Blog

April 9th, 2014

SocialMedia_April07_BAre you searching for tools that can help you create striking visuals for your social media campaign? Let’s admit it, not everyone is a Photoshop expert, and for many of us, it can be really challenging and perhaps even intimidating to use. Furthermore, the cost of a program or designer may be out of your budget. Luckily, there are other options that could really help.

In this day and age where compelling visuals are possible online, it is extremely important to learn how to create attractive visuals to aid your social media marketing campaigns. You at least need a working knowledge of how to enhance your photos and make them more attention-grabbing. There are a number of free or highly affordable tools out there that can help you do just that.

PIXLR - This advanced photo editor works like Photoshop, only it is easier to use and therefore ideal for beginners. You can create images from scratch or perform advanced image editing. Using fairly simple tools can maximize the potential of images. For quick editing, there’s PIXLR EXPRESS or PIXLR O-MATIC, which are free to use. Visit the PIXLR website to learn more and start use these programs.

PicMonkey’s Online Photo Editor - This photo editor can transform ordinary images into fantastic photographs in just a few clicks. Select the image that you want to modify and add special effects such as fancy text, or simply crop and re-size. The photos edited using PicMonkey can be uploaded on Facebook and other social media platforms. PicMonkey is free to use so you can just go to the website and start editing away. For added frames and special effects there’s a premium version you can upgrade to for USD $33.33 per year.

LiveLuvCreate - This website can be used without any charge and offers a variety of design layouts and graphics. Using this platform you can edit your own images and there are also a ton of images created by users on its library that can help give you inspiration. Among the tools available are borders, filters, and photo effects, as well as fonts, colours, and styles. Visit the website to set up an account and start editing your images today.

Canva - If you want to create your Facebook cover photos from scratch, or if you want to design some blog images, this is a free application that might prove useful. This tool is very convenient and can be used to create business cards, invitations, posters, and presentations. Visit the website today to start creating your own visuals.

Quozio - If you are into quotes, Quozio lets you upload famous and favorite quotes, visualize them, and then share them on your social network. Simply enter an interesting quote and then select a background image. Instead of simply posting what’s on your mind, you can make a quote more attractive and appealing by transforming it into a visual using this free app. Visit the site today to visualize your next quote.

Whether you are posting on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social network, your content cannot come alive without the use of quality graphics and images. If Photoshop does not work for you, these other tools are ideal substitutes for creating appealing graphics for a variety of social media platforms.

Make sure to share your own list of top photo tools for everyone to see! And, if you would like to learn more about leveraging social media in your business, contact us today to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
March 26th, 2014

Office365_Mar24_BMicrosoft Office is a suite of office applications that was initially released in 1990. One of these applications included in the suite is Excel, which is a spreadsheet program that is commonly used for data management, as well as for creating graphs and tables. Did you know that the cells that make up a spreadsheet in Excel can be named for easy identification? This feature is available on all versions of Excel, including Office Web Apps and the versions that come with Office 365.

Like other spreadsheet applications, Microsoft Excel documents are based on cells that can be arranged into rows and columns. It is within these cells that data is entered when creating a worksheet for various functions including data management and computations, etc. Each cell in the spreadsheet has a corresponding name, which is identified by its column letter and row number.

For instance, the cell under column A that belongs to row 1 has the default name A1. You will see this in the name box, which is located on the upper left side of the spreadsheet, next to the formula bar. This name can actually be changed however.

Why name cells in Excel

As mentioned, the default name for each cell in an Excel spreadsheet is based on the relevant column and row. One of the reasons why you may want to change this name is to make it easier to find what you are looking for, especially when there’s a lot of information in a particular spreadsheet. For instance, if you name a particular cell 'Total', searching for this word is much faster than scrolling through the spreadsheet to find the correct cell or trying to remember its specific column and row.

This is also the case when creating formulas for computations. Instead of using the cells’ column letter and row number, it’s more convenient to use a name that you can easily understand. For example, naming one cell 'GrossIncome' and the other one 'Deductions' makes it easier for you to compute net income by subtracting Deductions from GrossIncome for the result.

Another benefit of naming cells is that it is easier for other users to understand. If you are sharing the spreadsheet or workbook with other colleagues or business associates, using cell names that are easy for everyone to identify reduces potential confusion.

How to name cells in Excel

Naming cells in Excel can be done in two ways. The first is by changing the name directly on the name box and the other one is by defining names under the Formulas menu. The difference is that when naming a cell through the define name feature of the menu you can select its specific scope.

This determines where the specific name will be recognized as having the same value, such as in the entire workbook or in a specific spreadsheet only. Changing the name in the name box will automatically determine the workbook as its scope rather than the whole spreadsheet.

Changing a cell name in the name box:

  1. Select the cell that you want to name.
  2. Go to the name box and type the name you prefer.
  3. Hit enter on your keyboard.

Defining a cell name:

  1. Select the cell that you wish to name.
  2. Click the Formulas menu.
  3. Choose Define Name.
  4. Type the name of the cell in the new window that pops up.
  5. Select the Scope.
  6. Click OK.
Remember that a cell name should not contain any spaces. The uppercase and lowercase letters R and C are also not available as cell names, since they represent column and row. Furthermore, aside from letters, the first character of a cell name can also be a backslash or an underscore. The rest can be a combination of letters, underscores, periods and numbers, which can be up to 255 characters.

If you have further questions about changing the cell name in Excel, please don’t hesitate to give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 20th, 2014

Security_Mar17_BThe security of your computer, network and whole system is likely something that has caused moments of stress and even worry. In order to ensure that a business is secure, companies often adopt a security strategy. While these strategies are great, there is one common element that many businesses forget to carry out - the audit.

Auditing and the security security strategy

Auditing your company's security is important, the only problem business owners run across is where and what they should be auditing. The easiest way to do this is to first look at the common elements of developing security strategies.

These elements are: assess, assign, audit. When you develop a plan, or work with an IT partner to develop one, you follow the three steps above, and it may be obvious at the end. In truth however, you should be auditing at each stage of the plan. That means you first need to know what goes on in each stage.

During the assessment phase you or your IT partner will need to look at the existing security you have in place. This includes on every computer and server and also focuses on who has access to what, and what programs are being used. Doing an assessment should give you an overview of how secure your business currently is, along with any weak points that need to be improved.

The assignment phase looks at actually carrying out the changes you identified in the assessment phase. This could include adding improved security measures, deleting unused programs or even updating systems for improved security. The main goal in this phase is to ensure that your systems and networks are secure.

Auditing happens after the changes have been made and aims to ensure that your systems are actually secure and have been implemented properly. Throughout the process you will actually need to continually audit and adjust your strategy.

What exactly should be audited?

When conducting an audit, there are three factors you should focus on:
  1. The state of your security - Changing or introducing a security plan usually begins with an audit of sorts. In order to do this however, you need to know about how your security has changed in between audits. Tracking this state and how it changed in between audits allows you to more efficiently audit how your system is working now and to also implement changes easier. If you don't know how the state of your security has changed in between audits, you could risk implementing ineffective security measures or leaving older solutions open to risk.
  2. The changes made - Auditing the state of your security is important, but you should also be auditing the changes made to your systems. For example, if a new program is installed, or a new firewall is implemented, you will need to audit how well it is working before you can deem your security plan to be fully implemented. Basically, you are looking for any changes made to your system that could influence security while you are implementing a new system. If by auditing at this point, you find that security has been compromised, you will need to go back to the first step and assess why before moving forward.
  3. Who has access to what - There is a good chance that every system you have will not need to be accessed by every employee. It would be a good idea that once a security solution is in place, that you audit who has access to what systems and how often they use them. This stage of the process needs to be proactive and constantly carried out. if you find that access changes or system access needs change, it would be a good idea to adapt your the security strategy; starting with the first stage.
If you are looking for help developing a security strategy for your business, contact us today to see how our managed solutions can help.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
March 19th, 2014

BCP_Marc17_BDRPs (Disaster Recovery Plan) although seemingly expensive or hard to implement, are a must have for your business. Since businesses spend thousands of dollars optimizing and upgrading their systems, doesn’t it make total sense to protect your investment? With a good DRP in place, you should be able to mitigate risks in case of a disaster.

While there are several facets to a DRP that are going to determine whether it will be effective or not, making sure that you’ve considered these 5 tips is definitely a good start.

1.) Commitment from management

Because the managers are the ones who will coordinate the development of the plan and be the central figures who implement the recovery plan, it’s crucial that they are committed to it and are willing to back it up.

They will also be responsible for setting an allocated budget and manpower to creating the actual plan. That said, it’s very important that they know the concept behind it and how huge of an impact a DRP can have on a business.

2.) A representative on each department should be available when creating a DRP

It’s unthinkable to believe that your DRP is well optimized when you haven’t had a representative from each department coordinate with you while creating the recovery program.

Considering how they themselves are the front line of your organization with the best knowledge about how their department works, it’s a huge plus that you should take advantage of when creating a DRP.

With the representatives on your team, you’ll be able to see things from their perspective and gain first-hand knowledge from those who do the actual work.

3.) Remember to prioritize

In an ideal world, you should be able to restore everything at the same time after a disaster strikes. But since most businesses usually have a limited amount of resources, you will usually have to recover systems one at a time.

Because of this, you need to have a hierarchy or a sense of priority when determining which systems should be recovered first. That way, the most important systems are immediately brought back up while the less important ones are then queued in order of their importance.

4.) Determining your recovery strategies

This is one of the main focal points of a DRP since this phase tackles the actual strategies or steps that you’ll implement to recover your systems.

When determining your actual strategies, it's important that you brainstorm and think about all the options that you have to recovering your systems. Don’t simply stick with the cheapest possible strategy or even the most expensive ones.

You have to remember though that the simplest strategy to implement is probably the best one. That is, as long as the simplest strategy covers the critical aspects of your system recovery.

That said, avoid over complicating your strategies as you might face unnecessary challenges when it comes to the implementation of the recovery strategy.

5.) Do a dry run at least once a year

Your DRP shouldn’t end with the concept alone. No matter how foolproof you think your strategy is, if you haven’t tested it you most likely have missed something important.

It's during the dry run phase that the need for extra steps (or the removal of one) are made even more evident. You can then start polishing your strategies according to how your dry run plays out. It would also be a good year to practice your plan each year and update it accordingly.

These tips will help you ensure that your DRP will remain effective should a disaster occur. If you’re having a hard time figuring out how to go about the process of creating a DRP, then give us a call now and we’ll help you with the process.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 7th, 2014

Productivity_Mar03_BWhen it comes to productivity, many business owners rely on to-do lists. However, writing an effective to-do list can be quite a challenging task. Though a lot of people jot down their tasks for the day or week ahead they don't always fully realize the benefits of their list because it is either poorly crafted or even missing items. The result is decreased effectiveness. Hopefully our tips will help you create an effective way forward to boost productivity.

Here are 5 tips which will help you devise an effective to-do list:

Add a notes section

A notes section is a general area for all the tasks in your to-do list. Its main purpose is to provide you with space to add notes about your tasks. Or, instead you can use this area to type in challenges that you encountered when handling specific tasks.

On the flip side, it could also contain the best practices that you employed which enabled you to finish the task effectively and efficiently. These notes are important because by revisiting these jottings you can learn from them and be better able to optimize your way of doing things and your approach.

Prioritize

Ignoring client meetings because you're supposed to be fixing your cabinet, for example, based on what’s written in your to-do list, is a sure fire way of negatively impacting your business.

Your to-do list needs to be devised in such a way that there is a clear sense of priority. The most important tasks should be added to the top most part of your list just to make sure that you don’t miss these and they are tackled and completed first.

Break down your tasks to bite-size activities

Can you imagine writing down 'work' in your to-do list? Having a to-do list with broad topics like this won’t help you in the slightest bit.

You need to break down your lists into more specific tasks so that they provide the clarity that you need to achieve. Here’s a good example of a well-constructed list:

  1. Send 20 outreach emails to prospects.
  2. Discuss with the team the concept of having a systems' mindset.
  3. Review the offer of client X and decide whether to accept it or not.
Notice how the examples above are more tangible compared to simply writing down 'work'? With a list like the one above, you should be able to comfortably tick each task with a clear idea of when it has been completed.

Add a deadline whenever possible

Adding a deadline helps you gauge your output. By being able to see whether you’re lagging behind you can make any necessary changes.

A deadline also prevents you from procrastinating since you’ll be more conscious of time and a definitive end point.

Be realistic

Adding a week's worth of tasks to your daily to-do list will just discourage and frustrate you. Be as realistic as you can when writing up your list. If you honestly think that you can’t finish all of the tasks within one day, then add some of them to the next. That way you won’t be frustrated with a long list of tasks that you haven’t completed at the end of each day.

If you are faced with productivity issues and are struggling to get the kind of output you're hoping for in your business, then put giving us a call at the top of your to-do list.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
March 5th, 2014

BusinessValue_Mar03_BMany business owners are looking for different ways in which they can connect with their customers while also building a company brand or adding value to their products or services. While a business website and a presence on social media sites can be a big help, blogging can sometimes be a better way to connect with your customers and potential customers.

If you're looking to get people more involved and connected with your company, spread your brand image and message, and perhaps establish your company as an industry leader, then blogging might just be the answer.

There is little doubt that companies that blog effectively do see an increase in overall value. That being said, it can be a challenge to develop and maintain a successful blog.

Here are 7 tips for businesses looking to start a blog or develop an existing one into a more successful platform:

1. Define your topics and your audience

As with almost every business process, there needs to be a solid foundation on which to build your blog, such as the topics you write about and your audience.

Take a minute to establish who your target audience is, such as your average customer. Pick some basic characteristics that cover the majority of this group. Focusing on who you are writing articles for can make writing not only easier but more relevant and effective.

Many of the most successful business blogs choose blog topics based on their services or products and news. The key is to select topics based on what you think your audience will find useful or interesting. You might not want to spread your blogs over too many topic areas as these can be hard work to cover on a regular basis. About 4-8 is a good amount to aim for.

2. Be consistent

With defined topics and a target audience in mind, you are well on your way to establishing a solid foundation for your blog. The next element is to devise a calendar of how often you write blogs and cover certain topics. If, for example, you picked four topics this could equate to one article a month for each topic.

What you are striving for is consistency. You should be writing and posting a new article at least once a week, or more. If you establish a calendar based around your topics you will find it easier to write content on a regular basis and soon it will become a natural part of your weekly tasks.

3. Be relevant

Even with defined topics, it can be a struggle to come up with new ideas for blogs. It can be tempting to write about a new product or feature, but you have to be careful that it doesn't read too much like boring marketing material.

Instead, focus on what your audience would like to read. Often the most successful articles are those that answer common questions asked by clients, or talk about how a product or service can help a client. Other articles could be related to your products rather than directly about them. For example, if you own a coffee shop then writing about food that goes well with coffee might be an interesting blog idea.

Personal opinions can provide an interesting perspective and many readers find these types of business blogs refreshing. However, you do need to be careful of ostracizing those who might not agree with you or putting people off with negative blogs.

4. Don't forget the CTA

Remember, your business blog needs to have a purpose: You want to not only develop interest in the company, but to drive business. At the end of most if not all of your articles you can include a call to action (CTA) that suggests to the reader to contact you, come in for a visit or email.

5. Keep articles easy to read

It can be tempting to write a 4,000 word article with a ton of great information. Google and many search engines do look positively at long-form content and this might work well for your search rankings. The only problem is that when many of us read articles online we skim them, looking for salient points and skipping up to 90% of the article.

To that end, keep articles on the shorter side - around 500-1,000 words. Use shorter sentences and headings like H3 and bold to separate content and make it more scannable. Writing a longer article? Split it into two, three or even four parts. This helps drive interest to return to check out the new parts when they are posted.

6. Promote and share your content

Share your blog content on your social media profiles. This increases the reach of your blog, but also drives traffic to your website. You can put an easy to see link to your blog on your homepage and even in email headers.

Many writers also find success in contributing, or writing a blog for other websites. This helps not only spread your ideas, content, and company name, but can also help find content for your blog as other writers contribute to yours. Try contacting friends and colleagues to see if they would like you to write a post for their blog.

7. Remember you don't have to be the only contributor

Finally, you don't have to be the only person writing your blog. Ask your employees if they have any article ideas they would like to write about. The more writers contributing, the more content there is. This also takes the pressure off of you having to develop, write, and post everything, as well as offering a different voice for variety.

If you are looking to launch a blog, contact us to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 1st, 2014

HealthcareIT_Feb25_AMore than half of health-care organizations have not implemented business-intelligence systems, according to a survey, and that could hurt their bottom lines.

Business intelligence is the transformation of raw data into useful information for business purposes. It shows you what’s going on in your practice and how your practice could improve.

According to the survey of 250 health-care professionals by TEKsystems, 58 percent of physician practices and hospitals have not implemented a business-intelligence system. That includes 21 percent that plan to implement a business-intelligence system in the next 24 months, and 26 percent that have no plans whatsoever.

This is a problem, because data will be at the heart of how health-care organizations get paid as the industry changes from a fee-for-service model to a pay-for-performance model. The survey supports this idea, as 76 percent of respondents expect a business-intelligence system to be widely used in finance.

One reason health-care providers haven’t implemented business-intelligence systems, the study found, is that there is a lack of resources and skills available to help them do so. Thirty-four percent of respondents said that data complexity is the biggest obstacle. That’s where an IT expert can help. If you want to implement a business-intelligence system, and don’t have the IT resources on staff, consider reaching out to an IT expert like us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

March 1st, 2014

HealthcareGeneral_Feb25_AThe Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) has issued proposals for 2015 electronic health record (EHR) certification criteria.

Notably, implementation of the 2015 certification criteria is voluntary. Health-care providers that have EHRs certified to the 2014 criteria do not need to re-certify to 2015 criteria to participate in meaningful use. The idea, says the ONC, is that EHR developers and health-care providers can move to the 2015 criteria at their own pace.

This is the first time the ONC has proposed certification criteria separate from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' meaningful-use regulations, and the change marks a new regulatory approach. The ONC will likely make more frequent changes to rules to improve standards. National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo says it reflects the “ONC's commitment to incrementally improving interoperability and efficiently responding to stakeholder feedback.”

Comments will be accepted on the proposed rule - published in the Federal Register on February 26, 2014 - through April 28. If you are looking to learn more about this change and how you can implement it in your practice, contact us today to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

February 28th, 2014

BI_Feb24_BIf there is one thing all businesses rely on it's data. As the integration of new systems and features continues, the amount of data available to a businesses grows. In order to be able to get more out of this data, businesses have started looking at adopting Business Intelligence (BI) systems. These come with their own language, and three of the more confusing terms are data mart, data warehouse, and data mining.

What is a data warehouse?

The concept of a data warehouse is an interesting one and also a difficult one to define and pin down largely because it can cover such a broad area. The most concise definition we can give is that it is a database that integrates data from many different locations and databases into one consolidated database.

Data warehouses store both current and historical data, and rarely contain unique data. Instead, they aggregate data from other sources in order to make this more accessible. They might store important information from sales, marketing, ERP, customer interactions, and any form of database in order to quickly generate BI related reports.

The name undoubtedly conjures up the idea of a large warehouse-like building storing infinite amounts of data. However, most data warehouses are actually tables which are created by taking data from various sources and cleaning it up so that relevant data is stored in the warehouse in a way that makes it easier to reach when needed.

What is a data mart?

A data mart is a smaller data warehouse that stores data. These are based on a specific area or business function e.g., finance or marketing, etc. In fact, most modern data warehouses are actually made up of a series of smaller data marts.

The key difference between a data mart and a data warehouse is that data marts are usually smaller, focusing on one specific area, while a data warehouse covers the whole organization.

What is data mining?

When talking about Business Intelligence, many experts will refer to data mining. This is the act of analyzing data in order to identify patterns. The data that is mined can then be transformed into useable information. Many companies store this mined data in databases, a data warehouse, or a data mart.

Want to learn more about these terms and how your company can benefit from a BI solution? Contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

February 27th, 2014

Virtualization_Feb24_BOften described as the future of business systems, virtualization has taken the world of IT to greater heights than ever before. With the advent of virtualization, businesses can now optimize their systems. In addition, this innovation allows them to do what they have never been able to do before, such as centralizing the control of the business environment, and a whole lot more.

While it may seem like virtualization is only advantageous to large businesses, in truth, even small companies can take advantage of this rising and sophisticated innovation. That being said, there are many companies still holding back. To help you understand virtualization, here are five good reasons why you need to virtualize your business now.

You can optimize servers

Perhaps the most compelling reason to virtualize your systems is to make your computing resources (such as the RAM and processor cycles) more efficient. And with efficient computing resources, businesses can reduce their capital expenses. Furthermore, small and mid-sized business are able to manage fewer physical servers, because virtualization allows users to combine, or virtualize, physical servers into fewer physical machines.

You get cutting-edge disaster recovery plans

Since catastrophes are possible, businesses should be prepared before they are faced with a disaster. The advantage of virtualization is that many solutions come with a disaster recovery plan to get your business back to a normal operational state after a problem strikes.

It can be far easier to fully back up your entire virtualized infrastructure than trying to do the same with separate hardware servers.

It increases business continuity

While business continuity is similar to disaster recovery, the goals of each operation are different. The aim of business continuity is to achieve zero, or minimal, business operation interruptions. However, many businesses find this difficult to achieve with traditional business systems.

Many virtualization solutions offer live migration, a feature that helps preserve the continuity of business operations by eliminating the need for downtime. This system works by rapidly transferring systems from one virtual environment to another when the original is affected. This enables a business to continue operations, despite some system failures.

It's a time-saver

Compared to setting up physical hardware, which can take months to establish, test, and maintain, setting up a virtualized system for your business can usually be achieved in a matter of minutes.

You get centralized control

Virtualization makes it possible to manage your entire system using one central tool. This is one cutting-edge advantage that suits many businesses, especially small and mid-sized ones. Moreover, security and compliance features can be built in, leading to systems that are even more secure than before.

The benefits to be gained by virtualizing can prove to be a real game changer for your business. Though it may seem complex at first, considering the new lingo and foreign functions, you’ll soon realize that it's just a matter of finding the right IT partner to work with.

Our virtualization experts are here for you and can help you from start to finish. If you want to know more about virtualization and its benefits to your business, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.