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March 25th, 2015

164 BizV_BHave you started to wonder if your break/fix contractor is fixing your IT problems to the best of his abilities? Does he seem to be showing up to your office more and more, repairing the same problem time and again? If so, it may be time to consider another option: Managed Services. This alternative could be just the IT solution your business needs, and can even prevent your worst IT nightmare from coming true.

The ultimate break/fix nightmare

Your business is running smoothly. Profits and staff productivity have been up, and you haven’t had a single IT expense in months. Times are good. You kick back in your leather chair and break out that Cuban cigar you’ve been saving for just such an occasion.

But then the BIG ONE hits. Your servers crash. No, not just one - all of them! Your business comes to a grinding halt. None of your staff can work. You call your go-to break/fix IT provider, but he’s overloaded with work and can’t make it out to your offices till next week. Next week?! In a panic, you call the first IT contractor you find on Google. Thankfully he’s available. But since you need this work done immediately, he charges an unbelievable fee for a last minute fix. You have no other choice, you hire the contractor. You’re left hoping he fixes everything properly and none of your crucial data is lost in the process.

This is the precarious nature of break/fix IT services. And while this is a worst case scenario, situations like this can and have happened. So let’s look at the reasons why it pays to to hire a Managed Services Provider (MSP) instead.

MSPs prevent problems. Break/fix profit from them.

Think about the relationship dynamics of Managed Services compared to break/fix. If you’re a business owner who currently use a break/fix contractor, when your IT goes down your contractor gains profit. Your problem equals his reward.

How motivated do you think he is to do an effective job of fixing your issue? If that problem pops up again later, it equals more reward for him. Now that’s not to say all break/fix contractors aren’t fixing your IT to the best of their abilities. But think about the basic mindframe of a break/fix contractor: problem=profit.

The MSP system works differently. You pay a set fee every month to your IT provider. So the reward for the MSP comes every month. If something goes wrong during that month, you don’t pay anymore. Yet it costs the MSP more money, and therefore affects their profit margin. Because of this, the MSP is rewarded for taking preventative measures to ensure your IT is working as effectively as possible, always.

That’s not to say problems won’t happen with an MSP. But when they do, they’ll end up costing the MSP provider, and they certainly don’t want that. So for an MSP, the basic mindframe is: healthy IT=profit.

MSPs extinguish budget surprises

Everyone likes surprises, except when it comes to losing money. And when you have a break/fix IT service provider, big surprises can and do happen - and not the good ones, either.

An MSP is working to prevent problems from happening in the first place. You pay a monthly flat fee, so you always know what you’re paying. You can plan and predict your budget accordingly.

With break/fix, it’s true that some months you won’t have any IT expenses from your contractor, which is great. But other months, you could have bills that are astronomical. So you never know just what you’ll be paying for your IT budget in any given month. And if you don’t have that money set aside, then what?

MSPs might just make you happier

Yes, as silly and simple as it sounds, with an MSP you’ll probably be happier. The main reason is you won’t have to deal with the frustration of unexpected IT problems eating away at your budget and the downtime that comes with it. Your IT will run more smoothly (which will create a foundation for your business to do the same) and your budget will be predictable.

Even better, you’re more likely to have a fruitful relationship with your MSP provider since you both have the same goal: effective smooth running IT for your business. What business owner doesn’t like the sound of that?

Want to learn more about Managed Services? Contact us today to learn more about this effective alternative.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 24th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_Mar23_BBusinesses can face disasters at the most unexpected times, whether that’s a flash flood that takes down your servers or a sudden power outage during a thunderstorm. And when these events do happen, you as a business owner must have a business continuity plan (BCP) in place, to ensure that your company doesn’t go out of business for good. But for most people who are new to business continuity, words and terms used by BCP experts may sound like a different language. Here are some popular business continuity terms that are often tossed around.

Battle box - a tool box where necessary equipment and vital information are stored. These objects and pieces of information should be useful in a disaster. Typical items include a first aid kit, laptop, protective equipment, and communication devices.

Business impact analysis (BIA) - a process to evaluate the impact that a disaster may have on a business. The BIA shows what a business stands to lose if some parts of its functions are missing. It allows you to see the general picture of your business processes and determine which ones are the most important.

Call tree - a comprehensive list of employee contacts and their telephone numbers. Call trees are used to notify out-of-office employees about a disaster. Companies can use a software program to contact people on the call tree by sending automated emails and text messages. In order for a call tree to work, employees should provide alternative contact options and their information must be up to date.

Data mirroring - a duplication of data from its source to another physical storage solution or the cloud. Data mirroring ensures that crucial information is safe, and companies can use the copied data as backup during a disaster.

Exercise - a series of activities designed to test a company’s business continuity plan. When an exercise is carried out, there will be an evaluation to decide whether a BCP is meeting standards or not. An exercise can identify gaps in, and the drawbacks of, a BCP and is therefore used as a tool to revise and improve a business continuity plan.

Hot site - an alternate location equipped with computers, communication tools and infrastructures to help a business recover information systems affected by the disaster.

Plan maintenance - a process of maintaining a company’s business continuity plan so that it is in working order and up to date. Plan maintenance includes scheduled reviews and updates.

Recovery time objective (RTO) - a period of time in which companies must recover their systems and functions after a disaster. This is the target time for a business to ideally resume its delivery of products and services at an acceptable level. RTO may be specified in business time (e.g. one business day) or elapsed time (e.g. elapsed 24 hours).

Business continuity plans can be a hassle to design and implement without proper understanding of their requirements. If you want to learn how you can protect your business from disasters, give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 20th, 2015

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

The difference between Cloud Computing and Virtualization

To understand which technology you need, you first need to understand the role of that technology in your business.

Virtualization is basically using virtual hardware or software stored off-site, instead of the actual physical asset being in your office. A common asset many organizations choose to virtualize is a server. So if you’re thinking about buying a new server, you may want to consider investing in a virtual one instead. The advantage of this is that you’ll free up office space and save money on the upfront expense of an in-house server as well as its maintenance costs.

Cloud Computing, on the other hand, is not about individual assets, but instead is an operational model. Your business will run through the Cloud, where employees can create documents, interact with each other and customers, and even store files and data. The main advantage of the Cloud is that it increases operational efficiency and boosts organizational productivity.

Arguments for virtualizing

If you’re considering either the Cloud or Virtualization and have done neither, it makes sense to think about Virtualization first. With both Virtualization and the Cloud, you’re essentially changing the architecture of your business - from physical to virtual. Virtualization, however, is a small change, while Cloud Computing is a more dramatic one. If you opt for going all in with the Cloud right away, it may be a bit mind jarring for some of your staff as they get used to the new technology. And this could slow down their productivity. Virtualizing a few technology assets, instead of your entire workflow system, is an easier way to get a grasp of working with virtual technology for the first time.

A more fundamental reason to choose Virtualization is that you’re just looking to create more office space. In this case Virtualization is a no-brainer.

Arguments for the Cloud

If your organization gets to the point of needing to add virtualized machines or servers quickly, the Cloud can automate this process. However, your IT department must be ready and willing to hand this process over to your end users.

Also, if your organization has been using virtualized machines for some time or is simply ready to overhaul its workflow and operational process altogether, then the Cloud is likely a better fit for your business.

Which is the best choice for your business?

What it comes down to is operational efficiency (Cloud Computing) or saving money and space on individual assets (Virtualization). What’s more important to you?

And do you have a progressive organization and staff that are ready to adapt to using virtual technologies? If not, then Virtualization may be the initial step you need to start changing your organization’s infrastructure to compete in the modern business world.

Want to learn more about Virtualization and Cloud Computing? Contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 19th, 2015

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

The Venmo platform is known for its convenience and ease of use, and is commonly used to split the cost of drinks, dinner, taxis and the like. The app is now adding a raft of new security-focused features, in response to criticism of its record for ensuring the security of its customers and their financial transactions.

Back in February, a Venmo user discovered his account had been hacked and used to withdraw almost $3,000 from his credit card. The intruder had also thought to change the email address associated with the Venmo account and to disable notifications of payments, but Venmo did not tell the genuine user about the changes that had been made. Venmo was decried for letting basic lapses in security exist in its trendsetting platform.

Now the service is doing what it can to pick up the pieces and up the ante on the security front. The most obvious change is to incorporate automatic email notifications when changes are made to the basic personal details associated with a Venmo account - a feature which many believe should have been built in from the word go. But the app will also add multi-factor authentication, another name for the two-step verification that can be enabled within Google Apps and other services. This feature makes it more difficult for would-be intruders to gain access to your account, even if they manage to get hold of your password.

Multi-factor authentication works by requiring not only your password for login, but also a second piece of information such as a one-time code - often generated on-the-spot and sent by SMS to the user’s cell phone - or the answer to a pre-set security question. Insisting on two phases to the sign-in process allows another opportunity to stop potential fraudsters in their tracks. The changes being implemented by Venmo also reflect the growing awareness on the part of technology companies for the need to get serious about security and protect the integrity of their systems and their users’ data.

You can put multi-factor authentication to use in your IT systems to keep your business protected. Get in touch with us and we’ll show you how.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
March 18th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_Mar17_BIf your business is not already using business intelligence systems, you are at a distinct disadvantage against the competition, and are failing to maximize a truly valuable opportunity to understand your position in the market. Business intelligence takes raw business data and converts it into insights that you can not only understand, but which offer a valuable view of your company’s current standing, where it’s headed and what you need to do to get there. Nevertheless, the business intelligence landscape can be a confusing one - here are some terms you need to get to grips with as you take your analysis to the next level.

Reporting

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

Data Visualization

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

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

Corporate Performance Management

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 17th, 2015

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

Twitter

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

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

Useful Twitter hashtag tools include:

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

Instagram

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

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

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

Facebook

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

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
March 13th, 2015

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

What is business intelligence?

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

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

Benefits of BI for small businesses

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

Implementation

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 12th, 2015

BusinessValue_11Mar_BTechnology underpins nearly every aspect of the modern business process. The problem is that business owners can find it hard to manage technology, and this is where Managed Services Providers (MSPs) come in. Whether it’s software to record customers’ data, network infrastructure management or cloud technology, MSPs can provide these services and much more to suit an organization’s business model. So instead of spending a large portion of their budget on establishing IT systems and relying on break/fix solutions, businesses are turning to MSPs in ever greater numbers to reduce costs and increase efficiency.

MSPs defined

Managed Services Providers boast a range of capabilities. They create IT options and provide solutions to facilitate businesses in their everyday activities. Simply put, a Managed Services Provider is your IT department, and they are experts at what they do. MSPs perform IT-related tasks to your exacting requirements, whether it’s installing software, virtualizing data, or other complex duties. Best of all, because they are taking care of your IT systems, you have more free time to focus on your business.

Selecting the best MSP

You can only achieve optimum IT results by selecting the right Managed Services Provider - preferably one that can demonstrate competency and consistency. Here are some criteria to keep in mind when choosing an MSP.
  • Depth of skills and experience - Any Managed Services Provider should, at the very least, have skills that go beyond basic software installation, maintenance and upgrades. Your business will likely need some advanced IT functions, such as database management, virtualization, cloud technology, security, and cross-platform integration. An MSP should have strong expertise in these models in order to meet the expectations and needs of your company.
  • Consistent global service - In addition to the services provided, MSPs should have global service capabilities. These include the ability to manage IT systems in multiple countries, local language support for foreign subsidiaries, and IT implementation in new locations. Businesses can expand globally with an MSP’s global service offering.
  • Broad range of services - The IT needs of businesses are continually changing, and MSPs tend to provide a suite of managed services to respond to these changes. This could mean anything from updates to software, security patches, antivirus and firewall protection, or even new compliance measures. Make sure that such services can be delivered without additional costs.
  • Financial stability and reputation - A Managed Services Provider’s length of time in the market doesn’t guarantee their longevity. Do your research into a potential MSP’s annual reports and financial statements. Also ask the MSP to provide evidence of their reputation by way of customer references and testimonials.
Choosing the right Managed Services Provider is a very important step that will impact on your business’s performance and success. If you want to learn how MSPs can support your business, contact us today.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 10th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_Mar09_AYou’ve been putting that business continuity plan off for months now, but you’ve finally decided to go through with it. You start by talking to members of your staff, partners and service providers. And it doesn’t take long to see that everyone has a different opinion about what to recover first when disaster strikes. The head of your IT department demands your servers are top priority, while your Vice President argues that without network security being reestablished pronto, your business is left vulnerable to even further damage. Who’s right? It may be difficult to decide. That’s why we’ve compiled these fundamental ideas to consider when drafting your business continuity plan.

Speak to many members of your organization

And not just your IT department - which may sound like a bit of an oxymoron coming from an IT provider’s blog. However, the reason behind this is simple. Suppose you have an IT staff member called Jane, who is responsible for a series of applications that automate your e-commerce system. If you call a business continuity meeting concerning to identify assets to prioritize during a disaster, what do you think Jane will say? She’ll likely point to her group of applications, since to her this is what she prioritizes and spends her days on. And it’s not just Jane; each staff member will probably voice that their particular job (whether that’s security, server maintenance or something entirely different) needs to be prioritized. It’s human nature to think of your responsibility and role first. We all do it.

The key is to get more than one opinion. It’s not a bad idea to start with the leaders of your company, and then work your way down. Leaders generally think in a broader sense about your organization as a whole, rather than one particular facet of it.

Consider where your business is going

When developing your business continuity plan, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking about your business as it is today. While you’ll draft your plan in the present, it needs to be created with the future in mind. For example, if you’re considering joining the Cloud or virtualizing your servers in the next year or so, how is this going to impact your plan? It’s smart to think of this sooner rather than later, as it could cause a major shift in your priorities. If you start deploying your business continuity plan but then have to switch gears further down the line, it’ll likely cost your company a lot of money.

Examine the interdependency of your business

Remember to connect the dots between your IT department and business processes. For instance, if your email system can’t run without the use of a particular IT application, it will do no good for you to have your email system as a priority 1 issue and that IT application as a priority 3. In this scenario, the IT application would need the same priority as the email system - if not higher, or else your email system will simply not work.

The point is to map out the interdepencies of your business processes and IT, so that you know what depends on what. That way you’re not left in a pickle when disaster strikes.

Need help getting started with your business continuity plan? Contact us today to learn how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 5th, 2015

Sec B 164With over 3 billion internet users around the globe totaling roughly 40 percent of the population, the internet is rife with opportunities for hackers to steal your information. And with technology constantly evolving and the internet growing, it’s not likely to get safer anytime soon. It therefore pays to take extra precautions when surfing the web. That’s why we’ve compiled these three easy tips that can amp up your online security.

Embrace two-factor authentication

Also known as two-step verification, most of us have likely dealt with this at one time or another. When you’re logging onto your bank’s website or your email account from a different computer than you normally use, you’re sometimes prompted for a one-time password - sent to you via text message, email or via some other method.

Nowadays, many sites such as Facebook, Dropbox and Twitter also give you the option to use two-factor authentication each time you log in. So if you’re looking for an easy way to up your security, it can give you that extra protection without slowing you down too much.

Update browsers and devices

Did you know that dated versions of browsers, operating systems and even other software packages can create an easy entry point for hackers? Often, new updates are created specifically to fix security holes. And hackers are ever aware that people can be lazy - saving that update for another day that never seems to come. They’ll often try to take advantage of this, searching for outdated devices to infiltrate while their victims watch Youtube on last year’s version of Firefox.

Yes, installing an update might take 15 minutes of your time. But it can pay dividends in preventing a security breach that could cost you or your business thousands.

Use HTTPs

When was the last time you typed those letters into a browser? Probably not this decade. It’s no wonder most people are unaware of this tip. So for those who are oblivious, https is the secure version of http - hypertext transfer protocol. Believe it or not, that last “s” actually adds an extra layer of protection. It encrypts information sent, both ways, between a website’s server and you.

You’re probably thinking, adding that last “s” to http (or even typing in http in general) is a complete pain in the rear. So to make this easier you can actually install a program like “HTTPS Everywhere” that’ll automatically switch an http into an https for you. Currently “HTTPS Everywhere” is available for Firefox, Chrome and Opera.

Looking for more tips to boost your internet security? Get in touch to find out how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security