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May 6th, 2015

Productivity_May6_BPower outages can be a most unpleasant surprise, especially when you’re in the middle of an important task with your clients via Skype or using the Internet to assist in your daily business activities. With that in mind, what can you do when you’re facing a power outage for hours? You can hardly loiter around waiting for it to come back - the longer your business stays offline, the more trust you lose from your clients. Here are some simple tips worth checking out during a power outage.

Install a UPS for each computer

A UPS (uninterrupted power supply), is an alternative, emergency power source. During a power outage, your computer will turn itself off automatically as there's no power. UPS prevents that by running your computer off its own battery. If you’re working on a file when a power blackout occurs, UPS is especially helpful. It can only buy your computer a few minutes of time at most, but that’s enough time to save vital files and power down. If you still need Internet access, try another method we’ve listed below.

Find a Wi-Fi connection

The advancements in technology made it possible for you to take your work outside the office. You can resume your business activities and Internet connectivity by using the mobile data plan from your smartphone or tablets, and then access your files via cloud storage and file sharing applications. If you don’t have a data plan, then head to the nearest Wi-Fi-friendly place to continue your work, such as a coffee shop. VoIP software installed on your portable devices can help you to connect to your clients efficiently.

Make good use of your batteries

Now is not the time to browse social media or play games. When you take your work offline, it’s best to preserve your devices’ batteries by doing only important tasks and turning off power-sucking applications. Buy an extra charging device to extend your battery life, if necessary.

Finish offline tasks

When no Internet connection is available, you can take the time to clear off any neglected offline duties, whether it’s clearing up desks or arranging files and documents. You can even gather a team to brainstorm new ideas for projects, or discuss any ongoing issues within your organization.

Work from home

If a power outage renders your employees helpless in their duties, then sending them home with a business laptop won’t hurt, if they’re able to continue their work from there. There are many ways to keep them accountable without being intrusive and, as long as they are making progress in their jobs and are able maintain their professional integrity, there’s not much to complain about. Make sure telecommuting is only allowed when necessary though - working alongside colleagues and sharing ideas face-to-face is still one of the best ways to induce productivity.

Achieving power-free productivity is possible when you have a plan prepared for the situation. For more productivity tips to boost your business’s bottom line, give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
May 4th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_May4_BDisasters can strike and ruin businesses at the most unexpected times, but observant companies will prepare for the worst - they will have a business continuity plan (BCP) at the ready. Not only can they survive a disaster, they also gain an increased competitive advantage over competitors due to quick responsiveness and recovery. But there are good business continuity plans and great ones, and small plan adjustments can make a huge difference. Here are some of the things you should include in your BCP to make it more efficient.

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_BThere have been many security breaches to big-name companies over the past few years - eBay, Adobe, Home Depot, and Sony Pictures to name a few. While large enterprises are primary targets for hackers, small and medium-sized businesses are also vulnerable, and therefore need to arm themselves against data security threats. More often than not it is impossible to undo the damage caused by hackers, but you can take certain steps to prevent it. Applying these simple security tips can help protect your company’s 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_BWhat does business intelligence mean to you and your company? Most business owners think they have a pretty good idea, when the reality is that our grasp on this most vital of business tools is all too often outdated and no longer fit for purpose. Just like other concepts and tools inside and beyond the corporate world, the ideas behind business intelligence have seen dramatic changes in recent years - fuelled not least by the arrival of a new generation of entrepreneurs who have set out to do things differently. If you can still see these outdated beliefs in your approach to business intelligence, it’s time to change.

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 27th, 2015

164_Soc_BDo you use social media for fun, but have no idea how to harness it to grow your business? You’re not alone. There are thousands of business owners out there who are clueless when it comes to social media as a networking and marketing tool. So to help you understand basic social media etiquette and how to network like a pro, we’ve given you a quick rundown of how to use Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to benefit your business to the max.

Facebook

Many people think of Facebook as a useful platform to keep in touch with family, friends and colleagues. However, in a business sense, it can be used to exchange ideas and opinions, promote your brand, and interact with customers.

A proven strategy to grow a more engaged network here is to share informative, valuable articles that will benefit your followers. Additionally, posting photos that emphasize your unique selling proposition and mission is a strategic way to personalize your brand.

There are, however, a few no-nos when it comes to Facebook. With Facebook being predominantly a place to connect with family and friends, it’s easy to fall into the trap of posting whatever comes to mind. So when you’re wondering whether or not you should post a particular comment or image, ask yourself, “Would I be okay publishing this on the front page of a newspaper?” If the answer is no, it’s best to hold off on hitting the post button. Finally, if you’re using the platform in a business sense, avoid sharing pictures of your dinner, newborn baby or anything too personal. Your customers are likely to be confused or turned off.

LinkedIn

The social network that is most obviously suited for professional purposes is LinkedIn, and it’s an exceptional platform to grow your business. To do that, it’s important to keep your company information up to date and remain active on the platform. A couple of ways to generate activity are to share or comment on articles, join professional groups and update your network with current company milestones, events you’re attending and other news about your organization.

When it comes to growing your network on LinkedIn, there’s a big debate as to whether or not to connect with every Tom, Joe, Dick and Sally who sends you an invite. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but as far as brand awareness is concerned it makes sense to connect with more people. However, it’s a good idea to take a moment and do a quick profile check on the potential connection. Not everyone retains a professional profile and image on LinkedIn, and connecting with the wrong people could potentially hurt your reputation.

Twitter

Want to connect with people from around the world, stay on top of trends and share your ideas with professionals you respect? Twitter is the platform to do just that. Like the other two platforms mentioned above, you can also share articles and advice, and ask questions.

An element that makes Twitter especially unique is the hashtag, and you can use it to take your networking to another level. For example, if you’re attending an industry event or other networking opportunity, you can search Twitter for the associated event hashtag. This will help you discover who will be in attendance - like colleagues and professionals you’d like to meet - which gives you a great opportunity to maintain and grow your network.

Interested in finding out how else you can use social media to boost your business? Send us a message to find out more.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
April 23rd, 2015

164_Virt_BFor decades, business owners have considered servers, data centers and IT staff a necessity for operations. 20 years ago, no one would have ever dreamed of a workplace without these integral tools. So it’s no wonder that virtualization has taken so long to catch on. When your business has relied on certain technologies for ages, it can be hard to let go. But in this day and age, the truth is that not letting go is now costing you money. That’s why we’ve compiled four questions to expose how IT without virtualization is eating into your profits.

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 22nd, 2015

164_Prod_BDo you ever feel as if your "to do" list is never ending? Do you spend your days trying to keep pace? If you’re constantly feeling worn out at work and ever ineffective, there may be deeper problems at play than a long, bulky to do list. We’re talking about habits. And here are a few that are surefire productivity killers you need to ditch now.

Constantly checking email

This is an obvious one most people already know of, but how many of us actually follow it? The reason it’s a productivity killer is because it destroys your focus. Even worse, constantly checking email has been linked to anxiety, depression, lower performance and even decreased memory function.

To overcome this habit, designate specific times of the day to check your e-mail. For example, first thing in the morning when you wake up, after lunch, and at the end of the work day. This will prevent constant email checking from breaking up your flow while you’re on the clock.

Working long days

It’s 8pm, you’ve already worked 12 hours, but you just want to knock out one more item on your to do list. You’re exhausted, but you tell yourself to push through anyway - even if it takes another hour. How many of us have been here? If it’s more often than not, it may be a good idea to kick this habit as it’s an absolute productivity killer.

Studies have shown that working more than eight hours a day lowers productivity and raises the risk of burnout. The reasoning is simple...mental fatigue. Once you’ve worked a certain number of hours, your focus will be less sharp and your productivity will consequently drop. Which leads us to our next point...

Not getting enough sleep

Rest is essential to maximizing your productivity. And the most essential type of rest you can get is sleep. Research has shown that getting five hours of sleep or less multiple nights in a row has the same effect on you as a 0.10 blood alcohol level. Not only that, but you’ll also suffer from headaches, be mistake-prone and get distracted more easily. Basically you’ll be an unfocused mess.

Working continuously without a break

Studies have shown that you need to take breaks if you want to achieve maximum productivity. This is because a break allows you to rest your brain. Often during a break, you may even come up with new creative solutions to problems. And the best part is that when you return to work, you’ll feel revitalized with a fresh focus and ready to be challenged.

Multitasking

In this day and age, multitasking is often touted as a positive skill. And while this may be true in small bursts, spending hours juggling tasks is a surefire way of lowering productivity. The reason behind this is that switching between tasks causes a loss of focus and creativity. Think of your brain as a computer with a limited amount of RAM. Now what happens when your computer’s RAM is pushed to the max? It usually slows down and doesn’t function as well. Your brain acts in a similar way, the only difference being that you can’t buy more RAM to install in your brain - not yet, at least.

On the contrary, studies have shown that focusing on one task for a larger block of time (don’t forget to throw your break in, though) allows you to boost your productivity and get into a flow with your work. Try it out and you may find yourself accomplishing more tasks than you ever imagined possible.

Interested in learning about more ways to increase productivity? Want to find out how your technology can help? Contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
April 21st, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_Apr14_BBusiness intelligence tools should be on the radar of every entrepreneur. Without them, how can you know where your organization is doing well, where it needs to improve or how it is going to grow? Microsoft recognizes the growing significance of the business intelligence market and has just acquired Datazen, a three-year-old business intelligence and data visualization platform. The move follows Microsoft’s release earlier this year of the free Power BI product. So, whether you’re a current Datazen user, or are looking for a new business intelligence solution for your company, here’s what you need to know.

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.

April 20th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_Apr20_BDisasters, whether in the form of man-made errors or natural causes, are a business’s worst fear. Imagine coming to your office one morning to find the internal servers destroyed overnight by a massive flood. This could be the end of the road for your company, unless you have a business continuity plan (BCP) to cope with the situation. But coming up with a well-thought-out BCP is only the start - you need to test the plan to see whether it works. An exercise process should therefore be included in the plan. Here’s all you need to know about running BCP exercises.

Set objectives

The first step to any efficient exercise is having clear objectives. Think about the results you want to see at the end of the exercise. These outcomes may include, but are not limited to, IT disaster recovery, evacuation routines, off-site recovery plans, and supplier management. If there are measurable targets that can be put into the equation, then all the better. For instance, meeting a recovery objective after a disaster within x number of hours.

Select the right type of exercise

Essentially there are four levels of exercises, each increasing in complexity and difficulty.
  • A walkthrough - this exercise involves a team meeting to discuss whether the present BCP has everything covered and is up-to-date.
  • Desktop exercise - ideal for new or intermediate teams. A desktop exercise takes place in a room where delegates discuss a fictional scenario delivered via a series of powerpoint presentations. Role-playing and dramatic simulations are not part of this stage of the process.
  • Functional exercise - this level allows employees to perform their duties in a simulated environment. It is designed to exercise specific team members, procedures, and resources in the event of a disaster.
  • Live or real time - this is a full-scale exercise performed in real time with normal business suspended. The aim is to see whether people can do what’s expected of them within a set timescale. A live exercise is often complicated and costly to organize, but will generally ensure a much smoother process if the worst does happen.

Develop a scenario

Take what you’ve learned from the team, the objectives and plan to develop a scenario. Depending on the type of exercise, you should have a scenario tailored to suit your objectives. Be creative when simulating incidents. You may need only two or three to keep your employees busy for a couple of hours - during that time you can monitor their performance.

Prepare employees

Assign a group of representatives responsible for making announcements and preparing conference rooms to relay the plan to employees. Be specific about who in the company are participants, observers, and facilitators for the purposes of the exercise. Explain courses of actions to everyone involved in the plan. Remember, your BCP’s success depends on your employees’ cooperation, so do your best when you’re clarifying the plan.

Run the exercise!

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. After careful planning and scheduling, it’s time to put your plan into action. Make sure you observe the exercise closely and ask yourself these questions: Are there any potential areas that can be improved? What should you do more of, or differently? What went well, and what didn’t? End the exercise with a feedback session where employees can express their opinions and share their ideas.

If you don’t get it right the first time, then go back to the drawing board and schedule another exercise. It only gets better with every practice.

Are you ready even if disaster should strike? Contact us today and we can help you develop a business continuity plan that keeps your company in the game.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 17th, 2015

SocialMedia_Apr13_BWhen we think of social media marketing, our thoughts instantly turn to Facebook and Twitter. Yet, while it’s true that there are results to be had and success to be earned using these two popular channels, it is equally true that other platforms like Pinterest are on the rise and worth investing some time in too. To make Pinterest an even more attractive prospect, it’s just become easier and more efficient to keep up with your pinning - here’s why you’ll want to add it to your social media routine.

Pinterest recently announced the launch of an updated and improved browser extension that enables users to save content and pin it to their boards. The platform has supported browser extensions like this for several years already, but the latest enhancements reduce the number of clicks needed to pin images and other content to boards. It is also now simpler to track down the specific board you want to pin an image to, or to create a brand new board from within the browser extension if you don’t already have one that fits.

For casual social media users, the Pinterest button that comes with the browser extension makes for a simple way to bookmark content on Pinterest in order to come back to it later. Pinterest itself gives the example of a food blog - while you’re browsing a recipe, you can click the Pinterest button on your browser and in just a couple of clicks save a visual reference to one of your boards. Then where you’re ready to start cooking, you can easily find the image and click it to return to the blog.

But the benefits are there for those of us using social media for business purposes, too. The extension makes it simpler for you to pin both your own content, which users can then share by re-pinning or clicking on find out more on your web site, and for you to pin and share other relevant content from around the web that will be of interest to your prospective customers. Never forget the golden rule of social media marketing, that your profile - on whichever platform - shouldn’t just be a non-stop stream of promotional messages. Social media is different from conventional advertising, and your content should be a blend of subtle promotion and other, non-sales content that is of genuine interest to prospects.

Pinterest is growing in a big way, meaning now is the perfect time to accelerate your marketing efforts on the platform. There are now said to be over 50 billion pieces of content pinned on the site, spanning over a billion boards, and traffic is both growing and moving to mobile devices. In fact, over 80% of the site’s traffic comes from mobile. And while Pinterest has long been considered to be a predominantly female-friendly site, the channel’s popularity with men is growing, and is outpacing the overall growth in the Pinterest user base.

If Pinterest doesn’t already figure in your social media marketing strategy, it’s about time it did. Give us a call to discuss how we can help you propel your social media efforts forward.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media