Back

Apply

Do you only need a computer tech when the computer breaks

In the technical support world, there has been everything from constant bickering to full-blown arguments over the different disciplines of computer support.   One of the two main schools of thought is the “break/fix” crowd—those who believe that if it breaks, someone will come out and look at the problem, charge you an appropriate fee for the visit, and leave when it is complete.  This is a reactive mindset that leaves hidden problems to fester and grow.  Worse still is that break/fix has a detrimental impact on the business—by the time someone is called in to rectify a problem, things are already broken, and work has been disrupted. The alternative approach is a discipline called “managed services.”  This is a proactive mindset.  With managed services, tech support staff look at the system as a holistic entity, and make sure that any potential “breakage” is fixed well before it has an impact on the business.  Their solutions are put in effect through a monitoring and assessment process. So which is better? No matter which way your business decides to go, technically, at some point there will be a need to have something replaced, renewed or repaired.  These repairs will always cost something, but the expense needn't be disastrous.  It is the hidden costs that can make the solution to these problems detrimental to the business—the “soft costs” associated with a technological failure.  These include downtime, loss of income and loss of revenue.  That's the difference between reactive (“break/fix”) and proactive (managed services).  With a break/fix solution, you have to wait till the system breaks, for the computer to stop working, for the email to stop receiving or the printer toner to run out, before a fix is applied.  In the case of a computer, the user is now sitting around waiting for the repair tech to arrive and for the system to be fixed.   Meanwhile the user is not doing their job.  In the case of a server, or a system where everyone is connected, then the whole office comes to a complete standstill until the problem is resolved. By contrast, if you have a managed service provider—someone monitoring and reporting on all of the software, hardware and systems within your business—they will see that a computer has a problem or a server is failing, and they will rectify the problem before it becomes a catastrophe.  And the cost to your business is fixed—you don't have to pay an unpredictable fee every time something goes wrong. The additional benefit of a managed service provider is that you have high-end technical knowledge at your fingertips.  You can ask them anything concerning your business and will always be told the best way to go.  Your provider will normally have similar businesses with the same problems as yours who require similar solutions. I hope it's clear by now which of the two approaches I favor.  How you manage your business technology is your choice, but when I am paying the bills I want everyone on staff to be productive as much as possible.  I would rather have a proactive system in place than a reactive one anytime.

Read more
Enterprise IT has lost it's way and needs to learn from the successes of start up thinking

Enterprise IT is lost, it has forgotten about the mouth that feeds it: the business.   All you have to do is read LinkedIn profiles for those in IT.  They might mention the business, they might not.  Some mention the business but only out of politeness: "ensuring the business is on board" or "Also, I have good business acumen".  What!? These guys pay your salary, and customers pay theirs.   Instead of absent mentions or polite references, you need to be determined to provide the business with the best service possible, and you should be providing them a framework to validate their business ideas, to generate conversions, sales, improve customer satisfaction, or whatever their vision happens to be. What can be done? Establish a common vision with the business - Align your IT vision with your business, what is it they want to achieve and how can IT be best aligned to do that?  Perhaps it's getting to market quickly or building ideas on budget.  These might translate into a delivery pattern where the portfolio and projects are technically and managerially optimised into smaller ones, vertical slices of architecture that enables the business to realise value quicker and with less risk.  Every decision made in IT should be aligned with this common vision. Shorten the cycle time - I'm talking about the time between concept and customer, the time it takes to realise an idea into something the customer can validate and interact with.  This needs to be shorter: it can't take years, it can't take months.  Even with heavyweight corporate processes in place (ITIL, CABs and formal testing), processes need to be re-evaluated to align with the vision.  My experience is that processes continue to be executed with little thought for what outcome they are achieving, often people have forgotten! Re-evaluating all processes and re-building leaner versions will shorten the time it takes to get through them.  Likewise, look for opportunities to execute processes in parallel or nugatory work that can be stopped.  Answer questions like: What is required for a CAB approval? Who are the stakeholders that control approvals? For every control gate, every approval, every testing phase, what are the mandatory/minimum outputs needed to move to the next one?   Can the same outcomes be achieved with less work, leaner and cheaper processes?    Does any IT need to be built at all? Can the business idea be validated without spending $100,000? Make a video, Facebook page, A/B testing, LinkedIn advertising, talk to your customers one-on-one.     Figure out why you're still there - Apart from the above, what value are you providing to the business? This should be in the vision but one key contribution is realising business ideas with an underlying strategic technology platform that is maintainable, extensible and economic.  The business can get external vendors to build their ideas, but what are they left with in terms of a platform to build from?  It might be cheaper in the short term, but maintenance costs and effort might supersede in the medium to long term.  Make yourself relevant.  If you're not providing a top notch service to the business, not only satisfying their demands but also providing a framework for them to validate their ideas, the chance of your department existing in the future is low.  Gartner reckons, by 2017, CMOs will spend more on IT than CIOs.   At this rate I'm tempted to agree.

Read more
Every cloud has a silver lining - what is cloud and how does it benefit my business?

  Cloud is everywhere today.  And some of you are probably wondering “What is Cloud?” – “Is Cloud for me?” “Should I be using Cloud?” Whether you are a small business or a larger business you are probably already using some Cloud, even if you do not realise it.  Almost every website is running in the Cloud – paradoxically this is done for security reasons – by keeping the users of your website away from your critical business systems you are protecting those business systems. Cloud is simply a way of using other people’s computers rather than your own.  In some ways it is a throwback to the early days of computing when people smaller businesses and schools rented time from larger businesses’ mainframe computers- usually through the night. So why would you use Cloud rather than your own computers?  What are the benefits and are there any rainclouds or stormclouds to watch out for? What does Cloud actually mean?  Cloud-based computing refers to any technology that gives companies the ability to have their data managed or delivered over the web or internet.   When any type of data is taken into the Cloud companies no longer have to purchase expensive hardware and software to maintain on their premises.  Instead of this, the computers are located in a data centre – the data centre is the sky.  They are managed by the data centre staff according to an agreement, not your IT team.  To many people this is seen as a massive silver lining to Cloud.  But there are still options, so decisions to be made to get the best type of Cloud for you, while avoiding those storm clouds that are lurking on the horizon. It is possible to purchase just the use of an application which is running in the Cloud – No ownership or installation required.  Many email providers including gmail are examples of this.  Applications such as Xero, a small business accounting solution, run entirely in the Cloud.  This is public cloud.  It is also possible to purchase managed servers which give you all of the functionality of an on premise server but the management is done for you.  Or you can purchase entire computers, but keep them in a data centre.  Entire servers running in a data centre is private cloud, and usually with this option you are still responsible for the maintenance, but you are now not reliant on your internet connection; all data centres will have top of the range internet connectivity.  How much Cloud is right for you will vary on your particular situation. The rainclouds are because the management has become centralised, you have less control over the applications, and so features may appear and disappear without you being aware of the impact of these changes.  You have become dependent on an external supplier.  Surprising, security of data is not a risk by choosing Cloud.  For most people the security provided as routine by a data centre will be significantly greater than that offered by on premise servers.  And, it has been well acknowledged that the greatest security risk is not from the technology, but from users – sometimes well-intentioned but untrained users who do not understand the impact of their actions.  Surprisingly, malicious users are the cause of a very small number of user-caused security breaches. The advantages of cloud are that the management of some aspects the hardware and perhaps the software is moved from your building to a central location and your staff to a dedicated team.  For smaller businesses, where the IT Management was done as an extra by someone whose main role was something entirely different, this can be a Godsend.  The cost is also much more predictable as you commit to a payment rather than being subject to the whims of hardware failures – which do seem to happen at the most inopportune moments. If we use a transport analogy, public cloud, such as Gmail, Xero, CRM Online, Office 365 can be compared to catching a bus.  Usually a pretty good service, but you have to be able to fit in with how the bus company plans the routes and the timetables.  Private Cloud including Microsoft CRM hosted with a partner and many outsourced server options, can be compared to a taxi – you rent the service and you get the service at the time that you book and it goes to exactly the address that you give.  For the duration of your rental, the car is effectively yours.  On premise can be compared to owning a car – even more convenient than the taxi, but unlike both the taxi and the bus, all the maintenance, insurance, managing breakdowns, fuel etc. are all your responsibility So, in summary, the Rain Cloud is possible loss of control and the Silver Lining is the predictable costs and the improved connectivity and speed.  Most Cloud solutions have both.  

Read more
Good Intentions Won't Be Enough to Sell Successfully Online

Money is the reason we do this. We buy goods from wholesalers and sell them to customers for a profit. If our store is closed or we can't take credit cards or the bank isn't being cooperative, we lose money and our kids don't eat. A store that's open on the internet is no different from a store that's open on Main Street. It has to be up and running to make us money. That's where a secure means of taking credit cards and a dependable data center come in. We may worry about our inventory and our advertising; but if we don't have a working store that can show our goods and process credit cards to finalize the sales, we're out of business.                         We need to feel secure in our financial transactions. We need to be able to take and process credit cards without fear that we'll go bankrupt because of theft or fraud. We can thank the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Security Standards Council and it's work on transaction security for that security. The PCI Security Standards Council was formed in 2006 by the five biggest credit card companies; Visa, American Express, MasterCard, JCB (Japanese Credit Bureau) and Discover to develop industry standards for banks and merchants who take credit cards. The standards cover the security and construction of networks, protection of card holder data, the use of off-the-shelf payment applications and the protection of personal identification numbers. In the last five years, these standards have shown their value in protecting our online activities. When it comes to creating and maintaining a website, we've got our choice. We can hire someone to buy the computers and other network equipment, create and fill the inventory and take the credit cards and have all of the expense of salaries and benefits, equipment costs, software to run the website and guard our security and make sure the site is up 24/7/365. Or we could hire someone else to do it. We can find a company that already has the equipment and people and procedures to maintain our site and leave us with nothing more to do that write a check every month, a check that will be a fraction of our cost of doing it in-house. These companies are called data centers and there is a very good one in Australia. Choosing a data center requires some due diligence. It isn't enough to open the phone book and pick one at random. As in any business, there are the competent and the foolish. Any data center we consider has to be capable of managing a telecommunications network, have applications that our business can use as its own and be able to host our applications, as well. The data center industry has established tiers describing the redundant capabilities of a data center. They describe tier one as a data center having no redundant or backup capabilities, tier two as having site infrastructure redundancy, tier three as having communications and power redundancies and tier four as having an onsite independent power generator.

Read more
Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools: 10 SEO Tips on How to Optimise Your Site

Measuring and tracking online activity for your website is very important. The following are SEO tips that will describe how Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools can help track your business and to see how it is growing.  Google Analytics: It is a service offered by Google that creates detailed statistics about website traffic, sources, conversions and sales. The service is aimed to marketers compared to actual webmasters. It is the most used website statistics service.  5 SEO Tips for Google Analytics: Create Goals Set out measurements of what you want want your visitor to achieve on your website, whether it is to sign up, read articles, make comments, etc. By setting up these goals, it will give more meaning to your analytics. Manage your dashboard The data can be overwhelming and necessary if not set up properly. By organising and only showing what you need, you will find the analytical process easier and more manageable compared to before. Do not double count your traffic When using data on visitors activity, do not include the time that you spend visiting the site as it will skew the data. Search Keywords Creating a report to see what phrases people are using to find your website in search engines is useful. This is how to optimize your site and use the proper keywords. It is especially useful to see the keywords they use if they don't use your business name to see the mindset of what they are looking for. This goes for the same if you have an internal search feature. You can find out what the popular searches were for, what pages they visited after the search, and the activity that they performed after. Tracking linked Social Media By using analytics you can see the amount of traffic going to your website from different linked social accounts (Facebook, Twitter, etc) and whether they assisted in conversions by checking what specific pages they visited. You can also see the level of success from campaigns and which visitors responded to content shown in a particular social network. Google Webmaster Tools This is another free web service provided by Google that checks crawling statistics and optimises visibility of the website. This tool is aimed for webmasters. 5 SEO Tips for Google Webmaster Tools: Crawl Statistics Using the Google webmaster tools, you will be able to generate 3 different crawl reports for diagnosing problems and analysing performance: Pages crawled per day - There will be ups and downs but hopefully you can see a steady incline. Spikes are usually due to releasing new pages or increasing inbound links. Kilobytes crawled per day - This report should be similar to the movements of the pages in the crawled per day graph Time spent downloading a page - You will be hoping to find not as many peaks as they could be server problems usually. Google should not take that much time downloading your page. Errors Pull up all the different errors affecting the site like broken links, even links driving traffic to the site with no valid page or pages that have been restricted. These crawl errors are particularly useful for SEO. Redirecting or fixing these links will lead to increased visitors for your site. Meta descriptions and title tags Another valuable SEO tip to heed is to use meta descriptions and title tags. Meta tags provides information to search engines about their sites. Google will generate a list of your URL's which have problems with their title tags or meta descriptions like having duplicates or being too short or too long. Duplicates can affect your ranking in Google and meta descriptions should be efficient to help visitors click through your page.  Top search queries As mentioned before, you can search the top queries for keywords using Google Analytics. However Webmaster Tools has the option of showing your average position within Google, so you can try pushing keywords at the top positions and try to increase your traffic. You can filter your search by type like web, image, mobile or country. Manage site links If your site has a set of links below the Google listing that comes up, you can manage this in the 'Site Configuration' section. You cannot actually tell what links for Google to show but you can tell Google not to show a site link it has created and to block it.   Following these SEO tips shared will certainly get your website ahead among the stiff competition within the web.

Read more
Grow your Dental Practice with Management Software

Running a dental practice is not an easy job and there are several ways that you can satisfy your patients by giving them better service. Usually the dental practitioners think that by giving good dental care when the patients are in the clinic, they can earn patients loyalty, but it's not true these days. You need to better manage your patients to make them feel that they matter to you. However for that you need to better manage the working of your dental clinic. Dental management software can help you in achieving that goal and make the whole clinic easier to manage.   Importance of Management Software in Dental Practice Less Paperwork By keeping all the data related to the patients in the software you don't have to reach for some paper file every time and this saves you plenty of time. It also helps in impressing your patients that you have better managed services. You can better categorise your patients according to their dental problems and there are many more things that you can do to manage your patient's data in a more efficient way.Access from Anywhere You can synchronise the data of you management software with your mobile devices. This enables you to use the data from anywhere. So in some emergency of your patient, you can have all their data at your fingertips. This gives you better ability to take decision which will give better results. Due to this feature you can manage you r clinic in a better way even if you are not physically present there.Better Management of Patients This is the most prominent benefit of management software that it allows you to take care of the each record of the patients. This software can help you in sending reminders to the patients about their next visit. You can also set other reminders for each patient and therefore getting better results in making your patients feel special. Better Bill Management This software can keep the list of all the bills that are paid or which are overdue. Reminders can be sent about these details to the patients and overdue bills can be collected. You can also maintain the accounts of all the expenses that are happening in the clinic, so that you can better plan them in future to increase your profits. Therefore by using this software you maintain a better cash flow in your finances and have better managed accounts.  Support for Other Applications This management software for dental clinics has support for the other third party software which you may be using in your clinic now. This feature makes your transition to the more advanced software easier. By linking multiple software you don't need to change much in your working style but you get better results because of the integration of this new software. Dental management software can be useful for any dental clinic, but in the clinics where the numbers of patients are growing, this software is a must to maintain the existent standards of customer service.

Read more
Here's a new one for you - Bring your Own Cloud (BYOC)

So, recently we were doing some work on a client’s site—small site, 20 users—and we were installing a new server with SBS.  And yes, we had specific reasons for going down the server-on-site path.  All relatively easy, although it can be a little time-consuming, especially when transferring data from an antiquated system. One of the things that came to light was that all of the users had some type of cloud storage account (Dropbox, Cubby, Evernote) attached to their user profile, and each one had business information stored in those folders.  When we were discussing the completion of the project in the wash-up, one of my technical support people bought this up in the conversation.  A relatively innocuous observation, but management did not know about the situation.  Furthermore, they did not understand the inherent problems associated with all of these accounts.  Most businesses do not realise they have a problem; others do not believe the evidence that is presented to them.  These were the problems we pointed out: Privacy.  Every business needs it.  Privacy is one of those systems that allow a business to flourish, but it also means that you have to invest substantial time and resources in maintaining that protection.  You internal privacy protection allows you to attract and maintain your client base.  If they know that you do not value their privacy the same way they do, you will lose those clients. Intellectual Property. IP is the lifeblood of your business.  In simple terms, it is your business.  It is how you do business, who you talk to, your pricing structure and all of your operational systems.  It is how your business makes money.  Why would you let this critical information outside your security envelope without proper checks and balances in place? Lack of business control.  By allowing your staff and users to have access to your information outside your office, you take a risk.  There needs to be a good reason for allowing such a thing.  Convenience is great, but if you are in a competitive market, that business information is your edge; you need to make sure that the confidentiality of the information is maintained at all times. Cyber security.  It all comes down to the barrier that you impose around your data.  That risk analysis that you did to originally manage your security access is crucial to your business viability.  By allowing anyone to access your data from anywhere, you're compromising your original risk analysis, so a new risk analysis has to be completed.  What happens when they leave?  If staff leave your business under amicable terms, it is relatively easy to manage off-site or out-of office information.  What happens in a situation where you have to fire someone?  You may restrict physical access to the building, as well as online access to your databases.  But what about that information that they have uploaded to their drop box—the account you knew nothing about?  That account may have all of your business-critical information, and the disgruntled employee can now take it to your competition.  How much protection are you putting in that contract clause about working for another company? Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself from the BYOC problem.  The three P's are a great place to start.  Policy, Procedure and Process will enable the business to control what people do, how they do it, and with what systems they are ALLOWED to do it with.  By restricting access, such a policy reduces the security envelope and allows you to have more control over the IP within the business.  In addition, constant monitoring and a regular risk assessment will also help you protect your IP. Does your business have a problem with BYOC?  If your answer is “I don't know,” you may have a burgeoning security threat that you're not even aware of.  This is something that, as a small or medium business owner, you'd be wise to think about.

Read more
How do we protect our children when we don’t understand cyber space ourselves

Technology has changed the world.  From cloud computing to GPS, from tablets to mobile apps, we are all in the grips of technology, and it is only going to get more entangled in our lives.  It is easier for us to talk to our relations on the other side of the world than it is to go and knock on our next door neighbors' door.  Well, unless our next door neighbor is on Facebook—then it's the same, but you get the idea.    This presents problems for parents of teenagers.  Parents are living in a world very different from the one they grew up in.  They want to protect their kids from the dangers of social networking, cyber crime and cyber bullying, but all too often they barely understand those things themselves.   With this changing role of technology, we have also changed our attitude to what we protect ourselves from, and how.  We have altered our expectations, and now for some reason it is always someone else’s problem.  We take on the mantle of protecting our children on the internet, but in most cases we don't even know how to protect ourselves.  It seems too hard, so we put in more and more technology to make it easier.   We install Net Nanny or a similar product, and we rely on our anti-virus and anti-spam products—more and more technology.  To me, technology is the problem.  I am not saying that technology is bad.  What I am saying is that throwing more technology at a problem is never the right solution.   How can parents cope with these new dangers?  Here are a couple of ideas that do not involve technology.   “Cyber security is my problem.”  Having that as a mantra will change your attitude to the cyber world.  The best thing that you can convey to children is that same mantra.  Rather than using software to keep them off unsavory parts of the internet, it's better to spend some time supervising their online activity, and explaining the dangers that are out there.  When it comes to the cyber world, paranoia and common sense are your friends.  In the cyber world, paranoia is not a disease; it is the only attitude to have.    Where you keep your family computer is also very important.  If you want to avoid problems like cyber bullying and cybercrime, then allowing teenagers to be alone with their computers is a bad idea.  This is also true of mobile phones and tablets to some extent—younger teens don't need around-the-clock access to them.  There's a fine line between privacy within the family unit and complete independence, and it shouldn't be stretched too far.    The growing mind is a delicate thing, and to an adult, some of teenagers' problems are miniscule, but to them they are huge.  Peer group pressure is a very powerful situation, but telling a teenager that it is not important is the wrong direction for any adult to take.  The perpetually mortified and contemptuous comedy character “Kylie Mole” comes to mind in conveying the difference between the teenager's mind and the mind of an adult.    If you react to your teenager's problems with a dismissive attitude, they will be far less likely to confide in you.  Conversely, take an understanding attitude, and you're more likely to find out what's going on in their online world—including cyber bullying and other problems.   A holistic attitude is also important.  Yes, a holistic solution contains technology, but it also contains a willingness to educate yourself and think before you act (or click).  Pass this attitude on to your kids, and you'll be doing them a favor.

Read more