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VersaTrust has been serving the Texas area since 1997 , providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

How to be more productive in life and work

Between your customers, vendors, employees and other moving parts of your organization, it can be difficult to find the time to focus on your business. On a daily basis, you likely have to deal with dozens of tasks, and oftentimes don’t finish them all. So how can you fix this? How can you be more productive, complete your to-do-list and get out of the office on time? There are a couple of key productivity principles and technology solutions that can help.

Have a single focus

When Bill Gates and Warren Buffet were asked what the single most important reason for their success in life was, both answered with a single word: focus. It is that important. When you work on one task for an extended period of time, the quality of your work is at its highest. What’s more, you’ll also finish that task in a shorter amount of time than if you had to stop and start it repeatedly due to distractions.

This principle of focus can be applied to many areas of business and life. Whether you’re writing a report, sharing time with your family, or simply reading a book for your own pleasure, the quality of that experience improves with the more uninterrupted time you dedicate to it. Now, when it comes to IT and technology, this same principle can have a tremendous impact on your business. Not only do technology distractions - such as constantly breaking computers, security breaches, and slow servers - hurt your productivity, but they also crush your spirits. How can you focus on growing your business like this? This is where an MSP comes in. They can help eliminate all IT interruptions so you get back to doing what you do best - running your business. What’s not to love about that?

Obey Parkinson’s law

If you ever pulled an all-nighter as a university student, you may be familiar with Parkinson’s law. The principle states that the time it takes to complete a task expands or shrinks depending on the time allotted for it. For example, when you were hitting the books in high school or college, you may have noticed that a few students (and maybe you were one of them) would put off an important paper or project to the last moment and still end up getting an A. While at the same time, other students would take weeks to complete the same project or paper and only manage a B. So how did this happen? This peculiar phenomenon is the magic of Parkinson’s law at work. When you have less time to work on a project, you focus only on the important aspects of it. Oftentimes this is all you need to do a good job.

So whether it’s a company meeting or the amount of time you put towards researching your next vacation, apply Parkinson’s law to increase everyone’s focus and ensure you’re not wasting valuable time on the task. As for your IT, give your in-house staff a reasonable, yet specific amount of time, to complete a task. This will ensure they finish the job in a timely manner, and then move on to other projects. Alternatively, you can simply outsource all of your IT to an MSP for a single, flat monthly fee, and never have to worry about it to begin with.

Use technology to become superhuman

As human beings, technology enables us to become more than we could have ever dreamed of. Apps like Evernote can enable us to remember every valuable piece of information we encounter. Cloud technology can bring a remote workforce scattered around the country together so they can work on the same project simultaneously. VoIP gives you the ability to video-chat with business partners, loved ones, and friends while they’re as far off as Bangkok or Baghdad. Technology is reshaping not only the business world, but also the life of every individual on the planet. So when it comes to your own business, is your company going to take advantage?

We hope that these productivity tips will help improve your life in and outside of the office. If you’d like to know more about how IT can transform your business, to make it more efficient and profitable, give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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How to use LinkedIn to create business value

LinkedIn is a highly useful site, but many small businesses simply don't make the most of it. The problem is that most of the information out there, that SMBs try to model, is focused on tips and strategies for larger organizations. And these strategies are simply not as effective when applied to the SMB. So what can the small or medium-sized business do to actually gain value from their LinkedIn efforts? Here are few tips to get you started.

Know LinkedIn’s purpose

Simply put, LinkedIn is not a content marketing platform. Yes, people do publish articles and posts, but if you have a small budget and are short on time, you will get more bang for your buck on social media networks that are more content marketing friendly. For example, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are all far better options in this scenario. Many users are on these platforms to view content in one form or another. On LinkedIn, content can undoubtedly be viewed, but people are primarily there to make connections. Of course that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t post an occasional article on LinkedIn. It just means don’t make it the main source of your content marketing efforts.

Another way businesses misconceive LinkedIn is in terms of lead generation. Basically, you shouldn’t expect your LinkedIn page to generate a large amount of leads. As an SMB, your marketing budget is limited, so you’ll be better off using your advertising budget to drive leads to your actual website or even a Facebook business page. Your LinkedIn business page should be used instead to validate your experience, credentials, and professionalism. With that said, make sure your page is polished and updated with all this information.

Double down on business trips

We all know that LinkedIn is a great platform to connect with business colleagues. If you’re active on the platform, you likely have hundreds of connections. So when you make that next business trip, why not tap your network to book additional meetings in the city you’re traveling to? Ask yourself, which of your connections could help you extend your sales in that region or benefit your business in some other way? You don’t have to stick to business colleagues you know personally. You can create valuable new relationships by tapping your current LinkedIn network. To do this, search first and second degree connections using the geographic search option, and filter your results to job titles, industry, and company size of your ideal prospect. Once you’ve found potential contacts, see if you can get an introduction from one of your first connections, or simply InMail them and reach out yourself.

Your page is about your business—not you

A very common small business mistake on LinkedIn is making your company page about you, not your business. You may mistakenly create this page like your personal profile, listing accolades and job experience. What you should really be focusing on, however, is something much bigger: the story of your business or brand. A story will help engage your prospects, creating an impression in their minds, and also give you an opportunity to touch on the value your business provides to customers. Your profile should also include some of the top brands your business has helped. If one of your clients is Target, The Gap, Whole Foods or another big name, make sure to mention it, as it proves your credibility as a business or service provider.

Find talented hires

While big companies have the budget and time to post job openings on LinkedIn, as an SMB, there’s a good chance you’re lacking both. Fortunately, there’s an alternative way to find top talent on LinkedIn. Simply search for them yourself.

Before you get started, you need to know exactly what kind of hire you’re looking for. Think about people you already know who would be perfect for the job. While you may not have the ability or budget to hire them, look them up on LinkedIn and see their career path. What kind of roles did this person previously have? What kind of experience did he or she have before their current position? With this information in hand, now you can search for people who are in or have held similar positions, and will likely share qualities of your ideal candidate. Once you have a pool of potential applicants, reach out to them through InMail or a shared connection to see if they’re interested in your job.

Ask for help, and be helpful

Like all social media platforms, if you don’t engage with your connections, you’ll see little value generated from your time using it. However, with LinkedIn, the type of engagement you participate in can be extremely valuable for your business. All it requires is for you to ask for help or feedback. For example, if you have several logo designs for a new product and are unsure of which is best, share some of them with your network to get feedback. If you’re curious about a new productivity tool and wonder if it’s worth investing in, ask your network if anyone’s used it before. Oftentimes in the business world, people are happy to help you if you just speak up. However, don’t forget to return the favor. If you become the person who seems to only be taking advice without giving any in return, it can have a negative effect on your reputation.

If you’d like more ideas on how social media or technology can create value for your business, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Our IT solutions can help you overcome challenges, and create an even more valuable business.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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IT Security Policies you need to implement

Most business owners have an employee handbook. But when it comes to the online security of their business, often times this portion is either not adequately addressed, or not addressed at all. However, with cyber crimes an ever increasing threat, and the fact that employee error is one of the most common causes of a security breach, it is incredibly vital that your staff is informed of your policies. Here are four policies that every business owner should share with their employees.

Internet

In today’s business world, employees spend a lot of time on the Internet. To ensure they’re not putting your business at risk, you need a clear set of web policies. Here are three important ones to keep in mind:
  1. Employees should be using the Internet for business purposes only. While this is undoubtedly hard to avoid without blocking specific websites, having a policy in place should at least cut back on employees spending time on non-business related sites.
  2. Prohibit unauthorized downloads. This includes everything from music to games, and even data or applications.
  3. Accessing personal email should not be done on business devices. If employees must access their own email account during the day, they can do so on their smartphone or other personal device.
These are just a few Internet policies to get started, but you should also consider including information on your recommended browsing practices and your policies for using business devices (such as company phones) on public wifi.

Email

Just like with the Internet policy mentioned above, company email accounts should only be utilized for business use. That means your employees should never use it to send personal files, forward links or perform any type of business-related activities outside of their specific job role. Additionally, consider implementing a standard email signature for all employees. This not only creates brand cohesion on all outgoing emails, but also makes it easy to identify messages from other employees, and hence helps prevents spear phishing.

Passwords

We’ve all heard the importance of a strong password time and time again. And this same principle should also apply to your employees. The reason is rather simple. Many employees will create the easiest to crack passwords for their business accounts. After all, if your organization gets hacked, it’s not their money or business at stake. So to encourage employees to create strong passwords, your policy should instruct them to include special characters, uppercase and lowercase letters, and numbers in their passwords.

Data

Whether or not you allow your employees to conduct work on their own device, such as a smartphone or tablet, it is important to have a bring your own device (BYOD) policy. If your employees aren’t aware of your stance on BYOD, some are sure to assume they can conduct work related tasks on their personal laptop or tablet. So have a BYOD policy and put it in the employee handbook. In addition to this, make sure to explain that data on any workstation is business property. That means employees aren’t allowed to remove or copy it without your authorization.

We hope these four policies have shed some light on best security practices. If you’d like more tips or are interested in a security audit of your business, do get in touch.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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BCP strategies to keep your business open

Whether your business is hit with a brief power outage or an extreme weather disaster, any kind of interruption to your organization’s productivity can cut into your profits. That’s why it is important to have a business continuity plan and utilize BC tools to ensure your organization can stay in operation at all times. Here are some of the key strategies many companies rely on to keep their doors open.

Backup your data, applications and servers

Today, companies are more dependent than ever on IT and their business data. If these critical components suddenly become inaccessible, can your business stay open? For most business owners, the simple answer is no. This is why backing up these elements is vital to your business’s success. Backing them up ensures they can be restored quickly in the event of a disaster, security breach, or damage to IT equipment.

Obviously, to ensure the accessibility of your IT, you need to backup all your data, applications and servers regularly. The keyword here being “regularly”. While in the past most businesses would do this on-site and with tape backups, today more and more businesses are using the cloud. Some of the prime reasons for backing up to the cloud are as follows:

  • Affordability
  • Backups can be automated, therefore saving you time
  • Cloud providers usually backup your data to multiple locations (so if one of their facilities goes down, your backup is still safe at another site)
  • Backups can be accessed from anywhere, whether it’s at an employee’s home or at an alternate office
  • If you need to use it, backups can be restored quickly

Virtualize servers and desktops

When you virtualize your servers or desktops, they can be used at any location - be it at your workplace, home, or a coffee shop in the Bahamas. In terms of business continuity, this is useful in case your main office suddenly becomes unusable due to a disaster such as a flood, a break-in, or if you’re simply unable to get there because of hostile weather conditions.

Have a backup power supply

Power outages essentially zap all your employees productivity. No electricity means no work. And that means you’re paying them to do nothing. Having a backup power supply like a generator will ensure that when the electricity goes down, your employees can continue working. A good solution is an uninterrupted power supply (UPS). When you have this, a power outage will not affect your employees ability to work. They can work seamlessly through it, as if nothing ever happened. Also, if you have a server room, the UPS will ensure your vital servers stay cool.

Utilize social media

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or Google +, most people are on at least one social network these days. And if there is any kind of weather-related disaster, social media is usually one of the first places customers, colleagues, staff and vendors will check to see the status of your business. This is because even if the phone lines or local power goes out, social media is usually accessible. So when it comes to business continuity, have at least one active social media account you use to keep your customers and followers informed.

Implement Unified Communications

Unified Communication (UC) can essentially create a virtualized communication infrastructure. That means instead of your communication tools - like phones, instant messaging, video calls - all being stored locally at your workplace, you can access them anywhere. So for whatever reason if your office is inaccessible, employees can still use your phones and other communication tools from their homes. What’s more, UC tools can route business calls to your employees smartphones. That means they’ll never miss an important call, even if they’re not in the office.

So there you have it, five tools to ensure your business operates continuously no matter what comes your way. If you’d like to implement business continuity technology in your business or develop a continuity plan, we’re happy to help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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Understanding the types of virtualization

Whether your business is hit with a brief power outage or an extreme weather disaster, any kind of interruption to your organization’s productivity can cut into your profits. That’s why it is important to have a business continuity plan and utilize BC tools to ensure your organization can stay in operation at all times. Here are some of the key strategies many companies rely on to keep their doors open.

Backup your data, applications and servers

Today, companies are more dependent than ever on IT and their business data. If these critical components suddenly become inaccessible, can your business stay open? For most business owners, the simple answer is no. This is why backing up these elements is vital to your business’s success. Backing them up ensures they can be restored quickly in the event of a disaster, security breach, or damage to IT equipment.

Obviously, to ensure the accessibility of your IT, you need to backup all your data, applications and servers regularly. The keyword here being “regularly”. While in the past most businesses would do this on-site and with tape backups, today more and more businesses are using the cloud. Some of the prime reasons for backing up to the cloud are as follows:

  • Affordability
  • Backups can be automated, therefore saving you time
  • Cloud providers usually backup your data to multiple locations (so if one of their facilities goes down, your backup is still safe at another site)
  • Backups can be accessed from anywhere, whether it’s at an employee’s home or at an alternate office
  • If you need to use it, backups can be restored quickly

Virtualize servers and desktops

When you virtualize your servers or desktops, they can be used at any location - be it at your workplace, home, or a coffee shop in the Bahamas. In terms of business continuity, this is useful in case your main office suddenly becomes unusable due to a disaster such as a flood, a break-in, or if you’re simply unable to get there because of hostile weather conditions.

Have a backup power supply

Power outages essentially zap all your employees productivity. No electricity means no work. And that means you’re paying them to do nothing. Having a backup power supply like a generator will ensure that when the electricity goes down, your employees can continue working. A good solution is an uninterrupted power supply (UPS). When you have this, a power outage will not affect your employees ability to work. They can work seamlessly through it, as if nothing ever happened. Also, if you have a server room, the UPS will ensure your vital servers stay cool.

Utilize social media

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or Google +, most people are on at least one social network these days. And if there is any kind of weather-related disaster, social media is usually one of the first places customers, colleagues, staff and vendors will check to see the status of your business. This is because even if the phone lines or local power goes out, social media is usually accessible. So when it comes to business continuity, have at least one active social media account you use to keep your customers and followers informed.

Implement Unified Communications

Unified Communication (UC) can essentially create a virtualized communication infrastructure. That means instead of your communication tools - like phones, instant messaging, video calls - all being stored locally at your workplace, you can access them anywhere. So for whatever reason if your office is inaccessible, employees can still use your phones and other communication tools from their homes. What’s more, UC tools can route business calls to your employees smartphones. That means they’ll never miss an important call, even if they’re not in the office.

So there you have it, five tools to ensure your business operates continuously no matter what comes your way. If you’d like to implement business continuity technology in your business or develop a continuity plan, we’re happy to help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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How to avoid potential VoIP pitfalls

When it comes to saving money for small businesses, VoIP is one IT tool that is all the rage. For many organizations, it can cut phone expenses in half. So obviously the benefit of a VoIP system can be enormous. But is there a catch? With some VoIP providers, there certainly is. So when you’re ready to install this new technology for your business, here are some common VoIP pitfalls to be aware of.

  1. Poor call quality
  2. Complicated and frustrating management of the VoIP system
  3. Negative on-hold experience for customers
You’re likely aware that a drop in call quality can tarnish the reputation of your business and result in a loss of profits. So obviously, issues like the three mentioned above may sound alarming. So does that mean that you should avoid installing a VoIP system altogether? Probably not. The thing is, VoIP isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it is likely the future of telephony service for many businesses around the globe. Any technology that has the power to dramatically cut costs, such as VoIP, is here to stay. And as the service continues to evolve, it will become even more powerful and versatile.

In the meantime, what can you do to ensure your business doesn’t suffer any of these three problems? There are a couple of solutions.

Know what you want out of your VoIP phone solution

If your business handles hundreds of customer service calls a day, your telephony needs will be different than a business that is mainly using their phone system as a method for internal communication. This is why it’s important to know exactly what you want out of your VoIP phone solution. Do you want your employees using it to make sales calls? Do you want to use it to simply answer a few customer service calls a day and communicate between internal staff? Will you be holding video meetings on it? If you know what you want out of your VoIP system in advance, it sets you up to have a practical discussion of your needs with a VoIP provider. And that leads to our next point.

Find an experienced, trusted service provider

When it comes to VoIP, who you choose as your provider can make or break the success of your new phone system. It really is that big of a deal. The three problems listed above can all be avoided with an experienced VoIP provider installing and maintaining your system. They can let you know the strengths, weaknesses and limitations of the technology, and give you realistic expectations of what you’ll get from the service. This ensures you aren’t let down and that you don’t suffer a bad telephony experience that irritates customers.

A trusted VoIP provider will have experience and has likely installed hundreds of VoIP systems. They can help you define a strategy that meets your business’s specific needs, provide recommendations on system design and management, and enable your business to get the superb call experience your customers expect. Additionally, the right VoIP provider will also provide training and support to ensure you understand how to use the system most effectively, and will be a quick phone call away to help you if problems bubble up.

And if you’ve already installed a VoIP system that’s turned buggy?

Although it’s better to consult with an experienced VoIP provider before your initial installation, it’s not too late to correct course. A trusted VoIP provider can help you resolve many of the issues you’re experiencing. Don’t settle for a VoIP system that hurts your business. You can make VoIP work for your business, and save thousands of dollars in the process.

If you need advice installing a new VoIP system or fixing your current one, don’t hesitate to call us. Our experts can provide you the consultation, support and service that enables your business to enjoy the costs savings and power of VoIP. Call us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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The Importance of Disaster Recovery

Most business owners don’t normally think they will be a victim of a natural disaster...not until an unforeseen crisis happens and their company ends up suffering from thousands or millions of dollars in economic and operational losses -- all because of the lack of thoughtful disaster preparedness. This post gives small or mid-sized businesses (SMBs) basic information on the vital importance of having a Disaster Recovery (DR) plan to help them survive any potential disasters.

As we all know, unpredictability is a fact of life. The aftermath of Tropical Storm Bill in Texas and recent floods in South Carolina are a grim and unfortunate lesson for many overconfident business owners who think their companies are spared from the likelihood of cataclysmic weather, technological malfunctions, or human actions. A 2014 survey by the IT Disaster Recovery Preparedness (DRP) Council reveals just how many companies worldwide are at risk: 73 percent of SMBs are failing in terms of disaster readiness. What does this mean? It means that 3 out of 4 companies aren’t prepared to handle emergencies and save their businesses from a worse-case scenario.

If it’s not clear and compelling enough for a business owner like yourself to consider putting a well-conceived Disaster Recovery (DR) plan into place, perhaps it’s time to give it some thought. Doing so can save you years of business loss. Here is some useful information about what DR is all about and how it can ensure your business’s survival in the wake of unforeseen circumstances.

What is Disaster Recovery (DR)?

Disaster recovery is a plan for restoring and accessing your data in the event of a disaster that destroys part or all of a business’s resources. It is a key component involving many aspects of business operations that requires this information to function. The job of a DR plan is to ensure that whatever happens, your vital data can be recovered and mission-critical applications will be brought back online in the shortest possible time.

What kind of disasters are likely to happen?

Business disasters can either be natural, technological, or man-made. Natural types of disasters include floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, landslides, tsunamis, and even a pest infestation. On the other hand, technological and man-made disasters involve hazardous material spills, infrastructural or power failure, nuclear power plant meltdown or blast, chemical threat and biological weapons, cyber attacks, explosions, or acts of terrorism and civil unrest.

Why does your business need DR?

Regardless of industry or size, when an unforeseen event takes place and causes day-to-day operations to come to a halt, a company will need to recover as quickly as possible to ensure you will continue providing services to clients and customers. Downtime is one of the biggest IT expenses that any business can face. Based on 2015 disaster recovery statistics, downtime that lasts for one hour can cost small companies as much as $8,000, mid-size organizations $74,000, and $700,000 for large enterprises.

For SMBs particularly, any extended loss of productivity can lead to reduced cash flow through late invoicing, lost orders, increased labor costs as staff work extra hours to recover from the downtime, missed delivery dates, and so on. If major business disruptions are not anticipated and addressed today, it’s very possible that these negative consequences resulting from an unexpected disaster can have long-term implications that affect a company for years. By having a Disaster Recovery plan in place, a company can save itself from multiple risks including out of budget expenses, reputation loss, data loss, and the negative impact on clients and customers.

How do I create a DR strategy for my business?

Creating, implementing and maintaining a total business recovery plan is time-consuming but extremely important to ensure your business’s survival. Many organizations don’t have the time or resources to dedicate to this process. If you would like to protect your company from unexpected disasters but need further guidance and information on how to get started, give us a call and our experts will be happy to discuss Disaster Recovery options and solutions with you.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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Security tips for the small business

It’s been said so many times that many small business owners are likely to block it out, but the truth remains: cyber criminals target SMBs. Perhaps the reason for this ignorance is that when an SMB falls victim to an online attack, it’s not breaking news. But this time, in a recent NY Times article, a cyber attack wasn’t focused on the Ashley Madisons or Dropboxes of the world. This time the focus was on a small business who is lucky to still be in business after a serious cyber attack.

Last holiday season, Rokenbok Education, a small, California-based toy company of seven employees realized its worse nightmare. During the busiest time of the sales year, the files in their database had become unusable, infected with malware. The hackers used ransomware, a malware designed to hold a business’s data hostage, to encrypt their files and demanded a payment to make them usable again. However, instead of paying the ransom, Rokenbok restructured their key system. To do this it took four days. That’s four days of downtime, lost sales, and confused customers who likely lost confidence in the integrity of their company. Luckily this did not put Rokenbok Education out of business. But many SMBs aren’t so fortunate, and are forced to close after such a security debacle.

So why do security breaches like this happen to SMBs?

There are many reasons, but a common one is that small and medium-sized businesses often focus on profits over security. And really, it’s hard to blame them. When you’re small, you want to grow your organization as quickly as possible. And you likely think that because you’re small, no one is going to attack you. However, nowadays hackers are on to this way of thinking. They know that SMBs don’t focus as much on security, which make them a perfect target. In fact, according to Timothy C. Francis, the enterprise lead for Cyber Insurance at Travelers, 60 percent of all online attacks in 2014 targeted SMBs.

So what can your business do to protect itself against online attacks? There are a range of options, but it’s best to start off with an audit of your current security system to see where the holes are. This audit should check areas of risk which include customer data, employee access, and assets such as servers, computers and all Internet-enable devices.

After that, an obvious thing to do is to strengthen your passwords. While this has been said thousands of times over, many SMB owners do not take heed. Clay Calvert, the director of security at the Virginia-based firm MetroStar Systems, notes that hackers analyze how we create passwords and use big data analytics to crack them. “They have databases of passwords,” Calvert said. The best way to create a strong password is to make it long with a mix of characters. Password managers that encrypt your passwords can also help.

Aside from passwords, there are many other ways to boost your business’s security that include installing a firewall, keeping your antivirus up-to-date, and moving data over to the cloud (instead of storing it on company servers). Also, since many security attacks occur because an employee clicked on a malicious website or link, training your employees is a smart move. A good way to start this training is to create an employee manual that includes security guidelines they must follow. For ongoing training, you can keep them up-to-date on the latest security threats through email updates and regular meetings. Once you feel confident that your employees are up-to-speed and your security practices are updated, you can try hiring ethical hackers to test your systems and try to break through your security. This will let you know if there are any security holes you missed.

Calling in a security specialist

However, if all of this sounds far too much to bother with, consider outsourcing your security to a service provider that specializes in digital security. This can oftentimes save valuable time and money in the long run. Best of all, this can provide peace of mind, knowing that you have a security specialist watching over your business.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and unsure where to start with your business’s security, we’re happy to help perform a thorough audit and provide you the digital security solution you need to keep your business protected. Security worries don’t have to keep you up at night, and we can help you implement the measures that will protect your business from disastrous security problems.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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Boost productivity when working from home

If you think the idea of working from home sounds too good to be true, it’s not. Since the advent of the Internet, many business owners are open to the adoption of telecommuting, a strategy that allows their employees to work remotely in order to save commuting costs and time while increasing productivity. But of course, working from home can pose a few challenges of its own. In this article we’ll go into details as to how you can work productively at home.

One of the major concerns that business owners have when allowing people to work from home is the limited amount of control they have over their staff. Companies fear that most employees might become unproductive if they become their own boss and are responsible for managing their own hours. While it is easy for remote employees to feel disconnected from work, if you make communication a top priority, telecommuting can actually work wonders.

So have you been given the privilege to work from home? Check out the following tips to ensure a productive day.

Get dressed

It’s important not to dress too casually when working at home. That’s why wearing your pajamas while working can be counterproductive. There’s no need to choose an overly formal attire - like a suit with a tie - but at least wear something comfortable yet presentable that will help you get into a work frame of mind.

Create a focused workspace

Select a workspace that’s neither too comfortable nor uptight. The best method to get into the mindset of ‘going to work’ is to create an environment that allows you to easily focus on the tasks at hand. This can be a room with a door to keep out family members, or simply a space that’s free from all sources of distractions such as your smartphone, snacks, or the television. But in the end, it all comes down to personal preference - do you enjoy working in a clear space, or a cluttered chaos? Would background music distract you or help you concentrate? Do you like working in a bright environment, or prefer a dim area? Take these into consideration before choosing your workspace.

Plan ahead

The secret to working more productively is to have an organized plan of action. Write down the plan so you can prioritize tasks properly and schedule what needs to be done and when it must be completed. Also, it’s always helpful to know your most productive hours. This is so you can schedule your most challenging tasks during those hours and set aside easier ones in your least productive periods.

Stay away from social media

Social media is considered by many as the biggest time and productivity killer. So if your duties don’t involve managing your company’s Twitter account or responding to customers’ requests via Facebook inbox, you should steer clear from these social networking sites. There are many applications out there that allow you to block social media websites and notifications, but of course you wouldn’t have to resort to such measures if you can exert some self-control and discipline.

Invest in technology

Another thing to consider about working from home is the technology to help you work easier, such as a second monitor. Sometimes you will also need certain tools to stay connected to your company, clients, and colleagues. These tools may include but are not limited to web conferencing software, document sharing applications, or screen sharing programs.

These tips will turn your home into an office that will keep your working hours productive and disciplined throughout the day. If you’re looking to implement IT solutions that will encourage a more productive work environment, get in touch with our experts today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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Top Chrome extensions to get your hands on

According to StatCounter, Google Chrome is the most popular and widely used browser in the world. While it’s already great in terms of loading speed, performance, and user interface, you can make it even better by installing extensions to add extra features. There are thousands of extensions in the Chrome Web Store - the question is which ones will add value and enhance your browsing experience? We’ve compiled a list of some of the most popular extensions below for you to consider.

StayFocusd

If your job involves staring at a computer screen all day, this extension could be the perfect productivity booster. Why? Because it can be all too easy to get distracted by certain sites and other time wasters while you’re working. But things can change with StayFocusd. It’s simple - you set a time allowance for particular websites like Facebook, Youtube, or Twitter, and once you’ve reached the time limit, StayFocusd blocks access to those sites, reminding you to focus on your work.

AdBlock

Today we are hit with large numbers of advertisements on the web, some of which are trying to trick people into downloading something harmful to their computers. This is where AdBlock comes in. This extension is the most popular extension on the Chrome Web Store, with over ten million active users. AdBlock is designed to block most ads from showing on Chrome. Removing ads from your screen can greatly improve your experience and increase the speed of your browser.

LastPass

While Chrome already has a built-in password manager, LastPass is a better option when it comes to password management. Instead of trying to memorize countless passwords for your online accounts, LastPass can generate new and secure passwords every time you log into a website and sync your passwords whenever you need them. With LastPass you can easily gain access to your accounts, enter credit card details, and fill out online forms with just a few clicks.  

Evernote Web Clipper

Evernote is a powerful extension that allows you to quickly and easily save web content from Chrome and transfer it straight into your Evernote account. With the press of a button, you can grab an image from the web page, make annotations, create summary links, and save a distraction-free version for later perusal.

Momentum

If you find yourself losing motivation to work during the day, Momentum could be the dose of inspiration you’re looking for. Momentum replaces Chrome’s default new tab screen with a personalized dashboard that features a beautiful scenic background, a daily inspirational quote, the weather report, a to-do list, and quick links widgets for you to add your favorite sites.

Pocket

Pocket is the best way to save articles, videos, and any other web pages that you wish to view later. Simply hit the Pocket extension button when you come across something interesting and that page will automatically be synced to your device, so you can view it at any time, even without an Internet connection. With Pocket, you can set things aside when you have an important work at hand.

If you want to learn how Chrome’s extensions and other Google Apps can boost your staff’s productivity and efficiency, get in touch with our experts today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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How to maximize your YouTube marketing

YouTube is one of the most powerful tools for video marketing out there, especially for businesses who want to create an online reputation in order to generate more leads and revenue. It allows you to introduce your company’s unique brand and personality to the online community. And the best part? It’s free! Here we provide some useful tips to make sure that your YouTube marketing campaign is a total success.

Keep it short and simple

Most people have short attention spans and won’t watch videos that are longer than a couple of minutes unless they’re really interested. This means lengthy videos might not perform as well as you might hope, since viewers are likely to be turned off completely. There’s no fixed formula here, but the idea is to create videos that convey your intended message within five minutes at most. If you have the need for longer videos, simply split them into small segments - this is another great way to keep your visitors hooked and make them want to come back for more.

Use humor in your videos

Have you ever wondered why the funny videos on YouTube earn so many hits in such a short time? That’s because people love humor. We all like a good laugh. There are several YouTube channels out there that have had huge success by injecting humor into their videos. You don’t have to make your audience fall on their backs laughing - just flashing a little sense of humor will do the trick.

Consider quality over quantity

With the vast number of amateur and low-quality videos that come up on YouTube’s search results, you need to go the extra mile and make your video stand out from the competition. It’s worth investing in a high-quality video camera if you’re serious about YouTube marketing. Each of your videos should contain helpful and engaging content. And before posting it live, make sure to ask for a second or third pair of eyes to go through it again. This way you can take out the fluff and polish the videos so they’re appealing to viewers.

Set engaging titles

When it comes to YouTube marketing, this is perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind. Make sure you include relevant keywords in the title, so your viewers know what to expect to see in your video. The general rule of thumb is to keep it clear and concise, since long titles will be truncated in YouTube’s search results. Another thing is to refrain from using misleading titles that trick people into watching your video. Not only will your viewers hit the close button right away, this cheap trick will also have a negative impact on your video’s ranking.

Promote your videos

YouTube videos have a high chance of ranking well in Google, being the search engine giant’s subsidiary and following similar search algorithms. But this is no excuse to skimp on marketing. There are many ways to promote your videos to your specific target audience. Using relevant keywords and descriptions may help with organic traffic, but there’s also paid options like Google AdWords and Facebook Ads that will help you earn more exposure for your videos.

YouTube is a great tool to generate traffic and interact with your customers online. But do keep in mind that no matter how great your videos are, they won’t get seen if you don’t promote them well enough. If you want to learn how to maximize your YouTube marketing campaigns, get in touch with our experts today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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How to Boost Productivity in 2016

We all experience those days where we feel like we’ve been super productive and have managed to check off a bunch of tasks from our to-do list. But if you feel like these days are few and far between and you’d like to up the ante on a more consistent basis, it’s time to adopt a new approach to productivity. Whether you need to get organized in your personal or working life, laying down ground rules for yourself and considering the following tips could work wonders.

When it comes to business, competition is fiercer than ever: you might have rivals undercutting your prices, you could be a bricks and mortar store pressurized by internet-based sellers, or perhaps you’re struggling to get a grip on your processes, marketing plans or even employees. By upping your efficiency stakes, working in a more agile fashion, and simply getting more work done more quickly, you could find that you’re holding the key to solving your problems.

Your issues with productivity might be personal, or they may well stem from your staff. As a small or medium-sized business owner or manager, you can’t afford to sit back and let your own inertia or disorganization, or your employees’ lack of dynamism, drag your company down. Take action and start getting to grips with your workload and help your business get 2016 off to a far more efficient start.

Take time out first thing

Okay, admittedly taking ‘time out’ sounds counterintuitive for increasing productivity, but hear us out. By taking a few minutes at the start of every morning, you’ll be getting the day off to a calm and orderly start, thereby increasing the chances of you being more productive, as opposed to running around like the proverbial headless chicken for the rest of the day.

Part mindfulness and part preparation, begin by emptying your head of any thoughts. Be in the moment and spend a minute or two breathing deeply. Next, consider the things most playing on your mind in relation to what needs to be done either today or in the near future. Jot them down on a piece of paper, followed with a short outline on how you are going to tackle them. Then set your mind to going forth and making those resolutions happen, one by one.

Quit multitasking

Some reports say that multitasking can negatively impact on your productivity by as much as 40 percent. When we’re taking on more than one task at a time, the perception is that we’re killing it productivity wise and getting loads done. The reality is that we’re spending the majority of the time jumping from one thing to the next and not fully focusing on any of them.

You need to exercise willpower to commit to ‘singletasking’ but before long it should come as second nature. Pick one thing that you are going to work on and stick to it until you have finished, or at least done everything you can for the time being. This includes not checking your email during that time – surely one of the biggest productivity sappers of all time. If the temptation is too strong, log out of your inbox on your computer, and set your phone to silent if you have audible alerts configured. If you’re worried you’re going to overlook something during this time period, use an online or physical notepad to note down spur of the moment thoughts or ideas.

Reassess your working hours

It’s no secret that the traditional 9 to 5 is on the way out. Being connected and contactable around the clock is putting paid to that, but is being constantly online actually counterproductive? How effective are you really at 11pm at night when you’re slumped in front of The Walking Dead with a beer and a spreadsheet full of data?

Take a tip from the latest round of startups that are taking a sledgehammer to the idea that we need to work around the clock, and are instead turning the working week on its head. The CEO of one rising startup has gone as far to institute a five-hour workday that runs from just 8am to 1pm, taking into account that studies show people are more productive earlier in the day. The theory goes that making people sit in an office for 8 hours a day, whilst giving them ample time to be productive, equally gives them just as many hours to waste time. A shorter working day could instill a greater sense of urgency in employees, who in turn respect the company’s consideration of their personal lives and work harder.

Depending on your business, changing your working hours may not be practical, but it could still be food for thought - and adopting a singletasking approach and planning your day ahead calmly and clearly is achievable and will never hurt.

If you’d like to find out how implementing better IT and more efficient procedures can help you beat the productivity blues, get in touch with us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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Google and the Fight for Chat Dominance

It’s no great industry secret that despite dominating in other areas, Google is seriously lagging behind the competition when it comes to instant messaging applications. And now, rumor has it, the tech giant is preparing to put a stop to that and finally make its mark in this area. But what can Google offer that its rivals don’t, and why would you consider switching allegiance from your favorite chat app? Information is scant but we’re already privy to a few details.

Chats apps: most of us are glued to them throughout the day. You only have to look at the hoards of sidewalk and public transport zombies to realize that. In the West the market is dominated by Facebook’s own Messenger feature, and WhatsApp which they acquired back in February 2014 for an eye-watering $19 billion. Look to the East and Japan, Thailand and Indonesia are mostly committed to Line while in China WeChat is the messaging app of choice, and has taken over lives to the extent that users can pay for everything from a coffee at 7-Eleven to a taxi ride with the app.

With such a potentially massive, and lucrative, market to tap into it’s not surprising that Google has decided to get back in on the action and are no longer content to sit on the sidelines. A recent report in the Wall Street Journal gives us a sneak peek into just how Google might be staging their comeback.

Comeback you say? Yes - remember Wave? Remember Google Talk? Even now Google’s current offering, Hangouts, has failed to set the instant messaging world on fire. Initially developed as the video calling and instant messaging function within Google Plus - Google's answer to Facebook - Hangouts may have a core base of loyal fans but it consistently fails to feature among the most popular downloads in the Apple or Google app stores.

So what does Google have up their sleeve in an attempt to reverse their ailing chat app fortunes? The WSJ’s piece reports that the company is developing an app that enables users to not only chat with friends and co-workers, but also with ‘chatbots’. These chatbots are designed to assist with queries and searches - and given that Google’s strength lies in searching the web to find relevant results (or answers) could this be the thing that differentiates them from their rivals?

Well, not quite because since the beginning of 2015, Facebook has been testing “M” – a semi-automated digital assistant within Messenger that combines manual human labor and artificial intelligence to answer users’ questions, find information and even book appointments. Google clearly wants to compete with Facebook as Google Plus, albeit unsuccessfully, demonstrates. And seeing as the company already has powerful search capabilities at their disposal this could give them the edge – particularly if they can fully automate.

As of writing Google hasn’t revealed a name for their chatbot-powered messaging app nor has any timeline been released. All we really know is that the AI boffins at Google have been working on the project for around a year. Until more details are made public consumers will just have to sit tight and see if the service does see daylight. And if it does whether it will be a viable contender in the battle for chat app supremacy or if like Hangouts it is destined to forever snap lamely at the heels of Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat and Line.

Want to know how you can help your small or medium-sized business stay one step ahead of YOUR competition? Talk to us today about implementing IT solutions that really will give you the edge.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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Don’t let a power outage hurt your business

When people think of the causes of downtime and the need for a Business Continuity Plan (BCP), they tend to think big. Powerful storms, massive blizzards, fires and floods are usually what springs to mind when business continuity is mentioned. And while these disasters can disrupt your business, a small power outage can be just as problematic if you’re not prepared. Here’s what to do to make sure your company isn’t halted when a power outage occurs.

Power outages are one of the only disasters that can strike just about anywhere in the United States. If you are in Seattle chances are tropical storms are not going to be an issue and if you’re in Miami you aren’t going to fret over a blizzard, but losing power can occur anywhere, at any time and without warning.

A Department of Energy report noted that power outages cost American businesses nearly $150 billion in 2014 and added that increasing demand for energy coupled with an aging infrastructure could see the number of blackouts increase. While weather-related events are the most common cause of power outages in the U.S., it is far from the only thing that can disrupt energy service.

Since this is a problem that will continue to plague businesses, especially those ones that are unprepared, it’s important to be ready should a blackout strike. Here are a few things you should consider when it comes to power outages.

Power outages hurt in more ways than you think

The most notable issue a business faces when a power outage occurs is an inability to work. Employees often times sit around unable to do anything until the power is turned back on. Once the power does return, additional time is needed to safely turn everything back on and to check if all your files are still there.

There are also numerous indirect consequences that your business may face either during or after a power outage. These include a loss of revenue from potential sales, a decrease in customer satisfaction and a drop in your company’s reputation. The more your company is prepared for a power outage, the better continuity you will see and the less damage will be done. While it may be impossible to completely avoid issues caused by blackouts, you can minimize their impact.

Be ready in case of an outage

One of the biggest sources of frustration for employees during a blackout is losing files they had been working on. Autosave features do help prevent this but sometimes you’ll still lose that one important note or sentence you didn’t have the chance to save. Uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) are one way to buy your employees a little extra time should the power go out. You're able to plug your computer into these devices and they will operate as a battery when the power goes out. The life of these power stations is anywhere from ten minutes to an hour for some models which should give you enough time to save your work and properly shutdown your computer.

If you want to stay in business during a power outage, a standby commercial generator can help. These normally run on propane or natural gas and immediately switch on as soon as your main power supply goes out. If you aren’t concerned about the lights but want to keep your employees productive, equipping them 4G enabled devices with Office 365 or Google Apps will let them continue to work on files that have been saved and stored on the cloud.

Always test your outage plans

Regardless of what your company's plans are during a power outage, you will need to test them on a regular basis to ensure everything runs smoothly when the real thing does happen. If you utilize a UPS or standby generator, you will want to test these out every six months at the very least to make sure they function properly. If your business has special plans for what employees need to do during a power outage, you should run a practice drill on a yearly basis to ensure everyone is up to speed on their duties.

They key to business continuity is preparation. Let our team of experts help prepare your business for anything thrown its way in 2016 and beyond.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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Social Media in the Middle East

When people think of the causes of downtime and the need for a Business Continuity Plan (BCP), they tend to think big. Powerful storms, massive blizzards, fires and floods are usually what springs to mind when business continuity is mentioned. And while these disasters can disrupt your business, a small power outage can be just as problematic if you’re not prepared. Here’s what to do to make sure your company isn’t halted when a power outage occurs.

Power outages are one of the only disasters that can strike just about anywhere in the United States. If you are in Seattle chances are tropical storms are not going to be an issue and if you’re in Miami you aren’t going to fret over a blizzard, but losing power can occur anywhere, at any time and without warning.

A Department of Energy report noted that power outages cost American businesses nearly $150 billion in 2014 and added that increasing demand for energy coupled with an aging infrastructure could see the number of blackouts increase. While weather-related events are the most common cause of power outages in the U.S., it is far from the only thing that can disrupt energy service.

Since this is a problem that will continue to plague businesses, especially those ones that are unprepared, it’s important to be ready should a blackout strike. Here are a few things you should consider when it comes to power outages.

Power outages hurt in more ways than you think

The most notable issue a business faces when a power outage occurs is an inability to work. Employees often times sit around unable to do anything until the power is turned back on. Once the power does return, additional time is needed to safely turn everything back on and to check if all your files are still there.

There are also numerous indirect consequences that your business may face either during or after a power outage. These include a loss of revenue from potential sales, a decrease in customer satisfaction and a drop in your company’s reputation. The more your company is prepared for a power outage, the better continuity you will see and the less damage will be done. While it may be impossible to completely avoid issues caused by blackouts, you can minimize their impact.

Be ready in case of an outage

One of the biggest sources of frustration for employees during a blackout is losing files they had been working on. Autosave features do help prevent this but sometimes you’ll still lose that one important note or sentence you didn’t have the chance to save. Uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) are one way to buy your employees a little extra time should the power go out. You're able to plug your computer into these devices and they will operate as a battery when the power goes out. The life of these power stations is anywhere from ten minutes to an hour for some models which should give you enough time to save your work and properly shutdown your computer.

If you want to stay in business during a power outage, a standby commercial generator can help. These normally run on propane or natural gas and immediately switch on as soon as your main power supply goes out. If you aren’t concerned about the lights but want to keep your employees productive, equipping them 4G enabled devices with Office 365 or Google Apps will let them continue to work on files that have been saved and stored on the cloud.

Always test your outage plans

Regardless of what your company's plans are during a power outage, you will need to test them on a regular basis to ensure everything runs smoothly when the real thing does happen. If you utilize a UPS or standby generator, you will want to test these out every six months at the very least to make sure they function properly. If your business has special plans for what employees need to do during a power outage, you should run a practice drill on a yearly basis to ensure everyone is up to speed on their duties.

They key to business continuity is preparation. Let our team of experts help prepare your business for anything thrown its way in 2016 and beyond.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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The curse of Chimera ransomware

There are numerous strains of malware out there, but one particularly unpleasant one is ransomware. While this malicious software has been around for some time, recently a newer, nastier upgrade was discovered. Posing a threat to businesses of all sizes, the program, called Chimera, has upped the ante when it comes to scaring its victims out of their hard-earned cash. But what exactly is this malware, and what do you need to look out for?

Business is booming in the world of cyber crime, and scammers, extortionists, phishers and hackers are constantly on the lookout for new ways to exploit our fears and naivety in order to boost their bank accounts, steal our data, or simply cause us mayhem for their own twisted pleasure. One of worst types of malware for playing with our emotions - and therefore increasing the likelihood of us capitulating to its demands - is ransomware. If you don’t know how this program works, read on for an introduction.

If your computer has been infected by ransomware, the first sign that something is wrong is normally discovering that you are unable to open one or more of your files. That’s because the malware encrypts them, rendering them completely inaccessible. The next thing you see will be a ‘ransom note’, either in the form of an email or a notice that appears directly on your screen. You will be told that if you want to see your files again you will need to pay a sum of money. After making payment you will (allegedly) be sent a code that will allow you to decrypt your files.

Some types of ransomware up the fear factor even further by pretending that the FBI, CIA or other national law enforcement or government agency is behind the ‘kidnapping’. You will be told that your files are being held hostage because you have downloaded pirated software or files, or visited an illegal or illicit website - such as those depicting extreme pornography or threatening national security. Regardless of whether or not you are guilty of any of the above - be it a visit to an x-rated website, or downloading a pirated copy of the latest episode of The Walking Dead, your first instinct is probably to panic. The thought of no longer having access to any of our information, files or data is enough to make most of us break out into a cold sweat. If you haven’t backed up, everything from your vacation pictures to your company’s data could be lost for good.

The problem for ransomware creators, however, is that many users have wisened up to their tactics, and are refusing to pay, instead calling in an IT specialist to try and restore their encrypted files. This has left cyber criminals needing to find a way to boost ‘trade’. And that is where Chimera comes in. Christened by the Anti-Botnet Advisory Centre - a part of Germany’s Association of the Internet Industry - unlike previous forms of ransomware, which were indiscriminate when choosing their victims, this latest threat primarily targets businesses.

An employee will receive an email, purporting to be an application for a job within your firm, or some kind of corporate deal. This email will include a link ostensibly to the applicant’s resume or to details of the offer, but will in fact go to an infected file stored in Dropbox. Chimera then infects the user’s computer and encrypts any local files. Once the PC has been rebooted, the ransom note will be displayed on the desktop. Payment is usually set at around $680 USD, which must be paid in Bitcoins. And in order to further scare the victim into paying, the note will also state that failure to make payment will result in the user’s files being published online.

If there is a slight silver lining to the Chimera cloud, it is that the Anti-Botnet Advisory Centre has not found any proof that files have been published - at least not yet. In fact, it is still unknown whether the ransomware does actually take the encrypted files or if it is just an empty threat. Regardless, it is still a threat which could easily convince many users to pay the ransom. And should Chimera make good on its threats, the ramifications for a business are huge - and that’s without taking into consideration the nightmare of having your files encrypted in the first place. With Chimera targeting businesses of all sizes, and random employees within the business at that, isn’t it time you took another good look at your organization’s security posture?

Contact us today and talk to one of our security experts. We’ll be more than happy to help ensure that your small or medium-sized business isn’t taken hostage by Chimera or any other type of ransomware.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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IT security predictions for 2016

Online security has probably never been such a hotly debated subject as it was in 2015. From recent numerous high-profile attacks on Sony and others, to this year’s leaking of data stolen from the extramarital-affair-facilitating website Ashley Madison website, have pushed cyber security firmly into the spotlight. So what can we expect from 2016? Experts predict that this year will only see cyber crime increasing yet further. Here’s what you need to know.

If you think that only big corporations and prominent organizations are targeted by cyber criminals, you are making a deadly mistake. It might be tempting to sweep cyber crime under the carpet and assume that you are flying below the average hacker’s radar, but that simply isn’t true. In fact, it’s the polar opposite, since smaller enterprises are actually far more likely to be at risk than larger ones, owing to their typically less sturdy security postures.

So where does that leave you as a small or medium-sized business owner or manager? Does it mean you need to be taking your cyber security even more seriously? You can bet your bottom dollar it does, as industry experts predict that 2016 is only going to become more of a minefield when it comes to online crime.

The headline trend that IT security professionals pinpointed this year was that no longer were criminals hacking into websites purely to bolster their bank accounts. 2015 has seen the emergence of another strain of hackers, launching cyber attacks as part of a moral crusade. These people are not purely after money although in some cases this may also be a contributing factor - instead, their claimed motivation is revenge, or righting what they perceive as wrong. It is this diversification in the hacking community that has led security watchers to predict that, as we enter 2016, we are likely to see some different behavior from hackers.

Among the unpleasant predictions being made, a number of experts agree that hacks of a destructive nature will be on the rise. The fact that hackers are using attacks for retribution rather than simple monetary gain means that a wider cross-section of organizations may well find themselves being preyed upon, all the way from government agencies - traditionally ignored by hackers - to online retailers and other commercial websites.

Remember when Snapchat got hacked back in October 2014, and the hackers threatened to make public as many as 200,000 photos? Well, the bad news is that apps are going to continue to be targeted. In particular, those mobile apps that request access to your list of contacts, emails and messages can, in the wrong hands, be used to create the kind of portal that enables a cyber criminal to steal data or gain access to a company’s entire network. All this means that in 2016, hackers could be taking advantage of apps to do more than just steal your social media photos - they might have in mind the takedown of your entire company.

As a local business owner, social engineering - a means of tricking an individual into disclosing revealing or personal information about themselves or their company - is something you definitely need to be concerned about. You might pride yourself on being too savvy to fall for a cyber criminal’s tricks, but what about your employees? Can you be sure that each and every one of them exhibits the same amount of self control, cynicism, and wariness that you do? Not only that but, as we enter a new era of online threats, the criminals that use social engineering are growing in confidence and creativity. Dodgy emails from a bizarrely named sender containing a link to an unheard-of website are yesterday’s news. Modern social engineering is highly evolved and extremely cunning, and has the potential to convince even the most streetwise internet user.

How confident are you that your entire team of employees would be completely infallible in the face of a stealth attack from a seemingly innocent source? Could you trust them to restrain from divulging not only their personal details but also information pertaining to your company? Multiply the number of employees in your company by the number of phone apps they potentially use, and add to that the fact that any one of them could at any time be targeted by a social engineering scam, and the end result is a less-than-perfect security posture.

The sad fact is that there are people who want to do you harm - regardless of whether you hold confidential information about celebrity salaries, or are privy to a database full of cheating spouses. People, no matter how well meaning or vigilant, are the weakest link in any security chain, which means that ensuring your business’s safety necessitates educating your staff and ensuring that your network is impenetrable.

Professional training and a vulnerability assessment are two great places to start, so why not get in touch with us? We’ll make sure your business is as hack-proof as it can be.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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Make meetings productive with Do.com

Is there anything worse than an unproductive meeting? The feeling of those minutes and even hours slipping by you as you sit ‘brainstorming’ with co-workers, only to leave the room with a big fat nothing. The frustrating part is that, when run effectively, meetings can result in great ideas, and can add huge value to your company. But how do you make that shift from pointless meetings to productive ones? That’s where Do.com comes in. Here’s how to make the change in your organization.

We all know that an unproductive meeting is bad for business. Wasted minutes turn into wasted hours, and wasted hours turn into wasted days - and so on. Not using any of your team’s time effectively - whether they are the COO or the receptionist - is a big waste of money, simple as that. On the other hand, you know that meetings are essential for regrouping, hashing out new processes, gathering feedback, brainstorming marketing strategies, and simply touching base. But if, over the years, your company’s meeting culture has gone from energetic and idea-generating to stale, uninspiring, and - dare we say it - downright pointless, it can be hard to turn that around.

The good news is that there is a way to swing the pendulum back in the other direction, so that you can begin holding meetings that are productive and, crucially, that STAY productive. And that’s by using a software platform called Do.com. Do’s purpose is to help companies of all sizes start running more productive meetings, and it has already been adopted by well-known clients, including tech giants Apple, Google and Microsoft.

Do aims to help make meetings enjoyably productive, too – after all, whether we’re a high flyer at Microsoft or the owner of a local law firm or beauty salon, we all feel good when we are contributing something useful. So, if you’ve noticed that, every time a meeting is held in your workplace, a groaning line of worker ants clutching iPads and notepads heads begrudgingly towards the meeting room, this could be your chance to turn things around and re-energize your employees. If you do it properly, you’ll get some great ideas for moving your business forward at the same time. It’s a win-win situation!

So what does Do actually DO to make meetings more motivating and productive? For a start, it helps structure them more effectively, so that more time is spent getting to the point and less time is spent discussing weekend plans, or moaning about other departments or staff. Do gives you the tools to properly manage agendas, notes and actions, as well as allowing you to share files that are needed for discussion. It also features a timer, which turns red if you overrun, so that you can set limits as to the amount of time devoted to a topic – ideal for reigning in those debates that go round in circles but never actually end up getting anywhere.

The founder of Do, Jason Shah, has stated that his goals with the platform are to “bring three central themes to every meeting: structure, transparency, and automation.” To help facilitate this, Do is geared to bringing an agenda to meetings, thus putting the end to directionless and ill-prepared attendees. It allows the meeting organizer to easily import notes from previous meetings, and upload relevant files or documents. This is something that will save huge amounts of time in the average workplace, where meetings are generally accompanied by a shuffling of notes and people going to print out forgotten documents, or to email the group mid-meeting. That’s probably not the kind of thing that Steve Jobs tolerated with any degree of patience!

Do also prioritizes eliminating the “so what do I need to do again?” factor that so often follows meetings, by centralizing information pertaining to the subject, as well as highlighting follow-ups and outcomes. The software prompts the meeting organizer to assign discussed tasks to a specific person, who then receives an email and push notification outlining the task, as well as a link to a dedicated meeting page, where further information can be found.

With other features that aid prioritization of tasks, plus analytics that give managers an overview of how their team, department, and indeed the whole company are spending their time in meetings, it’s little wonder that Do’s client list boasts some pretty high-profile companies. As well as Apple et al, other adopters of the platform range from social media big-hitters Facebook and Twitter to other tech clients including Dropbox and Salesforce. Consumer platforms, such as Netflix, Spotify, Uber and Airbnb, are also onboard - as are Disney, Domino’s Pizza, the NBA, and certain sectors of the US government.

It’s probably safe to say that these clients like the way that Do.com can be integrated with other tools and software such as Office 365, Google Drive and Docs, and Evernote. In fact, Do even considers its competitors to include other cloud-based productivity platform providers like Google Apps, Evernote, Dropbox, and Trello. However, Do.com has the edge on all of those by virtue of its meeting-centric approach. You may use Google Docs to work on a task after a meeting, but Do.com walks you through the whole process, from agenda to follow-up and subsequent meetings.

Although adopted by major players such as Apple, Google and Disney, Do.com is for use by companies of any size – including yours! If you want to learn more about productivity, including how to install the tools and how to instill the culture within your company, give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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Business interruption insurance 101

While it is highly likely that you have an insurance policy that will cover your small or medium-sized business in the event of a disaster, chances are you don’t have business interruption insurance. The majority of smaller companies tend to overlook interruption policies, believing (or at least hoping) that regular insurance will be enough to protect them. But in the face of rising natural disasters, you may want to think again.

So why do small and medium-sized organizations tend to forego business interruption insurance policies? Chances are it, like so many things, comes down to cost. But can you really afford to ignore the additional protection that interruption insurance offers, or is it safe to cut corners and hope that your regular business insurance will have you covered in the event of a disaster?

While an interruption insurance policy may cost you anywhere from $750 to $10,000 or more (the cost is normally dependent on the size of your business), the fact is that your standard insurance policy will not cover you completely when a catastrophe strikes.

Take for example the spate of superstorms that have ravaged the United States over the past decade. From Hurricane Katrina to the more recent Sandy, small businesses and enterprises throughout the US have been left devastated after feeling the wrath of Mother Nature. While a best-case scenario may entail losing a few days sales during a power outage, at the other end of the scale you could find yourself dealing with a destroyed warehouse, an office that no longer has a roof, or thousands of dollars worth of stock destroyed by flooding.

And the reality is that your regular insurance is probably not going to reimburse you for storage or relocation costs if you need to move operations elsewhere, temporarily or otherwise. The majority of policies will only cover the loss of, or damage to, physical items like stock, equipment and property. They will usually not cover you for any loss in profit if a disaster means that you need to temporarily cease trading. On the other hand, tightly drawn up business interruption insurance should cover you in the event you need to move. It should also cover a decrease in sales due to power failures that shut your communication lines down, as well as a drop in profits due to delays in the delivery of stock or equipment.

Think the chances of a natural disaster affecting you are still slim despite the scenes of chaos and devastation reported in the media? Consider that a recent survey conducted by insurance giant Allianz found that there are now typically 600 major incidents per year – compare that to the previous 400 per annum and it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that disasters are on the rise.

So, as a small or medium-sized business owner, what do you need to know before you consider purchasing interruption insurance? If you’re thinking of adding interruption coverage to your existing policy, first record your current net income - but watch out because, if your net profit is high, you might be hit by a low per-incident limit. You could find your insurer has limited your coverage and left you inadequately protected.

Is business booming? If you are undergoing rapid growth, keep records spanning many months so you have proof of revenue increase. Without this, you will not be able to forecast month-on-month profit growth and your insurer might cap coverage at the rate of the previous year’s profit, not at your accelerated one. Be aware, too, that the type of interruptions you want protection for should reflect the areas covered in your general business policy. If your existing policy doesn’t include coverage for fire damage, neither will your interruption insurance.

There are many other aspects of an interruption policy to take into account – such as add-ons that protect you in the event of a power outage (something that standard policies normally don’t normally cover), and knock-on effects caused by a disaster at your supplier’s end.

Once you have taken out interruption insurance, should you have to use it then the most important aspect for you will be getting reimbursed. Crucially, you need to be able to provide your insurer with as many details concerning profit loss as possible. Consider storing files electronically, either offsite or in the cloud. That way, if your office or store is destroyed, you’ll still have access to your documents – and a far greater chance of recovering your losses.

If you’d like to learn more about protecting your data, files and documents, as well as about business continuity planning to help you get back up and running should disaster strike, please get in touch with our team today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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Twitter warns about cyber attacks

Earlier this month, social media platform Twitter alerted a number of its users to the fact that their accounts may have been hacked into by something, or someone, known as a “state-sponsored actor.” While a warning of this kind is certainly not unprecedented – for some time now, both Facebook and Google have also been contacting any of their users who they think may have been targeted – it suggests that attacks of this type are becoming more widespread.

But how at risk actually are you from a state-sponsored cyber attack? Is your small or medium-sized business in danger of being targeted? And who is behind these hacking attempts? Well, going by the warnings recently issued by Twitter, reports so far suggest that people, companies or organizations connected to internet security and freedom of speech are currently most likely to be at risk. But ‘currently’ is somewhat ambiguous, for in the world of cybercrime things can happen at lightning speed, and someone who is a target today might be deemed out of danger tomorrow – and vice versa.

As always, the best form of protection is to be forewarned, and you can only do that by learning as much as you can about the latest threats, scams and attacks. If you are a Twitter user, be it personal or for business use, you may be wondering why you have not yet heard of these alerts. That’s because Twitter’s messages were only sent to a small, and mostly rather niche, group of users. The email informed these users that Twitter was contacting them as a precaution due to their accounts “possibly” having been hacked by the state-sponsored actors. The email also stated that they believed that the actors may (or may not) be associated with a government, and that those involved had been looking to obtain personal information such as email addresses, phone numbers and/or IP addresses. So far, so vague!

Twitter then goes on to say that, although they have no evidence that any accounts were compromised or any data was stolen, they are actively investigating. They also lamented the fact that they wished they could say more…but that they had no additional information at that time. The email goes on to attempt to reassure users that their accounts may not have been an intentional target, but admits that if a user tweets under a pseudonym, that Twitter understands they may have cause for concern. But with so many Twitter users tweeting under a different name – and perfectly innocently, at that – what’s the real cause for concern here?

The issue lies with the type of accounts that were mostly targeted. The majority of these belonged to people or organizations connected to, or concerned with, cyber security. In fact, Twitter even offered some handy advice on protecting your online identity, suggesting users read up on the subject at the Tor Project website. Somewhat coincidentally, one of the victims of the attempted Twitter account hack is an activist and writer who currently educates journalists about security and privacy – and who used to work for the Tor Project. Another is a Canada-based not-for-profit organization involved with freedom of speech, privacy and security issues, and one of its founders is a contractor for the Tor Project.

Other Twitter users who received the email are also involved in some way or another in cyber security, albeit as self-described “security researchers” or simply by way of following or engaging with the online security community. This might lead you to the conclusion that, if you’re not in the business of security and instead keep your tweets to sport, entertainment, and the latest must-have gadgets, you are not at risk. But we urge you not to be so hasty. That’s because, within that small group of people who were contacted by Twitter, a large proportion of them had nothing to do with activism, freedom of speech, calls for greater privacy, or anything of the sort.

This means that, far from brushing this latest round of cyber threats under the carpet, individuals and business owners – whatever industry they are in – do have at least some cause for concern. As yet Twitter has not released details of the state the “actors” are sponsored by, so for now we are none the wiser as to whether it’s a homegrown issue or one from further afar – say North Korea or China.

What does all this mean for you as a business owner or manager? It means that you should be taking your online security more seriously than ever. It’s no longer just your network that is at risk; now simply having an account on a social media site such as Facebook or Twitter could be providing less-than-desirable third parties with the portal they need to access your company’s private information.

If you’d like to know how to ensure the online safety of your organization, give us a call today. Our experts have experience in everything from securing your computer network to increasing safety when it comes to sending out those all-important tweets!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

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