September 24th, 2014

As your company grows, there comes a time when you start to think about replacing your accounting system with an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. There are lots of reasons that most growing companies hesitate to make the change, including:

  • Extra work for employees during the implementation,
  • The expected cost of the software and services,
  • Concerns that the system will be hard to use.

While these are all valid concerns, the nature of ERP implementations is changing. There is much greater flexibility in rolling out the software over time to minimize the disruption of business and spread out costs. ERP systems are becoming easier to use, and younger employees want to work with modern systems.

What is the real value of upgrading to ERP?

Interestingly, as the difficulty of ERP implementations has declined, the importance of smaller businesses improving their businesses processes has increased. Customer expectations have changed significantly with the wide adoption of the internet. High service value companies like Amazon set a high bar for all businesses to meet.

Even your long term, loyal customers may be tempted to shop around if your business processes make it difficult for them to work with you.  Switching from an accounting system to ERP allows you to centralize information and automate processes. Employees can focus more on individual customer service and less on paperwork. ERP will help you:

  • Deliver on expectations.  When you know exactly what you have in the warehouse, you can fulfill those special orders faster. When you can schedule services during one call with the customer or provide online self-scheduling, you make your clients life easier. ERP can help you simplify fulfillment processes
  • Deliver better customer service. Your biggest advantage as a small or midsize business is the personal attention you can give to every customer. If your employees spent less time looking for information, could they spend more time understanding customer needs? An ERP system will help your employees automate processes to focus their time on customers. 
  • Spot opportunities.  Data in the systems that you currently run don’t do you any good if you can’t put it all together to analyze. An integrated ERP system allows you to combine data from all points within your business to give you insights into results and trends. Identify the products with increasing sales to build momentum and clear out the products that don’t move.

The benefits of moving to ERP continue to grow, while the challenges continue to dissipate. Let’s talk about how you can get ahead of your customer’s expectations and beat out the competition. Contact us today to learn more about our ERP solutions.

July 25th, 2014

BusinessValue_July21_AWhen it comes to the technology in your business, it can often be a challenge to keep it running smoothly and working effectively. Frankly, many small business owners simply can’t keep up and their business can suffer as a result. To avoid this, one of the smartest things you can do is outsource your IT to a Managed Service Provider (MSP).

What is an MSP?

When small to medium businesses look to outsource the management of their technology, many turn to a Managed Services Provider. These service providers function as partners in the management of a business’s technology and often assume responsibility for managing, installing, and monitoring all, or at least a large part, of your tech on your behalf.

Because many of these IT partners are focused on technology services, they can often provide technology services equal to, or better than, hiring an in-house IT team. Beyond that, most IT partners offer services at a fixed monthly rate, thus allowing your business to effectively budget for IT expenditures.

5 Ways an IT partner can help

Aside from stabilizing costs and offering powerful IT solutions, there are many ways an IT partner can help your business. Here are 5:

1. Provide stability and direction

Technology is always changing, and the number of services and solutions available is simply staggering. Do you go with Windows, OS X, or Linux for your operating system? What about servers? Do you want cloud services? If so, which? Simply picking the right solution for your business requires an IT expert.

IT partners know technology and take the time to get to know your business needs and goals. From there, they can help pick and implement the best solutions that will support your current demands and provide the necessary IT platform on which you can stably expand your business.

2. Allow you to focus on your core business function

Anyone who is not an IT expert but has been thrust into the role of managing technology quickly comes to realize that technology management and implementation is a full time job. What this means in many small businesses is that someone has to give up time focusing on their main role to focus on technology. This inevitably results in a loss of overall productivity.

By outsourcing your IT, you and your employees can focus on core business functions, without having to worry about pressing technology issues and staying up-to-date with tech developments. This results in an overall increase in productivity.

3. Help you learn how to leverage technology to meet your business goals

To many, new technology like the cloud, advanced databases, and web languages like HTML and CSS are simply too confusing. They may even be downright scary! When people feel overwhelmed by technology, they will often not be able to use it in the best possible way or they will shy away from it. This can lead to decreased productivity, unused technology, and a wasted investment.

Many IT partners don’t just install and manage systems, they also take the time to ensure that employees are comfortable with them and understand how to use them. This increases overall tech buy-in and can in turn reduce wasted investments, saving you money in the long run.

4. Enable you to use the latest technology

A common complaint of many who work in small to medium businesses is that the technology systems in the company are old or slow. This is largely due to the fact that many businesses operate on thin margins and simply cannot afford to update systems or integrate new ones.

IT partners offer their services to many different companies and therefore need to ensure that they are using the latest technology. Because most of these services are offered over the Web, they can pass along the features and updates to your business without you having to invest in new technology.

Beyond this, many MSPs offer full-service solutions that include picking the best technology for your business. They can install systems based on your budget and also manage them, ensuring that systems remain up-to-date and fully support your business needs.

5. Ensure compliance

Many industries like healthcare, education, finance, and real estate, require that businesses comply with strict regulations regarding technology and its use. Some governments even require that all businesses meet privacy regulations, making it difficult for businesses to know what the requirements are and if they are actually compliant.

IT partners also operate in these industries and are compliant. This means that they can often ensure that your business and systems are also meeting regulations.

If you are looking for an IT partner who can help your business get the most out of your technology, contact us today to learn more about our managed services.

April 3rd, 2013

BusinessValue_April02_ARunning a business is often a fine balance between profit and expense. Any hidden expenses can see profits evaporate, and may put your business at risk. One potential problem area that could have drastic impact on your bottom line is technology. It’s essential and can be very costly if it breaks down. That’s why it would be a good idea to take measures to control your IT costs.

Here are five ways you can reduce IT spending.

Backup everything
If your business is like most other small to medium companies, the majority of your important files are located on one server or maybe a couple of computers. Technology doesn’t last forever and the machine where you have your data stored on will eventually stop working.

When it does, you will have to replace it, and your files that were on it could be lost. The cost to recover them will be high. To minimize this risk, you should invest in a solid backup platform that runs on a regular basis.

Yes, this will cost money now, but would you rather have a copy of your systems and data from Yesterday which can be easily implemented when you have a problem, or would you like to pay to maybe recover year’s worth of data? Backups will save you costs in the long-run, not to mention the stress they will help you avoid.

Have a strict anti virus policy
The idea that your employees won’t download programs or browser extensions simply because you tell them not to is like telling a child not to eat candy; they are still going to do it. By simply having computers and devices accessing the Internet through your network, you are at risk. If your systems are hacked or infected, you can face lost data, high recovery costs or worse.

How do you minimize the chance of malware infections and the risk of being hacked? Antivirus software and security solutions installed on every computer that can be run from one machine are your answer. This makes it easier for you or your IT partner to ensure all of your systems’ antivirus software is up to date and scanning when it should be. This will minimize the chance of infection and keep costs down.

Document everything
As your company grows, you will start to use more technology. Over time, it will need to be replaced, and you likely won’t be able to afford replacing all your systems at once. This means that you will have to track down the systems, software, etc. that need to be replaced; which will take time and cost you money.

If you take steps to document all of your systems, computers, software, etc.; where it’s located; when it was implemented; who is in charge of it, etc., you will be able to track things down quickly when needed, thus managing your systems better. This time saving measure will cut your costs.

Look into a CRM/ERP/HRM solution
There are so many software solutions out there that can help you plan and run your operations. If you’ve been tracking employee data or planning using a simple spreadsheet, you could be getting more out of a tailored solution.

Solutions like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or even Human Resources Management (HRM) can help you spot hidden costs or even plan more efficiently, which will reduce costs well into the future.

Look for fixed-price solutions
A major problem with all technology related systems is that predicting costs is nearly impossible. You simply don’t know when/if an important piece of hardware will fail. This becomes even harder if you don’t have expertise in tech.

One of the best ways to save money on IT costs is to outsource. Almost every IT provider offers flat-rate services that cover your systems and can ensure you maximize your IT investment. This makes budgeting for IT easier, as you know what your monthly costs will be. You can then focus on your business, and over time will see a decrease in IT costs.

If you are looking to cut your IT expenses, why not contact us. We may have a solution that will ease the budget burden.

Published with permission from Source.

March 12th, 2013

BusinessValue_March06_AWhen it comes to running a small to medium business, you are likely operating on razor-thin margins and are constantly looking for ways to optimize business functions or save money. Many managers and business owners prefer to take on these tasks in-house, as they feel that they are better able to control the outcomes. When it comes to IT though, many business owners lack the time and knowledge needed to focus on tech, making it the perfect candidate for outsourcing.

Outsourcing IT is a bit different than the usual outsourcing you get in factories, or support services. Instead of going overseas, you can partner with a Managed Service Provider (MSP) in your local area. MSPs provide comprehensive IT management services which usually cover everything tech related.

Working with an MSP often has a direct impact on your bottom line, and can help make your company even more successful than it already is, or at least increase profits to get you there. However, there are many more reasons companies outsource. Below are our Top Five:

5 reasons why you should outsource IT

  1. Increased control of operational costs - Most MSPs group their services together into monthly plans, meaning you have one cost associated with the IT department. Overhead expenses such as staffing, overtime hours, and operational costs, as well as software licenses, etc., are all included in a flat monthly fee. This makes it easier for you to control IT related costs, while also saving money.
  2. Take focus away from IT, refocus on business functions - Technology is great and a necessity of running most modern businesses but it does break and become either worn out or outdated. Seemingly endless tech issues can take your focus away from key business functions. MSPs take care of all this, allowing you to re-focus your efforts and energies into running your business.
  3. Access to better resources - The best and newest tech is often pricey; well beyond the budget of a vast majority of small and medium sized businesses. This is further compounded by the fact that you likely can't afford to hire the new employees needed to to run these systems either. MSPs can provide the latest tech along with the experience to support it, allowing you to get more for less.
  4. IT functions are beyond current abilities - If you are like most small to medium companies, you have a few staff who are designated as computer experts, even though that may not be their main role or responsibility. Or it could be the case that you and your colleagues simply lack the knowledge and experience required to run increasingly complex technical systems. The employees at MSPs eat, sleep and breathe tech, and can provide enterprise level IT support and knowledge.
  5. Reduced risk from IT failure - Technical systems are built to be robust. However, they aren't perfect and will eventually fail. This could mean lengthy downtime, increased costs and lost data. Managed Service Providers reduce this risk by actively monitoring your systems and offering back-up services which will reduce productivity loss and lost business.
3 things you can expect from an MSP There are a wide variety of MSPs, serving many industries, but there are three things you should expect from any MSP.
  1. Flexibility - IT companies have access to a wide variety of vendors, tech and resources. This means they should be able to develop scalable solutions that meet your companies needs as you grow.
  2. Product experts - The main business objective of an MSP is to provide IT services.To do this they need employees who know their stuff. To get the best, most hire staff with specific qualifications and certifications and experience with the systems offered.
  3. Long-run cost savings - In the short-term it is entirely plausible that internal staff are cheaper than a monthly MSP. Factor in the cost of purchasing technology, maintaining it, plus the cost of recovery, and the cost of retaining an internal IT team will skyrocket. Most companies you outsource to offer a flat rate monthly fee, and will be able to maintain your systems longer. This means lower replacement costs and increased uptime, which in the long run make outsourcing a viable, cost-efficient option.
If you are tired of IT problems and cost overruns, contact us today to see what we can do for you.
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February 6th, 2013

One common business term thrown around with relish is overhead. In business this is usually known as ongoing expenses incurred in operating a business. This operating expense is something all companies have, and in tight economic situations it's often one of the first costs managers try to decrease. One form of overhead not often looked at is printing costs. These can be extraordinarily high, but are also easy to decrease.

Here's six ways to cut printing costs.

  1. Print double sided - While printer paper isn't overly expensive - an average of USD$8 per ream (for 500 sheets of non-recycled, multipurpose paper) - many companies only print on one side. This really adds up over a year, especially if you have more than one printer or print large documents on a regular basis. To save money, set your printers to print on both sides of the page. This will cut down the amount of paper used and waste generated. Just be sure to put page numbers on the documents so readers know it's double sided.
  2. Lower print quality - Most printers can print at various quality levels. Higher quality means it's easier to read, but uses more ink. If you are printing out memos or other inter office documents, you probably don't need high, or even medium quality. Low quality is still readable and will save you on ink costs.
  3. Print in black - Ink is by far the highest cost of any printing job, and supplies always seems to deplete quickly. To save money set up your printers to only print using black ink, which is about 30% cheaper than color ink.
  4. Implement print quotas - Nothing makes an environmentalist cringe more than seeing a 100-page PDF freshly printed, and lying in the recycle bin because someone accidentally printed the whole document instead of just one page. Not only is this bad for the environment, it's also bad for your costs. One way around this is to use quotas. Many new printers allow you to assign computers or people IDs which you can set limits on. This will encourage employees to think twice before printing.
  5. Go paperless - With the introduction of cheap cloud storage and collaboration services, the paperless office has become mostly viable. Granted there are some aspects of business, like shipping waybills, receipts, payslips, etc., that must legally be printed, but you could move non-essential documents onto cloud storage. This is a great way to reduce printing costs, while simultaneously fostering a sharing and collaborative office environment.
  6. Work with managed print services - If you find that printing costs are skyrocketing, why not work with a managed print services provider? The vast majority often charge a flat fee and will take care of your printers and often your ink too.
Unless you adopt massive changes e,g., completely getting rid of all printers, you won't see huge savings from reducing printing costs. However, every little bit counts towards the bottom line. If you're looking for a managed print services company or for more ways to reduce your IT costs, please contact us today.
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January 5th, 2013

Last week we showcased part two of our three part article on how to save money and maximize IT resources in your company. The article covered ways you can save money or maximize resources within your business and included tips on: Using VoIP and other digital solutions, investing in the cloud and working with an MSP. This week, we look into ways you can save money on your outward/customer facing aspects of IT.

Here are three ways you can save money or get the most out of your outward/customer facing IT resources.

Invest in a new website The website is the new hub of your business and customers look to it for information and often expect it to be there. If you don't have a functional website that provides your customers/future customers with what they need and want to know, there's a high chance that you will be losing sales.

You don't need a fancy website, just one that looks professional and represents your business. If you have a good website that is also optimized for search results, you can and will see your business show up higher in search results which means more exposure for your business.

This does seem a bit counter-intuitive - why spend money when you want to save it? However, having a website that appeals to your customers will increase the chances of both attracting and keeping new customers. If done in the right way, more eyes on your name means higher brand recognition. This in turn will lead to more enquires and potentially higher sales.

Get advertising social If you have a presence on any social media platform, it could pay to invest in social advertising. The reason advertising on social media platforms has become so popular is that you can target the most relevant people for your product or service.

When it comes to marketing and advertising: If you can target people who are already interested in your service or product, you are more likely to see higher conversions and sales. With other mediums, like paper, tv, etc. the audience is too wide and the cost too great to make it worthwhile for most small businesses. Social advertising is vastly more economical and often more powerful.

We're not saying you should stop all other forms of advertising, but you can scale them back, save costs, and invest in more targeted social advertising. If you pitch this just right you should see lower advertising costs coupled with higher real conversions.

Be a bigger part of the environment Being environmentally conscious is a big deal these days. Customers like to see that the company they are doing business with takes steps to reduce their waste/carbon footprint. Looking at the numbers though, 'going green' can be quite costly, especially if you have a larger office.

The key to remember is that when it comes to greening IT related processes you should start with conservation. One of the easiest ways to conserve starts with reducing the amount of paper you use. Instead of printing out bills or receipts, why not email them to your customers? If you send faxes or print lots, why not look into a virtual solution. Who knows, you may even be able to get rid of that expensive printer.

Striving to reduce waste is only half of the battle. Environmentally positive actions are a perfect thing to brag about on social media. Saved 300 sheets of paper this week? Tweet it. Customers who are environmentally conscious will look favourably upon this and are more likely to remember you when they next need a service you offer.

There are many things you can do to cut costs and maximize your IT resources. What is your company doing? If you're not sure, you should contact us. We can help ensure you get the best bang for your buck when it comes to IT.

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December 27th, 2012

Last week we posted part one of our three part article on how to save money on IT in the coming year. That article covered ways you can maximize the resources you already have by being an outside thinker, always looking around and using facts to help determine your actions. This week, we take a look at inward facing or internal costs.

Here's how you can maximize your internal IT costs.

Use VoIP and similar digital solutions Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has been around for a number of years and many companies, large and small, have integrated it into their offices. Because VoIP uses an Internet connection to send and receive phone calls, there's no need for expensive cabling and switchboards. Aside from lower overheads, many VoIP providers offer calling rates at a fraction of what most telephone providers charge. So, companies that make lots of long-distance calls can really benefit with VoIP.

While many businesses have integrated VoIP solutions, most don't go beyond that. If you use a fax machine, did you know that you can either digitize that and ditch the fax machine, integrate it with most modern email programs or use your VoIP connection to transmit fax data.

If you have a sales force who is constantly on the road or giving presentations, why not look into a Web conferencing system. Many systems, like Microsoft's Lync, allow users to hold conferences and share documents or presentations without having to leave the office.

Invest in the cloud One of the hottest current trends is the cloud. Currently there are two major types of cloud operations: Cloud storage and cloud based applications. All companies need to store documents. If they go with physical solutions like hard drives, backup tapes etc., it can get very expensive, very quickly. Cloud storage allows you to store all your documents off site, often at a fraction of the cost of physical storage solutions. Beyond that, you will have access to your documents as long as you have an Internet connection.

Cloud based applications come in many varieties, with the most popular being based around the office suite, or a hybrid of storage and application. Solutions like Google Drive which takes Google's office suite and combines it with a storage and sharing solution, is completely based in the cloud. The goal of Google Drive and other solutions, like Microsoft Office, is largely to provide a platform that enables easy collaboration and sharing at a fraction of the cost of more traditional solutions.

Integrating cloud based solutions can often times save you a ton of money, not only in operating costs but also long-term maintenance. As these services depend on a data connection and not sheer computing power, you won't have to replace your machines in order to upgrade to new software. This means lower costs all round.

Work with an MSP While this may seem counter-intuitive - why would a company want to pay to save money? Managed Service Providers (MSP) usually charge a monthly fee and offer a full service solution that aims to keep your systems running. Through preventative monitoring and ensuring systems are running, IT costs are often reduced in the long run. Beyond that, the chances of a major service outage are drastically reduced. Should anything happen to your business MSPs can have you up and running more quickly. allowing you to minimize potential downtime losses.

There are literally thousands of ways you can save money on IT and maximize your resources, and often experts like us can help you extend savings even further. So, why not give us a call and see what we can do. Also, stay tuned for part three of this article, covering how to save money on tech systems that your customers interact with.

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December 21st, 2012

One of the constant struggles business owners and managers face is achieving a point of minimized costs and maximized profits. This strive has led to many to look at technology as one of the keys of reaching this, but they have no idea how to go about it. That's why we have developed a three part article on ways you can maximize your tech resources.

The first part of the article focuses on maximizing the IT resources you already have.

1. Be the outside thinker The problem with many managers and business owners is that they tend to focus too closely on one or two key business elements. When it comes to technology this often means using only small parts of the technology available, while other parts are underutilized.

Therefore, it's important that you take a step back every now and then and really look at the tech you currently use. This can be hard to do, especially when you are so invested in a business. It's a good idea to consult with an advisor like a Managed Service Provider who knows how to get the most out of existing technology.

A lot of times outside help can really pinpoint areas where you can improve efficiency or reduce operating costs. In turn, this helps improve, or at the very least stabilize, your bottom line.

2. Always be looking around What we mean by this is: Be proactive. Technology and related systems are always changing and advancing. Managers and owners who aren't aware of the technological changes around them might see lower profits. This doesn't mean just looking at your physical technology, it pays to look at systems related to the Internet too.

Take for example social media. It's not going away and has been proven to be an effective marketing tool. The only problem is the service that's popular today may not be so next year. To get the most out of a system like social media, you need to understand and be aware of it.

If you keep your finger on the pulse, you'll be more informed about what's going on, what's coming up and what to do about it. If you spot something that you think will benefit your company, take the steps to integrate it. The interesting thing about most new technical advancements is that they are focused on making existing systems more efficient.

Don't just be looking externally either, it pays to look at what tech your employees are using the most and why. If you encourage them to be open and showcase their ideas you'll be surprised at what they come up with.

It's being aware of both internal and external trends that can help you identify the next big opportunity to further your bottom line.

3. Facts should determine actions This can be a tough thing to do, but facing the facts and current situation is incredibly important. If you don't know where your company is at in terms of what technology is used, then any decisions you make won't be effective and could end up harming your company. It's a good idea to conduct an audit of your current systems.

What to audit:

  1. How many computers you have vs employees.
  2. What software each employee uses.
  3. How and what staff use the computers for.
  4. Level of technical integration of current technology.
  5. What systems and programs are used most often.
  6. Operating costs of technology.
There are many different aspects you can look into. You are basically looking to get a picture of where your company currently stands and if there are any systems/processes you could be doing better, or getting rid of. If you find problems you can take steps to fix them, or if you need help, contact us.
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December 12th, 2012

Many countries' economies are facing uncertain times. Growth in China has slowed, the US is facing a fiscal cliff that could ruin the US economy and any relient economies associated with it. It's in these uncertain times that many companies are doing more with less and when it comes to IT, this means budget cuts. When these need to be made, many companies will look at cutting service contracts, something that may come back to haunt them in the future.

Below are five of the more common issues businesses face when they decide to allow IT service contracts to lapse.

  1. Increased response and resolution time - The way almost every company works is they provide support to paying customers before they provide support to others. If your systems bought from a vendor three years ago crash, and you didn't renew the support contract, you will be facing prolonged downtime and potentially high replacement costs which could be detrimental to your business.
  2. Poor implementation of updates - One of the main jobs of the IT provider is to ensure that all systems are up-to-date, or at the very least are running the same version of software as other systems. Without this valuable service, it is almost guaranteed that users will be running different software versions which could pose security and integration risks.
  3. Lack of diagnostic and analysis tools - IT providers often utilize robust diagnostic and analysis tools that can help determine what issues are causing problems. On the other end, many IT service companies are set up to be proactive, and will usually look for and fix potential problems. This business model minimizes downtime, which can be hard to do without a costly internal IT department.
  4. Reactive support - The proactive nature of many IT service providers really helps, but when you don't renew contracts, your service will likely go from proactive to reactive. Meaning you likely won't know anything's wrong until it really goes wrong. So instead of systems being down for an hour for monthly maintenance, they could be down up to a week or longer. This is something no business wants.
  5. Increased hardware overhead - With a good service provider, your systems will last longer. This equates to lower hardware overhead over a longer period. Without them, companies will often see higher overhead due to having to replace equipment more often.
Yes, we agree, it can be hard to justify paying what seems like a high monthly fee to keep your systems running, especially in this difficult financial climate. However, the potential of both lost revenue from crashed systems and replacement costs often make IT service providers an integral and valuable part of your technical systems.

If you're facing budget cuts, why not talk to us, we may be able to work with you to develop a plan that meets both your needs and budget.

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November 15th, 2012

Rules are an integral part of society, they help define the boundaries of who we are and what we can do. Somewhere along the line, rules have become more of a societal term while the term policies has come to define rules for organizations and governmental organizations. Policies are as varied as they are important, and eventually it becomes necessary to write new ones, which can be a challenge.

Below are six things to consider when developing your next policy.

  1. You need a policy for policies - This sounds a little weird, but in order to draft effective policies, you should first draft a policy on drafting policies. It doesn't have to be long, but should cover when and why a new policy is needed; the format to use; and the policy for drafting and approval of new policies.
  2. Does your planned policy already exist? - Before you go spending time on drafting a completely new policy, you should first check and see if any existing policies cover what you're planning to write about, or if they cover some aspects. If they do, instead of creating a new policy, it's much easier to update existing ones.
  3. Consider the need - If someone does something you don't like or agree with, don't simply go and create a new policy out of spite, or as a knee-jerk reaction. If you find yourself doing this, take a step back and let the policy sit for a few days or weeks and revisit the issue to see if it is really necessary. If you deem it significant enough, get input from colleagues. They may offer valuable help, or have other ideas. The goal with policies is that there should be a crystal clear need for them, or a clear problem to solve.
  4. Make the policy understandable - Have you ever read policies enacted by governments or large companies? Of course you have, but how much did you understand? If you aren't a lawyer, there is likely some parts you don't understand. You should make your policies understandable and readable by everyone in the company. Leave legal language to the lawyers, and clearly define any and all acronyms and jargon. Beyond that, the use of modal verbs and positions instead of names is highly encouraged.
  5. Include exceptions - Rules set in stone will often be broken. When writing a policy, it is a good idea to include exceptions whenever possible. If you don't include these yet constantly make them in practice, you're undermining the policy. If you find these exceptions become relevant in the future, update the policy to include them.
  6. Be flexible - You should write some wiggle room in the policies. If you have an ironclad policy employees will come to rely on it, and if something happens what goes against the policy, they could use the ‘it's company policy’ line as an excuse not to take the right action. The common trend is that new policies essentially provide the guidelines for empowerment.
If you take steps to ensure the policy is as comprehensive as possible, and your employees understand each and every aspect of it, they will be more than likely to follow it. Do you have any other tips on writing policies? Let us know.
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October 11th, 2012

Reach into your bag or pockets and pull out your wallet. Open it and count how much cash is in there. Chances are, there isn’t a lot, as people have largely come to rely on debit and credit cards for the vast majority of their purchases. Another thing in your pocket or bag is likely to be your phone, which could very well be your next wallet.

There’s a new phenomenon that ties your wallet together with your smartphone. This rising trend, commonly known as a digital wallet, is gaining popularity with a number of recently launched systems and being adopted by large companies. Yes, it looks like the days of carrying cash, credit and debit cards around are numbered.

What exactly is a digital wallet? A digital wallet is the idea of essentially digitizing your credit and debit cards, and placing them on your smartphone, usually in the form of an app, with credit card numbers and information stored in the cloud. You can then use your phone in place of a card when you go to purchase something from a store, usually by swiping the phone over a special sensor then entering your pin.

If you’re a Starbucks fan, you might use their mobile app to load money onto your account and then simply scan your phone to pay for coffee. The digital wallet is a similar idea to this, the only difference being the card scanned is essentially a digital version of your normal bank card, or is linked to your bank account much like a debit card.

The technology behind this is largely based on Near Field Communication (NFC). NFC is a radio based technology that allows users to transmit data between devices when they are placed in close proximity. With digital wallets, either your smartphone, or a device that attaches to your phone, has an NFC chip in it that can talk to a related receiver. Another version of the digital wallet utilizes a dongle you attach to your phone, which allows it to function as a credit card or card reader (if you’re a vendor).

After you swipe your phone, the vendor’s system takes over and interacts with your bank or credit card provider, usually via the Internet, to charge you the appropriate amount.

What are some options available for my business? While still in its infancy, digital wallets do provide some benefits for small to medium businesses. One provider, Square, uses a small device attached to a tablet or smartphone to process credit card payments. This negates the need for a costly payment system, as it can be easily run on common devices. PayPal has launched a similar device targeted at small business owners in Hong Kong, Australia, Canada and the USA.

With both of these services you sign up for accounts, get a dongle that you attach to your device which allows you to accept credit cards. Customers also get an app that they can link to credit cards and allows them to make payments through their phone without needing their physical cards while at the shop. The main downside to these forms of payments is that each transaction is charged over 2%, which could make them financially unfeasible for small businesses that do a lot of low-value transactions.

A digital wallet that utilizes NFC is Google Wallet. Users can link their cards to the wallet and simply swipe their phone over a Mastercard PayPass, or other compatible terminal. The card is charged, then the customer gets a confirmation and is on their way. Pretty slick. There are a few downsides to this however: only nine Android phones are supported, the service is only available in the US and only two mobile carriers support it.

While NFC based digital wallets appear to be a bit far from the mainstream for now, that will likely change as more phone companies and vendor payment providers adopt NFC. Digital wallets that utilize dongles like Square are set to take off, especially in the FMCG and service industries. Industry heavyweights like Starbucks have already announced they will adopt Square in their outlets to process payments. This definitely puts digital wallets on the fast-track to widespread adoption. If you’re interested in learning more, please contact us.

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September 20th, 2012

Change is inevitable, it can happen when we least expect or want it to, which could pose a problem, especially if the change being made will affect your entire organization. Microsoft has recently pulled the plug on a popular business based service, Microsoft Small Business Server 2008, which in turn has forced many, if not all, vendors to remove the product from catalogs. You can still purchase SBS 2011 through 2013 (unless you are a non-profit). There are alternatives however.

If your company has employed a Microsoft SBS 2008 or older solution, you aren’t totally left in the dark. Before announcing the end of SBS, Microsoft announced Microsoft Windows Server 2012, which is meant to be the replacement for SBS.

In the past, Microsoft has been a company of options, not content with releasing just one or two versions of an operating system or server structure, instead opting for many. With Windows Server 2012, the options have been slimmed down to just four, of which two will be best for the majority of small businesses.

Foundation Foundation is the most basic version of Windows Server 2012, with support for common activities like file and printer sharing. It won’t however support virtual environments, meaning, in other words, you will have to stick with physical servers instead of being able to run different servers on one physical machine. It’s also limited to 15 users and under.

The downside with Foundation is that it will only be available on new servers created by Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). If you want to utilize this version, you’re going to have to buy a new server. If you’re looking to centralize basic office functions, or connect the office internally, and don’t currently have any servers, this might be a good option for you.

Essentials If you currently use SBS, or another retired Microsoft product, you’re best bet is Essentials. At a cost of around USD $425, it’s a low cost upgrade aimed specifically at businesses with 25 or fewer users. An upgrade to Essentials brings about the ability to easily connect and manage Microsoft’s cloud based solutions such as Office 365 and the cloud version of Sharepoint, as well as others. Essentials also has Client Backup, and Remote Web Access, features which are mature and have been brought forward from SBS and Home Server.  Essentials can also integrate with an onsite Exchange 2010 server if you are keeping email in-house vs the cloud.  A separate server license will be needed for Exchange.

The downside to this is if you have more than 25 users in your company you’ll either need to pay for an upgrade to Server Standard to “unlock” Essentials to unlimited users, or pick another version. Aside from this, Essentials, unlike Foundation, does support a fully virtualized server environment. Essentials will be a good upgrade for companies that are interested in transitioning to the cloud but may still want some featured in-house during the transition (Exchange, Sharepoint). Interested in learning more about integrating Windows Server 2012 in your company? Please contact us, we can help.

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September 12th, 2012

Business analytics (BA) - the study and statistical analysis of a business data to help make better decisions - has become an important part of any data driven organization. In other words, any modern business, regardless of industry. Companies that properly employ BA could, in theory, gain a competitive advantage over competitors without BA strategies in place.

The most important thing to be aware of with BA is that its success largely depends on how astute companies are in using BA tools. Here are seven tips on how to ensure BA is working for you.

  1. Collaborate to define questions. Before you approach a BA vendor, it’s important to collaborate with all functions within your company to identify questions and issues that are tough to answer. With questions clearly defined, you’ll be better able to see if a vendor can provide solutions that will answer these more efficiently than solutions already in place.
  2. Start with fresh reports. After implementation of a BA solution, you should focus on developing new reports that analyze data in a different way when compared with your old reports. Doing so could help you find new ways to secure advantages, competitive and otherwise. A new solution also provides you with the opportunity to audit your data and get rid of junk data that has no viable purpose.
  3. Work with BA experts and your vendor. BA is a science; it’s a lot more involved than the traditional method of comparing current results against previous reports. As such, you should either employ a BA expert who knows which questions to ask and what to do with the data or work with a consultant. Consulting the vendor you work with would be a good start, as they normally employ BA experts who are there to help.
  4. Train employees. Like any business function that will be used in all departments, it’s important to train your employees on not only how to use the software, but the basics behind it. Before any training is done however, it’s important that you adapt roles to incorporate the change in process.
  5. Don’t give up on Excel. Microsoft Excel, or similar spreadsheets are fantastic programs. Chances are high that the majority of your employees are competent users of at least Excel and you can use this to both their and your advantage. In fact, many BA solutions use, or are based off of, Excel-like spreadsheets which makes training a lot easier and less expensive as employees will already be comfortable with the basics.
  6. BA should deliver on 2 levels. Business analytics functions on two main levels: summary and drill down. Summary encompases multiple elements, while drill down allows in depth looks at one element. When reports are compiled they should encompass both elements.
  7. Don’t let BA do all the thinking. BA is not the be all and end all, it’s supposed to help your company with decision making, not make the decisions for you. There may be times when the analytical output just doesn’t match what you think will be best. Some of the most successful business people have relied on instinct even when the available data tells them they are wrong.
BA has become an important part of many businesses and while you can develop your own program in-house, many small to medium businesses just don’t have the capital, expertise or time to do so. We recommend that before you start, you get in touch with a BA expert or consultant and see if they can give you a solution. We can also help, so don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and give us a call.
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August 20th, 2012

Take a look around your office, chances are high that you’ll see at least one employee with their mobile phone plugged into their computer charging, or maybe you’ll see a colleague using their own computer for work. This practice is becoming more common and many managers are ambivalent about this. Instead of banning personal devices outright, they should develop a plan.

Here are four steps you should take to enact a successful Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) plan in your office.

Step 1: learn the tools There are a large number of operating systems in use, and while some employees use Macs, others prefer Windows or another OS. This can pose a problem for managers and IT services as it can be a costly chore to manage and deploy software and work across platforms, not to mention incompatibility of programs. To solve this issue, many companies use virtualization, or more specifically hosted virtual desktops and locally deployed and managed desktops that provide a set platform that can be accessed regardless of the system used by employees.

Hosted virtual desktops are desktops that are hosted by another company and accessed by employees via the Internet. These are also called Desktop as a Service (DaaS), and differ from locally deployed and managed desktops as the company doesn’t need the servers and infrastructure to deploy the solution. There are pros and cons to each, and before you decide which to use, it pays to research them to see how they meet your needs.

Step 2: understand your employees Each employee is different, with some working better when away from the office while others are more productive during off-peak hours. Throw in the fact that employees all have their preference in the technology they use, a differing knowledge level and requirement of technology, and you have a lot you need to consider when developing a plan.

It’s worth taking the time to understand your employees and their needs, as it may turn out that BYOD may not work for some staff members. You should find out which workers are willing to buy their own technology, can work with a locked desktop, or work away from their desk more, and who might pose a security risk and would reduce productivity under a BYOD plan.

Step 3: Research alternatives Be sure to look at other solutions, maybe some employees are asking to bring their own computers to work because they prefer to work on another OS. The best way to find out is to ask your employees what they think of a BYOD policy and why they want it. If you have employees with experience in other industries maybe they have other ideas on ways you can implement a workable system.

You can also contact managed service providers and companies like us. We may have another option for you that you haven’t explored yet. Whatever you do, it’s important to weigh up all your alternatives first.

Step 4: Start small When you do decide on a plan, you need to ensure that all staff are onboard and that the systems work. Many companies start with a soft launch, letting staff who are the most comfortable with BYOD trial it first. From their experiences you can then modify and expand the plan to other staff or departments.

What matters most is that with a BYOD plan, you provide a clear separation between an employee’s personal and work environments on their device, hence a virtual desktop. With this, you will be able to control the work related environment as you normally would, and employees can keep their personal environment secure. If you’d like to learn more about BYOD or virtual desktops, please contact us.

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July 19th, 2012

Almost all businesses processes have gone virtual, or have upgraded to incorporate some of the latest technological trends. There's one process however that lags behind, technology wise, and that’s print services. Every company needs printing services, and many small businesses are still using technology that's inefficient and lags behind technology wise. To optimize printing services, companies could use managed print services.

Managed print services is a service that’s designed to help businesses streamline their printing operations; reduce operating costs and waste, and increase productivity. It works much the same way as Managed IT services, you have a company work with you to develop a printing solution tailored to meet your needs. This could include consolidating print, scan, copy and fax into one machine, or, upgrading systems to connect to the network to allow for virtual printing.

The benefits of doing this can be far reaching and could include:

  • Decreased IT costs. Many office printers and copiers are closed systems that require a qualified technician to fix, or at the very least takes up the time of current IT staff. If you have a managed service, you don’t have to pay for a technician to come fix the machine, and your IT staff can focus on priority tasks, thus reducing costs.
  • Decreased material costs. Many managed print services use new technology, that while an investment in the short term, can quickly pay for themselves through increased output, decreased material cost and lower maintenance costs.
  • Helps the environment. As managed print service companies use current technology, which itself uses less energy, you’ll find electrical bills to be lower. The technology also uses less ink and can reuse paper, thus reducing harmful waste and helping the environment.
  • Increased productivity. By making printing systems more efficient, a company will see an increase in physical output, because they’re not constantly waiting for the printer.
If your company is looking for a new printing solution, you should ask yourself these three questions:
  1. Will we see ROI? Many companies will see upwards of a 30% savings in printing costs with an optimized printing solution. It’s important to work with managed printing providers to ensure that you will actually save money with their systems, or at least see a return on your initial investment.
  2. Can our technology support growth? Many small businesses are constantly changing and their current solutions may not meet needs in the future. You should analyze your current technology and see if it will be able to support you in the future.
  3. How much does printer downtime cost you? If you’re using older technology that’s constantly breaking down, the cost of downtime can be quite high. This is a good indication of the need for managed print services.
  4. Do you want to focus on printers? If your business is in need of a printing solution to help operations, and doesn’t focus on printing, or you want to spend less time thinking about printers and more time focusing on tasks, then going with a managed print service is a good choice for you.
If you’re looking to replace your printers, or would like another way to make your business more efficient please contact us, we may have a solution for you.
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July 12th, 2012

Sore back, nervous breakdown, hurt wrists and weight gain are but a few of the common injuries or issues office workers face, especially those who spend their days at a computer. It’s not uncommon for office workers to experience all of these complaints to such a debilitating degree that they can’t work. If your employees can’t work, your company doesn’t make money, therefore, it’s important to ensure your employees are healthy.

Here are five tips you can pass on to your employees to ensure they stay happy and healthy.

Walk it off, stretch it out Many employees will often sit at their desk for hours at a time, only getting up to go for lunch, or for bathroom breaks. It’s a good idea to be getting up out of your desk at least once an hour. Encourage your employees to walk to each other’s office or desk if they need to chat instead of using instant messaging. Put up posters showing leg, neck, shoulder and back stretches and actively encourage employees to stretch before they start work and at least once an hour.

May as well go for a walk Another way to get employees more mobile is to make your meetings mobile. If it’s a nice day out, why not walk around the block as a group, or walk to the park and have a brainstorming session. As many employees and businesses use tablets or some form of mobile computing, it’s not hard to take the office with you, and work while you exercise.

H2O It’s important to stay hydrated, even while in the office. Many employees who complain of headaches or being lightheaded and dizzy may actually be dehydrated - they should be drinking at least 4 big glasses a day. These problems can be easily avoided by providing your employees with water. Put a water cooler in a central location, that all employees can walk to. This serves another purpose, as it also forces employees to get up and take a break.

Offer healthy snacks As many employees are working longer hours compared with even 10 years ago, your employees could be neglecting their diet. Having a vending machine with salty chips or sweet sodas isn’t helping. Instead, opt to stock low sugar drinks and healthy snacks like fruit. While this may cost more upfront, the long term savings in less sick days will more than pay for the investment in the long run.

Change the commute This can be one of the hardest changes to implement, but has positive benefits. Encourage your employees to ride their bikes or walk to the office, or implement some form of exercise within their commute. Be sure that if you do this, you have facilities where employees can change and take a shower - necessary if your business is in a warmer climate or weather is prone to change without notice.

Healthy and happy employees will go a long way in ensuring your company is operating at maximum efficiency. Beyond that, you’ll see a decrease in lost time and a potential increase in overall value of your business. If you’d like to learn more ways to increase your company’s value, please contact us.

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June 14th, 2012

Technology is one of the most volatile aspects of the modern business environment. A new technological device comes out and is practically obsolete within a few months. The need to update systems is an expensive task for small businesses, and many owners are apt to go for devices and software developed for the personal market. This is a potentially large mistake.

Here are five reasons you, as small businesses owners, should aim to buy technological solutions and products that are specifically designed to meet your needs, not those of the masses.

  1. Long-term time and money costs. In general, consumer grade technology is made using cheaper, less durable materials than that of the business equivalent. More often than not, consumer products will break down long before business grade. When they do, you’re stuck paying for the replacement parts or sending the unit in for repair. Beyond that you’ll also have to spend the valuable time dealing with the problem.
  2. Greater ability to recover costs. Business technology does cost more, however, it’s made with better materials that increase product life. Beyond that it decreases the need for maintenance and will make it more appealing to buyers when you sell it, thus allowing you a higher chance of recovering costs.
  3. More features. The problem with technology developed for the consumer market is that it’s often developed with features that will be the most useful to the majority. This could be a problem for companies as you’ll be paying for features you don’t need, while lacking ones that you do need. Many business devices also have features that can be tailored to meet a business's needs, or offer devices with increased functionality.
  4. Warranty. The majority of consumer tech has a limited to non-existent warranty. Many laptops have one year limited warranties that, in truth, cover very little. Business hardware can have a standard three year factory warranty which guarantees the device won’t break for three years. Aside from that, many vendors will send someone to repair the device within the next day, if you buy business grade.
  5. The best customer support. It’s a high probability that you’ve had a device break and had the wonderful opportunity of dealing with consumer technical service. This is not the case for the majority of business hardware and software developers. Many companies provide 24/7 support and have employees who understand that your technology is essential to operations, and will work to get your system back as fast as possible.
While in the short term, it may seem like a good idea to buy consumer technology, it’s a solution with long-term drawbacks. If you are looking for new technology but don’t know where to start, please contact us we can help.
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May 23rd, 2012

Entrepreneurs are a tough bunch, the majority have left stable jobs with guaranteed pay to pursue something they believe in. While there’s no one reason why they go into business for themselves, one of the most popular reasons is that they want to be in control of every aspect of their business. The only downside to this is they may not know everything about running a business. One way they can relinquish a bit of control is through the use of a virtual assistant.

A virtual assistant is much like any other assistant, just they don’t work in your office. They could be across town, or in another country, and work with you through the Internet. They could take care of your accounting, social media platforms or secretarial work, freeing you up to work on what you excel at. At its most basic form, it’s outsourcing.

Different types of virtual assistants There are three different categories of virtual assistants:

  1. Generalist: responsible for rote tasks like data entry and answering calls.
  2. Technical: responsible for all your IT related tasks like website design, SEO, updating and installing programs, etc.
  3. Specialist: responsible for specialized business functions like HR, accounting, legal, etc.
Virtual assistants can be hired at nearly any cost. Some general assistants can be hired for as little as USD 100 a month. Some more specialists could cost upwards of USD 100 an hour. As an added advantage, you won’t have to pay them local benefits like health insurance, tax and bonuses.

Ways you can leverage an assistant One of the best ways to leverage a virtual assistant is to have them take care of your technology related functions. Managed service providers (MSP) are a form of virtual assistant that’ll look after your network, technical security, backup and recovery. They’re particularly useful if you don’t have the technical expertise needed to maintain support for your business. The majority of MSPs are also a lot cheaper than employing an in-house IT staff.

Another way to leverage an assistant is for bookkeeping. It’s essential that your bookkeeping is done correctly, it’s also one of the few functions that follow strict regulations. While it’s important to have a licensed professional review your books, there’s no need to have them also do the work prior to the review process. A virtual assistant can help you get your books in order so time spent on the financials is minimized.

Having a virtual assistant can help you focus on the important tasks, running and growing your business. Properly leveraged, you could indirectly see higher profits. If you’d like more information on ways you can outsource some functions, please contact us.

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May 5th, 2012

Collaboration isn’t a new concept. Managers and employees have been working together towards a common goal for as long as we can remember. With the heavy integration of modern technology, businesses have been taking advantage of all the various virtual options available. However, problems arise when it’s time to work together, as employees can sometimes find it tough to do so.

Here are seven tips on how to improve collaboration within the office environment.

  1. Open communication. One of the keys to successful teams is the adoption and encouragement of an open communication culture. With this, teams are better able to grasp what’s going on within the company, and be more efficient contributors and team players.
  2. Use the right technology. It seems like there are a million different software and technology options out there. Some of the tools available offer some fantastic features and it’s easy to get sucked in by a flashy component. It’s important that when choosing a tool you pick one that meets your company’s needs and is easy to use.
  3. Collaboration tools must play well with others. It’s beneficial to select systems that can be seamlessly integrated with other tools and software used by your employees. If your solutions don’t work together, all parties won’t be able to work together.
  4. Employee learning is key. When you find the perfect tool to use, be careful to take time and learn how to effectively use it. Training for the users of the tool is equally important.
  5. Work hard, play harder. Teams and departments should step away from their computers and actually have face-to-face meetings at least once a week. These meetings should be a mixture of formal and informal, and offer employees a chance to come together as a team, unwind and share ideas. A team that can interact well will always work together with greater efficiency.
  6. Mobilize. The smartphone is here to stay and with each passing year the number of users grows exponentially. It’s beneficial to encourage the use of these devices, and look for mobile solutions that allow users to be a part of the group while out of the office. If you do allow mobile devices, be sure to establish a clear usage policy so employees know how and when they should be using their phones.
  7. Don’t just focus on internal collaboration. One of the most common mistakes companies make is that they focus on group participation within the business, but don’t provide adequate support for external interactions. Be sure you integrate tools that provide stakeholders with a way to connect and work with teams within the company.
With a team that interacts effectively you’ll see happier employees and higher profits: a win-win situation. If you have any questions regarding collaboration tools, or other ways to increase business value please don’t hesitate to contact us.
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March 21st, 2012

The majority of businesses, no matter the size, are networked these days—and are often also connected to the Internet and other networks. Many of these businesses have come to rely on internal/external networks for their day-to-day business. However, when one of the networks goes down this can be a problem since an outage could cause a loss of profits. 24/7 networking can help reduce these losses.

How can 24/7 network monitoring help your business, you ask? Through preventative operations. The main idea of network monitoring is to act as an “Early Warning System” to let managers and owners know of potential problems before they strike.

What Does Network Monitoring Monitor? There are a number of things you can monitor with Network Monitoring. The most popular areas include application and system performance, bandwidth usage, and server status. You can also set up monitoring of additional areas, for instance: server load, ink levels in printers, time left on software license agreements, which devices are connected to the network, their data usage, and more. This is all done 24/7.

The one thing Network Monitoring does not normally monitor is unauthorized access to networks. It can be set up to look for unauthorized access, but this is normally taken care of by another system.  

How Does Network Monitoring Help Me? Network Monitoring is a preventative system, intended to warn you about potential network problems so you can proactively seek solutions before a vital network goes down. This makes it, in a round-about way, a justifiable addition to business value since, when implemented right, there will be less network crashes—which means less or no profit loss.

What Should I Monitor? In an ideal world, you would monitor each and every network. Over time, you can get there, but if you’re like most Small Business owners or managers, you have neither the time nor the budget to implement a full system. As with most projects, it’s suggested that you implement a system like this in stages. The most common areas to start with are:

  • Local Area Network (LAN) Data
  • Internet data usage
  • server status
  • alerts to existing networks
If you’re unsure of where to start, try contacting a local Network Monitoring service, or hire a consultant to establish a system. If you would like to know more about 24/7 Network Monitoring, or other ways to improve business value, please contact us.
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