Blog

May 21st, 2015

164_Office_AIts release is still months away, but there’s reason to get excited about Office 2016. The latest version of Microsoft’s classic application package is adding new features designed specifically for today’s modern workforce, who are more mobile and collaborative than any generation before. Here are four of these head-turning features that are changing the way we use Office applications.

Cloud focus for Outlook attachments

Microsoft knows that sharing attachments amongst co-workers and teams can be a hassle. With many collaborators still sharing documents and files the old fashioned way - attaching it to an email and then sending to others - it’s easy for users to get confused and send an incorrect or outdated version.

To solve this problem, Microsoft is gently nudging us to use the cloud. Now when you add an attachment to an email, you’re now asked if you’d also like to share a link to a file on your OneDrive, OneDrive for Business or SharePoint account.

Showcasing easy ways to use Office better

If you’re like most people, you probably aren’t using Office to its full potential. And who can blame you? Between Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more, there are literally hundreds of features and tools you can use - if only you had the time to discover them all.

To help you get the most out of Office, Microsoft has now added a Tell Me box in the top center of your program title bar. This tool gives you an easy way to get questions answered. For example, if you want to project your desktop screen to a second monitor or create a graph in Excel, simply type your question into the Tell Me box and Microsoft will find the answers that most closely fit your search criteria.

Sway

Look out PowerPoint, here comes Sway - the new, hipper Office application that makes creating fluid, stylish presentations easy. With Sway, you can now gather content from various sources across the web, and then easily organize it into a presentation that can be viewed on a smartphone, laptop, iPad or other device.

What makes Sway more exciting than PowerPoint is in the process of gathering content: simply drag files, photos or video from YouTube, OneDrive and various social networks into the app. Once you have your content, you can easily organize it and adjust your design to create a unique look and feel for your presentation.

Better Data Protection

With Office 2016, Microsoft has raised the bar for data security. Now administrators can set and enable Data Loss Protection policies for Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Unlike in older versions of Office, administrators now have a range of security options at their disposal. For example, they can prevent data from being copied and pasted outside of Office 2016 applications, restrict files from being sent to certain individuals, and implement file-level encryption for Word, Excel and Outlook.

Want to learn more about Microsoft Office 2016? Have questions about other Office products? Give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 20th, 2015

164_Prod_AWith social media distractions, difficult-to-monitor remote employees, and increasing numbers of staff working on personal tasks at the office, achieving maximum team productivity can seem virtually impossible. So what can the business owner do? Here are a few tips that are sure to have your staff more focused and 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_AWe all know mobile is big - and still growing. Any business serious about leveraging the internet in its marketing efforts - whether that be through social media or otherwise - needs to be putting serious effort into the mobile compatibility of its campaigns. But new data released by Twitter emphasises the point further, and highlights the importance of using video in your mobile marketing too. Here’s what you need to know about this growing area of online customer engagement.

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 14th, 2015

WindowsNews&Tips_May14_AWindows 8 was a disappointment. The user interface was too complex for general users and many critics were not impressed with Windows 8’s features. And so Microsoft plans to leave the Windows 8 blunder behind and move on to Windows 10. Numerous changes have been made and new features added to Microsoft’s new flagship operating system. Here are the top features that Microsoft hopes will be enough to regain its reputation and clients’ confidence.

Microsoft Edge

Windows 10 comes with a new Internet browser called Microsoft Edge. Formerly named Project Spartan until around three months ago, Edge is officially a replacement for the aging Internet Explorer. Edge allows you to add notes, while accessing web pages, for future reference. It also comes with a new reading mode that removes all the other distracting elements of a web page and leaves you with just the text. This allows for a good reading experience, not to mention faster loading time.

Cortana

Cortana is Microsoft’s personal assistant and the rival to Apple’s Siri. When Cortana first arrived in preview versions of Windows 10, there were several bugs and compatibility issues. But Microsoft has been working hard to address these. Just like on Windows Phone devices, you can interact with Cortana using either text or natural voice queries. Cortana can perform many basic tricks and tasks, such as taking notes, scheduling meetings, setting alarms, calling people on Skype, and playing music. She can also scour your computer, OneDrive account, and even your business network to find files based on your input.

Continuum

Windows 10’s Continuum feature is designed to make the OS work seamlessly on hybrid desktop and tablet devices. Users are able to switch between touch and desktop modes, depending on the device they’re using. When you unplug your keyboard and mouse, a small popup will appear asking whether Windows should switch to tablet mode. Once tablet mode is enabled, all the windows on the desktop will immediately go to full screen. On the other hand, if you plug in a keyboard and mouse, Windows 10 will launch another pop-up asking whether you wish to return to desktop mode. Another impressive feature of Continuum is the ability to connect your Windows Phone with a PC, essentially turning your smartphone into a pocket-friendly desktop.

Start Menu

The absence of the the Start menu in Windows 8 caused dissatisfaction among most Windows OS fanatics. Microsoft won’t make the same mistake twice. And so the Start menu will be returning to Windows 10 at the front and left of the home screen. When opened, the menu splits into two columns - one the traditional list of programs, the other app-style icons. A universal search function has been added to the Start menu, making for easier file browsing.

Windows 10 is made first and foremost for desktop users, whereas its predecessor Windows 8 was aimed at mobile and touchscreen devices. Microsoft has hinted that Windows 10 will be launching in late July 2015, available in 190 countries and 111 languages.

If you’re looking to incorporate Windows OS into your business, contact us today and see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 11th, 2015

SocialMedia_May11_AIt has surely been a long time coming, and now it is official - the days of advertising-free conversations on Facebook Messenger are numbered. The social networking giant has confirmed that its private messaging service, a recent addition to its suite as a standalone app, is to become supported by advertising. While the move is unlikely to prove popular with ordinary users, it marks an interesting development for social media observers and presents new marketing opportunities to businesses. Here’s what you need to know.

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

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
May 6th, 2015

Productivity_May6_AIt’s late afternoon - you’re working on your desktop computer, providing live support to one of your clients. Suddenly your screen goes black and your Internet connection drops. Too bad your IT department announces that it will take several hours to restore power. Sometimes disturbances like sudden power outages can impair your business reputation and productivity. Consider applying the following tips to keep your productivity humming during power blackouts.

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_AFor many businesses, social media is the the wild frontier of marketing. More and more companies are jumping on the bandwagon but it can seem a lawless place. This is why many newcomers tend to waffle around with no clear strategy and call it quits if they're not making fast progress. But while it's true that social media can seem challenging when you’re first getting started, it pays dividends if you're willing to put in a little time and effort. This is why we’ve put together some practical tips that will help you measure your social media ROI more easily.

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_AIn today’s business world, companies with a business continuity plan (BCP) are more likely to survive a disaster than those that don’t have one. There are several components to consider when it comes to planning a BCP, some of which are more important than others and must be included in order for a BCP to be successful. If you’re looking to create a BCP, or already have one in place but aren’t convinced of its efficiency, check out these must-read principles.

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 27th, 2015

164_Soc_AIn today’s Internet loving culture, social media is becoming a necessary function for growing your business. And rightly so, because it’s a great way to expand your outreach, find new customers and share valuable information about your business or industry. But there are certainly some social media no-nos that need to be avoided. Along with that, there are also actions that will give you a strategic advantage and boost your reputation. So when it comes to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, here’s how to network like a pro.

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_AIt has been a long time coming, but WhatsApp has finally introduced free voice calling - at least for Android users. The free calls, which work between WhatsApp users and operate on the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) platform in the same way as those on Skype, are now available to all WhatsApp users on Android, following a slow invite-only release program. Here’s what you need to know; how to enable this capability and a trap to watch out for.

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