Six (6) Key considerations for Successful Cloud Adoption

Once the decision has been made to adopt cloud computing for your organization, a cloud implementation plan is highly recommended. To help you formulate such a plan, the following are some key considerations:

  1. Get clear on your intended outcomes and organizational buy in: Why are you adopting cloud? List the reasons and your expectation of the benefits for your organization. What problems will it solve? What advantage will it give? What is the return on investment? These are the questions that need to be answered before adopting the cloud.
  1. Resource assessment: Prior to adopting new technology you must understand your current IT infrastructure and capabilities, as well as human resources. Through this process you will learn what will help you more easily adopt and integrate cloud into your organization, as well as flag areas which will challenge implementation efforts. Some questions to consider are: What is my organization’s bandwidth? What applications are already web based and which are not? What legacy applications are ready for the cloud? Who will be doing technical support? If I contract a cloud based service what technical support will be offered and is it written in the contract? What is the cost-benefit analysis suggesting about the type of cloud or particular cloud applications – including capital expenditures, overhead costs, and human resources?
  1. Risk assessment: Risk assessment is the proactive process of identifying potential future challenges which would negatively affect you from reaching your goals, in this case, effective easy cloud adoption. To begin the process of identifying you potential challenges you can ask yourself the following questions: Is my organization’s internet capable of supporting an increase in data traffic associated with the cloud? How will my business be interrupted if the internet connection fails and cloud data or software applications become inaccessible? Do I have a contingency plan for the above scenarios? If a contract with a service provider is terminated, will I be able to get access to my data even after the contract ends, and is this written in the contract? What if I need large amount of data to be pulled from the cloud, will I require downtime to complete this task and will your cloud provider charge you for this increase in data volume?
  1. Migration strategy: Once the groundwork above has been completed, and the decision to adopt cloud within your organization has been made, you will begin moving toward the technical aspects of data and applications’ migration. Questions will include: Which deployment model makes the most sense for my organization’s operations, marketing strategy, products and service offerings, data security, technical capabilities, and finances? What data will be migrated from my onsite storage devices to the cloud (Cloud migration), or from one cloud to another (cloud service migration)?
  1. Cloud provider contracts: There are a growing number of cloud service providers and each will offer you many options. As in any purchase, prior research on these organizations’ offerings will help you clarify your needs and negotiate the best package for your organization. Some questions you will want to consider are: When contracting with third party cloud service providers what term am I seeking – how many years? Does the cloud provider offer a service in line with my compliance requirements (ex. data cannot leave your country). Does the agreement contain a Service Level Agreement (SLA) outlining guaranteed uptime and downtime? How has the cloud provider demonstrated that the efficiency and security of your data and applications will not be compromised? What timelines are they offering for the migration to the cloud?
  1. Communications: A cloud implementation is a change initiative and as such, your cloud implementation will impact some or all of your organization. How will I inform and educate staff about the purpose, benefits, timeline, training and possible work interruptions of the implementation?

Overall there are several considerations to cloud implementation but research and planning will help create a well informed and successful migration to the cloud where your organization can begin receiving the many benefits this infrastructure offers.

Five Best Practices for Social Media Recruiting

Competition for securing top talent is tough — everyone wants that illustrious candidate that has the skills and experience to do the job and fits within the organization. As a small business, being as nimble and efficient as possible without sacrificing the quality of candidate is particularly important. Over the past several years, sourcing and recruitment mediums have increasingly moved away from traditional recruiting methods (like newspaper ads and job boards) towards social media recruiting such as LinkedIn. Effectively harnessing the power of social media for recruiting can be struggle, with many companies resorting to the “post and pray” mentality. Below are five best practices to help you efficiently and effectively use social media as a recruitment tool.

1) Create a company brand/presence – Create a message and story that’s engaging on your company’s social media page(s). Make sure to showcase your company’s accomplishments and culture. You can also use employee referrals to attract followers to your company’s page, but you must have engaging content and updates to keep them following your site.[1]

2) Keep followers/prospective candidates engaged – Regularly post content about your company. This could include awards that your business has won, new products, projects, and job openings. This content helps keep prospective candidates engaged and your company top of their mind.[2]

3) Be selective about targeting the prospective candidates – First, use advanced search techniques, such as BOOLEAN searches, to most effectively target prospective candidates.[3] BOOLEAN searches rely on specific modifiers — such as quotation marks (“ “), parentheses, the words ‘AND’, ‘OR’, and ‘NOT’ — to narrow the search results. You can directly build these modifiers into the keywords or phrase of your search query. Second, select the best platform that will attract the candidates you’re looking for.[4] For example, if you’re looking for a social media manager, sourcing prospective candidates on Facebook or Twitter may be better than using Google+.

4) Use metrics and reporting to track your success – Many social media platforms have metrics built into them such as, engagement, number of views, and shares. LinkedIn has targeted recruiting metrics such as response rate and a talent brand benchmarking index that allows you to track your recruitment and company brand performance to other organizations.[5]

5) Embed social media within existing recruitment and/or HRIS platforms – A number of recruitment and human resource information system (HRIS) platforms like Workable or BambooHR allow you to integrate social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter or Google+, into their system. This make the task of posting job descriptions much easier and less time consuming.[6]

[1] Ascendify (2013). 10 Best Practices for Building a Talent Community.

[2] Ibid.

[3] LinkedIn (2013). Recruiting for Small Business: The Ultimate LinkedIn Guide.

[4] Sajjad Masud (August 18, 2015). “The Social Media Recruitment Survival Guide”. Mashable.com.

[5] LinkedIn (2013). Recruiting for Small Business: The Ultimate LinkedIn Guide.

[6] ERE Recruiting. The 17 Things to Think About Before Picking an Applicant Tracking System.

Third-Party IT Support Saves Big for Growing SME

Advances in technology continue to change the way we do business. For most SMEs, software, hardware and technological applications are the linchpin of their products or service delivery. Shortfalls or glitches in these systems present a big problem if not identified early. In fact, the lack of support services can magnify the costs of IT solutions both in terms of downtime and lost revenues. SMEs can greatly reduce the incidence of downtime and ensure their computing systems and networks are up-to-date by seeking out qualified third-party IT support services.

Third-party IT support is a viable option for small businesses or entrepreneurs who lack the technical expertise to maintain their IT infrastructure or trouble shoot problems. It’s also the ideal solution for businesses not yet prepared to take on full-time IT staff. The growth and widespread adoption of cloud computing means that businesses can receive immediate support and problem diagnosis in real-time through a remote connection.

IT support services can be best leveraged for the following:

  • Diagnose and remove viruses
  • Troubleshoot and optimize PCs, laptops and mobile devices
  • Install new software
  • Printer and peripheral setup and troubleshooting
  • Network and power optimization
  • Cyber security[1]

Unlike the old days, where technicians had to come to your physical location to diagnose the problem and fix it, delocalized IT services are streamlined, easy to access and don’t require an appointment. Because services are offered remotely, you can shop around the for the best solutions provider regardless of their physical location.

To learn more about how to leverage IT support services for your business, check out the ICTC Marketplace for regular updates.

[1] GeekBuddy. How Does GeekBuddy Solve  My PC Problem?

Analyst’s Insights: 8 Tips for Successful Web Conferences

Web conferences and virtual meetings help create a flexible workplace, increase productivity, reduce costs, and communicate more effectively. In some cases, they are inevitable as companies want to promote their products or services globally and reach virtual partners or workers. However, there are some disadvantages of meeting online and the responsibilities of the conference hosts are somewhat different than face to face meetings. The following 8 tips will help you conduct successful web conferences.

  • Have a well-defined task and clear agenda: Virtual conference meetings should have a clear task. Clear tasks help participants to prepare for the meeting in advance and prevent confusions about the content. For successful meetings, one of the key points is to create a well-developed agenda and prepare presentation files in advance. Once the agenda and files are ready, it is important to share them in advance and build reasonable expectations for the meeting. A successful meeting is the one that is efficient and makes the best use of everyone’s time.
  • Determine the format: Meetings can be delivered in different formats. Depending on the content of the meeting, there might be only one speaker presenting and receiving questions at the end or the meeting can be conducted in an interview style to receive answers for a set of pre-determined questions. Other formats include moderated panel discussions or interactive participation of audience members to selected exercises or conversations.
  • Engage people through visuals and stay focused: It is important to remember that a virtual meeting is both an auditory and a visual experience. While a good speech can be engaging, audience members may be multitasking such as checking their e-mails in the absence of attractive visual engagements and activities. Using interesting visuals, enriching meeting with interesting information and making it upbeat, asking questions and allowing feedback or comments engage audience members. A final point on engagement is pausing once in a while so that the silent reflection allow more insightful discussions and everyone will find a chance to participate.
  • Practice and time your web conference: Online meetings are time bounded. Hence it is critical to time the presentation in advance through a dry run. Consider allocating time for discussion and making sure that presentation flows well. What boosts confidence and high sense of control during presentations is practice: the more you practice in advance, the more fluent you are during the presentation.
  • Prepare well and be knowledgeable: Practicing the presentation is one thing, deeply knowing your content is another. One of the critical confidence boosting factors is the level of expertise and being well-informed about the content.
  • Consider location and distractions: It is important to pick a location where distractions are minimal. Given the mobile technologies and fast business environment, some hosts may even decide running a web conference at an airport. However, this will influence the quality of the presentation or discussion as well as the etiquette of your business and yourself. During the presentation, it is also important that your e-mail processor is closed, you devices are silent and you are solely focused on presenting the material and engaging others.
  • Be on-time and conscious of times zones: Web conferencing solution may require minimum 15 minutes of preparation for preparing the equipment, software and other desktop files. Pay also attention to participants’ time zones. It is important to make sure that they are able to attend the event during work hours, if possible.
  • Record your session: For those who cannot participate in the live event, another option would be to access the recording of the discussion later. Most web conferencing solutions offer recording functions, but setting the function in advance and making sure that recorded files are accessible are important. Recoded sessions also give a chance to presenters to listen to their own talk and reflect on areas of improvement.

Conducting a successful web conference is a rewarding experience. For that purpose, many digital solutions are available. If you like to review the key features of web conferencing tools and consider your options, check the digital Market Place.

How Big Data is Transforming ERP

“ERP data is going to feed Big Data and Big Data is going to feed ERP, but they are going to run in parallel.”[1]

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is a type of business management software that organizes and integrates business functions across an organization, including activities related to technology, services, human resources, marketing, inventory and shipping.  ERP has been described as a business intelligence software for its ability to help organizations make educated decisions that are driven by data.

Advanced ERP systems have an integrated decision support system that is driven by an underling data warehouse, allowing businesses to conduct complex data mining and financial analysis.[2] As more businesses adopt big data – tools and resources that can be used to extract knowledge and business intelligence from data – advanced ERP systems can be integrated to improve sales forecasting, scheduling, supply chain movements and overall business practice.[3]

ERP is all about collecting, storing, managing and interpreting data from across organizational activities, including product planning, marketing and sales. As businesses increase their capacity for collecting even more data about their internal processes, customers and market, big data analytics will allow for faster, more powerful processing of complex structure and unstructured data.[4] This will allow organizations to better respond to complex business and organizational challenges.

Let’s also not forget that the data in ERP has the potential to transform business processes as well. Since ERP connects with so many aspects of a business – technology, services, HR, marketing, sales, inventory, management, shipping, payment, etc. – it’s exciting to think of what this information can reveal.

Big data adoption and integration will help companies expand their ERP capability. Instead of limiting ERP data to a certain time frame and then offloading it to a data warehouse, organizations can retain historical data in the application itself without compromising performance.[5]

 

To learn more about what ERP can do for your business, refer to the Digital Market Place.

To learn more about how big data analytics is transforming enterprise resource planning, stay tuned for ICTC’s forthcoming study on big data and the intelligence economy.

[1] Dave Cavan (October 28, 2014). “Big Data and ERP – should you integrate the two?Syspro.

[2] Panorama-Consulting. Business Intelligence Software.

[3] Sage ERP. How big data can improve ERP.

[4] Chuck Schaeffer. “Big Data is a Big Deal.”

[5] Loraine Lawson (April 4, 2013).”How Big Data Is Changing Enterprise Applications.” Enterprise Apps Today.

 

Tips and Good Practices for Customer Relationship Management

Every individual on earth has an idea about what she or he consumes; and every small business, including the convenient store in your neighborhood, has some understanding of what the customers think about them. Knowing customers very well and making informed business decisions are not easy. In today’s digital environment, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions offer important tools to manage critical information about customers without violating their privacy. These software synchronize sales and marketing activities, integrate customer feedback and manage technical support interactions. Although software solutions offer a lot of functionalities, at the end it is the way it is used that increases or decreases benefits.

Here are a few tips for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) to consider with respect to adopting CRM:

  1. Know your customers: This is in fact what CRM is about: getting to know your customers and doing more business with them or reaching other customers like them. The CRM solutions will gather information about your customers and will let you know about their experiences (CX). Customers in the digital environment are more informed and demanding about the products and services. Knowing the reasons why your customers buy certain products and services or why they remain loyal to your business will give you an insight so that production and marketing decisions can yield better sale results. Through data and other services such as loyalty cards, CRM-based surveys as well as social media, a lot of granular information about the customers can be gleaned: who they are, what they do, when they buy, how they buy, what expectations they have, what they think about the brand, their knowledge about the competitors and other aspects of their experience. The more you know about your customers and critically challenge your assumptions, the more insightful you are in making marketing decisions[1].
  2. Consider cloud-based and mobile solutions: Recently, CRM software started to function using cloud technologies such as Software as a Service (SaaS), rather than desktop solutions[2]. Hence, businesses can pay as they go and reduce their need for IT team to keep up with issues, updates or maintenance. Another important point is mobility. Customers in digital world are mobile and vastly connected over social media. When businesses face those customers publicly, they may need to change their strategies for business responsiveness. A mobile solution (e.g., a CRM App) for employees can be largely functional and employees can respond to customer demands anytime and anywhere. The more the customers are “mobile”, the more your CRM activities should be mobile.
  3. You may not need all the functionalities: Most CRM software offer a lot of capabilities such as real-time synchronization with other software, marketing automation as well as real-time analytics with graphs[3]. Most businesses are now aware that predictive analytics drive profitability. However, it should be also known that businesses may not need all the functionalities or trivial data just because they are offered by the software solution. It is important to define business needs; and once the needs are clear, it is important to think about skills and business culture required to make good use of functionalities and data[4].
  4. Use your data wisely: Your data is your competitive advantage but more data do not always provide rich insight. In fact, research indicates that most companies analyze a mere 12% of their existing data[5]. More data may tell you what is happening in your sales but small data or survey data may tell you why certain customers buy certain products or services[6]. Hence, don’t undermine what you already have or initially available in your CRM solution. Before trying to reach out more data or big data, it is critical to develop skills and business culture required to analyze whatever is already available.

 

What are general best practices for customer relation management?

CRM requires a few central business practices that every business leader and customer service employee should keep in mind in traditional or digital environments. The first is about changing character of word of mouth and the second is about your business integrity.

 

Care about word of mouth and social media: Word of mouth is traditionally thought to be the most effective route for marketing and it is also true in the age of hyper connectivity. Although the essential meaning of word of mouth is same in the new economy, the way it operates is now extremely fast and digitally social! You may or may not know whether your friends use a particular product you are interested in and they may or may not talk about it. But who doesn’t review Amazon or Yelp, if a purchasing choice has to be made among alternative product offerings? Hence, businesses can collect great customer feedback through these reviews and check what new customers say about their products through social media. It is important to explore ways to foster word of mouth conversations, as well as positive social media interactions[7].

 

Be authentic and watch your integrity:  You may be worried about leaving all positive impressions around and upselling your products continuously, however, sometimes overpromising and under delivering can be very detrimental to your business. For instance, fearing the potential business loss or personal failure, a customer service employee may want to cover up an issue. However, losing integrity in the business world may have much more significant negative consequences in the long run than it seems today. Honesty and integrity are the foundations of the continuity of your business and publicly losing them can be detrimental, not only to your business but to yourself as a business leader[8]. Success may come and go but integrity cannot. Authenticity of the business processes such as customer services will protect and increase your brand authority, trust and support in the market.

CRM is a critical activity for every business, small or large. There are suitable software solutions for any organization and it is in the hands of business owners what to do with the software and how to approach customers. Knowing and understanding the customers well, using data wisely and benefiting from cloud and mobile solutions are the key points to consider using CRM software. Developing positive word of mouth conversations through social media and staying authentic as a business are the key best practices in CRM.

[1] 7 Ways to (Really) Know Your Customers, Nicole Fallon, August 7, 2013, Business News Daily

[2] What’s in Store for CRM in the Next Year?, Toolbox Blogs

[3] What’s a Viable Salesforce.com Alternative? CRMSoftwareReview

[4] You May Not Need Big Data After All, Jeanne W. RossCynthia M. BeathAnne Quaadgras, Harward Business Review, December 3013

[5] Forget Big Data–Small Data Is Where the Money Lies, Fred Shilmover, May 20 2015, datanami

[6] Beyond Big Data vs. Small Data: How to get to Smart Data, GroupSolver

[7] 4 Ways to Improve Your CRM, Tracey Wallace, December 5, 2013, Mashable

[8] Success Will Come and Go, But Integrity Is Forever, Amy Rees Anderson, Nov 28, 2012, Forbes

 

Financial Management Checklist for Small Businesses

Simply put, financial management is all about managing money. Doing it well is the epitome of good financial management, which is critical for the economic well-being of individuals or households as it is for billion-dollar conglomerates. When there is money to spare, losing a few here and there probably doesn’t matter as much. But when the budget is tight without much wiggle room – an everyday reality in most micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) – the risk of insolvency is writ large and good financial management is that much more critical.

An enterprise’s ability to generate cash from the orders it receives (e.g. invoices) and the time it takes to receive the payment (e.g. accounts receivable) is known as the cash conversion cycle. Research shows that this cash conversion cycle is strongly and positively correlated with an enterprise’s profitability, subject to size, sector, and growth stage.

Financial Management Checklist:

  • Effective management of inventory helps make the cash conversion cycle faster, which in turn improves the management of working capital. Improved management of working capital helps with optimal cash flow by increasing the amount of liquidity and thus enhances profitability.
  • Stock of inventory is affected by business cycles – as customer demand is strong during economic booms and weak during downturns – and needs to be managed and planned accordingly.
  • Just as critical as accounts receivable is accounts payable. Timely payment of accounts payable ensures avoiding costs related to late payments.
  • New enterprises – particularly the ones that are experiencing growth – must manage their working capital more carefully than established ones. This is because growth in MSMEs is associated with employee productivity, innovation, effective management of cash flow, and debt management.
  • MSMEs – particularly the ones that are experiencing growth – in their early years often experience a shortage of working capital. Their biggest challenge is showcasing credibility in front of banks and other potential funders in order to access capital. They typically have small or no assets to pledge as collateral and are thus less likely to receive loans. The efficient management of cash flow and working capital are therefore doubly critical. Enterprises that are experiencing financial stress should strongly consider reaching out and seeking outsider assistance.
  • MSMEs need to learn to use financial reporting – combined with analytics of big data – to make business decisions. Generating and using timely reports on cash flow, liquidity, and other key performance indicators (KPI) are essential to success.

4 Ways SMEs can Leverage Mobile Technologies to Boost Performance

By now, the value proposition of mobile technologies has become very clear to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Mobile devices like smartphones are no longer a luxury, but a necessity in the workplace. For SMEs that have already adopted mobile technologies below are four ways to maximize their usage in the workplace.

1. Consider tablets for mobile computing

Tablets have come a long way over the past five years and are no longer considered just fashionable accessories. Many tablets on the market are smart, powerful machines that have all the bells and whistles of laptop computers. Owning a tablet can be a great way to streamline video conferencing and accessing network material while on the go. The Microsoft Surface Pro tablets have the ability to run desktop software that can help workers stay productive while away on travels or out of office.

2. Adopt more cloud

Cloud has so many benefits that it would be impossible to list them all here. Within the context of mobile technologies, cloud can create fully functional mobile offices for offsite workers by allowing them to access and sync data from anywhere in the world. This makes information sharing and file storage incredibly easy from employees’ mobile devices. Dropbox, which allows users to sync and share files directly on their mobile devices, is one of the best examples of mobile cloud solutions in action.

3. Process payments with POS

Point-of-sale (POS) mobile and credit card processing is not only convenient, but can also help SMEs sell their products outside their physical retail location.[1] If trade shows and mobile events are a regular part of your gig, POS can make doing business much easier. Products like Square also give business owners the option to accept credit card payments directly over their smartphone.

4. Use GPS to save time and money

GPS is truly an amazing technology that most of us rely on to plan road trips. This powerful technology can also be used to plan better routes and track shipments.[2] Many sophisticated devices also monitor local and regional traffic that helps drivers avoid congestion. Best of all, the very best GPS systems are available in app form and can be downloaded for free right on your mobile devices. Google Maps is widely considered to be one of the best free mobile app GPS services available today.

[1] Drew Hendricks (October 26, 2014). “How Mobile Technology Has Revolutionized Small Business.” Tech.co.

[2] Ibid.

 

What should you know before using social media for your business?

Staying competitive in the digital age requires businesses to take advantage of the new digital transformations of the last decade. Social media is one of the most important reasons why people use the internet: Consumers like to connect, get informed, shop and participate in the virtual world. Business leaders adopt social media platforms for its critical benefits: Business exposure, targeted marketing using data analytics, increasing revenue, building authority, effective customer service, reducing costs, increasing B2B partnerships and other benefits make social media an attractive ground for businesses. As more people reach the internet and digital literacy increases across the world, more businesses connect to their customers and partners online, particularly via social media.

While these are all great benefits of using social media, the path to business benefits may not always rosy. There are certain questions you should ask before you deploy your social media strategy. By noting these potential challenges, your business will be better able to tackle any obstacles you face in the highly active social media sphere.

Are you investing too much in social media?

It is important to know that you have to commit some resources to social media activities and time spent on platforms might increase as the traffic increases. If you can’t predict the return on investment for each social media activity, you might be investing too much time on an unproductive platform.

Are you developing strategies for possible backlashes?

After adoption of a platform, if you don’t use the platform effectively and responsively, you may damage your reputation and your misusage of social media might start working against your business[1]. All feedback are publicly known on social media, so you should prepare your organization in advance to handle these feedbacks promptly[2].

Is your engagement yielding the best results?

Another important point is the required knowledge, skills and abilities for effective social media engagement. Companies may have to hire social media consultants in order to develop strategies that are suited best to the company’s vision. Some of the biggest risks of social media include “viruses and malware, brand hijacking, lack of control over corporate content, unrealistic customer expectations and non-compliance with record management regulations.”[3]

Are you having any operational issues? What are the operational issues?

Social media requires constant supervision of staff resources in order to build a genuine authority. Having clear guidelines for various social media interactions and knowing when/how to respond are important for business efficiency. Scheduling promotions; creating interesting, effective and relevant content; networking for visibility and expertise; forming alliances; and monitoring the industry developments are important operational concerns of businesses using social media[4].

Potential disadvantages and operational issues should be considered in advance in order to benefit from social media platforms at the maximum. Almost every business use aspects of social media for a number of reasons. If they are used appropriately, social media platforms are excellent vehicles for profitability.

[1] Online business networking and social networking: Advantages and disadvantages of using social media, NIBusinessInfo

[2] Disadvantages of Advertising With Social Media, Miranda Brookins, Demand Media

[3] Advantages and Disadvantages of Social Media Marketing, Tracey Sandilands, Demand Media, Chron

[4] In the Trenches: The Operational Side of Social Media, Alyson Stone, November 4th, 2010, Desk.com

 

Transitioning to the cloud: Some things to keep in mind

Cloud-based IT solutions are the agent of digital transformation for end-users, be it individuals or enterprises. There is a growing body of evidence highlighting that the benefits of moving to cloud-based IT solutions are substantial. In addition to simplifying operations to a great extent, cloud solutions significantly reduce IT infrastructure and capital expenditure costs, allowing businesses to stay lean and competitive in today’s environment. For all its benefits, there are a few complexities to transitioning over to the cloud that should be taken into consideration:

Choosing the right service option with the right vendor (service provider)

With many cloud solutions providers vying for market share and publicity, their service and price permutations and combinations are reaching dizzying proportions. It is very easy to get confused as to which vendor to sign up with, let alone which is the most suitable service option that meets all requirements. Although a great deal of information is available online, much of it is self-serving and thus too biased to provide clarity as to whether the advertised prices for service bundles  (e.g. SQL database, virtual machine) meet company needs and provide value for money. While price is a key consideration – and it should be noted here that the range in price for the same service options is rather wide – security, privacy, and customer care should all be factored in the decision making process.

Scalability and a built-in exit strategy a must

Signing a long-term contract with the vendor can result in discounts and reduce costs of cloud-based IT solutions, but an exit strategy needs to be in place from the beginning. That way, enterprises know the cost and service implications of migrating to a different plan or even a vendor. In addition to understanding what are the concurrent cloud-based solution needs, conceptualizing the future needs and factoring in scalability into the decision making process can only make life easier in the long term. Demand analysis for particular services and factoring in best- and worst-case scenarios is important and critical.

How much are you spending on cloud?

ICTC’s exploratory research on cloud-based IT solutions and in-depth consultations with companies indicate that cloud budgets are gradually increasing every year. However, with respect to the overall operational budget, spending on cloud remains low, particularly in large enterprises.

In an ecosystem where vendor success is defined by the user experience and innovative service model, we want to hear from you about your cloud experience: How much is your company spending on cloud, what share of the total operational budget does that constitute, whether or not you have switched vendor and if so why?

To learn more about how cloud solutions can transform your business, visit the ICTC Market Place or reach us at DAC@ICTC-CTIC.CA

 

E-Commerce: What disintermediation means for your business

Unlike traditional commerce, which relies on intermediaries like wholesalers, distributors and retailers to deliver products to consumers, business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce is the more direct approach to catering to audiences and is placing an even bigger premium on understanding consumer behaviour and preferences.

Think about it: in a B2C world, there is no barrier between you and your target consumer. This allows both parties to interact uninterrupted in an online interface (your own or some third-party marketplace like Amazon, eBay or Alibaba). While this allows businesses to reduce production costs and increase profitability, especially compared with big box retailers, it also creates the need for listing optimization or a direct marketing system. This means your business will need more than just a mailing list and a few static images to sell to your audience or induce them to purchase other related items (i.e., upselling). Everything from search engine optimization (SEO) to social media and up to big data analytics are needed to grow your business. In this hyper-connected B2C landscape, information is the only way businesses can grow and prosper.

The information revolution has resulted in a massive shift toward big data analytics, the ability to turn raw and very large data into marketable intelligence. Through big data, companies are able to evaluate sales, optimize listings and tap into new product categories. B2C companies the world over are leveraging big data analytics to identify patterns and trends pertaining to their target market. Everyone from individual eBay sellers up to multinational retailers are leveraging big data analytics to reach new markets.

Canada’s B2C e-commerce market generated an estimated $25.37 billion in 2014 and sales are expected to reach nearly $30 billion in 2015.[1] Nearly two-thirds of Canadian internet users already make online purchases and three-quarters of all smartphone users have purchased a product on their mobile device.[2] Savvy e-commerce businesses that glean information through big data analytics and use it intelligently to optimize sales are in a great position to increase their share of this lucrative market.

This highly lucrative market favours savvy e-commerce businesses that can leverage the intelligence economy to optimize sales. The increasing democratization of big data analytics has made this process much easier and these tools can be accessed and leveraged through a monthly subscription with a big data analytics provider.

To learn more about how e-commerce can transform your business, visit the ICTC Market Place or email DAC@ICTC-CTIC.CA.

[1] The Statistics Portal (2015). B2C e-commerce Sales in Canada from 2012 to 2016 (in billion Canadian dollars).

[2] Affiliate Marketing Association of Canada (2015). B2B & B2C eCommerce Trends in Canada.

 

Physical Server vs. Cloud: Why cloud wins (nearly) every time.

Cloud computing has been described as the next phase of the Internet’s evolution, and for good reason. It has made computing far more economical and intuitive, opening doors to entrepreneurs and small businesses. It has enabled a new entrepreneurial class of Canadian professionals who can bring their ideas to market as soon as they are ready without having to spend thousands of dollars building and maintaining in-house IT infrastructure.

Canada’s cloud economy employs more than 38,000 workers and contributes $4.6 billion annually to GDP, ICTC reported in 2013. By 2018, employment will exceed 57,000 and GDP contribution will top $8.2 billion, as more small businesses vote against replacing existing servers and upgrade to the cloud. Half of Canadian businesses already use some kind of identifiable cloud service, a number as high as 71 percent for ICT businesses.

Not sure if cloud is right for your business? Before considering cloud, think about the basic computing resources your business needs to operate. A successful IT business setup usually has a combination of the following: storage, backup, accounting/finance, communication and customer relationship management (CRM). All of these services are available over the cloud at a fraction of the cost, allowing businesses to get up and running almost instantly with the flexibility to scale up or down effortlessly. If you are stuck with a traditional server, even getting your resources online could take weeks.

Below we explain why cloud is the better option if you’re an entrepreneur or small business looking for high availability without breaking the bank.

Storage

Cloud storage is an extremely convenient, agile way to store and share files. Cloud storage usually comes in two forms: files that are stored directly on the cloud and accessed through the host site (e.g. Google Drive), and systems that integrate with your computer allowing you to modify files from your desktop (e.g. DropBox).[1] Traditional storage saves files locally. Unlike cloud, it isn’t scalable, at least not with a click of a mouse. Adding more space to your computer is a manual process that requires a bigger investment.

Backup

A cloud backup is a step above cloud storage, protecting you against data loss by automatically backing up everything on your computer except for the operating systemCloud backups have huge data capacities and are ideal for disaster recovery. So if your computer was destroyed, stolen or attacked, you’ll still have the ability to recover your system. On-site backups are not nearly as accessible. If you have money to spare you might create additional data sets that can be stored off-site, but this involves more work.[2]

Accounting / Finance

Accounting, revenue recognition and spend management are all essential features of running a successful business. Cloud-hosted accounting and finance tools can enhance accounting efficiency by automating business process, eliminating data inaccuracy, streamlining the approval process and backing up sensitive financial information. Many cloud-based accounting tools also offer 24/7 access, allowing you to manage your company’s financial data anywhere, any time.[3]

Collaboration

Cloud collaboration streamlines the editing process within an organization, allowing workers to simultaneously access and modify documents and data sets. This is usually achieved through cloud storage platforms that allow users to upload, edit and collaborate on documents, reducing e-mail clutter and the need for multiple documents. Recent developments are taking collaboration a step further by streamlining mobile access, integrating with existing software applications, integrating social media and real-time messaging and allowing users to set up activity feeds and alerts to keep track of updates.

CRM

Cloud-based CRM allows businesses to effectively manage and connect with existing/potential clients. While traditional software installations can certainly deliver effective CRM, they are usually much more expensive, less scalable/flexible and much harder to manage and upgrade. This is especially true for small businesses that do not have the in-house capacity to install and troubleshoot CRM applications.

Notice that we say cloud wins the debate against physical servers nearly every time. There is still good reason for businesses to retain in-house servers, especially those operating in highly sensitive domains such as finance or government, where security breaches could be far more devastating (even though, in reality, cloud’s security standards are not much different than traditional data servers).

While backup and storage services, collaboration tools and CRM are a must for entrepreneurs and small businesses, the biggest game changer in the next 3-5 years will be the ability to gain better insights from data through analytics and high performance data analytics.

To explore the benefits of such capabilities to your business environment, email ICTC at DAC@ICTC-CTIC.CA.

[1] Elaina Robbins (6 May 2014). “What’s The Difference Between Cloud Backups and Cloud Storage.”
[2] Melissa Rudy (5 July 2013). “Cloud vs. Local Backup: Which Do You Need?
[3] Matthew France (7 October 2013). “5 ways cloud accounting increases financial efficiency and accuracy for the enterprise.” 

Overcoming Cyber Insecurity: Practical Guide for SMEs.

Cyber insecurity costs the Canadian economy more than $3 billion annually.[1] That’s $3 billion in lost productivity resulting from (mostly) preventative cyberattacks that take advantage of our vulnerable networks and data.

The Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) in 2012 launched a whitepaper examining the threat of cybercrime on Canada’s digital landscape. This brief foray into cyber security concluded with a broad range of recommendations aimed at creating a more cyber secure nation, including investing in emerging technologies and highly trained professionals who can diffuse the risk at the source.

Given that small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) represent 99.8 percent of all businesses in Canada, addressing how organizations can safeguard against the growing threat of hackers, criminals and foreign intelligence agencies is essential to Canada’s commercial integrity.

Public Safety Canada has designed the Cyber Safe guide to help Canadian small business owners understand the cyber risks they face and take a proactive approach to protecting their business from cybercrime. Building off this practical guide, ICTC has outlined several recommendations businesses can implement right away to safeguard their commercial integrity.

Since many SMEs do not have the resources to commit to an extensive cyber security strategy, the following recommendations are cost-effective ways your organization can bolster its preparation against cyber threats. Long-term, mitigating against cyberattacks can actually save your organization time and money and ensure sensitive information about customers and employees are not exposed.

  1. Understand the risk: A proactive approach to cyber security involves knowing that your organization is not exempt from cyberattacks, regardless of your business or industry. Cyberattacks can infiltrate any industry that collects, stores or retrieves sensitive information.
  2. Train employees in basic security practices: Organizations should establish basic cyber security best practices that employees can implement right away, including policies that describe how to protect customer information.
  3. Protect data, computers and networks: All machines and networks should have the latest security software, including antivirus and encryption software. All programs and operating systems should be up-to-date to ensure that new security features have been integrated.
  4. Protect your internet connection: One of the easiest ways to safeguard your network is by setting up a network password and installing firewalls that prevent unwanted users from accessing your private network.
  5. Secure your mobile devices: ICTC’s research has found that mobile devices increase productivity in the workplace. To avoid serious security breaches, your organization should create separate security guidelines for mobile devices that inform employees about password protecting and encrypting their data, including downloading the latest security apps.
  6. Backup important data: Creating virtual (i.e., cloud) and physical backups of important business data can help you recover your vital information in the event it is lost or damaged. Backup important documents and sensitive data automatically and store them in the cloud or offsite, depending on the needs of your organization.
  7. Control physical access to your computers: Last but not least, use practical measures to prevent unauthorized access to company computers. This could include locking down your premises after hours, storing unused/unattended laptops and implementing employee swipe cards.

For businesses with a dedicated IT budget, hiring a third-party service provider to help train employees and create a company-wide cyber policy may be an option. However, keep in mind that cyber security can never be fully outsourced, as it requires employee buy-in to be truly successful.

To explore the added benefits of cyber security to your business and learn about Canada’s dynamic digital marketplace, visit digcompass.ca. If you have other practical guidelines to share, connect with me at s.bourgi@ictc-ctic.ca.

[1] http://canadaam.ctvnews.ca/cybercrime-cost-canadians-3b-in-past-year-2013-norton-report-1.1479940