Blog

May 21st, 2015

164_Office_CIf you’ve already jumped on the Google Apps or Office 365 bandwagon, you may feel that the classic Microsoft Office package installed locally on your desktop is a bit dated. With Office 2016 set to launch in autumn of this year, Microsoft is making some changes to adapt one of their best selling products to the modern workforce. Here are four of the most exciting features.

Cloud focus for Outlook attachments

Microsoft knows that sharing attachments amongst co-workers and teams can be a hassle. With many collaborators still sharing documents and files the old fashioned way - attaching it to an email and then sending to others - it’s easy for users to get confused and send an incorrect or outdated version.

To solve this problem, Microsoft is gently nudging us to use the cloud. Now when you add an attachment to an email, you’re now asked if you’d also like to share a link to a file on your OneDrive, OneDrive for Business or SharePoint account.

Showcasing easy ways to use Office better

If you’re like most people, you probably aren’t using Office to its full potential. And who can blame you? Between Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more, there are literally hundreds of features and tools you can use - if only you had the time to discover them all.

To help you get the most out of Office, Microsoft has now added a Tell Me box in the top center of your program title bar. This tool gives you an easy way to get questions answered. For example, if you want to project your desktop screen to a second monitor or create a graph in Excel, simply type your question into the Tell Me box and Microsoft will find the answers that most closely fit your search criteria.

Sway

Look out PowerPoint, here comes Sway - the new, hipper Office application that makes creating fluid, stylish presentations easy. With Sway, you can now gather content from various sources across the web, and then easily organize it into a presentation that can be viewed on a smartphone, laptop, iPad or other device.

What makes Sway more exciting than PowerPoint is in the process of gathering content: simply drag files, photos or video from YouTube, OneDrive and various social networks into the app. Once you have your content, you can easily organize it and adjust your design to create a unique look and feel for your presentation.

Better Data Protection

With Office 2016, Microsoft has raised the bar for data security. Now administrators can set and enable Data Loss Protection policies for Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Unlike in older versions of Office, administrators now have a range of security options at their disposal. For example, they can prevent data from being copied and pasted outside of Office 2016 applications, restrict files from being sent to certain individuals, and implement file-level encryption for Word, Excel and Outlook.

Want to learn more about Microsoft Office 2016? Have questions about other Office products? Give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 20th, 2015

164_Prod_CAn unfocused staff is a recipe for a lack of productivity. And with distractions like social media, broken equipment and technology, and employees who’d rather spend their day chatting than doing their job, it may seem impossible to get your team to produce the results you desire. So what’s a business owner to do? Here are four tips that are sure to get your staff more focused and productive.

Set clear goals

In order for your employees to produce results and reach their productivity potential, they need to know what is expected of them. At some organizations, it may be perfectly acceptable to spend one hour surfing the Internet everyday and seven hours working; or it may be considered normal to count a lunch break towards the eight hours worked. The truth is that more and more employees are bouncing between jobs from company to company, and each organization has a different set of standards and expectations. If it’s not communicated to your employees what yours are, you can be certain that they’ll make up their own.

Additionally, your employees need to know what results you expect them to produce. Maybe that means they need to sell a certain volume of products each month, or maybe it means they need to consistently score a four-star customer satisfaction rating. Whatever it is, your employees need to be aware of your expectations and have some sort of goal to shoot for. This gives you a way to see the results each employee is producing. Then you can try to find a solution to increase the productivity of your lower performing staff.

Be personable with your employees

Have you ever had a boss that rarely interacted with employees and that everyone feared? Maybe he stayed locked away in his office most days or ignored staff members as he quickly strode through the office never cracking a smile. Do you think employees want to produce results for a boss like this? They might, but it may be out of fear of losing their job rather than genuinely wanting to help that boss and the company at large.

Interact with your employees. And not only about work. Ask them how their weekend was. Find common interests to talk about. Take the time to get to know them. It’s easy for employees to not produce results or care about their job if the business owner is unapproachable and distant. On the contrary, if the owner is personable and friendly with staff, it is harder for an employee to slack off and not commit to the company’s growth. It’s natural for employees to work harder for a person they know, rather than one who’s “all business” and persistently unavailable.

Listen to your employees’ feedback

To go along with being personable, take the time to gather and listen to your employees’ feedback. If you show that you value their opinions, they’ll feel part of the team and organization. When this happens, they’ll be more committed to your goals and will want to see the company succeed as much as you do.

Of course that doesn’t mean you need to take every bit of employee feedback and run with it - it simply means keeping an open mind. Your team will respect you more and work harder for you as a result.

Provide reliable equipment

This is a no brainer. But if an employee doesn’t have the reliable equipment and tools to complete their job, their productivity levels will plummet. A broken computer, crashed server or faulty Internet connection will have your staff twiddling their thumbs and playing with their phones in no time. If it’s your technology that’s the culprit in this situation, Managed Services represent an exceptional solution to prevent your IT from ever breaking down in the first place. What does that mean for your staff? Less downtime, more productivity and more results.

Interested in discovering more ways to boost employee productivity? Want to learn how Managed Services can ensure the reliability of your IT and prevent downtime? Contact us.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
May 14th, 2015

WindowsNews&Tips_May14_CMicrosoft was so keen to distance itself from the Windows 8 embarassment that it completely abandoned logic and skipped number 9. Determined to win back its users, the software giant plans to launch the brand-new Windows 10, packed with significant improvements and powerful features. Below we’ve listed a few awesome new Windows 10 features worth checking out.

Microsoft Edge

Windows 10 comes with a new Internet browser called Microsoft Edge. Formerly named Project Spartan until around three months ago, Edge is officially a replacement for the aging Internet Explorer. Edge allows you to add notes, while accessing web pages, for future reference. It also comes with a new reading mode that removes all the other distracting elements of a web page and leaves you with just the text. This allows for a good reading experience, not to mention faster loading time.

Cortana

Cortana is Microsoft’s personal assistant and the rival to Apple’s Siri. When Cortana first arrived in preview versions of Windows 10, there were several bugs and compatibility issues. But Microsoft has been working hard to address these. Just like on Windows Phone devices, you can interact with Cortana using either text or natural voice queries. Cortana can perform many basic tricks and tasks, such as taking notes, scheduling meetings, setting alarms, calling people on Skype, and playing music. She can also scour your computer, OneDrive account, and even your business network to find files based on your input.

Continuum

Windows 10’s Continuum feature is designed to make the OS work seamlessly on hybrid desktop and tablet devices. Users are able to switch between touch and desktop modes, depending on the device they’re using. When you unplug your keyboard and mouse, a small popup will appear asking whether Windows should switch to tablet mode. Once tablet mode is enabled, all the windows on the desktop will immediately go to full screen. On the other hand, if you plug in a keyboard and mouse, Windows 10 will launch another pop-up asking whether you wish to return to desktop mode. Another impressive feature of Continuum is the ability to connect your Windows Phone with a PC, essentially turning your smartphone into a pocket-friendly desktop.

Start Menu

The absence of the the Start menu in Windows 8 caused dissatisfaction among most Windows OS fanatics. Microsoft won’t make the same mistake twice. And so the Start menu will be returning to Windows 10 at the front and left of the home screen. When opened, the menu splits into two columns - one the traditional list of programs, the other app-style icons. A universal search function has been added to the Start menu, making for easier file browsing.

Windows 10 is made first and foremost for desktop users, whereas its predecessor Windows 8 was aimed at mobile and touchscreen devices. Microsoft has hinted that Windows 10 will be launching in late July 2015, available in 190 countries and 111 languages.

If you’re looking to incorporate Windows OS into your business, contact us today and see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 13th, 2015

164_Security_CCloud computing marketing can be deceiving. When you see an image of the cloud, it’s often a happy, bubbly white puffball floating delightfully in front of a blue sky background. Its presence is both calming and reassuring, and makes you believe that anything is possible. Security would never be an issue, right? Ask one of the nearly seven million Dropbox users who had their accounts hacked, and they’ll give you the definitive answer. While it’s worth noting that not every cloud provider has had security breaches like Dropbox, the point is to be aware that cloud security is not something to be taken lightly. Here’s what you can do to protect yourself as a business owner.

The cloud is playing more and more of a significant role in business. Yet, as more companies jump on the bandwagon, very few of them seem to be taking cloud security seriously. According to a recent survey, the "Security of Cloud Computing Users Study" , only 50 percent of those surveyed had investigated the security of the cloud services they used.

To ensure you put in place proper security measures when beginning your cloud venture, here are five actions every small business owner should take.

Ask your IT provider what cloud security policies they have in place - this is probably the single most important security measure you can take. Find a trusted IT provider and have a candid conversation with them about their cloud security policies.

Ask where the location of the physical cloud servers are - when you have “the conversation”, don’t forget to ask about this. Believe it or not, some cloud servers may not even be stored in your own country. Wherever they are, it’s wise to make sure they’re located in a safe data center area with proper security afforded to them.

Create unique usernames and passwords - your login credentials represent one of the cloud’s main security vulnerabilities. Take the time to come up with a better password than “12345” or “football.”

Use industry standard encryption and authentication protocols - IPsec (Internet Protocol Security) is a reliable technology choice.

Encrypt data before it’s uploaded to the cloud - whether you do it yourself or your cloud computing provider does it for you, this is a must to ensure security.

When it comes to trusting the security of a cloud service provider, transparency is key. The provider should take security seriously, be able to explain their security policies clearly, and be willing to answer any questions. If they can’t do one of these, it’s a clear sign of a red flag.

Are you ready to talk cloud security and transition your business into the cloud? Call us today. We’re happy to answer all your questions.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
May 12th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_May12_CThe data dashboard has become increasingly popular for businesses over the past few years - it is a great data visualization tool that allows you to have an overview of your business at a glance. Since we all are more accustomed to taking in visual data than written words, dashboards are an important part of any successful data analytics process. There are many types of dashboards, depending on the area of use. Let’s take a look at how dashboards can support your business activities.

Marketing insights

The marketing department in an organization typically analyzes a significant amount of data from various channels. Whether the purpose is to forecast monthly sales, predict trends, or build marketing strategies, marketing officers need to compare, sort, and analyze raw data in order to present it in an understandable format using dashboards. Once raw data has been polished into meaningful information and presented to business executives, key decision makers are able to make choices based on that information.

Tracking sales opportunities

Sales dashboards are perfect for tracking various products and services throughout their lifecycle. With sales dashboards, you can identify sales opportunities by monitoring top-selling products and comparing the growth in revenue on a periodical basis. The implementation of sales dashboards eliminates the need to spend hours manually entering data and preparing sales reports, spreadsheets, charts, and manual data.

Social media management

There’s more to social media management than posting regularly on your business’s social media accounts. And in most cases, the default dashboard offered by your social media platform doesn’t give you a deep insight into your social media campaigns. What’s more, managing multiple social media accounts can quickly become a cumbersome process since you have to use several login credentials. That’s where dashboards come in. You can manage your accounts all at once through a comprehensive social media dashboard, saving you valuable time and effort.

Financial reports

Presenting financial data is so complex that, if not handled by competent employees, will often lead to misinterpretation and misunderstanding of critical data. Dashboards make creating financial reports much easier, and financial analysts can take advantage of dashboards to display sensitive data in a comprehensible graphical format - be it customer invoices, progress toward revenue goals, or business expenses.

Project collaboration

Businesses of all sizes require their employees to collaborate on projects, whether it’s on-site or online. Project supervisors need to get their teams together, in order to give them an insight of the projects’ requirements, deadlines and responsibilities, and to learn about the projects’ progress. With the help of project collaboration dashboards, members will see the complete workflow of the project, allowing for a more efficient and collaborative working environment.

Dashboards can truly take away the complications of presenting complex business data. If you’re looking to implement business intelligence tools to simplify your company’s data analysis process, drop us a line today and we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 11th, 2015

SocialMedia_May11_CIf you enjoy being able to use Facebook Messenger without seeing endless advertisements, then prepare to be disappointed. It appears that those days are numbered, since the social networking giant has announced its plans to make the service ad-supported. Though the move will likely prove unpopular with regular users, it marks an interesting turn in the platform’s development and presents new marketing opportunities to businesses. Here’s what you need to know about the change.

As well as Facebook Messenger, which the company has definitively announced will feature advertisements, it looks likely that WhatsApp will also become ad-supported. Facebook acquired WhatsApp in February 2014 for $22 billion, despite the company only generating 2013 revenues of $10.2 million and overall making a net annual loss of $138.1 million. At the time, Mark Zuckerberg indicated that the company would not seek to monetize either service until they had reached a billion users, while WhatsApp founder and CEO said that the plan remained for the app to focus for several years on growth rather than monetization.

The latest announcements appear to signal a change in those tactics. While there has so far been no concrete decision on the form that advertising in either app would take, the intention appears to be for Facebook Messenger to test the water, with WhatsApp following its lead once a successful formula has been found. Executives have suggested that they wish to explore alternatives to conventional banner ads. They have also reinforced the message that the two apps, which seek to serve different purposes and audiences, will remain independent of one another.

The sheer number of users now communicating on the WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger platforms each month is testament to the value that Facebook could drive from placing advertisements on the services. Unlike its main site, which serves advertisements, the Facebook Messenger app currently makes no profit. Until now, WhatsApp’s only revenue stream has been the nominal $0.99 annual subscription fee it collects from users after a year’s free trial - and the service remains completely free in developing countries outside of Europe and North America. But for businesses, too, the potential of advertising on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp provides exciting new marketing opportunities and the chance to interact more closely with both potential and existing customers.

Learn more about using Facebook and other networks - both for advertising and wider social media marketing - to grow your business; give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
May 6th, 2015

Productivity_May6_CWhen it comes to working in the office, a lot of things can hamper your productivity. Some of them are easy to deal with, such as redundant email checking and social media updates, while others are more difficult to handle, such as sudden power outages. The latter can be a real productivity killer, especially if your company relies heavily on Internet connectivity to perform day-to-day operations. But there are several methods to ensure productivity, even during power outages - here’s how.

Install a UPS for each computer

A UPS (uninterrupted power supply), is an alternative, emergency power source. During a power outage, your computer will turn itself off automatically as there's no power. UPS prevents that by running your computer off its own battery. If you’re working on a file when a power blackout occurs, UPS is especially helpful. It can only buy your computer a few minutes of time at most, but that’s enough time to save vital files and power down. If you still need Internet access, try another method we’ve listed below.

Find a Wi-Fi connection

The advancements in technology made it possible for you to take your work outside the office. You can resume your business activities and Internet connectivity by using the mobile data plan from your smartphone or tablets, and then access your files via cloud storage and file sharing applications. If you don’t have a data plan, then head to the nearest Wi-Fi-friendly place to continue your work, such as a coffee shop. VoIP software installed on your portable devices can help you to connect to your clients efficiently.

Make good use of your batteries

Now is not the time to browse social media or play games. When you take your work offline, it’s best to preserve your devices’ batteries by doing only important tasks and turning off power-sucking applications. Buy an extra charging device to extend your battery life, if necessary.

Finish offline tasks

When no Internet connection is available, you can take the time to clear off any neglected offline duties, whether it’s clearing up desks or arranging files and documents. You can even gather a team to brainstorm new ideas for projects, or discuss any ongoing issues within your organization.

Work from home

If a power outage renders your employees helpless in their duties, then sending them home with a business laptop won’t hurt, if they’re able to continue their work from there. There are many ways to keep them accountable without being intrusive and, as long as they are making progress in their jobs and are able maintain their professional integrity, there’s not much to complain about. Make sure telecommuting is only allowed when necessary though - working alongside colleagues and sharing ideas face-to-face is still one of the best ways to induce productivity.

Achieving power-free productivity is possible when you have a plan prepared for the situation. For more productivity tips to boost your business’s bottom line, give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
May 5th, 2015

164_BizV_CWell, you created a business page for Facebook, you patted yourself on the back, kicked up your feet and waited for the flood of new business to come in. How’d that work out for you? Probably not so well. But this doesn't mean you should give up and turn your back on social media. This is a brave new world for all online businesses so you should expect a steep learning curve. To help you along, here are some tips about how to better track your social media ROI to see what’s working and what you should drop.

Why it’s difficult to track social media ROI

The reason many business owners find it difficult to track social media ROI is because they don’t understand the purpose of the platforms from the perspective of traditional marketing. It's all too easy to expect immediate payoffs and profits, not to mention increased business. But while social media itself moves and changes fast, businesses should remember it still takes time to increase brand recognition, build relationships and enhance a company's reputation, whatever the platform. It is brand recognition that produces more sales in the long run. So don't lose heart if you are not making progress in the first couple of months. If you play the longer game, you'll enjoy more success.

So how do you measure ROI?

It comes down to tracking everything you can, including:
  • Online purchases
  • Online contact forms
  • Video views
  • E-book Downloads
  • Social interactions (this includes Facebook likes, Twitter follows and more)

To track these, you can use any or all of the three methods below.

Tagging Urls

Tagging a URL is basically adding a “tag” or more characters/words to the end of the original URL. Below are two examples of a normal URL and tagged URL:

Normal URL: www.AllstarIT.com/harddrive.html.

Tagged version of the same URL: www.AllstartIT.com/harddrive.htm?utmcampaign=BannerAdharddriveAd&utm_small=BannerAd

Adding this tag allows you to easily track which of your social media campaigns are producing the desired results. Without doing this, you run the risk of of all your social media visitors being recognized as organic, rather than ones that have come from a specific campaign or strategy you’re implementing. An excellent tool to build your unique URL is Google’s URL builder.

Google Analytics

This is the most obvious strategy for tracking your social media campaigns, and Google has long been the market leader in tracking the success of online marketing. A Google Analytics account can be set up in a matter of minutes, and then makes it easy to track your campaigns. Go to Acquisition and then check All Referrals. Here you’ll see where people are discovering your site - be it a Google organic search or social media network.

Call Tracking

Call tracking is often used to track the ROI from Facebook ad campaigns, though it can also be used on other social media platforms. This tactic allows you to measure how many phone calls you are getting from your customers on social media sites.

To do this you list a different phone number on a particular social media page than on your business website. For example, if the number listed on your business website is 763-984-6577, you instead list 763-984-6555 for the social media page you’re tracking. By seeing how many people call the number listed on the social media page, you’ll gain a better understanding of how effective that particular page or ad is. If it’s effective, you’ll know to use whatever methods are working from this page or ad in your other social media efforts.

Want more ideas on how to measure social media ROI or to get more value out of your IT investments? Get in touch today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 4th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_May4_CWhether you’re a small business owner or managing a medium-sized company, you must have a business continuity plan (BCP) to safeguard your business against disasters. But developing a BCP that’s capable of putting your company back on its feet fast is equally as important as having one in the first place. Let’s take a look at these crucial features of a successful business continuity plan.

Backup strategies are tested regularly

Most businesses nowadays, if not all, employ technological tools to assist in managing their everyday business operations. As a result, a massive amount of data is stored on their on-site servers. Should a disaster strike, all valuable information would be damaged or lost. Backup plans are advisable, of course, but even these are useless without regular check-ups and testing. You’ll want to verify that your backups include all of your company’s strategic data, and that they are fully functional in the event of a disaster.

All employees are involved

Your employees are the essence of your business. They help drive your business forward, and therefore each and every one of them needs to understand the essentials of your business continuity plan. Schedule a meeting with each department, outlining everyone’s role in the plan, then revise the plan again with the whole company. Make sure everyone has a part to play in order to avoid having some employees feeling left out. Be sure to also let your employees know that they are your most valuable assets, and that you’re willing to help them in any way you can during a disaster, whether it’s encouraging them to prepare an emergency plan for their families or allowing them to work remotely from home if necessary.

Identify and prioritize critical functions

What are your company’s greatest strengths? A good business continuity plan exposes your most important business functions. All inventories and resources related to those functions must be accurate and created in advance. But sometimes, determining truly critical functions can be a real challenge - and incorrect assumptions can cripple the whole BCP, so this needs to be addressed in the early stages of planning. Once you’ve identified your critical business functions, you’ll be able to continue your business operations smoothly, even if not quite normally, during a disaster.

Succession plans exist for key employees

This is one of the most often overlooked aspects in a business continuity plan. Key employees are the life and soul of a BCP, usually having the knowledge and expertise that precede the plans on paper. Are you able to execute the plan if your key employee is missing? Do a simple test without your key members. Put an alternative candidate in charge of the situation and forbid the key employee from participating and giving direct instructions. Assign alternates for each part of a BCP, and ask them to perform disaster recovery functions in place of key employees. Having two people to count on is always better than one!

Having a BCP is one thing, but having one that actually works well is something you should strive to achieve. If you’re planning to implement a business continuity plan in your company, contact us today and we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 29th, 2015

Security_Apr29_CBusiness data is something you can’t afford to lose, since it could lead to you losing the trust of your clients, resulting in loss of revenue. And since the hackers aren’t going anywhere, it’s more important than ever to employ security measures to protect your business data. It’s true that some hackers might be so determined and skilled that no simple security methods will ever prevent them from violating your company’s data. But it’s well worth a try to implement these methods to protect your business data from most attacks.

Get rid of passwords

We are all accustomed to setting passwords to our online accounts, and the tip is always the same - set strong passwords, and change them regularly. But according to Verizon, a global communications and technology leader, a quarter of data breaches analyzed in this year’s report could’ve been stopped if the victimized company had applied more than a password in its defenses. The problem is that passwords can be used with any computer, which is why companies like Facebook and Google have replaced passwords with USB tokens. Tokens, when plugged into a company’s computer, act as a verification device and an extra layer of security.

Encrypt all data

Encryption is a great obstruction to hackers, since it scrambles and descrambles data each time someone tries to read it. Encryption also causes compatibility issues if the data is not being accessed via the company’s own network systems. While applying encryption can be costly, it is certainly well worth the money if it can protect your business data from leaking into the wrong hands.

Keep systems up-to-date

The technology world is moving at a fast pace. Hackers are always upgrading their tools to take advantage of outdated security systems, and so companies should do likewise to protect their valuable resources. Yet many companies who use software don’t install updates immediately. If the update intends to close security loopholes, delaying an update exposes you to external attacks. So install software updates as soon as they come out in order to give hackers no reason to penetrate your systems.

Back up frequently

Although you’ve implemented several security layers to your data, sometimes hackers can find their way in. This is why you need to back up data frequently, whether it’s on-site, off-site or by way of cloud backups. In the worst-case scenario if your systems do get infiltrated, you can restore lost data from those backups and quickly strengthen security.

Monitor connectivity

Many businesses have no idea how many computers they have, so it’s very hard to keep track of which computers are online. Sometimes a company’s computers and servers are online when they don’t need to be, making them a tempting target for attackers. With that in mind, it’s advisable to configure business servers properly, ensuring that only necessary machines are online and that they’re well-protected.

It’s much more expensive to fix a data breach than to prevent one. If you’re looking to check your business IT systems for potential threats, contact us today and we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security