Posts

Don’t Let Outdated Technology Slow Your Business Down

Old Tech
This is the first in a multi-part series providing ideas and guidance for companies looking to modernize their business with cloud and mobile solutions.


For many small business owners, it is easy to put off technology decisions for more pressing day to day matters. Sometimes, however, “If it ain’t broke; don’t fix it!” can do more harm than good. Outdated IT slows you down and costs you money in lost productivity and missed opportunities. Your technology also sends a message to your customers about how well your business can serve theirs. In today’s cloud and mobile world, your small business has affordable access to the same caliber tools and services as large enterprises. If your business is not taking advantage of the close and mobility, your competition is and you are falling behind.

Go Big or Go Home?

Moving to the cloud does not need to be an “all or nothing” proposition. Most small businesses start with email and move on to file sharing/collaboration. Business apps, like Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Accounting can also be good places to start, delivering a high return and value for the migration effort and spend.

For some, going cloud and mobile is easiest to accomplish with the latest version of tools and software that you already use. For others, moving to the cloud and mobile is an opportunity to change the way your team works, so moving your team to new tools is best.

Google Apps or Microsoft Office 365?

This is the question we are asked most often by fellow small business owners and IT leaders. Google Apps or Office 365?

Our answer is: YES.

We are not saying your choice doesn’t matter. We are saying that Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 fit different businesses differently. Microsoft Office 365 extends the Microsoft Office ecosystem with collaboration, communication, and data/information tools that will never exist in your desktop version of Office.  Google Apps integrates broadly with most of the newer, cloud and mobile first tools preferred by small business. And, we have five ways to integrate your MS Office desktop software with Google Apps, so you don’t need to abandon the tools you already know.

Both ecosystems help you get stuff done faster, communicate more efficiently, and make mobility easier. Which solution is best for you depends on a factors ranging from where your team works and how you want to improve communications and collaboration to which line of business systems are critical to your success. By looking at your full IT environment, you can pick the cloud productivity platform and other cloud services that make the most sense, and delivery the greatest return.

Footprints, Workloads, and Clouds

Beyond your basic productivity suite (email, documents, spreadsheets, files, etc) and collaboration tools (voice, chat, conferencing, document sharing), more small businesses are moving other workloads from their on premise footprint into the cloud. Do not get flustered by the jargon! Workloads are simply applications or data processing; your footprint is the physical IT systems you use; and the cloud is, well, any cloud or hosted service where you can run your workloads.

For small businesses like yours, moving other applications into the cloud will improve security and reliability, offer better business continuity, and mitigate or lower costs. And while some applications don’t have a cloud version you can use (i.e., Quickbooks Online lacks features and reports most of our costomers want or need), you can move those systems onto cloud server with remote desktop access.

We All Have Our Job to Do

Your job is your business and serving your customers. Our job is to make sure your IT helps you do your job better and more efficiently.

Talk to us about your business, your goals, objectives, and priorities. Challenge us to find ways to help you reach your goals. We will bring our vision, enthusiasm, expertise, experience, and pragmatism, along with our commitment to either add value, or get out of the way.

Complete the form; let’s start the conversation!


Changing the Way You Buy Office

0365 across devices
At Microsoft’s 2015 Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft openly discussed plans to replace Enterprise Agreements and most Open Value licensing with subscription based models. Going away are the per-device, traditional “box” software.  For Microsoft, this is more than a change in method, it represents a change for the better in how the company will distribute, update, and enhance MS Office and other products. Forget major releases every 2 years, a subscription model enables continuous incremental improvements and will make Microsoft even more responsive to customers’ needs.

This Change is Good for You, the Microsoft User

In addition to better access to innovation, the new Office 365 Business and Office 365 ProPlus licenses are the best fit for most small and mid-size businesses.

  • Each license covers 5 PCs or Macs, 5 tablets, & 5 phones per user
    Your team can install MS Office on any device they use, giving them the ability to work on nearly any device, from anywhere, at anytime.
  • Local and/or Web Versions of MS Office
    Depending on your license choice, you can have both the local and web versions of MS Office.  Your team has added flexibility and features, and the ability to work securely from anywhere at anytime.
  • 1TB of Cloud Storage
    Keep documents secure, usable, and sharable without messy sync-and-share apps, email attachments, or thumbdrives.
  • License Flexibility
    Adjust your license count, as needed, on a monthly or annual basis, avoiding sunken costs on unused licenses and features.
  • Lower Cost
    Licenses with local and cloud Office licensing are as low as $99 per user per year, about 1/3 less than purchasing Office with Software Assurance or paying for upgrades every 3 to 4 years.

If you are thinking about, or ready to upgrade to your MS Office licensing, contact us for a free license consultation and Office 365 Business or Office 365 ProPlus quote.  We will match you the best license option.

And, through January 31, 2016, you can save at 5% or more on annual prepay Office 365 Business licensing.

You Win in Microsoft’s $129 Billion Give-Away

Windows 10 Logo
At this summer’s Worldwide Partner Conference, several Microsoft executives mentioned that they expect 1 billion users to download the Windows 10 for free.  With a “street price” of about $129, this equates to $129 billion give-away. The cynics among us might argue that this is a great strategic play for Microsoft as a way to maintain its customers base amid increasing competition from other operating platforms, including Chrome, Linux, Android, and iOS.

You, however, are the real winner in this give-away. And here is why …

  • Windows 10 is the first Microsoft operating system that is truly a single environment across all hardware platforms, from servers to smartphones. For software developers, it means that apps written for Windows 10 easily run across mobile and traditional (desktop and server) platforms.
    • You win: Expect better functional and operational equivalence for applications; no more waiting for phone and tablet versions to catch up to the desktop version.

  • Windows 10 is the first Microsoft operating system that is truly network-first. Microsoft has made a huge shift to a cloud-first, mobile-first strategy, and Windows 10 is part of this shift. Network services now launch with the core operating system, not as a service later in the boot cycle.
    • You win: Expect faster boot times as your networked and cloud apps will no longer ‘sit and spin’ while waiting for the network to come online.

  • Windows 10 is the first Microsoft operating system designed to evolve. The age of the monthly updated and periodic service packs is coming to an end. Microsoft will update, patch, and enhance Windows 10 as part of a continuous process. While domain system managers can still control when different types of updates propagate, updates will now happen “when ready and when needed”.
    • You win: Expect more feature and capability enhancements and a more secure/robust environment, as Windows 10 will more nimbly adapt to changing needs.

  • Windows 10 is the first Microsoft operating system with a user interface that matches user preferences. Let’s face it, Windows 8.x was a great experiment in a mobile-friendly user interface that was welcomed with mixed results. Windows 10, however, gives users the option of creating the environment that is most effective from them. Yes, you still have live tiles. But you also have desktops (yes, more than one if you want).
    • You win: Expect to create efficient workspaces for your different roles and tasks.  Separate desktop environments (including settings and apps) for personal versus work activity on your laptop. Customize desktops for different roles you may fill — manager, finance, marketing, operations — throughout your workday. In short, create environments that make life easier for you, and switch between them as y0u see fit.

With these firsts, and others, Microsoft is demonstrating that it “gets” the new cloud and mobile centric world order and  that Microsoft is ready to be a significant player. Microsoft’s Office 365 and Azure services, and many others from many vendors, are already moving to leverage the new capabilities of Windows 10. Regardless of your overall strategy, you should be prepping to move your Windows ecosystem to Windows 10.


Interested in discussing you go to strategy for Windows 10 and the cloud? Drop us a note; we are happy to listen, learn, and share.


 

Tuesday Take Away: Sanebox

Sanebox.300x250

Sanebox and Sanebox for Business

In an ideal world, our inboxes would hold only those items we expect to be working on now. Unfortunately, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the volume of email that comes in each day.

What if you could eliminate email clutter?  If you could …

  • Train your inbox to hold non-important emails for later?
  • Snooze non-urgent emails and have them return to your inbox later, at a time you choose?
  • Track responses and get notified when your email is not replied to by a certain date and time?

Now you can!

Sanebox and Sanebox for Business give you the power to manage the clutter in your inbox and create a more productive environment, across all of your devices.

Sanebox integrates with Gmail, Google Apps, Microsoft Exchange, and Microsoft Office 365.  Sanebox for Business gives users the power to manage their inboxes and gives businesses administrative control and a trackable ROI.

Learn more!

Click here for a 14-day Free Trial. Use Sanebox and see for yourself how it helps improve your productivity.

Read the Amazon best seller ebook, Outsmart Your Inbox: 25 Email Tricks for Busy Professionals

Watch the Sanebox video: “How it Works


Interested in Sanebox for your business? Contact us to discuss plans and options.


 

 

Cumulus Global, SMB Cloud Pioneer, Takes on Microsoft Cloud

Cumulus_Global-icon_sm
A pioneer in cloud computing solutions for small and mid-size businesses, Cumulus Global (www.cumulusglobal.com) announced today the addition of Microsoft Cloud Solutions to its portfolio of solutions. The addition of Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Azure services expands the range of cloud platforms, services, and applications that Cumulus Global provides directly to its customers.

“We are excited to have Cumulus Global join our partner network,” stated Jennifer Heard, vice president, Worldwide Corporate Account and Partner Sales at Microsoft Corp.  “As a born-in-the-cloud solutions provider, Cumulus Global understands that any successful migration to the cloud depends on user adoption of enhanced collaboration and information access capabilities. This opens up massive opportunities for partners and helps our mutual customers realize the true value of their solutions.”

In addition, the company is an authorized Microsoft Surface reseller, offering the tablet-based devices as a replacement for traditional desktops and laptops.

“As a cloud solutions provider, we have always focused on giving our customers solutions that help them succeed, directly or as a broker,” notes Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global, “Our relationship with Microsoft empowers our customers with a broader range of solutions that we can directly design, plan, migrate, manage, and support.”

Beyond email, file services, and collaboration, Cumulus Global is offering platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and infrastructure-as-a- service (IaaS) solutions. The company has existing relationships in place to assist with integrated CRM solutions.


Companies interested in learning more should contact us for a complementary discussion with one of our cloud advisors.


 

 

Drive Sales Enablement In Your Business by Leveraging the Cloud

Sales.Enablement
It’s not news that the environment in which your sales team operates is changing dramatically. According to Gartner, by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship without talking to a human; that means your sales team will need to be more efficient with their prospects and be empowered to deliver the right information at the right time.

And they’re not the only ones dealing with changes. CFOs are no longer dealing only with financial reporting, compliance and cost control. According to a recent study by BI company, Adaptive Insights, “By driving a culture of agile, data-driven decision making throughout a company, CFOs can help create a significant competitive advantage.” CFOs are more plugged into data than ever, and that is pushing entire organizations to adopt technologies and practices that support this.

Sales teams and their support systems are no different. With all the changes empowered customers are presenting sales teams, it’s more important than ever to know what tools and techniques will really work to help your sales team operate more productively, spending less time on non-productive administrative functions, and more time with delivering value and closing deals.

Sales Enablement

A key focus of discussion in how mid-sized businesses are addressing this change has been sales enablement. It’s widely agreed that sales enablement is constantly evolving, and there’s been plenty written about it to-date with multiple interpretations and definitions of just what it means to organizations. We prefer the definition that spun out of IDC a few years back:

Sales enablement is “getting the right information into the hands of the right sellers at the right time and place, and in the right format, to move a sales opportunity forward.”

So let’s break down sales enablement into its individual components, and see how your sales team might address each aspect by leveraging cloud-based technologies to make them faster, more efficient, and more responsive to your existing—and future—clients’ needs.

Getting the right information…

How often has your salesperson been sitting down with a prospect, and they’ve had to respond to a request with the words, “I don’t have that, but I can get it to you when I get back to my (room, office, house)”? Often, sales people don’t have exactly what they need right when they need it. Perhaps it’s a PDF of a sell sheet they forgot at the last minute. Maybe it’s the contract is MS Word format, and they can’t edit it in the moment. Or, it could be a performance report showing how much more competitive your solution will help your prospect become. Depending on who you talk to, approximately 40% of sales go to the company that responds to your prospect first.

Imagine empowering your sales teams to get the right information in the hands of their prospect—right when they need it.

No need to return to the office and email a document. No need to leave, make a change to a contract, and delay signing (or worse) losing momentum. Better yet—being able to access proprietary and competitive information in the moment it’s needed to close the sale. Having your sales team plugged into and empowered by the cloud can really help them get the right information to those who need it.  

To the right sellers…

Who’s to say that your salesperson is the one that’s going to move the next big deal through the next phase of the pipeline? A seller might be a customer service rep who’s helping your existing customer with an issue and has an opportunity to upsell them on your services. Anyone in your organization has an opportunity—given the chance—to sell to new and existing accounts.

In this scenario, having your data and collaboration tools in the cloud allows for a few things:

  1. Real-time communication. With cloud-based tools and apps, if a customer service rep is on the phone with a customer, they can instant message another employee to help solve a problem or meet a need.Or, imagine for a moment that you’re closing a deal without an engineer on hand to answer a critical question. With cloud-based communication, on-demand video conferencing brings the engineer into your meeting.
  2. Real-time collaboration. With the ability to upload, store, and access documents in the cloud, multiple users in different locations (or even right next to each other) can now comment and update documents in real time. The ability for a salesperson to update a proposal during a meeting, while project teams are on-hand to review, is a true game changer for many organizations.
  3. Assisted information and context. Cloud-based solutions allow you to bring all your tools and data together in one place. For example, in a properly implemented Google Apps or Office 365 cloud solution, you’re able to do a number of things that aren’t possible with on premise solutions:
    1. With email, you can see your current chain, as well as other recent conversations with that person.
    2. When you’re searching for material and information on a particular topic (for example, a client or engagement), you’re able to search emails AND documents stored online.
    3. With cloud integration, you can view social and business content alongside the email you are responding to or the voicemail transcript you are reading, providing context to conversations.

All of these combine to empower sales teams and other employees when they’re in a position of adding value to prospects and existing accounts.

At the right time…

It’s 8:00 AM in Boston, and your top sales team is getting ready to deliver that huge financial pitch over breakfast in the CEO’s conference room. Based on a late night email from the prospective customer, they realize that they need information from another presentation — but it’s 5:00 AM in your Los Angeles office and no one’s home. Fortunately, with the cloud, your team can remotely and securely access your file services, update the document, and be ready to go without batting an eyelash.

And place…

VPN has long been the go to for providing employees remote access to company assets. Everyone has a story about trying to work remotely and having to deal with VPN issues. These go away almost entirely when dealing with the cloud.

In the right format…

We’re all pretty familiar with having our email and calendars on our phones now. But today, we have full editing suites that include document editing, presentation development, and spreadsheet tools available on mobile phones and tablets. The ability to work directly in the environment, with the necessary tools, in the application preferred by a prospect, is invaluable to a sales person. No more looking at a printed page or pdf on your phone and waiting until you get back to the office to make changes. With the cloud, you make critical changes right on the spot.

To move the opportunity forward

If your sales team isn’t focusing on moving opportunities to the next stage (closing), then they aren’t being productive. Research by Innoppl Technologies shows that 65% of sales reps who have adopted mobile CRM (cloud-based) have achieved their sales quotas, while only 22% of reps using non-mobile CRM have reached the same targets.

What are key components of the cloud that drive enablement?

Three of the ways that the cloud can enable your sales team:

  • Assistive Information: the ability for your salespeople to access related information and context, in real time, while on the phone or responding to emails.
  • Mobility: true integration of mobile and remote users into your environment (or, no more VPN!).
  • Personal Communication Modes: We operate in a time when 3 or 4 generations of people work on the same team. Preferred communication methods vary wildly. Cloud-based communications help bridge the gap between those that prefer face-to-face meetings, phone calls, emails, and texts.

One final bonus

Once you’re in the cloud, the cost of making incremental improvements goes down. There’s no need to invest in expensive software to see if it works with your sales team. You can begin implementing trial versions and adding incremental features to see what sticks and what adds value to your business.

Do you have a sales team that is mobile, but struggling to respond quickly to prospect demands because they’re ultimately tethered to a desk? What opportunities do you see in your organization for mobile solutions? Think it might be time to switch?

If you are not sure, take our Quick Cloud Readiness Assessment.  It’s only 10 questions and will tell you in less than five minutes whether your organization is ready for the change.


 

Outlook.com Goes Dark This Time: Can Microsoft Run Cloud Services?

 

As reported by ZDnet on the Feb 25th, Microsoft’s new Outlook.com service suffered an outage lasting more than seven (7) hours.  Many customers could not log in, and those that could experiences significant performance issues.

Even more disturbing, Microsoft did not acknowledge the outage until over 4 hours into the incident, via Twitter.  And,  7 hours into the outage, the outlook.com status page failed to note the outage at all.

This outage follows two Office 365 Outages totaling more than 9.5 hours of down-time in November, 2012.

While Microsoft has not commented on the cause of the Outlook.com outage, their apology to customers back in November disclosed that Microsoft cannot dynamically add and allocate resources to their infrastructure.  The best they can do is improve their ability to recovery (related: Microsoft’s Apology Says Volumes about Office 365 Outages).

With a history of operational failures and acknowledged limitations in the underlying architecture, one has to wonder how well Microsoft is able to manage multi-tenant services.  Will the pattern of failures lead to a lack of trust?

 

Microsoft’s Apology Says Volumes about Office 365 Outages

 

It should be no secret that Microsoft’s Office 365 service continues to experience the types and frequency of outages that plagued its predecessor cloud service, BPOS.  While the outages receive little press coverage (they are frequent enough that they are not newsworthy?) , customers feel the impact.

In response to outages on Nov 8 and Nov 13, Microsoft sent customers a formal letter of apology (read it here).

Most disturbing to Office 365 customers is what Microsoft’s apology says about the quality and capabilities of Microsoft and the Office 365 platform.

With respect to the Nov 8th outage, Microsoft states the following:

“Office 365 utilizes multiple anti-virus engines to identify and clean virus messages from our customers’ inboxes. Going forward, we have built and implemented better recovery tools that allow us to remediate these situations much faster, and we are also adding some additional architectural safeguards that automatically remediate issues of this general nature.”

What this says is that, at times, significant virus traffic makes it to the email servers, and Microsoft has technology to remediate this problem by scanning servers and removing these messages from inboxes.  This is troublesome for a few reasons:

  • Best practice is to prevent viruses from reaching email servers, as any inbox remediation system allows the possibility that a virus is activated by a user before being cleaned.
  • Remediation of this problem has been manually driven and that automating the process is still in development
  • Remediation of virus infections dramatically impacts performance, up to the level of an outage.
  • Microsoft has not yet built an infrastructure that is capable of preventing virus infections, and continues to be focused on remediation.

With respect to the Nov 13th outage, Microsoft states:

“This service incident resulted from a combination of issues related to maintenance, network element failures, and increased load on the service.”

Microsoft acknowledges that they perform maintenance that can interrupt customer services outside of maintenance windows and that the Office 365 architecture lacks sufficient redundancy.  Microsoft is also admitting that the Office 365 infrastructure does not have sufficient capacity to handle peak demand loads and does not allow for automatic activation and allocation of resources based on demand.

In response to these outages, Microsoft promises the following:

“Significant capacity increases are already underway and we are also adding automated handling on these type of failures to speed recovery time.”

In essence, Microsoft cannot  predict or manage capacity, so they are throwing resources at the problem.   More importantly, Microsoft is not fixing the architecture in order to prevent load-based failures — they are automating how they respond to failures.

In other words:  Microsoft expects future Office 365 outages;  So, too, should Office 365 customers.

 

Office 2013 – Much Ado About Nothing New

 

Microsoft recently announced and started providing demonstrations of Office 2013.  And as discussed in this Vanity Fair article, it is clear that Microsoft continues to suffer from lack of innovation.  The number of new features is limited, many of the new features are playing “catch up”, and Office 2013 will lock you into a closed ecosystem.

Here is some of what is “new” in Office 2013:

  • Office 2013 will work with touch and stylus devices like tablets and smart-phones.  You will be able to navigate and annotate documents using touch, much like you can today with a mouse in Powerpoint.  (Not really a new feature, but you can use a touch screen instead of a mouse)
  • Excel 2013 has a few new advanced analytic features that will be useful to hedge fund managers and the like.

Here is some of what is in Office 2013 that is new to Office, but catching up with the competition:

  • In Outlook, you can reply in-line (just like Gmail’s conversation view)
  • In Outlook calendar, you can put an address in the location of a meeting and have a link to pull up a map on Bing (just like Google Calendar)
  • You can save a file on your PC and access it on other devices nearly immediately via cloud storage (just like Google Drive and Docs has allowed for years, as have Box, Dropbox, and others)
  • You can have real-time video chat (just like Google Talk), but only if you install a thick client

Here is what you will NOT see with Office 2013:

  • Real-Time Collaboration:  Users are limited to co-authoring — serial editing by one user at a time
  • Office 2013 running on much of your existing equipment:  Office 2013 will only run on Windows 8.  Get ready to pay to upgrade your operating system and your desktops and laptops in order to install Windows 8 and Office 2013
  • Good Support for Macs.  Macs are second class when it comes to MS Office in general, and with the “Windows 8” only message from Microsoft, it is unclear if a full version of Office 2013 will even make it to the Mac platform
  • Smartphone / Tablet Integration:  Granted, you will be able to run Office 2013 (and connect via Office 365) from MS Surface tables and Windows 8 phones — but who is buying those?  Microsoft is hedging on support for iOS (iPhone/iPad) support and has said nothing about Android-based devices.  If you want to run Office 2013 anywhere, be prepared to change your mobile device strategy.

As noted in this analysis of Microsoft’s 2012 10-K filing on ZDnet. Microsoft is clearly using Office 2013 and Windows 8 to create a vertically integrated ecosystem designed to block out other technologies.  The question is, do you want to lock your business into an ecosystem and a company that has failed, and continues to struggle, to innovate?