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Archive for May, 2010

Although we are not a web design firm we thought you might find it helpful for us to open a brief discussion regarding some web site related IT concepts.

Business/company web sites can generally be split into two types:

“Information sites” : Often referred to as brochure sites

“Business transaction sites” : Where an actual commercial transaction happens and which usually has information about products and/or services as well.

Business transaction sites come in an incredible variety and richness of client interaction.  If you own such a site, you already know more than what we plan to share today as the vast majority of our clients own a brochure type site.

Many web designers have a low opinion of brochure web sites.  We believe that this low opinion is often unwarranted and sometimes comes from the desire of the web designer to build something more challenging.  In reality a good brochure web site will suit the needs of a majority of businesses, especially if you sell Business to Business.  Most consumer sales companies would benefit from a transaction web site.  There are plenty of good firms locally that are very capable to help you design a great transaction site.

If you are selling to businesses and if the majority of your sales are dependent on personal connections and relationships, a good brochure site can suit your marketing strategy perfectly. We are IT advisors, not marketing specialists, but we know that the vast majority of your prospects will visit your web site before they visit your store or office.  Your site becomes the first impression prospects get of your business – therefore a nice site is critical for your success.  Only one more marketing comment and then we’ll discuss more technical ideas – and it is that you must make all your materials consistent with your branding, especially your web site.  Make sure you get a good marketing advisor to help you get a great brand.

Once you have a good web site you want to bring prospects to your “doorstep” just like you want prospects to come to your store or office.  You have to make it easy for them to find you.  When you design your website make sure you ask your web designers and web programmers to build your site to be “Search Engine Friendly”.  Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a combination of programming techniques and file naming practices that make it easier for search engines to direct people to your site who are looking for the services or products you offer.

Your next website tactic is to advertise so that your site is “featured” by the many different search engines available.  This means that you acquire the rights to be featured (usually on the right hand side of the list of sites created by a search).  Again we recommend getting some help from a marketing advisor as the process of getting the best return for your advertising dollar is a combination of art and science.

First you need to choose what words your prospects will use in their search for your product or service.

Second you need to acquire the rights to be featured when these words are searched.  This is usually done by a bidding process that in itself has many variations by regions, time of day, and other market segmentation considerations.

The one thing we can assure you is that in today’s world it is likely the most effective form of advertising you can use… once you have a great web site.

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I know this is a subject that can be rather contentious with alot of people. We’ve encountered all different types of opinions on this subject….

Opinions range from “I just download music and don’t really think about it” all the way to “I know it’s illegal but who cares because the musicians are rich enough and won’t miss it” …

Very quickly the lines can be drawn with with Subjective/Opinion based arguments on one side and Objective/Fact based arguments on the other side …

We find that with this subject it’s no use getting into the debate based on Subjective/Opinion based arguments because they are just that … Opinions … and you’re often spinning your wheels trying to convince people either way.

Here’s the facts that we know for sure …

1) Downloading Music that you have not paid for or that you have not been given express permission to download by the publisher or artist is illegal and is an infringement of copyright law

2) LimeWire and other file sharing services are absolute cesspools for virus and spyware activity. A simple Google search of the term “limewire virus risk” reveals many examples

These two points are not debatable and are fact …

In our company we have had many examples practically of how LimeWire and other file sharing services have propogated virus and Spyware activity to the point where it renders machines useless and they need to scrubbed and reloaded.

This ends up sometimes costing hundreds of dollars in recovery costs which sure makes $0.99 or $1.29 a song on iTunes seem pretty reasonable …

Would love your feedback on this subject … feel perfectly free to disagree and we’d love to hear your opinion!

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There are many different “pieces of the puzzle” in play when it comes to building an I.T. environment that effectively serves the needs of it’s end users …

If you were to “shadow” a typical end user in an organization, whether large or small, you would get some very interesting insight into just exactly how many separate and distinct tasks a person performs in a typical day:

  • Sending and Receiving E-Mail (both on their PC/Desktops/Laptops and their Mobile Devices)
  • Typing Documents
  • Printing
  • Accessing an accounting and/or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Application
  • Scheduling Appointments and Managing “To Do” lists …

Over time, as more and more is required of the typical end user, and businesses grow, the size and complexity of IT Environments at organizations, both Large and Small, has slowly, and sometimes quickly, increased ….

As users also become much more mobile it also adds another “wrinkle” into what needs to be considered when planning an effective IT environment …

What’s Going On In The Background …

So far we’ve only talked about the actual end user themselves. There is so much more that has to go on in the background from an IT Management standpoint in order to effectively and securely deliver these services to the end user …

It’s one thing to, for instance, offer up email services to a number of end users, but what about properly securing that email from Virus and Spam content? What about securing the content of those emails?

There’s also the issue of Backup of all the data that users will access on a day to day basis …

If there’s a system crash of some sort you have to know for sure that your data is both secure and easily recoverable in a way that minimizes business interruption …

Going Forward …

Organizations are always looking for ways to become more efficient and lean and they are looking for ways, where it makes sense, to reduce the complexity of their IT Environments, make it more secure and increase performance.

If you make cars, candy or furniture that is what you do best … you’ve invested the time, energy and resources to be the best you can at your craft and you take pride in that …

Technology is there ultimately to serve “you” … not the other way around …

There are a number of technology providers that offer services to help you reduce the complexity and increase the security of your IT Environment by hosting certain “pieces of the puzzle” offsite. These services are hosted in secure data centers where huge investments in performance and security have already been made so you don’t have to.

If you take advantage of these services the only thing you need to worry about is just connecting to the service and doing your job. There is no need to invest time and dollars yourself into all the infrastructure and security needed to deliver these services to your end users.

It all comes down to doing what you do best and letting others do what they do best …

SaaS (Software As A Service) offerings are available for E-Mail Operations and Security, Mobile Connections, ERP and Accounting Software, Office Documents and a number of other day to day business functions…

Every company and business environment is different and we recognize that and we also know that there is no cookie-cutter solution that applies to everyone…

However, if you ever find yourself not quite knowing if your data is secure, wishing performance was better or just wishing your entire IT environment was smaller and leaner then perhaps looking at a SaaS offering for certain pieces of your technology environment is a good idea, if only just to discover what options there are …

It would ultimately reduce your stress level and allow you to just concentrate on doing your job and “using” the tools as opposed to worrying about delivering, managing and securing those tools as well …

We’d love to hear your feedback on this subject and as always we’re here to help…

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Article

This is a great article because it actually touches on a number of items related to Facebook. Some of these are real issues of security and safety whereas others are issues of social appropriateness and time wasting …

It’s a good read all around ..

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Our company had a very difficult situation on our hands yesterday …one of our clients, a large hotel, had a rogue machine on their network that was spewing out Spam at such a torrid pace that Shaw (their ISP) shut down e-mail operations for the entire hotel …

This was all precipitated by an end-user getting a pop up on their workstation saying that they had hundreds of viruses on their machine and did they want to download something that would clean it…

The client clicked on the link to download what was being suggested … WHAM .. the hook was set and the machine started spewing out it’s garbage …

Tip #1 : If you ever get a prompt like this on a PC you are working on … no matter how legitimate, colorful, convincing or desperate looking do not under any circumstances click on it … call an IT professional to deal with it …

We first got wind of this issue when the client called and said they could no longer send email but could receive it just fine ..

A call to Shaw (their ISP) was made and we were informed that their “Senderbase” score was Poor and that this triggered and automatic shutdown of Outbound E-Mail (Port 25) traffic from the hotels site … This meant we had a machine on the network that had been infected with something.

We come to find out that Senderbase is the worlds largest email and web traffic monitoring network and it’s served up by Cisco who’s likely the largest provider and enterprises class security and networking products in the world.

This was an excellent tool that told us right away that we had a huge problem on our hands. We looked up the IP address assigned to the hotel by Shaw and immediately found out that we had a nearly 1200% increase in Spam traffic from that address …

Tip #2 : Try going to Senderbase and looking up the TCP/IP address assigned to your home/business and see how you rate. You can find out your TCP/IP address by going to http://www.whatismyip.com if you don’t already know it.

We managed to track down the offending machine by monitoring the Bandwidth internally and identified some major spikes in traffic from one machine in particular and we shut that machine down and will try to clean it or reformat it …

There’s some valuable things to be learned from an experience like this …. feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or feedback on this …

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Article

Let’s face it … Vista especially did not make a really great impression with much of the end-user or corporate community when it first came .. or for that matter ever since that point …

Windows 7 seems to be getting much more favorable reviews than Vista did since it’s release and seems to be much more well received than Vista does …

Well it appears that the Windows XP that we still want to hold on to because it’s familiar is leaving us more exposed to vulnerabilities than it’s successors, Vista and Windows 7 …

Check out the article link above and let us know what your experience has been …

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This article is a reprint of an article published by a business partner of ours …

We believe it makes a very good business case for considering how Software As A Service (SaaS) applications might be a good fit for you and your business.

We’d appreciate your feedback and certainly welcome any questions you might have …

——————-

Why SaaS Makes Sense in a Slow Economy

When the economy takes a downward turn, corporate IT budgets are usually one of the first casualties.  This is the case with the current recession, as evidenced by an October 2008 CIO Magazine survey in which 40 percent of 234 IT chiefs surveyed said they are cutting spending, essentially freezing new IT initiatives, if not scrapping them altogether.

However, technology is a critical element of business, and despite the current economic climate, the need for reliable IT remains the same—especially when it comes to fundamental business applications such as email or customer relationship management (CRM). As companies across all industries face tough decisions about where to put their limited dollars, here are three key reasons why the hosted or “software as a service” (SaaS) model makes a great deal of sense.

Financing

Most companies rely on some form of financing for technology purchases (hardware or software), either through a vendor-sponsored payment plan, a specialty leasing agent or a straight bank loan. When credit markets are tight, it’s difficult for many organizations, particularly smaller ones, to secure tech financing. And tight credit markets go hand in hand with a precarious economy.

On October 27, 2008 The Wall Street Journal reported a jump in defaults on tech financing loans, coming after “years in which such loans flowed freely.” During this period, lenders regularly offered tech financing for 0 percent interest or no money down to businesses with limited liquid assets—mirroring the risky (if not reckless) approach that led to the meltdown of the subprime mortgage market. And the results have been similarly disastrous. According to the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association, which represents 700 lenders, the number of equipment loans written off as losses jumped from .48 percent in September 2007 to .86 percent in 2008, a leap of nearly 80 percent.

Baytree Leasing Company LLC, which specializes in tech financings, confirmed in October 2008 that its default rate for commercial businesses is now between 1 and 1.5 percent. To give some perspective to those figures, research firm Aite Group has predicted that in Q3 2008 the percentage of real estate loans being written off as losses by the top 100 U.S. commercial banks will be around 1 percent.

As a result of the spike in defaults, specialty lenders and banks, on which companies once relied to fund their IT initiatives, are now charging higher interest rates and requiring more money down, making it much more difficult to secure financing. Long gone is the zero-interest loan. Today a standard interest rate for small businesses is hovering around 8.25 percent.

Joining banks and tech-financing businesses, hardware and software vendors that lend money directly to customers are also toughening their terms. Many now require a significant upfront payment—often up to 50 percent for software—to offset the risk of default. (Software vendors suffer more from defaults because reselling used software is illegal. Reselling used hardware is not.)

The impact of the financing crunch on smaller businesses is twofold. First, it is simply harder to secure loans. In October 2008 the CIO Executive Council reported that nearly 20 percent of 31 CIOs surveyed postponed or canceled purchases specifically because of unfavorable credit terms, demonstrating how difficult, if not impossible, it now is for many companies to implement on-premise IT deployments—and foster growth—because they just can’t afford them. And in a down economy, while overall costs are important, day-to-day cash flow is vital. That means that even when financing is available, the jump in upfront payments can be a deal breaker for many smaller companies.

Second, when money is tight, few companies want to—or can afford to—take on unnecessary risk. And for IT executives, risk comes in the form of long-term commitment to a particular hardware or software purchase. If a company is able to secure tech financing in a difficult credit market, the costs have increased, reducing the overall ROI of the technology acquisition. That translates into increased pressure for the investment to result in a successful IT initiative.

Flexibility

A word commonly used by the media in a down economy is “uncertainty.” Uncertainty about the markets. Uncertainty about employment. Uncertainty about the future. Despite endless analysis and predictions from expert (and highly paid) financial pundits, the truth is that no one really knows when things are going to get better. While the frenzied speculation keeps media outlets around the world in business, speculation is exactly what it is. In July 2008 the ever provocative Huffington Post featured a blog entry by Margaret Heffernan called “The Recession Narrative: Pundits Know Nothing.”

For smaller businesses, the one certainty about uncertainty is that it demands flexibility around IT infrastructure and applications. In this case, flexibility means the ability to accommodate growth and reductions. While in-house software can scale up as your company grows, it doesn’t work the other way around. The same goes for the associated hardware.

Take Microsoft Exchange for email. If a company with 500 employees uses an in-house Exchange server, in addition to buying all the hardware (primary and backup servers, networking equipment, storage), it must also buy 500 client access licenses (CALs ), plus pay for ongoing support. Each CAL costs around $70 and is non-refundable. As the company grows, it must purchase a new CAL for each employee, even if that person is a seasonal or temporary hire for the holidays, a common situation when businesses can’t afford to staff permanent positions. Most (if not all) employees need email accounts, regardless of how long they are going to be around to use them.

For on-premise deployments of CRM software, user licenses are even more expensive. For example, a single user license for Oracle’s Siebel CRM Professional for mid-sized companies costs $350 for a base application (sales option, service option or marketing automation). Add-on modules for additional functionality run from $60 up to $2500 per module per user, and support is an additional annual per-user fee.

If that same company suddenly needs to lay off 20 percent of its workforce, it now has 100 CALs that it can’t use, plus an undetermined number of Oracle/Siebel licenses it can’t use (assuming not every employee uses all elements of the company’s CRM system). That’s a lot of money down the drain for a smaller business, especially when money is already tight.

The flexible SaaS model, on the other hand, is based around scaling the software up or down with your business. Hosted solutions allow you to add users on demand and remove them on demand. You pay on a monthly basis only for active users. And in a down economy, the likelihood of having to lay off active users goes up, which is why this approach makes sense when business is slow.

A SaaS model also allows you to add and remove software, not just users, on demand. For example, you could lease SharePoint just for a special six-month project. Or you could decide that your business just can’t afford mobile connectivity for every user right now. In an on-premise solution, you have already paid for the functionality, so you’re in a “use it or lose it” situation. In the SaaS model, you can turn off mobile connectivity, and then turn it back on in three months when cash isn’t as tight.

The flexibility of a SaaS model also results in faster time to ROI. With in-house software, you have to buy everything, set it up, test it, etc. It may be a long time before your company sees any value from it. With SaaS, you see instant results, or at least much quicker results. This is always important, but it increases in importance in a down economy.

Staffing

While layoffs may be inevitable in a down economy, your customers will expect the same level of attention, service and quality they have always received. Successful companies recognize this and go above and beyond to preserve customer loyalty by showing them that it’s business as usual, even when it’s not.

Moving to a hosted or SaaS model allows you to reduce headcount without impacting the customer experience. How? Because it eliminates the need for expensive in-house IT experts. Going back to the example of Microsoft Exchange, proper maintenance requires at least one full-time, trained IT professional, which can easily cost six figures in annual salary and benefits. Freeing up that money will allow you to save positions that will have a direct impact on your customers.

In October 2008 the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported 2,269 companies had cut at least 50 jobs in the previous month, the highest number since the aftermath of the Sept.  11, 2001 attacks. Many economists predict that unemployment will jump from the current 6.1 percent to near 8 or 8.5 percent by the end of 2009, resulting in the highest unemployment rate the country has seen in more than 20 years.

While the accuracy of those predictions has yet to be determined, the current reality is bleak enough.  When layoffs are unavoidable, a SaaS model can help preserve the positive experience your customers have with your company.

Conclusion

In any economy, there’s no question that SaaS solutions are a smart option for smaller companies. They can be up and running quickly. They don’t require a degree in computer science to administer. They are reliable. They can scale with your business. They even reduce your organization’s impact on the environment.

In a recession, however, the benefits of SaaS are even more pronounced. While budgets everywhere are being squeezed or cut, businesses must continue to operate, and essential business applications such as email or CRM simply can’t be compromised if companies are to stay competitive. Neither can productivity or customer service. This puts a great deal of pressure on companies to spend their money wisely. When every penny counts more than it ever has, the cost structure and flexibility of hosted solutions, along with the fact that they don’t require expensive in-house IT expertise, make the SaaS model  an especially wise choice.

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