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.

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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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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