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March 27, 2015

Why Migrate to Office 365 or Google Apps email


Email/Word Map Graphic

Outsourcing any element of your business essentially boils down to the same thing – the less you have to worry about in-house, the more time that you will create for yourself to focus on the more important matters of growing your business.

Email most definitely falls into this category.

It is of course still the most critical communication tool for practically every company in the world, and your SME will be no different. You will use email to make contact with your suppliers, your customers, your staff and your management teams on a daily basis.

So, a fully functioning email system is at the core of your business – but maintaining that email system itself cannot and should not be considered a core business function in itself.

The complexity and expense of maintaining an email system in-house can be extremely challenging – especially for the SME. Nonetheless, it is vital that it is done properly, and so the question that many businesses face is, can we really afford to dedicate adequate resources to ensuring that it is done properly?

For many businesses, the answer is no, and the intelligent strategy that is utilized in such instances is to outsource.

Outsourcing is of course something that many businesses do quite commonly for lots of their business functions. Things like web design, social media management, sales, PR and cleaning services are all regular occurrences. Email, on the other hand, is not always something that a business thinks about, but it can be a real time and resource saver for those who decide to offload it.

The Benefits Of cloud based Email

The benefits of cloud based email are in fact numerous to a business. So let’s take a close look at exactly what they are.

1. Cost Savings

These can in fact be plentiful, as money can be saved in lots of places when outsourcing email. For instance, you won’t have to shoulder the cost of a dedicated server on your own, nor will you have to pay additional costs maintaining it, upgrading it or paying for extra storage. Money spent on powering your own server will of course also be saved, as what you would spend on the cooling and backup needs of the equipment.

And of course you will also be making some hard savings on the administration costs of your staff who are tasked with running the server, its licenses, and managing all of the individual user accounts.

2. Reliability

The ongoing maintenance of in-house email servers is a full-time job. But, when you outsource to a dedicated hosting company, it will be their full-time job, and, as such, will be much more experienced with what is required to do the job properly and efficiently.

If you look around, you will also see that many hosting companies like to boast of 99.9% uptime – and you probably wouldn’t be able to do that yourself in-house. You simply cannot afford for such a critical business function like your email to go down. Reliability and availability of the service is therefore paramount to the ongoing successful running of your business.

Security, too, will be an utmost priority for hosting companies – their business (not to mention the ones that they host) will depend on it, so you will be able to rest assured that your sensitive information that you exchange in your correspondences will be in safe hands.

3. Scalability

As your business grows (and grows and grows), you will have to scale up all of your IT infrastructure and resources accordingly. An email hosting service will normally work on a per-inbox per-month charging basis, and so, as you get bigger and have to take on more employees, you will be charged extra only as and when that happens – and there will be no limit to just how big you can get.

4. Smarter Features

When outsourcing your email, your provider will offer you access to a whole range of advanced features that you can use to connect and engage with your customers on a much more personal level.

For example, you will normally be able to use custom fields for personalization, so that you will be able to adapt your emails to the various individuals on your list. You will also be able to segment your email lists into subsets, so you can send out focused emails to particular groups.

5. Upgrades

It will be in a service provider’s interest to ensure that the servers that they are running are the latest models and the most up to date in the business, in order to fend off losing your subscription to a competitor. If you were to be continuously upgrading your hardware like this then you would be facing massive expenses.

So, if you move you email to a hosting service, then you will not only be able to reap the benefits of your email running on the latest and greatest servers, but you won’t have to shoulder the cost of it either.

Are you thinking about outsourcing your email? Get in touch with us here at V&C Solutions to find out how we can help you make the transition.

March 19, 2015

Big Data For The Small Business


Big data sphere and human hand holding it.

Big Data For The Small Business

There can be no doubts any longer that big data is here. Whereas once – perhaps only a couple of years ago – the term was generally perceived to be nothing more than a new buzzword that would soon enough fade away almost as quietly as it had arisen, it has in fact stood the test of time and is now everywhere we look.

No. Big data is here to stay, and it’s getting bigger – indeed that’s the very nature of the beast. And, what is more, it’s a big deal.

Big data is already changing all manner of industries – from finance to security to marketing to telecommunications to healthcare. Big data is everywhere, and it’s getting bigger all the time.

Importantly, though, as time has moved on, big data is becoming less and less of a tool that is just the reserve of the big corporation, and more and more as something that can be used by large and small organisations alike. And it’s all down to the open source technology that has become increasingly available.

But, before we get into that, let’s try and answer the biggest question of all…

What Is Big Data?

Well, the answer to that is actually quite simple – lots of data. Loads of it, in fact. Reams and reams and reams of it.

But, what constitutes as data?

Practically anything, frankly. If you think about how we live our lives online today – as we use social media to chat to friends and arrange parties, visit dating sites and form relationships, order takeaways and groceries to be delivered at our front door, listen to music, the radio, watch TV and films, shop for business and consumer goods, visit websites, make appointments, send emails… and on and on it goes – all of these activities leave a digital footprint or data trail in their wake. To put it another way – lots and lots and lots and lots of footprints. Or reams and reams and reams of data – or big data, for short.

Big data refers to everything that we do online – and everything that we do offline as well for that matter, so long as it can be recorded.

How Is Big Data Used?

Well, since you’re a business, let’s focus on how big data gets used for business purposes.

One of the main uses for big data in the business world is for marketing and for making market predictions. Ad-targeting is a prevalent use of big data, which you probably will have noticed at some point in some form or another. For example – you know those adverts that pop up on your Facebook? That’s big data at work.

It’s used by data scientists to gain a better understanding of our browsing and spending habits online, so that ads can be targeted more specifically to particular users who it is deemed are more likely to take an interest in a certain product or service. The idea is that predictive models can be created to help increase sales.

Shortage Of Big Data Professionals

Let’s face facts here – big data is bigger than big. It’s massive. Humongous. According to IBM, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every single day. As such, you can probably imagine that as yet there just simply isn’t the technology or the manpower to process and make sense of it all.

In fact, in the US alone, we are looking at a skills shortage of between 140,000 and 190,000 big data professionals – so, if you fancy a career change, big data is hiring in a big way.

Big Data For The Small Business

You may think that your business might be too small to worry about big data. And, while it may be true that you’ve been ticking along quite happily without it over the past few years, the fact of the matter is that more and more SMEs are jumping on board the big data train, which means that they will be gaining a competitive advantage unless you do also.

However, be that as it may, the likelihood is that big data, by its very nature, will involve data sets that are simply too large and complex for you to manage in house with your existing IT systems.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t also find ways to utilize it in order that you may make better business decisions the same as everyone else – you just might need to turn to managed services to help you.

Let’s take a quick look at 3 ways in which small businesses can use big data.

1. Google Analytics

These days, there is no longer an actual need for you to go out and start purchasing complex and expensive software in order for you to be able to start gathering data. If you start with something that you’ve already got – and I’m talking about your website – then you can begin to make some serous moves straight away.

Google Analytics is the free web-traffic monitoring tool provided by the biggest search engine out there – Google. It’s simple to use, and you can head over to the site right now and start playing with its features so you start monitoring all sorts of data about your website’s visitors through the use of a plethora of traffic sources and metrics.

You will be able to extract sets of long-term data that will reveal to you important trends, which will help you to make better informed business decisions going forward.

You will be able to analyse social media traffic, bounce rates, and visits that are made from mobile devices – and the data from all of this and more will help you start to tailor your various marketing campaigns for the future.

2. Canopy Labs

The ability to predict the future is a super power that every business owner wishes they had. And with Canopy Labs you can do just that.

Canopy Labs is a customer analytics platform that analyses customer behaviour and sales trends to create predictive behavioural models that can be used to tailor your future marketing campaigns.

One of the best features of Canopy Labs is the 360-degree Customer View. This provides excellent, comprehensive data about each of your individual customers. It does two things. Firstly it provides detailed information on a customer’s lifetime value – that is, their loyalty and engagement level, purchase histories, email behaviours etc. – and this information is used to reveal just how profitable each customer is, and whether they’re worth targeting in the future. Secondly, the information that is garnered will help you create more tailored personalized offers, keep track of responses and engagement so you can improve your marketing campaigns.

And the good news is that it’s a free service for companies with up to 5,000 customers – any more than that will cost you $250 a month.

3. Tranzlogic

Tranzlogic makes customer credit card data available to small businesses – information that was once limited to big companies with big budgets.

Tranzlogic works with payment systems and merchants to analyse and extract proprietary data from credit card purchases – and this sort of info is invaluable to your business. It can be used to improve loyalty programs, make your marketing campaigns more effective, measure sales performance, improve your business model, and evaluate customers individually and in segments.

Put simply, Tranzlogic analyses payments data to help you make better business decisions.

Is your company thinking about moving into the realms of big data? Contact us at V&C Solutions to see how we can help you make the right big data moves for your small business.

March 13, 2015

The Top 3 Features That Every Intranet Needs


The Top 3 Features That Every Intranet Needs

There is no end to features that it is possible for an intranet to have – and there are some that I’ve seen that must have nearly all of them. However, as you might expect, what is most often the case is that only a mere handful of these features and functions actually ever end up getting used.

Companies often decide that they need an intranet when they make the realization that communications between employees and/or remote offices are starting to break down and are costing in terms of both time and productivity. Other times, it’s a case of a management decree that states that a company’s information needs to shared more efficiently.

In the end, intranets are all about increasing the speed and efficiency of connections and communications within a company. They are mostly used by employees who need ready and relevant information upfront to complete their jobs as quickly as possible. Employees also want the same ease of access to HR tools, and to make sure that they are in proper receipt of any benefits that they may be entitled to.

Intranets are great for this, and a whole lot more besides. They make up an invaluable knowledge pool of all of a company’s resources, meaning that employees can be kept up to date on everything that’s happening in the company at any given time, as well as access any information that they may need.

The ability to share data between users within the secure confines of a firewall – yet, importantly, without sacrificing on access to the greater web at large – is something that is extremely reassuring to an organization that no amount of sensitive information can accessed outside of the company, yet still the workforce is not hindered by limited web access.

But it’s what happens within the confines of that firewall that is the measure of an intranet’s true success. Great intranets have a great social dynamic, and a great approach to keeping a company’s internal users constantly engaged.

So, with all this in mind, let’s take a look at the top 3 features that make up a successful intranet.

1. Well-populated User Profiles

People make up intranets. And so one of the most useful features of a successful intranet is to make sure that it is fully furnished with accurate, up to date and well-populated user profiles.

You may have 20, 30 or 50 or more people working for you. And, when you start to get into figures like this, it is extremely unlikely that every single one of your employees will be completely informed as to what the job roles are of every single one of their colleagues. They might not even be fully aware of the precise ordering of the chain of command, or exactly whom to turn to if they encounter a problem or require a very specific piece of information.

An intranet with fully completed user profiles cuts through these issues instantaneously. Employees need not even leave their desk to find out whom to turn to for whatever they need to complete the job at hand.

Contact details are essential for every employee on an intranet. This way, when a worker needs to check with the legal department, sales department, marketing department or what have you, they can find out the extension number in just a couple of clicks, and get on the case straight away.

Another useful feature of a fully optimized employee directory is the element of presence. If a certain person is away from their desk – or perhaps even on vacation for the next couple of weeks – this information can be presented, so the employee knows which avenues are currently closed off for communication purposes, meaning that they should start to search elsewhere. This cuts down as well on the irritation of sending an email or leaving a voicemail for someone only to find out 2 days later that they’re on sick leave and won’t be back for the foreseeable future.

2. Content Repository

Without access to the proper content, employees simply cannot do their jobs to the best of their abilities. They may need certain marketing tools, or sales tools, lists of legal procedures, customer and client directories, product information etc.

All of this information – and a lot more besides – can be placed on the intranet, making it easy to access for all members of staff. As such, it is important that a powerful search function is part of your intranet, and that tagging of any new content that is posted is enabled – it’s no good having all the information there if nobody can find it.

It’s also a good idea to include a comments section beneath every piece of content that goes live. This will encourage discussion on all topics, and any questions or queries raised can be addressed quickly.

3. Collaboration Portals And Platforms

Sometimes, your employees will need to form sub-teams to complete specified projects – and the best intranets offer support for this. Emails can only do so much, and they can be a pain to scroll through, clicking on each one to find the information that you need.

But with a dedicated portal for collaboration purposes, any links and information can be shared privately, action plans can be formed, and progress monitored by all members of the sub-team. This is utilizing the power of intranets at its very best, and every intranet should support this function.

Contact us at V&C Solutions to see how we can help your business set up an intranet, or improve an existing one.

March 5, 2015

How Your Business Can Save Thousands With Managed Services


managed services

Deciding whether or not to outsource any element of your business nearly

always, in the end, boils down to a question of costs. Whether that’s the cost of

your time, resources, staff or hard cash, the question is essentially the same –

will my business feel the benefits if I outsource a segment of its workload?

In an attempt to answer this with regards to managed services, there are many

things to bear in mind – so let’s take a look at what they are, and then we’ll delve

a little deeper into each item.

 

Where Can Savings Be Made With Managed Services?

1. Time: Outsourcing some or all of your IT work will inevitably free up

your time and your staff’s time to focus on more pressing business

matters – such as serving customers.

2. Resources: You can immediately cut down on the volume of in‐house

hardware that you will have to run, maintain, update and upscale as your

business grows.

3. Money: Instead of employing a full time IT person or team, if you

outsource this can prove to be a vital money‐saver, especially for SMEs

running on tight margins. You will also negate the need at the outset to set

yourself up with lots of expensive hardware.

4. Downtime: If your network goes down or your computers start to

operate slowly, then you’re losing money every second. With the

expertise of managed services, your hired help will be able to spot any

potential hiccups in advance and prevent any problems before they occur.

Ok, so those are the 4 main areas where you can make significant savings with

managed services. But, let’s delve a little deeper into each point so you know

exactly where your savings are coming from.

 

Saving Money With Managed Services

Time

It’s the way of the world today that, even if you’re a dedicated hardware store,

technology will be the backbone of your company. It’s where you will be keeping

all your customer files, your receipts, your order forms, invoices, payroll and all

the rest. Put simply, there is a lot of valuable information that you will have

stored on your computer system, and that system will need to be maintained.

As your business grows, so does the IT job in hand. All business owners are

budget conscious – they have to be; we all know how tough it is out there. And

so, for many SMEs, it simply isn’t possible for you or for your staff to be

constantly ‘out the back’ working on computer maintenance when you all should

be doing your utmost to promote and protect your business and bring on new

clients. But, if you offload this time‐consuming work to expert professionals, not

only can you rest assured that everything will be handled a lot more securely and

routinely than perhaps you have the qualifications for yourself (you’re a

business person, not a computer hacker, right?), then you will save yourself

ample time to do the most important thing of all – grow your business.

Resources

By getting into managed services what you will probably be doing is getting into

cloud computing as well. If you’re just starting up your business, then you will

need a lot of hardware just to get off the ground – phone systems, a datacenter,

computers possibly by the dozen with software for the lot of them.

Stop right there. That bill is getting far too high already. Instead of storing all of

these things in‐house, then you can turn to managed services who can utilize

cloud technology at an affordable rate to take care of all of this for you. From

VoIP systems to cloud storage and software – managed services can find your

business the right solution that will be cost effective and scalable, as well as

managing all of the risk and overseeing all of the maintenance for you. It’s a

smart move for a smart SME.

Money

If you want to hire your own in‐house IT team, then the chances are that,

although they might very well be reasonably versed in some aspects of

technology, it will be nothing compared to the expertise that you will be able to

access by going with the dedicated IT and tech aficionados that make up a

managed services team.

Managed service providers live for technology. They are always up to date with

all the latest malware threats and take pride in staying ahead of them. Managed

services can either supplement your in‐house IT team, or serve as the whole

team themselves if that better suits your budget.

Downtime

Every time your business goes offline, you’re leaking money, and that is

unacceptable. You won’t necessarily have the time or even the expertise to

preempt a problem or a malware strike before it actually occurs – but your

managed services team will.

They will routinely scan your network and all of your computers to ensure that

they are completely free from viruses, malware, spyware, and are always

operating at their full capacity. This means that your business will always be

fully functioning, up to date and up to speed for all of your clients.

Are you thinking about managed services? Get in touch with us here at V&C

Solutions, and we’ll find the right the right package for you.