March 28th, 2013

BI_March27_BData: A set of values that belong to a set of items, is important to every business; it is largely useless in it's raw form though. Through the use, manipulation and analysis of data we get useful information that we can use to make decisions, gauge the health of our company or even tell how popular our Facebook Page is. While it is important, data can be hard to analyze without the right tools.

Here's a brief overview of five data analysis tools that you could use in your business.


One of the more common uses of data is to help a business manager make predictions. We all know predictions are among the hardest things to do. Enterprises hire staff and invest in systems solely with the aim of making predictions. If you're a small business, you likely don't need expensive software that is hard to use.

Enter BigML. How it works is you define and upload a set of data and format it. BigML will then take that data, help you to create a prediction model which you then can apply 'what-if' variables to and have it generate predictions. The site runs on credits; you pay for a set amount of credits and each part of the process - dataset, model and prediction - is worth a certain amount of credits. Prices start at around USD$6.50 for credits, which gives you 10MB of data, 5MB worth of models and 10K predictions based on this data.

Wolfram|Alpha's Facebook Reports

WolframAlpha is a search engine that collects data and uses algorithms to interpret it. One feature of this site is that you can develop reports, one of the more useful being Facebook Reports. You can access the report feature by clicking here. Alternatively, you can go to the WolframAlpha website and search for Facebook.

This report provides users with a glimpse into their Facebook Page's information. It provides you with information on who are the most active posters, how many shares/likes, etc. you get and other useful information in easy to read charts and graphs. The key here is that the report can show you how customers access your Page and where they come from. You could use this information to see what posts users liked and didn't like, and provide more engaging content.

The basic version of the report is free. More advanced controls and data analysis is available for USD$4.99 a month.

Many Eyes

Many Eyes is a data analysis and visualization tool developed by IBM Research. If you already have data sets then you can upload them to the website and use one of the many different visualization tools to create charts, graphs, etc.

A cool feature of this site is that it has the ability to analyze written documents. Say for example you are writing new content for your website, you can copy and paste the content and get a visual representation of the words you use, how you connect words, etc. If you have a set of keywords you would like to use for SEO and search purposes, you can manually compare them with the visualization. If you notice that an important keyword is missing, or not represented enough, you can go through and re-write the copy a bit.

Best of all, it's free.

Tableau Public

If you have an idea about Business Intelligence, or have worked with data on a regular basis and have sets that are structured, Tableau Public is probably the most powerful free analysis tool available for small businesses.

While powerful, it isn't the most user-friendly of options. To get the most out of this program you are going to need to know the basics behind data analysis. If you feel comfortable with the basics, you'll be creating dashboards, charts, interactive graphs, maps, etc. that look great and can be embedded on your blog or website. Oh yes, did we mention it's free?


Big data is all the rage these days, it's hard not to hear techies and data specialists talk about it. While it is an important part of many large businesses' data analysis practices, the truth is many small businesses don't need big data just yet. If you have simple data you need to analyze e.g., how many hours have your five employees worked this month? Why not stick with simple spreadsheets like Excel or Google Spreadsheet.

As long as you have data entered in a logical way, you can easily create graphs and charts that can help you visualize and analyze your data.

If you would like help establishing a system that can help you track and analyze your data, please contact us today, we may have a solution that works for you.
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March 5th, 2013
February 1st, 2013

Take a look at computers in almost every business and it's guaranteed that a large percentage of them will be running Microsoft Office. There are many different versions of Office, and Microsoft will officially release a new version of Office - 2013 - in Q1 2013, and businesses will be looking to upgrade. Those who do upgrade will undoubtedly have questions - one of the more common being how to change the default location where your documents are saved.

Here's how you can change the default save location, (where documents are saved), in Office 2013. By default, Office 2013 will save your documents to SkyDrive. Some users will want to change this so that documents are saved to their PC.

  1. Open Microsoft Word and select a blank document.
  2. Click File followed by Options.
  3. Select Save.
  4. Click the box that says Save to Computer by default.
  5. Click Browse beside the Default local file location and select the file where you would like to save your documents. If you don't change the location, your files will be saved into your Documents folder.
  6. Select Ok.
After you set the save location, you will notice that other Office programs will also be set to save in that location as well. If you're interested in upgrading to Office 2013 when it arrives please contact us.
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December 26th, 2012

Many companies have closed the books on 2012 and are now looking forward to the rest of 2013. One of the major things companies tend to look at this time of year are their marketing plans. When it comes to marketing plans companies are starting to integrate a more tech-based approach. As such they are eager to know what marketing oriented tech trends are likely to emerge throughout 2013.

Here's an overview of what we think will be the five biggest tech-marketing related trends for the coming year.

1. Increased mobile demands With a crop of excellent, affordable and capable devices released this past year, it's a sure thing that many of your clients will be getting new devices for christmas. This will result in an increased demand for mobile friendly sites that are simpler, lighter on text and more interactive. 2013 will be a good year to review your website and optimize it for mobile users.

2. Increasing local demand With the increasing adoption of mobile devices many users are changing the way they use the Internet. Computers and laptops are increasingly being used for general searches while mobile devices are used almost exclusively for local searches. If you don't have a local presence that's optimized for local searches (e.g., Google Places) you will be missing out.

This 'localization' trend is referred to as SoLoMo (Social-Local-Mobile) and is the idea of businesses adding local information to their online platforms to capitalize on the increase of mobile users. 2012 has seen many companies begin to really use this by pushing locally oriented ads to mobile users. It's highly likely SoLoMo will become even more integral in 2013.

A recent infographic from Monetate highlights the importance of SoLoMo and how mobile users shop. The most interesting finding in relation to local search is that many customers use their mobile device to find out what's around them, and then will purchase either in-store or online. This trend should continue well into 2013.

3. Apps with better mobile ads Let's face it, smartphone users have gone app crazy. In the past few years many of the apps have come to include mobile ads shown to customers. Many of these ads aren't targeted to the user, but this is slowly changing as ads that are shown are becoming more trustworthy and targeted. There should be an increase in both the number of click-throughs and apps through 2013 which means it may be the perfect time to either develop your own app or invest in app advertising.

4. Increasing adoption of new payment methods The way customers pay for their purchases is changing. With the steady adoption of NFC (Near Field Communication) technology, mobile payment systems like Google Wallet, and coupon systems like Apple's Passbook, 2013 should see a shift away from paper and plastic to electronic.

This has already started with huge companies like Starbucks announcing they will be launching payment services provided by Square which allows for mobile payment. It's not hard to see that 2013 will be a big year for mobile based payment.

5. More mobile marketing competition With the general increase of mobile adoption it makes sense that 2013 will likely see more companies looking into mobile related marketing. This will make this medium a little more crowded and competitive. What this equates to is that companies should move to take advantage of mobile related marketing, or at the very least take steps to optimize their processes for mobile.

All signs point to 2013 being a year of mobile oriented advancements. Indeed, most of the customer/consumer oriented tech advancements of the past two years have almost been exclusively mobile oriented. Mobile adoption and the data that comes from the different advancements and trends should be something companies factor in when they are making operational decisions for the coming year. If you would like to learn more, please contact us.

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December 6th, 2012

One of the most important business tools is email. It allows us to stay in touch with the office and each other regardless of our location. While email is useful, it's not perfect. One issue is that we receive so many emails, with up to a 100 a day or more. This has led to many an overload and meltdown; there's just simply too many emails to get through. So, what do most people do? Delete them. However, this deletion could lead to problems.

When it comes down to it there are usually two options for users to keep their inbox from overflowing. They can either archive or delete emails.

Archiving or deleting emails These are features that are available to most email clients. By archiving email you essentially remove them from your inbox, usually into another folder. When you archive emails, they are still retrievable, and you are still able to search for them and access the information within them.

Deleting emails on the other hand is different. Yes, your emails are removed, but they will usually not disappear instantly. Most email programs move deleted emails into a trash folder. Some clients are set up to empty the folder on a daily basis, while others delete instantly or when they've set the program to. However, once you empty the trash, it's very hard to get these deleted emails back.

To archive or delete? The issue of whether to delete or archive emails is a bit cloudy. For personal accounts it's a little easier: If the email is junk, spam, or contains useless information, it's safe to delete it. For businesses, you can go ahead and delete junk emails, but for many other emails it may be a better idea to archive emails. Here's a number of reasons why:

It's the law Depending which country and industry your company operates in, there may be rules and regulations that state how long you should keep emails in your system for. For example: The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FCRP) in the US state that if a company can anticipate legal action from information contained within a message, or series of messages, it must keep/store (archive) them.

The EU has similar, yet slightly more complicated rules. The Data Protection Directive (DPA) of the EU states that, "Personal data must be stored, but no longer than necessary...The subjects of emails, the “Data Subjects,” have the right to access information about the storage and access to their personal data and to request accurate copies. If you operate in the EU, you must furnish personal information stored in email or otherwise, if asked for it. The kicker is: If you've deleted emails with such information, you are obligated to provide these as well.

Most other countries have laws similar to these, so it's better to err on the safe side and check with a lawyer to ensure you know exactly what the rules are.

Storage isn't an issue In the past, emails took up precious storage, so you really had no other choice but to delete messages. Nowadays, that's not an issue, especially for users of services like Gmail who get upwards of 10GB (more than enough to store all of your emails). This allows you to archive emails while keeping your inbox clean, and not having to worry about the law.

Email is a form of data Data is becoming big business. While it's highly likely that many small to medium businesses won't be implementing Big Data practices anytime in the near future, data in emails is still important. Say for instance you get an order for X amount of Y last year, and you were so busy you just filled the order but didn't fill in the proper records. When that client emails again, the only other information you have is from previous emails. If you delete it, that information is gone.

Beyond that, many decisions are made through and recorded in email these days, delete that important email with next year's budget decision on it and you could be in trouble.

Archive or delete? We're not suggesting you should keep all of your emails. In fact, the above reasons for archiving all have one thing in common: Useful information. This is key, as if information in an email isn't useful to you, your company or colleagues, or is stored in another location, you can probably delete messages.

Some people disagree with this view though and in fact some lawyers advise deleting emails due to the fact that they could turn out to be a liability one day. There are tons of stories of someone sending an inappropriate email to friends, only to have it leak to an unintended recipient. Situations like this could ruin your company.

What do you do/think? Do you delete your emails or archive them? Let us know.

Published with permission from Source.

November 1st, 2012

These past few months of 2012 have been big for Microsoft, with the officially announcement of Windows 8, two new tablets and new versions of nearly every Microsoft product. The Redmond, WA based company has indeed been busy. One of the more recent developments is a new version of Office, Office 2013 or Office 15 as the technical preview labels it. Office 2013 is promising to bring about some big changes.

Here are the major changes you are going to see with Microsoft Office 2013:

Overall changes With Office 2013, all of the major Office components have been updated to take advantage of the new layout in Windows 8. This means that the whole Office suite is now set up with a tablet friendly layout.

At this time, there are five different plans available for users who want to buy Office 2013.

  1. Office Web Apps. A free web based version of Office that is integrated with SkyDrive, and Facebook Messages.
  2. Office Home Premium. The consumer version that comes with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Outlook, OneNote and Publisher. This version can be installed on up to five computers at once, and comes with 20GB of storage space on SkyDrive.
  3. Office 365 Small Business Premium. Has the same programs as the consumer version, but instead of SkyDrive, uses Office 365. This version also has Exchange email, SharePoint and Lync.
  4. Office 365 Pro Plus. This plan has the same programs as Small Business as well as InfoPath.
  5. Office 365 Enterprise. Enterprise is the most complete plan, with all accounts being 365 Enterprise accounts and the full version of Exchange.
You’ll also be able to subscribe to Office, which will allow you to take your account anywhere and access/stream Office software and documents. Office will download/stream the program you need while you’re using it and then delete it afterwards. Almost every major program of Office has also been updated.

Word Word has been cleaned up a little and the ribbon at the top of the window (where all your editing options are) has been modified slightly to make it more useful. Laying out your documents has been made a lot easier with the ability to insert images directly from the Internet without having to download them first. You’ll also be able to adjust images more quickly due to enhanced alignment tools.

It’s obvious that Word 2013 has been designed for tablets by default, and the window is slightly taller but a lot wider. Some functions like Spell Check also take up a lot more space, which can make it tougher to edit/navigate documents. This could take some getting used to, but shouldn’t pose much of an issue for your employees.

PowerPoint PowerPoint shines with the new layout, with your project or presentation taking center stage with tools fading into the background. If you’re editing a presentation and you close the program, you’ll get a pop-up offering to take you directly to where you left off last time when you restart the program.

Embedding images and videos is a lot easier with the ability to search for media within PowerPoint and embed it directly, without having to mess with code and downloading images. Media also has quick formatting options which are easily accessed from where show up as a small box beside the media element.

There are also some great new presentation tools, including a preview of the next few slides that only you can see, the ability to zoom in/out on slides, and better ability to jump between slides.

Excel Excel has also had a similar facelift, with the latest features aiming to help users with their spreadsheets. Select a range of cells and Excel will give you a Quick Analysis option which can suggest ideas about what you may want to do with that data. When creating a chart or graph, Excel will make a suggestion as to the most appropriate chart/graph for the data. With complex data that can be analysed using pivot tables, Excel will build the tables automatically. Editing of charts, tables and data has also been made easier.

Excel has been made to look more ‘alive’. If you make a change you will visually see the results (if you change data, the resulting chart will update). If you make an error, Excel will now give you detailed explanations about the error, not just the usual error code from previous versions.

Outlook Outlook has been updated to be more efficient too, and you’ll be able to view and reply to emails directly from the main screen, without having to open emails in a new window. Instead  your emails open in a new pane that’s part of the main screen. You’ll also be able to quickly view all of your unread emails, by simply clicking Unread.

The address book has also received an overhaul, to bring it closer to the one on Windows Phone. It will try to put similar accounts together into one card and addresses can be more easily viewed.

There is a slight downside though, as notifications stack up on the right side of the window. If you’ve been away on vacation and return to 100s of emails, you’ll be flooded with notifications that take up a large portion of the screen. They do fade after a few seconds, but they could prove to be a nuisance.

There have been lots of changes made in Office 15, and no doubt more will be made before the retail release of Office 2013. You can sign up to preview Office 2013 here. While you can try it, we recommend that you don’t implement it as the new office suite in your office until the retail version is released. If you’re as excited as we are about Office 2013, and would like to learn more about implementing it after the release please contact us.

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October 4th, 2012

Risk is something we deal with on a daily basis, many of us have a risk threshold we won’t cross. This threshold carries over to businesses and managers when they are looking to adopt cloud solutions in the office. Some managers are hesitant to adopt cloud services because they deem them to be too risky. The simple truth is: Yes, there is risk related to the cloud, but proper risk management makes it a viable solution.

Here are the three main types of perceived cloud risks that companies need to be aware of in order to effectively introduce a cloud solution.

Preventable risk Preventable risk is risk that is largely internal, or risk that arises from within the organization. This form of risk is largely preventable and indeed should be dealt with before the adoption of any new cloud solution.

Most companies have found that preventable risk results from employee actions, usually actions that are illegal, unethical or are against established procedures. Before the adoption of any cloud solution you should take steps to first define these internal risks and how they fit with the parameters of the proposed solution, then take steps to address these risks. This normally includes constant monitoring of the use of current systems, along with established boundaries of use.

If you don’t address internal risks - e.g., employees sharing illegally downloaded files, (which could land you in some very hot water legally), risk will be increased exponentially, or the project could fail.

Strategic risk With new technologies like the cloud, that can be disruptive, there is always a higher level of risk involved. This form of risk, that is a risk involved with a strategic decision that will net the firm higher returns, is inherent. While it’s not bad, it should be accepted in order to realize gains of any kind.

In other words, the higher the pay off, the riskier it will be. To manage this type of risk you need to have a plan that prepares for this. Cloud technology is still in its infancy, so there can and will be problems which may or may not put your entire organization at risk. Relying 100% on it is a poor way to manage risk. A strategy that includes backups of data and operations in the cloud, or having another system that can function in reserve, is an effective way to manage strategic risk. By employing something like this you can, in turn, take a larger risk; more cloud solutions.

External risk External risk is any risk that companies can’t control or influence. This includes risks due to natural disasters, upstream/downstream production strikes, political situations, etc. Because it’s nigh on impossible to manage these risks, a strategy that aims to identify potential external risks and then take steps to mitigate fallout from occurrence is needed. This process is commonly called ‘business continuity’.

A good example of nature affecting the cloud happened in recently, in late June, when Amazon’s data storage facility was struck by lightning, and backup generators failed, which took many services offline for hours. Companies that relied on Amazon’s cloud servers like Pinterest and Instagram, who didn’t have backup sites, were forced offline, causing a large loss in profit, not to mention some very unhappy users. This could have been prevented if A. Pinterest and Instagram had backup sites, and B. Amazon had a more robust redundant system.

Naturally, it’s easy to be Captain Hindsight and go around pointing out what should have been done. You can learn from these incidents and look at how the company mitigated risks before and after, and try to implement them into your organization. If you need help identifying and coming up with ways to mitigate risk related to the adoption of cloud solutions, give us a call, we can help.

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September 7th, 2012

One of the latest industries to be developed in the past 50 years is Information Technology, or IT. Many aspects of IT have become essential parts to every business and household. We rely on products and services offered by IT to conduct business and live our daily lives. It’s highly likely that IT will continue to play an important role in nearly everything, and a recent report has been released to corroborate this.

A report released in the summer of 2012 by Gartner, Inc. an IT research and advisory firm, states that in the year 2012, companies will be spending a worldwide total of around $3.6 Trillion on IT related products and services.

This represents a year on year growth of 2.5% in spending when compared with 2011. Growth like this is nothing to sneeze at, and it will continue to grow as more products and services are invented, developed and released to the mass market.

The report noted that the largest sector of the IT market is in telecommunication services, with an expected growth of 1.4% this year. It also stated that companies in emerging markets will spend more on Internet technologies and consumer electronics. This means that with more capital, tech companies in these industries will be able to invest in and release more products.

One IT silo is expected to have significant growth over the next four years. Cloud tech spending is forecasted to grow 19% year on year, and double again by 2016. This indicates that companies and developers are incredibly interested in cloud computing, and it will continue to be an important part of modern technology.

While this report is primarily inward facing towards the IT industry, it does showcase the fact that IT is an integral part of modern business infrastructure. This report also highlights the impact that companies in the IT industry will have as they continue to innovate and release new products. If the past half decade is anything to judge by, new technology will continue to get more complex. The result of this is that businesses will benefit from close relations with IT providers and subject matter experts.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the increasing complexity of programs and solutions, take a logical and simple step in the right direction and contact us. We’re here to help ensure your IT experience is as smooth as possible for the future.

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August 8th, 2012

When running your own business, one of the most important things to know is where your money is and the return on any investments you’ve made. There are many ways to calculate this and small business owners in different disciplines will give you slightly different ways to calculate returns. The majority of these methods are based on Return on Investment, or ROI.

When investing in, or looking for investment in your next IT project, or any project for that matter, you will need to calculate ROI and what factors to consider when making investment decisions.

ROI Defined ROI is calculated by taking the gain on an investment, subtracting the initial investment amount and dividing this number by the original investment amount. If calculated correctly, you will get a decimal that can be multiplied by 100 to get a percentage. If you take this percentage, and multiply the original cost by the percentage, you will get your total gain or loss.

To calculate ROI of a product, project or anything that brings in direct income - sales - to your company take the amount of money you will save or make over the life of the product and subtract the cost of the product over the total expected life. Divide this number by the cost to get an ROI in decimal point, which should be multiplied by 100 to change it into a percentage.

ROI in example Assume you’re looking to invest in a new CRM system based in the cloud that costs $50.00 per year and plan to use it for three years. You also estimate that by using this software, you will save $75.00 per year. With these numbers your calculation would look like this: Cash saved: 75 x 3 = $225 Cash spent: 50 x 3=$150 ROI= (225-150)/150 = 0.5 x 100 = 50% This means that your ROI will be 50% of your initial investment, in other words, you will make $75 (225-150).

Why ROI is important ROI, in percentage form is one of the most important factors to investors, as it gives them a number with which they can compare other investments. For example, when comparing two investments, one that returns $5,000 and one that returns $3,000. On these numbers alone, it seems the $5,000 return is the better. Looking into the costs however, you find that $5,000 return carries a cost of $4,000, while the $3,000 investment carries a cost of $1,800. The ROI on the bigger investment is lower, meaning you end up making less money.

ROI is a simple calculation that helps you determine the bottom line of different options. When investing in a project or product with established, historical ROIs, be aware that these are based on past measurements, not future measurements. This means that you may not achieve the same ROI. If you’d like to learn more about technical products and services that can help increase ROI, please contact us.

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July 11th, 2012

A smart organization is one that can act in a proactive manner to take advantage of rising trends and stay ahead of their competition. One way an organization can remain proactive is through the use of Business Intelligence (BI). Interestingly, many small businesses don’t implement BI and have found themselves lagging behind their competitors. Is your business using BI?

BI can be defined as the ability to turn a company’s processes into data that can be analyzed and converted into knowledge that is delivered to the right stakeholders at the right time and through the right medium. There are many upsides to BI solutions, and companies should be adopting them, here are five reasons why.

  1. Boost productivity. Through traditional data gathering methods, users need to compile and analyze data and write related reports. This can be incredibly time consuming, especially for small businesses who may not have the employees to do it. With a BI program, you can pull data and create the reports at the click of a button thus freeing up time and resources allowing employees to be more productive on their own tasks.
  2. Access to better info. With the increasing amount of data available to companies, manually tabulating and assessing data is no longer feasible if you want to remain ahead of your competitors. BI software can be set up to accumulate and monitor relevant data that’s available when you want it.
  3. Competent decision making. The reason many business projects fail is because critical decisions are made without the best and most objective information available. BI processes help you monitor past and present performances of nearly all operations, while giving you a solid base with which to make future predictions. Essentially BI helps SMEs make better informed decisions.
  4. Results closer to established goals. How many times have you established a set of seemingly reasonable goals for a project or other venture, only to end up with an outcome that’s drastically different? With BI you can keep track of information, and have it accessible by parties that need it, when they need it. BI goes a long way in helping achieving what you aim for.
  5. ROI. Through better strategic awareness, faster reporting, decreased operating costs/lower overheads and access to better quality data and information, BI can positively influence a company’s ROI.
These are just five of the benefits your company can realize through implementing a Business Intelligence system. If you would like more control of your data or to make better, more informed decisions, please contact us.
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