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Archive for April, 2010

“To Cloud or not to Cloud” your data

Ok, we’ll admit that our title is a bit of a cheesy Shakespearian appropriation, but it is a very good question that needs to be examined as part of your data and IT strategies.

Your data is critical for the continuing operation of your business. So considering where and how it is stored and how accessible it is has a real impact on the efficiency and resilience of your business.

The “cloud” refers to the growing number of software and data storage services that are now offered remotely. You can store all your data online and you can run a lot of the applications you need directly from the web rather than by software installed on your personal computers.  Let’s examine the key pros and cons of a cloud IT strategy and we will describe a practical example.  This assumes that you have a high quality “cloud” services provider.

PROS:

  • Storing your data on the cloud improves the resilience of your business as your data is safe from any physical disaster that may affect your firm.
  • Storing your data on the cloud can eliminate the need for local back-up and simplify your daily office operations.
  • Using web delivered applications can cost less when you have a small number of users for a specific application.
  • Using web delivered applications ensures that everyone is on the same and the latest version of the software you use.
  • Using web delivered applications can extend the life of your personal computers as the processing is done on the web.

CONS:

  • There are unresolved privacy issues when you store your data on the “cloud”.  While Canada has made an effort to sort out IT privacy issues, the situation is less clear in the US.  It is likely that a copy of your data will end up on a US server and it could be subpoenaed by their authorities (view a great article on this particular point HERE).  This is a potential problem if your business owns Intellectual Property or sensitive customer data.
  • Web delivered applications will consume more bandwidth and require excellent internet connections to deliver a friendly user experience.
  • A corollary of the point above is that your may suffer business stoppages if your internet service is interrupted.
  • Costs of web delivered applications can be higher if you have a large number of users.

An example:  Hosted Exchange Server

One of the services we like when conditions are right is migrating from your existing email system to a Hosted Exchange Service.  Email is a critical function of your firm and Microsoft’s Exchange Server is the most common business platform for email.

Solving email problems is a common request from our clients.  Usually the problems are caused by an overloaded local server, by different versions of Outlook running on different generations of PCs, or by poor back-up practices of the PST files Outlook uses, and by users Outlook files that exceed the capacity of the local version of the software.  Moving to a Hosted Exchange service solves all these problems and usually for a very reasonable cost.

We hoped these thoughts help and answer some basic questions about “cloud” computing.  Please feel welcome to contact us if you have any additional questions.

Have a successful week …

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HP buys Palm for $1.2B US

This is quite the development in the Smart Phone industry …

HP’s arch-rival Dell is getting into the Smart Phone market as well which makes this seem like quite a natural acquisition on their part. Now Palm will have a parent company with deep pockets that can dump huge $$$’s into R&D.

Look for some pretty cool innovations with the Palm platform in the future …

More and more of our daily activities will be pushed out to mobile devices … whether that be Banking, Buying Tickets for Events, Making Dinner Reservations, Food Shopping…etc..etc… so whenever a major player like this shows up it makes everyone stand up and take notice.

They say that “a rising tide lifts all boats” and perhaps a purchase like this by HP will only serve to raise the bar for all the players in the market like Apple and RIM and others …

Exciting times!!

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You may be wondering whether or not you should participate in online networks.  Hopefully we can simplify things for you.  One thing is sure – a business person can’t ignore online networking anymore.  Let us oversimplify/review this by grouping online networking in three categories:

  • tools for friends and family networking like Facebook and MySpace
  • tools for business networking and tools like LinkedIn
  • tools for self expression like blogging and Twitter

Friends and Family

If you have family or friends at a distance or that you can’t see often you will likely find real value in these networks.  You can set up your profile with settings that will protect your privacy and if you are prudent with the information and photos you share you will find here tools that will actually bring your family and friends closer.  This is the paradox of these tools.  They do not reduce interactions they actually increase contact frequency.  That’s the main reason over 300 million people use Facebook (which is our preferred tool in this category is for its reach and simpler interface.)

Let me share an example from one of our clients.  Their families are spread from coast to coast and they have friends on four continents.  As participants post updates and photos other friends and family can see what is happening with the people they care for.  One grandmother in her 80s can stay in touch with the activities of fourteen grand kids dispersed all over North America.  To her this is far more relevant and interesting than the negative news on TV.  The benefit is significant to have this family better aware of each other.  There is an intimacy and a closeness that just does not happen with sporadic phone calls, letters or emails.  So we recommend using this tool wisely.  Keep your settings private and ignore all the “applications” (games, horoscopes etc.) that post how you did for all your friends to see.  These updates are annoying and dilute the value you get otherwise.

Business Networking

Here our recommended tool is LinkedIn.  You can build a profile with the explicit purpose of growing your business and what is referred today as your personal brand.  This is a highly valuable business tool.  First your profile will establish your credibility.  Second your connections (as they are called on LinkedIn) will be expanded exponentially as you can tap in the network of your connections for all kinds of business purposes.  You will also find an immense pool of highly competent talent for free.  You can ask questions of all types to help your business and other members of LinkedIn will provide their best advice.  You thank them by identifying the best responses which helps build the credibility of the responder.  You can tap into some of the best business minds of the world for free.

Here is another example shared by a client of MDB.  They recently were contemplating awarding a contract to a consultant they had never done business with before.  When they looked at the profile of the person, they discovered that they shared several connections.  Our client was able to quickly obtain references that reassured them about the calibre of the person.  In just a few minutes, our client reduced the uncertainty of his decision.  The consultant got a nice pay-off for having made the effort of building his profile.

Self-Expression

Blogging is setting up a public web site where you will share your thoughts.  From a business perspective a blog may be a very powerful way to establish your expertise and attract business.  Search engines will lead readers to your blog if your content is relevant to their search.  With time you may develop a following where people subscribe to be warned each time you write something new.  Blogging is a big commitment.  Blogs get quickly stale if no new material is added.  Our preferred tool is Word Press but there are many others.  Twitter, in our opinion, is a mini blog where each entry is limited to 140 characters.  In business, it is useful if you work in an ultrafast industry where updates regarding need to get out fast.

—–

I am not aware of a client of MDB blogging extensively for business at this time but you will find numerous examples if you search key words related to your industry.  And if you do not find a good blog – maybe it is an opportunity for you to be the first and increase your online visibility that way.  Two Twitter business stories show the value of the tool in the right context.  Dell computer uses Twitter  to announce sales of heavily discounted or refurbished equipment for rapid sales.

They attribute millions of dollars in sales to this marketing tool.  Another well known example is how the CEO of Zappo’s, the online shoe store acquired by Amazon last year for several hundred million dollars, used Twitter to communicate to his staff hundreds of times daily to keep the pace of the business ultra rapid and to make the firm extremely responsive to its clients.  The fast growth, profitability and successful sale to Amazon are testimony to how a tool like Twitter can add significant value to business.

We hope this will help you add value to your business.

Happy online networking!

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Last week I attended an Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce event called “Sociable!” … I knew it was an event where they would be discussing the impact of Social Media on the Sales and Marketing side of your business …

Up to that point, I must admit, I had always viewed social media as being mainly the realm of teenagers and people who just had a lot of time on their hands. I knew from seeing advertisements on Facebook, for instance, that there was “some” business application for it but in the end I had to admit that I just didn’t know the whole story of what it “could” do for my business …

This event seemed like the perfect opportunity to “jump right in” and learn something so with an open mind and a desire to learn I went to the event …. What’s funny is that I decided before I left for the event that I would buy whatever book they had there so I could take it, read it offline and study it cover to cover as I find that “diving right in” is a great way to learn!!

The event itself was great and it was too bad that Shane and Stephen didn’t have more time to talk as this was clearly a bigger topic than the hour or so they had to speak allowed them to explore every topic. It was just enough information however that I was eager to get back and start reading the book so I left the event and started to read that evening and was hooked right away…

CHAPTER 1

Right off the bat they come out with the statement “Burn Your Business Card” which talked about how we really need to examine the way we interact with clients and how we traditionally “do marketing and sales”. One of the great nuggets I took away from this is that the concept of “Drip Marketing” where we subject our clients to a steady drip of communication in the hopes of landing them is a labour intensive and expensive process whereas the “Reverse Drip” espouses that we concentrate on creating great content and really showing that we “care” by talking about what’s important to our clients and contacts and not necessarily to us. If we show that we care about what’s important to those around us this creates trust and relationships and people will eventually “come to us” for information …. The main point I got is this … “Spend time creating relationships and connections … the business opportunity will come later”

CHAPTER 2

This chapter talked about the different levels of engagement in Social Media and how to understand where people are at when formulating your Social Media strategy. It also had encouragement to try and become a “thought leader” and not just sound like everyone else…. The main point I got is this … “Create cool, informative and passion filled information so that it’s attractive to others and they will want to share it”

CHAPTER 3

Social Media Phobia is a very real fear for alot of people … or in my case was more a complete lack of understanding of what is possible. People will naturally retreat to what is familiar around them and what they feel is “safe” …  This chapter mentioned a very interesting point in that “a phobia is an irrational fear or anxiety built around, amongst other things, an untruth”  There is a very real fear of losing control, what’s my ROI, what about security, will people listen…etc…etc…

The main point I got from this chapter is this … “Leave your preconceived notions at the door about what you “think” social media is all about and open your mind to the possibilities and then see if there was anything to be afraid or concerned about”

CHAPTER 4

Ahhhh yes … in any new venture where you are coming into an existing party you need to understand the “Rules Of Engagement” … When you are first starting out in this new sales and marketing process you want to make sure that you understand how to best position your self for success … There are some excellent points made in this chapter such as “Stop Pitching and Start Connecting” and “It’s Not About You” amongst many others ….

The main point I learned … “Understand the rules before you start the game and learn from those who have been doing this a long time”

CHAPTER 5

This chapter talked about how your blog should really become your home base and should really be structured like a conversation with participants. You blog about something interesting and informative, people comment on it either positively or negatively and you engage them in “conversation” and everyone benefits … They key here is to just get started, be consistent and always listen to what people are saying and adjust accordingly..

CHAPTER 6

Online Video Blogging is discussed in this chapter and is described as yet another way to engage the people coming to your blog. It’s described as the closest thing really to a face-to-face meeting…. Different video blog publishing mediums are laid out as well as excellent input on how to add the best possible content for your “viewers”

The key point I took from here : “Don’t feel the need to invest in expensive video equipment …. it’s the content that’s most important and not “necessarily” the quality of production”

CHAPTER 7

Micro-Blogging is presented really as an “online two way conversation” that in the end can really thaw the whole concept of a cold call. When actively engaging in Microblogger through mediums like Twitter your potential contacts get a chance to get to know you before you may even meet face to face …

As in previous chapters the key here is produce content that other people will find interesting and engaging so that they will want to follow you and see what you’re up to…

The key takeaway for me here was this “Create great and engaging content so as to make yourself interesting and followable”

CHAPTER 8

The different social media networks available to you are discussed in this chapter with the highlights of each laid out in detail.

CHAPTER 9

When you go into any new situation or social group there are always different points of etiquette that should be followed to put your presence in the best light possible. This chapter goes into great details about many social media “do’s and dont’s” but not from a lecturing standpoint as much as a “here’s how to present yourself in the best possible way” ..

The main take away for me here is this … “Once you hit enter it’s done! … Think 3 times before hitting enter once … put some thought into what you have to say and make sure you consider how what you say will be received”

CHAPTER 10

This chapter really deals with Trolls and Naysayers who will often jump into your Social Media world … Some are just looking to stir up controversy whereas some may just plain old disagree with you … You don’t need the whole world to agree with you to be effective and as well someone may be mean but they may also be right in what they say.

The key take away for me here is this : “Don’t run away from negativity … embrace it, learn from it and use it as an opportunity to learn something and possibly gain a new friend”

CHAPTER 11

There is never any better thing than a true to life, real face-to-face meeting with someone. The hard part up to this point has been to create the opportunity for that face-to-face meeting to take place. We must always be looking to leverage our social media contact into real world “toe to toe” meetups and contacts.

Different methods for using Social Media to create real-world gatherings is discussed …

Key Takeaway : “Always be looking for opportunities to get together and network with people in the real world”

CHAPTER 12

As important as it is to build your brand and build connections with people is the ability to know what people are saying about you and your company. This is an excellent chapter which outlines the many tools freely available to allow you to peek into what conversations are happening and what they are saying (positively or negatively) about you and your brand …

Access to this kind of information is invaluable to knowing how to react to an ever changing market or perhaps a new service or product you have launched

Key Takeaway : “Always seek to be aware of what the market and customers are saying”

CHAPTER 13

Now it’s time to get started … this chapter really summarizes the main points in the book and lays out an action plan for you to follow to get started in creating your Social Media strategy …

SUMMARY

As mentioned in my opening comments I went into the original seminar and the reading of this book with an open mind and a desire to learn everything I could about this subject. There’s a ton to learn here and there is the tendency to feel like you’ve “taken a sip from a fire hose” with all the information and possibilities out there.

The main nuggets I feel I received from this book are as follows:

  1. Take a second to realize what’s possible with an effective SocialMedia strategy
  2. Purpose in your mind that you “will” have some sort of presence in the Social Media universe
  3. Take the time to learn and study what’s out there
  4. Don’t think that you have to right off the bat open up 25 different account of 25 different platforms … you can start with one or two platforms and go from there and learn as you go
  5. Be open to feedback from others and tailor your approach as you go

Overall this has been an excellent book and it has really made me stop and think …. which in this fast paced world of ours is a real sign of an excellent read.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone … you can get more information about how to buy book by visiting http://www.sociablebook.com/

You can also follow the authors Shane Gibson (@shanegibson) and Stephen Jagger (@sjagger) on Twitter to learn more about them

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2010 Technology Outlook

First we’d like to wish you all the best for 2010.  One of my goals this year is to be more proactive in informing my clients and business friends about technology changes that may affect businesses.

You may have seen some news about the giant Consumer Electronic Show held in Las Vegas every year in early January.  This is the event when technology firms launch their new products.  I have selected a few technologies to watch and I am sharing a few comments.  I hope this helps and I invite you to contact me if you have any questions.

MOBILE INTERNET:

This is the year when hand held internet devices will really transform how we work.  While we have seen a number of precursor applications in the last few years, we can expect that more firms than ever will transform their workflow to integrate mobile devices.  Google’s new Android phone is challenging the iPhone and the Blackberry with new business tools.  We are seeing the ability of phones to read barcodes to access the internet or a company intranet changing production, inventory and shipping functions.  We also see geo-location (the fact that your phone knows where it is) introducing a whole new set of business tools in the areas of marketing and advertising.

E-READERS:

In December, for the first time, Amazon sold more e-books than paper books.  A number of new e-reader devices were announced this year.  Electronic paper will become common.  This will impact all businesses that have a lot of documentation or who are publishing a high volume of documents.  We also see E-text books being adopted quickly by higher educational institutions, as students rebel against the high monetary and environment price of paper text books.  E-Text books can also be quickly searched compared to shuffling the index pages of a paper book.

MANAGED SERVICES:

The routine functions of servers and workstation software maintenance can be remotely managed and executed.  IT personnel will outsourced mundane tasks like these so that they can spend their time on projects and activities that deliver more value to their employers.  This is a market area that we have entered into at the end of 2009.  Clients pay a small monthly fee per workstation or server to ensure that their equipment performs flawlessly.  The cost of technology per employee has dropped in recent years and now the best productivity value comes from making sure the equipment functions 24×7 and that there is no interruption to the work performed.

CONTINUED TECHNOLOGY PRICES REDUCTION:

The price of personal computers, servers and other IT devices keeps coming down.  This means that it is much easier (and tempting) to add new devices to increase productivity.  However this proliferation of devices is sometimes done without a proper master plan or without a clear strategy as to how it will all integrate together.  These new price points make it easier to implement a strategy that will make your firm more resilient to business interruptions.  We are still surprised at how many firms make assumptions with regards to the reliability of their backup and disaster recovery practices and unfortunately have unpleasant surprises when their servers or PCs crash.

If you see an opportunity for your firm to improve its processes with any of these changes for 2010, we will be happy to help.

Again all the best for the New Year.

Michael D. Berg
Principal – DefactoCIO

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