Blog

March 19th, 2015

Virt 164_CYou’ve heard about Cloud Computing and Virtualization. You’ve followed the news about them, and even know a few fellow business owners who’ve successfully implemented the technologies. You’re excited and ready to take the plunge. But wait, which technology should you use? If you’re unsure, read on. Here are the differences between the two and the things you need to know to help you determine which one will benefit your business more.

The difference between Cloud Computing and Virtualization

To understand which technology you need, you first need to understand the role of that technology in your business.

Virtualization is basically using virtual hardware or software stored off-site, instead of the actual physical asset being in your office. A common asset many organizations choose to virtualize is a server. So if you’re thinking about buying a new server, you may want to consider investing in a virtual one instead. The advantage of this is that you’ll free up office space and save money on the upfront expense of an in-house server as well as its maintenance costs.

Cloud Computing, on the other hand, is not about individual assets, but instead is an operational model. Your business will run through the Cloud, where employees can create documents, interact with each other and customers, and even store files and data. The main advantage of the Cloud is that it increases operational efficiency and boosts organizational productivity.

Arguments for virtualizing

If you’re considering either the Cloud or Virtualization and have done neither, it makes sense to think about Virtualization first. With both Virtualization and the Cloud, you’re essentially changing the architecture of your business - from physical to virtual. Virtualization, however, is a small change, while Cloud Computing is a more dramatic one. If you opt for going all in with the Cloud right away, it may be a bit mind jarring for some of your staff as they get used to the new technology. And this could slow down their productivity. Virtualizing a few technology assets, instead of your entire workflow system, is an easier way to get a grasp of working with virtual technology for the first time.

A more fundamental reason to choose Virtualization is that you’re just looking to create more office space. In this case Virtualization is a no-brainer.

Arguments for the Cloud

If your organization gets to the point of needing to add virtualized machines or servers quickly, the Cloud can automate this process. However, your IT department must be ready and willing to hand this process over to your end users.

Also, if your organization has been using virtualized machines for some time or is simply ready to overhaul its workflow and operational process altogether, then the Cloud is likely a better fit for your business.

Which is the best choice for your business?

What it comes down to is operational efficiency (Cloud Computing) or saving money and space on individual assets (Virtualization). What’s more important to you?

And do you have a progressive organization and staff that are ready to adapt to using virtual technologies? If not, then Virtualization may be the initial step you need to start changing your organization’s infrastructure to compete in the modern business world.

Want to learn more about Virtualization and Cloud Computing? Contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 18th, 2015

Security_Mar18_CIt’s easy to get complacent about internet security, but the reality is that none of us can afford to let our guard down. Precautions to protect yourself, your identity and your finances online can be simple, but they are only effective when practiced rigorously and consistently. And while the most obvious things like making passwords hard to guess and locking your workstation are as effective as they ever were, nowhere are conscientious security efforts more crucial than when using online banking systems and mobile payment portals. Users of peer-to-peer payment provider Venmo can breathe a sigh of relief, then, because the service just added extra security controls for its customers.

The Venmo platform is known for its convenience and ease of use, and is commonly used to split the cost of drinks, dinner, taxis and the like. The app is now adding a raft of new security-focused features, in response to criticism of its record for ensuring the security of its customers and their financial transactions.

Back in February, a Venmo user discovered his account had been hacked and used to withdraw almost $3,000 from his credit card. The intruder had also thought to change the email address associated with the Venmo account and to disable notifications of payments, but Venmo did not tell the genuine user about the changes that had been made. Venmo was decried for letting basic lapses in security exist in its trendsetting platform.

Now the service is doing what it can to pick up the pieces and up the ante on the security front. The most obvious change is to incorporate automatic email notifications when changes are made to the basic personal details associated with a Venmo account - a feature which many believe should have been built in from the word go. But the app will also add multi-factor authentication, another name for the two-step verification that can be enabled within Google Apps and other services. This feature makes it more difficult for would-be intruders to gain access to your account, even if they manage to get hold of your password.

Multi-factor authentication works by requiring not only your password for login, but also a second piece of information such as a one-time code - often generated on-the-spot and sent by SMS to the user’s cell phone - or the answer to a pre-set security question. Insisting on two phases to the sign-in process allows another opportunity to stop potential fraudsters in their tracks. The changes being implemented by Venmo also reflect the growing awareness on the part of technology companies for the need to get serious about security and protect the integrity of their systems and their users’ data.

You can put multi-factor authentication to use in your IT systems to keep your business protected. Get in touch with us and we’ll show you how.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
March 17th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_Mar17_CAre you thinking of making the move from simple Excel data extraction to more sophisticated business intelligence tools? It’s an essential step for any company looking to up the ante and gain real insights into business performance as of today, and to compare that to your company’s direction in order to understand what’s needed to get there. That said, business intelligence can be a minefield of concepts and terminology, that can seem complex to the first-timer. Here are three jargon-busters to get you on your way.

Reporting

Whether simple or more sophisticated, reporting forms the foundation of business intelligence and is key to knowing how your company is doing - and how to make it do better still. No matter the size of your company, financial reporting helps you to understand your position in terms of revenue and expenditure. Typical reports you might produce on a regular basis include balance sheets, cash flow statements and profit and loss accounts. Business intelligence tools like Enterprise Resource Planning applications can help you get a hold of these reports and customize them to suit your needs, to a level of detail and usability that most of us just aren’t going to manage with a spreadsheet alone.

Data Visualization

Having access to reams of business data is all very well, but in reality it’s not of much use if it doesn’t mean anything to everyday humans. You and your colleagues are business focused and, while you might know your way around a bit of data analysis and your IT systems, you don’t want to spend your lives with your head buried in sheet after sheet of formulae. Frankly, you’ve got better things to be doing than that - like getting on with the day-to-day management of your business.

That’s where visualization comes in. Just what it sounds like, visualization is about taking your raw data and presenting it in a way that’s instantly understandable and meaningful to its audience - whether that’s you as business owner, your boss or your company’s investors. Visualization can help you to convey a high-level overview of business performance, before you drill down to consider more specific areas of your products and services. Some business intelligence tools also offer interactivity to allow you to get exactly what you need from complex data.

Corporate Performance Management

The performance of your business depends on a huge number of factors, and if you are properly preparing for the future then you are considering a multitude of scenarios depending on how those factors play out. That can leave you with multiple versions of your budgets and cash flow statements but, without effective business intelligence software, you’re likely to have that information stored in a messy tangle of spreadsheets.

A better solution is a business intelligence application that allows you to import data from various locations, and adjust your reporting output according to variables in the numerous factors you are forecasting. With speed that those clumsy spreadsheets just couldn’t replicate if they tried, you’ll have at your fingertips a set of responsive, adaptable reports that enable you and your team to spend more time on analysis and making plans for the future.

Want to learn more about using business intelligence to propel your company to greater heights? Get in touch with us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 16th, 2015

SocialMedia_Mar16_CThere was a time when social media platforms were hashtag-free. But the reality in today’s online world is that hashtags are one of the most prominent tools used in social media. And with more businesses than ever engaging in social media to stay competitive, let’s take a look at how different social media sites make use of hashtags, and how you can use them to the advantage of your business.

Twitter

Twitter hashtags don’t support special characters like +, !, $, %, -, ^, &, * but do support letters, numbers and underscores. There are no hashtag limits as long as you keep your message within the usual 140 characters.

The best way to use hashtags in Twitter is through hosting and participating in Twitter chats. You don’t need to be in an event to network with people through the official hashtag; event organizers usually market the official hashtag very well. In other words, you’ll get additional exposure if you use it.

Useful Twitter hashtag tools include:

Hashtagify which tracks trending hashtags and shows related hashtags for any base terms you provide. TwChat lets you discover, participate in and host Twitter chats. This is best used for monitoring and archiving any hashtag streams.

Instagram

Just like Twitter, Instagram hashtags don’t support special characters like +, !, $, %, -, ^, &, *, but do support letters, numbers and underscores. You can add up to 30 hashtags to a single photo or tag your photo after publishing it by listing the hashtags in the comments.

After you tag your post with a hashtag, you’ll be able to tap on the hashtag to see a page that shows all photos and videos people have uploaded with the same hashtag. Instagram hashtags can dramatically increase your following, especially if you use hot and trending hashtags which are easily found here.

The best use of hashtags on Instagram is to participate in hashtag games like #tbt (Throwback Thursday) and #MondayBlues. Both can increase your following and interactions since people click on these specific hashtags to see photos of other participants. Additionally, location-based hashtags also work very well on Instagram, whether abbreviated or in full, for example #LA and #LosAngeles.

Facebook

Facebook hashtags are similar to other social platforms; they support the standard set of characters including numbers, letters and underscore but don’t support special characters.

However, searching by hashtag on Facebook is a little unlike the rest, in that when you search for a hashtag you often end up on a Facebook page instead of a hashtag search result page. But there’s an easier way to generate hashtag search results - simply add the hashtag text after facebook.com/hashtag/, for example facebook.com/hashtag/cats.

You can also bring up hashtag search results by clicking on any hashtag in your Facebook stream. Do keep in mind that Facebook’s ranking algorithm is complex and seems to classify hashtags according to how closely you are related to the person posting the update, as well as how often the two of you interact.

The growing use of hashtags has changed how we use different social media platforms for the better. Still, it’s important to understand how these different platforms make use of hashtags in order to optimize them to your business’s advantage. Looking to learn more about how social media can help your business? Contact us today!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
March 12th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_Mar10_CCompanies are using business intelligence tools to assist in their business operations. Whether it’s collecting, analyzing or virtualizing data, or creating reports, business intelligence systems can do all this and much more. They also allow companies to make strategic business decisions to increase efficiency at an affordable price. That’s why many small business owners are jumping on the bandwagon and reaping the benefits of BI.

What is business intelligence?

As a business owner, you may have come across business intelligence at some point in your research for efficient business tools. Business intelligence is a term that sounds intimidating, but it’s actually really easy to understand.

BI is a set of tools and techniques that transform raw data into information that companies can actually use for business purposes. You can use BI tools to collect data from internal systems and external sources. That data can then be analyzed and compiled into text or visual reports for corporate leaders, assisting them in making important business decisions.

Benefits of BI for small businesses

When it comes to analyzing data, business intelligence is a cut above other methods like simply pulling data from Excel spreadsheets. Businesses can use BI for many purposes. Here are some benefits.
  • Boost sales - Business intelligence tools can create and analyze data to improve sales. You can send an email to your clients, inserting a link to your website, then monitor their behavior with an analytical tool to subsequently target your emails more successfully. You can also use BI for sales forecasting and to decide on the best method to reach your sales target.
  • Identifying opportunities - BI tools allow you to assess your company’s capabilities and compare your strengths and weaknesses to your competitors. You can also identify market trends in order to respond quickly to change.
  • Better customer service - Customers are the lifeblood of any small business, and you should take customer service seriously. There are BI software programs that collect post-service customer feedback. Your customer service team is informed when they receive low feedback scores, so they can follow up and resolve any issues.

Implementation

After you’ve researched the benefits of BI to your business, the next step is to implement it in your company. The first thing to clarify is your need for business intelligence. Do you want to improve your sales? Are you looking for new customers? It’s important to be clear on this, so that you can choose a BI tool that will provide the best solutions to your problems. Once your objective is clear, it’s time to determine what resources you already have to get the job done. In some cases, your existing tools may be sufficient.

There are lots of BI options to choose from, and you should pick the one that best suits your needs. Want to know how to adapt business intelligence to your company? Give us a call and see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 12th, 2015

Office_Mar12_CWith the release of Office for Mac 2016, Microsoft brings a long overdue refresh to its flagship suite of productivity applications for Mac users. As well as design changes that deliver similarities to the Windows versions of the applications, the latest upgrade - currently free of charge while it remains in preview stage, prior to full release later this year - harnesses the power of cloud computing to deliver Office 365 collaboration features. Thinking of upgrading? Here’s what to look out for in the new release.

Cloud power

Office for Mac 2016 takes the power of the cloud and puts it to full use, bringing the advantages of its cloud-oriented Office 365 applications to its flagship package. As a result, you can now access your Office documents whenever and wherever, and no matter which device you are using. Aside from Office 365, the new software is also integrated with OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, and SharePoint.

It’s now possible to jointly author Word and PowerPoint documents with colleagues, and to make challenges simultaneously. Much like Google Docs, you can run a chat conversation alongside the document, in order to discuss the changes you are each making. Word and PowerPoint automatically flag up updates to the document that you might not have spotted already. These features are already available to Windows-based users of Office.

Sharing documents also becomes simpler, with a dedicated sharing button in the applications’ top right corner that allows you to invite colleagues to collaborate on the document you’re working on. It’s possible to share a document either as an attachment or as a link, and of course to control access rights for each person to whom you give access. You can open others’ Office documents right from your email account and get straight to editing.

Ribbon refresh

Until now, there have been differences in the options available on the ‘ribbon’ of icons that appear beneath the File, Edit and other menus at the top of the screen. You might see one thing on your Mac but another on your PC, and another still on your tablet. With Office for Mac 2016, Microsoft has taken the opportunity to fix those inconsistencies, so you’ll now find the options you need in the same places across all the platforms you use. A new task pane is also intended to help simplify graphics editing.

Email grouping

The updates to Outlook, and OneNote too, were actually released in 2014 and so are technically not new with this release. But one such useful update that is carried through to Office for Mac 2016 is the organization of Outlook emails by conversation, as is the case with Gmail. Emails can be sorted using a variety of other criteria, too.

Presentation aids

Office for Mac 2016 makes life a little easier for those presenting using PowerPoint slides. While your audience is shown the final product on your big screen, you can benefit from having ‘presenter view’ open on your monitor. This dedicated view gives you access to all of your presentation’s slides, any associated notes and also a timer to help you keep pace.

The entire suite of Office for Mac 2016 applications - including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook - is available for free upgrade during Microsoft’s preview period, which runs until later this year. Once that comes to an end, you’ll need an Office 365 subscription or perpetual licence in order to keep making the most of the package’s features.

To find out more about boosting your company’s productivity with Microsoft Office applications, give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 11th, 2015

BusinessValue_11Mar_CIncorporating technology into business operations can be a challenge, because technology is always on the move, and many businesses simply can’t keep up. Small businesses often put their faith in a single IT guy to look after their tech needs but, chances are, he won't have the time or expertise to be able to deal with wide ranging issues. As a result, many businesses look to Managed Services Providers (MSPs) to provide IT services and handle all IT issues.

MSPs defined

Managed Services Providers boast a range of capabilities. They create IT options and provide solutions to facilitate businesses in their everyday activities. Simply put, a Managed Services Provider is your IT department, and they are experts at what they do. MSPs perform IT-related tasks to your exacting requirements, whether it’s installing software, virtualizing data, or other complex duties. Best of all, because they are taking care of your IT systems, you have more free time to focus on your business.

Selecting the best MSP

You can only achieve optimum IT results by selecting the right Managed Services Provider - preferably one that can demonstrate competency and consistency. Here are some criteria to keep in mind when choosing an MSP.
  • Depth of skills and experience - Any Managed Services Provider should, at the very least, have skills that go beyond basic software installation, maintenance and upgrades. Your business will likely need some advanced IT functions, such as database management, virtualization, cloud technology, security, and cross-platform integration. An MSP should have strong expertise in these models in order to meet the expectations and needs of your company.
  • Consistent global service - In addition to the services provided, MSPs should have global service capabilities. These include the ability to manage IT systems in multiple countries, local language support for foreign subsidiaries, and IT implementation in new locations. Businesses can expand globally with an MSP’s global service offering.
  • Broad range of services - The IT needs of businesses are continually changing, and MSPs tend to provide a suite of managed services to respond to these changes. This could mean anything from updates to software, security patches, antivirus and firewall protection, or even new compliance measures. Make sure that such services can be delivered without additional costs.
  • Financial stability and reputation - A Managed Services Provider’s length of time in the market doesn’t guarantee their longevity. Do your research into a potential MSP’s annual reports and financial statements. Also ask the MSP to provide evidence of their reputation by way of customer references and testimonials.
Choosing the right Managed Services Provider is a very important step that will impact on your business’s performance and success. If you want to learn how MSPs can support your business, contact us today.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 9th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_Mar09_AYou’ve been putting that business continuity plan off for months now, but you’ve finally decided to go through with it. You start by talking to members of your staff, partners and service providers. And it doesn’t take long to see that everyone has a different opinion about what to recover first when disaster strikes. The head of your IT department demands your servers are top priority, while your Vice President argues that without network security being reestablished pronto, your business is left vulnerable to even further damage. Who’s right? It may be difficult to decide. That’s why we’ve compiled these fundamental ideas to consider when drafting your business continuity plan.

Speak to many members of your organization

And not just your IT department - which may sound like a bit of an oxymoron coming from an IT provider’s blog. However, the reason behind this is simple. Suppose you have an IT staff member called Jane, who is responsible for a series of applications that automate your e-commerce system. If you call a business continuity meeting concerning to identify assets to prioritize during a disaster, what do you think Jane will say? She’ll likely point to her group of applications, since to her this is what she prioritizes and spends her days on. And it’s not just Jane; each staff member will probably voice that their particular job (whether that’s security, server maintenance or something entirely different) needs to be prioritized. It’s human nature to think of your responsibility and role first. We all do it.

The key is to get more than one opinion. It’s not a bad idea to start with the leaders of your company, and then work your way down. Leaders generally think in a broader sense about your organization as a whole, rather than one particular facet of it.

Consider where your business is going

When developing your business continuity plan, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking about your business as it is today. While you’ll draft your plan in the present, it needs to be created with the future in mind. For example, if you’re considering joining the Cloud or virtualizing your servers in the next year or so, how is this going to impact your plan? It’s smart to think of this sooner rather than later, as it could cause a major shift in your priorities. If you start deploying your business continuity plan but then have to switch gears further down the line, it’ll likely cost your company a lot of money.

Examine the interdependency of your business

Remember to connect the dots between your IT department and business processes. For instance, if your email system can’t run without the use of a particular IT application, it will do no good for you to have your email system as a priority 1 issue and that IT application as a priority 3. In this scenario, the IT application would need the same priority as the email system - if not higher, or else your email system will simply not work.

The point is to map out the interdepencies of your business processes and IT, so that you know what depends on what. That way you’re not left in a pickle when disaster strikes.

Need help getting started with your business continuity plan? Contact us today to learn how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 5th, 2015

young businessman looking at computer screenWhen it comes to the most widely used operating system, Windows 7 is at the top of the list. In addition to its functionality and business-oriented programs, Windows 7 has many useful features that are unknown to general users who only care about word processing and Internet browsing. These features are very handy and they are right under your nose! Check out these Windows 7 features that will help improve your business performance.

Snipping Tool

While there are many simple screen capturing programs out there, Windows 7 has its Snipping Tool to make screenshots easier. With Snipping Tool, you can take 4 types of screenshots - free-form, rectangular, window, and full screen. So when you come across a great scene in A YouTube video or want to share some screenshots with your friends, simply use Snipping Tool to get the job done. You can even showcase the important parts with the highlight pen function, and you can save the picture in HTML, JPEG, GIF, and PNG formats.

Extended calculator

Calculator has always been a basic but crucial application on smartphone devices and computers. Even if you’re already relying on specific software to analyze data, it’s always handy to have a simple calculator program nearby to help you with the math. Everyone knows that Windows 7 has a calculator, but this specific calculator has a few extra tricks up its sleeve. Under the View tab, you’ll find a bunch of powerful unit conversions, including scientific units. It can also do special calculations for programmers and for statistical needs. Don’t take our word for it; go check it out for yourself.

Sticky Notes

Tired of pasting post-it notes all over your computer screen? Sticky Notes allow you to record texts to virtually remind you about important tasks or events. Run a search in the Start menu to find this feature in the Accessories folder. You can create as many notes as you like, color-coded for your convenience. Have an important meeting coming up? Use the red notes. Want to list places for your holiday plans? Put them in the bright yellow one. This tool works well for those who have a busy schedule and always need something to remind them what’s going on.

Taskbar Pins

If you need to access certain programs or folders on a daily basis, then pinning it to your taskbar can be a real time-saver. Simply click and drag your programs to an empty space on the taskbar to keep them close at hand. While you can’t place a folder on the taskbar, you can pin it to the Jump List, accessible via right-clicking on the leftmost folder near the start menu.

You might already be familiar with some of these simple yet effective tools, but it pays to be reminded that you can use them to assist you with your everyday tasks.

Want to learn how to integrate Windows 7 to boost your business productivity? Get in touch with us today and see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 4th, 2015

Sec C 164Are you concerned about internet security? Did you know there are a few simple ways to get increased protection that require only minimal investment of time? We’re not just talking about changing your passwords regularly or installing antivirus software. There are a few other methods that are less often talked about - here are three tips to boost your internet security that you might not have thought of yet.

Embrace two-factor authentication

Also known as two-step verification, most of us have likely dealt with this at one time or another. When you’re logging onto your bank’s website or your email account from a different computer than you normally use, you’re sometimes prompted for a one-time password - sent to you via text message, email or via some other method.

Nowadays, many sites such as Facebook, Dropbox and Twitter also give you the option to use two-factor authentication each time you log in. So if you’re looking for an easy way to up your security, it can give you that extra protection without slowing you down too much.

Update browsers and devices

Did you know that dated versions of browsers, operating systems and even other software packages can create an easy entry point for hackers? Often, new updates are created specifically to fix security holes. And hackers are ever aware that people can be lazy - saving that update for another day that never seems to come. They’ll often try to take advantage of this, searching for outdated devices to infiltrate while their victims watch YouTube on last year’s version of Firefox.

Yes, installing an update might take 15 minutes of your time. But it can pay dividends in preventing a security breach that could cost you or your business thousands.

Use HTTPs

When was the last time you typed those letters into a browser? Probably not this decade. It’s no wonder most people are unaware of this tip. So for those who are oblivious, https is the secure version of http - hypertext transfer protocol. Believe it or not, that last “s” actually adds an extra layer of protection. It encrypts information sent, both ways, between a website’s server and you.

You’re probably thinking, adding that last “s” to http (or even typing in http in general) is a complete pain in the rear. So to make this easier you can actually install a program like “HTTPS Everywhere” that’ll automatically switch an http into an https for you. Currently “HTTPS Everywhere” is available for Firefox, Chrome and Opera.

Looking for more tips to boost your internet security? Get in touch to find out how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security