Blog

May 12th, 2015

BusinessIntelligence_May12_AMost companies measure and gauge their performance and success by analyzing data. And the fact that we humans are visual creatures means our ability to interpret visual data tends to be far greater than with written words. This is the reason most businesses turn to dashboards as a business intelligence tool to present data in a way that’s easy to understand. Dashboards have become a critical part of any analytics process. Here are some common uses of dashboards across various business functions.

Marketing insights

The marketing department in an organization typically analyzes a significant amount of data from various channels. Whether the purpose is to forecast monthly sales, predict trends, or build marketing strategies, marketing officers need to compare, sort, and analyze raw data in order to present it in an understandable format using dashboards. Once raw data has been polished into meaningful information and presented to business executives, key decision makers are able to make choices based on that information.

Tracking sales opportunities

Sales dashboards are perfect for tracking various products and services throughout their lifecycle. With sales dashboards, you can identify sales opportunities by monitoring top-selling products and comparing the growth in revenue on a periodical basis. The implementation of sales dashboards eliminates the need to spend hours manually entering data and preparing sales reports, spreadsheets, charts, and manual data.

Social media management

There’s more to social media management than posting regularly on your business’s social media accounts. And in most cases, the default dashboard offered by your social media platform doesn’t give you a deep insight into your social media campaigns. What’s more, managing multiple social media accounts can quickly become a cumbersome process since you have to use several login credentials. That’s where dashboards come in. You can manage your accounts all at once through a comprehensive social media dashboard, saving you valuable time and effort.

Financial reports

Presenting financial data is so complex that, if not handled by competent employees, will often lead to misinterpretation and misunderstanding of critical data. Dashboards make creating financial reports much easier, and financial analysts can take advantage of dashboards to display sensitive data in a comprehensible graphical format - be it customer invoices, progress toward revenue goals, or business expenses.

Project collaboration

Businesses of all sizes require their employees to collaborate on projects, whether it’s on-site or online. Project supervisors need to get their teams together, in order to give them an insight of the projects’ requirements, deadlines and responsibilities, and to learn about the projects’ progress. With the help of project collaboration dashboards, members will see the complete workflow of the project, allowing for a more efficient and collaborative working environment.

Dashboards can truly take away the complications of presenting complex business data. If you’re looking to implement business intelligence tools to simplify your company’s data analysis process, drop us a line today and we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 11th, 2015

SocialMedia_May11_AIt has surely been a long time coming, and now it is official - the days of advertising-free conversations on Facebook Messenger are numbered. The social networking giant has confirmed that its private messaging service, a recent addition to its suite as a standalone app, is to become supported by advertising. While the move is unlikely to prove popular with ordinary users, it marks an interesting development for social media observers and presents new marketing opportunities to businesses. Here’s what you need to know.

As well as Facebook Messenger, which the company has definitively announced will feature advertisements, it looks likely that WhatsApp will also become ad-supported. Facebook acquired WhatsApp in February 2014 for $22 billion, despite the company only generating 2013 revenues of $10.2 million and overall making a net annual loss of $138.1 million. At the time, Mark Zuckerberg indicated that the company would not seek to monetize either service until they had reached a billion users, while WhatsApp founder and CEO said that the plan remained for the app to focus for several years on growth rather than monetization.

The latest announcements appear to signal a change in those tactics. While there has so far been no concrete decision on the form that advertising in either app would take, the intention appears to be for Facebook Messenger to test the water, with WhatsApp following its lead once a successful formula has been found. Executives have suggested that they wish to explore alternatives to conventional banner ads. They have also reinforced the message that the two apps, which seek to serve different purposes and audiences, will remain independent of one another.

The sheer number of users now communicating on the WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger platforms each month is testament to the value that Facebook could drive from placing advertisements on the services. Unlike its main site, which serves advertisements, the Facebook Messenger app currently makes no profit. Until now, WhatsApp’s only revenue stream has been the nominal $0.99 annual subscription fee it collects from users after a year’s free trial - and the service remains completely free in developing countries outside of Europe and North America. But for businesses, too, the potential of advertising on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp provides exciting new marketing opportunities and the chance to interact more closely with both potential and existing customers.

Learn more about using Facebook and other networks - both for advertising and wider social media marketing - to grow your business; give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
May 8th, 2015

Web_May8_AWhatsApp has quickly become the world’s leading mobile instant messaging app. Launched in 2009, the service now boasts over 700 million active monthly users, and has hopes to increase that to a billion. But one feature that WhatsApp enthusiasts have been hoping for some time is the ability to use the system to chat on desktop and laptop devices. Now, at last that’s possible, with the recent launch of WhatsApp’s web-based chat client. So here’s the scoop on what this development means and some tips on how to get in on the action.

To get started with WhatsApp Web, you’ll need to open a QR code on the WhatsApp website on your desktop computer and then scan it in WhatsApp on your Android, BlackBerry, Nokia or Windows Phone mobile device. That’s right - for reasons unknown (WhatsApp puts it down to “Apple platform limitations”), users of Apple mobile devices running iOS are as yet unable to access the web client, and it’s not clear when that will change (though, as ever, hacks have emerged to make this possible).

The other drawback is that the web chat client is only available within Google Chrome, Firefox and Opera - but if you’re currently using another browser, that’s easily achieved with a quick switch. Once you’ve scanned the QR code, which identifies your mobile WhatsApp account to the web client so that the two can be synced up, you’re ready to get on with chatting on the web - whether that’s for work or pleasure.

The web client acts as an extension of the mobile app, meaning that those conversations you’ve started on your phone are mirrored across to the web but not actually stored there - all data remains on the phone. This means that, in order for the web client to work, your phone needs to remain connected to the internet in order for remote access to those chats to be possible. In addition, to be able to use the service at all, you need to ensure that your phone is equipped with the latest version of WhatsApp.

WhatsApp is growing in significance for businesses, the service recently having added VoIP calling capabilities. Get in touch with us to find out how to make it work for you.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Web
May 7th, 2015

164_HW_AGoogle’s new Chromebook, the Pixel, is finally here. Those who’ve been patiently awaiting its arrival, or are curious about giving it a try, might be wondering about the pros and cons of this new laptop. We’ve taken the time to break it down for you and list the important features you need to know about when considering whipping out that credit card.

Pros

Slim and lightweight - who doesn’t love a sleek, compact new computer that’s easy to pack up and take with you on the go? The Pixel weighs in at 3.3 pounds and is only 0.6 inches thick. If portability is something you’re looking for in a laptop, then the Pixel is certainly an attractive option.

High-resolution touch screen - want a hi-res screen that’s more advanced than Apple’s latest offering? The Pixel doesn’t disappoint and surpasses the latest MacBook with a high-resolution touchscreen that is 13 inches, 239-pixel-per-inch.

Battery life - For people on the go, battery life is one of the main considerations when choosing a laptop. And in this respect, the Pixel truly delivers. Not only does it promise 12 hours of battery life when fully charged, but it can also charge up to two hours of battery in just 15 minutes.

USB Type C ports - still scratching your head wondering how the Pixel’s battery is able to charge so quickly? The USB Type C ports are what gives it this ability. Additionally, these ports speed up data transfers.

Cons

Price Tag - for a computer that relies heavily on a working internet connection, many users may question the $999 price tag. With previous versions of the Chromebook costing less than $200, it might be hard to justify purchasing the new version when it still has relatively limited capabilities.

Lack of storage space - when it comes to storage space, the Pixel only offers 32 and 64GB options. To help users swallow this deficiency more easily, the company is offering a free terabyte of storage on Google drive for three years. For those who want to create and edit documents on Google Docs, this is a near perfect solution. But for those who would like to actually edit and create documents on the Pixel itself, their options are limited. Downloading the familiar Microsoft Word, as well as other other apps and software, is not possible.

There’s little doubt that the Pixel’s new features, design and capabilities are impressive. But at the end of the day, it’s still a Chromebook - meaning it will be as heavily reliant on the internet as its predecessors are. And you have to ask yourself, is a Chromebook - regardless of features - really worth $1,000? Ask yourself what you'd really be using it for, how often you work offline and whether you're getting good value when compared with other laptops on the market.

Have more questions about the Pixel or other new hardware on the market? Give us a call and talk with one of our qualified hardware consultants.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
May 6th, 2015

Productivity_May6_AIt’s late afternoon - you’re working on your desktop computer, providing live support to one of your clients. Suddenly your screen goes black and your Internet connection drops. Too bad your IT department announces that it will take several hours to restore power. Sometimes disturbances like sudden power outages can impair your business reputation and productivity. Consider applying the following tips to keep your productivity humming during power blackouts.

Install a UPS for each computer

A UPS (uninterrupted power supply), is an alternative, emergency power source. During a power outage, your computer will turn itself off automatically as there's no power. UPS prevents that by running your computer off its own battery. If you’re working on a file when a power blackout occurs, UPS is especially helpful. It can only buy your computer a few minutes of time at most, but that’s enough time to save vital files and power down. If you still need Internet access, try another method we’ve listed below.

Find a Wi-Fi connection

The advancements in technology made it possible for you to take your work outside the office. You can resume your business activities and Internet connectivity by using the mobile data plan from your smartphone or tablets, and then access your files via cloud storage and file sharing applications. If you don’t have a data plan, then head to the nearest Wi-Fi-friendly place to continue your work, such as a coffee shop. VoIP software installed on your portable devices can help you to connect to your clients efficiently.

Make good use of your batteries

Now is not the time to browse social media or play games. When you take your work offline, it’s best to preserve your devices’ batteries by doing only important tasks and turning off power-sucking applications. Buy an extra charging device to extend your battery life, if necessary.

Finish offline tasks

When no Internet connection is available, you can take the time to clear off any neglected offline duties, whether it’s clearing up desks or arranging files and documents. You can even gather a team to brainstorm new ideas for projects, or discuss any ongoing issues within your organization.

Work from home

If a power outage renders your employees helpless in their duties, then sending them home with a business laptop won’t hurt, if they’re able to continue their work from there. There are many ways to keep them accountable without being intrusive and, as long as they are making progress in their jobs and are able maintain their professional integrity, there’s not much to complain about. Make sure telecommuting is only allowed when necessary though - working alongside colleagues and sharing ideas face-to-face is still one of the best ways to induce productivity.

Achieving power-free productivity is possible when you have a plan prepared for the situation. For more productivity tips to boost your business’s bottom line, give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
May 6th, 2015

BBBLOUISVILLE, KY – CisCom Solutions is proud to announce that the company has been certified by Better Business Bureau (BBB) as an Accredited Business. To receive the designation, CisCom met accreditation standards that contribute to BBB’s vision of an ethical marketplace built on trust between businesses and consumers. Accreditation is by invitation only and to be considered, companies must have an existing A+ rating with BBB.

The company joins a short list of accredited businesses in the Computer Networking and Design category for the Better Business Bureau serving Louisville, Southern Indiana, and Western Kentucky. To receive accreditation, companies must demonstrate qualities including honesty, transparency, responsiveness and integrity in the marketplace.

The A+ rating from BBB was earned thanks in part to CisCom’s reputation for upstanding business conduct. BBB also determined that when presented with disputes, CisCom displayed consistency by responding and resolving situations in good faith.

CisCom President and CEO David Ely said, “The Standards of BBB Accreditation mesh well with the foundational ethics at the core of our company’s culture. BBB is a highly respected organization and we are honored to be recognized as a business that has been proven to meet their Code of Business Practices. CisCom will proudly display the highly regarded BBB logo as a symbol of our ongoing commitment to a best-in-class customer experience.”

Topic Article
May 5th, 2015

164_BizV_AFor many businesses, social media is the the wild frontier of marketing. More and more companies are jumping on the bandwagon but it can seem a lawless place. This is why many newcomers tend to waffle around with no clear strategy and call it quits if they're not making fast progress. But while it's true that social media can seem challenging when you’re first getting started, it pays dividends if you're willing to put in a little time and effort. This is why we’ve put together some practical tips that will help you measure your social media ROI more easily.

Why it’s difficult to track social media ROI

The reason many business owners find it difficult to track social media ROI is because they don’t understand the purpose of the platforms from the perspective of traditional marketing. It's all too easy to expect immediate payoffs and profits, not to mention increased business. But while social media itself moves and changes fast, businesses should remember it still takes time to increase brand recognition, build relationships and enhance a company's reputation, whatever the platform. It is brand recognition that produces more sales in the long run. So don't lose heart if you are not making progress in the first couple of months. If you play the longer game, you'll enjoy more success.

So how do you measure ROI?

It comes down to tracking everything you can, including:
  • Online purchases
  • Online contact forms
  • Video views
  • E-book Downloads
  • Social interactions (this includes Facebook likes, Twitter follows and more)

To track these, you can use any or all of the three methods below.

Tagging Urls

Tagging a URL is basically adding a “tag” or more characters/words to the end of the original URL. Below are two examples of a normal URL and tagged URL:

Normal URL: www.AllstarIT.com/harddrive.html.

Tagged version of the same URL: www.AllstartIT.com/harddrive.htm?utmcampaign=BannerAdharddriveAd&utm_small=BannerAd

Adding this tag allows you to easily track which of your social media campaigns are producing the desired results. Without doing this, you run the risk of of all your social media visitors being recognized as organic, rather than ones that have come from a specific campaign or strategy you’re implementing. An excellent tool to build your unique URL is Google’s URL builder.

Google Analytics

This is the most obvious strategy for tracking your social media campaigns, and Google has long been the market leader in tracking the success of online marketing. A Google Analytics account can be set up in a matter of minutes, and then makes it easy to track your campaigns. Go to Acquisition and then check All Referrals. Here you’ll see where people are discovering your site - be it a Google organic search or social media network.

Call Tracking

Call tracking is often used to track the ROI from Facebook ad campaigns, though it can also be used on other social media platforms. This tactic allows you to measure how many phone calls you are getting from your customers on social media sites.

To do this you list a different phone number on a particular social media page than on your business website. For example, if the number listed on your business website is 763-984-6577, you instead list 763-984-6555 for the social media page you’re tracking. By seeing how many people call the number listed on the social media page, you’ll gain a better understanding of how effective that particular page or ad is. If it’s effective, you’ll know to use whatever methods are working from this page or ad in your other social media efforts.

Want more ideas on how to measure social media ROI or to get more value out of your IT investments? Get in touch today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 4th, 2015

BusinessContinuity_May4_AIn today’s business world, companies with a business continuity plan (BCP) are more likely to survive a disaster than those that don’t have one. There are several components to consider when it comes to planning a BCP, some of which are more important than others and must be included in order for a BCP to be successful. If you’re looking to create a BCP, or already have one in place but aren’t convinced of its efficiency, check out these must-read principles.

Backup strategies are tested regularly

Most businesses nowadays, if not all, employ technological tools to assist in managing their everyday business operations. As a result, a massive amount of data is stored on their on-site servers. Should a disaster strike, all valuable information would be damaged or lost. Backup plans are advisable, of course, but even these are useless without regular check-ups and testing. You’ll want to verify that your backups include all of your company’s strategic data, and that they are fully functional in the event of a disaster.

All employees are involved

Your employees are the essence of your business. They help drive your business forward, and therefore each and every one of them needs to understand the essentials of your business continuity plan. Schedule a meeting with each department, outlining everyone’s role in the plan, then revise the plan again with the whole company. Make sure everyone has a part to play in order to avoid having some employees feeling left out. Be sure to also let your employees know that they are your most valuable assets, and that you’re willing to help them in any way you can during a disaster, whether it’s encouraging them to prepare an emergency plan for their families or allowing them to work remotely from home if necessary.

Identify and prioritize critical functions

What are your company’s greatest strengths? A good business continuity plan exposes your most important business functions. All inventories and resources related to those functions must be accurate and created in advance. But sometimes, determining truly critical functions can be a real challenge - and incorrect assumptions can cripple the whole BCP, so this needs to be addressed in the early stages of planning. Once you’ve identified your critical business functions, you’ll be able to continue your business operations smoothly, even if not quite normally, during a disaster.

Succession plans exist for key employees

This is one of the most often overlooked aspects in a business continuity plan. Key employees are the life and soul of a BCP, usually having the knowledge and expertise that precede the plans on paper. Are you able to execute the plan if your key employee is missing? Do a simple test without your key members. Put an alternative candidate in charge of the situation and forbid the key employee from participating and giving direct instructions. Assign alternates for each part of a BCP, and ask them to perform disaster recovery functions in place of key employees. Having two people to count on is always better than one!

Having a BCP is one thing, but having one that actually works well is something you should strive to achieve. If you’re planning to implement a business continuity plan in your company, contact us today and we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 1st, 2015

WindowsPhone_May1_AMicrosoft’s Windows Phone products have been on the market for years, offering easy-to-use smartphone experience at affordable prices to millions of users worldwide. When it comes to usability, however, there are several issues reported by users, but Microsoft has taken measures to address most of them, making the Windows platform even more pleasurable to use on smartphones. And if you’re a Windows Phone owner, you might as well try out these shortcuts for even smoother operation.

Projecting screen to other devices

You can show off your videos and photos on a much larger screen by activating the Project My Screen function located in the Settings>System menu. Your phone will automatically start searching for any nearby devices that support wireless screen projection. In addition, you can install Project My Screen on your PC and connect it to your phone using a USB cable for a portable projector.

Find My Phone

Afraid of losing and being unable to find your phone? Don’t worry - Windows Phone has a Find My Phone application that allows you to ring, lock, locate and wipe clean your phone from the official Windows Phone website. Check first in case you’ve lost your phone at home, as Find My Phone will make it ring even if the volume is off or set to vibrate mode.

Word Flow

Word Flow is a built-in application on devices with Windows Phone 8.1 installed, allowing for fast and accurate typing. Instead of typing each letter individually, you can slide your finger across the letters on the screen, and Word Flow’s intelligent system will automatically input the exact word that comprises the letters your finger came across. It will even display an emoticon relevant to the word you typed.

Data Sense

If you’re using a monthly plan for your Windows Phone, sometimes it can be difficult to keep up with your current data usage. Data Sense displays your mobile’s data usage, and allows you to set very specific data limits. If you want to save some bandwidth, you can also restrict background applications from using data and command your phone to compress images while browsing the Internet.

Storage Sense

The way Storage Sense works is very similar to Data Sense. Storage Sense gives you an overview of the applications installed on your Windows device. You can see a quick breakdown of the apps that are taking up the most space and delete any bloated apps, videos, or audio files that you no longer need. It’s a very handy tool for giving your phone a spring clean!

Volume Control

The Windows Phone has two different volume channels: volume levels for ringer and notifications, and media and app volume. You can take control of these two individual volume levels. In other words, you can listen to music or play games at a higher or lower volume than your ringer and notifications, and vice versa. To access this feature, tap the small arrow on the top right screen when you adjust your phone’s volume, and a new settings window will open for you to customize volume levels.

You’re not yet using your Windows Phone to its greatest potential if you’re missing out on these features. Want to learn how to implement the Windows Phone into your business? Contact us today and we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

May 1st, 2015

AppleMacOS_May01_APhoto lovers can now rejoice, along with all those who have long bemoaned the shortcomings of the dated iPhoto app on your Apple desktop and laptop devices. With its release of the latest update to its Yosemite operating system - which comes out as version OS X 10.10.3 - the computing giant has replaced iPhoto with an all-new Photos app. If that whets your appetite, here’s what else you need to know about Apple’s shift on the photo front and what to expect from your new photography companion.

Clean design

The new program incorporates design and user experience features that have more in common with the iOS mobile operating system on the iPhone and iPad, as part of apparent wider efforts on Apple’s part to bring the two closer together (Photos for iOS has been available since last September). This means Photos now looks like much like an iOS app - think a single screen with a primary focus on displaying images. Distracting widgets have been left by the wayside, though if you were a fan of iPhoto’s easy-access sidebar, you can quickly re-enable that. Apple is also expected to discontinue Aperture, the editing app used primarily by photography experts, and Photos now acts as a middle ground between that and the more amateur-targeted app iPhoto.

At-a-glance view

The new Photos app allows you to review your photos and videos in seven views - Years, Collections, Moments, Photos, Shared, Albums and Projects. The Years view zooms you right out to see tiny thumbnails of all the photos you took that year; it’s something of a mesmerizing mosaic collage of miniature dots of color. Similar in nature to the Events view you were used to in iPhoto, you can move around and click on individual images to bring up a larger preview. Alternatively, scroll through the images using your keyboard to view previews of every photo. Another tap on the preview brings up the full-size, high-resolution version; instant rendering means this happens in a flash.

The Moments view groups photos taken at one specific event, like your office party. This feature was also available in iPhoto but has been streamlined and smoothed out. Photos uses the time and place the photos were taken to group in the Moments view - a slight difference to the Collections view, which focuses on location, and so can amass shots taken on, say, a vacation, even if they span multiple days.

The Photos view shows you every image in your library, while Shared displays those shared or accessed on iCloud. Albums gives access to those created yourself or configured by the app. Finally, Projects is another enhanced iPhoto feature, enabling you to review photos you’ve used to produce slideshows and physical products. With the exception of wirebound books and small softcover books, which are no longer supported, you can use Photos to edit and reorder products you created in iPhoto.

Enhanced editing

Though Photos is not intended as a fully-fledged replacement for the Aperture app, the nonetheless relatively sophisticated editing capabilities of iPhoto are carried across to the new app. Between the ability to make changes to specific individual elements of a photo’s technical make-up, and smart sliders that intelligently adjust multiple elements, you can execute quality photo touch-ups whether you’re a beginner or a pro. Eight Instagram-style filters give added flexibility, too, including several vintage and black-and-white numbers - we particularly like Instant and Noir.

Pinch and zoom

Carrying on the iOS theme, Photos allows you to navigate and manipulate your photos just as though you were on your iPhone. You can pinch and zoom on your Mac’s touchpad to zoom in and out of different photos, and with a few taps you can easily switch between screens. There is even support for keystroke gestures to allow you to effortlessly browse your entire photo collection. This gives the whole experience much more glide than we had become used to with the increased sluggishness of the past-its-prime iPhoto.

Cloud power

Of course, shifting everything to the cloud is the general direction these days - and it makes particular sense with space-greedy photos and videos. Your entire library of shots is automatically added to iCloud Photo Library and so available across all your Apple devices, which now employ the same familiar and easy-to-use navigation. Edits are instantly synced between devices and, in an effort to save space, full-resolution photos and videos are stored on iCloud rather than locally.

The new Photos app sees Apple keeping pace with our ever increasing demands for speed and flexibility as amateur and professional photographers alike. To find out more about putting Photos and other Mac apps to use in your business, give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Apple Mac OS