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Five reasons your business should use instant messaging

May 12, 2016 by IT Donut contributor

{{}}Instant messaging was once the sole domain of the tech geeks. From the early incarnation of IRC (internet relay chat), it gradually made its way into the mainstream thanks to the popularity of MSN Messenger and has now all but replaced other forms of communication following the explosion of social media

Instant messaging is everywhere. Need to chat to your supplier about that last gas bill? You’ll probably jump on their website and start an online chat session. Fancy a catch-up with your sales team? A WhatsApp group chat will likely be the most convenient for all involved.

Communication is changing and, as a result, businesses have had to adapt quickly.

Common business uses for instant messaging

Think instant messaging is a one trick pony? Think again. Here are some brilliant uses for it in business:

  • Customer service. Your customers will probably do all they can to avoid picking up the phone. Make it easy for them to get in touch with you by offering instant messaging. If it’s there, they’ll use it.
  • Internal communication. In some businesses, Slack has replaced email. Could it do the same for your team?
  • Sales. Just like customer service, if potential customers can reach you with a click of a button, they will.
  • Beta testing/customer feedback. If you’re a software developer, by integrating online chat into your beta products, you can gain live, instant, crucial feedback from testers which may be otherwise lost via other forms of communication.

Why use instant messaging for business?

If you’re still of the mindset that instant messaging is nothing more than a time-sapping distraction best reserved for Facebook addicts, think again. The following five reasons demonstrate why your business should invest in instant messaging.

  1. It’s a universal skill. It is estimated that there will be 6.1bn smartphone owners globally by 2020. And, if you’ve got a smartphone, the chances are you’re used to instant messaging. It is, after all, a form of communication that has evolved from the humble text message. Most people have sent a text message, so their ability to start using instant messaging effectively will be as intrinsic as they come. That means less training and higher productivity.
  2. It’s cost effective. The cost effectiveness of instant messaging for business is perhaps its most significant advantage. In some businesses, services such as Slack can all but replace traditional forms of communication, and, from a customer service perspective, online chat may negate the need for an expensive telephone system to handle multiple incoming calls.
  3. It’s secure. There are two forms of instant messaging available: public and private. It was once the case that the former was to be strictly avoided in business, given its susceptibility to cyberattacks, but that’s changing, fast, with services such as WhatsApp implementing cutting edge end-to-end encryption for every message sent.
  4. It encourages efficient communication. SMS and Twitter have taught us all to say more with less and instant messaging, by its very nature, also encourages short, concise messages. No one wants to trawl through drawn-out emails or take long, needless telephone calls, and instant messaging can be just the tonic for communication fatigue.
  5. It’s mobileAny instant messaging client worth its salt will have apps available for both desktop and mobile and possess the ability to synchronise messages across all devices. This can be a lifesaver for businesses when crucial status updates or requests need to be issued quickly and to all employees no matter where they happen to be.

Summary

Still not convinced your business needs instant messaging? With so many free trials and service tiers available, you can do a lot worse than try it out. Start small by experimenting with IM internally for just one or two departments or colleagues. As confidence and productivity increases, you should find word about its many benefits starts to spread.

Blog written by Mark Ellis of BusinessFiction.co.uk

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The Internet of Things and its influence on ecommerce

April 21, 2016 by IT Donut contributor

Internet of Things{{}}There's a change on the horizon.

The Internet of Things (IoT) was a term coined by Kevin Ashton, a British entrepreneur in 1999 and refers to various physical devices, services and systems working in harmony via the internet.

Fast-forward to 2016, and IoT devices have evolved to the point where they are regularly put to use in households and businesses throughout the world. A technology that was once nascent and impractical is fast becoming commonplace in society.

The speed at which the IoT industry is advancing means the impact on virtually every aspect of our lives is likely to be significant as time progresses. Equally, consultants, analysts and software developers must ensure they have the expertise and tools required to keep up with ever-advancing IoT expectations from businesses and consumers.

If there's one aspect of our lives the IoT era will impact more than any other, it is online shopping and ecommerce. IoT devices, from connected cars to smart home appliances, will change the shape of ecommerce by turning everyday, inanimate objects into potential sales channels for retailers. Fridge run out of milk? Don't worry - it has probably already ordered replenishments via its internet connection.

The world of ecommerce continues to grow rapidly, with analysts suggesting that the number of global online shoppers will see a 50% increase by 2018. Similarly, the IoT is finally shaking off any lingering doubts that it is more hype than substance by becoming genuinely useful for consumers and a source of increased revenue for businesses. It is predicted that, by 2020, there will be at least five IoT connected objects for every smartphone user.

How will the Internet of Things positively influence ecommerce?

With the Internet of Things already taking over, there are a vast number of connected devices bridging the gap between user and tech. From health-tracking Fitbits to smart TVs, the potential impact of IoT devices on ecommerce is huge. Here's why that's a very good thing indeed:

Inventory can be better managed:

IoT devices will help ecommerce businesses streamline their operations. For example, the tracking and handling of inventory will become easier with the movements of connected products now traceable in real time. Such data can be used to notify business owners of low and slow-moving stock.

Increased marketing opportunities:

The prevalence of IoT devices in society enables businesses to gain a greater insight into their customers' behaviour than ever before. The daily routines of target demographics, their shopping histories, product preferences and buying habits can all be tracked and used to tailor more relevant marketing campaigns. This is why, as consumers, we're starting to see an increased amount of 'personalised' advertising sent our way.

Enhances overall efficiency:

The Internet of Things enables ecommerce businesses to connect with customers like never before. For example, warranty and malfunction data can be automatically sent back to retailers to ensure a swift response - sometimes before the user is even aware a problem exists!

More perceptive websites:

Nokia Networks is leading the way when it comes to the IoT, and as a result we're likely to see a significant change to the way mobile websites are developed and designed. A great user experience is essential for ecommerce websites, but in the near future, when the IoT becomes even more prevalent, web developers will have to work on ways to harness the increased data on offer. This will eventually lead to more intelligent, perceptive websites which are capable of offering personalised browsing experiences.

The marriage between the IoT and ecommerce has only just begun, but as it develops, the way in which goods and services are ordered, delivered and consumed looks set to change forever.

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Seven email tools that could bring you real results

April 11, 2016 by IT Donut contributor

Seven email tools that could bring you real results{{}}Email was recently named the technology that has most transformed how we work in the past ten years, above smartphones.

This trend isn't going to slow down any time soon. As email evolves through cloud computing, automation, integrating into social and becoming more focused around mobile, we need to make sure we keep up - as both senders and recipients - in order to make the most of this medium.

Here is a list of seven innovative tools that'll make sure you get the most out of your email marketing:

Make your contact list go further. You work hard to acquire new email addresses from prospects and customers. By using something like Clearbit you can make sure the contact list you've built up goes the extra mile by being transformed into a CRM, populated with relevant information.

Get real-time notifications from your emails. Ever wonder if that email you sent to a prospect was ever opened? Well wonder no more. Use a Chrome Extension like Sidekick to receive real-time notifications on personal and business emails. So next time you're unsure whether to check back in, you'll be able to gauge their interest by seeing whether they haven't had time to read your email yet or they've seen it and are just subtly turning down your offer.

Consolidate all the information you get from customers and use it for email marketing. Try a tool like Segment.io and make sense of all the information you're already collecting from your customers from different platforms. Then use this data to hone your email marketing by sending the right message at the right time, to the right audience. Watch your conversions multiply!

Get smart when it comes to collecting email addresses. Are you looking to capture more email addresses from potential customers? When it comes to email marketing, nothing is more valuable than a good contact list. With a tool like SumoMe you can collect email addresses at the right time, on the right page of your website and have them saved on your email service provider's platform. This can increase the number of addresses collected and ensures your contact list is populated by real prospects.

Don't underestimate transactional email. Recent studies have shown that transactional emails that include personalised offers drive up conversion by as much as 20%. If you're already sending transactional email, then revisit your copy to see how you can use this strategy to boost sales.

Automation is the future. Email and marketing automation has been a hot topic for a few years now. But it's only now reaching SMEs and more casual users. By using a service like SendWithUs or Mailjet, you can create automated trail of emails (drip campaigns) to be sent out based on user behaviour on your app or website, communicating with them at the right time with a specific and high converting message.

Manage everything from your inbox. Inbox by Gmail is another indication that email is at the centre of our daily personal and business communication. With this new(ish) product, Google has created a tool to help you collate anything from to-do lists to automatic flight reminders to set your alarm through your inbox. Now you won't have to go on multiple apps to organise your life.

Copyright © 2016 Amir Jirbandey, marketing lead UK at Mailjet.

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How to prevent data breaches when using multi-function devices

April 04, 2016 by IT Donut contributor

Multi-function devices{{}}IT professionals working in all sectors need to fully understand and take steps to reduce the threat presented by data breaches. You’re probably already fairly savvy in terms of the risks presented by computers and networks, but can you say the same in your efforts to reduce the risks presented by networked multi-function devices (MFDs) in the workplace (ie those that print, scan, fax, copy and email)? 

Such machines present a particular threat due to the number of potential breach situations they can account for. Each time a sensitive document is processed electronically, whether by scanning, printing, copying or sending via fax or email, it is at risk of either being accidentally revealed to unauthorised eyes, or intentionally compromised.

Multi-function copiers are now standard in offices of all sizes in the UK, so all businesses should pay attention to these risks and take the necessary precautions. Here are some key steps you should take to reduce and prevent MFD data breaches. 

  1. Implement user authentication. To keep your data secure, you need to be able to track its use. Only by using user authentication on MFDs can you do this. Anonymous use is unsafe use. 
  2. Audit network activity. User authentication will give you the tools you need to manage data and track down breaches, but you must also implement a system of centrally auditing all network activity. By having an audit log you can immediately identify the source of the breach and take corrective action.
  3. Restrict access as appropriate. Specify individually which users have access to specific functions of the MFD, according to their job specification, seniority or role.
  4. Encrypt your data. To maintain the integrity and security of data transmitted to or from your MFD and computers, servers and other devices on your network, it is important that you encrypt all data flowing in either direction.
  5. Monitor and control activity related to secure documents. By monitoring data as it flows through your network you can spot breaches as they occur, or prevent them entirely.
  6. Use rule-based printing. Rule-based printing requires the user to be present at the machine with a keycard or password, preventing documents from being inadvertently left at the printer, or falling into the wrong hands.
  7. Enforce trusted network destinations. To prevent data being sent to wrong or unauthorised numbers or addresses, you may wish to restrict its transmission to pre-authorised destinations.

By using these steps to protect against data breaches, you can prevent not just your own data and that of customers, but also the financial penalties and costs that may otherwise result from a breach.

Sponsored post, copyright © 2016 Nuance, experts in business and technologies. Follow the link to find out more about MFD security solutions.

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Why you should consider using an external software development provider

February 29, 2016 by IT Donut contributor

Why you should consider using an external software development providerIt's hard to imagine the world of business without technology. It drives efficiency and helps us all speed effectively through our daily chores. Depending on your business and the industry within which it operates, it is likely you rely on several software products. As you grow, you'll need that software to grow with you, which is why it pays to have someone tailor it for you.

Who do you call on for such work?

Freelance software developers are often chosen to help with such tasks, but the nature of their own businesses means they're rather 'fly-by-night', offering little longevity for the project or contingency when something goes wrong further down the line. Imagine a vital cog in your business failing and being unable to reach the architect who tightened the screws - the net result can be catastrophic.

Software development teams work coherently and, with varying levels of expertise in different fields occupying the same space, projects can be taken from concept to reality quickly and to spec. By comparison, freelancers usually work alone and therefore struggle to offer the same level of resource for all but the smallest of projects.

So - you need a team. But where do you find one?

You may, of course, recruit. Unfortunately, this can be a costly endeavour and incredibly time-consuming. Equally, if you don't possess a sound level of technical expertise yourself, you'll find job speccing and the evaluation of candidates a frustrating process. There is another option, though, which is to use an external software development company.

Why use an external partner?

Firstly, in just one step, you'll gain a team of competent developers, testers and project managers; a team that is used to working together and which can deliver the product you require. You can tap into years of experience and gain access to skilled professionals who will be able to turn your concept into a reality. Moreover, they'll be used to working as a team, so your investment in their time will pay dividends.

How to make external software development work for you

When choosing an outsourcing partner, you need to bear in mind three things:

  • their experience and expertise;
  • their ability to listen to your needs;
  • the effectiveness of their communication

Finding the right partner is critical. Do they possess the right technical skills and experience you require? If you're not sure what that is, search for partners that offer IT consultancy; they will be able to advise you on the technology and skills required to achieve the results which will push your business forward.

Perhaps most important of all is communication. The right partner is the one which can communicate effectively with you throughout the project. Regular communication means projects will progress as planned and keep you up to speed with progress.

To avoid the risk of failure when developing software, there is one crucial thing to look for; the ability for the team to work in an agile fashion - more specifically, by adopting the Scrum methodology.

Scrum forces the development team to work in sprints by producing quick, regular iterations of the software. Once each sprint is completed, you'll have a releasable version of the product in question and, by breaking work into bite-sized chunks, even the biggest projects can become manageable and deliverable on time.

Using the services of an outsourced software development provider is the perfect solution if you want to boost your business without the benefit of a huge budget or in-house technical expertise. More importantly, there's no requirement for the partner to be local due to the way in which the work can be carried out remotely. Wherever they are, they'll quickly become an extension of your team.

Copyright © 2016 Edyta Szczęśniak of SolDevelo solutions development

A year with a smartwatch: five things I have learned

February 23, 2016 by IT Donut contributor

A year with a smartwatch: five things I have learned{{}}The smartwatch market is still a nascent one, but you may already be asking whether or not you should invest in wearable technology for your business.

"Wearables", as they're commonly known, are computing devices you can wear just like traditional accessories or clothing. They include smart jumpers which keep you warm and intelligent running shoes which connect to your smartphone.

But the most prominent of all wearable tech comes in the form of smartwatches. Having worn a smartwatch for nearly a year, there are five key ways that I have benefited:

1. Meeting notifications

We all attend a lot of meetings. So many, in fact, that it is all too easy to forget where we're supposed to be next. Smartwatches will notify you of forthcoming meetings, so a gentle raise of the wrist is all you'll need to do to avoid being late.

2. Travel

I use my Apple Watch to track mileage and to find my way to meetings in unfamiliar locations with the navigation feature. As a result, it has become an incredibly handy business travel companion.

3. Retaining focus

How many times have you been in the middle of a complex project only to have your attention diverted by your smartphone? Smartwatches deliver notifications in a more subtle fashion and a swift flick of the wrist is all that's required to stay updated and away from the perils of smartphone distraction.

4. Instant communication

Most smartwatches allow you to take calls and respond to texts on your wrist. That means you'll no longer have to rummage in your pocket or bag for your smartphone and risk missing that all-important call.

5. Productivity

There are a growing number of productivity apps available for smartwatches. The most useful are of the to-do list variety that offer quick glances at your current priorities and enable you to easily check off the tasks you've completed. It's intuitive and somewhat addictive – I am definitely more productive because of my smartwatch.

Smartwatches aren't intended to replace computers and laptops. If the time I've spent with the Apple Watch has taught me anything, it's that a device of this kind acts as a brilliant companion to my digital world.

Wearable technology has some way to go before it becomes a permanent fixture in business, but the early benefits are certainly compelling.

Blog written by Mark Ellis of Business Fiction

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