IT Company’s Cloud-ready Transition Tied to Client Needs, Technology Trends

One IT company insists that the key to success is assuring the cloud readiness of a client is before implementing any part of a transition plan.

James Farhat, CEO of Applications Consulting Training Solutions, an ISV and technology solution provider based in Jacksonville, Fla., spoke with Small Business Trends regarding his experience in becoming a cloud-ready IT company and in transitioning his clientele to the cloud.

Farhat said that his company’s transition has evolved alongside the needs of his customers and changing technology trends.

“Our transition evolved along with our clients’ needs and how technology has changed,” he said. “We felt like we’re always ahead of the game, or try to be at least, and felt the marketplace was moving in that direction.”

Based on his desire to be a trendsetter, Farhat began moving his company toward cloud-readiness five years ago, to get ahead of the competition.

“Because we did that five years ago, we’re sort of the go-to partner,” he said. “We have a lot of experience and use cases and have had a lot of success. Now that the market is moving more and more that way and adopting cloud-readiness, it’s provided credibility for us, making it easy to get clients and grow the business.”

Farhat started his company based on his passion for technology, a background in training and consulting and a desire to solve business problems.

“I’ve always been in the training and consulting business, but I’ve been in technology for a long time,” he said. “I have a tremendous amount of passion for technology and solving business problems. This is a platform for our organization to do so and to follow the methodology and mantra that we set forth.”

Inhibitors to Cloud Transition

Farhat’s passion for moving clients into the cloud has, along the way, been met with resistance and problems. He cited the following inhibitors:

Need for Education

“Educating clients to understand the opportunity the cloud presents is an issue,” he said. “There’s not enough education out there or enough adoption. I think that’s the biggest problem with a transition. Clients look at it more as a technology feature set versus the opportunity to help save a tremendous amount of cost in their business.”

Resistance From Executives, IT Staff

Farhat indicated that business owners and CEOs resist cloud transition due to a lack of understanding or concerns over security while IT staffers feel their jobs may be at risk.

To overcome such resistance, Farhat said, “We educate people and try to the lay the facts out, such as the savings and cost from the business profit center and that no issues with security exist. In translating it to the IT side, we talk about where the opportunity is for them and that their jobs aren’t in jeopardy.”

Downtime a Concern

Another topic Farhat covers in the education process is making sure that clients understand that downtime is a risk they must face but that there are ways to combat it.

“You are still somewhat at the mercy of the cloud provider to some degree,” he said, “but you’re also at the mercy of the person building the network or your Internet provider, so those have always played a role too.”

Farhat added that education begins during the sales cycle as well as in the proof of concept phase.

He cited, as an example, a large transportation company client.

“We did some education with their leadership and built a value proposition with Partner Sales Executives so they could really see what was going to happen,” he said. “We created a spreadsheet, an executive PowerPoint deck and came up with the best message for them to take all roles into consideration during the decision-making phase.

“We tried to make them feel comfortable that what we’re doing puts them in a better position for speed to market and more agile iterations for delivering technology for their external customers. As a result of that preparation, we ended up closing a $1.4 million deal.”

Time and Cost, Variables in Transition Process

When asked about the time involved in a transition, Farhat said it’s not an “hours” issue but that it depends on the client’s needs.

He also asserted that cost is a variable, and could run as little as $1,200 for a small business with 10 people to millions for a large corporation.

“I think at the end of the day you might have an average cost, fully loaded, of $2,400 a year per employee if you moved everything to the cloud and you had everything cloud based,” he said.

Farhat added that, often, he will bring in a financial analyst who can help the client see the opportunities from an economic perspective, such as the savings the business can accrue as a result of a reduction in IT labor costs or the lowering of maintenance expenses related to manual processes that can now be automated.

Best Place to Start With Cloud Transition

According to Farhat, no one size fits all when it comes to the best place to start making the transition to the cloud.

“You have to look at what your business problem is and what you’re trying to accomplish,” he said. “It is the business outcome that drives where you start.”

Farhat did say that his company has done a lot with platform as a service, advanced analytics in the cloud and sales performance management, building client portals in the cloud.

Conclusion

Farhat concluded his remarks by emphasizing the need to ensure the customer is well educated on the risks involved in making the transition and on the opportunities that exist as well.

He provided this advice to other IT companies contemplating becoming cloud-ready:

“Make sure that the client understands that risks have always existed. That doesn’t mean that you don’t try to drive home the opportunity for the business to save on IT operational management costs and provide a better infrastructure for their organization using the cloud. However, getting them to understand and come to terms with that is not always easy to do.”

Also checkout the company’s cloud ready solution: ACTS Skygraph, a context modeler solution used to simplify SharePoint configuration.

Cloud Photo via Shutterstock

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[“source-smallbiztrends”]

10 Ways to Improve Your Business with Mobile Technology

A recent study shows how reliant small businesses have become on mobile technology. The 2013 AT&T Small Business Technology Poll says 85 percent of small businesses now use some kind of smartphone. And 80 percent of small firms founded less than two years ago use tablets, the survey also showed.

Customers are becoming more mobile too. The International Data Corporation, a global marketing intelligence firm, says the number of smartphones shipped now outpaces the number of “regular” cell phones worldwide. Tablets are on the increase with customers too.

Improve Your Business With Mobile Technology

Add Mobile Payment Options for Customer Convenience ~ USA Today

Uyen Nguyen owner of Lemongrass Truck, a growing food truck business, reckons her budding company would be nowhere at all without mobile technology. Her company uses tablets to take credit card payments at points of sales and uses social media to let mobile customers know where their truck will be located from day to day. Mobile technology makes sense to Nguyen because her whole business is mobile.

Arm Your Sales Team With Mobile Tools ~Tweak Your Biz

Zoe Maldonado, blogger at TechBreach, writes about the tools of the modern sales force. These include smartphones, PDAs, laptops and tablets. Smartphones and tablets provide mobile sales teams with constant communications and productivity tools including email, internet scheduling and calendars. Mobile business applications allow teams to do presentations, engage in social collaboration and even prepare invoices.

Use QR Codes to Engage Customers in the Mobile Space ~ Right Hand Planning

Online marketing and SEO consultant Peter Semple gives two case studies showing how small businesses can do this. In one instance, a savvy auto mechanic sent out a direct mail piece with a QR code allowing customers to download his mobile app. In another, a local promotional clothing company offers customers a protective sleeve for wireless credit cards. On the sleeve is printed a QR code to the company’s mobile store.

Add Cloud-Based Software-as-a-Service for Mobile ~ TechCrunch

Companies like T-Mobile have begun offering cloud-based services for mobile customers, including telephony features like voicemail, CallerID, conference bridges and more. Increasingly, these services will now be available for the small business market, too. This latest package is aimed at companies with 20 or fewer employees.

Increase Agility and Reduce Costs ~ Firmology

Boil it all down and the real benefit of mobile technology is agility and efficiency. Sam Frymer, founder of personal consulting firm the Awesomeness Institute, points to the time you save sharing information instantly via email, social media, or other electronic documents from no matter where you are. Add to this eliminating paper from your world completely and you can begin to see the increased efficiency and decreased costs.

Use Mobile Apps for Management Tasks ~ Digital Journal

A study by email marketing company Constant Contact finds small businesses are using mobile apps for a host of management activities. The study found small businesses most often used apps for activities like scheduling and time management, customer communications, GPS and mapping and accounting and invoicing.

Do Banking in the Mobile World ~ American Banking

There’s at least one other small business task you can complete using mobile apps, though it’s a task that didn’t show up on the list of popular activities in the Constant Contact study. Small businesses can use mobile apps to do their banking too. Check out the latest feature on Jot, a mobile app Chase provides its business customers.

Use Mobile Video Messaging Apps ~ OurHelix Blog

Mobile video apps aren’t limited to Vine, the 6-second looping video app Twitter acquired while still in development and launched a few months ago. There are also apps like Tout and Viddy. Amy Nedoss, strategic direction and business development leader for OurHelix, takes us through some of the basic differences between these apps and then gives us an overview of what businesses can do with each.

Create a Mobile Friendly Website ~ Entrepreneur

Your website should be easy for mobile users to view. One way to accomplish this is to simplify your web design so it is easier to view on a smaller screen like the one on a smartphone. Another is to create a special mobile version of your site designed specifically with mobile visitors in mind.

Look Into Responsive Design ~ Small Business Trends

When looking into creating a mobile friendly website, one term that keeps coming up is “responsive design.” Simply put, this means creating a website that is not designed for a specific format. Instead, this kind of website resizes itself based upon the screen of the device upon which it is being viewed. In practice, this may be the most versatile solution for the issue of making your site friendly to mobile users.

Have we missed something? Tell us how you’re using mobile technology to improve your business today.

[“source-smallbiztrends”]

Technology trends that will transform content marketing in 2017

Image result for tech marketingContent marketing is rapidly evolving. Producing generic content and throwing it out there hoping for a miracle is no longer a marketing strategy for any business that hopes to stay competitive.

Spun content on web pages, auto-generated videos, and other poor content marketing strategies will often have a negative impact on your brand, making your business that much less to succeed.

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Over the past few years, successful brands have been taking advantage of advances in tech to develop successful content marketing strategies.

For instance, mobile accounted for 53 percent of the total time spent on a digital device compared with 47 percent on desktops back in 2013. In 2015, 65 percent of users spent time on mobile compared with only 35 percent of users on desktop, illustrating the important role mobile has played for content in recent times.

Every indication is that content marketing and social media marketing will continue to evolve, and technology will be firmly in the driver’s seat.

Check out this sample of some of the tech advances that are likely to transform this landscape in 2017 and beyond.

1. Artificial Intelligence

Image Courtesy

Many of us have been conditioned to tremble and cower at the sound of artificial intelligence, thanks in part to the years we spent following The Terminator and The Matrix. With AI now capable of producing decent articles and other forms of content, content developers and marketers also have good reason to be afraid of AI.

Or do they?

While AI has been known to do impressive things, humans who take advantage of technology are often much better at accomplishing tasks than humans or machines alone. This is why content marketers who will take advantage of AI stand to benefit greatly from harnessing the powers of AI.

AI has the potential to change the content marketing landscape, even revolutionize it. It can be used better understand content for your keywords, enabling you to develop content that resonates with your audience. AI can also be used to help format content for SEO, discover relevant content for curation, and automate content distribution.

Content marketers will definitely have more to gain than loose from AI integration.

2. IoT and new devices

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The world we currently live in is nothing short of unreal.

New devices are coming up each day with the ability to communicate via networked connections, thanks to the ever-expanding world of the Internet of Things (IoT). Users are no longer restricted to their PCs, laptops, and smartphones as far as interacting with content is concerned.

For instance, smart refrigerators can communicate with the user, Even the bluetooth speakers within a smart home. The challenge for content creators will be developing content that will be able to respond to each of the various devices within the IoT space.

This way, content marketers will be able to provide customized content based on location, monitoring data, and real-time alerts straight to the device. Marketers will even be able to send content based on proximity data, for instance, clothing retailers sending messages about dressing ideas during the cold season.

3. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

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2016 has clearly been the year of virtual reality and augmented reality. If in doubt, just as any of the millions of users who at one point made Pokémon Go more popular than Tinder and Instagram. These developing technologies have uncovered a whole new platform for content consumption, one that Facebook’s Oculus Rift will most likely explore within the coming years.

VR will likely ease its way into the content marketing arena to fulfill the growing need for visual content. Content marketers will get the exciting opportunity to push content optimized for VR, which is largely unchartered land.

4. Live streaming

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Live streaming has long been associated with live broadcasts of events such as sports.

Recently, however, live streaming has become just one of the many ordinary functions of a smartphone, right next to making phone calls and texting. Live streaming apps like Meerkat and Periscope have become more popular among everyday users

Live streaming offers content developers and marketers the platform to come up with more in-demand and live content, which still remains a vastly unexplored area.

Plus, with Facebook jumping into the live streaming arena, more users are likely to appreciate content that is modeled around live experiences.

5. Improved search engine algorithms

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Search engine algorithms are finally becoming fully automated as far as updates are concerned. Most content marketers design their online marketing campaigns around manual search algorithms.

These are often updated manually and such updates are communicated promptly to the online community.

However, self-updating algorithms such as RankBrain will make it harder to predict what the rules are for maintaining organic visibility. RankBrain, a machine learning algorithm, scours the internet and fine-tunes search results, basically making it harder for content marketers to “cheat” their way to organic results.

Content marketers who will find ways to stay afloat will reap sweet, organic rewards.

6. E-commerce and social media

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On their own, e-commerce and social media marketing have been explored by content managers for years. The likes of Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest have been used to propagate content and make inroads into new markets.

But the real game-changer is going to be social purchasing as more social media sites begin integrating aspects of e-commerce. Social media is currently one of the leading platforms that content creators use to distribute content and building audiences. With such sites becoming more focused on revenues, their focus will shift from content consumption platforms to becoming e-commerce hybrid sites.

As such, content marketers will need to find alternative platforms for interacting with their audiences since opportunities for organic visibility will have diminished considerably.

2017 and beyond presents a myriad of challenges and opportunities for everyone in the content marketing space. As a content marketer, preparing for the future isn’t optional. Early preparation will enable you to stay competitive as others in the industry play catch-up. Early adopters always have the benefit of self-differentiation, even when they implement technologies that end up taking a different direction.

Either way, it’ll be a huge win for the early birds.

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

[“source-ndtv”]

Best tech gadgets 2016: Most innovative technology of the year from Amazon Echo to Playstation VR

Technology is constantly changing the way we work and interact, but every year there are a few innovations that really break ground.

These aren’t necessarily the most polished products – they may need some refining before they achieve mainstream success – but they offer a glimpse of where we are headed, and what the future could hold.

2016 has been an exceptional year for technology innovation, with huge strides made in areas such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

Tech products of the year
Tech products of the year

Gadgets and software that were only just beginning to take shape this time last year have rapidly become features of people’s everyday lives.

Here’s our list of the most important and interesting technology innovations of 2016:

Audio product of the year: Amazon Echo

The Amazon Echo, a voice-controlled virtual assistant
The Amazon Echo, a voice-controlled virtual assistant (Photo: PA)

Amazon Echo is a smart home speaker system with an artificially intelligent virtual assistant called Alexa, which responds to voice commands.

Like Apple’s Siri and Google Now, Alexa can play music, control smart home devices, provide information, read the news, set alarms and even tell jokes.

Users can install a variety of “skills” (apps) on Echo, that will allow it to perform different tasks and, theoretically, become more intelligent as time goes on.

While Alexa isn’t yet smart enough to answer all your questions, the technology offers an intriguing glimpse into the smart home of the future, and how artificial intelligence could become part of our daily lives.

Game of the year: Pokemon Go

(Photo: Pokemon Go)

Pokemon Go took the work by storm over the summer, with thousands of people taking to the streets to hunt down their favourite virtual characters in real-life locations.

While some rushed to catch ’em all, others focused on training their Pokemon and winning battles in gyms – with many cafés and pubs cashing in by setting up “Pokestops” on their premises.

The real winner though, was augmented reality technology – which had long been considered virtual reality’s unpopular cousin.

On the back of Pokemon Go’s success, many tech and gaming companies – including Apple – are looking again at what can be done with the technology.

Phone of the year: Google Pixel

Undated composite handout photo issued by Google of its new own-built smartphone, Pixel in Quite Black and Very Silver (right), which the tech giant says has been built with artificial intelligence at its centre (Photo: PA)

For years, Apple has been the only smartphone maker to oversee both the hardware and software design of its devices.

Many argue that this has given Apple an advantage of rivals such as Samsung, Sony and HTC, which have to adapt Google’s Android operating system to their hardware.

Google hopes to change that with the Pixel – the first smartphone to be made entirely by Google. The Android software is tailored specially for the hardware, making it run incredibly smoothly.

While some have pointed out that the Pixel’s hardware isn’t quite up to the standard of the Galaxy S7, it’s a very respectable effort from Google, and a comfortable competitor to the iPhone 7.

Wearable of the year: Fitbit Flex 2

Fitbit has long been the king of wearable technology, but fitness trackers only work properly if you wear them all the time – and that includes in the shower, the pool, in bed and on a night out.

The company’s Flex 2 is designed to be ultra adaptable. It’s “swim proof”, so you can take it in the pool, and the sensor can be removed from the rubber band and put inside a metal pendant or bangle for a night out.

The jewellery range is still fairly limited, and perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but by making it easier for people to wear their sensors all the time, Fitbit is moving a step closer to continuous tracking.

[“source-ndtv”]