Blog

July 28th, 2015

BusinessValue_July28_CBusinesses that are winning in today’s marketplace are the ones that make technology work for them, not the other way round. When used correctly, technology can make every task much faster to execute, from communicating with customers to sending messages, gathering information, and more. So if you’re looking to increase staff efficiency, consider the following methods to implement technology into your day-to-day business operations.

Change office communication

In order to increase efficiency, set up instant messaging software such as Skype on your employees’ workstations. This allows them to send instant messages to correspondents instead of having to get up from their desks to see whether the person is available. Of course, if you need to discuss big projects or issues, face-to-face communication is likely the best choice. But you can simply send a quick message for more trivial conversations, saving precious minutes and allowing you to get more work done.

Install video conferencing

Traveling to offsite meetings and training sessions takes time and, all too often, time spent on the road is time lost. Rather than commuting for hours outside your office, opt for a networked phone solution that offers video calls and conferencing. This way you can hold a video conference to discuss business matters from the comfort and convenience of your office. You can also take things up a notch and equip the conference room with tools to pull up documents and have them displayed on a big screen, so that everyone in the meeting can follow the conversation with ease.

Upgrade workstations

Outdated technologies and workstations limit your business’s progress, and are a hindrance to developing clued-up, efficient employees. Aging phone systems and slow networks can frustrate your team and bring productivity to a standstill. So it’s important to take the time to assess your current workstations, applications, hardware, and tools. This doesn’t mean that you have to buy a set of entirely new workstations. But you should replace obsolete equipment with more up-to-date machines. In addition, make sure all software and applications are up-to-date to ensure maximum efficiency and employee satisfaction.

Implement ERP software

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is business process management software that allows organizations to automate processes and centralize data in order for employees to collaborate more efficiently. ERP software provides employees with up-to-date business information that they can easily access and make use of. What’s more, ERP also eliminates redundant data entry and reduces the number of spreadsheets that are used to record critical business data, by storing information in a centralized database.

To get the maximum return on your technology investment, it’s also important to partner with a knowledgeable and reliable service provider. Get in touch with our tech experts today to find out how we can implement technology to help your employees become more efficient and productive.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

July 22nd, 2015

164_Sec_CEver been infected by malware or a virus? For most internet users, the answer is probably yes. But what is the difference between all the cyber threats out there? What makes a virus different from a trojan or worm? And how can you protect your critical data and your business from these threats? If you’ve never been able to answer these questions, here’s the explanation you’ve been waiting for.

Malware

Malware is the short version of the word malicious software. And this is a general term that encompasses many types of online threats including spyware, viruses, worms, trojans, adware, ransomware and more. Though you likely already know this, the purpose of malware is to specifically infect and harm your computer and potentially steal your information.

But how do the different types of malware differ from one another? How can you protect your business from them? Let’s take a look at four of the most common forms of malware below.

Virus - like a virus that can infect a person, a computer virus is a contagious piece of code that infects software and then spreads from file to file on a system. When infected software or files are shared between computers, the virus then spreads to the new host.

The best way to protect yourself from viruses is with a reliable antivirus program that is kept updated. Additionally, you should be wary of any executable files you receive because viruses often come packaged in this form. For example, if you’re sent a video file, be aware that if the name includes an “exe” extension like .mov.exe, you’re almost certainly dealing with a virus.

Spyware - just like a spy, a hacker uses spyware to track your internet activities and steal your information without you being aware of it. What kind of information is likely to be stolen by Spyware? Credit card numbers and passwords are two common targets.

And if stealing your information isn’t bad enough, Spyware is also known to cause PC slowdown, especially when there is more than one program running on your system - which is usually the case with a system that’s infected.

A common mistake many people make is they assume their antivirus software automatically protects them from Spyware. This is not always true as some antivirus isn’t designed to catch spyware. If you’re unsure if your antivirus prevents Spyware, get verification from your vendor. And for those that are already suffering from Spyware infestation, two programs that work wonders to clean it out are Malwarebytes and SuperAntiSpyware.

Worms - similar to viruses, worms also replicate themselves and spread when they infect a computer. The difference, however, between a worm and a virus is that a worm doesn’t require the help of a human or host program to spread. Instead, they self-replicate and spread across networks without the guidance of a hacker or a file/program to latch onto.

In addition to a reliable antivirus software, to prevent worms from infecting your system you should ensure your firewall is activated and working properly.

Trojan - like the trojan horse from ancient greek mythology, this type of malware is disguised as a safe program designed to fool users, so that they unwittingly install it on their own system, and later are sabotaged by it. Generally, the hacker uses a trojan to steal both financial and personal information. It can do this by creating a “backdoor” to your computer that allows the hacker to remotely control it.

Similar to the other malware mentioned above, antivirus software is a dependable way to protect yourself against trojans. For further safety, it’s wise to not open up suspicious attachments, and also ensure that your staff members aren't downloading any programs or applications illegally at the office - as this is a favorite place hackers like to hide trojans.

Curious to learn about other common malware that can cause trouble for business owners? Want to upgrade your existing network security system? Give us a call today, we’re sure we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
July 21st, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_Jul21_COne of the best ways to present complex business data and reports is visualization. Good data visualization can significantly help users to take in a vast amount of information in a short period of time. But of course, not everyone is a data visualization expert, which is why much of the visual content we see nowadays is often ineffective and jam-packed with information. If you’re looking to create great data visualization that appeals to readers, make sure to avoid these data visualization pitfalls.

Inconsistent visualizations

It’s important to be consistent when presenting your data, otherwise users will have to stop and figure out how to read each new picture before they can comprehend what it says, wasting time and defeating the purpose of data visualization. Luckily, there are some best practices you can follow. For instance, try choosing colors that go well together. Use only 2-3 colors at most throughout your visualization - any more and you’ll find that your pictures might be hard to read. Also, use the same iconography and typography in each picture so your audience can quickly understand the information.

Displaying too much data

Overly complicated data visualizations are sure to turn off most audiences because they can’t figure out where and what to focus on. Your customers, colleagues, and employers want specific, relevant answers. The quicker you can deliver those answers, the better. Irrelevant data gives your presentation a cluttered look, making finding relevant information more difficult for readers. The solution? Find a compromise between showing too much data and not showing enough overall. Use good judgement.

Oversimplifying data

The purpose of data visualization is to present data in a way that’s easy to understand. While it’s all too easy to simplify data, if you go too far and leave out crucial parts, your audiences won’t be able to see or grasp the main point of the presentation. Instead of trying to oversimplify data, it’s better to include all important criteria and organize them into a structure so audiences can easily understand what’s being presented to them.

Choosing the wrong visualization

This is one of the most common mistakes made in data visualization. There are many different types of data out there, and each of those types require different analytics and tools to use. For example, if you want to present a sales growth comparison in the last 5 years, it’s better to use bar charts that can clearly show the difference at a glance. If you want to show a relationship between two metrics, on the other hand, you should use a scatter chart to show results.

The best way to avoid all these errors is to focus on your goals first. It’s likely that you’ll have to make changes along the way, which is actually a good thing, because it will make your presentation more accurate and effective.

Want to learn more about other business intelligence tools to implement in your company? Give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

July 8th, 2015

164_Sec_CLove them or hate them, selfies are here to stay. And with facial recognition technology becoming both more advanced and more mainstream, selfies have now found their way into the online security world. MasterCard is the most recent global corporation to join in on the trend. Here’s how they’re planning to integrate facial recognition technology into the online payment process.

At the beginning of this autumn, MasterCard will acquire the help of 500 customers to test out a new application that enables people to verify their identity and authenticate online transactions with a facial scan. What does this mean? Instead of using a traditional password at the online checkout, MasterCard wants to give you the option to snap a selfie instead. According to the credit card giant, they’ve partnered with every smartphone company in the business to make this mode of identity verification possible.

Why is this happening?

A quote from Ajay Bhalla, security expert at MasterCard, suggests this is an attempt by the credit card giant to appeal to a younger crowd of digital natives. "The new generation, which is into selfies...I think they'll find it cool. They'll embrace it," Bhalla recently said.

That said, the “cool” appeal to youth is likely not the only reason for this change. The firm is likely attempting to make online purchases both more secure and more convenient.

How it works

To use this technology, users will have to download a dedicated app, which they can then use to take a photo of themselves at checkout. But how does MasterCard prevent a thief from using a photo of you to fake your verification? Simple - the app requires you to blink to prove that you’re a living, breathing human being.

However, it’s been noted by critics that, in today’s technological world, even a blink can be animated on a static photo. This leaves those of us with security concerns wondering whether MasterCard will make this app more secure before it’s released.

Note as well, though, that MasterCard is not getting rid of traditional passwords completely. Users will still have the option of the more conventional method of verification, as well as the choice of fingerprint scanning to check your identity.

Is this where the future of online security is headed?

With the release due later this year of a similar Windows 10 security application to identify users using biometrics, it appears that this is where the future of online security is headed. And with ever more applications and online services requiring a password, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the average web user to create one that is both unique and secure for each individual service. So whether it’s facial recognition, a fingerprint scan or some other technology that’s yet to be perfected, it seems as though some sort of more advanced security solution is inevitable.

Want more of the latest security news? Looking to implement new security to protect your IT infrastructure from cyber threats? Get in touch today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
July 3rd, 2015

164_Soc_CStill struggling with social media marketing? Have you started posting updates more regularly and developed a consistent brand voice, yet still have barely any results to show for it? Well, there could be many reasons for your lack of progress in social media, but there is one common “content trap” that could be the source. Here’s what it is, and how to fix it.

Don’t recycle content

Google any recent news story, and you’re likely to find anywhere from a few to several dozen articles on the same subject. And unfortunately, the content is so similar that you can barely differentiate one from the next.

If you want to stand out from others on the social media scene, find something new to talk about. In general, if you want to get noticed by new customers or followers, it’s best to avoid widely covered topics. Everyone and their grandma will be writing about it, which creates much more competition for your version.

If you must create content about mainstream topics, make sure you take the time to come up with a fresh perspective, and share valuable information that hasn’t been touched on yet.

Be fearless in your content

Similarly, it’s absolutely essential that, across all the content that you produce, you share a unique perspective. Many people end up parroting the same thing as everyone else because they are afraid to offer their true opinion. Don’t be afraid to speak up and be controversial. If you’re going to develop a social media persona that stands out, you need to develop your own voice - and a thick skin. There is always going to be someone who disagrees with you, especially on the web where it is easy to remain anonymous.

Additionally, there’s a reason that the saying “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” is famous. In fact, when you write polarizing content that will have a fair share of supporters and naysayers, people are hardwired to react to it. This is for the same reason that humanity as a whole shares a universal love of stories - whether that’s in the movies, in a novel or around a campfire. A story is nothing without conflict. When you produce content that creates a real life conflict of opinions, you have a better chance of it making some noise on social media.

But - be honest and show integrity

Don’t say something controversial just for the sake of it. Give your honest opinion. The key to every aspect of sales is developing trust. That means that with any customer or potential follower you come into contact with, whether through social media or other means, you should show your true self. You’ll have a better chance of gaining a customer or follower for life.

Controversy or not, always be professional

There’s no reason to start a flame war, or resort to name calling and insults. People are going to have strong feelings about controversial content. Emotions are going to come up and people can say some pretty mean things - especially on the internet. Don’t get caught up in the comments and negativity. If you do, it is sure to leave a bad taste in the mouths of your current customer base and followers.

Want more insights into growing your social media presence? Speak up today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
July 1st, 2015

BusinessValue_Jun16_CAs a small or medium-sized business owner, breaking into the market and trying to encourage people to buy your products or services can be a daunting task, because you’ll have to compete with all the big names out there. That’s where online marketing comes in. If implemented properly, you will be able to cost-effectively attract new customers. But if you jump in without a plan, you may end up losing more money than you bargained for. Here are some effective marketing tips to ensure your advertising campaigns are a total success.

Prioritize blogging

Blogging is an excellent marketing tool for businesses. Unfortunately most companies don’t spend much time or effort developing their blogs, which is a huge mistake. To get the most out of your blog, you will need to write quality content that adds value for your website visitors. The benefits of having a blog increase tenfold if you publish regularly, since potential customers will see you as an expert in your field, and are more likely to purchase what you have to offer.

Advertise in the right places

There are a number of online advertising channels out there, among them Facebook Ads, Google AdWords and Youtube Ads. The question is whether you know which one is the right fit for your business. You need to spend your marketing budget on the right advertising method to gain the highest return on investment. Do some research about your potential customers and determine who they are, and what they read, watch and listen to. This way you can pinpoint the best advertising platform to ensure that you reach your target market.

Start using videos

Videos offer an excellent way to market your business. Studies show that customers are more likely to buy if they see a video about your product or service on your landing pages, so make sure you include one if you can. Be creative when you’re making videos to promote your business; you could start building an online reputation by creating instructional videos that help your potential customers solve common problems. Commenting on videos relevant to your niche is also an effective way to increase your brand visibility.

Be active on social media

Prudent businesses are aware of the importance of establishing a social media presence through the main social networks like Facebook and Twitter. But simply posting articles or links is not going to offer many marketing benefits for your business. You’ll need to go the extra mile to maximize the benefits of social media. Some tips include taking the time to respond to your followers’ comments, keeping your profile updated and fresh with new information, and following and sharing content from other users.

Make sure your website is responsive

More and more of us are using mobile devices to browse the Internet and look for local products and services. Make the effort to ensure your website is mobile-friendly and automatically scales to fit all screen sizes, so that it is accessible and functional for mobile users. Major search engines now penalize non-responsive websites by lowering their search rankings when viewed on mobile devices, so you’ll need to adapt accordingly to avoid their wrath.

Contact us today and learn how our IT services can help you gain more customers and add value to your business.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

June 29th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_Jun25_CBusinesses today are relying on data to run their day-to-day operations. We use it to build client relationships, generate sales reports, develop marketing strategies, and so much more. But if something were to happen to it, a devastating disaster for example, you could risk losing your whole business if you haven’t properly backed up. With that in mind you should take necessary precautions to protect your data in the event of a crisis. Let’s take a look at some devices you can use to keep your information out of harm’s way.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to data backups. You’ll want to consider the pros and cons of each of the backup devices below before making a purchase.

USB stick

USB flash drives are basically miniature hard drives that you connect to your computer using a USB port. The drives are extremely cheap, with prices depending on their capacity. They’re also portable, and can be used to backup information from several computers to the same drive.

Although USB sticks are highly convenient, they’re still not a complete backup solution, and are best suited for intermediate backups, such as storing file recovery programs or critical business documents.

External hard drive

An external hard drive is perfect when used as backup storage media. It has the lowest cost per gigabyte when compared to the other backup devices out there. External hard drives use the same plug-and-play functionality as USB sticks, so you can plug the drive into your computer and immediately start selecting the files you want to backup. The transfer rate is also very fast, and you can backup a large amount of data within seconds.

One of the evident drawbacks of using an external hard drive is that you’ll need to update your backups on a regular basis, or else new files won’t be included. There’s also the risk of the device being stolen or misused. For instance, a colleague may take your drive when you’re away from your desk, or a disgruntled employee may copy all of your important business files and take it with them when quitting.

Network attached storage

Network attached storage, or NAS for short, is a dedicated device with its own IP address. It can be used as a multimedia server, and can function as an email or lightweight database server. NAS offers data redundancy, meaning it will generate a backup of your backups, so you can ensure your files are fully protected.

The main downside of NAS is its inability to scale beyond the limits of the system; you have to purchase additional hard drive bays when you need more capacity. You also have to take full responsibility for data security if you’re implementing NAS.

Cloud storage

Cloud storage is becoming more and more popular among businesses of all sizes, due to its many benefits such as allowing users to access data anywhere on smartphone devices, as well as enabling you to work with the most current hardware and up-to-date software. It is also affordable, since you’ll only have to pay for what you use. What’s more, cloud computing is very convenient, because your service provider will take care of the installation, management, and maintenance processes.

On the downside, some cloud service providers don’t employ sufficient security measures on their systems, so your data could be exposed to potential cybersecurity threats. This means that it is not always the ideal solution for companies dealing with very sensitive data - medical practices and law firms, for example. Predicting costs can also be hard; if your business is growing rapidly, then you might find you have not adequately planned for incremental costs.

Choosing the best system for backup is a critical decision that will impact your business on a daily basis. There are trade-offs among backup devices, which is why you need to choose the solution - or solutions - best suited to your business. Contact us today and our experts will assess your company’s needs and provide the best backup solutions for you.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

June 19th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_Jun9_CClued-up companies rely on business intelligence (BI) in order to make informed decisions regarding their future. Yet even though businesses invest in BI, they often make mistakes resulting from a lack of knowledge about how best to implement it, and can end up losing more than they can afford. Here is a round-up of common BI mistakes encountered by businesses, and how you can avoid them.

Mistake #1: Not defining business problems

One of the biggest mistakes in BI implementation is jumping to conclusions too soon without first identifying what your business wants to accomplish. When it comes to integrating BI into business operations, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. Looking for a single BI tool to solve all analytics problems is one of the main reasons many BI projects fail.

You need to clearly define the business problem you’re trying to solve, and understand the specific tools required to solve those problems. Only then will you be able to select and purchase the BI tool that best suits your needs.

Mistake #2: Not getting buy-in from end users

Even the best BI tools are ineffective if they’re not properly utilized. Forcing your employees to use newly purchased BI technology without informing them or hearing their thoughts beforehand is a big mistake.

Instead of telling employees they have to use something, first focus on highlighting the benefits of the new BI system. Help employees understand why they’ll want to use it, and convince them by showing them what they stand to gain from the new BI technology.

Mistake #3: Rushing implementation

A rushed deployment of new technology is often times not a successful one. When it comes to deploying BI solutions, patience is key. If you hurry into BI implementation too quickly, your end users may not have enough time to develop the skills required to use the software effectively.

Take an incremental approach to implementing BI solutions. Make a list identifying business problems and, rather than expecting to solve every business problem all at once, try to prioritize specific outcomes you want to achieve. When you have solved the first issue, move on to the next one and so on until you have incrementally solved all the problems on the list.

Mistake #4: Insufficient training

New BI systems are complex structures that require a lot of training in order for users to make the most of them. If users lack the skills necessary to operate the software, then bottlenecks can occur. The product may be left dormant for long periods of time as users wait for experienced IT staff to resolve teething problems.

Spend wisely on providing ongoing training, so that users really understand how to use the system. Consider hosting weekly lunch sessions where a different aspect of the BI system is discussed. You could also provide online training videos that enable users to learn more about the new system at their own pace.

Mistake #5: Not making use of information and reports

BI tools are designed to analyze raw data and turn it into valuable information that can be used in business decision making. But some organizations fail to exploit the information fully - it is not shared, not analyzed, and not acted on. BI software can generate reports on various data points, identify risks, and predict trends. It’s important to leverage the information gathered and to apply it to your business’s objectives and goals.

Business intelligence software is a highly useful tool that, when used properly, can drive your business forward. Avoid these mistakes in order to make the most of your BI solutions. If you’re looking to implement BI tools to your company, contact our experienced consultants today and see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

June 8th, 2015

SocialMedia_Jun8_CSocial media marketing has made it possible for businesses to reach targeted audiences easily, and it’s becoming a growing trend. When we talk about social media marketing, Facebook advertising is by far one of the most popular methods out there. More and more companies are starting to advertise on Facebook, and for a good reason - Facebook advertising’s new features allow for better audience targeting, giving an increased return on investment. With that in mind, here’s a rundown on how to advertise on Facebook.

1. Create a Facebook Business Page

First things first: before you can advertise on Facebook, you must have a Facebook Business Page. Log in to your Facebook account and, on the news feed page, click on Create a Page from the left column. Choose the category of your Page that best describes the nature of your business. Then fill out all your business information, including your website, hours of operation, phone number, address, and email. Finally, add creative profile and cover images to attract potential visitors.

2. Define your Facebook ads goals

Facebook offers a variety of advertisement options to choose from, depending on your business’s needs. That’s why it’s important to create goals for your ads, to make sure you’re spending your money wisely while achieving your business goals. Start by asking yourself why you’re utilizing Facebook ads in the first place; defining advertising goals and strategies will help you choose the right type of Facebook ad.

3. Choose an objective for your campaign

Now that you have a Facebook ad goal in mind, it’s time to translate those goals into objectives for your campaign. For instance, if you want to drive more visitors to your business website, your Facebook ad objective is to Send people to your website, but if you want to increase your number of social media followers you would choose the objective Promote your Page. From your Page, click on Create ads and choose an objective to get started.

4. Target your audience

This is the step where most businesses fail at Facebook advertising. You can target your ads based on location, age, gender, language, interests, and behavior. By defining the right audience group, your Facebook ads will be shown to the right people and will give a high conversion rate. After you’ve chosen your target audience, you can decide how much money you want to spend, and choose the time to run your ad.

5. Customize your ad

This process is equally as important as audience targeting. In this step you have the option to choose how your ad will look, by adding up to five images and text that will accompany them. The text is only 90 characters long, so make sure your copy portrays what the content is about, so it will encourage people to click on your ad. Then choose where you want your Facebook ad to show from four options - the news feed, mobile news feed, right column, or audience network.

6. Place your order

The last step is to click on the Place Order button to submit your ad to Facebook for review. You’ll receive an email from Facebook once your ad has been reviewed and approved and is ready to launch.

Facebook advertising requires effective planning, testing, and measuring. You need to experiment in order to find the campaign that works best for your business. If you’re interested in advertising on Facebook or through other social media platforms, drop us a line and see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
June 2nd, 2015

Virtualization_May28_CVirtual machines have been gaining much popularity for the past couple of years, providing businesses with efficient data and application storage space that allows more to be done with less effort. But with the arrival of containers, another virtual storage option, how do you know which is better for your company? Here, we’ll explore and answer exactly that.

Containers, just like virtual machines, are used for storing files, critical data and applications in an organized manner following specific access rules. So how do they differ from virtual machines, and what are the pros and cons of containers? We’ll take a look below.

Containers can pack a lot more applications into a single cloud or data center than a virtual machine can. And because containers only require little memory from an operating system and its supporting programs and libraries, you can put two to three times as many as applications on a single server with a container than you can with a virtual machine. In addition, containers allow you to create a portable, consistent operating environment for development, testing and deployment.

Still, there's a lot more to containers than how many apps you can put in a box, and not everything about them is sweet. One of the problems with containers that is often overlooked is security. Simply put, containers do not contain. What this means is that if a user or application has superuser privileges within the container, the underlying operating system could be cracked. And while you can secure containers by mounting a /sys filesystem as read-only among other options, it takes a lot of time and effort to do so.

Another container security issue stems from the release of many containerized applications. This is a problem because if you happen to install the first container that comes to hand, you’re likely to have brought a Trojan Horse into your server. You need to inform your staff and employees that they simply can’t download apps from the Internet into a container like they do games for their smartphone. Not only that, but breaking deployments into more functional discrete parts using a container is possible, but means more parts for you to manage. The whole point of a container is to run a single application, so the more functionality you stick into a container, the more likely it is you should actually be using a virtual machine in the first place.

So how do you decide between containers and virtual machines? Ask yourself whether you need to run the highest possible number of instances of a particular application on the fewest possible servers, because if so then containers are the best option for you. But if you want the flexibility of running multiple applications on your servers and you have a variety of operating systems, virtual machines are your safest bet.

Looking to learn more about how virtualization can help your business prosper? Contact us today - we’re sure we can tailor a solution that meets your unique needs.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.