What is Unified Communications and What Does it Mean for SMBs?


178976393The business phone. Quite often we hear, “I own it and it works, don’t talk to me about replacing something that works.” It’s typically the last piece of technology to get updated in the small (SMB) office. SMBs don’t usually replace their phone system until it breaks beyond repair. I mean, why would they? A possible reason? SMBs don’t really understand the benefits of available, newer phone technology. They simply don’t know what they don’t know.

In earlier blogs I’ve written about devices no longer being content specific. In other words, I can stream video, make calls, read email, chat and do many other things with either my computer, my smartphone, or my tablet, interchangeably. Think about the black box taking up space on your desk, I’m talking about your desk phone. It only does one thing: voice communication. Older phone systems don’t allow integration of the desk phone into the current technology mix. They become an island of their own, while the technology ship has already left port.

Large enterprises have already made the change to their phone systems and have introduced Unified Communications (UC). UC brings the phone system into the current technology mix and increases the efficiency of communication among those enterprises. Gartner and others are predicting that SMBs will be adopting this technology sooner than later. From the Gartner article:

Unified communications (UC) interest and adoption continues to accelerate in the small and midsize business (SMB) market. While adoption lags behind the large-enterprise market segment, according to Gartner end-user research, UC investment currently registers as a top five SMB networking investment initiative for 2012. Gartner expects the SMB market will increasingly exhibit SMB UC investment momentum as the market matures during the next two to three years.

So what exactly is Unified Communications and how does it increase efficiency?
UC, as hinted above, allows any size business to integrate their phone system with their data network and smartphones. This integration allows users to have many of the functions of their desk phone available on other devices. Here is my personal example:

At Tektivity, when my desk phone rings 4 times with no answer, the call automatically transfers to my smartphone. If I cannot answer, the caller can choose to leave a voicemail. This voicemail is not left on my smartphone or with my cell phone carrier, but is routed back to the office voicemail system. Likewise, all smartphone voicemails are routed to the office voicemail system so all of my voicemails are in one secure location.

All voicemails are converted into .wav files and are attached to an email that appears in my inbox. The email appears on my desktop computer, my tablet, my smartphone, and is accessible from my home computer. I always know when I have a voicemail without having to check the light on my desk phone or calling into the office and entering codes to access my voicemail. Having the voicemail attached to an email also allows me to organize, forward, save, and have immediate access to any voicemail without having to forward through all of the other voicemails I don’t care to listen to.

UC also allows me to use a phone at home that appears as my desk phone; a great way to accommodate workers that have to stay home with a sick child. I can make calls from home and the caller ID is the Tektivity phone number. As stated above, any voicemails are sent to me immediately while I am at home or on the road. Mobility or absence from the office does not isolate me from my desk phone.

I only have two phone numbers on my card, an office number and a fax number. People who need to reach me do not have to make a decision if they should call my office or try to reach me on my smartphone. I do not give them that option, there is only one number they need to reach me.

These are just few of the UC functions I use. The basic concept is that UC allows an SMB owner or their staff to expand the reach of their communications network. I believe the benefits to SMBs are greatly magnified over the benefits of Enterprise companies that have already adapted the technology. SMBs are by nature more nimble. Owners and staff wear multiple hats. Staying in touch and having access to centralized or unified communication is essential.
Next time you miss an important message, or could not be reached at a critical moment from one of your best customers, take a look at your old phone system and ask yourself “how much is it really costing me?”

Gartner Article:  http://bit.ly/HwS7Nx

Unified Communications – What is it? http://abt.cm/XmbzT

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Posted in Technology for Business

Cloud vs. Physical On-Site Back Up: Pros & Cons


Did you know – 93% of companies that lost their data and systems for 10 days or more filed for bankruptcy within one year. (National Archives & Records Administration in Washington). Yikes!

Most businesses don’t think a major data loss will ever happen to them, but it can happen to any business. If your business hasn’t practiced good data back ups in the past, it definitely should start; the reasons are obvious: to prevent data loss that results in lost business or even the demise of a business. What is your disaster recovery plan? Can you imagine if you go into work one morning and all of the data was lost? What would you do? Would your company survive?

Backing up your company’s data is easier said than done. You have to think about various questions: What back up method to use; cloud or tape? How to put the back up practice in place? How to configure the settings? How to make sure it works?

Below is a deeper explanation of two methods of back ups: cloud vs. physical on-site back up services plus the pros and cons of each.

What is Cloud Back Up?
A cloud back up service, otherwise referred to as remote or online back ups, is just backing up your data to the Internet, whether it’s public or private.

Cloud Back Up Pros
The back up copy is stored in a location other than the office in case anything were to happen at your actual location
-The entire system is automated, no need to worry about someone forgetting to put in a new tape
-All the storage you need
-Organized file structure

Cloud Back Up Cons
Privacy/Security risks and concerns
-System may slow down during backup
-High cost for businesses with a lot of storage
-Less than full control over your data
-Downloading a large data recovery may take several days
-Complications if the back up provider goes out of business
-A lost Internet connection, means no access to data to back up or restore
-There are time restrictions on some plans, for example, many companies won’t allow you to access files past 30 days old

What is a Physical Onsite Back Up?
A physical onsite back up is when data is copied periodically using an onsite device and stored on a physical medium such as tapes, USB drives, discs, etc. The back up medium is then taken off site for storage.

Physical Onsite Back Up Pros
You can physically manage and control the data
-Data can be taken off site to protect
-Back ups can recover items deleted weeks ago
-Data can be restored very quickly

Physical Onsite Back Up Cons
Data could become corrupt
-Sometimes tapes can be fragile if not handled properly
-The media must be physically changed daily (or at regular intervals)

What We Recommend
Backing up your data is necessary; whether you use an online back up method or a physical on-site method. If your company ever goes through a disaster or some other unfortunate event where data is lost, having a good disaster recovery process can be a matter of success in a matter of hours versus days, or never at all. We recommend fully understanding the differences and implications of online backup versus onsite and find the application or a process that makes sense for your business.


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You Know What’s Scary? Messy Cables…Here’s Why:


Do the cables in your office look a little something like this photo? Let’s face it, messy, tangled cables and cords are not only an eyesore but also are a cause for many other problems including:168757701

  • Decreased airflow – causing permanent equipment damage or poor performance due to overheating
  • Improper hardware management – if the right equipment is not connected in the right series and properly balanced, you could be causing system overloads or underutilization, both of which could create poor user experiences
  • Trip hazards – not only could you fall, but you could accidently rip cords out, breaking connectors, damaging jacks, and then not being real sure where the cords were pulled from creating reconnecting issues and hours of troubleshooting
  • Not being able to track where the cords are connected – this can create hours instead of minutes in troubleshooting errors. In addition, not knowing for sure where cables run could cause accidental disconnection of critical components
  • Hiding unnecessary hardware – if you are not sure why something is connected, how can you be sure you need it?
  • Mislabeling cables can cause confusion and make a simple problem more complex, wasting more time trouble shooting.

Here are 5 tips on how to keep your server room organized and working well:

  • Label both ends of the cables so you always can track the end points
  • Label the ports and jacks so you can track, especially when cabling is hidden and running through walls and ceilings
  • Take your time in making changes and do it right. Quick changes often become permanent and overtime will create great cabling havoc
  • Use cable management equipment and use it properly
  • Logically stack equipment and patch panels so that cable lengths are reduced to a minimum
  • If you’re installing new wiring, it’s ideal to have a secondary vendor or technician come in to verify the wiring and double check it’s installed and labeled correctly. This will save you a ton of time and frustration down the road.

Setting up cabling correctly in the first place is a matter of good planning and performance. Keeping cabling organized over time is a matter of dedication and diligence. In our experience, spending time to reorganize a cable scheme and computer room set up is well worth the investment. Spending the extra time to make sure changes are done properly continues that pay off well into the future.


Posted in Organization, Tips & How-To's

The Scariest Thing About Technology is Lack of Budgeting


160503703I have been in technology sales since the turn of the century. I went through Y2K, sold the benefits of networking, and convinced people that email was the next big thing. Despite all of the technology changes I have seen, there is one scary constant; small businesses ignore budgeting for information technology.

Why is having no budget so scary?
An unexpected breakdown of a single computer, or major server outage can cost thousands of dollars; dollars not readily available to a small business with marginal cash flow. Most small companies I have talked to tell me that their monthly IT expense looks like a roller coaster, with unpredictable ups and downs and unexpected expenditures.

Every company has become reliant on technology and either could not operate without computers, or would struggle greatly. Accounting systems, payroll, email, Internet access, creating documents and spreadsheets, would all go away. To rely on technology to run your business and have no regard for replacing or refreshing that vital technology is scary.

Quite often I have been in conversations with clients that have very definable network needs. I will generally ask them what type of budget they have. Too often the answer is, “We don’t have a budget, can you tell us how much it will cost?” No matter what price I quote, it will always be higher than their budget, which is $0.00.

Servers, new software, personal computers, and overall network upgrades can be very pricey. While there is usually a good return on investment, coming up with the cash to pay for new infrastructure can be very difficult, especially for a small business struggling with cash flow.

How companies should avoid budget scare
Small companies need a technology plan that puts the expense in an operating budget. The latest trend is to “rent” the hardware and software, paying a flat monthly fee that goes unchanged for 3-5 years. This monthly fee includes not only the hardware, software, and initial installation, but provides ongoing maintenance, management, and administration of the computer equipment.

If I own a retail store, I don’t want to spend a lot of money on computer equipment.  I would be better off buying inventory with that money that I can turn 4-5 times a year making a profit margin with each turn. That inventory investment generates the profit margin that then is applied to the operational expense of the computer network. More importantly, by creating a monthly operating expense, I have also created a budget.
Break/fix expense can also be scary if not budgeted. A monthly maintenance/management plan from any reputable company will not only pay for break/fix items, but actually reduce the amount of break downs through proactive maintenance. Less break downs means less downtime and more productivity.

Take the scare out of coughing up unexpected cash for computers that crash. Create a refresh and replacement budget by talking with a qualified vendor who can help you determine a monthly budget for what you need, what you want, and what you can afford. The unexpected is always scary, make your technology expenses predictable through proper budgeting and management.

Posted in Technology for Business

When the Latest and Greatest isn’t Necessarily the Best-est

when the latest and greatest isn't neccesarily the best-est

when the latest and greatest isn't neccesarily the best-estQuite often I find myself talking with people who get caught up in the hype of the latest technology fads. These fads or buzzwords often generate a high level of public awareness (and misunderstanding). People are afraid to get left behind. Cloud computing, which really isn’t all that new, is one of those buzzwords. I get asked a lot about cloud computing, and I get a sense that a lot of people are afraid that if they don’t look into it, they will be left in the dark ages. And keeping with this month’s theme:  This scares me!

As I reflected on this topic over the weekend, I recalled a time in my distant past when I worked for IBM. I was asked to make a presentation to a county Board of Directors on why they needed to upgrade their mainframe computer to a newer model. The day before my presentation, the IT manager called to inform me that one of the board members had hired a college computer science student to give them a proposal. The college student’s solution consisted of a network of 30 personal computers. (Keep in mind this was 30 years ago…computer networking was not much more than informal file sharing). Not only was his solution less expensive, the board members were somewhat enamored with going with the “latest and greatest technology” – Personal Computer Networking. The IT manager also reminded me to keep the presentation non-technical since most of the board members were farmers.

As I presented to the board the following day, I shared with them a conversation I recently had with my dad:

My dad was a farmer and was always intrigued by what I did. He would read all the latest news about personal computers and about how great, fast, and cheap they were – i.e., the hype. They even won the 1982 Time Magazines “Person of the Year” award.

He asked me one day if I ever worried about my job, since PCs were going to take over everything. After a few seconds, I asked him if he thought I could hook up my sports car to the plow, and plow the field. He laughed (rightly so!). I said “why not?”  My car has more horsepower, and can go faster than the tractor. He simply stated that the car wasn’t designed to pull the plow. Interesting – so you’re telling me that the tractor has better gearing, hydraulics, better tires, (and so on…), so that’s what makes it better to pull the plow?  

It’s the same way with computers:  PCs are good at doing one thing – they can add 1+1 extremely fast!  But, they are not good at doing multiple things at the same time. They can’t share information or work with other PCs effectively. Mainframes are designed to be Business computers. They balance the user access, the processing, the data storage and the output that a company requires to run their business. The list went on, but I think you get the idea.

The board signed the order for the mainframe upgrade that day.

So, back to the topic. New technology can be exciting. You do need to be aware of what’s out there…what the latest buzzwords are. Just make sure you put things in the correct context as to how they will help you or your business grow and become more productive. Don’t fall for the hype just for the sake of hype! A qualified IT service provider should (and will) provide you a solution to your problem, not just sell you technology.

And just what the heck IS cloud computing??? Scary.

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