Blog

June 23rd, 2017

As machine learning, digital storage, and analytics software get more advanced, data is becoming more valuable than ever. Even businesses that don’t rely on data to operate are starting to find ways to get more value out of their information. Microsoft’s newest platform is an excellent example of that -- and it’s free!

What is Power BI?

Released in the spring of 2016, Power BI is Microsoft’s business analytics platform. Regardless of whether or not data is stored within a Microsoft platform, connecting Power BI to a database allows you to create detailed graphs, charts, maps, and more. For example, if you upload sales records, dragging and dropping two columns is all it takes to map out where your product sees the most demand.

Recently, Microsoft announced a brand new feature for business owners who want to get more value out of their software subscriptions. The Office 365 adoption content pack collects information about how your employees use Microsoft productivity software, and feeds it directly into Power BI’s analytics. There are four types of insights you can work with:

Adoption

These metrics give you visibility into how much each O365 platform is being used. You may be paying for OneDrive accounts for the entire organization, only for Power BI to reveal that less than a quarter of your team is using it. Compare enabled users and active users to get a clearer picture of your investments.

Communication

You can also see exactly how employees are using communication solutions. If nearly everyone on the team is accessing Skype for Business from a mobile data connection, it might be time to reduce your investments in cellular-based minutes.

Collaboration

Microsoft has several collaboration platforms, and without proper guidance, employees are likely to use the easiest one rather than the best one. Power BI shows you how much time users spend time in their own Word, PowerPoint, and SharePoint documents compared to the time they spend in documents from colleagues. This shows you which platforms encourage the most collaboration and which ones are struggling.

Activation

- The activation insights give you under-the-hood visibility into which versions of O365 users are running, and what devices they use to access them. That may seem like trivial information, but it can have huge impacts on cyber security.

Power BI comes in three different plans: Desktop, Pro, and Premium. Best of all, both the Desktop plan and the Office 365 adoption content pack are totally free. If you like what you see, consider enlisting us to set up and optimize either a Pro or Premium Power BI deployment -- we’re only a phone call away!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
June 13th, 2017

Bad customer service is one of the reasons why customers switch to competitors. It often begins the moment they pick up the phone to report a service issue, only to end up getting frustrated with your phone system. Your on-hold message may seem inconsequential, but it can play a big role in your customer’s dissatisfaction. Avoid giving your customers another reason to switch by following these tips.

Use professionally recorded messages

A small nuisance like minimal static might not cause annoyance, but an unprofessional on-hold message certainly will. Banking on in-house resources such as your employees recording your on-hold messages might seem cost-efficient, but the poor quality of the recording could backfire.

To avoid this, hire professional voice talents for your company’s Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems. They’ll enhance your company’s brand by conveying messages in a professional, friendly, and pleasant manner. Professionals have impressive enunciation and exceptional voice skills, and they’ll record messages using high-quality equipment.

Keep callers engaged with pleasant on-hold music

Your company’s on-hold music should be relaxing, well modulated (not too loud or too soft), and on-brand. If you don’t have the right recording equipment, hire professionals. Otherwise, your message may end up sounding distorted and the recording may produce static. It’s a small thing, but it can spell the difference between keeping customers and driving them away.

Offer an easy way to speak to a person

To solve time-sensitive issues such as overcharged billing or an ongoing service issue, customers would rather speak to someone who can reverse a charge or file an urgent customer report. Businesses that rely too much on recorded messages that spin a complex web of voice prompts risk frustrating their customers.

Companies that deal with a large volume of inquiries can combine the efficiency of an IVR and personalized assistance by offering an option that lets callers quickly get connected to a customer service representative.

Provide clear, useful information

According to a study, 83% of customers prefer human interaction over automated channels when solving customer service issues. Nevertheless, IVRs offer an efficient way to dispense non-critical information such as business operating hours, special offers, and minor account updates.

Automated responses also offer an appreciable value to businesses that need to funnel their most important customer service calls into the right customer support channels. When deploying an IVR system, your on-hold messages should provide information that’s up-to-date, concise, and useful.

Some of these issues can be solved using advanced VoIP solutions that not only automate and upgrade your customer support functions, but also turn it into a superior messaging system that can appease unhappy clients. Call us now for VoIP solutions that will help you integrate these tips into your customer support system.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic VoIP
June 12th, 2017

Last October, Pinterest launched its first paid advertising service, “Promoted Pins,” which is geared toward large enterprises. Recently, a similar product named “DIY Promoted Pins” was released for small- and medium-sized businesses. This shows how popular social media has become in helping to establish an online presence for your business, and here are some tips to get you started.

Know your audience According to a study conducted by Ahalogy and AcuPOLL Precision Research, Inc., Pinterest is largely used by women, mostly “Millennial Moms.” If your typical customer demographic is predominantly male, your marketing efforts would probably be better spent elsewhere. But if your business caters to women between the ages 15-29, you should consider creating an online presence on Pinterest.

Think like a content marketer Users are looking for engaging content, which is why 59% of active Pinterest users go for Pins that lead to blog posts, articles, and even photos. The most popular topics on the platform are more visual (e.g., food, fashion, decor, etc.), so if you don't have highly visual content, then infographics, images from blog entries, and even photos of staff members also do the trick.

Look for inspiration Getting stuck in a creative rut happens to the best of us, so check out the boards that are saving your Pins to get some fresh insight. There's a good chance that people saving your Pins have related content that can help you gain insight into what your typical customer is interested in. Not only that, it also helps you identify trends and come up with new ideas for a marketing campaign.

Categorize your boards By creating and properly labeling multiple boards -- one for each of your products or services -- your users are able to engage not only with your general content but also with content they’re more interested in.

Determine posting frequency Excessive pinning might overwhelm or simply annoy your audience, but not pinning enough might cause followers to lose interest. Create a posting schedule and gauge audience reaction before making any changes to the frequency of Pins.

In order to surpass the stiff competition, you’ll need all the help you can get, and that includes social media marketing. If you have any questions about Pinterest and how it can help your business grow, don’t hesitate to give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
June 9th, 2017

When your employees seek your IT security staff’s help to fix their personal computer (PC) problems, it’s often perceived as a productive use of everyone’s time. After all, employees must have working computers and IT professionals are expected to resolve any technology issues. What doesn’t get acknowledged, however, is that instead of troubleshooting technical problems, your technology support staff could be spending their time on more productive tasks.

Cost of fixes

According to a survey of technology professionals, companies waste as much as $88,660 of their yearly IT budget as a result of having security staff spend an hour or more per work week fixing colleagues’ personal computers. The ‘wasted amount’ was based on an average hourly salary of IT staff multiplied by 52 weeks a year. Other than knowing how much time is wasted, what makes things worse is that IT security staff are among the highest paid employees in most companies.

The fixes have mostly to do with individual rather than department- or company-wide computer problems that don’t necessarily benefit the entire company. The resulting amount is especially staggering for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) whose limited resources are better off spent on business intelligence tools and other network security upgrades.

Other costs

All those hours spent on fixing personal computers often means neglecting security improvements. The recent WannaCry ransomware attacks, which successfully infected 300,000 computers in 150 countries, demonstrate the dangers of failing to update operating system security patches on time. It should be a routine network security task that, if ignored, can leave your business helpless in the face of a cyber attack as formidable as WannaCry. It didn’t make much money, but had it been executed better, its effects would have been more devastating to businesses, regardless of size.

Profitable projects could also be set aside because of employees’ PC issues. For SMBs with one or two IT staff, this is especially detrimental to productivity and growth. They can easily increase their IT budgets, but if employees’ negligible computer issues keep occurring and systems keep crashing, hiring extra IT personnel won’t do much good.

What businesses should do

The key takeaway in all this is: Proactive IT management eliminates the expenditure required to fix problematic computers. Bolstering your entire IT infrastructure against disruptive crashes is the first step in avoiding the wasteful use of your staff’s time and your company’s money.

Even if your small business has the resources to hire extra staff, the general shortage of cyber security skills also poses a problem. Ultimately, the solution shouldn’t always have to be increasing manpower, but rather maximizing existing resources.

Having experts proactively maintain your IT eliminates the need to solve recurring small issues and lets your staff find a better use for technology resources. If you need non-disruptive technology, call us today for advice.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
June 7th, 2017

The chances of your business being hit by a hurricane are slim. But this year, the odds are actually alarming -- the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts up to four unusually active hurricanes. If you don’t want to fall victim to data loss and tarnish your business’s reputation in the process, read on.

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

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

1. Schedule a DR drill

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

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

2. Make sure your staff are prepared

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

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

3. Secure your backup site

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

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

4. Check for amenities at your DR site

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

5. Update your DR plan’s appendix

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
May 30th, 2017

Amazon is setting its sights on the VoIP market again and will use its Alexa technology to launch a new phone system. Based on a new patent, users of Amazon’s artificial intelligence (AI) devices might soon be able to enjoy a smart speaker and phone in one. This won’t be the eCommerce giant’s first attempt at launching a wireless phone system, but this time it seems that they’re taking the time to develop the technology. Read on to find out more.

How it works

Amazon’s 3D-enabled Fire Phone was its first attempt at launching a smartphone, but it failed to set the mobile phone market ablaze. Based on the company’s recent voice-controlled phone patent, they are developing a smarter and more practical wireless phone technology, which will be integrated into their successful smart speaker devices, Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show.

The system will work by linking a mobile number to the Alexa devices, which would have a mechanism for notifying the user of incoming calls, answering calls via the smart speaker itself, as well as placing calls by giving commands to Alexa. What makes the Alexa-powered devices a compelling phone system is its ability to identify users based on a voice recognition system already built into the devices.

Note, however, that the mobile carrier would still be providing the communication service, with the Alexa device serving only as a medium, which is how most VoIP communications works.

What it means for your business

Amazon’s Alexa-powered devices are attractive for their voice-control technology. Although they did not pioneer it, they integrated it with devices that allowed them to go beyond what other AI devices can do. The Echo Dot, for instance, is especially useful to those who use a variety of Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled devices, such as lights, switches, and TVs, to name just a few.

Its voice recognition capabilities are also a cut above the rest, being able to recognize voice and adopt your speech patterns the more you use it. It can also serve as an all-around assistant in a room or in any office setting, helping you check the weather, send a message, or provide calendar event updates.

As Amazon develops its voice recognition technology for its Alexa-powered phones, it can be expected that this same technology would make it a formidable home or office phone system that can easily find contacts, screen callers, or conveniently set up conference calls -- all by voice command. But as of now, Amazon’s patent is in the early stages of development.

There are plenty of communication options for your business, and although there’s nothing quite like the Alexa phones yet, there are plenty of viable substitutes that can suit your business’s communication needs. Call us today for VoIP option recommendations.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic VoIP
May 25th, 2017

No one can escape the news of WannaCry. The IT industry has been covering this type of malware for years, but never has one campaign spread so far or infected so many computers. Read on to gain a greater understanding of what happened and how to prepare yourself for the inevitable copy cats.

Ransomware review

Ransomware is a specific type of malware program that either encrypts or steals valuable data and threatens to erase it or release it publicly unless a ransom is paid. We’ve been writing about this terrifying threat for years, but the true genesis of ransomware dates all the way back to 1989.

This form of digital extortion has enjoyed peaks and troughs in popularity since then, but never has it been as dangerous as it is now. In 2015, the FBI reported a huge spike in the popularity of ransomware, and healthcare providers became common targets because of the private and time-sensitive nature of their hosted data.

The trend got even worse, and by the end of 2016 ransomware had become a $1 billion-a-year industry.

The WannaCry ransomware

Although the vast majority of ransomware programs rely on convincing users to click compromised links in emails, the WannaCry version seems to have spread via more technical security gaps. It’s still too early to be sure, but the security experts at Malwarebytes Labs believe that the reports of WannaCry being transmitted through phishing emails is simply a matter of confusion. Thousands of other ransomware versions are spread through spam email every day and distinguishing them can be difficult.

By combining a Windows vulnerability recently leaked from the National Security Agency’s cyber arsenal and some simple programming to hunt down servers that interact with public networks, WannaCry spread itself further than any malware campaign has in the last 15 years.

Despite infecting more than 200,000 computers in at least 150 countries, the cyberattackers have only made a fraction of what you would expect. Victims must pay the ransom in Bitcoins, a totally untraceable currency traded online. Inherent to the Bitcoin platform is a public ledger, meaning anyone can see that WannaCry’s coffers have collected a measly 1% of its victims payments.

How to protect yourself for what comes next

Part of the reason this ransomware failed to scare users into paying up is because it was so poorly made. Within a day of its release, the self-propagating portion of its programming was brought to a halt by an individual unsure of why it included a 42-character URL that led to an unregistered domain. Once he registered the web address for himself, WannaCry stopped spreading.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t help the thousands that were already infected. And it definitely doesn’t give you an excuse to ignore what cybersecurity experts are saying, “This is only the beginning.” WannaCry was so poorly written, it’s amazing it made it as far as it did. And considering it would’ve made hundreds of millions of dollars if it was created by more capable programmers, your organization needs to prepare for the next global cyberattack.

Every single day it should be your goal to complete the following:

  • Thorough reviews of reports from basic perimeter security solutions. Antivirus software, hardware firewalls, and intrusion prevention systems log hundreds of amateur attempts on your network security every day; critical vulnerabilities can be gleaned from these documents.
  • Check for updates and security patches for every single piece of software in your office, from accounting apps to operating systems. Computers with the latest updates from Microsoft were totally safe from WannaCry, which should be motivation to never again click “Remind me later.”
  • Social engineering and phishing may not have been factors this time around, but training employees to recognize suspicious links is a surefire strategy for avoiding the thousands of other malware strains that threaten your business.
Revisiting these strategies every single day may seem a bit much, but we’ve been in the industry long enough to know that it takes only one mistake to bring your operations to a halt. For daily monitoring and support, plus industry-leading cybersecurity advice, call us today.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
May 23rd, 2017

Both businesses and individuals across dozens of countries are scrambling to fix their computer systems after a ransomware, named WannaCry, caused major disruptions earlier this month. Like most ransomware, WannaCry encrypts files and demands a Bitcoin payment for their release. What’s worse, more WannaCry variants will likely be developed in the near future, according to security researchers. Fortunately, there are some common strategies you can use to mitigate the damage of the ransomware.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
May 16th, 2017

With a quick Google search, numerous VoIP distributors instantly appear. The problem is knowing whether they will meet your business’s needs. To attract consumers, these professionals throw around superlatives such as 'the best' or 'world-class' -- but that doesn’t always mean they are. Before committing to a distributor, here are some things you should take into consideration:

Highly-trained technical support A good VoIP distributor will provide technical support both before and after the sale. But a great VoIP distributor will offer highly skilled, well-trained, and certified support. Make sure your distributor’s IT team has been trained on the latest advances in VoIP technology and has obtained the appropriate certifications.

Provisioning capabilities Provisioning means providing service to the user. This includes the hardware, wiring, transmitting the voice and data, and especially the final configuration. It can also refer to configuring the hardware and software in order to provide service. In other words, when a device is provisioned, it works. Ask your potential distributor how many stations and ports they have available, and whether or not they offer custom provisioning packages.

API services Check whether your VoIP distributor offers Advanced API services. Short for Application Program Interface, an API is a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications that specify how software components should interact. It helps streamline your ordering process and ensures your hardware will arrive correctly provisioned on your service platform.

Training programs Before committing to any VoIP distributor, be sure to check their educational resources. How often do they offer webinars on new products? Do they provide training and educational material on their websites and product portals? Also, check whether your VoIP distributor will create custom training materials for you and your customers.

Remember, a VoIP distributor that offers a complete suite of telephony services helps you overcome your business's phone service obstacles and lets you better serve your customers.

For more information, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic VoIP
May 10th, 2017

As the technology that recognizes and thwarts malware becomes more advanced, hackers are finding it much easier to trick overly trusting humans to do their dirty work for them. Known as social engineering, it’s a dangerous trend that is becoming increasingly prevalent. Read on to educate yourself on how to avoid the most recent scam and those that came before it.

Broadly defined, “phishing” is any form of fraud in which an attacker tries to learn information such as login credentials or account information by masquerading as a reputable entity or person in email, IM or other communication channels.

These messages prey on users who click links, images and buttons without thoroughly investigating where they lead to. Sometimes the scam is as simple as an image with a government emblem on it that links to a website containing malware. Just hovering your mouse over the image would be enough to see through it. But some phishing schemes are far more difficult to recognize.

The Google Defender scam

Recently, an email spread to millions of Gmail accounts that almost perfectly imitated a message from Google. The text read:

“Our security system detected several unexpected sign-in attempts on your account. To improve your account safety use our new official application “Google Defender”.

Below that was a button to “Install Google Defender”. What made this scheme so hard to detect is that the button actually links to a totally legitimate site...within Google’s own framework. When third-party app developers create Gmail integrations, Google directs users to an in-house security page that essentially says, “By clicking this you are giving Google Defender access to your entire inbox. Are you sure you want to do this?”

Even to wary users, the original message looks like it came from Google. And the link took them to a legitimate Google security page -- anyone could have fallen for it. The Gmail team immediately began assuring users that they were aware of the scam and working on eradicating it and any potential copycats.

There’s no happy ending to this story. Although vendors and cybersecurity experts were able to respond to the crisis on the same day it was released, millions of accounts were still affected. The best way to prepare your business is with thorough employee training and disaster recovery plans that are prepared to respond to a breach. To find out how we can protect your business, call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security