Blog

November 12th, 2014

Productivity_Nov10_BAs a business owner, you probably send out emails pretty regularly. Some of these emails are likely to colleagues who will then send a message to a third party on your behalf. This inevitably entails going back-and-forth between you and your employee. This can cut down productivity and lead to mistakes. One way to avoid this is to pre-draft the message that will be sent along.

What exactly is a pre-draft?

The idea behind pre-drafting an email message is that it helps to reduce the amount of back and forth between two parties when one of the parties is contacting a third party. If you have ever had an employee draft a message that came from you then you are likely well aware of the number of emails that can go back and forth before the email actually goes out.

Essentially a pre-draft is a message included in the original message that is to be sent along to a third party. When you include a draft message, the person who will be sending the message can then just cut and paste the content, personalize it, maybe tweak a sentence here or there, and then send it along.

How do I create one?

If you are currently working on an email message that will be sent by another employee on your behalf, try to come up with the outline and basic message yourself. It's best to clearly mark this message in the original email by using a flag like: "Message to send", and changing the actual message to another font or color.

Because most of these messages will be personalized, include placeholder text where your staff member can personalize the message. For example, To . This not only makes it easier to spot areas that need to be personalized, it also means messages can be sent out quickly and easily.

When is this useful?

To be honest, pre-drafting won't work for every type of email you send. But, there are some situations when this comes in handy, including:
  • When you are asked to provide a testimonial on a service. You can write a basic testimonial with areas for customization.
  • When you need to send follow up emails connected to a recently sent email campaign or message. You can draft a basic follow up message that can then be customized as your employees see fit.
  • When you want to post something on numerous social media sites. You can simply write the post once, then provide spots to customize based on the network.
  • Introductions and references. If you have been asked to provide a reference or an introduction, then draft a standard message which can then be changed as needed.
If you mark these emails as a pre-draft, or place them in a pre-draft folder, they can then be quickly found and modified in the future.

Looking to learn more about increasing productivity in your business? Contact us today to see how our systems can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
November 12th, 2014

BusinessValue_Nov10_BOne common technological system that every business needs is the phone. While digital systems like email and chat are quickly becoming the main way many businesses communicate, there will always be a need for a phone system. If you are looking for a new system for your business, there are a number of factors you need to take into account before purchasing one.

1. Know the types of systems out there

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

2. Consider these four questions

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

3. Ask your users what features they need

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

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

4. Work with your IT partner

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

November 6th, 2014

BusinessValue_Nov03_BTechnology is constantly evolving, so much so that it feels like there is a near constant stream of systems and devices being released on a daily basis. This fast-paced development has forced companies and their IT teams to move rapidly with the times. As such, IT as a whole has been basically divided into three main areas, which companies should be investing in.

1. Commodity-oriented IT

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

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

2. Business value focused IT

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

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

3. New opportunity IT

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

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

Get a good IT strategy

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

November 5th, 2014

iPad_Nov03_BWhen Apple launches a new or updated product the company usually holds a press event where they announce the release in style. This was the case with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, but did you know that the company has quietly released new versions of the iPad Air and iPad mini? If you are looking for a new tablet, here is a brief overview of these latest Apple devices.

The iPad mini 3

First up is the third version of Apple's smaller iPad - the iPad mini 3. The immediately noticeable changes with this year's device is the home button. It now has the metal ring right around it which enables the Touch ID feature so that you can unlock your device using your fingerprint.

Touch ID also enables users to pay for items using the Apple Pay feature that has just been released. Sadly, for the iPad mini 3, this is limited only to in-app and iTunes purchases as there is no NFC chip in the device to enable it to work with in-store terminals.

Aside from a slightly changed exterior and the extra Apple Pay related features, the device is more or less exactly the same as the iPad mini 2. It still boasts a 7.9 inch retina display and the same A7 processor found in the mini 2.

The major difference is that you can purchase the mini 3 with 64 GB or 128 GB of storage, which is not available for the mini 2. Unfortunately, the price of the device starts at USD 100 more (USD 399 for the 16 GB version) than the mini 2, which costs USD 299 for the 16 GB version. In other words you are paying USD 100 for the fingerprint unlock and semi-functional Apple Pay.

At this time, Apple has noted they will continue to sell the mini 2, which for many businesses will remain the better deal largely because it is less expensive yet offers exactly the same hardware and size.

The iPad Air 2

As the name implies, the iPad Air 2 is the second version of the popular iPad Air which was introduced last year. As with the mini 3, the Air 2 has seen a slight change to the home button with the introduction of the Touch ID feature that allows users to unlock their devices using their fingerprint.

The new version also enables the Apple Pay feature so users can use their fingerprint to approve purchases. Sadly, there is no NFC chip in the device, so you won't be able to use the device to make purchases at stores.

Beyond this, there are a number of interesting changes that many business users will find useful including:

  • A faster processor - With what Apple calls the A8X processor, the iPad Air 2 is one of the fastest and most powerful tablets on the market. Users have already noted faster website loading times and better overall responsiveness, especially when running graphics intensive apps.
  • A thinner, more mobile body - Apple reduced thickness with the iPad Air 2, making it thinner than any other iPad. At 6.1 mm, you will be able to use the device all day without it feeling awkward in your hand.
  • A less reflective display - While the displays on the iPad have always been top of the line, there have been complaints in the past about how the glass on the device is a bit too reflective. With the Air 2, a less reflective display is being used which supposedly cuts glare down by as much as 56%. This means you will be able to see what is on the screen more easily in more locations and situations.
  • The Apple Sim - For users in certain countries like the US and UK, the cellular version of the iPad comes with what is called the Apple Sim. This sim card is universal in that it allows you to connect to the mobile network of your choice without having to switch cards. This also makes switching networks and plans much easier.
If you are considering picking up the iPad Air 2, the 16 GB Wi-Fi only version starts at USD 499. If you would like to learn more about how these devices can be used in your office, contact us today to learn more.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic iPad
November 5th, 2014

AndroidTablet_Nov03_BWith the upcoming release of Android 5.0 Lollipop, there will be a subsequent release of new tablets and devices running the operating system (OS). Many of these users are likely to be business users who need increased security. In an effort to ensure that the next version of Android is indeed more secure, Google has included a number of security updates and features.

1. Smart Lock

One of the first steps to ensuring that your Android device is secure is to put a lock code on the screen. Adding a pin code, or pattern code, to your device makes it more difficult for someone else to gain physical access. On the downside, constantly entering the code can be annoying, especially if you need access to your device on a regular basis.

In an earlier version of Android, the ability to use your face to unlock your device was introduced, but it hasn't really been all that popular. With Android 5.0, Google has introduced a feature called Smart Lock.

This feature uses either NFC, Bluetooth, or your face to unlock your device. Essentially, you pair your device with another device and when it is in range it will automatically unlock. For example, you can pair your computer with your phone via bluetooth. When your phone is near your computer, it unlocks and allows you access without having to enter the pin. If you prefer to use your face to unlock your device, this feature has now been improved and moved to be part of Smart Lock.

2. Automatic encryption from first boot

As businesses continue to integrate tablets and other devices, the amount of data stored on these devices increases. As a result, you eventually end up with important data on your device that you need to keep secure. One of the best ways to do this is to encrypt your device.

On older versions of Android, device security was fairly complicated when not automatic. Now, any device running Android 5.0 is automatically encrypted when the device is started up for the first time.

This encryption will ensure that the data on the device is secure from the start, something which many business users will likely find quite useful.

3. SELinux

SELinux, or Security Enhanced Linux, is a security model implemented in Android last year which is configured to help minimize security threats. All developers must include SELinux enforced security on their apps. What this has done is increased the overall security of apps installed on devices and reduced the number of vulnerabilities that could compromise device security.

For most users, the updated requirements and measures introduced by Android Lollipop will lead to increased overall device security from the apps through to other features.

If you are looking to learn more about the latest Android release features get in touch with us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

November 4th, 2014

Office365_Nov03_BFor businesses looking to integrate Office 365, there are a number of plans available. Some offer full versions of Office 2013, while others include just Office Web Apps (OWA) - browser-based versions of Office. Because of the different plans available, it can be slightly confusing to figure out which one to go with. Here are five questions to help you decide.

1. Am I comfortable doing all, or most of my work in a browser?

Because Office Web Apps is browser-based, you will be spending a fair amount of time in your browser. Many of those who have switched to OWA have found that it takes time to get used to working with the system. Because of the way many of us work, you will start to see multiple windows and tabs open with different documents which could lead to increased confusion and more time finding the tab and window you need.

What's more, you will need to ensure that all browsers on all computers in your company are kept up-to-date if you want to use OWA. For example, older versions of Internet Explorer may not support OWA. This means you will need to spend time ensuring that everyone within the business is updating when necessary.

To get around this, you can work with a company like us who can ensure that browser activity is not only secure, but also up-to-date, which basically guarantees OWA will work when you need it to.

If, however, you are not comfortable using your browser for everything, then it may be a good idea to go for an Office 365 plan that includes the full version of Office 2013.

2. Am I going to collaborate on files with users both in and outside of the organization?

Many business tasks are real team efforts, where users need to collaborate on documents. While this is possibly with any Office program, one of the biggest weaknesses of traditional Office installs is version control.

If you have shared one document with a number of different users you will quickly find that the changes they make and send back to you are likely going to need to be manually added back into the original document. This takes time and can lead to confusion, errors, and a lack of productivity.

With OWA, any document you create is stored on your OneDrive account and can be easily shared with other users. When the document is opened, all changes are made directly to the main document in real time. This means each user can see the changes show up as they are being made, which increases the effectiveness of collaboration.

Of course, this is possible with almost all Office 365 plans - especially if you also integrate SharePoint, but OWA offers by far the easiest solution to collaboration. So, if you collaborate a lot, then OWA may be a better version of Office to use. That being said, if you just need a few people to edit documents or offer comments, then Office 365 plans with Office 2013 will usually be the better option.

3. Will I need to format documents, or need advanced features?

The Web-based versions of Office offer many of the key features found in the desktop versions. However, some advanced features, like in-dept formatting, adding charts, etc. are not currently available with OWA.

While many users find OWA is enough to meet their day-to-day document production needs, those who use the advanced features of each Office app will be better off with Office 365 plans that offer full installs of Office 2013.

4. Will I need more Office apps than just the core five?

Currently, OWA apps available to users are: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Lync. These five major apps cover the majority of document production needs for most users, however, if you require other Office apps, like Access, or Publisher, that aren't included in OWA, then you will be better off going with an Office 365 plan that offers Office 2013.

5. Will I be constantly connected to the Internet?

In order to get the most out of OWA you will need to have a strong and constant Internet connection. While you can create documents offline, you will need to connect in order to save and update them. If you spend a lot of time out of the office, this may be a real inconvenience, especially if you often struggle to find a solid Internet connection.

What we recommend is talking to an Office 365 vendor like us. We can explain the different Office 365 plans in depth and how you can integrate them into your office. Contact us today to learn more.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

November 3rd, 2014

HealthcareIT_Nov03_AMedical Group Management Association (MGMA) 2014 annual conference attendees were fortunate to get some tips for improving patient satisfaction from Joan Hablutzel, senior industry analyst with the MGMA—because doing so is essential to the success of a medical practice in an increasingly competitive health-care marketplace. Here are 10 of them.

  1. Say hello and smile when patients arrive to acknowledge their presence.
  2. Answer the phone in three rings with a consistent greeting to show the practice views the patent as an individual.
  3. Show empathy in your communication with the patent by observing his or her mannerism sand responding in kind.
  4. Explain what is going to happen, whether it’s a process or a procedure.
  5. Don’t interrupt when a patient is talking.
  6. Look for signs that a patient is dissatisfied or concerned—and when you hear concerns, don’t ever leave it at “I don’t know.” Find someone who does.
  7. Always respect patient confidentiality.
  8. Live up to your promises. Set time estimates and update patients if they change, apologizing when necessary.
  9. Say goodbye and wish the patient well upon departure to affirm respect.
These steps may be simple, says Hablutzel, but implementing them can truly transform the way staff members interact with patients, boosting their perception of your practice and driving growth. Contact us today to see how our systems can help.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

October 31st, 2014

Security_Oct27_BAs businesses continue to implement more and more Internet-based systems, there is always the risk that systems could be breached and security compromised. If you conduct business online, there are a number of measures you can take to ensure that your activities and your company's vital information are secure. Here are five.

1. Use two-factor authentication whenever possible

Two-factor authentication, or two-step authentication as it is also known, is the idea of using two pieces of information to log into accounts: Your usual password and a code that is usually sent to a mobile device or generated by a code generator.

By utilizing this safety feature, you can further increase the security of your accounts, largely because the chances of someone getting their hands on both the generated code and your password are slim.

Some sites don't use a code and instead ask a question that needs to be answered every time you log in. If this is the case, make the question something that is difficult for a hacker to guess. For example, use your address from 10 years ago instead of your current address.

2. Audit who has access to what data

Between all of your online accounts and social media profiles you will likely be surprised at just how much information about you can be found online. There are a multitude of scare stories online, where someone has had their accounts hacked and identity stolen, largely because they had left pertinent information online without even thinking about it.

It is a good idea to audit what information you have online. This includes looking at the contact and personal information you have on social media profiles, account information, etc. Ideally, if it is not necessary information, then it shouldn't be shared. As for social media profiles, make sure only the absolute basic personal information is online and limit who can see this information.

3. Watch what is posted on social media

Because of the nature of social media, we often feel the need to share our whole lives online. This can often lead to oversharing, and even sometimes oversharing of personal information. There are stories online of thieves monitoring social media for businesses posting about how they are going to be closed for a holiday, with all staff gone. Once a thief finds this information, they then break into the business without worrying about people being there.

If you are going to share information online, be sure to limit the potentially sensitive information that you post, especially if the content is shared with the public.

4. Change your passwords regularly

It seems like almost every week news breaks of a password or account information breach. What this translates to is the fact that your accounts are always facing a potential risk. Therefore, you should make it a habit to change your passwords on a regular basis.

Most experts recommend at least once every three months, but if there is a breach where your account information may have been leaked then naturally change your passwords straightaway.

To ensure maximum security, you should use a different password for each account, and keep these as separate as possible.

5. Work with an IT partner who can offer enhanced Internet security

Ensuring that your business is secure online can be an on-going battle that you will likely not win easily. One of the best steps to take is to work with an IT partner like us. We offer a variety of Internet security solutions that can help stop malware intrusions before they infect your systems, block access to potentially harmful sites, and even scan Internet-based email solutions. In other words, we can help improve your overall online security.

If you are looking to learn more about how we can help your business be secure online, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
October 30th, 2014

Hardware_Oct27_BComputers, servers, mobile devices, and more, are constantly seeing hardware and component upgrades being released. From faster processors to new screens, it feels like there are new elements being released on a daily basis. This can make many business owners feel like they must upgrade. The problem is though that this is a costly endeavour. If you are wondering whether to upgrade or not, here are five signs that you should.

1. Replacement parts are difficult to find

Computers, servers, and even mobile devices are made up of a number of different parts of hardware that rely on other parts in order to operate properly. If one breaks down, there is a good chance that the whole system will stop working.

Luckily, for many newer pieces of hardware and systems, replacements are easy to come by. But, if something breaks and you are having trouble finding replacement parts then it might be a good idea to consider upgrading. The reason for this is because parts that are more difficult to find are usually going to cost more when you can actually find them. While this may be ok for one system, if you have more than one system using the same components there is a good chance that these will also need to be replaced, leading to increased costs.

2. Repair costs outweigh replacement costs

Some hardware components can only be repaired by experts with highly specialized skills. What this means is that should this hardware break, you will likely be facing a fairly high repair bill. What we recommend is to always get a quote on how much it will cost to repair your broken hardware first.

When you have this quote, look at the price of replacement components. If it's more affordable to replace, then this is usually a better option. Of course, you are going to want to ensure that any replacement parts are actually compatible with your system, so before you go purchasing be sure to ask check with your IT partner.

3. You are running 'legacy' systems

Legacy systems are computers and technology deemed to be old by experts. For example, computers running Windows XP, or computers purchased before the release of Windows 7 would be considered legacy systems.

While these may be working like a charm now, they will eventually break. When this happens, you will see higher repair costs when compared with new technology. Beyond replacement costs is the fact that many manufacturers and software developers have stopped supporting older systems. This means that should an error occur, you will not necessarily be able to get support from the company who made the hardware. This can lead to repair delays and lost productivity.

Now, not every "old" system will need to be replaced right away. What we recommend is talking to an IT partner like us. We can help you determine if your older systems do actually need to be replaced, and suggest affordable alternatives.

4. Hardware is impeding productivity

If you or your employees are struggling to complete work because of constant computer crashes, or slow systems, productivity will be lower than it could be. Should you notice this in your office, it is a good idea to look into upgrading your systems in order to enable employees to do their jobs properly.

5. Your systems don't meet minimum requirements

If you are going to install new software or systems that require other hardware components, be sure to look at the minimum requirements. Almost every piece of software indicates which requirements must be met in order for the software to work.

If your systems don't meet these minimum requirements, then the software won't work. Should they meet them, but just barely, the software will work but there is a good chance that it won't work as well as it could do. Should you not meet the requirements, you will need to upgrade your hardware.

Looking to upgrade, or for some advice on how you can keep your systems working? Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
October 29th, 2014

BCP_Oct27_BBusiness continuity plans are an important part of any business, especially if owners and managers want to see a business through any disaster. In order to have an effective plan, it is important that businesses integrates technology that can support a plan. The fact is though that this technology will eventually need to be replaced. Here are five tips that can help you determine whether you need to upgrade to a new system, or replace existing ones.

1. New technology and systems offer increased resilience

When it comes to continuity and the systems supporting it, businesses need to ensure that they are resilient. This means implementing hardened systems that will remain working in adverse environments; systems like UPS (uninterruptible power supplies), etc., so that should a disaster occur services will still be available.

Beyond this, it is a good idea to implement systems that can be switched from one location to another quickly and easily. A good example of this is implementing cloud storage and backup which can be recovered to other systems with minimal fuss.

Technology that increases the resilience of your systems and continuity plans is worth implementing.

2. Enhanced data protection and availability

During and after a disaster, it is vital that businesses have access to their data. If your data is not protected in an efficient manner, or easily accessible once it has been backed up, you could see a decrease in business effectiveness and delays in fully recovering.

Technology or systems that enhance data protection and availability over your existing systems are worth including in an upgrade, so that you can benefit from data being available when you need it most.

3. Systems offering increased communication

Communication during and after a disaster is crucially important if your business is to survive and recover full operations. When a company faces disaster, communication networks need to be strong and available at any time. So, if you can find systems that enhance the ease and effectiveness of your communications then these could be worthwhile upgrading to.

4. New technology is available to simplify plan development and auditing

If you have developed a continuity plan in the past, you know that it can be a time consuming task. While essential, many business owners do not have the necessary time to commit to this. This is where systems and technology can help.

A system that makes the auditing and development of plans easier may be worth including in an update.

5. Technology that decreases costs

With businesses operating on narrower margins, many business owners want systems to keep costs low or at the very least ensure costs don't rise. If the systems you are looking at have been proven to reduce operating costs, then it may be a good idea to consider them.

It is important however to not integrate technology simply to save money. You should aim for solutions that are affordable, but that will also offer these worthwhile benefits and more.

We recommend talking to us to find out how we can help you find the services and technology your business needs to ensure your business continuity is not only working but will also deliver when you need it.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.