Blog

December 19th, 2014

SocialMedia_Dec15_CMeasuring the overall success of a marketing campaign is often dependent on a number of metrics. When it comes to measuring the success of your social media campaigns, the most common metric employed is the number of shares. Companies who post content online often find it difficult to get their content shared through. If this resonates with you then here are four common reasons as to why your content might not be be shared and what you can do about that.

1. The vast majority of people are hesitant to share content

According to a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University and Facebook over a 17 day period, approximately 15.3 billion comments and posts were written but were then deleted and not posted on Facebook alone.

While the reasons will have been varied, the numbers highlight that the vast majority of users are sensitive to what they post on Facebook, and most most likely other networks as well. What does this mean for businesses? Well, you need to ensure that the content you are posting offers value to not only your audience, but their audience as well.

Think about when you have shared content on any network. You probably didn't do so 100% for yourself, but instead shared the content or created a post so your audience would interact with it, or possibly get something out of it. Think of this as the "hmm, that's interesting, other people will like it too, so I'll post it" mentality. By sharing content others enjoy or respond to you get the benefit of increased recognition.

If you can create content that gets people to think this way, there is an increased chance that they will share it.

2. Facebook users want to be seen in a positive light

According to a study carried out by INC. 80% of respondents share content because it shows that they are being a good friend to those they care about. People use social media to foster good relationships and connect with those they care about. And if somebody regards your posts as potentially able to tarnish their image on social media, they won't share it.

Businesses looking to capitalize on this need to try to create content and campaigns that help users better relate to one another. Combine this with the above example of creating interesting-to-share content and you will be more likely to see an increase in shares.

3. Content doesn't fit our salient identities

Because social media has become an extension of society, many experts apply common social science principles to it. The most commonly applied theory is of the five identities (relational, personal, social, superficial, and collective) that determine how people behave in a certain situation.

If you are posting content that doesn't fit with an an individual's current identity then it's not going to be shared. So, how can businesses capitalize on these changing identifies? One effective way is to get to know your main target audience; how they act and react to certain social cues, and then create content to fit with this behavior.

For example, if your target group for posts is parents, then using language and content that triggers parental instincts could increase shares as parents associate better with it.

You might want to widen your focus too and try developing content that capitalizes on different identities, tracking what works best.

4. Content doesn't mesh with a user's values and goals

The same INC. study found that after being a good friend, 63% of users surveyed noted that they were more likely to share content that reflected their goals, values, and dreams.

How can a business capitalize on this? The best way is to get to know your audience. Look at their posting and sharing habits and the type of content they share on a regular basis. This may change over time, but you will see patterns evolve for different groups. If you can develop and post content that reflects these main goals and values then you are more likely to see your content being shared. Try different approaches and keep in mind who you are developing content for.

If you are looking to learn more about social media, contact us today to see how our systems can help you integrate it with your business success.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
December 18th, 2014

Office365_Dec15_CMicrosoft is one of, if not the, world's largest software developer. One of the more increasingly popular solutions being adopted by businesses is the cloud-based Office 365. While popular, one problem many business owners face is selecting which of the many different versions to implement. To help, here is an overview of the most popular Office 365 options for businesses.

A brief look at Office 365

The easiest way to classify Office 365 is as a cloud-based version of Microsoft Office aimed at businesses. This subscription-based service offers businesses all the productivity software they need plus a solid platform for their communications. Think of Outlook combined with Lync (or Skype) and Office apps, all of which are accessible via your browser, or can be installed on your own servers.

Beyond this, there is a supporting layer called SharePoint that links all of these apps together, thereby giving you a central place to store all of your documents which can then be collaborated on using various Microsoft apps.

As noted above, Office 365 is subscription based. The business-oriented subscriptions are broken down into two main categories: Business and Enterprise subscriptions. Of course, there are other subscriptions for other categories like Education and Government, but we will focus this overview on the two main small to medium business categories.

Business subscriptions

There are three plans under the Business subscription category:
  • Office 365 Business Essentials - Comes with online versions of Office apps (Office Web Apps), Lync for business, online storage through OneDrive and a corporate email address. This plan is ideal for businesses who don't need full versions of Office apps. Plans cost USD 5 per user, per month on an annual commitment.
  • Office 365 Business - For businesses who need installable versions of Office along with cloud-storage through OneDrive. It does not come with hosted email or business communication tools like Lync. If you already have hosted email, and are just looking for Office apps, then this could be a good plan for you. Plans cost USD 8.25 per user, per month on an annual commitment.
  • Office 365 Business Premium - This subscription is for businesses who want the whole package. It combines all the elements of the above plans into a solution which is ideal for smaller businesses or even enterprises. If you are looking for a full solution, then this plan could be the best fit for your business. Plans cost USD 12.50 per user, per month on an annual commitment.
It is worth noting here that all three of these plans have a limit of 300 users per plan, giving you a maximum of 300 subscriptions.

Enterprise subscriptions

These subscriptions are aimed more at larger organizations, or businesses who need more control over Office 365 and access to features like Business Intelligence, Enterprise Management apps, and even business portals. As with the Business subscription category, there are three main plans in the Enterprise subscription category:
  • Office 365 Enterprise E1 - Comes with online versions of Office apps (Office Web Apps), Lync for business, online storage through OneDrive, a corporate email address, and a corporate video portal. This plan is ideal for businesses who don't need full versions of Office apps. Plans cost USD 8 per user, per month on an annual commitment.
  • Office 365 Pro Plus - This plan is for businesses who need installable versions of Office along with more advanced apps like Access, and cloud-storage through OneDrive. It does not come with hosted email or business communication tools like Lync. If you already have hosted email, and are just looking for Office apps, then this could be a good plan for you. Plans cost USD 12 per user, per month on an annual commitment.
  • Office 365 Enterprise E3 - This subscription is ideal for companies who want absolutely all Office 365 has to offer. This includes all of the above, plus advanced business intelligence tools, compliance protection, enterprise management, and more. If you are looking for a full solution, then this plan could be a good match for your business. Plans cost USD 20 per user, per month on an annual commitment.
Businesses who subscribe to Enterprise plans can sign up for an unlimited number of subscriptions.

Which plan is best for my business?

This is a tough question to answer outright. What we recommend is contacting us. As experts in all things Microsoft, we can work with you to not only help you pick the plan that is best for your business, but ensure it is installed correctly. This can help further reduce costs and increase productivity.

Contact us today to learn more about how Office 365 can enhance your business.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

December 13th, 2014

productivity_Dec12_CEmail is now the most essential form of communication in business. Over the years, email has become much more informal than when it was first introduced. Sure, this makes it feel more natural, but there can be times when this casual style leads to misunderstanding, and in turn this can lead to lost productivity. There is, however, one effective way you can structure important emails to avoid this, and that's by using PAR.

Better email structure for small businesses

In order for your emails to be clearer and to get the overall message across easily, you might want to implement a PAR structure. This three part framework has been used by many business owners and managers to improve overall communications, and consists of:

Problem

At the very top of the email, below the salutation, provide a brief yet clear overview of the problem which is the subject of the email or the reason you are making contact. When writing this overview don't assume anything, including shared knowledge or agreements, unless you have discussed these with all recipients beforehand. The key here is that you are looking to be able to summarize the main issue.

If you need more than two paragraphs, then you should probably create a longer form report that is attached in the email. The reason for this is because the vast majority of people will simply scan an email, and if it's too long, they will usually skip it, or possibly miss key points. If it is easy to scan and read, then there is a greater chance all parties will be on the same page.

Beyond this, if you are struggling to come up with a short explanation or can't clearly summarize the problem in writing, then email may not be the best medium to be using. Opt instead for a meeting or phone call to discuss the issue more fully.

Action

After stating what the problem is, clearly mark any proposed actions or recommendations using a relevant heading, then specifically lay them out in an easy to read format. You want to be as specific as possible here, ensuring that all parties understand what you want to happen and the actions they will need to take as a result.

For example, if you use vague language, such as: "I need this by the end of the month", people may only carry out what you are asking for on the very last day of the month. Instead, you might be better to give a specific delivery date, and possibly a set time, so that any deadlines are clearly defined. Bulleted and numbered lists can really help here, as long as they are clear and understandable and don't muddle the issue.

Results

Finally, identify the expected results based on the actions you want the recipients to take. This helps ensure that every recipient knows what they should be striving for, as well as serving as an indicator of whether the problem has been specifically solved or not.

If the results aren't met, you have a good opportunity to look back at the process and see if there is any room for improvement, or try to pinpoint exactly why something went wrong or didn't happen as you planned. This in turn, if leveraged correctly, can help improve overall productivity.

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
December 12th, 2014

BusinessValue_Dec11_CAs the end of the year approaches, stress levels go up within businesses. There is often the pressure to finish end-of-year reports and budget for the next year, not to mention that there can often be extra expenditure requirements during the holiday season too. This is also the time when many businesses begin to look for newer business systems that are not too expensive. To help, here are some free or affordable solutions that could make your business run far easier.

  1. Canva If you are a business owner, chances are that you aren't the world's best graphic designer, unless you run a graphics company of course! In order to design graphics, icons, flyers, and even posters you need specific graphics software. This can be expensive and the software is not going to be easy to use for design novices. You may even need an in-house graphic designer. This is where Canva comes in.

Canva is an online app that allows users to quickly and easily create professional looking graphics using drag and drop functionality and a wealth of free, or affordable, stock images. In other words, you can create designs in a short amount of time.

The service itself is free, but some images do need to be purchased.

  1. FreshBooks Most business owners are not certified accountants either, and even if you understand the basics of accounting and tracking of finances, the money side of your business is often a full time or at least a specialized job. If not handled correctly, this could spell disaster for your business. One solution is cloud-based FreshBooks.

FreshBooks is accounting software that allows you to invoice clients, track payments, accept payments, track expenses, and access financial reports at the click of a button. Beyond this, you can connect FreshBooks with your payroll services to ensure that your employees are paid on time.

The platform offers a free plan that allows you to track and manage one client, while paid subscriptions start at USD 19.95 a month.

  1. Hootsuite Many businesses have a presence on more than one social media network. While this is a great way to reach out to the highest number of customers, it can be a chore to manage and maintain a presence on all of these networks all of the time. Hootsuite is specifically aimed at this task.

Hootsuite is a tool that allows you to manage your social media accounts from one platform. Using Hootsuite you can schedule posts, set up streams, establish keyword tracking, and track engagement. It really is a one-stop-shop for all of your social media platforms.

Hootsuite offers a free subscription which allows you to manage three social media profiles, while a business subscription starts at USD 8.99 and allows you to track up to 50 profiles and gives you access to more advanced analytics and features.

  1. Podio Managing projects and ensuring that all employees are aware of what they should be doing, and what others are doing, can be one of the toughest tasks for any business owner. Sure, spreadsheets and communication work to a point, but there is always room for error and of course improvement, which is what Podio provides.

Podio is a project management app that allows you to easily manage projects, tasks, deadlines, and even files. Using an intuitive dashboard that all users have access to, employees and managers can easily see who is doing what, as well as what needs to be done and what has already been done.

Podio is free with limited features for five users and costs USD 9 per user, per month for the full subscription plan.

  1. CoSchedule If you have a blog, either on WordPress or hosted by WordPress, sharing the articles you post on your social media profiles is a great way to increase content reach and interaction. However, it can be time consuming to actually create posts on each different platform, unless you use CoSchedule.

With CoSchedule you can write your social media posts for a blog article and schedule them to be posted once the article goes live. Think of it as automating the sharing of your blog articles. This will save you time, while making it easier to manage your content, largely because the calendar included in CoSchedule is easy to work with and gives you a good view of your content.

CoSchedule is USD 10 per month, per blog.

If you are looking for more affordable ways to improve your business operations, contact us today to see what boost we can offer you at a price you can afford in 2015.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

December 11th, 2014

iPhone_Dec08_CSmall to medium business owners have come to rely on the iPhone as one of their main ways to stay connected with the office, and be productive while working remotely. The problem is, this can lead to constant connection with business demands, which can prove to be overwhelming. When you need a break the Do Not Disturb feature, available on all iOS 8 devices, can bring much-needed respite from communication overload.

What is Do Not Disturb?

Do Not Disturb is a handy iOS 8 feature that when enabled, silences all notifications, calls, and alerts that you usually get coming through when the device is locked. You can either turn it on and off manually, or schedule a time for when it is to be activated. If your device is unlocked, e.g., you are using it, notifications will usually still trigger.

Turning Do Not Disturb on

To turn this feature on simply:
  1. Slide up from any screen on the device to open the Control Center.
  2. Tap on the crescent moon icon at the top of the Control Center.
This will turn on the Do Not Disturb feature. You should see a crescent moon icon appear in the menu bar at the top of your device's screen indicating the feature is activated. To turn it off, open the Control Center and tap the crescent moon icon again so that it disappears from your screen.

Setting a Do Not Disturb schedule

If you would like to schedule a time where your device automatically puts itself into Do Not Disturb mode, simply:
  1. Open the Settings app on your iPhone.
  2. Tap on Do Not Disturb.
  3. Slide the radio beside Scheduled to On (green).
  4. Set a time to enable this feature.
As with the manual triggering of this feature, you will see a crescent moon icon in the top menu bar of your device when it is active.

Changing feature settings

If you tap on Settings and then select Do Not Disturb you will also be able to tinker with the settings related to this feature. The options you will see include:
  • Manual - Allows this feature to be manually enacted via the Control Center.
  • Scheduled - Schedule a time when this feature will be automatically enacted.
  • Allow Calls From - Pick which contacts to allow calls and notifications from so that these sound even when Do Not Disturb is active.
  • Repeated Calls - Set whether multiple calls in a short amount of time will ring when the feature is active. If enabled, two calls from the same person in less than three minutes will cause the device to ring.
If you would like to learn more about using the iPhone for business, please contact us today to see what difference we can bring to your business.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic iPhone
December 4th, 2014

iPad_Dec2_CA common trend we see with Apple products is that once someone has purchased one device, they tend to purchase more. Because it is the holiday season, many people will be receiving a new iPad as a gift. If you do, you may need to deauthorize older devices in order to install already purchased apps on your new iPad. If you are not sure how to do this then here's how.

First, understand what authorizing your device is

When people and Apple experts talk about "authorizing your device", what they really mean is linking it with iTunes and the account you use for this on your computer. Once you do this, you can download already-purchased media and apps onto a new device without having to pay for the content again.

The way iTunes works is that there is usually a limit on how many devices you can download apps and media onto at the same time. Any purchases can be installed on 10 devices or five computers via iTunes at the same time. If, for example, you have an existing iPad for which you have already purchased apps via iTunes, and you receive a new device, you will need to authorize the existing iPad before you are able to download apps onto this new one.

If you have more than 10 devices or five computers authorized and want to add another, you will need to first deauthorize one device. Similarly, if you are giving an iPad away, it is a good idea to make sure it is deauthorized before you give it away or the new user may have access to your iTunes account.

Second, how do you deauthorize an existing device?

This process is actually fairly easy, but you will need to do it from the PC or Mac you use to sync your iPad with iTunes. To do this:
  1. Launch iTunes on a computer that it is installed on and log into the account you use to purchase apps for your devices.
  2. Click on your name. This is located at the top-right of the window. If you see Sign In, click that and log into the account you use on your iPad.
  3. Select Account info from the drop-down menu.
  4. Enter the password for your account.
  5. Scroll down and click on Manage Devices which is under iTunes in the Cloud.
  6. Click Remove beside the device you would like to deauthorize.
  7. Press Done.
When you do this, the apps you've paid for should either be deleted automatically from the device, or become inaccessible the next time the device syncs with iCloud (which is responsible for linking devices in iTunes).

How do you authorize your new device?

If you receive a new device this holiday season, authorizing it is as simple as logging into your Apple account using the username and password you have used in the past to purchase apps and media.

Once this is done, go into the App Store on your new device, log in, if you haven't already done so, and tap on Purchased. You should be taken to a list of all apps and media that you have purchased and which are still available on the App Store. Tapping on any of the apps and then hitting Download will install the selected app on your new device. If you are above the limit of devices on your account, you will see an error message telling you there are too many devices with the app installed. You will then need to deauthorize an older device before proceeding.

If you would like to learn more about your new iPad, or how Apple products can be used in your business, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic iPad
December 3rd, 2014

Office365_Dec01_CLike it or not, you have probably been using cloud systems for longer than you may think. When it comes to Microsoft, there is one newer cloud app that almost all users have access to: OneDrive. However, what you might not be aware of is that there are two versions of this platform, which can cause confusion as to when they should be used and what exactly they are for.

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.

November 26th, 2014

Hardware_Nov25_CSelecting a Wi-Fi router, much like selecting any other piece of equipment for your business, can be a complicated task. There are so many different models and manufacturers out there that it can be a chore to work out the best option for your business. To help, here are some important features all routers for business should have, and what elements to look out for.

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 26th, 2014

BCP_Nov24_CRegardless of what your business is, or where you are located, you may at some point face a disaster that affects your business operations. In order to make it through troubled waters without serious harm to your business you need to have a Disaster Recovery Plan in place. To help ensure that your strategy is ready, here are five tips that other businesses have learnt from facing disasters that you can work into your plans.

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 21st, 2014

Windows_Nov18_CWhile there are many IT expenses business owners need to worry about, one of the biggest is usually software. In order to remain compliant and avoid potential legal disputes, businesses often invest heavily in software. If you have Microsoft software licenses, you may receive an email from the company asking you to audit these licenses. Here is an overview of what you should do if you do 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.