Blog

May 1st, 2015

By: Dan Bremner

This month’s article highlights another under-appreciated, but very useful technology that’s built into Microsoft’s Windows Server products. (In case you missed it, here’s last month’s post on Active Directory.) Remote Desktop Gateway is a service that enables people to securely log into their company’s Windows computers from any Internet-connected device that’s running a Remote Desktop client app. That can be a Windows PC, a Mac, a tablet, or even a smartphone. Yes, you could log into your desktop PC from your iPhone and run Quickbooks, though I’m not sure I’d recommend it for very long.

Many people are familiar with remote control solutions like LogMeIn, GoToMyPC, pcAnywhere, and so on. Microsoft has had its Remote Desktop (originally called Terminal Services) software for years, but using Microsoft’s solution to connect from outside the office meant using a VPN, or opening holes in the firewall, both of which carried potential risks, and added complexity. When Remote Desktop Gateway was introduced with Windows Server 2008, it promised to simplify and secure the process.

Here are 5 reasons to consider Remote Desktop Gateway if your company is looking for remote-access solutions for your employees.

  1. Connections are Secure. By using SSL Certificates (the same technology that secures your communication to online banking and ecommerce sites), and requiring only a single firewall opening, the remote connection is kept safe from eavesdropping and hacking attempts.
  2. No VPN Required. Any device with an RD client can connect directly over the Internet without opening any unnecessary tunnels between your corporate network and an employee’s home computer. This can save money on VPN solutions, keep things simpler for users, and limit your exposure to possible malware introduced by a non-secured home computer.
  3. One Connection, Many Options. You may have a Remote Desktop Server that many people can log into concurrently, or you may allow employees to connect remotely to their PCs at their desks. In either case, the same connection to the Remote Desktop Gateway acts as a bridge to the company computer that the employee is connecting to. There’s no need to worry about IP addresses, or DNS servers, or any of a number of other requirements that would be true of a VPN solution without RD Gateway. All that needs to be entered into the client connection is the name of the PC to connect to.
  4. Remote Desktop Gateway is Part of Windows Server. If you have Windows Server, you have Remote Desktop Gateway, and may need only to add an SSL certificate to get things configured.
  5. No Third-Party Sites. With many remote-access solutions, both the remote controlling device and the remotely controlled computer have to make a connection to a server operated by the remote-control service in order to make the connection. With RD Gateway, the connection is made directly to your company network with no intermediary required.

When it was first introduced, many of the RD Clients for non-Windows platforms didn’t have support for Remote Desktop Gateway. However, that’s no longer the case, as Microsoft has released clients for Mac, iOS, and Android in addition to Windows and Windows Phone, all of which support RD Gateway.

If you’d like to learn more about using this feature in your company’s remote access solution, just ask us!

Topic Articles
April 17th, 2015

AndroidPhone_Apr17_AThe latest Android smartphones are packed with powerful hardware and features but, unfortunately, short battery life is still a problem every Android user has to endure. Slimmer designs with less room for batteries, larger and brighter screens, faster processors, and applications running in the background are all responsible for draining your battery in a day or less. But there are things you can do to make your Android phone’s battery last longer: here are our top seven tips.

Adjust display settings

Are you using auto-brightness display? While it sounds convenient to have your Android phone adjust the brightness on its own, this feature actually sets the brightness level higher than you really need. Save your battery by setting the brightness manually – you can always tweak it when you have to. Reduce the screen timeout display, too, so that your phone screen goes back to black faster when not in use, saving even more power.

Activate power saving mode

This is a pretty handy feature found in high-end Android phones. Power saving mode automatically limits your phone’s processor and display to use as little power as possible without turning off critical functions. You’ll still have access to basic apps, such as texting, calling, the calculator, web browsing, and Facebook. And this feature can be set to automatically activate when your Android phone’s battery drops to a certain level, so make sure you use it!

Uninstall apps

When was the last time you actually cleaned up your Android device’s installations? Navigate to Settings and Apps to find a complete list of all your applications. You can save a huge amount of storage space by getting rid of unused apps. This, in turn, will stop the processor from running these apps in the background, giving your battery a little more life.

Organize the home screen

Most Android phone users don’t realize that a cluttered home screen sucks away their battery life as well. Stash away the widgets you don’t need and ditch the live wallpapers, since animated backgrounds consume a lot of power.

Turn off vibrations

Vibration lets you know about incoming calls, messages, and notifications. But in some cases too many vibrations can be an unnecessary battery killer. You can eliminate redundant vibrations such as keypresses by turning them off on the Language & Input settings screen. While you’re at it, turn off the sound on keypress to boost saving capabilities further.

Hide notifications

As in the case of vibrations, sometimes notifications can burn away your battery, especially if you have installed a number of applications that are desperate for your attention every few hours. So ask yourself these questions: Do you need to know every time someone posts to or comments on your Facebook page? Do you want to hear about the latest deals and offers from your application? If not, do your battery justice and turn off the needless notifications.

Use location services wisely

Some apps like Google Maps require you to turn on location services to display your surroundings and give you directions. But location service chips away your battery life very quickly and you should turn it on only for as long as you need to. Either switch to lower accuracy or turn it off, and you can save a lot of power.

Battery shortage can be a frustrating issue for Android phone users. In extreme cases, you can invest in a spare battery to ensure continued use. To learn more about how to preserve battery life on your Android devices, give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
April 16th, 2015

164_A_OffHave you ever needed to scan a document, but not had a scanner on hand? Well just think how convenient it would be if you could use your phone as a scanner instead? If you’re a smartphone owner and regular app user, you’re probably aware of the myriad of apps that can do this. What you may not know is that there’s also a phone app out there that can not only scan a document, but also gives you the ability to edit the scanned text. It’s called Microsoft Office Lens, and now it’s available for iOS and Android. Here’s what you need to know.

What is Microsoft Office Lens?

Microsoft Office Lens is virtually a scanner in your pocket. You snap a picture of anything with text on it, and just like that it’s converted into a scanned document. What separates it from other similar apps out there is its ability to make the scanned text editable as if it were in a Word doc.

Unlike most of the other phone scanning apps, Office Lens automatically detects the borders of the item or document you’re scanning. This means you don’t have to bother lining up the edges of the item with a grid – you just point and shoot. The Lens app then optimizes the picture so that the text is easy to read. It does this by cleaning up shadows and straightening awkward angles. Also, the images you snap are automatically synced to OneNote. This allows you to easily store them, transfer to your other devices or share them later. Additionally, the images can also be saved to MS Word, Powerpoint or PDF. Originally launched in March of 2014, up until now Microsoft Office Lens was only available to Windows Mobile users. This seems a god sent to anyone who has had to rewrite scanned docs to make changes or reformat information.

To give you an idea of some of the items Microsoft Office Lens can scan, check out the list below:

  • business cards
  • billboards
  • receipts
  • invoices
  • notes
  • white boards
  • really anything that has text on it

Why is this cool? Well, imagine you’re at a meeting and there have been a long series of notes written on a white board. Instead of having to scribble all these notes down on a piece of paper, you can simply snap an image of the board. Afterwards you can edit the text from the whiteboard as you see fit, adding in your own notes or ideas.

How to get Microsoft Office Lens app

If you use an iOS device, you can download the app for free on iTunes.

As for Android, a fully functional version of the app is not yet readily available. However, you can get a preview version by joining the “Office Lens Android Preview” community on Google +. There you can sign up to become a tester.

Want to learn more about Office Lens and other Office products? Send us a message today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
April 15th, 2015

164_A_SecIs something off in the world of your Android phone or tablet? Is it running slower than usual? Is it eating data faster than a chubby kid in a chocolate store? If any of these situations sound familiar, your phone or tablet may be infected with a virus. That’s why we’ve compiled these six steps to show you how to remove a virus when you suspect an infection.

The lowdown on Android viruses

First off, let’s just put some things out there and clear the air. One, getting a virus on your Android product is actually incredibly rare. Two, when you see pop-up ads prompting you to buy a virus removal app, don’t freak out. This doesn’t automatically mean your device is infected. In fact, buying one of these apps could actually get you a virus! This is because all Android viruses are contracted via apps you install on the device. Which means the safest way to avoid getting one is to only install apps from the Google Play app store. If you must buy one outside of this, it’s wise to do your research first.

Before we get to what we think is the best solution, there are alternative ways to remove a virus that should be noted:

  • Use antivirus apps from Google Play – a lot of these are free and will detect and remove malicious apps, but some have a tendency to report apps as infected when they’re actually completely fine.
  • Perform a factory reset – if there’s a virus on your phone, this is a surefire way to remove it. However, in doing so you return your phone to its original factory settings. That means you’ll lose everything you’ve added since then that isn’t backed up.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the recommended option below.

How to remove the virus

  1. Turn safe mode on: To do this, access the power-off options by pressing the power button, then press and hold Power Off. This gives you the option to restart in safe mode. However, this doesn’t work with all models of the Android phone or tablet. If it doesn’t work with your device, a quick Google will pull up model-specific instructions. And what’s the point of turning on safe mode in the first place? Simple – it prevents any malware from running.
  2. Search for the infected app: Do this by opening Settings and then Apps. Once you’ve done this, be sure you’re looking at the Download tab (since the virus can only be something you’ve downloaded), and then start searching for the suspected app. If you don’t know the virus’s name, it’s likely something that looks out of place.
  3. Uninstall the app: Yes, it’s really that simple. Just click on the suspected app and uninstall it. Then you’re done. But if the name of the app is grayed out and you can’t even tap it, it means the virus has given itself Device Administration Status. In this case, follow the next three steps below.
  4. Remove Administrator Status: Do this by tapping on Settings and Security, then Device Administrators. Simply uncheck the infected app and hit Deactivate on the next screen.
  5. Uninstall the app: Now when you return to the Apps menu, the infected app will no longer be grayed out. Simply uninstall it.
  6. Restart your device: This takes it out of safe mode. Now your phone will be virus-free.

Want more ideas for Android and IT security? Don’t hesitate to give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
Topic Security
April 9th, 2015

164_A_MWIf Google Chrome, Firefox and Opera were at a cocktail party, Internet Explorer would probably be the butt of all their jokes. That’s not to say Internet Explorer never served a purpose, but it clearly has not kept up with the likes of today’s modern browsers. Microsoft knows this, which is why they’re releasing a new browser later this year. The name of it is Spartan, and there are some nifty features that may just revolutionize the way you use the web.

What is Spartan?

Spartan is Microsoft’s new web browser that will be released later this year along with Windows 10. Microsoft’s aim is to build a browser that is designed for the modern web, which creates a more personable experience when interacting with it. Here are few of the incredible changes Spartan has in store.

Web Note

Also known as inking, Web Note allows you to edit web pages directly. You can do this by either typing them or using an interactive pen that allows you to literally circle, underline, or annotate pages as you see fit. These annotations can then be shared with friends and colleagues via email or social networking. They’ll also be stored on Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage for easy collaboration.

Reading View

A web page can be a busy place, and the guys at Microsoft know that. That’s why they’ve created Reading View, which provides distraction-free reading to keep you focused on the content. Reading View eliminates ads, fancy CSS styling, sidebars and comments, creating a simple format that feels as if you’re looking at an open book.

Cortana, your new personalized assistant

More and more phones are enabling their devices with personal assistants, so why not web browsers? Cortana is designed to make your web browsing experience easier and more personalized. For example if you’re looking up a business or restaurant, Cortana can provide additional information such as opening hours, address and contact info. Another nifty feature of Cortana allows you to get a definition or content explanation without leaving your current page. Just highlight the word, right click and select Ask Cortana. She’ll provide you with the info you’re looking for, right there on your web page.

Want to learn more about Spartan or other Microsoft Windows News and tips? Call us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
April 8th, 2015

164_A_ProdMost of us have this fantasy that technology is going to make everything better automatically. But is that really true? When you stop and take a moment to reflect, does checking your email ten times a day, keeping your break/fix contractor on speed dial, or purchasing yet another workflow app really make your business more productive? The easy answer to these questions is almost certainly no. And, while we’re on the subject, here are a few more questions you need to ask yourself to ensure your technology is speeding up your productivity, not slowing it down.

Is this making my job easier or harder?

There’s no questioning that technology can make our lives better and our jobs easier, but it can also make everything more difficult. Here are a few ways it can slow you down:

  • Distraction – From email to Facebook to Skype or Gchat, technology can be a 24-hour distraction. If you are constantly switching between technology apps and programs – whatever your reason – you’ll certainly end up in a state of distraction, causing your productivity to take a hit.
  • Too complex – Some technology is simply too complex for the average user. To fix this problem, either use technology that is more user-friendly, or leave your IT guy to the job.
  • Too much – There are simply hundreds and thousands of apps and programs that can be used to make your workflow and job easier, but if you use too many you’ll likely be slowed down as you bounce between them all. The trick is to use only what you need, and nothing more.

Does my technology work?

This is almost a no-brainer. Your tech needs to work in order for you to reach your maximum productivity. If you’re still using a break/fix contractor and you’re calling him every other week, is this increasing or inhibiting your productivity? The answer is pretty obvious – it’s probably slowing you down. So what do you do? You need to get a more effective technology solution that is going to “just work”.

If you’re a small business owner, one way to do this is through managed services. This is a hands-off solution where an MSP handles all your IT, usually for a fixed monthly fee, so you never have to think about it. MSPs are proactive about preventing problems from ever occurring in the first place, meaning you’ll have fewer IT issues creating disruption and downtime in your workday.

Is this problem my responsibility?

Just because you know how to troubleshoot a broken application, does that mean you should? If you’re a business owner or have a job role outside of the tech department, it will benefit you in the long run to leave the job to the tech team. Why? It’s for the same reason the owner of a restaurant doesn’t mop the floors or clean the toilets. They have better things to do with their time, and so do you. You have a specific role for a reason, and you’re creating the most value for your company when you stick to that role. Do yourself and the tech team a favor and leave the tech alone; you have a business to run.

Want more ideas on how to maximize your productivity and use technology to its greatest good? Give us a call and let’s talk today.

Topic Productivity
April 7th, 2015

BusinessValue_Apr7_AHowever good you are at running your business, you’ll not get very far without a steady stream of customers. So you need to look after them. One of the factors that differentiates good companies from great ones is customer relationship management, commonly known as CRM. Over the past few years, thanks to the huge growth in online reviews and social media, customers’ expectations have changed, meaning people now have more power and businesses need to adapt accordingly to respond to customer demand.

Imagine a product that you purchased a couple of days ago breaks after its first use. You contact customer support and describe the issue, only to be told to wait for another representative to call you back. You wait for hours, and still nobody calls back. After sending an email to customer support, there’s a chance you get a call back, but it’s from someone unfamiliar with your problem and you awkwardly have to explain yourself for the third or fourth time. An effective customer relationship management system can eliminate this problem and many more. Here’s what you need to know.

CRM defined

Customer relationship management is a system that allows businesses to manage, record, and evaluate their customer interactions, in order to provide better services and boost sales. You can use CRM to store customers’ contact details, accounts, leads and sales opportunities all in one place, usually in the cloud so that the information is accessible by anyone in your organization, and at any time.

Why you should invest in CRM

  • Master data management - This is a method of recording and sharing customer data across the CRM process. When customer data is recorded, the CRM system centralizes the data into one file, called a master file. Everyone within the company then has access to this data source, preventing confusion from inaccurate or duplicated data.
  • Collaboration - Nowadays clients want their support from a company’s customer service team to be as fast as possible. But one of the problems in the customer service arena is a lack of consistency. CRM systems are able to ensure customer information is shared among departments to better understand circumstances and requirements, and provide a more consistent service.
  • Customer segmentation - A CRM system arranges your customers into groups based on criteria such as age, gender, location, and even their likes and dislikes. This allows you to target marketing messages to your customers more accurately, potentially increasing your sales numbers.
  • Task tracking - CRM systems have task tracking features that enable your employees to stay on top of important tasks, such as contacting customers via email or phone, and following up on leads. CRM systems also send reminders to employees about their assigned tasks, so that nothing falls through the cracks.
  • In-depth reporting - Another benefit you can derive from implementing a CRM system is a thorough analysis of your customer base. CRM-generated reports give details including an overview of product sales numbers, the marketing strategies that work best, your most successful products or services to date, and even a prediction of whether your sales target will be met at the end of the month.

If you’re looking to improve customer service and increase sales conversion with CRM, contact us today and see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
April 3rd, 2015

Planner with sticky note - SeminarYou are not alone in counting on Google power to keep your schedule in check – ever growing numbers of us turn to Google’s cloud-powered Calendar tool for a helping hand in organizing our day-to-day lives. But until now, Android fans have lacked some of the functionality available in the app on other platforms. The welcome news is that you’ll suffer no longer, thanks to a recent update which brings with it usability improvements on numerous fronts.

Google Drive integration

Making for an even more seamless experience using the whole suite of Google apps, Calendar is now more integrated than ever with cloud storage solution Google Drive. Whether it’s a meeting agenda or a hotel booking confirmation, you can now attach files from your Google Drive account directly to a Calendar event. No more emailing files around, only to have to resend them a week later to those who have mislaid them – Calendar even makes sure that all your event invitees can open the files you attach.

A week at a glance

When using Google Calendar on the web, we take it for granted that we can flick between a daily view of our schedule, a look at the work week, the full seven days or even a month at a time. But on Android devices, these have been features missing for too long – at least until now. The app previously supported a monthly view before it was axed; now the seven-day week view returns to allow you to get instant perspective on what’s on the horizon. Couple this with a new pinch-and-zoom capability that allows you to focus in on specific appointments – albeit that this feature frustratingly is only supported in the seven-day view – and it makes for a more efficient and rewarding calendar experience.

Take-up of Google’s attempt at a social network has admittedly been lower than some expected but, if you’re one of those who has jumped on the Google+ bandwagon, new integration between it and Calendar means you can quickly and easily import all your friends’ birthdays from your Google+ account. This saves you manually entering them into your diary and, with the option to receive timely reminders by SMS and email, you’ll never miss your colleagues’ special days again.

If you haven’t yet upgraded your Google Calendar for Android app, now’s the time – the latest version is available in the Google Play store. To learn more about deploying Calendar and other cloud-powered Google Apps to transform your company’s organization and productivity, give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.
April 1st, 2015

active_directoryBy: Dan Bremner

I had a conversation with a client recently about Active Directory, and why it was a good idea, even for very small businesses. Like many business owners, my client had heard of Active Directory, but wasn’t really sure what it is.

Without getting into too much technical detail, Active Directory is a basically a list of the computers and people in an organization that all the computers share. It means each computer doesn’t need its own list, because they delegate the responsibility for authenticating users and setting permissions to a central location. In simple terms, it means that we can enter a user account once, and all the computers on the network know about that user, and know what things that user is and isn’t allowed to do. Without it, we would have to create that user account on every computer in the network.

Active Directory certainly isn’t a new technology, having been introduced by Microsoft in Windows 2000 (and built on LDAP and other technologies that are even older). However, if you don’t live and breathe technology every day, you may not realize all the good stuff that comes from having Active Directory as the framework for your computer network.

I’ve been asked, “When is a business large enough that they should use Active Directory?” With the ascendance of “the cloud” in recent years, there is also a school of thought that servers in the traditional sense aren’t needed anymore. I would answer that the foundation of Active Directory is still important for any business, and an inexpensive server like Windows Server Essentials is often the most cost-effective way to do it for the smallest businesses. (Although there are cloud options, too, including Microsoft’s Azure Active Directory.)

I’m going to turn that question around and say, “When is a business too small to use Active Directory?” My answer would be that a business with only a single owner/employee who does everything, and who doesn’t plan to hire anyone else, probably doesn’t need it. For just about everyone else, AD has benefits that make it worth considering. It’s part of the foundation that lets you build a scalable business.

Here are a few of the benefits of Active Directory for small businesses:

  • Single sign-on. Log into your computer and have access to all the resources you need on the network.
  • Permission schemes using Security Groups so things don’t have to be re-engineered when you add or remove employees.
  • Group Policy is an extremely powerful tool that can set standards for security, permissions, passwords, standardize appearance, install software, and connect to printers, all based on Active Directory attributes.
  • End-user PCs can be logged on by any user, which makes replacing, or restoring PCs take much less time, and enables employees to use another computer in a pinch.
  • For compliance with standards such as PCI-DSS and HIPAA, Active Directory makes it possible to ensure that required policies are enforced across the network.
  • Security auditing, if needed, is far easier with centralized authentication.
  • If someone leaves, or changes roles, there is one place to change their security settings, and it takes effect on all computers.

Active Directory may not be sexy technology, but it’s a solid tool for businesses that are serious about growing and scaling their operations.

Topic Articles
March 24th, 2015

164 BizV_AYou’ve been using your break/fix contractor for years. For the most part, he’s been reliable and helped your business run a smooth IT operation. But you’ve been hearing more and more about Managed Services, and it’s peaked your interest. If you’re thinking about making the jump from break/fix to Managed Services, here are a few compelling ideas to consider.

The ultimate break/fix nightmare

Your business is running smoothly. Profits and staff productivity have been up, and you haven’t had a single IT expense in months. Times are good. You kick back in your leather chair and break out that Cuban cigar you’ve been saving for just such an occasion.

But then the BIG ONE hits. Your servers crash. No, not just one – all of them! Your business comes to a grinding halt. None of your staff can work. You call your go-to break/fix IT provider, but he’s overloaded with work and can’t make it out to your offices till next week. Next week?! In a panic, you call the first IT contractor you find on Google. Thankfully he’s available. But since you need this work done immediately, he charges an unbelievable fee for a last minute fix. You have no other choice, you hire the contractor. You’re left hoping he fixes everything properly and none of your crucial data is lost in the process.

This is the precarious nature of break/fix IT services. And while this is a worst case scenario, situations like this can and have happened. So let’s look at the reasons why it pays to to hire a Managed Services Provider (MSP) instead.

MSPs prevent problems. Break/fix profit from them.

Think about the relationship dynamics of Managed Services compared to break/fix. If you’re a business owner who currently use a break/fix contractor, when your IT goes down your contractor gains profit. Your problem equals his reward.

How motivated do you think he is to do an effective job of fixing your issue? If that problem pops up again later, it equals more reward for him. Now that’s not to say all break/fix contractors aren’t fixing your IT to the best of their abilities. But think about the basic mindframe of a break/fix contractor: problem=profit.

The MSP system works differently. You pay a set fee every month to your IT provider. So the reward for the MSP comes every month. If something goes wrong during that month, you don’t pay anymore. Yet it costs the MSP more money, and therefore affects their profit margin. Because of this, the MSP is rewarded for taking preventative measures to ensure your IT is working as effectively as possible, always.

That’s not to say problems won’t happen with an MSP. But when they do, they’ll end up costing the MSP provider, and they certainly don’t want that. So for an MSP, the basic mindframe is: healthy IT=profit.

MSPs extinguish budget surprises

Everyone likes surprises, except when it comes to losing money. And when you have a break/fix IT service provider, big surprises can and do happen – and not the good ones, either.

An MSP is working to prevent problems from happening in the first place. You pay a monthly flat fee, so you always know what you’re paying. You can plan and predict your budget accordingly.

With break/fix, it’s true that some months you won’t have any IT expenses from your contractor, which is great. But other months, you could have bills that are astronomical. So you never know just what you’ll be paying for your IT budget in any given month. And if you don’t have that money set aside, then what?

MSPs might just make you happier

Yes, as silly and simple as it sounds, with an MSP you’ll probably be happier. The main reason is you won’t have to deal with the frustration of unexpected IT problems eating away at your budget and the downtime that comes with it. Your IT will run more smoothly (which will create a foundation for your business to do the same) and your budget will be predictable.

Even better, you’re more likely to have a fruitful relationship with your MSP provider since you both have the same goal: effective smooth running IT for your business. What business owner doesn’t like the sound of that?

Want to learn more about Managed Services? Contact us today to learn more about this effective alternative.