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March 3rd, 2015

Productivity_Mar3_AHow much time in your organization is spent reading, sending and replying to emails? Chances are, the answer is “too much”. It’s a modern day epidemic - we all spend far too much time in our inboxes, and we rely on email too much to keep us in check and on task. But even before you get to the body of the email itself, by focusing on writing concise and consistently structured email subject lines, you can make life easier and more productive for both you and your recipient. Foster a culture of email subject discipline in your company and you’ll see the results in improved productivity and efficiency - here are three tips to get you started.

Specific subjects spell success

If someone sends you an email that’s headed simply with the word “report”, how are you meant to know what they want from you? Do they need you to write a new report, proofread one they’ve already written, or print a report for them? You inevitably start reading the email without the first idea of what it is you’re being asked to do.

In an ideal situation, when you receive a new email you want to know in an instant - just from the subject line - what the message is about. And that is something you should make possible for recipients of your own emails too. So structure your subject line using keywords - for instance, change that “Report” to “Sales Report for February 2015”. Better still, give your colleague all they need to know at a glance - “Draft Sales Report for February 2015 by Monday, 1pm” - so that the body of the message is preserved for you to get down to details as succinctly as possible.

Use prefixes and suffixes

Another simple way to help your recipient understand at a glance what you need from them - and to make it easier for them to categorize their incoming emails, too - is to specify right in the subject line what type of message it is that you are sending them. Emails come in all shapes and sizes, and by placing a prefix before or a suffix after your main subject line, you’ll get quicker results.

For instance, if your email needs a definitive response from the recipient, start it with “ACTION:” followed by the subject. An example would be “ACTION: Draft Sales Report for February 2015 by Monday, 1pm”. If, on the other hand, you are simply dropping your colleagues a quick notification that the printer is out of order, you can use one or both of “FYI” (for your information) and “NRN” (no reply needed). For example: “FYI: Printer out of order until further notice” or “NRN: Printer out of order until further notice.”

You can take this one stop further. If you can get your entire message across in the subject line alone, then that’s exactly what you should aim to do. That way, your colleague can read the subject line, add the task to their to-do list and delete it straight out of their inbox. To quickly signal that there’s nothing in the email body, you can suffix your subject line with “EOM” (end of message) - for example, “FYI: Printer out of order until further notice. EOM”.

Keep it consistent

These tricks will only help you beat a never-ending inbox if they’re adopted and applied consistently across your organization. Make them a part of your company’s basic IT training, and encourage your staff to use them in their own work and to pull up others who fall back into bad habits. They may be skeptical at first, but they’ll soon jump on the bandwagon once they start to realize how much less time they spend managing their email account!

Think too about introducing standardized formats for subjects of emails you and your teams send on a recurring basis. For example, if you regularly send reports around for review, prefix your subject line with “Report for Review:”, followed by the topic of the report. Or if your employees send you a weekly update on their workstreams, have them title it “Weekly Update:” followed by the date. That way, you can set up filters in your inbox and have those emails smartly stored in one place, ready for you to look through when the time is right, rather than clogging up your inbox and making it look like you have more urgent tasks to complete than you actually do.

Want to learn how to use email systems efficiently to boost your firm’s productivity? Chat to us today about the innovative email solutions we can provide.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
March 2nd, 2015

Trouble aheadBusinesses are exposed to disasters all the time, including IT system failures, power outages, or even natural disasters. These causes will cripple your business unless you have a business continuity plan (BCP) ready. A good BCP allows your business to continue on running everyday operations seamlessly. It makes sure that you can service your customers in a satisfactory manner, even when you’re facing technical issues. Therefore it’s very important to come up with a continuity plan, if you don’t already have one.

Relevant factors such as your business’s resources, location, suppliers, customers, and employees must be carefully analyzed before a business continuity plan can be formed. It is also necessary to test the plan and check whether it’s working or not. Here are some proven methods to test your continuity plan’s efficiency.

Review the BCP

You have a business continuity plan ready with all the necessary information, contingency locations, personnel, contacts and service companies. The question is can you really pull it off? Have the plan reviewed regularly, or at least quarterly. Gather a team of individuals, heads of departments and managers to discuss the plan. Focus on the business continuity plan’s feasibility and pinpoint any areas where it might be strengthened.

Determine time and duration to test the plan

You should decide how often you test your business continuity plan, and for how long. Even if you have a solid plan in place, it’s still wise to review it again after a few months. Come up with a schedule for testing the plan and share it with employees. Testing time may take anywhere from one day to two weeks. However it can also take as little as three hours to determine the effectiveness of the plan by monitoring employees’ responses and decision-making abilities, based on the guidelines of the business continuity plan.

Outline objectives to employees

Most business continuity plans fail because they have never been properly relayed to employees. Emphasizing the plan’s importance to your business and demonstrating it to employees is crucial. You need to outline objectives for the business continuity test to your employees, informing them how you plan to measure its success and failure, so that they get a general idea of their roles and your expectations.

Create a scenario

Create a fake scenario that affects your business - whether it’s setting off fire alarms or announcing another disaster. Employees should act as though the scenario is genuine, and refer to their duties in the business continuity plan, going through it step by step. Monitor the time it takes to get everything under control, from contacting customers to checking business resources and temporary meeting locations.

Evaluation

After the business continuity plan is put to test, gather your employees to discuss the plan’s overall performance. Identify where it needs improvement and encourage the parts that worked best. Make changes to key persons and actions where necessary, to ensure that the continuity plan is working at its best.

Having a business continuity plan is good, but testing it regularly is equally important. Contact us today and see how we can help you cope with unexpected disasters.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

February 25th, 2015

YCloud 1_164ou’ve been thinking about signing up for Cloud services. But you’re skeptical, and lingering questions are still bouncing around your mind. Will the Cloud really help my business? Will it increase profits? What is its true value and purpose? If you still have any doubts about this so-called futuristic technology, read on. We’ll clear up what the Cloud is really all about and how it actually benefits your business.

You might say that many businesses sign up for the Cloud because it is touted as a revolutionary technology. And if you’re one of those that has already hopped on the bandwagon, you may actually be among the soon-to-be disappointed.

The reasoning behind this is simple. Businesses who get the most out of the Cloud know which specific problems it will solve for their organization before they even sign up. They know which workflows and tasks can benefit from, and have their efficiency boosted by, Cloud technologies. And they’ve identified how the Cloud can rewire their work processes.

The true purpose of the Cloud

Did you catch the word “efficiency” in the block of text above? If you did, then you’ve identified the true value the Cloud brings to a business. Don’t believe the hype that the Cloud will somehow magically boost your bottom line. Although it has that potential, the Cloud is all about efficiency. It can save you time searching for important documents, updating software, and replacing documents stored on a lost laptop. And it enhances efficiency and collaboration among your staff. What's more, when your business is in the Cloud, your business is everywhere. And that means increased efficiency.

Where businesses go wrong with the Cloud

Besides jumping on the Cloud bandwagon without considering where it can benefit your business, a major reason the Cloud fails for SMBs is because they’ve chosen the wrong vendor. The truth is, some vendors are going to try and oversell you on Cloud services you don’t need. Instead of getting a whole suite of Cloud services such as software plugins, a new Cloud infrastructure and development platforms, maybe your business would benefit much more by just keeping it simple with Google Apps. Sometimes pork and potatoes are going to beat a steak. It really just depends on your objectives.

Secondly, if you’re a small business, make sure the IT provider you’re talking to caters to small businesses. If their target customers are large enterprises, you’re likely going to be overpaying for a service that doesn’t align with your business model.

Does the Cloud really add value to my business?

Have no doubt that the Cloud can improve efficiency if you know where to implement it. A study of 757 SMBs by Exact and the Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research found that one in five SMBs surveyed had implemented Cloud technologies, and 78% of those were operating at levels above industry standards.

In conclusion, is adapting the Cloud going to instantly start making you money? Likely not. But it will impact your business in other valuable ways for the long run. You’ll have increased flexibility, scalability, improved processes and streamlined workflow. Is all this good for business? Well, what do you think?

To figure out how the Cloud can effectively fit into your business model, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

February 25th, 2015

In April, Apple will launch the company’s first all-new product since the iPad debuted five years ago – the Apple Watch. According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Apple ordered more than 5 million watches for its initial run. The report notes that the orders for the smartwatches are similar to early sales of the iPad launch, when it sold 7.5 million. USA Today reports that research company CCS Insight expects the number of Apple Watches shipped to be 20 million in the first 12 months.

“One of the biggest surprises people are going to have when they start using it is the breadth of what it will do,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said at a recent conference, according to the WSJ.

With few details revealed by Cook there is much speculation about what it will and will not do. WSJ reports that during development, Apple “studied a wide range of advanced health features for the smartwatch before scaling back its ambition for a device that does a little bit of everything.” For instance, the watch comes equipped with Apple Pay and several apps that can provide data to the wearer throughout the day (i.e. flight schedules and appointments). While other wearables focus on a touch screen, Apple is making navigation on the watch head easier by letting people move the digital crown to toggle between apps. As far as pricing, the Apple Watch Sport will start at $349. While Apple hasn’t announced pricing for the other models, its luxury gold edition is expected to be among the most expensive products the company has ever sold, likely surpassing the $4,000 Mac Pro computer.

While wearable devices for fitness and exercise, such as Fitbit Flex, Microsoft Band and Jawbone UP, have led the wearable market, the smartwatch segment is still considered fledgling. For instance, only 720,000 Android Wear smartwatches shipped in the last six months of 2014 (from market researcher Canalys). But that is expected to change with the launch of the Apple Watch.

According to Business Insider (BI) the Apple Watch will kick-start growth in the overall smart watch market and account for 40% of smartwatch shipments in 2015. The BI report predicts that the smartwatch will be the leading wearable device category going forward: “Estimated smartwatch shipments will rise by a compound annual rate of 41% over the next five years. Smartwatches will account for 59% of total wearable device shipments this year, and that share will expand to just over 70% of shipments by 2019.”

BI also predicts that like the smartphone and tablet markets, Apple and Google will dominate the smartwatch market. It argues that because these platforms make up over 90% of the entire mobile platform market, consumers will gravitate towards what they already know and use.

Will the smartwatch be adopted by businesses? While tablets have become more widely adopted for business use, there are some barriers to adoption of smartphones for enterprise use. Smartwatches, in particular, must become stand-alone computing devices with more robust functionality (now, most of the devices need to connect with a smartphone or tablet). Other barriers include small screen size, clunky style, limited battery life, and lack of enterprise applications that can drive adoption. The recent collaboration between Apple and IBM (see Sinu blog) and the development of more integrated enterprise solutions for Apple mobile devices, seems to point to a future where smartwatches might one day become an important business productivity tool.

Topic Articles
February 25th, 2015

Email. We all try to manage our emails with varied success. Whether we are writing to colleagues or customers, we strive for the right subject line and content to get our email read and, typically, to generate some sort of response. Most of us are the recipients of dozens, if not hundreds, of emails each day, and may even find ourselves sorting (or maybe even ignoring) an inbox comprised of many unnecessary “reply alls” or “FYIs” that really aren’t relevant to our job. The problem is that we may be missing important information and so may our recipients.

There are ways to make our emails more effective and efficient, and the good news, according to Inc. is that “…Since the standard of all the emails around yours is pretty low, writing just a bit better can give you a disproportionately positive impact.”

In the interest of supporting higher productivity in email development and management – an activity that currently takes up 28% of a workers time (Entrepreneur) – we developed a list of our Top 10 Tips for Better Emails compiled from a number of sources, including Inc., Entrepreneur, and Forbes.

1. Keep it short. Experts recommend 150 characters. Remember, nearly 50% of emails are read on a mobile device, where screens are small so emails should be short.

2. Be direct. Get to the point. Delete adjectives and adverbs and indicate whatever action is required. If your email must be long, then have a summary statement and action in at the top of the email.

3. Reply quickly. When something is important, and/or you want your boss or customer to know you think it is important, then reply quickly.

4. Reread before sending. And then do it again. And, not to contradict the reply quickly advice above, if there is anything in the email that is controversial or gets your ‘Spidey senses’ up, wait to send it!

5. Add the address of the recipient last. Maybe we should have listed this first? How many times have you sent that email to someone with a similar name because of the convenience of autofill or hit send before you had a chance to edit it? Yikes!

6. Be clear in your subject line. Your subject line should get to the point in order for it to be opened. And, if the thread of the email changes, match your subject line to the message – it will be easier for both you and the recipient to find it should you need to refer to it later.

7. Use proper grammar. Remember you are writing a business communication, so avoid emoticons, slang, abbreviations, and limit exclamations.

8. Format emails for easy reading. Highlight action items, use bulleted lists, and be clear about whether you expect a response and your timeframe.

9. Send or copy others only on a need to know basis. Before you click Reply All or put names on the Cc or Bcc lines, ask yourself if all the recipients need the information in your message.

10. Pick up the phone for complex or sensitive info. When a topic is complicated or private, don’t handle it via e-mail. Also, e-mail should not be used for last minute cancellations of meetings, lunches, interviews, and never for devastating news.

Infographic from Entrepreneur article, “How to Write Better Emails.”

Topic Articles
February 25th, 2015

In July 2014, Apple announced a partnership with IBM to tap into its deep experience in the enterprise market in order “to transform enterprise mobility through a new class of business apps—bringing IBM’s big data and analytics capabilities to iPhone® and iPad®.”

Apple is now staffing up to sell more iPads and iPhones to businesses, according to a report by Entrepreneur. This new focus on enterprise sales comes on the heels of the release of Apple and IBM’s first 10 joint business apps in December. According to the report, Apple CEO, Tim Cook, said another 12 apps are on their way by the end of this quarter and that Apple hopes to have 100 enterprise apps by the end of 2015. Entrepreneur also reports that the two companies are working on customizable iOS apps for specific industries and there are rumors that a larger “iPad Pro” is in development to cater to business customers.

This partnership could lead the next evolution of mobile enterprise innovation and the ability for business owners and their employees to have access to the tools and data they need…when they need it and how they need it. According to Tim Cook, “iPhone and iPad…have transformed the way people work with over 98 percent of the Fortune 500 and over 92 percent of the Global 500 using iOS devices in their business today. For the first time ever we’re putting IBM’s renowned big data analytics at iOS users’ fingertips, which opens up a large market opportunity for Apple. This is a radical step for enterprise and something that only Apple and IBM can deliver.”

Coming off its highest-ever revenue and earnings, Apple may not need to sell iPads to businesses today, however its new focus on this vertical may prove a healthy investment for future earnings and a harbinger for other companies to start evolving their enterprise offerings to reflect what consumers are asking for – productivity, convenience and mobility.

Topic Articles
February 24th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_Feb24_ABusiness and technology are increasingly intertwined in today's fast-paced world. What's more, they offer a winning combination to propel your company or organization forward at an incredible pace. That’s why many businesses are now looking into innovations to take their productivity and competitiveness to higher levels. As a business owner, you have to prepare your business to embrace change and adapt accordingly. Here are three modern business intelligence tools that will help your company stay ahead of the game.

The Internet of Things

The concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) is to embed electronic sensors into any physical objects, allowing them to be controlled via the Internet. This includes everything from mobile phones to refrigerators, washing machines and even cars. The idea of IoT is exciting and definitely practical in today’s technology-driven world. While the concept has been around for several years, many business owners still don’t even know what the IoT means. So let’s take a closer look at how IoT will impact businesses.
  • Increased efficiency - Businesses will be able to connect devices for efficient, real-time operations. For instance, IoT can connect a warehouse system and point-of-sale scanners together to provide better inventory management.
  • New business opportunities - Today there are approximately 10 billion connected devices, and this number is growing fast. IoT opens a door to new business opportunities as customers need new devices and services in their everyday lives.
  • More security concerns - While the idea of connecting everything together is exciting, businesses will have to pay extra attention to security. More data stored online means increased chances of information theft and cyber security issues.

3D Printing

Some businesses have probably never considered that 3D printing could be of use to them, partly because they’re so accustomed to the traditional way of printing 2D materials such as posters and flyers. But now 3D printing allows businesses to manufacture three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file. Since the costs of technology are expected to decrease, 3D printing could be adapted to business practices for various purposes.

The main benefits of 3D printing for businesses are increased productivity and creative, customizable new designs. Product designers can use 3D software to speed up the creation of product prototypes. It also allows for remote cooperation between colleagues, which increases the ability to brainstorm ideas for faster product-development cycles. 3D printing processes are also highly customizable to suit the needs of clients.

The Enterprise Cloud

Companies are now familiar with cloud computing, having used it for data storage and synchronization for the past few years. But the enterprise cloud offers more flexibility and scalability than regular cloud computing, and is noted for its cost efficiency, security, and easy-to-use model. Enterprise cloud computing refers to a firewall protected computer system which is able to offer software, infrastructure and platform and web services. They can provide private access and a virtual scalable environment controlled by either a single company or consortium.

Nowadays, businesses require faster innovation, remote access, and better cross-product integration. This is where the enterprise cloud comes in; to deliver cost savings and provide better security to accommodate business growth. You’ll want to adopt the enterprise cloud to gain advantage over your competitors.

If you’re interested in boosting your business performance with BI tools, contact us today and see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

February 23rd, 2015

SocialMedia_Feb23_AHave you heard that social media can be used to skyrocket your business to unprecedented heights of success? You probably have; people like to talk. But unfortunately, not a lot of this talk is backed up with practical tips on how to go about it. So if you’re tired of waffling in the social media stratosphere, read on for some smart, focused advice that will breathe new life into your social media efforts.

Undoubtedly, the most important strategy to use in your social media plan is...to have a strategy to begin with. Know how much time you can dedicate to social media, block out the hours to focus on it and don’t waste that time checking out friends’ vacation photos or celebrity twitter feeds.

If you don’t have a strategy, you’re going to waste time posting irrelevant updates that won’t engage with your audience. To help you plan an effective social media strategy, here are three crucial tips to get you off on the right foot.

Initially focus on the big three

Most social media experts agree that the three platforms that generate the most business leads, engagement and brand exposure are Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter. When you’re getting started, your efforts should be primarily focused on these three. After you’ve gained followings here, then you can start forging paths into YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest amongst others.

Post at prime exposure times

Studies have shown that around lunch and dinner time are ideal posting times (since everyone is uploading photos of their meals). As for which days, many marketers agree your posts are most likely to get noticed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So these are the times to deliver those high-impact messages you’ve been randomly shooting out.

Find the value in your post

On social media, you should always be focused on selling your services, right? Wrong. Only 15% of your posts should concern news about your business and its products. The other 85% should focus on providing fun, valuable and timely content.

When you create a new post, you should ask yourself what’s in it for the customer. What do they get from reading it? Seriously, why is someone going to share your post or talk about your business unless it adds value to their life? Think about the posts you share personally. Do they provide value to your friends and family? We’re guessing the answer is yes.

For more tips on how social media can create buzz for your business, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
February 18th, 2015

Security_Feb18_AWhether we use them for business or pleasure, we all want the confidence that the online services we use to store files, post life updates or check our email are given adequate security protection to safeguard our information. But since high-profile breaches such as the celebrity photo leaks of 2014, the security of Apple platforms has been in the limelight. So it is a welcome move that Apple has extended its two-step authentication feature to the popular FaceTime and iMessage applications.

After the fall-out from the celebrity photo leaks, Apple extended the two-step authentication process (also known as two-step verification) to iCloud, the online storage platform at the center of the scandal. The feature was initially introduced only to the user IDs for access to Apple accounts; the motivation for the launch of that extra security measure was the hacking of a journalist’s data back in 2013. But what is two-step authentication and how does it work to protect your data?

The premise behind two-step authentication, which experts recommend all businesses implement as part of their security strategy, is actually pretty simple. Usernames and passwords are all too easily stolen by malicious parties, whether by phishing emails or a more sophisticated hacking attack. So, rather than typing just your username and password to access your account, the password is teamed up with a four-digit verification code which is newly and uniquely generated each time you attempt to access your account.

The verification code is delivered by text message (meaning that to use the two-step verification feature, you’ll need to have a cellphone to receive the SMS on). As a result, even if a hacker manages to get hold of your password, unless they also have your phone by their side then they won’t be getting into your account. This authentication method is already used by organizations around the world including banks, mobile service providers and other companies who recognize the added layer of security that it brings. And now you can give yourself the same level of protection to ensure that only you can FaceTime your family and send iMessages to your friends.

Fear not, there’s a backup plan to ensure that you can still access your accounts if you happen to forget your password or if something happens to your phone so you can longer receive authentication codes. Apple also provides you with a 14-character recovery key that will get you back in if all else fails. To enable two-step authentication for your FaceTime and iMessage applications, login to your Apple ID account, select Password and Security and then click Get Started under Two-Step Verification.

To find out more about using two-step verification and other security measures to protect your business, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
February 17th, 2015

Productivity_Feb12_AAs a business owner, you've probably looked into ways of maximizing efficiency in your office. And when it comes to increasing productivity, tablets are highly customizable tools that can be tailored to suit the needs of your business. The problem is that many people still regard tablets as content consumption devices, not content creation devices. Some might go so far as to say that tablets are useless for “real work”, but with this attitude they're missing out on a revolutionary tool.

You already know that tablets are flexible in use, portable, and make great devices for entertainment. But you can make your tablet contribute much more to your business practices too; it’s just a matter of selecting the right applications and accessories to get the job done. Here are some strategies to turn your tablet into a powerful productivity tool.

Out with the games

Yes, we use tablets to play games; from typical Angry Birds to the RAM-consuming Assassin’s Creed. But for the sake of your business you need to get rid of all such distractions. Burying the games in folders won’t help when you know they’re there. So if you don’t want to waste your time and are keen to be be more productive, delete the games!

In with the work-friendly apps

The pre-installed apps such as calendar, calculator, email, clock/timer are all useful tools you'll want to have at hand. These are great for quick information checking. But your tablet has the potential to do more than telling you the time or helping with numbers. Just head over to the app store, browse through over a million available apps and take your pick. Here are a few popular ones to get you started:
  • Dropbox - This app lets you store, synchronize, and share files online. You can gain access to your files or share them with your colleagues anywhere, anytime. And what’s more, it’s safe! With Dropbox installed, your tablet becomes a powerful device that enables you to bring up anything you might need for references while working. Alternatives include Google Drive and OneDrive.
  • Skype - Most businesses are starting to take advantage of the features Skype offers. Need to discuss something with your teammates? You can get in touch with them by using the instant messaging or group call features. Skype also allows you to share files with your colleagues with a simple drag-and-drop function.
  • iWork - If you're an iPad aficionado you'll find that iWork boosts your productivity, with three combined apps - Keynote, Numbers and Pages - that can act as your entire office suite whether you're in the office, at home or on the road.

Organize your home screen

You can focus more on work with a well-organized page dedicated solely to productive apps. Make sure all of your work-related apps are on the home screen. The key is to keep the home screen simple and clean. While you can organize it in any way you wish, it’s best to try out a few different schemes before settling on the one you’re most comfortable with.

Get a Bluetooth keyboard

One of the major disadvantages of a tablet is the lack of a physical keyboard. When you need to handle several documents or do a lot of writing, using the tablet’s on-screen keyboard probably isn’t a good idea. Luckily this drawback can be overcome with a portable Bluetooth keyboard. This way you can easily respond to emails or edit documents. So invest in a Bluetooth keyboard to improve your overall tablet experience and productivity. You'll probably find it soon replaces your laptop.

The tablet trend is in town, and many businesses are already benefiting from these devices. But are you ready to take the plunge? Get in touch with us to see how tablets can help your business.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity