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Finding your way to mobile 'appiness'

April 13, 2015 by John McGarvey

Mobile apps for business{{}}Encouraging your employees to use mobile apps at work could make them more productive and happier, according to new research. So, how can your business enjoy the benefits of apps, while avoiding the pitfalls?

The research was released by webexpenses, which — of course — makes its own mobile app.

It found that people who use mobile apps at work are 21% more likely to be happier in their jobs than people who don’t use mobile apps in the workplace.

That’s quite a claim. But if you assume productive employees are happy employees, and apps make you more productive, then it’s not a stretch to argue that more apps = happier employees.

Employees say apps save them time

According to the research, 63% of people who do use apps at work report that their favourite mobile tools save them time. Additionally, 39% say apps help them track tasks, and 17% say they use apps help to manage finances.

And, if the research is to be believed, on average mobile technology helps each employee save 86 minutes a week. That’s getting on for a day a month.

Over half say this is because apps make it easier to work on the go, and 43% claim mobile apps cut down on time spent on admin.

“Whether it’s for keeping in touch with clients or managing expenses, mobile apps save people valuable time and hassle,” reckons Michael Richards, chairman of webexpenses. “That means they can focus their resource on more productive and less frustrating tasks.”

Is it really that simple?

That’s all well and good. But I reckon things are a little more nuanced.

For starters, there’s the issue of stress. Mobile apps are only ever a tap away.

While that’s great if you want to raise an invoice on your smart phone after a successful client meeting, it’s not necessarily a good thing if you can’t stay off your phone while you’re meant to be with your family.

As we’ve mentioned before, there are a number of issues associated with heavy use of smart phones, including increased stress, sleep disorders and disruption to our body clocks.

Then there’s the problem of distractions. Mobile apps make it easy to switch between tasks, so you’re more likely to succumb to the temptation to check Twitter or open your inbox.

The research doesn’t seem to address whether employees who save time in one area are also wasting it via other mobile apps, but it doesn’t seem a great leap to imagine that every minute saved in one app is a minute to waste in another.

Use apps wisely

Don’t get me wrong. Business apps are really useful. People run entire businesses from their smart phones, so the benefits are clear for all to see.

However, the idea that more apps = happier, more productive employees seems like an oversimplification.

You need to make sure you’re giving your people access to the most appropriate apps, in a structured way. And you need to find ways to help employees achieve balance in their lives.

You can achieve ‘appiness’. But you won’t get there by simply throwing the door open to more apps.

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It’s time to ditch the two-number business

April 08, 2015 by Steve Smith

Man using two phones{{}}Mobile technology has come a long way since 1985, when the first UK mobile phone call was made. Mobile is a lynchpin of business, and smart phones have become central to how we work.

The recent growth in sole traders is a case in point. Few of these new one-person businesses would consider operating without a smart phone.

But many business owners also feel that having a landline number projects an established, professional image. The result? Most companies still have landline and mobile services, even though this means doubling up on costs.

It’s now easier than ever to reroute calls regardless of where a physical phone line is. So, is it time to think again?

Separate mobile and landline

Maintaining mobile and landline services can be pricey. In addition to the cost of two contracts, you pay through the nose to have calls diverted from landline to mobile when you’re out and about.

Planning to move your business to a new location? Transferring your landline number can be a slow and painful process. That’s assuming it’s possible at all – if you’re moving to a different area then you’ll need a new number.

So, how can you maintain the agility and flexibility that a small business should be known for, without spending so much on your phone services?

The single-phone business

To cut your telephone costs you need to stop thinking of a phone number as something that’s tied to a particular location.

In the old days, that’s how it was. Your telephone supplied installed a telephone line, and that was associated with your number. If someone called it, they’d be connected via that line.

Today, you can switch to a virtual business phone number. This still gives you a landline phone number, but you can reroute calls to wherever you like.

For instance, when you’re in the office as usual, the number can be set to ring a phone on your desk. But when you’re on the move, it’s your smart phone that will ring instead.

For callers, nothing changes. They call the same, professional telephone number as always. You can answer, no matter where you are.

Virtual number services usually let you choose what sort of phone number you want. You could opt for a number that uses your local area code, or for a national number (probably starting 03…).

You can hang on to that number for as long as you like – no matter how many time the company moves locations.

Using apps to stay in touch

Once you have a virtual number set up, you can usually use apps to stay in touch. These can run on your computer, tablet or smart phone.

As long as you’re connected to the internet (via Wi-Fi, 3G or 4G), you should be able to make and receive calls from your virtual number. (You might need to use a headset connected to your computer or mobile device.)

When you’re busy or can’t answer for some reason, a good virtual number service will record a message for you and forward the recording by email. 

If you currently pay for a business landline and smart phone, perhaps you should start to think differently. A virtual number could give you more freedom, more flexibility … and fewer missed calls.

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Five ways to fix a smashed smart phone screen

March 30, 2015 by John McGarvey
Smashed iPhone{{}}
Photo: ymgerman / Shutterstock.com

With their slippery casings and svelte dimensions, smart phones are easy to drop. Given that we often use them while we’re hurrying from place to place, it’s no surprise they get broken now and then. One survey suggests that a quarter of all iPhones have smashed screens

So, what’s the best way to get your broken smart phone screen repaired?

1. Call your insurance company

Your business mobile phones are probably insured, and that insurance may include cover for accidental damage. If so, you can get your insurance company to fix the screen for you.

Before making a claim, check the consequences. Do you have to pay an excess fee? Will it affect the cost of renewing your insurance? If so, you might be best off fixing your phone in some other way.

2. Send it back to the manufacturer

Most smart phone manufacturers offer a repair service to fix smashed screens. You’ll probably have to send your phone off to a central repair centre or leave it at a shop for a few days.

You can be confident of getting a high-quality repair that’s been made using official components. You’ll probably get a good warranty on the work, too – but it might cost more than going to an unofficial repairer. For instance, Apple charges start from £86.

3. Take it to a local shop

You’ll find independent shops offering smart phone repairs in most UK towns and cities. They can often replace a smashed phone screen on the spot, as long as they have the parts in stock.

Local repair shops usually offer excellent value. For instance, you might be able to get your smashed screen replaced for £30 - £50. The quality of repairs can vary though, so try and get recommendations or search online for reviews.

4. Have them come to you

Some repair companies will come and fix your phone’s smashed screen at your premises, so you don’t have to take time out of your day. Your regular IT support company may offer this service (or know a place that does).

Alternatively, companies like iMend will give you a guaranteed repair price online, then let you arrange a convenient time for the repair to take place at your premises.

5. Fix your phone’s screen yourself

If you’re feeling confident and have a steady pair of hands, it is possible to replace a smashed smart phone screen yourself. As you’d expect, this is the cheapest option – as long as nothing goes wrong.

Make sure you know what you’re getting into. Check for repair guides online (iFixit is a great source) and make sure you know what parts you need to buy. You can usually find these on Amazon, eBay and from other online retailers.

Prevention is better than cure

Of course, it’s generally best to avoid smashing your phone’s screen in the first place. A good case or cover can make your phone less slippery to hold, and offer some protection should it fall to the ground.

Finally, if you want to minimise disruption caused by lost of broken phones in your business, keep a spare handset on hand. It doesn’t need to be the very latest model — but next time you upgrade, put the old phone somewhere safe.

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IT for Donuts: work with tabs in Google Chrome

March 25, 2015 by John McGarvey

IT for Donuts is our regular feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT.

This time round, we take a look at how to use tabs in Google Chrome.

How to move individual tabs

If you’re anything like the IT Donut team, by the end of the working day your web browser may have lots of open tabs, each showing a website you’ve been using during your work.

Tabs can quickly get out of hand, but it’s easy to move them into a logical order. Just move your mouse pointer over a tab, then click and hold to drag the tab to a new location.

Move several tabs at once

You can also reposition several tabs in one go. To select the tabs you want to move, hold the CTRL key on your keyboard and then click each tab in turn.

To move all the tabs together, keep holding CTRL, hold the mouse button and then drag. You should see them move in one go.

If you use a Mac, the instructions are the same, but you need to hold CMD instead of CTRL.

Drag an item to a new tab

Google Chrome is pretty good at guessing what to do when you drag an item to a new tab.

For instance, if you select some text on a website, you can drag it to a new tab. Chrome will then search for that tab in your default search engine.

Here’s an example for you:

Animation of dragging text to a new tab{{}}And if you do the same with an image, the image will open by itself in a new tab.

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Are you part of the ‘tech nation’?

March 23, 2015 by John McGarvey
Street mural{{}}
Photo: AC Manley / Shutterstock.com

Digital pioneer Tim Berners-Lee created the world’s first website back in 1991. And for many years, the internet remained the domain of geeks and hobbyists. Back then, it was hard to believe that the internet would become a vital part of the UK economy

But today, the digital economy is huge. New research from Tech City UK suggests that, in the UK, over 1.46m people are employed in digital businesses and 45,000 digital jobs are being advertised at any given time.

What’s more, the report says that employment in digital jobs is set to jump 5.4% by 2020m ensuring digital businesses form a bigger proportion of the UK economy as a whole.

Digital businesses aren’t just in London

Whenever the digital economy hits the news, there’s a tendency to focus on ‘Silicon Roundabout’ in London. Situated in the east of the capital, the past decade has seen digital and web-based businesses flock to this area.

As you’d expect, the Tech Nation Report reveals that London has more digital businesses than any other town or city in the UK. However, the vast majority (74%) of digital businesses are based outside the capital.

Clusters of digital businesses are spread right across the UK, from Dundee and Glasgow to Cardiff, Bristol and Reading. About half have been formed since 2008 and 15% of all UK companies founded in 2013-14 were digital.

In short: the digital boom isn’t just a London thing. It’s happening across the country and it’s creating opportunities as it disrupts traditional sectors.

Digital businesses are small businesses

Given that digital companies tend to be younger than your average business, it’s no real surprise that they also tend to be smaller companies.

In fact, the research found that 98% of UK digital firms are classed as small businesses (although the definition of a ‘small business’ is hard to pin down from the report).

Indeed, it’s often claimed that digital tools have the ability to level the playing field, enabling tiny companies to compete with big ones.

Innovations like cloud computing, selling online and location services can make it easier for small companies to do more with less.

The future of digital business

So, the digital economy is in rude health then, right?

Well, yes, probably. Although some pundits do speculate that we’re creating another tech bubble of the type that led to the dotcom crash of 2000, there’s a big difference. Digital businesses are bringing in real revenue, as well as spending money.

Sure, there’s going to be some consolidation over the next few years. For instance, how many online laundry companies does London really need?

But when you look at online shopping habits, smart phone ownership, social media use or practically any other indicator, it’s clear we’re all spending more time online than ever before. Digital will have its ups and downs, but its here to stay.

Perhaps the day is approaching where the digital economy is just the economy. And perhaps every business will be a digital business.

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Will there ever be a credible alternative to Microsoft Office?

March 13, 2015 by John McGarvey

Microsoft Office logo{{}}

Image: Gil C / Shutterstock.com

The world of business software has changed a lot during the past few years. Traditional ‘pay once, use it forever’ software is increasingly being replaced by cloud services that charge a monthly fee

These online services offer flexibility and allow companies to spread the cost of their software over a longer period. And although there can be concerns around security, they’re proving popular, particularly with smaller companies that struggle to manage traditional software.

Although the cloud has disrupted the software market in areas like accounting, customer relationship management and backups, it has had a limited impact in the area of office software.

Here, one package has reigned supreme for decades.

The enduring appeal of Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office - which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other common packages - is still the only office suite that most businesses consider using.

Sure, it offers far more features than most of us need and has undergone some controversial changes over the years. But it’s hard to imagine the world of business without Microsoft Office: the de facto standard for getting the job done.

Indeed, Microsoft now sells Office on a subscription basis and offers a cloud version so you can work on your documents from any computer.

A serious challenge to Microsoft Office?

Although free office suites like OpenOffice and LibreOffice might be capable, they’ve failed to set the world on fire. But could Google be about to mount a serious challenge to Microsoft’s dominance?

Around ten years ago it launched Google Docs. This cloud software offered basic tools for working with spreadsheets, writing documents and so on. It wasn’t a serious rival to Office, but it signalled Google’s desire to enter this market.

A decade on and things look somewhat different. Constant development has resulted in a set of powerful services that offer most of the features required by the average office worker.

What’s more, because these services all work online, Google has been collecting data on how people actually use them. It says this has helped it focus on developing features people actually want.

The package is now called Google Apps for Work. It includes a wide range of business tools and some pundits think it’s mature enough to pose a credible challenge to Microsoft Office.

To encourage companies to try these services, Google claims they can work seamlessly with Microsoft Office documents. What’s more, the company doesn’t expect businesses to switch overnight.

Instead, it thinks companies should use the two systems in parallel, then gradually phase out Office for employees who don’t use its vast range of features.

Interesting times ahead

So, should you be thinking about switching to Google Apps for Work?

Well, perhaps not immediately. But next time you’re due to update your company computers or plan to make a significant investment in business technology, it might merit serious consideration.

Finally, Office is important to Microsoft. It accounts for around a quarter of the company’s enormous revenues.

Any threat to Office is a threat to Microsoft itself, so there’s no way the software giant is going to stand by and watch a serious competitor move into this market.

And that means that the next couple of years are going to be interesting for the office tools we use every day. We have more choice than we’ve had for a long time - and maybe this increased competition will spark innovation in how these tools help us get things done.

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