Meet the Team

Michael Houghton – Technical Director    Born in Northampton, I am one of four brothers who all grew up in Milton Keynes.   I went to local primary and comprehensive schools and was by far the most accident prone of the four of us, so was always in an out of the local A&E department.

Apprentice turns employee – Josh Smith

Apprentice turns employee – Josh Smith

Meet Josh Smith, who is a Support Engineer at Aztech IT. Josh started his apprenticeship with us in June last year when he was 19. A year on he is now a fully-fledged member of the IT support team. Josh did his apprenticeship through the NITP College and studied an ICT Level 3 in IT Framework, which involved on the job training and regular visits to college.

Is Your Email Enough?

Having the right kind of email system in place can do wonders for increasing productivity, especially for people on the go. It’s important to note the distinctions and feature differences of the email systems available to you, so you can be sure that what you’re using is the most efficient and cost-effective solution. Whether you work from an office or are productive while on the go, email most likely plays a big factor in the way you go about your business. Unbeknownst to many, some types of email systems have certain limitations that by extension can also limit the level of productivity of your business, and especially for people in the organization who must also work while out in the field. One major issue for many people is synchronicity. Many people need their emails to be accessible on their mobile phones, PDAs, or other mobile devices, and they need them to be properly synchronized with their desktop workstations. The need to constantly update conversations and email threads from mobile devices to desktops with certain types of email can prove to be tedious and unproductive– and some email system types don’t include this ability at all. Depending on the way you use your email, especially when on the go, having full access and full control of your account can define how productive you and others in your organization can be. Besides providing a much better degree of synchronization and integration with mobile devices, certain types of email systems also have features for sharing and collaboration features that allow you to set schedules and share files from your mailbox, as well as central storage for emails that allows you to access your account seamlessly with any mobile device, regardless of where you are located. Of course, having a full-featured email system might not be best for everyone. The key is to know whether adapting a more bare-bones system is cost-effective for your business (especially in the long run). Sometimes the top of the line may be needed, and sometimes all you need is a bit of tweaking on your less fully featured system. Not sure which is best? Call us and we’ll be glad to sit down with you and assess what kind of email system is best suited for you and your business.

Are you monitoring and managing your reputation online? Here’s how.

The proliferation of websites and social media tools is making the job of monitoring what’s being said about you online increasingly difficult to do. But you need to somehow make sense of the sea of information available in these online tools, because depending on what’s being said — it can have either a helpful or a damaging effect on your reputation or your business. Here are some tools to help you. Besides your own eyes and ears, there are plenty of tools — for free or for a price — available to help you monitor your presence online. The simplest of these is your familiar search engines such as Google or Bing . By simply searching online, you can find where your name or your company’s name appears in various websites. With Google in particular, you can set up “alerts” which will email you when a specific word or term appears in their website index. What words or terms should you use? Start with your name, or your company name, then try the name of your products and/or services, and maybe even the names of your employees, directors, and other stakeholders. It might also be helpful to search for the competition as well. As results come in you can refine your search by expanding or narrowing the scope of terms you would like to search or be alerted on. If you want to be able to search across all different search engines and not just one or two, you can use Monitor This . Next you can use specialized website or social media monitoring tools to search only specific sites or services as opposed to the entire Internet. One example is Greplin , which allows you to search all of your accounts or accounts that you own. This is very helpful to be able to execute highly filtered searches on specific information in your Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn accounts, or your blog. Another option is Rollyo , which allows you to set up your own specialized search engines that cull content from public or open websites of your choosing. Other more generalized tools include RSS feed readers—which allow you to consume news or information feeds from news sites or blogs. Examples include Newsgator.com , Bloglines.com , Google Reader or Pluck.com . Other generalized tools include those that monitor specific newsgroups or message boards like BoardReader.com , ForumFind.com , Big-Boards.com , BoardTracker.com , iVillage , Yahoo Message Boards , and MSN Money . Still others track changes to content of specific sites ( Copernic Tracker , Website Watcher and WatchThatPage.com ), as well as their domain information ( DomainTools. com and BetterWhois.com ). The really interesting new services actually give you an explicit idea of the status of your reputation — especially if you are a relatively well known name or your business has an established brand. In this category are sites like Amplicate , which monitors general feelings or impressions about brands, businesses, or services; Klout , which tries to measure the influence of individuals based on their social interactions; and SendLove.to , which focuses on celebrities and media personalities. There are literally dozens more tools you can use to monitor and manage your reputation online. To find out more, a great resource is here at the Duct Tape Marketing blog . If you have any additional suggestions, feel free to let us know!

Email in the Cloud with Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365

Interested in setting up your company’s email in the cloud? Here are two options to consider—one from Microsoft, the other from Google. See how they compare. Google Apps Google Apps is a service from Google that started in 2006, with the introduction of Gmail—a hosted email service, and which later incorporated other apps such as Google Calendar, Groups, Talk, Docs and Sites. Google Apps allow customers an independently customizable version of these Google products under their own domain name. The entry level option is free, but the package offered for Businesses is a paid service with an annual fee per user and additional storage space. Storage. Gmail, Google Apps’ email service starts with a sizable 7GB of free storage. Business users get 25GB. Bear in mind however that this storage space is shared with any data you have in other Google properties such as Picasa Web Album and Google Docs. Extra space can be bought however starting with USD $5 per year for an extra 20GB of storage. E-mail attachment sizes are limited to 25MB. Calendaring and Task Management . Gmail can be integrated with the overall excellent Google Calendar application. Google Calendar allows you to easily share personal calendars with colleagues, or create shared calendars used by groups of people (such as a calendar to track meeting room reservations, marketing events and others). Google Calendar also offers a built-in, but somewhat underpowered task management tool. Tasks can readily be added with due dates, but not readily shared or cannot be nested or linked with other tasks. Spam filtering, security and reliability. Gmail’s spam filtering features a community-driven system. Email tagged as spam by users help identifies similar messages as Spam for all other Gmail users. Generally the system works well, although some have complained that it can get over aggressive in its filters. In terms of security and reliability — Gmail has been criticized in the past with showing ads in its free Gmail service that display based on key words in the user’s messages — potentially violating their privacy. Its paid service offers however the option of disable these ads. Reliability is generally good with very few, but widely publicized disruptions in service. Usability. Gmail offers a host of unique usability enhancements that make it different from most other mail services. For one for a web app it loads really fast, as Google has been known to studiously optimize web page loading performance for their products. Another is that it offers a threaded view of messages by default. It also uses a starring/labeling system to tag and segregate messages instead of using folders. Another interesting enhancement done recently is the ability to sort messages by “importance” where it learns based on your usage over time what email messages it thinks you think are important. Mobile access. Gmail offers a version optimized for mobile devices, as well as support for a variety of devices for their native mail applications such as iOS and Android. Overall Gmail is a solid mature choice if you are thinking of moving email to the cloud and are not afraid of being on the bleeding edge of cloud services and technology. Microsoft Office 365 Microsoft Office 365, like Google Apps, offers a host of applications such as online versions of productivity tools which we all already know and use such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Most however work best when they are used in conjunction with your desktop-installed Office applications. Focusing on email, Office 365 offers a Hosted Exchange service, which transforms the mature, business-proven on-premise application to an on-demand service. Compared to Google Apps, it is quite new — being introduced only last June this year, although its suite of products in an alternate form has been around for much earlier. Storage. Microsoft’s Hosted Exchange email service gives users 25GB of storage. Attachment file sizes are limited to 35MB. Additional storage can be purchased for $2.5 per GB per user per month. Calendaring and Task Management. Exchange integrates a mature feature set for personal productivity including calendaring, resource management, and task management. As an example tasks can be grouped, color coded and easily sorted. Emails can be converted as tasks and so on. Spam filtering, security and reliability. This is an area where perhaps Microsoft easily outshines Google with Exchange’s roots as an enterprise-class application. It offers spam protection, antivirus and others via Microsoft’s Forefore Online Protection for Exchange technology. It offers other features such as more full features user management, identity access management, mail archiving, etc. If you are in a highly regulated industry like financial services or healthcare these features may be essential for your business. Usability. While the web apps of Office 365 is not as fast loading or as slick as Google, it does offer familiarity. Modeled after their desktop brethren, or directly integrating with them — they offer a smoother migration experience for users specially if they have been weaned on Outlook. Mobile access. Like Gmail Microsoft made sure to support a variety of devices on launch, as well as integration with a variety of devices — specially enterprise stalwarts like Blackberry mobile phones. Overall Office 365 is a solid choice if you are thinking of moving email to the cloud but may be hesitant with changing the apps your users already know and use. Also if you are a business with strict policies related to security and compliance — this service may be something your auditors and IT people may be more comfortable with. Interested in learning more? Can’t decide which to try? Let us know and find out how we can help get you the right balance between your existing IT systems and infrastructure and the cloud.

Small Business Conquer Big World through Social Networking

It’s the dilemma of many smaller businesses lacking the budget for advertising that many of their bigger competitors have to be able to establish a better presence in a specific market. However, the rise of the use of social networks now allows these smaller firms to reach thousands to millions of people – at a fraction of the cost of traditional advertising and marketing. One of the most difficult challenges smaller businesses face is having a bigger presence in the market. While many of these companies offer good, quality services at much more affordable rates, they are many times overshadowed by larger firms that have bigger budgets to spend on marketing, advertising, and the like. Things have changed, though, with the advent of social networking. What was once a simple, social, get-to-know-each-other tool between people on the internet has now evolved into a tool that small businesses can take advantage of in order to get their voices heard. The gist of social networking for business is the simple concept of reaching potentially millions of people at a mere fraction of what is normally spent on advertising and traditional marketing. The wide reach of social media allows businesses to find their voices and showcase what they can do. The playing field then moves from an unfair balance of advertising budgets to a battle of service quality and value for money, as it should be – and many smaller firms can compete effectively in this arena. There are many ways to tap into the social networking phenomenon to boost your online presence and aid in your marketing. If you are interested in knowing more about this, please contact us and we’ll be glad to assist you in developing strategies that fit your specific requirements and needs.

Your $100 Router/Firewall Might Not be the Good Deal You Think

While it is the concern of every business to be as cost-effective as possible, it is not a good idea to skimp on your investment in a proper and solid security system for your business data and information. For instance, cost-cutting on your router/firewall might seem like a good idea at the start, but in the long term, it’s a risk you cannot afford to take. In business, protecting important information and data is paramount. This is why it is recommended for any sort of business to invest in a security system that will prevent any cyber-attacks that might be launched against you. Unfortunately, though, it’s lost on many that a security system is not just made up of one single thing – software, better staff, better hardware, et cetera. A good and solid security system is composed of several factors working together to create a virtual chain that envelops your business and keeps it safe. And one of the most underestimated links in this chain is the router/firewall. Many businesses are content using the most basic and cheapest option available on the market, without realizing that their security chain is only as strong as its weakest link. And if you make do with a cheap router/firewall, odds are you’ll get what you pay for – not much. While basic routers might work fine for homes or individual users, it is a much different scenario when it comes to business operations where basic just doesn’t cut it. Plus, there’s more at stake with business data, so why take the risk with cheap routers that lack the proper security features? With viruses, malware, and the cyber thieves behind them continuing to grow and evolve, it is important that you understand what it takes to protect your system and your data – and invest in the best solution. Remember that it can take only one incident, one infiltration, to bring your whole business down. We realize that every system is different and every business has its own specific needs, so if you want to know more about getting the right router/firewall for you, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Tips for Picking the Right Smartphone

For many people, smartphones have become essential tools in conducting not only personal communications, but also for business purposes as well. However, the rise in smartphone use has also increased the number of models released into the market, which can confuse would-be buyers. A few pointers are in order to help put things into perspective. For many people these days, smartphones have become more of a necessity than a luxury. Being able to stay in touch through constant access to the internet and the thousands of mobile smartphone applications available has made smartphones an indispensable tool. But with the boom in smartphone use, there also comes a conundrum for many: Which smartphone should I get? With so many choices out there, it’s becoming difficult and confusing to pick the right one. Here are a few quick and simple tips that you might find useful when canvassing the market: 1. Know what you want. What do you need a smartphone for? Each handset has its own strengths and weaknesses. There are smartphones that integrate email and web browsing and put more focus on multimedia such as audio and video – while there are other no-frills, no-nonsense models that trim features down to those that are the most basic and essential. 2. Consider your carrier. Carriers are important because there are some smartphones that are only available with certain carriers, or carriers that limit certain features of a particular smartphone. You do have the option of getting an unlocked phone (meaning the device does not come with carrier requirements), but this has its own set of pros and cons that you have to weigh as well. 3. Get a feel for your choices. Nothing beats actual experience, so visit local stores to get the physical feel of each phone. Is the keypad big (or small) enough for you? Is the device too thick or too thin? Do you like the user interface or is it too complicated for you? These are just some of the questions that you can answer once you get an idea of how it actually feels to use them yourself. 4. User feedback is important. Talk not only to sales people but also to other people you know. Your friends and acquaintances have actual experience with various smartphones, so ask them what concerns and issues they have with their particular models. If you have additional inquiries about how you can better use your smartphone for your business, please give us a call and we’ll be happy to assist you.

Why You Should Switch to VoIP Phones for Your Small Business

VoIP is now within easy reach for everyone — including small businesses. Here are the top ten reasons you should switch to using VoIP and VoIP phones for your business. Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) is basically technology that allows you to make and receive calls over data networks. Instead of traditional phone services which channel analog signals such as the sound of your voice over copper wires, VoIP converts these sounds to digital form first — so that they can be sliced, diced, packaged, and routed over a digital network. Because VoIP technology uses the same ideas behind data networking, and allows the use of the same networks used by computers, voice traffic can also be routed through the Internet as well. Suddenly you can now dramatically reduce the cost of voice communications, as well as achieve creative combinations of both services to create new applications for use. With today’s advancements in technology, and the constant lowering of prices as technology achieves mass adoption, VoIP is now within easy reach for most businesses — even small ones. In fact, many have already made the switch to an all-VoIP infrastructure, using a combination of VoIP phones and VoIP communication systems. Here are ten reasons why you may want to consider switching to VoIP for your phone and office communication systems: VoIP can allow you to dramatically reduce the cost of communications, especially for interstate or international communications, since everything can go through the Internet instead of having to go through expensive long distance toll charges. You can make and receive calls from multiple devices — for instance, on a dedicated phone, your PC via a software-based phone, or even a mobile phone with VoIP capabilities. It’s easier to add extensions to your phone. You can provide a local number or extension for all your staff without additional costs or cabling. VoIP allows companies to maximize investments already made in their network infrastructure. The same network that handles the flow of data such web access and email can now accommodate voice as well — no need to add and maintain additional wires and devices. VoIP allows your employees to be more productive and efficient by giving them the ability to receive and make calls anywhere with a data connection. VoIP reduces the complexity associated with having to manage multiple networks and devices for communication. A company can potentially set up their office network so that each employee can use a single device such as a computer or a smart fixed or mobile phone to handle everything from email, chat, messages, faxes, and more. You can use VoIP as a tool for real-time collaboration along with video conferencing and screen sharing. You can potentially unify your communication channels, streamlining communications and information management — for instance, marrying email with fax and voice in one inbox. You can employ presence technologies that come standard with VoIP phones and VoIP communication systems. This technology can tell colleagues about your presence or give you info on the status and whereabouts of your staff. You can employ intelligence into how your calls are handled, such as: providing automatic call routing based on the number, time of day, etc; providing an interactive voice response when a call comes in, such as voice prompts that guide callers; call reporting; and more. VoIP is certainly a technology that has come of age. It’s cheap, ubiquitous, and easy to use. Interested? Contact us and we can help you make the switch to VoIP for your business today!