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.

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


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.


Read More

Continue reading

5 Most Popular Small Business Cloud-Based Services

As a small business owner, you understand through your first-hand challenges how difficult it is to accomplish specific goals because of a limited budget. Other challenges may stem from a lack of expertise in a specific and vital area. Specifically, building and IT infrastructure present challenges that small business owners in previous years and decades were stymied by. However, modern solutions to these challenges are available to today's small business owners through cloud-based services. Understanding the primary cloud-based solutions available to your small business may help you to make smarter decisions going forward.

1. Intuit QuickBooks Online
Intuit QuickBooks has been available to small business owners for years, and this accounting solution  Cloud Computingmakes it easier for you to manage your books, project your financial status into the future, create invoices and more. This online application has incredible depth, and it is flexible enough to be useful for almost any small business environment. If you are challenged by financial management or if you feel that financial management is taking up too much of your valuable time each week, this may be a solution to take a closer look at.

2. Zapier
If you are looking for a collaboration tool, Zapier is an excellent solution to consider. Zapier makes it easy for you to connect the apps that you use most frequently together for seamless efforts. Workflows can be automated in many ways, and you may be able to save an exceptional amount of time and energy because of the collaborative benefits that this tool provides. It is functional with a wide range of popular business apps. You can learn more about the apps that it can connect for you to determine if it may improve your current work processes.

3. MailChimp
Email marketing is an effective, direct way to communicate with your customers, but it also is stressful and time-consuming. MailChimp takes the time and stress out of planning, executing and even analyzing email marketing campaigns. Through its impressive features, small businesses can level the playing field with larger companies that have a more substantial marketing budget and more in-house assistance. You simply use the platform to build a campaign and to customize your message. There are even pre-built automation features that make it fast and easy to execute your campaigns.

4. Microsoft Power BI
Managing business intelligence tasks is a common challenge for many small business owners, and Microsoft Power BI strives to address those challenges head on. This is a user-friendly platform that is available to you for free. It enables you to organize and analyze data in a drag and drop environment. You can do everything from enhance analytics to print reports and more. The dashboard helps you to keep your analytics organized, and the dashboards can be perfectly customized to meet your specific needs. You can create attractive reports through this program as well, and the reports can easily be distributed to your entire team for viewing on any type of Internet-based device. The program is interactive with Microsoft Office 365 products.

5. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus
Viruses and malware are legitimate and substantial concerns for small business owners. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is an affordable solution to this problem. This is a regularly updated program that works with Microsoft platforms. It has remote capabilities so that you can initiate a scan from your smartphone. Because of its affordable price and its convenient features, it is ideal for a smaller business that does not need to purchase many licenses to make the solution cost-effective. This program also makes it easy to secure your online experience and to properly manage passwords. The company has been in business for more than 15 years, and it serves millions of customers. It prides itself on its ability to quickly identify threats and to update its products accordingly to protect its customers.

With limited operating capital, it makes sense to feel as though your business is placed at a disadvantage in the marketplace. However, you can see that there are many applications and programs available that can help smaller companies stand on equal footing with their much larger and more well-established competitors. Analyze these applications today to determine if they could benefit your operations in a substantial way.

Continue reading

Open Source Turns 20 Years Old: How This Term Came Into Existence?

Open source software 640x360


When Netscape released the source code for its Netscape Communicator web browser 20 years ago, a discussion was sparked in the developer community. A new term was being sought that could appropriately explain this stuff. A related term, “free software,” existed but its seeming focus on price confused the newcomers.

For the first time, on February 3rd, 1998 in Palo Alto, the term Open Source was coined by Christine Peterson, who was executive director at Foresight Institute.

Christine Peterson has recently shared her unpublished account of how she came up with the term and how she proposed it. “Oldtimers must then launch into an explanation, usually given as follows: “We mean free as in freedom, not free as in beer.”,” she writes in her account.

As per Peterson, after Eric Raymond’s meeting with Netscape, he took Foresight’s help to strategize and refine their message. During that meeting itself on Feb 3rd, Peterson, who believed the need for a clearer term to describe such code, came up with the term Open Source Software.

Later that week, in another meeting on February 5, 1998, with the help of Todd Anderson, she was able to gather some kind of consensus around the open source name. “These were some key leaders in the community, and they liked the new name, or at least didn’t object.”

The Open Source Initiative was formed in following days. People like Tim O’Reilly, Bruce Perens, and others played a pivotal role in popularising the term. Perens also adapted his Free Software Guidelines for Debian GNU/Linux to serve as Open Source Definition (OSD).

Read More

Continue reading

For IT in 2018, Think Change and Change Again

By James M Connolly

Even with the ongoing new developments in core technologies, IT organizations are facing dramatic changes in how they work in 2018 as they embrace new business concepts and strategies.
We just might be at a point where IT professionals -- from the overworked help desk staffer up to the CIO in the fancy office -- long for the good old days. You remember those days, when technology, that "T" in IT, ruled the day.

That was when the to-do list was filled with tasks such as configuring hardware, testing compatibility of software packages, upgrading databases, responding to "stupid user" complaints, and fighting to keep hackers out of a system. Even the move to the cloud often was a bits and bytes and connections challenge. Today, a whole new layer of IT complexity has landed on top of all those pure tech issues.

That layer is a sometimes bewildering mashup of raw data, analytics, innovation, customer relations, and business strategy. How those elements -- once largely in the purview of only a few specialists or the most senior IT executives -- have been woven into the day-to-day lives of most IT pros was illustrated in a 12-part series of feature articles posted on over the past two months. Our writers looked at the state of a dozen technology and management concepts and explored the new world of IT for practitioners and the business as a whole.


information technology connections

Image: Shutterstock
Take the example of the IoT, which John Edwards examined in The Internet of Things: Still Lots for You to Learn.

One could look at IoT and conclude that it's really just a network, feeding lots of data into a database. Granted, it includes Internet-enabled sensors, but IT knows how to connect things to the Internet, and it certainly knows databases. Oh, but IoT is so much more, with so much more to know.

The IoT network is useless unless IT understands the business and the challenges that business leaders and operations people face. Consider what the optimum operating temperatures are for refrigerators in 1,000 restaurant outlets, and at what temperature the food starts to go bad. When an IoT-connected fridge has issues, and the temperature hits a level where an alert is issued, who gets notified? What does that service rep need to know about past temperature trends? What type of repair or preventative maintenance has to kick in at what point? What do the other sensors in a fridge tell food quality managers about when food stocks need to be rotated out or replenished? All of that data plays into corporate decisions on everything from which refrigerator supplier to use to how inventory control factors into corporate margins.

The fact that the IoT is about analytics as much as it is about networking raises another question. What is the role of IT in an analytics initiative? Writer Lisa Morgan explored that as part of her feature Beware Analytics' Mid-Life Crisis.

Citing the ever-popular business shift to software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications procured by business units rather than IT, Lisa wrote: "Organizations serious about competing on insights need to think holistically about how they're approaching analytics and the role of IT. Disenfranchising IT from analytics may prove to be short-sighted. For example, a proof of concept may not scale well or the data required to answer a question might not be available."

In other words, the next phase of "Shadow IT" shapes up as "Shadow Analytics," which can only mean a huge problem with data siloes, some sitting in marketing, others in operations, and still more back in the IT group.

Read More

Continue reading

SMB Digital Transformation: Why, When, Where and How?

Digital Transformation


SMB Group’s 2017 U.S. Small and Medium Business Digital Transformation Study reveals that today’s small and medium businesses (SMBs) have tuned into the digital revolution. As noted in Pulse Check: SMBs and Digital Transformation, roughly three-quarters of SMB (including small (1-99 employee), medium (100-999 employee) and upper midmarket (1,000-2,500 employee) businesses) decision-makers agree/strongly agree that digital technology is impacting their businesses and industries.

So, why, when, where and how will SMBs place their digital bets?

Why: Drivers for Digital Transformation
The top reasons that SMBs are investing in digital technology are to attract new customers, improve employee productivity and streamline operations (Figure 1). However, the top-ranking driver varies fairly dramatically based on company size as follows:

  • Small business: attract new customers
  • Medium business: keep up with competitive pressures
  • Upper midmarket: improve employee productivity

Figure 1: Top Drivers to Invest in Digital Technology

invest in digital

When: Most SMBs Are in the Planning Phase

Survey results indicate that 48% of SMBs are currently planning to engage in activities that will help them adapt and transform their businesses for a digital future. Meanwhile, 36% are already implementing activities to support digital transformation, and 16% have no plans underway.

Phase of digital transformation correlates strongly with company size (Figure 2). Upper mid-market and medium businesses are 2.6 and 1.9 times more likely, respectively, to say they’re currently engaged than small businesses. In addition, younger companies–those that have been in business less than 5 years–are twice as likely to be currently involved in activities to support digital transformation.

Read more 

Continue reading