She Asks IT, He Answers IT

Cloud Computing Can Help Your Business Soar

She Asks IT

Not so long ago, I associated being “in the cloud” with hot air ballooning or kite flying. Today, however, TV commercials mention “the cloud” in a technological sense. “To the cloud!” they exclaim, although they never explain where the cloud is or why I would want to go.

Still, cloud computing appears to be the “in thing.” Even former NBA Star Charles Barkley appears in ads about it. And I, for one, do not want to be left “down here” while everyone else is “up there.”

I understand that change is essential, but I also like the “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” concept. It stands to reason that if “the cloud” is the on-the-edge something new, it is replacing the near-obsolete something old. I do want to run my company efficiently, and clouds do not sound like they would provide a very stable foundation.

So, what exactly IS cloud computing? How can it help my business? What could it potentially replace in my office? And how can Relia IT help me fly “in the cloud” at the right altitude?

He Answers IT
Cloud computing is simply performing your business functions by using someone else’s technology resources rather than your own. Practically any function traditionally held in-house can now be procured and utilized “in the cloud.” Backups, applications, networks, web and email hosting are just a few prevalent cloud services. One or more of these solutions can be terrific options, especially for small businesses without a dedicated IT staff.

Just like a mechanic, a business needs the right tools to function efficiently and productively. My business is no different. Cloud providers offer tools specialized to help me run my IT company. Some of these tools I simply cannot go without. My goal of competing with larger companies, who have more employees and money, is not an easy one to achieve, so my limited resources must work harder and smarter.

For anyone considering a transition to a cloud service, security and data accessibility are major concerns. After all, your data is not right there on your hard drive or server anymore. It is somewhere else. The truth is, however, that well established providers can actually make your data more secure and available.

Are you happy with that Windows XP “Server” in the corner? What if you need to access your customer data in the field? Can you get to it remotely? Can you get to it securely? Does it matter? My business data and the confidentiality of my customers’ data certainly matters to me.

And what about “cloud costs” versus “in house costs?” A new server costs a few thousand dollars up front, plus monthly maintenance fees. For a small consistent investment over time, cloud computing can provide your company with service and support that would easily cost you thousands to setup and maintain yourself. (Not to mention the cost of Ibuprofen for the headaches involved.)

By choosing the right cloud providers and services, you can more fully concentrate on your business’s specific goals and visions. So, why not stand on the shoulders of IT giants and look ahead into the 21st century? You will be amazed at what you can do up here!

Beyond Email: Unlocking the Secrets of Outlook

She Asks IT

Nancy Drew always intrigued me, mainly because nothing she ever came across was “simple.” You could count on a locket containing a hidden, note-filled compartment, an insignificant room concealing a sinister staircase or a scrawled bunch of numbers turning into a decipherable code that provided the vital clue to solving a huge mystery.

I view Microsoft Outlook much the same way. It is one of the first programs I open in the morning and the last I shut down. It sends my emails, lets me know when I receive new ones and reminds me of appointments and tasks. And it does all of those things well.

But I am quite certain something else is lurking there. Bill Gates is a complex man. One of his “signature” programs must contain more tools that will make communication within and outside my office better.

The trick is, just like Nancy Drew, to find out what they are and use them effectively.

So, what are some key “concealed compartments” that Microsoft Outlook holds, some “hidden staircases” I might not know about? Am I missing something that would make my job easier? Can Microsoft Outlook improve communication and make my office more efficient, beyond email, a calendar and a task list?

In other words, what are “The Secrets of Microsoft Outlook” – and how do I unlock them?

He Answers IT

Where do I start? Most businesses have instant communication with tens or hundreds of valuable contacts every day, and a great deal of this communication occurs in Microsoft Outlook.

Without specifically addressing how to accomplish the tasks, I will simply touch on some of the terrific features available in Outlook 2010. (Please note, however, that some features are only available if you have your own Exchange server or use a Hosted Exchange solution.)

One thing I really like is the “People Pane” view. You can instantly view all communication you have had with a specific individual. On one screen, you can see all the attachments you have received from that person or all of the meetings involving him or her. You can even view someone’s social media activity with Outlook 2010’s “Social Media Connectors.”

A similar feature is the new “Conversation View.” It allows you to group emails by subject. This prevents you from having to search through all of your folders to find every email about, say, the “Upcoming Project.” No matter what folder the email is in, if it has “Upcoming Project” in the subject line, it will show up in “Conversation View.” And, if a new “Upcoming Project” email is received, the conversation itself jumps to the top of you Inbox, so you always know when there is a new message related to that particular subject. (Note that there is a difference between “grouping” and “sorting.”)

Scheduling an email to send at a later time is a feature I do not use enough. With it, you can go ahead and create the message and you do not have to remember to send it later. Create it, click send, and it will remain in your Outbox until the specified time. If you are on an Exchange or Hosted Exchange server, Outlook does not have to be open to send the message. Otherwise, Outlook must be running to complete the task.

RSS Feeds are another great “secret feature” not used enough in Outlook. Rather than sifting through all the latest news on, you can subscribe to their RSS Feed and read the articles right in Outlook as they are published. You can subscribe to our RSS Feed right now by clicking here and hitting “subscribe.” All of our news articles and blog pieces will be delivered straight to Outlook as soon as we publish them.

Although it is not new, one of the best features Outlook offers is the convenience of running on an Exchange or Hosted Exchange server. All of the information and almost all of the functionality is available from all of your devices wherever you are. There is no syncing, no third party apps, and no awkward sharing of calendars.

Also, Public Folders provides a great place to share information between all of your employees without having to send the same thing to multiple recipients. Just put the document somewhere appropriate in Public Folders and everyone can go directly to it. You can even have your resources and equipment, such as conference rooms and projectors, available for scheduling in Public Folders.

Entire books are written about Outlook. Most people are not aware or just have not been comfortable enough to try and use many of the capabilities because they think it will be difficult. Do not get buried under tons of emails, appointments and attachments. With a little setup and education, you can have a brighter and more effective Outlook.

DIY Tech Purchases: Good Investment or Bad for Business?

She Asks IT:

One of my favorite TV shows, “Renovation Realities,” demonstrates that some things are best left to the pros.

The DIY series details the sad fates befalling those who have a new vision for their home and decide to save money by doing it themselves. Two people, usually spouses with little to no DIY experience, attempt to renovate a kitchen or upgrade a bathroom. The results are generally disastrous – especially when plumbing, electricity or structural issues are involved. The couple ends up (1) frustrated, since the project takes longer than anticipated, (2) exhausted, because they are working about 20 hours a day, and (3) financially strapped, as it almost always costs more than the original budget. Those who couldn’t wait to get started on Day 1 can’t get away from each other fast enough on Day 5.

And the DIYers must often hire experts anyway to undo their misdoings.

But what about buying technology? Should I reach out to an expert for help with that? (And by expert, I mean someone with credentials, who works on computers, not someone, like me, who spends eight hours a day in front of one.)

For instance, let’s pretend I am buying a new laptop for work. (I like this scenario, since I really do want one.) They all look about the same. I can walk right into Sam’s or Best Buy and snag what seems like a terrific deal.

But are all laptops created equal? How can I make sure I don’t spend money on features I don’t really need? Or, worse yet, how can I ensure that I don’t spend too little and miss out on features that I definitely do need?

In other words, could “going it alone” in the short run end up costing me more in the long run?

He Answers IT:

I see mistakes in this area all the time. Something seemingly simple, like buying a new laptop, is not really that simple at all. Some questions you should ask yourself are:

  • Which operating system will work correctly with my existing network?
  • What current processors should I avoid?
  • Do I need a 32bit or 64bit operating system?
  • Will my current software work with the new system? If not, what is the best upgrade path?
  • What kind of warranty do I get and what specifically does it cover? (Replacing an out of warranty laptop motherboard is expensive.)
  • Does this system use standard parts that are available and affordable if I do need to replace them out of warranty?
  • How does this brand compare to that one?
  • How easy is it to get technical support from this company?

With things like backup methods and antivirus solutions, some are appropriate for one company, but not another. So, the primary issues when buying technology are (1) figuring out precisely what is right for you and (2) getting it installed properly within your system.

Everyone has limitations. When it comes to electricity, I only do minor electrical work around my house. A major re-wiring job will not be one of my DIY projects. Sometimes, I don’t even know what question to pose to our electrician. His knowledge base of 10 is much bigger than my base of, well, two.

When it comes to technology purchases, a couple of minor mistakes may not cause too many problems. But a number of buying and installation mistakes over time can seriously degrade the operational efficiency of a system. I have performed work for businesses with technology setups so out of kilter that it took me two to three times longer than necessary to fix a problem or perform a task.

Getting these environments to work properly may involve something as simple as re-configuring a software application. On the other hand, it might require the process of updating components one at a time, as the budget allows over time. In these cases, it always costs the businesses more money than they originally saved. Often, it costs much more. And what about all the headaches over time?

Certain areas exist in my own business where I can cut costs. But areas also exist where I will spend more money than one might expect. For example, backups are the number one, top-of-the-list priority. I will always have my important data backed up in multiple locations. Network setup and security are other areas that I insist on implementing correctly. And, when it comes to equipment, a well-operating all-in-one printer/scanner/fax device sits way up on my must-have list. These machines get used all the time in business. Have at least one good one.

Relia IT does offer competitive pricing on hardware, software and other products. When comparing apples to apples, you will not save much money, if any, buying it yourself. And, by ordering through us, you have the assurance that we will not recommend anything we would not use ourselves. Period.

Regardless of whether you buy it from us, buy from someone else or buy it yourself, remember that your business is too important to make technology mistakes. They are vital assets. By getting the right solution at a competitive price the first time, you will save yourself money and headaches down the road.