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Whether you're purchasing brand new computers for a brand new department or upgrading the technology in your office, purchasing computers for your employees can be a stressful undertaking. Between different software and job requirements, personal preferences, and space and cost considerations, it can often seem impossible to buy the right computer for the right employee.

The process doesn't need to be stressful, however, and can actually play an important role in making your business more efficient as well as in cutting costs. In fact, determining the technology you use is a critical part of the operations of a successful business. Under-buy, and your employees struggle to accomplish their tasks in a reasonable time frame or have no computer at all if the device to needs to be sent away for warranty repairs. Over-buy, and you are paying for unused technology that is largely being wasted.

Finding the perfect middle ground is the key to making your IT budget really shine. This requires three distinct steps: first, inventorying job responsibilities and the employees who perform them; second, inventorying the software you use; and finally, putting together a set of minimum specifications while determining your long-term plans.

Inventory Job Responsibilities

The first step to successfully purchasing new PCs for your office is to determine what needs to get done and who needs to do what. In some companies, like law offices and medical practices, the requirements for each computer will be largely similar without any real deviations. Every employee will have more or less the same needs, and the purchasing process is much simpler because you can lump all employees into one category. In other companies, for instance printing, engineering, or architecture companies, the requirements can be wildly different.

A graphic designer will need an extremely powerful computer capable of handling the latest drawing software. Getting such a high-powered machine for a secretary who uses email, word processing, the occasional spreadsheet, and a web browser would be a tremendous waste of resources.

Also, if you have a mobile workforce, consider the weight, size of display and whether they will need 4G access in the field. Some staff may also need a touch screen for capturing signatures, or a tablet style for presentations.

So, the first step to figuring out the perfect employee PCs is to identify how many broad job categories that require separate PC purchases exist within your organisation.

Inventory Common Software

Now that you have broad groups that all require similar hardware, it's time to start identifying what kind of hardware each group needs. The first thing to do is to compile a list of the most commonly used software for each group of people. The easiest way to do this is to simply talk to your staff, or have them complete a questionnaire, about what programs they use and how often they use them. The latter is particularly important — your staff may use a high-end application, but it might not be worth buying a computer capable of running it extremely well if they only use that application every couple of months.

Keep in mind that this inventory process is also a good chance to look at your future software needs. Employees might have suggestions or requirements for software that you aren't currently using, but that might make their jobs significantly easier and make them more productive. Take these into consideration when putting together your list of common software.

Create a Minimum Viable System

Once you have the lists of common software used by the different groups, it's time to start putting together a set of specifications. This is where your IT department or outsourced IT company can really help. Go down your list of software required, and write down the highest system requirements from each one. This might mean mixing and matching the RAM requirements from one piece of software with the video card requirements form another, but at the end you should have a list that will meet or exceed the minimum level of every piece of software your teams are likely to run.

Now it's just a matter of matching PC hardware specs with your lists, right? Almost. At this stage of the process, you also need to determine how much future-proofing you might want to do — after all, you don't want to have go through a major upgrade next year, right? Some computers rarely need to be upgraded — for instance, requirements for major office suites haven't really changed much over the last few years, and aren't likely to change much in the near future. Graphics, video, and other specialised software, on the other hand, require fairly major upgrades every few years. Carefully consider how far over your baseline you want to go.

An important consideration is also warranty support. Best practice for business computers is a minimum 3-year next business day onsite warranty. As reliable as today's computers are - they still break down at the most inconvenient times and you need your staff to be productive as soon as possible.

Now that you have all your lists in place, choosing the right PC is as easy as matching hardware to software specs, and then finding the best, reliable source who will offer the right support after the sale.You should buy the least computer possible for each group of employees that you can while still allowing them to do their jobs effectively.

Remember, that although cost is always important, $1,000 saved only works out to $1 per day over the life of a PC. Compare that to the productivity gains of having the right PC for 3 years. Get that balance right, and not only will your investment last for years, you'll have a happier and more productive staff!

500+ LinkedIn connections can seem like a lofty goal. You have a business to run, and probably don’t have much time to dedicate to the platform. However, carving out the time to grow your LinkedIn network can prove invaluable as it will provide social proof to yourself or organisation and presents the opportunity to connect with new clients. So how can you get to 500+? Here are some ideas to get started.

NETWORK EVERY DAY

If you’re struggling to grow your LinkedIn network, you may not be spending enough time on the platform. If you want to become a power player, you need to use the social network often. So dedicate 15-30 minutes a day to network on LinkedIn, and make it a goal to reach 500+ connections.

JOIN AND PARTICIPATE IN GROUPS

Utilising LinkedIn groups presents an opportunity to meet other professionals (and eventually add them as connections) as well as learn and share valuable advice. The point is not to just join a group, but actively participate in them. This requires a degree of focus and smart selection.

How many groups should you join? Aim for around ten. This will ensure you have time to participate in each group and connect with its members. As for the groups you join, you’ll obviously want to join those in your industry, but you should also diversify. So choose five within your industry and five that relate to your other interests or provide you an opportunity to learn from its group members. Some suggestions to consider are an alumni group for your university, groups that represent causes/charities you care about, and groups that relate to a new skill you’re hoping to learn. Obviously, all the groups you join need to be active. If members only post in a group once a week, this is a red flag to avoid joining.

Once you’ve joined, you should spend some time each day contributing in at least five of your ten groups. You can ask questions, provide advice, or share valuable articles or original content you’ve created. Once you’ve developed a rapport with group members, you’ll have an easy, non-awkward way to connect with them. Remember, only join in groups in which you have the time to be active.

PERSONALISE YOUR “CONNECT” REQUEST

The less you know a person, the less likely they are to connect with you if you send a generic connection request. You know the one: “I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.”

Many people will simply ignore requests like this. This is why it’s important to include a quick note that either refreshes that person’s memory of you, mentions a common interest or connection you might share, or simply introduces yourself and your reason for connecting. The more personal your note the better.

USE KEYWORDS IN YOUR PROFILE

Just like Google, Bing and the other search engines, keywords help you get found on LinkedIn. Also, your Linkedin profile is often listed in web search results. Treat your profile just like your main message or "sales letter" on your website. Plant these keywords in your professional headline, profile summary, and skill endorsement section. How do you know what keywords to use? Think about what you want yourself or your business to be endorsed for. What skills or services do you have to offer your clients? For example, if your business specialises in web solutions, some keywords you may think about using would include SEO or “web content”. As for your skills, be careful not to choose keywords that are too narrow. For example if your business is in the financial services and tax preparation industry, don’t use the names of niche tax solutions you specialise in like “estate taxes” or “small business taxes” as your endorsed skills. Instead, choose more general words like “tax preparation”. By doing this, your connections will be more likely to endorse you as it’s a broader category. If you have specific product offerings, list them as different "jobs" in your listing of Experiences.

By following these tips and spending at least 15 minutes a day on LinkedIn, you’re sure to see the number of connections you have grow. And the more connections you make, the less work you’ll have to do to grow your network as more and more people will send you connection requests instead. This will provide more business opportunities and chances for you to meet new clients. If you’d like more ideas how to improve your social media efforts, feel free to email or give us a call at 1300-SENSIBLE (736-742).

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Reputation and image management has come a long way from being the vapid process it was decades ago. It is now vital to those wishing to find wealth, trustworthiness and entrepreneurial longevity, and nowhere is this more important than on the Internet. With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you establish your brand on the web.

Own the first page of search results

In his new book on online reputation management, Tyler Collins, a digital marketing expert for Fortune 500 companies mentions the importance of a company's search results that appear after pressing enter. These results make up the majority of a business or personal reputation online. For optimal results, it is advised that you occupy the first 10 spots (the entire first page of the search results), and within this number, there should also be a variety of related content such as positive reviews, media coverage as well as customer testimonials that contribute to the establishment of trust and credibility.

Paint the picture before the exhibition

Especially for entrepreneurs embarking on a new company, it is best to work on their online reputation before launching. This includes creating a brand, company name and message, all of which should help your business land the top 10 search results online. You should invest some time in thoroughly researching potential brand names to ensure your tentative company name has no negative associations.

Don’t forget the execs

Equally important to online brand management is the implementation of reputation management policies for key executives. While researching a company, potential customers don’t only take statistics and reviews into consideration but also the people that are involved with and leading the organization. This is why it’s absolutely essential that your key executives have a clean online reputation.

To achieve this, the company can create a dedicated bio for each executive that helps increase the search ranks of that particular executive’s name. The next step is to get (positive) media coverage whenever possible. Everything from blog posts to press releases and quotes in an online news story will help forge a strong and credible image for the individual, and in extension, for the company.

Ask for help when required

When times get tough, seek the expertise of specialists that help maintain and improve online images for a living. It is almost impossible to change a customer’s first impression of executives and the company, so investing in expert advice can turn out to be the most important step in creating and maintaining your virtual image.

We hope you find these four online reputation tips helpful. If you need more help creating a credible online image or are looking to utilize technology to establish a stronger online image, give us a call. Expert advice awaits.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

While some small businesses do not bother with budgets, they can be quite useful. Besides helping you manage costs, a budget can highlight areas where you might need to invest more resources. It can also keep you on track in meeting your financial goals.

Here are eight tips that can help you prepare an effective IT budget for 2016:

1. Take the Time

An IT budget is not something you can throw together in a day. It takes time and thought to create one that will help your company grow. It also requires input from your management team, as your IT systems are likely being used in many different areas of your business.

Further, an IT budget is not something you should file away and forget about once it is created. You should take time each month to check and update your budget as needed.

2. Look to the Present and Past to Predict the Future

A good way to begin your 2016 IT budget is to create a baseline budget that shows your IT expenses and income for the current year. You can then adjust it to account for anticipated changes in 2016. Examining your IT budgets from previous years can give you an idea of how variable revenue and costs have fluctuated from month to month, quarter to quarter, and year to year.

3. Do Not Try to Budget Down to the Last Cent

IT budgets are designed to only estimate where money will be coming in and going out. They are not accounting ledgers, so you do not need to account for every last cent.

Because you are just estimating your IT expenses and revenue, do not be surprised if your projections are wrong. You can adjust them as needed when you review your budget each month.

4. Align Your IT Budget with Your Company's Strategic Goals

IT systems can help or hinder a company's efforts to meet its strategic goals. For example, meeting the goal of improving customer retention is more easily achievable with a fast, reliable web ordering system than a slow, quirky one. Budgeting IT improvements in areas that support your company's strategic goals will help turn IT into a profit center rather than a cost center.

5. Budget for Hardware and Software Updates and Replacements

Many companies have outdated hardware and software because they do not keep track of when these resources should be updated or replaced. As a result, employees often use them until they fail. These failures can lead to many other problems, including lost productivity, security risks, and even system downtime.

A better approach is to use an asset management system to track when hardware and software need updates or are approaching the end of their life. That way, you can budget for upgrades and replacements. This will help you avoid the additional costs and hassles of dealing with failed hardware and software.

6. Invest in Measures That Will Improve Security

Cybercrime is on the rise, as studies by Symantec and ThreatMetrix show. However, many companies do not adequately invest in IT security.

A Spiceworks study found that 59 percent of IT professionals feel their organisations do not adequately invest in IT security. This is corroborated by the finding that those organizations plan to spend only 9 percent of their software budget, or 6 percent of their total budget, on security measures in 2016. Given the prevalence of cybercrime, spending more on security measures is a wise investment.

7. Do Some Calculations before Treating Cloud Costs as Operational Expenses

A Computer Economics study found that 56 percent of organisations plan to increase spending on cloud applications. In budgets, companies often list cloud costs as operational expenses so that they can increase or decrease them as needed. This gives companies more flexibility to meet financial goals. However, if you plan to use a cloud application for many years, it might be cheaper in the long run to treat the cloud costs as a fixed amortisation expense.

8. Do Not Postpone or Cancel IT Training to Reduce Costs

Training is a discretionary expense in budgets, so companies often schedule IT training later in the year. That way, if they need to reduce costs, they can simply delay or cancel the training and remove that cost from the budget. However, delaying or cancelling IT training can lead to more problems down the road, especially if it is security-related training for employees.

Remember, if you have the right IT partner, they will already include budgeting assistance and technology planning as part of their IT support agreement. We call this The Sensible Way to IT Management.

Call on 1300-SENSIBLE (736-742) or email : info@sensible.com.au if you would like some help with this process.

Developing strategies for business growth is a cornerstone of the modern organisation. Developing strategies to help avoid business loss is just as important, which means business continuity plans are critical. These documents provide detailed plans on how to keep essential operations running during an emergency in order to minimise losses.

Some organisations call these documents "disaster recovery plans."  Regardless of the terminology that your company uses, you need a system in place for getting through a crisis.

Here are four steps for creating a business continuity plan:

1. Perform a Business Impact Analysis

The first step in creating a business continuity plan is to perform a business impact analysis. To begin, list the processes that you use to deliver your products and services to customers. Then, catalogue the resources needed to power those processes. The resources often include employees, business partners, office buildings, IT infrastructure and other technology assets, and office supplies.

After completing this inventorying process, ask yourself how a crisis would impact your business. If a critical disk failure causes you to lose a week's worth of work, would you still be able to deliver your products and services? If a fire destroys your building or your computer system fails, how long would you be able to function without it?

To answer questions like these, you need to find out how long you would be able to operate in an emergency if you were cut off from your resources. This timeframe is known as the Maximum Tolerable Period Of Disruption (MTPOD). It represents how much time you have to either fix a problem or find an alternative solution. If you are unable to recover in time, you could be held liable for failing to give your customers the service or product that you agreed to provide them. For this reason, you should address legal liabilities and similar issues in your business impact analysis.

2. Prepare Specific Recovery Plans for Employees and Departments

Now that you know your MTPOD, you can set a goal for how long it will take you to recover. This is known as the recovery time objective (RTO). With the RTO in mind, you can start writing recovery plans for each department, team, and senior manager in your organisation.

These plans must list all the tasks that need to get done in a crisis and assign each task to a specific person. For example, in a plan that relates to a power failure, one employee might have the task of contacting the power company. Another employee might be in charge of checking the backup generator. A third might be responsible for maintaining the lines of communication between team leaders. After they have carried out these tasks, they can move on to the second job on their lists.

If your business contains many employees or departmental groups, make sure that your plans explain the departmental chain of command in an emergency. It is also a good idea to cross-train employees in the emergency tasks. That way, if one person is absent, busy, or incapacitated, a second staff member will be able to take that person's place.

Unfortunately, you might not be able to carry out your primary recovery plan because of some unforeseen detail or series of events. This is why you need to create a set of backup recovery plans as well. These secondary plans might assign the tasks to different people or carry out the tasks in a different order. The secondary plans might even have employees perform the tasks from an alternate location in the event that the office is out of commission.

3. Create a Battle Box

Battle boxes contain equipment and documents that companies need during emergencies. Your battle box should contain all the documentation for your business continuity plan, as well as the plans for each department and senior manager. Plus, it must include key pieces of information about your company's IT infrastructure, such as product serial numbers. Since communicating during a crisis is important, you also need to include contact information for all your employees and outside partners.

While these business-specific items are important, don't forget to include practical items such as a torch, a mobile phone, a laptop, a first aid kit, and a few bottles of water. For small companies, a single battle box should be fine. If your company is large, you might want to provide battle boxes for each department.

4. Practice for the Real Thing

When it comes to your business continuity plan, practice makes perfect. Running crisis simulations as part of your training program will help you determine how well your plan will work in real life. These exercises also let your employees feel what it is like to be in an emergency. That way they will be less likely to panic if an actual crisis occurs.

Some overseas companies like Amazon, Google, and Netflix take practice runs to the next level. They often surprise their emergency response teams by performing crisis simulations without any warning. While some businesses have in-house teams run and monitor crisis simulations, many other companies hire third-party facilitators for this job. These experts record a response team's actions during a simulation, analyze the results after the fact, and offer suggestions about ways to improve the team's reactions.

Besides performing emergency response drills, these professionals can help you develop your business continuity plan. Talk to your IT service provider about the ways in which an their disaster recovery specialist can help your business.

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