SMB Nation Blog

SMB Nation has been serving the Bainbridge Island area since 2001, providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support, and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.
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No Lunch for You! New Study Says Your Boss Judges You For Taking Lunch Breaks

H.R. expert weighs in on new findings and why the research is so troubling

A recent study has discovered that many employees are afraid to take their lunch breaks. Rather than appear ‘lazy’ before their manager or boss, they opt to skip their appointed lunch break…even though that Gone to Lunchcan have a negative impact on their ability to perform as well as their general mood and well-being.

Rob Wilson, President of Employco USA and human resources expert says, “The study found that almost 20 percent of employees are worried their boss judges them when they take a lunch break. 13 percent worry that their coworkers judge them for taking a break.”

And, sadly, Wilson says that these fears are not unfounded.

“The same study found that bosses do indeed judge employees for taking breaks. 22 percent of bosses believe that employees who take regular lunch breaks are not as hard-working as employees who do not, and 34 percent of bosses say that they take into account how often an employee takes lunch breaks when they are evaluating their job performance,” says the Chicago-based president of the employee solutions firm Employco USA.

Unfortunately, says Wilson, this particular management belief (that employees who take lunch breaks are slacking off) can actually be harmful to a company. “Almost 90 percent of employees say that a lunch break makes them feel refreshed and ready to return to work with a clear mind. Other research has borne out the fact that taking breaks is good for an employee’s mood, precision and creative abilities.”

Wilson says it’s time to start changing the way that bosses think about lunch breaks and for managers to step up and start encouraging people to take their lunch breaks every day.

“Don’t think of it as losing money,” says Wilson. “But rather a way to improve your bottom line and retain your staff. A happy, rested employee is an employee who is going to give 100 percent and be a credit to your company.”

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Have you MAPS CRM IURed?

Let’s face it. Many members of the SMB Nation community are happily situated at the Microsoft Action Pack (MAPS) membership-level inside the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN). Fair enough. But did you know that, with the recent June 30/July 1 renewal date, MAPS has a hidden jewel just waiting for your consumption. It’s related to the five (5) Internal Use Rights (IUR) for Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement Plan Enterprise Edition. This is real value and I’m going to share with you my journey, up-to-the-minute as of this writing.

Bekker’s Partner’s Guide
My journey started when I read Scott Bekker’s IUR posting (Bekker is a colleague who works for Redmond Channel Partner magazine). His missive imparted details about the five IUR licenses for Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement Plan Enterprise Edition in MAPS. Prior to that, I hadn’t been aware of this benefit. You can download Bekker’s guide here.

The timing couldn’t have been better for two reasons.

Cost
SMB Nation has 50,000+ contacts as a long-time community. We have migrated over the years from Microsoft CRM 1.2 to NetSuite to Salesforce and back to Microsoft CRM Dynamics 365 on-prem. We have been happily paying $60/seat per month for our licenses. But the MAPS offer is just too juicy to pass up – the IUR licenses (count ‘em – five) are effectively free after you pay your MAPS annual subscription fee of $475. My current annual CRM financial commitment is 3x that amount and only because we conserve our license usage (can’t wait to do more with more licenses!).

Get Appy!
As many readers know, I’ve spread my wings over the past few years playing in Seattle startups in addition to running SMB Nation. At the Big Data startup LeadScorz, we worked with Versium. Fast forward the movie and Versium has a Dynamics 365 app called Predict that provides insights, appends records and intelligence to your CRM contacts, leads and accounts. It has very basic scoring models but the good news is that it’s free. I’ll write more about Predict at a future date but the point is, that with my current Dynamics 365 on-prem implementation, I couldn’t use Predict (it’s only on the cloud-side aka Microsoft Online Services). Ergo – my motivation to conduct the migration asap to my new CRM instance.

Looking Back
First – proper context needed. Here are the exact details of my current CRM instance: (Version 1612 (8.2.2.112) (DB 8.2.2.2.112) on-premises (SQL Server 2016 Service Pack 1). While I’m happy with Dynamics 365, I’m wanting to get more appy as per above (plus there are hundreds of more apps to play with). In Figure 1 – you can see my current environment.


Fig1CRM 

Figure 1: This be our existing CRM instance! 

Looking Forward

To level-set, I’m migrating this offering: for Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement Plan Enterprise Edition (Version 9). When I renewed MAPS, and I assigned out a couple of my IUR licenses, I then wanted to “run” my CRM instance but it wasn’t clear at all how to do this. So I filed a service request with Microsoft and worked with a support professional to stand-up my new CRM instance.

SECRET: The key is to select Dynamics 365 via Admin centers on the lower portion of your left-side column in the Microsoft 365 admin center console. You’ll answer questions about production v. sandbox and what module you want to activate. See the results in Figure #2.

Fig2CRM
Figure 2: The instance setup procedure results in the following instance. But there is much more work to be done.

Migration Madness
Initially in my “simple is hard” technology paradigm, I thought I’d just do a lift-and-shift or forklift migration from my existing CRM instance into the new instance. I asked my current CRM hoster to export the database which resulted in the following files seen in Figure 3.

Fig3 current crm databases
Figure 3: My current CRM database files exceed 10GB.


But after researching this lift-and-shift migration approach and consulting with the fine people on the Microsoft Dynamics CRM group (Facebook), it was none other than SMB Nation fan Julie Yack who educated me that this is both a migration and an upgrade (plus we have limited customizations).
So it’s been a “back to the drawing boards” circular reference as I’m trying to complete this work over the long 4th of July holiday week/weekend when the private sector is napping. Another call with Microsoft support suggested I output my existing database to an Excel file so it can be imported into my new CRM instance. I’m in the process of doing that now with these steps in my existing CRM instance:


• Select data area (e.g. Accounts, Contacts, Leads, Opportunities, Reports, Marketing Lists, etc.)
• Select Funnel (advanced find) in upper right
• Select Edit Columns, Click OK
• Select Add columns
• Select ALL COLUMNS by clicking the checkbox next to Display Name
• Click OK
• Click OK
• Click Results (this can take a long time to run)
• Click Export Accounts
• Select Dynamic Worksheet
• Select Export on the Edit Columns dialog

Then – in theory – I’d import the contacts, et al into the new CRM instance. Read “even I could do it!” But I have hit a time-out condition/error because of the number of contacts I have, etc. See Figure 4.

Fig4 error exporting accounts to dynamic excel spreadsheet

Figure 4: I can’t export 50,000 contacts successfully at once – one person has told me I’ll have to do smaller exports (think letters A-J; K-S; T-Z).

And there you have it. I’m at mid-point in my migration trading notes with Yack to successfully land this migration!

In my next blog, I’ll let you know how it goes!

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Six Years Later – SBS EOL

Can you believe it – it was six years ago in early July that Microsoft discretely announced the end-of-life for Windows Small Business Server. And the world has never been the same since. Along with you, I certainly have strong opinions on this. Lord knows we hashed out our seven stages of grieving over these six years and, if a recent post-up to the “You Knew You Grew Up With SBS…” group on Facebook is any indicator, several of you still have resentments LOL.

But I really want to simply recognize that six years have passed.

It’s an appropriate time to ask out loud how have you transformed in that period. It’s a big question: Office 365? Azure? AWS? Retired? Took a day job? I’ve heard all of the above and more. I’d like to hear from you. Perhaps you can join the above-mentioned Facebook group and share your “six years later” story for a future blog and/or feel good therapy outlet to just get it all off your chest!

Speaking for myself, I’ve learned to run a much more efficient business that essentially had to recreate itself from the bottom up. As they say in business, if you had the chance to do it all over again, would you do it differently and faster? The answer for me is yes. I’m getting traction with my new niche in analytics but not so much trying to recreate an SBS-like community for Office 365. Different vibe.

erin
Figure 1: A blast from the past – how many of you remember Erin (Bourke-Dunphy) Chapple from the original SBS team in the late 1990s? She started right out of college with SBS and has now gone on to be THE Corporate Vice President for Windows Server (she’s a real executive now). Shown here in her original SBS office circa late 1990s.

Also noteworthy with the arrival of July, we’ve incremented our newsletter to Year 13, Issue 1. That’s because we originally launched our newsletter(s) during July – the month of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) (aka Inspire). And a little-known fact is that this is our 17+-year of publishing as our earlier newsletters had a different name and cadence. If you’d like to learn more about the original “Small Business Best Practices” newsletter from July 15, 2001, click HERE. 

# # # 

FEEDBACK! 

Hi, Harry—

                The death of SBS really didn’t affect us much, even though we had basically built our practice around it. Virtualization and Windows Server “1 physical +2 virtual” licensing came onto the scene about the same time, so we simply started setting up a virtual domain controller and a separate virtual Exchange Server on a Hyper-V server (plus additional VMs for other applications if necessary) instead of having it all on one physical box. We don’t miss SBS, really. It was a good value, but it had its headaches, and it often got in the way if you didn’t want to do things its way. Separate VMs for individual roles is really the way to go anyway. Now, if Exchange is a problem, we just get everyone out of Outlook and restart that. If QuickBooks is the problem, we just clear everyone out of QuickBooks and restart that server; we don’t have to get everyone out of everything because one person is having an issue with one application. And we don’t sell cloud as if it were a religion. For those who want it, it’s there. For those who don’t, we are happy to sell on-premises solutions (as long as they still exist; lots of vendors are railroading people into the cloud when they really don’t want to be there, the same way the government railroaded lots of people into the stock market by keeping interest rates pathetic). That said, the message from Microsoft is twofold; first it doesn’t understand small business, and second, it doesn’t care about small business. Its vision is Fortune 500 and then everyone else. If they had eliminated the SBS technical product and replaced it with a SKU for 2 physical licenses for Windows Standard plus 4 VMs plus Exchange and 25 user CALs for everything, at least that would have shown that they understand and care. But we worked around that with our own imaginations.

                I don’t use Facebook myself, so I’m emailing this in case you are interested.

                — Andrew

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5 Multistate Tax Considerations for SMBs

By: Nathan Sykes

As a small business, you’ll eventually be looking at expanding your reach, and that means crossing state lines. The act itself is pretty straightforward — you taxessimply move or open new operations. Of course, it’s more involved than, that but you get the point.

What you’re probably most unprepared for is the multistate taxation system. As soon as your business or organization jumps state lines, this issue becomes a major concern, and one that you’d do well to understand and plan for.

1. What Is Nexus?
Before tax comes into play, you must understand Nexus. It’s also referred to as “sufficient physical presence.” The concept essentially means you’re connected or linked to the region in question, which calls for you to be a suitable contributor to the commonwealth. Any state in which your business has Nexus is a location you can be taxed for.

Step one for any business or professional should be determining Nexus. Generally, it’s defined as where you own or rent property, whether you employ people in a particular state or generate revenue within a state’s boundaries. When a situation is clearly defined, such as you owning a property in another state, it’s easy to determine your status.

It gets tricky, however, when things aren't so clear-cut. For example, you might be hiring a remote worker or employee, visiting a state for some time but earning funds or even dealing with inventory or a warehouse that’s in a different state.

2. Understanding the Interstate Commerce Tax Act
Public Law 86-272, also called the Interstate Commerce Tax Act, dictates the solicitation of sales across state borders. More specifically, an individual state cannot levy income tax on a company or business that performs the solicitation of sales for tangible personal property and nothing more.

But the law itself is remarkably misunderstood and has been altered considerably over the years in regards to what it means. “Solicitation” specifically has been used in many different ways. From the placement of orders to content or item delivery, it can be used differently depending on the court and state in which it’s applied. Because of this, it’s important that either you — as a manager — or your legal team understand the precedent of this law so that you’re not affected by legal traps related to it.

3. Apportionment
Generally, your taxable income is apportioned under either the three-factor formula or single sales factor — more likely the former. However, some states use varying apportionment schemes, which means you’ll have to follow a formula you’re not used to or one that differs considerably from the standard.

This factor is something to keep in mind when dealing with taxable income, so you’ll want to understand the laws and regulations regarding the states in which you do business. If you’re stretched across many boundaries, you’ll want to take the appropriate time reviewing this information before your filing.

4. Credits and Incentives
Tax credits and incentives are great, as they can afford you a little extra capital or revenue to distribute elsewhere. The thing about them, however, is that tax day — or at least the weeks leading up to it — is not the appropriate time to start paying attention to them. Many incentives and credits require you to document and collect proof that you’re eligible, so if you discover them last minute, there's a chance said information might not be readily available.

It’s important to sit down with a financial team and group of legal professionals to identify potential incentives and credits your business can take advantage of over the coming year — for the subsequent tax season.

5. Major Transactions and State Tax
This consideration is especially important for SMBs who are in the process of an acquisition, completing a major transaction of some kind or involved in the sale of a subsidiary.

With federal income tax, issues are ad nauseam. Many focus on the large-scale issues, with state income tax being left by the wayside. This situation is unfortunate because there's always the chance that unexpected or evident state income tax problems will arise as a result of a transaction too. This issue could result in hefty fines or audits later down the line, which are troublesome for major organizations and detrimental for small business.

Pay attention to state tax concerns, especially when working with larger organizations. Don’t expect them to consider all angles, because most of the time, they’re most concerned with federal influence.

Cover Your Bases
The central theme of many of these considerations or potential “issues” is that you should invest the time to understand how tax filings — state and federal — factor into the future of your business. Even a small mistake can result in inordinate fees or lengthy financial audits, which are never helpful or light on overall impact. Even major organizations struggle with the legal ramifications and consequences of poor tax handling. The last thing you want is your SMB suffering simply because you were unaware or unfamiliar with particular regulations and rulings.

If you don’t have the time or resources to invest, then absolutely hire a legal team to handle your tax and resulting finances. You can work with them directly to gain a better understanding, cut down on risk and cost and ensure everything is up to speed.

Joshua Lawrence, a partner at Hodgson Russ, advises, “A number of companies—Avalara and TaxJar are probably the most well-known—specialize in multistate sales tax compliance. They can assist with some of the administrative and practical burdens by automating the determination of tax rates, filing returns, managing exemption records, etc. Such services may also assist in determining the taxability of a company’s transactions.”

He continues, “However, in the case of software and SaaS, where questions of taxability and “sourcing” are often highly fact-dependent and reliant on interpreting case law and rulings, getting the advice of a tax professional, such as an accountant or attorney whose practice includes state and local taxation, is the best way to mitigate the risks associated with misinterpreting state tax laws.”

Staying up to date with state and local tax regulations that will have an effect on your small business is the one of the most important steps in successfully running a business that crosses state lines. Just because your business is small doesn’t mean it can’t have a large outreach, you just need to be aware of the risks and address them correctly.

Bio: Nathan Sykes writes about the latest in business and technology at his blog, Finding an Outlet.

 

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10 Easy Ways to Convert B2B Lead with Blogging

Lead generation is absolutely crucial to your business. Lead generation is the practice of finding and drawing in potential customers to your business. There are a variety of ways to do this including via social media or even investing in certain tools that can help you generate leads.

One way you can easily generate leads without stepping outside blog keyof your website or investing in any expensive tools is to work through your own blog. In this article, we are going to look at 10 of the easiest ways for you to convert B2B leads through your blog.

1. Make Your Blog Similar to Your Website

The Problem: If someone is landing on your blog, they may never click over to your homepage. Or, even worse, they might find your blog and your homepage separately and not realize your the company that’s been giving them quality content for months.

The Solution: Connect your blog and website. Of course, on your blog you would ideally have ample links to your homepage but that isn’t always enough. At the most basic level, your blog and main website design should be the same. By using the same colors and themes, you create a visual correlation that allows visitors to either or both pages quickly recognize that they are working within the same company when they switch between pages.

You should also, both for correlation in visitor’s eyes and for SEO purposes, link your blog and main website technically. For example, the URL for many website’s blogs is a subdomain rather than their own. This means instead of completely unique URL for the blog, the blog would have a URL like blogname.websitename.com.

2. Use a Call to Action

The Problem: Most people stumble onto blogs the first time because they asked a search engine a question and your blog was one of the initial choices to hold the answer. So, they often go onto your blog, get the answer they need, and then leave. Unfortunately, while this increases your traffic, you haven’t really drawn in a potential customer meaning you haven’t generated a lead.

The Solution: When you are writing your blog’s content, use calls to action. These are sentences inserted in your content - usually near the end of a blog post - that prompt readers to do more that get the answers they need then click away.

A good example of a call to action is when you see a webpage or blog post that says something such as “call now!” or “visit our website today!”

3. Use Prompts

The Problem: As we noted before, you might have a lot of traffic but few leads through your blog. This is because many people come to your blog for a specific question and leave once they get the answer they need. This is an obvious problem because while they may use your content, they won’t participate in your B2B sales.

The Solution: It won’t always work but one method that many websites use is to prompt visitors to enter their email address. Usually, they are promised deals or updates in return for this information. What this does in reference to generating you leads, though, is that it opens up dialogue with the visitor of your website and creates the potential for their visit to your blog to become a purchase through your company.

4. Stay Updated

The Problem: Once you have a reader hooked on your blog, they are more likely to visit the rest of your website and partake in your services. However, if you stop posting on your blog, they have less of a reason to visit it regularly, and eventually they will forget about your blog.

The Solution: The solution to this is rather simple - just keep posting! Even if you are a smaller company with a smaller following, try to keep your blog updated on a regular basis. If you don’t want to lose readers, keep them interested with content that is meaningful and consistent.

5. Have Internal Links

The Problem: As we stated earlier in the article, a problem can arise when people visit your blog but don’t visit your website in turn. Obviously, this is a problem because while a lot of traffic on your blog is good, a lack of traffic on your main website doesn’t help your B2B leads.

The Solution: Before, we stated that you can help this by linking your website and blog technically and aesthetically. However, you shouldn’t be afraid to link to your main website either. This is also a great way to connect readers to specific pages of your website rather than just sending them to your homepage.

6. Create a Content Library

The Problem: Sometimes, when people come to your site looking for a specific answer, they don’t stick around for the full experience of your blog. As such, they don’t have the time to get invested in or attached to your content.

The Solution: Create a content library. You can make a main database where people can browse through your content but your best bet isn’t to stop there. In addition, consider having a “similar content” section on your blog posts. If you suggest other, relevant content to your readers right away, they are more likely to click around your site and get invested. This, paired with tactics like backlinks to your main website and calls to action, will get you more leads.

7. Use Your Blog as Conversation

The Problem: The problem that many businesses - especially small businesses - have is that they don’t know exactly what their customers want or need. In addition, even if they do, it can take a little convincing to prove to customers that they are your first priority, not just turning a profit.

The Solution: Use your blog as a method of conversation with your readers. Make sure that you reply to their comments on posts and answer every time they fill out a “contact us” form. By doing this, you are hearing what your potential customers are looking for and you are making sure they feel heard and cared about when they contact you.

8.Remember to Utilize Headlines

The Problem: Stepping away from some of the other problems that we’ve looked at in this article, there is the issue of people not clicking on your content at all. This, of course, is an issue. This is because while traffic doesn’t always contribute to leads, you can’t have leads if you don’t have any traffic.

The Solution: One way to try and counteract this is to have eye-catching headings. There are a few different ways to do this - many writers choose to pose a question. However, you should avoid anything misleading or clickbait-worthy. If someone clicks on your article only to be disappointed by the content, your only going to lose potential leads.

9. Utilize SEO

The Problem: This is a repeat of the problem when we looked at headlines. To repeat, though, it can be difficult to generate leads through your blog if you aren’t even drawing in readers.

The Solution: Try to utilize SEO techniques in your content. If you don’t know what this is, SEO stands for search engine optimization. You can do this in a variety of ways such as inserting keywords into your content and making sure your site is user-friendly and loads quickly. The main idea behind this is to rank as highly on a search engine when someone searches a term that is related to your business.

10. Don’t Get Away From Your Customers

The Problem: As we have looked at a lot in this article, there can be a problem when visitors come to your website and only stick around long enough to get the answers they need. However, you can have a problem if you are so focused on generating leads that you forget to deliver meaningful content.

The Solution: The last thing you want to do is to get away from the content that brought new readers to your blog in the first place. So, while you want to implement these lead-generating practices, you don’t want to sacrifice quality content. After all, you can’t gain leads if you aren’t even gaining traffic.

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AT&T to launch wireless plans bundled with video after Time Warner win

(Reuters) - AT&T Inc (T.N) will launch two new unlimited wireless plans next week that will be bundled with a new video streaming service called WatchTV, in the company’s first move to pair entertainment with phone service after closing its $85 billion acquisition of media company Time Warner Inc.

 

ATT

FILE PHOTO - An AT&T logo is seen at a AT&T building in New York City, October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith/File Photo

The No. 2 U.S. wireless carrier is putting to use Time Warner’s stable of content, including TV channels like TBS and CNN, to drive sales of the wireless plans at a time when carriers have struggled to find growth.

“This is the first step to transforming how content is created, distributed and consumed,” David Christopher, president of AT&T mobility and entertainment, said in an interview.

WatchTV, which will have over 30 live channels but no sports or local news channels, will be free for customers of the new wireless plans. It will cost $15 per month as a standalone product. Customers who sign up for the higher-priced wireless plan can also get HBO for free, the premium TV channel with the hit show “Game of Thrones” that AT&T acquired as part of the Time Warner deal.

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Bitcoin explained by AI will melt your brain

BitCoin

 

By now I'm assuming we all have a fundamental understanding of what Bitcoin is: digital money regulated and distributed with encryption techniques, stored on a ledger independent of a centralised bank.

Something like that. Maybe go here for a better explanation.

OK, that's good. That's how a human being might explain Bitcoin. Here's how an AI might try to explain it.

BitCoin Video

 

The video comes from Botnik Studios' YouTube channel, posted Tuesday. According to the description, it was created "using predictive keyboards trained on dozens of Bitcoin explainers".

Friends, my brain is currently leaking out of my earholes

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SkyKick Launches Cloud Backup Support for Microsoft Office 365 Groups and Teams, and Upgrades Syndicated Apps

• Strengthens #1 MSP-voted cloud automation platform to enable IT providers to grow
• Robust data protection for Group and Teams unlocks new profitability scenarios for partners
• Enhancements to SkyKick Syndication provide partners with more customizable ways to sell cloud migration and backup directly in their own e-commerce experiences

Seattle – June 27, 2018 – SkyKick (www.skykick.com), a global provider of cloud management software for information technology (IT) solution partners, announced today major enhancements to its Cloud Backup skykickSuite for Office 365. The enhancements extend cloud backup data protection to Microsoft Office 365 Groups and Teams, enabling partners to deliver added value to customers seeking Office 365 data protection.

“Microsoft Groups and Teams is growing rapidly and was one of the most requested backup features from our global partner base,” said SkyKick Vice President of Product Management Chris Rayner. “We’re thrilled to deliver this additional value to our partners, and continue to accelerate our momentum in enabling partners to protect customer data across the entire Office 365 tenant.”

The Groups and Teams upgrade to SkyKick’s Cloud Backup Suite for Office 365 provides partners greater product completeness and flexibility. It enables partners to browse and select specific Groups to backup, search and restore conversations, calendar, files, and notebook, and choose from a range of data retention periods. In addition to the Groups and Teams enhancements, SkyKick is releasing support for point-in-time restore for Exchange and OneDrive for Business. Together, these enhancements further distinguish SkyKick’s Cloud Backup Suite as one of the most technically complete and partner-centric data protection solutions for Office 365. Groups and Teams is included in SkyKick’s Cloud Backup Suite for Office 365 and available at no additional cost for SkyKick partners with active “full backup” subscriptions (Exchange and SharePoint/OneDrive).

“As a progressive MSP, it is critical that we protect customer data in new collaboration scenarios like Groups and Teams. The fact that SkyKick is one of the first to offer a robust backup solution for Groups and Teams demonstrates their commitment to partner success,” said Ryan Chernick, president of Wisconsin-based partner CCCP. “Leading with a comprehensive, integrated solution like SkyKick’s gives us a competitive advantage while enhancing customer satisfaction.”

SkyKick is also announcing upgrades to SkyKick Syndication, which thousands of partners are using to incorporate SkyKick Migration and Backup directly into their websites or e-commerce buy-flow with simply a few lines of code. The upgrades include new ways for partners to add custom branding to SkyKick Cloud Backup apps on their own websites, including modifying favicons, creating custom URLs or domains and providing customized support details. The company is also releasing a new Cloud Backup self-service search and restore capability to give partners new options for operational service delivery. Partners who choose to grant customers self-service access can incorporate this new experience in their websites, enabling their customers to directly initiate data search and restore. These upgrades are free for existing SkyKick Syndication customers.

“We welcome SkyKick’s approach to syndication. It will help partners simplify their operational burden while still creating a deeper brand connection with their customers,” said Vegard Aspnes, SaaS product manager at European partner Dustin Group.

“With our recent $40 million funding announcement, we reiterated our commitment to our 20,000 partners and the broader partner ecosystem,” said SkyKick Co-Founder and Co-CEO Todd Schwartz. “We’re relentlessly innovating across our cloud management platform to provide partners with more ways to package and sell cloud services, improve their operational efficiency, enhance their customer experience, and ultimately transform their business for the future.”

These enhancements extend the company’s cloud management platform, and complement the SkyKick Migration Suite which was the top-rated solution in a recent survey of MSPs by research firm AMI-Partners. With partners increasingly packaging and bundling cloud services, SkyKick’s unified cloud management platform provides integrated applications to help IT solution providers build more successful cloud businesses. The SkyKick Migration Suite allows IT consultants, system integrators, managed service providers, value-added resellers and other IT partners to automate an entire Office 365 migration project from initial sales to project completion. SkyKick’s Cloud Backup Suite provides cloud-to-cloud backup, unlimited storage and one-click restore of lost Office 365 data.

SkyKick’s new Cloud Backup Suite for Office 365 is available immediately. SkyKick will be demonstrating the enhancements in booth 1013 at the Microsoft Inspire Conference July 15 to 19 in Las Vegas, Nev.

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Understanding Small Business Tax Eligibilities Will Increase Your Profitability

Many small businesses do not seem to understand the importance of taking small steps all year long as one of the most vital keys to minimizing tax responsibilities and avoiding expensive tax penalties. As well, there are many eligibilities that small Taxbusiness owners are not even aware that they are entitled to, especially in light of the most recent tax reform laws.

The best place to keep up with any available information will be to follow the IRS Tax Reform News and Information Page.

If you run a small enterprise and would like to maximize your tax minimizations; we would like to help you succeed with some suggestions that will make a difference with your tax responsibilities by the end of the 2018 tax year. The more of this information you’re aware of, the more likely that these tips alone will increase your profitability in 2018.

  • Begin by Educating Yourself About the Forms You Must Complete For Employee Payroll
    Federal taxes will not be the only taxes upon which you will need to focus; There are also separate state and municipal, as well as additional federal forms that may be required.
  • It is Best to E-File Your Taxes and File Taxes On Time
    Filing on time will save you headaches and penalties. By E-Filing, you will receive a confirmation number that will be provided by the IRS, and there will be no question as to the date that your filing was received. Filing electronically on time will help avoid penalties that will accrue until you pay in full
  • Paying Enough Quarterly Estimated Taxes Will Help Your Business Avoid Penalties
    It is easy for new business owners to spend their W-2 income all the while believing that they can pay taxes on their entire income at the end of the tax year. The wise business owner will pay enough estimated taxes on a quarterly basis. It will benefit your business when you file your taxes next year.
  • Consider a Reputable Tax Software Program and a Separate Accounting Software Program for Properly Tracking Expenses and Revenue Acquired in Your Small Business
    Using a reputable tax software will assist in the avoidance of penalties. Doing so will also make a difference in helping you separate your personal from your business finances.
  • Integrate a Paper Filing System
    Set up a filing system of your choice, whether it is 12 folders in a filing cabinet, an expandable folder or an electronic receipt scanner and use it faithfully. Prepare a few hours monthly to organize all expense receipts, banking withdrawal, and deposit slips, etc. into their respective folders. Failing this, you will spend all of those stressful hours at the end of the year organizing all at one time. Monthly organizing will ensure that you do not lose your documents and they are correctly indexed and available at the end of the tax year.
  • Consider Implementing the Services of Independent Contractors to Save on Taxes
    Whether you are an old pro in business or you are just beginning, ICs will save small businesses money in many ways. For tax minimization, you do not have to pay taxes on their behalf. If you pay an IC $600.00 or more in a tax year, you will need to maintain records stating what you have paid them and merely provide a 1099 form at the end of the tax period. If you would like to do this, however, be sure that you understand the definition of an Independent Contractor according to the IRS.
  • Consider the Donation of Remaining Inventory
    Should you find that you must pay to store leftover inventory that you are confident will not be used, you might choose to donate that inventory to a good cause. This “philanthropy” will save money in the long run. The caveat is that donations exceeding $500.00 face far more strict reporting rules with the IRS sure gift makes sense.
  • Consider the Benefits of Implementation of a Retirement Plan
    See the “Highlights for Changes in 2018” located within this IRS Pension Limitations document.
  • There Could Be Hidden Value In The Miles You Put On Your Vehicle
    Not everyone is aware that they may have the ability to deduct miles they use to participate in charitable acts. You may also deduct miles accrued for medical purposes and even some personal uses of your vehicle. You can see what you are allowed to deduct through this IRS Standard Deduction page.
  • Where and How You Decide to Structure Your Business Will Affect Your Tax Responsibilities
    The SBA (Small Business Administration) offers a plethora of information as to how your specific business should be structured and how it will affect your tax status. This is definitely worth the read for a small business owner.

 

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Trump officials roll out new rule for small business health insurance plans

 Insurance

By Tami Luhby, CNN

New York (CNN)The Trump administration is taking the final step Tuesday in its plan aimed at making health insurance policies cheaper for some small businesses.

But the move could weaken some of the Affordable Care Act's consumer protections for those buying these plans and make coverage more expensive for those who remain on the Obamacare exchanges.

The administration is releasing its final rule governing association health plans, which allow small businesses and the self-employed to band together based on their industry or location and buy health insurance. The rule stems from an executive order that Trump signed in October aimed at providing alternatives to the Affordable Care Act, which it is bent on dismantling.

The rule allows association health plans to be regulated in the same way as large employer policies. That would free them from having to adhere to some of Obamacare's rules, particularly the one requiring insurers to offer comprehensive coverage. So these plans would likely have lower premiums, but also provide fewer benefits -- which could leave sicker and older workers out in the cold. Also, the offerings could be less attractive to young women if they don't cover maternity benefits.

Plus, the proposed regulation would allow associations to base an employer's rates on the gender, age and industry of its workers, which could leave firms with many younger men paying less, but those with older workers and women saddled with higher premiums. Currently, the Affordable Care Act bans insurers from basing premiums on gender or industry and limits the amount that can be based on age.

However, plans would not be allowed to set premiums based on workers' health status, which critics of the executive order had feared. It also maintains state regulators' oversight of these policies.

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Windows 7 to Windows 10 migration guide

With Windows 7 approaching the end of support deadline, it’s time to get cracking on upgrading your organization to Windows 10. Use this planner to help ensure a successful migration.

Windows 7

By Jonathan Hassell

All good things must come to an end, and the reign of Windows 7 as an actively supported, good-enough operating system is no exception. While it may feel like you just finished the heavy lifting of migrating your Windows XP machines to Windows 7, it turns out that Windows 7 is now almost nine years old, at least two and a half versions behind Windows 10 (depending on whether you consider Windows 8.1 to be a version of Windows all its own), and approaching end of Microsoft support in 2020.

All of this is to say that you need a plan. Except in some edge cases, it makes little sense to spend the time and money to migrate from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1, since that only buys you a couple more years of supportability. The smart money is on moving to Windows 10, buying everyone expensive Macs, or, gasp, deploying Linux on the desktop. And while small businesses might be able to buy everyone MacBooks or move to Linux, large companies with lots of software investments in the Microsoft stack will continue running Windows, thus leaving Windows 10 as the only option.

Of course, moving any large quantity of users from one operating system to another, especially one with as many differences, shiny new objects and moved cheese as Windows 10, is no small feat. That’s where this guide comes in. I want to help shine light on the considerations and actions you need to take in order to make your migration successful.

A caveat before I begin: While this is not a review of Windows 10, I think it is important to let you know what to expect. Windows 10 is, to me, a frustrating mix of tremendous security improvements and OS enhancements, along with several significant steps back in stability, usability, and overall quality. I have not run Windows 10 without it crashing, hard, at least every 48 hours on any system. My experience indicates that in general you will find that your client machines have more trouble than they did running Windows 7, and you may well have the trouble ticket count to match.

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Small Businesses Are The Real MVPs Of Analytics And BI Growth

 smbs driving analytics growth

Louis Columbus , CONTRIBUTOR

  • Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs) spend more on software subscription services and new software, while large enterprises spend more on maintenance and consulting.
  • BI initiatives in small & medium enterprises are most likely to be driven by sales and marketing.
  • SMEs with up to 100 employees are the most aggressive of all businesses in their plans for analytics and BI adoption in the 12, 24 and 36-month timeframes.
    SMEs with up to 100 employees are also nearly 3X more likely as large enterprises to report the highest rates of BI adoption

Dresner Advisory Services recently published the 2017 Small and Mid-Sized Enterprise Business Intelligence Market Study, part of the Wisdom of Crowds® series of research and the 5th annual edition of the study. Dresner Advisory Services defines a small enterprise as an organization with between one and 100 employees; mid-size enterprises have between 101 and 1,000 employees, and large enterprises have more than 1,000 employees. For additional details on the methodology, please see the study. Operations and Management are the greatest Business Intelligence (BI) drivers in organizations of any size as their focus is on improving operational efficiency. Small and mid-size enterprises are more likely to be driven by sales and marketing business roles. The smaller the company, the higher the priority for growing revenues and finding increased competitive advantages using analytics and BI.

Key takeaways from the study include the following:

  • In 2017, SMEs are driving the highest levels of cloud computing adoption, while concentrating on reporting and dashboards to improve marketing and sales decisions. Large enterprises are prioritizing data governance, location intelligence, and enterprise planning to improve operational efficiency often on a global scale. Interest in big data transcends all sizes of organizations included in the study.

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Bitcoin could 'bring the internet to a halt,' banking group warns

by Jethro Mullen @CNNTech

ICO

Don't bet on bitcoin ever replacing the dollar or other traditional currencies as everyday money.

That's one of the messages from a new report by an organization that represents dozens of the world's central banks.

The group, Switzerland-based Bank for International Settlements (BIS), said the "intense interest" in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies had prompted it to look "beyond the hype" at what use they could actually contribute to the economy.

The report's authors were unimpressed, detailing a range of problems with trying to adopt cryptocurrencies as a widely used form of money.

They include the danger that just processing all the payments "could bring the internet to a halt," said the report, which was published Sunday.

A big part of the appeal of many cryptocurrencies to their supporters is that they are decentralized rather than tied to a central bank like the US Federal Reserve. Records of transactions are kept on a digital ledger.

But because every single transaction is added to the digital ledger, the report said using a cryptocurrency like bitcoin for retail transactions around the world would quickly swell the ledger beyond the capacity of computer servers to store it. Supercomputers would be needed to keep up with verifying incoming payments, and the huge amounts of data being exchanged between users would bring the internet to its knees.

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How to use Windows 10's File History backup feature

Here's how to back up your files with Windows 10's built-in feature, File History.

By Ian Paul

external hard drives 100761623 large

Windows 10’s File History is an easy way to get started with backing up your personal files since it comes built-in to your system.

File History takes snapshots of your files as you go and stores them on an external hard drive either connected over USB or your home network. Over time, File History builds up a library of past versions of your documents that you can recover if need be. Say, for example, you really liked a paragraph from the first draft of an essay, but you deleted it long ago and are now battling regret. You can dip into File History, retrieve the right version of your document, and copy the paragraph.

Windows 10’s File History is an essential part of any PC backup strategy, but it’s only

one part. Ideally, you’d have your files in three places: the working copy on your internal hard drive, a local backup that you can access straight away, and a remote backup that keeps your files safe offsite. That way, if anything ever happens to your house such as a fire, flood, or tornado, the third copy is still safely tucked away in the remote location.

The easiest way to take care of the remote backup is to use an online backup service. We’ve got a separate article dedicated to reviews and purchasing advice for online backup. While you’re at it, check out our look at the best external drives for backup, storage, and portability to get a quality drive for your local File History backups.

To get started with File History in the latest version of Windows 10, open the Settings app and go to Update & Security > Backup.

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$2,500 in Amazon gift cards!

Christmas is very, VERY early this year!

We’re giving away free Amazon gift cards to all SherWeb partners who bring in new Office 365 subscriptions. Register today!

Promotion Details

Offer ends June 30, 2018

All Office 365 subscriptions are included, except:Amazon

Microsoft Intune™ Extra Storage
Office 365 Archiving In-House
Office 365 Extra File Storage

Here’s how it works:

  • Sell 125 seats and you get a $200 gift card
    Sell 250 seats and you get a $500 gift card
    Sell 500 seats and you get a $1200 gift card
    Sell 1000 seats and you get a $2500 gift card
    * Only available for US or Canadian customers who are not on SherWeb Hosted Exchange.

Terms and Conditions

This promotion applies to Eligible Customers who register for the promotion on this web page and is subject to the following conditions. Eligible Subscriptions must be provisioned before the end of the Promotion Period. Eligible Customers must maintain each Eligible Subscription for a minimum period of twelve (12) months. The minimum payout credit per Eligible Customer is $200 and the maximum is $2,500 according to the following terms: 125 Eligible Subscriptions represent $200 of Amazon gift cards, 250 Eligible Subscriptions represent $500 of Amazon gift cards, 500 Eligible Subscriptions represent $1200 of Amazon gift cards and 1000 Eligible Subscriptions represent $2500 of Amazon gift cards. SherWeb will send you the Amazon gift card 60 to 90 days after the Eligible Subscriptions are provisioned. The Amazon gift card will be sent to the Eligible Customer’s main contact. SherWeb reserves the right to enforce a payback of the gift card amounts for all Eligible Subscriptions that are canceled within the first 12 months.

Definitions

"Promotion Period" begins upon registration for this promotion and ends on June 30, 2018 at 11:59 PM EDT.
"Eligible Customers": means any US or Canadian SherWeb customer who is not currently using SherWeb Hosted Exchange. Customer must have at least one hundred and twenty-five (125) Eligible Subscriptions.
"Eligible Subscriptions": are all Office 365 subscriptions, except Microsoft Intune™ Extra Storage-Unknown, Office 365 Archiving In and Office 365 Extra File Storage. Eligible Subscriptions exclude migrations from SherWeb Hosted Exchange to Office 365.

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MS Hope for a Cure

MS Cure

 

I have been on the board of MS Hope for a Cure since 2007 and this year I wanted to share some additional info on where your money has gone and how you have helped to make a difference so far.

MS Hope for a Cure, an organization with only two full-time employees, has had a huge impact in providing funds for research and support for individuals suffering from MS.

Since Inception in 2007, MS Hope has raised over $9.6 million and in turn, funded 110 grants to support a variety of programs and services.

Examples of critical research funded towards finding new treatments and eventually a cure for MS:

  • Provided a $300,000 grant to help launch the National MS Society’s Fast Forward. The biggest hurdle in moving potential treatments forward is securing the necessary early investments and resources for commercial development.  Fast Forward investments propel new therapies forward by providing the necessary funding to ensure that promising treatments don’t languish on a dusty shelf.
  • Provided a $220,000 grant for the National MS Society’s Pilot Research Program. The Society initiated the pilot research program in 1987 to provide a mechanism to encourage new, innovative research on multiple sclerosis.  The fiscal environment forced this program to be put on hold in June 2008. This grant allowed the vital program to resume in 2010.

 

  • Provided over $600,000 in Stem Cell grants for research focused on the development of non-embryonic stem cell therapies to help stop and repair MS.  This is an extremely promising area for people living with progressive MS and we are excited to be helping to propel it forward.
  • Provided a $500,000 grant to fund research specific to the progressive forms of the disease as the first foundation member of the International Progressive MS Alliance.

Examples of programs and services we are proud to have funded:

  • Provided access to free psychiatric support to anyone living with MS by fully funding an MS Psychiatric Position at Mount Sinai Hospital.
  • Provided $185,000 in college scholarships to students living with Multiple Sclerosis to enable them to focus on their studies without having to take on the stress of a part-time job.
  • Provided over $100,000 over 4 years via the National MS Society Crisis Services program to ensure that everyone living with Multiple Sclerosis in the New York area had a working air conditioner.
  • Provided the following programs, services and grants to help people living with MS, which due to budget constraints were cut by the National MS Society in the Tristate area.
    • Personnel support for social workers and nurses at over 10 local MS Centers
    • Funding for free exercise programs during the winter months. In many cases, these classes were the only opportunities for people with more advanced mobility issues to leave the house and socialize with others.
    • Creating an Annual Research and Wellness Symposium as part of MS Hope Day by bringing in MS experts in a variety of areas to provide the latest information on current research directly to the people to whom it matters most.

Please support me and this vital work by taking a moment to donate and sponsor me today.  Simply click here right now to make a secure donation online and give what you can; everything helps.

Thank you for joining me in the fight against MS! Together we can make a difference.
David

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Green Geeks: POS Technology Solutions (Part I)

The emerging cannabis industry is surprisingly technologically sophisticated. Take what I call the last mile: point of sale (POS).

I recently interviewed John Yang at California-based Treez, a POS solution focused on the cannabis industry. In fact, the free ranging conversation went so long, over two interviews, that I’ve decided to do a two-part blog series. In this first blog, I paint the picture (including taxation) and introduce Treez. In the second installment we’ll get down to the keystroke level.

“We are an enterprise-grade product with reliability and stability.” Said NAME. “In fact, you can run Treez as it’s meant to be in the cloud…we are a cloud-based solution first. But you can run it on-prem toowhich is important if you can’t be down for even a few minutes or a day. We serve dispensaries that have 100+ customers in the lobby at a time so any downtime is unacceptable.”

Let’s Talk Taxes!

Some readers know that SMB Nation’s hometown of Bainbridge Island is where Avalara started (about to IPO and known for creating online sales tax and compliance solutions). Thinking about taxes and compliance is second nature to me. When NAME took a left turn with our cannabis conversation to discuss Treez tax and compliance solutions, I told myself this conversation just got much better.

“In our business development efforts, we lead with the tax calculations for the State of California. Many of our competitors don't have this functionality. We do taxes correctly and help dispensaries from being overtaxed. This includes that we take care of the excise tax calculations.” Shared NAME. “California is taxing 35% to 40%...different tax layers (city, county, excise, sales) that compound on top of each other. Think of it as a tax on top of a tax on top of a tax.” Seems like tough math to track.

cannabistaxationstuff 002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 1: Treez tracks cannabis taxes. Harder than it looks folks.

We next discussed the Excise Tax Report. “it’s about….how much to pay….a lot of complexity…very important with compliance…we do the break out of the taxation - our competitors don't have the granular level of detail.” Stated NAME.

I asked about how it works in Washington state, sensing that this young industry behaves differently in each state (#TrueThat). NAME shared that the State of Washington is a post-tax model like $40 for a ten pack of gluten free Indica peanut butter cups. The taxation is baked into a round number price that a customer would pay. If there is a mathematical mistake, the dispensary would have to “eat it” with respect to making the taxes paid whole.

In Part II of this blog series on Treez, I’ll speak toward the hands-on, keystroke-based POS solution and its use cases. Hint: Customer experience is the development paradigm.

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How to Maintain Data Integrity in a Business Setup?

Everybody, every day and everywhere is flooded with large volumes of data. This is most apparent and significant in the business sector. Who is worried and why should anybody actually pay attention to the business data? The fact is that data formulate the framework for all business operations. In order to run a thriving business irrespective of its niche, data management plays a significant role in the overall success equation.

In all probability, if you are reading this blog you are an integral part of such a business; consequently, you must be careful about your business data.

lock

What Exactly Do You Understand by Data?

If you ever ask distinct people this very question, you are likely to obtain varied responses from all of them. Some of the standard definitions are provided below: Figures and facts that are accumulated for reviewing and analysis. Things referred to as facts, which form the base of reasoning, computation and making decisions.

Still finding it hard to understand? A good illustration of business data is “the amount of merchandise sold by a company in the northeast region in the previous business quarter.”

Why is Data and its Credibility Crucial for Businesses?

Who is concerned in case the data available is inaccurate or if perhaps the all-round quality is lousy? Data quality is also known as data integrity. It is managing and retaining the accuracy and uniformity of the data over its complete lifecycle. Data integrity implies that the data available is correct and dependable. At numerous stages in work life, all the employees of the company have to make essential business decisions as a part of their job and commitments and such decisions play an important role in the deciding a company’s fate thereafter. In a lot of business firms across the globe, there exist areas where crucial business decisions are regularly made depending on the available data.

Business Performance Measurement: Constantly evaluating the performance of the business against its overall objectives and the competitors is essential for being successful.

Managing and Delegating Resources: Having the right resources in the right places at the right time focusing on the right project is essential. Not doing so is unfavorable and can provide the competitors a heads up.

Customer and Client Satisfaction Management: Happy customers and clients are crucial for a business success. Be it in the form of feedbacks, visitors on the site, and so on data must be consistently gathered and assessed to ascertain that the customer demands are satisfied or surpassed. Possible inadequacies or constraints in company's services and products must be brought to the front and addressed before the competitors learn about the same.

As stated above, dynamical real-time data with substantive credibility makes it possible for the business decision makers to get a clear picture of the company’s overall performance in the industry as well as against the competitors at any time. Getting correct and dependable data for conversion into information in order to make vital, fast or effective decisions is an important business function.

Strategies for Maintaining Your Company’s Data Integrity:

It is one thing to determine what actually is meant by data and the reason why its integrity is essential. It is an all-together different thing to systematically collect and manage it. At higher-levels, businesses commonly gather data by means of a variety of techniques like the following:

The Website of the Company: A usual practice is gathering data from a business website by means of page views and mouse clicks, a get in touch with us segment, a request for quote segment, a blog segment, a service or product purchase (shopping cart) segment, and so on.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Platform: An ERP platform is a business management program that incorporates a number of aspects of a business, such as project and service planning, production process, material acquiring, inventory management, supply, accounting solutions, financial management, human resources, sales and marketing, and so on. Data is accumulated from manual or automated data entry.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Platform: A CRM program is a business management software that deals with communication and connections with existing customers, potential buyers, and affiliates etc. It supports departments like sales, marketing, customer support and service. Data is collated from automated or manual data entry processes. Integration between an ERP and CRM program is furthermore very beneficial and can put a stop to data silos, superfluous data and general reliability on poor data.

Back-end Database: In the background, usually exists the database. Front-end programs like websites and CRM/ERP platforms are connected with databases. Data entered into the front-end programs move into and is saved in database on the backend. It is in this place where data extraction takes place and, thereafter that data is analyzed with the help of several techniques.

Author Bio:  Alika Cooper works a Business Development Manager at Cogneesol, a well-renowned company offering Data Management, technology, accounting and legal services. She has been working with Cogneesol for the past 10 years and is responsible for generating sales for the Data Management division.

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SAP Business One Surpasses 60,000th Customer Milestone

SAP

SAP Business One, the comprehensive enterprise resource planning (ERP) business suite designed for small to midsize businesses (SMBs), has just accomplished a landmark achievement: The application has surpassed the 60,000th customer milestone mark.

This makes SAP Business One the best-selling ERP offering within SAP by number of customers. Just consider this tremendous accomplishment in its proper context:

  • Over 1 million end users from more than 60,000 SMBs across 170 countries use the solution every day to transform the way they work — let that sink in for a moment!
  • SAP Business One contributes at least half of all new customer acquisitions for SAP in the SMB space with over 1,000 new customers added each quarter.
  • Even at this very moment, SAP Business One continues its accelerated growth streak – providing deep expertise in multiple industries and over 500 industry-specific add-on solutions delivered through 300 software partners.
  • Technologies such as natural language processing, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things built on top of SAP HANA make SAP Business One the intelligent ERP of choice for SMBs.

SMBs are increasingly turning to SAP Business One to support and extend their business growth, and we are thrilled to be able to participate in our customers’ digital transformation journey.

Bernd Leukert, member of the Executive Board of SAP SE, Products & Innovation, sums it up best: “We have a hands-down winner with SAP Business One. The positive feedback from the market validates SAP Business One as exactly the type of solution that small and midsize businesses want: It is easy to implement and offers end-to-end functionality that is tightly integrated between different business functions while enabling access to a comprehensive portfolio of industry-specific solutions. As a strategic differentiator for small and midsize businesses across the world, SAP Business One is an important vehicle that brings to them the power of the intelligent ERP.”

Helping SMBs Be Successful

Without a doubt, every one of us on the SAP Business One team has worked hard to ensure our customers – and our customers’ customers – are successful.

QALO, leaders in the functional wedding ring industry, is a recent SAP Business One customer to have seen tangible business outcomes. In order to support their business with 500 retail partners and over 1,500 daily orders, the company deployed SAP Business One to centralize its enterprise information into one system, and automate its sales and ordering processes. Through the use of analytics from SAP Business One, it quickly discovered, and rectified, a 10% discrepancy in inventory value.

“As people, we all want to be the best versions of ourselves. SAP Business One is helping us to be the best business we can be,” said Ted Baker, CEO and co-founder of QALO. Learn more about how SAP Business One helped QALO here.

The Power of Strategic Partnerships 

It is thanks to the power and the passion of our partners that has helped put SAP Business One at the top of the leaderboard. We are proud of the rich history we have of developing new routes to markets and industries through strategic partnerships. The solution currently serves multiple industries with over 500 industry-specific add-on solutions, delivered through 300 software solution partners.

A prime example of the symbiotic relationship we share with partners is MWA Intelligence, Inc. (MWA). The company expanded its partnership with SAP Business One just a few months ago in March of 2018 to revolutionize the copier dealer and print imaging industry. MWA Forza, using the SAP Business One platform, created a single integrated ERP business solution to dramatically reduce the overall costs of IT management and service provision – while providing real-time data-driven insights to improve business processes for imaging dealer networks.

This partnership enables unprecedented alignment, standardization and integration of operations and data between imaging vendors, their channel partners, and customers. It also allows SAP Business One to serve at least 10,000 new companies within the imaging industry.

But don’t just take my word on this. Michael T. Stramaglio, president and CEO of MWA Intelligence, Inc., has stated in no uncertain terms, “The unrivaled power of the SAP Business One platform opens up possibilities for organizations that otherwise could not have been achieved on any other system. We have leveraged SAP Business One powered by SAP HANA into the design and development of FORZA, an all-inclusive solution tailor-made to ensure the successful growth for the future of the imaging channel – on a level never seen before in the imaging industry.”

Attend the SAP Business One Partner and Customer Presentations at SAPPHIRE NOW

MWA will be presenting at this year’s SAPPHIRE NOW, SAP’s flagship customer and business technology event. So if you are attending the conference, check out MWA’s session, “Innovate the Way You Work with Business Partners Using Integrated ERP” on Tuesday, June 5, at 12:00 p.m. ET. You can also join us at the Business Applications area to catch top customer speakers, including David Leadbetter Golf and Square and Baumer. Hope to see you at SAPPHIRE NOW!

Luis Murguia is senior vice president of Global Customer and Partner Operations for SAP Business One and SAP Business ByDesign.

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Kaseya’s Ten Dollar Word Strategy: Horizontal Integration

It’s right out of the old school business playbook. It’s about portfolio diversification, risk reduction and greater customer choice. And it’s ultimately about a stronger Kaseya. Just prior to its annual KaseyaConnect conference in Las Vegas last week, Kaseya announced its acquisition of Unitrends, a mid-market enterprise and MSP backup provider. In a 1:1 interview with Fred Voccola, CEO of Kaseya, I got the inside scoop. Warning. A couple more ten dollar words ahead.

kaseyaconnect
Figure 1: KaseyaConnect 2018

I liken the Unitrends acquisition to a company eating its own dog food. According to Voccola, Kaseya had been using Unitrends internally and on customer-side activities and it got to know the product very well along with the Unitrends team. Kaseya engineers impressed upon Voccola that Unirends might be a good technical addition to the Kaseya family. On the financial side, Voccola and team viewed the acquisition as accretive, defined by Investopedia as “An acquisition is considered accretive if it adds to the item's value or corporation's earnings per share.” Loosely translated, we’re talking synergy here.

Full disclosure: we have worked with both Kaseya and Unitrends over the years at SMB Nation. Both have had their eyes firmly affixed on the “M” of SMB and I don’t see that necessarily changing in the future. But the story is better. There is more horizontal integration going on here. Think of it as eating tapas at a true Spanish restaurant where you can order fish and beef to create a complimentary meal.

The trend to all-in-one-shopping is being observed across the MSP space. For example, SkyKick, known for its Office 365 migration tools, introduced a backup solution over a year ago. Kaseya, best known for its remote management and monitoring (RMM) roots (it now holds itself out to be “complete IT infrastructure management solutions for managed service providers (MSPs) and mid-market enterprises (MME).” The Unitrends acquisition mirrors this horizontal integration trend.

I attended KaseyaConnect for a day last week after completing my duties at Lenovo Accelerate just up the strip. I’ve attended this show in the past but not in recent years. It’s certainly grown and still reflects a slighty larger MSP (read sports jacket). For me – it was a chance to check-in on Kaseya and meet up with old friends such as this gent below from the Orlando-area.

quotewerks kaseyaconnect
Figure 2: Brian Laufer, Vice President at QuoteWerks in ‘da booth!

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Brelsford to Zielinski: Sell Me A Laptop

Over the past year, I’ve worn out a Lenovo laptop as a road warrior. In a pinch, I went up to the SMB Nation mini-storage and grabbed a third-tier brand laptop to get me by until the annual Lenovo Accelerate conference this past week in Las Vegas. My intention was to ask the newly installed president Matt Zielinski just one question: sell me a laptop. I believe the president role in a large company such as Lenovo should be akin to rainmaker not bottle washer. Zielinski’s career path is on the sales-side, not operations. Could he sell me a laptop?


Before I give you the answer – I want to provide some context.

Mobility
One year ago at the Lenovo Accelerate conference in Orlando, I was on my last legs with my Nokia 1020 Windows-based phone. Milanka Muecke, Director of PR, Customer Center and Community Relations sold me on a Moto Z Play phone. How? She demonstrated the “mods” that snap on to the back of the phone including the HD projector, the JBL sound system and backup battery. Worked for me as it’s Android-based so I can also get appy. And that’s why there is a basis for me viewing the annual Lenovo Accelerate conference as a Spring buyers show.

FUN FACT: I actually wrote my blogger notes in the big stage keynote with my Moto Z Play 2 mobile phone using the Google Docs word processor to supplement my audio recording device. I’ve never done that before, always being the blogger with the laptop. The keynote summary highlighting Lenovo’s partner pillars will be my next blog.

Lucky 13

A primer on Zielinski https://www.linkedin.com/in/matthew-zielinski-34a2642/ . As you can see in the figure below, Zielinski is one tall dude with more years ahead of him than behind him. He framed up his career as two chapters of a book (although I’d offer he has more chapters ahead). The first chapter was 13-years at AMD where he enjoyed a successive and progressive career path resulting in his role as Corporate Vice President and General Manager, Global MNC Sales. Then he shared another 13-ism. He’s only been in role as President for Lenovo North America for 13-weeks. He’s in the process of relocating from Austin, TX to Raleigh-Durham NC with his wife and two children.

lenovofig1

Figure 1: Guess which one is Zielinski in this pic?

The Answer
I asked my question: Sell me a laptop. Proving he’s quick on his feet, Zielinski responded rapidly. He shared that he’s played piano since he was three years old (yes – he’s “that guy” we all have heard of). By analogy he offered that when he plays his Steinway piano, he “just plays better.” Not a bad answer for being ambushed in our 1:1 interview.

Floor tour
Armed with Zielinski’s answer, I took that view point into a private 7:15am trade show hall tour (seriously – a 7:15am meeting in Vegas?!?!?). I was on a mission to discover what my next Lenovo would be. The short answer is that I’m eyeing the Lenovo 480s family to balance functionality, budget and durability (I first and foremost respect the lifetime duration I’m able to consistently maintain my Lenovo models for; in fact, my son has a Lenovo laptop he has used for four (4!) years studying aerospace at CalPoly). I’m not feeling the need for the more flashy/cute Lenovo laptop SKUs such as 2:1 because I’m increasingly leaning on my Moto Z Play 2 phone for the “fun stuff” (for example – in the near future I’m adding the Hasselblad True Zoom Camera Mod to improve and enhance my blog pics). I want my laptop to be a working dog; not a show dog.
lenovofig2 

Figure 2: Lenovo T480s model on the tradeshow floor at Lenovo Accelerate

Finally – I end with some “fun photos” from the tradeshow floor – all before 8:00am in Vegas!

 Lenovofig3  lenovofig4

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CMIT: Start Over Opps 4 AARP Crowd

In advance of CMIT Solutions’ annual convention next week (Vancouver, WA), I reached out to CEO Jeff Connally for a check-in. Simultaneously I noticed a LinkedIn update for former Microsoftie Kevin Remde having secured a CMIT Solutions franchise territory for the Maple Grove, MN-area. Seems like a “start over” story for this techie in the works.

CMIT Solutions has grown to be the largest computer-related franchise in the US with over 200-locations. It has evolved from the days of Ms. Iceland in its doublewide booth at the SMB Nation 2008 Fall Conference

to emphasize technology solutions, not just a ‘puter guy break-fix business model. What I believe sets CMIT Solutions apart is its unflinching commitment to marketing, learning and operations excellence. In its own words, CMIT Solutions says “…helping people and businesses to be more productive and to success through the intelligent application of information technology.” 

Kevin

Figure 1: CEO Jeff Connally awarding Kevin Remde (right) his owners school completion certificate!

In my view, a franchise should be a few things for a new owner to enter a specific line of work. It should provide training (that’s the above referenced marketing and operations excellence), promotion, collaboration (think of fellow franchise owners in non-competing territories as being in a peer group) and the ability to be instantly in business with a marketing bill of materials such as branding. I also liken the CMIT Solutions community as a way to fight owner loneliness (that’s a true medical condition).

Ironically the core SMB Nation audience isn’t necessarily the “best fit” for CMIT Solutions. Why? Because SMB Nation members, will aligned with respect to CMIT Solutions’ demographic persona(s), are already experienced and established business owners in the tech sector. Not that many of “us” couldn’t benefit from the CMIT Solutions “way” lemme tell ya.

One of the ideal CMIT candidate personas is Remde. Remde is north of 50-years old, received his severance after serving many years at Microsoft (some might remember Kevin as a Sr. Technical Evangelist on the vaunted Microsoft TechNet event and content motion. He is technically top heavy and, with all due respect, a corporate guy who has spent the bulk of his career signing the back of paychecks (endorsement for deposit) versus signing the front of the paycheck (making payroll). In short – the ideal CMIT Solutions candidate is seeking the next great thing post-corporate career (as a member of the hard core corporate enterprise “50+yo and out crowd”). What I like about Remde is what he alluded to in his “open for business” letter that I recently received: learning. Not only is Remde a continuous life learner but he espouses the passionate narrative of helping others “learn, learn, learn!” That makes sense given his role on the TechNet team. Coupled with CMIT Solutions’ learning paradigm, it’s about as good as it gets.

There you have it. CMIT Solutions has enabled Remde to tap his passion to marry his technical experience with a long-held desire to own a business and provide employment for others.

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5 Processes SMBs must Automate to Stay Competitive

The era we live in is highly automated. At home, you may already have the doors that automatically lock once you leave the house, smart lights you can turn on/off using a single button, or an audio system you can control via your phone.

The same goes for your business. The beauty of today’s machine learning and AI-powered technology is that they give us the newton s cradle balls sphere action 60582opportunity to make almost every aspect of our businesses simpler and faster. By investing in the right tools, you can get rid of boring, repetitive tasks and finally focus on those practices that can help you grow your business.

With this in mind, here are a few basic things every small business should automate.

1.  Social Media Marketing

Today, social networks are the foundation of creating firm relationships with your customers and providing them with stellar customer support.

Your followers expect you to be active 24/7 and social media management tools like Buffer or Hootsuite can help you here. They allow you to schedule, upload, and edit numerous posts at once, across different social networks. These tools also make the process of finding and curating industry-relevant content much simpler.

To tailor your marketing strategies to your target audience’s needs, you need to know what they think of you. And, social networks are a perfect place to start your search. You can use tools like Awario, Mention, Social Mention, Topsy or Talkwalker Alerts to stay on top of your customers’ discussions and provide them with instant, real-time feedback.

2.  Search Engine Optimization

Statistics tell us that 93% of all online experiences start with search engines. This is why SEO is still an inevitable part of your digital marketing campaign. Now, to boost your rankings, you have two options- to hire an SEO agency or simply do your SEO on your own. If you go with the latter option, you will have to hire an in-house team of marketers and invest in the right tools to automate your marketing efforts.

You can use Moz Keyword Explorer, Google Keyword Planner, KW Finder, or Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer to target and optimize your site for relevant keywords.

There are numerous content marketing tools like BuzzSumo that will help you come up with relevant topics and create an awesome story around your keywords.

You can also invest in link building tools like Dibz to find relevant link building opportunities and drive quality traffic to your site.

3.  Customer Relationship Management

Did you know that 86% of customers would pay more for a better customer support? Given these facts, it’s not surprising at all that customer relationship management (CRM) can make or break your business. Now, providing customer support is probably the most powerful way to connect with your customers and humanize your brand. This is why many businesses avoid to automate it.

However, there is nothing bad in today’s CRM automation. With the rise of AI, it has become more natural and it helps you do things you cannot do on your own.

First, the implementation of artificial intelligence makes your self-service content smarter. Modern chatbots are already able to impersonate real-life conversations and provide to-the-point and reliable answers to the questions asked.

Second, they allow you to offer exceptional customer support 24/7. Automated customer service helps you give real-time feedback and instantly address the problems your customers face.

Third, better customer support boosts customer experience, resulting in skyrocketing conversions and customer retention.

Finally, automating customer support helps you save money. Namely, statistics show that, compared to traditional call centers, AI-powered voice responsive services help you save up to 80%.

4.  Office Management

Effective office management improves the overall workplace performance, encourages better collaboration, and saves you both time and money. Of course, automating your workplace doesn’t mean replacing people with machines. 

Start with project management tools like Basecamp, Asana or Trello that will help your employees work on an important project simultaneously and leave comments, share documents, and download files instantly.

If scheduling meetings, finding the right time for everyone, and sending circular emails has become too tiresome to you, you should go with the tools like Doodle. With it, you can select stuff like dates, time, and places and invite your employees to vote. Once all votes are in, you just need to choose the option that works for everyone.

Use tools like Smashfly or BreezyHR to automate your hiring process instead of sifting through the mountains of job applications manually.

You can also invest in a smart bot like Spoke to answer repetitive internal questions for you. Your employees can ask you questions via email, Slack, and similar platforms and get the answers instantly. Most importantly, Spoke is based on AI, meaning that it collects insights from every conversation so it can reply to similar questions faster in the future.

5.  Financial Management

To stay competitive, you need to know where your money flows or comes from. This means knowing to read your financial statements and monitoring a bunch of your invoices, taxes, bills on a monthly basis. And, if you don’t do it properly, you may put your business at risk.

If hiring an accountant is not an option for you, you can always consider investing in the right cloud-based accounting software such as QuickBooks, FreshBooks, Zoho Books, or Xero. These tools automate repetitive tasks, such as recurring invoices, bill payments, or payment reminders. They keep track of all your credit card transactions, classify all your expenditures, and help you monitor them in real-time. Most importantly, they can automate your financial report creation and offer regular data backups so you don’t have to worry about the safety of your sensitive data.

Conclusions

In the world of sophisticated technologies, not investing in your business automation means missing out on the opportunity to improve your customer satisfaction, save money, and boost your workplace performance. By leaving monotonous tasks to your software, you and your team can finally focus on some other, more creative aspects of your job.

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The Future of Internet of Things

Everything changes so rapidly! We have evolved from the dial-up connection to superfast 24/7 available internet connection. We are globally connected with others, work from home, have friends on the different continents and travel super fast from one destination to another.

With all of these valuable things that the internet evolution has brought, internet of things iot ts 100709714 largeunfortunately, comes a big issue – privacy. With social media and routers that hold all of our private info, imagine your coffee maker and the car having more info about you? Imagine that all of your devices are interconnected with you. It is pretty intriguing, right? That concept is called the Internet of things!

And it is an interesting concept. For those who are getting to know this idea for the first time, it could sound pretty weird. In order to understand the concept and its future, we should first define the Internet of Things.

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of things as an idea could lead us to a life that we could only dream of, although, it is not necessarily in a good way. The interconnectedness sounds pretty cool and exciting when you imagine the outcome and then move on with your regular life. But, imagine a day in a world where billions of your private data flow from one device to another and impact the course of your action. For example, your car is connected to your calendar, so it knows where you should be that exact day and it starts to count the best route for you to come just in time.

You are probably wondering, how in the world is this possible? Well, we should start from the basis. Internet of things is including all the devices that have an on and off switch to the Internet. That will include everything from cell phones, coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices and almost anything else you can think of.

The Internet of Things and Net Neutrality

As the broadband internet has become widely available, the cost of Internet connection proportionally decreased. Furthermore, there are more devices that have WI-FI option and sensors in them, plus technology costs are going down. These conditions are a perfect foundation for the Internet of Things (IoT).

Maybe the most important factor for the IoT is net neutrality regulation. According to experts, without net neutrality the future of IoT is uncertain. But, why is that the case?

Net neutrality ensures that you can use the device you want to. Current net neutrality rules imply that the internet provider is not allowed to stop you from connecting any laptop, tablet, smartphone, or WI-FI router you prefer to your home network. However, without net neutrality, everything will change.

For example, broadband companies and cell carriers could create unfair conditions on the market. They could let internet traffic to flow faster to one brand of phone or computer over another.

Charter Communications have started testing 5G technologies in 6 cities earlier this year. It is predicted that Charter Spectrum Internet 5G network will be the first network designed to be scalable, versatile, and energy smart for the hyper-connected internet of everything world. 5G platform will impact many industries including automotive, entertainment, agriculture, manufacturing and IT. As industries are preparing for 5G, we’ll see the issue of net neutrality come to the forefront.

Let’s sum it up! If the internet providers have the power to decide which gadget or home appliance you should or shouldn’t use, they create winners and losers on the market. That would be the worst case scenario for you, competition and the future of the IoT.

Internet of things and smart cities

Basically, everything that can be connected will be connected in the future. Although it is scary and dangerous on some levels, interconnectedness can be great for the environment.

If we take a look at a broader picture, the Internet of things can be applied to things like transportation networks: "smart cities" which can help us to reduce waste and improve efficiency for things such as energy use; this would be helping us understand and improve how we work and live.

The truth is that the IoT allows for virtually endless opportunities and connections to take place, many of which we can't even imagine or fully understand.

Internet of things and security

Security is a big issue, and it is in the center of attention today. But, can you imagine how it would look like with billions of devices being connected together? What can people do to protect their information? Will someone be able to hack into your toaster and get access to your entire network? If we are discussing privacy and safety today, we don’t even want to know how the conversation would go if the internet of things becomes our reality.

Another logical question arises – where are they going to store that amount of data?  Billions of information have to be stored somewhere, and that would be a huge challenge for the companies

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Top 4 Free Applications for SMBs

Even though most people may not realize it, small and medium businesses are the backbone of the economy. In 2016, there were 28.8 million small businesses in the US, which translates to 99.7% of all American businesses – and in fact, since the 1970s, 66% of total net new jobs are generated by small businesses, which also make for 55% of all jobs in the marketplace. Yet only 50% of those businesses are set to surpass five years and only one third will survive for at least 10 years. This means that SMB owners have to play it smart in order to increase their chances in a highly competitive market – so why not take advantage of free applications that could be ideal for your enterprise?

1. Project Management

One of the most important questions you have to deal with as an SMB is how to deal with managing various projects among the few people that you employ. There are software tools out there that can help make that easier for you, by streamlining communication between team members and allowing you to stay on top of the workflow. Asana, one of the most popular PM apps, is free for the first 15 users, making it great for small businesses. It has a flexible interface and visually documents progress, while it can integrate with services like Evernote, Google Drive, MailChimp, and WordPress.

project management

 

Source: Pexels

2. Traffic Management

When your SMB has a website – as most businesses today do – then sometimes managing traffic can be daunting. A load balancing tool such as HAProxy (High Availability Proxy) allows you to allocate load across multiple servers and help optimize system performance and speed. HAProxy is a free and open source (FOSS) application– it is included in some Linux distributions, if your system runs on Linux, or it can be downloaded separately. Due to its elaborate nature, though, it also requires IT expertise to set up and maintain – so having the right people on board in-house or hiring outside help is crucial.

3. Productivity

Especially when working in small numbers or when you are freelancing, time can really fly. A good time tracking app can help both you and people on your team stay more focused on the task at hand and spend less time distracted by social media or less important tasks. RescueTime is a time management app that tracks where you allocate your precious time by website and application and allows users to set productivity goals. The basic version is completely free, but if you want features like blocking certain sites or breaking down offline activity, then you’ll have to upgrade to premium for a little extra. RescueTime is flexible across platforms and can be used on Mac, PC, and Linux, but its app is currently only available on Android.

prodactivity

Source: Pexels

4. Team Communication

Besides specialized project management apps, it is nice to have a tool dedicated to internal communication in order to make sure that everyone is up to date and colleagues can get easily in touch when needed. Slack is your best friend – and its basic version is free for an unlimited number of users, although it comes with space and feature limitations. You can create a shared workspace with organized communication channels, customized notifications, searchable messages and mandatory two-factor authentication for extra security.

So if you’d like to increase productivity while on a budget, there is no better way to do it than to look out for these free software tools and choose which one right for your company’s needs.

 

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Data Protection Best Practices for SMBs

Data protection comprises of a mix of services, all poised to ensure that IT environments do not experience data loss, data leakage and downtime. Data protection technologies hold a special place for Small to Medium sized Businesses (SMBs).

Importance of Data Protection for SMBs

As businesses grow they rely on digitalization and the data generated, as a result. Data can be classified into different types Data Protectionsuch as mission critical data, frequently accessed data, infrequently accessed data and archival data. Each type presents its own unique storage requirements and challenges. The most important type of data among this chunk is mission critical data. This is the type of data that fuels all of the processes of the IT environments of a business. If this data is lost or compromised, the business experiences an outage or downtime.

Outage or downtime tends to be very costly for businesses; they incur financial repercussions and reputation damage. If an SMB does not have adequate data protection technology and techniques, then they are more susceptible to data loss or downtime and in turn financial costs and reputation damage. In the worst case scenario, an SMB may not even recover from it.

That’s why data protection technology is very important for businesses and especially SMBs.

Now the question is “What are Data Protection Technologies?”

What are Data Protection Technologies?

The major part of data protection technologies can be severed into two: Backup and disaster recovery. Backup and disaster recovery technologies are sometimes confused with one another; however, the two are very different.

The comparison between the two is an explanation for another time but the concise difference is that backup is meant to prevent data loss in all its entirety; while disaster recovery services reduce downtime by prioritizing the restoration of mission critical data.

Data Backup Options for SMBs

Data backup options for SMBs can all be summed up in two major types: Cloud backups and On-premises backups.

On-premises backups require SMBs to acquire an infrastructure, set it up and then endure the dynamic costs of maintenance, power, cooling costs and an IT professional or a team that manages the infrastructure for them. The plus side to on-premises backup appliances is that they deliver reduced latency; if an IT environment is focused on faster data flow, then backup appliances are probably the better fit.

Cloud backups enable SMBs to acquire backup services without the acquisition of infrastructure and without initial costs. Cloud backup service providers deliver pay-as-you-go payment models. Instead of commissioning a backup infrastructure that has storage resources which sit idly until they’re used; SMBs can acquire the storage space that they need with cloud technology and then scale up later to add more space.

The most well sought after attributes of cloud technology are scalability and cost effectiveness.

The downside of cloud backups is that each time a backup file is retrieved, the process incurs charges. This requires detailed management of the backup and restore processes; otherwise, cost efficiency is compromised.

Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) Options for SMBs

Similar to backup solutions, disaster recovery solutions also come in two major forms: on-premises disaster recovery and cloud disaster recovery.

On-premises disaster recovery solutions comprise of an infrastructure that replicates data using combinations of technologies like data replication technology and snapshot technology. Disaster recovery solutions tend to be quite expensive because they need optimized technology to reduce RTOs (Recovery Time Objectives) and RPOs (Recovery Point Objectives) as much as they can.

Cloud disaster recovery solutions are less taxing and less expensive than on-premises disaster recovery solutions. However, as with all cloud based services, latency remains an issue. For IT environments that cannot tolerate latency, on-premises disaster recovery technology is the better option.

Till this point, we are now familiar with backup and disaster recovery technology and we know why data protection is important for SMBs.

Let’s explore some data protection best practices for SMBs.

Best Practices – What SMBs should do to efficiently protect their data

Before indulging in the best practices, I’d like to mention here that each business has their customized data requirements. This implies that what’s best for one IT environment may not be for another; one shoe does not fit all. It’s better to scrutinize your data requirements before setting up data protection solutions.

With that in mind, here’s a general set of recommendations pertaining to data protection for SMBs.

Setup a Hybrid Solution – Cloud and On-premises

Instead of setting up a single on-premises or cloud based solution, I recommend setting up a hybrid data protection solution that uses both of them.

Initially, acquire a backup appliance for all your backup purposes and setup cloud disaster recovery services with it. As the data grows, you can either scale-out the appliance or you can set it up with a cloud based service. The compatibility depends on the appliance and the vendor. It is important to make sure that the desired services are being offered before the acquisition of the solution.

The initial setup will accommodate all the SMB’s data requirements and as the requirements increase, the SMB can use cloud connect services or cloud gateway appliances to tap into the cloud and utilize the different storage tiers offered by major cloud service providers.

With this setup, SMBs can have a scalable solution that’s optimized to address all their data requirements and is cost efficient. This sort of a setup is basically future proof; SMBs don’t have to worry about future expansion.

The cloud disaster recovery service will ensure that downtime is reduced while keeping the cost implications in check.

That sums up my insight about the subject. What’s your take on it? Comment below and remember to share with other professionals.

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How to Collaborate Effectively If Your Team Is Remote

by Erica Dhawan and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

February 27, 2018

 

Remote Team

Remote communication isn’t always easy. Do you recognize yourself in any of these examples?

At 10 p.m., a corporate lawyer gets a text from a colleague and wonders (not for the first time) if there’s a protocol about work-related texts after a certain hour.

After a long and liquid client dinner, an advertising executive opens an email from his boss reminding him to submit his expenses on time. Annoyed by this micromanagement, he immediately responds with his uncensored thoughts.

On the weekly team conference call, a remote team member is confused about whether her colleague is really on mute when she delays a response to a question or if shes just not paying attention and is using this as an excuse.

When it’s possible to be set off by a phone’s mute button, it’s safe to say that we’re living in challenging times. The digital era has ushered in a revolution in communication that’s equivalent to the one surrounding the invention of the printing press. It’s changing how we speak — often in bullet points. And it’s affecting what we hear, as the jumble of information coming at us can lead to frequent misunderstandings and confusion.

People who work on remote teams face these challenges consistently. According to recent estimates from Gallup and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 22% of Americans work from home, while nearly 50% are involved with remote or virtual team work. This continuing shift calls for a new range of behaviors and skills.

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Top Takeaways - Ingram Cloud Summit

Talk about a working vacation, I have returned well-rested and intellectually nourished from the just completed Ingram Cloud Summit held at an iconic, old-school Florida hotel (Boca Resort). In my earlier blog, I spoke toward CloudBlue, a new platform announced by Ingram Micro and Microsoft. 
But there were other nuggets at this event.

Here is my take.
1. SkyKick $40m Raise. Wow – that was a surprise. As I was monitoring Seattle-based GeekWire, a story broke that migration and backup ISV SkyKick closed on a $40-million investor round. It brings its

Skykick

Lauren Wood (SkyKick) with a partner.

2. Women in Technology. I attended a pre-conference afternoon panel about Women in Technology. As I like to do, I asked one question. While most of the women leaders on stage were from the corporate world, there was one like-minded SMB entrepreneur (Dao Jensen, Kaizen Tech Partners) who spoke towards feeling challenged as a woman geek in high school. I asked her about the findings in a popular book “The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance---What Women Should Know” (Shipman and Kay) wherein as young people transition from tweens to teens, men become overconfident and women have a drop in confidence. Dao and the other panelists affirmed that inflection point in life and offered sage advice, experience, etc. Bottom line. A recognition that we all need to work on inspiring confidence in women.

 

womenintechnology

 

3. IAMCP Expanding. I’m a fan of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) monthly lunch meeting in Seattle that I attend regularly plus its annual presence at the Microsoft Inspire partner conference. I wasn’t used to seeing IAMCP at a conference like Ingram Cloud Summit. It appeared to be happy hunting to recruit new IAMCP members as the Ingram Cloud Summit catered to larger partners.

4. Microsoft IoT. The coolest thing on the tradeshow floor was the Microsoft IoT SUV. IoT was the overarching theme for the Ingram Cloud Summit (hey – every conference has to have a theme). The IoT SUV was here, now and pragmatic. I felt a lot of the IoT conversations were still too far off in the future to impact today’s cash flow. But we’re getting closer. 

iotSUV

 

 

The IoT SUV was very popular! 

5. Hallway 101. Long-time readers know that I prefer to work the hallways all-day every day at conferences versus attending lectures to meet people (I wasn’t a well-behaved student due to ADHD). The good news is that there are folks just like me walking ‘da halls and open to networking. Shout outs to Jeff Ponts (DataTel) and George Mellor (KloudReadiness) for sincere business development conversations.

jeffponts
 Jeff Ponts from DataTel

george

George Mellor from KloudReadiness

Really enjoyed this event and I will repeat. Join me.

 

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Why Microsoft gave Windows 10 (version 1803) a different name

Rather than recycling 'seasonal' names for OS upgrades, the company changed things up this time around.

 

Microsoft Windows 10

 

Microsoft will start distributing the next Windows 10 feature upgrade, "Windows 10 April 2018 Update," today - a few weeks later then it had been expected to arrive.

The release date barely squeaked under the wire Microsoft set for itself with its labeling of the upgrade, although the company has never expressed concern when actual release dates have conflicted with each update's alternate - and numeric - title, the one formatted as yymm. That conflict continued with the April 2018 upgrade. Its 1803 moniker envisioned a March, not a last-day-of-April, debut.

 

Microsoft will start distributing the next Windows 10 feature upgrade, "Windows 10 April 2018 Update," today - a few weeks later then it had been expected to arrive.

The release date barely squeaked under the wire Microsoft set for itself with its labeling of the upgrade, although the company has never expressed concern when actual release dates have conflicted with each update's alternate - and numeric - title, the one formatted as yymm. That conflict continued with the April 2018 upgrade. Its 1803 moniker envisioned a March, not a last-day-of-April, debut.

But the new name puts a spotlight on more than just that long-standing contradiction. Here are the most likely reasons Microsoft changed Windows 10's nicknaming.

Microsoft would have exhausted seasonal names

After last year's "Fall Creators Update," for the October feature upgrade, Microsoft would have run out of seasons this month unless it was willing to upend, if not its twice-annual cadence, then the times during the year when it would issue a refresh. (There was a time when virtually everyone, including Computerworld, assumed the latest would be branded as "Spring Creators Update," a single-word upgrade on April 2017's "Creators Update.")

The protesting howls would have matched stadium concert levels.

As some noted, the naming is also northern hemisphere-centric, because south of the equator, "spring" comes in September and "fall" in March.

So, absent a decision to add Roman numerals to the nameplates - "Spring Creators Update II" or "Fall Creators Update IV" - and risk mimicking Hollywood's creative bankruptcy, Microsoft faced a forced name change.

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Leveraging the Power of AI to Stop Email Scammers

Staff members are on the frontline when it comes to cyberattacks against their employers. They’re increasingly seen by hackers as a weak link in the cybersecurity chain. That’s why most threats today come via email, aimed squarely at tricking the recipient into downloading malware, divulging log-ins or making wire transfers to the attacker. Trend Micro predicts cumulative losses from Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks alone will hit $9 billion this year.

As attacks get smarter, so must we. That’s why Trend Micro is SMB Nation WhatsYourX Banners 220x150introducing two innovative new offerings to help in the fight against email scammers. One is a new AI-powered feature designed to improve BEC detection while the other will help IT teams train their employees to spot phishing attacks. It’s one more step towards taking the fight to the bad guys.

The email threat

There’s no doubt that email is the primary threat vector for attackers targeting organizations today. The Trend Micro™ Smart Protection Network™ blocked more than 66 billion threats in 2017, over 85 percent of which were emails containing malicious content.

BEC is an increasingly favored tactic as the rewards can be huge. It’s hard for many organizations to spot because attacks typically don’t contain any malware; they rely mainly on social engineering of the carefully selected recipient. That recipient, usually in the finance department, is sent an email impersonating the CEO, CFO, or other executive requesting that they urgently make a wire transfer or reply with sensitive data. With average losses topping $130,000 per incident, it’s no surprise that we saw an increase in attempted BEC attacks on our customers of 106 percent between 1H and 2H 2017.

This is not to underplay the impact phishing continues to have on organizations around the globe. By targeting employees, attackers can spread malware and covertly infiltrate networks to steal sensitive data and IP. Results from the Black Hat Attendee Survey last year illustrate the impact this trend is having on organizations.

  • IT Leaders cited phishing as their #1 security concern
  • Phishing was identified as the most time-consuming threat
  • The weakest link in IT security was cited as end users being tricked by phishing attacks
  • 19 percent rated phishing as the most serious cyber threat to emerge within the past year, second only to ransomware

Taking action

The potential financial and reputational damage of such attacks is obvious. In the face of these rising threat levels we must hit back — and we have, with two new free tools.

Writing Style DNA includes new AI-powered technology that learns how executives write so that it can spot impersonation attempts, and sends a warning to the implied sender, recipient and the IT department. It sounds straightforward but requires serious computing power and smart AI algorithms to achieve. For each user, a personal model is created using 7,000 features of writing characteristics to train the system — things like punctuation and sentence length. We convert emails to meta data before analyzing, to protect customer’s privacy and meet compliance requirements.

Focusing on the writing style in the body of the email complements existing techniques that analyze behavior and intention. Some of these current techniques can fail if, for example, the attacker uses compromised accounts at legitimate domains to hide the true origin of the email. It’s one more tool to help IT teams push back the rising tide of email threats, and it will be made available at no extra cost as part of Cloud App Security (CAS) for Office 365 and ScanMail for Microsoft Exchange (SMEX),

First line of defense

Technology is a vital layer of defense to keep email threats at bay. But what about your employees, who are often thought of as the ‘weakest link?’

We can help here, too. A new free SaaS-based phishing simulation service can help IT teams train employees to spot attempted attacks before they have a chance to impact the organization. Phish Insight is all about enhancing awareness of your staff. All it takes is one administrator, four steps and five minutes to run a real-world exercise designed to mimic what employees might see at their desks.

With the detailed reporting results, displayed in a handy graphical interface, IT teams can then tailor their education programs to make lasting behavioral changes.

Phish Insight is now available free of charge to all organizations of all sizes around the world. The service has been available for a year in Asia and has generated huge interest as organizations leverage it to turn their weakest link into a formidable first line of defense. As email threats continue to rise, we’d encourage you to take a look.

To stop phishing and social engineering attacks it is critical to make both your people and your technology smarter. Phish Insight trains your people to better spot phishing attacks and Writing Style DNA confirms the authorship of an email to prevent CEO fraud and other types of BEC attacks.

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All Together Now: CloudBlue

At this week’s Ingram Micro’s Cloud Summit conference for partners, MSPs and resellers, a new line of business called CloudBlue was announced and released into the wild whacky world of cloud computing. My take is CloudBlue basically aggregates a lot of existing Ingram Micro cloud assets under one umbrella. It is considered a new division within Ingram Micro and Microsoft is a significant strategic partner in this solution. Microsoft declined to specify if it was a financial investor.

Microsoft and Ingram Micro will co-sell the CloudBlue commerce platform to new service providers joining Microsoft’s Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program, and the CloudBlue platform will operate on Microsoft Azure.At this week’s Ingram Micro’s Cloud Summit conference for partners, MSPs and resellers, a new line of business called CloudBlue was announced and released into the wild whacky world of cloud computing. My take is CloudBlue basically aggregates a lot of existing Ingram Micro cloud assets under one umbrella. It is considered a new division within Ingram Micro and Microsoft is a significant strategic partner in this solution. Microsoft declined to specify if it was a financial investor. Microsoft and Ingram Micro will co-sell the CloudBlue commerce platform to new service providers joining Microsoft’s Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program, and the CloudBlue platform will operate on Microsoft Azure.

Almost two and a half years ago, Ingram Micro acquired Odin (the successor brand to Parallels). While I’ve covered that in the past, Odin brought a line of work to Ingram allowing ISVs, Distis and entrepreneurs to create a cloud marketplace with provisioning, billing and support. In many ways I thought that interesting in that I liked Odin as an independent solution that could serve other distributors such as D&H Distributing plus its really strong research arm that published excellent primary research. Over the past couple of years, I felt we had “lost” both the independent platform and research with the Odin acquisition; CloudBlue now clarifies what “happened” to Odin and brings the platform back to the center of attention. 

In an interview with Richard Dufty, Executive Vice President of Ingram Cloud, he stated that CloudBlue brings together a rich set of assets in the Ingram Micro family in a multi-year development effort.CloudBlue has the following components: 

Marketplace

Service Catalog

Subscription Management

Billing and Invoicing

Provisioning

Reporting/BI

Channel Enablement

Platform

You can see in Figure 1 showing a significant resource commitment in terms of money, time and labor. You can also get a sense of the CloudBlue scale, scope and geography. 

CloudBlue Fig1

Figure 1: CloudBlue facts. 

The CloudBlue commerce platform enables service providers of any size and a wide variety of business models to automate, aggregate and monetize their own cloud and digital services as well as those from third-parties. CloudBlue also enables ISVs to take their offerings to market almost instantly across the entire multi-service provider ecosystem with the company’s industry-leading cloud commerce and anything-as-a-service (XaaS) platform. Loosely translated, an SMB Nation MSP could be a cloud market place/cloud distributor. Reflecting Odin’s roots, CloudBlue launches with significant telecom support: Sprint, Centurylink, Cogeco, Telefonica, O2, Telenor, Telekom Austria, AmericaMovil, Cobweb, GTI, Copaco, PCM and Telstra.

Self-Service Platform?

In another private meeting with Ingram Micro executives, it was noted that CloudBlue will endeavor to offer a customer-facing self-service portal. I called BS as it has been my (admittedly biased) experience that technology self-service is an oxymoron (customers are lazy IMHO). But the upside for CloudBlue is that I believe partners and MSPs will be in continued market demand; this stuff doesn’t just happen on its own. Self-service is over-rated.

Developers are the New Rock Stars

An inherent assumption concerning CloudBlue is the focus on intellectual property and DevOps. This is less of an infrastructure play and more of a app bolt-on play. It’s a natural progression as they aren’t making servers like they used to buddy boy. It creates a challenge for us Big Iron server-side guys as we’ll need to continue our own transformative journey to recreate and reinvent ourselves. Look at Figure 2 and observe the CloudBlue architecture and design. This is showing the internals with an emphasis on API-based connectivity. 

fig2 cloudblue

Figure 2: Get Your Geek On!

The Ingram CTO who presented the CloudBlue architecture emphasized ease-of-use in API creation and integration but I’ve had my fingertips burned in software development projects so I’ll withhold judgement until I learn more about CloudBlue. At the core of the CloudBlue ecosystem, is its proprietary API technology, APS, which customers can use to immediately connect to CloudBlue’s network of vendor solutions, enabling them to offer these vendor solutions in conjunction with their own core services quickly and easily. CloudBlue provides a single entry point to an ecosystem of the world’s most innovative ISVs, including more than 200 pre-integrated solutions from Microsoft, Dropbox, DocuSign, IBM, Cisco, Symantec and many more.

BTW – you can revisit a past blog on Slingr’s “Platform as a Service” play that provides additional context on API integrations and the bolt-on concept here.  

Scale Sales Quickly

A woman who most recently was a CMO inside a Big Data organization once told me what her takeaway was from her graduate school experience (MBA): learning how to scale. Agreed as MBAs are typically oriented towards enterprises and not entrepreneurs. Adopting the same MBA-like mindset, I’d concur with Ingram Micro’s assertion that CloudBlue’s raison d'être is rapid sales scalability (CloudReferral; CloudMarketplace; CloudPremium). It’s “graduate school” for the merchant and reseller class. You can see BlueClouds scalability intentions in Figure 3. 

CloudBlue Fig3

 

Figure 3: Visualizing worldwide scalability via CloudBlue.

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10 Key Technologies that enable Big Data Analytics for businesses

Big Data

 

The big data analytics technology is a combination of several techniques and processing methods. What makes them effective is their collective use by enterprises to obtain relevant results for strategic management and implementation.

In spite of the investment enthusiasm, and ambition to leverage the power of data to transform the enterprise, results vary in terms of success. Organizations still struggle to forge what would be consider a “data-driven” culture. Of the executives who report starting such a project, only 40.2% report having success. Big transformations take time, and while the vast majority of firms aspire to being “data-driven”, a much smaller percentage have realized this ambition. Cultural transformations seldom occur overnight.

At this point in the evolution of big data, the challenges for most companies are not related to technology. The biggest impediments to adoption relate to cultural challenges: organizational alignment, resistance or lack of understanding, and change management.

Here are some key technologies that enable Big Data for Businesses:

 

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SMB HR: LinkedIn isn't the best way to...

shakinghands

by John Reed

7% of candidates that come through referrals account for 40% of total hires

As a source of new, competent staff, employee referrals have no equal. There is no other source for candidates that generate the same ROI; in fact the 7% of candidates that come through referrals account for 40% of total hires.

New data show that employee referrals provide better candidates, higher retention rates and help companies hire faster.

Referrals are the number one source of high performing employees.

Applicants hired from a referral begin their position quicker than applicants found via job boards and career sites (after 29 days compared with 39 days via job boards and 55 via career sites).

Referral hires have higher retention rates – 46% of employee referrals stay for three years or more, compared to only 14% of those hired from job boards.

Challenges to employee referral programs

Recruiters and hiring managers realize how important and effective employee referrals are, and every large enterprise today has referral programs to stimulate their existing workforce to help identify quality candidates within their network. Companies use monetary incentives, in some cases several thousands of dollars, to get employees to refer candidates for critical open positions.

The HR question is: why do only 7% of all applications come through referrals? What is stopping employees from referring more candidates?

Recruiters declare that especially for senior roles, the peers that could make an introduction to the right candidates are usually senior managers or directors with a very busy schedule and little or no time for browsing through a company’s open positions and then identifying great candidates within their network.

The other problem is that sometimes even though a first attempt is made, employees forget to follow up, and the referral doesn’t go further.

Make referrals easy for your employees

The best way for recruiters to quickly identify great candidates through referrals would be to source talent within an employees’ network and identify candidates upfront. Once the passive candidate has been identified, the employee’s job is to simply make the introduction and let HR follow up with the talent. In order to implement and manage this process, recruiters have to:
1. Access employee’s network upfront
2. Leverage automated notification and customized messages
3. Track in real-time the status of referrals

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Visual Studio 2017 roadmap: The new features y

Microsoft adds capabilities to the Visual Studio IDE almost every month. Here's what you can expect for the rest of 2018.

 

 

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Microsoft has published a roadmap of features planned for Visual Studio 2017 in 2018.

Some key capabilities anticipated by June 2018 include:

  • Setup of continuous delivery for the Azure Functions serverless computing platform.
  • Faster switching of Git branches.
  • Just-in-time debugging for .Net Core.
  • Customizing of the Visual Studio installation location to reduce the footprint on the system drive.
  • Improved startup and load performance.
  • Full C++ 17 conformancein the Microsoft C++ compiler and libraries.
  • Creation of F#Net Core projects.
  • Ability to fix code style violations via one-click code cleanup.
  • Improved Python debugging experience.
  • Full support for .Net Core 2.1, which will be in a beta version.

For July through September 2018, planned key features include:

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(Internet of) Things as a Service (TaaS) – Hype vs. Reality

With all of the excitement around Internet of Things (IoT), it can be difficult to separate hype from reality. IoT is more about disruptive new business models than technology.

Move aside SaaS, IaaS, PaaS (Software, Infrastructure, and Platform as a service) – there is a new kid, TaaS (internet of Things as a Service), in town.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a trend in which the physical world is becoming a type of giant information system—through IOT one photo shutterstock 468787469 A2sensors and telematics embedded in physical objects and linked through wireless networks. As with all new and exciting technologies, it's difficult to separate hype from reality. Certainly the IoT, with its promise of connecting homes and cars, smart grids and smart manufacturing fit into this category. What is different this time around is the convergence of disruptive technologies such as cloud and mobile, shrinking hardware and ubiquitous connectivity, increasing business use cases that are rewriting traditional business rulebook.

IDC says the number of connected devices will increase to 30 billion this decade. The mix of devices will shift from traditional clients such as tablets, smartphones and wearables to IoT devices ranging from sensors to jet engines, transmission grids, and facilities equipment to assembly line machinery, train switches, even cattle. The things that we expect to connect to the Internet will consists of sensors, actuators with information processing and communication capabilities that will make themselves intelligent.

While consumers eagerly await a new iWatch, Android wear­able or a new smart home device from companies such as Nest; for organizations like Ford, FedEx, and GE it is all about IoT-enabled intelligent sensors, machine-to-machine connectivity, and sophis­ticated back-end data analytics to reap the busi­ness benefits of instrumenting, configuring, connecting, contextizing, and analyzing data from equipment, vehicles, physical infrastructure, smart grids and even humans. At the heart of IoT is ma­chine-to-machine (M2M) communications.

The first thing to keep in mind about IoT is the distinction be­tween the consumer and industrial spaces. IoT industrial needs to support a vari­ety of last-mile technologies driven by unique application and environmental requirements as traditional consumer oriented wireless and mobility would not work in all situations.

We would need a whole new infrastructure where disparate devices on industrial equipment, environmental sensors, home appliances, consumer wearables can relay data, and talk to the central public or private cloud services, where most powerful data aggregation and analysis will occur.

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Microsoft Buys Forerunner Software Tech to Boost Power BI Reporting

By: Pedro Hernandez | April 03, 2018


PowerBI 2The acquisition of Forerunner's Mobilizer and Report Viewer will help Microsoft improve Power BI's reporting capabilities for mobile and web apps.

Looking to grow its Power BI business intelligence and data analytics ecosystem, Microsoft went shopping close to home for its latest buy.

Microsoft has acquired enterprise report rendering technologies from fellow Redmond, Wash., technology firm Forerunner Software for an undisclosed amount, the company announced on April 2. Specifically, the software giant has snapped up Forerunner Mobilizer and Report Viewer.

Forerunner Mobilizer enables organizations to turn business insights from Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) into reports that can be viewed on a variety of mobile devices. Forerunner Report Viewer can be used to embed reports derived SSRS into web applications.

The acquisition effectively spells the end of Mobilizer and Report Viewer as commercial products, although Forerunner pledged to provide support to current customers through Oct. 20, 2020. Meanwhile, Microsoft has some big plans for the software.

"This technology includes, among other things, client-side rendering of Reporting Services (*.rdl) reports, responsive UI widgets for viewing reports, and a JavaScript SDK for integrating reports into other apps—a testament to what our partners can achieve building on our open platform," wrote Christopher Finlan, senior program manager for Power BI at Microsoft, in an April 2 blog post.

Forerunner's technology will also help pave the way for SSRS reports in the Power BI service, using client-side rendering capabilities to help deliver the experience, added Finlan. Power BI is Microsoft's cloud-based business intelligence (BI) offering, using the company's public massive public cloud infrastructure to crunch the numbers and generate interactive data visualizations, dashboards and reports.


The deal will also help Microsoft squeeze SSRS reports into smartphones and other mobile devices. Finlan expects the Power BI mobile apps to provide a snappier, more responsive user interface while users await report parameter values and navigate within reports.

Finally, Forerunner's rendering technology will offer developers more options.

The ReportView rendering control from Microsoft is based on ASP.NET Web Forms, explained Finlan. After completing its integration work, his team hopes to deliver a client-side, JavaScript solution that can be integrated "into any modern app," Finlan said.

Microsoft's mission to popularize BI in the workplace goes beyond the typical mobile devices that today's business professionals tote around.

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Don’t just add the Security “S” to your Managed Services

Author: Ryan Delany, Trend Micro MSP Solution Marketing Manager

Expanding and putting more focus on your current security offerings is a great way to find new business opportunities.

Adding the “S” is the easy part; just ask any managed service provider that views security as just a “checkbox” and offers one of the cheaper or RMM-integrated security offerings without giving much thought to customers’ security needs or total Securitycost of ownership. As a managed service provider though, you are in the business of taking on risk for your customers and security is one of the best ways to reduce and mitigate this risk and add value for your customers and for your business.

2017 was a noteworthy year for cyber security, with major incidents such as WannaCry, Not Petya, Spectre and Meltdown making worldwide news. As a result, security is now top of mind for your customers. The opportunity to expand and focus on building out your security services offering is greater than ever. According to Kaseya’s recent 2018 MSP Benchmark Survey, 33% of respondents cited security as the top challenge or need, while all others were less than 10%. The survey also pointed out that security was the top revenue driver and most popular service for growth. As we know, with challenge and need comes opportunity

So exactly which areas are ripe for opportunity?

Office365

As the adoption of Office 365 and other cloud services continue to grow it is important to encourage customers to think about how they are protecting their data and other Office 365 assets (i.e: email, One Drive & Sharepoint). According to the Trend Micro Cloud App Security 2017 Report, we detected and protected against over 3.4 million threats within our customers Office365 environments, and that was after everything had been scanned by the native security features and deemed safe. Customers in regulated verticals moving to Office 365 not only have to worry about threats but also meeting compliance, so adding additional layers of security is a great way to increase your value and mitigate your customer’s risk.

Public Cloud

Public cloud security is another area of growth. Security in the public cloud is a shared responsibility and a lot of customers forget this piece, so it’s up to you to help them remember. As a managed service provider, you may already be in the business of helping your customers design, architect & migrate workloads to the public cloud. While the public cloud brings a lot of cost savings, it also brings a lot of challenges and risks. If you aren’t taking security in public cloud infrastructure in to consideration, it’s time to start! 

Endpoint

As mentioned above, 2017 was a big year for cyber security, which makes this a great time to re-evaluate your endpoint security offerings while you’ve got your customers’ attention. The endpoint and the user are one of the most easily attacked vectors as humans tend to be the weakest link in the security chain.  It is important to have a robust security offering to provide maximum protection for your customers and reduce or eliminate your costs related to remediating security related incidents. Things you should consider:  Does my current endpoint security offering include encryption, data loss prevention, application control and URL filtering? Is my current endpoint security offering cloud-based? Does my current endpoint offering leverage the latest detection technologies such as machine learning? The more robust of an offering, the more services you can build around that offering.

When you’re ready to do more than just add the “S” to your managed services, come visit us at http://www.trendmicro.com/msp and learn more about how we can help you transform your business as you increase value to your customers.

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Better Storage for Better Business

By , Contributor, Network World |

File storage modernization for the small and midsize business

Evaluating the myriad options for small and midsize business that want to upgrade their storage architecture, including on-premise, cloud storage, hybrid-cloud architectures and managed service providers.

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In our last two columns, we’ve focused our discussion on industry trends that are impacting storage architectures, as well as a few “broad stroke” architectures that may help businesses address the issues those trends created. For this month’s column (as well as more than a few future ones), I’d like to instead focus on solution strategies for improving and modernizing the storage architectures for today’s businesses.

Market drivers for SMB storage

Let’s start with looking at small and midsize businesses (SMBs). By our definition we’re talking about firms with less than 1,000 employees. While that’s hardly FORTUNE 500 territory, firms with hundreds of employees still have a deep need for enterprise-class file storage capabilities. Think design firms, software developers, architectural firms, creative businesses, etc. – all of these SMBs rely on their data and file storage as the lifeblood of their business.

The key drivers for SMBs that are looking to modernize their file storage are many times identical to the drivers for the rest of IT. In the cloud era, these firms want to take advantage of the clear business benefits in adopting the scalability and reliability of the cloud. SMBs also are almost always multi-office once you get above 10 employees, and these companies also commonly use freelancers or shared workspaces. As a result, the reasons for moving to the cloud are quite clear; SMBs need to maximize ROI by leveraging cloud solutions rather than buying, managing, and maintaining on-premise infrastructure. Why would you do this when Amazon, Azure and other solutions beckon?

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Microsoft shows IT how to get bigger bang from Windows Analytics

New documentation, still in draft form, details how companies can craft specialized reports and custom alerts from Windows Analytics' data and integrate the data with other info.

By Gregg Keizer

Senior Reporter, Computerworld | Apr 10, 2018 9:19 AM PT

 big data analytics analysis thinkstock 673266772 100749739 large

Microsoft has published preliminary documentation that enterprise IT can use to customize reports generated by the free Windows Analytics service.

The documentation, emblazoned with "Draft," spelled out how internal staff - or Microsoft partners in the business of producing custom solutions - can craft specialized reports and build custom alerts from Windows Analytics' data, and integrate its data with other information for more in-depth analysis.

Windows Analytics is the umbrella label for three separate services - Upgrade Readiness, Update Compliance and Device Heath - which each pull from the telemetry Microsoft collects from Windows PCs. Windows Analytics is a benefit of Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Education licensing, and so is available only to customers running those editions.

The services offer insights for devices powered by an Enterprise or Education SKU (stock-selling unit), such as Windows 10 Education or Windows 7 Enterprise.

Of the trio, only Upgrade Readiness harvests data from Windows editions other than Windows 10. As its name implies, that service identifies the Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 PCs most likely to successfully migrate to Windows 10. Upgrade Readiness also pinpoints Windows 10 systems that have the best shot at moving to the next feature upgrade, like this year's 1803 or 1809.

The remaining two services, Update Compliance and Device Health, report the update deployment status of Windows 10 PCs, and monitor and report on some of the most common problems on an organization's devices, respectively.

While IT administrators can generate reports from the Windows Analytics dashboard, the advanced functionality can be accessed using the now-documented APIs (application programming interfaces) and called with the ready-to-use examples (or PowerBI templates). Or the examples and templates can be rigged to do custom jobs.

"There is also an underlying data platform that can be used by IT admins, partners and ISVs [independent software vendors] to extend the built-in functionality and unlock additional value," the documentation says.

Because Windows Analytics' data is stored in Azure Log Analytics, using the API requires knowledge of the underlying Analytics data schema, and knowing how to retrieve that data from Azure Log Analytics, Microsoft said.

Customers who do create custom reports or alerts, or merge Windows Analytics' data with their own, will have to redo that work down the road, Microsoft noted. "Disclaimer: This [data] schema is subject to change as breaking changes will be introduced in the next year, so any queries you create will need to be forward ported at that time," the documentation said.

 

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Computer system transcribes words users 'speak silently'

Electrodes on the face and jaw pick up otherwise undetectable neuromuscular signals triggered by internal verbalizations

Arnav Kapur

Arnav Kapur, a researcher in the Fluid Interfaces group at the MIT Media Lab, demonstrates the AlterEgo project.
Credit: Lorrie Lejeune/MIT

MIT researchers have developed a computer interface that can transcribe words that the user verbalizes internally but does not actually speak aloud.

The system consists of a wearable device and an associated computing system. Electrodes in the device pick up neuromuscular signals in the jaw and face that are triggered by internal verbalizations -- saying words "in your head" -- but are undetectable to the human eye. The signals are fed to a machine-learning system that has been trained to correlate particular signals with particular words.

The device also includes a pair of bone-conduction headphones, which transmit vibrations through the bones of the face to the inner ear. Because they don't obstruct the ear canal, the headphones enable the system to convey information to the user without interrupting conversation or otherwise interfering with the user's auditory experience.

The device is thus part of a complete silent-computing system that lets the user undetectably pose and receive answers to difficult computational problems. In one of the researchers' experiments, for instance, subjects used the system to silently report opponents' moves in a chess game and just as silently receive computer-recommended responses.

"The motivation for this was to build an IA device -- an intelligence-augmentation device," says Arnav Kapur, a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab, who led the development of the new system. "Our idea was: Could we have a computing platform that's more internal, that melds human and machine in some ways and that feels like an internal extension of our own cognition?"

"We basically can't live without our cellphones, our digital devices," says Pattie Maes, a professor of media arts and sciences and Kapur's thesis advisor. "But at the moment, the use of those devices is very disruptive. If I want to look something up that's relevant to a conversation I'm having, I have to find my phone and type in the passcode and open an app and type in some search keyword, and the whole thing requires that I completely shift attention from my environment and the people that I'm with to the phone itself. So, my students and I have for a very long time been experimenting with new form factors and new types of experience that enable people to still benefit from all the wonderful knowledge and services that these devices give us, but do it in a way that lets them remain in the present."

The researchers describe their device in a paper they presented at the Association for Computing Machinery's ACM Intelligent User Interface conference. Kapur is first author on the paper, Maes is the senior author, and they're joined by Shreyas Kapur, an undergraduate major in electrical engineering and computer science.

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75 Items You May Be Able to Deduct from Your Taxes

tax tips

 

- VIP Contributor
Author, Attorney and CPA
 

Life is expensive, from business expenses to personal expenses to paying Uncle Sam on April 15. Wherever you go, it may seem like your wallet is open. One way to save money each year is to find legitimate tax write-offs that intersect both personal and business expenses.

As a certified public accountant, everywhere I go, even when I'm at dinner with friends, I constantly am asked the question: "So, what can I write off my taxes?"

Surprisingly, there isn't some master list included in the Internal Revenue Code or provided by the Internal Revenue Service. There is simply the tax principle set forth in Code Section 62 that states a valid write-off is any expense incurred in the production of income. Each deduction then has its own rules.

A good CPA should be teaching their clients to think above the line -- that is, your Adjusted Gross Income line. Your AGI is the number in the bottom right-hand corner on the front page of your tax return. Any tax return. And what I mean by thinking above this line is constantly trying to think of any and all personal expenses that may have a business purpose. With a small-business venture in your life and on your tax return, you may be able to convert some personal expenses to business expenses, as long as you have the proper business purpose for that expense.

Seasoned business owners become proficient over the years at keeping good records and realizing when expenses have a legitimate business purpose. For some, this thought process becomes so ingrained that it becomes almost impossible to buy something without first considering a tax purpose for that item or service.

Consult this list of 75 possible tax deductions for business owners. It's just a start and not every one of these items is always a legitimate deduction. For example, you may be able to deduct entertainment expenses, but only when entertaining a client, customer or employee, while also meeting particular IRS rules. Some deductions may only cover a percentage of your expenses, like the aforementioned dinner with clients (usually 50 percent) or the home-office deduction, which is based on the square footage of your office. When documenting, go beyond collecting receipts. If you hire your teenager as an employee, document his or her duties and hours. On parking and toll receipts, write your destination and business reason for the road trip.

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Top 10 Hot Big Data Technologies

Gil Press, Contributor

As the big data analytics market rapidly expands to include mainstream customers, which technologies are most in demand and promise the most growth potential? The answers can be found in TechRadar: Big Data, Q1 2016, a new Forrester Research report evaluating the maturity and trajectory of 22 technologies across the entire data life cycle. The winners all contribute to real-time, predictive, and integrated insights, what big data customers want now.

Big Data



Here is my take on the 10 hottest big data technologies based on Forrester’s analysis:

  1. Predictive analytics: software and/or hardware solutions that allow firms to discover, evaluate, optimize, and deploy predictive models by analyzing big data sources to improve business performance or mitigate risk.
  2. NoSQL databases: key-value, document, and graph databases
  3. Search and knowledge discovery: tools and technologies to support self-service extraction of information and new insights from large repositories of unstructured and structured data that resides in multiple sources such as file systems, databases, streams, APIs, and other platforms and applications.
  4. Stream analytics: software that can filter, aggregate, enrich, and analyze a high throughput of data from multiple disparate live data sources and in any data format.
  5. In-memory data fabric: provides low-latency access and processing of large quantities of data by distributing data across the dynamic random access memory (DRAM), Flash, or SSD of a distributed computer system.
     distributed file stores: a computer network where data is stored on more than one node, often in a replicated fashion, for redundancy and performance.
      

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Silicon Valley Exhales: Dropbox Shares Jump More Than 40% In High-Demand IPO

Alex Konrad, FORBES STAFF

Covering venture capital, software and startups

DropBox

Dropbox made everyone wait. But its shares are now trading on the public markets after one of the most hotly-anticipated public offerings for a technology company in months.

Two hours after CEO Drew Houston and cofounder Arash Ferdowsi rang the opening bell at Nasdaq and after long minutes of the company’s executives milling around Nasdaq’s MarketSite center in Times Square in New York, Dropbox finally opened for trading at 11:35 ET as Houston grabbed a glass of champagne for a longer-than anticipated toast.

Shares of Dropbox were trading at $30.90, up 47% percent from the company’s list price of $21, as of 12 pm ET, a major boost even in what has been one of Wall Street's most troubled recent weeks for stocks.

A collaboration software company known for its file-sharing tools, Dropbox was founded by Houston and Ferdowsi in 2007 and quickly became one of Silicon Valley’s more closely watched startup companies. It reached a multi-billion-dollar valuation in 2011 and a $10 billion valuation in 2014, and reported revenue of $1.1 billion for 2017, up 31% from the year before. At its opening price of $29, Dropbox’s market capitalization would be about $11 billion.

“The market and investors responded really well to our message,” chief operating officer Dennis Woodside said in an interview. “What’s interesting to them is, we built this enduring business that combines the best of consumer tech in its virality and ability to scale—with hundreds of millions of people using it around the world—with the predictability of a subscription business.”

That positioning of Dropbox as a “consumerized enterprise” company, or a subscription software company that users bring home with them after work, has helped the company become one of the most scrutinized in Silicon Valley. In its regulatory S-1 filing for the IPO process, Dropbox had disclosed it had more than 500 million registered users, the majority of whom use the product for free: 11 million users pay for the service, according to Dropbox’s filing, paying an average of $9.33 per month.

A key difference between Dropbox and many other software companies: the product mostly sells itself. Dropbox reported sales and marketing spend of $314 million in 2017, less than it spent on research and development. Box, an enterprise collaboration company most typically invoked as a foil to Dropbox, reported sales and marketing of $303 million for its fiscal year ending in January, on revenue of $506 million.

While Dropbox says its relatively low cost of customer acquisition helped separate it from other software companies for investors, Woodside credits the decision about three years ago to build product for business use cases as arguably the most important in its path to public company. Dropbox’s business popularity had been a surprise to Houston and Ferdowsi, the COO says.

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Zanni: World Backup Day, GDPR, Race Cars!

I’m a guy and of course delay going to the dentist and so on. Over morning coffee, today March 31, 2018, I realized I can’t avoid it any longer. Today is World Backup Day! Darn it,  I’m making a couple special backups just to honor the holiday.

I spoke with John Zanni, well-known in the SMB partner channel for his work as a Microsoft general manager back in the day plus his tenure at Parallels. Today he is the president of Acronis, a leading backup solution ISV. Later in this blog I’ll do a “where is John Zanni now?” commentary. 

World Backup Day

"This is of course an international event, not an Acronis event. It is to remind people that many attacks happen on April 1st as it’s April Fool’s Day. You want to make sure you are fully-protected on March 31st.” Zanni shared. “The important part is that backup isn’t good enough anymore. You need to have ‘secure backup’ which means making sure your system is up-to-date. You need have the latest anti-virus, anti-spam solution and you have a strong anti-ransomware solution. The good news is that all of our of products come with Acronis active protection that is AI-based anti-ransomware.”

But wait! There is even more good news. Even if you don’t have the Acronis backup solution, you can get just the active protection piece for free from the Acronis website. 

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John Zanni, president of Acronis

Earlier this month, Acronis completed a consumer survey regarding data protection, polling the general internet population in seven different countries, including the U.S., U.K., Australia, Germany, Spain, France and Japan. Additional results include:

Nearly 39 percent of the respondents have four or more devices in their household, meaning more end points and data to protect

Over 29 percent of the respondents experienced data loss

A prediction on the future of secure backups? Zanni offered that the quantity of data being generated by the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) segment will require a focus on secure backups. “The trick is how do you have IoT data backed up locally, in transit and at rest in the cloud so it can be analyzed.” Zanni offered. “An example of extensive amounts of IoT data relates to our race car sponsorship with Williams Martini Racing.” 

I’d add that it’s this back-office function that makes data visualization tools rock. 

GDPR

For those living in a cave and don’t know, there is a European Union data privacy protection regulation coming in late May 2018 called the “General Data Protection Regulation” (GDPR) that will impact MSPs.  “It’s coming fast but it’s not as complex as you think; but it’s important you understand the GDPR requirements. We have a webcast that tries to bring GDPR to the masses.” Zanni said. “With a good backup system, you are already 80-to-90 percent of the way there towards GDPR compliance. But the responsibility of “process” rests with the MSP and the client. Acronis cannot help there. That said, we are adding some features in May to cover some of the secure data backup storage GDPR scenarios that we can impact.”

Zanni extolled that “by no means should anyone ignore GDPR; the government(s) will be going after violators such as businesses who are not GDPR compliant. Individuals clearly understand that they have a right to control their data and will insist on the GDPR-type protection.” More on GDPR over the next several weeks – I promise. 

WHERE IN THE WORLD IS ZANNI?!?!?

So here is the net-net on Zanni and Acronis. 

Moved to Europe (Acronis HQ in Switzerland from Boston.

Zanni is overseeing the 15th anniversary of Acronis.

Acronis – has now moved its full product stack to the hybrid cloud architecture, folly scalable to run in your data center and/or our cloud. 

MSPs adore the multi-tier, multi-tenant Acronis approach, according to Zanni.

Growth – core business (on premises sold through distribution); is growing at low double digits.MSP business is growing over 100% year over year with 5,000 transacting partners and heading to 12k+ by 2020.

MSPs like the model we have both in terms ease of onboarding/getting started and as well as the commercial terms (which are very simple – mostly per gigabyte per month).

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How it all started!


    Everything is clear looking in the rearview mirror.

    This is the story about how it all started with SMB Nation “back in the day.”  I can literally share the first chapter of this book, right here, right now. What’s not as clear is how it all ends; the final chapters have yet to be written LOL.

For Your Consideration

    Exhibit A below depicts the first newsletter I wrote in the SMB Nation community realm. It’s about Small Business Server (SBS) of course. Look closely at the date and you’ll see it was mid-2001; a timeline marker that only justifies the fact that life is short and time goes so fast. The first issue was only 400-readers; today we can click a button to hit 50,000 readers.

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Issue 1-1

Just perusing the topics is worth the price of admission alone – and causes pause for reflection on where we were and, in essence, where we’re at 17-years later. I’ll speak to a few nuggets.

On the technical side, it was all about Exchange Server 2000 SP1, Windows 2000 SP and a deep dive into an MMC-based ITProConsole. There is even a newbie tip on how to add a user.

For the business side, there was a conversation with Brian Jeans, a senior product manager in the bCentral area. I’ll be speaking with Brian Jeans in April 2018 and have an update on where he is today inside Microsoft. I make mention of a few conferences (who remembers FUSION?!?!?). And I concluded with a welcome editorial. PM me if you’d like me to email you the entire Issue 1-1 newsletter (it’s several pages long – all text back in those days!).

Looking forward

Over the years and beers, we built an avid enthusiastic community on the back of SBS. It’d be easy to fast forward the movie and simply say we’ve evolved with the times but the story is much richer than that. We’ve tried over two dozen startup ideas; most weren’t successful. Some ideas didn’t see the light of day. Several ideas were home runs such as our exploration of Microsoft Response Point, Cisco UC and VoIP. Today we’re exploring analytics.

We’ve made countless friendships along the way. But like any journey, we’ve lost a few friends due to death, divorce and irrelevancy. I celebrate the community we built and still have and stay focused on the positive. Everyone reading this blog can count grievances and resentments on two-hands but that’s not really news.

Anyways

There you have it – a focus on how it all began. BTW – did you look closely at the original name for SMB Nation? It was NetHealthMon which was an RMM play using the SBS Health Monitor before Level Platforms, Kaseya or nAble capitalized on that opportunity. What’s also interesting is that the “channel partner” (aka MSP) wasn’t part of our conversation yet; we were focused on the SBS product stack!

Talk to Me!

So what’s your day zero story? PM me.

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Bridging the Generational Gap with Trend Micro XGen™ Security

We’ve entered a new era of cyber threats. It’s like no other that’s gone before, in that CISOs must battle not only the huge volume of “old threats” out there but also a growing array of stealthier new attacks designed to circumvent traditional tools.SMB Nation WhatsYourX Banners 220x150 These could include certain types of targeted attacks, ransomware, zero-day threats, and even business process compromise. And they have to deal with a much larger attack surface created by cloud, mobility, and riskier user behavior.

That’s why, in this new era, organizations need to bridge the gap between an old and new generation of threats, IT architectures, and yes, even user behaviors. That’s just what Trend Micro XGen™ security was designed to do.

Known and unknown

IT security teams have a problem. On the one hand the volume of known bad threats knocking at the door has reached epidemic proportions. Trend Micro blocked 80 billion such attacks in 2017 alone. But that’s just the start. Thanks to the growing availability of tools and knowledge on the dark web, we’re also seeing a surge in new and unique threats – something like 500,000 every day. These require more advanced techniques to spot and block.

Deploying advanced security to all parts of the organization can be challenging because it requires different operational skills and resources. Many organizations do so with point products, which multiply the IT workload, impair visibility and performance and can leave gaps for the threats to sneak through.

The XGen difference: cross-generational

Many security vendors claim to have a single silver bullet to tackle this new era of cyber threats. I wish that were true, but it simply isn’t that straightforward. Machine learning alone is not the answer. While it can be a powerful way to predict whether an unknown file is malicious, it is also more computationally intensive with a higher rate of false positives, so is not the most efficient or effective way tackle the massive volume of known bad threats. Instead, there needs to be a ‘cross-generational’ approach that knows how to use the right threat defense technique at the right time to ensure maximum protection with the utmost efficiency. XGen™ security does exactly that, including – but not limited to – the following:

Antimalware and Content Filtering to quickly detect and block the massive number of known bad files, URLs and spam.

Behavioral Analysis including memory inspection, suspicious action monitoring and browser exploit protection examines an unknown item and its behavior at runtime to determine if it’s suspicious.

High-Fidelity Machine Learning
uses mathematical algorithms to predict maliciousness, with the ability to analyze unknown files before execution and during runtime for greater accuracy,. It also features “noise cancellation” capabilities to reduce false positives.

Sandbox Analysis enables on-the-fly analysis of unknown threats – allowing them to run in a safe environment to examine their behaviors.

Intrusion Prevention shields known vulnerabilities against unknown, zero-day exploits.

Application Control allows only known good applications to install or run.

Integrity Monitoring flags any suspicious system changes.

Response and Containment enables investigative forensics, quarantine of suspicious items and automated security updates.

The Trend Micro Smart Protection Network – our cloud-based global threat intelligence which blocks 250 million threat each day – fuels these techniques to ensure customers are protected against the latest threat findings.

What’s more, the XGen™ approach to security also eases the burden on IT security. Threat defense techniques are designed to fit each layer of security—user environments, networks and hybrid clouds—making it faster and easier to deploy and manage. And, the solutions seamlessly share threat intelligence, enabling automated security updates. Everything is also nicely connected through a central console that offers visibility across security layers, speeding time to response.

As this generation quickly blurs into the next—with hackers continuing to add new types of threats to the volume of existing ones, and with the number of points to protect growing every day – IT security leaders must adopt a cross-generational approach to security.

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Microsoft PowerPoint vs. Google Slides: Which works better for business?

PowerPoint has long been the tool of choice for creating business presentations, but Google Slides is worth a second look. We compare their strengths and weaknesses.

By Preston Gralla

Contributing Editor, Computerworld | MAR 27, 2018 3:00 AM PT

If you’re going to give business presentations, odds are you’ll be choosing between Microsoft PowerPoint and Google Slides, the two best-known MS vs Googlepresentation applications. They’re both solid, useful tools — and both have changed a great deal over the years. Given all their changes, you may want to reconsider what you’re using today.If you’re going to give business presentations, odds are you’ll be choosing between Microsoft PowerPoint and Google Slides, the two best-known presentation applications. They’re both solid, useful tools — and both have changed a great deal over the years. Given all their changes, you may want to reconsider what you’re using today.

To help you choose, I put them through their paces by building a presentation that many business professionals might create: announcing a new product or service line. In each program I started by looking for suitable templates, then created a new presentation; added slides; juiced them up with graphics, video and animations; collaborated with others on it; and finally, gave presentation itself.

It’s a multiplatform world, so I worked on it using a Windows PC, a Mac, an iPad, an Android tablet and an iPhone. I used the local clients and the online version of Microsoft PowerPoint, as well as the mobile versions. Google Slides is web-based but also has client versions for Android and iOS, so I tested those as well.

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How Big Data is Revolutionizing Employee Training

Companies of all types must handle problems on a constant basis, but these challenges are more difficult for a small business. Having limited resources makes it difficult to compete with larger enterprises. Companies of all types must handle problems on a constant basis, but these challenges are more difficult for a small business. Having limited resources makes it difficult to compete with larger enterprises. 

In the past, access to something as powerful as Big Data was limited due to the costs and skills required. In recent years, however, cloud vendors have begun providing data solutions that are simpler and more affordable. For SMBs, this usually requires no more than a subscription fee to begin leveraging the benefits of big data. One report forecasts that big data use by small businesses has increased by 42 percent over the past year.

Even if you run a small proprietorship, you can still utilize big data – for example, to discover patterns and trends in your internal operations or supply chain, identifying new prospects, developing new products, improvements to efficiency, and otherwise making informed decisions to drive faster growth. 

One area where big data is proving highly effective is in employee training. In this article you'll discover how data analysis will improve your workforce and your bottom line.

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Photo Credit: Unsplash.com


Meeting the Expectations of Your Employees

Big data will help you to pinpoint the skills your workers need to perform better, whether on an individual, team, or departmental basis. You can then prioritize and implement a training program that targets the skills and knowledge your employees need most. 

You can establish training courses in a variety of formats according to your needs and resources. These might involve mentor programs with veteran employees, online courses, demonstrations and lectures, or traditional classroom settings. You'll be able to determine which combination of training situations works best and how to schedule them around employee work hours.

You will need to identify which information and materials are required for your training sessions, such as instructors, video, printed handbooks, and smartphone or computer apps. If you can find the right materials and environments to suit your workforce, employees can actually become excited about attending training sessions.

Using big data to track your training programs, you can focus on the most effective training aids, developing better lesson plans, and designing new content and exercises. This way, you'll be able to provide the training that your employees will find the most engaging.

Assessing the Effectiveness of Training

Tracking the effectiveness of your training program will provide the data you need to keep making improvements for greater results. You can identify employee preferences in comparison to the rate of progress. This will help you establish more interesting and even personalized learning activities.

Big data can help you adapt your training to each employee's specific needs. Advanced e-learning technologies can improve the learning experience for everyone to provide optimal returns on your time and investment.
Immediate correlation of test results with demographic data can help you easily chart overall development as well as where individuals may be struggling. People learn at different rates and in different ways, so that some may need special attention or fresh approaches. You'll be able to determine which learning modules are most productive for which employees.

Big data analysis of training activity can also help you to spot employees who demonstrate special talents or capabilities. It would be in your company's best interests to develop these talents as much and as quickly as possible, or prepare gifted individuals for leadership roles. 

Learning through a cloud-based big data solution will provide real-time feedback for employees, instructors, and management. You can take corrective actions to improve the process as training continues. 

The cloud provides a highly responsive and flexible platform for a mobile, connected workforce. The easy accessibility of cloud computing technology has made the perk of working from home possible for an increasing number of people, so now it’s easy for remote employees to get all the benefits of education without having to leave the comfort of their home.


Minimize Employee Turnover

In the U.S., corporate spending on employee training amounted to $70 billion in 2014 and continues to grow. Your small company may not be able to commit a huge sum, but the benefits of developing a better workforce are clear. 

Employees who receive ongoing training are happier in their jobs and more committed to their employer. More capable workers are more confident, more comfortable, and more likely to remain with your company long-term. 

Zoe Weintraub of Guild Education maintains that employees who receive job training are up to 40 percent more likely to stay with their employer than those who don't receive extra training.

A business culture that involves employee skills training benefits both the company and the individual worker, which makes it well worth the investment. Your employees will understand that their efforts are important to the business and its mission. They'll have a greater sense of job satisfaction knowing that you are prepared to invest in their future.

One of the rewards of incorporating big data into your small business comes from its applications in employee training. Cloud-based systems allow you to improve and adapt training programs in real time to get the best from your workforce. At the same time, it creates a sense of involvement and loyalty in your employees. This double benefit of ongoing training makes it a shrewd investment for companies of all sizes. 

Author Bio:Jasmine Williams covers the good and the bad of today's business and marketing. When she’s not being all serious and busy, she’s usually hunched over a book or dancing in the kitchen, trying hard to maintain rhythm, and delivering some fine cooking (her family says so). Tweet her @JazzyWilliams88

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SAP will shut down SAP Anywhere service for SMBs

Two years after its launch, the service had attracted around 30 active customers

By Peter Sayer

DG News Service - Paris bureau chief, IDG News Service | MARCH 28, 2018

 

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SAP has decided to “sunset” a front-office service with which it hoped to crack the small business market.

Launched in May 2016, SAP Anywhere was supposed to help small companies build online stores, create marketing campaigns, manage inventory and analyze business performance. To achieve this it offered integrations with web services from Google, PayPal and United Parcel Service.

Perhaps more surprising than SAP’s retreat from the small-business market is how little ground it won there.

Despite a worldwide footprint, with launches in the U.S., China and across Europe, SAP Anywhere has fewer than 60 customers -- and almost half of those are inactive, said an SAP representative.

Inactive customers have been given 30 days notice, while active customers will be supported to the end of their current contract, said the representative.

“The needs of each customer are unique, but we will offer alternatives wherever suitable and we will be interacting with each active customer,” he said via email.

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On Blockchain and the Internet of Things

Calvin Price

Strengths, Weaknesses, and the Likely Road Ahead

The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the most exciting paradigms in emerging technology. The principle of connecting billions of devices to automate networks is absolutely thrilling and has considerable applications in agriculture, manufacturing, consumer tech, and virtually all mechanically intensive industries. It also has a big problem: at its current stage, IoT is objectively infeasible and dangerous.

IoT connects a web of devices that typically operate with minimal computational power and are embedded with chips for the purpose of connectivity and little else. This is a major security flaw. Thus far, researchers have demonstrated horrifying capability and creativity in breaching IoT devices. Hackers have thus far managed to control implanted cardiac devices, entirely disable cars remotely, and launch the world’s largest DDoS attack.

BlockChain

 

The Case for Blockchain in IoT

IoT security flaws typically revolve around three areas: authentication, connection, and transaction. Devices improperly verifying, improperly connecting, or improperly spending with other devices are all major security concerns. (These are all software/protocol issues. Although is not the focus of this article, it is worth noting that IoT suffers from physical and hardware security flaws, too). A blockchain can alleviate all of these areas. Distributed ledgers seem like such a minor change to IoT networks considering how physically distributed the systems are, but the blockchain brings several killer apps with it.

Trustless: Fully operational IoT devices interact with known and (ideally) unknown devices. For example, autonomous machine repair is a big goal for the autonomous industry: when a mechanical failure or signs of deterioration is detected, the network responds by ordering new parts. In a trusted environment, such issues do not pose as a problem; in the real world, this is a major attack vector against the IoT network. But this otherwise thorny problem is solved by the trustless, consensus protocols of the blockchain, protecting from all but the most extreme malicious actors.

Auditable: Tracking the actions of network components and provably verifying that record is another big goal for IoT. Such auditability improves analytics, network performance, legal compliance, and safety. The blockchain’s immutable record is ideal for creating reliable networks histories.

 

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Dropbox wants to raise $648 million in its IPO

DropBox

 

Dropbox wants to raise as much as $648 million when it debuts on the stock market.

The cloud storage company is selling 36 million shares for between $16 and $18, according to a regulatory filing released Monday.

Based on the number of shares of eligible for sale, Dropbox would have a valuation of about $7.4 billion. That's lower than the $10 billion Dropbox was reportedly valued at on the private market.

If there's more investor demand for the stock, Dropbox could sell another five million shares to bring the total to $745 million. Salesforce's (CRM) venture arm has agreed to buy $100 million in shares.

Dropbox will list on the Nasdaq under the stock ticker DBX.

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Annual Look at IBM – Part One

I’ve just returned from IBM PartnerWorld (inside of the Think conference) and over the next several blogs, I’ll share my experiences. Long story short – I got hand it to IBM for inventing itself continuously and having crossed a decade+ in the analytics field. It declared that, in the IBM partner ecosystem, 2018 is the year of simplicity. I hear that three times: simple is hard! 

Concerning channel partners, there were four pillars messages to launch the PartnerWorld conferenceand it's 2,000+ attendees. 
   

Enabling ecosystem transformation. 
The basic premise that IBM is marking it easier for Business Partners who ibm john teltsch keynotecurrently resell IBM technology to shift between engagement models and move up the client value chain with flexible benefits and support through PartnerWorld, its premiere partner program. Simplification means IBM has consolidated the number of competencies offered and believes it’s added to relevancy to product authorization so that partners can get higher recognition. For those carrying the bag, here is how it works. To help partners get greater insights into their partner journey, IBM has added features to the Program Console and PartnerWorld Advisor. Additionally, IBM touted adding enhancements for partners that want to embed IBM technology into their solutions, including new bundled partner benefits and expanded SaaS trials, sandboxes, IBM Cloud credits and development assistance for those who want to build new solutions on IBM technology. Finally, IBM asserted it will continue to expand our marketing development funds, further aligning them to partners that are building new skills in areas like digital marketing so they can reach new clients across new routes and drive demand when they are ready to go to market. 

On the surface, this is all good but an interesting piece from well-known SMB Nation fan Jay McBain, now a analyst at Forrester, shared deep insights into the speed of partner transformation here. https://go.forrester.com/blogs/ibm-channel-executives-are-frustrated-with-the-pace-of-partners-transformation/   He is well qualified to do so having spent 17-years inside IBM/Lenovo and the basic premise of Mcbain’s piece is that IBM is frustrated at the partner’s transformation pace. 

Another well-known analyst, Joe Panettieri (ChanelE2E), asserted that IBM is a humble bumble here. https://go.forrester.com/blogs/ibm-channel-executives-are-frustrated-with-the-pace-of-partners-transformation/ Panettieri correctly captures that “work in progress” spirit of the executive comments in his reporting. 

Three more pillars
As promised – here are the other three messaging pillars for your consumption. In Part II of my installment, I’ll share interviews with IBM executives Carola Cazenave (VP, IBM Global Business Partner – Ecosystem Strategy & Programs), John Teltsch Jr. (General Manager – Global Business Partners) and global build winner Paola Mazza (referenced below). In Part III of my coverage, I’ll share insights from IBM Business Partner QueBit and its success with analytics. 

  • Introducing Watson Build 2.0, the AI challenge to build new IP. The second iteration of our Watson Build challenge will help even more partners develop AI skills, build working prototypes of Watson-based solutions on the IBM Cloud in less than 10 months and incubate their ability to embed IBM technology faster. Last year, the first Watson Build challenge drew more than 1,300 firms to IBM design thinking workshops, spurred 400 AI-based business plans and enabled more than 100 partners to advance and develop new embedded AI solutions. Our 2017 global winner, Italian partner Blueit Group, took home the grand prize for its precision farming solution, which is designed to disrupt the agrifood industry. In phase 2, we expect even more partners to join the movement by dreaming up the next big prototype for their industry and make it a reality. 
  • Launching a new, digital self-service platform. Designed for partners who are building and selling solutions with integrated IBM technology, the platform provides access to leading-edge technologies and offers technical support, pre-built code patterns and skill-building courses. Partners can also take advantage of several promotional offers to help them get started building quickly with IBM Cloud, AI and data, including 10 TB of IBM Cloud Object storage, 100,000 conversations using IBM Watson Assistant and USD 50,000 in migration services for partners migrating over USD 20,000 per month in workloads from a competitor’s cloud. Once partners are ready to take their embedded solutions to market, they can list them on the IBM Marketplace and extend their reach to new clients globally. Businesses can further extend their access to resources by joining IBM developerWorks or by becoming a member of IBM PartnerWorld.
  • Expanding IBM's digital footprint with third-party cloud marketplaces. Over the past year, we have doubled down on IBM’s presence with third-party marketplaces and cloud aggregators. In 2018, we signed new deals with AppDirect and ALSO Deutschland GmbH, which means that partners and clients can now find IBM offerings in a total of 10 different cloud platforms and reach more than 60 million new customers worldwide. New and existing partners can reap the benefits of these new routes to market as new customers bundle IBM technologies with other complementary catalog offerings and partner services. This provides a new integrated route for partners to serve their clients digitally.

These new initiatives build on IBM’s next-generation ecosystem framework, which will go into effect April 10, 2018. As part of IBM’s increased commitment to its partners’ growth, IBM will launch a restructured engagement model designed to improve the end-to-end partner experience and reward partners for shifting to higher value solutions that are aligned to strategic growth areas like AI, cloud, security and as a service offerings. In the new model, partners have an opportunity to experience greater profitability by contributing value through intellectual property, focusing on new clients and building new solutions.

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Microsoft to unveil new Surface gear on October 31st

 It could include a new Surface Book, a Surface Pro LTE and more.

John Fingas, @jonfingas

Surface

Microsoft might not be done introducing new Surface hardware this year just because the Surface Laptop and Surface Pro are on store shelves. The company has confirmed that devices executive Panos Panay will be presenting at the company's two-day Future Decoded event (starting October 31st -- yes, Halloween), hinting that he'll introduce new hardware. A source speaking to The Verge supports this with word that there will be "at least one" new piece of hardware at the event, so it seems like Microsoft's habit of introducing new Surface machines in October will remain intact. As it stands, there are a few systems that could stand to get upgrades.

The most obvious candidate is the Surface Book. Microsoft introduced the current base model back in 2015, and the 2016 refresh ultimately amounted to a high-spec option rather than a true replacement. Provided the Surface Book line carries forward, it's due for new processors (8th-generation Core seems likely), new graphics and other tweaks that you'd expect after two years.

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ZLan Partners has joined the Sharp family

We are pleased to announce that, effective March 19, 2018, ZLan Partners has joined the Sharp family. 

As a newly created branch of Sharp Business Systems (SBS), the direct sales division of Sharp Imaging and Information Company of America (Sharp), ZLan ZlanPartners will operate under the new name of "ZLan Partners, a Sharp IT Company," and we will continue to provide our clients with network design, virtual CIO, cloud, IT security, and managed network services. In addition, we will also be supporting Sharp Business Systems operations in the Chicago, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati areas as well as around the country. 

To ensure that this transition is as smooth as possible, Sharp has offered to retain all of the employees from our ZLan team so that you continue to receive the highest quality of service, support, products, and solutions to meet your organization's needs. Rest assured, ZLan remains committed to providing seamless services to new and existing customers; we value our customer relationships dearly, and we will uphold the expectations of the finest service and support that ZLan has become known for. Ultimately, our goal is to enhance our relationship and your satisfaction by leveraging the capabilities of Sharp's technology and solutions. 

To that end, it is important to note that your local ZLan service, supply, sales, and administrative telephone numbers will remain the same. As always, our team is available every business day, Monday-Friday, 7:00 am to 7:00 pm, and you can contact us at the same main number - 888.817.1115

Sharp is a global technology manufacturer of cutting edge electronics and a leader in the office equipment industry. Sharp's line of advanced office products and solutions have won numerous industry awards for their high levels of performance, connectivity, and security. In fact, the Sharp multifunction printer (MFP) product line has recently been awarded Pick Awards and Highly Recommended Ratings from Buyers Laboratory LLC (BLI), a world-wide and leading independent evaluator of document imaging products and solutions.  

The vision at Sharp Business Systems is to "solve the business challenges of our customers with innovative technology and solutions through local, caring people, and turn our customers into fans by exceeding their expectations." This is a vision we plan to fulfill with your organization and here is a glimpse of the great services and technologies you can now access via ZLan's acquisition by Sharp: 

  • Preventative maintenance programs for maximum equipment uptime
  • Offering award-winning MFPs engineered to help increase efficiency 
  • Managed Print Services to curb inefficiencies and expenses in your printer fleet 
  • Managed Network Service to proactively maintain the health of your IT infrastructure
  • Collaborative presentation tools such as our AQUOS BOARD®interactive display systems 
  • High impact professional LED monitors and multi-screen video wall display systems and digital signage• Document management and workflow software and much more ...  

We are excited about our continued partnership with you, and we look forward to addressing your IT and document management needs going forward. If you should have any immediate questions, please reach out to your ZLan Sales Account Manager. If you want to learn more about Sharp Business Systems, please visit our website at www.sharp-sbs.com. 

 Welcome to the Sharp Family!

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The Ultimate Comparison: Data Science vs Analytics

Data Science vs Analytics

 

Depending on how much you know about big data, you may be surprised to learn that a data scientist and a business analyst don’t provide the same results. If that’s the case, then you’re not alone—since these two professions are often confused with one another. That’s why Analytics@American, a masters in business analytics, created this infographic to help clear the data science fog.

Both business analysts and data scientists are experts in the use of data, but they use their expertise in different ways—as is evidenced by the current job outlook with business analysts in much higher demand than data scientists.

Typically with educational backgrounds in specialties like business and humanities, business analysts tap into the data within a variety of sources to evaluate past, present and future business performance. Then they explain those results to the business users who need them with the analytical models and approaches that are most effective for that situation.

In contrast—with a strong educational background in computer science, mathematics and technology— data scientists use statistical programming to actually develop the framework for gathering and using the data by creating and implementing algorithms that support their efforts. Such algorithms help with decision-making, data management, and the creation of visualizations to help explain the data that’s gathered.

To learn more about the differences between data scientists and business analysts, check out the infographic to make sure you’re hiring the right type of professional to meet your unique business needs.

analytics skills infographic lg

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U.S. regulator urges registration of cryptocurrency exchanges

US security

 

FILE PHOTO: The seal of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission hangs on the wall at SEC headquarters in Washington, DC, U.S., June 24, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

By Pete Schroeder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said on Wednesday that many online trading platforms for cryptocurrencies should be registered with the regulator and subject to additional rules, in a further sign regulators are cracking down on the digital currency sector.

In a statement, the SEC said these “potentially unlawful” platforms may be giving investors an unearned sense of safety by labeling themselves as “exchanges.” The regulator said these platforms need to register with the SEC as a regulated national securities exchange or an alternate trading system, or ATS.

The new statement marks the latest effort by the SEC to apply federal securities laws to the rapidly growing cryptocurrency sector. SEC Chief Jay Clayton has repeatedly expressed concern about cryptocurrencies and “initial coin offerings,” or ICOs, and has urged investors to exercise caution.

“The SEC staff has concerns that many online trading platforms appear to investors as SEC-registered and regulated marketplaces when they are not,” the agency said on Wednesday.

Bitcoin, the best known cryptocurrency, fell 11.9 percent to a 1-1/2 week low of $9,450 on Wednesday on the news, before rebounding slightly to $9,760, according to prices on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange.

Other digital currencies also fell sharply, with Ethereum and Ripple losing 9 percent and 8 percent, according to CoinMarketCap.

Clayton has said in the past that he generally considers ICOs to be securities offerings subject to certain regulatory requirements.

On Wednesday, the SEC went further by suggesting the majority of secondary market trading in those digital tokens was also subject to its jurisdiction.

The regulator said any platform providing trading of digital assets that behave like securities and which operate like exchanges must register with the SEC as a national securities exchange, or seek an exemption such as ATS registration.

There are dozens of platforms offering trading in cryptocurrencies, but Reuters could only identify two ATS registrations for trading cryptocurrencies, according to SEC data.

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Rethinking Customer Support with Office 365 and TouchPoint Agent

by Jon Arnold

As businesses shift to the cloud, the combination of Microsoft Office 365 and Skype for Business (SfB) Online provides a powerful solution for workplace communications. The tight integration between these provides a rich set of both productivity applications and communications capabilities that can seamlessly be managed in the cloud. Not only does this make IT’s job easier, but there’s really no need to look elsewhere for third party UC platforms that may or may work well with your Microsoft environment.

For most businesses – especially SMBs – this would be enough to make a business case for going to the cloud with Microsoft. Jon Arnold headshot 002While this value proposition stands well on its own, it can be even stronger if you think just a bit more broadly. As you know, Microsoft has many partnerships to enhance their offerings, but one in particular is worth noting for taking O365 and SfB to another level.

In terms of supporting their customers, most SMBs have either limited or no contact center capabilities. The cost of entry is high, operational needs are complex, and IT must balance this with other priorities. That said, declining customer satisfaction ratings present a challenge to all businesses, and in today’s hyper-competitive market, reversing this trend is becoming a strategic priority for management.

While IT will be hard-pressed to get the resources needed to add or upgrade their legacy contact center, the cloud presents viable options that can bypass these obstacles. More specifically, for Microsoft users, TouchPoint Agent from Enghouse Interactive can make a good solution even better. Rather than focus on the attributes of a specific vendor, my focus here is to show how SMBs can get more value from Microsoft by rethinking their approach to customer support.

The first thing to recognize is that SMBs don’t always require a full-fledged contact center operation. Aside from the hefty financial requirements, these operations will generally require a purpose-built contact center platform, which then needs integration with your Microsoft environment.

A more practical approach is to set up a modest contact center that’s manageable today, but can be scaled up as needs dictate. Or, you could just have a simple help desk run within a department – even this level of effort can go a long way to improving customer service.

With that end result in mind, TouchPoint Agent is the kind of add-on that extends the value of your Microsoft investment beyond the workplace to include customer support. All within one platform, and all hosted in the cloud. In essence, TouchPoint Agent provides the advanced call management features needed in today’s contact center, such as intelligent call routing, call recording, CRM-driven screen pops, and rich presence for real-time management of call flows and agent support.

For many SMBs, these capabilities will be a major improvement, and represents a solution for improving customer service in ways that IT can support, and that management will understand. Being cloud-based, this approach doesn’t require any new infrastructure, and can be both deployed and scaled on the spot. On the technology side, what TouchPoint Agents brings is native Microsoft integration – especially between O365 and the phone system - making it easy to extend O365 and SfB from the workplace to the contact center.

With most contact center interactions being telephony-based, this is a great way to maximize the utility of SfB Online, and provide your customers with better-than-ever service. That’s a pretty strong return for enhancing your Microsoft environment with a single add-on, and it starts from rethinking customer support after tying all these elements together.

Jon Arnold is Principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent analyst providing thought leadership and go-to-market counsel with a focus on the business-level impact of disruptive communications technologies. Core areas of expertise include unified communications, cloud services, collaboration, Internet of Things, future of work, contact centers, customer experience, video, VoIP, and social media.

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5 Cybersecurity Nightmares SMBs Should Know About

By Mustaali Marvi

Cybersecurity

 

 

Cybercriminals are always on the hunt for targets to exploit and make an easy buck from them – and small businesses are not immune to this. Here are five types of cybersecurity breaches you need to try to prevent as well as prepare for.

Since cybercrime damages are expected to grow beyond $6 trillion per year by 2021, it is high time for small and midsize businesses to identify the cybersecurity concerns that are a threat to their existence and take the appropriate measures.

 

 

Image credit: BeeBright/Shutterstock

1. Malware attacks

"Malware" is an umbrella term for malicious software that can infiltrate and compromise a system or an entire IT infrastructure. Hackers and other cybercriminals use a wide array of malware, with ransomware being the most common and effective.

Ransomware attacks infiltrate a target system and force-encrypt target files, documents or other sensitive material. To decrypt the content, users require a decryption key or a tool that only the hackers have access to. The hackers then ask the victim to pay the ransom to regain access to their files.

2017 saw a massive burst of ransomware attacks, the most prominent being WannaCry and NotPetya. The WannaCry attack affected hundreds of thousands of systems across the globe. In fact, the U.K. National Health Service had to turn down some routine checkups and essential appointments because of the attack.

What businesses can do to protect themselves against such attacks is update their systems, because most cyberattacks, like WannaCry, exploit a security vulnerability in the operating system. Moreover, businesses should install firewalls and antivirus or antimalware tools.

2. Insider attacks

According to a 2016 Ponemon Institute survey of 874 insider attacks, 22 percent of those attacks were carried out by malicious users (employees). The same report mentioned that 56 percent of organizations reported data breaches at the hands of employees who were leaving the company or new employees.

Amongst other concerns, insider attacks remain most troubling for both large and small businesses. Employees with privileged access to sensitive data pose a bigger threat to a company than outsiders. Those who are terminated may also pose a threat to the company's data if they harbor ill feelings for the company.

What makes these attacks most damaging is that they may go unnoticed for years. After all, these attacks are often caused by people the company trusts, and it is relatively easy for such malicious users to cover their tracks when working from inside.

To reduce or avoid insider attacks, companies should keep a detailed record of the employees with privileged access to the data. The company should also terminate the access of users who have left the company.

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3 Things Are Holding Back Your Analytics, and Technology Isn’t One of Them

 by Todd Clark and Dan Wiesenfeld

M and M

During the past decade, business analytics platforms have evolved from supporting IT and finance functions to enabling business users across the enterprise. But many firms find themselves struggling to take advantage of its promise. We’ve found three main obstacles to realizing analytics’ full value, and all of them are related to people, not technology: the organization’s structure, culture, and approach to problem solving.

Structure

Structurally, analytics departments can range between two opposite but equally challenging extremes. On the one hand are data science groups that are too independent of the business. These tend to produce impressive and complex models that prove few actionable insights.

Consider the experience of one retail financial services firm. There, the analytics function was comprised of employees who used specialized software packages exclusively and specified complicated functional forms whenever possible. At the same time, the group eschewed traditional business norms such as checking in with clients, presenting results graphically, explaining analytic results in the context of the business, and connecting complex findings to conventional wisdom. The result was an isolated department that business partners viewed as unresponsive, unreliable, and not to be trusted with critical initiatives.

On the other hand, analysts who are too deeply embedded in business functions tend to be biased toward the status quo or leadership’s thinking. At a leading rental car agency, for instance, we watched fleet team analysts present intelligence purportedly showing that the fleet should skew toward newer cars. Lower maintenance costs more than compensated for the higher depreciation costs, they said. This aligned with the fleet vice president’s preference for a younger fleet.

But it turned out that the analysts had selected a biased sample of older cars with higher-than-average maintenance costs among cars of the same age. An analysis of an unbiased sample (or the entire population) would have yielded a different result. (Of course there might have been other motivations to keep a younger fleet—customer satisfaction and brand perception, to name two—but cost reduction was not one of them.)

Culture

Culturally, organizations that are too data-driven (yes, they exist) will blindly follow the implications of flawed models even if they defy common sense or run counter to business goals. That’s what happened at a financial services firm where management was mulling a change to its commission structure. They wanted to switch the basis of its salesforce compensation from raw results to performance relative to the potential of each salesperson’s market.

In response, analysts developed an admirable data envelopment model. The model simultaneously compared sales of different types of products with local demographic and financial statistics to come up with a single efficiency measure for each salesperson relative to their peers. Indeed, this seemed to have made compensation more equitable. But it reduced the compensation of salespeople who were less efficient but ultimately more valuable—causing them to defect to competitors.

Alternatively, organizations that rely too heavily on gut instinct resist adjusting their assumptions even when the data clearly indicates that those assumptions are wrong. The aforementioned rental car agency, for example, was extremely reluctant to change course even after discovering that the data didn’t support their cost reduction claims.

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Harry’s New Side Hustle in Analytics

Pre-recession, my basic mo·dus op·e·ran·di (MO) was to take fun seriously in business. I’ve emerged battle-tested over the past decade and have adopted a tougher stance on life: Lead…or follow…or get out of the way. I still try to have fun where I can find it but the economy isn’t as fun as a decade ago and neither am I!

First, before you proceed, I’d ask you to peruse my LinkedIn profile HERE so you  bigdatacan get the foundation to understand the context I’m about to present. Hopefully you’ll note that I’m committed to education both formal and semi-formal (that would be my technology-related certifications). Second, my goal is to lead by example and have your follow along and join the parade. Third, as I’ve opined many times over the past few years. Small Business Server is GONE and it’s time to reinvent ourselves. You’ve done it before; you can do it again.

Side Hustle
It’s all Karl Palachuck’s fault. About 20-months ago at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (2016), it announced a “degree” in Data Science. Karl signed up to participate in this and I openly questioned whether it could be called a “degree” as Microsoft is not an accredited University. Fast forward the movie and the program has been rebranded a professional certificate (which is appropriate) and the title is Microsoft Professional Program. There are three majors: Data Science, Big Data and DevOps. Note that these are “earned” certificates; not honorary. These are the real deal.

I’m pursuing the Big Data certificate for a few reasons. It’s how I’m wired (I’m not a developer and flunked out of C++ years ago). I was a SQL Server MCSE in the late ‘90s to support my employer (Clark Nuber) and its vaunted Microsoft Great Plains Dynamics accounting consultant practice (once Great Plains Dynamics abandoned Btrieve on the NetWare platform, it adopted SQL Server as the engine on a Windows NT Server network). The Big Data certificate is a natural extension of my background in this area. Finally, many readers know I recently exited a Seattle-based Big Data startup in Predictive Analytics and I want to go all in and double down in this area as the New Harry!

Program Referrals

You’d be amazed concerning the support I have received when I have made mention of my latest education side hustle. After a brief mention in one of the recent MSP Tech Talk lectures (you can sign up HERE for Spring quarter where one of the lectures is a deeper dive on marketing analytics), I received several inquiries about the program and the sign-up link. Ditto a catch-up coffee last Friday with Brandon from Bainbridge Technology and his wife (she has a data analyst background). Finally, there was my friend who works for a State of California’s I-Bank (Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank) and is seeking to take his career to the next level with his passion concerning alternative energy such as solar power (yes – Big Data plays nicely in science to).

Just ‘Da Facts
I know. I know. Get to the fricking point Harry!

In the Microsoft Professional Program Big Data certification HERE https://academy.microsoft.com/en-us/professional-program/ – there are ten required courses that take 12-30 hours each to complete. The education outcome is to train you in eight new skills. Each course runs for three months and starts at the beginning of a quarter. January—March, April—June, July—September, and October —December. The capstone runs for four weeks at the beginning of each quarter: January, April, July, October. Accordingly, I have budgeted two years to complete this journey. Not only do I want to acquire new skills along the way but I want to demonstrate forward professional progress. Again, I implore you to join me right here right now.

Last missive. This is essentially free for Microsoft Partners. I consider this to be in the neighborhood of a several thousand-dollar subsidy compared to what you might pay for other programs. You can pay $99 USD to receive a completion certificate suitable for framing – something I’ll treat myself to upon successful completion.

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Dana Epp's New Main Hustle!

 

This is a "Where is he now? Dana Epp’s new startup!" startup piece. Read on.

Few SMB Nation event speakers captivated like Dana Epp at our Fall Conferences. In SMB Nation 2009, Epp spoke in a packed, long narrow room at the now demolished Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. He performed live hacking before a mesmerized audience (long before Kevin Mitnick started his current road show). Fast forward

the movie and Dana enjoyed well-deserved success directing his last security focused startup (Scorpion Software) to an ultimate full acquisition by Kaseya, danaeppan investor-backed RMM ISV.

Disappearing Act
With all due respect, post-acquisition Epp and SMB Nation lost touch. As is often the case, the acquirer asks or requires the acquired party to join the parent company for a period of time to assist in the logistics such as brand transition. That’s exactly what Epp did – joining Kaseya as one of their principal architects. A year later Dana was promoted to CTO and asked to redefine software engineering at Kaseya. With Epp’s focus on his day job, we missed our occasional conversations.

New Startup: Wildrook
Recently my LinkedIn notification made mention of Dana’s professional update. I double-clicked down and discovered that Dana had exited Kaseya and was out in the wild again, starting Wildrook in his hometown of Vancouver BC. I spoke at length with Epp to get the scoop. Epp’s tenure at Kaseya arrived at a completion milestone once he integrated Scorpion Software into its operations and he helped fundamentally transform the CTO role. The call of the wild to get back into the startup scene resulted in the formation of Wildrook (www.wildrook.com). The core solution, called AuditWolf, is the cloud threat protection platform to protect your cloud resources in Azure. The topic of a whole ‘nother future blog post, AuditWolf takes advantage of Microsoft’s Cloud Management APIs to start aggregating data related to configuration changes, host setup and activity and user interactions with resources in Azure ,all without impacting live services. It then applies Dana’s expertise and experience in Azure security (he’s been a Microsoft Security MVP for 14 years now) to make sure your data and deployments are properly secured. “We allow you to gain operational intelligence and insight into the security of your data and deployments hosted in the cloud.” Epp shared.

When asked “why” he was building his new startup, Epp responded by saying “it is far too easy for IT professionals to screw up security in Azure. I see it every day. With the proliferation of public cloud computing outpacing cybersecurity defenses, and the concepts or IT administration blurring with DevOps to drive “Infrastructure as Code (IaC), a single click or command in the Azure Portal can cause a security violation if you don’t know the impact of that decision. And you won’t even know you did it... until it’s too late. That’s a real pain point. We can solve it.”

“At the highest level, we help you get the big picture with a contextual view of your Azure environment, and constantly monitor for change. Our report card paradigm and grading system allows you to see how we rank your cloud risks and helps to prioritize remediation efforts.” Epp said. “Then AuditWolf helps you remediate your risk by by generating the commands to run in Azure to fix the security violation(s), educating your administrators responsible for managing the cloud infrastructure while helping them fix it.”

Hear from Epp
Epp will led a security lecture in our MSP Tech Talk – Spring Quarter in late June. You can click HERE to sign-up for this complimentary speech. And there you have it. Epp is alive and kicking across the border in Canada. Yes – he’s back, helping to keep us secure!

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3 Data Science Methods and 10 Algorithms for Big Data Experts

Data Science

One of the hottest questions in Information Management now is how to deal with Big Data in all its applications: how to gather, store, secure, and – possibly most importantly – interpret what we collect. Organizations that are able to apply effective data analysis to massive amounts of data gain significant competitive advantages in their industries.

Organizations no longer question the value of gathering and storing such data but are far more heavily focused on methods to make sense of that all the valuable information that data represents. Although security and storage remain critical issues for IT departments, organizations are finding that their commitment to Big Data can’t stop there – they must be able to make sense of their data, to know what data is valid, relevant, and usable, as well as how to use it.

The more data an organization has, the more difficult it is to process, store, and analyze, but conversely, the more data the organization has, the more accurate its predictions can be. As well big data comes with big responsibility. Big data requires military-grade encryption keys to keep information safe and confidential.

This is where data science comes in. Many organizations, faced with the problem of being able to measure, filter, and analyze data, are turning to data science for solutions – hiring data scientists, people who are specialists in making sense out of a huge amount of data. Generally, this means making use of statistical models to create algorithms to sort, classify, and process data.

What is Data Science?

Data science has been a term in the computing field since around 1960 when it was first floated as a substitute for the term “computer science”. Over the next twenty years or so, it gradually came to mean that blend of statistics and methodology that specifically pertained to data analysis. However, it was not until the much more recent emergence of Big Data and its role in organizational development and direction, that data science began to be a fundamental requirement of any organization working out how to analyze such massive amounts of data.

Data science is interdisciplinary, incorporating elements of statistics, data mining, and predictive analysis, and focusing on processes and systems that extract knowledge and insights from data. It is also known as “analytics transformation” because the goal is to “transform” raw data into usable insights. It has also been called “industrial analytics” because the context is industrial rather than scientific – to analyze data for competitive or quality improvements that can be gained by having a better understanding of one’s customers, potential customers, service model, and almost any aspect of the organization that can be represented in bytes.

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RapidFire Tools, Inc. Launches “Audit Guru,” The First Tool to Automate and Streamline GDPR Compliance Audits

New Software Appliance and Portal is Purpose-built for MSPs to Help Their Clients Navigate the Complex General Data Protection Regulation Mandates.

ATLANTA, GA, USA –March 5, 2018– RapidFire Tools Inc. today announced the availability of Audit Guru for GDPR™, the world’s first compliance process automation solution designed to address the sweeping new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which becomes law on the May 25, 2018. The tool is being offered exclusively through the RapidFire Tools RapidFirechannel of authorized Audit Guru partners, and includes a robust cloud-based portal that resellers can use to manage the entire GDPR audit and reporting process. MSPs can provide an array of value-added GDPR services built around Audit Guru, which can range from a simple and straight-forward resale of the tool to organizations that have their own internal IT and compliance staff, all the way up to a fully managed, ongoing GDPR Compliance-as-a-Service offering.

“The new GDPR requirements put into place tough new standards that regulate how personal information is collected, electronically stored, and secured,” noted Rapidfire Tools CEO, Mike Mittel. “These new laws impact every company that collects data about any individual living in the European Union. There is a huge amount of confusion, fear and uncertainty associated with GDPR because of the fines and crippling sanctions associated with non-compliance,” he added. “Audit Guru addresses these concerns by providing MSPs with a solution that literally guides them through the compliance process, automates the collection of necessary data, and generates the required documents.”

The new offering leverages the same technology found in Network Detective, the company’s market-proven, award-winning family of IT assessment, documentation and reporting tools. “This is not just another check-list product with a laundry list of tasks that the MSP has to perform,” explained Win Pham, lead developer of the tool. “We've created a turn-key virtual software appliance that automates the production of mandatory compliance reports, provides ongoing issues detection, and manages the manual collection of supplemental information required from key stakeholders.”

The marketing opportunity extends far beyond MSPs located within the European union. “As if the EU isn’t a big enough market, even if the MSPs or their clients are based outside of the EU, if they own electronic database files that contain personal information about customers, prospects and other individuals who are based inside the EU, they are subject to the regulation,” explained Mark Winter, RapidFire Tools’ vice president of sales. “This makes the market for Audit Guru even broader for MSPs, MSSPs, and VARs who wish to expand their offerings to include GDPR compliance services.”

Audit Guru is sold to MSPs directly by RapidFire Tools or through any of their European distributors. MSPs who are interested in becoming an Audit Guru Reseller Partner should visit www.auditguru.com, send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or call +1-678-323-1300, ext. 2.

 

About RapidFire Tools
RapidFire Tools, Inc is the leading global supplier of business-building technology tools for MSPs to help them close more business, offer more services, keep more customers, and make more money. The company’s offerings include: a complete set of IT Assessment, Documentation and Reporting tools; tools for IT Compliance Process Automation; and tools for Insider Cyber Threat Detection & Alerting.
European distributors include: Achab (Italy), Prianto (UK), and Upstream (Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden).

 

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Microsoft is bringing Cortana to Outlook for iOS and Android

Cortana will read your emails aloud during car journeys


By Tom Warren     @tomwarren    Mar 5, 2018, 10:19am EST

cortanaoutlookmobile.0

Cortana in Outlook for iOS Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

Microsoft has been slowly adding more email intelligence to its Cortana digital assistant, but it has resisted integrating it directly into Outlook mobile. That’s about to change, soon. Sources familiar with Microsoft’s Outlook plans tell The Verge that the company is currently testing Cortana within Outlook on iOS and Android.

The Cortana integration will allow users of the popular mobile email client to listen to and respond to emails with their voice. This will be particularly useful during car journeys, and Microsoft is testing Cortana integration directly within Outlook mobile that will work over Bluetooth and read messages aloud. Users will be able to ask Cortana phrases like “what’s my email,” or just to read messages from specific contacts.

 

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What’s the real value behind Unified Communications?

If you asked 10 IT Directors or Managers for their definition of UC, you’d probably get 10 different answers so let’s simplify it to “An easy way to work together via voice, video, online collaboration and mobile devices”.

That easy way to work together is really what Unified Communications should be about.

In this sense Unified Communications is simply a way to describe what business has always needed – communications and collaboration working in harmony to achieve tangible benefits for the bottom line and for the user experience.

Defining the ‘what’ of UC is good but we also need to ask why businesses need Unified Communications.

“Using Mitel’s suite of UC and collaboration solutions, we can close about 10-15 sales a day at the end of the month, and can get the money into the bank account faster.” Paul Whiting, IT Manager, Revolution Tea

Mitel works with businesses across the world and here are five of the most common reasons these customers cite for choosing UC technologies.

Productivity Enabling better ways for people to get more done together.

Continuity Ensuring the business is always available to do business.

Mobility Supporting a connected workforce demanding 24/7 access from anywhere and using any kind of mobile device.

Integration Leveraging, rather than stranding, existing and potential IT investments.

Future Proofing Being ready for future challenges and developments in technology.

This customer feedback is covered in depth in a guide which explores the most popular reasons for Unified Communications deployments and shares real-life feedback from businesses about the potential value of UC.

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StorageCraft ShadowControl v3.5 now available

Recovery solution features new, powerful management capabilities for backup, recovery

             DRAPER, Utah – Dec. 17, 2015 – StorageCraft Technology Corp. today announced the release of StorageCraft® ShadowControl® v3.5, which allows IT professionals to more easily protect data and IT systems. ShadowControl is a remote monitoring and management appliance for IT environments protected by the award-winning StorageCraft ShadowProtect® or StorageCraft backup and disaster recovery solutionsbackup and disaster recovery software.

StorageCraft ShadowProtect v3.5 has numerous new features, including three time-saving remote management capabilities:

  •  Push Installation - using one of the supported discovery mechanisms, push install the latest StorageCraft ShadowProtect SPX or ShadowProtect 5 software to unprotected Windows or Linux endpoints quickly and easily, all from the ShadowControl management console.
  • CSV-Based Discovery - in addition to current hypervisor-based endpoint discovery, administrators can now provide a CSV-based discovery list of physical or virtual endpoints that can be used to monitor and manage with ShadowControl.
  • Centralized License Management - automatically activates newly-installed SPX or ShadowProtect 5 endpoints through ShadowControl by importing perpetual product keys into the license pool or by applying managed service provider (MSP) product keys generated through the MSP portal account.

“For more than a decade, IT professionals around the world have trusted StorageCraft recovery solutions to protect their systems and data. StorageCraft ShadowControl v3.5 makes backup and recovery even easier, allowing IT professionals to devote more time to other activities because they know they can depend on simplified management of their backup and disaster recovery environment,” said Brandon Nordquist, StorageCraft’s vice president of product management.

Other new ShadowControl v3.5 features and enhancements include: scheduled appliance backup support, generate certificate signing request (CSR) directly from the ShadowControl appliance, lock SPX backup jobs to prevent modification or deletion locally, enhanced IT Service Management (ITSM) notifications, and improved ShadowControl appliance update instructions. Additional information about StorageCraft ShadowControl v3.5 is available at www.storagecraft.com/shadowcontrol.

StorageCraft backup and disaster recovery solutions include the highly regarded StorageCraft ShadowProtect software line for Windows and Linux systems in physical and virtual environments. ShadowProtect is available in multiple versions so IT professionals can easily use the version that meets their needs, such as best-in-class backup, disaster recovery, system migration and data protection for servers, desktops and laptops. In addition to ShadowProtect, the company’s backup and disaster recovery solutions also include StorageCraft Granular Recovery for Exchange, StorageCraft ImageManager™ and StorageCraft Cloud Services™. 

About StorageCraft Technology Corp. The StorageCraft family of companies, founded in 2003, provides best-in-class backup, disaster recovery, system migration and data protection solutions for servers, desktops and laptops. StorageCraft delivers software products that reduce downtime, improve security and stability for systems and data, and lower the total cost of ownership. For more information, visit www.storagecraft.com.

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Using Cloud Services to Build Your Business in the New Year

By: Pete Engler

With the start of a new year quickly approaching, it is a great time for resellers to evaluate their success over the last year and consider any changes to their business strategy or portfolio of products. For 2016, that will likely mean offering cloud services for your customers, or expanding the cloud-based service offerings included in your portfolio.

Over the last few years cloud computing services have dominated the Information Technology market, becoming the cutting-edge solution for many different products and services. Now that cloud computing is a few years old and customers are beginning to see the many benefits of using cloud services, the shift toward those solutions is growing at a rapid pace. Many IT products have made or are making their transition into the cloud as a preferred option for customers over the deployment of traditional premises-based solutions. Because of the increasing availability of cloud services from trusted vendors, and the high demand for cloud-based solutions by SMB and enterprise customers, now is the time for you to consider using the cloud as a way to expand your reseller business and increase revenue in the coming year.  

According to Forbes, the cloud computing market is increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.8 percent and the trend is not likely to slow in the next several years. In addition to the market growth rate, the number of new products being introduced into a cloud infrastructure is also accelerating. International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts the number of new cloud-based solutions will triple in the next four to five years. With adoption rates of cloud services growing at such healthy levels the drive for cloud services is not going to let up anytime soon.

Cloud computing and cloud-based services have many benefits for your customers. One benefit is that cloud offers an easier path to make changes. Many cloud services have the option of month to month contracts, making it much easier to add or drop services, or change vendors. Another key benefit is not having a large upfront capital expenditure as you do when purchasing a premises-based solution. Removing this costly barrier to entry is quite appealing to smaller organizations and new businesses that may have more cash constraints. Conversely, a key pain point for businesses adopting a cloud solution is bandwidth, which can be easily remedied with the wide choices and lower cost of internet services currently on the market. 

For resellers, there are many benefits for selling cloud services. Most cloud services pay monthly recurring revenue (MRR) as long as the customer is enrolled in the service. Monthly recurring revenue that is built up over time offers revenue stability for you, instead of starting the monthly sales cycle at zero. Additionally, as resellers, you now have the option of purchasing cloud services through a simplified online process, making it much easier to buy and manage the services for your end customer. Increased competition and product options also result in better service and prices for the customer, and in faster deployment times and reduced support time. All of these benefits also work in your favor as a reseller or integrator and ultimately translates into higher margins.

The need to add cloud products and services to your portfolio of products has never been more important than now. Chances are, if you haven’t already faced a competitive situation where a cloud solution is being offered, you will soon. The start of a new year is a great time to research and select cloud-based solutions that will benefit the customers you serve, but also make you more competitive and help increase your margins.

Pete Engler is the channel marketing manager at Digium, a business communications company based in Huntsville, Ala., that delivers enterprise-class Unified Communications.

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Windows 10 + Office 365 & Special Topics = Immediate Knowledge Power!

Thu, Nov 19, 2015 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM PST

Presented by: & Harry Brelsford CEO of SMB Nation and Grant Thompson Founding Partner MG Technology Group

Join us for Part III of our three-part webinar series focused on Windows 10.

In this installment, we direct our expertise to discussing Office 365 integrations with Windows 10 plus a host of special topics that have accumulated over the first two webinars.  Windows 10

Topics include:

  • Windows 10 with Office 365 is the Azure AD Join
  • Any special reason why you are still using Office 2013 instead of Ofiice 2016? 
  • What’s the current state of OneDrive storage with Windows 10 and Office 365? 
  • Can you have both a personal and business OneDrive? 
  • What is the difference Windows Home and Windows Business SKUs? 
  • Windows Media Center was removed form Windows 10. Does Microsoft plan to make it available in any way or is there a workaround to regain that functionality? 
  • Is there a Windows 10 Certification exam available yet?
  • What about the Microsoft "snooping" in Windows 10 and other security concerns?
  • Through Virtualization - can I control two simultaneous outgoing audio streams (two disparate audio jacks/cards) 
  • And MUCH MORE…

Also remember since your customers are attending, you can register this event with Microsoft Community Connections and receive giveaway software and materials

349 X 115 MOD REG RND2

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Sennheiser helps activate the potential of Unified Communications with the launch of wired headset series Culture Plus

Old Lyme, Conn., November 9, 2015 – Sennheiser, a leading provider of premium headsets and speakerphone solutions, announces the launch of its new wired deployment headset Culture Plus. The new headset series is designed to facilitate office workers’ adoption of Unified Communications (UC) solutions and help activate their full potential.

Culture Plus headset  Seinhauser

Transitioning to UC environments means changing habits and communication cultures – within the organization as well as for the individual employee. As a direct communication interface between people, headsets play a significant role when implementing UC and positive communication experiences are crucial for higher adoption rates and hence a positive Return on Investment (ROI).

Sennheiser’s new Culture Plus wired series has been specifically designed for UC environments and swift user acceptance. The new, comfortable headset combines Sennheiser’s outstanding sound quality, 'instant comfort' features and an attractive design. Certified for Skype for Business and compatible with all major UC and softphone brands, the Culture Plus series is ideally suited for enterprises and offices that are adopting a new UC work-culture.

Culture Plus features Sennheiser’s sound quality, benefiting caller and listener alike. Sennheiser Voice Clarity, which is based on wideband sound, provides a warm, more natural listening experience while the noise-cancelling microphone ensures optimum speech intelligibility by filtering out ambient noise, delivering an optimal communication experience even in the noisiest environments. In addition, sound enhancement profiles automatically adjust audio settings to optimize either the voice quality of calls or the user’s multimedia experience. Culture Plus also features Sennheiser’s advanced ActiveGard™ technology developed to safeguard users from acoustic shock and sudden sound bursts.

The new headsets’ sleek look and quality design help ensure rapid user adoption. The stylish, contemporary appearance has been crafted with the user in mind, ensuring a good look whether used at the office desk or during video calls. The flexible, lightweight headband features leatherette padding that adjusts for a personalized fit, while large, acoustic foam ear pads with soft, removable leatherette covers ensure flexibility and wearing comfort throughout the day. The bendable boom arm allows the microphone to be placed in perfect position to ensure optimal microphone performance.

A functional in-line control unit ensures calls can be managed intuitively and seamlessly with the touch of a finger. In addition, the unit controls the switchable Noise at Work limiter compliant with EU’s Noise at Work Directive¤¤. When not in use, the headset can be stored and transported in a practical carry pouch.

“Headsets are an important consideration in any UC deployment”, says Lars Riis Rasmussen, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, EMEA, at Sennheiser Communications. "Culture Plus is an ideal solution for organizations that want their office workers to rapidly adopt headsets in a UC environment. It combines Sennheiser sound quality and instant wearing comfort in a communications experience that will make it easier to enjoy the benefits and activate the full potential of UC solutions.”

The addition of the Culture Plus wired series complements Sennheiser CC&O’s broad product portfolio of headset and speakerphone solutions for contact centers, office and UC environments, which capitalizes on Sennheiser’s 70 years of sound leadership, research and development.


About Sennheiser
Audio specialist Sennheiser is one of the world's leading manufacturers of headphones, microphones and wireless transmission systems. Based in Wedemark near Hanover, Germany, Sennheiser operates its own production facilities in Germany, Ireland and the USA and is active in more than 50 countries. With 18 sales subsidiaries and long-established trading partners, the company supplies innovative products and cutting-edge audio solutions that are optimally tailored to its customers' needs. Sennheiser is a family owned company that was founded in 1945 and which today has 2,700 employees around the world that share a passion for audio technology. Since 2013, Sennheiser has been managed by Daniel Sennheiser and Dr. Andreas Sennheiser, the third generation of the family to run the company. As part of the Sennheiser Group, the joint venture Sennheiser Communications A/S specializes in wireless and wired headsets and speakerphones for contact centers, offices and Unified Communications environments as well as headsets for gaming and mobile devices. In 2014, the Sennheiser Group had sales totalling €635 million. www.sennheiser.com


For more information on our professional headset solutions, please visit www.sennheiser.com/cco

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New SAP IaaS for Business One Cloud benefits small partners most

by Mark Cox • November 11, 2015

SAP announces a new infrastructure-as-a-service option for Business One Cloud which has been available in Canada since last Thursday, and in the U.S. for several weeks before that.

NEW YORK CITY – On Tuesday SAP entered the infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) business around its SAP Business One Cloud solution. It provides SAP partners with more choices for deployment. Run in data centres operated by SAP, this new services offering will come with a range of complementary services like backup and restore, disaster recovery and platform maintenance. It is available now in North America, with expansion to Europe and Asia scheduled around mid-year 2016.   Luis Murguia

“Three years ago, we started a journey to make Business One a player in the cloud,” said Luis Murguia, senior vice president and general manager, SAP Business One. “Our strategy was very simple – give the Business One customer a great customer experience in a 100 per cent partner-centric model, with subscription licensing available. Then two years ago, we introduced our multi-tenanted SAP Business One Cloud Control Centre that let partners host it, and have up to 25 customers running on the same copy of Business One.”

Murguia said that this July, SAP expanded the offering again with the introduction of browser access, allowing Business One to be run on a browser.

“Still, what was missing was infrastructure,” Murguia said. “Partners typically used AWS to host. The problem is that the ones which were small businesses can’t get good pricing from AWS. So we decided to get into the infrastructure-as-a-service business, and will offer the hosting ourselves to partners, so they can offer a full cloud experience for less.”

The offering was actually made available in the U.S., several weeks ago. In Canada, it has been available only since last Thursday

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Deploying Windows 10 Webinar / Thursday Nov 12, 2015 12 PM - 1 PM PST

Presented by: Harry Brelsford CEO of SMB Nation & Grant Thompson Founding Partner of MG Technology Group

Want to learn more about Windows 10? Wondering where to find the information? Sign up here! 

Join us next Thursday for an educational webinar on Deploying Windows 10. - windows 10 logo

This webinar will take you through Windows10 deployment from an outside-looking-in independent expert viewpoint. Needless to say, there are new and updated ways to deploy Windows 10. In this session, we review new recommendations for upgrading existing devices using a simple in-place upgrade process, provisioning tools for transforming new devices into ones ready for enterprise use, as well as updates to traditional deployment tools and techniques (ADK and beyond). We also talk about application compatibility, hardware requirements, and other common deployment questions.

Bottom Line: You’ll learn about the new release cycle, Azure AD, upgrade paths and scenarios, dynamic provisioning, and more. And can you really run Windows 10 on a stick?
Be sure to invite your customers to show them how the Windows 10 solutions can help them operate more efficiently and empower them to grow their business.

Also remember since your customers are attending, you can register this event with Microsoft Community Connections and receive giveaway software and materials.

349 X 115 MOD REG RND2

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The Doyle Report: Passportal Names MSP Pioneer Dan Wensley President

Why one man’s new gig could be your next big opportunity

By: T.C. Doyle| MSPmentor

Dan Wensley joins Passportal as President. More than a “sell-to” product that MSPs can use to help run their businesses more efficiently, Passportal’s technology is an identity and password management system designed and packaged to be sold by MSPs to end customers for an affordable price.

When does someone’s new job spell opportunity for you? When that individual puts himself in a position to help grow your business. This is precisely what Dan Wensley, a familiar name in the MSP community, has done since signing on to become Passportal’s president and de facto partner strategist. Before getting to the “whys,” here are a few “whats.”  Dan Wensley

For more than a decade, Wensley has been a familiar name and face in both the MSP community and partner ecosystem at large. A founder of MSP Partners, he spent seven years as vice president of sales and marketing for Level Platforms Inc. (LPI) before it was acquired by AVG. More recently, Wensley oversaw Plan27, a lead generation company that worked closely with MSP companies. In addition to his full-time duties, Wensley worked closely with CompTIA, where he served a three-year term on the trade association’s board of directors.

Here’s where the story gets interesting.

In October 2011, Wensley met and then became fast friends with Colin Knox, the CEO of Passportal. (You can see a photo of the two in an early meeting, which is making the rounds on Twitter here.) Passportal’s mission is to make secure password management for IT professionals simple. Its motto: “The End of Sticky Note Security.”

For the uninitiated, Passportal has developed a “fully managed, cloud-based software solution that automates password protection and makes storing, managing and retrieving passwords quick and easy from virtually any connected device.” That’s according to the company.

Knox, of course, could have chosen any number of go-to-market strategies to make his company successful. He could have gone direct to business customers or straight to consumers to build momentum for his brand. Instead, Knox decided to sell his technology exclusively through channel companies, MSPs primarily. “We are the only password management solution that is designed by an MSP for MSPs like yours,” the company says. “We are your channel provider that is integrated with all the tools you love including Active Directory, Connectwise, and Autotask.”

This is where Wensley comes in.

After years of helping to give the MSP market shape and definition, Wensley signed on with Passportal a year ago to help oversee its partner sales and management efforts. Wensley says he saw in an instant a nexus forming around security, RMM technology and password management innovation. Funny thing about Wensley, though: before joining Passportal, he was a self-described password slob. At one point, he says, he had as many as 32 different sticky notes stuck to his office wall with various passwords. Try as he might, he concedes he could never keep track of them. When he heard of a solution that could, he became intrigued—doubly so after learning that it was sold exclusively through the channel.

“I got involved [with the company] some time ago and have been taking it sorta slowly and methodically,” says Wensley. “After discussing where we wanted to go for the next few years, it became apparent there was a mutually good fit here.”

So here’s the “why” and “what it means” for you.

Passportal is now offering a passport management solution that is no doubt better than the one you likely offer customers, which is likely one-step better than an Excel spreadsheet and the safeguards that have been incorporated in PSA and RMM solutions but likely short of the few, comprehensive enterprise-class solutions offered from some very expensive companies.

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A Better Way to Calculate the ROI of Your Marketing Investment

By: Werner Reinartz and Rajkumar Venkatesan

Traditionally, marketers calculate the ROI of a marketing investment by measuring how much sales increased in its aftermath. This is a blunt metric: maybe the consumer had a different interaction with the brand that influenced them. Or maybe they had an intrinsic preference for the brand and would have made a purchase anyway. blog

Today the situation has changed. Marketers have access to data that allows them to track individuals’ various interactions with a brand before their purchase, and better understand what role each interaction — and individual preferences — played in the eventual sale.

This approach, called “attribution modeling,” allows companies to attribute appropriate credit to each online and offline contact and touch point in a customer’s purchase cycle, and understand its role in the revenues that ultimately result. A good attribution model should show, for example, precisely which ads or search keywords are most associated with actual purchases.

Developing an attribution model is a gradual process. You can’t get there all at once. There are four key stages in the journey:

Stage 1: Prepare your data

You can’t have any kind of attribution model without data around touch points and outcomes. Many companies collect this data but often store it in different databases and in ways that make comparison difficult. Once companies can access and analyze data around touch points and purchases, they can detect patterns and are ready to apply simple attribution models. These involve applying rules of thumb, such as “give all credit to the last point of interaction” or “give equal credit to all points of interaction with the customer before a purchase is made.”

They may sound simplistic, but even simple rules-based models can deliver immediate results. This was the case at one company we recently advised. Only after considerable efforts to get data for each touch point aligned in one repository could the company begin to figure out sensible rules of thumb to guide marketing investments. It began by simply allocating resources to each touch point as a direct function of its marginal ROI. Even this rather rough and ready approach sharply improved the company’s overall marketing ROI.

Stage 2: Experiment

As managers get more comfortable with a rules-based model they can begin to conduct experiments to fine-tune the attribution rules. Most importantly, you can start to assess the degree to which a given touch point depends on other touch points; you could, for example, test a search tool’s role in a customer’s cycle by turning display advertising on or off. This allows managers to identify clusters of touch points that might individually look less powerful but that collectively pack more punch than simply focusing on those that look individually strongest.

An insurance company we interviewed conducted several regional experiments to evaluate the synergy of television, organic search, and display advertisements. The company varied the exposure of its consumers to TV ads across the different regions they served. They found that organic visits to the website and display advertisement click-through all increased disproportionally in a region when consumers there were also exposed to TV ads. This experiment motivated the firm to start better coordinating their marketing campaigns across media channels.

Stage 3: Apply statistical models

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Better Call an MSP Part 7: How to Best Navigate MSP M&A Activity

By Shannon Mayer, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Continuum Managed IT Services

The seventh installment of a monthly blog series offering tips and best practices on various ways MSPs can help their SMB clients work through the most challenging daily business issues.

In the last installment of, “Better Call an MSP,” we offered tips on staying ahead of the game when it comes to malware and virus attacks. Let’s switch gears and discuss the recent M&A activity that’s occurring on the enterprise and SMB levels. This type of activity is becoming more prevalent with both vendors and MSPs as they grow with the market. For instance, just recently, Dell acquired EMC, Barracuda purchased Intronis, and Solar Winds was acquired by two private equity firms. The same goes for the various MSPs that have been acquired or have joined forces to merge into one larger company to better serve clients.

What does all this mean for MSPs? First and foremost, transformation, now more than ever, is a necessity, rather than a proactive measure because as the market consolidates, competition increases. As an IT solutions provider, it is critical to deep dive into your business, looking at where you can add opportunities to set yourself apart from your competitors; this includes everything from offerings and services, customer service and value proposition. Let’s examine this closer.

1.) Increase Services/Increase Value Proposition: This is a good starting point, especially since there are specific focuses currently on certain services. For instance, security is currently at the forefront, and there are many opportunities in this area, such as password management, managed print and telecom. One way consolidation can be a positive for MSPs is by partnering with another firm that has the expertise and resources you want to add. For instance, if you want to add managed print, but don’t currently have a solution, seek out one of your peers who might have this area solidified. I have heard of several MSPs (including Continuum partners) who have partnered to add telecom and vice-versa; all of which have led to positive results.

When it comes to value proposition, separate yourself from your competitors to stay current and unique. This is especially important as you don’t want your services to sound too much like everyone else’s. How can you overcome this hurdle? One way is to perfect your “elevator pitch.” Can you honestly tell a potential customer what your value proposition is in 30 seconds or less? If not, then think about how you can be clear, concise and to the point without any added jargon or “filler” material.

2.) Build Customer Service: Regarding commodization of the MSP space, customer service is critical to your success. Did you know that it costs six to seven times more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing one? Think about the financial aspect of this, not to mention the time it takes to obtain and then onboard a new customer.

We’ve also spoken about pricing in this blog series, specifically when it comes to competitors trying to undercut each other. However, if your customer service goes above and beyond expectations, then you are more likely to retain your current customers (and also add new ones at the same time). In fact, according to global management consulting firm Bain & Company, “A customer is four times more likely to defect to a competitor if the problem is service related rather than price or product related.”

3.) Cultivate Relationships: Aside from always ensuring your customers are well taken care of, also show your appreciation for their business—not just when they have a problem that needs to be addressed. The key is to be proactive rather than reactive if you want to be unique in your business model. Don’t wait for a customer to call you when they are at the point of their system shutting down. Set up monthly check-ins to see how things are running; get to know them and what their needs are for both the long and short term.

Another way to do this is by “showing” rather than “telling” them, possibly on a quarterly basis. Lay out on paper what you as the MSP have done to support their IT efforts; numbers speak louder than words, and if there are specific instances of ROI that you can share, then make sure to highlight those components. This way, they can visibly see where their money is going and how it’s being utilized toward their business. If you need guidance in mapping out a strategy for these types of reports, look to your vendor partners for guidance and tools that can help. Many MSPs often are not aware that their vendors are always there to help and educate them, as well as providing products and services.

Letting your customers know you appreciate them doesn’t always have to be all about business. You could also let them know they are important by holding a local “meet and greet” type of event where you can socialize and they can get to know you and your staff in a casual setting. Other gestures like a special gift during the holidays or other company milestones can go a long way as well. You could also establish a loyalty program in which customers earn points that they could use toward services and product discounts.

Whether you start with implementing one of these components, or all three, remember that the key is to think of areas where you can position yourself as a unique market leader, ensuring you stay competitive, while providing the highest level of customer service to both current and new clients.


Shannon Mayer is Continuum's Senior Product Marketing Manager and is directly responsible for platform go-to-market strategy and messaging as well as business intelligence. She manages the Continuum Peer Groups program and content for Navigate 2016, Continuum’s annual partner conference. Shannon was named a 2013 Channel Chief by CRN and has also been named to the MSPmentor 250, CRN’s ‘Top 100 People You Don’t Know, But Should’, and CRN’s ‘Women of the Channel: Power 100’ lists. Follow her on Twitter: @shannonjmayer.

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Building Your Reputation as a Trusted Advisor

By: Pete Engler

The reasons a customer chooses to do business with a value added reseller (VAR) often extend beyond the menu of available product and service offerings. The decision can also be influenced by the brands (or vendors) that the VAR represents, and the geographic region served. Reputation of the VAR also comes into play – and can be one of the most influential deciding factors, especially when there are competing VARs vying for a customer’s business. As a VAR, your position in the marketplace and the reputation you’ve earned could make the most significant difference in closing a sale with a new customer.

As a VAR in the technology space, it’s not uncommon to offer a multitude of different products in order to better position yourself to help solve a customer’s business need. Although, an expanded selection can cloud the customer’s decision or leave him confused and unsure of the best route to take. Helping your customer make the best decision and helping ensure your revenue continues growing really depends on your ability as a VAR to position your business and service expertise over the product(s).

What exactly does it mean to position your VAR business and services over products? First, a VAR needs to be an industry and business expert. That means having the capability to properly evaluate a business and its needs efficiently and determine the best solution path to implement. This seems obvious but it can be tricky due to the changes in the buying process. Consider that prospective buyers in business-to-business settings have typically completed 57 percent of their due diligence work before they engage a sales representative, according to a Harvard Business Review survey. Today’s buyers are more prepared and further down the sales funnel before engaging sales support due in large part to the infinite resources and peer reviews available online. This means customers are also further down the decision path before seeking out a VAR’s service and experience during the sales, installation and support process. If a prospect has already set his mind on a particular solution, but it’s really not the best fit, it makes your position as an advisor more challenging. Your expertise can certainly help prevent the customer from making a costly decision, but you first have to convince him that there’s a better alternative.

Being a trusted advisor for your prospects and current customers does require industry and solutions knowledge, but it’s more than rattling off product specs. The customer probably already has that information as part of the early funnel due-diligence. As mentioned previously, your role is to conduct a careful evaluation of the business's needs, so any problems can be identified and addressed, all within budget constraints.

Business owners are masters of their core business functions, but when it comes to choosing the right technology, they can overlook key solution integration details, pricing and feature gotchas, and other lesser-known deployment and maintenance considerations. That’s why they depend on you. Your expertise as a trusted VAR is critical to recommend and implement the technologies that keep their business running on a daily basis, and help the business avoid having to go through a trial-and-error selection process.

Once the sale is complete, your role as trusted advisor moves to the installation, maintenance and troubleshooting phases. This is where you and your team’s capabilities are tested most and where the greatest opportunity exists for damage to your reputation. If the install does not go smoothly, confidence is weakened. After the solution is installed and should an issue arise, you must move to resolve them quickly. Training of your customer support teams on the products and solutions installed is also imperative. Nothing erodes confidence more than an uninformed support staff that is unable to adequately resolve issues.

In the end, it’s your ability to manage any unexpected system hiccups and minimize headaches in the long-term that will solidify your reputation as an expert that can be depended upon by your customers. Building a reputation as a trusted advisor isn’t a tough thing to accomplish; but it is dependent upon your ability to consistently match the right solutions with each prospective customer, deliver expertise through competent and trained employees to install and maintain the solution, and provide top-notch customer service. The benefits of having a solid reputation as a trusted advisor are many; and it’s conceivable that you could grow your VAR organization exclusively on referral business.

Pete Engler is the channel marketing manager at Digium, a business communications company based in Huntsville, Ala., that delivers enterprise-class Unified Communications.

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State of the Channel 2015: Cloud Turns from ‘Threat’ to ‘Opportunity’

5th Annual State of the Channel Research Banner Ad 220x150

By: Carolyn April, Senior Director of Industry Analysis at CompTIA  -

The tech industry, like most others, has its fair share of pundits. Some predict gloom and doom if the stock market has a single down day or jump on every vendor or provider setback as if it were a long-standing trend. Then there are the channel optimists, who emphasize the positive points around industry news and put a rosier spin on any negative concerns. A commonly accepted business practice is to listen to both camps for their views and reasoning before developing your own conclusions, especially when your investments and reputation depend on the decisions you make with that information.

Overall, most IT professionals remain optimistic about the future of our industry, even in the face of tremendous change and new business challenges. In fact, six out of ten channel firms have a positive outlook on what the future holds for the channel in general, according to CompTIA’s 5th Annual State of the Channel research project. Five years ago, many VARs, solution providers and other industry professionals were concerned about their long-term business prospects with cloud computing gaining traction. The turnaround in the channel’s outlook is quite significant.    

Cloud computing is now cited as the chief reason to be optimistic about the channel’s future since, among other things, it opens doors to new opportunities. Whether or not there is reason to be this hopeful remains to be seen. But, according to our most recent study, channel companies are seeing the cloud as less of a threat. They are discovering that cloud isn’t a single business model; it gives them the chance to plug in at various points. They can sell SaaS, integrate cloud with on-premises solutions, broker and aggregate cloud options, develop applications and offer complementary managed services and other support options.

On the flip side, the cloud also has its skeptics. A subset of our study respondents remain pessimistic and about future of the channel and cite cloud a one reason. This is especially true of those channel firms that sell primarily to very small end customers. Why? Among these small-sized clients, cloud solutions offer a no-brainer alternative to on-premises hardware and software solutions (where many VARs still prosper). Likewise, one third of channel firms indicated that a wider availability of purchasing options and customer self-sufficiency were sources of concern for the channel’s future. This may be behind many of the smallest channel companies rethinking their customer value proposition. For example, 26% of firms with less than 10 employees currently list pure consulting services as their main source of revenue. If their end customers decide to convert to an all cloud model, these small VARs have to create support service offerings to help guide their clients’ decisions. Those opportunities seem to make the most sense. 

While cloud has the promise to simplify things for some customers, others continue to struggle with the growing complexity of IT. That’s great news for channel companies. The third platform technologies (mobility, cloud, big data, and social media) perplex many small businesses today, so IT firms that can help design, implement and support these solutions are truly relevant.

Companies with those capabilities should be optimistic. Of course, there are other reasons why the study respondents had a positive outlook on the channel’s future, including:

• Wider variety and use of technology by all types of customers and end users

• Increasingly complex solution and service options

• Larger demand for vertical industry expertise

These are market realities that provide channel companies with a reason to be optimistic and a number of roles to fill. The opportunities are theirs for the taking if they take the appropriate steps. With solid recruitment efforts and effective training programs, it will make it easier for channel firms to focus their efforts on emerging and more sophisticated technologies.

VARs and MSPs should also be making continual improvements in the business practices. A makeover of sales and marketing strategies can help bring in new customers from different verticals. Back office automation can help reduce billing and cash flow issues, and other tools can improve customer service and support operations. Channel firms that embrace an “as-a-service” way of life typically have a more optimistic outlook.

There’s plenty to be positive about in the IT industry right now. Based on all the information we compiled during the latest State of the Channel survey, a majority of firms are definitely more optimistic than they were five years ago. The real question right now seems to be “will that positive outlook continue?” Time will tell.  

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