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September 24th, 2014

SocialMedia_Sep22_AFor many small to medium businesses, social media has become an integral part of their overall business strategy. Most businesses have a presence on at least one platform, but one issue many business owners and managers struggle with is how they should be using social media effectively. To help, here is an overview of the three most common ways small to medium businesses use social media.

1. To be a resource for existing and potential clients

This approach is by far the most popular used by businesses of all sizes. The main idea here is that social media is used as essentially a two-way street where you can pass information about the company, products, and industry to your followers. In turn, they interact with the content and eventually start to turn to your profile and page when they are looking for information.

One of the best ways to be successful with this approach is to provide your followers with information about the company, facts, tips about your products and industry, and links to other relevant content.

By sharing content, users will generally interact with it more and begin to see your company as a reliable source of information. This often translates into enhanced brand awareness and potentially sales.

The downside with this approach however, is that it can be time consuming to constantly develop new content. Most companies eventually reach a point where what they produce and share is pretty much the same, and overall payoffs begin to decrease. One way around this is to work with professionals to come up with dynamic and different content.

2. To provide customer service/support

These days, when someone has a problem with a company's services or products, the first port of call for complaints is often social media, largely because it's the most convenient place to vent where you can get instant reactions.

It therefore makes sense to create support or customer service presence on these channels. Some companies have even taken to launching support-centric profiles, where customers can contact them about anything, from complaints to questions, and receive a personal answer. For many companies this is ideal because it eliminates the hassle of customers having to call a support line and dealing with automated machines.

This approach can prove useful for businesses because it often makes it easier to reach out to disgruntled customers and track overall brand satisfaction. The downside is that you will need someone monitoring services 24/7, and to respond in a timely manner which may be tough to do for many smaller businesses.

3. To sell something

There are an increasing number of businesses who have launched social media profiles with the intent of selling a product or service. The actual sales may not take place through social media but the information on these profiles and platforms channels potential customers to an online store or to contact a company directly. Social media's instantaneous nature makes for a tempting platform, especially when you tie in different advertising features and include content like coupons, and discounts.

While this hard sales line can be appealing to businesses, many users are seemingly put off of companies with profiles that only focus on selling via their platforms. The whole idea of social networking is that it is 'social'; this means real interactions with real people. Profiles dedicated only to trying to sell something will, more often than not, simply be ignored.

What's the ideal use?

One of the best approaches for small to medium businesses is to actually use a combined approach. Most people know that ultimately, businesses with a presence on social media are marketing something, but focusing solely on this could turn customers off.

A successful split that many experts have touted is the 70-20-10 rule. This rule states that you should make 70% of your content and profile focused on relevant information to your audience. 20% of content should be content from other people and 10% of content should be related to selling your products or services e.g., promotional.

If you want to use social media for support as well, it is a good idea to create a separate profile dedicated just to this end. If complaints are lodged or noticed using your main account, direct them towards the support account.

As always, if you are looking for help with your social media strategy, contact us today to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
September 19th, 2014

Security_Sep15_AData breaches are growing both in number and intensity. While many businesses have turned to cloud apps for better security measures, some experts and businesses worry about the cloud, mentioning that it could see an increased data breach risk. This leads to a collision course between data breaches and cloud usage. But it doesn’t have to end in a fiery crash, as there are steps you can take to prevent a cloud and data security breach.

The cloud opens up some great tech advancements for businesses and is here to stay. However, as with all tech developments, you need to also be aware of any vulnerabilities and security issues as they change and develop at the same time too. If you use the cloud and want to proactively prevent cloud-and-data security breaches then here are five tips to follow:

  1. Know your cloud apps: Get a comprehensive view of the business readiness of apps and which ones render you more or less prone to a breach. Ask yourself these questions: Does an app encrypt data stored on the service? Does it separate your data from that of others so that your data is not exposed when another tenant has a breach? The idea here is to know exactly what each cloud service employed offers and how your company uses them.
  2. Migrate users to high-quality apps: Cloud-switching costs are low, which means that you can always change and choose apps that best suit your needs. If you find ones that don’t fit your criteria, take the time to talk to your vendor or switch; now more than ever you have choices, and the discovery process in step one will help you find out what these are.
  3. Find out where your data is going: Take a look at your data in the cloud. Review uploads, downloads, and data at rest in apps to get a handle on whether you have potential personally-identifiable information (PII), or whether you simply have unencrypted confidential data in or moving to cloud apps. You wouldn’t want cloud-and-data breaches with this critical data.
  4. Look at user activities: It’s important to understand not only what apps you use but also your data in the context of user activity. Ask yourself: From which apps are people sharing content? According to tech news source, VentureBeat, one-fifth of the apps they tracked enable sharing, and these aren’t just cloud storage apps, but range from customer-relationship management to finance and business intelligence. Knowing who’s sharing what and with whom will help you to understand what policies to best employ.
  5. Mitigate risk through granular policy: Start with your business-critical apps and enforce policies that matter to your organization in the context of a breach. For example, block the upload of information covered by certain privacy acts, block the download of PII from HR apps, or temporarily block access to vulnerable apps.
The key to preventing a cloud-and-data security breach lies in careful attention to your cloud applications and user activity. Analyzing your apps and looking into user activities might be time consuming, but the minimization of cloud-and-data security breaches makes this task worthwhile. Looking to learn more about today’s security? Contact us and let us manage and minimize your risks.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
September 18th, 2014

Productivity_Sep15_AAlmost every employee in every role relies on technology in order to do their job. When technology is working, everything hums along and productivity is solid. The second our technology stops working however, we can find ourselves struggling to even complete the most basic of tasks. The result can be a dramatic drop in overall productivity. The thing is, we know our systems will eventually breakdown. But, do you know what to do when this actually happens?

What to do when your systems stop working

Often, our first reaction when our technology or systems stop working is to either panic, or get angry. Once we are over this, we often feel desperate to get the problem fixed but may be at a loss as to what to do.

When technology does breakdown, here are some recommended steps you should take:

  • In the words of Douglas Adams, "Don't Panic!" - One of the more popular quotes from the immensely successful Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is "don't panic". This rings true for the vast majority of tech problems. While you may feel like you are facing a big issue at the time, most systems can be fully recovered. This is especially true if you have backup solutions in place.
  • Note what you were doing before the problem occurred - This is an important step, as when something does go wrong, one of the first things tech support will ask you is what you were doing before the problem occurred. The more information that you can give them, the more likely they will be able to solve the problem faster.
  • Ask your colleagues if they are having the same problems - Because so many business systems are networked together, many techs will want to see if problems are localized to your computer or are network wide. Armed with this information, it is far easier to work out the most effective solution.
  • Try turning it off and on again - When faced with many tech problems, you will be asked to turn the system - be it your computer, an app, server, etc. - off and on again. Sometimes the fault lies in the software or short-term memory (RAM) of systems, and turning the system off and on again is enough to fix this.
  • Google it - If an issue persists and it is related to the software on your computer, or a website, try searching the Internet for an answer. If the page doesn't load, you then know the problem is related to the Internet connection. Should the problem be with a cloud service, checking the provider's website or social media feeds is useful to check for post status updates of their systems.
  • Don't rush into a supposed fix - It can be tempting to try out the first supposed fix you come across or someone suggests. The problem is, some 'fixes' can actually end up harming a system even more. For example, you may find suggested fix for a phone that has been dropped into water that says to take the device apart and dry it with a blow dryer. This will damage components, and also void your warranty, which could make the issue even more expensive to deal with. Instead, you should seek the advice of an expert like us.
  • Don't overreact - Have you ever felt so frustrated you have wanted to reach out and smack your computer? While this may make you feel better on one level the reality is that you could make a bad situation worse. When faced with any tech troubles it is best to walk away for a short time so that you can deal with the situation in a calm and collected way.
  • Call your IT partner or IT helpdesk - If the system doesn't work after restarting we strongly recommend stopping there and reaching out to your IT helpdesk or an IT partner like us. We have the experience to investigate the problem, and we can usually come up with an answer and hopefully a fix in a short amount of time.

Preventative steps you should take

While it is inevitable that systems will eventually breakdown, it doesn't mean we are powerless to prevent this from happening, or at least minimizing the potential fallout. One of the easiest preventative measures you can take is to try and take care of your devices and systems. This includes being careful to not physically damage them, while also being sure to watch what you install on your systems, and implementing security standards.

We also strongly recommend working with an IT partner like us. We can help manage your systems and implement measures to keep them working long into the future. Beyond that, we can help monitor systems so that should something start to go wrong, we can begin to implement a fix even before you notice it. And, if something should break down, we can either fix it ourselves or recommend an expert who will be able to help.

Looking for help keeping your systems running and employees productive? Contact us today to learn more about our services and how they are designed to help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
September 17th, 2014

BusinessValue_Sep15_AOne way to really expand your online presence is through content marketing. Many business owners and managers are aware of this, but may be unsure as to how they can ensure that any content marketing is successful. There are many ways in which you can achieve a good result and here are four tips to help you achieve a great content marketing strategy.

What are the benefits of content marketing?

Before looking into ways you can implement content marketing that works, it is a good idea to look at the benefits of this type of marketing for businesses. One of the biggest pluses is that it boosts online engagement between you and your customers. If a customer sees that you are producing quality content that appeals to them, they will be more likely to interact and consider you when they need your products or services.

The other major advantage of a good content marketing strategy is that it helps show search engines like Google that your website and online presence are active. Because of the way search engines work, more active sites are usually ranked higher in results. If your website and overall Internet presence is seen to be active on a regular basis, you could possibly reach the first page of search results, which can lead to a boost in site visits, inquiries, and even sales.

If you have been considering implementing a content marketing campaign, or are looking to improve your existing efforts, the following four tips could help.

1. Always have a goal

The main thrust of many successful content marketing initiatives is that they tell a story. As with any narrative there needs to be an ending and in the case of content marketing this endpoint is a goal - something you want the reader to do. What do you want to achieve? Do you want customers to call? Do you want them to learn how to use your product?

By working backwards, you can then determine the right voice to use and best way to reach those customers who are most likely to react positively to the content. This also makes it easier for you to separate your campaigns and even launch multiple strategies at the same time.

Beyond this, having a goal can really help you narrow down the type of content you need to create. If for example, you know what customers you want to attract and how you want them to ultimately act, you can create content that is more appealing to them.

2. ABT

One of the most popular sayings amongst content marketers is to, "Always Be Testing (ABT)". When developing content you should be striving to test your content. Consider if certain images work better than others, as well as headlines, layouts, and content types, etc.

This could be as simple as developing three different social media posts and testing them with different market segments, or locations. You can then take what you have learnt from the tests and apply this to future posts.

The same can be said for more advanced content like blog posts or white papers. If you create different versions and layouts, and track the general downloads and interaction with the content, you can usually figure out how various people are reacting in different ways to a variety of content.

It is important to note here that content marketing is not a quick payoff style of marketing. You need to invest time, money, and effort into this and be willing to always be tweaking content. It takes time to pay off, but the time invested in testing what works and what doesn't work will help you develop better, more useful content.

3. Share and share alike

Creating content and just putting it on existing sites or sharing it with existing clients is not the most efficient way of making your content marketing show returns. Combine this with the fact that you will likely be using platforms like social media which are constantly changing and adding new content, and there is a good chance your content won't even be seen.

What you should aim to do is to share the content as much as possible. Share it on all of your social media platforms, link to it on your site, add it to emails, use the various social media content promotion features, and most of all: Share it again.

If you truly believe content is useful to your target market, you should aim to post it at least three to four times on social media. One of the most effective strategies is to share it on different days at different times, usually with a space of at least a week or two between posts. This can help maximize the numbers who see it.

4. Be prepared to fail

Failure is a part of business, and coincidently, it is also a part of content marketing. Face it, you might create content that just simply won't click as you intended. If this happens, your first reaction might be to pull the content and try something different. This may not be a good idea.

Sure, if the content is stirring up trouble, or has offended people, then it is likely best to remove it. But even if you aren't seeing the results you had hoped for, stick with the content for a bit. Try reposting it, and promoting more vigorously. It could very well be that users just didn't see the content.

As we stated above, successful content marketing takes time and effort. Once you realize this, and combine it with the fact that not everything will work, you should see a viable strategy surface over time.

If you are looking to learn more about content marketing and how our systems can help support it then get in touch and we can share our thoughts on how to be proactive and get results.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

September 11th, 2014

BI_Sep08_AIn business, as in life, we constantly try to make predictions about the future. How will sales be next year if we implement a new procedure? What will the weather be like for the annual staff event next week? It's no surprise then that businesses of all sizes have started to embrace the idea of predictive analytics. However, many business managers are unsure as to exactly how to work with this form of analytics effectively. To help, here is an overview of the three main components of predictive analysis all business owners and managers should be aware of.

Together, these three elements of predictive analytics enables data scientists and even managers to conduct and analyze forecasts and predictions.

Component 1: data

As with most business processes, data is one of the most important and vital components. Without data you won't be able to make predictions and the decisions necessary to reach desired outcomes. In other words, data is the foundation of predictive analytics.

If you want predictive analytics to be successful, you need not only the right kind of data but information that is useful in helping answer the main question you are trying to predict or forecast. You need to to collect as much relevant data as possible in relation to what you are trying to predict. This means tracking past data, customers, demographics, and more.

Merely tracking data isn't going to guarantee more accurate predictions however. You will also need a way to store and quickly access this data. Most businesses use a data warehouse which allows for easier tracking, combining, and analyzing of data.

As a business manager you likely don't have the time to look after data and implement a full-on warehousing and storage solution. What you will most likely need to do is work with a provider, like us, who can help establish an effective warehouse solution, and an analytics expert who can help ensure that you are tracking the right, and most useful, data.

Component 2: statistics

Love it, or hate it, statistics, and more specifically regression analysis, is an integral part of predictive analytics. Most predictive analytics starts with usually a manager or data scientist wondering if different sets of data are correlated. For example, is the age, income, and sex of a customer (independent variables) related to when they purchase product X (dependent variable)?

Using data that has been collected from various customer touch points - say a customer loyalty card, past purchases made by the customer, data found on social media, and visits to a website - you can run a regression analysis to see if there is in fact a correlation between independent and dependent variables, and just how related individual independent variables are.

From here, usually after some trial and error, you hopefully can come up with a regression equation and assign what's called regression coefficients - how much each variable affects the outcome - to each of the independent variables.

This equation can then be applied to predict outcomes. To carry on the example above, you can figure out exactly how influential each independent variable is to the sale of product X. If you find that income and age of different customers heavily influences sales, you can usually also predict when customers of a certain age and income level will buy (by comparing the analysis with past sales data). From here, you can schedule promotions, stock extra products, or even begin marketing to other non-customers who fall into the same categories.

Component 3: assumptions

Because predictive analytics focuses on the future, which is impossible to predict with 100% accuracy, you need to rely on assumptions for this type of analytics to actually work. While there are likely many assumptions you will need to acknowledge, the biggest is: the future will be the same as the past.

As a business owner or manager you are going to need to be aware of the assumptions made for each model or question you are trying to predict the answer to. This also means that you will need to be revisiting these on a regular basis to ensure they are still true or valid. If something changes, say buying habits, then the predictions in place will be invalid and potentially useless.

Remember the 2008-09 sub-prime mortgage crisis? Well, one of the main reasons this was so huge was because brokers and analysts assumed that people would always be able to pay their mortgages, and built their prediction models off of this assumption. We all know what happened there. While this is a large scale example, it is a powerful lesson to learn: Not checking that the assumptions you have based your predictions on could lead to massive trouble for your company.

By understanding the basic ideas behind these three components, you will be better able to communicate and leverage the results provided by this form of analytics.

If you are looking to implement a solution that can support your analytics, or to learn more about predictive analytics, contact us today to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

September 4th, 2014

Security_Sep02_AWith smartphones playing a larger role in today’s daily business, the need to recharge them while you are on the go increases. And when you’re nowhere near your charger, that public charging kiosk can look pretty promising. But what you might not know is that common traits in smartphone hardware and software design makes recharging phones through public chargers prone to juice jacking. If you're not sure what that is then let’s find out and also discover how you can avoid juice jacking too.

What’s juice jacking?

Regardless of the kind of smartphone you have, whether it’s an Android, iPhone or BlackBerry, there is one common feature across all phones: the power supply and the data stream pass over the same cable. This setup allows for juice jacking during the charging process whereby user access is gained on your phone by leveraging the USB data/power cable to illegitimately access your phone’s data and/or inject malicious code onto the device.

The attack can be as simple as an invasion of privacy, wherein your phone pairs with a computer concealed within the charging kiosk and information such as private photos and contact information are transferred to a malicious device. However, on the other hand, it can also be as invasive as an injection of malicious code directly into your phone. According to security researchers at this year’s Black Hat security conference, your iPhone can be compromised within one minute of being plugged into a harmful charger.

Exposure to a malicious kiosk can also create a lingering security problem even without the immediate injection of malicious code. Once a device is paired to a computer, it can access a host of personal information on the device, including your address book, notes, photos, music, sms database, typing cache, and even initiate a full backup of your phone, all of which can be accessed wirelessly at anytime.

How do I avoid it?

The most effective precautions center around simply not charging your phone using a third-party system. Here are some tips to help you avoid using public kiosk charger:
  • Keep your devices topped off: Make it a habit to charge your phone at your home and office when you’re not actively using it or are just sitting at your desk working.
  • Carry a personal charger: Chargers have become very small and portable, from USB cables to power banks. Get one and throw it in your bag so you can charge your phone anytime you’re at the office or while on-the-go if you use a power bank.
  • Carry a backup battery: If you’re not keen on bringing a spare charger or power bank, you can opt to carry a full spare battery if your device has a removable battery.
  • Lock your phone: When your phone is truly locked as in inaccessible without the input of a pin or equivalent passcode, your phone should not be able to be paired with the device it’s connected to.
  • Power the phone down: This technique only works on phones on a model-by-model basis as some phones will, despite being powered down, still power on the entire USB circuit and allow access to the flash storage in the device.
  • Use power only USB cables: These cables are missing the two wires necessary for data transmission and have only the two wires for power transmission remaining. They will charge your device, but data transfer is made impossible.
Even the tiniest detail like charging your phone from a kiosk charger could affect the security of your device. While there are many substitutes to using a third-party system, ultimately the best defense against a compromised mobile device is awareness. Looking to learn more about today’s security and threats? Contact us today and see how we can help.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
September 3rd, 2014

BCP_Sep02_AMany people wonder why it’s necessary to perform business impact analysis (BIA) when they’ve already invested a large amount of time on a risk assessment. The answer is simple: because the purpose of a BIA is different, and wrong results could incur unnecessary expenses or create inadequate business continuity strategies. To that end, let’s take a look at five tips for successful business impact analysis.

Five tips for successful business impact analysis:

  1. Treat it as a (mini) project: Define the person responsible for BIA implementation and their authority. You should also define the scope, objective, and time frame in which it should be implemented.
  2. Prepare a good questionnaire: A well structured questionnaire will save you a lot of time and will lead to more accurate results. For example: BS (British standard) 25999-1 and BS 2599902 standards will provide you with a fairly good idea about what your questionnaire should contain. Identifying impacts resulting from disruptions, determining how these vary over time, and identifying resources needed for recovery are often covered in this. It’s also good practice to use both qualitative and quantitative questions to identify impacts.
  3. Define clear criteria: If you’re planning for interviewees to answer questions by assigning values, for instance from one to five, be sure to explain exactly what each of the five marks mean. It’s not uncommon that the same event is evaluated as catastrophic by lower-level employees while top management personnel assess the same event as having a more moderate impact.
  4. Collect data through human interaction: The best way to collect data is when someone skilled in business continuity performs an interview with those responsible for critical activity. This way lots of unresolved questions are cleared up and well-balanced answers are achieved. If interviews are not feasible, do at least one workshop where all participants can ask everything that is concerning them. Avoid the shortcut of simply sending out questionnaires.
  5. Determine the recovery time objectives only after you have identified all the interdependencies: For example, through the questionnaire you might conclude that for critical activity A the maximum tolerable period of disruption is two days; however, the maximum tolerable period of disruption for critical activity B is one day and it cannot recover without the help of critical activity A. This means that the recovery time objective for A will be one day instead of two days.
More often than not, the results of BIA are unexpected and the recovery time objective is longer than it was initially thought. Still, it’s the most effective way to get you thinking and preparing for the issues that could strike your business. When you are carrying out BIA make sure you put in the effort and hours to do it right. Looking to learn more about business continuity? Contact us today.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

August 29th, 2014

Today, the benefits promised by cloud computing—including agility, process optimization, speed to market, remote access, and cost reduction— have inspired most nonprofits to rethink their IT infrastructure and software.

Traditionally, organizations needed to invest in hardware and software in-house and had tried to leverage internal economies of scale; the more people using the system, the more cost effective the technology investment. However, housing technology infrastructure and critical applications in-house was not always cost effective for smaller organizations and came with inherent risk. What if your email server was down? How regularly is data backed up? Who was performing the software patches and handling security updates? And how does an organization continue to operate during a natural disaster?

Read more…

Topic Articles
August 29th, 2014

According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses provide more than 50 percent of jobs across the country, making them truly the engine of our economy. Competing against large companies better able to capitalize on efficiencies of scale, has been difficult for many of these smaller enterprises.

However, the cloud is quickly becoming an equalizer, putting many of those economies of scale in the hands of more and more small business. The trend is growing… a recent study by Emergent predicts the current 37% usage rate will be close to 80% by 2020.

Read more…

Topic Articles
August 29th, 2014

Cornell Tech, a closely watched collaboration in New York City between Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, finalized the construction design for its first academic building on Manhattan’s Roosevelt Island. Cornell and Technion joined forces in December 2011 when New York City officials, under then-mayor Michael Bloomberg, selected them to build an applied-science graduate school.

According to a recent New York Times report, Cornell Tech expects to open its first buildings in 2017, with construction continuing for two decades. The campus is currently being planned by people who understand they cannot really anticipate how we will interact with the future digital world. The NYT describes the challenge as an attempt at “building in nimbleness” to hedge against the “hissing pace of technological change.”

According to the report, Dan Huttenlocher, Dean of Cornell Tech, hopes to answer what he calls the central question of this daring and expensive endeavor: “How do you do something that’s technologically advanced that isn’t immediately technologically dated?”

Cornell Tech’s answer: No data center.

The idea of building a campus without a data center was Mr. Huttenlocher’s. Data centers have been a staple of college campuses for decades, providing the computing power and local storage necessary to accommodate research and daily use. The decision not to build one on the Cornell Tech campus raised some eyebrows. The report explains: “Data centers, which house large numbers of servers, cost money. They are bulky and suck down energy… The decision has obvious appeal given the quantum leaps in cloud computing, much of it driven by commercial vendors. Why build your own data storage when industry leaders can do the heavy lifting for you?”

Sharif Nijim, enterprise application architect at the University of Notre Dame, agrees with the move and says that if he were building a campus today he would forgo the data center. “You’re not saddled with all the detritus that’s built up over time,” he said. “That’s your biggest advantage.”

It is exciting to image the digital world in 2017, when the first building opens at Cornell Tech here in Manhattan. While we wait, there are several messages we can take away from Huttenlocher’s approach to this new campus, and here are a few examples that align most directly with the Sinu philosophy and how we deliver IT to our customers:

  • Avoid investing too much in the kind of “proprietary technology that risks becoming quickly outdated.”
  • “Embracing technology means not buying too much.”
  • “Why build your own data storage when industry leaders can do the heavy lifting for you?”
  • “Use as many open standards and protocols as possible. If you’re using open protocols and open languages, devices then become interchangeable.”

Migrating away from expensive data centers is not new to Sinu. For over 10 years, we have offered a platform that minimizes technology infrastructure, while maximizing productivity. We believe that this approach not only keeps your data more secure, it is more cost-effective and offers more flexibility than traditional in-house IT services.

Topic Articles