Companies are creating and keeping more data than ever — and some businesses are getting excited about what they can use all this ‘big data’ for.
Yet the reality for many companies is that the data explosion actually equals data frustration. For all but the most disturbingly-organised individuals, essential documents are hard to locate. Files get saved in the wrong folder — and email is often the most-disorganised data of all.
If you work in a typical office, there’s a good chance you use Microsoft Outlook to send and receive email. If you receive 50 emails a day, that’s over 12,000 emails hitting your inbox in a year.
If you decide to archive them all (after all, who knows when you might need a particular email in the future?) then finding a specific email soon becomes hard work.
In this sort of situation, the only option is to undertake an email search. And then wait. With email folders — especially the sent folder — extending into the tens or hundreds of thousands of emails, the standard Outlook search process is inadequate.
In addition to being incredibly slow, the way Outlook works makes it difficult to find any email if you can’t remember the entire recipient list — which is hardly helpful.
It’s not uncommon for it to take over 15 minutes to find an email. Sometimes you’ll fail completely and give the whole thing up as a bad job. What a ridiculous waste of what should be highly productive time.
The problem is that even if you have a proper email archive system in place, most of these solutions are about storage, not retrieval.
Yet in a world of exploding data, effective information retrieval is an essential business tool. Most email users would bite your hand off for fast, guaranteed access to email, like a Google-style keyword search that rapidly locates the right information.
By combining an archive of every email sent and received with keyword search, you get a faster way to locate messages and documents that have been misfiled.
With the right approach, there is no need for big data to constrain your productivity. You can keep all your emails and find the one you’re looking for, when you need it — enabling you to be more productive.
Blog by Andrew Millington of Exclaimer
I'm a long-time user of Google Mail. By and large, I think it's brilliant.
The enormous amount of storage space means my email archive contains thousands of messages going back over half a decade. I can log in from anywhere and find exactly what I need in moments.
The old interface might look rather traditional, but it does the job well:
The line of icons across the top ensures you're never more than one click away from inserting bullets or links, indenting text, changing formatting or running the spell check.
Contrast that with this new, cleaner interface. When you start writing an email, this pops up over your inbox:
With icons stripped from the interface, it takes more clicks to find functions that were previously obvious:
Google says the new interface is faster and more focused. I contend that having to think harder about how to insert a bulleted list or embolden text is almost certainly going to break your focus more effectively than the old icon toolbar did,
Besides, the new interface keeps your inbox visible behind it, so you can see new emails as they arrive. That won't be distracting in the slightest, will it?
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The way email works is important because we spend so much time using it (more than a quarter of the average day, according to some research).
When companies alter services like these that we're comfortable with and rely on, it can make us less efficient, change our working practices and make us feel uneasy.
That's the way I'm feeling at the moment. And that's why I'm irritated by Google's unneccessary tinkering and arbitrary changes. Maybe it's time I switched to Microsoft Outlook instead.
For this tip of the week, we show you how to cut quoted emails down to size.
It's easy for a long email chain to get out of control. Once a message has gone back and forth between two or more people a few times, replies start getting ridiculously long.
Typically, you'll have a few lines of the new message at the top, followed by pages and pages of older messages. Some email systems - including recent versions of Microsoft Outlook - make it really easy to cut this rubbish out of your replies.
Here are the instructions for Outlook. Many other email clients work in the same way:
Click and drag with the mouse to highlight the key text:
Just click the Reply button as normal:
Outlook will only quote the selected text, so you can write your message and hit Send:
That's all there is to it! Recipients will thank you for bringing the email back down to size.
Can you get everyone around the same table? (Image: Arne Hendricks on Flickr.)
There's a complete abundance of online tools to make collaboration easier, even when the people you're collaborating with are based in different locations.
In fact, there are so many collaboration tools available - both free and paid-for - that it's hard to settle on one that's right for you and your colleagues. To help you find a tool that works for you, here are some of the best on the market:
Trello allows teams to manage projects through a system of 'cards' that convey different ideas and concepts.
Extremely efficient, it's simple to navigate with a clear, logical interface. You can log in to Trello through your web browser, or download apps for Android and Apple mobile devices.
Huddle was founded in London, and this service allows you to send and share files quickly and easily, logging details and keeping projects organised.
It's a highly efficient collaboration tool which allows your team to manage everything across a series of 'whiteboards' where everyone can see what's going on. The free version of Huddle is rather limited, so you'll need a paid-for package for anything more than basic functions.
MindMeister works on the basis of mind-mapping, adopting a visually-driven approach to collaboration. Your team can share their thoughts in a collaborative and visually stimulating manner across a number of 'whiteboards'.
There's a good mobile app for MindMeister too, which is helpful when ideas creep up on you while out and about. You have to use the paid package in order to get a version of MindMeister you can use without internet access, but even the free version has a lot to offer.
With a highly intuitive interface, Sync.in manages to be simple to navigate whilst also providing advanced functions. You can manage projects across various social media outlets, and sharing is quick and easy.
Sync.in tends to be text-driven, and there are no visual tools whatsoever. Still, that means it's focused, driving projects forward along a single track.
Basecamp is one of the most well-respected collaboration tools out there. With an intuitive dashboard, it's an effective management system that operates through emails and can also connect to a number of external technologies.
It's a good beginner's tool because it's simple, but it has deep technical features that you can explore as you get to grips with it. The downside? Many of the extra features come at a price, leaving you with minimal resources initially.
Skype might have started out as a tool for socialising, but these days many businesses find it essential for discussions and collaboration.
You can talk face-to-face via webcams, allowing for easy sharing of ideas when back-and-forth messages won't cut it. It might be no good for document sharing or project management, but it's perfect for instant messaging and voice chats. (It's also a cheap way to get a landline number.)
Do you rely on a collaboration tool that isn’t listed here? Leave a comment to let us know about it.
This article was written by Alexa Garthwaite, Business Development Manager at Executive Offices, who offer virtual offices, serviced offices and meeting room hire in prestigious locations across the UK.
Image: Flickr user opopododo.
Have you noticed how frequently the term 'disruptive' is used to refer to technology? I often think it's off-putting for many businesses. After all, the last thing that any of us want is more disruption.
Cloud telephony services are often described as being disruptive. But in reality, cloud telephony can be much less disruptive to businesses than other types of telephone system.
However, cloud telephony certainly is disruptive to traditional telecoms service providers and carriers, because it offers features that they cannot provide.
Let's take a closer look at how cloud telephony compares with traditional on-site telephone systems.
Cloud telephony can offer significant cost savings over traditional digital lines or even VoIP telephone systems. As with other cloud services, you eliminate many of the infrastructure and maintenance costs of an on-site system.
You can either introduce cloud telephony alongside your existing telephone system or as a complete replacement. Either way, you will almost certainly save on line rental and call costs. Expect to pay as little as 0.75p per minute for calls to landlines, or 2p per minute to call mobiles.
In addition, you should get the flexibility of a per-user, per-month pricing plan, without a lengthy contract. The cost can start from around £10 per person per month.
Cloud telephony is inherently scalable, making it ideal for growing businesses. This means you never have to pay for more services than you need at any given time.
Because cloud telephony is delivered over the web, it's easier to bring branch offices and remote workers onto a single phone system. You can scale up and down easily and economically without the headaches of changing or merging lines.
Furthermore, employee mobile phones can be integrated with your cloud telephony system, enabling business calls to be logged and even recorded in the cloud.
Employees can be given a business phone number which routes to and from their mobile, meaning they don't have to use their personal number for business. It's a great way to allow staff to bring their own device, without revealing their personal numbers or running up unnecessary call charges.
Overall, you'll get more control over mobile call costs (which can be a significant proportion of your total telecomms bill) and be able to manage employee mobiles more effectively.
Cloud telephony can give your business access to sophisticated features that were once the preserve of large companies.
You may be able to integrate your email, CRM or other business systems with a cloud telephony system. This will allow you to click-to-dial, or display information about a caller on screen before your telephone agent answers the phone.
In contrast, it's usually much harder to integrate traditional phone systems into your other business systems.
A cloud telephony system also provides flexible call recording. You can choose to record every call, or just those that fit criteria you set.
Call recordings are stored in the cloud, meaning you can access and play them from any internet-connected computer. Recordings can also be linked to customer records in your software.
Combined with comprehensive reporting, you'll get a complete, detailed insight into your company's sales processes, from initial enquiry to closing the deal.
So, with its inherent flexibility, lower costs, and business-enhancing features, cloud telephony can be compelling for almost every company. Since when has this kind of good business sense been disruptive?
This piece was written by Mark Seemann, CEO of SYNETY, a cloud telephony firm.
Regardless of the size of your business, a telephone system is one of the most important tools that you have when it comes to communicating with your staff and your clients.
The effectiveness of your telephone system can make or break a business. In many cases it’s the first point of contact a client may have with you, so remember first impressions last.
I know how frustrated I get when I’m trying to contact a business and I am constantly passed from person to person or put on hold while they find the right contact. It can be incredibly annoying!
Sometimes I even hang up and look at what a competitor is offering. As a business you definitely don’t want this to happen.
An efficient telephone system allows your customer to reach their required destination quickly, saving both their time and that of your staff. Taking a few simple steps to improve the efficiency of your business telephone system can go a long way to improving the image of your business.
In most cases, simple changes can create big improvements. So, here's how to get the most from your telephone system:
(Image: Flickr user Tim Green.)
It's make or break time for RIM, manufacturer of the BlackBerry.
Once dominant in the world of business smart phones, the BlackBerry's market share has been steadily eroded by Apple's iPhone and Android handsets from the likes of Samsung and HTC.
But now RIM is fighting back with the BlackBerry Z10, which looks like ... well, it looks like every other smart phone that's hit the market in recent years.
It's a black slab with a big touch screen. Original.
But there's one feature that sets the BlackBerry Z10 apart from its competitors. It's called Balance. According to RIM, it's the 'simplest and most user-friendly way to balance your personal and work life on a single device.'
Balance means that instead of carrying two phones (one for work and one for business), the BlackBerry Z10 can do both. It keeps company data secure and separate from personal photos, games and other distractions. You switch between the two modes by swiping the screen.
Buy the BlackBerry
BlackBerry Z10 is available from major mobile networks:
While Balance sounds like a really useful feature, for your business to take advantage of it you need to have bought into the BlackBerry platform, and be using BlackBerry Enterprise Server.
And that's where the BlackBerry Z10 is going to hit problems for smaller companies. The current trend is to bring your own device (BYOD) and give staff incentives to use their own smart phones for work.
There's no point in going to the trouble of implementing Balance if only a few staff members have chosen to buy the Z10.
Does that means the BlackBerry Z10 is set to fail? Not necessarily. It's just that the strings attached to Balance make that particular feature less useful for companies that don't have the budget to buy a phone for every employee and set up a BlackBerry-based infrastructure.
What's left is still a very capable smart phone. But given the dominance of Apple and Android, is that enough?
Get a prestigious address with a virtual office. (Image: Flickr user ell brown.)
In recent years working from home has become more popular. It can give you access to a good work/life balance, and keep your costs down. One result of this is an increase in the number of virtual offices.
A virtual office gives you all the features and functionality of a full office, but from the comfort of your own home. Designed for small businesses, a virtual office can offer a range of services to help promote your business and provide a professional service to your clients.
A typical virtual office service might include:
If you currently work from home then you may find a virtual office can give you the professional image you need to impress existing clients and attract new ones.
Virtual offices are very flexible. You can pick and choose which features you want and which you don’t, selecting a package that suits your needs and your budget.
A virtual office can give the appearance of a big business, even if you are working from the comfort of your own home. In turn, you may reap the benefits of appearing this way to your clients.
Paul James writes for Anvic, a firm offering virtual office services.
It can be a challenge for freelancers working from home to keep their business and personal lives separate.
The humble telephone number is a great example of this. Many freelancers end up using the same landline for personal and business calls. This can lead to all kinds of awkward situations, like your kids answering when your most important client calls.
But landlines are expensive, costing as much as £15 a month from BT. Getting a second one installed hardly seems worthwhile, especially if you mostly use your mobile for outgoing calls.
Well, here's a cheaper, more flexible alternative. Skype - the internet telephony and instant messaging service that's now owned by Microsoft - can give you a landline number for a fraction of that cost.
It works really well - I've been using it to take business calls for the last few months.
You need to have a Skype account to buy a number (it's free to sign up). Once you have a number, the Skype app on your computer will 'ring' when someone calls it. You can answer and speak to the caller using a headset connected to your computer.
If you'd prefer to have a separate phone on your desk, you can buy a Skype phone instead.
Price aside, there are other advantages to this approach too:
If you have a Skype account, it's easy to add a number to your package. Just go to the Skype website and sign in. Then:
That's it. Now when you're signed in to Skype, people will be able to call you on your landline number. And they'll never know that you're not using a normal telephone.
(Image: Flickr user dno1967b.)
Your inbox is probably as overloaded as this. (Image: Flickr user Mr Thinktank.)
Is the end of email in sight? Er, no, not if current research from Mesmo is anything to go by. It has found that 46% of business users receive a new email every nine minutes. No wonder it's hard to keep on top of your incoming email.
To try and tackle this scourge of modern business life, Mesmo is running its annual Clean Out Your Inbox week. Starting today, you can join forces with Dr Monica Seeley of Mesmo and Marsha Egan of InboxDetox to get on top of your email for 2013.
Struggling to stay on top of your email?
These books could help you get organised:
Every day this week, you can view tips and hints to help you and your business take control of your bulging, time-wasting inbox.
Each day covers a different tactic to conquer your email, and there are prizes for the people who manage to downsize their inboxes the most.
To learn more, hop on over to the Mesmo blog where you'll find an outline of the week's activities and instructions explaining how to get involved.
If you're grappling with an inbox full of email newsletters, you might also want to check out Unroll.me, a clever tool that can combines all your email subscriptions into a single 'rollup'. We covered it a couple of weeks back.
However, if you decide to use this - or other tools - to sort out your inbox, do take note of Monica's advice: "Using software is an option but it is rather like prescribing a drug when you know only the symptoms of the illness and not what is the real illness."
In other words, it's no good applying the sticking plaster of an inbox tool without addressing the cause of your email overload too.
Tick-tock: time is precious in business. (Image: Flickr user blue2likeyou.)
Are communication and administration tasks diverting resources in your business that could be better used for other things?
Many of the 3,500 small companies surveyed cited specific problems with communications and admin. They'll probably be familiar to your company too:
Even when faced with these issues, many workers are still clinging to traditional methods of communication, relying on the phone, email and meetings.
However, some businesses are seeking alternative ways to communicate, with 39% increasing their use of online collaboration tools. The study found that these are more commonly used by organisations which saw an increase in profits or turnover in 2012.
This could suggest that more forward-thinking, tech-savvy small businesses are using collaborative technology to gain a competitive advantage.
Do you use any great collaboration tools in your business? Or is it better to pick up the phone and have a chat? Leave a comment to let us know.
The Skype in the Workspace homepage.
Skype recently announced a new service, Skype in the Workspace. The online communications firm - which was bought by Microsoft in 2011 - reckons its platform is an ideal way for small businesses and entrepreneurs to find potential partners and suppliers.
Signing up is easy and takes less than five minutes. You just need to enter a little information about yourself and your business. You can then create opportunities for people to connect with you by saying what subject you want to talk about. Alternatively, you can search for interesting opportunities yourself.
It seems a bit like online dating for business - you search for what you're looking for, and then you can use Skype to chat to people who offer it. Being able to make instant contact is a big part of the service's appeal, because it encourages new connections and communication.
Indeed, Skype believes firms can use the service to demonstrate products to a wider audience. Users can also book appointments with potential customers or suppliers, and keep track of these with a meeting notification service. When an opportunity is over, users can instantly give testimonials on the product or service offered.
At least, that's the theory. At the moment, Skype in the Workspace seems somewhat sparsely populated. My search for 'accountant' returned one result, while 'lawyer' returned three, all located in the US. Searches for things like 'web development', 'marketing' or 'design' return lots more possibilities, although the quality varies quite considerably.
It's early days for Skype in the Workspace yet, and businesses who've had success in finding partners and customers through channels like Twitter and Facebook might well appreciate it as another string to their bow.
The international dimension is interesting too. Alison Coward is owner of the London creative collaboration agency, Bracket, and reckons the service has extended her reach considerably.
She says: "With Skype in the workspace, I am visible to quality leads without even leaving the office. With no travel time to contend with, it’s also now far more feasible for me to grow my business outside of the UK into Europe and the US."
It's too early to say whether Skype in the Workspace is really going to take off. My gut feeling is it's more likely to become a niche channel than a broad tool like Facebook. But as it only takes a couple of minutes to create an opportunity, what's to stop you trying it?
Smart phone applications could pose a significant threat to your company’s IT system in terms of security, availability or mobile data costs if left unchecked.
In a worst-case scenario, valuable and sensitive data could be at risk if you allow employees to download and install apps at will to their personal and work devices.
While smart phone settings can vary from device to device, all potentially leave a company open to abuse. Every time you install an app, it's important to check what resources and data the app is requesting permission to use.
At some point, everyone has skipped through lengthy terms and conditions to save time. It's these terms and conditions which often explain what data the app will use and how it will use it - so not reading them could mean unwittingly giving an app control over sensitive data, or even the phone itself.
Although an app may appear to be a harmless game or a useful productivity tool, there is nothing to stop it from including code to send a text message, make a phone call or even read data stored on the phone and upload it to an external server.
To minimise these risks, your business and its employees should consider some simple steps:
How sure can you be that a company promoting an app has not included hidden features or a developer has not included some malicious code? Software vendors with a track record of delivering solutions to businesses generally have the development disciplines in place to protect you from these risks, so beware the unproven startup or one man band developer.
Smart phone apps are extremely attractive, but it’s important not to forget that under the veneer of simplicity, IT is extremely complex. Your systems can be manipulated by people who understand that complexity, if they are left unchecked.
Paul Ridden is Managing Director of Skillweb, a privately owned, UK based business that provides technology solutions designed to help organisations manage their mobile workforces and track the movement of their goods.
This week's Friday tip is about a couple of overlooked features in Outlook 2010 that could save your bacon. Please note that some of these features may only work if Outlook is connected to a Microsoft Exchange server.
When editing a message in Outlook, have a look under the File > Info menu. The first option, 'Restrict permissions to this item' allows you to control whether the email you send can be forwarded to other recipients. This is handy for anything confidential, including HR and salary related emails.
The second option of interest is the message delivery report. If the message you're looking at has already been sent, selecting this option will take you to a web based service that shows you if the email was delivered or not. Sometimes this might prove useful with clients that aren't receiving your emails but don't check their spam folders.
Next we have 'message resend and recall'. As the name suggests, this allows you to resend or recall emails. Resending an email this way is different from just sending it again, as it will delete your previous email from the recipient's inbox, and replace it with this updated version. Very useful for correcting mistakes you noticed after the email was sent. Recalling an email works in a similar way, where the email is removed from the recipients inbox. (Note: you can only recall an email if the recipient has not already read it, but I suppose in that case it's too late anyway.)
The last button on the info page brings up properties of the message. Here you can control any flags, such as 'high importance' or 'sensitive', as well as controlling message expiry date (if desired). This will notify the recipient that the message is out of date if they read it after the date you specify.
Bonus tip: Many of these features can be added to your Outlook ribbon toolbar, by right-clicking on it and selecting 'Customise the ribbon'.
Too busy running your business to worry about what's on your feet? A new app from Blacksocks - pioneers in the world of sock subscriptions (honestly, I had no idea - whatever happened to just buying them in John Lewis?) - helps you keep track of all your socks.
When you buy the company's starter kit (just £119 - bargain!), you'll get ten pairs of chipped socks and a Sock Sorter, which can communicate with your iPhone.
When you hold the Sock Sorter over each sock, an app on your iPhone will identify it, then show you a whole raft of statistics. See when each sock was manufactured, and when you bought it. View the number of times you've washed it, and make sure you always put the same socks together in pairs.
You can even measure how black your black socks are using your iPhone's camera. It uses a simple traffic light system to warn when your socks are so faded that they need replacing. No need to use your eyes, like ordinary people.
Your troubles are over. No more mismatched pairs. No more lone socks. If there's a better use for a brand new £600 iPhone than this, I've yet to see it.
Coming next, an app that reminds you to shave?
Over the last day or so a Samsung video has emerged that pokes fun at Apple and its customers.
It shows a bunch of people waiting in line outside a shop to buy a new mobile phone. To pass the time, they discuss the phone's exciting new features, like a connector that's 'all digital' and 'the coolest adaptors'.
The ad is clearly aimed at Apple, the tone is of friendly mockery, and it makes some good points. Many new iPhone features have been standard on Samsung phones for some time.
But around a minute in, one member of the queue reveals that - shock, horror! - he's not there to buy a phone himself. He's just saving a spot for his parents.
"Thanks for holding our spot," says his coffee-cup-clutching mum, while a bearded, grey-haired chap (dad, presumably) looks on with a benevolent smile.
The implication is clear: the iPhone is for oldsters. If you're hip, with it and under 30, a Samsung phone is way cooler.
Just a bit of lighthearted fun, or casual ageism? I can't quite decide, but in this day and age it seems patronising to suggest older people are behind the times with technology and have a tendency to make poor purchasing decisions.
We've mentioned before how research shows the stereotypical view of older computer users isn't very fair or accurate. Yet in the process of having a dig at its biggest rival, isn't Samsung needlessly reinforcing those stereotypes?
Watch the video here and decide for yourself:
Buying an Apple or Samsung phone
If you want to buy a new phone without a contract, you can order iPhone 5 on the Apple website (from £529). Samsung's Galaxy SIII is available from online retailers like Simply Electronics and Misco (£400 - £500)
A very handy feature I’ve started using this week is finding related messages. This is extremely handy if you have a long thread of emails and want to go back to check something. You can find related messages (based on subject), or related messages based on the sender. In Outlook 2010 this is as simple as:
Another feature I’ve been missing out on is categorisation. This lets you simply assign a colour to an email, task, contact or calendar appointment. You can also assign labels to each colour. This makes it really easy to find contacts, tasks and appointments relating to one project as you can give different projects different colours and see at a glance what's related. Again in Outlook 2010, it's as simple as:
Getting hold of Microsoft Outlook
You can buy Outlook 2010 from these retailers:
A bulging Microsoft Outlook inbox can be a fact of life. The more emails you send, the more you receive - and that makes it all-too-easy to forget to follow up important messages. So, to help you keep track of what's in your inbox, here are three key Microsoft Outlook tips:
All recent versions of Microsoft Outlook (since Outlook 2002) allow you to flag messages as they come in. There are lots of different coloured flags available (so you can use them to indicated different things) and flagging a message turns it into a task, which then appears on your task list.
Just click the grey flag by each message to set a flag. What's more, when you right-click a flag you've set, you can add a deadline, helping you prioritise tasks.
Folders are a great way to group emails about a particular project or subject, or from a particular person. For example, I have an IT folder, with a Projects subfolder, and then subfolders within that for individual projects.
Getting into the habit of filing emails in the correct folder makes life a lot easier when you need to find an email quickly. And if you're feeling confident, you can also use rules to automatically move emails to folders based on who they were sent from, the text in their subject, or a number of other factors.
The search option in Outlook has improved considerably with recent versions, and it's often now the fastest way to find a message. In the latest version (Outlook 2010), the search happens as you start typing.
Just enter someone's name, a keyword, or another word you know will help identify the email. Results should start appearing as you type. If you are having trouble finding what you need, try some of the more advanced search options.
Getting hold of Microsoft Outlook
You can buy Outlook 2010 from these retailers:
Previous Friday Donut tips:
If - like me - you're an O2 mobile user, you may well have found your phone strangely silent yesterday afternoon. From around 2pm, thousands of customers were unable to make or receive calls on the company's network.
In a world where we rely on mobile phones for, well, everything, it can come as quite a shock when the expensive one in your pocket is rendered useless for 18+ hours.
No calls. No texts. No emails. No tweets. No maps to guide you if you're in a strange place. No point in having the thing!
The consequences of this outage for business could be serious. If you're out and about, you can be rendered incommunicado. Companies which rely on homeworkers or have mobile sales teams are likely to have been particularly hard hit.
If customers and colleagues can't get hold of you, it holds things up. Decisions don't get made. Perhaps sales get missed.
If you've been affected by the outage, it's lousy. But it should be a wake-up call for all of us: sometimes, these things happen (they shouldn't, but they do). And that's why you need to be prepared.
The problem is, short of buying a second mobile phone on a different network for each member of staff, it's hard to put in place a failsafe backup for this sort of event. Even if everyone does have a second phone, it's no good unless people know its number!
However, here are three suggestions that can make it a little easier to stay in touch during a big mobile outage:
More fundamentally, perhaps problems like this highlight the benefits of a unified communications system. That can give you just one number, which you can redirect to wherever required.
Has your business been hit by the O2 outage? Is your service back to normal yet? Leave a comment and let us know how you coped.
(Image: Flickr user sridgway under Creative Commons.)
Ding! You've got mail. Chances are you’ve been sending and receiving email for years. And that means the chances are also high that you’ve fallen into a routine when it comes to composing a new message.
We all make email mistakes sometimes, so here’s a quick refresher of seven email fundamentals. Follow them and you’ll send polite, effective emails – every time.
Have you ever made any embarrassing email mistakes (we’ve all done it once or twice!). What are your tips to stay on the right side of email etiquette? Leave a comment to let us know.
This post was written by Roxanne McCann and edited by John McGarvey
There are lots of different ways to create an email system for your business. An increasingly common option is Hosted Exchange. This gives your business access to Microsoft’s Exchange email system (used by bigger businesses for years) on a pay per month basis.
And as Hosted Exchange has become more popular, the number of suppliers offering it has increased too. If you’ve decided Hosted Exchange is the right kind of email system for your company, here are four key elements to consider when assessing suppliers:
Unless you're starting your business from scratch, you’ll need to move data from your old email system into your new one. If you currently use an in-house system, moving to Hosted Exchange means data from your on-premises servers is now going to be stored in the cloud.
Any loss of important emails or data will cost your business money, so you’ll want a provider with plenty of experience of migrating from similar systems. Ask about their experience in data migration, how long it will take, and if there will be any time during the process when your data is unavailable.
Keeping your email safe and secure is essential, and business-grade email services should take strong security precautions. Ask your Hosted Exchange supplier if you will have to make any security arrangements on your side, or if they’ll take care of it all.
Also ask what their security record is. When did they last have a virus infection? What other security measures do they have in place? What specific anti-virus and malware protection do they use?
It’s no good having the safest email system in the world if you can’t access it when you need to. Reliability is every bit as important as security. Ask your supplier what uptime their service has had over the last three months. Look for at least 99.9% - and ideally more.
Get them to provide a guarantee of uptime in writing. This usually comes in the form of a service level agreement (SLA), which explains what compensation you’re entitled to if the supplier doesn’t deliver uptime as promised.
If something does go wrong, you need to be able to get it fixed as quickly as possible.
Make sure technical support is available round-the-clock, and not just by email. Lost access will cost your business money, so be sure to choose a provider that offers support over the phone and – if you like – by instant messaging. The key thing is being able to get an instant response, day or night.
Jamie Graham at Incontech Hosted Solutions.
When I tell people that email won’t be around in five years’ time, they look at me like I’m mad. It’s true though – email hasn’t changed for 20 years, and we all know what happens to technology that doesn’t change. It dies.
At a presentation I did recently, I told people email wasn’t secure. To illustrate this point, I explained that information sent by email is as open as your Twitter stream, as long as you know where to look for it.
Some members of the audience looked at me in shock, admitting to sending all sorts of sensitive data via good old Microsoft Outlook.
I went on to explain that instant messaging is the future for corporate communications. I don’t care if you don’t believe me. It’s true and now I’ll explain why.
Twenty years ago people did business over the phone. When you needed something from someone, you picked the phone up or went to their desk, had a conversation and got what you needed.
Email changed all that. We became accustomed to sending a request for information, waiting for a reply, replying to the reply, waiting for another reply … and so on. A conversation that could have taken a few minutes turns into a four-hour email trail.
The only positive aspect is that email gives us an audit trail. I’m not sure about you but to me that feels like a backwards step. Of course, we didn’t see it like that at the time.
Well, the world of real time communication is changing and instant messaging is the new black, if you’ll excuse the cliché. Now when I want to discuss a subject I can go into my copy of Outlook and click ‘reply with IM’:
This instantly opens a text, voice or even video conversation with recipient. You can discuss the subject and get an outcome - and best of all the entire chat is recorded in Outlook so you can check what you actually said. You can even share data directly from Microsoft Word or Excel using the share button in the review tab.
Of course, these functions aren’t only available in Microsoft Outlook. There are plenty of other services that do similar things, including free ones like Skype. So, next time you’re tempted to hit ‘reply all’, why not try instant messaging instead?
Lee Wrall is founder and MD of Everything Tech, an IT support and service provider based in Manchester.
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Every round of email ping-pong puts another message in your inbox for you to deal with. If you’re trying to put a stop to email overload, it’s completely counterproductive.
Here are three tips to help you avoid getting lost in a pointless game of email ping-pong:
Do you have a strategy to reduce the amount of email in your inbox? Leave a comment and share it with us.
You can’t read about business communications these days without seeing a mention of unified communications. It’s a great bit of jargon, but what on earth does it mean?
As business technology continues to develop, more and more communication channels are being opened. Tools like instant messaging, email and mobile phones make staying in touch more efficient and practical, regardless of distance and budget.
In the past, you’d have had to switch between different devices and channels to keep in touch with clients or partners. As the number of possible communication channels has grown, that’s started to become unmanageable and complicated.
Step forward unified communications, which combines these different tools into one system, so you can stay in touch more easily.
The very nature of unified communications means it’s flexible – and that’s part of the problem when it comes to defining what it actually does. However, it covers five broad areas:
A unified communications system will be flexible and modular, meaning you can combine these core elements – and some others – however you want.
Other elements include mobile access, collaboration tools to aid document sharing, speech recognition and call control. A good IT supplier will be able to help you understand the benefits and create a system that’s right for you.
SynergyPlus provides telephony and technology solutions for businesses.