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IT for Donuts: Use the power of the shift key

March 02, 2015 by John McGarvey

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

This time round, we reveal the secrets of the shift key. If you only ever use it to add UPPER CASE LETTERS to your text then you’re missing out on its full power. Read on to learn more.

Learn keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are a powerful way to be more efficient with your computer.

We’ve covered many of the most common and useful keyboard shortcuts before, and would highly recommend you start using them:

Once you get the hang of keyboard shortcuts, they become second nature and really speed up your work.

Where the shift key fits in

The shift key is a common ‘modifier’ for keyboard shortcuts. That means that if you hold it down while using a common shortcut, that shortcut will behave in a different way.

Most often, the shift key reverses an action on the screen. Here are some ways you can use it.

These shortcuts all work with recent versions of Windows. Most of them will work on Macs, too:

  • When you’re viewing a web page, hitting the Space bar will scroll you down the page. Hit shift + space to scroll up instead.
  • You can scroll through open applications by holding the alt key and tapping tab. Hold shift at the same time to scroll the other way.
  • The tab key can also be used to move you down through an online form. Use shift + tab to go back up through the form.
  • You can hit the Windows key and M to minimise all open windows. Want to see them again? Hit Windows + M + shift.

Next time you’re messing around with your keyboard, try the shift key. It has more powers than you might have thought.

Previous IT for Donuts tips:

Hosting for the 'Kate effect'

February 24, 2015 by IT Donut contributor
Duchess of Cambridge{{}}

Could she really bring down your website?
Image: Shaun Jeffers / Shutterstock.com

When the Duchess of Cambridge stepped out in a £450 navy ‘Naomi’ shift dress made by Madderson London this year, yet another small British business fell victim to the ‘Kate effect’.

Madderson was totally unprepared for the resulting rush of visitors to its website. As a result, it went offline.

As a UK provider of web hosting services, this is frustrating to hear. There’s no excuse for websites being unable to handle traffic.

Cloud computing was designed for just this kind of scenario: the ability to scale resources up and down based on demand.

Although it would have been risky for Madderson to bring in extra stock just in case the Duchess wore the dress in public, it could have capitalised on the interest if the website had stayed available. Visitors would have been able to explore the company’s range and order products from it.

If you want to avoid the ‘Kate effect’, here are six things to look for in a hosting package.

1. UK data centres

More than ever, the location of your web host is important to the performance and security of your website.

You want people to find you, and choosing a UK hosting provider may make your website more likely to rank well when people search on Google’s UK website.

Find a genuine British company that does not outsource its servers or staff.

2. A good all-round package

When you’re running a small business, money can be tight. It’s easy to choose the cheapest hosting package, but do you really know what you’ll get for your money?

Check all the usual things: customer support, apps and resources, reliability and uptime — and the location of the web host. You want a solid all-round package.

Be wary of being persuaded to spend a lot on the off-chance the ‘Kate effect’ might happen to your business. There’s no point wasting money on resources you don’t need or use.

With cloud hosting you pay just for the resources you use. When you no longer need them, you are no longer charged for them.

3. UK support, round the clock

When things do go wrong you want to be able to speak with trained professionals, and you want to be able to get hold of them.

You can’t put enough value on being able to access great technical support at any time.

Choose a web host that is upfront about its support level. Check its service level agreement (SLA) for guaranteed uptime and search social media for reviews and opinions of that provider.

4. Active monitoring

Some web hosting providers (including Memset, the company I work for) offer services to monitor the availability and performance of your website.

This helps to identify and address issues - like a spike in traffic – quickly.

5. Instant scalability

One of the main advantages of cloud hosting is its scalability. Unlike other hosting, cloud hosting is designed to scale up instantly when demand peaks.

This can save you a lot of stress. It can even bring you extra customers, because there isn’t a moment when your site is unavailable.

6. Backup and disaster recovery

Every business should be performing regular website backups and have a disaster recovery plan.

As cloud storage is cheap, you can probably afford to hold a separate, mirrored copy of your website with another provider. If disaster strikes, you can switch over and carry on as normal.

The ‘Kate effect’ is very real. But if you choose sensibly, you can protect your business from without spending a fortune on your web hosting.

 

Forget big data - small data can help you now

February 19, 2015 by John McGarvey

Examine your data{{}}Big data is the idea that businesses can start combining and mining the data they own in order to identify new opportunities and make decisions. It’s, well, big at the moment.

But there’s a problem. According to research by Rosslyn Analytics, only 23% of UK decision-makers closely align business strategy to data. And just 44% of business leaders consider their data a strategic asset. You can download the whole report here.

Respondents said that the biggest challenge to using their data effectively was that there are too many types of data and that data comes from too many sources.

And they have a point. Big data is intimidating, especially if you run a smaller company that isn’t able to employ a data analyst or bring in a consultant.

In that case, maybe you should start smaller.

With that in mind, here are four practical ways your business can collect and use data on a smaller scale. You don’t need a degree in maths or statistics to get started.

1. Jump into your web analytics

How often do you check your website statistics? No, really, when was the last time you logged in to Google Analytics? (If you don’t collect data on your website usage, you really should and it’s fairly easy to get started.)

Website statistics packages accumulate a lot of data. If you’re looking for easy ways to improve your website, you could start in these areas:

  • Check how many visitors use mobile devices. In Google Analytics, select Audience > Mobile > Overview in the left navigation. You’ll see what percentage of people arrive at your site on a mobile device. If it’s a significant proportion, the data is telling you to spend some time making sure the mobile experience of your website is up to scratch.
  • See which three pages get most views. On most websites, a few pages receive the majority of traffic. Checking which are your most popular pages will help you focus your work on the areas of your website which attract most eyeballs. In Google Analytics, choose Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages.
  • Check your top landing pages. The moment people first see your site is crucial. Give the wrong impression and they’ll bounce back off to wherever they were before. In Google Analytics, select Behaviour > Site Content > Landing Pages. Review the top four or five pages listed – these landing page tips are a good place to start.

2. Fire up your accounting reports

If you use accounting software — particularly modern packages like QuickBooks Online — you’ll find you have easy access to a range of reports that can delve deep into your figures.

It’s not uncommon for these reports to stay unused. But if you want to understand your financials, playing around in these reports can be much more enlightening than wading through pages of figures.

Here are some ideas:

  • Viewing sales grouped by customers can help you understand who your best customers are. You might also be able to identify when clients are beginning to spend more with you (can you lock them in with a discount?), or if a previously loyal customer is cutting back spending.
  • Checking your business expenses is a key step in identifying ways to cut costs. You won’t always notice if expenditure is creeping up month-on-month, but if you take five minutes to check the report you’ll soon know when this is the case.
  • Reviewing your stock list helps you evaluate how much money is tied up in products you sell, and can make it easier to plan sales and discounts. It also helps you estimate when you’re going to run out of popular lines, so you can reorder in good time and avoid disappointing customers.

If you’re not already using accounting software in your business, it’s a powerful way to save time and get your head round your finances. Learn more about accounting software.

3. Run a quick survey

Market research doesn’t have to involve masses of survey questions, months of work and a chunky report that tries to define your business strategy for years to come. You can learn a lot by running short, snappy surveys. For instance:

  • Ask website visitors a single question. Tool like Qualaroo can pop up a question as people leave your website. Questions like ‘what were you looking for here today?’ or ‘did you find what you wanted?’ can help you understand what’s missing from your \site.
  • Contact your newest customers. What made these people choose you? Are they happy with the service you’ve provided? What could you have done better? It’s easy to create a short survey using a tool like Typeform, then email to a few new customers.
  • Ask employees what they think. Some business owners are great at soliciting ideas from their teams. Others are rubbish at it. Why not send round a survey (again, try Typeform or SurveyMonkey) that asks an easy question, like what’s the one thing they’d change about the office?

Quick-fire surveys are an excellent way to gain a better understanding of what people do or don’t like about your business.

You can learn things from even the smallest surveys, but be wary of using single pieces of feedback to justify big changes. It’s best to act only when you can see a clear pattern to the comments you’re receiving.

Posted in The internet | Tagged big data | 0 comments

IT for Donuts: How to cope if your internet goes down

February 16, 2015 by John McGarvey
No internet connection{{}}

Editorial Credit: SGM / Shutterstock.com

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

Inspired by the recent failure of my own broadband connection, today, we take a look at how to cope if your internet goes down.

The internet is essential

Have you ever been in an open plan office when that company’s internet connection has failed?

It usually starts quietly. Someone will ask a simple question of a colleague: “Is your internet working?”

In minutes, it spreads across the office. People stop what they’re doing, just to see if they can load the BBC website. And then it’s all they talk about.

Quite simply, when your internet goes down, your business suffers – no matter whether you have one employee or 100. So, if yours fails, what can you do to keep working while you wait for it to get fixed?

1. Find a hotspot

When your internet connection goes down, public Wi-Fi is your friend. If your own premises are covered by a public network then you have a ready-made backup for your own connection.

Sometimes you can pick up Wi-Fi via a service like Fon, which allows you to piggyback on a local internet connection for a small charge.

Alternatively, think about decamping to a local café or pub that offers Wi-Fi. You don’t have to stay there for hours, but it’s a good chance to catch up on email and take care of important tasks.

2. Get mobile Wi-Fi

The emergence of 4G mobile internet means that – as long as you’re in an area with good coverage – these days using a mobile internet connection is less likely to be an exercise in frustration. In fact, access speeds can rival those of standard broadband connections.

The easiest way to get online is to buy a mobile Wi-Fi device, like the EE Osprey or Vodafone R215.

These connect to the internet via a mobile phone network, then share that connection through a wireless network. You can get several devices online through a single 4G Wi-Fi device.

Pay-as-you-go tariffs are great for occasional use. Consider a contract if you think you’ll use the device regularly.

3. Borrow a neighbour’s connection

Are your company’s neighbours friendly? If so, ask if you can share their internet connection if you run into a problem.

It’s only fair to afford them the same opportunity, but that way you’ll both have a backup for when something goes wrong.

Just make sure you get your internet services from different providers – otherwise you could both be stuck without a connection.

If all else fails

Having your internet fail for a short period of time can be a blessing in disguise. Sure, there might be emails piling up in your inbox, but they can wait.

Take a long lunch. Go for a walk. Or get everyone together and discuss where you really want to take the business in the months ahead.

Who knows, maybe an internet outage will spark your next great idea.

 

Flexible work arrangements: how the cloud can help

February 09, 2015 by IT Donut contributor

Flexible work arrangements – dress code?{{}}If you get your flexible work arrangements right, employees who work from home can be just as productive as those in the office — if not more so.

People who work the regular nine-to-five can find this hard to believe. But as the rise of cloud computing – also sometimes called ‘cloudware’ – has continued, the traditional office setup is starting to look old-fashioned.

Workers can now access all their company resources from almost anywhere in the world, making it easier than ever to agree flexible working arrangements.

Are you scared to shake up your business without being sure changes will benefit your company rather than hinder it? If so, read on to learn how cloud services can help your flexible working arrangements and enable staff to achieve their full potential.

Flexible work arrangements – employee rights

In the UK, workers have the right to request flexible working – including the chance to work from home – if they have been with the same employer for at least 26 weeks.

If the company refuses to make flexible working arrangements without giving sufficient reason, the employee can take the business to a tribunal.

This is a scary thought for any employer, especially those running smaller businesses. But what if it’s just not feasible to let a critical member of staff work away from the office?

Well, employers are encouraged to find a compromise that suits both parties. But you can reject the application for a good business reason.

For example, if you can prove proven that the absence of a particular member of staff will disrupt operations and have a detrimental effect on the business, you can refuse the request.

Retaining talent with flexible working

It’s clear that many desirable employees would prefer to work flexibly, rather that being in an office.

Family commitments, expensive commutes and more contribute to an increased desire to work from home.

As the person in charge, it’s important you don’t allow great candidates to slip through your fingers because of concerns about meeting demands for flexible work arrangements.

Flexible work arrangements via the cloud

Cloudware can help employers make flexible working arrangements without compromising on staff productivity and efficiency.

Depending on which product(s) you use, your workers can be just a click away from everything they need to work from anywhere, including the comfort of their own home.

Cloudware enables employees to access data from several different devices, so workers are no longer limited to their office desktops. They can also stay connected via email or communications tools and access all their business applications, wherever they are. 

Are people as productive when working flexibly?

Flexible workers are not necessarily lazier or less productive than their office-bound colleagues.

The evolving sophistication of mobile devices allows us to work from anywhere, but cloudware ensures staff can access what they need to get the job done.

In fact, some studies have shown that an employee’s output can be higher when they have a flexible working arrangement they’re happy with.

Flexible work arrangements: a case study

A study by Harvard Business Review looks at Chinese travel company Ctrip, which gave its staff the opportunity to work from home for nine months.

This resulted in considerable benefits for the business and its employees.

Ctrip saved $1,900(US) per employee on furniture and office space during this time. That’s a significant saving for businesses working to a tight budget.

What’s more, staff completed 13.5% more calls than normal — that’s getting on for an extra working day, every week. They also enjoy far higher job satisfaction.

Similar studies into flexible working arrangements have produced similar results.

Dell’s Global Evolving Workforce study (PDF link) found that, thanks to the increased use of mobile devices, 52% of workers believe they are as productive or more productive when working at home.

Crucially, workers are less stressed and can sleep longer and better when they don’t have to worry about getting up for a lengthy commute.

These results are backed by a flexible working trial at mobile phone giant O2. This followed 3,000 employees as they spent a month working from home.

During this time, staff collectively worked 1,000 extra hours and also spent 1,000 extra hours sleeping or relaxing. They also saved large amounts of money by not travelling.

Flexible working arrangements are growing

In any case, there are signs to suggest the traditional office arrangement is becoming extinct.

Many employees tend to communicate with colleagues and clients via email or instant messaging instead of talking, even when they’re located in the same building.

These communication platforms are easily accessible from home thanks to cloud services, so workers don’t have to miss out just because they’re not physically present.

Instead, they can work from home just as productively, saving money for themselves and the business — and enjoying a better work/life balance.

Copyright © 2015 Compare Cloudware Ltd

Related resources

How to defend your business during the four stages of a cyber-attack

February 02, 2015 by IT Donut contributor
Crack in wall{{}}

The first sign of an attack?

Every one and a half seconds, another organisation is hit by a cyber attack. There’s one now. And there. And there.

Are you prepared to defend your business?

Thousands of security breaches

Even a minor security breach can hit your business hard. And if you’re unlucky, it could cost you up to £65,000 to recover.

If you’ve not considered how you might cope in a crisis, your business and your data could be at risk.

The bad news? It’s easy for a hacker to launch a sneak attack. The good? Nearly all attacks are preventable.

To protect your company from a security breach, you need to understand the four stages of a typical attack. Then you can make sure you have the right security protocols in place.

Stage one: the crack in the wall

A major data breach usually begins with something small, like an employee falling for a phishing attack and opening a bad email attachment. The infamous Sony Pictures hack may have begun in this way.

To keep this from happening, make sure your employees have a grounding in basic security. Anything coming in to your company should only be accepted if employees know and trust the source.

If the crack in the wall has already appeared, delete any suspect files, disconnect any affected computers from your network and sweep the computer for any traces the file may have left behind.

Removing some malware can be notoriously tricky, so it’s a good idea to bring in your IT support company. A small amount of money spent now can help limit your future losses.

Stage two: information gathering

Once a hacker has gained access to your systems, they’re likely to start gathering valuable information.

For instance, that bad attachment could have installed keylogging software that can record every keystroke. This can give the hacker access to usernames and passwords, email addresses, credit card details and more.

As a preventative measure, make sure every computer in your business is running up-to-date anti-virus and security software.

If keylogging software is detected, reset all passwords in your business – even if you think they haven’t been compromised.

Stage three: the stolen password

Once a hacker has begun collecting your passwords, they can use them to get much deeper into your systems.

To prevent one stolen password giving the hacker an all-access pass to your data, set up permissions and controls so each person in your business can only access the resources they need.

For instance, there’s probably no need for your sales team to have access to the full company accounts.

Stage four: disaster

Once hackers have access to your company’s servers, your data is at their mercy. They can easily steal sensitive information and even wipe it completely, causing irreparable damage.

To prevent disaster, you can use real-time audit reporting to detect suspicious activity. Your policy should be to disconnect first and ask questions later.

If your data does get wiped, be prepared with off-site backups that are updated regularly. Having your data stolen is terrible, but losing it altogether could kill your business.

Most cyber attacks are easily preventable, and common intrusions usually take several days to complete.

By putting these simple security measures in place and knowing how to prevent hackers from seizing control of your data at every stage in the process, you can sleep more easily at

night.

Copyright © 2015 Kris Lahiri, co-founder and the VP Operations and Chief Security Officer of Egnyte

Further reading

Tagged security | 0 comments

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