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March 24th, 2015

164 BizV_AYou’ve been using your break/fix contractor for years. For the most part, he’s been reliable and helped your business run a smooth IT operation. But you’ve been hearing more and more about Managed Services, and it’s peaked your interest. If you’re thinking about making the jump from break/fix to Managed Services, here are a few compelling ideas to consider.

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 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 23rd, 2015

BusinessContinuity_Mar23_AA business continuity plan (BCP) is often defined as a method of putting businesses back on their feet in the event of a disaster. With this in mind, companies are increasingly concentrating their efforts on developing a BCP so that, when unexpected disasters strike, they can minimize damage and continue to function as normally as possible. But with many abbreviations and terms that may sound unfamiliar to average employees, or even business owners or managers, understanding these common BCP terms is vital.

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

iPad_Mar20_ASince the launch of the original iPad Mini, it has seemed like the direction of travel has been towards smaller, more portable devices. In many ways it mirrors the trend in mobile phone development prior to the arrival of smartphones on the scene – every device was smaller than the last. But, dress it up how you like, there’s no avoiding the fact that when you decrease the size of a device, some of its features end up being sacrificed too. Here’s why you might want to dust down that old, full-sized iPad and start rediscovering it in all its glory – or better still, grab a brand new iPad Air 2.

It’s big enough to share

Whether in meetings or on the go, the full sized iPad screen is better suited to showing documents, images and web sites to others. The iPad Mini may be more easily portable, but its screen size is comparable to that of the iPhone 6, and a phone just isn’t the best platform for displaying information to a group. The screen size on models like the iPad Air makes this much easier and more effective.

It takes great photos

For some time, the iPad camera seemed inferior to that of the iPhone. But the iPad Air 2 changes all that – the 9 Megapixel camera makes it perfect for photo needs in the office. We’re thinking instant capturing of whiteboard scribbles at the end of a brainstorming session, quickly and efficiently scanning documents, and maybe just the odd workplace selfie. It’s suddenly comparable to the camera power of the iPhone and superior to that of the iPad Mini. Combine that with the bigger screen, and the business productivity advantages of the full-sized iPad Air 2 are plain to see.

It’s a productivity machine

Again it comes partly down to the full-sized screen, but a more generously proportioned iPad – whether that’s the new iPad Air 2 or an older model – is simply better for getting the job done. While the iPad Mini boasts the same resolution as the iPad Air 2, the latter’s extra screen area gives you more space to work with. The Mini offers the same amount of limited room for maneuver as the latest iPhone model, which is fine when you’re on the move and want to complete a quick task on the fly, but less so when you need to get serious work done. The larger screen allows you to drag and drop information, move things around and switch between multiple applications at ease.

Getting the highest levels of productivity out of your technology is all about selecting the gear that works best for you. Want to learn how to best deploy iPads and other Apple devices in your business? Give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
Topic iPad
March 18th, 2015

Security_Mar18_AWe all know that it’s important to maintain high security vigilance across the entire spectrum of your IT, from changing your email password regularly to locking your work computer when you are away from your desk. But there are few areas where it couldn’t be easier to score an own goal and make life easy for fraudsters than in the realm of financial services. From your online banking system to mobile payment platforms, these are accounts where it’s absolutely vital to be on your guard against possible intruders. Peer-to-peer payment provider Venmo just made it a little easier to do that.

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 17th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_Mar17_ABusiness intelligence is all about taking valuable raw data from your company’s operations and turning it into useful, understandable insights that help you understand what you are doing well, what you need to improve on and where your company is headed. Insights gleaned from business intelligence can also help you to identify new opportunities for further growth. But if you’re just getting started, understanding business intelligence can be a headache in itself. Here are three terms to get under your belt as you make your debut.

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 12th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_Mar10_AIn today’s fast-paced business environment, companies need to adapt to stay in the game. Interpreting and utilizing data has become more important than ever, and small business owners are turning to business intelligence (BI) to gain an edge over their competitors. BI systems were once very expensive. Nowadays however, advancements in technology have pushed prices down, and small businesses are taking advantage of BI’s many benefits.

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 the business owners and managers, 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

Office for Mac ImageIt’s been a long time coming, but Microsoft has finally unveiled its latest version of the Office for Mac suite of productivity applications. The first refresh that the package has seen since 2011 takes it closer to delivering the experience enjoyed by users of its Windows sibling, and it brings Office 365 and the power of cloud computing to the masses. You can test the BETA release now as it is free of charge for a limited period – here are some of the features to look out for in Office for Mac 2016 once released in it’s final form later this year.

Better Collaboration

Office for Mac 2016 takes the power of the cloud and puts it to full use, bringing the advantages of its cloud-oriented Office 365 applications to its flagship Mac package. As a result, you can now access your Office documents whenever and wherever, and no matter which device you are using. Aside from Office 365, the new software is also integrated with OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, and SharePoint.

It’s now possible to jointly author Word and PowerPoint documents with colleagues, and to make changes simultaneously. Much like Google Docs, you can run a chat conversation alongside the document, in order to discuss the changes you are each making. Word and PowerPoint automatically flag up updates to the document that you might not have spotted already. These features are already available to Windows-based users of Office.

Sharing documents also becomes simpler, with a dedicated sharing button in the applications’ top right corner that allows you to invite colleagues to collaborate on the document you’re working on. It’s possible to share a document either as an attachment or as a link, and of course to control access rights for each person to whom you give access. You can open others’ Office documents right from your email account and get straight to editing.

Ribbon refresh

Until now, there have been differences in the options available on the ‘ribbon’ of icons that appear beneath the File, Edit and other menus at the top of the screen. You might see one thing on your Mac but another on your PC, and another still on your tablet. With Office for Mac 2016, Microsoft has taken the opportunity to fix those inconsistencies, so you’ll now find the options you need in the same places across all the platforms you use. A new task pane is also intended to help simplify graphics editing.

Email grouping

The updates to Outlook, and OneNote too, were actually released in 2014 and so are technically not new with this release. But one such useful update that is carried through to Office for Mac 2016 is the organization of Outlook emails by conversation, as is the case with Gmail. Emails can be sorted using a variety of other criteria, too.

Presentation aids

Office for Mac 2016 makes life a little easier for those presenting using PowerPoint slides. While your audience is shown the final product on your big screen, you can benefit from having ‘presenter view’ open on your monitor. This dedicated view gives you access to all of your presentation’s slides, any associated notes and also a timer to help you keep pace.

Modern Mac Code Base

Microsoft Office for Mac 2016 has been completely re-written in the current modern Mac coding language (Coca) instead of legacy code (Cobalt) and ports from it’s Windows counterpart.  In our own hands on testing we’ve found Office for Mac 2016 running smoother and in it’s overall features operating much better than in the previous releases.

Give it a Test Drive!

The entire suite of Office for Mac 2016 applications – including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook – is available for a free test drive during Microsoft’s preview period, which runs until later this year. Once that comes to an end, you’ll need an Office 365 subscription or perpetual licence in order to keep making the most of the package’s features.

While we encourage you to give it a test drive, this is still in BETA and should not be used as your primary office productivity suite until officially released later this year.  Office for Mac 2016 requires Mac OS X Yosemite and can be installed in parallel to existing Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 installations.

To find out more about boosting your company’s productivity with Microsoft Office applications weather on the Mac or Windows platform, give us a call today.

By Jason Harrison, Independent Technology Consultant
March 11th, 2015

BusinessValue_11Mar_ABusiness owners increasingly realize the importance of adopting IT systems that are efficient, flexible, and cost-effective. But as customers’ expectations rise, their IT becomes far too complex and demanding for businesses to manage alone. This is why many businesses opt to contract a Managed Services Provider (MSP) to look after their IT needs. This is an ideal way to stay updated with the latest tech, get expert advice and reduce your own stress, while also freeing up time. So if your business is struggling with IT issues, then perhaps this is a sign that you need to hire an MSP.

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.
  • 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 our MSP offerings can support your business, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
March 9th, 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

Hands typing on laptop keyboard.Windows 7 is arguably the most popular operating system in the world today for both general and business users. With its easy to use interface and a wide range of installable programs available, Windows 7 is many companies’ number one choice of computer OS. Windows 7 has many amazing features, most of which are little known to the average user who only takes advantage of its word processing and Internet browsing capabilities. If your company is using Windows 7, you can improve business operations performance by making use of these features.

Snipping Tool

While there are many simple screen capturing programs out there, Windows 7 has its Snipping Tool to make screenshots easier. With Snipping Tool, you can take 4 types of screenshots – free-form, rectangular, window, and full screen. So when you come across a great scene in A YouTube video or want to share some screenshots with your friends, simply use Snipping Tool to get the job done. You can even showcase the important parts with the highlight pen function, and you can save the picture in HTML, JPEG, GIF, and PNG formats.

Extended calculator

Calculator has always been a basic but crucial application on smartphone devices and computers. Even if you’re already relying on specific software to analyze data, it’s always handy to have a simple calculator program nearby to help you with the math. Everyone knows that Windows 7 has a calculator, but this specific calculator has a few extra tricks up its sleeve. Under the View tab, you’ll find a bunch of powerful unit conversions, including scientific units. It can also do special calculations for programmers and for statistical needs. Don’t take our word for it; go check it out for yourself.

Sticky Notes

Tired of pasting post-it notes all over your computer screen? Sticky Notes allow you to record texts to virtually remind you about important tasks or events. Run a search in the Start menu to find this feature in the Accessories folder. You can create as many notes as you like, color-coded for your convenience. Have an important meeting coming up? Use the red notes. Want to list places for your holiday plans? Put them in the bright yellow one. This tool works well for those who have a busy schedule and always need something to remind them what’s going on.

Taskbar Pins

If you need to access certain programs or folders on a daily basis, then pinning it to your taskbar can be a real time-saver. Simply click and drag your programs to an empty space on the taskbar to keep them close at hand. While you can’t place a folder on the taskbar, you can pin it to the Jump List, accessible via right-clicking on the leftmost folder near the start menu.

You might already be familiar with some of these simple yet effective tools, but it pays to be reminded that you can use them to assist you with your everyday tasks.

Want to learn how to integrate Windows 7 to boost your business productivity? Get in touch with us today and see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.