October 8th, 2015

Security_Oct2_BPopular mobile instant messaging app WhatsApp was at the center of a recent security breach which saw the information of as many as 200 million users potentially exposed to the mercy of hackers and malware. The threat, which affected the recently launched web-based version of WhatsApp, was detected by an IT security firm in Israel and patched up before news of it became public. Yet it serves as a reminder to remain vigilant when using web and mobile apps, whether for business or pleasure. Here’s what you need to know.

The web-based version of the WhatsApp app was only launched a few months back, initially for WhatsApp accounts on Android and Windows Phone devices and later for those on iPhones, but has already grown in popularity. The recent security vulnerability related to vCards, electronic business cards shared by WhatsApp users, and effectively amounted to a kind of phishing.

An error in the WhatsApp web client meant that less-than-innocuous vCard business cards created by hackers were not properly filtered out by the app. As a result, these phishing-style cards made it through to users who, if they clicked them, were at risk of the cards converting themselves to more harmful executable scripts once downloaded - and potentially accessing and playing foul with users’ personal data. There are even reports of a ransomware approach being taken by hackers in this case, with attempts being made to extort cash from WhatsApp users in exchange for restored access to their infected devices and hijacked data.

WhatsApp put a fix in place, by releasing an updated version of the app, prior to making public news of the security vulnerability. It’s worth making sure you have the latest version of WhatsApp installed on your phone, if you haven’t checked recently - WhatsApp’s phone and web versions are linked to one another, so ensuring you are up-to-date on your phone is the way to ensure you’re safe when using the web client too. The patch is also available directly through the web client, though this won’t update your phone’s version of the app at the same time.

The whole affair also serves as a timely reminder that it pays to be vigilant when it comes to using WhatsApp and other instant messaging platforms - including email. Avoid opening links or downloading files that you’re not expecting to receive, and proceed with caution even if you were anticipating them. It’s better to double check with the sender that they’re consciously passing a file to you, and that they’re fully aware of its contents, than to wait until your device has been infected and damage has potentially been inflicted on your vital data.

Want to learn how to keep your devices safe from phishing attempts and other potential security vulnerabilities? Give us a call and let us equip you with tamperproof solutions.

Published with permission from Source.

Topic Security
October 6th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_Oct5_BOrganizations are using business intelligence (BI) tools to gain insight about their customers, sales, and the effectiveness of their marketing activities, allowing them to make faster and better-informed business decisions. There are two forms of BI that organizations can invest in: the traditional version, and self-service. While both can offer valuable data, self-service BI is a shade more efficient than the traditional system.

What is self-service business intelligence?

Self-service BI is a reporting and analytics platform that business users with limited IT knowledge and experience can use for themselves. Simply put, if an end user trying to find an answer to a business question can access, use, and generate reports without bothering the IT department or data analysts, then they’ve done self-service BI.

The end goal of self-service BI is to eliminate redundant processes where users have to request access and assistance from data analysts and technology experts. With self-service BI, users are able to gather information, analyze it, and share the reports with others, without having to know the technical protocols required to access the data.

Traditional vs. self-service

In traditional BI systems, analysts create reports based on input data, and deliver them to key decision makers. In the case where the decision makers need more detail or different data, or change their business questions, analysts have to adapt the report or create new ones.

Self-service BI is designed to eliminate this time-consuming reporting process, placing much of the responsibility for report creation on end users. It opens the door to data exploration and new possibilities. Instead of asking analysts to generate reports, end users have the ability and tools to find the answers to their own business questions whenever they want.

How self-service BI can benefit your business

Self-service BI helps improve organizations in various key areas. Here are just some of the benefits it has for your business.
  • It saves time - most likely there are far more people asking business questions than there are IT experts creating reports to answer them. By removing the dependency on data analysts and technical staff, companies are able to improve the efficiency of their analytical process and save time, as end users can find the answers to their questions themselves.
  • It eliminates mistakes - the more decisions users have to make, the less likely they are to make the right ones. Self-service BI helps ease the decision-making process by delivering nearly instant reports and visualizations that are easy to understand. Users can analyze their data from any angle and deduce answers without having to consult specialists.
  • It reduces costs - since end users are able to utilize self-service BI with little to no training, training and support costs are significantly lower than other BI solutions. What’s more, self-service BI platforms can be accessed from anywhere and at any time, without the need to install expensive hardware and servers, allowing businesses to save money.
There are plenty of benefits of adopting self-service BI. As more employees are able to analyze and explore data by themselves, decisions can be made much faster and at a far lower cost. Want to learn more about business intelligence and how you can implement it in your organization? Give us a call today.
Published with permission from Source.

October 1st, 2015

Virtualization_Sep30_B When it comes to IT, it is always important to separate fact from fiction. Too often you will have IT people looking to get themselves a bigger piece of your budget by proposing technology solutions you don’t really need. Virtualization is one of those items you have probably heard about, but is it right for your company? Here are some of the facts and fiction about virtualization to consider.

Virtualization involves the creation of a virtual version of your operating systems, servers storage devices or network resources so here's what you need to know.

All virtualization is the same

FICTION - All virtualization is not the same. In fact, you will need to discuss with your IT person the aspects of your business you want to virtualize, in order to see what works best for you. For some companies, it only makes sense to virtualize servers and nothing else. On the other hand, some businesses will want to virtualize their desktops but keep their servers on-site. There are many different scenarios, and you need to find the one that works best for your business.

You can keep your current hardware/software/applications

FACT - Just because you virtualize one or more aspects of your IT doesn’t mean you will lose access to your current hardware, software or applications. As with anything, there are a few exceptions to this, but by and large it shouldn’t be a problem.

Technology flexibility is increased

FACT - Arguably the biggest benefit of virtualization is the flexibility you will have to put up and take down new servers as demand dictates. Like most companies, your business probably has peaks and valleys throughout the year; yet with physical servers, you have your capacity set regardless of if you're using them or not.

This can create a problem for businesses, as often times they end up with a server capacity that isn’t large enough to handle the peak season, but is too much for slow periods. With virtualized servers you are able to customize your capacity throughout the year, giving you unmatched flexibility.

Managing IT is easier

FICTION - You will still need dedicated IT personnel who know what they are doing, regardless of whether you embrace virtualization or not. Like every other aspect of IT, virtualized equipment must be maintained and looked after accordingly. If not, it can fail. If you decide to go through with virtualization, managing your IT won’t necessarily be easier - just different.

Virtualization will save you money

FACT and FICTION - Virtualization can save you money depending on what aspect of your business you decide to virtualize. The greatest savings come with server virtualization, which sees pricey physical servers phased out, and the corresponding electricity costs associated with them removed as well. Of course, virtualized servers might bring more operational costs with them as the infrastructure becomes more complex.

You should perform a cost-benefit analysis before switching over to virtualized desktops. If your company just invested in new computers a year or two a go, switching them for virtual machines probably isn’t the best use of money. However, if it is time to replace your desktops anyway, then going with virtual machines as part of a wide-sweeping office virtualization might a great way to save.

At the end of the day, virtualization is complex, and its benefits will vary from company to company. The positives can be quite exceptional under the right circumstances, but it isn’t the right technology for everyone.

If you're curious to see whether virtualization can help your business, or if you are looking for other IT solutions, contact us today for assistance.

Published with permission from Source.

September 29th, 2015

164_B_SMFor many small business owners, maintaining an active presence on social media can be a challenge. It takes time and money, and when you see little return on your investment it can be both perplexing and disheartening. If you’ve personally struggled with social media marketing, it may offer you some comfort to know you’re not alone. A recent survey reports that the problem is widespread.

Survey details

The survey was conducted by a small business directory and support network known as Manta. They surveyed 540 of their small business members with the aim of learning how much ROI these companies are gaining from social media marketing.

The results

Based on data on the 540 participants, 41% of businesses are receiving a return from social media marketing, which leaves nearly 60% with nothing to show for their investment of time and money. And as for the businesses that are gaining a return, over 80% earn less than $1,000 a month from their social media efforts. More surprisingly, close to half bring in less than $100 a month.

As a small business owner, should these numbers be cause for alarm? According to the CEO of Manta, John Swanciger, part of the reason the return is so low for most businesses is that their social media priorities are misguided. He notes that social media is less about bringing in new customers, and more about community building. "For a long time, the mantra was that social media could bring in new customers,” he says. “In reality, social media is a community builder, and your biggest fans are your already-loyal customers. When small businesses treat social media as the new word-of-mouth community, the real return will follow."

One of the oldest marketing tactics around is word-of-mouth marketing. Every day, people recommend products, restaurants and businesses they love to friends and family members. And social media is the perfect platform to cultivate your fans’ love of your brand. But according to the Manta survey, less than 8% of business owners cited building community as their primary social media goal.

So how do you build a community on social media?

Besides the obvious investments of time and money, here are a few quick tips to get you started:
  • Regularly post content that is valuable to your social media following - the keyword here being valuable.
  • Ask your followers questions to start conversations, and then engage with them. This builds a connection between your brand and customers.
  • Show your followers that you genuinely care about them, and they’ll likely do the same for you with glowing recommendations to friends and family.
Of course there is much more to it than this, but these quick tips can help you get started. If you’re struggling with your own social media efforts and would like to learn more, we’re happy to point your business in the right direction. Call us today to speak with one of our experts.
Published with permission from Source.

Topic Social Media
September 22nd, 2015

Business_Continuity_Sep21_BSomewhere in your Business Continuity Plan (BCP) is a section detailing what is expected from employees during a disaster. Unfortunately, many companies end up overlooking this aspect of their BCP and assume their staff knows what to do. This can lead to problems, as employees won’t necessarily perform the functions required to keep your company operating. Here are a few steps to take to ensure this doesn’t happen to you.

Step 1 - Prepare

What good is a BCP if your employees don’t understand or even know about it? Saving your data and information is important during times of emergency, but so is making sure your employees can execute their day-to-day functions. Guarantee they understand what is expected from them during a disaster by explaining this in a dedicated meeting. This will also provide a forum for your staff to ask questions and better understand how they fit into the BCP as a whole.

Among the most important things to include in the formulation of any planning are clearly defined roles and open lines of communication. Everyone should know who they report to, as well as who his or her backup is. This will help ensure your company has all its bases covered if a disaster should strike.

Step 2 - Give them the right tools

You can’t expect employees to work from home during a disaster if they do not have the proper tools to succeed. Of course, these also have to be cost effective as well; it’s not feasible to simply hand out workstations to everyone to store at home in case of emergency. For starters, investing in cloud-based solutions will help make it possible to keep service interruptions to a minimum. Microsoft Office 365, for instance, lets users access its programs and files from anywhere and on any device. This means that, if your office is no longer accessible, staff can keep working on their existing projects at home from their own device.

Cloud-based VoIP is another tool that can keep employees up and running from home. These systems can make sure all calls to your office are forwarded to your employees’ cell phones. This allows for communication between your clients and employees to continue uninterrupted even if your office is closed.

Step 3 - Practice

Have each employee take a day to work from home so they are able to get hang of how the process will go if a disaster strikes. This will get them comfortable with the workings of everything, as well as seeing if there are any issues that crop up. Rarely, if ever, does anything go perfectly on the first attempt, so practicing before a disaster can help eliminate any problems that might occur during the real thing.

Make sure you take the time to review how it went with each employee. This will give you an opportunity to see how practical this aspect of your BCP is, and which areas can be made stronger. The idea of the exercise is to allow each employee to feel confident in his or her ability to work during a disaster, and to give you the reassurance that they understand their role as it relates to the wider BCP.

Step 4 - Be alert

Finally, it’s important to keep an eye on possible events that could force you to shut down your office, and make sure your staff is also aware of the situation. The more time they have to prepare to work from home, the more ready they will be. Of course, not every event is possible to predict ahead of time, but if the a blizzard is forecast or there have been protests nearby, alert your staff of the possibility that your BCP may go into effect.

A comprehensive Business Continuity Plan can be the difference between your business surviving or failing if a disaster occurs. Let our experts find a BCP that ensures your company can carry on through thick and thin.

Published with permission from Source.

September 8th, 2015

Business_Value_Sep7_BIt’s almost second nature to think of IT as something that helps businesses achieve value. However, your IT department should be able to explain exactly what they are doing to add value to your business. Of course, if they can’t explain it they might be hurting your company. It doesn’t matter if your IT is handled on-site or is outsourced, you can do the following to determine IT’s value and then increase it.

Don’t accept metrics

IT people love using metrics to show how they are contributing to your business. The problem is most of these metrics don’t show you anything. Sure, high uptimes sound great and low mean-time resolutions are probably a good thing, but how do these impact your business? Don’t arbitrarily accept these as signs IT is contributing to the value of your bottom line. Dig deeper and get an explanation as to why these metrics matter. There is a reason your IT department wants you to see these metrics, but it is important to have them explain it.

Ban “tech speak”

There was a time in the world when it was impossible to avoid “tech speak”, but that era has passed. Your modern-day IT person should be able to explain just about everything to you in plain English. Realistically, if they are doing a good job, they should want to share that information with you in a way you will understand easily. If you find your IT department relying heavily on “tech speak”, chances are there is something they don’t want you to know about.

Make sure your IT provider understands business goals

If you want your IT working for you and adding value to your company, then those responsible for it have to know what your goals are. It is then, and only then, that they will be able to manage your technology with these goals in mind. Too often companies assume their IT provider knows what their priorities should be, founded on company principles, but the reality is that the contractor will operate on the basis of what it thinks is best. These two entities pulling in separate directions can hurt your business in many ways. By making sure your IT department - again, whether in-house or outsourced - is pulling in the same direction as everyone else, technology can add a whole lot of value to your company.

Meet with your IT provider often

It doesn’t matter if you have in-house IT or use a Managed Services Provider, you should be meeting with them on a regular basis to understand what they are doing. There is no need to banish them to some dark corner of the building, or only summon them when something breaks. By incorporating them into the operations process and maintaining open lines of communication, you are likely to see things in your office run a whole lot more smoothly. Not only will you get a better understanding of how IT is providing value to your business, they will gain a deeper appreciation of how your company operates. This will help both sides understand how the other operates, and enable you to find new ways to help each other.

Listen to IT recommendations

Chances are that whoever is handling your IT has numerous different ideas on how your company can use technology to decrease costs, increase productivity, and become more profitable. You would be foolish to not at least consider what they have to say. One of your company’s most valuable assets is technology,and your IT department should be up-to-date on what improvements can be made. There could be nothing more valuable to your company than an IT department proactively finding ways for you to get ahead of the competition using technology.

Is IT hurting your business value? Want to instead use it to drive increased bottom-line profits for your company? Contact our technology experts and find out how we can help.

Published with permission from Source.

September 1st, 2015

The Ashley Madison hack is simply the latest case of a big time company having valuable data stolen. It’s a trend that shows no signs of subsiding, so you would be foolish to not pay attention to it. Want to know what your business should learn about security from this scandal? Here are three important takeaways from the Ashley Madison hack that your company should take note of.

1. Make sure your company’s security data is actually secure

You probably tell clients their information is secure, but just about every company makes that claim. One of the biggest mistakes made by Ashley Madison was the failure to know if its data was truly secure. The company publically lauded its security, but it now seems like those claims were rather hollow. In fact, it appears as if no one at Ashley Madison knew a whole lot about its security practices until it was too late.

Don’t simply pass off your business’s security to the IT department. Being involved will allow you to see how it works. You don’t need to be a tech expert to understand how your data is being secured. Your security provider, whether it be in-house or via a managed services provider, should be able to explain security practices in layman’s terms. This will allow you to ask questions and be proactive because chances are if you see a weakness, others will notice it as well.

2. Beware of your employees and their email and Internet activities

Another takeaway from this scandal was the fact many employees, both from private companies and government offices, were using business email accounts to sign-up for Ashley Madison and office Internet connections to access the site. Putting the ethical questions aside for a moment, public sentiment is undoubtedly negative and companies with employees who used Ashley Madison at work have been exposed to the scandal’s backlash.

By placing the appropriate email and Internet security solutions in place at your business, you can reduce the amount of risk your company is exposed to by employees. No one really wants to put restrictions on their employees’ Internet and email access, but it is important to be smart. Being connected to scandals like this can bring unwanted publicity to your business. Worst of all, your employees might not even realize they are putting your company in harm’s way when they access this type of content at work.

3. Be prepared for data loss

As the Ashley Madison case has shown us, massive data theft or loss can be the end of your business. When clients trust your business with their data, they are confident in your ability to protect it. Of course, things do happen and if your data does go missing, it’s important to have a plan of action ready. While it’s unlikely your company’s data breach is unlikely to garner the attention of Ashley Madison, it means a whole lot more to you, your company and your employees. Just because your company isn’t big doesn’t mean it’s invincible.

A disaster recovery plan can help your company ensure it has backups and even backups of your backups. If you believe your data has been stolen by hackers, it is important to act immediately. You’ll need to quickly assess what information has been stolen and inform the appropriate parties so they can take the necessary steps to protect themselves. From there, you will want to re-secure your company closing any security loopholes that have been found. Finally, access your backups and make sure your business continues to operate as close to normal during the crisis.

Worried about your security? We can show you how to protect yourself. Contact us today for more information on how to keep your company safe.

Published with permission from Source.

Topic Security
August 26th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_Aug25_BAs you seek to better understand your customers and make more informed business decisions, dashboards are a critical addition to your business intelligence toolbox. But there are many types of dashboards out there, each with unique purposes - how do you determine which one is best for your company? We’ve listed three of the most widely used dashboards below.

Strategic dashboards

Ideal for senior managers and executives, strategic dashboards are designed to help identify potential opportunities for business expansion and improvement. This type of dashboard doesn’t provide information in-depth enough to make complex decisions, and is typically is updated once a month or quarter.

Benefits of strategic dashboards As the name suggests, strategic dashboards are designed to provide strategic guidance. The dashboards give a bird’s-eye view of your business. They can contain anything from overall sales numbers to sales and revenue comparisons, or inventory levels, making it easy for executives to understand the overall health of the organization.

Analytical dashboards

This type of dashboard provides users with insights from a volume of data collected over time, enabling you to understand why certain things are happening, and what changes should be made in the future in order to accommodate them. The data presented in analytical dashboards tends to be complex, and usually requires advanced training to use. That’s why they are generally used by business analysts, instead of being widely deployed to other employees and across all departments.

Benefits of analytical dashboards When it comes to creating and implementing strong business strategies, understanding the trends and events in your data is crucial. Analytical dashboards provide detailed information that allows you to compare current against historic data. Implementing analytical dashboards allows you to enjoy in-depth analysis, identify patterns and opportunities in your data, and determine why processes are working in certain departments.

Operational dashboards

Operational dashboards are used to monitor the real-time operations of employees, allowing them to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of their work performance. This type of dashboard is commonly found in departments where it’s essential to respond to critical information quickly, such as those working in sales and marketing.

Benefits of operational dashboards Business owners rely on operational dashboards to track their employees’ progress, and to be notified of issues as they come up in order to respond quickly. What’s more, the dashboards provide up-to-date information, all bundled in one place, making it easy for employees to make quick decisions without having to dig through large amounts of data.

Dashboards concentrate all data, metrics, and parameters in one place, bringing a totally new dimension to business intelligence. Your company can significantly benefit from the right dashboard. If you’re looking to implement dashboards for the first time, or to enhance the functionality of your current dashboard, get in touch with us today.

Published with permission from Source.

August 18th, 2015

164_SM_BThe coveted email list: it can be the difference between a growing business and one that sputters out before it gets off the ground. So what can you do to grow yours? Although it’s often less talked about, social media can be an instrumental tool to gain subscribers. Here are three tips on how you can use it to grow your email list.

Post and share your emails publicly

If you create great content for your email list and no one sees it except your subscribers, how are your non-subscribers going to know what they’re missing out on? They won’t, which is exactly why you should give your social media fans and followers a taste of the valuable content that awaits them after sign up.

Now let’s be clear. This doesn’t mean you should share every single email you send out to your list. If you did, there would be less of a need to subscribe. Instead, try sharing or posting an email once every few weeks or once a month.

Make it easy to sign up

Let’s face it. Many of us will take the easier, simpler path whenever possible. This is just as true in marketing as it is in other more primal aspects of human nature. Take eating, for example: if you’re short on time and have a choice between two restaurants for lunch, and one delivers and the other doesn’t, which one are you going to take? Likely the delivery. Even if you prefer the one that doesn’t deliver slightly better, you’d probably still take the delivery for the simple fact that they’ve made it easier for you.

In the online marketing world, the same concept works for gaining subscribers. This is why you need to make it as easy as possible for people to sign up after they’ve read your publicly shared email. To do this, simply add a sign-up link to the emails you share.

Create valuable content

You’ve probably heard the phrase “content is king”. However, whoever came up with this catchphrase left out a very important keyword. It should instead read “valuable content is king.” If you’re shelling out dozens of blog posts, emails, podcasts or videos a month but the content is useless to the reader, you’re not going to make any traction with your email list.

When trying to gain subscribers, always ask yourself, “what’s in it for them if they sign up?” If you simply have a signup box on your website or social media page, but no valuable content to go along with it, why would someone sign up? Would you sign up? The point is that there needs to be a reason for someone to subscribe to your email list. And valuable content is a very good reason.

Lastly, don’t forget to demonstrate why it’s more valuable for your future audience to subscribe rather than simply follow you on social media. To do this, give them an incentive to sign up. This could be in the form of an exclusive offer or a free ebook, course, report, or something similar.

Want more tips on leveraging social media to grow your business? Send us a message today.

Published with permission from Source.

Topic Social Media
August 13th, 2015

164_Virt_BData centers can be expensive, and they can suck up large amounts of energy fast. With that said, do you know how much yours is costing you every month? You may be afraid to find out the answer. Not to fear though, there are specific steps you can take to get your data center costs under control. Here are a few to get you started.

Perform an energy audit

There’s a good chance your IT staff has never once thought about how much energy your server room and data center are consuming. So, the first step to rectifying this problem is to identify just how much power is being sucked up.

To get you started, here are a few questions to ask:

  • How much of the data center’s power budget goes to support systems?
  • How much goes to IT systems?
  • How much IT output do you get for every kilowatt/hour of power sucked up by your data center IT systems?

Answering these questions will help you determine just how efficient, or inefficient, your data center actually is.

Decrease the IT workload

When you save a single watt of energy at the server level, it can result in a total saving of nearly three watts in your data center costs.

So how do you decrease the IT workload? Virtualization is a common and effective tactic. Instead of wasting money on cooling your own servers in your data center, with virtualization you can have them hosted by your IT provider and then their technology delivered to you through the Internet. This allows you to eliminate some of your servers from your office and therefore reduce cooling costs.

For alternate ways to decrease server workload, you can also:

  • Eliminate unused servers
  • Consolidate servers
  • Purchase more energy-efficient technology

Mind your humidity and temperature levels

Because many non-IT personnel are terrified of the data center and simply don’t understand it, often they falsely believe that the room must be kept as cold as the North Pole in order to protect sensitive data. This is simply not true. While it is true that excessively high temperatures, humidity or dry conditions can harm your data, most modern-day data center equipment is incredibly durable and can tolerate a much wider range of humidity and temperatures than in decades past. Because of this, it is highly likely you can get away with a lot less cooling and dehumidification than you thought possible. That said, it’s wise to consult with an IT professional before doing this to ensure you don’t damage your data.

Another innovation that can help you cool down your data center more economically is utilizing an economizer system. This technology uses cool air from the outside to provide “free” cooling cycles for your data center.

Want more tips on reducing your overall IT bill? Curious to learn more about virtualization? Call us today to learn from one of our experts.

Published with permission from Source.