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March 11th, 2015

BusinessValue_11Mar_CIncorporating technology into business operations can be a challenge, because technology is always on the move, and many businesses simply can’t keep up. Small businesses often put their faith in a single IT guy to look after their tech needs but, chances are, he won't have the time or expertise to be able to deal with wide ranging issues. As a result, many businesses look to Managed Services Providers (MSPs) to provide IT services and handle all IT issues.

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.
  • Consistent global service - In addition to the services provided, MSPs should have global service capabilities. These include the ability to manage IT systems in multiple countries, local language support for foreign subsidiaries, and IT implementation in new locations. Businesses can expand globally with an MSP’s global service offering.
  • 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 MSPs 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 4th, 2015

Sec C 164Are you concerned about internet security? Did you know there are a few simple ways to get increased protection that require only minimal investment of time? We’re not just talking about changing your passwords regularly or installing antivirus software. There are a few other methods that are less often talked about - here are three tips to boost your internet security that you might not have thought of yet.

Embrace two-factor authentication

Also known as two-step verification, most of us have likely dealt with this at one time or another. When you’re logging onto your bank’s website or your email account from a different computer than you normally use, you’re sometimes prompted for a one-time password - sent to you via text message, email or via some other method.

Nowadays, many sites such as Facebook, Dropbox and Twitter also give you the option to use two-factor authentication each time you log in. So if you’re looking for an easy way to up your security, it can give you that extra protection without slowing you down too much.

Update browsers and devices

Did you know that dated versions of browsers, operating systems and even other software packages can create an easy entry point for hackers? Often, new updates are created specifically to fix security holes. And hackers are ever aware that people can be lazy - saving that update for another day that never seems to come. They’ll often try to take advantage of this, searching for outdated devices to infiltrate while their victims watch YouTube on last year’s version of Firefox.

Yes, installing an update might take 15 minutes of your time. But it can pay dividends in preventing a security breach that could cost you or your business thousands.

Use HTTPs

When was the last time you typed those letters into a browser? Probably not this decade. It’s no wonder most people are unaware of this tip. So for those who are oblivious, https is the secure version of http - hypertext transfer protocol. Believe it or not, that last “s” actually adds an extra layer of protection. It encrypts information sent, both ways, between a website’s server and you.

You’re probably thinking, adding that last “s” to http (or even typing in http in general) is a complete pain in the rear. So to make this easier you can actually install a program like “HTTPS Everywhere” that’ll automatically switch an http into an https for you. Currently “HTTPS Everywhere” is available for Firefox, Chrome and Opera.

Looking for more tips to boost your internet security? Get in touch to find out how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
March 2nd, 2015

Trouble aheadDisasters can happen at any time, which is why it is important for your company to have a business continuity plan. In the event your business gets hit with an unforeseen disaster, you’ll be able to minimize damage, downtime, and impact to your business operations. If you don’t have a contingency plan to protect valuable data and technology, you may face serious consequences, the worst of which is shutting down your business for good.

Relevant factors such as your business’s resources, location, suppliers, customers, and employees must be carefully analyzed before a business continuity plan can be formed. It is also necessary to test the plan and check whether it’s working or not. Here are some proven methods to test your continuity plan’s efficiency.

Review the BCP

You have a business continuity plan ready with all the necessary information, contingency locations, personnel, contacts and service companies. The question is can you really pull it off? Have the plan reviewed regularly, or at least quarterly. Gather a team of individuals, heads of departments and managers to discuss the plan. Focus on the business continuity plan’s feasibility and pinpoint any areas where it might be strengthened.

Determine time and duration to test the plan

You should decide how often you test your business continuity plan, and for how long. Even if you have a solid plan in place, it’s still wise to review it again after a few months. Come up with a schedule for testing the plan and share it with employees. Testing time may take anywhere from one day to two weeks. However it can also take as little as three hours to determine the effectiveness of the plan by monitoring employees’ responses and decision-making abilities, based on the guidelines of the business continuity plan.

Outline objectives to employees

Most business continuity plans fail because they have never been properly relayed to employees. Emphasizing the plan’s importance to your business and demonstrating it to employees is crucial. You need to outline objectives for the business continuity test to your employees, informing them how you plan to measure its success and failure, so that they get a general idea of their roles and your expectations.

Create a scenario

Create a fake scenario that affects your business - whether it’s setting off fire alarms or announcing another disaster. Employees should act as though the scenario is genuine, and refer to their duties in the business continuity plan, going through it step by step. Monitor the time it takes to get everything under control, from contacting customers to checking business resources and temporary meeting locations.

Evaluation

After the business continuity plan is put to test, gather your employees to discuss the plan’s overall performance. Identify where it needs improvement and encourage the parts that worked best. Make changes to key persons and actions where necessary, to ensure that the continuity plan is working at its best.

Having a business continuity plan is good, but testing it regularly is equally important. Contact us today and see how we can help you cope with unexpected disasters.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

February 25th, 2015

Cloud 3_164Are you tired of hearing all the hype about the Cloud revolution? Do you just want to know what the deal is with this IT service? Will it really help your business gain profit and increase efficiency? If you’re sick of all the fluff surrounding Cloud Computing, read on. We’ll unveil its true value and how you can effectively integrate it into your business.

You might say that many businesses sign up for the Cloud because it is touted as a revolutionary technology. And if you’re one of those that has already hopped on the bandwagon, you may actually be among the soon-to-be disappointed.

The reasoning behind this is simple. Businesses who get the most out of the Cloud know which specific problems it will solve for their organization before they even sign up. They know which workflows and tasks can benefit from, and have their efficiency boosted by, Cloud technologies. And they’ve identified how the Cloud can rewire their work processes.

The true purpose of the Cloud

Did you catch the word “efficiency” in the block of text above? If you did, then you’ve identified the true value the Cloud brings to a business. Don’t believe the hype that the Cloud will somehow magically boost your bottom line. Although it has that potential, the Cloud is all about efficiency. It can save you time searching for important documents, updating software, and replacing documents stored on a lost laptop. And it enhances efficiency and collaboration among your staff. What's more, when your business is in the Cloud, your business is everywhere. And that means increased efficiency.

Where businesses go wrong with the Cloud

Besides jumping on the Cloud bandwagon without considering where it can benefit your business, a major reason the Cloud fails for SMBs is because they’ve chosen the wrong vendor. The truth is, some vendors are going to try and oversell you on Cloud services you don’t need. Instead of getting a whole suite of Cloud services such as software plugins, a new Cloud infrastructure and development platforms, maybe your business would benefit much more by just keeping it simple with Google Apps. Sometimes pork and potatoes are going to beat a steak. It really just depends on your objectives.

Secondly, if you’re a small business, make sure the IT provider you’re talking to caters to small businesses. If their target customers are large enterprises, you’re likely going to be overpaying for a service that doesn’t align with your business model.

Does the Cloud really add value to my business?

Have no doubt that the Cloud can improve efficiency if you know where to implement it. A study of 757 SMBs by Exact and the Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research found that one in five SMBs surveyed had implemented Cloud technologies, and 78% of those were operating at levels above industry standards.

In conclusion, is adapting the Cloud going to instantly start making you money? Likely not. But it will impact your business in other valuable ways for the long run. You’ll have increased flexibility, scalability, improved processes and streamlined workflow. Is all this good for business? Well, what do you think?

To figure out how the Cloud can effectively fit into your business model, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

February 24th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_Feb24_CTechnology is having an enormous impact on business. No matter what industry you work in, it is important to implement the right tools to support your business strategy and growth. But in this ever-changing world, technology is always on the move. That’s why a business owner like you should always be on the lookout for new technology trends to adapt to your needs. Here are some modern business intelligence tools you ought to know about.

The Internet of Things

The concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) is to embed electronic sensors into any physical objects, allowing them to be controlled via the Internet. This includes everything from mobile phones to refrigerators, washing machines and even cars. The idea of IoT is exciting and definitely practical in today’s technology-driven world. While the concept has been around for several years, many business owners still don’t even know what the IoT means. So let’s take a closer look at how IoT will impact businesses.
  • Increased efficiency - Businesses will be able to connect devices for efficient, real-time operations. For instance, IoT can connect a warehouse system and point-of-sale scanners together to provide better inventory management.
  • New business opportunities - Today there are approximately 10 billion connected devices, and this number is growing fast. IoT opens a door to new business opportunities as customers need new devices and services in their everyday lives.
  • More security concerns - While the idea of connecting everything together is exciting, businesses will have to pay extra attention to security. More data stored online means increased chances of information theft and cyber security issues.

3D Printing

Some businesses have probably never considered that 3D printing could be of use to them, partly because they’re so accustomed to the traditional way of printing 2D materials such as posters and flyers. But now 3D printing allows businesses to manufacture three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file. Since the costs of technology are expected to decrease, 3D printing could be adapted to business practices for various purposes.

The main benefits of 3D printing for businesses are increased productivity and creative, customizable new designs. Product designers can use 3D software to speed up the creation of product prototypes. It also allows for remote cooperation between colleagues, which increases the ability to brainstorm ideas for faster product-development cycles. 3D printing processes are also highly customizable to suit the needs of clients.

The Enterprise Cloud

Companies are now familiar with cloud computing, having used it for data storage and synchronization for the past few years. But the enterprise cloud offers more flexibility and scalability than regular cloud computing, and is noted for its cost efficiency, security, and easy-to-use model. Enterprise cloud computing refers to a firewall protected computer system which is able to offer software, infrastructure and platform and web services. They can provide private access and a virtual scalable environment controlled by either a single company or consortium.

Nowadays, businesses require faster innovation, remote access, and better cross-product integration. This is where the enterprise cloud comes in; to deliver cost savings and provide better security to accommodate business growth. You’ll want to adopt the enterprise cloud to gain advantage over your competitors.

If you’re interested in boosting your business performance with BI tools, contact us today and see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

February 23rd, 2015

SocialMedia_Feb23_CYou’ve been waffling around on social media for months, hoping to get that increased spike in business you’ve heard rumors about. But after storming out of the gates, signing up for Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin and others, you’ve seen little by way of results - and have less than a few hundred social media followers to show for it. Not to worry, there are some proven strategies that will leave you smacking your forehead and wondering why you didn’t think of them. Read on for some sensible social media tips that will get your business rolling.

Undoubtedly, the most important strategy to use in your social media plan is...to have a strategy to begin with. Know how much time you can dedicate to social media, block out the hours to focus on it and don’t waste that time checking out friends’ vacation photos or celebrity twitter feeds.

If you don’t have a strategy, you’re going to waste time posting irrelevant updates that won’t engage with your audience. To help you plan an effective social media strategy, here are three crucial tips to get you off on the right foot.

Initially focus on the big three

Most social media experts agree that the three platforms that generate the most business leads, engagement and brand exposure are Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter. When you’re getting started, your efforts should be primarily focused on these three. After you’ve gained followings here, then you can start forging paths into YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest amongst others.

Post at prime exposure times

Studies have shown that around lunch and dinner time are ideal posting times (since everyone is uploading photos of their meals). As for which days, many marketers agree your posts are most likely to get noticed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So these are the times to deliver those high-impact messages you’ve been randomly shooting out.

Find the value in your post

On social media, you should always be focused on selling your services, right? Wrong. Only 15% of your posts should concern news about your business and its products. The other 85% should focus on providing fun, valuable and timely content.

When you create a new post, you should ask yourself what’s in it for the customer. What do they get from reading it? Seriously, why is someone going to share your post or talk about your business unless it adds value to their life? Think about the posts you share personally. Do they provide value to your friends and family? We’re guessing the answer is yes.

For more tips on how social media can create buzz for your business, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
February 19th, 2015

RepCYou just opened up your inbox to see a LinkedIn invitation to connect with John Doe. You’ve never met the guy, but your interest is peaked. “Is he a friend of a friend? Is he interested in hiring me? What’s his motive?” You might check out his profile to get a better idea about him, but then you reach a fork in the road. Do I accept his LinkedIn invitation, or reject? Check out these arguments for accepting and rejecting to help you make the choice that’s right for you.

Why to reject

Rejectors of stranger invitations have a common argument that’s hard to dispute. If you connect with a stranger, and a trusted member in your network (who you actually know) asks for an introduction to that connection, you may look a bit silly saying you’ve never met the guy. This scenario can obviously be a bit awkward. And LinkedIn rejection enthusiasts like to use this argument as their trump card to silence the opposition.

To go along with this, they may further ask what would happen if that stranger started requesting introductions to valued members of your network? Again, you might find yourself in an awkward situation.

The core philosophy of any LinkedIn invite rejector is that your network should be made up of people you know and trust. Some people see a connection on LinkedIn as an endorsement of that person. If strangers in your network have a bad reputation that you don’t know about, and others see that you’re connected with them, it could be a bad reflection on you.

Why to accept

More people seem to lean toward connecting with LinkedIn strangers than against. But does that actually make it the right decision? Why do people choose to accept invitations from people they don’t know?

People with 500+ connections appear powerful, even if most of their connections are with strangers. Seriously, think about it. Who would you be more likely to trust, a person with 70 connections or one with over five hundred?

More connections also mean a higher chance of being found. More and more recruiters are jumping on the LinkedIn bandwagon and, whether you’re looking for freelance work or for a new job, LinkedIn is a great place to be found. The more connections you have, the easier it is for you to appear in search results.

What’s more, a higher connection count can lead to your profile reaching a larger audience. If you have a business, feel like you have something to say or just want to speak your mind in a professional manner (save the posts about your drunken exploits for Facebook), LinkedIn presents an excellent opportunity to get your voice heard. And the more connections you have, the more people you’ll have the opportunity to influence.

The choice is yours

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to connecting with strangers on LinkedIn. It comes down to personal preference and objectives. If you want your network to be trusted individuals you actually have a relationship with, then it’s better for you to reject those stranger requests. On the other hand, if you’re looking for more opportunities and are self-employed, connecting with strangers can be a great way to drill up more business.

But there is middle ground, too. Maybe you don’t connect with just any old stranger (like that guy who works for the Bank of Nigeria), but if there is someone who is a friend of a friend or who works in your field, it might be worth connecting with them. Remember, your friends were once strangers too, so maybe that request from Bill who works at your local hardware store will turn into a blossoming business relationship. You’ll never know if you don’t try.

If you’re looking to learn more about LinkedIn and other social media platforms, contact us today and see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

February 18th, 2015

Security_Feb18_CWhatever services and systems we use to share, store or transfer personal and business information online, we want the reassurance that our data is safe and that everything possible is done to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. But we also know that security breaches happen, as they did with the large-scale celebrity photo leaks in 2014. Since then, Apple platforms in particular have been prevalent in discussions about the security of such platforms - but Apple is now seeking to bolster its security defenses with the launch of a two-step authentication feature for the FaceTime and iMessage applications.

After the fall-out from the celebrity photo leaks, Apple extended the two-step authentication process (also known as two-step verification) to iCloud, the online storage platform at the center of the scandal. The feature was initially introduced only to the user IDs for access to Apple accounts; the motivation for the launch of that extra security measure was the hacking of a journalist’s data back in 2013. But what is two-step authentication and how does it work to protect your data?

The premise behind two-step authentication, which experts recommend all businesses implement as part of their security strategy, is actually pretty simple. Usernames and passwords are all too easily stolen by malicious parties, whether by phishing emails or a more sophisticated hacking attack. So, rather than typing just your username and password to access your account, the password is teamed up with a four-digit verification code which is newly and uniquely generated each time you attempt to access your account.

The verification code is delivered by text message (meaning that to use the two-step verification feature, you’ll need to have a cellphone to receive the SMS on). As a result, even if a hacker manages to get hold of your password, unless they also have your phone by their side then they won’t be getting into your account. This authentication method is already used by organizations around the world including banks, mobile service providers and other companies who recognize the added layer of security that it brings. And now you can give yourself the same level of protection to ensure that only you can FaceTime your family and send iMessages to your friends.

Fear not, there’s a backup plan to ensure that you can still access your accounts if you happen to forget your password or if something happens to your phone so you can longer receive authentication codes. Apple also provides you with a 14-character recovery key that will get you back in if all else fails. To enable two-step authentication for your FaceTime and iMessage applications, login to your Apple ID account, select Password and Security and then click Get Started under Two-Step Verification.

To find out more about using two-step verification and other security measures to protect your business, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
February 13th, 2015

BC_164_CAre you prepared for when the unexpected strikes? According to the Institute for Business and Home Safety, approximately 25 percent of businesses don’t reopen following a major disaster. The truth is that disasters happen every day, regardless of location or business size - simply switch on the news for proof. So obviously, it’s wise to think ahead and plan for the worst. Here are some ideas to get you ready for a disaster before it hits.

The difference between disaster recovery and business continuity

While it’s easy to overlook the differences between a disaster recovery and business continuity plan, there are actually some key variations you should be aware of.

Disaster recovery is the restoration of business operations and IT infrastructure after a disaster has already occurred. Business continuity, on the other hand, is focused on maintaining business operations and profits throughout a disaster. While disaster recovery is mainly focused on the slice of time immediately following a disaster (how you replace your equipment and restore IT infrastructure asap), business continuity looks at the bigger picture - the continuity of the company as a whole. It ensures you can run your business and maintain profits during the process of recovering from a catastrophe. It generally includes a disaster recovery plan as part of it.

Creating your business continuity plan

The first step in creating your plan is to identify which of your IT assets are vulnerable to disaster. To do this, you need to ask yourself some important questions, starting with what might happen if you were to lose the functionality of a specific asset for a day, a week or even longer. Answering this question will help you identify your most critical IT assets; the ones that are integral to your business operations.

Here are some other important questions to ask when drafting your business continuity plan:

  • What is the purpose of my business continuity plan?
  • What disasters can affect my IT infrastructure?
  • What are my key business areas?
  • Which different business areas, assets and departments depend on each other?
  • What is the longest amount of time I can go without functionality of IT assets?
Once you can answer these, it’s time to start planning. Write down your thoughts, and then contact an IT provider like us for assistance. We’ve helped countless businesses just like yours prepare themselves in order to remain operational throughout catastrophes. We can also help you identify potential problems that you may not have thought of.

Need help creating your business continuity plan? Contact us today to see how we can help you stay running and turning profits when disaster hits.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.