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October 16th, 2014

Productivity_Oct16_AIn order for email to work, systems rely on what are called protocols. These are essentially a set of rules that dictate how data moves from system to system. When it comes to email, there are currently two major protocols: POP and IMAP. While most email systems will support both, it is a good idea to know the difference between the two and which is generally better for you.

Difference between POP and IMAP

POP, or Post Office Protocol, was first developed in early 1984 and is currently in its third version (POP3). POP works by allowing users to retrieve email and download it onto their computer. Because this protocol was developed before constant Internet connections, it is meant to allow users to interact with their email on their computer and then connect to the server to send it.

What this means is that usually, you connect to the server and download all of your messages onto your computer and then disconnect from the server with all messages being deleted from the server. When you connect to the server again, the messages are uploaded from your computer to the server which then sends the messages to the recipients.

IMAP, or Internet Message Access Protocol, is a newer protocol that was designed for faster and constant Internet connections. Essentially, the email messages live on the server and the user downloads copies to their computer. When the copy is sent, it is uploaded to the server which then overwrites the message and sends it to the recipient.

Which protocol should my company be using?

While most email servers will support POP, many experts agree that it is best if companies use newer email protocols. The reasons for this are:
  • POP is largely outdated. As stated above, this protocol was first introduced in the '80s. The current, and most popular, version was introduced in 1989.
  • POP can be less secure. By default, older protocols can transmit password and login data unencrypted, which means anyone with access to your network and tools could gain access to the data.
  • POP can't support multiple devices. Due to the way POP works, only the currently connected client can see email messages. If you are on your mobile device, but logged into your email client at work, you won't get messages on your device.
  • POP lacks important business features. Most of us rely on calendars, address books, and task lists that are integrated into most email clients. With POP, these are most likely third-party solutions that live on local machines. This makes it difficult to access this information from other locations.
There are some really great newer email systems out there, including servers that run IMAP protocols, and even Web-based email solutions that pretty much negate the need for email servers in the office. If you are currently using POP, it may be worthwhile to contact us to see how we can help upgrade your email solution.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
October 15th, 2014

BusinessValue_Oct13_AMobile technology like phones and tablets has become essential for businesses of all sizes. If you have a smartphone or tablet, you are not only more mobile, but can also be more productive. While these devices are being integrated in higher numbers, it really is the apps that enable users to do more. The question many business owners ask however is what apps should they invest in if they want to be able to attend to business on their device. Here are five types of apps you should have on your device.

1. File creation, management, and collaboration

Many small to medium businesses are implementing cloud-based document systems. These systems enable easy file creation, storage, and collaboration between users in the office, coincidentally they also have mobile apps.

If you have cloud-based document systems like Google Apps or Office 365 in your office, it would be beneficial to install the mobile apps for the system that you use. The reason for this is because the mobile apps have the same functionality as their Web-based versions. From your device you can access files, create new ones, share them, and even edit files which means you can be productive on the go.

2. Lists

A good lists app can go a long way in helping to keep you organized. From creating a daily to-do-list to creating a list of long-term tasks or goals, you can create lists when you think of them and easily sync them with other devices and even colleagues.

Lists apps also help because we often come up with things we need to do while away from the office. Because our mobile device is always with us, we can simply add it to an existing list, or create a new one. No having to track down paper that may be lost, or trying to remember things.

While there are many list apps out there, one of the most useful is any.do which allows users to create both work and personal lists and share them with other users. Wunderlist is also great, as it allows users to create lists with sublists and even assign tasks to other people.

3. Notes

Like a list app, a good note app is essential. If you come up with an idea outside of the office, you can jot it down and have the note sync with other devices for action when you are back in the office. Apps of this type are also useful in meetings outside of the office because many of them allow users to record conversations and even add notes quickly. So, if an important idea comes up or is talked about it is recorded and not missed.

Some of the best Notes apps include Google Keep which syncs with your Google account and allows you to quickly create notes. If your office uses Microsoft Office, or Office 365, the best choice would be OneNote which can sync with your Microsoft account, bringing notes to any system. For those who want a powerful notes suite, the best option is Evernote, which works on almost every system and Web browser.

4. CRM

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools have become one of the most essential ways for business owners and managers to manage their relationships with their customers. Companies that have integrated a CRM solution have found that overall satisfaction and customer retention has improved.

Because these solutions allow you to quickly view customer data (e.g., contact information, sales history, etc.) it makes sense for mobile apps to be created for anyone working out in the field. In fact, most CRM solutions now have mobile apps that allow you to access customer databases from any mobile device. If you have a CRM solution, especially a cloud-based one, it is worthwhile checking with your provider if there is a mobile app too.

5. Communication

When out of the office, you need a way of keeping in touch with those back at base, or other employees who may also be out of the office. While email is usually enough to cover most communication needs, there are times when you need something more immediate. That's where apps like Google Hangouts, iOS Messages, Microsoft Lync, and even Facebook Messages can help. These chat-oriented apps enable communication wherever you have a data, or Internet, connection.

Beyond this, there are a wide number of VoIP solutions that offer mobile apps. When you install these on your device, you can turn your mobile into your office phone which will function exactly like your desk-based phone. This makes it easier to keep in touch with the office, so be sure to ask your VoIP provider if there is a mobile app you can install on your device.

If you have a favorite business app, let us know. And, if you are looking for a way to increase the value your business can provide customers, contact us to learn how a mobile solution can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

October 15th, 2014

iPhone_Oct13_AThe recent release of iOS 8 introduced a number of changes and features that improved the overall usability of the iPhone and iPad. One of the more useful changes introduced has to be the enhanced Notifications Center, which allows users to quickly view and even interact with various device notifications. If you are using iOS 8, do you know how to customize your Notifications Center?

Customizing Notifications Center with widgets

While the Notifications Center has been an iOS feature for a number of versions now, Apple finally added more functionality to the Center in iOS 8 by turning on widget support. Widgets are essentially small apps that are meant to provide some of the functionality of a main app.

In the case of Apple, widgets can be added to your Notifications Center to enhance the overall look and functionality. For example, if you have Evernote installed on your device, you can add a widget to the Notifications Center that allows you to quickly create a new note or recording without having to open the app. Other widgets allow you to add an enhanced weather forecast or even a calculator.

In iOS 8, widgets have been enabled by default and can be interacted with by swiping down from the top of your screen to open the Notifications Center. From here, you can tap on Today to view relevant information for the day. This information is from a widget Apple calls Today Summary. You can add more widgets to the Center by:

  1. Opening your Notifications Center.
  2. Tapping on Today.
  3. Scrolling down to the bottom of the screen and tapping on Edit.
This will open a screen that lists all of the available widgets. Widgets with a red circle and minus sign beside them are already added to Notifications Center, while apps under DO NOT INCLUDE can be added. Tapping the green circle with the plus sign will add the widget, while tapping the red circle with the minus will remove it.

You can change the order of the widgets too, by tapping on the three lines to the right of the name and moving it up or down. When you are finished hit Done at the top of the screen and you should see the changes implemented immediately. If you are looking for more widgets, you will need to install apps that are widget compatible. We've found that a quick Internet search for "iOS 8 apps with widgets" returns lists of some great apps for you to try.

Customizing notifications for various apps

As you install and update apps, you may find that they start notifying you whenever there is a change, or where it is desired that you pay attention to some new information. Some of these notifications can be quite annoying, especially if you aren't really using the app at the moment, or you deem the notifications to be useless.

You can customize your app's notification settings by:

  1. Opening the Settings app.
  2. Selecting Notifications from the Settings menu.
  3. Tapping on the app you would like to change the notification settings for.
In the screen that pops up you should see a number of options including:
  • Show in Notification Center - The maximum number of notifications to show in the Notification Center.
  • Sounds - Play a sound when you receive a notification from this app.
  • Badge App Icon - Show the app's icon in the notifications.
  • Show on Lock Screen - Show the notification on the device's locked screen.
You can toggle these on and off as you wish.

Turning notifications off

If you would like to turn off all notifications for an app, you can do so by:
  1. Opening the Settings app.
  2. Selecting Notifications from the Settings menu.
  3. Tapping on the app you would like to change the notification settings for.
  4. Sliding the radio to the right of Allow Notifications to Off.
If you are looking to learn more about iOS 8 and how to get the most out of your iDevice, contact us today.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic iPhone
October 10th, 2014

BusinessValue_Oct08_AFor every business there are multiple keys to success. One of the most important is your staff. If you manage your employees in the right way, and offer them the information and systems they need to do their jobs, you could see business running smoothly and profits on the rise. This is often easier said than done though, as it can be a real challenge to effectively manage employees. That's where Enterprise Resource Planning, or more specifically Human Resource modules, can help.

What are Human Resource modules?

ERP, or Enterprise Resource Planning, is a suite of integrated business software applications (often called modules) that allow companies to track and manage data and even automate some business functions, including Human Resources.

Human Resource modules in particular are used to track different people-related functions, such as planning, payroll, administration, development, hiring, and more. Business services, like Standard Operating Procedures, job postings, news, forums, tracking of work hours, and benefits, etc., can all be unified into one module, which makes overall management and decision-making easier.

Benefits of using HR modules

Businesses that have integrated ERP and more specifically HR modules, have been able to benefit in a number of ways. Here are 5:

1. Automated processes that free up management

A large function of HR, as with many other business processes, is data entry and reporting. If you are trying to develop reports without an integrated ERP system, you probably need to pull data from numerous sources which takes time. This is time that can probably be better spent on more relevant tasks.

An ERP module data, once set up, will be more accessible. This simultaneously makes it easier to enter and pull data together into reports. And because large parts of daily tasks can be automated, you can ensure that what you need to complete is actually achieved.

2. Enhanced sharing of information and collaboration

Because HR is a central function of any business, data related to HR needs to eventually be shared with other teams or departments. Without ERP this likely means you will need to ask different people to share their data and then compile it into a useable format.

With ERP for HR, data is stored in a central location, or brought together to a central location, which means that data from different sources can be shared faster and easier. This also ensures that the right data is shared, thus enhancing overall outcomes and making it simpler for other teams to work together.

3. Management gains a clearer picture of HR

It can be tough to gain a short-term picture of your employee resources, especially when it comes to identifying potential resource shortfalls (e.g., double-booked holidays, employees who are constantly late, etc.) and where improvements can be made. For example, in most modules you can track overtime hours of employees, and receive alerts when overtime is past a certain threshold.

If you spot that one department is consistently banking extended overtime hours, you can move quickly to address this.

4. Data is kept up-to-date

As we've stated above, HR systems usually involve data from various locations. This means that there is always a chance of duplicate or incorrect information. A healthcare ERP module can help ensure that the data is not only correct, but also not duplicated, which can in turn speed up decision-making and enable better decisions to be made.

5. Reduced licensing expenses

Without ERP, your HR team could need five or more systems in order to keep track of everything. Each of these systems will need to be licensed, which can often be a serious investment on your behalf, not to mention the costs of setting up and maintaining these systems.

Because HR ERP modules offer an integrated solution, you pay for one license to cover all of your needs. This reduces overall expenses while also making it easier to budget and maintain.

If you are looking to integrate an ERP solution in your business, contact us today to learn more about how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

October 9th, 2014

Security_Oct07_AEarlier this year news broke of one of the most widespread and potentially devastating bugs to-date - Heartbleed. While heartbleed was massive and companies are still dealing with the fallout to this day, news has recently broke of an even bigger potential threat: Shellshock. This is a security issue all business owners, managers, and employees should be aware of.

What exactly is Shellshock?

Shellshock is the name applied to a recently uncovered software vulnerability which could be exploited to hack and compromise untold millions of servers and machines around the world. At its heart, the Shellshock vulnerability is based on a program called Bash. This is a Unix-based command program that allows users to type actions that the computer will then execute. It can also read files called scripts that contain detailed instructions.

Bash is run in a text-based window called a shell and is the main command program used by OS X and Unix. If you have a Mac computer and want to see what Bash looks like, simply hit Command (Apple Key) + Spacebar and type in Terminal. In the text-based window that opens in Bash you can enter commands using the Bash language to get your computer to do something e.g., eject a disc, connect to a server, move a file, etc.

The problem with Bash however is that it was recently discovered that by entering a specific line of code '() { :; };)' in a command you could get a system to run any following commands. In other words, when this command is used, Bash will continue to read and execute commands that come after it. This in turn could lead to a hacker being able to gain full, yet unauthorized, access to systems without having to enter a password. If this happens, there is very little you can do about it.

Why is this such a big issue?

To be clear: Shellshock should not directly affect most Windows-based machines, instead it affects machines that use Unix and Unix-based operating systems (including OS X). So why is this so big a deal when the majority of the world uses Windows-based computers? In truth, the majority of end-users will be safe from this exploit. However, the problem lies with bigger machines like Web servers and other devices such as networking devices, and computers that have had a Bash command shell installed.

While most users have Windows-based computers, the servers that support a vast percentage of the Internet and many business systems run Unix. Combine this with the fact that many other devices like home routers, security cameras, Point of Sale systems, etc. run Unix and this is becomes a big deal.

As we stated above, hackers can gain access to systems using Bash. If for example this system happens to be a Web server where important user information is stored, and the hacker is able to use Bash to gain access and then escalate themselves to administrative status, they could steal everything. In turn this could lead to the information being released on to the Web for other hackers to purchase and subsequently use to launch other attacks - even Windows-based systems. Essentially, there are a nearly unlimited number of things a hacker can do once they have access.

If this is not dealt with, or taken seriously, we could see not only increased data breaches but also larger scale breaches. We could also see an increase in website crashes, unavailability, etc.

So what should we do?

Because Shellshock mainly affects back-end systems, there is little the majority of users can do at this time. That being said, there are many Wi-Fi routers and networks out there that do use Unix. Someone with a bit of know-how can gain access to these and execute attacks when an individual with a system using Bash tries to connect to Wi-Fi. So, it is a good idea to refrain from connecting to unsecured networks.

Also, if you haven't installed a Bash command line on your Windows-based machine your systems will probably be safe from this particular exploit. If you do have servers in your business however, or networking devices, it is worthwhile contacting us right away. The developers of Bash have released a partial fix for this problem and we can help upgrade your systems to ensure the patch has been installed properly.

This exploit, while easy to execute, will be incredibly difficult to protect systems from. That's why working with an IT partner like us can really help. Not only do we keep systems up-to-date and secure, we can also ensure that they will not be affected by issues like this. Contact us today to learn how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
October 9th, 2014

BusinessValue_Oct07_A.It seems like September was a big month for mobile payments. From Apple launching a new service to announcements from both Amazon and Ebay, there will soon be a number of new ways businesses can allow their customers to pay via mobile solutions, and an increasing number of businesses are considering switching over.

What exactly is mobile payment?

Most people would define mobile payment as either using your mobile device as a wallet, or using mobile devices to accept payment. Many services allow users to link credit cards to their mobile device and simply scan it over a pay terminal to have their account charged.

Companies on the other hand usually pay a set per-transaction fee in order to use the system; something along the lines of, or slightly cheaper than, most credit or debit-based payment terminals.

If you are considering switching over, here is a brief overview of the most common payment solutions.

PayPal

In late September Internet auction giant eBay announced that they will be spinning off their popular Internet payment system PayPal sometime in 2015. While many users will utilize PayPal to pay online, there is actually a mobile payment solution called PayPal Here, which is expected to grow immensely.

With Here, you get a payment solution app with a card reader that plugs into most smartphones (Android, iPhone, iPad, Android tablets) and allows you to accept multiple types of payment from anywhere you have an Internet connection. You can even track cash payments and record checks.

Vendors can use this app free of charge, however they are charged a 2.7% per swipe fee, based on the amount of the transaction.

Apple Pay

Apple Pay is Apple's recently announced mobile payment system that utilizes NFC (Near Field Communication) on the iPhone 6. Users with an iPhone 6 will be able to link their credit cards to their phone and then will hover their device near a terminal and press their thumb on the device's fingerprint reader to pay.

Your payment information (an account number linked to your card. Apple has noted that actual card numbers are not stored) is stored in the Passbook, and will be accepted at an initial 220,000 stores in the US when it launches sometime in October. There is a good chance that small to medium businesses will be able to integrate this solution into their business in the near future, so it would be a good idea to keep an eye on this.

What is interesting is that many banks have announced that they are considering accepting, or will accept Apple Pay as a method of payment. This means that businesses with an existing NFC payment terminal - which is often provided by a bank - should be able to accept payment (if the bank does of course).

Rumors have it that merchants will not be charged a transaction fee to use this service; details will be solidified when the system goes live.

Square

Square is arguably the most popular, or at least the most well known, mobile payment system. With a card reader that is compatible with most popular mobile devices (Android, iPad, iPhone) users can set up a whole Point of Sale system via the Square Stand and accept a wide variety of payments.

To use this solution, you need either the card reader (which is free) or the Square Stand (which costs around USD $99). For each transaction there is a fee that starts at 2.75% for credit and debit cards.

Amazon's Local Register

Introduced in mid August, this new card reader is aimed at both PayPal and Square solutions. As with these, there is a card reader that can be plugged into most devices (Android, iPad, iPhone) and an app that goes along with it. Businesses with the reader can then use the device to accept payment.

Where this solution differs is that the reader costs USD $10 to purchase. That being said, the USD $10 is refunded towards your first transaction fees upon signing up. The transaction fees are also quite a bit lower. For businesses that sign up before October 31, 2014, there is a flat rate of 1.75% per swipe until January 1, 2016. Any business that signs up after this date will pay a flat rate of 2.5% per transaction (based on the total transaction amount).

Google Wallet

Google Wallet is a hybrid mobile and online payment solution that allows users to add credit cards to their wallet and pay for things either online, or at stores with NFC payment terminals (also called contactless terminals).

While most users who have made a purchase on Google Play, or have used their Google Account to make a payment have used Wallet, this hasn't been the most popular of solutions when it comes to customers using it to pay in-store. The reason for this is because there are only a limited number of devices with the required NFC radio (two to be exact). This system is also currently limited to the US only. Customers around the world can use Google Wallet to pay online however.

There is a good chance that with the recent new announcements and upcoming mobile payment products, Google will be pushing this out to more devices in the near future.

There are other mobile payment system options available, so it is a good idea to contact us before you implement one. We can help you not only find a solution that works for your business, but ensure that it can be integrated into your existing systems.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

October 8th, 2014

iPad_Oct07_AiOS 8 has been released, and for those who have an iPad 2 and newer, you have likely already upgraded. While the latest version of iOS does bring some great changes, there are reports that older devices have seen a dramatic increase in battery drain. This is never ideal, especially when you might expect a newer version of an operating system to increase battery life. To help, it could be a good idea to track apps using the most battery.

How to see the battery power apps are using on iOS 8

One of the first things you should do when you notice that your battery is draining faster than normal is to look at how much power each app is using. This can be done by:
  1. Tapping on the Settings app.
  2. Selecting General from the menu bar on the left-hand side of the Settings app.
  3. Tapping on Usage which is located in the menu that opens in the right side of the screen. Selecting Battery Usage.
In the window that opens you will be able to see basic battery information like how long you have used the device since its last charge, and how much power has been used. While this is useful in its own right, there is also valuable information about what apps are using the most power.

This data displays apps that are using the most power first, so you can quickly see what apps are power hungry and take action. In iOS 8, a new tab was actually introduced into the Battery Usage tracker, which shows a seven day running average of the most power hungry apps.

Tapping on the tab that says Last 7 Days at the top of the screen will bring this information up. This is useful because it gives you a better view of the truly power hungry apps.

What do I do with apps that are really draining my iPad's battery?

There are a number of things you can do, including:
  • Uninstalling the app: If the app with the highest battery drain isn't overly useful, then possibly the best step to take would be to uninstall it. Another option may be to look for a similar app and give that a try to see if it fares any better on battery use.
  • Change when you use the app: Some apps, like video recording suites, bandwidth or processing-heavy apps like games, drain your battery quickly when they are running. Instead of using them while on battery power, try to use them when your iPad is plugged into a power source.
  • Limit use until the app is updated: If you are experiencing battery drain, there is a good chance that other users are as well. You can either limit the use of the app until an app update is issued, (most updates will usually fix battery issues), or try to contact the developer directly. Take a look on iTunes for the app and you should see developer contact information there.
  • Dim the display: The iPad has a great display, and many apps look good when you have the display's brightness set at its brightest. The issue with this however, is that a super-bright display will drain your battery quickly. Try turning the display brightness down as low as possible in order to slow how fast the battery is drained.
  • Limit network connections: Similar to your display, having Wi-Fi or Bluetooth radios always on will also drain your battery. If you aren't connected to Wi-Fi, or don't have any Bluetooth devices, then it is best to turn them off. The reason for this is because if they are on, they constantly look for a connection which eats up battery power.
If you are looking for more ways to decrease or manage the power drain on your iPad contact us today to see how we can help.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic iPad
October 2nd, 2014

Security_Sep29_AWith the ever growing number of security threats faced by businesses around the world, the vast majority of business owners have adopted some form of security measures in an effort to keep their organizations secure. But, how do you know the measures you've implemented are actually keeping your systems safe? Here are five ways you can tell if your security measures aren't sufficient.

1. Open wireless networks

Wireless networks are one of the most common ways businesses allow their employees to get online. With one main Internet line and a couple of wireless routers, you can theoretically have the whole office online. This method of connecting does save money, but there is an inherent security risk with this and that is an unsecure network.

Contrary to popular belief, simply plugging in a wireless router and creating a basic network won't mean you are secure. If you don't set a password on your routers, then anyone within range can connect. Hackers and criminal organizations are known to look for, and then target these networks. With fairly simple tools and a bit of know-how, they can start capturing data that goes in and out of the network, and even attacking the network and computers attached. In other words, unprotected networks are basically open invitations to hackers.

Therefore, you should take steps to ensure that all wireless networks in the office are secured with passwords that are not easy to guess. For example, many Internet Service Providers who install hardware when setting up networks will often just use the company's main phone number as the password to the router. This is too easy to work out, so changing to a password that is a lot more difficult to guess is makes sense.

2. Email is not secure

Admittedly, most companies who have implemented a new email system in the past couple of years will likely be fairly secure. This is especially true if they use cloud-based options, or well-known email systems like Exchange which offer enhanced security and scanning, while using modern email transition methods.

The businesses at risk are those using older systems like POP, or systems that don't encrypt passwords (what are known as 'clear passwords'). If your system doesn't encrypt information like this, anyone with the right tools and a bit of knowledge can capture login information and potentially compromise your systems and data.

If you are using older email systems, it is advisable to upgrade to newer ones, especially if they don't encrypt important information.

3. Mobile devices that aren't secure enough

Mobile devices, like tablets and smartphones, are being used more than ever before in business, and do offer a great way to stay connected and productive while out of the office. The issue with this however is that if you use your tablet or phone to connect to office systems, and don't have security measures in place, you could find networks compromised.

For example, if you have linked your work email to your tablet, but don't have a screen lock enabled and you lose your device anyone who picks it up will have access to your email and potentially sensitive information.

The same goes if you accidentally install a fake app with malware on it. You could find your systems infected. Therefore, you should take steps to ensure that your device is locked with at least a passcode, and you have anti-virus and malware scanners installed and running on a regular basis.

4. Anti-virus scanners that aren't maintained

These days, it is essential that you have anti-virus, malware, and spyware scanners installed on all machines and devices in your company and that you take the time to configure these properly. It could be that scans are scheduled during business hours, or they just aren't updated. If you install these solutions onto your systems, and they start to scan during work time, most employees will just turn the scanner off thus leaving systems wide-open.

The same goes for not properly ensuring that these systems are updated. Updates are important for scanners, because they implement new virus databases that contain newly discovered malware and viruses, and fixes for them.

Therefore, scanners need to be properly installed and maintained if they are going to even stand a chance of keeping systems secure.

5. Lack of firewalls

A firewall is a networking security tool that can be configured to block certain types of network access and data from leaving the network or being accessed from outside of the network. A properly configured firewall is necessary for network security, and while many modems include this, it's often not robust enough for business use.

What you need instead is a firewall that covers the whole network at the point where data enters and exits (usually before the routers). These are business-centric tools that should be installed by an IT partner like us, in order for them to be most effective.

How do I ensure proper business security?

The absolute best way a business can ensure that their systems and networks are secure is to work with an IT partner like us. Our managed services can help ensure that you have proper security measures in place and the systems are set up and managed properly. Tech peace of mind means the focus can be on creating a successful company instead. Contact us today to learn more.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
October 1st, 2014

BCP_Sep29_AMany business owners and managers readily acknowledge the fact that they need to be prepared for a disaster, and most do have backup-plans in place should something actually go wrong. The thing is, it can be difficult to actually know if your plan will be enough to see your business through a disaster. What can help is knowing the common ways business continuity plans (BCP) fail.

There are many ways a business continuity or backup and recovery plan may fail, but if you know about the most common reasons then you can better plan to overcome these obstacles, which in turn will give you a better chance of surviving a disaster.

1. Not customizing a plan

Some companies take a plan that was developed for another organization and copy it word-for-word. While the general plan will often follow the same structure throughout most organizations, each business is different so what may work for one, won't necessarily work for another. When a disaster happens, you could find that elements of the plan are simply not working, resulting in recovery delays or worse. Therefore, you should take steps to ensure that the plan you adopt works for your organization.

It is also essential to customize a plan to respond to different departments or roles within an organization. While an overarching business continuity plan is great, you are going to need to tailor it for each department. For example, systems recovery order may be different for marketing when compared with finance. If you keep the plan the same for all roles, you could face ineffective recovery or confusion as to what is needed, ultimately leading to a loss of business.

2. Action plans that contain too much information

One common failing of business continuity plans is that they contain too much information in key parts of the plan. This is largely because many companies make the mistake of keeping the whole plan in one long document or binder. While this makes finding the plan easier, it makes actually enacting it far more difficult. During a disaster, you don't want your staff and key members flipping through pages and pages of useless information in order to figure out what they should be doing. This could actually end up exacerbating the problem.

Instead, try keeping action plans - what needs to be done during an emergency - separate from the overall plan. This could mean keeping individual plans in a separate document in the same folder, or a separate binder that is kept beside the total plan. Doing this will speed up action time, making it far easier for people to do their jobs when they need to.

3. Failing to properly define the scope

The scope of the plan, or who it pertains to, is important to define. Does the plan you are developing cover the whole organization, or just specific departments? If you fail to properly define who the plan is for, and what it covers there could be confusion when it comes to actually enacting it.

While you or some managers may have the scope defined in your heads, there is always a chance that you may not be there when disaster strikes, and therefore applying the plan effectively will likely not happen. What you need to do is properly define the scope within the plan, and ensure that all parties are aware of it.

4. Having an unclear or unfinished plan

Continuity plans need to be clear, easy to follow, and most of all cover as much as possible. If your plan is not laid out in a logical and clear manner, or written in simple and easy to understand language, there is an increased chance that it will fail. You should therefore ensure that all those who have access to the plan can follow it after the first read through, and find the information they need quickly and easily.

Beyond this, you should also make sure that all instructions and strategies are complete. For example, if you have an evacuation plan, make sure it states who evacuates to where and what should be done once people reach those points. The goal here is to establish as strong a plan as possible, which will further enhance the chances that your business will recover successfully from a disaster.

5. Failing to test, update, and test again

Even the most comprehensive and articulate plan needs to be tested on a regular basis. Failure to do so could result in once adequate plans not offering the coverage needed today. To avoid this, you should aim to test your plan on a regular basis - at least twice a year.

From these tests you should take note of potential bottlenecks and failures and take steps in order to patch these up. Beyond this, if you implement new systems, or change existing ones, revisit your plan and update it to cover these amendments and retest the plan again.

If you are worried about your continuity planning, or would like help implementing a plan and supporting systems, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

October 1st, 2014

OSX_Sep29_AOver the past decade or so, Apple's laptops have become increasingly popular with business users. From the svelte Macbook Air to the powerful MacBook Pro, you can guarantee that at least one person in your office has a Mac laptop in the house. As with all laptops you will want to configure how the device uses power in order to conserve battery life and this can be done through the Energy Saver function.

What is Energy Saver for Mac?

Energy Saver is a feature included in all versions of OS X after version 10.6 (Snow Leopard) that allows users to configure how their computer users energy - both when running on battery and when plugged in. All Apple computers have this feature, including desktop computers, but it is most useful for those with laptops, where you can configure your laptop to extend battery life.

Accessing Energy Saver preferences

There are two ways you can access the Energy Saver function on your Mac. If you are using a laptop, you should see a battery icon in the top menu bar of the screen, usually located on the right. Press this and select Open Energy Saver Preferences…

If you don't see the battery icon at the top of your screen, or are using a desktop, then press Command + Spacebar to open Spotlight. Type Energy Saver in the bar that opens at the top of the screen and click on Energy Saver from the drop-down search results.

Looking at the Energy Saver preferences

Depending on the type of Mac you are using - laptop or desktop - you should see up to three tabs - modes of power - at the top of the screen:
  • Battery
  • Power Adapter
  • UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply)
Clicking on any of the tabs will bring up power settings related to that particular power source.

Configuring energy use while on Battery

When you click the Battery tab you should see the following options come up (on OS X Mavericks and later.)
  • Turn display off after: This is a slider bar that allows you to set how long the computer needs to be inactive (no buttons clicked, or user interaction) before the display is turned off. When you are operating off the battery, it is a good idea to set this lower so that the display - which draws power - will be turned off quicker, saving more power.
  • Put hard disks to sleep when possible: When ticked, the hard disks will be put to sleep when the system isn't being used, or they are not needed.
  • Slightly dim the display while on battery power: Will lower the brightness of the screen when the power cord is unplugged in order to save more energy.
  • Enable Power Nap while on battery power: Power Nap is a feature that allows the computer to wake up every now and then in order to check for software updates. It is a good idea to turn this function off if you are worried about saving battery life, instead checking for updates when the computer is awake.

Configuring energy use while on Power Adapter

When you click on the Power Adapter tab you should see the following options:
  • Turn display off after: This is a slider which allows you to set when the display will turn off, after there has been no activity for a set period of time.
  • Prevent computer from sleeping automatically when the display is off: By default, when the display is off on your computer, it will also go to sleep, which means all non-essential components are turned off. If you are say downloading a large file, or work with an IT team who needs access to your systems at night, then this is a good option to enable.
  • Put hard disks to sleep when possible: When there is no activity, or the hard drives are not being used, your computer will shut them down, saving power.
  • Wake for Wi-Fi network access: When you switch networks, your Wi-Fi turns on, or a program requires access to the Internet, the computer will wake up.
  • Enable Power Nap while plugged into a power adapter: As above, stopping searches for software updates in the short-term to save battery life.

Configuring energy use while on UPS

When you click on the UPS tab you should see the following options:
  • Computer sleep: Is a slider bar that allows you to set how long the computer should wait after inactivity to put itself to sleep.
  • Display sleep: Is a slider bar that allows you to set how long the computer should wait when there is no activity to shut the display off while under UPS power.
  • Put hard disks to sleep when possible: When ticked, the hard disks will be put to sleep when the system isn't being used, or they are not needed.
  • Slightly dim the display while on UPS: Will lower the brightness of the screen when the power cord is unplugged in order to save more energy.
  • Start up automatically after a power failure: The UPS is designed to kick in when the power fails, and if your computer is connected to an UPS, and the power goes out - shutting it down - it will restart automatically when the power comes back on.
  • Restart automatically if the computer freezes: If your computer freezes while connected to a UPS, it will restart automatically.
You can tick each of the options as you see fit and we recommend trying out different choices to see how your power usage fluctuates. If you have any concerns about how much power your systems are using, or their overall configuration, contact us today to learn how we can help.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Apple Mac OS