Blog

March 11th, 2015

BusinessValue_11Mar_BTechnology underpins nearly every aspect of the modern business process. The problem is that business owners can find it hard to manage technology, and this is where Managed Services Providers (MSPs) come in. Whether it’s software to record customers’ data, network infrastructure management or cloud technology, MSPs can provide these services and much more to suit an organization’s business model. So instead of spending a large portion of their budget on establishing IT systems and relying on break/fix solutions, businesses are turning to MSPs in ever greater numbers to reduce costs and increase efficiency.

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 4th, 2015

Sec B 164With over 3 billion internet users around the globe totaling roughly 40 percent of the population, the internet is rife with opportunities for hackers to steal your information. And with technology constantly evolving and the internet growing, it’s not likely to get safer anytime soon. It therefore pays to take extra precautions when surfing the web. That’s why we’ve compiled these three easy tips that can amp up your online security.

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
March 3rd, 2015

Productivity_Mar3_BFor many of us, email is the bane of our lives. We spend too long slaving over our inboxes, desperate to empty it but seemingly forever staring at a bottomless pit. This long list of requests, information and updates is the ultimate distraction from our real work - and not all of it is even applicable to us. But by sharpening the focus of those subject lines at the top of your messages, you can make it easier for you and your recipient to identify which emails are relevant to you, which ones need action and when you need to reply by. All of which equates to less time spent battling with your inbox and more time getting on with the task in hand. Here are three tips to set your organization on the road to greater email efficiency and enhanced overall productivity.

Specific subjects spell success

If someone sends you an email that’s headed simply with the word “report”, how are you meant to know what they want from you? Do they need you to write a new report, proofread one they’ve already written, or print a report for them? You inevitably start reading the email without the first idea of what it is you’re being asked to do.

In an ideal situation, when you receive a new email you want to know in an instant - just from the subject line - what the message is about. And that is something you should make possible for recipients of your own emails too. So structure your subject line using keywords - for instance, change that “Report” to “Sales Report for February 2015”. Better still, give your colleague all they need to know at a glance - “Draft Sales Report for February 2015 by Monday, 1pm” - so that the body of the message is preserved for you to get down to details as succinctly as possible.

Use prefixes and suffixes

Another simple way to help your recipient understand at a glance what you need from them - and to make it easier for them to categorize their incoming emails, too - is to specify right in the subject line what type of message it is that you are sending them. Emails come in all shapes and sizes, and by placing a prefix before or a suffix after your main subject line, you’ll get quicker results.

For instance, if your email needs a definitive response from the recipient, start it with “ACTION:” followed by the subject. An example would be “ACTION: Draft Sales Report for February 2015 by Monday, 1pm”. If, on the other hand, you are simply dropping your colleagues a quick notification that the printer is out of order, you can use one or both of “FYI” (for your information) and “NRN” (no reply needed). For example: “FYI: Printer out of order until further notice” or “NRN: Printer out of order until further notice.”

You can take this one stop further. If you can get your entire message across in the subject line alone, then that’s exactly what you should aim to do. That way, your colleague can read the subject line, add the task to their to-do list and delete it straight out of their inbox. To quickly signal that there’s nothing in the email body, you can suffix your subject line with “EOM” (end of message) - for example, “FYI: Printer out of order until further notice. EOM”.

Keep it consistent

These tricks will only help you beat a never-ending inbox if they’re adopted and applied consistently across your organization. Make them a part of your company’s basic IT training, and encourage your staff to use them in their own work and to pull up others who fall back into bad habits. They may be skeptical at first, but they’ll soon jump on the bandwagon once they start to realize how much less time they spend managing their email account!

Think too about introducing standardized formats for subjects of emails you and your teams send on a recurring basis. For example, if you regularly send reports around for review, prefix your subject line with “Report for Review:”, followed by the topic of the report. Or if your employees send you a weekly update on their workstreams, have them title it “Weekly Update:” followed by the date. That way, you can set up filters in your inbox and have those emails smartly stored in one place, ready for you to look through when the time is right, rather than clogging up your inbox and making it look like you have more urgent tasks to complete than you actually do.

Want to learn how to use email systems efficiently to boost your firm’s productivity? Chat to us today about the innovative email solutions we can provide.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
March 2nd, 2015

Trouble aheadIn the unexpected event that a disaster strikes, you need to have a continuity plan to keep your business running. If you don’t have one, or if your existing plan is outdated and ineffective, your business is at risk of losing potential clients and credibility. Imagine you’re halfway through a product presentation, when suddenly the whole building’s power goes out and the screen goes pitch black. Not impressive at all. This is why you must have a business continuity plan in place to minimize damage and prepare for emergencies.

Relevant factors such as your business’s resources, location, suppliers, customers, and employees must be carefully analyzed before a business continuity plan can be formed. It is also necessary to test the plan and check whether it’s working or not. Here are some proven methods to test your continuity plan’s efficiency.

Review the BCP

You have a business continuity plan ready with all the necessary information, contingency locations, personnel, contacts and service companies. The question is can you really pull it off? Have the plan reviewed regularly, or at least quarterly. Gather a team of individuals, heads of departments and managers to discuss the plan. Focus on the business continuity plan’s feasibility and pinpoint any areas where it might be strengthened.

Determine time and duration to test the plan

You should decide how often you test your business continuity plan, and for how long. Even if you have a solid plan in place, it’s still wise to review it again after a few months. Come up with a schedule for testing the plan and share it with employees. Testing time may take anywhere from one day to two weeks. However it can also take as little as three hours to determine the effectiveness of the plan by monitoring employees’ responses and decision-making abilities, based on the guidelines of the business continuity plan.

Outline objectives to employees

Most business continuity plans fail because they have never been properly relayed to employees. Emphasizing the plan’s importance to your business and demonstrating it to employees is crucial. You need to outline objectives for the business continuity test to your employees, informing them how you plan to measure its success and failure, so that they get a general idea of their roles and your expectations.

Create a scenario

Create a fake scenario that affects your business - whether it’s setting off fire alarms or announcing another disaster. Employees should act as though the scenario is genuine, and refer to their duties in the business continuity plan, going through it step by step. Monitor the time it takes to get everything under control, from contacting customers to checking business resources and temporary meeting locations.

Evaluation

After the business continuity plan is put to test, gather your employees to discuss the plan’s overall performance. Identify where it needs improvement and encourage the parts that worked best. Make changes to key persons and actions where necessary, to ensure that the continuity plan is working at its best.

Having a business continuity plan is good, but testing it regularly is equally important. Contact us today and see how we can help you cope with unexpected disasters.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

February 26th, 2015

PrintFrom glasses that bring you augmented reality to watches that monitor your heart rate, and jewelry that alerts you to incoming calls and text messages, wearable technology is big business and represents a growing trend that is here to stay. Innovative technology that literally attaches itself to your person has the potential to boost productivity in life and business like you never thought possible. And while Google Glass may be considered something of a flop, Apple has its Watch on the way. Nonetheless, word is that this too could take a while before it’s firing on all cylinders with consumers. Here’s why you might be best advised to take stock before buying.

The battery dwindles all too quickly

Much like your smartphone - perhaps even more so, in fact - if you buy yourself an Apple Watch then it’s likely you will want it to travel with you everywhere. That means it’s going to be on your wrist, in use and burning through its battery charge, for a good portion of the day. It might not be running at full capacity the whole time, but it’s unlikely to be on complete standby either. You might use it to check the time, the weather, your e-mails. It might sound an alarm when you need to leave the office for a client meeting, display your fitness regime progress at a glance, or help you find directions to the convention you’re attending tomorrow morning.

And while Apple claims its Watch will hold out on you for between three and four days when in one of two standby modes, in truth there’s no way those modes are going to get much use when you’re playing with your brand new toy. In fact, experts believe that with moderate to heavy use you could expect it to begin powering down after just two and a half hours. That’s not much help if you are hoping to use it as a more convenient replacement for your smartphone. Though Apple is rumored to be mulling over a more powerful battery, that will likely be released at some point in the future - in the meantime, less than perfect battery life will be off-putting to potential Watch users.

It’s late to the party

Okay, so Apple has demonstrated before that it can show up after everyone else and still do a great job of ruffling feathers - it certainly wasn’t the first smartphone around, and yet it has managed to do an impressive job of market domination. But Apple’s rivals have been in the smartwatch arena for some time and that means companies like LG, using the Android Wear platform to develop their devices, have the benefit of almost a year of customer feedback behind them. Put simply, they already have more of an idea than Apple as to what consumers are looking for in terms of both design and features. With Apple likely to be playing catch-up for some time, it seems probable that it will be a while before the Apple Watch will become a must-have gadget.

It’s just too Apple - and yet not

Apple has carved a reputation out of devices that sell themselves thanks to killer apps that make them essential purchases. When the idea of the Apple Watch was first touted, it was meant to do the same - a comprehensive fitness regime tracking app that revolutionized your exercise routine would have put it well and truly on the map. Yet technological capability and regulatory compliance appear to have got in the way, and what has made it to market seems to be a watered down version of the dream. Without this, the device looks to be scheduled for release with little to really wow its audience aside from incorporation of the Apple Pay service.

And yet Apple Watch appears to have burned itself on two fronts because, while its apps have failed to impress critics, the distinctive Apple design goes against the grain of industry efforts to make wearable tech look less tech-y. With watches especially, the aim has been to produce devices that look like their traditional, analog cousins, in order to make it feel more socially acceptable to wear them. Nonetheless, having the latest iPhone release has undoubtedly become a status symbol, and Apple’s refusal to rein in its branding could prove to be a worthwhile gamble and make the Apple Watch even more attractive to consumers.

Of course, Apple will count on its legions of fans to make the Watch a success in spite of whatever shortcomings it might have. Wearable technology is certainly here to stay, and the Apple Watch release is a development for both consumers and businesses to keep a close eye on. Though you might want to hold back on the Apple Watch being the productivity boosting device your company has been longing for, it could yet win its way into our technological hearts - you’ll have to watch this space (excuse the pun).

To learn more about the benefits to your business of wearable technology and other hardware solutions, give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
February 25th, 2015

Cloud 2_164Imagine an IT service that could revolutionize your business. The moment you sign up, your company will instantly be overwhelmed with oodles of dollars, raining down from heaven, via the magic of (drumroll please)...the Cloud. Have you heard this before? Okay, maybe this is a bit exaggerated, but we’re sure you’ve heard of the Cloud and the supposed revolutionary transformation it can have on your business. The real question is, what is its true impact? We’ll take a closer look in this article.

You might say that many businesses sign up for the Cloud because it is touted as a revolutionary technology. And if you’re one of those that has already hopped on the bandwagon, you may actually be among the soon-to-be disappointed.

The reasoning behind this is simple. Businesses who get the most out of the Cloud know which specific problems it will solve for their organization before they even sign up. They know which workflows and tasks can benefit from, and have their efficiency boosted by, Cloud technologies. And they’ve identified how the Cloud can rewire their work processes.

The true purpose of the Cloud

Did you catch the word “efficiency” in the block of text above? If you did, then you’ve identified the true value the Cloud brings to a business. Don’t believe the hype that the Cloud will somehow magically boost your bottom line. Although it has that potential, the Cloud is all about efficiency. It can save you time searching for important documents, updating software, and replacing documents stored on a lost laptop. And it enhances efficiency and collaboration among your staff. What's more, when your business is in the Cloud, your business is everywhere. And that means increased efficiency.

Where businesses go wrong with the Cloud

Besides jumping on the Cloud bandwagon without considering where it can benefit your business, a major reason the Cloud fails for SMBs is because they’ve chosen the wrong vendor. The truth is, some vendors are going to try and oversell you on Cloud services you don’t need. Instead of getting a whole suite of Cloud services such as software plugins, a new Cloud infrastructure and development platforms, maybe your business would benefit much more by just keeping it simple with Google Apps. Sometimes pork and potatoes are going to beat a steak. It really just depends on your objectives.

Secondly, if you’re a small business, make sure the IT provider you’re talking to caters to small businesses. If their target customers are large enterprises, you’re likely going to be overpaying for a service that doesn’t align with your business model.

Does the Cloud really add value to my business?

Have no doubt that the Cloud can improve efficiency if you know where to implement it. A study of 757 SMBs by Exact and the Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research found that one in five SMBs surveyed had implemented Cloud technologies, and 78% of those were operating at levels above industry standards.

In conclusion, is adapting the Cloud going to instantly start making you money? Likely not. But it will impact your business in other valuable ways for the long run. You’ll have increased flexibility, scalability, improved processes and streamlined workflow. Is all this good for business? Well, what do you think?

To figure out how the Cloud can effectively fit into your business model, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

February 24th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_Feb24_BIn today’s technological landscape, companies increasingly rely on sophisticated business intelligence tools to help them to make better and more strategic business decisions. Applying the best technology to your practices can give you an edge over your competitors and increase the thing that matters to your business most - productivity. Read on to find out more about three efficient BI tools that may benefit your bottom line.

The Internet of Things

The concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) is to embed electronic sensors into any physical objects, allowing them to be controlled via the Internet. This includes everything from mobile phones to refrigerators, washing machines and even cars. The idea of IoT is exciting and definitely practical in today’s technology-driven world. While the concept has been around for several years, many business owners still don’t even know what the IoT means. So let’s take a closer look at how IoT will impact businesses.
  • Increased efficiency - Businesses will be able to connect devices for efficient, real-time operations. For instance, IoT can connect a warehouse system and point-of-sale scanners together to provide better inventory management.
  • New business opportunities - Today there are approximately 10 billion connected devices, and this number is growing fast. IoT opens a door to new business opportunities as customers need new devices and services in their everyday lives.
  • More security concerns - While the idea of connecting everything together is exciting, businesses will have to pay extra attention to security. More data stored online means increased chances of information theft and cyber security issues.

3D Printing

Some businesses have probably never considered that 3D printing could be of use to them, partly because they’re so accustomed to the traditional way of printing 2D materials such as posters and flyers. But now 3D printing allows businesses to manufacture three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file. Since the costs of technology are expected to decrease, 3D printing could be adapted to business practices for various purposes.

The main benefits of 3D printing for businesses are increased productivity and creative, customizable new designs. Product designers can use 3D software to speed up the creation of product prototypes. It also allows for remote cooperation between colleagues, which increases the ability to brainstorm ideas for faster product-development cycles. 3D printing processes are also highly customizable to suit the needs of clients.

The Enterprise Cloud

Companies are now familiar with cloud computing, having used it for data storage and synchronization for the past few years. But the enterprise cloud offers more flexibility and scalability than regular cloud computing, and is noted for its cost efficiency, security, and easy-to-use model. Enterprise cloud computing refers to a firewall protected computer system which is able to offer software, infrastructure and platform and web services. They can provide private access and a virtual scalable environment controlled by either a single company or consortium.

Nowadays, businesses require faster innovation, remote access, and better cross-product integration. This is where the enterprise cloud comes in; to deliver cost savings and provide better security to accommodate business growth. You’ll want to adopt the enterprise cloud to gain advantage over your competitors.

If you’re interested in boosting your business performance with BI tools, contact us today and see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

February 24th, 2015

When you purchase a brand new computer do you expect it to contain a security threat right out of the box? Like many computer vendors, Lenovo includes software bundled in with their new machines. Often referred to as “bloatware,” this software is installed on the PC by the manufacturer for additional revenue. “Bloatware” is usually a means for the vendor to “add” something to the user’s experience, but what would happen if the software actually created a major security hole in your system. This is exactly what is happening right now with Lenovo.

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February 23rd, 2015

SocialMedia_Feb23_BAre you tired of waffling around on social media in an attempt to boost business? Maybe you have accounts on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit and more, but you seem to be making little progress. To make matters worse, you’ve gained less than 50 Facebook likes since starting out. What gives? Well, there are some sensible social media strategies that can pull you out of the trenches. Read on to learn how you can put them into action.

Undoubtedly, the most important strategy to use in your social media plan is...to have a strategy to begin with. Know how much time you can dedicate to social media, block out the hours to focus on it and don’t waste that time checking out friends’ vacation photos or celebrity twitter feeds.

If you don’t have a strategy, you’re going to waste time posting irrelevant updates that won’t engage with your audience. To help you plan an effective social media strategy, here are three crucial tips to get you off on the right foot.

Initially focus on the big three

Most social media experts agree that the three platforms that generate the most business leads, engagement and brand exposure are Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter. When you’re getting started, your efforts should be primarily focused on these three. After you’ve gained followings here, then you can start forging paths into YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest amongst others.

Post at prime exposure times

Studies have shown that around lunch and dinner time are ideal posting times (since everyone is uploading photos of their meals). As for which days, many marketers agree your posts are most likely to get noticed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So these are the times to deliver those high-impact messages you’ve been randomly shooting out.

Find the value in your post

On social media, you should always be focused on selling your services, right? Wrong. Only 15% of your posts should concern news about your business and its products. The other 85% should focus on providing fun, valuable and timely content.

When you create a new post, you should ask yourself what’s in it for the customer. What do they get from reading it? Seriously, why is someone going to share your post or talk about your business unless it adds value to their life? Think about the posts you share personally. Do they provide value to your friends and family? We’re guessing the answer is yes.

For more tips on how social media can create buzz for your business, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media