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March 27th, 2015

AppleMacOS_Mar27_AApple announced the release of an all-new MacBook at its Spring Forward Apple Watch event earlier this month. This latest innovation in the MacBook family is simply named the New MacBook, creating a new product line alongside the existing MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. Here’s a rundown of the New MacBook’s specs and features, and how they might impact your work if you’re thinking of using one.

Design

You’ll be amazed how compact the New MacBook is. It is currently the thinnest notebook Apple has to offer, measuring only 13.1 millimeters in thickness. It is also very light, weighing only two pounds, or less than a kilogram. MacBook series usually come in silver, but the New MacBook is available in Space Gray and Gold hues, similar to the iPhone and iPad.

Display

The New MacBook sports a high-definition Retina display, with a resolution of 2304x1440 pixels. The 12-inch display screen is wide and roomy enough to engage with web browsing, applications and programs efficiently.

Keyboard and Trackpad

Apple has always incorporated some of the best keyboard and trackpad technologies in its MacBook machines. A big keyboard change sees the traditional scissor mechanism replaced with a butterfly mechanism, offering users a better typing experience. The butterfly mechanism is wider and is made from a stiffer material, meaning that it’s more stable, responsive, and takes up less vertical space.

In addition to keyboard improvements, Apple has also made changes to its trackpad. The new Force Touch Trackpad is pressure sensitive, and can tell the difference between a tap and a click. You can take advantage of the Force Touch and find new ways to interact with the MacBook, such as activating certain applications by putting more pressure on the trackpad.

Silent operation

The New MacBook doesn’t need a built-in fan to cool itself down. With the assistance of Intel’s Core M chip, the New MacBook generates less heat, and disperses sidewards the heat that it does create. It will remain cool and virtually silent, even when you open multiple programs.

Battery life

Apple has made major improvements in the New MacBook’s battery capacity, despite its thinner and lighter design. The newly-designed battery extends the New MacBook’s life further, allowing up to nine hours of web browsing, or ten hours of watching videos.

Price and release date

The New MacBook will retail between $1500 and $2000, depending on specifications. Apple will begin selling the New MacBook on April 10 through its online store.

To learn more about how your business can benefit from using Mac devices, give us a call today.

Newsletter Sign Up! Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Apple Mac OS
March 27th, 2015

O365_164_CIt’s Monday morning at the office, and you just came back from a lovely trip to Hawaii. It was a long overdue break from the technology, phone calls, and commutes of everyday life. As you settle into your office chair and open your inbox, your eyes widen as you realize it’s time to pay the piper. You scroll, scroll, scroll for what seems like forever, unable to find where the avalanche of emails began. There are hundreds – how will you ever get through them all? Ever felt the dread of a situation like this? Office 365 has a new feature that will prevent these email nightmares from ruining that first day back from vacation.

The problem with today’s email spam filtering

In everyday life, we’re faced with some issues that are of major importance, others minor, and many completely insignificant. Our email inboxes are no different. Some mails need to be attended to immediately, others can wait awhile, and some we never want to see at all.

But in our current email landscape, there is no gray area. A message either goes to your spam folder or to your inbox. Wouldn’t it be great if there was some sort of middle way? This is where Office 365’s new Clutter feature comes into play.

How Clutter works

Clutter works by creating a folder for your emails that are of ‘minor’ importance. This folder is aptly named Clutter, and it works in essentially the same way as your junk folder.

How does it know which emails to put in the Clutter folder? The feature monitors your inbox behavior and then accordingly determines which folder to put an email. For example, if there are specific senders you always reply to immediately, perhaps several times a day, then those messages are clearly important to you. However, if you’re receiving emails from a company and deleting them without opening, then that also says something about the importance of messages from that sender. Clutter works by tracking the patterns of this behavior, observing them and then filtering each message into the appropriate folder. This leaves the messages you need to respond to now in your inbox and hides the ones that can wait, delightfully out of sight.

Want to learn more about Clutter and other Office 365 features? Get in touch with us today.

March 25th, 2015

Productivity_Mar25_CToo many of us associate corporate meetings with long, dull sessions that lack focus, go round and round in circles and end up not reaching the concrete conclusions we need from them. In fact, many of these meetings probably don’t even need to be held in the first place, and certainly plenty of us would rather be at our desks getting on with our jobs than sat in energy-devoid boardrooms. But there’s another way – enter Do.com, a meeting productivity platform that has recently made announcements that show it’s on the up. Here’s why it might be time your organization upped the ante in meetings and jumped on the Do.com bandwagon.

Do.com aims to end what it terms ‘meeting hell’, and the platform is currently used by more than 5,000 organizations from top businesses like Dominos to sectors of the US government. When you add Do.com to your company’s productivity strategy, you benefit from a host of meeting-oriented features including management of agendas, notes and actions. The tool can also be used to share files for the purpose of discussion during meetings, and to display a timer to keep deliberations on track and avoid that ultimate hell of never-ending meetings.

The cloud-focused application has signaled it is on an upward trajectory, recently adding $2 million in funding. The additional capital will be used to further expand Do.com and its features, as well as the team behind it. Consequently, it appears that now is a great time to be getting onboard, with lots more to come from it. The most recent technical development to be announced is its new integration with Office 365. This will give Do.com further relevance and usability value to business owners around the world who are already taking advantage of the numerous benefits of the Microsoft cloud-based suite of productivity applications.

Do.com can already be used in conjunction with Evernote and Google Apps like Drive and Docs, but the move to integrate with Office 365 puts it in reach of an ever larger audience. Those not yet accustomed to high-tech meeting solutions may still be using pen and paper to manage their company get-togethers. But Do.com identifies its technology-based competitors as core cloud applications such as Dropbox, Trello, Evernote, Google Apps – everything from Docs to Calendar to Drive – and even good old email. Yet Do.com does something these individual apps don’t – while they all tackle one particular element of the organization and follow-up to a meeting, Do.com handles the whole lot with a single holistic, meeting-centered approach. With its latest moves, that’s what the platform hopes will be attractive to productivity-deprived business owners.

Want to find out more about Do.com and other productivity and cloud-based technologies? Get in touch today.

Topic General IT
March 25th, 2015

164 BizV_BHave you started to wonder if your break/fix contractor is fixing your IT problems to the best of his abilities? Does he seem to be showing up to your office more and more, repairing the same problem time and again? If so, it may be time to consider another option: Managed Services. This alternative could be just the IT solution your business needs, and can even prevent your worst IT nightmare from coming true.

The ultimate break/fix nightmare

Your business is running smoothly. Profits and staff productivity have been up, and you haven’t had a single IT expense in months. Times are good. You kick back in your leather chair and break out that Cuban cigar you’ve been saving for just such an occasion.

But then the BIG ONE hits. Your servers crash. No, not just one – all of them! Your business comes to a grinding halt. None of your staff can work. You call your go-to break/fix IT provider, but he’s overloaded with work and can’t make it out to your offices till next week. Next week?! In a panic, you call the first IT contractor you find on Google. Thankfully he’s available. But since you need this work done immediately, he charges an unbelievable fee for a last minute fix. You have no other choice, you hire the contractor. You’re left hoping he fixes everything properly and none of your crucial data is lost in the process.

This is the precarious nature of break/fix IT services. And while this is a worst case scenario, situations like this can and have happened. So let’s look at the reasons why it pays to to hire a Managed Services Provider (MSP) instead.

MSPs prevent problems. Break/fix profit from them.

Think about the relationship dynamics of Managed Services compared to break/fix. If you’re a business owner who currently use a break/fix contractor, when your IT goes down your contractor gains profit. Your problem equals his reward.

How motivated do you think he is to do an effective job of fixing your issue? If that problem pops up again later, it equals more reward for him. Now that’s not to say all break/fix contractors aren’t fixing your IT to the best of their abilities. But think about the basic mindframe of a break/fix contractor: problem=profit.

The MSP system works differently. You pay a set fee every month to your IT provider. So the reward for the MSP comes every month. If something goes wrong during that month, you don’t pay anymore. Yet it costs the MSP more money, and therefore affects their profit margin. Because of this, the MSP is rewarded for taking preventative measures to ensure your IT is working as effectively as possible, always.

That’s not to say problems won’t happen with an MSP. But when they do, they’ll end up costing the MSP provider, and they certainly don’t want that. So for an MSP, the basic mindframe is: healthy IT=profit.

MSPs extinguish budget surprises

Everyone likes surprises, except when it comes to losing money. And when you have a break/fix IT service provider, big surprises can and do happen – and not the good ones, either.

An MSP is working to prevent problems from happening in the first place. You pay a monthly flat fee, so you always know what you’re paying. You can plan and predict your budget accordingly.

With break/fix, it’s true that some months you won’t have any IT expenses from your contractor, which is great. But other months, you could have bills that are astronomical. So you never know just what you’ll be paying for your IT budget in any given month. And if you don’t have that money set aside, then what?

MSPs might just make you happier

Yes, as silly and simple as it sounds, with an MSP you’ll probably be happier. The main reason is you won’t have to deal with the frustration of unexpected IT problems eating away at your budget and the downtime that comes with it. Your IT will run more smoothly (which will create a foundation for your business to do the same) and your budget will be predictable.

Even better, you’re more likely to have a fruitful relationship with your MSP provider since you both have the same goal: effective smooth running IT for your business. What business owner doesn’t like the sound of that?

Want to learn more about our Managed Services? Contact us today to learn more about this effective alternative.

Topic General IT
March 23rd, 2015

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

Battle box - a tool box where necessary equipment and vital information are stored. These objects and pieces of information should be useful in a disaster. Typical items include a first aid kit, laptop, protective equipment, and communication devices.

Business impact analysis (BIA) - a process to evaluate the impact that a disaster may have on a business. The BIA shows what a business stands to lose if some parts of its functions are missing. It allows you to see the general picture of your business processes and determine which ones are the most important.

Call tree - a comprehensive list of employee contacts and their telephone numbers. Call trees are used to notify out-of-office employees about a disaster. Companies can use a software program to contact people on the call tree by sending automated emails and text messages. In order for a call tree to work, employees should provide alternative contact options and their information must be up to date.

Data mirroring - a duplication of data from its source to another physical storage solution or the cloud. Data mirroring ensures that crucial information is safe, and companies can use the copied data as backup during a disaster.

Exercise - a series of activities designed to test a company’s business continuity plan. When an exercise is carried out, there will be an evaluation to decide whether a BCP is meeting standards or not. An exercise can identify gaps in, and the drawbacks of, a BCP and is therefore used as a tool to revise and improve a business continuity plan.

Hot site - an alternate location equipped with computers, communication tools and infrastructures to help a business recover information systems affected by the disaster.

Plan maintenance - a process of maintaining a company’s business continuity plan so that it is in working order and up to date. Plan maintenance includes scheduled reviews and updates.

Recovery time objective (RTO) - a period of time in which companies must recover their systems and functions after a disaster. This is the target time for a business to ideally resume its delivery of products and services at an acceptable level. RTO may be specified in business time (e.g. one business day) or elapsed time (e.g. elapsed 24 hours).

Business continuity plans can be a hassle to design and implement without proper understanding of their requirements. If you want to learn how you can protect your business from disasters, give us a call today.

Newsletter Sign Up! Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 20th, 2015

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

It’s big enough to share

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

It takes great photos

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

It’s a productivity machine

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

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

Newsletter Sign Up! Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
Topic iPad
March 20th, 2015

VoIPGeneral_Mar20_ATraditional phone lines are still the preferred choice of many businesses. However, the times they are a-changin’. And there are some good reasons to consider other options. No, that doesn’t mean getting rid of your phone altogether, but considering an alternative method that turns the whole idea of traditional phone use on its head. We’re talking VoIP, the telephony solution for the future. And it may be time your business took notice. Here are some of the unique advantages of VoIP.

What is VoIP?

To truly understand how VoIP can help your business, you must first know what it is. VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. All that means is that you’re essentially able to talk with others over an Internet connection instead of a traditional phone line. Yes, you can still use your actual phone handset, as well as your tablet or computer. The major difference is in the way the call is transmitted.

VoIP lowers costs

The biggest advantage of VoIP is that your business will save a bundle on costs. VoIP takes efficiency to a whole new level. Since you’ll be receiving phone calls over the Internet, you’ll cut out the expense of a phone line altogether and instead consolidate both your Internet and voice communication costs. To do this, however, you’ll need to upgrade to a high-speed Internet connection (if you don’t have one already), which will of course cost extra money. But knocking out the expense of your phone line will likely be much more cost-effective for your business overall.

If your business makes international calls regularly, VoIP is even more of a no brainer. With VoIP, international calling costs are significantly reduced and in some cases even free. Skype, which is similar to VoIP, is a perfect example of the latter.

Statistically speaking, VoIP services have helped many businesses lower costs dramatically. For some, local call expenses have been reduced by up to 40% and for international calls by a whopping 90%. How’s that for savings?

Many, better features than traditional phones

In addition to reduced costs, VoIP also offers a wide array of innovative features that surpass those of a traditional phone line. While listing them all would take several pages, three notable ones are virtual numbers, call routing and improved conference calls.

    • Virtual numbers – A virtual number allows you to easily have a local number anywhere in the world. That means if you have a large market of clients in London, you can actually get a local London number with the area code of your choice. When someone in the UK dials this number, it will transfer to your phone – whether your business is actually in Seattle or Toronto. This makes it easy for your customers to contact you and will likely garner more business, since we all know customers like things to made as easy as possible for them.
    • Call routing – If you’ve ever worried about missing an important phone call, call routing will have you breathing a long sigh of relief. With this feature, an incoming call will be transferred to multiple devices of your choice. So if your office desk phone rings when you’re not there, that same call will then ring on your mobile, home phone, iPad and other devices before going to voicemail.
    • Better conference calls – With VoIP and a high speed Internet connection, you can include an unlimited number of people on conference calls. And even better, you can also use video conferencing so you can see your colleagues or clients in person.

Interested in learning more about how Digium VoIP can work for your business? Contact us today.

Topic VoIP General
March 19th, 2015

Virt 164_ATo migrate to the Cloud or virtualize your machines? That is the question. Both Virtualization and Cloud Computing have benefits. But figuring out which one is right for your organization is another story. If you’re having trouble deciding which technology is the best choice for the future of your business, this article will help you figure it out.

The difference between Cloud Computing and Virtualization

To understand which technology you need, you first need to understand the role of that technology in your business.

Virtualization is basically using virtual hardware or software stored off-site, instead of the actual physical asset being in your office. A common asset many organizations choose to virtualize is a server. So if you’re thinking about buying a new server, you may want to consider investing in a virtual one instead. The advantage of this is that you’ll free up office space and save money on the upfront expense of an in-house server as well as its maintenance costs.

Cloud Computing, on the other hand, is not about individual assets, but instead is an operational model. Your business will run through the Cloud, where employees can create documents, interact with each other and customers, and even store files and data. The main advantage of the Cloud is that it increases operational efficiency and boosts organizational productivity.

Arguments for virtualizing

If you’re considering either the Cloud or Virtualization and have done neither, it makes sense to think about Virtualization first. With both Virtualization and the Cloud, you’re essentially changing the architecture of your business – from physical to virtual. Virtualization, however, is a small change, while Cloud Computing is a more dramatic one. If you opt for going all in with the Cloud right away, it may be a bit mind jarring for some of your staff as they get used to the new technology. And this could slow down their productivity. Virtualizing a few technology assets, instead of your entire workflow system, is an easier way to get a grasp of working with virtual technology for the first time.

A more fundamental reason to choose Virtualization is that you’re just looking to create more office space. In this case Virtualization is a no-brainer.

Arguments for the Cloud

If your organization gets to the point of needing to add virtualized machines or servers quickly, the Cloud can automate this process. However, your IT department must be ready and willing to hand this process over to your end users.

Also, if your organization has been using virtualized machines for some time or is simply ready to overhaul its workflow and operational process altogether, then the Cloud is likely a better fit for your business.

Which is the best choice for your business?

What it comes down to is operational efficiency (Cloud Computing) or saving money and space on individual assets (Virtualization). What’s more important to you?

And do you have a progressive organization and staff that are ready to adapt to using virtual technologies? If not, then Virtualization may be the initial step you need to start changing your organization’s infrastructure to compete in the modern business world.

Want to learn more about Virtualization and Cloud Computing? Contact us today.

Newsletter Sign Up! Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 18th, 2015

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

The Venmo platform is known for its convenience and ease of use, and is commonly used to split the cost of drinks, dinner, taxis and the like. The app is now adding a raft of new security-focused features, in response to criticism of its record for ensuring the security of its customers and their financial transactions.

Back in February, a Venmo user discovered his account had been hacked and used to withdraw almost $3,000 from his credit card. The intruder had also thought to change the email address associated with the Venmo account and to disable notifications of payments, but Venmo did not tell the genuine user about the changes that had been made. Venmo was decried for letting basic lapses in security exist in its trendsetting platform.

Now the service is doing what it can to pick up the pieces and up the ante on the security front. The most obvious change is to incorporate automatic email notifications when changes are made to the basic personal details associated with a Venmo account - a feature which many believe should have been built in from the word go. But the app will also add multi-factor authentication, another name for the two-step verification that can be enabled within Google Apps and other services. This feature makes it more difficult for would-be intruders to gain access to your account, even if they manage to get hold of your password.

Multi-factor authentication works by requiring not only your password for login, but also a second piece of information such as a one-time code - often generated on-the-spot and sent by SMS to the user’s cell phone - or the answer to a pre-set security question. Insisting on two phases to the sign-in process allows another opportunity to stop potential fraudsters in their tracks. The changes being implemented by Venmo also reflect the growing awareness on the part of technology companies for the need to get serious about security and protect the integrity of their systems and their users’ data.

You can put multi-factor authentication to use in your IT systems to keep your business protected. Get in touch with us and we’ll show you how.

Newsletter Sign Up! Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
March 18th, 2015

Security_Mar18_AReposted from Avalara.com

Nexus —the connection between a company and taxing jurisdictions that triggers a sales tax liability—gets thornier the faster your company grows. Surprisingly, more revenue can mean more complexity and potentially greater risk of sales tax audit (more money, more problems?).

Here are 5 areas of sales tax risk relating to business growth and what you can do to address them:

Entering new states

With every geographical expansion, particularly entry into new states, a company needs to master the particular rules of that jurisdiction. Given the number of jurisdictions nationally (11,000) and the number of sales tax rate, rule, and boundary changes annually (greater than 100,000), learning the new sales tax rules in the new state is difficult. Most companies start with the relevant department of revenue, map it to the location of the sale and extrapolate rates from there. As your business grows, running these determinations from a master spreadsheet that doesn’t integrate with your current systems isn’t realistic.

As you enter new states be sure to register in the states where it is required, determine where your company has nexus, and refer questions to your trusted advisor.

Bringing new products to market

Offering a new product? Good for you! Be sure to study the implications of new products on your sales tax liability. When it comes to tangible goods even straightforward products like grocery items can be taxable based on ingredients, or intended use. Product taxability is complicated and as your list of products grows, so does the number of opportunities to get sales tax wrong.

What one state considers taxable another state may not. So as you bring more products to markets in more places, your sales tax compliance burden grows. A great example of this complexity is the taxability of cloud-based products such as software, music, and movies.

As you introduce new products research each by type and category and individual taxability. Fully research which products are exempt because of product, end-use, transaction, or holiday.

Going global

In today’s world, plenty of businesses decide it’s a smart decision to begin to sell globally. Selling into the EU, for example, for an ecommerce business based in New York, might seem like an easy way to expand market reach. For many U.S. companies, however, VAT (Value Added Tax) can be tricky and prone to error.

Workforce expansion

Smart companies often turn to contract workers when there is a spike in demand or projected growth. It is an excellent way of increasing capacity without committing to fixed costs. Unfortunately, this flexibility represents a compliance risk.

Managing the hiring and documentation for contract workers presents several points where errors are common: 1099s and W-2s can have incorrect addresses, social security or TINs, or other errors that will trip up reporting to the state and federal agencies.

Without a bulk validation tool, companies are exposed to increased audit risk by virtue of incomplete or missing 1099s.

Failure to upgrade your ERP

Companies are often reluctant to undertake adopting a new platform or technology, such as an ERP. Unfortunately, the nature of business growth often necessitates a closer look at legacy systems and their ability to manage specific elements such as sales tax risk.

Growth necessitates raising expectations of ERP functionality and comprehensiveness. Without modules to manage sales tax risk, your tax department can be left holding the bag when the auditor comes knocking.

Growing a business is complex and demanding. Without managing the sales tax risks engendered by this growth, success might breed errors and audits that undercut the bottom line. Turning to an automated system is one way to shore up compliance as your company expands.

Learn more about the areas of sales tax risk relating to business growth and what you can do to address them by reading the free whitepaper Business Gains Audit Pains

 

March 18th, 2015

Enrolling in a 401(k) plan is a great way to save money for retirement at any point in your professional career, as well as a key aspect of employee benefits management. However, before getting started, it’s important to understand exactly what a 401(k) is, what to expect and how to get the greatest contribution benefits.

What is a 401(k) plan?

A 401(k) plan is an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan that helps employees steadily put money away for retirement. These programs have many different components, and here’s what you need to know:

  1. Both public and private for-profit companies offer 401(k) plans. Some employers will allow you to set up a 401(k) plan immediately after you start working, while others will enforce a waiting period of usually one month to one year before you are eligible.
  2. A percentage of your paychecks will be put into savings. Before you receive each paycheck, a designated percentage will be deducted and set aside in a separate 401(k) account.
  3. Some employers offer a company match. The company match refers to the amount that an employer contributes to 401(k) accounts. Companies will match up to a certain percentage of your contribution – usually 3 to 6 percent of your paycheck – which helps your 401(k) grow even more.
  4. The maximum amount you can put into your 401(k) changes each year. The cost-of-living index and inflation are taken into account when considering this number. According to the IRS, the maximum amount you can contribute to your 401(k) plan increased from $17,500 to $18,000 in 2015.
  5. The IRS also imposes a “catch-up contribution” limit. If you are 50 or older, you may be eligible to add an additional $6,000 to your 401(k) on an annual basis, according to the IRS.
  6. Enrolling in a 401(k) plan will reduce your taxable income base. Money designated for your 401(k) is taken before state and federal income taxes are applied to your paycheck. This will reduce your take-home pay, but also require you to pay less money in taxes.
  7. The money in your 401(k) account is not taxed until you start making withdrawals. As you will likely have no income during retirement, your personal tax rate will be lower than when you were working, and you will therefore owe less money to the IRS.
  8. You can start accessing your money as early as age 59 and one-half. Prior to that age, you will be subject to an early withdrawal penalty. However, if you become completely disabled or are over age 55 and have been let go by your employer, you will be exempt from the penalty.
  9. You must start withdrawing from your 401(k) by age 70 and one-half. If you are still a full-time employee with the company that sponsors your plan, you are exempt from this rule.
  10. If you leave your current employer, there are options for what to do with your 401(k). Typically, there are four things you can do: Withdraw your entire balance as a cash payout; roll your account balance over into an IRA; roll your account balance over to a plan with your new employer; or, if allowed by the employer, leave the balance where it is.

Why is this a good savings option?

One of the largest benefits of having a 401(k) plan is how simple it is to start and maintain. After the initial enrollment, you are not required to do any additional work unless you want to make changes to the contribution amount. It is completely separate from your standard savings or checking accounts, so you will be able to consider larger purchases like homes, cars or vacations without being tempted to dip into your retirement savings.

March 17th, 2015

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

Reporting

Whether simple or more sophisticated, reporting forms the foundation of business intelligence and is key to knowing how your company is doing - and how to make it do better still. No matter the size of your company, financial reporting helps you to understand your position in terms of revenue and expenditure. Typical reports you might produce on a regular basis include balance sheets, cash flow statements and profit and loss accounts. Business intelligence tools like Enterprise Resource Planning applications can help you get a hold of these reports and customize them to suit your needs, to a level of detail and usability that most of us just aren’t going to manage with a spreadsheet alone.

Data Visualization

Having access to reams of business data is all very well, but in reality it’s not of much use if it doesn’t mean anything to everyday humans. You and your colleagues are business focused and, while you might know your way around a bit of data analysis and your IT systems, you don’t want to spend your lives with your head buried in sheet after sheet of formulae. Frankly, you’ve got better things to be doing than that - like getting on with the day-to-day management of your business.

That’s where visualization comes in. Just what it sounds like, visualization is about taking your raw data and presenting it in a way that’s instantly understandable and meaningful to its audience - whether that’s you as business owner, your boss or your company’s investors. Visualization can help you to convey a high-level overview of business performance, before you drill down to consider more specific areas of your products and services. Some business intelligence tools also offer interactivity to allow you to get exactly what you need from complex data.

Corporate Performance Management

The performance of your business depends on a huge number of factors, and if you are properly preparing for the future then you are considering a multitude of scenarios depending on how those factors play out. That can leave you with multiple versions of your budgets and cash flow statements but, without effective business intelligence software, you’re likely to have that information stored in a messy tangle of spreadsheets.

A better solution is a business intelligence application that allows you to import data from various locations, and adjust your reporting output according to variables in the numerous factors you are forecasting. With speed that those clumsy spreadsheets just couldn’t replicate if they tried, you’ll have at your fingertips a set of responsive, adaptable reports that enable you and your team to spend more time on analysis and making plans for the future.

Want to learn more about using business intelligence to propel your company to greater heights? Get in touch with us today.

Newsletter Sign Up! Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 16th, 2015

SocialMedia_Mar16_BRemember years ago when you first saw a number sign followed by an unspaced phrase popping up online? Who would have thought that hashtags would turn out to be one of the most useful tools on social media platforms today. In fact, different social media sites utilize hashtags in different ways. Take a look at how you can make the most of hashtags for your business on different social media platforms.

Twitter

Twitter hashtags don’t support special characters like +, !, $, %, -, ^, &, * but do support letters, numbers and underscores. There are no hashtag limits as long as you keep your message within the usual 140 characters.

The best way to use hashtags in Twitter is through hosting and participating in Twitter chats. You don’t need to be in an event to network with people through the official hashtag; event organizers usually market the official hashtag very well. In other words, you’ll get additional exposure if you use it.

Useful Twitter hashtag tools include:

Hashtagify which tracks trending hashtags and shows related hashtags for any base terms you provide.
TwChat lets you discover, participate in and host Twitter chats. This is best used for monitoring and archiving any hashtag streams.

Instagram

Just like Twitter, Instagram hashtags don’t support special characters like +, !, $, %, -, ^, &, *, but do support letters, numbers and underscores. You can add up to 30 hashtags to a single photo or tag your photo after publishing it by listing the hashtags in the comments.

After you tag your post with a hashtag, you’ll be able to tap on the hashtag to see a page that shows all photos and videos people have uploaded with the same hashtag. Instagram hashtags can dramatically increase your following, especially if you use hot and trending hashtags which are easily found here.

The best use of hashtags on Instagram is to participate in hashtag games like #tbt (Throwback Thursday) and #MondayBlues. Both can increase your following and interactions since people click on these specific hashtags to see photos of other participants. Additionally, location-based hashtags also work very well on Instagram, whether abbreviated or in full, for example #LA and #LosAngeles.

Facebook

Facebook hashtags are similar to other social platforms; they support the standard set of characters including numbers, letters and underscore but don’t support special characters.

However, searching by hashtag on Facebook is a little unlike the rest, in that when you search for a hashtag you often end up on a Facebook page instead of a hashtag search result page. But there’s an easier way to generate hashtag search results – simply add the hashtag text after facebook.com/hashtag/, for example facebook.com/hashtag/cats.

You can also bring up hashtag search results by clicking on any hashtag in your Facebook stream. Do keep in mind that Facebook’s ranking algorithm is complex and seems to classify hashtags according to how closely you are related to the person posting the update, as well as how often the two of you interact.

The growing use of hashtags has changed how we use different social media platforms for the better. Still, it’s important to understand how these different platforms make use of hashtags in order to optimize them to your business’s advantage. Looking to learn more about how social media can help your business? Contact us today!

Topic Social Media
March 16th, 2015

HealthcareIT_Mar16_AMedical institutions rely on their healthcare systems to facilitate the needs of their patients, whether through electronic medical records, prescription management or data entry software. Unfortunately, most healthcare service providers don’t realize how vulnerable their IT systems are to cyber attacks. One of the contributing factors to data breach is digitization. While there are several benefits of converting medical data from paper records into electronic files, there is no denying that it increases the risk of data theft. And since stolen healthcare information can be used to commit identity theft and financial crimes, securing healthcare data has become more important than ever.

According to healthcare security experts, healthcare data breaches are on the rise due to the high prices the data can command on the black market.

From financial information to medical information

In the past few years, cybercriminals’ focus has been on stealing financial data, including credit card numbers and personal information. But things are taking a turn, the result of financial institutions fortifying their database and raising client awareness of the problem. This is making it more difficult for hackers to steal financial data, let alone use them. Banks do their bit to protect their customers, too, by quickly identifying and canceling compromised credit cards.

Stronger data protection measures have forced criminals to turn their attention to medical data, which is typically much less secure. Patient data includes an individual’s date of birth, medical and physical records and social security number – information that can’t be easily reset, and that is significantly more valuable than credit card data.

Securing healthcare data

Healthcare data has become more attractive to criminals, and it’s crucial that medical institutions take necessary precautions to secure their patients’ information from data thieves. Here are some best practice measures to secure healthcare data.

  • Protect the network and Wi-Fi - As hackers use a variety of tools to break into IT systems and obtain medical records, healthcare organizations need to invest in secure firewalls and antivirus software to deploy on their healthcare devices. Network segregation is also a wise move so that, in the event that a breach does occur, the attacker can’t instantly access all of your organization’s information at once.
  • Educate employees - Staff members need to receive lessons about information security, including setting passwords, spam filters, protection against phishing, and other kinds of data breach methods.
  • Data encryption - Encrypting data is one of the safest ways to secure it. Healthcare institutions can encode patients information in such a way that only authorized users can access it. Multi encryption is also an effective way to keep out intruders.
  • Physical security - Most healthcare institutions still retain their patients’ records on paper, stored in cabinets. Ensure that all loopholes are covered by installing surveillance cameras and other physical security controls, such as electronic door locks.

It is of crucial importance for healthcare providers to secure sensitive information, in order to gain and retain the trust of your patients. If you want to know how your organization can better protect your patients information, give us a call.

Newsletter Sign Up! Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 12th, 2015

Office_Mar12_AIt’s been a long time coming, but Microsoft has finally unveiled its latest version of the Office for Mac suite of productivity applications. The first refresh that the package has seen since 2011 takes it closer to delivering the experience enjoyed by users of its Windows sibling, and it brings Office 365 and the power of cloud computing to the masses. Best of all, the whole thing is free of charge for a limited period – here are some of the features to look out for in Office for Mac 2016.

Cloud power

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

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

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

Ribbon refresh

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

Email grouping

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

Presentation aids

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

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

To find out more about boosting your company’s productivity with Microsoft Office applications, give us a call today.

Topic Apple Mac OS
March 12th, 2015

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

What is business intelligence?

As a business owner, you may have come across business intelligence at some point in your research for efficient business tools. Business intelligence is a term that sounds intimidating, but it’s actually really easy to understand.

BI is a set of tools and techniques that transform raw data into information that companies can actually use for business purposes. You can use BI tools to collect data from internal systems and external sources. That data can then be analyzed and compiled into text or visual reports for corporate leaders, assisting them in making important business decisions.

Benefits of BI for small businesses

When it comes to analyzing data, business intelligence is a cut above other methods like simply pulling data from Excel spreadsheets. Businesses can use BI for many purposes. Here are some benefits.
  • Boost sales - Business intelligence tools can create and analyze data to improve sales. You can send an email to your clients, inserting a link to your website, then monitor their behavior with an analytical tool to subsequently target your emails more successfully. You can also use BI for sales forecasting and to decide on the best method to reach your sales target.
  • Identifying opportunities - BI tools allow you to assess your company’s capabilities and compare your strengths and weaknesses to your competitors. You can also identify market trends in order to respond quickly to change.
  • Better customer service - Customers are the lifeblood of any small business, and you should take customer service seriously. There are BI software programs that collect post-service customer feedback. Your customer service team is informed when they receive low feedback scores, so they can follow up and resolve any issues.

Implementation

After you’ve researched the benefits of BI to your business, the next step is to implement it in your company. The first thing to clarify is your need for business intelligence. Do you want to improve your sales? Are you looking for new customers? It’s important to be clear on this, so that you can choose a BI tool that will provide the best solutions to your problems. Once your objective is clear, it’s time to determine what resources you already have to get the job done. In some cases, your existing tools may be sufficient.

There are lots of BI options to choose from, and you should pick the one that best suits your needs. Want to know how to adapt business intelligence to your company? Give us a call and see how we can help.

Newsletter Sign Up! Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 12th, 2015

When it comes to payroll management, benefits administration and hiring, many companies debate whether human resources should be handled internally or outsourced to a provider. Outsourcing is often cheaper, but firms can run into issues, especially in the recruitment process. New hires may not be a strong match for internal culture when someone outside the organization is making the employment decisions.

The Affordable Care Act has created significant changes for how some companies administer benefits, prompting many businesses to outsource. A study from ADP revealed that out of the nine key benefits administration areas, companies are likely to handle at least six partially or completely in-house. However, health care benefits are becoming more complicated, requiring external guidance. Some large employers rely on multiple external providers to manage some of these key areas, but this can make compliance more difficult.

Striking a balance for human resources

With the wide range of HR responsibilities, it can be difficult for managers in this department to devote equal attention to all areas. A recent study from Glassdoor found that many employers expect to face a talent shortage in 2015, and 48 percent of recruiters do not see a sufficient number of qualified candidates for open positions. Many lack visibility into their hiring processes, which can cause them to rely on outdated hiring methods. For example, the study found that many businesses still do not actively prospect for talent on social media. Nearly one-third of respondents reported that their methods of advertising open positions were outdated.

Because human resource professionals are typically being pulled in many directions at the same time, it can be a challenge to manage every issue that enters their offices. If an employee reports a problem, he or she may feel like the HR manager doesn’t devote enough attention to the issue. This reduces trust in your HR department, which is detrimental over time. Although hiring needs to be a priority, this department also needs to maintain an active role in the company’s operations.

Conducting HR audits

If HR is disconnected from the rest of the organization, it may be a good idea to conduct an audit of current processes to identify areas for improvement. HR.BLR.com recommended the following considerations for an audit:

The hiring process: Employers need to assess their employment applications, interview procedures, background checks and offer letters, as well as state and federal compliance. What kinds of onboarding procedures are in place?

Employee handbook review: Are existing policies still effective and in accordance with all laws? Some regulations have been updated over time, so it’s important to understand how laws could potentially impact your policies. HR professionals need to make sure the guidelines in the employee handbook match the company’s practices.

Disciplinary policies: In addition to the employee handbook, an audit should cover all disciplinary actions. While it can be difficult to build employees’ trust in the HR department, it’s important to have a clear written procedure for prohibited conduct, consequences, the number of written or verbal warnings someone receives before termination and the termination process itself. Some employers do not have a formal process, but it’s crucial that the publicized procedures match the actual practices.

Recordkeeping: Some state and federal laws govern the length of time employees records must kept and what types of information should be retained. HR managers need to ensure all forms are properly filled out and personnel files are kept separate from medical records to avoid compliance issues.

The HR department needs to take an active role in events in the organization. Increased involvement can make employees more aware of this department.

Employer Solutions Blog | Sage HRMS

March 12th, 2015

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

MSPs defined

Managed Services Providers boast a range of capabilities. They create IT options and provide solutions to facilitate businesses in their everyday activities. Simply put, a Managed Services Provider is your IT department, and they are experts at what they do. MSPs perform IT-related tasks to your exacting requirements, whether it’s installing software, virtualizing data, or other complex duties. Best of all, because they are taking care of your IT systems, you have more free time to focus on your business.

Selecting the best MSP

You can only achieve optimum IT results by selecting the right Managed Services Provider – preferably one that can demonstrate competency and consistency. Here are some criteria to keep in mind when choosing an MSP.

  • Depth of skills and experience - Any Managed Services Provider should, at the very least, have skills that go beyond basic software installation, maintenance and upgrades. Your business will likely need some advanced IT functions, such as database management, virtualization, cloud technology, security, and cross-platform integration. An MSP should have strong expertise in these models in order to meet the expectations and needs of your company.
  • 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.

Topic General IT
March 12th, 2015

There’s big business in mobile payment platforms, and they are here to stay. Consumers are increasingly attracted to the ease and convenience of Apple Pay and Google Wallet, and adopting these platforms means turning more prospects into clients – and then keeping them hooked for the long haul. Now Google has given the sector a further boost, by announcing its new Android Pay platform. Here’s what you need to know about getting on board with this and other mobile payment platforms.

When Google launches Android Pay, it will act as more than just another app like Apple Pay, or Google’s existing Wallet app (which will continue to be in use, and will be powered by Android Pay). This means it will be useful to developers and retailers looking to allow users to make payments for products and services from right within their apps on Android devices.

Apple technology already enables iPhone users to buy goods in real-life stores using near-field communication (NFC), and Google’s Android Pay system will do the same. A similar technology to Apple’s is Google’s local storage of bank card information, which takes away the need for you to have a phone signal to make payments. There are also benefits to security – another feature that Android Pay will adopt from its rival is the use of one-time, automatically generated credit card numbers for each transaction. This helps to fight fraud because even if the retailer you shop with subsequently suffers a data breach, any card numbers the fraudsters get hold off would have expired already.

Google ultimately hopes that its Android Pay system will also include support for fingerprint scanning and other security features, further boosting the peace of mind you can have while using it to shop and settle up.

Competition is beefing up in the mobile payment platform arena. While Google Wallet failed to gain much traction when it first launched in 2011 – it was considered by many to be ahead of its time – the recent growth of Apple Pay appears to have revived hope in the Google alternative. What’s more, Samsung recently debuted Samsung Pay, which is big on payment security and will come as default on the latest models of the Galaxy and Edge range of devices. The Samsung system has the potential to quickly achieve far greater reach since, while Apple Pay only works where retailers already have NFC installed, Samsung recently acquired the firm LoopPay, and as a result Samsung Pay will also support the use of conventional magnetic credit card readers.

And even PayPal is moving in on mobile payment territory. Though the company has for some time had its own apps that make it easy to send cash to friends or suppliers, or to make purchases at participating retailers, PayPal is still better known for its web-based payments system. However, PayPal recently acquired Paydiant, a startup due to launch later in 2015 with a competitor to all the other mobile payment platforms, known as CurrentC. It could prove stiff competition indeed, since it’s backed by retailers like Wal-Mart and 7-Eleven.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that your business can ignore the rapid growth of mobile payments. To find out how to leverage them to your benefit, get in touch with us today.

Topic Android
March 9th, 2015

Devising your business continuity plan can be complex. The whole process of discovering which are your business’s critical assets may feel like unravelling a knotted ball of yarn. In other words, it can be a tricky and time consuming process. But what if there was a way to speed up the ordeal? If you know where to look, and consider the fundamental elements of a business continuity plan, it’s possible. To help, we’ve compiled three tips to creating an effective business continuity plan that will ensure your organization’s critical assets are covered.

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.