Category Archives: Consultancy

Web Design – First Steps

WebsiteEvery business can benefit from a Web presence. Whether you want to promote your products and services online, sell online, provide a service for your customers online or just provide basic contact details for people that want to get in touch there’s a solution for you.

So, if you are looking to get a web presence or want to update your current offering where do you start?

What do you want to do?

First of all, decide what you want to do online as this will determine the structure of your site and how it is developed. If you just want a basic brochure site then that’s fine and virtually any host will be suitable for you. If you want to add blog or news sections that you can update yourself, an e-commerce section or other interactive content then it’s easiest if you plan this from the start – even if this side of the site won’t be developed straight off.

Design

Then comes the design. If you are having your site built for you then the company should come up with 2 or 3 options for you. The design should represent your business with regards to colours and logo but must also be easy on the eye and easy to navigate.

If you are building your site yourself, take a look at similar businesses to yours to get some ideas and see what works and what doesn’t. Most of the main hosts such as 1and1 and GoDaddy will provide some templates which will get you started but do try to customise them rather than sticking with the ‘out-the-box’ designs.

Some Website Designs
Courtesy of www.wix.com

If you are using a system such as WordPress to design your site, again, there are many different templates which can be used as a base for your site.

You should use a template page to base your other pages on. This means that if later on you want to change a menu or some part of the design, you only need to update the template page rather than every other page individually!

Content is King

So you have a design, now you need to write your content. This is your opportunity to catch your site visitors’ attention and encourage them to make contact. You only have a few seconds to do this so keep it short and catchy but informative. You are better off creating several shorter pages, each about a specific subject, than trying to cram everything on to one or two.

Google searchContent needs to be unique for each page and also unique from other online material you may have. Search Engines now recognise identical content and your Search Engine rankings will suffer if you simply copy and paste from other online sources.

Also, remember that your visitors may enter your site at any page of your site so make sure visitors can easily navigate around from every page and that your contact details and call to action are included on every page.

Use images wherever possible but keep the image file size small. Moving graphics and video are great to grab attention but again, keep it relevant and the file size small. A lot of people still have poor internet connectivity and lots of large images and animations will mean your page takes longer to load and the visitor gets a bad experience.

Finally, remember that the beauty of online marketing is that you can change it simply and easily. Keep your site up to date, especially if you promote offers, have news items or testimonials.

If you are looking to re-design your website or would like help getting started, please contact us.

Your Disaster Recovery Plan

Flood SignHow many people have a DR plan in place for their business?  Would you know where to start or do you think that it’s OK as the business insurance will cover everything?

Making sure your business insurance is up to date and all-encompassing should be part of your DR plan but the main focus should be on keeping your business working should you have to move premises, lose the use of your PC’s, server and laptops and/or have restricted use of your facilities and equipment.

The idea of a DR plan is to keep your business trading and making money whilst the problems are sorted out.   After all, if you can’t keep selling your products and services where will the money come from to rebuild your business, or at least tide you over whilst the insurance company processes your claim?

A DR Plan should cover your whole business but we’ll focus on the IT side. Here are a few pointers to get you started:

  1. Pan and PaperThink about the most important things you need to have access to and use on a daily basis. That could be your accounts package, your contact list, your CRM system. Do you have a backup plan if you can’t access these such as paper records or alternative systems.
  2. Make sure your PC’s and servers are backed up regularly onto tape, external hard drive or remotely. Check your backups to make sure they are completing, that you can restore and that all your data is included in your backup jobs. If you do backup to tape or hard drive, make sure that you rotate your devices and take the latest backup offsite.
  3. Have details of all important information such as Administrator user names and passwords, email account details and any backup services securely stored offsite. Keep them up to date and know where they are!
  4. Make sure your important equipment is attached to a UPS – Uninterruptable Power Supply. This will offer a short amount of battery backup, to cover short power cuts, and should shut your servers down in the proper manner in the event of a longer power outage. A UPS should also protect against power fluctuations.
  5. Have a plan on where you can work and alternative business processes you can use in the event that you cannot get in to your offices or have access to your systems.
  6. Consider your communications.  Do you have all the information you need to hand to divert telephone calls to your main number to another landline or mobiles?  Can you access your email via a web portal if your server is inaccessible?

If you need help to put together a DR plan or would like to look at remote backup or email continuity services, please contact us.

Email Demystified

Email Demystified

These days, email is an essential communication tool for any business. But there are many different hosting solutions out there so which is best for you?

Free or Paid For Account?

New email messageEmail is generally provided on a subscription service. There are companies that provide an email service for free, such as Microsoft and Google. These free services will only let you customise the first part of the email address, so you will get something like yourcompany@gmail.com or yourcompany@outlook.co.uk.

You will probably get some sort of email service incorporated into your broadband package, though again this will usually carry the providers domain such as yourcompany@btinternet.com or yourcompany@virginmedia.com.

These accounts will also be either POP or IMAP accounts. With POP accounts you dial in to a server to collect your email but the intention is that the email is downloaded onto that device and removed from the server permanently. This is OK if you only have one PC or laptop collecting your email but if you have multiple devices it can be difficult to get a synchronised email solution on everything.

IMAP accounts are better in as much as the email synchronises with the server and is left there for other devices to download. However, this synchronisation does not work 100% on all devices and there can be some issues with deleted items not deleting permanently, especially on Apple devices.

If you wish to use your own domain name then you would need to look at a paid for email service. After registering your domain, records can then be set to either send the email to your providers POP or IMAP account for you to download or onto you Exchange server (hosted or on-premise).

POP/IMAP or Exchange?

Apple emailAs mentioned before, POP/IMAP accounts tend to be provided as free accounts or as part of a hosting or internet connection package. In addition, they will only manage email and therefore there is restriction on using and sharing other information such as calendars, contacts and tasks, which many email clients, like Outlook, have the facility to manage.

Microsoft Exchange offers a more professional communications package. As well as email, Calendars, Tasks and Contacts can be shared and facilities such as mail forwarding and Out of Office messages easily set from the desktop.

The server also stores all mail and communication items (Incoming and Outgoing) and synchronises with all your devices. This allows you to access mail from phones, laptops and PC’s and all should remain current. You can also access this remotely from any web browser.

Many companies offer a Hosted Exchange service, whereby you can utilise all these features on a subscription service. Alternatively, you may prefer to purchase the server software yourself and host it on your own internal servers.

If you would like help and advice in setting up your email, or would like to get more from your communications solution, please contact us

What does Big Data Mean to You?

What does Big Data Mean to You?

Big Data – another buzz phrase in the IT world currently. But what does it mean and does it affect you?

As we all know, we are relying on electronic data more and more. There are few places that rely on paper kept records, maybe some legal, health and smaller manufacturing companies. But even these are migrating systems across from paper to electronic records.

Data-stream
Data stream image

This adds benefits, of course. It gives the ability to easily access and share data, to compare and interrogate data and (should) offer more security.

On the downside, as with paper records, the more data that is kept, the more storage is needed and the more processing power is needed to manipulate and search this data.

But what is Big Data? Basically, with more and more being kept electronically it gives the ability to create useful applications to search and manipulate the data to offer greater insights into trends and for continual monitoring. For example, Rolls Royce monitors every one of their engines on commercial airliners all the time they are in use. Important statistical data is fed back to the Company’s offices in the UK from all around the World. This data is then monitored by software which flags up any anomalies to the engineers, who can then contact the airline to advise if further action is required. It is preventative maintenance on a massive scale and, with a plane taking off from somewhere every few seconds, a massive amount of data. The scale of data, storage and processing power involved epitomises Big Data!

Banks-of-servers
Banks of Servers

So, that’s great for big, multinational companies but what about the SME? Does Big Data mean anything to them? In a word, yes. They may not have their own massive data centres or be collating millions of records themselves but, there are now facilities where data can be uploaded onto shared storage, giving smaller companies the ability to access vast amounts of data that is relevant to their industry, and from that many applications and trends are being spotted. An example of this would be where data on cycle accidents in London were made available on such a shared site. Someone then developed an app which took this data, analysed it and highlighted accident blackspots for cyclists around the Capital. A fairly simple but useful application, though something which the holder and collator of the original data had not done themselves.

However we love or hate the thought of our data being bounded around, Big Data is definitely here to stay. The next question is, how will you use it?

For a really useful insight into Big Data, catch up with BBC’s Bang Goes the Theory on BBC iPlayer from 24/03/2014 at www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer.

Choosing an IT Support Company

Choosing an IT Support Company

IT SupportWhether you have just decided to outsource your IT Support or are looking to change provider, choosing the right company to work with can be a daunting and time consuming process.

Here are a few tips to help ease the process and demystify the  world of IT Support outsourcing.

Do Your Homework – make a list of your strengths and weaknesses, your budget, plans for the future.  Be honest with future providers about these things as they will determine the cover to offer.

What Level of Cover is Needed? – Think about which areas of IT are important to your business i.e email or printing?  What hours do you need cover and how long can you afford to be down before assistance reaches you?

Telephone, Remote or Onsite? – Do you want an all-inclusive insurance style policy – one fee covers everything – or can you live with remote and telephone support, paying extra for someone to come onsite if you need it?

Small and Local or Large and National – Do you need cover for multiple locations or just have a single office?  Do you want to work with a smaller local company where you will get to know all the Engineers and they get to know you or look to a larger national company who may have more enterprise level expertise but have many more engineers and lack that personal touch?

The Final Choice – Make sure you meet with all your providers.  They should want to visit your site and check what equipment they will be supporting.  Ask to see a sample contract to check the small print.  Try calling the helpdesk number to see how easy it is to contact the company (you may need to check if they have a designated contract telephone number).

Choosing an IT Support provider should not be a quick decision based purely on cost.  There is a lot to consider from both parties.

For more information and for a more detailed copy of this article please click here.