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iOS vs. Android - Which camp are you? The Tech Wrap

If you ask a group of people whether they belong to the Android or iOS camp, you’ll find it’s a sure fire way to draw a line in the sand. The type of phone and computer we choose to use every day is a significant choice, and many people swear allegiance to particular brands and/or operating systems. Whether it’s the user interface, aesthetics, or compatibility with other products – there are many different reasons to go for Android or iOS. Comparing the two, it can be agreed there is no greater group of brand loyalists than Apple fans. They live and breathe offerings from the tech giant, camping outside stores to get their hands on the latest products. All of their tech Apple products exist in perfect harmony, and they subscribe to a very strong brand identity – one that is clear cut, and cleverly marketed.   Given there have been no great changes to the shape of the iPhone, the home screen layout, and basic functionality, users can easily navigate around their phone and they know what to expect. It’s very easy to use; simply clicking in and out of an app, and for this reason the iPhone is more appealing to a less ‘tech savvy’ user group.   Another advantage Apple wields is that when it comes to apps, they dominate. Most apps are released on iOS first, however Android is playing catch up, and Android users can access most apps their fellow Apple users download. Apple also takes the cake when it come to access to music and video. ITunes is unmatched when it comes sheer size and availability. That said, I must admit that when faced with the line in the sand, I am starting to lean towards the Android side. I feel that over the years, Apple has become less of an innovator and more about playing catch up, with fine tuning and little ‘tweaks’ here and there. As a fan of technology and innovation, I feel that I am slowly being pulled towards the Android ecosystem, because that's where most of the 'cool stuff' is happening these days. One of the key benefits Android boasts is customisation -- both software and hardware. Users can pick and choose the features they like best, whether it’s a big phone, or widgets on the home screen. Every user can create an experience that is exactly to their liking. There are also hardware features that Apple does not yet offer, like waterproof phones, or a large variety of custom colours and unique materials (such as wood or leather backed phones). Once you have made the switch to Android, I would argue that it is more difficult to go back to iOS. While you are locked into another ecosystem, this is one that provides you with more choices than just one brand and one set of hardware. Whether it’s a Samsung phone, or eyeing up the latest Sony Xperia or HTC One, you have the choice between many different hardware setups. The same goes for computability across the product ecosystem. You can opt for any number of smart watches or wearables that work with your phone, providing a greater freedom to pick and mix between phone and hardware products. There are other small advantages like (generally) a long battery life and a lower price point. Android’s greatest strength (the ability to pick and chose) is also its greatest weakness, with no coherent brand identity that has mass appeal. Despite this, I think the tide is turning and Android is on the up and up. Already, major businesses are coming to me and asking the release of both iOS and Android products at the same time, which two or three years ago would have been unheard of.  iOS vs. Android -- which camp are you?   

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Is Public or Private Cloud Better for Your Business?

Key Takeaways If you're thinking of moving your IT setup into the cloud, there's public and private cloud services. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages and you need to find the right balance for your business. Giants like Google, Amazon and Microsoft dominate the public cloud market, offering lower costs, credibility and authority.  Meanwhile, private cloud service providers can offer better customisation, flexibility and often provide protection against malware as part of the package. Cloud computing is fuelling innovation, enabling companies to achieve greater efficiency and productivity that is transforming many industries. As a result, many businesses are investing in cloud IT environments and are moving away from on-premise servers and infrastructure. And like many business owners, you’re probably thinking about how your business could be further leveraging the cloud to increase efficiency and reduce running costs. Having your entire IT environment in the cloud reduces the need to host, update, maintain or backup IT environments. You no longer have to invest in physical servers, expensive hardware and their support costs. But understanding the type of cloud solution that's best for your business can get tricky. There are public, private or hybrid cloud offerings and deciding which one suits your business will depend on the level of resources you have to commit and how you’re planning to utilise the cloud. 1. Public cloud providers Public cloud is the fastest growing cloud segment to date and is dominated by providers such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft. With public cloud, the services provided are standardised and offered to many clients who all share the same infrastructure. Benefits This market is dominated by large established players, providing credibility and authority. Public cloud providers tend to offer advanced technology. Because public cloud has no geographical restrictions, access is easy no matter where you are. Can have lower upfront fees than other cloud solutions. Challenges The larger the portion of your business on public cloud, the more complicated it will be. In most cases you’ll need to have a dedicated cloud expert on staff to manage your IT. Public cloud can also be rigid, automated and impersonal because it offers a standardised service to all users to get economies of scale. Customisation, legacy applications and business applications cannot be effectively or easily catered for. You may run into issues with data sovereignty. If you have data saved in public clouds, your data may be stored on a server in a different country, which is governed by an entirely different set of security and/or privacy regulations. Public cloud providers often don’t offer protection against viruses, ransomware and malware as part of the offering but as an extra, if at all. Plus, in some instances, your data may not be backed up and recoverable if things go wrong.   2. Private cloud providers The biggest misconception about private cloud is that it is hosted in an organisation’s data centre. While this is one definition of private cloud, more and more private cloud providers are offering off-premise solutions. Make sure you ask potential private cloud service providers where your data is hosted. By using a private cloud provider, you also take advantage of shared IT resources across multiple applications and/or locations. Benefits You tend to get more personalised service with private cloud providers, making them more flexible and customisable to meet individual business requirements. There is increased security and you’ll likely have a better idea of where the servers holding your data are located as well as the security measures in place. Private cloud providers usually offer the latest protection against viruses, ransomware and malware, as well as data backup and recovery. Challenges You’ll need to spend some time finding the right provider that will suit your business and ensure your line of business applications are supported.  There may be a higher initial outlay than using public cloud services, although in the long term you will find that this balances out and it actually becomes more cost effective. One trap you can potentially fall into is opting for a hosting service rather than a true cloud service. Asking for an upfront fee is a common indicator of hosting services. Generally these are technology services offered to companies that host either your servers or purchases servers for you and run them in another location. Quite often these services are not available directly from the internet. They will need the likes of a VPN or direct line and everything is charged for. If you’re looking at moving more of your business to the cloud this year, there are plenty of options to choose from. By understanding the options available to you, you can make a more informed decision for your business that will hopefully help your business run more efficiently and enable growth.

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Learn How to Impress Your Visitors With Just Your Website

Having a good website is no longer a luxury or additional bonus. Having a website is nowadays a simple necessity for brands that want to provide value for their visitors. You need to keep in mind that users appreciate being able to find all of the necessary information such as contacting you as easily as possible. So before you jump onto concentrating on good design only, make sure your website is created firs of all with your users and their experience as a priority. It seems like just yesterday that businesses were experimenting with their websites – taking them from a static brochure to a little something flashier. Business owners were advised by web designers and business coaches on their websites – what to include, how they should be structured and so forth. However, in 2018 a website does not stand alone as a marketing and operational tool anymore. Now your website forms part of a business’ entire digital interaction model, which is completely individual and tailored to each business depending on their business objectives.   Also, the days of web designers creating your website’s style, tone and functionality are over.  Web designers will simply follow instructions laid out for them in the strategy document, rather than using their own formula to create your website. This explains why so many web designers are employed by design interaction consultancies, rather than freelancing. Forming part of the team that is creating the entire user strategy helps designers to fully understand the concept and ensures that their contribution is beneficial. Basic Necessities of Your Website The inclusions of your website depend very much on your business model and the industry you are involved in. For example, if you are a retail store and operate purely online, your website will be made up of very different elements to the website of a local Italian restaurant. Why? Well, clearly these two websites have different purposes. The former is to sell items and the latter is to provide information like the address of the restaurant, opening hours, and the menu. Regardless of the business’ purpose, a website is there for users. Users could be: the general public, customers of the business, stakeholders, prospective customers, or a mixture of all of these. So, when creating your website, you would need to consider your users and why they might visit your website. This will give you a clue about what to include. They may need more details about how to find your physical location, or they may wish to contact you to ask a question or submit a complaint. Therefore, ways to contact you should be included. The absolute basics of any website, regardless of function, could include the following: Name and address of the business, and name of the contact person, Contact details (perhaps an enquiry form, a phone number or the address of the locality), Links to the social media accounts of the business for more information, If the intention of the website is to attract traffic for greater visibility on Google search pages, the website may include a blog for fresh content, If the business has links and partnerships with other organisations, you may include these too. What Else Should Your Website Have? After the primary list of inclusions, a secondary list of inclusions may be more detailed and in-depth. These will be dependent on creating a positive user experience, as well as other non-website strategies already in place. The above exercise will help you to determine your website users, which is integral, and your research will show you what exactly they respond to when engaging in an experience.  The website that is created will take these elements into consideration, rather than simply guessing how your visitors will respond to an over-enthusiastic Chat Bot asking them what they need to purchase, for example. Whether or not the business thinks having a Chat Bot on their website makes them look progressive is irrelevant. If your users feel annoyed by a Chat Bot, your website won’t have one. The types of considerations at this point may be as follows: Will users visit your website before or after an interaction/purchase with your business? How are your users more likely to request an interaction with you – will it be online or offline? How often will your users visit your website? Will they come back for news, or are they more likely to follow your social media accounts? Are my users easily threatened or overwhelmed? Are they time-poor? Ultimately, the question always reverts back to why people are visiting your website and what they hope to achieve whilst they are there. Some businesses simply use their website as a business card (e.g. lawyers, to back up their reputation), whereas other businesses are their website, like Amazon. The single biggest piece of advice is to talk to your users and understand what they need from your site. That will give you the surest guidance on what to prioritise. Then test your ideas with users to see if your interpretation of their needs was right or wrong. The look and feel of a website is also very important, and should be consistent with your brand. This would involve ensuring the logo is accurate, as well as any messaging. If you are the face of your business, make sure your website presents that and portrays your image as well as some information about your background. Ultimately, it is difficult to create a standalone piece on effective websites as they are not stand-alone anymore. Websites attract users, they engage users, they interact with users and they provide users with a gateway to your business. They are only part of a larger strategy, however, because users all come from somewhere and are going somewhere before and after engaging with your website.  Your strategy will determine the other pieces of the puzzle and ensure that your business keeps track of them during this entire process to enable greater engagement overall. Websites that I like are the below for these reasons: Air BnB as it is a frictionless experience that allows people to engage immediately with the platform even if they’re just dreaming about a holiday. It’s very responsive to the needs of people who interact with it. The site designers gathered feedback from users who said they felt more confident to book when they saw high quality images of houses, so Air BnB sent out professional photographers to their hosts to present the properties better. Mailchimp is an outstanding example as they have not only a consistent and easy to use service, but also a cohesive look and feel, voice and tone and complete guidelines for interaction design. This considered approach means that people can engage with the brand on any digital channel and feel like they immediately know it’s Mailchimp.

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Making the most of the holidays with a digital detox

It’s no secret, today’s smartphones and tablets make us more productive.  Or at least they seem like they do.  They’re always connected so we can get instant notifications of emails and social network messages.  They let us run our businesses while on the go. But all of that productivity and convenience comes at a cost. Latest studies show that while we tend to be able to do more from our devices, they also add to our stress levels.  When it comes to the holiday season, stress is something we’d ideally minimize.   While for many of us it is true that keeping our devices with us as a necessity, it is also an addiction.  That addiction means we check our devices for messages quite often; almost too often at times, negatively impacting our ability to socialize in the real world.  This is something we’d want to avoid during the holidays as well since this is a time when we get to spend quality time with our family and friends. Obviously, going off-the-grid isn’t an option for for most of those in business - particularly their own. So what can you do to get that much-needed digital detox this holiday season? Decide you want to put down your devices to enjoy your holiday This is the most important step.  You have to decide that you want to do this and that you want to follow through.  If deep inside you don’t want to do this, or if you are undecided when it comes to taking a detox, it’s unlikely you will succeed.  Like in any addiction, willpower is very important. Tell your employees and partners you plan to spend quality time with your family during the holidays Telling people around you that you intend to treat the holiday season as a holiday goes a long way.  That’ll keep them from contacting you unless it is really urgent giving you more time for yourself and your family. Don’t bring your devices during meals This should happen anyway, but particularly during the holidays, phones at the table are a big no no. Having a quiet dinner with family and friends is a great way to socialize and relax with people you love.  Enjoy your meal and leave your phone out. Don’t treat every email as an urgent matter Email messages can usually wait.  If it were truly urgent, they’d most likely call you.  Resist the urge to check your inbox every 10 minutes. Turn of push notifications for your social networks It’s ironic that social networks are actually keeping us from truly being social where it counts.  Turn off your push notifications for these apps and limit your use to specific times of the day.  Preferably schedule your social networking time not during your social gatherings during the holidays. Focus on what’s in front of you Keep your attention to the people and tasks in front of you, not the stuff waiting to be done at the office or the message sent to you from work.  By focusing on your immediate surroundings, you’ll eventually learn to keep that mobile device in your pocket. Make a conscious effort to keep your phone and tablet at bay. Sometimes, pulling out your phone to check for messages is more of a habit rather than a necessity.  Make a conscious effort to keep your devices in your pocket.   Wear a watch A lot of us instinctively turn to our phones to check the time.  When you do that, there will likely be an irresistible urge to check for messages as well.  Wear a watch so that you can check the time there. Leave unnecessary devices behind While having your phone with you is essential (particularly in the case of emergencies), bringing your tablet or laptop with you is likely not.  Leave behind devices you truly do not need.  It’ll have the bonus of leaving you with less baggage to lug around as you go through your day. A digital detox will not only be good for you and your family, it’ll eventually be good for your business as well.  Having the opportunity to relax this holiday will rest your mind so that when you return to the usual hustle and bustle of your  regular business days, you’ll be sharper than ever.

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Need more sales? better get more website traffic, but how?

There are so many websites that regardless of the quality of content, they still struggle to get visitors through organic search results. So does the answer lie in paid advertising? Maybe, but that’s not the only option available to business owners. As we’ve seen, content, search engine optimisation (SEO) and social media marketing are key components that dictate the success of a website. So you’ve already created your killer content and integrated the principles of SEO to make sure that your website can be found. Your most crucial task now is to drive visitors to your website through the various social media platforms. There is no perfect formula, but once you’ve figured out what works well for you, you will reap exciting benefits. Kick-start projects Social media can help businesses spread the word about new products and services without the need to spend large budgets on fairs and expos. One of the biggest benefits of utilising social media marketing for your brand is because of the “shareability” factor. If you have a new concept, which people will inevitably benefit from, it is likely to gain momentum on social networks and be shared again and again. This is all free marketing for your brand and something which will also boost your search engine ranking in return. Network with leaders and influencers Social media is not just about sharing information relating to your business’s products and services. It’s also about staying abreast of industry news, trends and innovations. You can even use social media to check out what your competition are doing with their updates and feeds. By using social media, you are given unlimited opportunities to connect with thought leaders who possess massive influence over diverse groups of people. They may not know you (yet) and they may not share your offers with their followers, but their insights will inevitably prove useful to your business and its audience, and who knows – if they see and like what you post, they may even share it! Increase your likeability and improve sales This is perhaps the most perceived and understood value of using social media for marketing. Making your business equally as interesting as your competition requires a set strategy and list of objectives. Don’t feel disheartened if your first attempts don’t bring the hordes of people you were hoping for. Simply try again and explore another avenue. Successfully increasing your likeability and reputation within your industry depends on how consistent you are and how eager you are to respond to the needs of your demographics. Focus on relationships, fun and providing value and watch your likeability grow. Drive traffic and motivate referrals Updates that contain links to your business’s website will, if correctly promoted, drive traffic back to your pages. Thousands, even millions of people, can see a simple tweet that gains momentum. If all of those people followed the link in your update, that would be a significant amount of traffic. Of course, not all of your visitors are going to buy your product or service, but even if a small percentage do it will be worth the time spent constructing the post, right? When you use social media, you are leveraging people to do the marketing and advertising for you - there’s no other strategy more cost effective and convenient than that. Key Takeaways Utilise social media to inform your followers about new projects, products and services Gain insights from industry experts See what your competition are doing in social circles Improve your brand’s reputation Drive traffic and increase sales through referrals from your followers Image Source: "going out of business" by timetrax23

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Options to reduce support costs on Desktops by knowing how to use your operating system

This article talks about two options you get within Windows 8 and the new release update Windows 8.1, which give you a feature that can save money and time when dealing with computer problems. I find providing business owners with this knowledge ensures they can make a decision which in time can save money in support costs.  These features are best used when the computer is setup the right way, but if you do then it will reward your business with efficient support options. Windows 8 can reset / refresh just like a mobile phone. This is a feature of Windows 8 that can save so much time when it comes to computer problems and for that matter computers with viruses or malware. In the enterprise you would here an IT administrator use the word “reimage” they use this method in lieu of fixing the machine because it is often more cost effective, most business do not even have this as an option. Now with the Windows 8 family you can use the feature of Refresh and Reset options that quickly restore Windows to a fresh, factory default configuration just like the feature on most mobile phones.  IT administrators can still create an image option for the machine so when it is refreshed the image can be loaded with all the business applications pre-installed. The difference between Refresh and Reset Within Windows 8 there are two options the Refresh your PC and Reset your PC they both reset the computer to a factory default state.  Refresh preserves you files and installs modern Programs on the start menu, while reset removes everything from your system.  These options usually come up when your computer will not start, later you will know how to access them from within Windows. Which method to use and when If you are experiencing problems with your PC then you should always use the Refresh your PC option first.  Windows will restore your system files and desktop programs to their default state, saving your important personal files (and modern apps, if used) Reset your PC returns it to a factory default state, which is best used when trying to eliminate viruses and malware, and you want to remove your personal data as well, or if you are just wanting a completely clean start, which beats reinstalling windows. You can access these options, however they are a little hidden.  Go to your Charms Bar by moving you mouse to the top right or bottom of the display or press Windows + C; click settings (the gear icon), and then click Change PC settings.  You will see a list of options. From here you will find a lot of useful options for your PC you may be interested in. In the PC Settings app, click the General Category and scroll down to see the refresh you PC without affecting your files and the remove everything and reinstall windows. Have a look through other PC settings you will be surprised what you see. I do not intend for people to go out and refresh or reset your PC, but it will at least spark a conversation with your IT support in making a decision to upgrade to Windows 8 or if already there looking at how you can have this feature enabled correctly to reduce support costs when you experience problems. Any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.

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Pizza Making: The Perfect Recipe for Web Design

  Web design was something that was always in my New Year's resolution that I never got round doing -- until now. After consulting with different web designers for my startup, the proud SME owner inside of me decided that no one understood my needs – so I decided to code my own! Currently, I’m half way into coding my website from scratch, but I decided to write this article anyway as a simple how-to guide for SME owners. I believe that all SME owners should know how a website is made, and what better way to express this than through a pizza recipe?   1. Preheat your oven to 230°C. Sort out your domain and hosting before building your webpage. Photoshop a quick mockup or draw a rough plan of the sort of webpage you want – do you want a ‘brochure’ site or a personal blog page? Do you want a static or a responsive design? 2. Make the template dough from scratch or buy it pre-made. You can make your webpage from scratch, or you can buy templates. For the majority of SMEs, it’s unnecessary to build a webpage from scratch. It is hard work for the web designer and will cost you a lot of money. However, if your business has special needs, or if you have enough pride and determination, then by all means go ahead with building your own. The advantage in using a template such as those found in  Themeforest  and TemplateMonster is that it’s cheap and time-efficient. Note that this comes at the expense of extensive customisation. 3. Add desired HTML sauce In this step, decide on a layout. This is one of the most crucial elements in user engagement and accessibility, so experiment with different types of layout. Key structure elements of a website are headers, footers, side bars and navigation bars – mix and match to find the perfect structure for your website. 4. Add your CSS and Java toppings By far, the most fun bit of the web design process. Choose your colour scheme and font, but once you do -- make sure it’s consistent across all pages. A great way to create a professional look is to match the colour scheme with your business logo. Don’t forget to style the webpage so that it appeals to your main target market, because the webpage will be one of the most crucial sources of lead generation. You might want to consider adding plugins, widgets, extensions and/or pop ups to spice things up. All major social networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google Maps have widgets you can add to your webpage for free. 5. Add your cheese Cheese is what holds all the toppings together, just like a code. Translate your design into code. Don’t overcomplicate things, simple is always best. Always watch out for different ways to code an element to increase consistency across different Internet browsers. Optimise your website’s SEO by adding relevant content. Finally, don’t forget to test your website!   6. Pop the pizza into the oven The moment of truth! Upload your website to a server using a FTP (file transfer protocol) application so it is visible to the world. 7. Enjoy!

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Preparing Businesses to Meet the Future

Let’s face it—today’s businesses are Busy with a Capital B.  You know the saying - over worked, under paid.  In many cases, small and medium business owners and managers of not for profit organisations are working 10 - 15 hour days.   The job of bringing in new and sustainable clients to ensure growth is all-consuming. So often today, the numerous daily requirements necessary just to run a business leave very little time for business owners to discern where within the business  innovation would be useful, much less the time to actually create and focus on preparing to meet the future needs of the business. Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) components of the business are necessary to support the business owner along with everyone else in the organisation.   If the business has one dedicated IT person or even a team of people, they can consider themselves lucky.   However, all too often, the team of professional ICT people spends the majority of their time keeping the systems productive and their users happy.   They have little, if any, time left to dedicate toward systems’ improvement.   However, the IT department is the main area capable of figuring out the future technology needs of the business and how to prepare the organisation to meet those needs. Most business owners struggle to keep up with today’s constantly changing technologies.  Fifteen years ago, who would have realised how the internet would revolutionise the way we do business? Social media has drastically impacted the way business owners need to reach their target audiences, just within the last 5 years.  Not many of us are truly able to look ahead and keep up with the changing technology and what it means for today’s businesses to remain viable and profitable in the future. A managed services provider (MSP) or managed security service provider (MSSP) is a group of people who are employed to make sure that your organisational ICT requirements are healthy and productive.  However, an MSP can also change the way a business innovates.   It can change the way a business grows and even change the core focus of a business.   There are two ways that an organisation can use an MSP / MSSP.   The first is to use it as a virtual ICT Team.   They do everything from managing users and equipment, to handling documentation and monitoring all equipment and users including the virtual ICT manager / Virtual CIO.    In most cases, for a set fee, they will do everything that an IT department would do.   Using an MSP in this way has two benefits:                 * The business owner can rely a constant operational cost that includes expert capabilities, education and advice without having to enlist any additional outside assistance.                 * The organisation alleviates human resources complications related to internal hiring.   There are no personal or staffing issues to deal with and no need to provide super or annual leave. The second way to use an MSP is a hybrid.   The company retains an ICT department, or components of one, and those team members do the high-level thinking.    They are the people who know the business, know the budgets, know the organisation’s capabilities and more importantly, know the owner’s management style.   While the higher level, internal IT team members are handling the strategic planning, the MSP is taking care of the everyday jobs and keeping the systems and users running smoothly.   The MSP can also be used to introduce new systems and capabilities in combination with the internal team.    What happens when several IT people get together in a room?  You get a Geek love in that leaves us mere mortals far behind.   Then innovation will blossom and grow.    The geeks will see connections with systems, ways to reduce costs, innovation possibilities and how to improve efficiency within your budget and daily requirements.   These beautiful visions cannot happen in the vacuum of an overworked and unappreciated ICT department. To decide whether or not to use an MSP in either of these ways, first look at your organisation’s current IT requirements and ask these questions: Could your organisation reduce costs and increase efficiency by hiring people to do the smaller, time-consuming ICT jobs within the organisation? Would your ICT management have more time to create the future of your business if their work load was reduced? Would the reduced costs that come from the right MSP make your business more profitable?  If the answers to these questions are yes, please call us to talk more about MSP’s and how they could help your business move forward and meet the demands of the future.

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