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.

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.

How many software programs do you use to run your business? Do you even know?

With the rise of online hosted software applications, you might have quite a few. You login and logout of different applications all day long without even considering there may be an easier way to work.

Clients often tell us “everything is in QuickBooks” or in their manufacturing system, but when they step back and reflect on overall operations, they realize that’s not true.

  • Orders are coming in through their eCommerce website
  • Sales being managed in Outlook or in a CRM system like Hubspot
  • Emails being sent to customers using MailChimp
  • Support is being managed with ZenDesk

Missing the big picture

While each department is self-sufficient and able to get their work done, having siloed business systems eventually creates problems because you don’t have a full view of your business. Some real-world recent examples we’ve seen include:

  • Salespeople trying to sell to customers with large overdue balances.
  • An inventory system with 5000+ SKUs, detailed product descriptions, shipping weights and cut sheets that don’t exist in QuickBooks, making it difficult for the company to get a detailed understanding of profitability by product.
  • The customer updates their address in the online web store, but because this information isn’t updated in the manufacturing system in real-time, the order is sent to the wrong address, creating extra expense and an unhappy customer.
  • Online orders come into a salesperson’s email inbox, which then has to be typed into the manufacturing system, leaving room for error.

There are hidden costs when your business information is disconnected like this because you can’t see the full picture. Connecting your systems will give you new insight and save you a lot of trouble in the long run. Integrations will also improve your business by:

  • Reducing human errors made because of multiple systems
  • Cutting down data security risks with fewer systems and passwords involved
  • Offering a full view of your business from angles you’ve never had before

Developing a streamlined process

Before we actually do any software integration work, we help clients come up with a process for updating the multiple systems to decide:

  • When should a record or system be updated?
  • Which system takes priority?
  • What’s the “one source of truth”?
  • Who has authority to make changes?

Sometimes these processes are straightforward:

Other times, these processes are more complex, and need to be flow-charted:

  • Is this a multiple item order?
  • Do we have all the inventory in stock?
  • Are there raw materials in stock?
  • Do we need to manufacture or assemble any of these items?
  • Are these all fast-moving inventory items?
  • Can we have items drop shipped?
  • Should we split the delivery?
  • Which warehouse should we ship from?

Signs that software integration should be considered

See how many of these apply to you:

  • You don’t trust the data.
    • You have to check multiple systems to make sure information is correct
    • You spend a lot of time in meetings, on phone calls and walking down the hall to clarify and verify information
  • You’re spending too much time on low value administrative work
    • Employees are re-keying information into multiple systems
    • You have spreadsheets for everything
    • Employee turnover is high because the work is boring and repetitive
  • Mistakes are happening
    • You can’t deliver because the parts aren’t in stock
    • Customers aren’t getting the right information or shipments
    • Information is mis-typed from one system to another


You’ve decided. You need to integrate your software applications.

Once you’ve decided that integrating your software applications is something you want to explore, give us a call. We’ll help you understand what’s possible and how to achieve your goals.

If your software has API access, we may be able to get away with low-cost integration tools without having to create a custom code. There are a few low-cost tools on the market like Zapier, Microsoft Flow, and IFTTT.

If these aren’t enough, we can recommend how to use software development to integrate your systems.  We’ll work with you to understand your business, goals and systems to make a recommendation that best fits your needs.

 

LOOKING FOR SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT EXPERTS?

Every day we see how profoundly software development can make a difference in our client’s businesses and lives. Software can dramatically increase efficiency and reduce frustration. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help, schedule a call with us! 586.263.1775.


Why is system integration important?

Integrating your software systems is important because it’s the easiest way to stay up to date with our evolving technology. An integrated system will cut down data security risks, streamline your processes and reduce errors.

What are some benefits of system integration?

Benefits of integrating your software are: • Reduced costs • Streamlined process • Easier collaboration • Less security risk • Reduced errors

What is involved in software integration?

All of your current systems will become one system without duplicate information. This will streamline your process and reduce errors. Find a software development team to help you get started.

What are examples of integrated software?

Software integration is many systems becoming one. An example of integrated software is Microsoft Office – containing most programs you need in an office (Word, Excel, Outlook etc.)

With all the news about data security breaches and malware attacks, businesses are finally starting to take network security more seriously… as they should!

Downtime and data loss can have a devastating impact on a business. Small businesses are not immune from criminals with malicious intent. In fact, 43% of cyberattacks target small businesses because they know they’re more likely to be unprotected.

Protect Your Computer Network

Small business data security is becoming increasingly important. We’ve already covered the importance of tested backup and recovery procedures, two-factor authentication and good password protocols, so let’s turn our attention to business firewalls.

Business firewalls are a critical component of network security, but they don’t seem to be well understood. We get lots of questions from clients, like:

  • What is a firewall? How do they work?
  • Do we need one? Do we already have one?
  • Is firewall software, hardware or both?
  • What’s the best business firewall for our company size or industry?

The basics: What is a computer firewall?

A firewall is a filter between your internal computer / network and the Internet. A firewall stops unauthorized access by closely monitoring network traffic. Security rules define the activities and sources that are allowed and blocked.

A firewall can be hardware, software or both.

Business Firewalls vs. Personal Computer Firewalls

Windows 10 comes with an excellent built-in firewall. Microsoft system administrators can create group policies to manage individual computer firewall settings. However, when a business has an internal computer network and servers, they’ll also need a business firewall.

We’ve worked with various vendors, but when it’s up to us, we recommend WatchGuard Firewalls for a few reasons:

  1. WatchGuard is well-known, reliable and reasonably priced.
  2. Security rules and settings are all kept in one place.
  3. Their solutions scale to meet client needs and budgets
  4. Our team has expertise with WatchGuard solutions.

Firewall Security Rules

Your business users need to communicate easily and safely with the outside world. Firewalls can manage inbound traffic or outbound traffic, or both. We believe it is best practice to keep all security rules all in one place when possible.

Inbound firewall rules protect your business from external cyber security threats. It scans network traffic to protect against:

  • Malware (viruses, phishing, ransomware)
  • Denial of Service (DoS) attacks that attempt to overwhelm system resources
  • Disallowed connections

Security rules can be set to allow or block specific ports, services and IP addresses. Some companies geo-fence their network, disallowing all traffic from countries like Russia and China.

Outbound firewall rules are less common, but can be used to:

  • Lock down sensitive data
  • Protect from malicious activity by internal users
  • Bar employees from visiting inappropriate sites while at work

Certain applications like Microsoft Active Directory have their own version of filtering that can be used for specialized functions like content filtering of email.

NOTE: If you are unfamiliar with firewall security rules, this is NOT an area to become a do-it-yourself IT professional. Firewalls are not plug-and-play devices, and improper setup can either thwart employee productivity or worse, create leave the cybersecurity door wide open, while giving users a false sense of security.

Firewalls and Anti-Virus Software

Having a firewall in place does not remove the need for anti-virus software. Anti-virus software adds another level of protection, monitoring individual files. Think of the firewall as the walls of your office building, and anti-virus software as security guards roaming through the building.

Firewalls and VPN Access

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. VPNs are primarily used to allow remote employees and contractors to securely access the internal computer network. They can also be used to protect your privacy online.  The VPN acts like a tunnel that encrypts communications as they’re sent back and forth. Learn more about how to setup a small business VPN and how to allow secure remote access for employees.

Firewalls and Cybersecurity

Business firewalls are part of an overall cybersecurity plan. We put together a self-assessment that will enable you to see areas of risk. If you are looking for new IT Services Provider, please reach out for a free IT consultation.

 

business technology quiz

Is QuickBooks Your Main Source of Customer Information?

Small business owners and managers need to be able to answer questions like:

  • Who are your best customers?
  • What’s your average customer sale:
  • What’s the lifetime value of a customer?

If you’re like many small businesses, you may go to QuickBooks or your accounting system to find these answers. But usually Quickbooks only has SOME of the information, and SOME of the tools you need to manage customer relationships.

Information Outside of QuickBooks

Many companies use QuickBooks to maintain their master customer records, but may just use email, files and folders to manage:

  • Customer Support Requests
  • Sales Proposals
  • Customer & Prospect Communications

If you’re a very small business, this ad-hoc approach may work just fine. But as you grow, you may want to consider combining QuickBooks data with a customer relationship management type of application.

The Risk of Data Silos

As we shared in our post about small business data silos, when accounting records and sales records are maintained separately, you run risks like:

  • Promising out-of-stock product
  • Selling to customers who have accounts past-due
  • Having mis-matched data that’s been updated in one system, but not the other, and losing sight of which information is correct

But those are just the most obvious problems… the real gaps run much deeper.

Gaining Insight from Information

We find that most of our clients are looking for new ways to understand their customers – insights that won’t show up in a QuickBooks report.

 Trends

  • What are the trends in your business?
  • What’s driving those trends?
  • Are you being impacted by your competitors changing their pricing, offerings or business model?
  • How do you need to react to either minimize your risk or capitalize on the opportunities?

Negative Notifications

We’re so accustomed to receiving notifications and alerts that without “negative notifications” critical activities can go unnoticed.

  • Customers who’ve stopped buying from you
  • Sales opportunities that you lost, and you don’t know why
  • Clients who are becoming increasingly disgruntled
  • Activities that are the most profitable / unprofitable

Qualitative Insight

The one thing missing from many customer relationship management software programs is information captured about the customer.

  • Customer’s personality and personal details
  • Technical savvy-ness
  • Roadblocks and obstacles
  • Other decision makers

Bridging the Gap Between Accounting and Customer Management

There is no one “right way” to manage customer information. Before we make any recommendations about what to buy or what to do, we first seek to understand what you want to measure and what you’ll do with the gathered information.

Only then can we help you decide:

  • Which small business software you need
  • Where and how information will be captured
  • How your systems will stay in sync – do you need custom software integration
  • Which system will maintain the “master records”
  • What reports need to be regularly run

Ready to find a better way to integrate your sales and accounting information? Request a FREE consultation and we’ll help you explore your options.

Request a Tech Check

 

In the not-so-distant past, the standard way to buy small business software was to buy the number of licenses you need, install the software on a server or on all the company’s workstations, and periodically upgrade the software to a new version.

That model is quickly becoming obsolete as more software vendors have moved to the SaaS model of software delivery.

What’s is SaaS?

SaaS stands for Software-as-a-Service. Rather than buying software, you pay a monthly fee to access the software you need through a cloud computing environment.

What are the benefits of SaaS solutions?

While one might argue that the primary reason software companies have moved to offering SaaS solutions is for the recurring revenue model, SaaS customers actually have a lot to gain by switching to a SaaS solution:

  • No big upfront software and hardware costs.
  • Upgrades are automatic and continual.
  • Data is often significantly more secure than when it’s hosted on a company server.
  • Often, licensing can flex as your business needs change, allowing you to easily add or remove functionality and user licenses.

One of the complaints we hear is that with a SaaS solution, you’ll NEVER own the software. The recurring software licensing fee continues as long as you continue to use the software. As an IT Services provider, we see lots of old homegrown databases and small business software solutions that aren’t costing the company much money-wise but are creating risk. Over time, the software becomes unsupported and the data becomes unreliable.

Are you evaluating SaaS solutions?

Today, every business is a technology business. Unless you’re still working in an old-school, paper-based environment, practically any small business software solution you’ll consider will be primarily available as a SaaS offering. In a prior article, we shared how to evaluate cloud vs desktop software.

In this article, we’ve put together the top 10 SaaS considerations to help you select a system that’s stable, secure and will help your business leverage technology for growth.

10 SaaS Evaluation Criteria

1. What are the capabilities of the system?

SaaS vendors love to position themselves as an all-in-one solution. You see this offered in many popular sales and marketing programs such as:

  • Hubspot
  • 17 Hats
  • Infusionsoft

Some SaaS vendors do a better job of delivering on this all-in-one promise than others. Your job is to evaluate what you need, what you’ll use, and what the software does well. Email marketing may mean sending outgoing emails only – or it may mean advanced marketing automation. The details can get hidden in the fine print.

It can be very easy to get caught up in the bells-and-whistles of the software, or to make assumptions about what a feature means, only to find out later that the software you just purchased is missing a key function needed for day-to-day functioning.

SaaS software evaluation criteria

2. What’s included at each pricing tier?

We hate to see clients run into a “that costs extra” situation, where they can’t get the functionality they need unless they spend more money to buy upper-tier licenses. Unfortunately, it’s common for marketing information to be unclear, often because the software is being consistently improved.

Microsoft Office 365 is a great example of the need to understand licensing limitations. You may read online that you can integrate VOIP calling functionality into Office 365, not realizing that capability only exists if you buy a certain license type. A thorough evaluation and advice of an IT professional is helpful when trying to determine licensing needs.

3. How do you know your data won’t be hacked?

Major vendors like Microsoft, Google, Amazon have multiple levels of security in place that is continually and extensively tested to thwart cyber criminal activity. Studies have repeatedly shown that – despite the increase in cyber security breaches – your data is actually much safer in a cloud-based SaaS solution than it is on a physical server in your office.

If you’re working with a smaller SaaS vendor, you need to ask about their data security policies. In addition, your company needs to take steps to create and follow IT policy and procedure best practices. The best lock in the world won’t keep criminals out if you leave the door wide open.SaaS data security

4. What’s their privacy policy? How do you know they won’t sell your data?

As the saying goes, “If the software is free, you are the product.” Many social media sites are monetized through advertising. In asking this question, your job is to understand how they will use the information stored on their servers, either in aggregate or through targeted marketing.

5. How can you ensure the SaaS vendor won’t lose your data?

What are their backup and recovery policies? Do they offer a service level agreement with an up-time guarantee?

Technology start-ups are particularly vulnerable to data loss. They may be cash-crunched and cutting corners to put all their time and energy into feature enhancements to gain new customers. Only when tragedy strikes – a hurricane, fire, flood or burglary – do they realize that their backup process failed – or that it will take weeks to get back up and running on a new server. There are countless stories of software companies that have vanished overnight, leaving their customers without critical accounting, customer or sales data.

With so many readily available, and affordable cloud-hosting backup solutions available, data loss is inexcusable. Don’t let a SaaS vendor’s mistake cost you your business.

6. How easy is it to setup the new system?

 Moving to a new software system usually isn’t as simple as just downloading your existing records and then re-uploading the data into the new system.

  • What needs to be done to clean up existing data before it’s imported into the new system? Migrating to a new software program presents a great opportunity to clean out old and unnecessary information. Do you need to be able to access historical information? If so, how will you accomplish that goal?
  • What new opportunities exist with this software that’s weren’t possible in the past? Where do you need to change your procedures to capitalize on your technology investment?
  • What decisions need to be made up front that will be hard (or impossible) to change later?
  • Who will do the setup? Can you setup the system on your own? Does the SaaS vendor or its partners offer technology consulting services to help get the system properly configured?

7. How easy is it for users to learn the system?

User adoption is critical – yet training for new software is often overlooked. Software companies go to great lengths to make their software easy to use, and especially to look easy in a demo. The software may in fact be easy to use – once you know where to look.

  • Naming conventions may be different. What’s an account vs. a customer? What’s a lead vs. a list?
  • Functions may be hidden in unexpected places. If you’ve been using QuickBooks forever, switching to FreshBooks or Wave may leaving you scratching your head on where to find features that you know must exist, but they’re not on the page where you’d expect to find them.
  • The software is always evolving. As updates are published, how are new features communicated to users? Do they send out emails, create walk-throughs, or expect you to regularly visit their user forum?
  • Is onboarding available? Many SaaS vendors offer a series of videos and walk-throughs to orient new users to the system.

8. Is software customer support included? What types?

Software support can be free or paid; self-service or on-demand. Before you become a customer, ask about customer support options like:

  • Live chat
  • Help “More Info” Icons within the software itself
  • Phone support
  • Support hours (Is it 24/7/365? Is it OK if it’s not?)
  • Blogs and forums
  • Help desk ticketing
  • Facebook community pages
  • Vendor or partner consulting services

9. Can we connect this software program to other software systems? Can we extend or customize the software?

In a prior post, we shared how important it is to select small business software with API Integration. Small business data silos create problems because it’s so easy to lose sight of the “truth” and only see one aspect of the business. Ask if the software works natively with Zapier, PieSync or other integration tools. Look and see if they have software partners that extend the functionality of this solution.

10. What happens if I leave?

Can I take my data with me? How can I download it? You don’t want to spend years and years building your business online, only have to have it disappear. Even social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter provide you with options to download your history.

Any SaaS solution you evaluate should make it easy to leave – and allow you to take your data with you.

Are you evaluating SaaS Solutions right now?

Let us help you select and implement the right small business software solution. Contact us for more information.

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