5 Collaboration Tools to Disrupt Your Business (in the Best Way Possible)

Collaboration can mean the difference between success or failure in an organization. In fact,one survey found that 86 percent of people attribute workplace failures to lack of collaboration.

In today’s era of distributed teams and remote workers, technology plays an essential role in collaboration; it can shake up the status quo in a good way. For instance, tools employing artificial intelligence remove the drudgery and add predictive suggestions, making collaboration faster and easier. And today there are new types of collaboration tools which weren’t around a few years ago.

Here are five collaboration tools that will disrupt your business in the best way possible.

Video Conferencing Tools

Not that long ago, video conferencing was hard to set up and thus used infrequently. Fast forward to today, and it’s becoming a routine way of collaborating. Some small businesses and departments use it daily, because the cost of the apps has come down, bandwidth and network speed has increased making connectivity more reliable, and the ease of use has improved.

The best part is, today’s video conferencing tools are nearly device agnostic. You can now participate in a conference on your smartphone, tablet, computer, or television. Popular tools includeWebEx and Zoom which are full featured solutions for businesses of all sizes.  GoToMeeting, Join.me, and Skype for Business are alternatives. And if you want to disrupt things even further, share your video meeting with a group on Facebook Live — apps like Zoom let you broadcast instantly to your Facebook Page.

Voice Collaboration Tools

There are multiple times throughout the day when you just need a fast answer from someone. But what if you’re on another floor or in another town?

Sure, you can pick up your landline or smartphone, or send an email, but then you may get voicemail or have to wait hours for a reply. Today’s enterprising entrepreneurs instead turn to cloud voice messaging applications. These applications can remain open and persistent on your desktop while you work. They typically show whether the person you want to reach is available, and they offer both instant text messaging and voice calling.

Add in the ability to share screens and send files, and they’re easier to use than email or phone calls when you need fast answers throughout the day.Nextiva has such an application for fast voice collaboration, but you can also take a look atSkype and Google Hangouts. Voice collaboration tools like these make your company nimbler and faster–minimizing countless small delays each day.

Project Collaboration Tools

The earliest project management tools were essentially glorified calendars and spreadsheets, mainly used to track deadlines and responsibilities. Today’s project management tools still help manage deadlines and responsibilities, but do much more by integrating sophisticated collaboration features, including shared file storage, places for team members to leave comments and ask questions, as well as instant messaging, screen sharing and conferencing–all in one virtual workspace.

These improved tools can bring team members together no matter how spread out in the real world, so everyone knows what everyone else is doing with scheduling, communications, file management and coordination features in a single dashboard.Slack revolutionized this space by taking the friction out of project workflows, through collaboration features.Trello andBasecamp also place heavy emphasis on collaboration.

Visual Design Collaboration Tools

Are you still going through the time-consuming process of back and forth calling, traveling and lugging around blueprints and sketchbooks, or individually emailing mockups? Whether you are a developer designing a website or an app, or a photographer, architect, landscaper or interior designer, visual design collaboration tools have the power to transform how you work with clients.

One of the challenges creative professionals face is finding common ground with their clients and other team members during the iterative design process. Effortless collaboration and the ability to easily obtain feedback on visual work product is key.GoVisually,InVision,Mural,Concept Board, andPrevue are examples of today’s visual design collaboration tools.

Mobile Collaboration

Today’s mobile collaboration solutions are able to exploit features on smartphones and tablets so you can collaborate from almost anywhere.

You can push email, contacts, calendar, and tasks with continuous sync across devices while monitoring projects and assigning and sharing tasks on the spot.Avaya Mobile Collaboration andIBM Mobile Collaboration Services offer robust solutions, but you can also try8X8,Asana andHuddle for more affordable options.

Finally, remember there are many collaboration solutions in the marketplace. Do some research into what’s available and you might just change the way you and your team work with others–for the better.

Hack-Proof Your Company’s Wi-Fi

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Wi-Fi is now an essential tool used by businesses internally, as well as an expected feature by customers frequenting a business.

With such a high adoption rate on both sides of the business ecosystem, securing Wi-Fi networks and connectivity is a top priority.

Experts have already exposed vulnerabilities in even the most secure Wi-Fi technology. These vulnerabilities have prompted groups like the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon to issue advisories about Wi-Fi vulnerability.

Here are 10 steps you can take to secure your small business Wi-Fi and make hackers look elsewhere for softer targets:

  1. Start with a secure business Wi-Fi router. It all begins with getting the best router, with security and functionality in mind. Consumer and business routers differ, so make sure you get one capable of handling your specific business requirements. A business-class router gives you more configuration options and increased capacity as well as VLAN, multiple SSID support, integrated VPN, and more.
  2. Lock it up for safety. This sounds obvious, but you have probably seen many routers in clear view of the public. The danger of leaving your router where it can be accessed is, simply hitting the reset button will get around any security measures you have established. Lock your router up so only authorized personnel can access it.
  3. Update your firmware and software. Make sure you always install the latest update for your router’s firmware. While you are at it, you should also update the security software of any of the devices accessing your business Wi-Fi. Depending on the systems you have in place, you can automate the updates to ensure you are protected from any new vulnerabilities. Automation is usually the best option, so you don’t have to rely on anyone finding the time to do it.
  4. Use WPA2 or WPA2 enterprise. An enterprise version WPA2 gives you more control so you can define the usernames and passwords for the people using your Wi-Fi. It may mean setting up your own server, but if you don’t have the expertise or resources to do so, such services can be outsourced. This makes it affordable and leaves all the technical aspects of the service to the outsourced provider.
  5. Disable admin via wireless on your router. Even though it is convenient, leaving the “Admin Via Wireless” option enabled provides a gateway to your system. When you disable this feature, only users who are physically connected to your router through an ethernet cable will be able to access the admin features.
  6. Set up private and public access. By setting up private and public access, you separate your network into two access points. Your employees can have a business-grade access point, and a public one can be available to your customers or guests. This removes the possibility of guests getting into your system and accessing sensitive information as well as eavesdropping on your traffic. 
  7. Check all Wi-Fi access points. There may be unauthorized wireless connections in your network. By regularly checking and reviewing your wireless network access log, you can detect rogue access points in or around your area. Making these checks also lets you see whether any of the devices within your company are attempting to connect to unauthorized networks. Here again, if you don’t have the time or knowledge to do this, an outsourced provider or consultant can assist.
  8. Use virtual private network (VPN) connection. Having a VPN connection gives you multiple security features. One of the more important ones is the ability to secure your Wi-Fi outside of your business. Whether it is a hotspot or another connection you don’t fully trust, you can use a VPN to mask your real internet traffic so it can’t be detected by hackers when you are out in the field.
  9. Use a discreet name for your network, and change the default password. By using a common service set identifier (SSID) name, you make it that much easier for hackers to identify and go after your network. Make it unusual. And in choosing passwords, small businesses don’t fare well. According to a survey conducted byPreempt Security, more than 35 percent of small businesses have weak passwords compared to only under five percent for their larger counterparts. So, choose a strong network password, and change it regularly.
  10. Have an actionable security policy. Implementing the above features is all well and good, but without a strong and actionable security policy in place it will be an exercise in futility. Everyone must be accountable for the way they use the company Wi-Fi in and out of the office. Sharing passwords, adding unauthorized devices, visiting questionable sites, opening email from unknown sources, and other risky behaviors will counteract all of your security efforts. Periodically (such as once a quarter) remind your team of company security policies, explain the consequences of circumventing them, and ask for their cooperation.

Published on: Feb 26, 2018

Communications at the Speed of Today’s Tech

Business has always been tied to the speed of information. Go back–way back–to the 1880s. From the telegraph to the Transatlantic Cable connecting the United States and Europe, to the telephone–information transfer got speedier with every innovation.

Fast forward to today. Advances in satellite, cellular, wireless, internet, and fiber optics give your small business fast data, audio, and video communications. Smartphones and text messages allow near instantaneous communication. But it doesn’t stop there.

We now have an abundance of communication tools that use these technologies, to achieve more in business. Here are some ways you can use the increasing speed and efficiency of communication to help your business grow.

FAQs, knowledge bases, and live chat enable small business to be available 24/7.

Customers today expect businesses to be available nearly all hours. Delivering great customer service means being able to help people even when your employees are not working.Self-serve information such as frequently asked questions (FAQs) and a knowledge base help customers feel like they are getting information instantly. Live chat is another option. Hint: Artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled chat bots can interact with your customers whether you are open for business or closed for the day.

Unified Communications (UC) position you to respond quickly.

You can now unify all of the channels your customers use to communicate with you into a single, interconnected flow. Phone calls, emails, chat, and social media conversations can be integrated withUC solutions.

With UC, you can answer important calls, respond to messages, and view social media conversations no matter where you are–and see the full picture of interactions with your customers.

Collaborate instantly on commonly used platforms.

Collaboration tools can bring together colleagues, partners, and vendors to tackle projects from disparate locations and help everyone communicate faster. Hint: Consider popular solutions people are likely to already use, such as Skype and Slack. That way, you minimize learning curves.

Use Business Intelligence (BI) to get instant insights.

Using BI solutions, you can gain real-time access to information about your business. “Seeing” data in a certain way, instantly, helps you identify and manage risks quickly and make informed decisions in order to jump on opportunities. Today’s BI solutions deliver insights orders of magnitude faster than older methods such as manually exporting information to spreadsheets or reports.

Automation increases efficiencies and speed.

Automation technology eliminates much of the manual processing–and slowness–of different business functions. Electronic workflow management, scheduling systems, data analysis, marketing automation, and advanced accounting are just some of today’s solutions. Many have automation features built in and are sometimes enhanced with AI that can speed up getting information to the people who need it.

Social media management apps improve communications.

Managing social media can be time consuming. And outsourcing can be very expensive for a small business. Social media management solutions enable you to schedule updates, track your mentions, get alerts, and manage your presence, so you can engage with and communicate with your customers and the public faster and more efficiently. Some popular solutions include Hootsuite and Sprout Social.

Cloud sharing streamlines your business.

Cloud sharing allows employees to share information no matter where they are located, as long they have an internet connection. This type of service synchronizes a company’s data to ensure the latest information is made available and everyone is on the same page at all times. And if there is a catastrophic failure, disaster recovery can be carried out immediately.  You can create your own public, private, or hybrid cloud ecosystem or use third-party providers such asDropbox.

Get ready for 5G.

The arrival of 5G is greatly anticipated by operators, businesses, and consumers alike. The network promises to deliver incredibly low latency, up to gigabit speeds, and connectivity for billions of devices. This will accelerate the speed of mobile communications to new heights.

The technology will make small businesses more efficient and create new opportunities with the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual and augmented reality, human machine interaction, smart home and city services, and more.

Technological innovations have sped up our ability to communicate with others virtually anywhere in the world. Savvy businesses are keeping their eyes on this evolution and integrating them into their businesses.