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September 25th, 2014

WindowsPhone_Sep25_AThe app is arguably the most integral part of any smartphone operating system. It is apps that give our devices the functionality we all want, and the number of apps available is constantly growing. Because of the increase, we are also seeing a rise in malicious software that makes its way onto app stores like the Windows Phone Store. These can pose a security risk, but the question is, how you can spot malicious apps and report them.

To begin with, we should make clear that app store hosts like Microsoft do have strict security measures in place that strive to keep malicious software off of stores and therefore users' devices. That being said, there is always a chance that an industrious hacker can subvert these security controls and get their app onto the online stores. To counter this, here's four tips on how you can spot fake or malicious apps.

  • Look at the name - If you are looking at an app on the Windows Phone Store, always look at the name of the app. Some malicious software that has made its way onto the Store has had a spelling mistake in the name. If in doubt, do a quick search on the Internet for the app and the correct spelling. Should nothing turn up, it may be a good idea to avoid it.
  • Look at the publisher information - All apps for Windows Phones require that the developer/publisher includes information about the app and themselves. If you are looking to download what seems like a popular app, take a look at the listed producer or developer, and then search on the Internet for their site. If the developer of the app appears to be different, or there are differences in the spelling, it is best to avoid installing it.
  • Look at social media stats - On the Windows Phone Store, below the install information, are counters for social media likes and shares. If the app information states it is a popular app and yet there are no social shares, then this may indicate it is actually fake. You should therefore err on the side of caution.
  • Look at comments - Lastly, look at the comments/reviews of the app. The Windows Phone Store uses stars to provide a quick overview of how much people like each app, but if you read comments you can quickly get an idea of exactly what people say about specific apps. If you see words like Fake, Doesn't work, etc. then it is a good idea to skip installing it.
While it can help to be able to identify apps, you should also know how to report apps that you believe are malicious or fake. You can do so by:
  1. Opening the app's page on the Windows Phone Store.
  2. Scrolling down and clicking on Report concern to Microsoft.
  3. Selecting from a list of complaints. Note: Pick the one that is most appropriate to the issue, for example if it is a fake app then select Misleading app.
  4. Pressing Submit.
The plus side of the Windows Store is that Microsoft does usually act quickly to remove identified apps, so the actual chances of you downloading one are fairly low. But, it is always better to be safe than sorry. If you are looking to learn more about Windows Phones and how they can fit into your organization, contact us today.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

September 24th, 2014

SocialMedia_Sep22_AFor many small to medium businesses, social media has become an integral part of their overall business strategy. Most businesses have a presence on at least one platform, but one issue many business owners and managers struggle with is how they should be using social media effectively. To help, here is an overview of the three most common ways small to medium businesses use social media.

1. To be a resource for existing and potential clients

This approach is by far the most popular used by businesses of all sizes. The main idea here is that social media is used as essentially a two-way street where you can pass information about the company, products, and industry to your followers. In turn, they interact with the content and eventually start to turn to your profile and page when they are looking for information.

One of the best ways to be successful with this approach is to provide your followers with information about the company, facts, tips about your products and industry, and links to other relevant content.

By sharing content, users will generally interact with it more and begin to see your company as a reliable source of information. This often translates into enhanced brand awareness and potentially sales.

The downside with this approach however, is that it can be time consuming to constantly develop new content. Most companies eventually reach a point where what they produce and share is pretty much the same, and overall payoffs begin to decrease. One way around this is to work with professionals to come up with dynamic and different content.

2. To provide customer service/support

These days, when someone has a problem with a company's services or products, the first port of call for complaints is often social media, largely because it's the most convenient place to vent where you can get instant reactions.

It therefore makes sense to create support or customer service presence on these channels. Some companies have even taken to launching support-centric profiles, where customers can contact them about anything, from complaints to questions, and receive a personal answer. For many companies this is ideal because it eliminates the hassle of customers having to call a support line and dealing with automated machines.

This approach can prove useful for businesses because it often makes it easier to reach out to disgruntled customers and track overall brand satisfaction. The downside is that you will need someone monitoring services 24/7, and to respond in a timely manner which may be tough to do for many smaller businesses.

3. To sell something

There are an increasing number of businesses who have launched social media profiles with the intent of selling a product or service. The actual sales may not take place through social media but the information on these profiles and platforms channels potential customers to an online store or to contact a company directly. Social media's instantaneous nature makes for a tempting platform, especially when you tie in different advertising features and include content like coupons, and discounts.

While this hard sales line can be appealing to businesses, many users are seemingly put off of companies with profiles that only focus on selling via their platforms. The whole idea of social networking is that it is 'social'; this means real interactions with real people. Profiles dedicated only to trying to sell something will, more often than not, simply be ignored.

What's the ideal use?

One of the best approaches for small to medium businesses is to actually use a combined approach. Most people know that ultimately, businesses with a presence on social media are marketing something, but focusing solely on this could turn customers off.

A successful split that many experts have touted is the 70-20-10 rule. This rule states that you should make 70% of your content and profile focused on relevant information to your audience. 20% of content should be content from other people and 10% of content should be related to selling your products or services e.g., promotional.

If you want to use social media for support as well, it is a good idea to create a separate profile dedicated just to this end. If complaints are lodged or noticed using your main account, direct them towards the support account.

As always, if you are looking for help with your social media strategy, contact us today to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
September 23rd, 2014

davidFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Technology Leader David Szymanski Signs Publishing Deal With CelebrityPress For New I.T. Book

 David Szymanski will team with CelebrityPress, a leading book publishing company, and several leading experts from the technology industry to release the new book, “The Business Owners Guide To I.T. and All Things Digital – Volume 2.”

Erie, PA – September 12, 2014 – David Szymanski, President of Szymanski Consulting, has joined a select group of leading I.T. experts from across North America to co-write the forthcoming book titled, The Business Owners Guide To I.T. and All Things Digital, Vol.2: 17 Critical Facts Every Business Must Know To Maximize Their Company’s Efficiency, Security, Employee Productivity And Profits. Nick Nanton, Esq. along with business partner, JW Dicks, Esq., the leading agents to Celebrity Experts® worldwide, recently signed a publishing deal with each of these authors to contribute their expertise to the book, which will be released under their CelebrityPress™ imprint.

David Szymanski founded Szymanski Consulting in 1978. His experience ranges from working with The Department of Energy to working with Long Care Nursing Facility’s, Schools, Non-Profit Organizations and Small Businesses. Szymanski Consulting is a long-standing member of the Manufacturer’s Association, Chamber of Commerce, Erie Network Users Group and Technology Council of Northwest Pennsylvania. Their specialty is Network Services, IT consulting and Computer Support serving businesses in Erie, Meadville and Fairview, Pennsylvania.

“Our philosophy is simple, we treat others as we would like to be treated. This philosophy has allowed our company to grow and prosper with long-term customers,” remarked David. “We are not looking for quick sales, we are building long-term relationships.” David considers each client’s bottom line, budget and expectations while strengthening their infrastructure to boost their productivity and profitability.

CelebrityPress™ describes the book:

For the past 60 years, the Digital World has been steadily infiltrating our lives. Like all epic changes, digital progress has touched us all. For those following the progress of the Information Age, the Digital World has moved us to a higher level of specialization and efficiency, while simultaneously allowing us a laser-focus on our activities.

Spearheading the technical backup for Information Technology in the business world are specialists in computer systems and their applications. We highlight the CelebrityExperts® in this book who so diligently contribute to this process. These entrepreneurs develop and adapt computer systems to better organize and run our businesses. They have competed in the marketplace and achieved the success of surviving and thriving in the Digital Era that we enjoy – truly a feat in the competitive world of today.

You too can readily benefit from these CelebrityExperts®. These authors share their experiences to help you develop your business and avoid the errors they have made along the way. If you wish to succeed, it is far better to be guided by those that have made a successful trip rather than follow the advice of someone who has only read the map.

The royalties from this project will be given to St. Jude Children’s Hospital. The book is tentatively scheduled for release in late 2014.

More About David Szymanski:

In David’s spare time, he enjoys spending time with his lovely wife of twenty years, Cathy. David is on the board for the North Western Pennsylvania Technology Committee, he also serves on the board for The Kiwanis Club of Erie, Pennsylvania. He is the secretary for the Pennsylvania State Police Camp Cadet program as well as the president of the Erie Network Users Group. David can be found volunteering wherever there is a need in the community. David and Cathy have two Dachshunds and one Maine Coon cat – Wilbur, Oscar and Roxie – and enjoy traveling, gardening, reading and biking.

Learn more about David Szymanski and Szymanski Consulting at http://www.szy.com

September 23rd, 2014

Office365_Sep22_AMicrosoft's Office 365 is one of the fastest growing productivity software suites, especially when it comes to small and medium business users. When launched a couple of years ago, the company commented that they see Office 365 as one of the best ways to help colleagues get their work done, collaborate, and connect with one another. In an effort to bring this all together, Microsoft has announced a new feature for Office 365 called Office Delve.

What is Office Delve?

The idea behind Office Delve is that it's a tool that helps business users get the most out of their data and information related to Office 365. According to Microsoft, Delve will allow you to:
  • Discover new information - Delve has been designed to show you information from different sources in Office 365 that you may find useful for what you are currently working on.
  • Discover what you need - Documents you have seen before, or have recently worked on, are highlighted and made easier for you to find, regardless of where they are stored. This makes it less taxing to find work you have been doing in the past, and continue from where you left off.
  • Discover new connections - Typing a name in Office 365 will allow you to see what a user is working on, their connections, and even connect with them to build relationships and share information.

How does it work?

In order to provide the information and data that users will likely find useful, Delve is powered by a tool Microsoft calls Office Graph. Graph maps the relationships between the various Office 365 users in your company, and the content/information related to them.

This 'map' is then used by Delve to provide users with what they need, when they need it. Content and information is displayed on a card-based screen, which can be found under the Delve tab in the main Office 365 launch screen.

Aside from content such as profile information, links to documents, or information, users can also see: Likes, views, comments, and tags, which brings a deeper social integration into Office 365.

Delve also orders content a number of different ways, including:

  • What you've recently worked on - Shows you content in card-form that you have recently opened or worked on.
  • Content that has been shared with you - Shows the content your colleagues have shared with you.
  • Content that has been presented to you - Shows content that colleagues have presented recently, or content that has been sent to you.
While this idea works great on the desktop, many Office 365 users access their systems from their mobile devices. Delve will also be available to mobile users. On your device you can browse the cards with files, swipe left or right on each card to view files, and even search for colleagues and view files they have shared with you and their recent activity.

When is Delve available?

Microsoft has noted that Delve is currently rolling out for businesses who have subscribed to the Office 365 Enterprise level plans (E1-E4) and have joined the first release program. Over the following months, it will roll out to all E1-E4 customers. In 2015, Microsoft has noted that they will introduce Delve to Business Essentials, Business Premium, Small Business, Small Business Premium and Mid Sized Business customers.

If you are looking to learn more about Delve, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

September 19th, 2014

Security_Sep15_AData breaches are growing both in number and intensity. While many businesses have turned to cloud apps for better security measures, some experts and businesses worry about the cloud, mentioning that it could see an increased data breach risk. This leads to a collision course between data breaches and cloud usage. But it doesn’t have to end in a fiery crash, as there are steps you can take to prevent a cloud and data security breach.

The cloud opens up some great tech advancements for businesses and is here to stay. However, as with all tech developments, you need to also be aware of any vulnerabilities and security issues as they change and develop at the same time too. If you use the cloud and want to proactively prevent cloud-and-data security breaches then here are five tips to follow:

  1. Know your cloud apps: Get a comprehensive view of the business readiness of apps and which ones render you more or less prone to a breach. Ask yourself these questions: Does an app encrypt data stored on the service? Does it separate your data from that of others so that your data is not exposed when another tenant has a breach? The idea here is to know exactly what each cloud service employed offers and how your company uses them.
  2. Migrate users to high-quality apps: Cloud-switching costs are low, which means that you can always change and choose apps that best suit your needs. If you find ones that don’t fit your criteria, take the time to talk to your vendor or switch; now more than ever you have choices, and the discovery process in step one will help you find out what these are.
  3. Find out where your data is going: Take a look at your data in the cloud. Review uploads, downloads, and data at rest in apps to get a handle on whether you have potential personally-identifiable information (PII), or whether you simply have unencrypted confidential data in or moving to cloud apps. You wouldn’t want cloud-and-data breaches with this critical data.
  4. Look at user activities: It’s important to understand not only what apps you use but also your data in the context of user activity. Ask yourself: From which apps are people sharing content? According to tech news source, VentureBeat, one-fifth of the apps they tracked enable sharing, and these aren’t just cloud storage apps, but range from customer-relationship management to finance and business intelligence. Knowing who’s sharing what and with whom will help you to understand what policies to best employ.
  5. Mitigate risk through granular policy: Start with your business-critical apps and enforce policies that matter to your organization in the context of a breach. For example, block the upload of information covered by certain privacy acts, block the download of PII from HR apps, or temporarily block access to vulnerable apps.
The key to preventing a cloud-and-data security breach lies in careful attention to your cloud applications and user activity. Analyzing your apps and looking into user activities might be time consuming, but the minimization of cloud-and-data security breaches makes this task worthwhile. Looking to learn more about today’s security? Contact us and let us manage and minimize your risks.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
September 18th, 2014

Productivity_Sep15_AAlmost every employee in every role relies on technology in order to do their job. When technology is working, everything hums along and productivity is solid. The second our technology stops working however, we can find ourselves struggling to even complete the most basic of tasks. The result can be a dramatic drop in overall productivity. The thing is, we know our systems will eventually breakdown. But, do you know what to do when this actually happens?

What to do when your systems stop working

Often, our first reaction when our technology or systems stop working is to either panic, or get angry. Once we are over this, we often feel desperate to get the problem fixed but may be at a loss as to what to do.

When technology does breakdown, here are some recommended steps you should take:

  • In the words of Douglas Adams, "Don't Panic!" - One of the more popular quotes from the immensely successful Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is "don't panic". This rings true for the vast majority of tech problems. While you may feel like you are facing a big issue at the time, most systems can be fully recovered. This is especially true if you have backup solutions in place.
  • Note what you were doing before the problem occurred - This is an important step, as when something does go wrong, one of the first things tech support will ask you is what you were doing before the problem occurred. The more information that you can give them, the more likely they will be able to solve the problem faster.
  • Ask your colleagues if they are having the same problems - Because so many business systems are networked together, many techs will want to see if problems are localized to your computer or are network wide. Armed with this information, it is far easier to work out the most effective solution.
  • Try turning it off and on again - When faced with many tech problems, you will be asked to turn the system - be it your computer, an app, server, etc. - off and on again. Sometimes the fault lies in the software or short-term memory (RAM) of systems, and turning the system off and on again is enough to fix this.
  • Google it - If an issue persists and it is related to the software on your computer, or a website, try searching the Internet for an answer. If the page doesn't load, you then know the problem is related to the Internet connection. Should the problem be with a cloud service, checking the provider's website or social media feeds is useful to check for post status updates of their systems.
  • Don't rush into a supposed fix - It can be tempting to try out the first supposed fix you come across or someone suggests. The problem is, some 'fixes' can actually end up harming a system even more. For example, you may find suggested fix for a phone that has been dropped into water that says to take the device apart and dry it with a blow dryer. This will damage components, and also void your warranty, which could make the issue even more expensive to deal with. Instead, you should seek the advice of an expert like us.
  • Don't overreact - Have you ever felt so frustrated you have wanted to reach out and smack your computer? While this may make you feel better on one level the reality is that you could make a bad situation worse. When faced with any tech troubles it is best to walk away for a short time so that you can deal with the situation in a calm and collected way.
  • Call your IT partner or IT helpdesk - If the system doesn't work after restarting we strongly recommend stopping there and reaching out to your IT helpdesk or an IT partner like us. We have the experience to investigate the problem, and we can usually come up with an answer and hopefully a fix in a short amount of time.

Preventative steps you should take

While it is inevitable that systems will eventually breakdown, it doesn't mean we are powerless to prevent this from happening, or at least minimizing the potential fallout. One of the easiest preventative measures you can take is to try and take care of your devices and systems. This includes being careful to not physically damage them, while also being sure to watch what you install on your systems, and implementing security standards.

We also strongly recommend working with an IT partner like us. We can help manage your systems and implement measures to keep them working long into the future. Beyond that, we can help monitor systems so that should something start to go wrong, we can begin to implement a fix even before you notice it. And, if something should break down, we can either fix it ourselves or recommend an expert who will be able to help.

Looking for help keeping your systems running and employees productive? Contact us today to learn more about our services and how they are designed to help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
September 17th, 2014

BusinessValue_Sep15_AOne way to really expand your online presence is through content marketing. Many business owners and managers are aware of this, but may be unsure as to how they can ensure that any content marketing is successful. There are many ways in which you can achieve a good result and here are four tips to help you achieve a great content marketing strategy.

What are the benefits of content marketing?

Before looking into ways you can implement content marketing that works, it is a good idea to look at the benefits of this type of marketing for businesses. One of the biggest pluses is that it boosts online engagement between you and your customers. If a customer sees that you are producing quality content that appeals to them, they will be more likely to interact and consider you when they need your products or services.

The other major advantage of a good content marketing strategy is that it helps show search engines like Google that your website and online presence are active. Because of the way search engines work, more active sites are usually ranked higher in results. If your website and overall Internet presence is seen to be active on a regular basis, you could possibly reach the first page of search results, which can lead to a boost in site visits, inquiries, and even sales.

If you have been considering implementing a content marketing campaign, or are looking to improve your existing efforts, the following four tips could help.

1. Always have a goal

The main thrust of many successful content marketing initiatives is that they tell a story. As with any narrative there needs to be an ending and in the case of content marketing this endpoint is a goal - something you want the reader to do. What do you want to achieve? Do you want customers to call? Do you want them to learn how to use your product?

By working backwards, you can then determine the right voice to use and best way to reach those customers who are most likely to react positively to the content. This also makes it easier for you to separate your campaigns and even launch multiple strategies at the same time.

Beyond this, having a goal can really help you narrow down the type of content you need to create. If for example, you know what customers you want to attract and how you want them to ultimately act, you can create content that is more appealing to them.

2. ABT

One of the most popular sayings amongst content marketers is to, "Always Be Testing (ABT)". When developing content you should be striving to test your content. Consider if certain images work better than others, as well as headlines, layouts, and content types, etc.

This could be as simple as developing three different social media posts and testing them with different market segments, or locations. You can then take what you have learnt from the tests and apply this to future posts.

The same can be said for more advanced content like blog posts or white papers. If you create different versions and layouts, and track the general downloads and interaction with the content, you can usually figure out how various people are reacting in different ways to a variety of content.

It is important to note here that content marketing is not a quick payoff style of marketing. You need to invest time, money, and effort into this and be willing to always be tweaking content. It takes time to pay off, but the time invested in testing what works and what doesn't work will help you develop better, more useful content.

3. Share and share alike

Creating content and just putting it on existing sites or sharing it with existing clients is not the most efficient way of making your content marketing show returns. Combine this with the fact that you will likely be using platforms like social media which are constantly changing and adding new content, and there is a good chance your content won't even be seen.

What you should aim to do is to share the content as much as possible. Share it on all of your social media platforms, link to it on your site, add it to emails, use the various social media content promotion features, and most of all: Share it again.

If you truly believe content is useful to your target market, you should aim to post it at least three to four times on social media. One of the most effective strategies is to share it on different days at different times, usually with a space of at least a week or two between posts. This can help maximize the numbers who see it.

4. Be prepared to fail

Failure is a part of business, and coincidently, it is also a part of content marketing. Face it, you might create content that just simply won't click as you intended. If this happens, your first reaction might be to pull the content and try something different. This may not be a good idea.

Sure, if the content is stirring up trouble, or has offended people, then it is likely best to remove it. But even if you aren't seeing the results you had hoped for, stick with the content for a bit. Try reposting it, and promoting more vigorously. It could very well be that users just didn't see the content.

As we stated above, successful content marketing takes time and effort. Once you realize this, and combine it with the fact that not everything will work, you should see a viable strategy surface over time.

If you are looking to learn more about content marketing and how our systems can help support it then get in touch and we can share our thoughts on how to be proactive and get results.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

September 16th, 2014

Facebook_Sep18_AAs of the first quarter of 2014, Facebook has 1.28 billion active users (users who log in at least once a month). With around a fifth of the world's population using the service, you can bet that it is a target for spammers and hackers. If you use Facebook on a regular basis, there is a good chance that you have seen some suspicious or outright blatant spam links. Clicking on these could lead to sites that are set up to steal information so it is a good idea to be aware of the five most common spam and malware posts on this social media platform.

1. Statistics on Profile visits

Spend enough time on Facebook and you will likely see this type of post on your Timeline. The post usually shows itself off as an app that allows users to see who has been viewing their personal profile, or the statistics related to profile views. There is also a link to click to either go to a site or install an app.

These posts look legitimate, but Facebook doesn't actually allow these apps, so clicking on them usually leads to malicious apps or sites. As some of these posts contain links to Facebook apps, you will be asked to allow the app permissions like access to personal data, friends lists, etc. These apps won't work, but they do give the developer access to your information which could then be used to start other malicious hacks.

2. Changing the color of your Profile

With the wide number of apps, devices, and other tech available to us, developers are often keen to offer users the ability to customize how their app looks. For example you may have applied your own themes or changed icons with your browser. Therefore, it makes sense that some users might want to change the color of their Facebook Profile from the standard blue that everyone uses.

There are apps out there that supposedly allow you to do this. However, Facebook doesn't allow users to customize the color of their Profile - it's blue for everyone. Therefore, the apps and links that supposedly allow you to change the color are fake and likely related to spam or malicious content. It's best to not click on the links in these posts, or install apps that say they allow you to do this customization.

3. Check if a friend has deleted/unfriended you

This post seems to come up every six months or so on Facebook. Like the statistics on Profile visits, apps claiming to allow you to check if you have been unfriended are fake. The biggest giveaway that this is a fake app or post is the wording. When someone doesn't want to be connected with you on Facebook, they will 'unfriend' you, not 'delete' you as these posts often claim. Needless to say, it is best to refrain from clicking on these links and apps.

4. Free stuff from Facebook

If you are a Facebook fan then you might like a free Facebook t-shirt, hat, water bottle, etc. There is a known post that shows up from time-to-time declaring that Facebook is giving away free stuff, and that if you click on the link in the post you too can get hold of some freebies.

Facebook does not usually give away stuff via network posts. Those people you see walking around with Facebook apparel usually either work for the company, had it printed themselves, or attended a Facebook event. Therefore, if you see these posts, don't click on the link.

5. Revealing pics or videos of celebrities

With all the recent leaks of celebrity photos and videos, you can be sure that the number of posts popping up on you News Feed with links to these types images and videos will become increasingly popular.

Not only is this obscene, the posts are 100% fake. Clicking on any of the links will likely take you to a site with 'files' that you need to download. The issue is, these files are actually malware and can pose a serious security risk.

As a general rule of thumb: Don't click on any links in posts connected to celebrities and revealing images or videos.

What can I do about these posts?

These tips are mainly for individual Facebook users as this is whom hackers and spammers are targeting the most. How is this an issue for your business? Well, if an employee is browsing Facebook at work and clicks on one of the links in posts like the ones above, there is a good chance they could introduce malware into your systems and networks.

Therefore, you might want to educate your employees about common Facebook security threats like the ones above. Beyond this, you should encourage everyone to take the following steps when they do come across content like this:

  1. Click the grey arrow at the top-right of the post.
  2. Select I don't want to see this.
  3. Click Report this Post.
This will ensure that the post itself is deleted and that the content is reported to Facebook for followup. Usually, if there are enough reports, Facebook will look into the content and likely ban the user.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

September 11th, 2014

BI_Sep08_AIn business, as in life, we constantly try to make predictions about the future. How will sales be next year if we implement a new procedure? What will the weather be like for the annual staff event next week? It's no surprise then that businesses of all sizes have started to embrace the idea of predictive analytics. However, many business managers are unsure as to exactly how to work with this form of analytics effectively. To help, here is an overview of the three main components of predictive analysis all business owners and managers should be aware of.

Together, these three elements of predictive analytics enables data scientists and even managers to conduct and analyze forecasts and predictions.

Component 1: data

As with most business processes, data is one of the most important and vital components. Without data you won't be able to make predictions and the decisions necessary to reach desired outcomes. In other words, data is the foundation of predictive analytics.

If you want predictive analytics to be successful, you need not only the right kind of data but information that is useful in helping answer the main question you are trying to predict or forecast. You need to to collect as much relevant data as possible in relation to what you are trying to predict. This means tracking past data, customers, demographics, and more.

Merely tracking data isn't going to guarantee more accurate predictions however. You will also need a way to store and quickly access this data. Most businesses use a data warehouse which allows for easier tracking, combining, and analyzing of data.

As a business manager you likely don't have the time to look after data and implement a full-on warehousing and storage solution. What you will most likely need to do is work with a provider, like us, who can help establish an effective warehouse solution, and an analytics expert who can help ensure that you are tracking the right, and most useful, data.

Component 2: statistics

Love it, or hate it, statistics, and more specifically regression analysis, is an integral part of predictive analytics. Most predictive analytics starts with usually a manager or data scientist wondering if different sets of data are correlated. For example, is the age, income, and sex of a customer (independent variables) related to when they purchase product X (dependent variable)?

Using data that has been collected from various customer touch points - say a customer loyalty card, past purchases made by the customer, data found on social media, and visits to a website - you can run a regression analysis to see if there is in fact a correlation between independent and dependent variables, and just how related individual independent variables are.

From here, usually after some trial and error, you hopefully can come up with a regression equation and assign what's called regression coefficients - how much each variable affects the outcome - to each of the independent variables.

This equation can then be applied to predict outcomes. To carry on the example above, you can figure out exactly how influential each independent variable is to the sale of product X. If you find that income and age of different customers heavily influences sales, you can usually also predict when customers of a certain age and income level will buy (by comparing the analysis with past sales data). From here, you can schedule promotions, stock extra products, or even begin marketing to other non-customers who fall into the same categories.

Component 3: assumptions

Because predictive analytics focuses on the future, which is impossible to predict with 100% accuracy, you need to rely on assumptions for this type of analytics to actually work. While there are likely many assumptions you will need to acknowledge, the biggest is: the future will be the same as the past.

As a business owner or manager you are going to need to be aware of the assumptions made for each model or question you are trying to predict the answer to. This also means that you will need to be revisiting these on a regular basis to ensure they are still true or valid. If something changes, say buying habits, then the predictions in place will be invalid and potentially useless.

Remember the 2008-09 sub-prime mortgage crisis? Well, one of the main reasons this was so huge was because brokers and analysts assumed that people would always be able to pay their mortgages, and built their prediction models off of this assumption. We all know what happened there. While this is a large scale example, it is a powerful lesson to learn: Not checking that the assumptions you have based your predictions on could lead to massive trouble for your company.

By understanding the basic ideas behind these three components, you will be better able to communicate and leverage the results provided by this form of analytics.

If you are looking to implement a solution that can support your analytics, or to learn more about predictive analytics, contact us today to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

September 10th, 2014

Office_Sep08_AHave you ever been working with a list in Excel and had to combine more than two cells into a new cell? The seemingly easiest way to do this is to copy the contents from both cells and paste them into the new cell, then edit them for spacing. But, did you know that there is actually a formula called concatenate that you can use to combine contents and display this in new cells?

Using the concatenate formula to combine cells

If, for example, you have a spreadsheet with first names in column A, last names in column B, and want to combine them into column C to display the full name you can do so by:
  1. Clicking on cell C2 (or the row where the information you want to combine is)
  2. Typing =concatenate(
  3. Clicking on cell A2 and then adding a comma (,)
  4. Clicking on cell B2 and closing the formula with a closing bracket
  5. Hitting Enter
You should see the two cells are now combined in cell C2, with the formula for cell C2 reading:

=CONCATENATE(A2,B2).

The problem is, there will be no space inbetween the letters or numbers, so you will need to edit the formula to read:

=CONCATENATE(A2," ",B2)

The double quotations with a space in between them tells Excel to add a space to the cell in between the contents of A2 and B2.

If you have more than two columns you would like to combine, then simply add a comma after each cell. If for example you have three columns (A1, B1, and C1) you would enter the formula:

=CONCATENATE(A1 " ",B1 " ",C1) in column D1.

Combining two cells without concatenate

While concatenate works well, there is actually a shortcut that you can use which involves the ampersand '&':
  1. Click on cell C2 (or the row where the information you want to combine is)
  2. Type =
  3. Click on cell A2 and then type & in the formula.
  4. Click on B2 and hit Enter
You should see the contents of A2 and B2 combined together in C2. If you click on cell C2 and look at the formula, it should read: =A2&B2.

The only problem is, there won't be a space between the content. To add a space, you can edit the formula so that it reads:

=A2&" "&B2

Note the space between the two quotation marks. This tells Excel to add a space between the contents of A2 and B2.

Once you have the base formula on one cell, you can press the small box at the bottom of the cell and drag it down the row so that the other information can be quickly compiled. This makes it much easier than having to copy and paste the content individually. And, If you would like to learn more Excel tips, contact us today. We can save you valuable time and resources.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.