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October 23rd, 2012

We’ve talked about the many different cloud services available, however, one business function has been largely left behind when it comes to cloud services and this is the fax machine. Once a crucial instrument of business communication, it’s usefulness was largely diminished when email took over. While many companies probably still have a fax machine, and likely use it on a semi-regular basis, it can be hard to justify maintaining one in tough economic times like these.

If your company has a fax machine, and still uses it on a fairly regular basis, there is a way for you to cut costs, while still being able to send and receive faxes. The solution is found in the cloud.

Currently, many modern fax machines use a dedicated server to send and receive faxes. This server is usually located in the business, and connected to traditional fax machines. The server, along with the required transmission lines and cables, can be very expensive. With a cloud fax solution, lines and servers are moved outside the organization to a third-party provider.

Cloud fax solutions usually work by replacing the traditional fax machine with your computer. The solution acts as a virtual fax machine that can translate an email with an attachment into a fax, then send it over traditional phone lines to other fax machines. Incoming faxes are sent to a traditional phone/fax number, where the cloud picks this up and translates the fax by submitting this to your email. Essentially, your faxes become emails.

This has a number of benefits, including:

  • Drastically lower cost: As you can get rid of bulky machines and the related infrastructure, you will see lower monthly costs. Beyond that, many cloud fax providers charge per page, so if you only send a few faxes each week, you only pay for what you use; ideal for businesses operating on tight margins.
  • Easier management: As with most cloud solutions, there is only one point of contact for the service. The provider takes care of technical problems, administrative support and function management, freeing you up to focus on other business functions. Cloud fax services also afford more time to IT employees to work on other tasks, something most IT staff would be more than happy about.
  • Increased efficiency: Employees who send/receive faxes are more efficient, as they don’t have to get up to check for received or sent faxes. Most cloud fax solutions also allow you to send more kinds of documents than traditional fax machines, so there’s no need to convert most documents into a format that can be sent by fax. This means more time to spend on other tasks.
  • Better than email: Most email servers have a limit on the size of the document you can send. This means that with bigger documents, you need to either break them up or find another way to send them. Cloud faxes work like normal fax machines in that they send as many documents as is in the ‘feeder’, or in this case, documents on the computer. This makes it easier to send larger files.
These are just a few of the benefits that a fax system operating in the cloud can bring to your business. If you’d like to learn more about making your fax system a little more modern, please contact us.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Web Trends
September 25th, 2012

The cloud and programs based in the cloud are a popular tech trend, with many companies introducing services and programs with features that use them. One of the most seemingly natural fits with the cloud are office communication and productivity suites. The two most popular cloud based office suites are Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365. However, both these offerings often have business managers scratching their heads, wondering which is better.

Here’s a comparison of both Google Apps and Office 365.

Cost Google has three pricing schemes for Google Apps: Free, $5 a month and $10 a month. Office 365 has eight price plans - six for normal users and two for kiosk users - these vary from $4 a month up to $22 a month. Note: all prices are in USD and are per user, per month.

With Google Apps, the majority of businesses will choose to go with the $5 a month plan, as it can support an unlimited number of users. Businesses that adopt Office 365 should chose the plan that closest matches the number of users in the organization. The only problem with the lower priced Office 365 plans ($14 a month and lower) are that they don’t include the desktop version of Office, which you will have to buy or license separately.

Setup/migration On paper the setup or migration to both systems can be easily achieved, but in reality, there are a few differences. With Google Apps, you follow an online migration process which you can either do yourself or with the help of a Google Apps Authorized Reseller.

Office 365 follows a similar process, with a setup wizard to help the transition. As of Spring 2012 If you’re a current Microsoft BPOS user, you can only do the migration at certain times, Microsoft's Online Services team will give you a schedule. This means your migration works around Microsoft’s schedule, not yours. For new Office 365 clients, working with a Microsoft vendor is your best bet to achieving a successful migration, as there have been known to be complications with the process, especially if you’re upgrading from a legacy system.

Cloudiness Both Google and Microsoft market their products as cloud solutions. Google Apps is centered around Google Drive and Gmail, with Drive being the online storage, collaboration and document creation and editing app. Basically, anything created using a Google App is accessed from Drive, which in turn can be accessed using any Web browser.

Office 365 users on the other hand will likely have to adapt a hybrid solution. You will be able to access documents through SharePoint, Microsoft’s online document management system. These documents are in turn shared with Office 365 users who can access them through their Web browser. There is also Office Web Apps which is a slimmed down version of Office for desktops, which is fully in the cloud.

Management Management of any cloud based solution should, in theory, be as easy as managing web browsers across the organization. With Google, any program updates are automatically installed by Google, and will show up often instantly, meaning that all users are always on the same version, regardless of their location. If you use a Google Apps Vendor, the updates will be available to all of the vendor’s clients when the vendor updates, which is usually close to the time Google releases the original update.

Management of Google Apps is done through the Web browser of the admin account. Users can add new services, change access rights and tinker to their heart’s content. Office 365 on the other hand relies on a fairly tech-intensive backend that requires a company to have IT staff with knowledge of Microsoft’s products. A new version of Office 365 will be available in November 2013, however, if companies want to upgrade, they may have to pay for a whole new version of Office for each user.

When it comes to support, Google offers 24/7 support for paying customers, and no physical support for non-paying customers. Microsoft offers support for some price plans, however no 24/7 support is available for businesses that chose the Small Business price plan. Both have websites and incredibly extensive forums you can access for help.

Day-to-day use If you were to compare Google Apps with just the online parts of Office 365, you’d find that the two offerings are fairly similar. Both facilitate online collaboration, while providing essential features like a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software and email, that are instantly familiar to any computer user. Strictly comparing these to Office Web Apps, both are fairly light on advanced editing and creation features that content producers and layout editors need.

Where Office 365 shines is with day-to-day integration. If it’s set up properly, Office 365 will work great with Office 2010, and allows users far greater formatting options than Google Apps. In fact, to get the most out of Office 365, you will probably want to use Office 2010 along with it.

In short, businesses that already use Microsoft’s products, have the required infrastructure for Office 365, or need the advanced functionality of the Office suite, will be better off sticking with Microsoft. For businesses that are looking for a set price solution that’s fully based in the cloud, Google Apps may be the better choice. If you’d like to learn more about the various products from either company, please contact us.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Web Trends
August 7th, 2012

Over the past year, governments around the world have been taking an ever more aggressive stance on the Internet and the regulation of it. Some want to regulate it to a point where it will be hardly recognizable to the Internet of today, while others want to introduce laws that will make it easier for police and similar bodies to track citizens.

Here is a brief overview of the four most newsworthy government laws or regulations and what they mean.

SOPA. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was a bill suggested in late 2011 and tabled in the American House in early 2012. What it proposed was to give the US Justice Department and copyright holders the power to take take down websites due to copyright infringement without hearing a defense by the website owners.It also gave copyright owners the power to lodge complaints that websites infringed on their copyright and seek compensation from ANY company that did business with the website. They could also get the whole website taken down, not just the infringing material, all without entering a courtroom.

SOPA also would have made it a felony to stream pirated material, with a potential jail term of up to five years e.g., watch any video with pirated music on youtube (almost every video) and you could go to jail for it. Taking it even further, posting links to illicit material on social networks could result in the whole network being taken down. The big problem with SOPA was that it would have given the Justice Department power to shut down access to both domestic and foreign sites in the US.

PIPA. The Protect IP Act is the Senate version of SOPA. While nearly identical in nearly all aspects, there are two main differences. The first being that it doesn’t require search engines to stop working with foreign, copyright infringing websites. It still allows for copyright holders to lodge complaints against foreign sites though. The second is that it requires greater court intervention when pursuing copyright infringement. In late January, the Senate tabled the bill until its issues can be resolved.

CISPA. After SIPA and PIPA failed to pass, American legislators introduced a set of bills called the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). The main purpose of CISPA is to guard against “cyber threats” and has been expanded to also cover national security. If passed, military and government agencies will be able to collect and share private data from companies without a warrant.Companies will be able to share data with government agencies, as long as it pertains to a cyber threat. These threats include anything that’s in relation to efforts to harm public and private networks, theft and wrongful use of data. In other words, download a movie from youtube that’s copyrighted and Google - the owner of Youtube - would be legally entitled to share your information with the US government.

The worst thing about this bill is that it gives the American government permission to monitor ALL of your Internet activity, and use your information without liability. If a government or military body shares your information because they deem you a cyber threat and it’s a mistake, you won’t be able to seek legal recourse.

In April the US House passed the bill, and a version of it is currently being voted on by the Senate.

ACTA. The Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is a multinational act established to help prevent the stealing of copyrighted ideas and material via any medium, including the Internet. What it does for the Internet is turn ISPs (Internet Service Providers) into Web Police, while restricting copyrights. At this time, the bill is unclear on the extent and power it will give to governments and large companies to monitor and protect copyrights. However, it’s an International bill that has been ratified by almost all first world countries.

While these acts originate in the United States, if passed, other western countries will most likely move to enact similar legislation aimed at protecting the interests of the country and companies operating within. A good example of this is a bill, C-11, currently being debated in Canada’s House of Commons. It has many of the same provisions that SOPA, PIPA and CISPA do, which could change the face of the Internet in Canada with any company that has ties to Canada being affected.

At this time, these bills won’t affect small businesses that follow the law, but if enacted businesses will need to keep a very close watch on employee Internet use and use of any non-original material. What are your thoughts on the bills? Let us know below, or contact us for more information.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Web Trends
July 25th, 2012

The Internet is always changing, websites come and go and every now and then a popular idea comes along that clicks with netizens and takes off like wildfire. One such idea is perfect for these times of tough economies, when businesses and entrepreneurs are struggling to find funding for their projects and ideas. To secure funding, people have been employing crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding, crowdsourcing or social funding is the act gathering funding from a group or network of people, using the Internet as a source. Crowdfunding was initially used by fans of bands to help fund albums and concerts and from there has evolved into one of the most popular ways to secure funding or support for ideas.

How crowdfunding works Crowdfunding is centralized around a number of websites where both potential investors - anyone who has money or likes an idea - and entrepreneurs with ideas communicate with each other.

If you have an idea, you post it on the website with as much information as possible. Many investors are out there looking for ideas first, if they like your idea, they will want to know more about it. Many people with ideas will use visual mediums to gain interest. Most importantly, they set an amount of funding needed, usually based off financial investment projections. To encourage investors, it’s recommended that you offer a reward based on the amount of money invested. It could be the product itself, discounts or anything really.

As crowdfunding relies on websites, a number of websites have sprung up to meet needs. Here are our top 3 sites:

  1. Kickstarter. Kickstarter is the most popular crowdfunding website, focusing mainly on creative projects. Projects have a start and end date, an accountable person and definable expectations that all investors agree to. The interesting thing about Kickstart is: projects follow an “all-or-nothing” approach, if projects don’t meet the set goal, they don’t get funded.
  2. Investedin. Investedin is a website that caters to individuals and companies that would like to host fundraisers, or raise funds. It’s similar to Kickstarter in that projects generally offer rewards for investment, but differs in the fact that it can be used for any kind of fundraising, including funds to cover capital expenditures.
  3. PeerBackers. PeerBackers is a crowdfunding site for anyone with a business idea, or a business in any stage of its life-cycle to raise necessary funds, and help make their idea a reality. Like Kickstarter and Investedin, PeerBackers follows the invest and reward structure, the main thing it does differently, is it’s mainly for getting funding for businesses, or business ideas off the ground.
While there are more crowdfunding websites out there, we feel that these three meet the needs of the majority of people. If you have an idea that you think other people would benefit from and would like to be a part of, give crowdfunding a try. Still unsure about the whole process? Contact us, we may be able to help as well.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Web Trends
June 26th, 2012

It used to be that when a company spokesperson made a gaffe it was usually in person, and observed by a limited number of people. Now it seems that the majority of gaffes made have been on Twitter. These mistakes can spell disaster for any company, and can be even more deadly for small businesses, who may not recover.

Here are five types of tweets that can seriously damage your reputation.

  1. The making things up tweet. Beyond the obvious moral reasons, it’s never good for a business to tweet something that’s made up. Be it false sales, achievements or facts, you can guarantee that someone will know and call you on it which could create a PR nightmare. Always be sure that what you tweet is true and can be backed up.
  2. The denying allegations tweet. There’s a pretty high chance that users will take to Twitter when they have something negative to say about your company. When this happens, one of the worst things you could do is deny the allegations, even if you’re right. Doing so will only result in more negative tweets, all of which are very public. If you do get a negative tweet, the best thing to do is encourage the tweeter to contact you privately.
  3. The mad as heck tweet. Doing anything when you’re angry is never a good idea, especially when using a medium as public as Twitter. If your first reaction is to be angry at a tweet, it’s best to step back for a bit and think about what made you angry. If you’re still angry, get an employee or friend to read the tweet and talk about what actions you should take.
  4. The inflammatory tweet. It’s best to not tweet anything that could make your followers angry or upset. Remember your Twitter account represents another way for your customers to interact with you. If they’re upset about something, the chances of you getting their business again are slim. If you’re not sure if something is inflammatory or not, try asking your employees or a friend, or just don’t tweet it.
  5. The negativity tweet. Negativity in the workplace is something that could cause a business to go under quickly. The same goes for a negative tweet, it is a sure fire way to tarnish your reputation. As a rule, don’t publish anything negative.
Twitter, when used correctly, is an extremely useful communication tool for small businesses. When businesses mishandle their tweets, they could create publicity issues that could irreparably harm a business. If you would like some more tips on, or need help managing, your tweets, please contact us.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Web Trends
May 30th, 2012

With the recent launch of Google Drive, Microsoft’s update to SkyDrive and numerous mobile devices launching in the next few months with cloud storage apps included, the cloud is most likely 2012’s hottest tech trend. With what seems like every technical company offering a cloud service, there’s been a large amount of confusing technobabble floating around.

Here are 10 of the most common cloud terms and what they mean.

  • Cloud. Cloud is the general term applied to anything that uses the Internet to provide an end user (in most cases, you) a service. Your information is hosted on a company’s servers and is accessed via an Internet connection. A good way to think of it is it’s equivalent to ordering delivery from a restaurant. Say you want Thai food, but don’t have the ingredients, so you have someone else do all the work and bring it to you.
  • Cloud OS (operating system). A cloud operating system is an OS delivered via the Internet. The OS isn’t physically on your system, it’s located in a company's servers and you use a physical computer to access it. Windows Azure is an example of a cloud OS.
  • Cloud provider. A company that provides a cloud service, storage and servers, usually for a fee. Google is one of the most well known cloud providers.
  • Cloud storage. A cloud service that allows users to store data in another location, away from their computer, and access it using the Internet.
  • Disruptive technology. A technology that’s so different and innovative it changes the way things are done. The cloud is a disruptive technology as it’s changed the way business is being done.
  • Data center. What IT companies call the building where cloud servers are housed.
  • IaaS - Infrastructure as a Service. This is the term used to describe any virtualized service being offered to a user. This can include virtualized servers, maintenance and software.
  • PaaS - Platform as a Service. This term is used to describe any computing platform being offered over the Internet, normally the OS and related software. Google Chrome OS is considered to be a PaaS.
  • SaaS - Software as a Service. The term applied to a single piece of software that’s offered over the Internet. Users access the software using the Internet and don’t need to install it on their computer. Gmail is considered to be SaaS.
  • Client. Despite what many believe, the client is not the person who buys a cloud service. It’s what a user uses to access the cloud service. Computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones are all clients.
While there are many different cloud services out there, these terms are generally applied to all of them. If you’d like to learn more about the cloud and how you can utilize it in your business, please contact us.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Web Trends