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August 7th, 2014

Security_Aug05_AThese days, the security of various technology based systems is constantly being called into question. From attacks on mobile devices to ever increasing types of malware, many businesses are struggling to stay on top of their security. One of the best ways to help ensure your systems are secure is to be aware of common security issues. To that end, here are five common ways your security can be breached.

1. You are tricked into installing malicious software

One of the most common ways a system's security is breached is through malware being downloaded by the user. In almost every case where malware is installed the reason is because the user was tricked into downloading it.

A common trick used by hackers is to plant malware in software and then place this software on a website. When a user visits the site, they are informed that they need to download the software in order for the site to load properly. Once downloaded, the malware infects the system. Other hackers send emails out with a file attached, where only the file contains malware.

There are a nearly limitless number of ways you can be tricked into downloading and installing malware. Luckily, there are steps you can take to avoid this:

  • Never download files from an untrusted location - If you are looking at a website that is asking you to download something, make sure it's from a company you know about and trust. If you are unsure, it's best to avoid downloading and installing the software.
  • Always look at the name of the file before downloading - Many pieces of malware are often disguised with file names that are similar to other files, with only a slight spelling mistake or some weird wording. If you are unsure about the file then don't download it. Instead, contact us as we may be able to help verify the authenticity or provide a similar app.
  • Stay away from torrents, sites with adult content, and movie streaming sites - These sites often contain malware, so it is best to avoid them altogether.
  • Always scan a file before installing it - If you do download files, be sure to get your virus scanner to scan these before you open the apps. Most scanners are equipped do this, normally by right-clicking on the file and selecting Scan with….

2. Hackers are able to alter the operating system settings

Many users are logged into their computers as admins. Being an administrator allows you to change any and all settings, install programs, and manage other accounts.

If a hacker manages to access your computer and you are set up as the admin, they will have full access to your computer. This means they could install other malicious software, change settings or even completely hijack the machine. The biggest worry about this however, is if a hacker gets access to a computer that is used to manage the overall network. Should this happen, they could gain control over all the systems on the network and do what they please on it.

In order to avoid this, you should ensure that if a user doesn't need to install files or change settings on the computer, they do not have administrator access. Beyond this, installing security software like anti-virus scanners and keeping them up to date, as well as conducting regular scans, will help reduce the chances of being infected, or seeing infections spread.

3. Someone physically accesses your computer

It really feels like almost every security threat these days is digital or is trying to infect your systems and network from the outside. However, there are many times when malware is introduced into systems, or data is stolen, because someone has physically had access to your systems.

For example, you leave your computer on when you go for lunch and someone walks up to it, plugs in a USB drive with malware on it and physically infects your system. Or, it could be they access your system and manually reset the password, thereby locking you out and giving them access.

What we are trying to say here is that not all infections or breaches arrive via the Internet. What we recommend is to ensure that you password protect your computer - you need to enter a password in order to access it. You should also be sure that when you are away from your computer it is either turned off, or you are logged off.

Beyond that, it is a good idea to disable drives like CD/DVD and connections like USB if you don't use them. This will limit the chances that someone will be able to use a CD or USB drive to infect your computer.

4. It's someone from within the company

We have seen a number of infections and security breaches that were carried out by a disgruntled employee. It could be that they delete essential data, or remove it from the system completely. Some have even gone so far as to introduce highly destructive malware.

While it would be great to say that every business has the best employees, there is always a chance a breach can be carried out by an employee. The most effective way to prevent this, aside from ensuring your employees are happy, is to limit access to systems.

Take a look at what your employees have access to. For example, you may find that people in marketing have access to finance files or even admin panels. The truth is, your employees don't need access to everything, so take steps to limit access to necessary systems. Combine this with the suggestions above - limiting admin access and installing scanners - and you can likely limit or even prevent employee initiated breaches.

5. Your password is compromised

Your password is the main way you can verify and access your accounts and systems. The issue is, many people have weak passwords. There has been a steady increase in the number of services that have been breached with user account data being stolen. If a hacker was to get a hold of say your username, and you have a weak password, it could only be a matter of time before they have access to your account.

If this happens, your account is compromised. Combine this with the fact that many people use the same password for multiple accounts, and you could see a massive breach leading to data being stolen, or worse - your identity.

It is therefore a good idea to use a separate password for each account you have. Also, make sure that the passwords used are strong and as different as possible from each other. One tool that could help ensure this is a password manager which generates a different password for each account.

If you are looking to learn more about ensuring your systems are secure, contact us today to learn about how our services can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
August 7th, 2014

Hardware_Aug05_ALaptops are one of the most useful tools at a business owner's disposal. These highly mobile devices allow you to take your work out of the office, or even just away from your desk. However, mobile as they are they still rely on batteries. The problem with some laptops however is that batteries don't last overly long, and there may be times when you aren't near a power source and find your battery running low. If you find yourself in this situation, here are six tips that can help preserve battery life until you find a power source.

1. Adjust the brightness of your screen

A brighter screen will cause your battery life to decrease faster. If you are running low on power, try turning the brightness of the screen down as low as it can go while still remaining visible.

Many laptops, including most PCs and all Macs, have shortcuts on the keyboard that allow you to modify the brightness of your screen. On almost all laptops, screen brightness is indicated by a sun icon, and pressing the smaller sun will decrease the brightness. On most laptops you can either just press the key with the brightness labels on it to decrease the brightness, while others will require that you press the FN key and the key with the label.

2. Activate your laptop's battery saver mode

Most laptops have a built in battery management feature that allows you to enable different profiles based on how you are using the laptop. One of the more useful settings is Battery Saver or Eco Mode. These modes have been developed to help extend the battery life when your battery is running low.

When activated, they will often manually override settings like screen brightness and turn off unnecessary services or connections like BlueTooth. To activate this on PCs, you can usually click on the battery icon in the lower-right bar of the main Windows screen and select your power saving mode.

If you have a Mac, press the battery icon at the top and select Open Energy Saver Preferences. This will allow you to modify how your laptop saves energy, including when to turn the screen and hard drives off.

3. Unplug connected devices

Many USB devices you plug into your laptop like hard drives, mice, phones, etc. are actually powered by your computer. Therefore, if you are running off of the battery, you will likely see increased drain if devices are plugged in.

When you are running low on power, try unplugging devices connected by USB. This is especially important if you have plugged your mobile phone or tablet into your laptop to charge.

You should also look to make sure other connection methods like Bluetooth are off. Disconnecting devices should allow your laptop to last a bit longer.

4. Turn off keyboard backlighting

A common feature of many newer laptops is a backlit keyboard. While useful when you are in a low light situation and need to see what keys you are hitting, the backlight does use battery power and can decrease your battery life.

Most laptops allow you to turn the backlight off from the keyboard, much like the screen brightness. The location of these buttons will be different for each laptop, so be sure to consult your user manual if you can't find them.

5. Close unnecessary apps

When working on the computer, many of us will have more than one program open at the same time. Some of these programs aren't 100% necessary to the task at hand, and keeping them open will usually increase the drain on battery.

So, when your battery starts to get low, try closing apps and programs you aren't using. This is especially true for apps that require larger amounts of computer resources like Photoshop or any graphics heavy program. Closing these will give you a precious few extra minutes, or more, of power.

6. Simplify your activities

Finally, along with closing apps that you aren't using, try simplifying what you are doing. What we mean here is focus on one task. If you are writing a blog article, close everything not related to writing including communication apps like email, instant messaging, etc.

The goal here is to try and stay in the same window or program, as switching programs will increase the drain of the battery. Sure, it won't be a massive spike in battery usage, but staying in the same window or app will help increase the time you'll be able to use your laptop on battery.

If you have a laptop and are looking for ways to get more out of your battery, contact us today to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
August 6th, 2014

BCP_Aug05_AMany businesses are constantly facing a potential disaster. It could be a major fire that wipes out your business, or something as simple as accidentally deleting an important spreadsheet. Regardless of the severity of the potential disaster, businesses need to be prepared and one of the best ways to prepare is to back up your data. In the first part of this article we covered four tips that can help. In this article, we take a look at the next four tips to help ensure your data is backed up.

5. Automate your backup

It can be tough to actually remember to back up your files, especially if your business is busy. Therefore, you could look into an automated backup solution. At the very least, you should set a schedule as to when backups are conducted and set what is being backed up. While this isn't a full automation, a schedule will help.

If you are using solutions like the cloud or NAS (Network Attached Storage), you can usually automate the process by selecting which files and folders to back up and when. The software that powers these solutions will then do this automatically.

Ideally, your backups should be carried out automatically to ensure your data is available should you need it. But you should check periodically to ensure that your data is actually being backed up. This is especially true if you are backing up other systems, as there have been cases where employees have become frustrated by the backup process and simply turned it off. The business owner, thinking their data was being backed up would be in for a bit of a shock when systems crashed, if this was the case.

6. Back up your backups

Redundancy of your backups is just as important as actually backing up your data. You should keep a backup of your backup in case something happens to your original backup. While this doesn't have to be carried out as often as the 'normal' backup, this should be done on a regular basis.

In order to really ensure backup redundancy we recommend that if your main backup is kept on-site, then the secondary backup should be on another storage medium that is kept off-site.

7. Don't forget data stored on non-physical drives

What we are referring to here is the data stored on different services like your email, social media, and non-physical locations. This is especially true if you say have you own servers. It's highly likely that there is data stored on these services as well, and should they go down and you haven't kept a backup, you may lose important information.

Essentially, think about critical data that is used in the company, but isn't physically kept on computers. It may feel like this is going a step too far with backups, especially for businesses who use email services like Exchange and Gmail. However, while the chances of these systems going down are incredibly rare, it could still happen. Therefore, you should conduct a monthly to bi-yearly backup just to ensure that data is there somewhere should something happen.

8. Test your backups

Finally, it is beneficial to actually test your backups from time-to-time to ensure that they are not only working but the data is actually recoverable. If you do a trial run on recovering your data, you can get a good idea of how long it will take to retrieve this information when you actually need to recover it. You can then take steps to optimize this and let the relevant people know.

Also, testing is a good way to discover any problems, e.g., if someone has disabled backups, or one solution isn't working. This will ensure that your data is there when you need it.

If you are looking to integrate a data backup solution, contact us today to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

July 31st, 2014

WindowsPhone_July28_AOne of the biggest trends when it comes to mobile devices, is the increasing integration of smartphones into every part of our lives. Many developers are looking at ways to essentially turn the phone from a device you interact with into a device that is really an extension of yourself. The way they are doing this is by introducing apps that allow you to interact with your phone. Google has Google Now, Apple has Siri, and earlier this year, Microsoft introduced Cortana.

What is Cortana?

If you're a video game aficionado then you will likely know that Cortana is the Artificial Intelligence character from the immensely popular Halo series. In early 2014, Microsoft announced that they were working on a personal assistant program for the mobile version of Windows 8.1 and Cortana was created.

The idea behind Cortana is that you use it as your personal assistant. When you want to know the answer to a query, simply ask and your ever-helpful PA will find the answer for you. As you use your phone and interact with the app, it will learn what you like and your interests and keep you informed about these preferences. You can even use it to place calls, check-out the weather, set reminders, and more.

The Cortana personal assistant has been released for all US users of devices running Windows 8.1 and worldwide users should be getting it by early 2015.

On a side note: One interesting tie-in with the app is that the voice of the Cortana app on your Windows 8.1 device is actually the same voice as Cortana from Halo! We guess that this is Microsoft's way of telling us that the Cortana app is much like the full-on Artificial Intelligence from Halo.

How to use Cortana

Before you start using Cortana, you should first enable it. This can be done by:
  1. Swiping to the left on your phone to open the app drawer and selecting Settings.
  2. Swiping over to Applications.
  3. Selecting Cortana.
  4. Sliding the bar at the top of the screen from Off to On.
Once you enable Cortana, you should see a tile placed on your home screen. Tapping the tile will open the app, or you can press and hold the Search button at the bottom right of your device. When the app is open, simply press the microphone icon at the bottom to interact with your device.

You can tailor the information and interests Cortana has access to by pressing the Notebook button at the top-right side of the app. Once you have set a few interests and have used the app for a short while you should start to notice more relevant information being displayed.

Recent updates

Microsoft has noted that they will be releasing updates to Cortana every few weeks and some of the latest include features that make the app much more useful. The latest big update announced two new features:
  • Nearby places - Cortana will now recommend places to go to nearby. Using data from apps like FourSquare, you will now be able to discover the best places nearby that are new, popular or have lots of buzz.
  • Local apps - If you enable this, you will get suggestions for apps that are relevant to your location. For example, if you go to Seattle you will get a list of recommended apps like maps, transit, etc.
These new features should be available now. To ensure that they are:
  1. Open Cortana.
  2. Tap on Menu (three bars at the top-right).
  3. Select Interests followed by Discover.
Looking to learn more about using Cortana or the Windows Phone in your office? Contact us today.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

July 31st, 2014

AndroidPhone_July28_AIn many countries when you go to buy a mobile phone, and more specifically an Android phone, from a carrier the mobile carrier will often install their own apps onto the device. These apps, commonly referred to as bloatware, are usually tied into a service that your carrier offers and are for the most part ignored by most users. The problem is, the majority of users don't really want these apps but when they try uninstalling them they often quickly find that they cannot. However, there is something you can do about this issue.

Bloatware defined

Read Android themed blogs and you will eventually come across this term. When it is used to refer to mobile phones, bloatware is software that has been installed by carriers or device manufacturers. These apps are generally useless, unwanted, or are value-added apps - meaning apps which you need to pay extra for in order to use e.g., a music service run by your carrier.

The kicker with bloatware is that you don't get a choice as to whether or not it is installed on your phone. The reason for this is because carriers and manufacturers install the apps before you purchase the phone. Many carriers have contracts with manufacturers to actually install the software before the device leaves the factory.

Is bloatware bad?

Mobile bloatware often gets a bad rap, especially because much of it is unwanted by users. That doesn't mean the apps are 'bad', or malicious. In fact, some users do actually use the software that comes installed by mobile carriers. The issue many have is that they have had no say in the matter and as a result feel forced into using certain apps, when they would rather be using something else, or would never have downloaded these apps in the first place.

In short, the vast majority of bloatware is not overly useful but it is by no means malicious. It's really more of an annoyance to many users.

Can I get rid of bloatware?

The short answer to this question is: No, you usually can't get rid of bloatware. Some of it can be uninstalled, but most of the apps installed by the carrier or manufacturer aren't able to be deleted.

That being said, there are two options you can consider:

1. Disable bloatware on your device

While you usually can't uninstall bloatware, phones running Android 4.X and newer do have the option of disabling it.
  1. Open your device's Settings panel. This is usually done by sliding down from the top of the screen and selecting the person icon with five squares followed by Settings.
  2. Tap on Apps and swiping right so All is highlighted at the top.
  3. Scroll to the app you would like to disable and tap on it.
  4. Press Disable.
  5. Tap Ok in the warning that opens.
  6. Once you do this, the app will be removed from the home screen and will no longer run in the background.

2. Purchase devices without bloatware

If you are currently looking for a new device, or are looking to upgrade your current phone, an option would be to purchase a device that doesn't have bloatware. For example, most phones you purchase separately from your carrier won't have carrier specific bloatware. Take for example Nexus devices. These phones, when bought outright, only have stock Google apps like Calendar, Gmail, Chrome, and Google Play store installed. Of course, if you buy the device from your carrier, there is a good chance it will have the apps on them. So it is best to look at the big-box stores or retailers.

If you are unsure as to whether the device you are looking at has bloatware installed, try asking the salesperson or looking at online reviews. As a general rule of thumb: If you buy the device from a carrier, or on a contract, the device will have some bloatware on it - most carriers have a stipulation on the agreement you sign giving them permission to install it, or noting that it is installed. When you sign the contract you thereby agree to have the apps on your device.

The major downside to buying devices like this for some users is that you have to pay full price for the device. For some this is worth it, while others are ok with the odd bit of bloatware if they get to pay less for their device.

Looking to learn more about Android phones? Contact us today to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

July 30th, 2014

Windows_July28_AHave you ever gone to talk with a colleague and gotten a look at their computer's desktop only to notice that they have files, apps, and folders strewn about in a seemingly random fashion? Or maybe you are guilty of a cluttered desktop. Many people tend to have somewhat unorganized desktops, especially if they have used the same computer for a number of years. The problem with this is that it can be a chore to find files and folders, and if your desktop has a ton of icons your computer could be more sluggish.

Want to tidy up your desktop? Here are six tips on how you can get your desktop more organized and even reduce virtual clutter too.

1. Before you begin do a bit of recon

Before you go about simply deleting everything off of your desktop, it is worthwhile thinking about what you really want to keep on your desktop. This will be vary from person to person, of course, but most people treat their desktop as a place where they put files, folders, and app shortcuts that they want to quickly access.

Take the time to think about what you use the most and which files and folders you really need to access instantly or which you use all the time. An easy way to figure this out is to simply auto-arrange your icons by right-clicking on an empty area of your desktop (where there are no icons) and selecting Auto arrange icons. This will arrange your icons into a grid format that makes them easier to see and work with. Then, right-click on empty space and hover your mouse over Sort by and select Date modified to order the icons by the date they were last modified, or opened, with the latest at the top.

2. Create holding and app shortcut folders

People often use their desktop to hold files like downloads, photos, screenshots, and even email attachments. This can lead to an incredibly cluttered desktop in a short amount of time.

In truth, you probably don't need all these shortcuts on your desktop. What you can do is create a folder on your desktop where all non-essential files and folders go. A folder like this is great to hold downloads or files that will only be used for a short amount of time.

The key here, is this folder is used for non-important, or temporary items. If you don't plan on keeping it, put the file, icon, etc. into this folder. Once you are done with the file, simply go into the holding folder and delete it.

It could help to also create a shortcut folder. When you install new programs on Windows, a shortcut icon is often automatically added to your desktop. However, these desktop shortcut should be for frequently used programs only. For programs that aren't really used that often, it is best to create a separate folder the shortcuts. This not only reduces desktop clutter, but puts shortcuts in one central location, making them easier to find.

3. Be ruthless

Once you have your folders set up, it's time to start getting rid of the clutter. As with any clearout you should be ruthless. If you haven't used a file, folder, etc. in the past two months or so, you should seriously question whether you can get rid of it.

To make this easier, open your desktop via the File Explorer. You can do this by opening any folder and clicking Desktop from the left-hand menu bar. This will make all of the icons and files on your desktop easier to see and work with.

Go through these and uninstall programs you no longer use, delete images you no longer need, move unimportant files, and place files in their relevant folders. Once complete, take a look at your browser to see where it downloads files too. If you have your browser set to download files to your desktop by default, try going into the settings and changing the download location to another file like the Downloads folder.

4. Stick with it

Once you have de-cluttered your desktop, try to stick with the rules you have set. With downloads ask yourself whether these need to be on the desktop or whether they can go into a folder somewhere else.

Of course, sticking with it won't always be easy, so maybe take time once every month or two to revisit your desktop and clean it up a bit.

5. Use the taskbar or Start for apps, not the desktop

With Windows 8 and 8.1 you can actually pin apps to the Start menu, so when you click it the apps are available in the window that pops up. This is a great alternative to simply having program shortcuts on your desktop. Pin apps to the Start menu on Windows 8 and 8.1 by opening your apps list (clicking the down arrow from the Windows Start screen) and right-clicking on the program you would like to pin. Select Pin to Start to be able to access it when you hit the Windows key on your keyboard.

If you prefer the traditional desktop view of Windows 7, or are using Windows 7, why not pin your important programs to the taskbar at the bottom of the screen? This can be done by right-clicking on an open app and selecting Pin to Taskbar. The programs will remain at the bottom of the screen, and can be opened by simply clicking on them.

6. Strategically pick your wallpaper

An interesting way to minimize clutter is to pick a wallpaper that you enjoy looking at. Be it a favorite picture, slogan, etc., try to frame the image so the focus is in the center of your desktop. Then, place your icons around the image in a way that they still allow you to see the image. If you can't see the image, then you have too many icons and it may be time to get rid of a few.

Also, having an image you like also serves as a reminder to try to keep icons to a minimum in the first place. This could be a proactive solution to keeping desktop clutter down.

If you are looking to learn more about using Windows in your office, contact us today to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

July 30th, 2014

SocialMedia_July28_AOne of the main ideas behind LinkedIn is that the network is a virtual venue for people to share their thoughts, ideas, and observances with other like-minded users. Earlier this year the company introduced a new feature to their platform that allowed a select few users to create blog posts directly on LinkedIn. Now, the company has decided to open this up to all LinkedIn members.

About LinkedIn's new publishing platform

Like other social networks, LinkedIn allows users to publish posts on their profile which are then visible to other users. In the past, there was a limit as to how long the posts could be, which influenced how users shared the content they generated. Most would simply copy and paste a link to their content into a post on their LinkedIn profile.

In an effort to make sharing thoughts, ideas, expertise, etc. easier, LinkedIn has implemented the long-form post. This feature allows you to create longer content, such as blog articles and opinion pieces, and post this directly on LinkedIn. In other words, you can now use LinkedIn as a blog which is shared with your connections.

If you create long-form content, this could be a useful way to get posts out to an even wider audience than through your blog. This is because when you publish a post on LinkedIn, it becomes part of your overall profile, with the post being visible under the Posts section of your profile. New long-form posts will also be published and shared with all of your contacts automatically.

This means that you could technically increase the overall reach of your content, especially if the content you produce is useful to your LinkedIn connections.

Writing long-form content on LinkedIn

If you would like to start publishing long-form content using your LinkedIn profile, you should be able to do so by:
  1. Logging into your LinkedIn profile.
  2. Pressing the pencil in the box that says Share an update…
Note: This update is still rolling out to users, so you may not be able to produce long-form content just yet. If you don't see the pencil in the Share an update… box, you will need to wait for a few weeks, or until you get an email from LinkedIn saying the feature is ready for you to use.

If you do see the pencil icon, click on it to open the long-form post screen. It looks like most other Web-based publishing and writing platforms with the usual formatting buttons and text field where you input the content.

You can write your article directly on this page, but many choose to write using a program they are comfortable with and then copy and paste into the text field. If you want to add images to your post, you can simply click where you would like the image to slot into the content and select the camera icon from the menu bar above the text field. Select the image and hit Submit. You can then resize the image by clicking and dragging on it.

Saving and editing your content

Once you have finished writing we strongly recommend you hit the Save button at the bottom of the text field. This will save the content to your profile, but will not post it. This means you can edit the content before publishing. To do this, click on Preview which will open your post in another window, allowing you to see what the post will look like on your profile.

While in Preview mode, be sure to check the spelling and grammar, along with the overall formatting. If you spot anything that needs to be changed simply switch back to the editing tab on your browser and make any amendments.

When you have finished writing, formatting, and editing you can then hit the Publish button. This will then publish the content on your profile and share it with your connections.

If you have content that you think your connections and colleagues would benefit from reading, then this new LinkedIn feature could prove to be useful and should be considered as a larger part of your overall content strategy.

Looking to learn more about LinkedIn and how you can leverage it in your business? Contact us today to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
July 25th, 2014

VoIP_July21_AWhen it comes to modern communication, many businesses look to network based strategies that allow calls to be placed over a network connection instead of via traditional methods. If you do some quick research into different solutions you will quickly come to the conclusion that there are two real leaders: VoIP and Unified Communications. While at first glance these may seem similar, they are in fact different.

What is VoIP?

VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, is a modern communication method that enables voice communication over a business's network connection. With many VoIP solutions you are able to use the same phones you do on traditional networks. You just need a small adapter that turns your voice into a digital signature that travels on top of data on your network.

VoIP is common these days because many businesses have high bandwidth Internet connections that can support it, and many solutions offer considerable cost savings compared to traditional phone lines.

What is Unified Communications?

The other main modern communication solution many business owners come across is Unified Communications (UC). This is a group of modern real-time and non-real-time communication services that provide businesses with a consistent user-interface and experience across multiple devices and platforms.

Many UC solutions include:

  • Internet telephony (VoIP)
  • Instant messaging
  • Video conferencing
  • Screen sharing
  • Call control
  • Speech recognition
  • Email
  • Voicemail
  • SMS
These solutions are often delivered via a number of programs that can be combined to look the same and interact with other systems.

One of the best examples of UC in use is the idea of a customer calling to ask a question about one of your products. They unfortunately call after business hours and decide to leave a voicemail message. After they hang up, software that powers the phone system translates the message into digital form and emails it to your marketing team. Your marketing manager receives the message, in email form, on their mobile device and is then able to call the client back.

This scenario likely happens using three different systems - voicemail, email, and VoIP - and three different programs. The thing is, these programs are all 'unified', so they work as one unit.

What's the difference between the two?

The biggest difference between the two communication concepts is the scope. Many VoIP solutions focus just on Internet-based calling, while UC focuses on company-wide communication. More times than not, the voice part of UC is powered by a VoIP platform.

That being said, many VoIP solutions offer some form of UC features like voicemail, instant messaging, and video calls.

Which option is best for my business?

This is a question businesses often ask us, and the answer is that it really depends on your company and your current situation. If you already have a traditional phone system in place in your office, and are looking just to cut your phone bills then a VoIP solution may be the best solution.

One of the biggest downsides of a UC solution is that it can require a fairly large investment; certainly larger than VoIP. If your business is operating on narrow margins you probably won't be able to implement a full UC solution all at once, instead having to implement it in steps.

Our best recommendation is that before you consider either, give us a call to learn more our solutions and how we can help your business get the right type of communication that will work for your business and budget.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic VoIP General
July 24th, 2014

Productivity_July21_AERP, or Enterprise Resource Planning, is often seen to be the domain of large businesses. However, with numerous new software solutions being released on a regular basis, small to medium businesses are quickly realizing the power of these back office automation and management tools. While it is true not all businesses will need it, there are several indicators as to when you should implement ERP.

There are several common business situations that indicate your business may be ready to implement an ERP solution. Here are 5:

1. Your business is entering the growth stage

If your business is experiencing a period of growth of profits, sales, and employees, chances are high that the number of systems and processes you use and require are also growing. If not managed properly, you could see a significant slowdown in growth due to inefficient processes.

By integrating an ERP solution, you can avoid this largely because these systems allow you to manage processes from a central location and provide you with the right resources when you need them. Essentially, they provide the platform that can support the systems and processes that enable healthy growth.

2. You have a tough time accessing business information

Companies without ERP often see employees wasting time tracking down important information. Think about the time you need to spend looking for accounting data. Is it available at the click of a button, or do you need to search for it across different locations?

If you are spending more time tracking important information than actually using it, you would do well to look into an ERP solution. It can centralize information and make it much easier to access when you need it, thereby increasing your overall productivity.

3. Finance and HR processes are becoming harder to manage

Companies with a small number of employees or customers can likely get by without specific software to help track relevant information and can use spreadsheets instead. But as soon as you see growth, you will quickly find out that spreadsheets simply won't cut it and managing Finance and HR related activities and information will become an uphill struggle.

If your teams rely on paper or other base information to develop reports and fill orders, you could see labor costs shoot up, possibly becoming your biggest expense. By integrating an automated solution like an ERP, you can cut back on these costs and make your employees' jobs more manageable.

4. Databases contain double entries and errors

When each department uses their own software to keep information, it can become impossible to manage it all and ensure that all systems contain not only the same information but are up-to-date. When different departments have different information for the same client, person or function you are going to see inefficiencies and errors made.

These mistakes and the time spent correcting them can result in increased wages, decreased productivity, and even potential loss of sales. By implementing an ERP, you can ensure that everyone is accessing the same information which is not only correct but also up-to-date.

5. There are numerous processes carried out on different software and systems

It is common to see many businesses invest in different software and systems for different functions and departments. In many cases, this can lead to high overhead and management costs which in turn can eat away at profits.

Many ERP solutions are developed to support a variety of business processes and departments. What this equates to is one solution that covers all aspects of your business. This is almost always more affordable than multiple systems. The same can be said if you need to add new employees. With traditional systems this means investing in new software licenses. However, with ERP you can usually add a user for a low monthly cost, or even no cost at all - depending on the solution you integrate.

If you are looking to learn more about ERP and how it can be implemented in your organization, contact us today and discover what might turn out to be a successful solution for increased profits and productivity.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
July 24th, 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.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.