Posts for small-to-medium business users facing questions about their technical environment.

Just like the dashboard of your car helps you navigate safely to your destination, your business dashboard puts your most valuable information at your fingertips.

Data-driven businesses use dashboards to monitor key performance indicators (KPIs), metrics, and other key data points related to a business, department, or specific process. The idea is to give users a simple way to help your organization improve performance and streamline processes.

How can companies use business dashboards?

A well-designed dashboard can help to align organizational efforts, make fast, informed decisions, and improve business performance. Common objectives are to:

Align departments. For example, you may want to give the manufacturing department better visibility into the sales forecast for better demand planning.

Consolidate information from multiple software applications. Combining information from an accounting system like QuickBooks with a customer relationship management (CRM) system used by your sales teams can help you use your data to make better business decisions.

Track performance and spot trends over time. By comparing current data with historical data, like month over month or year over year, you can discover patterns, track KPIs, and drill down to find the root cause of any changes.

Detect anomalies. Companies can add automation that get triggered when various thresholds are reached or anomalies are detected.

Monitor business health. Key metrics can be used to measure performance.

Reporting vs. dashboards: Understanding the difference

Many companies still run using month-end and year-end reports. Someone usually has to spend hours manipulating Excel spreadsheets and mastering the art of the pivot table and PowerPoint to turn raw data into usable information. But even then, most reports only show what’s already happened.

By contrast, business dashboards provide near real-time data, and often allow the user to drill down to see the detail. Operational dashboards can be built for any set of users. They give organizations agility by providing users with the information they need to make informed decisions in the moment, like:

  • Adjusting the marketing budget based on campaign effectiveness or current lead flow
  • Re-routing service personnel based on weather or traffic
  • Shifting the production schedule based on inventory availability

While executive dashboards will provide the big picture with charts and metrics providing insight into the overall health of the company, comparing actuals to goals, most users will primarily use a departmental dashboard for their business area.

A financial dashboard might show:

  • Current bank account balances
  • Outstanding receivables and payables
  • Sales forecast for the next 30-60-90 days
  • Departmental budgets
  • Profit margins by category

Sales dashboards would contain completely different information, and might include:

  • Number of new sales inquiries
  • Customer acquisition charts
  • Rolodex of customer contact information
  • Sales pipeline broken down by rep, team, line, or sales stage
  • List of current discounts, promotions and marketing campaigns

Building better business dashboards

How do you actually create a business dashboard that’s meaningful and immediately accessible to anyone who views it? It’s easy to overcomplicate your design and wind up with a cluttered, noisy mess that’s not actually helpful for anyone. The company databox.com put together a great list of 21 practical tips for building better business dashboards. Their top ideas for getting started are to:

  • Know your Key Business Objectives (KBOs)
  • Understand your target audience
  • Keep the dashboard simple and relevant to the user
  • Create multiple dashboards
  • Make the dashboard visually appealing with plenty of white space and color-coding

Have questions? Looking for ideas?

The types of dashboards you need depends on your type of business. We can help you build analytical dashboards that give you insight into your customers and keep your entire team informed about current business operations.

Book a time with us to learn about your options. Based on your needs and strategic goals, we can recommend the right dashboard and reporting tools to help you achieve your strategic goals. From building a single dashboard to developing customized business metrics, our team has the experience to manage your analytics project.

IT quiz

What is in a good business dashboard?

A good business dashboard should track KPI’s, data performance, and key metrics.

Why do I need a dashboard?

A business dashboard is a major tool you should be utilizing. It tracks and analyzes your key data and metrics to monitor your business health and performance. You will get your answers quickly from a big glance at all operations.

How do I make an effective dashboard?

Eclipse Consulting is here to help you create a totally customizable dashboard for your company. We can create whatever you may want or need on your dashboard to track analytics.

How much of your email is real business email?

If you’re like most business professionals, you spend a lot of time keeping unwanted emails out of your inbox, while trying not to miss any messages from clients, colleagues and prospects.

You may use various tools like:

But no matter how many tools you have, educating your employees on how to identify malicious email is one of most important things you can do to enforce data security.

5 Basic email protection steps

  1. Don’t put your password on a sticky note on your computer monitor
  2. Don’t reuse the same (or similar) passwords, especially for email and other sensitive logins
  3. Give every employee and contractor their own credentials that can be revoked by an admin
  4. Use a professional business email system like Microsoft 365 or G-Suite, not consumer-oriented email platforms like gmail and hotmail, etc.
  5. Keep your operating system and anti-virus software up-to-date

3 Intermediate email protection steps

Our intuition can help us sense when an email “isn’t quite right.” While it would be wonderful to have a distant relative in a foreign country leave us millions of dollars, their attorney isn’t likely to contact us via email. Detecting fake and phishing email is getting harder as cyber criminals become more sophisticated.

As you go through your inbox, do a quick gut-check of each email message to see if it feels consistent with the sender’s previous correspondence. Look for these red flags that are commonly found in spam, phishing, and malware emails.

1. Check the email domain name

The reply address should be next to the sender’s name.

  • If it is an external sender, the full email address will be displayed in Outlook
  • For mobile users, tap the sender’s name to see the full address

2. Check where links go

Hover (don’t click) your mouse cursor over any links contained within the email in order to validate the link target and intent.

  • Address paths will appear at the bottom of Outlook
  • You can also right-click, copy hyperlink, and then paste into Word or Notepad (or other text editor) to see the full address

If the domain of the URL (immediately after the http or https) doesn’t seem consistent with the sender’s email domain or takes to a foreign address (.UK, .RU, etc), then be suspicious.

Avoid clicking on any links, opening any attachments, or replying to scam solicitations unless you are absolutely sure the email can be trusted.

3. Check for content legit-ness

Are there a bunch of spelling or grammatical errors? Does the request or email seem reasonable? Are they asking for personal information, like passwords or a social security number? When in doubt, verify. Let’s say you receive an email about a “questionable purchase”, rather than clicking on the link, open a new browser tab and go directly to the Paypal, Amazon or bank website. If a friend asks you for money, call them on the phone.

If you have doubts about the legitimacy of any email, please forward it to us for evaluation.

Advanced email protection steps

As IT professionals, we have access to a wide array of data security tools we can use to thwart spammers and minimize cybersecurity threats. The best way to determine which solution(s) are right for you is to book a 30-minute consultation with one of our team members.

Commonly asked questions

What should I do with the suspected malicious email?

According to Malware Bytes blog about how to spot the 5 email red flags, the best and easiest solution is to simply delete the email. You can report the email to your system administrator or use the Outlook /Google “report spam” button, but don’t use the sender’s “unsubscribe” tool. This only confirms your address is valid and can be targeted again in the future.

Finally, many banks and other financial companies have a special email address where you can send emails that you suspect to be phishing attempts. They will thank you if you are right about your suspicion. If you’re wrong and it is from them, they might consider changing their email practices to be less spammy.

Legitimate email senders will never ask for your password or sensitive personal information.

What can email malware do on your computer?

Most malware email attachments include code or exploits to cause your computer to download more malware from the internet. These email attachments are often small, customized, and not widely spread making them hard to detect by antivirus software.

In recent years, email malware is often ransomware which can delete or encrypt your files and backups even if they are stored in the cloud or on a server. Ransomware senders cannot be trusted to decrypt your files even if you pay and may spread to other computers on the network. The FBI does not support paying the ransom.

Email malware can also steal data from your computer such as passwords, bank logins, PayPal logins, other logins, or files, take full control over your computer.

What should you do if you’ve clicked a suspicious link?

CALL US or your IT administrator ASAP for advice about next steps. Change your passwords immediately. If you suspect you have a virus, disconnect your computer from the internet immediately. The faster you take action, the fewer other people will be impacted.

Be proactive in preventing malware

In addition to the tips here, our team of IT professionals can help you avoid malware problems by:

Give us a call to see how we can help you.

IT quiz

How do I know if this email is spam?

Do a quick gut check of the email. Does it feel consistent with the content you usually receive from this sender? Are there a lot of grammatical errors? Is the email domain name odd? These are common issues that come with spam/malicious emails.

What are signs of a scammer?

Most commonly: – You don’t know the contact off the bat – They’re trying to get your personal information – They ask for money through an unusual payment method, like gift cards – Poor grammar/language – Odd urls (ending in .UK, .RU, etc.)

If I opened the scam email, will I get hacked?

Viruses are commonly sent in phishing, malware, and spam emails. Hover over the urls to inspect their legit-ness. Don’t open the links!

How did a scammer get my email?

Scammers and cybercriminals can get your email address in a few ways. They search the web for the @ sign. They also use tools to scan the web and grab emails. If you publicly post your email address online, they will find it.

Whether buying a new server, new cloud storage, a new computer, or a new software program, you’ll want to think carefully about what information will move over to the new system.

The default is to just “keep everything,” but that’s usually a mistake. Just like when you move to a new office or house, moving systems creates a natural opportunity to purge items that are no longer useful to your business. To avoid cluttering up a new system with outdated information, we help clients develop a data migration strategy.

What is Data Migration?

Data migration is the process of moving data from one system to another. That could mean a data storage location, a database or an application. You will undergo a data migration anytime you:

  • Replace an existing application
  • Buy new computer hardware
  • Move to the cloud
  • Bring data into a new database or data warehouse
  • Build a new business process

The ETL Process

Data migration is a one-time process that moves data from one system to another. It doesn’t matter where the data is housed – on premises or in the cloud. The transfer of data can be as simple as export-import – or significantly more complex. If the records in system A and system B have different fields or a different schema, the data must be manipulated before it can be brought into the new system.

ETL stands for extracting, transforming and loading. In the ETL process, the data is first extracted from the old system, then it is transformed (either manually or with a software program) so that it fits the format of the new application or database. Then the final step is to load it into the new system.

data migration for small business

 

 

Types of Data Migrations and Their Challenges

Data migration processes happen on three levels – storage, database and application.

Storage migration

When you do a technology refresh, this is the time to identify obsolete data to reduce storage space and make it easier to quickly find what you’re looking for. We use a variety of storage migration tools to make this process fast and simple. However, what we can’t do is tell you what’s important to keep and what can be discarded. You have to decide that. We’ll ask you questions like:   

  • How many documents do you have with names like brochure-final4.docx? Do you need to keep the prior versions for any reason?  
  • Why you have the same content in more than one location? Is it for cloud backup? Or are you working around security settings in your systems to make the content available to different audiences?   
  • What is this obsolete content costing you? For example, video files take up a significant amount of space. While storage is relatively cheap, employee time is not. When you add up time spent dealing with system performance issues, organizing clutter, and looking for the right content, the overhead costs can become significant.  

Database migration

A database migration occurs whenever you change database vendors, upgrade the database software, or move a database to the cloud. In a database migration, IT professionals look for compatibility issues. Is there enough storage? Will performance be impacted? How do we protect records that require privacy or security? Are there integration points that can fail? Often, a database migration or upgrade is done in a testing environment before being moved to production.  

Application migration

An application migration is the most complex type of migration. The challenge is that each application has its own data model, so the data may have to be significantly manipulated before being brought into the new application.  

You want to think about the ramifications of keeping – or discarding – old records and historical data. For example, in an accounting system, you can start with an account opening balance or you can import every transaction. In a CRM system, you may want to purge anyone you haven’t talked to in a year. We help clients figure out the best application migration strategy for their situation.  

  • Will you have to keep the old system running in parallel – just in case? Could you transfer the data to a spreadsheet instead? Do you have compliance requirements you must adhere to? 
  • What is the value of that data? A company that sells SAT preparation tests to high schoolers has a finite time period to sell their solution. There’s no point in keeping a record of who was in high school 5 years ago. But a repair company may have a 5-10 year lifecycle between visits, and want to keep those records.  
  • How much does it cost to keep this data? Some applications, like email marketing software, charge by the record. Crossing from 4999 contacts to 5000 may cause the price to spike. If 2000 of those people haven’t opened your emails in 3 years, you’re better off deleting them in the move to a new application. 
  • Will system speed be impacted? How many users need to access that historical data or that legacy software feature? Can the old solution be retired? 

Data Migration Tools

The advantage of using IT professionals for your data migration is that we have access to a variety of tools to make the process faster and easier. If we can’t find a tool out of the box, we can sometimes build a script to make the ETL work easier. It depends on the scope and scale of the migration project, but in all cases, we look for ways to simplify and automate the process wherever possible.  

In many cases, the software vendor has tools we can leverage. Here’s one example of what Microsoft makes available for clients wanting to transfer hosting to the Azure platform: https://datamigration.microsoft.com/ 

Our Approach to the Migration Process

With the implementation of any new software, or development of any new database or application, we’ll discuss how to manage your legacy data and find an approach that best fits your business. In our planning, we’ll work with you to determine whether the data migration is a one-time data transfer process or requires ongoing data integration and management.  

We’ll look for ways to simplify your IT environment, seeing if we can consolidate databases, and make sure employees can access your systems from any device, especially when they’re not working on premises. In today’s environment, mobility and remote access is a requirement for any new system. That’s why many companies are moving to the cloud. 

Let us help you determine your application requirements and build streamlined business processes, so you have a solution that works for you now – and in the future.  Book a free exploratory session today!  

Why is data migration important?

Data migration is necessary when upgrading or consolidating your hardware storage or server. Data migration ensures that you don’t lose your data during the transition.

How long does data migration take?

Down time during data migration depends on the amount of data that is being transferred. Some migrations can take hours. Your IT professional can provide an estimate based on the scope of the project.

What is the ETL process?

ETL stands for Extract, Transform and Load. ETL plays a key role in the data migration process. It allows you to gather data from multiple sources and consolidate it into one location.

Is it hard to migrate data?

Data migration can use up a lot of labor if you don’t know what you’re doing. Hiring a professional will ensure a smooth migration.

According to Warranty Week, extended warranties are a $40 billion business. Manufacturers make lucrative margins on warranties, because they know that most people will never take them up on the offer. For personal electronics, extended warranties aren’t usually worth the money because the chances of needing a repair are low; the cost of repairs or even replacement isn’t significant; and you can usually live without the item for a while.

However, when you’re considering computer warranties for your business, you have completely different factors to consider. For that reason, we almost always recommend getting the extended warranty.

For workstations we recommend three year warranties, and on servers we recommend five. Most computer manufacturers will allow you to renew the initial warranty twice. After five years, most equipment is beyond its serviceable life and should be considered for replacement.

Why extended warranties on business computers are different

We think of warranties as the cost of doing business. Just like you wouldn’t buy a car without car insurance, buying computer equipment without a warranty is risky. For many reasons.

1.     Computer equipment is vital to business operations

If your server goes down and employees can’t work, you’re losing far more money than you would have paid for the warranty.

Without access to the same-day service warranty offered by the manufacturers, you may be waiting days or weeks for repair. If the server requires replacement, it will probably take two to three weeks for it to be delivered and configured.

In another scenario, we have a client that travels regularly for business (at least they did before the pandemic). Their risk of damage or loss is significantly higher than the average laptop user and the client didn’t want to risk losing a high-value client by not having a laptop. Getting the manufacturer’s extended warranty meant getting same day service or replacement, wherever they are in the world.

2.     Parts aren’t always available

Manufacturers typically keep an inventory of components exclusively available to their warranty customers. For older equipment, you may not even be able to buy the part on the open market. Equipment over five years old is usually no longer supported.

3.     The cost of replacement is high

A manufacturer’s original warranty is typically three years, but business computers are usually replaced every five years. For that reason, businesses are usually allowed to renew their hardware warranty to cover all five years. Investing in a server is a capital expense you can build into your business budget. When a server has to be replaced mid-way through its expected life, it means another large cash outlay. Plus, the costs can compound substantially because you also reconfigure other network components.

4.     Service costs

The manufacturer warranty includes professional services. A manufacturer rep will repair the equipment and bring it up to date with the latest software and security patches.

What happens if you never need the extended warranty?

Count yourself lucky! Just like you don’t want to get in a car crash to get value from your car insurance, the extended warranty provides peace of mind and protection for your business.

Businesses should continually be evaluating how to lower their risk. Buying extended warranties for computer equipment is one way. Doing regular business backups is another. And having an IT Partner you can rely on is the third.

If you’re looking for better IT service or support, please give us a try. Our small team is right-sized for growing businesses. We’re based just outside of Detroit Michigan, but ready to service companies anywhere in the USA.

 

IT quiz

Is it worth getting a warranty on a laptop?

For a personal laptop, it most likely isn’t worth it. However, you should invest in a warranty on a business computer.

Should I buy an extended warranty?

Most times on personal computers you won’t need to use your extended warranty. However, business computers should get the extended warranty, and sometimes can get extra time added to it for free.

What is a warranty on a computer?

A warranty for your computer is like insurance for your car. If something goes wrong, the manufacturer will repair or replace the pieces to keep your computer in top shape.

Do computers come with a warranty?

When you buy a brand new computer, it should come with a manufacturer warranty. Most times, this doesn’t last very long and to be safe you should purchase the extended warranty.

Computers. Whether you love them or hate them, every business depends on them. When your computer or a software program isn’t working correctly, it can be incredibly frustrating. So when should you call an expert for IT support? How can you get the best outcome?

When to Call IT Support

You want to have the right balance between having your IT team on speed-dial and staying up all night to troubleshoot a problem. Our recommendation is to:

1. Check all the obvious solutions.

  • Is the computer plugged in?
  • Are the cables connected tightly?
  • Is the monitor on?
  • Is the internet working?
  • Have you rebooted the computer?

We’re not trying to insult your intelligence. These things happen all the time. We once got a call because someone unplugged the server to plug in a coffee machine. Oops. Doing the basic perimeter checks saves time, money and frustration for everyone involved.

2. Spend 10-15 minutes diagnosing the problem.

  • What changed recently?
  • Is there anything new plugged in?
  • Was anything new installed?
  • What happened right before the problem started?

If you can’t figure it out in this short amount of time, document what happened.

3. STOP THERE. Call an IT support professional.

One of the biggest mistakes we see office professionals make is getting in over their head with do-it-yourself technical troubleshooting. They spend hours reconfiguring, reformatting, and reinstalling their system. By the time we get involved, the clues to “what happened” have been erased and overwritten, making the problem much more difficult to diagnose and solve.

Getting Better IT Support

We all know the quality of technical support can vary widely. At some point, every one of us has been on a call with a support technician who is completely clueless. Also, IT support may not be instantly available. You may have to wait. But here are some tips for getting the best IT support available for your business if you don’t have dedicated internal IT support.

1. Have a relationship with an IT service provider.

Some businesses prefer using a managed services provider that continually maintains their systems for a set recurring fee. Other businesses prefer to pay by the hour for a break-fix technical support. There are pros and cons of both approaches. But either way – pick an IT consultant and stick with them. They’ll get to know your business and you’ll get to know them.

2. Be kind. Be patient. Be calm.

Support technicians like to help people. You may be frustrated, but “you’ll catch more flies with honey” and have a better support experience if you keep your cool. If the support task will take a while, go grab a cup of coffee or work from a backup device if you can.

3. Document what happened.

Capture a screenshot or video when possible. Preserve the scene so your IT team can find clues to the origin of the problem.

4. Keep your systems up to date.

When systems go out of support (like Windows 7 for example) you will find fewer and fewer IT professionals who are willing or able to provide technical support. Any critical software program should be kept current.

5. Know your passwords, administrators and configurations.

For every one of our clients, we maintain a “red binder” that holds all essential information about the IT environment. When you have to reset passwords and track down who has admin permissions, it slows down the technical support process significantly.

And…ALWAYS have a reliable backup that you could restore if the problem cannot be fixed. Some problems are unrecoverable. Major malware attacks. Catastrophic hard drive failures. In these cases, the best option is to go back to the setup before the problem occurred.

If you’re looking for business IT support in Michigan or in the cloud, reach out to us. Our IT team is right-sized to give you personal attention and pragmatic advice. Reach out at support@eclipse-online.com or by calling 586.263.1775.

Low code vs. custom software development

Low code / no code applications are growing in popularity. These apps promise to give anyone the opportunity to develop functional, helpful applications. With simple drag and drop features, and API integration, these low code apps can become part of larger business processes.

Low code apps are primarily used in the following ways.

  1. Database capabilities. When a user wants more depth than Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, low code solutions provide a relational database that can be used to manage almost anything. For example, Airtable provides a growing number of user-created templates that are used to manage things like:
    1. Marketing campaigns
    2. Job applicants
    3. Projects
    4. Events
    5. Products
  1. Mobile apps, portals and websites. Solutions like Appy Pie and AppSheet allow businesses to create their own mobile application or website without knowing code.
  2. Business platform creator. Solutions like Monday and Kintone come with pre-built blocks to automate your sales, accounting, and marketing teams, to allow teams work from one central dashboard.
  3. Business solution extender. Microsoft PowerApps are designed to add functionality to Dynamics 365, Microsoft 365 and other Microsoft tools.
  1. Workflow and integration. Almost all low code apps combine data from multiple platforms. Either out-of-the-box or with solutions like Zapier, ITTT (If this then that) and Microsoft Power Automate, workflows connect popular apps and services to each other.

Low code apps sound great. Let’s go!

Hold on a second. Low code apps remove the need to know a programming language, BUT… that does NOT automatically make them easy to use – or the right solution for your business.

As a custom software development company, we see companies dive head-first into low code apps without a proper strategy or evaluation. The result is frustrated business users and half-baked solutions that create as many problems as they solve.

We’re not against low code apps.

We use them for our own clients when it makes sense to do so. But a solution (by definition) solves a particular problem.

Let’s say you own apartment buildings. You want a better way to document the condition of an apartment on the occupant move-in date.  You can solve this problem by:

  • Taking pictures and filling out a form. Scan and store those materials in a folder associated with the apartment unit.
  • Buy an off-the-shelf application that creates an apartment inspection report.
  • Use a low code app to create an apartment inspection report.
  • Use a custom developed application to create an apartment inspection report.

No matter how you decide to solve the problem, you need to define:

  • What information do you want to collect?
  • How will it be standardized and categorized? (Unit, Kitchen)
  • What level of detail is required? (Inside of oven?)
  • What field types best suit each item? (free form text, dropdown field with a scale 1-5, multiple choice options, etc.)
  • Where will the information be stored? (File, CRM system)
  • Are there conditions that trigger an action? (Dirty carpet –> Carpet cleaning –> Work order for maintenance)

That’s just a short list of questions for a relatively simple business process.

Only part of a software developer’s job is writing code. Much of the work is about properly defining processes and understanding the exceptions to that process. Think of low code apps like a power tool. They can make a job go faster, but only if you know how to build something in the first place.

10 common low code software issues

We want you to go into your next software development project understanding some of the common problems we see in all software development projects, but in particular, low code do-it-yourself (DIY) projects.

  1. Not gathering the requirements first. Just like the simple example above, you need to think through the steps of the business process before you begin creating it. Otherwise, what happens is that you may accidentally create multiple processes with conflicting rules – or realize you don’t capture that information in the first place.
  2. Not structuring the data correctly. Non-technical users find it challenging to structure the data correctly, to reduce the duplication of effort, but also to get the value needed from the software. Programmers think about how tables relate to each other, and how changing a record will impact other areas of the database.
  3. Over-complicating workflows. Start simply. Get one thing working correctly and build on it. When you have too many moving parts and too many systems involved, it can be difficult to understand where the process is breaking down.
  4. Not documenting your work. One of the lessons every young software developer learns is the importance of creating good documentation as they go. That way, if you’re getting an unexpected result, you go back to the last changes you made.
  5. Spending too much time on the wrong things. Do you really want to build and maintain your own app? It’s easy to spend hours learning how to use this low code app, only to find yourself having to learn more and more to accomplish what you really want. It’s also easy to get stuck on devilish details that make little difference at the end. Is this the right font? Should this red be more red?
  6. Getting deep into the project and realizing you’re stuck. You may run into scalability or security limitations that can’t be overcome. We see this all the time with companies wanting to replace Microsoft Access. If you eventually find that this low code solution won’t meet your needs, can you easily export the data to bring it into a different system?
  7. Having integration limitations. This may be hardware or software. Sometimes a low code app seems perfect for managing a singular task, like collecting data from an IoT device, but integration may not be easy – or even possible.
  8. Billing surprises. Billing can be by user, by record count, by systems involved or functionality added. Seemingly small expenses can add up, and it may be difficult to truly know the full expenses going into the project.
  9. Outgrow storage limits. Some systems (both low code and commercial) have storage limits. Once you exceed a threshold, you get bumped up to a higher expense tier.
  10. Limited reporting. One of the requests we get all the time is to build reports. How long did this process take? How did we do this season compared to last? Make sure your solution has the ability to get the reports you need to run your business.

If a no code or low code solution is capable of meeting your needs, we’re all for it… but when possible, we recommend building solid solutions that become foundational to your business.

Low code apps vs. software development

Some people believe the myth that custom software development is prohibitively expensive. Software development can be very affordable, and even a bargain compared to manually managing processes or trying to do-it-yourself to create your own database or app.

We primarily use Django, a Python framework that provides a fast, secure and scalable way to develop custom applications. While Django is not designed for the average business user, we think that’s a good thing. You can get what you need – with better performance – and without the trials and tribulations of doing it yourself.

As a technology advisor for growing businesses, our goal is to get you the outcomes you want. That may mean recommending an off-the-shelf / SaaS business application, a low code app, or custom software development.  We can help you consider all your options to make the best decision for YOUR business.

Reach out for a no-obligation 30-minute consultation to discuss your needs.

IT quiz

What is low code development?

Low code is an approach to application development that’s very visual and includes little to no coding to build. It enables people of all experience levels to create applications using drag and drop features.

Why is low code development important?

Low code development offers application development for those that aren’t very tech savvy. Companies must build applications to work across a wide range of devices. Low code makes that easy for any employee.

Why should I get custom software?

Custom software is specifically tailored to your business needs. You will get software with every bell and whistle you need, extra security and long-term support.

Can you build an app without coding?

Yes. There are plenty of no-code and low code app builders running around. Create an app in minutes, without any coding experience.

Microsoft Teams 101

Microsoft Teams is part of the Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) suite of solutions. This one-stop shop for businesses enables people to collaborate and communicate from one central space.

microsoft teams apps

Microsoft Teams replaces Skype for Business, and augments other features built into Microsoft 365,  like SharePoint, OneNote and Planner. You can also incorporate other popular desktop apps into Teams. Built-in enterprise-level security protects your data from cybersecurity attacks and data breaches.

As you might expect from the name, Microsoft Teams is built around the Team concept. You can have organization-wide teams, departmental teams, and project teams that include both internal and external users (depending on your security settings.) Within each team, you can have “Channels” that inherit the security settings of the Team and can be used to focus conversations around a project, topic, or client.

The real value of Teams is how much it does within one tool. You may want to consider using Microsoft Teams for:

1. Chat

Microsoft Teams is possibly best known for its chat features. Chat with coworkers or clients within Teams, Channels, groups of friends or one-on-one. If your organization allows guest use, you can chat with other Microsoft Teams users outside of your organization.

If you need to add someone to a group message after it’s been created, you can. You are able to include the prior chat history, part of it, or none of it. Use an @Person tag to call someone’s attention. Attach files, stickers, gifs, or emojis to your messages. With one click you can turn a chat into a video call or schedule a future meeting.

2. Video calls / phone calls

Zoom has become wildly popular as of late, but some people still have security concerns about Zoom. Microsoft Teams replaces the functionality of Zoom, but adds more features and natively integrates with Office 365 applications. You can call your team or anyone with Microsoft Teams. To call a landline or cellphone of a non-Teams user requires a Microsoft Office 365 Calling Plan.

Because Calls are integrated with Office 365 calendar, your status will automatically move to “busy” when you’re on another phone call or in a meeting. Host video calls with up to 250 participants, where you share your webcam, share your screen, or write on a whiteboard.

3. Calendar

You don’t have to move to Outlook to setup a meeting. Stay right in Teams to schedule a new meeting. The scheduling assistant helps you pick a time that all participants have open.

microsoft teams new meeting

4. File Sharing

Any file in your computer can be shared through Teams. SharePoint syncs natively with Teams, giving you access to company files through your Files tab. Other files can be created, uploaded, and seen under the Files tab in any specific team. How to share files.

5. Applications

Teams comes with thousands of applications to help you and your team thrive. Applications can be easily added to your team with one search. They have apps for analytics, productivity, sales, human resources, and some just for fun. Keep your team organized with a to-do list and scheduling app or keep morale high with an app for appreciation or recognition.

microsoft teams app search

If you’re overwhelmed with email and tired of cobbling together applications, take a look at Microsoft Teams. Microsoft is investing heavily into its development – and has even made it available free of charge for non-Microsoft 365 users. (Although, we have to say, the biggest advantages come from the Microsoft 365 integration.)

Want to learn more about Microsoft Teams?

As a Microsoft 365 Partner, we can help you understand your deployment options and get you off to a smooth start. Schedule a time with us and LET’S TALK.

 

Microsoft Teams FAQ

What is the difference between a team and a channel?

A team is like the company as a whole, and is made up of different channels. The channels are dedicated to a specific department, project, or topic.

Can a deleted team or channel be recovered?

Yes. Your admin should have access to recover a deleted team or channel. Go to your team, click more options > manage team. Go to the channels tab, find the channel in the deleted section and click restore.

How many people can be in a conference call?

Up to 20 people can be on the same video or phone call.

How to share files on Microsoft Teams?

Share a file in any chat you’re in. You can also go to the Files tab of a channel and upload or create a new document for all on the channel to access.

Are Microsoft Teams apps free?

Microsoft Teams integrates will all Office apps and offers more free apps with a subscription to Teams.

7 Work at Home Productivity Tips

The good news is that there are plenty of tools out there to help manage employees, keep coworkers connected, and help your office stay productive.  In our last post, we shared how to setup remote access to enable employees to work from home . This time, we’d like to focus on how to manage people and technology in a remote environment.

1. Use collaborative technology.

If you don’t already have Microsoft Teams or Zoom, now is the time to invest in these solutions.

As part of the Office 365 productivity suite, Microsoft Teams is a collaboration tool for with features like:

  • Conversation channels
  • Video conferencing and screen sharing
  • Integration with Office 365
  • Shared document spaces

Zoom is a video conferencing tool with features like:

  • Screen sharing
  • Chat messaging
  • Meeting recording
  • Breakout rooms

Both tools work on both PCs and mobile device. Microsoft has made Microsoft Teams available for FREE.  Zoom is always free, but with limitations.

2. Let employees working at home use office equipment.

If employees don’t have computers or extra monitors at home, consider letting them take their work equipment home from the office. Keeping the same tech set up will make for a smoother transition and increase productivity.

Forbes work from home tech tips

3. Move to Office 365 or G-Suite

Office 365 and G Suite are great tools to utilize at a time like this. They have great data security – even with everyone out of office. Both systems come with collaboration tools like:

  • Shared files
  • Shared calendar
  • Video conferencing
  • Documents can be edited simultaneously

Additionally, G Suite and Office 365 have tons of online support articles, live chat and telephone support. Outsourced technology professionals like us can help troubleshoot your problems and repair your systems if you’re having issues.

4. Encourage employees to create a dedicated office workspace.

There are benefits and challenges when working from home. Maintaining a work-life balance is always challenging, but especially when suddenly everyone is at home.  The kids. The roommates. The significant other.

One key to creating separation between home-life and work life is for each person to have their own space to work – and use that space ONLY for work. Even if the space is small, make it as functional and welcoming as possible. Create a spot near a window for fresh air. Buy a portable file cabinet to keep papers close to you, but neatly out of sight. Make sure you have a comfortable chair that supports your back and creates a good ergonomic position for working.

Mind Tools – working from home

5. Encourage employees to stick to a schedule.

Keeping a daily routine helps employees create normalcy. Encourage your team to keep getting up early, showering, and getting dressed for the day. It’s difficult to be in a business mindset when you’re in your pajamas and haven’t brushed your teeth.  Employees also need to schedule breaks for lunch – and quitting time for the day. When the lines between work and play start to get blurry, sticking to a schedule and a work space will make things clearer.

Employees can support their mental health by making time for:

  • Meals
  • Self-care
  • Exercise
  • Walks outside
  • Chats with friends
  • Cooking nutritious meals
  • Maintaining order in their space

These activities don’t have to cut into work time, and actually, in the long run, will make employees more productivity.

Stack Overflow working from home tips

6. Consider adding “water cooler” chats for employees to connect.

Most of us find friends at work and love catching up with them on our lunch and breaks. That can’t happen without the communal office. Create a channel for your team to stay connected and chat about fun, non-work topics. Boost morale by creating employees their own chat group or optional video conferencing time just for socialization. Starting with a silly riddle or trivia question can be a fun way to divert the brain quickly from work talk.

BBC Work from home the right way

7. Give employees the technology needed to be productive – and protect your business.

For some businesses, initially enabling employees to work from home was a mad scramble to keep the business operating. Now that it appears this situation may endure for a while, businesses need to think about how to improve remote operations to help employees stay productive and to protect business data. We’re seeing clients:

  • Buy anti-virus software for employee home computers
  • Invest in CRM software to enable better collaboration on sales opportunities
  • Setup VOIP software to route phone calls professionally to cell phones
  • Move their documents and file storage to the cloud
  • Improve software integrations

Providing secure, remote access for employees is not a “one size fits all” solution, but instead, requires a consultation to understand your unique needs. Use the form below or contact us at 586.263.1775 to get started.

Today, many people regularly work from home offices, coffee shops, and hotel rooms. The constant availability of the internet combined with the speed and performance of today’s laptops has made remote work easier than ever.

Remote work vs. in-office work

For various reasons, some employers discourage or don’t allow remote work. Manufacturers may feel it’s unfair to let operational staff work remotely when plant and warehouse workers have to come in. The office environment is naturally conducive to building friendships, fostering teamwork and encouraging collaboration. In an office, employees have fewer distractions and it’s easier to keep company information secure. You may not have the technology in place to allow remote work.

Amidst concerns about Coronavirus, employers who didn’t setup remote work capabilities in the past are now looking for ways to keep the business running. One of the easiest ways is to allow employees to work from home.

Obviously, working remotely and in-office are not the same. You don’t have the same fluid interactions between employees as when they’re within walking distance from each other. Paperwork and contracts can’t be passed around. Some software systems may only be available on premise.

So, what exactly do you need to do before letting your employees work remotely so they can be productive, and your business can continue to function smoothly?

5 Key Considerations When Setting Up Remote Access for Employees

1. Off-site data security

Decide which employees are eligible to work from home, and what software and systems you’ll make available to them. Most employees are loyal to your business, strive to act in a professional manner, and would never intentionally cause a data breach. Despite good intentions, studies show that employees are consistently the top source of data security breaches.

In the office, you can have layers of firewall protection and data security monitoring built into your local area network. Offsite, you can implement security protections in various ways.  However, if you don’t already have the technology in place, it will take time to setup.

Some of the simpler ways to enforce data security standards are by:

If your company works with sensitive information, you want to be especially careful in setting up remote access. You’ll want to limit access, printing or downloading for records like:

  • Patient health records
  • Trade secrets
  • Sensitive financial or security information
  • Compliance or legal data

In addition to working with the software vendor to configure the application security settings, call an IT Service Provider like us (586.263.1775) to help setup the remote working environment.

2. Devices used for remote work

Decide who will provide the computers and laptops employees use for remote work. If your company buys them or allows employees to take company equipment home, you have more control about what you allow on the device. Make sure your employees are familiar with any new IT Policies related to remote work equipment.

Microsoft Office 365 and other IT vendors have software available that enables employers to wipe remote devices in the case equipment is lost or stolen.

3. Enabling secure off-site file access

What about file access? If employees aren’t working in the office, how can they access company files? You have two main options here – a VPN or the cloud.

VPN – Virtual Private Network – You can restrict access so that employees must exclusively connect through a VPN, providing a direct, encrypted connection between their remote device and the main office server. This is a way to offer full, but secure access to remote employees. Be prescriptive about which VPN tools employees use. Consumer-grade free VPN applications may expose your company to malware or adware. Learn more in our prior article about setting up a small business VPN.

The other option for file access is to use a cloud software like G-Suite or Office 365. If you already have a cloud software set up, you’re good to go! If not, migrating to the cloud is a great way to keep files secure while giving employees access to their work anywhere.

Both G-Suite and Microsoft Office 365 can be set up relatively quickly. If you have a large amount of data or lots of users, the process will obviously take a bit longer, but is worth it in the long-run. These software suites include email, calendar, spreadsheets, documents and a whole host of other business productivity tools. See which Office 365 applications are available, depending on the plan you select. We are happy to help you figure out the most expedient and practical way to get started.

4. Video communication tools

You probably already rely heavily on email for communication. That likely won’t ever change. What does change with remote work is that you should consider adding a video communication tool to share desktop applications and see friendly faces via webcam. Video communication tools to keep everyone in touch and on task. Some of our favorite tools are:

  • Microsoft Teams
  • Google Hangouts
  • Zoom

5. Set expectations for remote employee work

Let everyone know your expectations for office hours, availability, and results expected. Especially when remote work is new, make sure employees know how to login, how to communicate and who to call if they experience technical difficulties.

Working remotely can be challenging for everyone at first. Don’t get discouraged.

Keep in mind that some employees will have difficulty working from home. They may have children or other family members clamoring for their attention. They may not be comfortable with video chat and need extra time to learn technology and change their processes to find new ways to collaborate. Be patient and keep in close communication. It’ll make the entire process run much more smoothly.

Need help setting up remote workers?

We’re here to help – as much or as little as you need. We can do everything from ordering and shipping laptops, to setting up remote access, to helping review your IT policies and procedures. Our team is here to help your business thrive by supporting remote work through a strong business continuity plan.

Give us a call at 586.263.1775 or email info@eclipse-online.com.

 

Working remotely FAQs

How to help your employees working remotely?

Make sure your employees feel safe, connected, and know how to get in touch for questions. Set goals for your workers, check in frequently and be proactive.

Are there benefits to remote work?

Remote work gives you a lot more flexibility to balance work and home life. You no longer have to commute, saving time and money. Remote work can also eliminate regular office distractions, making you more productive.

How good is Microsoft Teams' security?

Microsoft has a built-in enterprise-level security system in place.

How do you help your employees working remotely stay productive?

Keep in contact with your employees and make sure they stay in the loop. Advise them to take breaks as they would if they were in office, and to create their own special work environment at home.