Blog

May 20th, 2015

164_Prod_BAre you struggling to find ways to make your employees more productive? Do they seem distracted by Facebook and not committed to their job or your company? In today’s social media saturated world, it may seem difficult to keep your employees focused. So what can you do? Here are four ideas to get staff on your side and have them producing results.

Set clear goals

In order for your employees to produce results and reach their productivity potential, they need to know what is expected of them. At some organizations, it may be perfectly acceptable to spend one hour surfing the Internet everyday and seven hours working; or it may be considered normal to count a lunch break towards the eight hours worked. The truth is that more and more employees are bouncing between jobs from company to company, and each organization has a different set of standards and expectations. If it’s not communicated to your employees what yours are, you can be certain that they’ll make up their own.

Additionally, your employees need to know what results you expect them to produce. Maybe that means they need to sell a certain volume of products each month, or maybe it means they need to consistently score a four-star customer satisfaction rating. Whatever it is, your employees need to be aware of your expectations and have some sort of goal to shoot for. This gives you a way to see the results each employee is producing. Then you can try to find a solution to increase the productivity of your lower performing staff.

Be personable with your employees

Have you ever had a boss that rarely interacted with employees and that everyone feared? Maybe he stayed locked away in his office most days or ignored staff members as he quickly strode through the office never cracking a smile. Do you think employees want to produce results for a boss like this? They might, but it may be out of fear of losing their job rather than genuinely wanting to help that boss and the company at large.

Interact with your employees. And not only about work. Ask them how their weekend was. Find common interests to talk about. Take the time to get to know them. It’s easy for employees to not produce results or care about their job if the business owner is unapproachable and distant. On the contrary, if the owner is personable and friendly with staff, it is harder for an employee to slack off and not commit to the company’s growth. It’s natural for employees to work harder for a person they know, rather than one who’s “all business” and persistently unavailable.

Listen to your employees’ feedback

To go along with being personable, take the time to gather and listen to your employees’ feedback. If you show that you value their opinions, they’ll feel part of the team and organization. When this happens, they’ll be more committed to your goals and will want to see the company succeed as much as you do.

Of course that doesn’t mean you need to take every bit of employee feedback and run with it - it simply means keeping an open mind. Your team will respect you more and work harder for you as a result.

Provide reliable equipment

This is a no brainer. But if an employee doesn’t have the reliable equipment and tools to complete their job, their productivity levels will plummet. A broken computer, crashed server or faulty Internet connection will have your staff twiddling their thumbs and playing with their phones in no time. If it’s your technology that’s the culprit in this situation, Managed Services represent an exceptional solution to prevent your IT from ever breaking down in the first place. What does that mean for your staff? Less downtime, more productivity and more results.

Interested in discovering more ways to boost employee productivity? Want to learn how Managed Services can ensure the reliability of your IT and prevent downtime? Contact us.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
May 15th, 2015

MobileGeneral_May15_BEven if you think your company is on top of its social media marketing efforts, chances are there is yet more that you could be doing. In particular, the mobile arena continues to grow and develop seemingly without slowing down - and if you’re not harnessing the potential that this segment represents, it’s about time you started to. New data from Twitter demonstrates just how important it is not only to be harnessing access to mobile social media users, but to be doing so through video. Here’s what you need to know.

The Twitter report shows that globally, 90 percent of videos watched on Twitter are now being seen through a mobile device - whether that’s a smartphone or tablet - rather than on a desktop or laptop. Of all Twitter users, 82 percent use the social network - which until relatively recently has been primarily text-based - to watch video content.

Also evidenced in the report is the different use that is served by video on Twitter as opposed to that on other platforms, like YouTube. The report drives home the fact that Twitter represents a means for users to discover new video content, even if they weren’t necessarily looking for it. 70 percent of those surveyed said they primarily watch videos that they have discovered on the platform, whereas the majority - 63 percent - of those actively looking for particular videos use YouTube, rather than Twitter, to do so. In Twitter’s own words, consumers go to Twitter to discover content they don’t already know about rather than searching for something specific.

This is good news for advertisers - showing the value that can be driven for brands using videos that Twitter users discover while interacting on the platform in other ways. So too is the fact that video content directly embedded into tweets, rather than hosted on third-party players like Youtube, generates higher engagement - 2.5 times as many replies, 2.8 times as many retweets, and 1.9 times as many favorites. This is likely because of the lesser effort required to watch and interact with native video, as opposed to third-party content which typically involves additional clicks before being able to view it.

The report says two main things to advertisers. Firstly, sharing video content needs to be an increasingly essential part of your social media strategy - and will bring particular value in helping you to connect with the growing proportion of users who access sites like Twitter through mobile devices. Additionally, the research highlights the success stories that businesses are seeing using Twitter advertising methods like Promoted Video - so now could be the time to consider whether sponsored tweets are a good fit for your organization.

To learn more about harnessing mobile devices and social media to boost your business, give us a call - or drop us a tweet!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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 12th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_May12_BA dashboard is a business intelligence tool used to display metrics and key performance indicators (KPI) for organizations. The tool has grown in popularity over recent years, since implementing business dashboards has become cheaper and easier than ever before. Dashboards gather two or more KPIs and statistics and turn them into a visual interface. By implementing dashboards you will have an overall view of your business, or at the very least some parts of it. Here are some uses of dashboards in real-life business situations.

Marketing insights

The marketing department in an organization typically analyzes a significant amount of data from various channels. Whether the purpose is to forecast monthly sales, predict trends, or build marketing strategies, marketing officers need to compare, sort, and analyze raw data in order to present it in an understandable format using dashboards. Once raw data has been polished into meaningful information and presented to business executives, key decision makers are able to make choices based on that information.

Tracking sales opportunities

Sales dashboards are perfect for tracking various products and services throughout their lifecycle. With sales dashboards, you can identify sales opportunities by monitoring top-selling products and comparing the growth in revenue on a periodical basis. The implementation of sales dashboards eliminates the need to spend hours manually entering data and preparing sales reports, spreadsheets, charts, and manual data.

Social media management

There’s more to social media management than posting regularly on your business’s social media accounts. And in most cases, the default dashboard offered by your social media platform doesn’t give you a deep insight into your social media campaigns. What’s more, managing multiple social media accounts can quickly become a cumbersome process since you have to use several login credentials. That’s where dashboards come in. You can manage your accounts all at once through a comprehensive social media dashboard, saving you valuable time and effort.

Financial reports

Presenting financial data is so complex that, if not handled by competent employees, will often lead to misinterpretation and misunderstanding of critical data. Dashboards make creating financial reports much easier, and financial analysts can take advantage of dashboards to display sensitive data in a comprehensible graphical format - be it customer invoices, progress toward revenue goals, or business expenses.

Project collaboration

Businesses of all sizes require their employees to collaborate on projects, whether it’s on-site or online. Project supervisors need to get their teams together, in order to give them an insight of the projects’ requirements, deadlines and responsibilities, and to learn about the projects’ progress. With the help of project collaboration dashboards, members will see the complete workflow of the project, allowing for a more efficient and collaborative working environment.

Dashboards can truly take away the complications of presenting complex business data. If you’re looking to implement business intelligence tools to simplify your company’s data analysis process, drop us a line today and we can help.

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.

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 28th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_Apr28_BWhat does business intelligence mean to you and your company? Most business owners think they have a pretty good idea, when the reality is that our grasp on this most vital of business tools is all too often outdated and no longer fit for purpose. Just like other concepts and tools inside and beyond the corporate world, the ideas behind business intelligence have seen dramatic changes in recent years - fuelled not least by the arrival of a new generation of entrepreneurs who have set out to do things differently. If you can still see these outdated beliefs in your approach to business intelligence, it’s time to change.

Business intelligence should be simple

For too long now, business owners have been fed the idea by business intelligence tool providers that the means by which we understand our organization’s success should be as easy to digest as possible. That has led companies to take an overly simplified view of business intelligence. It is one that just doesn’t deliver the same depth of useful analytical detail that we need if we are going to really understand what’s behind growth (or lack of it). Nor does it allow us to genuinely develop a sense for the direction our companies need to be moving in - and how to get them there.

While simple business intelligence tools will work just fine for some organizations, the majority of us need to be demanding more complex, sophisticated tools to manipulate and generate value from the wealth of data that is at our fingertips. We are in an era where there is still value to be gained, but you have to dig a little deeper for it - and if you’re using outdated software that just isn’t up to the job, you’re going to struggle.

Big data is the be-all, end-all

We have no problem with big data - large-scale changes in industry practices, and our understanding of the ways our businesses work and grow, depend on it. But there’s a mammoth difference between using big data for the sake of it - because we’ve got into the mentality that its ability to deliver industry-wide improvements means it’s the magic cure for our organizations - and putting in place solutions that enable our front-line staff to actually use it.

After all, what’s the point in generating terabytes and terabytes of information if our outdated business intelligence tools aren’t capable of empowering non-technical staff to gain true insights into customer behavior, sales patterns and the like? Recent business intelligence sector developments mean that our companies can benefit from quality tools to visualize simple data collections, but the ability to do the same on a larger scale is still lacking. The lesson? If you’re looking to reap the rewards of large-scale data collection, equip your team with the tools that allow them to perform quality analysis.

The cloud alone is the answer

“The cloud” is the IT industry’s latest buzzword, but too often it gets touted around as an all-round solution that will solve each of our woes, without us really understanding its true purpose or how we can get the most from it. This is particularly the case in relation to business intelligence, where company owners are frequently led to believe that they can instantly enhance their business intelligence capabilities simply by moving everything upstairs to the cloud.

We’re big fans of the cloud and believe that with proper understanding and implementation it can pay real dividends. But the truth is that simply repeating your usual business intelligence routine - but doing so in the cloud - isn’t going to change much. If your business intelligence tools are too conventional and don’t offer enough flexibility, that will still be the case even if you put cloud technology over the top of them. It’s important to address the underlying issues before you contemplate a move to the cloud, so that you can truly reap the advantages of both changes.

If you’re guilty of being stuck with an outdated, or just off-center, view of business intelligence, give us a call to see how we can update you and help you to get the most out of it.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 22nd, 2015

164_Prod_BDo you ever feel as if your "to do" list is never ending? Do you spend your days trying to keep pace? If you’re constantly feeling worn out at work and ever ineffective, there may be deeper problems at play than a long, bulky to do list. We’re talking about habits. And here are a few that are surefire productivity killers you need to ditch now.

Constantly checking email

This is an obvious one most people already know of, but how many of us actually follow it? The reason it’s a productivity killer is because it destroys your focus. Even worse, constantly checking email has been linked to anxiety, depression, lower performance and even decreased memory function.

To overcome this habit, designate specific times of the day to check your e-mail. For example, first thing in the morning when you wake up, after lunch, and at the end of the work day. This will prevent constant email checking from breaking up your flow while you’re on the clock.

Working long days

It’s 8pm, you’ve already worked 12 hours, but you just want to knock out one more item on your to do list. You’re exhausted, but you tell yourself to push through anyway - even if it takes another hour. How many of us have been here? If it’s more often than not, it may be a good idea to kick this habit as it’s an absolute productivity killer.

Studies have shown that working more than eight hours a day lowers productivity and raises the risk of burnout. The reasoning is simple...mental fatigue. Once you’ve worked a certain number of hours, your focus will be less sharp and your productivity will consequently drop. Which leads us to our next point...

Not getting enough sleep

Rest is essential to maximizing your productivity. And the most essential type of rest you can get is sleep. Research has shown that getting five hours of sleep or less multiple nights in a row has the same effect on you as a 0.10 blood alcohol level. Not only that, but you’ll also suffer from headaches, be mistake-prone and get distracted more easily. Basically you’ll be an unfocused mess.

Working continuously without a break

Studies have shown that you need to take breaks if you want to achieve maximum productivity. This is because a break allows you to rest your brain. Often during a break, you may even come up with new creative solutions to problems. And the best part is that when you return to work, you’ll feel revitalized with a fresh focus and ready to be challenged.

Multitasking

In this day and age, multitasking is often touted as a positive skill. And while this may be true in small bursts, spending hours juggling tasks is a surefire way of lowering productivity. The reason behind this is that switching between tasks causes a loss of focus and creativity. Think of your brain as a computer with a limited amount of RAM. Now what happens when your computer’s RAM is pushed to the max? It usually slows down and doesn’t function as well. Your brain acts in a similar way, the only difference being that you can’t buy more RAM to install in your brain - not yet, at least.

On the contrary, studies have shown that focusing on one task for a larger block of time (don’t forget to throw your break in, though) allows you to boost your productivity and get into a flow with your work. Try it out and you may find yourself accomplishing more tasks than you ever imagined possible.

Interested in learning about more ways to increase productivity? Want to find out how your technology can help? Contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity