Blog

May 13th, 2015

164_Security_BIf you’re considering transitioning your business to the cloud, have you considered the security of the platform? While providers would like us to believe that the friendly fluffy cloud image used to market the service means it is automatically secure, the truth is that the reality is far different. Just ask one of the nearly seven million Dropbox users who had their accounts hacked. This is not meant to scare you, but only to make you aware that cloud security needs to be taken seriously - especially if you’re a business owner. To help you take the correct precautionary measures as you transition to the cloud, we’ve put together a list of actions you can take to ensure cloud security.

The cloud is playing more and more of a significant role in business. Yet, as more companies jump on the bandwagon, very few of them seem to be taking cloud security seriously. According to a recent survey, the "Security of Cloud Computing Users Study" , only 50 percent of those surveyed had investigated the security of the cloud services they used.

To ensure you put in place proper security measures when beginning your cloud venture, here are five actions every small business owner should take.

Ask your IT provider what cloud security policies they have in place - this is probably the single most important security measure you can take. Find a trusted IT provider and have a candid conversation with them about their cloud security policies.

Ask where the location of the physical cloud servers are - when you have “the conversation”, don’t forget to ask about this. Believe it or not, some cloud servers may not even be stored in your own country. Wherever they are, it’s wise to make sure they’re located in a safe data center area with proper security afforded to them.

Create unique usernames and passwords - your login credentials represent one of the cloud’s main security vulnerabilities. Take the time to come up with a better password than “12345” or “football.”

Use industry standard encryption and authentication protocols - IPsec (Internet Protocol Security) is a reliable technology choice.

Encrypt data before it’s uploaded to the cloud - whether you do it yourself or your cloud computing provider does it for you, this is a must to ensure security.

When it comes to trusting the security of a cloud service provider, transparency is key. The provider should take security seriously, be able to explain their security policies clearly, and be willing to answer any questions. If they can’t do one of these, it’s a clear sign of a red flag.

Are you ready to talk cloud security and transition your business into the cloud? Call us today. We’re happy to answer all your questions.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
May 11th, 2015

SocialMedia_May11_BSay goodbye to your advertising-free Facebook Messenger conversations - the social networking giant has announced its plans to bring promotional messages into the fold. The private messaging feature of Facebook became one of the site’s newest features when it was recently branched off of the main platform. The move is not likely to win applause from Facebook’s users, but it marks an interesting turn in the platform’s development and also presents marketing opportunities for businesses. Here’s the low-down.

As well as Facebook Messenger, which the company has definitively announced will feature advertisements, it looks likely that WhatsApp will also become ad-supported. Facebook acquired WhatsApp in February 2014 for $22 billion, despite the company only generating 2013 revenues of $10.2 million and overall making a net annual loss of $138.1 million. At the time, Mark Zuckerberg indicated that the company would not seek to monetize either service until they had reached a billion users, while WhatsApp founder and CEO said that the plan remained for the app to focus for several years on growth rather than monetization.

The latest announcements appear to signal a change in those tactics. While there has so far been no concrete decision on the form that advertising in either app would take, the intention appears to be for Facebook Messenger to test the water, with WhatsApp following its lead once a successful formula has been found. Executives have suggested that they wish to explore alternatives to conventional banner ads. They have also reinforced the message that the two apps, which seek to serve different purposes and audiences, will remain independent of one another.

The sheer number of users now communicating on the WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger platforms each month is testament to the value that Facebook could drive from placing advertisements on the services. Unlike its main site, which serves advertisements, the Facebook Messenger app currently makes no profit. Until now, WhatsApp’s only revenue stream has been the nominal $0.99 annual subscription fee it collects from users after a year’s free trial - and the service remains completely free in developing countries outside of Europe and North America. But for businesses, too, the potential of advertising on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp provides exciting new marketing opportunities and the chance to interact more closely with both potential and existing customers.

Learn more about using Facebook and other networks - both for advertising and wider social media marketing - to grow your business; give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
May 8th, 2015

AndroidTablet_May08_BGoogle Now just got better - the app, which acts as a digital assistant akin to Apple’s Siri for iOS devices and Cortana on Windows Phone, now benefits from further support on Android tablets. Google has added a further 70 cards from third-party apps, which brings the total number to more than 100 and makes for an even richer overall experience for Android tablet users of Google Now. As a result, you can get more done than ever and do less of it yourself - here’s the lowdown on the latest release.

Google Now works by interacting with other apps on your tablet, as well as information from your Google account, browser history and elsewhere, to deliver information and reminders at the very moment you need them. It displays information from each app as a card, and acts intelligently to learn your habits and determine which information is useful to you and at which time and location you’re likely to want to see it.

The ability to talk to Google Now and use it to access information from its Google app siblings has been around for a while. Examples include telling it to load all your Google+ photos from a specific location, or the particularly helpful way you can set reminders not only by time but also location - meaning you can nudge yourself with a pop-up to buy bread the next time your tablet detects you’re at your local store. But with the latest release, it’s the third-party enhancements - bringing in features from other, non-Google apps that live on your tablet - that are really the talking point.

Exciting additions to the suite of apps supported by Google Now include the likes of Spotify, TuneIn and Youtube, making it easy for you to quickly pull up a playlist based on the music you’ve recently been listening to. A breaking news feed is supported by a number of apps, while Google Now can sync with apps like Eat24 and FoodPanda to remind you that your food is due to arrive soon. With the Zipcar app you’ll get not only a reminder that your rental slot is coming to an end, but also help in navigating to the drop-off point - alternatively, receive an automated notification when you arrive at an airport where app-based taxi booking services like Easy Taxi and GrabTaxi are available. You can even get help sticking to your goals in various fitness and sleep monitoring apps.

Third-party apps aside, Google Now continues to use the power of search to bring up helpful prompts like nearby attractions, events and public transit options; another recent addition even alerts you when a sale promotion begins on a product you’ve searched for. While this functionality was previously limited to flight bookings, it’s now extended to support all kind of products. If you search for an item a number of times, Google assumes you’re thinking of making a purchase, and will let you know if the price drops so you can swoop in and secure the deal.

Getting the most out of Google Now support for third-party apps necessitates having the latest versions of both the Google app and the apps you want cards to appear from. To learn more about implementing Android or Google technologies in your business, give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 6th, 2015

Productivity_May6_BPower outages can be a most unpleasant surprise, especially when you’re in the middle of an important task with your clients via Skype or using the Internet to assist in your daily business activities. With that in mind, what can you do when you’re facing a power outage for hours? You can hardly loiter around waiting for it to come back - the longer your business stays offline, the more trust you lose from your clients. Here are some simple tips worth checking out during a power outage.

Install a UPS for each computer

A UPS (uninterrupted power supply), is an alternative, emergency power source. During a power outage, your computer will turn itself off automatically as there's no power. UPS prevents that by running your computer off its own battery. If you’re working on a file when a power blackout occurs, UPS is especially helpful. It can only buy your computer a few minutes of time at most, but that’s enough time to save vital files and power down. If you still need Internet access, try another method we’ve listed below.

Find a Wi-Fi connection

The advancements in technology made it possible for you to take your work outside the office. You can resume your business activities and Internet connectivity by using the mobile data plan from your smartphone or tablets, and then access your files via cloud storage and file sharing applications. If you don’t have a data plan, then head to the nearest Wi-Fi-friendly place to continue your work, such as a coffee shop. VoIP software installed on your portable devices can help you to connect to your clients efficiently.

Make good use of your batteries

Now is not the time to browse social media or play games. When you take your work offline, it’s best to preserve your devices’ batteries by doing only important tasks and turning off power-sucking applications. Buy an extra charging device to extend your battery life, if necessary.

Finish offline tasks

When no Internet connection is available, you can take the time to clear off any neglected offline duties, whether it’s clearing up desks or arranging files and documents. You can even gather a team to brainstorm new ideas for projects, or discuss any ongoing issues within your organization.

Work from home

If a power outage renders your employees helpless in their duties, then sending them home with a business laptop won’t hurt, if they’re able to continue their work from there. There are many ways to keep them accountable without being intrusive and, as long as they are making progress in their jobs and are able maintain their professional integrity, there’s not much to complain about. Make sure telecommuting is only allowed when necessary though - working alongside colleagues and sharing ideas face-to-face is still one of the best ways to induce productivity.

Achieving power-free productivity is possible when you have a plan prepared for the situation. For more productivity tips to boost your business’s bottom line, give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
May 5th, 2015

164_BizV_BFor many businesses, social media marketing is unchartered territory. It's too easy to think that simply by creating a business page on Facebook or opening a Twitter account, you are giving yourself access to whole new markets. If only it was so easy! To gain business from social media, you need to know which of your marketing tactics are working for you and which aren't. That’s why we’ve gathered some practical ideas that allow you to track your marketing progress and ROI.

Why it’s difficult to track social media ROI

The reason many business owners find it difficult to track social media ROI is because they don’t understand the purpose of the platforms from the perspective of traditional marketing. It's all too easy to expect immediate payoffs and profits, not to mention increased business. But while social media itself moves and changes fast, businesses should remember it still takes time to increase brand recognition, build relationships and enhance a company's reputation, whatever the platform. It is brand recognition that produces more sales in the long run. So don't lose heart if you are not making progress in the first couple of months. If you play the longer game, you'll enjoy more success.

So how do you measure ROI?

It comes down to tracking everything you can, including:
  • Online purchases
  • Online contact forms
  • Video views
  • E-book Downloads
  • Social interactions (this includes Facebook likes, Twitter follows and more)

To track these, you can use any or all of the three methods below.

Tagging Urls

Tagging a URL is basically adding a “tag” or more characters/words to the end of the original URL. Below are two examples of a normal URL and tagged URL:

Normal URL: www.AllstarIT.com/harddrive.html.

Tagged version of the same URL: www.AllstartIT.com/harddrive.htm?utmcampaign=BannerAdharddriveAd&utm_small=BannerAd

Adding this tag allows you to easily track which of your social media campaigns are producing the desired results. Without doing this, you run the risk of of all your social media visitors being recognized as organic, rather than ones that have come from a specific campaign or strategy you’re implementing. An excellent tool to build your unique URL is Google’s URL builder.

Google Analytics

This is the most obvious strategy for tracking your social media campaigns, and Google has long been the market leader in tracking the success of online marketing. A Google Analytics account can be set up in a matter of minutes, and then makes it easy to track your campaigns. Go to Acquisition and then check All Referrals. Here you’ll see where people are discovering your site - be it a Google organic search or social media network.

Call Tracking

Call tracking is often used to track the ROI from Facebook ad campaigns, though it can also be used on other social media platforms. This tactic allows you to measure how many phone calls you are getting from your customers on social media sites.

To do this you list a different phone number on a particular social media page than on your business website. For example, if the number listed on your business website is 763-984-6577, you instead list 763-984-6555 for the social media page you’re tracking. By seeing how many people call the number listed on the social media page, you’ll gain a better understanding of how effective that particular page or ad is. If it’s effective, you’ll know to use whatever methods are working from this page or ad in your other social media efforts.

Want more ideas on how to measure social media ROI or to get more value out of your IT investments? Get in touch today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 4th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_May4_BDisasters can strike and ruin businesses at the most unexpected times, but observant companies will prepare for the worst - they will have a business continuity plan (BCP) at the ready. Not only can they survive a disaster, they also gain an increased competitive advantage over competitors due to quick responsiveness and recovery. But there are good business continuity plans and great ones, and small plan adjustments can make a huge difference. Here are some of the things you should include in your BCP to make it more efficient.

Backup strategies are tested regularly

Most businesses nowadays, if not all, employ technological tools to assist in managing their everyday business operations. As a result, a massive amount of data is stored on their on-site servers. Should a disaster strike, all valuable information would be damaged or lost. Backup plans are advisable, of course, but even these are useless without regular check-ups and testing. You’ll want to verify that your backups include all of your company’s strategic data, and that they are fully functional in the event of a disaster.

All employees are involved

Your employees are the essence of your business. They help drive your business forward, and therefore each and every one of them needs to understand the essentials of your business continuity plan. Schedule a meeting with each department, outlining everyone’s role in the plan, then revise the plan again with the whole company. Make sure everyone has a part to play in order to avoid having some employees feeling left out. Be sure to also let your employees know that they are your most valuable assets, and that you’re willing to help them in any way you can during a disaster, whether it’s encouraging them to prepare an emergency plan for their families or allowing them to work remotely from home if necessary.

Identify and prioritize critical functions

What are your company’s greatest strengths? A good business continuity plan exposes your most important business functions. All inventories and resources related to those functions must be accurate and created in advance. But sometimes, determining truly critical functions can be a real challenge - and incorrect assumptions can cripple the whole BCP, so this needs to be addressed in the early stages of planning. Once you’ve identified your critical business functions, you’ll be able to continue your business operations smoothly, even if not quite normally, during a disaster.

Succession plans exist for key employees

This is one of the most often overlooked aspects in a business continuity plan. Key employees are the life and soul of a BCP, usually having the knowledge and expertise that precede the plans on paper. Are you able to execute the plan if your key employee is missing? Do a simple test without your key members. Put an alternative candidate in charge of the situation and forbid the key employee from participating and giving direct instructions. Assign alternates for each part of a BCP, and ask them to perform disaster recovery functions in place of key employees. Having two people to count on is always better than one!

Having a BCP is one thing, but having one that actually works well is something you should strive to achieve. If you’re planning to implement a business continuity plan in your company, contact us today and we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 1st, 2015

AppleMacOS_May01_BPhotography has become big - and mainstream. Whether on our smartphones or increasingly affordable cameras capable of professional quality snaps, we are taking more pictures than ever. And they all have to go somewhere. Apple users have long been waiting for an upgrade to the Mac’s dated iPhoto app, and now that day has arrived. With the release of OS X 10.10.3, the latest update to the Yosemite operating system, comes the all-new Photos app. Here’s what you need to know.

Clean design

The new program incorporates design and user experience features that have more in common with the iOS mobile operating system on the iPhone and iPad, as part of apparent wider efforts on Apple’s part to bring the two closer together (Photos for iOS has been available since last September). This means Photos now looks like much like an iOS app - think a single screen with a primary focus on displaying images. Distracting widgets have been left by the wayside, though if you were a fan of iPhoto’s easy-access sidebar, you can quickly re-enable that. Apple is also expected to discontinue Aperture, the editing app used primarily by photography experts, and Photos now acts as a middle ground between that and the more amateur-targeted app iPhoto.

At-a-glance view

The new Photos app allows you to review your photos and videos in seven views - Years, Collections, Moments, Photos, Shared, Albums and Projects. The Years view zooms you right out to see tiny thumbnails of all the photos you took that year; it’s something of a mesmerizing mosaic collage of miniature dots of color. Similar in nature to the Events view you were used to in iPhoto, you can move around and click on individual images to bring up a larger preview. Alternatively, scroll through the images using your keyboard to view previews of every photo. Another tap on the preview brings up the full-size, high-resolution version; instant rendering means this happens in a flash.

The Moments view groups photos taken at one specific event, like your office party. This feature was also available in iPhoto but has been streamlined and smoothed out. Photos uses the time and place the photos were taken to group in the Moments view - a slight difference to the Collections view, which focuses on location, and so can amass shots taken on, say, a vacation, even if they span multiple days.

The Photos view shows you every image in your library, while Shared displays those shared or accessed on iCloud. Albums gives access to those created yourself or configured by the app. Finally, Projects is another enhanced iPhoto feature, enabling you to review photos you’ve used to produce slideshows and physical products. With the exception of wirebound books and small softcover books, which are no longer supported, you can use Photos to edit and reorder products you created in iPhoto.

Enhanced editing

Though Photos is not intended as a fully-fledged replacement for the Aperture app, the nonetheless relatively sophisticated editing capabilities of iPhoto are carried across to the new app. Between the ability to make changes to specific individual elements of a photo’s technical make-up, and smart sliders that intelligently adjust multiple elements, you can execute quality photo touch-ups whether you’re a beginner or a pro. Eight Instagram-style filters give added flexibility, too, including several vintage and black-and-white numbers - we particularly like Instant and Noir.

Pinch and zoom

Carrying on the iOS theme, Photos allows you to navigate and manipulate your photos just as though you were on your iPhone. You can pinch and zoom on your Mac’s touchpad to zoom in and out of different photos, and with a few taps you can easily switch between screens. There is even support for keystroke gestures to allow you to effortlessly browse your entire photo collection. This gives the whole experience much more glide than we had become used to with the increased sluggishness of the past-its-prime iPhoto.

Cloud power

Of course, shifting everything to the cloud is the general direction these days - and it makes particular sense with space-greedy photos and videos. Your entire library of shots is automatically added to iCloud Photo Library and so available across all your Apple devices, which now employ the same familiar and easy-to-use navigation. Edits are instantly synced between devices and, in an effort to save space, full-resolution photos and videos are stored on iCloud rather than locally.

The new Photos app sees Apple keeping pace with our ever increasing demands for speed and flexibility as amateur and professional photographers alike. To find out more about putting Photos and other Mac apps to use in your business, give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Apple Mac OS
April 29th, 2015

Security_Apr29_BThere have been many security breaches to big-name companies over the past few years - eBay, Adobe, Home Depot, and Sony Pictures to name a few. While large enterprises are primary targets for hackers, small and medium-sized businesses are also vulnerable, and therefore need to arm themselves against data security threats. More often than not it is impossible to undo the damage caused by hackers, but you can take certain steps to prevent it. Applying these simple security tips can help protect your company’s data.

Get rid of passwords

We are all accustomed to setting passwords to our online accounts, and the tip is always the same - set strong passwords, and change them regularly. But according to Verizon, a global communications and technology leader, a quarter of data breaches analyzed in this year’s report could’ve been stopped if the victimized company had applied more than a password in its defenses. The problem is that passwords can be used with any computer, which is why companies like Facebook and Google have replaced passwords with USB tokens. Tokens, when plugged into a company’s computer, act as a verification device and an extra layer of security.

Encrypt all data

Encryption is a great obstruction to hackers, since it scrambles and descrambles data each time someone tries to read it. Encryption also causes compatibility issues if the data is not being accessed via the company’s own network systems. While applying encryption can be costly, it is certainly well worth the money if it can protect your business data from leaking into the wrong hands.

Keep systems up-to-date

The technology world is moving at a fast pace. Hackers are always upgrading their tools to take advantage of outdated security systems, and so companies should do likewise to protect their valuable resources. Yet many companies who use software don’t install updates immediately. If the update intends to close security loopholes, delaying an update exposes you to external attacks. So install software updates as soon as they come out in order to give hackers no reason to penetrate your systems.

Back up frequently

Although you’ve implemented several security layers to your data, sometimes hackers can find their way in. This is why you need to back up data frequently, whether it’s on-site, off-site or by way of cloud backups. In the worst-case scenario if your systems do get infiltrated, you can restore lost data from those backups and quickly strengthen security.

Monitor connectivity

Many businesses have no idea how many computers they have, so it’s very hard to keep track of which computers are online. Sometimes a company’s computers and servers are online when they don’t need to be, making them a tempting target for attackers. With that in mind, it’s advisable to configure business servers properly, ensuring that only necessary machines are online and that they’re well-protected.

It’s much more expensive to fix a data breach than to prevent one. If you’re looking to check your business IT systems for potential threats, contact us today and we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
April 27th, 2015

164_Soc_BDo you use social media for fun, but have no idea how to harness it to grow your business? You’re not alone. There are thousands of business owners out there who are clueless when it comes to social media as a networking and marketing tool. So to help you understand basic social media etiquette and how to network like a pro, we’ve given you a quick rundown of how to use Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to benefit your business to the max.

Facebook

Many people think of Facebook as a useful platform to keep in touch with family, friends and colleagues. However, in a business sense, it can be used to exchange ideas and opinions, promote your brand, and interact with customers.

A proven strategy to grow a more engaged network here is to share informative, valuable articles that will benefit your followers. Additionally, posting photos that emphasize your unique selling proposition and mission is a strategic way to personalize your brand.

There are, however, a few no-nos when it comes to Facebook. With Facebook being predominantly a place to connect with family and friends, it’s easy to fall into the trap of posting whatever comes to mind. So when you’re wondering whether or not you should post a particular comment or image, ask yourself, “Would I be okay publishing this on the front page of a newspaper?” If the answer is no, it’s best to hold off on hitting the post button. Finally, if you’re using the platform in a business sense, avoid sharing pictures of your dinner, newborn baby or anything too personal. Your customers are likely to be confused or turned off.

LinkedIn

The social network that is most obviously suited for professional purposes is LinkedIn, and it’s an exceptional platform to grow your business. To do that, it’s important to keep your company information up to date and remain active on the platform. A couple of ways to generate activity are to share or comment on articles, join professional groups and update your network with current company milestones, events you’re attending and other news about your organization.

When it comes to growing your network on LinkedIn, there’s a big debate as to whether or not to connect with every Tom, Joe, Dick and Sally who sends you an invite. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but as far as brand awareness is concerned it makes sense to connect with more people. However, it’s a good idea to take a moment and do a quick profile check on the potential connection. Not everyone retains a professional profile and image on LinkedIn, and connecting with the wrong people could potentially hurt your reputation.

Twitter

Want to connect with people from around the world, stay on top of trends and share your ideas with professionals you respect? Twitter is the platform to do just that. Like the other two platforms mentioned above, you can also share articles and advice, and ask questions.

An element that makes Twitter especially unique is the hashtag, and you can use it to take your networking to another level. For example, if you’re attending an industry event or other networking opportunity, you can search Twitter for the associated event hashtag. This will help you discover who will be in attendance - like colleagues and professionals you’d like to meet - which gives you a great opportunity to maintain and grow your network.

Interested in finding out how else you can use social media to boost your business? Send us a message to find out more.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
April 23rd, 2015

164_Virt_BFor decades, business owners have considered servers, data centers and IT staff a necessity for operations. 20 years ago, no one would have ever dreamed of a workplace without these integral tools. So it’s no wonder that virtualization has taken so long to catch on. When your business has relied on certain technologies for ages, it can be hard to let go. But in this day and age, the truth is that not letting go is now costing you money. That’s why we’ve compiled four questions to expose how IT without virtualization is eating into your profits.

Studies have shown that over 70% of IT budgeting is put towards simply “keeping the lights on.” If that sounds like a lot of money, that’s because it is. You’re likely spending thousands of dollars powering your IT equipment and paying your staff to manage it. And the truth is that it just doesn’t have to be that way. Virtualization can eliminate all those costs for a smoother running solution that you’ll never have to worry about.

So if you’re ready to examine your IT budget and see for yourself, here are 4 questions you need to ask:

1. What’s the cost of your data center?

We’re talking about the whole kit and caboodle: your servers, backup power supplies, air conditioning, security devices, and the overhead costs for the space to store all of this.

2. How much do you spend on cooling your servers?

Keeping your servers cool is a fact of life. Have you ever considered how much this is costing you?

3. How much is being budgeted towards cabling and adapters?

Don’t forget about these. We’re talking about not only the physical cables and adaptors, but also the costs of maintenance.

4. How much does it cost your IT staff to manage these resources?

It takes time for your staff to manage your IT. Time is money.

How does virtualization eliminate these costs? With virtualization you can kiss the data center, servers, cables and adapters goodbye (hello new office space). Instead, we store all your equipment off-site and deliver it to you via the Internet. Your computers and network continue to function normally. The only difference is they’re out of sight and out of mind. This equals lower maintenance costs, fewer overheads, less equipment, and fewer headaches.

And let’s not forget the time it costs to manage all of your IT equipment. With virtualization, we do this for you. This frees up the time of your current IT staff, allowing them to focus on more important things - like your business’s IT strategy and market changes. Better still, you may even have the option to completely eliminate the need for in-house IT staff. How’s that for cost savings?

Ready to make the switch to virtualization? Need more of your questions answered? Let’s talk today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.