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April 9th, 2015

164_A_MWIf Google Chrome, Firefox and Opera were at a cocktail party, Internet Explorer would probably be the butt of all their jokes. That’s not to say Internet Explorer never served a purpose, but it clearly has not kept up with the likes of today’s modern browsers. Microsoft knows this, which is why they’re releasing a new browser later this year. The name of it is Spartan, and there are some nifty features that may just revolutionize the way you use the web.

What is Spartan?

Spartan is Microsoft’s new web browser that will be released later this year along with Windows 10. Microsoft’s aim is to build a browser that is designed for the modern web, which creates a more personable experience when interacting with it. Here are few of the incredible changes Spartan has in store.

Web Note

Also known as inking, Web Note allows you to edit web pages directly. You can do this by either typing them or using an interactive pen that allows you to literally circle, underline, or annotate pages as you see fit. These annotations can then be shared with friends and colleagues via email or social networking. They’ll also be stored on Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage for easy collaboration.

Reading View

A web page can be a busy place, and the guys at Microsoft know that. That’s why they’ve created Reading View, which provides distraction-free reading to keep you focused on the content. Reading View eliminates ads, fancy CSS styling, sidebars and comments, creating a simple format that feels as if you’re looking at an open book.

Cortana, your new personalized assistant

More and more phones are enabling their devices with personal assistants, so why not web browsers? Cortana is designed to make your web browsing experience easier and more personalized. For example if you’re looking up a business or restaurant, Cortana can provide additional information such as opening hours, address and contact info. Another nifty feature of Cortana allows you to get a definition or content explanation without leaving your current page. Just highlight the word, right click and select Ask Cortana. She’ll provide you with the info you’re looking for, right there on your web page.

Want to learn more about Spartan or other Microsoft Windows News and tips? Call us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 7th, 2015

BusinessValue_Apr7_AHowever good you are at running your business, you'll not get very far without a steady stream of customers. So you need to look after them. One of the factors that differentiates good companies from great ones is customer relationship management, commonly known as CRM. Over the past few years, thanks to the huge growth in online reviews and social media, customers’ expectations have changed, meaning people now have more power and businesses need to adapt accordingly to respond to customer demand.

Imagine a product that you purchased a couple of days ago breaks after its first use. You contact customer support and describe the issue, only to be told to wait for another representative to call you back. You wait for hours, and still nobody calls back. After sending an email to customer support, there's a chance you get a call back, but it's from someone unfamiliar with your problem and you awkwardly have to explain yourself for the third or fourth time. An effective customer relationship management system can eliminate this problem and many more. Here’s what you need to know.

CRM defined

Customer relationship management is a system that allows businesses to manage, record, and evaluate their customer interactions, in order to provide better services and boost sales. You can use CRM to store customers’ contact details, accounts, leads and sales opportunities all in one place, usually in the cloud so that the information is accessible by anyone in your organization, and at any time.

Why you should invest in CRM

  • Master data management - This is a method of recording and sharing customer data across the CRM process. When customer data is recorded, the CRM system centralizes the data into one file, called a master file. Everyone within the company then has access to this data source, preventing confusion from inaccurate or duplicated data.
  • Collaboration - Nowadays clients want their support from a company’s customer service team to be as fast as possible. But one of the problems in the customer service arena is a lack of consistency. CRM systems are able to ensure customer information is shared among departments to better understand circumstances and requirements, and provide a more consistent service.
  • Customer segmentation - A CRM system arranges your customers into groups based on criteria such as age, gender, location, and even their likes and dislikes. This allows you to target marketing messages to your customers more accurately, potentially increasing your sales numbers.
  • Task tracking - CRM systems have task tracking features that enable your employees to stay on top of important tasks, such as contacting customers via email or phone, and following up on leads. CRM systems also send reminders to employees about their assigned tasks, so that nothing falls through the cracks.
  • In-depth reporting - Another benefit you can derive from implementing a CRM system is a thorough analysis of your customer base. CRM-generated reports give details including an overview of product sales numbers, the marketing strategies that work best, your most successful products or services to date, and even a prediction of whether your sales target will be met at the end of the month.
If you’re looking to improve customer service and increase sales conversion with CRM, contact us today and see how we can help.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 6th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_Apr6_AAs a business owner you put everything into its success - your time, skills, and financial resources. With that in mind, you should take important steps to secure your business in the event of a disaster. Disasters, whether in the form of floods or IT system failures, compromise your company’s hard-earned reputation and client trust. You never know when a disaster may strike, and having a disaster recovery plan in advance can help your business get back on its feet more quickly. If you haven’t already put a disaster recovery plan in place, here are four disaster protection tips for your business.

Cloud backup

One of the most serious side effects disasters inflict on your business is preventing access to data. This is a major inconvenience, especially if you need to communicate with clients on a daily basis. Make sure all your crucial data is safe by using a cloud-based backup solution. With the power of the cloud, your files are stored and accessible from anywhere, and at any time. Cloud backup provides convenience and enhanced uptime, ensuring business continuity during a disaster.

Get disaster insurance

Disaster insurance can help cover the costs of repairing damage caused by certain disasters. Many business owners think they have sufficient insurance coverage, only to find out later that their policy didn’t cover a disaster scenario. Take the time to consult with your insurance agent to understand what is, and what is not, covered by your insurance. If necessary, consider buying additional coverage from your insurance provider.

Prepare your employees

Many businesses regard employees as their most valuable assets. In the event of a disaster you will rely on them not only to execute the disaster recovery plan, but to also keep your business running. Unfortunately, if your employees or their families are also affected by a natural disaster, they won’t be able to concentrate on their work. That’s why you need to prepare your staff for coping with a disaster as well as your business. It could be something as simple as issuing a handbook to cope with crises, sending emails to alert employees, or preparing emergency supplies and communication devices to meet immediate needs.

Create a contingency plan

Review all your business operations and identify areas that are crucial for your organization’s survival. Establish a procedure for managing those functions during a disaster. For instance, you can make a list of all suppliers and their contact information. If your suppliers are located near your business, you should have secondary contacts in other locations. Establish an assembly place where your employees can continue to run the business if your main premises become inaccessible. Once you have a contingency plan in place, make sure you review it with your employees at least twice a year so you don’t forget any crucial details.

When your business is hit by a disaster, the top priority is to keep your daily operations running as normally as possible. If you want to learn more about planning for a disaster, give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 1st, 2015

Security_Apr1_AIn today’s technology-driven world, everyone uses email as the central hub for their personal internet activities, whether it’s communication, forum registration or newsletter signups. Email is one of the most useful tools the internet has made possible. But as emails become more prevalent, the importance of email security becomes more significant than ever. Applying these email management tips will protect your email account from hackers and viruses.

Use separate email accounts

Most people use a single email account for all their personal needs. As a result, information from websites, newsletters, shopping deals, and messages from work get sent to this one inbox. But what happens when someone breaks into it? There’s a good chance they would be able to gain access to everything else.

Having multiple email accounts will not only boost your security, but also increases your productivity. You can have a personal account to communicate with your friends and family, another solely for receiving emails from work, and one recreational account for various website registrations and getting newsletters. Wise email users never put all their eggs in one basket!

Set strong passwords

Too many email accounts have predictable passwords. You might be surprised to learn that email passwords like ‘123456’, ‘qwerty’, and ‘password’ itself are still the most common around. For the sake of security, be a little more selective with your passwords. Spending a few moments on coming up with a good password will be beneficial in the long run. Mix upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters to form a unique password that makes sense and is memorable to you, but no-one else. Also, never use the same password for all your email accounts. This way, if someone hacks one of your accounts, all of the others are still safe.

Beware of links and attachments

When you see a link in an email, don’t click on it unless you’re expecting the link from a known source, such as from your friend or a confirmation link for your game account registration. The truth is that you never know where those links might lead you. Sometimes they can be safe, but other times they can infest your computer with viruses and malware.

Similarly, if you’re expecting a file from your friend or family, then go ahead and open the attachment. It’s always good to know the person sending the file. But be wary of attachments in emails from strangers. Even if the file name looks like a JPEG image, you should never open it. File names can be spoofed, and innocent files may be a clever virus in disguise, ready to latch itself onto your computer the moment you click on it.

Beware of email phishing

Phishing is a type of online scam when malicious users send you an email, saying that they’re representatives from high-profile websites like eBay, Facebook or Amazon. They claim that there’s a problem with your account, and that you should send them your username and password for verification. The fact is that, even if there was a genuine issue with your account, these companies would never ask for your password. You should ignore these phishing emails and sweep them into your spam box.

It all comes down to common sense when you’re dealing with email security issues. If you’re looking to secure your business emails, give us a call today and see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
March 31st, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_Mar31_ARegardless of the size of your company, chances are you’ve heard of data warehouses, but perhaps are unsure exactly what they are and how your organization can benefit from them. Successful companies all have one thing in common - they make the best decisions based on the data at hand, which usually lead to good business results. A data warehouse is a business intelligence tool designed to manage huge volumes of data from multiple sources. Here’s what you need to know about data warehouses and the advantages they offer for your business.

Data warehouses defined

A data warehouse is a centralized store of all data generated by the departments of a large organization. It is specially designed for data analysis, generating reports, and for other ad-hoc queries. A data warehouse extracts the huge streams of data from a company’s operational and external databases and turns them into meaningful data, so business decisions can be made based on this information.

Differences between data warehouses and databases

The purpose of a database is to record and store current data from users. A database is suitable for the traditional type of data storage method. For instance, a bank ATM uses a database to record their customers’ money transactions in real-time. A data warehouse, on the other hand, is a type of database but specifically designed for data analysis. It is used to store and summarize large volumes of historical data.

Benefits of data warehouses

A goal common to all businesses is to make better business decisions than their competitors. Once a data warehouse is implemented into your business intelligence plans, your company can benefit from it in many ways.
  • Better decision-making - Corporate decision makers will no longer have to make important business decisions based on limited data and hunches. Data warehouses store credible facts and statistics, and decision makers will be able to retrieve that information from the data warehouse based on their personal needs. In addition to making strategic decisions, a data warehouse can also assist in marketing segmentation, inventory management, financial management, and sales.
  • Quick and easy access to data - Speed is an important factor that sets you above your competitors. Business users can quickly access data from multiple sources from a data warehouse, meaning that precious time won’t be wasted on retrieving data from multiple sources. This allows you to make quick and accurate decisions, with little or no support from your IT department.
  • Data quality and consistency - Since data warehouses gather information from different sources and convert it into a single and widely used format, departments will produce results that are in line and consistent with each other. When data is standardized, you can have confidence in its accuracy, and accurate data is what makes for strong business decisions.
A data warehouse is essential for any business that wants to profit from sound business decisions. If you’re looking to implement a data warehouse into your business, give us a call today.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 24th, 2015

164 BizV_AYou’ve been using your break/fix contractor for years. For the most part, he’s been reliable and helped your business run a smooth IT operation. But you’ve been hearing more and more about Managed Services, and it’s peaked your interest. If you’re thinking about making the jump from break/fix to Managed Services, here are a few compelling ideas to consider.

The ultimate break/fix nightmare

Your business is running smoothly. Profits and staff productivity have been up, and you haven’t had a single IT expense in months. Times are good. You kick back in your leather chair and break out that Cuban cigar you’ve been saving for just such an occasion.

But then the BIG ONE hits. Your servers crash. No, not just one - all of them! Your business comes to a grinding halt. None of your staff can work. You call your go-to break/fix IT provider, but he’s overloaded with work and can’t make it out to your offices till next week. Next week?! In a panic, you call the first IT contractor you find on Google. Thankfully he’s available. But since you need this work done immediately, he charges an unbelievable fee for a last minute fix. You have no other choice, you hire the contractor. You’re left hoping he fixes everything properly and none of your crucial data is lost in the process.

This is the precarious nature of break/fix IT services. And while this is a worst case scenario, situations like this can and have happened. So let’s look at the reasons why it pays to to hire a Managed Services Provider (MSP) instead.

MSPs prevent problems. Break/fix profit from them.

Think about the relationship dynamics of Managed Services compared to break/fix. If you’re a business owner who currently use a break/fix contractor, when your IT goes down your contractor gains profit. Your problem equals his reward.

How motivated do you think he is to do an effective job of fixing your issue? If that problem pops up again later, it equals more reward for him. Now that’s not to say all break/fix contractors aren’t fixing your IT to the best of their abilities. But think about the basic mindframe of a break/fix contractor: problem=profit.

The MSP system works differently. You pay a set fee every month to your IT provider. So the reward for the MSP comes every month. If something goes wrong during that month, you don’t pay anymore. Yet it costs the MSP more money, and therefore affects their profit margin. Because of this, the MSP is rewarded for taking preventative measures to ensure your IT is working as effectively as possible, always.

That’s not to say problems won’t happen with an MSP. But when they do, they’ll end up costing the MSP provider, and they certainly don’t want that. So for an MSP, the basic mindframe is: healthy IT=profit.

MSPs extinguish budget surprises

Everyone likes surprises, except when it comes to losing money. And when you have a break/fix IT service provider, big surprises can and do happen - and not the good ones, either.

An MSP is working to prevent problems from happening in the first place. You pay a monthly flat fee, so you always know what you’re paying. You can plan and predict your budget accordingly.

With break/fix, it’s true that some months you won’t have any IT expenses from your contractor, which is great. But other months, you could have bills that are astronomical. So you never know just what you’ll be paying for your IT budget in any given month. And if you don’t have that money set aside, then what?

MSPs might just make you happier

Yes, as silly and simple as it sounds, with an MSP you’ll probably be happier. The main reason is you won’t have to deal with the frustration of unexpected IT problems eating away at your budget and the downtime that comes with it. Your IT will run more smoothly (which will create a foundation for your business to do the same) and your budget will be predictable.

Even better, you’re more likely to have a fruitful relationship with your MSP provider since you both have the same goal: effective smooth running IT for your business. What business owner doesn’t like the sound of that?

Want to learn more about Managed Services? Contact us today to learn more about this effective alternative.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 23rd, 2015

BusinessContinuity_Mar23_AA business continuity plan (BCP) is often defined as a method of putting businesses back on their feet in the event of a disaster. With this in mind, companies are increasingly concentrating their efforts on developing a BCP so that, when unexpected disasters strike, they can minimize damage and continue to function as normally as possible. But with many abbreviations and terms that may sound unfamiliar to average employees, or even business owners or managers, understanding these common BCP terms is vital.

Battle box - a tool box where necessary equipment and vital information are stored. These objects and pieces of information should be useful in a disaster. Typical items include a first aid kit, laptop, protective equipment, and communication devices.

Business impact analysis (BIA) - a process to evaluate the impact that a disaster may have on a business. The BIA shows what a business stands to lose if some parts of its functions are missing. It allows you to see the general picture of your business processes and determine which ones are the most important.

Call tree - a comprehensive list of employee contacts and their telephone numbers. Call trees are used to notify out-of-office employees about a disaster. Companies can use a software program to contact people on the call tree by sending automated emails and text messages. In order for a call tree to work, employees should provide alternative contact options and their information must be up to date.

Data mirroring - a duplication of data from its source to another physical storage solution or the cloud. Data mirroring ensures that crucial information is safe, and companies can use the copied data as backup during a disaster.

Exercise - a series of activities designed to test a company’s business continuity plan. When an exercise is carried out, there will be an evaluation to decide whether a BCP is meeting standards or not. An exercise can identify gaps in, and the drawbacks of, a BCP and is therefore used as a tool to revise and improve a business continuity plan.

Hot site - an alternate location equipped with computers, communication tools and infrastructures to help a business recover information systems affected by the disaster.

Plan maintenance - a process of maintaining a company’s business continuity plan so that it is in working order and up to date. Plan maintenance includes scheduled reviews and updates.

Recovery time objective (RTO) - a period of time in which companies must recover their systems and functions after a disaster. This is the target time for a business to ideally resume its delivery of products and services at an acceptable level. RTO may be specified in business time (e.g. one business day) or elapsed time (e.g. elapsed 24 hours).

Business continuity plans can be a hassle to design and implement without proper understanding of their requirements. If you want to learn how you can protect your business from disasters, give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 19th, 2015

Virt 164_ATo migrate to the Cloud or virtualize your machines? That is the question. Both Virtualization and Cloud Computing have benefits. But figuring out which one is right for your organization is another story. If you’re having trouble deciding which technology is the best choice for the future of your business, this article will help you figure it out.

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_AWe all know that it’s important to maintain high security vigilance across whole spectrum of your IT, from changing your email password regularly to locking your work computer when you are away from your desk. But there are few areas where it couldn’t be easier to score an own goal and make life easy for fraudsters than in the realm of financial services. From your online banking system to mobile payment platforms, these are accounts where it’s absolutely vital to be on your guard against possible intruders. Peer-to-peer payment provider Venmo just made it a little easier to do that.

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_ABusiness intelligence is all about taking valuable raw data from your company’s operations and turning it into useful, understandable insights that help you understand what you are doing well, what you need to improve on and where your company is headed. Insights gleaned from business intelligence can also help you to identify new opportunities for further growth. But if you’re just getting started, understanding business intelligence can be a headache in itself. Here are three terms to get under your belt as you make your debut.

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.