Blog

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 7th, 2015

164_HW_BIf you’re a fan of Google’s Chromebook line of laptops, you may be excited about their latest addition - the Pixel. Stocked with advanced features, such as a high-resolution touchscreen and USB type C ports, you may be chomping at the bit to get your hands on this brand spanking new piece of technology. But is it really worth it? We’ve put together a list of the pros and cons of Google’s latest addition to the Chromebook line, so you can make a better-informed decision as to whether or not you want to fork out the thousand bucks for it.

Pros

Slim and lightweight - who doesn’t love a sleek, compact new computer that’s easy to pack up and take with you on the go? The Pixel weighs in at 3.3 pounds and is only 0.6 inches thick. If portability is something you’re looking for in a laptop, then the Pixel is certainly an attractive option.

High-resolution touch screen - want a hi-res screen that’s more advanced than Apple’s latest offering? The Pixel doesn’t disappoint and surpasses the latest MacBook with a high-resolution touchscreen that is 13 inches, 239-pixel-per-inch.

Battery life - For people on the go, battery life is one of the main considerations when choosing a laptop. And in this respect, the Pixel truly delivers. Not only does it promise 12 hours of battery life when fully charged, but it can also charge up to two hours of battery in just 15 minutes.

USB Type C ports - still scratching your head wondering how the Pixel’s battery is able to charge so quickly? The USB Type C ports are what gives it this ability. Additionally, these ports speed up data transfers.

Cons

Price Tag - for a computer that relies heavily on a working internet connection, many users may question the $999 price tag. With previous versions of the Chromebook costing less than $200, it might be hard to justify purchasing the new version when it still has relatively limited capabilities.

Lack of storage space - when it comes to storage space, the Pixel only offers 32 and 64GB options. To help users swallow this deficiency more easily, the company is offering a free terabyte of storage on Google drive for three years. For those who want to create and edit documents on Google Docs, this is a near perfect solution. But for those who would like to actually edit and create documents on the Pixel itself, their options are limited. Downloading the familiar Microsoft Word, as well as other other apps and software, is not possible.

There’s little doubt that the Pixel’s new features, design and capabilities are impressive. But at the end of the day, it’s still a Chromebook - meaning it will be as heavily reliant on the internet as its predecessors are. And you have to ask yourself, is a Chromebook - regardless of features - really worth $1,000? Ask yourself what you'd really be using it for, how often you work offline and whether you're getting good value when compared with other laptops on the market.

Have more questions about the Pixel or other new hardware on the market? Give us a call and talk with one of our qualified hardware consultants.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
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

WindowsPhone_May1_BThe Windows Phone suite is one of the biggest names in the smartphone industry, with millions of users around the world. Since its debut in 2010, Microsoft has tried to close the gap to keep pace with the competition, however they have received feedback from users about functionality issues. Nevertheless, Microsoft is addressing most of them and the Windows Phone stills packs a bundle of interesting features that enhance the user experience. Some of these features may well be worth looking into if you’re a Windows Phone user, or are thinking of becoming one.

Projecting screen to other devices

You can show off your videos and photos on a much larger screen by activating the Project My Screen function located in the Settings>System menu. Your phone will automatically start searching for any nearby devices that support wireless screen projection. In addition, you can install Project My Screen on your PC and connect it to your phone using a USB cable for a portable projector.

Find My Phone

Afraid of losing and being unable to find your phone? Don’t worry - Windows Phone has a Find My Phone application that allows you to ring, lock, locate and wipe clean your phone from the official Windows Phone website. Check first in case you’ve lost your phone at home, as Find My Phone will make it ring even if the volume is off or set to vibrate mode.

Word Flow

Word Flow is a built-in application on devices with Windows Phone 8.1 installed, allowing for fast and accurate typing. Instead of typing each letter individually, you can slide your finger across the letters on the screen, and Word Flow’s intelligent system will automatically input the exact word that comprises the letters your finger came across. It will even display an emoticon relevant to the word you typed.

Data Sense

If you’re using a monthly plan for your Windows Phone, sometimes it can be difficult to keep up with your current data usage. Data Sense displays your mobile’s data usage, and allows you to set very specific data limits. If you want to save some bandwidth, you can also restrict background applications from using data and command your phone to compress images while browsing the Internet.

Storage Sense

The way Storage Sense works is very similar to Data Sense. Storage Sense gives you an overview of the applications installed on your Windows device. You can see a quick breakdown of the apps that are taking up the most space and delete any bloated apps, videos, or audio files that you no longer need. It’s a very handy tool for giving your phone a spring clean!

Volume Control

The Windows Phone has two different volume channels: volume levels for ringer and notifications, and media and app volume. You can take control of these two individual volume levels. In other words, you can listen to music or play games at a higher or lower volume than your ringer and notifications, and vice versa. To access this feature, tap the small arrow on the top right screen when you adjust your phone’s volume, and a new settings window will open for you to customize volume levels.

You’re not yet using your Windows Phone to its greatest potential if you’re missing out on these features. Want to learn how to implement the Windows Phone into your business? Contact us today and we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

April 30th, 2015

164_O365_BIt happened quickly in an intense moment of passion. You had just gotten back from a vacation to find over a hundred emails in your inbox. Determined to peel through them all, you took a shot of espresso and set out on email deletion rampage. One trashed email quickly turned into two, which then exploded into dozens. Now, months later, you’re regretting the reckless actions of a few fleeting moments of productivity - you deleted a vitally important email. If this bleak situation sounds all too familiar, Office 365 has now officially come to your rescue with a new policy that allows emails to be recovered indefinitely.

If you’re a regular user of Outlook 365, you’re likely aware that you can only recover an email that was deleted 30 days ago or less. After that, it’s gone for good. For those that have been agitated by this policy, Office 365 has now made a change that allows emails in the Deleted Items folder to be accessed indefinitely. However, take note that if an end user makes the effort to empty the Deleted Folder, those items will still in fact be unrecoverable.

But what if you don’t want to indefinitely recover email?

Believe it or not, indefinite access to emails may come as bad news for some. It can create industry compliance issues for organizations and can also affect offline storage as deleted emails pile up.

Not to fear. Along with this new policy, Office 365 also allows you to customize the retention duration to a time span that works for you. To do this, click on the following:

  1. Office 365 Admin
  2. Exchange Admin Center
  3. Compliance Management
  4. Retention Policies
From here you can modify the retention duration of your emails to a time span of your choice.

Want to learn more about this and other cutting-edge Office 365 features? Give us a call today and get all the info you need.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Office 365
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 24th, 2015

VoIPGeneral_Apr24_BHave you been waiting for WhatsApp to introduce voice calling? If so, the wait is over and free calls on the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) platform are finally here - at least they are if you happen to be an Android user. The instant messaging giant has finally released an update for the Android version of its app that enables free internet-based calls between WhatsApp users. Here are the essentials on the release, how to get it and a trap to beware of.

WhatsApp’s plan for the introduction of voice calling was first announced by its CEO Jan Koum in February 2014, and was due to have been available by last October. However, technical problems delayed the release until the first quarter of this year. When the voice calling feature did arrive, it was subject to a slow and somewhat complex invite-only rollout program whereby, unless you were personally selected by WhatsApp to try it first, you could only access voice calling if you had a friend with existing access who then called you with it. After taking their call, the feature was unlocked on your app and you could use it to call others too. The latest move to make the feature available to all users means no invite is now required.

To take advantage of the voice calling option, make sure you have downloaded at least version 2.12.5 of the free app from the Google Play store. Within the app’s Calls tab, tap the phone icon in the top right-hand corner. Select from the list of available contacts - which only includes those also setup with WhatsApp voice calling, and therefore for now only those on Android - and you’re off! iOS users need to wait a little longer, though WhatsApp founder Brian Acton has promised the feature is on the way in the near future (the voice calling button has been spotted in the latest release of WhatsApp for iPhone, but has yet to be activated). Yet an unofficial Cydia tweak known as WhatsApp Call Enabler makes this possible now, if not exactly recommended, on jailbroken iPhones.

Those eagerly anticipating the arrival of WhatsApp’s voice calling feature should be on their guard against attempts to prey on that enthusiasm. A number of phony messages are currently circulating on WhatsApp, by email and on the web, inviting users to click a link to activate voice calling within the app. Since no additional download is required to access voice calling - and indeed activating the capability this way is not possible - clicking the link will not achieve the desired outcome, and will instead leave you vulnerable to unintentionally installing malicious software and spreading the malware further.

Since its launch in 2009, WhatsApp has become a hugely popular instant messaging app worldwide. The platform now boasts 700 million active monthly users, and claims to handle 30 billion messages each and every day. Prior to the introduction of voice calling, the app’s use was limited to sending and receiving text messages, images and short sound recordings - meaning that a conversation of sorts was still technically possible by sending recordings back and forth, albeit in a more long-winded manner. But the implementation of live voice calling puts it on a par with the likes of Skype, and makes it more likely that VoIP will become mobile users’ preferred means of placing a call.

That is something which other apps have arguably failed to do on a large scale - despite Skype and others having long been mobile compatible - since the majority of mobile users still opt to make regular calls unless doing so is prohibitively expensive, for example to overseas. Provided it can get the user experience right and make the process of placing a call so intuitive that it becomes as natural feeling as it currently does to phone someone the old-fashioned way, WhatsApp could be about to tip that balance and make VoIP huge.

Want to learn how to implement VoIP in your business - whether on your office or cell phones - to cut costs and increase mobility and productivity? Give us a call and see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic VoIP General