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December 2nd, 2014

Office365_Dec01_CLike it or not, you have probably been using cloud systems for longer than you may think. When it comes to Microsoft, there is one newer cloud app that almost all users have access to: OneDrive. However, what you might not be aware of is that there are two versions of this platform, which can cause confusion as to when they should be used and what exactly they are for.

What is OneDrive?

If you use Microsoft apps and programs there is a good chance you have already heard of OneDrive, and if you haven't, you will certainly be hearing more about it in the coming months. Regardless of what version of OneDrive you have, the idea behind the platform is that it is cloud-based. When looking into this app you will find that there are two versions: OneDrive for personal users and OneDrive for Business.

OneDrive for Personal Users

OneDrive for personal users, or just OneDrive for short, is Microsoft's cloud-based document storage system. If you have a non-business account with Microsoft e.g., an older Hotmail account or a newer Outlook.com account, you have access to this storage solution.

The tagline for this service is, "One place for everything in your life", which makes it pretty clear that this is for personal use. When you upload, or "store" files on your OneDrive account you are storing them using Microsoft's cloud technology which is hosted and managed by servers Microsoft owns. This makes the files available on any device, as long as you log into your account on that device. In other words, this is cloud storage.

OneDrive for personal use is free for all users. All you need is a Microsoft account or email address which can be obtained for free at outlook.com.

OneDrive for Business

This service is actually quite different, and even though the general concept behind both of the platforms is the same: cloud storage, the similarities pretty much end there. OneDrive for Business is a place where you can store, sync, and share your work files. As such, you need to subscribe to one of the various Office 365 for Business subscription plans.

Unlike the personal version of OneDrive, OneDrive for Business utilizes a platform called SharePoint to host and deliver storage services to business users. Businesses can opt for a Microsoft hosted version of SharePoint, or an on-premises version which they install and maintain on servers in the office. This makes the app manageable by business owners and IT partners, and can be done so through the Office 365 admin panel. Beyond that, if businesses decide to host SharePoint on their own servers, they can assign as much or as little storage to individual accounts as they so choose.

With this solution you can upload and share documents with other colleagues and even work on these files at the same time, with changes being made in real time. Business owners and managers can also better manage this solution thanks to powerful administrator tools.

A real plus point of OneDrive for Business is that Microsoft has recently announced that Office 365 users will receive unlimited storage space starting in the near future, (the end of 2014 for Pro Plus subscribers, early 2015 for other plans).

In summary:

  • OneDrive is for personal use and has been designed to allow users to store and access any files.
  • OneDrive for Business is for business use and requires an Office 365 subscription plan. It allows users to store, access, share, and collaborate on files with other colleagues, and can be hosted either off site, or on site using SharePoint.
If you would like to learn more about these two platforms, contact us today and we can make sure that you are making the most of the technology that's available to enhance your business success.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

November 25th, 2014

Hardware_Nov25_CSelecting a Wi-Fi router, much like selecting any other piece of equipment for your business, can be a complicated task. There are so many different models and manufacturers out there that it can be a chore to work out the best option for your business. To help, here are some important features all routers for business should have, and what elements to look out for.

Essential features

For the vast majority of users, there are five main features that all wireless routers must have in order to make them useful in the office. They are:
  • Network type - Look at any router and you will quickly see that there are a number of different networks available. The four most commonly found are 802.1b, 802.1g, 802.1n, and 802.11ac. These designations are for how fast the router can transfer wireless data, with 802.11ac being the fastest of these four. Most offices should be able to get by on n routers, but those who have users connecting via Wi-Fi and cable may do better with 802.11ac routers - which are backward compatible with other slower network versions.
  • Throughput - This is closely associated with the router's network type, and is usually one of the first things listed on router boxes and specifications. To spot the router's throughput, look for Mbps. This indicates the speed at which the router is supposed to transmit data from your connection to users. It is important to note here that if you have a 100Mbps Internet connection, but buy a router that is only say 80 Mbps, then the total speed will be the lower figure, 80Mbps. Therefore, it would be a good idea to get a router with a higher throughput, or a close throughput, to your main Internet connection.
  • Range - This is particularly important for users who will be connecting via Wi-Fi, as they will likely not be sitting right beside the router. Generally speaking, the further you are from your router, the slower and weaker your connection will be. As a rule of thumb: 802.11ac and n routers will offer the strongest connections and greatest range. But this will all depend on where the router is placed and any natural barriers like concrete walls, etc.
  • Bands - On every single router's box you will see numbers like 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz. These indicate the wireless radios on the router. A dual-band router will have both a 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz radio which allows devices to connect to different bands so as not to overload a connection. Those who connect to a 5Ghz band will generally have better performance, but the broadcast range will be much shorter than the 2.4Ghz radio.
  • QoS - Quality of Service is a newer feature that allows the router administrator to limit certain types of traffic. For example, you can use the QoS feature of a router to completely block all torrent traffic, or to limit it so that other users can have equal bandwidth. Not every router has this ability, but it is a highly beneficial feature for office routers.

Useful features

As well as the above features, which are essential for business Wi-Fi routers, there are also some useful features that may help improve overall speeds and usability. Here are three of the most useful, but not essential:
  • Beam-formingĀ - This is a newer feature being introduced in many mid to high-end routers. It is a form of signal technology that allows for better throughput in dead areas of a business or home. In other words, it can help improve the connection quality with devices behind solid walls, or in rooms with high amounts of interference. By utilizing this technology, routers can see where connection is weak and act to improve it. While this is available on routers with many network types, it is really only useful with routers running 802.11ac, so if you have devices compatible with 802.11ac, then this feature could help.
  • MIMO - Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output is the use of multiple antennas to increase performance and overall throughput. Most modern routers don't actually use multiple antennas or extra antennas to increase performance, instead utilizing this concept to ensure that more devices can connect to one router with less interference and better performance.
  • Antennas - Some routers, especially those geared towards home use, don't have physical antennas, while other higher-end routers do. With many wireless routers, the idea behind antennas is that they allow the direction of the best connection to be configured. It can be easy to think that these antennas will help improve connection, but when it comes to real-world tests, there is often only a nominal improvement if the antennas are configured and aimed properly.
While these features can help improve the overall connectivity and speed of a wireless network, they are not necessary for most business users. If you are going to be tweaking networks however, then these may help. Beyond that, concepts like beam-forming only work well if you have a wealth of devices that are 802.11ac compatible and these are still less popular than devices that are say 802.1n compatible.

Features to watch out for

There are a number of router features that manufacturers often tout as essential, important, etc., when in reality these features are often more about marketing and will pose little use to the vast majority of users.
  • Routers with advertised processor speeds - With many pieces of equipment, the processor speed is an important indicator as to how fast it will run, and how well systems will run. With routers however, there is usually a small requirement for processing power. Sure, some features like firewalls require processing power, but the vast majority of routers have the power to run these. Therefore, advertised processor speeds with Wi-Fi routers offer no realizable benefit to the majority of users.
  • Tri-band - While many routers have dual broadcasting bands, some newer ones are now tri-band. The idea and marketing behind this is that with a third band, throughput can be dramatically increased and this is often reflected in the speeds manufacturers say these routers can offer. In reality however, this often isn't the case, as all this extra band really does is allow for more devices to connect. You will most likely not see an increase in overall connection speed.
  • Patented or trademarked features - Almost every router these days will have individual features (also known as proprietary technology) that the manufacturer includes with the idea that it makes the router that much better, or at least uniquely different, than any other. While many of these features can be useful to some users, they should not be the main reason to select a router.

How do I pick the best router?

Go to any hardware retailer and you will quickly find that the sheer number of wireless routers out there is overwhelming. Sure, they all do the same thing, but some will be better than others. One thing to try is to look at the user submitted reviews of different routers online. While the manufacturers may claim one thing, it is the real-world users who can shed the best insight into products. Try to find more business-oriented reviews rather than views based on domestic use.

What we recommend is to contact us. We can work with you to help you find and set up the best router for your business. Get in touch today to learn more.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
November 21st, 2014

Security_Nov17_CNet Neutrality is one of the biggest tech-related issues currently making its way through the American Government. In mid-November President Obama made his stance on the issue known, while also introducing a plan for it and thereby bringing the subject to worldwide attention. Here is an overview of what Net Neutrality is and how it can affect you.

What is Net Neutrality?

In order to define Net Neutrality, we should first look at the main idea behind what the Internet is: a free and open medium where individuals can express and house thoughts, ideas, and more. It was founded on one principal, and one principal alone: All information and Internet traffic MUST be treated equally.

This free, open, and fair principle is what we call Net Neutrality. In practice, this idea prevents Internet providers, and even governments, from blocking legal sites with messages they disagree with, and restricting access to services and sites that don't meet their business needs.

What exactly is the issue?

At this time, major telecommunications companies providing Internet access are trying to push legislation through the US court systems that will essentially make it legal for them to throttle Internet speeds; asking other providers to pay fees in order to speed up access to sites and to even block some sites.

There are laws currently in place, set by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), that prohibit providers from collecting, analyzing, and manipulating user traffic. In other words, according to the FCC, the role of the Internet providers should be to simply ensure traffic and data gets from one end of the network to the other.

Last year, it was uncovered that US telecommunications giant, and Internet Service Provider, Comcast demanded that Netflix pay them millions of dollars or they would limit the Internet speed of Comcast users trying to access the streaming service. Netflix tried to negotiate but the result was that Comcast did indeed cut user speeds. Netflix paid to avoid this from happening again. This act is an obvious breach of the main tenet of Net Neutrality: Equal access for everyone.

Combine this with the January 2014 ruling that the FCC had overstepped its bounds in regards to this topic and the increased lobbying by telecommunications giants against Net Neutrality, and you can quickly come to realize that the Internet as we know it is under threat.

How will this affect my business?

If nothing is done, there is a very high chance that you will be paying higher rates for Internet-based services (because the providers will be asking other companies to pay to guarantee speedy access which will then be passed along to you via higher rates). You may even be forced to use services you don't want to use because they offer better access speeds on your network.

Beyond this, because so many businesses rely on websites and the hosting companies that enable us to access them, there is a very real risk that these hosts may have access speeds cut. This in turn could mean that it will take more time for some users to access your website and services. Think of how you react when you can't access a website, you probably just search for another similar site which loads easily - now imagine this happening to your site. In other words, you could see a decrease in overall traffic and therefore profits.

What can I do about this?

First off, we highly recommend you visit The White House's site on Net Neutrality, and read the message that President Obama has recently posted there. To sum it up, he believes that Net Neutrality should be protected and the Internet should remain open and free. He has even laid out a plan with four rules that the FCC should enact and enforce:
  • No blocking - Internet providers are not to block access to any legal content.
  • No throttling - Internet providers cannot slow or speed up access speeds based on their preferences.
  • Increased transparency - The FCC is to be more transparent and push providers to follow the Net Neutrality rules.
  • No paid prioritization - There is to be a ban on providers insisting other companies pay to have equal access speeds.
You can bet that this plan will be met by stiff resistance both in government and by the telecommunications companies themselves. The FCC is an independent organization and it is up to them to select whether or not they want to enact President Obama's plan. One thing you can do is to publicly submit your comments to the FCC via this website. Any comments made will be seen by the FCC and are are publicly viewable. In the past, enough public pressure has been able to sway FCC decisions, so share this article and the links in it with everyone you know, asking them to take action as well.

What about other countries?

For now, the Net Neutrality battle is largely US based. The vast majority of Internet traffic starts or at least passes through the US. This means that if the telecommunications providers (many of whom own international subsidiary providers) can limit access to sites in the US it could very quickly become a world issue. Beyond this, other countries often follow laws that the US enacts, so it could only be a matter of time before we see similar bills passed in other countries.

In short, this is a major issue that could see the end of the Internet as we know it. If you would like to learn more about Net Neutrality and how you can help ensure the Internet remains free and open, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
November 19th, 2014

SocialMedia_Nov17_CYou've heard it before, and will hear it again: In order to have an effective social media presence you need to be active on more than one network. Many businesses realize this fact and are active on networks such as Twitter. The problem with Twitter, however, is that it can be difficult to master. To help, here are 10 Twitter tips.

  1. Keep posts on the shorter side - This may seem ridiculous, after all there are only 140 characters allowed per tweet, but keeping tweets short allows users to add their own comments and ideas when they retweet. Try keeping your tweets below 100 characters.
  2. Twitter is not about promotion - Studies have proven that tweets that promote a company or product don't usually do as well as messages that are more conversational in nature. If you want to ensure maximum interaction, aim for a mixture of tweets that consists of about 80% conversational and 20% promotional.
  3. Know what time to tweet - Each market is different, so take the time to research tweeting habits. If you see that the majority of your target audience is active during after-work hours, then it would make sense to tweet when they are more likely to be online. Remember, many Twitter users are connecting via their mobile devices, so you are probably better off tweeting during lunch hours, as well as pre- and post-work.
  4. Know what days to tweet - Much like knowing what time to tweet, it is a good idea to also know which days are best to tweet in order to maximize engagement. For example, if you are trying to interact more with other businesses (B2B) then it is best to tweet on days when the companies are open and an owner or manager is more likely to be looking at business systems and social accounts. Customers, however, are usually more receptive to messages on days when they aren't working e.g., Saturday and Sunday.
  5. Use hashtags - Hashtags in Twitter allow for categorization and make tweets searchable. For example, if you use the hashtag #fresh in a tweet and then search for 'fresh' on Twitter, you should see similar posts using the same hashtag.
  6. Use hashtags sparingly - There is a common trend in social media to use hashtags for nearly every word. This makes posts difficult to read and usually leads to people not sharing or retweeting your content. Instead, try to work one to three hashtag, at most, into your tweets naturally.
  7. Realize Twitter moves fast - The average trend on Twitter lasts about one hour, to one day. So, if you see a trend developing or beginning, act quick to join the conversation. Posting after the trend has faded will usually lead to tweets being ignored.
  8. Don't act on every trend - Trends come and go so quickly on Twitter that it can be tempting to try to jump on each one, or as many as possible, in order to get your message out to as many people as possible. However, not every style and subject will be relevant to your business. By shoehorning content to fit trends you could come across as insincere and lose interest from followers.
  9. Watch who you follow - Following people is one of the quickest ways to grow your own follower base - usually because users will follow those who follow them. But, when it come to business, you want to be sure to follow users who are relevant. For example, follow your customers, strategic partners, and even competitors. Following Twitter users who aren't relevant to your business is not going to get your messages read by the right people.
  10. Keep an eye on Twitter - In order to effectively spot trends and see what your target market is saying, it is worthwhile to use a program like Tweetdeck, which allows you to see all tweets, track hashtags, topics, and more.
If you would like to learn more about using Twitter in your business, contact us today to see how our services and solutions can boost your social media presence.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
November 18th, 2014

Office365_Nov17_CAn increasingly large number of businesses are integrating Office 365 and Macs into their offices. One issue with this however is that Office for Mac usually lags behind, version wise, when it comes to Office. This is starting to change though, as Microsoft has recently introduced a new version of Outlook for Mac and a roadmap as to when we will see new versions of other Office for Mac programs introduced.

New Outlook for Mac

Historically, when a new version of Office has been released, Mac users have had to wait six or more months for Mac versions to be introduced. With Office 365, users have had to wait even longer, as the company decided to focus on developing mobile apps first. This has now changed, and a new version of an Office app for Mac users - Outlook - has been released.

There are a number of improvements being implemented with the new version of Outlook for Mac, including:

  • A more modern user interface - Throughout the past year, Microsoft has been steadily updating the look of Outlook across all devices and versions, to create a more modern style. The new version for Mac introduces this updated design, which brings it more in line with the other newer versions of Outlook. Beyond this, scrolling has been made smoother which makes the program feel as if it runs much better.
  • Increased performance and reliability - Because email is an integral part of any business, Microsoft has re-tooled the database that supports Outlook for Mac and the way the program uses resources. This relates to increased reliability, less crashes, and generally faster performance.
  • Office 365 push email support - If you enable this for your business's Office 365 accounts, emails will be pushed automatically to users. This means messages will be delivered faster; in real-time for many.
  • Enhanced online support for searching Exchange archives - If your business employs either an onsite or hosted Exchange server, the new version of Outlook for Mac will enable online searching for message archives stored on Exchange.
  • Faster first-run and email downloads - When you first open Outlook to check your email, you will now see your emails far quicker, with email downloads faster too thanks to better syncing with Exchange servers.
There are a number of new features included in the latest version of Outlook for Mac. Overall, it looks much better and many users will notice that it is not only easier to use but also faster. If you would like to update to the newest version you can do so by:
  1. Logging into Office 365 via your browser.
  2. Pressing the Gear icon followed by Office 365 Settings.
  3. Selecting Software followed by Outlook for Mac.
  4. Downloading the program and installing it.
Before you do this however, we strongly recommend contacting us. We can help ensure that all of your files are backed up and ready for an update. Beyond that, we can work with you to ensure that the program is installed and set up so that you can simply open the program and go.

New versions of Office for Mac coming soon

Upon announcing the new version of Outlook for Mac users, the company also introduced their roadmap for the release of new versions of Office programs for Mac users. The company has noted that in the first half of 2015 they will release beta versions of the next versions of Word for Mac, Excel for Mac, PowerPoint for Mac, and OneNote for Mac. Final releases will be made available in the second half of 2015.

From what we know, businesses with Office 365 subscriptions will be able to update to the new versions for free, while other users will likely have to wait, as a price list has not been made available at this time.

If you are looking to learn more about Office 365 for Mac, or any other system, contact us today to see how we can help ensure tech developments work for your business.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

November 13th, 2014

Security_Nov10_CLast year saw a number of highly publicized security threats that many companies struggled to deal with. One of those was some nasty malware called Cryptolocker, which held your files for ransom. While this has now largely been dealt with, news is surfacing of a second version - called CryptoWall - that has begun to infect users.

What is Crypto malware?

Crypto malware is a type of trojan horse that when installed onto computers or devices, holds the data and system hostage. This is done by locking valuable or important files with a strong encryption. You then see a pop-up open informing you that you have a set amount of time to pay for a key which will unlock the encryption. If you don't pay before the deadline, your files are deleted.

When this malware surfaced last year, many users were understandably more than a little worried and took strong precautions to ensure they did not get infected. Despite these efforts, it really didn't go away until earlier this year, when security experts introduced a number of online portals that can un-encrypt files affected by Cryptolocker, essentially neutralizing the threat, until now that is. A recently updated version is threatening users once again.

Cryptolocker 2.0, aka. CryptoWall

Possibly because of efforts by security firms to neutralize the Cryptolocker threat, the various developers of the malware have come back with an improved version, CryptoWall and it is a threat that all businesses should be aware of.

With CryptoWall, the transmission and infection methods remain the same as they did with the first version: It is most commonly found in zipped folders and PDF files sent over email. Most emails with the malware are disguised as invoices, bills, complaints, and other business messages that we are likely to open.

The developers did however make some "improvements" to the malware that make it more difficult to deal with for most users. These changes include:

  • Unique IDs are used for payment: These are addresses used to verify that the payment is unique and from one person only. If the address is used by another user, payment will now be rejected. This is different from the first version where one person who paid could share the unlock code with other infected users.
  • CryptoWall can securely delete files: In the older version of this threat, files were deleted if the ransom wasn't paid, but they could be recovered easily. In the new version the encryption has increased security which ensures the file is deleted. This leaves you with either the option of paying the ransom or retrieving the file from a backup.
  • Payment servers can't be blocked: With CryptoLocker, when authorities and security experts found the addresses of the servers that accepted payments they were able to add these to blacklists, thus ensuring no traffic would come from, or go to, these servers again. Essentially, this made it impossible for the malware to actually work. Now, it has been found that the developers are using their own servers and gateways which essentially makes them much, much more difficult to find and ban.

How do I prevent my systems and devices from being infected?

Unlike other viruses and malware, CryptoWall doesn't go after passwords or account names, so the usual changing of your passwords won't really help. The best ways to prevent this from getting onto your systems is:
  • Don't open any suspicious attachments - Look at each and every email attachment that comes into your inbox. If you spot anything that looks odd, such as say a spelling mistake in the name, or a long string of characters together, then it is best to avoid opening it.
  • Don't open emails from unknown sources - Be extra careful about emails from unknown sources, especially ones that say they provide business oriented information e.g., bank statements from banks you don't have an account with or bills from a utilities company you don't use. Chances are high that they contain some form of malware.
Should your files be attacked and encrypted by this malware, then the first thing you should do is to contact us. We can work with you to help find a solution that will not end up in you having to pay the ransom to recover your files.

If you are looking to learn more about CryptoWall malware and how to boost your security and protect your data and systems, then we could you your first line of tech defence.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
November 12th, 2014

Productivity_Nov10_CAs a business owner or manager, you likely send out a large number of emails each day. A certain percentage of your emails are probably sent to other colleagues, with the idea that they then create a message to send to a third party on your behalf. One way to ensure that the message gets through, while avoiding too much back and forth communication between you and your colleague, is to pre-draft the email.

What exactly is a pre-draft?

The idea behind pre-drafting an email message is that it helps to reduce the amount of back and forth between two parties when one of the parties is contacting a third party. If you have ever had an employee draft a message that came from you then you are likely well aware of the number of emails that can go back and forth before the email actually goes out.

Essentially a pre-draft is a message included in the original message that is to be sent along to a third party. When you include a draft message, the person who will be sending the message can then just cut and paste the content, personalize it, maybe tweak a sentence here or there, and then send it along.

How do I create one?

If you are currently working on an email message that will be sent by another employee on your behalf, try to come up with the outline and basic message yourself. It's best to clearly mark this message in the original email by using a flag like: "Message to send", and changing the actual message to another font or color.

Because most of these messages will be personalized, include placeholder text where your staff member can personalize the message. For example, To . This not only makes it easier to spot areas that need to be personalized, it also means messages can be sent out quickly and easily.

When is this useful?

To be honest, pre-drafting won't work for every type of email you send. But, there are some situations when this comes in handy, including:
  • When you are asked to provide a testimonial on a service. You can write a basic testimonial with areas for customization.
  • When you need to send follow up emails connected to a recently sent email campaign or message. You can draft a basic follow up message that can then be customized as your employees see fit.
  • When you want to post something on numerous social media sites. You can simply write the post once, then provide spots to customize based on the network.
  • Introductions and references. If you have been asked to provide a reference or an introduction, then draft a standard message which can then be changed as needed.
If you mark these emails as a pre-draft, or place them in a pre-draft folder, they can then be quickly found and modified in the future.

Looking to learn more about increasing productivity in your business? Contact us today to see how our systems can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
November 12th, 2014

BusinessValue_Nov10_CBusinesses in different industries often have unique needs when it comes to the technical systems they integrate. One system however is universal in that every business needs it: The phone system. If your business is looking for a new communications set-up you will quickly find a wealth of options out there. Here are tips you can follow to make sure that you get the best system for your business.

1. Know the types of systems out there

Phone systems, as with many other types of technology, have evolved and changed drastically from the traditional phones that we are all familiar with. As a result, it pays to be aware of the four main types of phone systems available for small to medium businesses:
  • Key systems - These systems are commonly found in many older small businesses as they were designed for up to 40 users. Typically, a Key system offers businesses basic features like hold, line switching, line management, etc.
  • PBX - Private Branch Exchange, is private phone networking technology that enables businesses to manage up to hundreds of phone lines and numbers. PBX is usually employed by larger businesses who need multiple phone lines and the ability to network offices together.
  • Hosted PBX - These are PBX systems that are managed and hosted by a provider. The system itself is usually housed offsite, which means less up-front investment for the company.
  • Centrex - These are specific business features and packages developed for your business by a major telecommunications provider which are usually added onto your monthly phone bill.
Generally speaking, these four types of phone systems are available in two ways:
  1. Analog - Traditional landline phone systems offered by phone companies, commonly referred to as PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network). Analog is familiar to many business owners as it uses existing lines strung by telephone companies.
  2. Digital - Newer phone systems that use network connections to transmit voice communication. The most common of these systems is VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol).
While there are four main systems, the increasingly popular adoption of digital systems like VoIP has led to Key and PBX systems essentially merging together into one platform. Some providers however do offer scaled down versions of PBX over network connections that they refer to as Key systems.

2. Consider these four questions

As you are looking for a new system? If so, it might be a good idea to ask yourself the following questions:
  1. How many lines and phones will I need? This will likely be one of the first questions a vendor will ask when you start looking for a new system. Take some time to think how many phone lines you will need. For example, will you need one for every employee? Or will a line for every major office or department be enough? You will quickly find that some teams won't need lines at all, while others will need one for every person.
  2. How much do I want to manage this system? If you want to have complete control over every line, the supporting systems, and the hardware itself, then going for a hosted solution may not be the best of ideas. On the other hand, if you are looking for a solution that is simple to manage for you, then hosted or managed solutions might be the answer.
  3. How fast will my business grow? If you are expanding quickly, then you will need a system that can develop with you. Many landline systems require technicians to install new lines which can take time, so businesses that are growing quickly may benefit more from digital systems.
  4. What other equipment will I be using? This is important to know before you talk to vendors because some systems may not work well with existing technology, or other systems you may be using. If you make a list, vendors can then help you quickly find a system that is compatible with your other equipment.

3. Ask your users what features they need

Before looking for a new phone system, you should ask the people who will be using the system what features they need in order to do their jobs to the best of their ability. Some teams may need wireless devices in order to better talk to customers, while others might find video conferencing worthwhile; others still may need a more unified communications platform, including text and instant messages.

The key here is to develop a list of features that your business will need before looking for a new phone system. This will make it easier to find one that fits your needs.

4. Work with your IT partner

We can work with you to help you find the best solution for your business; be it managed, digital, or analogue. If you are looking for a new phone system, contact us today to learn more about our solutions and how we can help.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

November 6th, 2014

BusinessValue_Nov03_CAny business owner knows that technology is constantly evolving. It really feels as if a new system or device is being introduced on a daily basis. This fast-paced development has subsequently forced IT teams to also move quickly to keep up. IT can now be divided into three main areas, all of which businesses should be investing in.

1. Commodity-oriented IT

IT is made up of systems that support day-to-day operations, so it is essential that you invest in this area because it is what supports your core business practices. Without proper investment, your employees may not be able to carry out their tasks adequately. Commodity IT is essential but it does not bring increased value to your company. Sure, implementing a new email system could save money but it does not directly lead to increased profits.

One of the best ways businesses can get the most out of commodity IT is to first identify which systems the business relies on. From here, you can look to see if improvements can be made that will reduce overall expenses and increase productivity. Regardless of what you do with commodity IT, all changes and improvements should be operations-oriented; making jobs easier.

2. Business value focused IT

Business value IT involves any system that supports key operations and processes that drive overall business value. Essentially, these systems are not only essential, but they allow businesses and customers to do what they need to do. A good example of business value IT for companies with online stores is the technology that supports the store. Without it, customers would not be able to make purchases from the company.

With this form of IT you want to invest in systems that increase the value you offer customers and employees, while increasing your bottom line.

3. New opportunity IT

New technology and systems can help give your business a competitive advantage when properly integrated, while increasing overall business value. A good example of this is leveraging a new social media platform to help gain customer insights, or implementing technology that allows your business to capture and analyze data quickly and easily.

Companies able to incorporate new technology will often find that they have somewhat of a first mover advantage, and if leveraged correctly you could see increased profits and customer retention.

Get a good IT strategy

The vast majority of companies choose to focus a large percentage of their IT budgets on commodity IT. What this results in is a focus on simply maintaining existing IT systems, without actually investing in new systems. Ideally, you want to minimize your technology upkeep expenses, and invest more in discovering new technology and systems.

How do you do this? That's where a company like us comes in. As your IT partner, we can help ensure that your systems are managed effectively, costs are minimized, and we can even go so far as to help you find and implement new systems. Contact us today to see how our solutions can help maximize your IT investments.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

November 6th, 2014

BI_Nov03_CBusinesses who are looking to increase or encourage customer and employee interaction, while simultaneously boosting the quality and amount of data collected, have a number of options at their disposal. One of the increasingly popular choices is called gamification. Here is a quick overview of the process and how some small businesses have implemented it.

What is gamification?

It's human nature to be competitive, and many of us exercise this nature by playing games. Be it team sports, board games, video games, or even office-related games, many of us partake in some form of game on a regular basis. Gamification is the incorporation of game elements, such as points, rules of play, competition, etc. into business-related processes.

By implementing game elements into areas like marketing or training, you can drive engagement, while also collecting better data, primarily because most people will be more willing to provide relevant information when they are invested in a game.

When it comes to implementing these elements into business processes, many companies tend to focus on either customer gamification or employee gamification.

Customer gamification

The vast majority of customer-oriented gamification relates to rewards programs and repeat customers. Small to medium businesses who have successfully implemented these elements usually do so via social media and mobile apps. Repeat customers gain points for each purchase and when they reach a certain level receive a freebie perhaps or a rebate. This in turn drives the need to keep purchasing and to "win".

Many businesses have been successful in implementing this game characteristic into social media, where people who interact gain levels and therefore access to such benefits as discounts. Businesses implementing customer-oriented gamification often see both increased engagement and better data flowing into the organization. In fact, many businesses have found that the data implemented through these elements has been useful in decision-making and overall business intelligence efforts.

Employee gamification

Employee-based gamification is usually employed by businesses to encourage teams and individuals to work together towards a common goal. For example: Implementing a point or badge-based sales system where at certain sales levels badges are awarded, which can then be used for a reward, has proven to be incredibly successful for many sales-oriented companies. Publicly announced results and recognized rewards can also be a great employee motivator.

As with customer gamification, employee gamification can be a great source of data. For example, by tracking where employees are, and their results, you can quickly see weak spots or places where help may be needed. Essentially, more data means the ability to make better decisions.

Should my company implement gamification?

While this may sound like an exciting, and useful tactic to implement in your business, it's not for everyone and it won't fit well with all activities. What you should do is to look at whether the objectives and goals of the program you wish to implement can also be paired with gamification.

If you find that gamification, or elements of it, won't benefit your business program, then it's best not to implement it for the sake of it.

How to implement gamification

There are a wide number of mobile apps developed around gamification, along with social elements and ideas. What we suggest is talking to us to see how we can help first. We can work with you to find solutions and ways to implement your solutions. Contact us today to start the game of business success.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.