Blog

May 14th, 2015

164_Security_BIf you’re considering transitioning your business to the cloud, have you considered the security of the platform? While providers would like us to believe that the friendly fluffy cloud image used to market the service means it is automatically secure, the truth is that the reality is far different. Just ask one of the nearly seven million Dropbox users who had their accounts hacked. This is not meant to scare you, but only to make you aware that cloud security needs to be taken seriously - especially if you’re a business owner. To help you take the correct precautionary measures as you transition to the cloud, we’ve put together a list of actions you can take to ensure cloud security.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
May 13th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_May12_BA dashboard is a business intelligence tool used to display metrics and key performance indicators (KPI) for organizations. The tool has grown in popularity over recent years, since implementing business dashboards has become cheaper and easier than ever before. Dashboards gather two or more KPIs and statistics and turn them into a visual interface. By implementing dashboards you will have an overall view of your business, or at the very least some parts of it. Here are some uses of dashboards in real-life business situations.

Marketing insights

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

Tracking sales opportunities

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

Social media management

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

Financial reports

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

Project collaboration

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 12th, 2015

SocialMedia_May11_BSay goodbye to your advertising-free Facebook Messenger conversations - the social networking giant has announced its plans to bring promotional messages into the fold. The private messaging feature of Facebook became one of the site’s newest features when it was recently branched off of the main platform. The move is not likely to win applause from Facebook’s users, but it marks an interesting turn in the platform’s development and also presents marketing opportunities for businesses. Here’s the low-down.

As well as Facebook Messenger, which the company has definitively announced will feature advertisements, it looks likely that WhatsApp will also become ad-supported. Facebook acquired WhatsApp in February 2014 for $22 billion, despite the company only generating 2013 revenues of $10.2 million and overall making a net annual loss of $138.1 million. At the time, Mark Zuckerberg indicated that the company would not seek to monetize either service until they had reached a billion users, while WhatsApp founder and CEO said that the plan remained for the app to focus for several years on growth rather than monetization.

The latest announcements appear to signal a change in those tactics. While there has so far been no concrete decision on the form that advertising in either app would take, the intention appears to be for Facebook Messenger to test the water, with WhatsApp following its lead once a successful formula has been found. Executives have suggested that they wish to explore alternatives to conventional banner ads. They have also reinforced the message that the two apps, which seek to serve different purposes and audiences, will remain independent of one another.

The sheer number of users now communicating on the WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger platforms each month is testament to the value that Facebook could drive from placing advertisements on the services. Unlike its main site, which serves advertisements, the Facebook Messenger app currently makes no profit. Until now, WhatsApp’s only revenue stream has been the nominal $0.99 annual subscription fee it collects from users after a year’s free trial - and the service remains completely free in developing countries outside of Europe and North America. But for businesses, too, the potential of advertising on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp provides exciting new marketing opportunities and the chance to interact more closely with both potential and existing customers.

Learn more about using Facebook and other networks - both for advertising and wider social media marketing - to grow your business; give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
May 6th, 2015

164_BizV_BFor many businesses, social media marketing is unchartered territory. It's too easy to think that simply by creating a business page on Facebook or opening a Twitter account, you are giving yourself access to whole new markets. If only it was so easy! To gain business from social media, you need to know which of your marketing tactics are working for you and which aren't. That’s why we’ve gathered some practical ideas that allow you to track your marketing progress and ROI.

Why it’s difficult to track social media ROI

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

So how do you measure ROI?

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

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

Tagging Urls

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

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

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

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

Google Analytics

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

Call Tracking

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 5th, 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 30th, 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 29th, 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 28th, 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 24th, 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

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.