Blog

May 14th, 2015

WindowsNews&Tips_May14_AWindows 8 was a disappointment. The user interface was too complex for general users and many critics were not impressed with Windows 8’s features. And so Microsoft plans to leave the Windows 8 blunder behind and move on to Windows 10. Numerous changes have been made and new features added to Microsoft’s new flagship operating system. Here are the top features that Microsoft hopes will be enough to regain its reputation and clients’ confidence.

Microsoft Edge

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

Cortana

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

Continuum

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

Start Menu

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 13th, 2015

164_Security_AWhile many IT providers often tout the revolutionary benefits of the cloud, very few address the security aspect of it. But the fact of the matter is that when you’re using a cloud service, you’re moving information out of your hands and into those of a third party. So doesn’t it make sense to take precautions? Dropbox alone has previously had the accounts of nearly seven million users hacked. That being said, it’s wise to take precautions and ask the right questions of a cloud computing provider. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of actions you can take to ensure security when you're in the cloud.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
May 12th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_May12_AMost companies measure and gauge their performance and success by analyzing data. And the fact that we humans are visual creatures means our ability to interpret visual data tends to be far greater than with written words. This is the reason most businesses turn to dashboards as a business intelligence tool to present data in a way that’s easy to understand. Dashboards have become a critical part of any analytics process. Here are some common uses of dashboards across various business functions.

Marketing insights

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

Tracking sales opportunities

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

Social media management

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

Financial reports

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

Project collaboration

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 11th, 2015

HealthcareIT_May11_AWe are living in an age where technology is transforming every aspect of the way we live. Perhaps the most important area in which innovations are making a huge impact is the healthcare industry. Healthcare institutions are leveraging technology to drive better medical practices, increase access to information, and improve the overall patient experience. Here are some tech trends we can expect in today’s healthcare operations.

Health information exchange

Electronic Health Information Exchange (HIE) allows doctors, nurses, pharmacists, other healthcare providers and patients to access and share a patient’s medical information through a secured network. HIE systems facilitate the efforts of physicians to meet high standards of patient care. They also cut medical expenses on information transmission, including physical mailing of patient records, manual printing, scanning and faxing of documents, and phone bills.

3D printing

As 3D printing technology evolves, its medical uses are becoming increasingly apparent. It could assist in the development and manufacture of medical devices, such as prosthetic limbs and other body parts, and fluidic modeling. Professional 3D printers allow doctors to plan complex surgery by converting the patient’s bone structure, blood vessels and internal organs into a 3D-printable digital file that can be manipulated and studied beforehand. It is therefore likely that 3D printed medical and surgical guides will become a standard procedure for several operations, including heart surgery, knee replacements, cranial implants, hip operations, and many more.

Telemedicine

Telemedicine makes it possible for patients to connect with doctors using mobile devices and video-calling applications. It implements a variety of communications media, ranging from teleconferencing to image sharing and patient monitoring, to provide better medical services to patients. It is considered a cost-effective approach to treating health conditions including diabetes, hypertension, and sleep apnea - physicians could monitor a patient’s condition and proceed to treatment immediately when something is wrong.

E-prescriptions

Doctors having to manually write prescriptions for patients is now a thing of the past for a growing number of healthcare providers. With the introduction of e-prescriptions, doctors are able to enter a prescription directly into the computer. The prescription is then transferred to a local pharmacy’s store. E-prescriptions are fast and reliable, sending information to the pharmacy through a private, secure, and closed network, before you have even left your doctor’s office.

Cloud computing

Researchers are taking advantage of the cloud by virtualizing massive amounts of healthcare data. Doctors can transition paper medical records to a digital format and store them in the cloud, allowing for easier access and analysis. With the cloud, patients are granted access to their medical information and doctors are able to see a more complete picture of a patient’s medical history.

Tech trends in healthcare are rapidly moving forward, and it’s important for healthcare institutions to keep up with the ongoing changes to provide better clinical services. For more information on how to implement technology into your healthcare business, get in touch today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 5th, 2015

164_BizV_AFor many businesses, social media is the the wild frontier of marketing. More and more companies are jumping on the bandwagon but it can seem a lawless place. This is why many newcomers tend to waffle around with no clear strategy and call it quits if they're not making fast progress. But while it's true that social media can seem challenging when you’re first getting started, it pays dividends if you're willing to put in a little time and effort. This is why we’ve put together some practical tips that will help you measure your social media ROI more easily.

Why it’s difficult to track social media ROI

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

So how do you measure ROI?

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

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

Tagging Urls

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

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

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

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

Google Analytics

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

Call Tracking

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 4th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_May4_AIn today’s business world, companies with a business continuity plan (BCP) are more likely to survive a disaster than those that don’t have one. There are several components to consider when it comes to planning a BCP, some of which are more important than others and must be included in order for a BCP to be successful. If you’re looking to create a BCP, or already have one in place but aren’t convinced of its efficiency, check out these must-read principles.

Backup strategies are tested regularly

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

All employees are involved

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

Identify and prioritize critical functions

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

Succession plans exist for key employees

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 29th, 2015

Security_Apr29_AData breaches occur every day, even to the most secured firms and well-known financial institutions - and it could happen to your company as well. How can you be sure that your network is completely protected from hackers? As a business owner you can’t afford to face a data breach, since it could cost you the two things that matter most to your company - clients and reputation. But employing even the most basic security measures can discourage many hackers enough for them to abandon their malicious attempts. Here are some tips to safeguard your corporate data.

Get rid of passwords

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

Encrypt all data

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

Keep systems up-to-date

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

Back up frequently

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

Monitor connectivity

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
April 28th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_Apr28_AEveryone knows that business intelligence is of vital importance to ensure that a company grows and develops, but the business intelligence of today differs greatly from that which was talked about in the past. Much has changed in the world of business intelligence in recent years, and if you are stuck in your old ways then you are not doing all you can to advance your organization forwards. Be on the lookout for these woefully outdated mistruths in your approach to business intelligence - and then be prepared to kick them into touch - so as to propel your company to the next level.

Business intelligence should be simple

For too long now, business owners have been fed the idea by business intelligence tool providers that the means by which we understand our organization’s success should be as easy to digest as possible. That has led companies to take an overly simplified view of business intelligence. It is one that just doesn’t deliver the same depth of useful analytical detail that we need if we are going to really understand what’s behind growth (or lack of it). Nor does it allow us to genuinely develop a sense for the direction our companies need to be moving in - and how to get them there.

While simple business intelligence tools will work just fine for some organizations, the majority of us need to be demanding more complex, sophisticated tools to manipulate and generate value from the wealth of data that is at our fingertips. We are in an era where there is still value to be gained, but you have to dig a little deeper for it - and if you’re using outdated software that just isn’t up to the job, you’re going to struggle.

Big data is the be-all, end-all

We have no problem with big data - large-scale changes in industry practices, and our understanding of the ways our businesses work and grow, depend on it. But there’s a mammoth difference between using big data for the sake of it - because we’ve got into the mentality that its ability to deliver industry-wide improvements means it’s the magic cure for our organizations - and putting in place solutions that enable our front-line staff to actually use it.

After all, what’s the point in generating terabytes and terabytes of information if our outdated business intelligence tools aren’t capable of empowering non-technical staff to gain true insights into customer behavior, sales patterns and the like? Recent business intelligence sector developments mean that our companies can benefit from quality tools to visualize simple data collections, but the ability to do the same on a larger scale is still lacking. The lesson? If you’re looking to reap the rewards of large-scale data collection, equip your team with the tools that allow them to perform quality analysis.

The cloud alone is the answer

“The cloud” is the IT industry’s latest buzzword, but too often it gets touted around as an all-round solution that will solve each of our woes, without us really understanding its true purpose or how we can get the most from it. This is particularly the case in relation to business intelligence, where company owners are frequently led to believe that they can instantly enhance their business intelligence capabilities simply by moving everything upstairs to the cloud.

We’re big fans of the cloud and believe that with proper understanding and implementation it can pay real dividends. But the truth is that simply repeating your usual business intelligence routine - but doing so in the cloud - isn’t going to change much. If your business intelligence tools are too conventional and don’t offer enough flexibility, that will still be the case even if you put cloud technology over the top of them. It’s important to address the underlying issues before you contemplate a move to the cloud, so that you can truly reap the advantages of both changes.

If you’re guilty of being stuck with an outdated, or just off-center, view of business intelligence, give us a call to see how we can update you and help you to get the most out of it.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 23rd, 2015

164_Virt_AThere’s no question about it, powering your IT equipment costs money. But the real question is just how much money? If you’ve never taken the time to run the numbers, you may be in for a big surprise. That’s why we’ve compiled four questions you need to ask yourself when you’re considering virtualization.

Studies have shown that over 70% of IT budgeting is put towards simply “keeping the lights on.” If that sounds like a lot of money, that’s because it is. You’re likely spending thousands of dollars powering your IT equipment and paying your staff to manage it. And the truth is that it just doesn’t have to be that way. Virtualization can eliminate all those costs for a smoother running solution that you’ll never have to worry about.

So if you’re ready to examine your IT budget and see for yourself, here are 4 questions you need to ask:

1. What’s the cost of your data center?

We’re talking about the whole kit and caboodle: your servers, backup power supplies, air conditioning, security devices, and the overhead costs for the space to store all of this.

2. How much do you spend on cooling your servers?

Keeping your servers cool is a fact of life. Have you ever considered how much this is costing you?

3. How much is being budgeted towards cabling and adapters?

Don’t forget about these. We’re talking about not only the physical cables and adaptors, but also the costs of maintenance.

4. How much does it cost your IT staff to manage these resources?

It takes time for your staff to manage your IT. Time is money.

How does virtualization eliminate these costs? With virtualization you can kiss the data center, servers, cables and adapters goodbye (hello new office space). Instead, we store all your equipment off-site and deliver it to you via the Internet. Your computers and network continue to function normally. The only difference is they’re out of sight and out of mind. This equals lower maintenance costs, fewer overheads, less equipment, and fewer headaches.

And let’s not forget the time it costs to manage all of your IT equipment. With virtualization, we do this for you. This frees up the time of your current IT staff, allowing them to focus on more important things - like your business’s IT strategy and market changes. Better still, you may even have the option to completely eliminate the need for in-house IT staff. How’s that for cost savings?

Ready to make the switch to virtualization? Need more of your questions answered? Let’s talk today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 21st, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_Apr14_AMicrosoft just upped the ante on the business intelligence front once again by acquiring the three-year-old business intelligence and data visualization platform Datazen. The purchase increases Microsoft’s hold on the business intelligence market, an area on which it is clearly already focused its free Power BI product for mobiles was released earlier this year. Every smart entrepreneur knows that business intelligence systems are critical to understanding and executing growth so, whether you are already a Datazen user or are contemplating the switch, here’s what you need to know about Microsoft’s latest move.

Datazen stands out from the business intelligence crowd in that the tool is built with mobile users in mind. The goal with the conception of Datazen, which was previously known as ComponentArt, was to create a user-friendly business intelligence product that balanced power, simplicity and a pleasant experience for the end user. The software is compatible with iOS, Android and Windows devices, and last year the firm released an update allowing offline use across all platforms.

The move means that Datazen now provides mobility to its users, allowing them to continue working with their business intelligence data wherever they are based and no matter whether they have an internet connection. Connected to the launch of offline capabilities, the same release also improved the synchronization process between the Datazen app and live data sources. This allows users to work with up to 100,000 records locally on any device, and enjoy immediate data retrieval.

In addition to Microsoft’s wider push on business intelligence tools, the company is focused on specifically doing so with the cloud and mobile in mind. This forms part of the corporation-wide priority for innovation in mobile-first, cloud-first IT solutions, identified by CEO Satya Nadella last year. Microsoft says that Datazen’s offering will complement that of Power BI and that, over time, the IT giant aims to integrate the two in order to bridge the gap between on-site and cloud-based business intelligence tools. Datazen is already optimized for Microsoft’s SQL Server Analysis Services.

According to Datazen, its current users can continue to access and use all of its products in their current form. Microsoft has also announced that SQL Server Enterprise Edition customers with at least version 2008 can now access Datazen software at no additional cost. The company claims the move will bring Datazen’s mobile data visualization and interaction possibilities to millions of business users globally.

Learn more about how to implement business intelligence to grow your company - call us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.