Blog

December 3rd, 2014

BI_Dec2_AWith the steady increase in the adoption of business intelligence suites and solutions by small to medium businesses, managers and owners have been able to take advantage of better data. One business function that has really benefited is sales. There are so many sales-related metrics to employ, it can be tough to actually pick the ones that work for your business. To help, here are five of the most common and most useful sales metrics.

The sales pipeline

This metric is often employed by businesses to show current sales opportunities and estimate the number of sales or revenue the sales team will bring in over a set period of time, usually a couple of months. When employed correctly, team members are better able to track and remain in control of their sales. Managers can also be assured that targets are more accurately set and reached.

When companies set up their sales pipeline metrics they often set out to measure:

  1. Average time deals remain in the pipeline.
  2. Average percentage of converted leads.
  3. Average worth of every deal.
  4. The number of potential deals in the pipeline.

Overall sales revenue

This metric is often seen to be the most important sales-related metric to implement, largely because it provides managers and owners with a good overview of the health of their company and overall performance. In short, sales revenue allows you to accurately view the profitability of your business, even if your profits aren't presently growing.

Beyond giving a useful whole-business overview, this metric can also uncover exactly how much each sale influences or contributes to the bottom line. This can be calculated by using the standard profit-ratio equation - net income over sales revenue.

Accuracy of forecasts

Any sales manager knows that forecasts are just that, predictions. But, because so much of sales is based on informed speculation it is important to track the overall accuracy of any future forecasts. By doing so, you can uncover gaps in processes and reveal any forecasting tools that need to be improved.

From here, you can track improvements and tweak forecasts to ensure that they become as accurate as possible. After all, if you can show that you are meeting your goals, or are close to meeting them, you can make more reliable decisions and be assured that your company is doing as well as it appears to be.

Win rate

The win rate, also known as the closure rate, is the rate that shows how many opportunities are being translated into closed sales. Because this rate looks at the number of sales, you want it to be as high as possible, especially when you look at the time your sales team puts into closing sales.

While a high rate is preferable, low win rates are also useful largely because they can highlight areas where improvement is needed. For example, if your team has constantly low win rates across the board, then it could signify that there is a need for more training on closing sales, or that sales staff may not be knowledgeable enough about the products or services being offered. A fluctuating rate could show increased industry competitiveness and highlight when a sales push could be beneficial.

Loss rate

The loss rate can be just as important as the win rate, largely because it focuses on how many potential customers did not purchase products and/or services from you. It can really highlight problematic areas in the early sales process. For example, by tracking the loss rate you may be able to see that response time is low, causing potential customers to walk away.

Essentially, when measured correctly, you can use loss rate to improve the overall sales process and hopefully bump up your overall win rate. You can also compare the two rates to really see how big of a gap there is and give your team a solid goal to try and find ways to reduce this gap.

If you are looking for solutions that allow you to track and measure your sales and any other data you generate, contact us today to learn how we can help turn your data into valuable, viable business information to lead your company to better success.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

December 3rd, 2014

AndroidTab_Dec01_AWith the festive season in full swing, this year, as in recent years, one of the most popular gifts will be the tablet. If you are considering giving a tablet as a present this season, and more specifically an Android tablet, you will quickly find that the selection is overwhelming. Here are some tips that can help you zero in on the right one.

Consider your budget

The great thing about Android is that there are tablets available for a wide budget range; from the ridiculously affordable, yet highly praised, Amazon Fire HD 6 (USD 99 on Amazon.com), to the top-of-the-line Samsung Galaxy Tab S (USD 350-400 in stores). You firstly need to set your budget.

Look at reviews online

There are a ton of websites dedicated to reviewing tablets and other mobile devices. Take for example the well known Engadget, or Trusted Reviews. Sites like these generally give a good overview of the new and most popular devices out there. Pay close attention to the criteria used though, as some review sites tend to only look at basics such as battery life and design, without going too deep into the actual usability.

It is also important to look at actual user reviews. The best place for this is Amazon.com, as almost all reviews of devices on the site are submitted by users. While some reviews may be overly positive or negative without actually revealing reasons, generally speaking they provide an accurate real-life picture.

What will the tablet will be used for?

Many tablets offer special features and functions aimed at different types of users. For example, some offer increased security and encryption that is ideal for the business user, while others may offer features such as pen support which turns the tablet into a drawing pad. If the recipient is likely to be using the tablet for work, then your search should focus on specific, business-oriented devices.

Who will be using the tablet?

Tablets running Android 4.4 (KitKat) and Android 5.0 have the ability to establish different profiles for different users. So, if you know that the tablet will be used by a variety of people then it would be best to purchase a tablet incorporating either of these versions.

If you know that children will be using the tablet, there are a number of apps with features that set the tablet up for children. For example, some will block the Google Play store, and any apps that are deemed unsuitable for children. It might be a big help if you install this beforehand.

What is the technical ability of the user?

It's true that almost every tablet is designed to make it simple to pick up and figure out. But some tablets are aimed more at specific users than others. Take for example Google's Nexus line, which is aimed at users who want a simple tablet experience and the most up-to-date software. Users with more tech experience generally find the Nexus line more preferable.

Other tablets come with super simple setups and many popular apps pre-installed, which could make them more suited to users who may not know much about Android, or simply just want to pick up their tablet and go.

Look at durability and features

As with most tech-related purchases, you generally get what you pay for. So, if you want a tablet with top-of-the-line features like a great display, fast processing speeds, and LTE/Data connections, you are likely going to have to pay more.

A good starting point is to look at the questions you answered above about who will be using the device and what they will be using it for, then look for a tablet with features that support or enable this and that has positive reviews. While it may be tempting to stick with brand new tablets only, be sure to look at those released in the past year to year and a half as well. For example, the terrific Nexus 7 tablet (2013 version) is still a great option for many users, not to mention the fact that it is available at an affordable price. Manufacturers like Samsung also have a number of great tablets available with a wide variety of features.

Almost above all else, the overall durability of the device is important. If you purchase a tablet with flimsy construction, there is a good chance it will soon break or fall apart easily. Again, online reviews often focus on the build quality, so these could be a good starting point. Also going to the store and physically trying the devices out could go a long way in helping you pick the best one.

If you are struggling to find the perfect tech gift or Android tablet this holiday season, contact us today to see how our experts can help you find what you need.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

December 2nd, 2014

Office365_Dec01_ABusinesses who subscribe to Microsoft Office 365, gain access to a number of programs, one of which is OneDrive for Business. At first glance, this would appear to be the same as the OneDrive that personal users also access. However, despite sharing the same name, they are two different programs. Here is a brief overview of the two services and what sets them apart from each other.

What is OneDrive?

If you use Microsoft apps and programs there is a good chance you have already heard of OneDrive, and if you haven't, you will certainly be hearing more about it in the coming months. Regardless of what version of OneDrive you have, the idea behind the platform is that it is cloud-based. When looking into this app you will find that there are two versions: OneDrive for personal users and OneDrive for Business.

OneDrive for personal users

OneDrive for personal users, or just OneDrive for short, is Microsoft's cloud-based document storage system. If you have a non-business account with Microsoft e.g., an older Hotmail account or a newer Outlook.com account, you have access to this storage solution.

The tagline for this service is, "One place for everything in your life", which makes it pretty clear that this is for personal use. When you upload, or "store" files on your OneDrive account you are storing them using Microsoft's cloud technology which is hosted and managed by servers Microsoft owns. This makes the files available on any device, as long as you log into your account on that device. In other words, this is cloud storage.

OneDrive for personal use is free for all users. All you need is a Microsoft account or email address which can be obtained for free at outlook.com.

OneDrive for Business

This service is actually quite different, and even though the general concept behind both of the platforms is the same: cloud storage, the similarities pretty much end there. OneDrive for Business is a place where you can store, sync, and share your work files. As such, you need to subscribe to one of the various Office 365 for Business subscription plans.

Unlike the personal version of OneDrive, OneDrive for Business utilizes a platform called SharePoint to host and deliver storage services to business users. Businesses can opt for a Microsoft hosted version of SharePoint, or an on-premises version which they install and maintain on servers in the office. This makes the app manageable by business owners and IT partners, and can be done so through the Office 365 admin panel. Beyond that, if businesses decide to host SharePoint on their own servers, they can assign as much or as little storage to individual accounts as they so choose.

With this solution you can upload and share documents with other colleagues and even work on these files at the same time, with changes being made in real time. Business owners and managers can also better manage this solution thanks to powerful administrator tools.

A real plus point about OneDrive for Business is that Microsoft has recently announced that Office 365 users will receive unlimited storage space starting in the near future, (the end of 2014 for Pro Plus subscribers, early 2015 for other plans).

In summary:

  • OneDrive is for personal use, and has been designed to allow users to store and access any files.
  • OneDrive for Business is for business use and requires an Office 365 subscription plan. It allows users to store, access, share, and collaborate on files with other colleagues, and can be hosted either off site, or on site using SharePoint.
If you would like to learn more about these two platforms, contact us today and we can make sure that you are making the most of the technology that's available to enhance your business success.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

December 2nd, 2014

GoogleApps_Dec01_AIt has become pretty much essential that most businesses now have an online presence. While a simple website used to suffice, the new requirement is that you need to be easily found by existing and potential customers. One of the easiest ways to ensure this is to "Get on Google". The question however is: How do you do this? To help make things easier, why not use Google's Google My Business.

What is Google My Business?

If you have used Google for even a short while you will know that there are numerous ways you can find and search for a business. From Google Maps, to Search, to Google+, and even mobile apps, businesses need to ensure that they have a presence on all of these services if they want to maximize the chances of being found.

To help make this as easy as possible, Google launched a new service earlier this year called Google My Business. This is a suite of tools that small to medium business owners can use to "get onto Google". By going to one website, and filling in the relevant information, Google will help you to:

  • Add your business to Google+.
  • Add business information to Google Search.
  • Add your business information to Google Maps.
Essentially, this tool ensures that your business and relevant company information will be more easily found by users on Google, regardless of the device they are using. For businesses that have been using Google's older tools, like Google+ dashboard and Google Places, Google My Business is now the main suite where you can manage your Google presence.

What can I do with Google My Business?

From this suite you can:
  • Maintain business information.
  • Manage and maintain your Google+ page. Including creating posts directly from this page.
  • Track and respond to business reviews.
  • Track engagement with your Google+ pages.
  • View relevant information pulled from Google Analytics.
  • Create and maintain Google AdWords Express campaigns.

Is this service useful?

Aside from simply getting your business on to Google, this service has some great tools that will provide some valuable insight into your online presence. For example, by pulling information from Google AdWords Express and Google Analytics you can quickly see how people are finding your business, what they are clicking on, where they are coming from, and where they are going.

Possibly one of the most interesting features of this service is that when Google Maps is used to get directions to your business, this is logged and you can see where users are coming from. Therefore, if you see that a number of people are getting directions from one neighborhood or area, you can then use this data to create targeted ad campaigns and more.

In short, Google My Business has been designed to give your business better insight into trends and greater access to valuable information.

There is also a mobile app that allows you to manage your presence from an Android and iOS device. With this app you can set it so that you get real-time updates when you receive reviews or other relevant information. This makes it an ideal app to install on your device if you want to keep track while you are away from the office or your business.

How do I access Google My Business?

If you have not set up a Google Places Page before, then you can go to https://business.google.com/ and follow the directions on the page to set up a presence for your business on Google. Business owners with a Place Page, can log into any Google service with this account and then click on the link above. This should take you straight to your main page. You can also find the Android and iOS apps on Google Play and the Apple App Store.

Great IT solutions and support, with business-oriented apps, can really transform how you do business and the success of your business too. If you would like to really highlight what you are about to customers then make contact with us too.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

November 25th, 2014

Hardware_Nov25_AThere are many different pieces of technical equipment most businesses need in order to operate successfully, with one of the most essential being the wireless router. Routers allow one network connection to essentially be split into many and then shared by different users and devices, often over a Wi-Fi connection. If you are looking for a new Wi-Fi router for your office there are some important features you should be aware of.

Essential features

For the vast majority of users, there are five main features that all wireless routers must have in order to make them useful in the office. They are:
  • Network type - Look at any router and you will quickly see that there are a number of different networks available. The four most commonly found are 802.1b, 802.1g, 802.1n, and 802.11ac. These designations are for how fast the router can transfer wireless data, with 802.11ac being the fastest of these four. Most offices should be able to get by on n routers, but those who have users connecting via Wi-Fi and cable may do better with 802.11ac routers - which are backward compatible with other slower network versions.
  • Throughput - This is closely associated with the router's network type, and is usually one of the first things listed on router boxes and specifications. To spot the router's throughput, look for Mbps. This indicates the speed at which the router is supposed to transmit data from your connection to users. It is important to note here that if you have a 100Mbps Internet connection, but buy a router that is only say 80 Mbps, then the total speed will be the lower figure, 80Mbps. Therefore, it would be a good idea to get a router with a higher throughput, or a close throughput, to your main Internet connection.
  • Range - This is particularly important for users who will be connecting via Wi-Fi, as they will likely not be sitting right beside the router. Generally speaking, the further you are from your router, the slower and weaker your connection will be. As a rule of thumb: 802.11ac and n routers will offer the strongest connections and greatest range. But this will all depend on where the router is placed and any natural barriers like concrete walls, etc.
  • Bands - On every single router's box you will see numbers like 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz. These indicate the wireless radios on the router. A dual-band router will have both a 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz radio which allows devices to connect to different bands so as not to overload a connection. Those who connect to a 5Ghz band will generally have better performance, but the broadcast range will be much shorter than the 2.4Ghz radio.
  • QoS - Quality of Service is a newer feature that allows the router administrator to limit certain types of traffic. For example, you can use the QoS feature of a router to completely block all torrent traffic, or to limit it so that other users can have equal bandwidth. Not every router has this ability, but it is a highly beneficial feature for office routers.

Useful features

As well as the above features, which are essential for business Wi-Fi routers, there are also some useful features that may help improve overall speeds and usability. Here are three of the most useful, but not essential:
  • Beam-forming - This is a newer feature being introduced in many mid to high-end routers. It is a form of signal technology that allows for better throughput in dead areas of a business or home. In other words, it can help improve the connection quality with devices behind solid walls, or in rooms with high amounts of interference. By utilizing this technology, routers can see where connection is weak and act to improve it. While this is available on routers with many network types, it is really only useful with routers running 802.11ac, so if you have devices compatible with 802.11ac, then this feature could help.
  • MIMO - Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output is the use of multiple antennas to increase performance and overall throughput. Most modern routers don't actually use multiple antennas or extra antennas to increase performance, instead utilizing this concept to ensure that more devices can connect to one router with less interference and better performance.
  • Antennas - Some routers, especially those geared towards home use, don't have physical antennas, while other higher-end routers do. With many wireless routers, the idea behind antennas is that they allow the direction of the best connection to be configured. It can be easy to think that these antennas will help improve connection, but when it comes to real-world tests, there is often only a nominal improvement if the antennas are configured and aimed properly.
While these features can help improve the overall connectivity and speed of a wireless network, they are not necessary for most business users. If you are going to be tweaking networks however, then these may help. Beyond that, concepts like beam-forming only work well if you have a wealth of devices that are 802.11ac compatible and these are still less popular than devices that are say 802.1n compatible.

Features to watch out for

There are a number of router features that manufacturers often tout as essential, important, etc., when in reality these features are often more about marketing and will pose little use to the vast majority of users.
  • Routers with advertised processor speeds - With many pieces of equipment, the processor speed is an important indicator as to how fast it will run, and how well systems will run. With routers however, there is usually a small requirement for processing power. Sure, some features like firewalls require processing power, but the vast majority of routers have the power to run these. Therefore, advertised processor speeds with Wi-Fi routers offer no realizable benefit to the majority of users.
  • Tri-band - While many routers have dual broadcasting bands, some newer ones are now tri-band. The idea and marketing behind this is that with a third band, throughput can be dramatically increased and this is often reflected in the speeds manufacturers say these routers can offer. In reality however, this often isn't the case, as all this extra band really does is allow for more devices to connect. You will most likely not see an increase in overall connection speed.
  • Patented or trademarked features - Almost every router these days will have individual features (also known as proprietary technology) that the manufacturer includes with the idea that it makes the router that much better, or at least uniquely different, than any other. While many of these features can be useful to some users, they should not be the main reason to select a router.

How do I pick the best router?

Go to any hardware retailer and you will quickly find that the sheer number of wireless routers out there is overwhelming. Sure, they all do the same thing, but some will be better than others. One thing to try is to look at the user submitted reviews of different routers online. While the manufacturers may claim one thing, it is the real-world users who can shed the best insight into products. Try to find more business-oriented reviews rather than views based on domestic use.

What we recommend is to contact us. We can work with you to help you find and set up the best router for your business. Get in touch today to learn more.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
November 25th, 2014

OSX_Nov24_AWith the recent launch of OS X Yosemite, Apple also released a number of new software updates, including a new version of their Internet browser - Safari. What is really great about Safari, as with all other Apple apps, is that there are a large number of useful keyboard shortcuts that make using the browser just that much easier. Here are seven you may not know.

1. Scroll up and down a screen

While you can use your mouse to scroll, if you are on a laptop or need to quickly scan down one screen, you can press the spacebar. This will move the page down one screen (based on your current screen size). You can move up one screen by pressing Shift + Spacebar.

2. Open a page in a new tab

If you are looking at a page with a link that you would like to click and open, but you would like to also keep the existing page open, you can do so by simply pressing Command + clicking on the link. When you do this, the link will open in a new tab. You can also use this shortcut with bookmarks, and if you are entering a URL, hit Command + Return to open the URL in a new tab.

3. Open and close tabs

If you would like to quickly open a new tab in the same Safari window, press Command + T and it should open to the right of the tab you are currently looking at. If you would like to close the tab you are looking at, press Command + W. Should you accidently close the wrong tab, hitting Command + Z will reopen the closed tab, as long as you have not entered any information in say an address field or form.

4. Cycle between open tabs

Because of the tabbed nature of Safari, there is a good chance that you have one window open with multiple tabs. While you can simply click on the tab you want to switch to, you can also use Control + tab to switch to the tab to the right of the currently open one. Pressing Shift + Control + tab will switch to the tab to the left of the currently open one.

5. See a list of recent pages by Web address

When working in Safari, you can press and hold on the back arrow to view a list of recent pages you have visited. The problem with this is that sometimes you see just the page name, so if you have looked at a site with a long name, or the same pages, it can be tough to pick the right one to go back to.

Instead, press Option + the back arrow to bring up the list of recently viewed pages and their URL or Web address. This only works for the tab you are currently looking at.

6. Go to your homepage

If you would like to quickly go back to your homepage, press Command + Home key. This should automatically load the page you have set as your homepage.

7. Add page as a bookmark and open pages from your Favorites Bar

You can add the page you are currently looking at to your bookmark list by hitting Command + D. To open pages from your Favorites bar (shown below the URL bar) hit Command + 1-9. For example, if you hit Command + 3, you will open the third site on the bar (counting from the left). If you can't see the Favorites Bar, press View and select Show Favorites Bar.

If you would like to learn more about Safari, and other Apple apps, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Apple Mac OS
November 25th, 2014

BCP_Nov24_AAs a business owner you must be constantly aware of threats to your business. One of the best ways to mitigate many of these dangers is to develop and implement a Disaster Recovery Plan. In order to help ensure that your business is ready to recover from any disaster, here are five real-world tips that can help see you through.

1. Have a full copy of your data backed up outside of your operating region

Almost every company, regardless of size, has backup measures in place. These backups can be either physical or digital, and are supposed to be carried out on a regular basis. If a disaster strikes, having access to your data can help ensure that you can recover your systems and resume operations in the minimal amount of time.

While backups are great, if you keep your backups in the same area as your main systems, or even if your offsite backups are in the same region, there is a chance that a large disaster, like a flood, or power outage, could also affect these backups too. One of the best solutions is to keep a current backup offsite, and outside of your operating region, with most experts recommending at least 150 miles (250 km) away from your main business area.

How do you achieve this? The best option is to use cloud-backup. Many providers host their backup service at a number of different data centers in various locations, so that should a disaster strike both your business and a nearby data center, your data is still safe at other centers.

2. Realistically test your plan

It can be tempting to simply develop a plan and then test it in a closed environment once or twice a year, make some changes where necessary and then sit back and hope it works. In truth, for any plan to really be effective it needs to be tested in a realistic environment. If this is not carried out then there is a possibility that the plan could fail when activated.

Because disasters come in almost any form and size, you are going to want to first identify as many potential problems as possible. From here, test your recovery plans based on these scenarios and see how effective they are. Be sure to also involve your colleagues and employees, as they too will need to know what to do when disaster strikes and what their role in the recovery of data is.

A good way to look at these tests is to think of them more as practice runs. As with anything, the more your practice the easier and more effective it becomes. In this case, good practice could literally save your business.

3. Update your plan as you update your systems

When you develop a recovery plan, you need to base it on the systems and technology you currently have in your business. However, these systems and devices may not be in use six months, to a year from now, or you may introduce new systems and improvements.

As soon as you make any changes, your existing recovery plan could become obsolete. Therefore, you need to ensure that when you introduce new systems or technology you are also updating the recovery plan to cover and fit with these changes.

4. Create an accessible plan

Many experts agree that having a physical plan that employees can see and access during a disaster is one of the best ways of ensuring that it is actually implemented properly. Therefore, when you develop a Disaster Recovery Plan make sure that all of your employees can access it at any time. This includes during and immediately following a disaster.

Beyond this, you need to make sure that the plan is consistent. If you update the master plan, but fail to update the copies you store in say a public cloud, or at different worksites, this will lead to confusion and even an increased recovery time or complete recovery failure. When you do update your plan, let all parties involved know that it has been updated and remind them where they can find copies of the plan.

5. Don't be the only fully-trained disaster recovery expert in your company

As a business owner or manager it can be easy to try and run everything yourself. Afterall, it is your business and you know exactly how to look after everything, right?. The problem is that if you are the only fully-trained disaster recovery person you are making yourself the weakest link in the plan.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

November 25th, 2014

Web_Nov25_AOn November 10, one of the world's most popular browsers celebrated its 10th birthday. It's hard to believe that Firefox is only 10, largely because it has become such an integral part of business life that it's difficult to imagine a time when it wasn't around. In order to celebrate the recent milestone, Mozilla has released a special Firefox update with two interesting new features.

Feature 1: DuckDuckGo is standard

While the vast majority of Internet users tend to gravitate towards Google Search whenever they need to find something, there are actually other search engines out there. One of the more popular is DuckDuckGo which bills itself as a search engine that is:
  • private
  • low on clutter
  • smarter
The reason this search engine has become so popular with users is that it does not track user data and activities like Google or Bing. Also, when you search using this engine, you get results with minimal clutter, which is preferred by some users.

With the Firefox 10 year anniversary update, DuckDuckGo is now the core search engine used by the browser when searching using the search bar beside the URL bar, at the top of the window. Of course, if you prefer Google or Bing's more advanced features and information then you can always set these engines to be used instead of DuckDuckGo. Privacy-focused users however are sure to find this change useful.

Feature 2: Firefox gets a little more forgetful

We often see being forgetful as a negative, but in the case of the new Forget feature introduced in the last update to Firefox, it's a good thing. This new feature allows users to quickly erase their search and user activity. When you update your browser, you should see a red circle with a backwards facing arrow at the top of the window. Clicking this will open the Forget menu which will allow you to:
  • Forget the last five minutes
  • Forget the last two hours
  • Forget the last 24 hours
Clicking one of the options will:
  1. Close all open tabs and windows.
  2. Delete recent cookies.
  3. Delete recent history.
  4. Open a new, blank Firefox window.
While this may not seem like the most useful of features for business users, there are some situations when this will come in handy. The first being if you are using a public computer with Firefox installed, or are connected to a public Wi-Fi network. Once you are done browsing, you can tell Firefox to forget all of your information. This in turn makes browsing a little safer.

Beyond this, you can also use it to 'forget' sensitive login information like bank accounts and systems that store private data etc. In other words, this feature makes sure that the chances of sensitive and private data being seen by other users or hackers is reduced.

If you use Firefox and would like to access the new features, all you have to do is update your browser - often just closing and restarting it should trigger the update. If you already use Firefox then you may have received the latest version and the features should be active. If you don't use Firefox and would like to utilize the latest features along with increased browsing security, you can download the browser from Mozilla's Firefox website.

If you have any questions regarding Firefox and how it can be used in your organization, please contact us.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Web
November 21st, 2014

Security_Nov17_AIn many western countries we are blessed with a free and open Internet, but in the US there is a battle currently raging over the idea of Net Neutrality. Chances are high that you will have heard this term thrown around by various experts and media outlets. In November, President Obama took a stance on this issue. Here is an overview of Net Neutrality, the stance from The White House, and what this could mean for your company.

What is Net Neutrality?

In order to define Net Neutrality, we should first look at the main idea behind what the Internet is: a free and open medium where individuals can express and house thoughts, ideas, and more. It was founded on one principal, and one principal alone: All information and Internet traffic MUST be treated equally.

This free, open, and fair principle is what we call Net Neutrality. In practice, this idea prevents Internet providers, and even governments, from blocking legal sites with messages they disagree with, and restricting access to services and sites that don't meet their business needs.

What exactly is the issue?

At this time, major telecommunications companies providing Internet access are trying to push legislation through the US court systems that will essentially make it legal for them to throttle Internet speeds; asking other providers to pay fees in order to speed up access to sites and to even block some sites.

There are laws currently in place, set by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), that prohibit providers from collecting, analyzing, and manipulating user traffic. In other words, according to the FCC, the role of the Internet providers should be to simply ensure traffic and data gets from one end of the network to the other.

Last year, it was uncovered that US telecommunications giant, and Internet Service Provider, Comcast demanded that Netflix pay them millions of dollars or they would limit the Internet speed of Comcast users trying to access the streaming service. Netflix tried to negotiate but the result was that Comcast did indeed cut user speeds. Netflix paid to avoid this from happening again. This act is an obvious breach of the main tenet of Net Neutrality: Equal access for everyone.

Combine this with the January 2014 ruling that the FCC had overstepped its bounds in regards to this topic and the increased lobbying by telecommunications giants against Net Neutrality, and you can quickly come to realize that the Internet as we know it is under threat.

How will this affect my business?

If nothing is done, there is a very high chance that you will be paying higher rates for Internet-based services (because the providers will be asking other companies to pay to guarantee speedy access which will then be passed along to you via higher rates). You may even be forced to use services you don't want to use because they offer better access speeds on your network.

Beyond this, because so many businesses rely on websites and the hosting companies that enable us to access them, there is a very real risk that these hosts may have access speeds cut. This in turn could mean that it will take more time for some users to access your website and services. Think of how you react when you can't access a website, you probably just search for another similar site which loads easily - now imagine this happening to your site. In other words, you could see a decrease in overall traffic and therefore profits.

What can I do about this?

First off, we highly recommend you visit The White House's site on Net Neutrality, and read the message that President Obama has recently posted there. To sum it up, he believes that Net Neutrality should be protected and the Internet should remain open and free. He has even laid out a plan with four rules that the FCC should enact and enforce:
  • No blocking - Internet providers are not to block access to any legal content.
  • No throttling - Internet providers cannot slow or speed up access speeds based on their preferences.
  • Increased transparency - The FCC is to be more transparent and push providers to follow the Net Neutrality rules.
  • No paid prioritization - There is to be a ban on providers insisting other companies pay to have equal access speeds.
You can bet that this plan will be met by stiff resistance both in government and by the telecommunications companies themselves. The FCC is an independent organization and it is up to them to select whether or not they want to enact President Obama's plan. One thing you can do is to publicly submit your comments to the FCC via this website. Any comments made will be seen by the FCC and are are publicly viewable. In the past, enough public pressure has been able to sway FCC decisions, so share this article and the links in it with everyone you know, asking them to take action as well.

What about other countries?

For now, the Net Neutrality battle is largely US based. The vast majority of Internet traffic starts or at least passes through the US. This means that if the telecommunications providers (many of whom own international subsidiary providers) can limit access to sites in the US it could very quickly become a world issue. Beyond this, other countries often follow laws that the US enacts, so it could only be a matter of time before we see similar bills passed in other countries.

In short, this is a major issue that could see the end of the Internet as we know it. If you would like to learn more about Net Neutrality and how you can help ensure the Internet remains free and open, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
November 20th, 2014

Windows_Nov18_AOne of the biggest IT expenses for many small businesses is software. Some companies require thousands of dollars of software, which can quickly compound when you hire new employees. Businesses who have purchased Microsoft software may soon be receiving a letter from the tech giant asking for a systems audit. Here is a quick overview of this letter and what you should do if you receive one.

The Microsoft Software Asset Management Review

Earlier this year, Microsoft announced that they will be sending out over 30,000 letters to small businesses who have purchased Microsoft software licenses. These letters or emails are focused on checking that you have the right number of licenses for your systems.

This program actually has three audit elements, or emails, that are being sent out to businesses.

  1. Internal self-audit email - This is the most common letter businesses have been receiving. It asks them to verify that they are compliant with Microsoft's licenses, which is usually done by sending Microsoft the software keys for each license or product purchased. They then compare this to their records.
  2. Software Asset Management (SAM) Engagement - This is a voluntary process where Microsoft sends a Software Asset Management partner to your business to audit your systems and see if you are over or under licensed. For companies who do agree to this, the audit is paid for by Microsoft. The downside is, if you are found to be non-compliant, you will likely face a fairly large bill.
  3. Legal Contract Compliance (LCC) audit email - This audit can be enacted by Microsoft if you put off a SAM or self-audit for an extended period of time. Essentially, this is a legal audit that you must comply with. If you are found to be non-compliant under this audit, you could face stiff legal penalties.

What happens if I receive one of these emails?

Should you receive one of these emails you will be asked to carry out the audit by a set date. Most of the emails contain a spreadsheet that you will need to put your license information into. This can take time because you will likely need to physically check every machine using Microsoft software for relevant information.

Auditors who come to your business will ask you for network and server access and any other form of information they think they can ask for.

Should you be found to be non-compliant or under-licensed, you will likely then be presented with a bill for the extra licenses. If you happen to be highly under-licensed, this bill could be quite large.

What should I do if I am worried about this audit?

An audit like this could be time consuming, costly, and above all is frustrating for any business owner. What we recommend is working with us. We can help ensure that your business is using appropriate licenses and, should you face a request to do an audit, we can help you through the process.

So, contact us today to ensure that your business is compliant.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.