Blog

May 21st, 2015

164_Office_CIf you’ve already jumped on the Google Apps or Office 365 bandwagon, you may feel that the classic Microsoft Office package installed locally on your desktop is a bit dated. With Office 2016 set to launch in autumn of this year, Microsoft is making some changes to adapt one of their best selling products to the modern workforce. Here are four of the most exciting features.

Cloud focus for Outlook attachments

Microsoft knows that sharing attachments amongst co-workers and teams can be a hassle. With many collaborators still sharing documents and files the old fashioned way - attaching it to an email and then sending to others - it’s easy for users to get confused and send an incorrect or outdated version.

To solve this problem, Microsoft is gently nudging us to use the cloud. Now when you add an attachment to an email, you’re now asked if you’d also like to share a link to a file on your OneDrive, OneDrive for Business or SharePoint account.

Showcasing easy ways to use Office better

If you’re like most people, you probably aren’t using Office to its full potential. And who can blame you? Between Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more, there are literally hundreds of features and tools you can use - if only you had the time to discover them all.

To help you get the most out of Office, Microsoft has now added a Tell Me box in the top center of your program title bar. This tool gives you an easy way to get questions answered. For example, if you want to project your desktop screen to a second monitor or create a graph in Excel, simply type your question into the Tell Me box and Microsoft will find the answers that most closely fit your search criteria.

Sway

Look out PowerPoint, here comes Sway - the new, hipper Office application that makes creating fluid, stylish presentations easy. With Sway, you can now gather content from various sources across the web, and then easily organize it into a presentation that can be viewed on a smartphone, laptop, iPad or other device.

What makes Sway more exciting than PowerPoint is in the process of gathering content: simply drag files, photos or video from YouTube, OneDrive and various social networks into the app. Once you have your content, you can easily organize it and adjust your design to create a unique look and feel for your presentation.

Better Data Protection

With Office 2016, Microsoft has raised the bar for data security. Now administrators can set and enable Data Loss Protection policies for Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Unlike in older versions of Office, administrators now have a range of security options at their disposal. For example, they can prevent data from being copied and pasted outside of Office 2016 applications, restrict files from being sent to certain individuals, and implement file-level encryption for Word, Excel and Outlook.

Want to learn more about Microsoft Office 2016? Have questions about other Office products? Give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 20th, 2015

164_Prod_CAn unfocused staff is a recipe for a lack of productivity. And with distractions like social media, broken equipment and technology, and employees who’d rather spend their day chatting than doing their job, it may seem impossible to get your team to produce the results you desire. So what’s a business owner to do? Here are four tips that are sure to get your staff more focused and productive.

Set clear goals

In order for your employees to produce results and reach their productivity potential, they need to know what is expected of them. At some organizations, it may be perfectly acceptable to spend one hour surfing the Internet everyday and seven hours working; or it may be considered normal to count a lunch break towards the eight hours worked. The truth is that more and more employees are bouncing between jobs from company to company, and each organization has a different set of standards and expectations. If it’s not communicated to your employees what yours are, you can be certain that they’ll make up their own.

Additionally, your employees need to know what results you expect them to produce. Maybe that means they need to sell a certain volume of products each month, or maybe it means they need to consistently score a four-star customer satisfaction rating. Whatever it is, your employees need to be aware of your expectations and have some sort of goal to shoot for. This gives you a way to see the results each employee is producing. Then you can try to find a solution to increase the productivity of your lower performing staff.

Be personable with your employees

Have you ever had a boss that rarely interacted with employees and that everyone feared? Maybe he stayed locked away in his office most days or ignored staff members as he quickly strode through the office never cracking a smile. Do you think employees want to produce results for a boss like this? They might, but it may be out of fear of losing their job rather than genuinely wanting to help that boss and the company at large.

Interact with your employees. And not only about work. Ask them how their weekend was. Find common interests to talk about. Take the time to get to know them. It’s easy for employees to not produce results or care about their job if the business owner is unapproachable and distant. On the contrary, if the owner is personable and friendly with staff, it is harder for an employee to slack off and not commit to the company’s growth. It’s natural for employees to work harder for a person they know, rather than one who’s “all business” and persistently unavailable.

Listen to your employees’ feedback

To go along with being personable, take the time to gather and listen to your employees’ feedback. If you show that you value their opinions, they’ll feel part of the team and organization. When this happens, they’ll be more committed to your goals and will want to see the company succeed as much as you do.

Of course that doesn’t mean you need to take every bit of employee feedback and run with it - it simply means keeping an open mind. Your team will respect you more and work harder for you as a result.

Provide reliable equipment

This is a no brainer. But if an employee doesn’t have the reliable equipment and tools to complete their job, their productivity levels will plummet. A broken computer, crashed server or faulty Internet connection will have your staff twiddling their thumbs and playing with their phones in no time. If it’s your technology that’s the culprit in this situation, Managed Services represent an exceptional solution to prevent your IT from ever breaking down in the first place. What does that mean for your staff? Less downtime, more productivity and more results.

Interested in discovering more ways to boost employee productivity? Want to learn how Managed Services can ensure the reliability of your IT and prevent downtime? Contact us.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
May 13th, 2015

164_Security_CCloud computing marketing can be deceiving. When you see an image of the cloud, it’s often a happy, bubbly white puffball floating delightfully in front of a blue sky background. Its presence is both calming and reassuring, and makes you believe that anything is possible. Security would never be an issue, right? Ask one of the nearly seven million Dropbox users who had their accounts hacked, and they’ll give you the definitive answer. While it’s worth noting that not every cloud provider has had security breaches like Dropbox, the point is to be aware that cloud security is not something to be taken lightly. Here’s what you can do to protect yourself as a business owner.

The cloud is playing more and more of a significant role in business. Yet, as more companies jump on the bandwagon, very few of them seem to be taking cloud security seriously. According to a recent survey, the "Security of Cloud Computing Users Study" , only 50 percent of those surveyed had investigated the security of the cloud services they used.

To ensure you put in place proper security measures when beginning your cloud venture, here are five actions every small business owner should take.

Ask your IT provider what cloud security policies they have in place - this is probably the single most important security measure you can take. Find a trusted IT provider and have a candid conversation with them about their cloud security policies.

Ask where the location of the physical cloud servers are - when you have “the conversation”, don’t forget to ask about this. Believe it or not, some cloud servers may not even be stored in your own country. Wherever they are, it’s wise to make sure they’re located in a safe data center area with proper security afforded to them.

Create unique usernames and passwords - your login credentials represent one of the cloud’s main security vulnerabilities. Take the time to come up with a better password than “12345” or “football.”

Use industry standard encryption and authentication protocols - IPsec (Internet Protocol Security) is a reliable technology choice.

Encrypt data before it’s uploaded to the cloud - whether you do it yourself or your cloud computing provider does it for you, this is a must to ensure security.

When it comes to trusting the security of a cloud service provider, transparency is key. The provider should take security seriously, be able to explain their security policies clearly, and be willing to answer any questions. If they can’t do one of these, it’s a clear sign of a red flag.

Are you ready to talk cloud security and transition your business into the cloud? Call us today. We’re happy to answer all your questions.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
May 12th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_May12_CThe data dashboard has become increasingly popular for businesses over the past few years - it is a great data visualization tool that allows you to have an overview of your business at a glance. Since we all are more accustomed to taking in visual data than written words, dashboards are an important part of any successful data analytics process. There are many types of dashboards, depending on the area of use. Let’s take a look at how dashboards can support your business activities.

Marketing insights

The marketing department in an organization typically analyzes a significant amount of data from various channels. Whether the purpose is to forecast monthly sales, predict trends, or build marketing strategies, marketing officers need to compare, sort, and analyze raw data in order to present it in an understandable format using dashboards. Once raw data has been polished into meaningful information and presented to business executives, key decision makers are able to make choices based on that information.

Tracking sales opportunities

Sales dashboards are perfect for tracking various products and services throughout their lifecycle. With sales dashboards, you can identify sales opportunities by monitoring top-selling products and comparing the growth in revenue on a periodical basis. The implementation of sales dashboards eliminates the need to spend hours manually entering data and preparing sales reports, spreadsheets, charts, and manual data.

Social media management

There’s more to social media management than posting regularly on your business’s social media accounts. And in most cases, the default dashboard offered by your social media platform doesn’t give you a deep insight into your social media campaigns. What’s more, managing multiple social media accounts can quickly become a cumbersome process since you have to use several login credentials. That’s where dashboards come in. You can manage your accounts all at once through a comprehensive social media dashboard, saving you valuable time and effort.

Financial reports

Presenting financial data is so complex that, if not handled by competent employees, will often lead to misinterpretation and misunderstanding of critical data. Dashboards make creating financial reports much easier, and financial analysts can take advantage of dashboards to display sensitive data in a comprehensible graphical format - be it customer invoices, progress toward revenue goals, or business expenses.

Project collaboration

Businesses of all sizes require their employees to collaborate on projects, whether it’s on-site or online. Project supervisors need to get their teams together, in order to give them an insight of the projects’ requirements, deadlines and responsibilities, and to learn about the projects’ progress. With the help of project collaboration dashboards, members will see the complete workflow of the project, allowing for a more efficient and collaborative working environment.

Dashboards can truly take away the complications of presenting complex business data. If you’re looking to implement business intelligence tools to simplify your company’s data analysis process, drop us a line today and we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 11th, 2015

SocialMedia_May11_CIf you enjoy being able to use Facebook Messenger without seeing endless advertisements, then prepare to be disappointed. It appears that those days are numbered, since the social networking giant has announced its plans to make the service ad-supported. Though the move will likely prove unpopular with regular users, it marks an interesting turn in the platform’s development and presents new marketing opportunities to businesses. Here’s what you need to know about the change.

As well as Facebook Messenger, which the company has definitively announced will feature advertisements, it looks likely that WhatsApp will also become ad-supported. Facebook acquired WhatsApp in February 2014 for $22 billion, despite the company only generating 2013 revenues of $10.2 million and overall making a net annual loss of $138.1 million. At the time, Mark Zuckerberg indicated that the company would not seek to monetize either service until they had reached a billion users, while WhatsApp founder and CEO said that the plan remained for the app to focus for several years on growth rather than monetization.

The latest announcements appear to signal a change in those tactics. While there has so far been no concrete decision on the form that advertising in either app would take, the intention appears to be for Facebook Messenger to test the water, with WhatsApp following its lead once a successful formula has been found. Executives have suggested that they wish to explore alternatives to conventional banner ads. They have also reinforced the message that the two apps, which seek to serve different purposes and audiences, will remain independent of one another.

The sheer number of users now communicating on the WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger platforms each month is testament to the value that Facebook could drive from placing advertisements on the services. Unlike its main site, which serves advertisements, the Facebook Messenger app currently makes no profit. Until now, WhatsApp’s only revenue stream has been the nominal $0.99 annual subscription fee it collects from users after a year’s free trial - and the service remains completely free in developing countries outside of Europe and North America. But for businesses, too, the potential of advertising on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp provides exciting new marketing opportunities and the chance to interact more closely with both potential and existing customers.

Learn more about using Facebook and other networks - both for advertising and wider social media marketing - to grow your business; give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
May 8th, 2015

AndroidTablet_May08_CWith Google Now, it’s possible to get more from your Android tablet device and organize your life with less effort. Google Now is a digital assistant service that offers similar help to that of Siri on Apple’s iOS devices and Cortana on Windows Phone. But the recent additional support for a further 70 cards from third-party partner apps means the experience is richer than ever. With the features of over 100 external apps now supported through Google Now, it’s easy to reap the benefits with less effort than you might expect.

Google Now works by interacting with other apps on your tablet, as well as information from your Google account, browser history and elsewhere, to deliver information and reminders at the very moment you need them. It displays information from each app as a card, and acts intelligently to learn your habits and determine which information is useful to you and at which time and location you’re likely to want to see it.

The ability to talk to Google Now and use it to access information from its Google app siblings has been around for a while. Examples include telling it to load all your Google+ photos from a specific location, or the particularly helpful way you can set reminders not only by time but also location - meaning you can nudge yourself with a pop-up to buy bread the next time your tablet detects you’re at your local store. But with the latest release, it’s the third-party enhancements - bringing in features from other, non-Google apps that live on your tablet - that are really the talking point.

Exciting additions to the suite of apps supported by Google Now include the likes of Spotify, TuneIn and Youtube, making it easy for you to quickly pull up a playlist based on the music you’ve recently been listening to. A breaking news feed is supported by a number of apps, while Google Now can sync with apps like Eat24 and FoodPanda to remind you that your food is due to arrive soon. With the Zipcar app you’ll get not only a reminder that your rental slot is coming to an end, but also help in navigating to the drop-off point - alternatively, receive an automated notification when you arrive at an airport where app-based taxi booking services like Easy Taxi and GrabTaxi are available. You can even get help sticking to your goals in various fitness and sleep monitoring apps.

Third-party apps aside, Google Now continues to use the power of search to bring up helpful prompts like nearby attractions, events and public transit options; another recent addition even alerts you when a sale promotion begins on a product you’ve searched for. While this functionality was previously limited to flight bookings, it’s now extended to support all kind of products. If you search for an item a number of times, Google assumes you’re thinking of making a purchase, and will let you know if the price drops so you can swoop in and secure the deal.

Getting the most out of Google Now support for third-party apps necessitates having the latest versions of both the Google app and the apps you want cards to appear from. To learn more about implementing Android or Google technologies in your business, give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 6th, 2015

Productivity_May6_CWhen it comes to working in the office, a lot of things can hamper your productivity. Some of them are easy to deal with, such as redundant email checking and social media updates, while others are more difficult to handle, such as sudden power outages. The latter can be a real productivity killer, especially if your company relies heavily on Internet connectivity to perform day-to-day operations. But there are several methods to ensure productivity, even during power outages - here’s how.

Install a UPS for each computer

A UPS (uninterrupted power supply), is an alternative, emergency power source. During a power outage, your computer will turn itself off automatically as there's no power. UPS prevents that by running your computer off its own battery. If you’re working on a file when a power blackout occurs, UPS is especially helpful. It can only buy your computer a few minutes of time at most, but that’s enough time to save vital files and power down. If you still need Internet access, try another method we’ve listed below.

Find a Wi-Fi connection

The advancements in technology made it possible for you to take your work outside the office. You can resume your business activities and Internet connectivity by using the mobile data plan from your smartphone or tablets, and then access your files via cloud storage and file sharing applications. If you don’t have a data plan, then head to the nearest Wi-Fi-friendly place to continue your work, such as a coffee shop. VoIP software installed on your portable devices can help you to connect to your clients efficiently.

Make good use of your batteries

Now is not the time to browse social media or play games. When you take your work offline, it’s best to preserve your devices’ batteries by doing only important tasks and turning off power-sucking applications. Buy an extra charging device to extend your battery life, if necessary.

Finish offline tasks

When no Internet connection is available, you can take the time to clear off any neglected offline duties, whether it’s clearing up desks or arranging files and documents. You can even gather a team to brainstorm new ideas for projects, or discuss any ongoing issues within your organization.

Work from home

If a power outage renders your employees helpless in their duties, then sending them home with a business laptop won’t hurt, if they’re able to continue their work from there. There are many ways to keep them accountable without being intrusive and, as long as they are making progress in their jobs and are able maintain their professional integrity, there’s not much to complain about. Make sure telecommuting is only allowed when necessary though - working alongside colleagues and sharing ideas face-to-face is still one of the best ways to induce productivity.

Achieving power-free productivity is possible when you have a plan prepared for the situation. For more productivity tips to boost your business’s bottom line, give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
May 5th, 2015

164_BizV_CWell, you created a business page for Facebook, you patted yourself on the back, kicked up your feet and waited for the flood of new business to come in. How’d that work out for you? Probably not so well. But this doesn't mean you should give up and turn your back on social media. This is a brave new world for all online businesses so you should expect a steep learning curve. To help you along, here are some tips about how to better track your social media ROI to see what’s working and what you should drop.

Why it’s difficult to track social media ROI

The reason many business owners find it difficult to track social media ROI is because they don’t understand the purpose of the platforms from the perspective of traditional marketing. It's all too easy to expect immediate payoffs and profits, not to mention increased business. But while social media itself moves and changes fast, businesses should remember it still takes time to increase brand recognition, build relationships and enhance a company's reputation, whatever the platform. It is brand recognition that produces more sales in the long run. So don't lose heart if you are not making progress in the first couple of months. If you play the longer game, you'll enjoy more success.

So how do you measure ROI?

It comes down to tracking everything you can, including:
  • Online purchases
  • Online contact forms
  • Video views
  • E-book Downloads
  • Social interactions (this includes Facebook likes, Twitter follows and more)

To track these, you can use any or all of the three methods below.

Tagging Urls

Tagging a URL is basically adding a “tag” or more characters/words to the end of the original URL. Below are two examples of a normal URL and tagged URL:

Normal URL: www.AllstarIT.com/harddrive.html.

Tagged version of the same URL: www.AllstartIT.com/harddrive.htm?utmcampaign=BannerAdharddriveAd&utm_small=BannerAd

Adding this tag allows you to easily track which of your social media campaigns are producing the desired results. Without doing this, you run the risk of of all your social media visitors being recognized as organic, rather than ones that have come from a specific campaign or strategy you’re implementing. An excellent tool to build your unique URL is Google’s URL builder.

Google Analytics

This is the most obvious strategy for tracking your social media campaigns, and Google has long been the market leader in tracking the success of online marketing. A Google Analytics account can be set up in a matter of minutes, and then makes it easy to track your campaigns. Go to Acquisition and then check All Referrals. Here you’ll see where people are discovering your site - be it a Google organic search or social media network.

Call Tracking

Call tracking is often used to track the ROI from Facebook ad campaigns, though it can also be used on other social media platforms. This tactic allows you to measure how many phone calls you are getting from your customers on social media sites.

To do this you list a different phone number on a particular social media page than on your business website. For example, if the number listed on your business website is 763-984-6577, you instead list 763-984-6555 for the social media page you’re tracking. By seeing how many people call the number listed on the social media page, you’ll gain a better understanding of how effective that particular page or ad is. If it’s effective, you’ll know to use whatever methods are working from this page or ad in your other social media efforts.

Want more ideas on how to measure social media ROI or to get more value out of your IT investments? Get in touch today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 4th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_May4_CWhether you’re a small business owner or managing a medium-sized company, you must have a business continuity plan (BCP) to safeguard your business against disasters. But developing a BCP that’s capable of putting your company back on its feet fast is equally as important as having one in the first place. Let’s take a look at these crucial features of a successful business continuity plan.

Backup strategies are tested regularly

Most businesses nowadays, if not all, employ technological tools to assist in managing their everyday business operations. As a result, a massive amount of data is stored on their on-site servers. Should a disaster strike, all valuable information would be damaged or lost. Backup plans are advisable, of course, but even these are useless without regular check-ups and testing. You’ll want to verify that your backups include all of your company’s strategic data, and that they are fully functional in the event of a disaster.

All employees are involved

Your employees are the essence of your business. They help drive your business forward, and therefore each and every one of them needs to understand the essentials of your business continuity plan. Schedule a meeting with each department, outlining everyone’s role in the plan, then revise the plan again with the whole company. Make sure everyone has a part to play in order to avoid having some employees feeling left out. Be sure to also let your employees know that they are your most valuable assets, and that you’re willing to help them in any way you can during a disaster, whether it’s encouraging them to prepare an emergency plan for their families or allowing them to work remotely from home if necessary.

Identify and prioritize critical functions

What are your company’s greatest strengths? A good business continuity plan exposes your most important business functions. All inventories and resources related to those functions must be accurate and created in advance. But sometimes, determining truly critical functions can be a real challenge - and incorrect assumptions can cripple the whole BCP, so this needs to be addressed in the early stages of planning. Once you’ve identified your critical business functions, you’ll be able to continue your business operations smoothly, even if not quite normally, during a disaster.

Succession plans exist for key employees

This is one of the most often overlooked aspects in a business continuity plan. Key employees are the life and soul of a BCP, usually having the knowledge and expertise that precede the plans on paper. Are you able to execute the plan if your key employee is missing? Do a simple test without your key members. Put an alternative candidate in charge of the situation and forbid the key employee from participating and giving direct instructions. Assign alternates for each part of a BCP, and ask them to perform disaster recovery functions in place of key employees. Having two people to count on is always better than one!

Having a BCP is one thing, but having one that actually works well is something you should strive to achieve. If you’re planning to implement a business continuity plan in your company, contact us today and we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 30th, 2015

164_O365_CMost of us have probably at some point deleted an important email we shouldn’t have. It happens. We think an email is pointless and don’t want to file it away or create a new folder for it, so instead we carelessly delete it. 30 days pass and then the email is gone for good. And that’s when you end up slapping yourself on the forehead wondering why you ever hit the delete button in the first place. The email ended up being important, but now it’s too late - you can’t get it back. Microsoft Office 365’s new policy has now made this problem a thing of the past, allowing deleted emails to be recovered indefinitely.

If you’re a regular user of Outlook 365, you’re likely aware that you can only recover an email that was deleted 30 days ago or less. After that, it’s gone for good. For those that have been agitated by this policy, Office 365 has now made a change that allows emails in the Deleted Items folder to be accessed indefinitely. However, take note that if an end user makes the effort to empty the Deleted Folder, those items will still in fact be unrecoverable.

But what if you don’t want to indefinitely recover email?

Believe it or not, indefinite access to emails may come as bad news for some. It can create industry compliance issues for organizations and can also affect offline storage as deleted emails pile up.

Not to fear. Along with this new policy, Office 365 also allows you to customize the retention duration to a time span that works for you. To do this, click on the following:

  1. Office 365 Admin
  2. Exchange Admin Center
  3. Compliance Management
  4. Retention Policies
From here you can modify the retention duration of your emails to a time span of your choice.

Want to learn more about this and other cutting-edge Office 365 features? Give us a call today and get all the info you need.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Office 365