What Is IT Compliance? Here’s What You Need To Know

What Is IT Compliance? Here’s What You Need To Know

Any business that promotes and performs digital services, has an online identity, or uses electronic systems to collect and store data is required to meet certain IT compliance standards.

IT compliance regulations are designed to help safeguard the sensitive data of billions of people worldwide by providing security for consumer data, the regulations to secure it, and regulatory compliance to oversee businesses.

Without IT compliance standards and guiding regulations being put in place and enforced, data breaches are more likely to occur, resulting in the loss of financial and sales data, leaks of clients’ private information, and even drained bank accounts which could sink businesses and ruin lives.

Although many of these regulations are mandatory by law, IT compliance standards also incorporate a number of information security best practices which can benefit your organization beyond merely the specified requirements.

Most of these regulations originated in the mid-to-late 1990s, after the Enron scandal revealed how easy it was for corporations to manipulate data for illegitimate gain. As access to and use of technology for all purposes grew, so did the number of ways in which companies could exploit it. As a result, there are now many regulatory bodies around the world that issue rules affecting technology and all of its uses.

Standards for IT compliance can vary greatly by industry, the size of the business, its geographical location, and even the types of customers it serves.

Specific guidelines are laid out for each rule within the standards so that organizations clearly comprehend how to comply. In order to avoid noncompliance with these regulations, every rule must be followed to the letter.

As such, meeting IT compliance standards demands careful planning, defining policies and procedures, and executing them precisely. Failing to comply with these requirements can cost a company millions of dollars in fines and runs the risk of incurring other penalties as well.

Recent trends – such as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies and the increasing prevalence of Internet of Things (IoT) devices – have made IT compliance burdensome and bewildering for many organizations. In an effort to achieve and remain in compliance, companies often employ specialized digital tools to continuously identify, monitor, audit, and report adherence to standards.

The role of IT compliance continues to grow, as the electronic sharing and storing of information has an impact on departments such as finance, human resources, and operations – all of which depend on IT services for gathering, disseminating, and reporting data.

Given the amount of data captured and stored by companies today, IT compliance is quite possibly the most important factor in any business.

What Is IT Compliance?

By way of definition, IT compliance is the process of adhering to legal, internal, or contractual requirements for IT systems and processes with regards to the security, protection, availability, and integrity of sensitive data.

Compliance regulations are often centered around the requirements of a third party, such as industry standards, government policies, security frameworks, and terms of agreement with clients and business partners.

In essence, IT compliance involves taking appropriate control of businesses’ or clients’ information, including how it’s obtained and stored, how it’s distributed internally and externally, and how the data is secured.

Being compliant with a particular set of standards means that all relevant aspects of the business required to conform to those standards actually do so, and that the company can definitively prove that fact.

Who’s Responsible for Meeting IT Compliance Standards?

While the framework of IT compliance regulations is established by third parties, companies are responsible for their own IT compliance measures.

Organizations are not only charged with defining, documenting, and analyzing the processes to be adhered to, but also ensuring the availability of information and defining the rules of internal and external communication.

Ensuring that all applicable requirements are implemented in accordance with the rules lies with the individual or department tasked with IT compliance management. This is also where it’s determined which requirements apply to the company in the first place, as well as how they can be implemented in the best way possible. In addition, IT compliance management is tasked with keeping up-to-date on changes in legislation and ensuring that any necessary adjustments to IT are made in a timely manner.

While some companies utilize compliance management systems or software, others may choose to employ a dedicated compliance officer. Both options are intended to ensure proper compliance with and monitoring of the agreed-upon processes and rules.

 

- Benefits of IT Compliance

Avoid Fines and Penalties

Organizations found to be in breach of IT compliance requirements can expect to face steep financial penalties for violations, as well as legal ramifications and other aggressive enforcement actions – especially following a data breach.

Protects Your Business’s Reputation

A single data breach can cause considerable harm to your company’s reputation. It creates the impression that your business can’t be trusted and doesn’t take the appropriate steps to protect the privacy and security of its customers. If customers feel like they can’t trust you with their sensitive information, your business is doomed! By adhering to IT compliance standards, you’re positioning your business to be better protected against data breaches while simultaneously safeguarding the privacy of your customers, clients, employees, and the business itself.

Puts You in Good Company

Many organizations have invested significant time and resources to achieve and maintain compliance with industry-specific guidelines with regards to data security – accordingly, they may be reluctant to partner with organizations that haven’t done the same. Maintaining IT compliance assures prospective partners in your industry that you’ve done your due diligence to secure the data you collect. In doing so, you’re projecting your company as an industry leader when it comes to security and a reputable partner in business.

Builds and Maintains Customer Trust

Modern consumers want reassurance that any personal or financial information they hand over to your business will remain protected. Any proof otherwise will scare away prospects, current clients, and even employees. When your organization proves itself capable of meeting lofty standards concerning digital security and privacy (even those that aren’t specifically required by law), your current customers will feel more secure when using your services and you’ll be more likely to win new business with security-minded customers.

Enhanced Cybersecurity

Any company entrusted with collecting and processing customer information must be vigilant to ensure that this confidential data remains confidential. As you begin to implement various protocols in an attempt to meet compliance requirements, you’re essentially working on shielding your network from intrusions. Most IT compliance standards are merely an extension of basic security protocols. Achieving and maintaining IT compliance can help streamline your processes, decrease the chances of outside attacks, and even deter malicious insider attempts. Complying with industry standards can also help identify any gaps in your existing IT security strategy which might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Common IT Compliance Standards

Every state in the U.S. has data breach notification laws requiring businesses to notify customers in the event that their personal information is compromised. In addition, U.S. companies may be subject to the authority of one or more federal regulatory agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

With respect to IT compliance, every industry has its own set of unique requirements. As such, there’s no single IT compliance standard for all businesses. In some instances, an organization may have to adhere to several different types of compliance regulations, depending on the industries within which the business operates.

Compliance requirements can vary tremendously from state to state, and some apply regardless of whether your business is located in the state. For example, both the California Consumer Privacy Act and the NYDFS Cybersecurity Regulation impose requirements that can pertain to a business in any state, provided that it deals with data relating to these acts.

In addition to federal, state, and local government agencies, any organization charged with protecting data in order to ensure its confidentiality, integrity, reliability, or availability is likely answerable to IT compliance regulations. This last group includes most employers, colleges, and universities.

Businesses most commonly affected by IT compliance – and most in need of setting up a framework for compliance – include financial institutions, retailers, e-commerce, healthcare and health insurance, other insurance institutions, banking, defense, utilities, and credit card issuers. Strict compliance requirements also apply to critical infrastructure in sectors such as energy, government, food, transportation, information technology, telecommunications, and media.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common IT compliance standards to help you determine which regulations may apply to your organization:

Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA)

This government-mandated compliance standard applies to hospitals, clinics, health insurance providers, employers that offer health insurance to their employees, and any organization that stores, collects, transfers, accesses, or otherwise handles healthcare data.

Failure to comply with HIPAA requirements can tarnish a company’s reputation, result in steep fines, and even bankrupt an entire organization.

Key standards enforced by HIPAA include:

  • Maintaining privacy regulations that restrict the disclosure of healthcare information without first obtaining the patient’s consent
  • Ensuring that businesses rigorously secure any files containing electronic protected health information (ePHI) by implementing administrative, physical, and technical structures preventing unauthorized individuals from accessing patient data
  • Implementing a notification system that immediately alerts businesses and patients in the event that a security breach or threat occurs

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)

This set of regulations was initiated by MasterCard, Visa, and other credit card companies in an attempt to minimize financial fraud by better securing customers’ credit card information.

Any business that stores, transmits, or processes customers’ credit or debit card data and payments must act in accordance with the rules governing those practices and operations as outlined in PCI DSS.

Compliance with this standard results in greater transparency and increases the trustworthiness of businesses managing these types of transactions, assuring customers that their financial information is protected and they can safely make purchases. Conversely, failing to adhere to PCI DSS requirements could subject a company to substantial financial penalties.

While this particular compliance standard isn’t government-mandated, it’s one that most businesses are compelled to meet. This is because major credit card companies like Visa and MasterCard require businesses to have PCI DSS validation.

In order to meet the requirements of this standard, businesses must develop robust systems and processes for hosting and protecting customers’ financial information. Monitoring accounts and being constantly on the lookout for potential security threats is one way of achieving this. Another option is to implement granular controls which limit who can access different parts of a customer’s account. Limiting access prevents unauthorized individuals from accessing the account information that can be used to steal customers’ identities.

Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)

In the wake of the Enron incident, U.S. Congress passed this federal law for the purpose of overseeing how organizations handle electronic records, data protection, internal reporting, and executive accountability.

SOX ensures that companies reveal complete and accurate financial information so stakeholders and the general public can make informed decisions before choosing whether to invest in the business. In addition, this compliance standard helps minimize the risk of accounting errors and deter fraudulent practices.

Any publicly traded company or business making an initial public offering (IPO) is required to meet this standard. Company boards, management personnel, and accounting firms are also bound by SOX. Failure to comply can result in stiff criminal penalties.

In terms of network compliance, SOX deals with policies regarding where data is stored, establishing access controls, and the flawless installation of backup procedures.

Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA)

Established in 2002, FISMA establishes a minimum requirement for federal agencies developing data protection plans, promotes certain types of security software and systems, verifies third-party vendors, and accounts for the different security needs of various governmental departments.

Essentially, the act demands that federal agencies treat information security as a matter of national security. While government agencies must adhere to FISMA compliance standards, businesses that work with government agencies may also need to be aware of these regulations. Failure to comply with FISMA can result in loss of federal funding and inability to enter into government contracts.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

This regulation applies to any organization – public or private – that collects and processes the personally identifying information of any European Union (EU) citizen or resident. Any company, regardless of its geographical location, that wishes to do business in the EU or handle the personal or financial data of people from the EU must comply with GDPR standards.

According to the GDPR, organizations must first ask the permission of “data subjects” (i.e., EU citizens or residents) before collecting their personal data. This offers users the opportunity to opt-in or opt-out of data collection. If the individual opts out, the organization must delete any previously collected information.

Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA)

Enacted in 1999, the GLBA requires institutions to inform customers of their privacy policies on an annual basis, particularly in regard to how information is shared with certain third parties. Organizations are compelled to give customers the opportunity to opt-out if they don’t wish for their information to be shared. In addition, companies must disclose what measures they’re taking to safeguard the personal data of their customers.

Financial institutions – such as banks, savings and loans, credit unions, insurance companies, and financial advisory firms – as well as accountants, real estate agencies, and universities are all subject to GLBA regulations.

The three “rules” of the GLBA include: financial privacy (how institutions can collect and share private financial information); safeguarding (how institutions must implement security measures to protect client information against cybersecurity risks); and pretexting (this prevents businesses from collecting data under false pretenses).

Final Thoughts

There are a number of challenges associated with IT compliance. Following these tips can help your company avoid the extravagant fines, penalties, and other legal consequences associated with noncompliance:

  1. Educate your employees on all aspects of data privacy and provide them with the tools they need to protect sensitive data.
  2. Provide mobile and remote employees with laptops and devices that contain security policies and prevention mechanisms (such as remote-wipe capabilities) in order to maintain secure access to corporate data.
  3. Put authorization mechanisms in place to limit access to downloadable applications. Only allow downloads of approved software and applications.
  4. Enforce encryption for security and prevent access by devices without secure access.
  5. Utilize only secure and modern cloud storage solutions.

Ensuring that your organization achieves and maintains IT compliance begins with identifying the regulations that apply to your line of business. Drilling down to the areas of interest for your specific organization can help you design and implement the proper compliance frameworks. This can be a challenging and confusing process, especially if you’re inexperienced in these matters.

While it’s possible to manage IT compliance internally, it’s not the best way to go. The process is lengthy and will only serve to distract you from your core business responsibilities. Why go through all that stress when you can outsource this service for just a fraction of your IT budget?

At DataGroup Technologies, compliance is more than a service we provide – it’s woven into the fabric of all of our IT solutions. We can help you build an IT environment that not only supports your business’s growth but meets the necessary IT compliance standards as well.

Reach out to us today at 252.317.0614 or drop us a line here to see how we can help you #SimplifyIT!

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12 Benefits of VoIP for Small Businesses

12 Benefits of VoIP for Small Businesses

The technology small businesses depend on can be the determining factor between extraordinary growth and utter unproductivity. Even within a category as commonplace as phone systems, the possibilities prevail.

Since the arrival of the first commercial VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone system in 1995, businesses have been gradually migrating from standard, landline-based phone systems to state-of-the-art, internet-based solutions.

A widely held misconception is that sophisticated communications technologies such as VoIP are only advantageous to large-scale businesses. In fact, small businesses – startups, in particular – can benefit tremendously from the increased freedom, adaptability, and cost reduction that an internet phone service can provide.

What is motivating more and more companies to pull the plug on their traditional phone systems and link up with VoIP? More importantly, is it the right course of action for your organization? Let’s dive in a bit deeper and find out!

What is VoIP & How Does It Work?

VoIP, short for Voice over Internet Protocol, allows users to make and receive phone calls using a broadband internet connection instead of a conventional or analog phone line. VoIP may not appear any different to its users than a standard analog system, but the way voices are transmitted to the person on the other side of the phone is totally different. 

In traditional telephony, sound gets converted into electrical signals. These signals then get funneled through a network of phone lines. With VoIP, audio gets transformed into digital packets of information. Those data packets then get conveyed via the internet, where the signal is decoded on the other side and changed back into a voice.

This enables you to make and receive voice calls, instant messages, or video calls directly from a computer, a VoIP phone, or any other data-driven device.

 

Key Benefits of VoIP for Small Businesses

Small business owners are nothing if not ambitious. Executives of companies all shapes and sizes are seeking to boost customer ratings, trigger more leads and sales, increase profits, and make sure that clients have a favorable impression of their brand. VoIP provides numerous benefits that support these chief objectives:

1) Excellent Call Quality

Early VoIP technology was infamous for its weak call quality, frequently dropped calls, and lots of lag. Today, VoIP phone services have evolved in such a way that the person you’re calling, or the person calling you, can’t discern whether you’re using a VoIP or a traditional landline phone. 

As long as you have a fast internet connection with sufficient bandwidth, you can expect VoIP voice and video calls to be crisp and crystal-clear, with no latency issues and no dropped calls. These days, VoIP calls are able to match or surpass the quality of traditional landline networks, even over long distances.

2) Multifunctionality

Along with making and receiving calls, modern VoIP systems also integrate a variety of other communication services such as instant messaging, teleconferencing, video conferencing, file sharing, screen sharing, voicemail, and faxes via email.

The call forwarding feature ensures that whenever a call comes in, it can be patched through to the appropriate person who is best able to handle it – even if that person is outside of the office. With VoIP, a call received on an office phone can be routed to an employee’s smartphone or other mobile device in the field.

Since calls can be directed to anyone, anywhere, at any time, customers and colleagues never have to resort to calling a separate number to get in touch with the desired party. VoIP users can set their status so coworkers know whether or not they’re available to take calls.

With traditional landline phone systems, a business has an allotted number of lines available to receive any incoming calls. When all lines are in use and a call comes in, the customer, colleague, or vendor gets a busy signal. Needless to say, this can be frustrating.

Since VoIP phone systems aren’t tied to a physical phone line, the business has an unlimited number of lines at their disposal. In short, callers will never get a busy signal and their phones will always be directed to a real, live person.

VoIP technology also equips users to review call logs and analyze metrics to better understand how customers are interacting with the business. Useful data such as call volume, average call-answer time, length of calls, behavioral trends, and performance of customer service agents can be collected and analyzed to identify any relevant patterns.

 

3) Flexibility

Conventional phone services impose certain constraints on employees. Businesses don’t always adhere to a 9-to-5 schedule in the office. As well, traditional phones typically link a single phone number to a specific telephone. Employees who are working from home, traveling, or meeting with customers can’t easily access their business phone numbers.

With a VoIP phone system, location is irrelevant. As long as employees have access to the internet and a computer or mobile device, they can call, text, and fax from their business numbers effortlessly. Once they’ve downloaded the app or logged in to the VoIP service provider’s web portal, workers can begin making and receiving calls and faxes on their business phone numbers from anywhere.

When teams have the capacity to work in a flexible and cooperative environment and perform their duties successfully from wherever they are, it leads to greater productivity and business performance.

 

4) Security

VoIP technology is a significantly more secure channel of communication when compared with traditional analog and landline phone systems. Systematic encryption protocols offer end-to-end encryption and fend off any unwelcome data breaches – something you can’t count on with a traditional landline connection.

Phone system security is a major concern for businesses – especially smaller enterprises – as demand for personally identifiable information (PII) has never been greater. Most VoIP service providers employ dedicated professionals to track the platform’s security and validate that all security updates are installed without delay to keep confidential information and customer data protected.

Remote work can pose additional security concerns for businesses. Ensuring that data stays secure, even as employees access that data from a distance and from a number of different devices, can be challenging. VoIP phone services can help alleviate these concerns, at least as it pertains to telecommunications, since providers routinely perform robust security practices.

5) Accessibility

As previously mentioned, VoIP phone systems allow you to make and receive calls from a myriad of devices, including smartphones, as long as you have internet access. This is incredibly beneficial for today’s scattered workforce, as it affords employers a larger talent pool while continuing to minimize overhead.

While the number of remote workers has skyrocketed in the U.S. in recent years, small businesses aren’t always able to make use of this model – procuring additional equipment for home offices and extra phone expenses simply render it impossible.

VoIP technology clears the way for smooth, efficient telecommuting, enabling employees to touch base and collaborate with colleagues, employers, and clients in a variety of practical ways. Remote workers don’t have to resort to using their personal cell phones and phone numbers to make business calls. Instead, they can use the VoIP numbers exclusively assigned to each worker, in conjunction with your business’s intranet, to make calls from your organization, regardless of where they happen to be located.

6) Automated Assistance

Not all small businesses can manage hiring a dedicated employee to field incoming phone calls. An automated assistance (or auto-attendant) feature – built into many VoIP systems – can be programmed to answer simple, frequently asked questions such as locations, regular and holiday operating hours, and other important announcements.

In essence, the auto-attendant feature acts as a virtual receptionist and primary point of contact, escalating and routing incoming calls to the appropriate parties. This helps streamline the customer service experience for both employees and clients.

7) Call Recording Service

VoIP phone systems are capable of recording incoming and outgoing phone and video calls. This is beneficial for a number of reasons. Not only are you and your colleagues able to play back important calls to guarantee that critical messages aren’t missed, you can also archive them for future reference.

In addition, many industries such as healthcare and finance are also subject to compliance constraints, meaning that calls are required to be recorded and maintained. You can use recordings to train new employees, set loftier standards for customer service, and make sure that representatives are measuring up to these standards.

Recorded calls might also come in handy in the event that a customer lodges a complaint against a staff member, or if a customer should mistreat one of your employees.

8) Increased Productivity

Have you ever played “phone tag” with a client, coworker, or vendor? You know the drill: you call them, get their voicemail, they call you back, get your voicemail, and ultimately nothing gets done. This leads to frustration for all parties involved, missed sales opportunities, and can even hamper your organization’s ability to grow.

With VoIP, you can configure phone numbers to ring on multiple devices before forwarding to a voicemail, which helps resolve the phone tag problem and can greatly improve productivity.

By merging team and customer communications into a singular interface, VoIP helps simplify workflows by cutting down on delays and errors. When everybody is on the same page, effective communication is easier to achieve across the board.

9) Cost Effectiveness

Many providers offer unlimited local calls; however, making long-distance calls is also cheaper with VoIP than with traditional telephony. Since VoIP virtual phone numbers aren’t bound to a physical landline phone, your customers and colleagues can call you at the local rate instead of the higher international rate. Your virtual phone number will appear to be within the recipient’s local exchange, even though it isn’t.

When using a VoIP service provider, calls between PCs are essentially free. While calls from PCs to landlines can incur charges, the rates are considerably less expensive when compared to conventional landlines or cell phones.

Teleconferencing and video-conferencing make it unnecessary for employees in the field to return to the office to attend a meeting or address important matters with colleagues. This, in turn, conserves your budget by eliminating unnecessary travel expenses, whether by company car or plane.

With an ever-increasing number of exclusively remote employees, teleconferencing and video-conferencing are able to further reduce costs related to recruiting, retraining, and office space.

Preparing and installing traditional phone lines within a facility can be a costly undertaking, whereas setting up and managing a VoIP system is substantially cheaper. A cloud-based VoIP phone service involves a meager upfront investment in terms of network infrastructure, hardware, and equipment.

Since VoIP subscription fees typically encompass continuing maintenance and any software upgrades, you won’t need to hire additional IT staff to keep your communications system up and running. Your VoIP vendor will automatically install updates and patches to assure that you have access to the latest features.

10) Simplicity

Compared with traditional phone lines, which can be difficult to implement and maintain, VoIP systems are fairly simple to install, configure, and support – even for individuals who aren’t especially tech-savvy.

Certain VoIP software solutions and web browser options can make managing the system even more hassle-free, specifically when adding new users. Web portals make adding, shifting, and modifying systems configurations easier and more accessible.

Nowadays, people have become accustomed to using digital, web-based products that they can try out and master quickly. Since VoIP systems utilize modern software and user-friendly interfaces, managers can train on these systems much more quickly than they could with manual setups. Eliminating the need for physical phones and ongoing maintenance allows managers to focus on developing their teams, rather than addressing troubleshooting questions from bewildered employees.

With no physical hardware required or telephone cables to install, your whole office can be fully operational with VoIP phone services in 24 hours or less. In doing so, your team can freely communicate via physical SIP phones (in other words, you can use your IP network to make calls instead of over telephone lines) or with any device, including smartphones, laptops, and tablets, by downloading the app of the VoIP service provider.

11) Scalability

With conventional landline systems, it’s difficult to determine how many phone lines you’re going to need – particularly when you’re still growing as an organization. When you add more personnel, additional offices, or create new departments, you’re going to need to ensure that your communications system is continuously up to date.

VoIP systems are designed to conveniently scale up or scale down to meet your specific needs. You simply add a new line whenever you add a new staff member. When an employee leaves the company or transfers, it’s just as easy to reassign the existing line or remove it entirely. Adding or removing a number within a VoIP phone system requires little more than a few clicks of the mouse.

There are certain businesses whose products or services are often consumed only during specific periods during the year, such as tax preparation services, call centers, specialty holiday retailers, and florists. While phones are relatively quiet most of the year, when business picks up it can get very busy. This is why many of these companies plan in advance by getting extra phone capacity in the event that it’s needed. While being prepared is important, paying for extra phones that would otherwise be idle most of the year is not a wise investment.

A cloud-based VoIP phone system allows these seasonal businesses to add more lines during peak season to accommodate the increased demand, and return back to normal service during the off-season. Since the business is able to customize its service package as needed, they only have to pay for the bandwidth they need and use – and nothing more. This helps organizations better control expenses and, ultimately, improve their profit margins.

12) Competitive Advantage

It’s no secret that huge corporations dominate the market in many fields these days. In order for small-to-medium-size businesses to compete effectively with larger, more high-profile organizations, they must be able to do whatever it takes to stand out in a crowded field. Simply coming across as being a “big fish in a small pond” can make all the difference to your bottom line. One major way to gain an advantage is by leveraging cutting-edge technological advances, such as VoIP systems.

With voice over IP, your small business can connect with prospective clients at little to no financial cost to the company, communicate with colleagues and clients over long distances, and project an air of professionalism in the way you present yourself. A warm welcome greeting with department selections, call forwarding, and voicemail-to-email features can not only help simplify inbound inquiries but also create the appearance of being a larger, more established organization than you currently are.

When smaller businesses can enjoy the same features and benefits of an enterprise-level phone system in an economical package, they are better positioned to succeed in today’s market climate.

Conclusion

While it’s clear that businesses of all shapes and sizes can reap the benefits that VoIP has to offer, small businesses can enjoy some of the biggest advantages relative to the size of their enterprise.

The IT professionals at DataGroup Technologies, Inc. (DTI) are well-versed in VoIP technology, and are fully equipped to set up your business– regardless of its size – with a state-of-the-art, cloud-based VoIP phone system that will advance your technological capabilities like never before! Give us a call today at 252.329.1382 to schedule a consultation with our VoIP experts!

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