)
An IT services provider can save you a lot of research time and just tell you, based on its experience and knowledge of the industry, what software you should use and why, and how much it would cost.
Then the provider could do the installation for you, too, as well as help you consolidate your IT infrastructure for increased simplicity and coordination if you have multiple locations.
If you already have a PoS system or other software installed and you’re having trouble with it, you should first reach out to the software company’s tech support, since that’s free and the problem might be on their end.
If they can’t fix the problem, don’t just switch to a different software, as some are wont to do – just reach out to an IT services company, who can try to diagnose and fix the problem and upgrade your infrastructure as needed.
Otherwise you may switch to the new software, and go through the disruption of migrating your data, installing the new software, and re-training your employees, just to end up dealing with the same exact problems you had with the last software.
3) Backup Internet Services
RocketFailover, an example of a mobile hotspot used for backup internet
This is a relatively simple one. A lot of cannabis businesses need a continuous internet connection to run, especially if they make transactions or use cloud-based software.
If your internet goes down, your business goes down, too, resulting in a lot of lost sales, lost customers, and employees sitting around twiddling their thumbs, as you scramble to fix the problem or find a workaround.
There’s a pretty easy solution to this: backup internet service. You can either buy another line or use a mobile hotspot as a backup.
An IT services provider can help you find the most cost-efficient solution for your business – ensuring it meets both your bandwidth needs and your budget, and leveraging their partnerships with ISPs – as well as set it up for seamless failover in the event of an outage.
4) Other Cannabis IT Services and Tech Support
In addition to more industry-specific IT needs, IT services companies can also help with more generic technology projects and processes.
Though cannabis businesses are different from other businesses in a lot of ways, they’re also similar to other businesses in a lot of ways, too.
In terms of their operations and tech needs, they’re kind of a cross between a boutique retailer like a craft chocolatier or Apple Store (in the need to provide a seamless, aesthetically-pleasing customer experience while still conducting and tracking sales), a doctor’s office (in the need to store and secure extensive records), and a jewelry store (in the need for a robust physical security system).
IT services companies can also help with:
- Server, workstation, mobile device, and network management
- Outsourced service desk
- Systems integration
- Network infrastructure design
- Backup and disaster recovery
- Cloud migration, management, and hosting
What About Website Development? Or App Development?
All businesses need a website, and custom apps can be a nice differentiator. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, cannabis businesses may be especially interested in setting up new sites or overhauling their existing ones to counter the lack of foot traffic and facilitate online orders.
You might be thinking, websites and apps = tech, and therefore, websites and apps = something an IT services company or MSP can help you with.
But these aren’t really services that MSPs specialize in delivering. You’re better off looking for a marketing agency or a firm that specializes in software development.
That said, there are plenty of marketing firms and app developers that don’t know what they’re doing or cut corners when it comes to things like security, compliance, scalability, and high availability/business continuity, or that don’t specialize in helping with the ongoing maintenance of the things they create.
That’s where an MSP can come in, either during the development process or after, to:
- Evaluate and pen test your website or app
- Set up automated scaling to support unpredictable peaks and dips in users
- Set up automated failover to prevent the website from going down for any length of time
- Set up a web-based firewall to protect you from DDoS attacks
- Ensure your data is being consistently and effectively backed up (i.e., no corrupted data)
- Monitor for uptime 24/7, and notify you or attempt to fix the issue as soon as it happens
- Continually monitor for intrusion attempts, block malicious IPs, and update/patch your site or app
Why Pick GeekTek for Your Cannabis IT Services?
GeekTek consultants helping with a recent dispensary opening
Four main reasons.
1. As mentioned in the intro, we have as much experience supporting businesses in the cannabis industry as any IT services provider or MSP. We’re a member of the CCIA, have worked with some of the largest cannabis retailers in the world, and have close partnerships with some of its leading software developers. And we’re respected as industry experts, having been featured speakers at a number of major cannabis conferences.
2. We have the knowledge and experience to support any aspect of your cannabis business, even implementing physical security measures such as surveillance systems.
3. We can, and do, support cannabis businesses throughout North America.
4. Our IT knowledge and service levels are second to none. We won Channel Partner Insight’s MSP of the Year Award in 2019.
Contact us at (866) 808-9901 or [email protected] today if you have any questions or want a free consultation.