Blog

March 19th, 2015

Virt 164_BYou’ve heard of Cloud Computing and Virtualization, but you’re not sure which is best for your business. In fact you’re not even sure what the difference is between the two. If either of these thoughts have crossed your mind, then it’s time to get educated and learn how these modern technologies can boost your business. And more importantly, learn which one is better suited to your organization’s immediate future.

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 19th, 2015

Word of mouth—the better-than-anything-you-could-pay-for form of spreading the word about companies and products worth supporting. Your customers do your marketing for you, and you simply continue delivering the high-quality product they’re raving about.

But how do you get your customers to do it?

On May 9, 2013, an article was published by a journalist who’d stopped in Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York City and asked what was new. The staff offered the journalist a taste of a new product that would launch to the public on the day after the article was published. On May 10, 2013, the Cronut™ was born. There were customers waiting outside the little bakery, lined up to sample the delectable baked good they’d read about.

By the end of the week, the line outside the bakery was 100 people long. People stood in line to sample the Cronut™ they’d heard about from their friends. And they didn’t just buy one Cronut™; they bought lots of them—as well as all of the other unique, handmade pastries the shop produces.

The Dominique Ansel Bakery is a small business. They don’t have a big marketing department who dreamed up the Cronut™ as a publicity stunt. They simply embrace the creativity inherent in baking, and word of mouth pulls customers from all over the world into the little shop. It’s organic. It’s natural. It’s the power of word of mouth.

Another great example of a company whose customers are ardent fans is a well-known jewelry store (whose name I can’t share with you). Their policy for purchases of engagement rings is pure genius. A couple selects a ring—say a diamond of one full carat. The jewelry store has a secret upgrade policy, and they supply the client with a stone that’s just a little larger than the one they paid for. When customers take their one-carat ring to an appraiser, they discover that it’s a carat and a quarter. The customer—stunned at having received more than they paid for—returns to the jewelry store, at which point the jeweler thanks them for their business, tells them about the secret upgrade and—here’s the genius part—asks the customer not to tell anyone about the secret upgrade.

But the customer does tell. The customer tells everyone he can think of about the spectacular customer service he received and about the exceptional value the jeweler provided. That customer ropes in hundreds more customers, and the jewelry store doesn’t do anything except make customers happy and wait for new customers to pour in. It’s brilliant.

Whether customers are sharing a Cronut™ with a friend, or whether they’re swearing a coworker to secrecy about the jewelry store’s secret upgrade they swore not to divulge, if you can get your customers talking about you, your company and your brand, then you’re starting a marketing trend that can not only become self-sustaining, but can also bring more customers than you’d ever dreamed of—right to your door.

March 18th, 2015

Security_Mar18_BWith the threat of sophisticated intrusion on the rise, there has never been a more important time to be vigilant about IT security. Whether it’s selecting a difficult-to-guess password and then changing it frequently, or remembering to properly log out of social networking sites when using a shared computer, there are plenty of simple steps we can all take to better protect ourselves online. Nowhere is this more vital than when using online banking systems or mobile payment portals. If you’re a user of peer-to-peer payment provider Venmo, you’ll be pleased to hear the service just gave you the benefit of extra security protection.

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_BIf your business is not already using business intelligence systems, you are at a distinct disadvantage against the competition, and are failing to maximize a truly valuable opportunity to understand your position in the market. Business intelligence takes raw business data and converts it into insights that you can not only understand, but which offer a valuable view of your company’s current standing, where it’s headed and what you need to do to get there. Nevertheless, the business intelligence landscape can be a confusing one - here are some terms you need to get to grips with as you take your analysis to the next level.

Reporting

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

Data Visualization

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

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

Corporate Performance Management

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 16th, 2015

HealthcareIT_Mar16_AMedical institutions rely on their healthcare systems to facilitate the needs of their patients, whether through electronic medical records, prescription management or data entry software. Unfortunately, most healthcare service providers don’t realize how vulnerable their IT systems are to cyber attacks. One of the contributing factors to data breach is digitization. While there are several benefits of converting medical data from paper records into electronic files, there is no denying that it increases the risk of data theft. And since stolen healthcare information can be used to commit identity theft and financial crimes, securing healthcare data has become more important than ever.

According to healthcare security experts, healthcare data breaches are on the rise due to the high prices the data can command on the black market.

From financial information to medical information

In the past few years, cybercriminals’ focus has been on stealing financial data, including credit card numbers and personal information. But things are taking a turn, the result of financial institutions fortifying their database and raising client awareness of the problem. This is making it more difficult for hackers to steal financial data, let alone use them. Banks do their bit to protect their customers, too, by quickly identifying and canceling compromised credit cards.

Stronger data protection measures have forced criminals to turn their attention to medical data, which is typically much less secure. Patient data includes an individual’s date of birth, medical and physical records and social security number - information that can’t be easily reset, and that is significantly more valuable than credit card data.

Securing healthcare data

Healthcare data has become more attractive to criminals, and it’s crucial that medical institutions take necessary precautions to secure their patients’ information from data thieves. Here are some best practice measures to secure healthcare data.
  • Protect the network and Wi-Fi - As hackers use a variety of tools to break into IT systems and obtain medical records, healthcare organizations need to invest in secure firewalls and antivirus software to deploy on their healthcare devices. Network segregation is also a wise move so that, in the event that a breach does occur, the attacker can’t instantly access all of your organization’s information at once.
  • Educate employees - Staff members need to receive lessons about information security, including setting passwords, spam filters, protection against phishing, and other kinds of data breach methods.
  • Data encryption - Encrypting data is one of the safest ways to secure it. Healthcare institutions can encode patients information in such a way that only authorized users can access it. Multi encryption is also an effective way to keep out intruders.
  • Physical security - Most healthcare institutions still retain their patients’ records on paper, stored in cabinets. Ensure that all loopholes are covered by installing surveillance cameras and other physical security controls, such as electronic door locks.
It is of crucial importance for healthcare providers to secure sensitive information, in order to gain and retain the trust of your patients. If you want to know how your organization can better protect your patients information, give us a call.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 16th, 2015

SocialMedia_Mar16_BRemember years ago when you first saw a number sign followed by an unspaced phrase popping up online? Who would have thought that hashtags would turn out to be one of the most useful tools on social media platforms today. In fact, different social media sites utilize hashtags in different ways. Take a look at how you can make the most of hashtags for your business on different social media platforms.

Twitter

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

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

Useful Twitter hashtag tools include:

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

Instagram

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

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

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

Facebook

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

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
March 13th, 2015

InternetSocialNetworkingandReputationManagement_Mar13_BStill trying to crack the code to social media superstardom for your business? If you’re struggling to find strategies that work, then prepare to take notes. There are some integral tactics and principles that have the power to turn your social media efforts around. We’ve got the lowdown on how to grow your social media fan base and get your business the attention it needs and deserves.

Why social media is a must for marketing your small and medium business Social media is at the forefront of the “soft sell” revolution. In fact, social media advertising can sometimes be such a soft sell that, when you’re on the receiving end, you may not even know you’re being sold anything in the first place. For example, you may have a friend who posts fun articles from their blog or pictures of their artwork (that they actually make a profit from) on Facebook. You may enjoy their content so much that you decide to share it and pass it along to friends and family. Know what you just did? You just became a marketer for their business. That simple share may just have garnered them a new customer and more profits.

This is why it’s an absolute must to carve out your piece of the pie in social media. You’ll grow your fanbase, and potentially create a following of loyal supporters who are happy to market your business - some of whom won’t even be aware they’re doing it. Here are a couple of tips on how to grow your social media audience.

Publish content

Every piece of content you publish is an advertisement for your business, regardless of whether you’re directly selling a product or sharing fun information. Not only that, but if you publish valuable content often, your readers will know you’re a reliable go-to source for information on your topic. That leads to a good reputation, people spreading the word about you and, consequently, referrals. You’ll grow your fanbase and online presence simultaneously.

Be human, be genuine

Trust is key. To become a player in social media, your audience needs to trust you. And if you want long term success in social media, that trust needs to be genuine. People can smell a faker, even over the Internet.

So be human and genuine with your customer interaction and published content on social media. If you do, you’ll develop a fan base that truly loves you and will be spread the word about your business without being prompted.

Think about it, how many times have you recommended a business that you love to one of your friends or family? When you did this, you didn’t believe you were marketing someone’s brand, but helping your friend or family member out. You wouldn’t have done this if you didn’t trust this business or believe their product or solution to be genuine.

Give back

To take the point above a step further, why not do a community service project in your local city or town? This gives you an opportunity to document the experience on social media. As mentioned above, this content is free advertising. And if you do something that is unique and genuinely helps your community, people are likely going to share it - growing your fan base in the process. In the end not only do you win, but also your fans and community.

Want more social media tips to help you garner an outstanding online reputation? Get in touch and see how we can assist.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 12th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_Mar10_BBusiness intelligence, or BI, is a common term in the business world today. It combines and analyzes data to help business owners make important decisions and strategies. Business intelligence was only used by large enterprises until very recently but technology has evolved rapidly, and BI’s costs have dropped dramatically, making it affordable for small businesses.

What is business intelligence?

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

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

Benefits of BI for small businesses

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

Implementation

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 12th, 2015

Office_Mar12_BMac users have a reason to celebrate - after a long wait since its last update in 2011, the Microsoft Office for Mac suite of productivity applications has been given a makeover. The latest look brings on board the power of the cloud to take Office to new levels for Apple fans, including a move to deliver an experience that’s closer to that of the Windows version of the package. Better still, you can upgrade for free while it’s still in preview stage - here are some of the killer features of Office for Mac 2016.

Cloud power

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

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

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

Ribbon refresh

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

Email grouping

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

Presentation aids

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 12th, 2015

Love it, hate it or call it the gold at the end of your rainbow, e-mail is here to stay. Over the past two decades, it’s become deeply ingrained in our day-to-day business communication. It’s basically a requirement. Despite a number of software advances and changes in the online communication landscape, e-mail is more important than ever.

 

This was recently confirmed by a study conducted by Pew Research. They found that e-mail is indispensable among those who are Internet-connected at work. These days, that covers a lot of people. In fact, 61% say it plays an integral role in their job. Additionally, 46% say e-mail access keeps them more productive (while another 46% say e-mail has no bearing on their productivity one way or the other). Only 7% say e-mail hurts their productivity.

 

In 2014, social media analysts warned that e-mail was on its last legs and that it would soon be overtaken by other online services. However, as this study seems to confirm, that is not the case. In fact, in the workplace, it’s very much the opposite. The Pew study found that social media, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, benefited only about 4% of those in a connected workplace.

 

Even among the millennial generation, and those who regularly use social media networks in their personal lives, it hasn’t been something fully translatable to the professional environment as a productivity factor. This doesn’t discount uses for social media in the workplace—as a marketing or customer outreach tool—but no social media platform has come close to replacing e-mail as the go-to communication tool.

 

That doesn’t mean Silicon Valley start-ups aren’t trying. They are always at work trying to find that next four-leaf clover in online communication, hoping to develop that so-called “e-mail killer.” So far, nothing has stepped up that can achieve what e-mail can, particularly for businesses.

 

For many businesses, it comes right back to the fact that e-mail works. It’s a proven platform and it remains the business communication “golden child.” It’s the same reason phones and fax machines aren’t extinct. They serve a purpose and they help us get things done. That doesn’t stop businesses from always looking for ways to streamline that process.

 

Another reason e-mail works: accessibility. E-mail is used on nearly a universal level. Social media platforms, while many are incredibly popular, can’t touch the truly global reach of e-mail. Have you considered how e-mail impacts your job? Does it keep you productive? Or are you ready to move on to the Next Big Thing?