Author Archives: Hugh MacKinnon

Discover the Power of Skype for Business

Communication is the cornerstone of any good relationship, and the foundation of any business.  How do you effectively communicate with your staff and your customers?  How do you know if the person you are trying to reach is available, busy, or in a meeting?  It may be time for you to discover the power of Microsoft Skype for Business.

Skype for Business (S4B) is the 21st century successor to the old Windows Messenger.  Instead of just offering a text based communications option you can use text, audio, video and true collaboration.  All of the logistical hassles involved in scheduling and planning meetings for your organization can be eliminated.  You can hold your meetings in S4B.  No one has to travel.  There are no meeting rooms to schedule.  You don’t have to get up early to buy the bagels and donuts.

Schedule your meeting in Outlook, invite the attendees, log in at the scheduled time, and you are in a meeting.  Everyone can contribute.  You can use your systems webcam and audio.  You can see and hear everyone else.  As the organizer of the meeting, you are the ‘presenter’.  You can share your system’s desktop, or a specific application with the group.  You can hand off control to another member.  Let’s say you are working on a press release.  You want input from all your managers.  You can all contribute to the same document and then save it to all in the end.

Sometimes, texting is a more efficient way to communicate than calls.  You can reach a whole group at once with a single text.  “For the next hour, SKU 12 is half price, we are way overstocked.”  “Accounting needs this month’s expense reports by Tuesday at noon or you won’t be reimbursed this month.”  “John Johnson just set a single week sales record … when you see him give him a pat on the back.”  Your message gets out without you having to make twelve different phone calls.

Collaborating on a problem can involve calls to several people back and forth.  With S4B, all of you can be online and discussing possible solutions at the same time.  True collaboration and a much more efficient use of everyone’s time.  You don’t waste time with lengthy explanations, things are only explained once.  Everyone can contribute and build on each other’s ideas.

You can also make communicating with your client base easier.  We run an IT business.  Several of our clients prefer using S4B.  If they have a problem, we get a text.  The message pops up on our desktops and we can respond immediately.  It works well in the other direction as well.  I can notify everyone in the company that we have to reboot the server at 3:00 pm.  I can send out a reminder 15 minutes before the event.  We can also make sure everyone replies before we reboot. No one loses work.

S4B doesn’t care if you are at your desktop, out on your laptop or tablet, or even on your smartphone.  It can communicate through any of these, as long as you have internet access, you have communication.

Skype for Business is a very powerful tool.  The more you use it, the easier your business communication will be, with both your employees and with your clients.  Just ask us to get you started.

The Concept of Managed Services

The term ‘managed services’ has become a buzz word in the technology field.  What it means is that we in the IT business have found a way for you to have the advantages of a large enterprise with its own in-house IT department.  Managed service providers (MSPs) have the software to monitor all of your systems remotely and continuously at a reasonable price.

What this really saves you is time. You no longer need to concern yourself about updates and patches.  The MSP handles those.  Routine maintenance items are handled, like defragging the hard drive, or cleaning out the old .tmp files.  These are things that can slow your systems’ performance.  These items, plus a hundred other things are monitored and managed without you even knowing it.  Your systems and network are kept operating as efficiently as possible.  Potential problems are caught and either corrected, or brought to your attention for action before they become actual problems.

It is essentially having your own IT department without all the expense of hiring and training and salaries and benefits.  This takes one more thing off your plate, and allows that time to be focused where it should be. On your business.

Bring Your Phone Service into the 21st Century

Do you remember the days when you used your phone to actually make calls?  You dialed a sequence of numbers and you got to speak to a live person on the other end.  Cell phones, email and texting have seemingly taken over our world.  The one part of the business ‘communications system’ that hasn’t kept up is the office phone system.  It just doesn’t fit our lifestyle anymore.

We are all more mobile.  9 to 5 is a thing of the distant past.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a phone system that adapted to our current style?  Now there is such a thing. Workspace Communications has developed a system that combines the power of Microsoft Lync with the features found in a traditional PBX system.  They are able to do this at a price small business can afford.  There is no expensive hardware to purchase, the entire system is “cloud” based.  All the functions are handled by their central servers.

All you need is an account, Lync, and internet access and your computer becomes your office phone.  You get all the features of Lync, audio / video conferencing, instant messaging, whiteboard / document / desktop collaboration.  You also get all the features of a full blown PBX system, auto attendant answering to direct the calls, voicemail, call waiting, call forwarding, etc.

So, if you are trapped at home because the kids had school cancelled again, all you do is log into Lync on your laptop or home system and your office phone rings there.  You stop at a local coffee shop in between client meetings and log into Lync on your laptop, and the phone rings there.

We liked this product so much we have adopted it ourselves! If you would like more information or a demonstration, call us at our new number, 614-310-8910.

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Beware of ‘Sneakware’

Have you opened up your internet browser recently only to find that there are two or three new toolbars installed?  Or perhaps there are new icons on your desktop and you have no idea where they came from?  This is Sneakware.

Companies are being paid to sneak their software on to our computers.  These are not small firms just trying to make a few extra bucks when you download a trial version of their game.  Now there are big firms doing the same thing, companies like Java, Adobe, and Yahoo.

Each time you update Java now it will try to load Google Chrome and the Google toolbar.  Installing the Yahoo toolbar brings with it four or five other programs that will interfere with your browser.

To prevent this we must all break a long held habit.  While you are installing software or updates, you have to pay attention to and read the license agreements.  Not every line and detail but enough to make sure you are agreeing to install only the software you want.  Read the text next to any radio buttons or check boxes.  Gone are the days when you could just click past all of these screens to get what you want.

This phenomenon will only get worse.  These companies are being paid for each program they can install on your system.  I am sure it pays well because we are seeing it more and more.  Paying close attention when you are installing a product will save you a lot of frustration in the long run.  Beware of Sneakware!O365 banner2

Office 2013 vs. Office 365

You may know by now that Microsoft is ending its support of Office 2003 as of April of this year.  This news may have many of you looking at the replacement software and getting confused in the process.  Microsoft has changed the marketing of Office so we have more flexibility in our purchase.

Office 2013 is still available in the traditional boxed form.  There are several versions from a Home & Student version with a MSRP of $139 to a full business version called Office Professional 2013 with a MSRP of $399.  As you go up in price you increase the number of products and features available.  All of these versions are licensed to one machine only, and the license follows the machine.

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The new delivery method Microsoft introduced is called Office 365.  This is a subscription.  There are several versions of this available from a home premium version priced at $99 per year to several business versions ranging from $12.50 to $20 per user per month.  As an incentive Microsoft has included definite advantages to Office 365.

It is licensed to the user and can be loaded on up to five devices.  Say you have a salesman in your company who has a pc at work, one at home, a laptop, and he just got a new tablet at Christmas.  Instead of shelling out the cost of 4 copies of Office 2013, the subscription allows him to install Office 365 on each of his devices with the same license.

Office 365 also is available to the licensee in the form of fully functional Web Apps.  If you are a subscriber, the Office suite of products is available to you wherever you find a system with an internet connection.

There are many other advantages to the Office 365 product and Microsoft goes into great detail on their website.  I hope this brief explanation clears up some of your confusion and allows you to make a more informed buying decision.

P@$$w0rd$ — Make Them Strong

Over the past year we have all heard stories about the giant security breach at Target.  Thousands of credit card numbers and debit card number with their PINs were stolen from the retailer’s system.  This was big news, especially during the Holiday season.  What you may not have heard about is the pizza restaurant in Delaware County, Ohio that had the same thing happen to them.  The thieves were smart in this case and waited nearly six months to begin using the stolen numbers.  The thieves don’t care about the size of your business, they are all potential targets (no pun intended).

It is not just credit card information thieves are after.  How easy would it be to become an identity thief if I could access your personnel files?  Do you think your competitors might be interested in your client files?  We all keep sensitive business information on our systems that could cripple us if a data breach became public knowledge.

As a reminder to you all, SplashData, a California security software firm, publishes a list of the twenty five worst passwords each year.  This year’s list:

Rank

Password

Change from 2012

1

123456

Up 1

2

password

Down 1

3

12345678

Unchanged

4

qwerty

Up 1

5

abc123

Down 1

6

123456789

New

7

111111

Up 2

8

1234567

Up 5

9

iloveyou

Up 2

10

adobe123

New

11

123123

Up 5

12

admin

New

13

1234567890

New

14

letmein

Down 7

15

photoshop

New

16

1234

New

17

monkey

Down 11

18

shadow

Unchanged

19

sunshine

Down 5

20

12345

New

21

password1

Up 4

22

princess

New

23

azerty

New

24

trustno1

Down 12

25

000000

New

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SplashData’s top 25 list was compiled from files containing millions of stolen passwords posted online during the previous year. The company advises consumers or businesses using any of the passwords on the list to change them immediately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make your password STRONG

A good password is one that is difficult to guess. There are ways to make your password hard for even the best ‘hacking’ tools to figure out. Making your password STRONG (hard to guess) is a matter of being just a little creative.

  • Use CAPS – Most password algorithms recognize the difference between a capital letter and a lower case letter. A capital letter or a number thrown into a password is a good way to mix it up a bit. Even using a capital letter with your name (not the first letter!) adds a small degree of difficulty for the hacker – miKe is different than mIke and Mike!
  • Add a number – just putting a number in the password makes it harder to guess. Even if you use your name, a 6 at the beginning, end or in the middle will make it a bit more difficult.
  • Consider a symbol – Adding a symbol (Ex. – @#$!%^&*) can make it really hard on the human hacker and will slow down the hacking program. Watch out for substituting symbols that resemble the letters like the one I used in the title – P@$$w0rd. Hackers have caught on to that little trick…
  • Add one more character – with 26 letters, 10 numbers and 15 or so symbols, adding one more character to your password makes it exponentially harder to break.
  • Try a ‘pass phrase’ – using a phrase versus a word is one of the best ways to create a strong password that is easy to remember. ‘Ilivenear1234AnywhereDr’ has enough letters and characters in it to keep a hacker (human or machine) busy for a long time.

The bottom line is – security is up to you. Use passwords. Make ‘em strong. Change them regularly.

Marketing your Business without Breaking the Bank

Are you in the final stages of planning your Super Bowl commercial for this year?  Then this article is not for you.  Most of us don’t have a multi-million dollar marketing budget.  So how do you get the word out about your business?  Go Guerilla!

Guerilla marketing is a term coined years ago to describe creative marketing ideas that are either low or no cost.  This is one area where the old adage “you get what you pay for” simply does not apply.   The payment you will make for most of these ideas is time, specifically your time.  Of course, if you wanted to work a 9-5, Monday through Friday schedule, you wouldn’t have started a business.  We will assume you started because you are passionate about what you do.  That passion can be turned into your greatest asset.

Now there are entire books written on this subject and by those who have much greater knowledge, but let me give you a few areas to perhaps get your campaign started.  The first way to market your business should always be community involvement.  Actively participating in the local Chamber of Commerce and other community groups will allow you to make personal contact with your potential customers.  Always have a good stock of business cards with you and trade them with the people you meet.  Make sure you save the cards you receive.  This can be the start of your ‘leads’ list.  This will allow you to form good mailing and emailing lists.

The next part of this type of personal marketing is to join networking groups.  Organizations such as AmSpirit, Synergy, Big Fish, and others, can provide you with solid business to business contacts and referrals.  The way AmSpirit works is to gather a group of business owners together.  The groups contain representatives from a good mix of business services.  There may be an accountant, a lawyer, a realtor, and insurance agent, an IT person, a financial planner, a marketing person, etc.  These groups meet once a week to discuss and exchange ideas on a variety of business issues.  They also exchange referrals.  The accountant may have a client who is in need of IT services so he would refer the client to the IT person.  The IT person may have a client who is complaining about their insurance costs.  That client is referred to the insurance agent.  These referrals are considered qualified leads.

Another type of Guerilla marketing is called viral marketing.  This encompasses the use of social media.  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and the rest can be effective tools to get your potential customers’ attention.  Make sure you are not just posting advertising content.  There is a reason we all fast forward through the commercials when watching content on the DVR.  Constant bombardment with sales messages becomes background noise quickly.  Try to offer your potential clients content of value.  Information and expert advice will keep them actually reading what you post.

A third type of marketing involves getting creative. Cross promotion can be very effective.  For example; say you run a home health company, specializing in keeping the elderly in their homes.  Make contact with a local doctor’s office.  Offer to exchange referrals for the ability to place information about your business in their waiting room.  Make sure you take some time to explain your business to the doctor’s staff, maybe over lunch one day.  Or, you run a pet store.  You might run a giveaway at a local theater.  Offer to give away a full aquarium setup to promote the new Aquaman movie (it’s only a matter of time).  Get movie posters to place in your store and have the theater gather the entries.  Make sure your entry form has name, address and email.  You get some advertising and grow your mailing lists at the same time.

These are just a few ideas you can do with little or no money.  You might also invite ideas from your staff.  You are already paying for their brainpower, take advantage of it.  They just might surprise you.

Upgrading Now Could Save Money and Pain

Every once in a great while, circumstances combine with government to actually help small business.  Right now many of you are faced with upgrading your computer hardware because Microsoft will be eliminating support for Windows XP and Office 2003 in April.  Not only will you need to upgrade your hardware but, possibly the software you use to run your business.  However, there is good news if you act before the end of the year.  It is called the Section 179 deduction.

Earlier this year, as a part of the economic stimulus package, the government adjusted the Section 179 deduction for both the tax years 2012 and 2013.  What this means to you is that you may deduct the entire purchase price of any qualifying equipment placed into service during 2013 up to $500,000.  This includes technology hardware and most software.  This means you don’t have to depreciate the cost of these items over the years.

Of course, you will need to consult your accountant for details on your own, personal tax situation.  But this deduction could take the sting out of having to spend money on the upgrades you need.  The catch is that the items must be put into service during the 2013 fiscal year.  For most of us this coincides with the calendar year, so you have less than two months to act.

The other reason to act quickly is the fact that we can still order systems configured with Windows 7.  We have found that much of the software packages written for specific industries do not support Window 8 as yet.  Even if they do, upgrading straight to Windows 8 may cause some frustration on the part of your staff.  The shifts from Windows 95 through Windows 7 were relatively easy.  Things may have a slightly different name but they were in the same place (e.g. the control panel, or windows explorer).  Windows 8 shifts to a whole new design called the Metro look.  Programs are now called apps, and are in tiles, not lists.  You can place things on a desktop, but the familiar Start button no longer functions the way it did in previous versions.

If you have a staff that may be resistant to change, or is not “tech adaptable”, act quickly and stick with Windows 7.  By making your purchases now, you can save yourself some money in taxes, and save yourself some headaches in the transition.

Protect Your Network From Smart Phones

We subscribe to a news service called Weave.  It searches the web for tech related news stories.  Most of these are nothing more than advertisements for new products being released.  But there was a headline recently that grabbed my attention:

Hackers can control almost all Android phones.” 

The article, by Claire Porter of news.com.au, goes on to point out that researchers have discovered a flaw in the code that is used to make Android apps work.  Hackers have been able to exploit this flaw to infect your apps with Trojan viruses.  These can do things like steal any password or financial information on your phone, or move itself on to any network you connect to.  This flaw affects over 900 million devices.

So, a smart hacker is not going to affect your phone or apps at all.  They are going after the big game, your employer.  They may be able to get a few hundred or thousand from you, but they can potentially get much more from your company.  And don’t think you are immune.  There was a story on our local news a few months back about a pizza restaurant that had been hacked.  The hackers gathered the customers’ credit card numbers and waited more than six months before using them.  60 Minutes did a piece on some former drug dealers in Florida.  They switched to hacking credit card numbers because it is safer and there is less chance of being caught.  One of them admitted to making more in an afternoon hacking than they could make in a month dealing, and there was almost no chance of being shot.

So how do you protect your company from attack when every one of your employees has a cell phone?  You need to develop a strategy on how to allow the employees wireless access, but keep them off your network.  The IT industry calls this a BYOD (bring your own device) policy.

The simplest way to protect yourself is to create a separate network called a guest network.  This will give the employees access to wireless Internet without allowing them to connect with the systems, servers, and information you are trying to protect.  They will have a completely distinct and detached network.  Most routers have the ability to do this easily.

Things get more complicated if you need some of those employees to use the resources of the primary network.  You are going to have to develop a set of standards regarding antivirus and antimalware programs that you will require.   There must be restrictions on both the software loaded on the phone or tablet, and strict enforcement of where the resulting files are stored.

We have seen cases in which the employee must agree to open their devices to a remote wipe if the device is lost or stolen, or if the employee leaves the company.  A disgruntled employee can devastate a business if they are allowed to leave with a tablet, or laptop filled with your client information, and your company secrets.

Before you just arbitrarily start enforcing a new policy, we recommend getting a group of your employees together and talk with them.  Get their input.  Make them understand the threats and make them partially responsible for your protection.  If they know they are potentially part of the problem, they should be happy to be part of the solution.

Are You Getting All the Speed You are Paying For?

We have all gotten annoyed at the internet from time to time.  It just seems to run slow.  My downloads aren’t fast enough.  This page is taking forever to load…  But is this a problem with your computer, your internet service, or the site you are surfing?  How do you tell?

There are a number of sites on the internet that will test the speed of your connection.  Go to your favorite search engine (Google, Bing, MSN, etc.) and enter ‘speed test’.  You can run the test over several of these sites and get an average.  They will give you a pretty good indication of both the download and upload speed of your internet connection.  Generally, your upload speed will be a fraction of your download speed.  This is usually fine unless you are hosting your own internet site.   We spend much more time downloading than uploading.

The type of service can greatly influence your speed as well.  Cable internet services are usually shared connections.  This is why they advertise speeds up to…  A cable company may allocate a certain bandwidth to a neighborhood, limiting your individual speed through the firmware in the router.   If your area is mainly residential, you may get better performance early in the morning or in the middle of the day when most people are at work.  You may notice (depending on the population of your area) that as soon as the kids get home from school your performance drops.  This is because you are all sharing the available bandwidth.  The internet becomes much like the highway during rush hour.  You should have better results for your business if your area is mainly businesses.

DSL type services, T-1, and T-3 lines on the other hand, promise dedicated bandwidth.  If you are paying for 10 Mbps service, you should always test at that level.  AT&T’s UVerse service is a DSL type service that is popular with small business.

So you have tested the speed.  If it is not within the range you have contracted, you need to contact your provider to come out and diagnose your problem.  If it is within that range, we need to look elsewhere.  The first place to check is your own computer.  Is it just the internet that is slow, or has the system’s total performance suffered?

If it is just internet performance the culprit may be your browser’s add-ons.  Add-ons are small programs that run with your browser.  Things like flash and java help interpret features on webpages.  Others like many of the toolbars, eat up parts of your bandwidth.  If you go to your browser settings (that sprocket looking thing), and click on internet options.  Go to the programs tab and about a third of the way down the window you will see ‘manage add-ons’.  Here you will be able to see the list of programs that run in the background with your browser.  A huge list can explain your slow performance.  Disable all the add-on toolbars.  Close the options window and try to surf.  If your performance is greatly improved, you have your culprit.

The other item to consider is the sites you are accessing.  You may have a 50 Mbps connection to the internet, but if the site you are accessing is on a host with a 10 Mbps connection that is the best you will do.  And if there are 100 people on the site at the same time, the performance is degraded further.

So the next time you notice your internet speeds seem to be slow, don’t just cuss out your Internet Service Provider.  Do a little testing and make sure you are getting what you are paying for.