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August 24th, 2011

The proliferation of websites and social media tools is making the job of monitoring what’s being said about you online increasingly difficult to do. But you need to somehow make sense of the sea of information available in these online tools, because depending on what’s being saidit can have either a helpful or a damaging effect on your reputation or your business. Here are some tools to help you.

Besides your own eyes and ears, there are plenty of toolsfor free or for a priceavailable to help you monitor your presence online. The simplest of these is your familiar search engines such as Google or Bing. By simply searching online, you can find where your name or your company’s name appears in various websites. With Google in particular, you can set up “alerts” which will email you when a specific word or term appears in their website index.

What words or terms should you use? Start with your name, or your company name, then try the name of your products and/or services, and maybe even the names of your employees, directors, and other stakeholders. It might also be helpful to search for the competition as well. As results come in you can refine your search by expanding or narrowing the scope of terms you would like to search or be alerted on. If you want to be able to search across all different search engines and not just one or two, you can use Monitor This.

Next you can use specialized website or social media monitoring tools to search only specific sites or services as opposed to the entire Internet. One example is Greplin, which allows you to search all of your accounts or accounts that you own. This is very helpful to be able to execute highly filtered searches on specific information in your Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn accounts, or your blog. Another option is Rollyo, which allows you to set up your own specialized search engines that cull content from public or open websites of your choosing.

Other more generalized tools include RSS feed readers—which allow you to consume news or information feeds from news sites or blogs. Examples include Newsgator.com, Bloglines.com, Google Reader or Pluck.com. Other generalized tools include those that monitor specific newsgroups or message boards like BoardReader.com, ForumFind.com, Big-Boards.com, BoardTracker.com, iVillage, Yahoo Message Boards, and MSN Money. Still others track changes to content of specific sites (Copernic Tracker, Website Watcher and WatchThatPage.com), as well as their domain information (DomainTools.com and BetterWhois.com).

The really interesting new services actually give you an explicit idea of the status of your reputationespecially if you are a relatively well known name or your business has an established brand. In this category are sites like Amplicate, which monitors general feelings or impressions about brands, businesses, or services; Klout, which tries to measure the influence of individuals based on their social interactions; and SendLove.to, which focuses on celebrities and media personalities.

There are literally dozens more tools you can use to monitor and manage your reputation online. To find out more, a great resource is here at the Duct Tape Marketing blog. If you have any additional suggestions, feel free to let us know!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
Topic Article
August 17th, 2011

Interested in setting up your company’s email in the cloud? Here are two options to consider—one from Microsoft, the other from Google. See how they compare.

Google Apps
Google Apps is a service from Google that started in 2006, with the introduction of Gmail—a hosted email service, and which later incorporated other apps such as Google Calendar, Groups, Talk, Docs and Sites. Google Apps allow customers an independently customizable version of these Google products under their own domain name. The entry level option is free, but the package offered for Businesses is a paid service with an annual fee per user and additional storage space.

  1. Storage. Gmail, Google Apps’ email service starts with a sizable 7GB of free storage. Business users get 25GB. Bear in mind however that this storage space is shared with any data you have in other Google properties such as Picasa Web Album and Google Docs. Extra space can be bought however starting with USD $5 per year for an extra 20GB of storage. E-mail attachment sizes are limited to 25MB.
  2. Calendaring and Task Management. Gmail can be integrated with the overall excellent Google Calendar application. Google Calendar allows you to easily share personal calendars with colleagues, or create shared calendars used by groups of people (such as a calendar to track meeting room reservations, marketing events and others). Google Calendar also offers a built-in, but somewhat underpowered task management tool. Tasks can readily be added with due dates, but not readily shared or cannot be nested or linked with other tasks.
  3. Spam filtering, security and reliability. Gmail’s spam filtering features a community-driven system. Email tagged as spam by users help identifies similar messages as Spam for all other Gmail users. Generally the system works well, although some have complained that it can get over aggressive in its filters. In terms of security and reliabilityGmail has been criticized in the past with showing ads in its free Gmail service that display based on key words in the user’s messagespotentially violating their privacy. Its paid service offers however the option of disable these ads. Reliability is generally good with very few, but widely publicized disruptions in service.
  4. Usability. Gmail offers a host of unique usability enhancements that make it different from most other mail services. For one for a web app it loads really fast, as Google has been known to studiously optimize web page loading performance for their products. Another is that it offers a threaded view of messages by default. It also uses a starring/labeling system to tag and segregate messages instead of using folders. Another interesting enhancement done recently is the ability to sort messages by “importance” where it learns based on your usage over time what email messages it thinks you think are important.
  5. Mobile access. Gmail offers a version optimized for mobile devices, as well as support for a variety of devices for their native mail applications such as iOS and Android.

Overall Gmail is a solid mature choice if you are thinking of moving email to the cloud and are not afraid of being on the bleeding edge of cloud services and technology.

Microsoft Office 365
Microsoft Office 365, like Google Apps, offers a host of applications such as online versions of productivity tools which we all already know and use such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Most however work best when they are used in conjunction with your desktop-installed Office applications. Focusing on email, Office 365 offers a Hosted Exchange service, which transforms the mature, business-proven on-premise application to an on-demand service. Compared to Google Apps, it is quite newbeing introduced only last June this year, although its suite of products in an alternate form has been around for much earlier.

  1. Storage. Microsoft’s Hosted Exchange email service gives users 25GB of storage. Attachment file sizes are limited to 35MB. Additional storage can be purchased for $2.5 per GB per user per month.
  2. Calendaring and Task Management. Exchange integrates a mature feature set for personal productivity including calendaring, resource management, and task management. As an example tasks can be grouped, color coded and easily sorted. Emails can be converted as tasks and so on.
  3. Spam filtering, security and reliability. This is an area where perhaps Microsoft easily outshines Google with Exchange’s roots as an enterprise-class application. It offers spam protection, antivirus and others via Microsoft’s Forefore Online Protection for Exchange technology. It offers other features such as more full features user management, identity access management, mail archiving, etc. If you are in a highly regulated industry like financial services or healthcare these features may be essential for your business.
  4. Usability. While the web apps of Office 365 is not as fast loading or as slick as Google, it does offer familiarity. Modeled after their desktop brethren, or directly integrating with themthey offer a smoother migration experience for users specially if they have been weaned on Outlook.
  5. Mobile access. Like Gmail Microsoft made sure to support a variety of devices on launch, as well as integration with a variety of devicesspecially enterprise stalwarts like Blackberry mobile phones.

Overall Office 365 is a solid choice if you are thinking of moving email to the cloud but may be hesitant with changing the apps your users already know and use. Also if you are a business with strict policies related to security and compliancethis service may be something your auditors and IT people may be more comfortable with.

Interested in learning more? Can’t decide which to try? Let us know and find out how we can help get you the right balance between your existing IT systems and infrastructure and the cloud.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
Topic Article
August 15th, 2011

It’s the dilemma of many smaller businesses lacking the budget for advertising that many of their bigger competitors have to be able to establish a better presence in a specific market. However, the rise of the use of social networks now allows these smaller firms to reach thousands to millions of people at a fraction of the cost of traditional advertising and marketing.

One of the most difficult challenges smaller businesses face is having a bigger presence in the market. While many of these companies offer good, quality services at much more affordable rates, they are many times overshadowed by larger firms that have bigger budgets to spend on marketing, advertising, and the like.

Things have changed, though, with the advent of social networking. What was once a simple, social, get-to-know-each-other tool between people on the internet has now evolved into a tool that small businesses can take advantage of in order to get their voices heard.

The gist of social networking for business is the simple concept of reaching potentially millions of people at a mere fraction of what is normally spent on advertising and traditional marketing. The wide reach of social media allows businesses to find their voices and showcase what they can do. The playing field then moves from an unfair balance of advertising budgets to a battle of service quality and value for money, as it should be and many smaller firms can compete effectively in this arena.

There are many ways to tap into the social networking phenomenon to boost your online presence and aid in your marketing. If you are interested in knowing more about this, please contact us and we’ll be glad to assist you in developing strategies that fit your specific requirements and needs.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
Topic Article
August 11th, 2011

While it is the concern of every business to be as cost-effective as possible, it is not a good idea to skimp on your investment in a proper and solid security system for your business data and information. For instance, cost-cutting on your router/firewall might seem like a good idea at the start, but in the long term, it’s a risk you cannot afford to take.

In business, protecting important information and data is paramount. This is why it is recommended for any sort of business to invest in a security system that will prevent any cyber-attacks that might be launched against you.

Unfortunately, though, it’s lost on many that a security system is not just made up of one single thing software, better staff, better hardware, et cetera. A good and solid security system is composed of several factors working together to create a virtual chain that envelops your business and keeps it safe.

And one of the most underestimated links in this chain is the router/firewall. Many businesses are content using the most basic and cheapest option available on the market, without realizing that their security chain is only as strong as its weakest link. And if you make do with a cheap router/firewall, odds are you’ll get what you pay for not much.

While basic routers might work fine for homes or individual users, it is a much different scenario when it comes to business operations where basic just doesn’t cut it. Plus, there’s more at stake with business data, so why take the risk with cheap routers that lack the proper security features?

With viruses, malware, and the cyber thieves behind them continuing to grow and evolve, it is important that you understand what it takes to protect your system and your data – and invest in the best solution. Remember that it can take only one incident, one infiltration, to bring your whole business down.

We realize that every system is different and every business has its own specific needs, so if you want to know more about getting the right router/firewall for you, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
Topic Article
August 8th, 2011

For many people, smartphones have become essential tools in conducting not only personal communications, but also for business purposes as well. However, the rise in smartphone use has also increased the number of models released into the market, which can confuse would-be buyers. A few pointers are in order to help put things into perspective.

For many people these days, smartphones have become more of a necessity than a luxury. Being able to stay in touch through constant access to the internet and the thousands of mobile smartphone applications available has made smartphones an indispensable tool.

But with the boom in smartphone use, there also comes a conundrum for many: Which smartphone should I get? With so many choices out there, it’s becoming difficult and confusing to pick the right one. Here are a few quick and simple tips that you might find useful when canvassing the market:

1. Know what you want.
What do you need a smartphone for? Each handset has its own strengths and weaknesses. There are smartphones that integrate email and web browsing and put more focus on multimedia such as audio and video while there are other no-frills, no-nonsense models that trim features down to those that are the most basic and essential.

2. Consider your carrier.
Carriers are important because there are some smartphones that are only available with certain carriers, or carriers that limit certain features of a particular smartphone. You do have the option of getting an unlocked phone (meaning the device does not come with carrier requirements), but this has its own set of pros and cons that you have to weigh as well.

3. Get a feel for your choices.
Nothing beats actual experience, so visit local stores to get the physical feel of each phone. Is the keypad big (or small) enough for you? Is the device too thick or too thin? Do you like the user interface or is it too complicated for you? These are just some of the questions that you can answer once you get an idea of how it actually feels to use them yourself.

4. User feedback is important.
Talk not only to sales people but also to other people you know. Your friends and acquaintances have actual experience with various smartphones, so ask them what concerns and issues they have with their particular models.

If you have additional inquiries about how you can better use your smartphone for your business, please give us a call and we’ll be happy to assist you.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
Topic Article
August 1st, 2011

VoIP is now within easy reach for everyoneincluding small businesses. Here are the top ten reasons you should switch to using VoIP and VoIP phones for your business. Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) is basically technology that allows you to make and receive calls over data networks.

Instead of traditional phone services which channel analog signals such as the sound of your voice over copper wires, VoIP converts these sounds to digital form firstso that they can be sliced, diced, packaged, and routed over a digital network.

Because VoIP technology uses the same ideas behind data networking, and allows the use of the same networks used by computers, voice traffic can also be routed through the Internet as well. Suddenly you can now dramatically reduce the cost of voice communications, as well as achieve creative combinations of both services to create new applications for use.

With today’s advancements in technology, and the constant lowering of prices as technology achieves mass adoption, VoIP is now within easy reach for most businesseseven small ones. In fact, many have already made the switch to an all-VoIP infrastructure, using a combination of VoIP phones and VoIP communication systems.
Here are ten reasons why you may want to consider switching to VoIP for your phone and office communication systems:

  1. VoIP can allow you to dramatically reduce the cost of communications, especially for interstate or international communications, since everything can go through the Internet instead of having to go through expensive long distance toll charges.
  2. You can make and receive calls from multiple devicesfor instance, on a dedicated phone, your PC via a software-based phone, or even a mobile phone with VoIP capabilities.
  3. It’s easier to add extensions to your phone. You can provide a local number or extension for all your staff without additional costs or cabling.
  4. VoIP allows companies to maximize investments already made in their network infrastructure. The same network that handles the flow of data such web access and email can now accommodate voice as wellno need to add and maintain additional wires and devices.
  5. VoIP allows your employees to be more productive and efficient by giving them the ability to receive and make calls anywhere with a data connection.
  6. VoIP reduces the complexity associated with having to manage multiple networks and devices for communication. A company can potentially set up their office network so that each employee can use a single device such as a computer or a smart fixed or mobile phone to handle everything from email, chat, messages, faxes, and more.
  7. You can use VoIP as a tool for real-time collaboration along with video conferencing and screen sharing.
  8. You can potentially unify your communication channels, streamlining communications and information managementfor instance, marrying email with fax and voice in one inbox.
  9. You can employ presence technologies that come standard with VoIP phones and VoIP communication systems. This technology can tell colleagues about your presence or give you info on the status and whereabouts of your staff.
  10. You can employ intelligence into how your calls are handled, such as: providing automatic call routing based on the number, time of day, etc; providing an interactive voice response when a call comes in, such as voice prompts that guide callers; call reporting; and more.

VoIP is certainly a technology that has come of age. It’s cheap, ubiquitous, and easy to use. Interested? Contact us and we can help you make the switch to VoIP for your business today!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
Topic Article
July 29th, 2011

The iPad continues to impress analysts with its sales performance, with nearly 9.25 million of the devices sold last quarter alone, an upward trend from just 4 to 5 million in previous periods last year. It may be just a matter of time before iPads start becoming just another device, like the cellphone, that people routinely bring to work. Is there a place for the iPad in your business? Read on to find out how the iPad can be put to work in businesses like yours.

The iPad for many is a revolutionary device in that it brings the full power and experience of computing into a form that is easy to hold, easy to transport, and easy to use. Manufactured by Apple, the device uses the same operating system as its earlier iPod Touch and iPhone devices. And just like its smaller brethren it does away with conventional input devices like the mouse or keyboard, instead requiring just the user’s fingers to touch, navigate, and interact with the operating system and installed applications.

Key to the success of the device has been the availability of thousands of applications from third-party software vendors – in fact, nearly a hundred thousand of them. These applications range in categories from entertainment, media, education, and even productivity and business. Using these productivity and business applications for the iPad, you can effectively use these devices in the workplace. Here are some specific work scenarios in which you may want to consider the iPad in your business operations:

For presentations. Because of its portability, the iPad makes a great device for showing and sharing presentations. Applications like Apple’s Keynote allow you to import and edit PowerPoint presentations. Accessories allow you to connect the device to a monitor or projector. If you’re thinking of doing virtual presentations, there are iPad apps that allow you to do that as wellletting you stream your presentation via the Internet.

For Communication and Collaboration. The iPad has built-in applications for emailing, plus more can be added to support audio and even video conferencing. If you want to manage meetings, the iPad’s built-in calendar and address book apps make it a great replacement for a planner, while its larger screen makes it easier to read and manage than your cellphone or smartphone. It has built-in support for third-party mail and calendar applications like Microsoft Exchange, Google Mail, and Calendar. You can also download and use additional applications to help you manage your tasks, monitor projects, share files, post and read stuff in your social networks, and much more.

For field assignments. The iPad’s light weight and portability make it a great companion while out on the road. You can install and configure VPN clients to securely connect to your office network when in the field, or use any of the business applications you use in the officeespecially cloud-based ones. Again, using the built-in productivity tools you can use the iPad to manage your itinerary while on assignment.

For travel. As a travel companion the iPad is unmatched, with a wide breadth of apps for managing flight and hotel booking information, expenses, and more. Use the built-in tools to manage your travel itinerary, and use the communication and collaboration tools to check on progress at the office. During lulls, breaks, or after office hours, easily shift modes and use the iPad as a media viewer or news reader for information and entertainment.

Industry-specific apps. There are dozens more business cases in which the iPad can be put to work. For example, as a store or point-of-sale display, or even a point-of-sale device. Companies are using it to replace manuals, and schools are using it to replace stacks of books.

There are many more ways the iPad can be used for business. Are you considering using it for your business as well? Do you know of other uses? Let us know!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
Topic Article
July 11th, 2011

While Microsoft’s Internet Explorer enjoys a wide following including many businesses, the downside is that it becomes a prime target for hackers to exploit and abuse. One such instance is the recent discovery of a new flaw that allows hackers to “cookiejack” or hijack information from cookies from any website.

Despite a few flaws, Internet Explorer remains one of the most commonly used browsers in businesses today, making it a ripe target for hackers looking for security flaws to exploit.

One such flaw has been discovered recently by a security researcher in Italy. Dubbed “cookiejacking”, the flaw allows hackers to hijack a cookie of any website, thereby allowing them to gain access to passwords, credit card information, and various other data stored in the cookie. The flaw is found in any version of Internet Explorer in any version of Windows.

However, users must first drag and drop an item before the exploit can be activated. It might sound like a bit of a stretch, but hackers are known for their creativity, so expect that a seemingly appropriate situation will be presented in which you will find it perfectly normal to do a drag-and-drop action.

Microsoft responded to the threat by labeling it as “low risk”, citing the level of user interaction required for cookiejacking to occur. It did, however, encourage users to be more vigilant and alert, as well as to refrain from clicking suspicious links and visiting dubious websites.

Regardless of what platform or OS you use, there is always the constant threat from cyberattacks all it takes is one attack to break through and put important business data at risk. It is essential to always educate users on how to avoid being victimized by scams and hacks, and to have the right security software to ensure that your company’s information is safe and secure.

If you are interested in user training for security and / or better security protocols, please give us a call and we’ll be happy to draw up a custom security blueprint that’s tailor-made to meet your needs.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
Topic Article
July 4th, 2011

Securing your business data is twofold. The first part entails having the right security software and security policies. The second is providing the right user training to your employees, making them more aware of the different scams and ploys used in socially engineered cyber-attacks.

One of the things many people fail to realize is that securing business data from malware and other sorts of cyber-attacks doesn’t stop with implementing the right security software. These days, cyber-criminals also use all sorts of tricks to bait unsuspecting employees into being catalysts for malware entering your system.

Reports cite that as much as 60 percent of cyber and malware attacks on businesses are done through social engineering meaning that instead of a direct attack on your system, hackers are using ploys found on email and social networks to get people in your organization to unwittingly introduce malware into your IT infrastructure.

This is why it’s equally important to put emphasis on training your employees to recognize common cyber-attack strategies such as phishing, or how to use proper virus scanning software so any external or thumb drives they plug into their computers are malware-free. Remember, it only takes one mistake from a gullible employee to open the gates of your system to keyloggers and other sorts of malware and viruses.

Keeping your company’s IT system safe is an investment. Getting the right security protocols and then training your employees to not only use and respect these protocols but also be more aware about security risks goes a long way in keeping your data safe and your operations stable.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
Topic Article
June 30th, 2011

MacDefender is the name of a newly discovered malware program that targets Mac OS X users. Disguised as an anti-virus program for Macs, it dupes and if that fails, bullies users into entering credit card information to pay for fake anti-virus software.

It is a widely held belief that one of the reasons Macs are superior to other systems is because of their ‘invulnerability’ to viruses, malware, and similar threats. All well and good, except for the fact that a recent rogue anti-virus malware that specifically attack Mac OS X systems has been discovered.

So much for the ‘Mac = no virus’ myth.

Called the ‘MacDefender’ and also known as Mac Security and Mac Protector, this malware tricks users by having them think that their system is under attack. It begins when users visit a malicious website where the program automatically downloads itself to the computer. If you have the “Open safe files after downloading” option selected, it automatically installs itself onto the system. The original installation package is then also automatically deleted.

Next, a new menu item appears on the Mac OS X menubar. You’ll see a small orange shield that becomes red, which supposedly means that there are viruses in your system. You’ll then be prompted to “register” which involves giving out your credit card information – to a website to clean the virus. If you don’t, the malware will then direct your browser to porn sites to ‘encourage’ you to register and pay up.

To know more about how MacDefender works, check out this video.

While Macs are certainly targeted less than Windows systems, the threat of getting infected by viruses and malware is very real, especially if myths like Macs being impervious to viruses persist. To know more about protecting yourself from threats like these, please contact us so we can draw up a plan to keep your system safe and secure.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
Topic Article
June 28th, 2011

Google is testing the waters of the electronic wallet with retail and online shopping industries by introducing a new service called Google Wallet. Google Wallet allows users to make purchases and earn loyalty points and coupons all from a single smartphone.

Smartphone technology has grown by leaps and bounds these past few years, and having a smartphone these days is almost synonymous to being online all the time. Software giant Google has decided to tap into this phenomenon with a new service called “Google Wallet”, which enables users to make purchases and payments from their smartphones.

Partnering with Mastercard, Macy’s, Subway, American Eagle, Citibank, and Sprint, Google assures users that their e-wallet service is safe. The service requires that smartphones have a special chip that allows the user to simply “tap” or “swipe” the phone at participating stores to pay for merchandise or services. When you swipe your smartphone’s e-wallet, you also earn coupons and points for rewards.

The technology is also designed so that the user can turn the chip off when Google Wallet is not being used, making it safe from hackers. If the smartphone is lost, the data can also be wiped remotely.

A similar system to Google Wallet has been operational in some countries including Japan for some time now, but its use is limited to only certain areas and stores there.

While the concept of Google Wallet has great potential, there are still several limitations to the system as Google continues to look for more partners for the enterprise before its official launch, which is slated for within a month or two.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
Topic Article
June 20th, 2011

As more and more incidents of online identity theft are reported, it’s important that users become more aware of how they can prevent themselves from becoming the next victim of identity theft. Following some simple tips can help you make your online experience a much more secure one.

Security experts are seeing a rise in the incidence of cyber-crime these days as more and more people use the web for their day-to-day needs. No one is spared both businesses and private individuals have become victims of opportunistic cyber-criminals who take advantage of loopholes in security systems and a lack of foresight and alertness on the part of users.

One common cyber-crime is identity theft, in which hackers steal and assume the identity and personal information of someone else. Under the guise of the usually unknowing victim, these unscrupulous individuals commit fraud or other crimes.

While there is no 100% guaranteed way to be safe from identity theft when online, there are a number of steps you can take to protect your identity and your data.

  1. Have the right security software. One of the keys to keeping your identity and data secure is having the proper security software in place to protect your system. Also make sure to update the software regularly.
  2. Know the modus operandi. It’s also important to be aware of the different scams and techniques hackers use, such as phishing, which involves duping the user into clicking a legitimate-looking (but fake) link that has the victim enter personal information or download a file that introduces malware into the system. The rule of thumb is that if an email is unsolicited, there is a high probability of it being a scam or phishing email.
  3. Be stingy with your personal information. Be sure to only fill out personal information on sites that are legitimate and that you trust, and even then, only if you absolutely need to. Check and double check things like the URL or the company’s tag line to know if a site is what it says it is and whether it is secure. Phishing sites also look legit but a careful look should be enough to tip you off that something’s amiss.
  4. Create unique passwords. The more complicated your passwords are, the harder they are to guess or hack. So don’t pick generic passwords like “password” or “12345″ or things like your birthday or wedding anniversary. The best passwords are alphanumeric – a combination of both letters and numbers.
  5. Secure wireless networks. It’s important to allow only the right people to have access to your wireless networks. Besides saving bandwidth, this also prevents leechers and hackers from using your connection to tap into your system or use it for unscrupulous activities.

To know more about keeping your identity and data secure, please give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss a custom security solution that meets your specific needs.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
Topic Article
June 13th, 2011

Losing data to a natural or man-made disaster can be devastating but the protective actions you can take are not.

What would happen to your business if you had a major data loss? The possibility is definitely there; this can’t be denied. Data loss disasters come in many forms, ranging from simple human errors to “acts of God” that cannot be controlled. However, you can control how you prepare for them.

Here are eight questions you can ask yourself to test your disaster preparedness.

  1. First: Do we back up our data?
  2. It’s amazing how many small businesses do not have a backup system in place. It’s so easy to assume disaster won’t strike you. But data loss doesn’t always come from huge, cinema-worthy disasters. They can result from simple everyday errors – yet have huge disastrous results. Don’t let this be you.

  3. Do we back up all of our account information?
  4. Many small businesses tend to keep their accounts data on one employee’s PC, instead of the network which is on their backup schedule. But what if you lose your customer database? Be sure it’s included in the files to be backed up.

  5. Do we back up our email files?
  6. Ever wish you had that one email from a few months back, in which a customer gave you the “go ahead” but now they’re refusing to pay for your work? These days, email is increasingly used as legal evidence of agreements or notices to proceed. If they’re included in your backup, you can easily pull up even deleted emails received or sent.

  7. Is our Calendar and Contact information backed up?
  8. What if you came to work one morning and your online calendar and address book was gone? What appointments and communications would you miss, and at what cost? Most of the time, by default your Outlook Contact and Calendar files are stored on the individual PCs. Make sure these files are included in your backup set.

  9. Do we back up folders and files from each computer?
  10. In addition to important information that is stored in shared networks, think about the files that each of your employees create and use on their own hard drives. Spreadsheets, letters, memos, databases wouldn’t it be a shame to lose all that work?

  11. Are we always saving our files to an area that will be backed up?
  12. Consider where each and every file your work on is being saved. Will it be included in your backups? Develop policies and educate your employees on where to save their work so it’s included in your backup schedule.

  13. Do we back up data frequently enough?
  14. This answer to this question is how much work are you willing to risk? Say you complete an important contract on Tuesday morning, and an employee accidentally deletes it that afternoon. But you only run backups on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Bye-bye contract! A more frequent backup schedule would have saved the day.

  15. Do we know where our backups are and how to use them?
  16. If you use USB drives, external hard drives, or backup tapes for your backups, are you storing them offsite in a safe place? Even if your files are backed up to the cloud, do you know how to recover them in case of an emergency? Knowing your backup system and keeping it safe will ensure you can get back to business quickly and efficiently.

Even if you already have a backup system in place, take a few moments to think about your specific business. If the unthinkable happened, exactly what data would you need to get back up and running? What could you not operate without? Once you identify these things, simply make sure they are included in your backup.

Need help? We’re experts in guiding small businesses in setting up a backup system that meets their unique needs. Give us a call today to discuss the options available to keep your business data safe and sound.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
Topic Article
June 9th, 2011

The ROI Series: Calculating the ROI of a Technology Investment—Part 4. Cost savings are usually important to small businesses even in the best of times. New technology solutions may be necessary for survival and growth, howeverand they may not be as expensive as you think when you consider their return on investment (ROI). In this four-part series, we’ll explain what ROI is, help you understand indirect ROI, and provide guidelines for predicting and measuring the ROI of a technology investment.

Part 4: Measuring ROI

If you’ve been following this series, you’ve already learned what ROI is and how you can use it to make sure your technology implementations are profitable. But the process doesn’t stop there: it’s important, once you’ve implemented a new technology solution, to track its benefits.

There are many direct and indirect benefits of implementing new technology, as we’ve describedbut in most cases, companies don’t know what they are.

In many cases, what you measure is clear. Consider a service company that implements customer service software designed to help phone representatives more quickly resolve customer issues. To determine ROI, the company simply measures the number of calls per employee before and after implementing the software.

In other cases, companies don’t measure what we call the relevant “value drivers.” Some companies don’t know what to measure; others know what to measure but don’t know how to do it. The end result: only 17 percent of CFOs measure ROI for outsourcing projects, according to Hewitt Associates.

As an example of how this could happen, consider a manufacturing company that implements software designed to reduce errors in a product line, thereby improving quality. While the company may be tracking the increase in quality (in the form of fewer returned goods, for example), it may not be considering other value drivers. How about waste? We can assume that quality has improved, fewer products have been scrappedbut the company doesn’t have a business process in place that can track costs incurred from waste.

How do you identify value drivers? Follow the workflow. IT will always impact your business processes in some way. For example, it might eliminate, create, or change a business process. So to identify value drivers, look at the results you hope to achieve from these business process changes.

As an example, consider the service company we referenced previously. As a result of its new customer service software, the company might reduce its customer service employees from five to four. This change in business process shows that one value driver is the reduction in labor costs due to increased efficiency, resulting in a direct ROI. Another value driver might be improved customer service, resulting in an indirect ROI.

As another example, consider a company that implements software to track employee performance against objectives. In the past, it has paid bonuses randomly; now it has a methodology. This change in business process shows that one value driver is the savings in bonuses not paid due to non-performance, resulting in a direct ROI. Another value driver might be improved employee morale and effort, resulting in an indirect ROI.

Generally, a year of data collection should be sufficient to determine the changes in costs and revenues that will drive both direct and indirect ROI, providing you with solid data to determine just how effective your IT investment has been.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
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June 6th, 2011

Security experts are discovering an emerging trend in cyber-crime these days as more and more SMBs become attractive targets for cyber-thieves because of their inadequate security measures. Reports have shown that cyber-criminals can siphon off as much as $70 million worth of accumulated resources.

There is a misconception among many SMBs that they are small targets for would-be cyber-attacks. “We’re too small a company to be of any worth” is the mindset of many. However, there is an ongoing trend in which smaller companies actually find themselves victims of the most elaborate and vicious cyber-attacks.

Why? Security experts are discovering that SMBs tend to have less or inferior security protocols in place to counter cyber-attacks. While this was of little consequence in the past, cyber criminals are now starting to take notice of the fact, and are exploiting it to their advantage. And it’s profitable too an attack on one SMB might not amount to as much as a larger organization, but given the greater ease through which hackers can attack smaller businesses, they more than make up for the difference in the volume of companies they target. According to several news reports, these cyber-thieves can make off with as much as $70 million.

The more unfortunate fact is that smaller companies are less able to counteract the effects of losses from cyber-attacks. This is why you should stay one step ahead of cyber-thieves by updating your security systems. Short term or long term, it’s a practical solution to keep information and data safe, and your operations stable. Give us a call today we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
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June 2nd, 2011

The ROI Series: Calculating the ROI of a Technology Investment—Part 3. Cost savings are usually important to small businesses even in the best of times. New technology solutions may be necessary for survival and growth, howeverand they may not be as expensive as you think when you consider their return on investment (ROI). In this four-part series, we’ll explain what ROI is, help you understand indirect ROI, and provide guidelines for predicting and measuring the ROI of a technology investment.

Part 3: Predicting ROI

As we explained in part 2 of this series, you can’t measure ROI simply by asking what a technology implementation will do for your bottom line. However, if the new technology leads different parts of your company to collaborate, which in turn produces better goods and services that lead to top-line growth, then your ROI is likely strong. Getting at those indirect ROI numbers, however, may be the greatest challenge of ROI analysis. Few models exist to guide you, and with good reason: determining ROI involves looking at many components, then applying those components to your particular situation. But there are things you must take into account, from both a cost and a benefit perspective, when considering the ROI of a technology investment.

  • Your existing technology infrastructure. There are few companies without existing technologies in place, and any new solution will need to work with these systems to be effective. There will likely be costs associated with the new technology’s impact on existing systemsbut there will also be benefits. For example, a new technology might automate the tracking of hourly employees’ work hours. Or, it might offer more efficient collaboration.
  • Your business processes. A new technology can clearly improve your business processes by reducing downtime, improving productivity, and lowering costs. But implementing the new technology will likely involve training staff in using the technologyand that can have associated costs.
  • Your external relationships. Finally, no business is an island. Your systems may link to customer and vendor systems. As a result, any new technology may impose constraints on or require changes of external organizations or individualsin the way information is delivered or received, for example.

To solve this puzzle, it can be helpful to ask three different but related questions about the technology solution’s direct and indirect costs as well as its efficiency.

  • Direct costs: Can you afford the technologyand will it pay for itself? To answer these questions, you’ll need to know the cost of the solution itself and the monetary value of the resources used to implement it, measured in standard financial terms. You’ll then compare the dollar cost of all expenditures to the expected return in terms of the projected savings and revenue increases. You may need to project the cost and return over a multi-month or multi-year time span in order to show a payback period.
  • Indirect costs: How much bang for your buck will you realize? Now the analysis becomes more complex. Analyzing the effectiveness of a technology solution requires you to look at its costs in relation to how effective it is at producing the desired resultsin essence, to expand your measurement of ROI beyond cost savings and revenue increases to include performance relative to your company’s goals.
  • Efficiency: Is this the most you can get for this much investment? Finally, you’ll want to ask whether the technology will produce the greatest possible value relative to its direct and indirect costs. That can present difficulties, as it will require you to conduct a similar analysis on many alternatives, perhaps simulating the performance of the alternatives in some way.

These three types of measurements differ in several ways. While the first is based simply on financial metrics, the second includes the quality of goods or services, customer satisfaction, employee morale, or in the case of some companies (such as manufacturers of “green” products or non-profits), social or political benefits. All of these measurements, however, will help you answer the same basic question: Which technology investments will pay off in the long term?

In the next part of this series, we offer specific tips for measuring ROI.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
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June 1st, 2011

Bus Stop WiFiThe convenience and practicality of using public Wi-Fi hotspots is undeniable, but it can also be a problem should hackers decide to exploit network loopholes and gain access to the people connected to it. It’s important to have the proper protection to keep your system safe.

These days, Wi-Fi is everywhere. Airports, coffee shops, train and bus stations, malls almost every public place you can think offers Wi-Fi connectivity. Being connected to the internet has evolved from luxury to necessity, and whether it’s for personal or business reasons people are online as much as possible.

This is all well and good, except when you consider that hackers have started to extend their playing field to public Wi-Fi networks. With the volume of sensitive information such as passwords and financial transactions, it’s inevitable that crooks and fraudsters move to public networks where there is more potential to illegally farm large chunks of information.

Two things are important about this emerging trend. First, it’s the very nature of public networks that makes them vulnerable to attack. Second, hacking has become much easier these days, with very simple hacking programs such as Firesheep easily downloadable from the web.

However, the solution is simple as well: have the proper security protocols on your smartphone or laptop. It’s unfortunate that many people neglect to recognize the importance of such policies, and only have minimal security (if any at all) to guard against attacks. But as long as you have the proper protocols in place, you can stay connected even through public Wi-Fi without fear of hacking or any sort of intrusion into your system.

If you want to know more about keeping your portable devices safe from attacks, please feel free to contact us. We’ll be glad to explain the issue in more detail and draw up a solution customized to fit your needs.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
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May 30th, 2011

Are you concerned about the safety of your data if it’s stored “in the cloud”? Cloud computing is a relatively new trend among businesses today, and with the right preparation and knowledge it can be an economical and effective solution to data management challenges. You just need to know the right questions to ask when selecting a provider.

A few weeks ago, Amazon suffered several days of outage in its EC2 and RDS service, bringing down dozens if not hundreds of services along with itincluding such high-profile sites as Reddit, Heroku, Foursquare, Quora, and many others. Although the cause of that outage has been analyzed extensively in many forums, the discussion is interesting and relevant because it brings attention to the lesson that wherever or whomever you entrust your data to—be it in the “cloud” or to a big company like Amazonit pays to be smart about how you manage your data, especially if it’s critical to your business.

Understand your options. When someone else is managing your data, it’s easy to leave the details to them. However, making sure that you at least have some understanding of what your options are in what different service providers can offer you will pay dividends later if something goes wrong, since you’ll be better equipped to make an informed decision on the spot. Things you should look at include:

  • Who is the service provider? What is their history? Who is behind them? What is their track record?
  • Where do they store your data? Do they own the servers where your data is stored or do they rely on someone else?
  • Is your data stored within the local area (i.e., a drive away) or is it distributed all over the map?
  • Do they provide a mirror of your data within your own server, or is everything in their data centers?
  • What measures do they employ to make sure your data is safe?
  • What methods do they employ to ensure you can get to your data when you need it?
  • Do they provide service level assurances or guarantees to back up their claims?

These are just some of the basic questions you should be asking of your service provider.

Do a test drive. Often you will not know exactly how a service works until the rubber hits the road, so to speak. Ask your service provider for a demo or a trial period. Test how fast it is to back up your data, but more importantly how fast you can bring it back when you need it. This is especially important if you’re talking about gigabytes of data. Understand that doing backups in the cloud can be hampered by your bandwidth and many other components of your system and theirs.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Some service providers give users the option of storing data in multiple sites, to ensure that your data is safe if one site goes down. But why rely on just one service provider when you can get the services of multiple providers instead? Or perhaps better yet, why not manage some of your data on your own? While it may be complex and costly to reproduce what many service providers can provide today, it is relatively easy to set up a simple system to keep at least some of your really, really important data locally by using an unused computer or a relatively cheap, network-attached storage device or secondary/removable drive that you can buy at your local store.

Create a plan and write it down. Unforeseen occurrences can and will happennot only from your side but from your service provider’s as well. When they do happen, you will need to have a contingency plan ready, often referred to as a Business Continuity Plan. Make sure to document your plan in writing, and communicate it to everyone in your organization so they will know what to do in case disaster strikes.

With its promise of unprecedented efficiency, reliability, scalability, and cost savings, cloud computing and storing your data in the cloud is the topic du jour these days. However, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the basic due diligence that’s necessary regardless of how or where your data is stored. Ultimately, it is your business on the line—and being prudent and proactive about how your data is stored, managed, and (most importantly) recovered in times of need will save you much grief when you actually need it.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
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May 26th, 2011

The ROI Series: Calculating the ROI of a Technology Investment—Part 2. Cost savings are usually important to small businesses even in the best of times. New technology solutions may be necessary for survival and growth, however—and they may not be as expensive as you think when you consider their return on investment (ROI). In this four-part series, we’ll explain what ROI is, help you understand indirect ROI, and provide guidelines for predicting and measuring the ROI of a technology investment.

PART 2: The Indirect Benefits of Technology Implementation

It’s easy to see the direct benefits of new technology, such as reduced headcount or increased revenues. That’s because they show up as line items on financial statements. But it’s also important to consider the indirect benefits: an ROI that cannot be easily quantified but is nonetheless realized.

A good example of an indirect ROI is employee productivity. When you implement new technology, employees can perform their jobs better and faster. For example, an application that facilitates better communication between attorneys and clients at a law firm may not generate a direct return by reducing head count, but it can significantly improve the quality of service clients receive while giving attorneys more time to focus on value-added tasks, such as sales. That, in turn, will increase clients and profits—a very clear indirect return.

All technology generates some indirect returns, but how much is direct and how much is indirect? One research firm found that direct returns account for only half of technology ROI. Less than 50 percent of companies that implemented a document management system saw a direct ROI, while 84 percent saw an indirect ROI in the form of measurable increases in employee productivity.

To determine how much of a proposed implementation’s ROI is indirect, you must consider three key factors: the kind of technology being implemented, the areas in which it will be implemented, and your current IT environment.

  • The kind of technology being implemented. While all technology provides some indirect ROI, some technology generates more. For example, supply chain software can improve productivity, but most of its ROI is direct, in the form of reduced inventory and transportation costs. On the other hand, collaboration software may have a huge impact on worker productivity by reducing the time it takes to execute group-oriented tasks, such as sharing information and coordinating meetings. Likewise, content management systems tend to generate significant indirect ROI by leading to faster filing and decreased retrieval times.
  • The areas in which technology will be implemented. Where and how you deploy technology will also impact the portion of its ROI that is indirect. As an example, consider a business intelligence dashboard. Depending on how it is used, ROI could be more direct or indirect. If it is used to give a logistics manager the ability to better monitor and control transportation costs, the ROI is primarily direct. If it is used to provide financial analysts with quicker access to monthly metrics, the primary benefit will be time savings, an indirect ROI.
  • Your current IT environment. Finally, the extent to which a new technology’s ROI is direct or indirect may depend on how much change the technology leads to. Consider an application that tracks employee hours. A company that has manually collected time will see significant direct ROI in a reduction of the number of timekeepers needed. On the other hand, a company that already has an automated attendance process will see more indirect ROI in the form of efficiencies through time savings.

Indirect ROI may not be readily visible, but it is critical to driving business value. A business that ignores indirect ROI, choosing not to improve its technology because there is no direct ROI, will not be able to keep up with competitors.

In the next part of this series, we offer specific tips for predicting ROI.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
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May 23rd, 2011

silhouette of woman working on computerIT support isn’t just technology support; it’s business support. That’s because using IT as a strategic asset can differentiate your company and increase your profits. Be one of the few companies that really “gets” IT. Ask us how you can use it to gain an edge.

Differentiate your company and increase your profitswith IT

It’s easy to think of IT as a tool that comes with a costbut doing so is a big mistake. That’s because IT, when used properly, can be a strategic asset. It can make your information more accurate, improve your employees’ response time, and even differentiate your company in the marketplace.

To make IT a strategic asset as opposed to a tool, it needs to add value. To determine where to make improvement, you’ll want to look at your value chain, which includes all the activities your business performs, and ask which ones earn profits. For example, if you’re a manufacturer, better IT could result in more efficient supply purchasing. If you’re a retailer, better IT could result in fewer units needing after-sales service and repair. Focus on improving IT in those areas and you’ll likely improve profits.

An added benefit of this exercise: The use of IT in a new way may create even more opportunities for your company. For example, the Internet allowed Apple to invent iTunes, and now mp3 downloads have overtaken CD sales. Even small businesses can experience this. Case in point: The invention of iTunes has given many startup software companies a distribution channel for apps that otherwise may not have been invented. But the idea doesn’t have to be visionary in this way: YourLittleFilm.com, a small business that creates custom short films, used customer relationship management (CRM) software to help follow up on business leads, and got a 10 percent response rate.

How and where you add value with IT developments will depend on your business model. There is little point, for example, in automating production if your customers cherish hand-made products. However, you might find that investing in a CRM system might give you a more efficient way to track your customers’ preferences and provide them with a more personalized service.

Using your IT as a strategic asset gives you tools to manage clients worldwide, increases your visibility, and lets you compete with much larger players. Contact us to find out how you can use technology to gain an edge.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
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