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June 7th, 2017

While it’s easy to turn a blind eye against hurricane warnings and think “I already have a business continuity plan in place”, it pays to be extremely cautious, especially when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts up to four unusually active hurricanes this year. Needless to say, you simply can’t afford not to hurricane-proof your disaster recovery (DR) plan.

The NOAA forecasts 11 to 17 tropical storms in the Atlantic, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane season has officially begun and is expected to last until the end of November. The four allegedly active hurricanes are presumed to be Category 3, 4, or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (Category 1 is the weakest and 5 the strongest).

But don’t panic just yet; here are five steps you can take to protect your business during hurricane season.

1. Schedule a DR drill

Despite having a DR plan, many companies don’t test their plan, at least not as often as they should. So if you’re one of those companies, it’s crucial to conduct a DR drill now. A lot can change in the months or years since you have last tested your plan -- systems updates, infrastructure upgrades, employee turnover and more. By scheduling a drill, you’ll be able to make sure everyone knows their roles and that all critical systems are covered.

Note that you should try to perform desktop walkthrough exercises, operational tests, and simulated recovery exercises on a regular basis.

2. Make sure your staff are prepared

All your staff should know what the evacuation procedures are as well as their responsibilities in the DR process. If not, coordinate with HR to make sure everyone in your company understands what the plan of action is for hurricane season. Staff with specific responsibilities need to get the documentation needed to effectively manage their roles in the event of a hurricane.

Set meetings with your DR team and schedule training for new team members. Your DR team should be able to quickly mobilize other employees to the DR site before bad weather hits. Don’t forget to touch base with any providers you are supposed to work with in case of an emergency, too.

3. Secure your backup site

In addition to a secondary location for data storage, your DR plan should also include another backup site so that you can continue your operations. In the event of a hurricane, dedicated space is imperative since your backup sites will likely be occupied with employees.

You should also consider the redundancy of utilities at your DR site, making sure you have enough power feed, fiber carriers, and anything else you’ll need to remain operational.

4. Check for amenities at your DR site

Whether your DR site is in the hurricane zone or in the nearest city, chances are hotels will be overbooked as people fight for a place to stay. This means your staff will likely be stuck onsite around the clock, so you need to make sure there is enough amenities to get them through this hectic period. Is there a place for employees to shower and sleep? Is there enough food and water to last them for at least a couple of days? These amenities will help your staff pull through as they restore your operations.

5. Update your DR plan’s appendix

Your DR plan should have an appendix with contact information, SLAs, and systems inventories information. More importantly, this information needs to be up-to-date; the last thing you need is calling your IT vendor when a server goes down only to reach the wrong number.

Go through all critical information in your DR plan and add any other information as needed. Vendors and shipper's contact information are a must as they will guarantee that you get hardware and power supplies backup without any hassles.

Unlike a fire drill which can be conducted on a yearly basis, your business continuity and disaster recovery plan needs to be tested regularly to meet your company’s changing needs. If you don’t already have a DR plan, or have any further questions, don’t hesitate to give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
May 23rd, 2017

The WannaCry ransomware, a type of malware that encrypts a victim’s files and extorts them for money, has already affected thousands of machines worldwide. Unfortunately, the success of this attack is just the beginning. According to security researchers, other hackers will probably develop stronger WannaCry variants in the coming months. And if you don’t want your business to become a victim of these attacks, you must take the following precautions.

Update your software The first (and probably best) defense against WannaCry ransomware is to update your operating system. New research from Kaspersky shows that machines running Windows XP, 7 and outdated Windows 10 versions were affected by the ransomware. To check whether your systems are up to date, open your Windows search bar, look for Windows Update, click Check for Updates, and install any major updates.

Also, don’t forget to download the latest security patches for your business applications and security software.

Run security programs Many antivirus programs now have mechanisms for detecting and blocking WannaCry malware; so when you’ve fully updated your security software, run a full system scan.

Keep in mind that antivirus isn’t a foolproof security solution. Instead, run it alongside other security applications like intrusion prevention systems and firewalls.

Use data backup and recovery tools If WannaCry does infect your computers, only a solid data backup and recovery solution can save your business. Before ransomware strikes, periodically back up your files in both an external hard drive and a cloud-based backup service.

External hard drives will serve as your local backup solution for quick recovery times. However, we recommend keeping the external drive disconnected when it’s not being used and plugging it in only when you need to back up files at the end of the day. This is because when ransomware infects a computer, it will usually look to encrypt local backup drives as well.

Cloud-based backups, on the other hand, allow you to store files in remote data centers and access them from any internet-enabled device. When selecting a cloud services provider, make sure they provide the appropriate cloud protections to your files. For example, your backup vendor should provide reporting tools to keep track of any anomalies in your files. Document versioning features are also important. This allows you to recover older versions of a document in case the current version is encrypted.

After your local and cloud backups are set up, perform regular tests to ensure your disaster recovery plan works.

Stay informed Finally, it’s important to stay on guard at all times. WannaCry is just one of many ransomware strains affecting businesses today, and in order to stay safe you need to be constantly up to date on the latest cybersecurity- and business continuity-related news.

For more ransomware prevention tips and services, call us today. We’ll make sure hackers don’t hold your business hostage.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
May 5th, 2017

We are taught never to judge a book by its cover. But in this superficial age, looks are everything, especially for websites. Your website is a customer’s first impression of your business, and if your site has poor graphics, illegible content, and other website no-no’s, that could end all chances of establishing a relationship and driving revenue. Go through these key indicators so you don’t end up in such a situation:

A variety of clean photos Always take photos under professional lighting to really get the best images of your products. When customers are browsing, it’s normal for them to want to see as much detail as possible, so try to include as many photos, from as many angles your prospects might want.

Clear descriptions The last thing you want to do is to confuse your customers. That’s why it’s important to include all of your products’ technical information and dimensions before creating simple and straightforward product descriptions.

Establish policies Returns and refunds are an inevitable part of online shopping. In fact, a large percentage of online shoppers make purchase decisions based solely on how streamlined the returns policy is. Make sure to establish clear policies for returning and refunding items that are easy to find for customers.

About page Customers unfamiliar with your brand need a story they can relate to on your website. In your About Us page, include information on who you are and what you do that sets you apart from the competition. Whatever you write, make it accessible from any page on your site.

Navigation Fix broken links, make navigation straightforward, and remove outdated pages. You can’t sell 404 pages to customers, and if your site doesn’t make it easy to find what they’re looking for, game over.

Design Not everyone is a web design expert, luckily you can always hire one. If your budget is tight, there are DIY site builders specifically geared toward small businesses. Or with a relatively low monthly expenditure, you can hire a managed website provider.

With more revenue originating online, small- and medium-sized-business owners can’t afford to overlook the importance of creating a fully functional eCommerce website. Prior to going live, it’s essential to go through your entire site and resolve any mistakes before consumers see them. For further information on completing eCommerce websites, feel free to call us today!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
April 20th, 2017

2017April20Business_CIt makes a lot of sense for electronics firms to pack a variety of functions into mobile devices and expand their usefulness. Instead of confining their use to communications, companies such as Apple, Samsung, and others have turned mobile phones into mini-computers that can serve as a substitute for your laptop, or as a storage device. If you’re using mobile phones as a communications and storage device, backing up now would be a wise move.

Malware on mobile

More than 50% of the world’s adult population use a mobile phone with internet connection, so dangers in these handy devices are to be expected. Scarier than the thought of being offline is being online and exposed to malware.

If you use your mobile devices as an extension of your work computers, backing up is a must. Mobile phones have become as vulnerable to malware as laptops and desktops have, especially if you consider the fact that many professionals and business owners use them for emailing confidential documents and storing business-critical files.

Device disasters

Other than malware, other types of disasters can happen on your device. Because you carry it wherever your go, your device can easily be stolen, misplaced, or damaged. They may be easily replaceable, but the data contained in them may not. Having completely backed up data on your devices helps prevent a minor inconvenience from turning into a disastrous situation.

Backup options

Performing backups in iPhone and Android devices is a seamless process. Their operating systems require only minimal effort from users, and backing up entails nothing more than logging into their Apple or Google account. However, other users have different devices with different operating systems, slightly complicating the process.

Mobile devices’ safety is essential to business continuity plans. So whether your office users are tied to a single operating system or prefer different devices, there are options to back up all your organization’s mobile devices. There are cloud backup services that enable syncing of all devices and that back up files, contacts, photos, videos, and other critical files in one neat backup system. These mobile backup tools are offered on monthly or lifetime subscription schemes, which provides small businesses with enough flexibility to ensure protection.

Mobile phones have become so ubiquitous to how people function that many feel the need to have two or more phones, mostly to have one for personal use and another for business. With all these options on hand, there’s no excuse for not backing up data on your mobile devices.

Our experts can provide practical advice on security for your business’s computers and mobile devices. Call us for mobile backup and other security solutions today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
March 17th, 2017

2017March17Business_CThere are so many variables that go into order fulfillment and shipping that it’s no wonder an entire field has sprung up around streamlining these processes. If you’re looking for a great way to add value to your business, an order management system may be just the thing for you.

First off, we need to clarify that inventory management systems (IMSs) are not the same as order management systems (OMSs). The former is a solution for analyzing your sales history as a means to forecast demand for your product and the materials you will need in the future, while the latter is all about the here and now.

What does an OMS do for you?

One of the toughest things about managing an eCommerce store is juggling a growing number of sales, each at totally different steps in your shipping process. An OMS service is all about organizing your orders into a coherent and manageable workflow. Here are just some of the difficulties it helps you wrangle:
  • Your eCommerce store can be connected to your inventory. If something is out of stock, it can be reflected on your site so customers aren’t misled about the availability of your product.
  • Payment authorizations can be automated and integrated with your shipping services.
  • You can provide reports to your customers about their order's shipping status. From intra-warehouse movements to on-the-truck updates, one page will have all the information they need.
  • Products and materials can be automatically restocked once they dip below a certain threshold.
  • Refund and returns can be automatically processed by your OMS.
And like any industry, there are dozens of OMS platforms with niche functionalities that may be better for your specific business model. The most important thing is that you find a solution that decreases the most tedious organizational tasks for tracking your store’s orders.

The cloud-based OMS

Orders are streaming in at all hours of the day, and you can’t guarantee that you’ll always be in the office when you need to check the status of an order. A cloud-based OMS stores all your information in a centralized location so you can access your information from home, the warehouse floor, or even while waiting for takeoff.

The cloud is generally one of the most reliable ways to add value to your business. There are dozens of platforms, just like OMSs, that require virtually no hardware and allow you to pay for exactly what you use. For advice on which solutions are best for your business, and how to deploy them, call us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
February 28th, 2017

2017February28_Business_CFailing to stop a cyber attacker, or to pass a disaster recovery plan (DRP) audit could be the product of focusing your efforts on the wrong educational resources. Because no matter how many conferences you attend, or how many certifications you receive, nothing beats real-world case studies. If that’s what you’re looking for, a state government office just gave us plenty to pore over. See for yourself.

Hosting certain types of data, or managing a government network, legally binds you to maintain DRPs. After an audit of the Michigan Department of Technology and Budget, several failures lead to a trove of helpful tips for small- and medium-sized businesses attempting to create a bulletproof disaster recovery plan.

Update and test your plan frequently

One of the first and most obvious failures of the department’s DRP was that it didn’t include plans to restore an essential piece of their infrastructure. The plan didn’t include steps to restore the department’s intranet, which would leave employees unable to complete even the most basic of tasks.

The reason for the oversight? The last time the plan was updated was in 2011 -- leaving out more than six years of IT advancements. If annual revisions sounds like too much work, just consider all of the IT upgrades and improvements you’ve made in this year alone. If they’re not accounted for in your plan, you’re destined to fail.

Keep your DRP in an easy-to-find location

It may seem a bit ironic that the best way to store your top-of-the-line business continuity solution is in a binder, but the Michigan Department of Technology and Budget learned the hard way that the alternatives don’t work. Auditors found the DRP stored on the same network it was meant to restore. Which means if something had happened to the network, the plan would be totally inaccessible.

Your company would do well to store electronic copies on more than one network in addition to physical copies around the office and off-site.

Always prepare for a doomsday scenario

The government office made suitable plans for restoring the local area network, but beyond that, there was no way for employees to get back to work within the 24-hour recovery time objective.

Your organization needs to be prepared for the possibility that there may not be a local area network to go back to. Cloud backups and software are the best way to keep everything up and running when your office is flooded or crushed beneath a pile of rubble.

DRPs are more than just an annoying legal requirement, they’re the insurance plan that will keep you in business when disaster strikes. Our professionals know the importance of combining both academic and real-world resources to make your plan airtight when either auditors or blizzards strike. Message us today about bringing that expertise to your business.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
February 10th, 2017

2017February10_Business_CGoogle’s G Suite or Microsoft’s Office 365? That’s the question. One that many business owners ask themselves but often put aside because weighing the individual functionality seems like a monumental task! We’re here to help end that indecisiveness, so let’s take a look at what each has to offer.

Cost and commitment G Suite offers two pricing plans: $5 and $10 per user per month. The $5 plan offers company email addresses, video and voice calls, integrated online calendars, online documents, presentations and spreadsheets and more.

The $10 plan offers all the features of the $5 plan plus unlimited storage or 1TB per user for less than 5 members, advanced admin control panel for Google Drive, and audit and reporting insights for Drive content and sharing, to name a few.

  • Office 365 offers a number of pricing plans, including:
  • Office 365 Business Essentials ($5.00 per user per month)
  • Office 365 Business ($8.25 per user per month)
  • Office 365 Business Premium ($12.50 per user per month)
  • Office 365 ProPlus ($12.00 per user per month)
  • Office 365 Enterprise E1 ($8.00 per user per month)
  • Office 365 Enterprise E3 ($20.00 per user per month)
  • Office 365 Enterprise E5 ($35.00 per user per month)
We’ll compare two plans from Office 365 with the same pricing as G Suite below; you can find more details about Office 365’s other plans here.
  • Office 365 Business Essentials will cost $5 per user per month with annual subscription. Monthly subscription will cost $6 per user per month, meaning you’ll save $1 user per month with G Suite.
  • Office 365 Enterprise E1 will cost $2 less than G Suite’s $10 plan
Applications

Google Apps are designed for cloud-based collaboration. For instance, Google Docs lets you make permanent changes in the file or provide feedback using “suggestion” mode. Other advanced features in G Suite include machine intelligence in Google Calendar (which helps you find a time when invitees are free), Dynamic layout suggestions in Google Slides, and better file management and granular content ownership.

Microsoft apps, on the other hand, are designed based on desktop versions of their products with enhanced cloud capability -- you’ll be able to use cloud versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook and more while still being able to work offline. More advanced integration with Microsoft’s cloud solutions like SharePoint, Dynamic CRM, and Azure are also available.

Security

G Suite leverages machine learning capabilities to detect suspicious logins and block most advanced types of spam. It automatically scans every email attachment before you download it to prevent the spread of viruses.

Office 365 utilizes Exchange Online Advanced Threat Protection (ATP), a new email filtering service that targets specific advanced threats like unknown malware and viruses in real time to protect against malicious URLs.

Email

While both Office 365 and G Suite offer a clean interface, the difference lies in the way emails are organized. Gmail lets you apply multiple labels to an email and offers 30GB of storage space across Gmail and Drive.

Office 365 uses classical folder structure to categorize emails and offers a 50-GB inbox in addition to 1-TB storage space. Unlimited storage is also available in its Enterprise E3 $20 per user per month plan.

Third-party integration

G Suite’s integration with CRM, productivity and customer service software gives you plenty of options. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about Office 365, as Microsoft hasn’t been adopting a developer integration approach when compared with Google.

Support

Both G Suite and Office 365 offer 24/7 phone and email support. However, G Suite also offers live chat support and forums to seek clarification, give feedback and request additional functionality.

To sum up, G Suite is a better solution if you need native integration with third-party apps and support for various operating systems and devices. Despite that, Office 365 makes sense if you prefer a number of options when it comes to your pricing plans or need integration with other Microsoft cloud solutions. No matter the solution, maximizing productivity is imperative to stay ahead of competitors. If you need help finding the right solutions to enhance efficiency, just give us a call; we’re happy to help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
January 26th, 2017

2017January26_Business_CInvesting in customer relationship management (CRM) software is absolutely essential for small- and medium-sized businesses that want to up their sales performance. It helps sales departments understand their clients, tailor their marketing efforts, and more. If your business isn’t already using CRM, here are five reasons why you should definitely give it a chance.

Grows with your business The ol’ Rolodex may have been useful for managing a few clients, but you’re going to need a better solution if you plan to maintain relationships with hundreds, possibly thousands, more. CRM scales with your business, meaning it can handle larger data sets and more clients as you expand your sales operation.

Organizes your data CRM software acts as a central database for all your sales records and transactions. This means important customer information can be retrieved in just a few clicks rather than rifling through thousands of documents, sticky-notes, and disorganized cabinets. And since CRM is hosted in the cloud, sales data, customer interactions, and other actionable information are available for the entire company.

Improves customer service Your sales team could be the most persuasive individuals in the world, but this means nothing if they can’t recall anything about their clients and their preferences. When your sales staff follows up on leads or existing customers, CRM will automatically retrieve contact history, past purchases, and customer preferences from your client database and display them on a single page during the call.

From here, sales representatives, armed with detailed customer information, will be able to recommend products and services that meet the client’s needs. So instead of struggling through a sales call, marketing employees can focus on delivering a professional sales pitch.

Streamlines your sales funnel CRM comes equipped with workflow management functions, supporting your sales pipeline in a number of ways. For example, you can configure your CRM to send instant follow-up emails when a lead visits a particular product page. You can even use automation to track where certain leads are in the sales pipeline and delegate the task to one of your closers.

Analyzes sales data With real-time sales information, business managers can track marketing campaigns and adjust their strategy accordingly. For instance, you might notice that click-through-rates for promotional emails and company newsletters are higher during Tuesday afternoon rather than Friday night. Having this information can help you focus your marketing efforts and message to generate more leads.

In addition, you can use CRM to analyze customer calling activity, market demographics, lead conversion rates, and key performance indicators to help inform future business decisions.

Understanding your customers can put you several steps ahead of the competition. If you need to manage contacts, eliminate time-consuming procedures, and improve your sales performance, CRM is the perfect business solution.

Contact us today to find out whether CRM is the right fit for your business.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
January 11th, 2017

2017january11_business_cWhen disaster strikes, organizations need to put their business continuity plans into action and recover their IT systems as quickly as possible. Failing to do so can mean serious financial and reputational repercussions. Despite this, investments in disaster recovery are set aside each year for high-tech IT investments, and every year companies and employees continue to suffer for it. Here are some reasons why disaster recovery is well worth your time, effort, and resources in 2017.

DR isn’t a huge investment A common misconception about disaster recovery is that it’s a large, bank-breaking investment. Expensive secondary data centers, networks, and server maintenance usually come into mind when a business owner is confronted with the idea of business continuity. And while that may have been true in the past, establishing a strong disaster recovery plan today is as simple -- and as cheap -- as going to a cloud-based disaster recovery provider and paying for the data and services that your business needs. Subscription pricing models are actually incredibly low, meaning you can have minimal downtime while still having enough to invest in new tech.

Onsite backups just won’t cut it Although you might feel secure with a manual backup server down the hall, it is still susceptible to local disasters and, ultimately, does very little in minimizing company downtime. When disaster recovery solutions are hosted in the cloud or in a virtualized server, restoring critical data and applications only take a few minutes.

Business disasters can be man-made, too Even if your workplace is nowhere near frequent disaster zones, cyber attacks and negligent employees can leave the same impact on your business as any natural disaster can. Setting a weak password, clicking on a suspicious link, or connecting to unsecured channels is enough to shut down a 5-, 10-, or even 50-year-old business in mere minutes.

Sure, installing adequate network security is a critical strategy against malicious actors, but last year’s barrage of data breaches suggests that having a Plan B is a must. A suitable disaster recovery plan ensures that your data’s integrity is intact and your business can keep going, no matter the malware, worm, or denial-of-service attack.

Downtime will cost you A business without a DR plan might come out unscathed after a brief power outage, but why risk the potential damages? Either way, downtime will cost your business. First, there’s the general loss of productivity. Every time your employees aren’t connected to the network, money goes down the drain. Then there’s the cost of corrupted company data, damaged hardware, and the inevitable customer backlash. Add all those variables together, and you end up with a business-crippling fee.

So, if you want 2017 to be the best year for your business, make the smart choice and proactively take part in creating your company’s business continuity plan. Your business will be in a better position financially with it than without it.

Keep your business safe, recover from any disaster, and contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
December 22nd, 2016

2016december22_business_cRecently, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced the creation of a new data analytics tool to lighten the burden on businesses when analyzing data in the cloud. This tool, referred to as “Glue,” is meant to clean up and organize data that comes into the cloud from various sources so that it can be analyzed by business intelligence software and data analytics experts. Let’s take a closer look at this service and how it can benefit you and your business.

Data analysis can be an extremely profitable arm of your business, if undertaken carefully. Much of what people consider to be data analysis for a business is actually just digital clerical work, which makes the process even more frustrating and time-consuming than it needs to be. At its core, AWS’s Glue is an app that automates this tedium, which is often referred to as ETL (extract-transform-load).

Third-party software already exists to help with this task, but the service from AWS is one of the first cloud-based alternatives to come to market. Glue is designed to work with businesses that have their own on-premises data centers and infrastructures in addition to working with AWS frameworks. In fact, if a business makes changes to on-premises data, Glue can be set up to trigger jobs and update the data in the cloud so users always have access to the most up-to-date information for use and analysis.

Essentially, AWS extracts various types of data from a wide array of sources and analyzes it, ultimately homogenizing the data to fit the business's existing database. This eliminates a great deal of work because the extremely tedious task of importing data is often done by hand. Handing this burden over to AWS allows businesses to focus on the real analysis work; saving effort, time, and money in the process.

Every day, data becomes more and more integral to building a successful company. And with such a heavy burden placed on this facet of business, falling behind on the technology that makes it possible is an expensive mistake. If you’re hosting large amounts of data on-premises or in an AWS database, contact us today about how you can eliminate costly ETL processes.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business