Blog

December 11th, 2014

BusinessValue_Dec11_CAs the end of the year approaches, stress levels go up within businesses. There is often the pressure to finish end-of-year reports and budget for the next year, not to mention that there can often be extra expenditure requirements during the holiday season too. This is also the time when many businesses begin to look for newer business systems that are not too expensive. To help, here are some free or affordable solutions that could make your business run far easier.

  1. Canva If you are a business owner, chances are that you aren't the world's best graphic designer, unless you run a graphics company of course! In order to design graphics, icons, flyers, and even posters you need specific graphics software. This can be expensive and the software is not going to be easy to use for design novices. You may even need an in-house graphic designer. This is where Canva comes in.

Canva is an online app that allows users to quickly and easily create professional looking graphics using drag and drop functionality and a wealth of free, or affordable, stock images. In other words, you can create designs in a short amount of time.

The service itself is free, but some images do need to be purchased.

  1. FreshBooks Most business owners are not certified accountants either, and even if you understand the basics of accounting and tracking of finances, the money side of your business is often a full time or at least a specialized job. If not handled correctly, this could spell disaster for your business. One solution is cloud-based FreshBooks.

FreshBooks is accounting software that allows you to invoice clients, track payments, accept payments, track expenses, and access financial reports at the click of a button. Beyond this, you can connect FreshBooks with your payroll services to ensure that your employees are paid on time.

The platform offers a free plan that allows you to track and manage one client, while paid subscriptions start at USD 19.95 a month.

  1. Hootsuite Many businesses have a presence on more than one social media network. While this is a great way to reach out to the highest number of customers, it can be a chore to manage and maintain a presence on all of these networks all of the time. Hootsuite is specifically aimed at this task.

Hootsuite is a tool that allows you to manage your social media accounts from one platform. Using Hootsuite you can schedule posts, set up streams, establish keyword tracking, and track engagement. It really is a one-stop-shop for all of your social media platforms.

Hootsuite offers a free subscription which allows you to manage three social media profiles, while a business subscription starts at USD 8.99 and allows you to track up to 50 profiles and gives you access to more advanced analytics and features.

  1. Podio Managing projects and ensuring that all employees are aware of what they should be doing, and what others are doing, can be one of the toughest tasks for any business owner. Sure, spreadsheets and communication work to a point, but there is always room for error and of course improvement, which is what Podio provides.

Podio is a project management app that allows you to easily manage projects, tasks, deadlines, and even files. Using an intuitive dashboard that all users have access to, employees and managers can easily see who is doing what, as well as what needs to be done and what has already been done.

Podio is free with limited features for five users and costs USD 9 per user, per month for the full subscription plan.

  1. CoSchedule If you have a blog, either on WordPress or hosted by WordPress, sharing the articles you post on your social media profiles is a great way to increase content reach and interaction. However, it can be time consuming to actually create posts on each different platform, unless you use CoSchedule.

With CoSchedule you can write your social media posts for a blog article and schedule them to be posted once the article goes live. Think of it as automating the sharing of your blog articles. This will save you time, while making it easier to manage your content, largely because the calendar included in CoSchedule is easy to work with and gives you a good view of your content.

CoSchedule is USD 10 per month, per blog.

If you are looking for more affordable ways to improve your business operations, contact us today to see what boost we can offer you at a price you can afford in 2015.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

December 3rd, 2014

Security_Dec01_CMalware is a constant threat to a business's security. However, with many malware infections we tend to be able to learn a lot about them in a very short amount of time, which weakens the power of each attack. There is a new threat called Regin however, that is leaving many security experts baffled. Here is an overview of Regin and what it means exactly for businesses.

What exactly is Regin?

What is most interesting about Regin is that a number of security experts seem to not really fully understand it. They know that it exists, they know it is complex, and they know it is one of the most advanced pieces of malware ever created. But, they don't know what exactly it does, or where it comes from.

What we do know is that Internet security firm Symantec is credited with first bringing Regin to public attention, and that it has been around since at least 2008. So far, the company has said it is similar to the Stuxnet virus that was supposedly developed in (or by) the US and used to attack and subvert the Iranian nuclear program.

Regin is known to infect Windows-based computers and at its core is a backdoor trojan style of infection. From detected infections it is looks like the purpose of the malware is not to steal information but to gather intelligence and facilitate other types of attacks.

What makes this malware so powerful and disturbing is that it is much more advanced than other infections. Using various encryption methods it can hide itself extremely well, making it difficult to detect. It can also communicate with the hacker who deployed it in a number of different ways, thus making it a challenge to block or stop. As a result, it is far from easy to actually figure out what exactly this malware is doing and why.

Who has been infected?

According to various security experts we have been able to compile a list of companies and organizations that have been targeted to date. These include:
  • Telecommunications companies
  • Government institutions
  • Financial companies
  • Research companies
  • Individuals and companies involved in crypto-graphical and mathematical research
At the time of this article, no known attacks have been carried out against companies in the US, Canada, or the UK. The main countries targeted so far have been Russia and Saudi Arabia, along with a smaller number of infections in Malaysia, Indonesia, Ireland, and Iran. A total of 10-15 countries have been targeted since the malware was first discovered in 2008.

Is this a big deal for my company?

Just because your company is operating in a country that hasn't been affected thus far, doesn't mean that you aren't at risk of being attacked by this malware in the future. If you operate in any of the industries or sectors listed above, you could still be at risk, especially if you do business with clients in infected regions.

For now, however, it appears that Regin is only infecting larger government bodies and large companies outside of North America and much of Europe, so the chances of you being infected are relatively low. Although as with any threat, this can change at any moment.

What we recommend is that you ensure your antivirus and antimalware solutions are kept up to date and always switched on. You can rest assured that eventually experts will learn more and block this malware from infecting systems. Beyond this, working with an IT partner, like us, who can ensure that your valuable data and systems are secure, is also be a good idea. The same goes with watching what you download and any emails you open. If you don't know or trust the source, don't download any program, open an attachment, or read an email connected to it.

Looking to learn more about the security of your systems? Contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
December 3rd, 2014

BI_Dec2_COften, when companies look to integrate business intelligence processes the first department that systems are applied to is sales. By employing metrics that track sales activity and any sales-related activity, business owners can gain a better picture of overall success. The problem is, it can be tricky to pick which metrics to track. To help, here are five of the most commonly tracked sales metrics.

The sales pipeline

This metric is often employed by businesses to show current sales opportunities and estimate the number of sales or revenue the sales team will bring in over a set period of time, usually a couple of months. When employed correctly, team members are better able to track and remain in control of their sales. Managers can also be assured that targets are more accurately set and reached.

When companies set up their sales pipeline metrics they often set out to measure:

  1. Average time deals remain in the pipeline.
  2. Average percentage of converted leads.
  3. Average worth of every deal.
  4. The number of potential deals in the pipeline.

Overall sales revenue

This metric is often seen to be the most important sales-related metric to implement, largely because it provides managers and owners with a good overview of the health of their company and overall performance. In short, sales revenue allows you to accurately view the profitability of your business, even if your profits aren't presently growing.

Beyond giving a useful whole-business overview, this metric can also uncover exactly how much each sale influences or contributes to the bottom line. This can be calculated by using the standard profit-ratio equation - net income over sales revenue.

Accuracy of forecasts

Any sales manager knows that forecasts are just that, predictions. But, because so much of sales is based on informed speculation it is important to track the overall accuracy of any future forecasts. By doing so, you can uncover gaps in processes and reveal any forecasting tools that need to be improved.

From here, you can track improvements and tweak forecasts to ensure that they become as accurate as possible. After all, if you can show that you are meeting your goals, or are close to meeting them, you can make more reliable decisions and be assured that your company is doing as well as it appears to be.

Win rate

The win rate, also known as the closure rate, is the rate that shows how many opportunities are being translated into closed sales. Because this rate looks at the number of sales, you want it to be as high as possible, especially when you look at the time your sales team puts into closing sales.

While a high rate is preferable, low win rates are also useful largely because they can highlight areas where improvement is needed. For example, if your team has constantly low win rates across the board, then it could signify that there is a need for more training on closing sales, or that sales staff may not be knowledgeable enough about the products or services being offered. A fluctuating rate could show increased industry competitiveness and highlight when a sales push could be beneficial.

Loss rate

The loss rate can be just as important as the win rate, largely because it focuses on how many potential customers did not purchase products and/or services from you. It can really highlight problematic areas in the early sales process. For example, by tracking the loss rate you may be able to see that response time is low, causing potential customers to walk away.

Essentially, when measured correctly, you can use loss rate to improve the overall sales process and hopefully bump up your overall win rate. You can also compare the two rates to really see how big of a gap there is and give your team a solid goal to try and find ways to reduce this gap.

If you are looking for solutions that allow you to track and measure your sales and any other data you generate, contact us today to learn how we can help turn your data into valuable, viable business information to lead your company to better success.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

November 25th, 2014

BCP_Nov24_CRegardless of what your business is, or where you are located, you may at some point face a disaster that affects your business operations. In order to make it through troubled waters without serious harm to your business you need to have a Disaster Recovery Plan in place. To help ensure that your strategy is ready, here are five tips that other businesses have learnt from facing disasters that you can work into your plans.

1. Have a full copy of your data backed up outside of your operating region

Almost every company, regardless of size, has backup measures in place. These backups can be either physical or digital, and are supposed to be carried out on a regular basis. If a disaster strikes, having access to your data can help ensure that you can recover your systems and resume operations in the minimal amount of time.

While backups are great, if you keep your backups in the same area as your main systems, or even if your offsite backups are in the same region, there is a chance that a large disaster, like a flood, or power outage, could also affect these backups too. One of the best solutions is to keep a current backup offsite, and outside of your operating region, with most experts recommending at least 150 miles (250 km) away from your main business area.

How do you achieve this? The best option is to use cloud-backup. Many providers host their backup service at a number of different data centers in various locations, so that should a disaster strike both your business and a nearby data center, your data is still safe at other centers.

2. Realistically test your plan

It can be tempting to simply develop a plan and then test it in a closed environment once or twice a year, make some changes where necessary and then sit back and hope it works. In truth, for any plan to really be effective it needs to be tested in a realistic environment. If this is not carried out then there is a possibility that the plan could fail when activated.

Because disasters come in almost any form and size, you are going to want to first identify as many potential problems as possible. From here, test your recovery plans based on these scenarios and see how effective they are. Be sure to also involve your colleagues and employees, as they too will need to know what to do when disaster strikes and what their role in the recovery of data is.

A good way to look at these tests is to think of them more as practice runs. As with anything, the more your practice the easier and more effective it becomes. In this case, good practice could literally save your business.

3. Update your plan as you update your systems

When you develop a recovery plan, you need to base it on the systems and technology you currently have in your business. However, these systems and devices may not be in use six months, to a year from now, or you may introduce new systems and improvements.

As soon as you make any changes, your existing recovery plan could become obsolete. Therefore, you need to ensure that when you introduce new systems or technology you are also updating the recovery plan to cover and fit with these changes.

4. Create an accessible plan

Many experts agree that having a physical plan that employees can see and access during a disaster is one of the best ways of ensuring that it is actually implemented properly. Therefore, when you develop a Disaster Recovery Plan make sure that all of your employees can access it at any time. This includes during and immediately following a disaster.

Beyond this, you need to make sure that the plan is consistent. If you update the master plan, but fail to update the copies you store in say a public cloud, or at different worksites, this will lead to confusion and even an increased recovery time or complete recovery failure. When you do update your plan, let all parties involved know that it has been updated and remind them where they can find copies of the plan.

5. Don't be the only fully-trained disaster recovery expert in your company

As a business owner or manager it can be easy to try and run everything yourself. Afterall, it is your business and you know exactly how to look after everything, right?. The problem is that if you are the only fully-trained disaster recovery person you are making yourself the weakest link in the plan.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

November 21st, 2014

Security_Nov17_CNet Neutrality is one of the biggest tech-related issues currently making its way through the American Government. In mid-November President Obama made his stance on the issue known, while also introducing a plan for it and thereby bringing the subject to worldwide attention. Here is an overview of what Net Neutrality is and how it can affect you.

What is Net Neutrality?

In order to define Net Neutrality, we should first look at the main idea behind what the Internet is: a free and open medium where individuals can express and house thoughts, ideas, and more. It was founded on one principal, and one principal alone: All information and Internet traffic MUST be treated equally.

This free, open, and fair principle is what we call Net Neutrality. In practice, this idea prevents Internet providers, and even governments, from blocking legal sites with messages they disagree with, and restricting access to services and sites that don't meet their business needs.

What exactly is the issue?

At this time, major telecommunications companies providing Internet access are trying to push legislation through the US court systems that will essentially make it legal for them to throttle Internet speeds; asking other providers to pay fees in order to speed up access to sites and to even block some sites.

There are laws currently in place, set by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), that prohibit providers from collecting, analyzing, and manipulating user traffic. In other words, according to the FCC, the role of the Internet providers should be to simply ensure traffic and data gets from one end of the network to the other.

Last year, it was uncovered that US telecommunications giant, and Internet Service Provider, Comcast demanded that Netflix pay them millions of dollars or they would limit the Internet speed of Comcast users trying to access the streaming service. Netflix tried to negotiate but the result was that Comcast did indeed cut user speeds. Netflix paid to avoid this from happening again. This act is an obvious breach of the main tenet of Net Neutrality: Equal access for everyone.

Combine this with the January 2014 ruling that the FCC had overstepped its bounds in regards to this topic and the increased lobbying by telecommunications giants against Net Neutrality, and you can quickly come to realize that the Internet as we know it is under threat.

How will this affect my business?

If nothing is done, there is a very high chance that you will be paying higher rates for Internet-based services (because the providers will be asking other companies to pay to guarantee speedy access which will then be passed along to you via higher rates). You may even be forced to use services you don't want to use because they offer better access speeds on your network.

Beyond this, because so many businesses rely on websites and the hosting companies that enable us to access them, there is a very real risk that these hosts may have access speeds cut. This in turn could mean that it will take more time for some users to access your website and services. Think of how you react when you can't access a website, you probably just search for another similar site which loads easily - now imagine this happening to your site. In other words, you could see a decrease in overall traffic and therefore profits.

What can I do about this?

First off, we highly recommend you visit The White House's site on Net Neutrality, and read the message that President Obama has recently posted there. To sum it up, he believes that Net Neutrality should be protected and the Internet should remain open and free. He has even laid out a plan with four rules that the FCC should enact and enforce:
  • No blocking - Internet providers are not to block access to any legal content.
  • No throttling - Internet providers cannot slow or speed up access speeds based on their preferences.
  • Increased transparency - The FCC is to be more transparent and push providers to follow the Net Neutrality rules.
  • No paid prioritization - There is to be a ban on providers insisting other companies pay to have equal access speeds.
You can bet that this plan will be met by stiff resistance both in government and by the telecommunications companies themselves. The FCC is an independent organization and it is up to them to select whether or not they want to enact President Obama's plan. One thing you can do is to publicly submit your comments to the FCC via this website. Any comments made will be seen by the FCC and are are publicly viewable. In the past, enough public pressure has been able to sway FCC decisions, so share this article and the links in it with everyone you know, asking them to take action as well.

What about other countries?

For now, the Net Neutrality battle is largely US based. The vast majority of Internet traffic starts or at least passes through the US. This means that if the telecommunications providers (many of whom own international subsidiary providers) can limit access to sites in the US it could very quickly become a world issue. Beyond this, other countries often follow laws that the US enacts, so it could only be a matter of time before we see similar bills passed in other countries.

In short, this is a major issue that could see the end of the Internet as we know it. If you would like to learn more about Net Neutrality and how you can help ensure the Internet remains free and open, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
November 19th, 2014

SocialMedia_Nov17_CYou've heard it before, and will hear it again: In order to have an effective social media presence you need to be active on more than one network. Many businesses realize this fact and are active on networks such as Twitter. The problem with Twitter, however, is that it can be difficult to master. To help, here are 10 Twitter tips.

  1. Keep posts on the shorter side - This may seem ridiculous, after all there are only 140 characters allowed per tweet, but keeping tweets short allows users to add their own comments and ideas when they retweet. Try keeping your tweets below 100 characters.
  2. Twitter is not about promotion - Studies have proven that tweets that promote a company or product don't usually do as well as messages that are more conversational in nature. If you want to ensure maximum interaction, aim for a mixture of tweets that consists of about 80% conversational and 20% promotional.
  3. Know what time to tweet - Each market is different, so take the time to research tweeting habits. If you see that the majority of your target audience is active during after-work hours, then it would make sense to tweet when they are more likely to be online. Remember, many Twitter users are connecting via their mobile devices, so you are probably better off tweeting during lunch hours, as well as pre- and post-work.
  4. Know what days to tweet - Much like knowing what time to tweet, it is a good idea to also know which days are best to tweet in order to maximize engagement. For example, if you are trying to interact more with other businesses (B2B) then it is best to tweet on days when the companies are open and an owner or manager is more likely to be looking at business systems and social accounts. Customers, however, are usually more receptive to messages on days when they aren't working e.g., Saturday and Sunday.
  5. Use hashtags - Hashtags in Twitter allow for categorization and make tweets searchable. For example, if you use the hashtag #fresh in a tweet and then search for 'fresh' on Twitter, you should see similar posts using the same hashtag.
  6. Use hashtags sparingly - There is a common trend in social media to use hashtags for nearly every word. This makes posts difficult to read and usually leads to people not sharing or retweeting your content. Instead, try to work one to three hashtag, at most, into your tweets naturally.
  7. Realize Twitter moves fast - The average trend on Twitter lasts about one hour, to one day. So, if you see a trend developing or beginning, act quick to join the conversation. Posting after the trend has faded will usually lead to tweets being ignored.
  8. Don't act on every trend - Trends come and go so quickly on Twitter that it can be tempting to try to jump on each one, or as many as possible, in order to get your message out to as many people as possible. However, not every style and subject will be relevant to your business. By shoehorning content to fit trends you could come across as insincere and lose interest from followers.
  9. Watch who you follow - Following people is one of the quickest ways to grow your own follower base - usually because users will follow those who follow them. But, when it come to business, you want to be sure to follow users who are relevant. For example, follow your customers, strategic partners, and even competitors. Following Twitter users who aren't relevant to your business is not going to get your messages read by the right people.
  10. Keep an eye on Twitter - In order to effectively spot trends and see what your target market is saying, it is worthwhile to use a program like Tweetdeck, which allows you to see all tweets, track hashtags, topics, and more.
If you would like to learn more about using Twitter in your business, contact us today to see how our services and solutions can boost your social media presence.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
November 13th, 2014

Security_Nov10_CLast year saw a number of highly publicized security threats that many companies struggled to deal with. One of those was some nasty malware called Cryptolocker, which held your files for ransom. While this has now largely been dealt with, news is surfacing of a second version - called CryptoWall - that has begun to infect users.

What is Crypto malware?

Crypto malware is a type of trojan horse that when installed onto computers or devices, holds the data and system hostage. This is done by locking valuable or important files with a strong encryption. You then see a pop-up open informing you that you have a set amount of time to pay for a key which will unlock the encryption. If you don't pay before the deadline, your files are deleted.

When this malware surfaced last year, many users were understandably more than a little worried and took strong precautions to ensure they did not get infected. Despite these efforts, it really didn't go away until earlier this year, when security experts introduced a number of online portals that can un-encrypt files affected by Cryptolocker, essentially neutralizing the threat, until now that is. A recently updated version is threatening users once again.

Cryptolocker 2.0, aka. CryptoWall

Possibly because of efforts by security firms to neutralize the Cryptolocker threat, the various developers of the malware have come back with an improved version, CryptoWall and it is a threat that all businesses should be aware of.

With CryptoWall, the transmission and infection methods remain the same as they did with the first version: It is most commonly found in zipped folders and PDF files sent over email. Most emails with the malware are disguised as invoices, bills, complaints, and other business messages that we are likely to open.

The developers did however make some "improvements" to the malware that make it more difficult to deal with for most users. These changes include:

  • Unique IDs are used for payment: These are addresses used to verify that the payment is unique and from one person only. If the address is used by another user, payment will now be rejected. This is different from the first version where one person who paid could share the unlock code with other infected users.
  • CryptoWall can securely delete files: In the older version of this threat, files were deleted if the ransom wasn't paid, but they could be recovered easily. In the new version the encryption has increased security which ensures the file is deleted. This leaves you with either the option of paying the ransom or retrieving the file from a backup.
  • Payment servers can't be blocked: With CryptoLocker, when authorities and security experts found the addresses of the servers that accepted payments they were able to add these to blacklists, thus ensuring no traffic would come from, or go to, these servers again. Essentially, this made it impossible for the malware to actually work. Now, it has been found that the developers are using their own servers and gateways which essentially makes them much, much more difficult to find and ban.

How do I prevent my systems and devices from being infected?

Unlike other viruses and malware, CryptoWall doesn't go after passwords or account names, so the usual changing of your passwords won't really help. The best ways to prevent this from getting onto your systems is:
  • Don't open any suspicious attachments - Look at each and every email attachment that comes into your inbox. If you spot anything that looks odd, such as say a spelling mistake in the name, or a long string of characters together, then it is best to avoid opening it.
  • Don't open emails from unknown sources - Be extra careful about emails from unknown sources, especially ones that say they provide business oriented information e.g., bank statements from banks you don't have an account with or bills from a utilities company you don't use. Chances are high that they contain some form of malware.
Should your files be attacked and encrypted by this malware, then the first thing you should do is to contact us. We can work with you to help find a solution that will not end up in you having to pay the ransom to recover your files.

If you are looking to learn more about CryptoWall malware and how to boost your security and protect your data and systems, then we could you your first line of tech defence.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
November 12th, 2014

BusinessValue_Nov10_CBusinesses in different industries often have unique needs when it comes to the technical systems they integrate. One system however is universal in that every business needs it: The phone system. If your business is looking for a new communications set-up you will quickly find a wealth of options out there. Here are tips you can follow to make sure that you get the best system for your business.

1. Know the types of systems out there

Phone systems, as with many other types of technology, have evolved and changed drastically from the traditional phones that we are all familiar with. As a result, it pays to be aware of the four main types of phone systems available for small to medium businesses:
  • Key systems - These systems are commonly found in many older small businesses as they were designed for up to 40 users. Typically, a Key system offers businesses basic features like hold, line switching, line management, etc.
  • PBX - Private Branch Exchange, is private phone networking technology that enables businesses to manage up to hundreds of phone lines and numbers. PBX is usually employed by larger businesses who need multiple phone lines and the ability to network offices together.
  • Hosted PBX - These are PBX systems that are managed and hosted by a provider. The system itself is usually housed offsite, which means less up-front investment for the company.
  • Centrex - These are specific business features and packages developed for your business by a major telecommunications provider which are usually added onto your monthly phone bill.
Generally speaking, these four types of phone systems are available in two ways:
  1. Analog - Traditional landline phone systems offered by phone companies, commonly referred to as PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network). Analog is familiar to many business owners as it uses existing lines strung by telephone companies.
  2. Digital - Newer phone systems that use network connections to transmit voice communication. The most common of these systems is VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol).
While there are four main systems, the increasingly popular adoption of digital systems like VoIP has led to Key and PBX systems essentially merging together into one platform. Some providers however do offer scaled down versions of PBX over network connections that they refer to as Key systems.

2. Consider these four questions

As you are looking for a new system? If so, it might be a good idea to ask yourself the following questions:
  1. How many lines and phones will I need? This will likely be one of the first questions a vendor will ask when you start looking for a new system. Take some time to think how many phone lines you will need. For example, will you need one for every employee? Or will a line for every major office or department be enough? You will quickly find that some teams won't need lines at all, while others will need one for every person.
  2. How much do I want to manage this system? If you want to have complete control over every line, the supporting systems, and the hardware itself, then going for a hosted solution may not be the best of ideas. On the other hand, if you are looking for a solution that is simple to manage for you, then hosted or managed solutions might be the answer.
  3. How fast will my business grow? If you are expanding quickly, then you will need a system that can develop with you. Many landline systems require technicians to install new lines which can take time, so businesses that are growing quickly may benefit more from digital systems.
  4. What other equipment will I be using? This is important to know before you talk to vendors because some systems may not work well with existing technology, or other systems you may be using. If you make a list, vendors can then help you quickly find a system that is compatible with your other equipment.

3. Ask your users what features they need

Before looking for a new phone system, you should ask the people who will be using the system what features they need in order to do their jobs to the best of their ability. Some teams may need wireless devices in order to better talk to customers, while others might find video conferencing worthwhile; others still may need a more unified communications platform, including text and instant messages.

The key here is to develop a list of features that your business will need before looking for a new phone system. This will make it easier to find one that fits your needs.

4. Work with your IT partner

We can work with you to help you find the best solution for your business; be it managed, digital, or analogue. If you are looking for a new phone system, contact us today to learn more about our solutions and how we can help.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

November 6th, 2014

BusinessValue_Nov03_CAny business owner knows that technology is constantly evolving. It really feels as if a new system or device is being introduced on a daily basis. This fast-paced development has subsequently forced IT teams to also move quickly to keep up. IT can now be divided into three main areas, all of which businesses should be investing in.

1. Commodity-oriented IT

IT is made up of systems that support day-to-day operations, so it is essential that you invest in this area because it is what supports your core business practices. Without proper investment, your employees may not be able to carry out their tasks adequately. Commodity IT is essential but it does not bring increased value to your company. Sure, implementing a new email system could save money but it does not directly lead to increased profits.

One of the best ways businesses can get the most out of commodity IT is to first identify which systems the business relies on. From here, you can look to see if improvements can be made that will reduce overall expenses and increase productivity. Regardless of what you do with commodity IT, all changes and improvements should be operations-oriented; making jobs easier.

2. Business value focused IT

Business value IT involves any system that supports key operations and processes that drive overall business value. Essentially, these systems are not only essential, but they allow businesses and customers to do what they need to do. A good example of business value IT for companies with online stores is the technology that supports the store. Without it, customers would not be able to make purchases from the company.

With this form of IT you want to invest in systems that increase the value you offer customers and employees, while increasing your bottom line.

3. New opportunity IT

New technology and systems can help give your business a competitive advantage when properly integrated, while increasing overall business value. A good example of this is leveraging a new social media platform to help gain customer insights, or implementing technology that allows your business to capture and analyze data quickly and easily.

Companies able to incorporate new technology will often find that they have somewhat of a first mover advantage, and if leveraged correctly you could see increased profits and customer retention.

Get a good IT strategy

The vast majority of companies choose to focus a large percentage of their IT budgets on commodity IT. What this results in is a focus on simply maintaining existing IT systems, without actually investing in new systems. Ideally, you want to minimize your technology upkeep expenses, and invest more in discovering new technology and systems.

How do you do this? That's where a company like us comes in. As your IT partner, we can help ensure that your systems are managed effectively, costs are minimized, and we can even go so far as to help you find and implement new systems. Contact us today to see how our solutions can help maximize your IT investments.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

November 6th, 2014

BI_Nov03_CBusinesses who are looking to increase or encourage customer and employee interaction, while simultaneously boosting the quality and amount of data collected, have a number of options at their disposal. One of the increasingly popular choices is called gamification. Here is a quick overview of the process and how some small businesses have implemented it.

What is gamification?

It's human nature to be competitive, and many of us exercise this nature by playing games. Be it team sports, board games, video games, or even office-related games, many of us partake in some form of game on a regular basis. Gamification is the incorporation of game elements, such as points, rules of play, competition, etc. into business-related processes.

By implementing game elements into areas like marketing or training, you can drive engagement, while also collecting better data, primarily because most people will be more willing to provide relevant information when they are invested in a game.

When it comes to implementing these elements into business processes, many companies tend to focus on either customer gamification or employee gamification.

Customer gamification

The vast majority of customer-oriented gamification relates to rewards programs and repeat customers. Small to medium businesses who have successfully implemented these elements usually do so via social media and mobile apps. Repeat customers gain points for each purchase and when they reach a certain level receive a freebie perhaps or a rebate. This in turn drives the need to keep purchasing and to "win".

Many businesses have been successful in implementing this game characteristic into social media, where people who interact gain levels and therefore access to such benefits as discounts. Businesses implementing customer-oriented gamification often see both increased engagement and better data flowing into the organization. In fact, many businesses have found that the data implemented through these elements has been useful in decision-making and overall business intelligence efforts.

Employee gamification

Employee-based gamification is usually employed by businesses to encourage teams and individuals to work together towards a common goal. For example: Implementing a point or badge-based sales system where at certain sales levels badges are awarded, which can then be used for a reward, has proven to be incredibly successful for many sales-oriented companies. Publicly announced results and recognized rewards can also be a great employee motivator.

As with customer gamification, employee gamification can be a great source of data. For example, by tracking where employees are, and their results, you can quickly see weak spots or places where help may be needed. Essentially, more data means the ability to make better decisions.

Should my company implement gamification?

While this may sound like an exciting, and useful tactic to implement in your business, it's not for everyone and it won't fit well with all activities. What you should do is to look at whether the objectives and goals of the program you wish to implement can also be paired with gamification.

If you find that gamification, or elements of it, won't benefit your business program, then it's best not to implement it for the sake of it.

How to implement gamification

There are a wide number of mobile apps developed around gamification, along with social elements and ideas. What we suggest is talking to us to see how we can help first. We can work with you to find solutions and ways to implement your solutions. Contact us today to start the game of business success.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.