Computer Services Guest Blog: Employee Productivity and your Internet Connection

by Yehuda Cagen 1. November 2010 05:30


If you follow this blog, you know that we’re proponents of the utility / cloud computing model.  Of course, the value of cloud computing depends greatly by the particular computer services provider. And since this model is Internet based, the way you connect to the Internet is just as important.

Puja Saraiya Abid, VP of Strategy and Operations at Mushroom Networks, shares her insight on finding the right Internet connection for your small business.

For large enterprises, making the decision on which method with which to access the Internet is easy. Pay for a dedicated T-3 line and move on with the work day. However, a small or medium sized business owner has to take much more into account.

For these businesses, having a basic Internet connection is no longer enough. Because being online is an essential part of almost every operation, a one has to consider more than simply the costs of the line. A business owner will also want to think about reliability and speed of the network. 

An employee’s time spent waiting for pages to load is time that is wasted. Additionally, if an employee has unreliable Internet service, that employee may be unable to send time-sensitive responses to customers and vendors. Employee time that is idle due to slow or unreliable internet connections is time that could be better spent elsewhere.


DSL allows high data transfer rates over regular copper phone wiring by using frequencies to send digital signals. DSL typically offers downstream rates of 1.5 to 6 Mbps and upstream rates of 128 to 768 Kbps. However, DSL is not always reliable. Service depends largely on the distance from the Internet service provider’s central office (CO). DSL is a cost effective solution if you are close to the CO, and have a very small office that needs the internet for mostly downstream traffic. 

Cable Internet

Cable often offers speeds equivalent to DSL with greater reliability. However, because cable has historically been used for residential service, it may be difficult for a business to get service in their area. Also, because you don’t usually have multiple cable providers in a given area, as with DSL, the lack of competition often drives the prices up.

Dedicated Leased Lines

Increasingly, a DSL or cable modem connection provides insufficient bandwidth, particularly in the uplink direction. Also, because business these days relies on having a reliable internet connection, it may be beneficial to consider dedicated line options. This is usually in the form of T-1 line, which is reliable and can provide speeds of 1.5 Mbps in both directions of traffic. These lines can cost anywhere from $500 to $1500 per month, depending on your location.

While dedicated T-3 lines are extremely fast and reliable, the cost can run into thousands of dollars a month.

Bandwidth Aggregation with Broadband Bonding

A new type of technology, Broadband Bonding, performs true aggregation. For even a single file transfer, all available communication resources are used.

Smaller businesses for which high monthly costs are prohibitive should consider Broadband Bonding to aggregate lower speed connections. A small business may opt to combine multiple DSL lines, which are often unreliable and too slow when used individually. Additionally, businesses that are heavy users of high bandwidth operations may combine multiple T-1 lines, or a combination of T-1 and DSL lines for greater bandwidth.

Multiple lines can be combined for increased reliability, and in the process significant benefits are realized—both in terms of Internet cost savings and increased employee productivity.

Puja Saraiya Abid is VP of Strategy and Operations at Mushroom Networks, a privately held company based in San Diego, CA, providing patent pending Broadband Bonding solutions to a range of Internet connection applications. www.mushroomnetworks.com


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Making Sense of IT Upgrades: Is Your Business System Holding Your Small Business Back?

by Yehuda Cagen 21. October 2010 08:21


Houston IT consulting Guest Blog:

Nothing contributes more to organizational inefficiencies in a small business than cumbersome, out-of-date business systems, according to Jeff Stern, Senior Project Manager of Quantum Software.

Hundreds of hours can be wasted by duplicating data entry, searching for data in multiple places and constantly rebooting a system that crashes. I always recommend companies do a gap analysis, which is a great way to determine if an IT upgrade would fill the gaps between their needs and current capabilities. The time spent conducting this analysis will save countless hours of lost productivity in the future.

Small business owners should consider the following four needs when conducting a gap analysis: operational efficiencies, quality and regulatory compliance, decision making and business growth.

For example, if you find that employees are continually waiting for screen changes or double entering information, you have an issue with operational efficiencies. When it comes to examining business growth during a gap analysis, make sure your system is scalable in terms of sales, customer service and inventory. If you find that there are major gaps in these areas, upgrading your system is something that will make your business operate much more efficiently.

Making Sure the Implementation Process Runs Smoothly

Once an analysis of your system has shown that a new business system, such as ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), will improve productivity and efficiencies, it is important to make sure it is implemented properly. Talk to your IT consultant and figure out if your company’s way of doing business will fit within a standard package. Changing business processes to accommodate software often leads to a competitive advantage because systems, such as ERP, are designed to take advantage of “best practices”.

To avoid a long installation process that can bog down the business operations you were trying to improve in the first place, make sure key modules that will fix the major problems your business is facing are installed first. New modules can be installed and employees can be trained in 30-60 days, allowing for a gradual adoption of the new system. For most companies, implementing an entirely new business system will change the way the staff does their jobs, thus changing the way business is done. That’s why it’s so important to test the entire system before “going live”. A good IT consultant working with you on the project will create a test system that allows your employees to learn and critique the system before it’s launched.

Jeff Stern is Senior Project Manager for Quantum Software (www.quantumsoftwarellc.com) where he oversees systems evaluations, customized SAP® Business One software integration and long-term support for small-to-midsize companies in the manufacturing and wholesale distribution industries. During his 30-year career, he worked extensively in requirements planning, realization, test and application maintenance of enterprise IT and ERP systems.

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Putting Productivity Back in the Hands of the Small Business Employee

by Yehuda Cagen 19. October 2010 12:01


(Paula Selvidge, VP, Perfect Forms)

Cloud computing take different forms and, consequently offer different benefits, but generally, client companies move towards this model for its scalability.

Clients receive scalable resources (via remote pc access, computing, storage, applications, etc.) with instant on/off capabilities, typically at a lower cost of conventional, in-house computer services.

Particularly in today’s economic climate, organizations need to demonstrate ROI, and have the ability to seamlessly integrate without putting the organization at risk (in the forms of heavy capital IT expenditures, downtime, and security).  

Paula Selvidge, Vice President of Products and User Experience, Perfect Forms, shares her insights on cloud/utility computing solutions, and how they put productivity back in the hands of the end-user.

Putting Productivity Back in the Hands of the SMB User

In today's environment of cloud computing you don't have to be a Fortune 500 company with a multimillion dollar IT budget to get the benefit of the latest revolution in business process management and productivity enhancement.  All you need is a web browser and you can get your money’s worth on productivity solutions right away.  An SMB looking for productivity tools needn’t have to accept dozens of useless pieces of bloatware in order to find the solution they actually want.

I was recently looking through a Forrester Research survey from last year entitled “The State of Enterprise Software,” analyzing yearly software adoption trends.  In the report, Pierre Garbani, VP and principal analyst at Forrester, stated: “Companies are willing to adapt their business processes to cheaper packaged software solutions rather than wait for custom applications. Automation is the key to IT’s future.”

I couldn’t agree more; workflow automation is critical to the advancement of IT within organizations everywhere.  However, customers shouldn’t have to choose between what’s cheap and what’s good.  One of the reasons PerfectForms exists is to provide our SMB users with the most efficient, easy-to-use, intuitive and up-to-date way to automate their daily workflow processes – everything from timesheet forms to vacation requests to CRM and lead generation – and as an added bonus, our solutions are really affordable.

The key to making any business thrive is flexibility; too often, SMBs find themselves trapped in a relationship with a pricey, cumbersome legacy application that they’ve grown to depend on for daily operations.  Small businesses should focus on automation solutions that give them the choice of how to install it – on-premise or on-demand – and provide every graphical and functional building block they need to create electronic workflows, track user input and utilize this data to make their businesses run more efficiently. These web-based workflows allow SMB workers to focus on their jobs and passions without wasting hours trying to figure out how to use an outdated application that probably won’t even do what you need it to do.

Another advantage of using cloud-based process automation applications is that they’re easy to maintain and update. There’s no hardware to integrate, no long outages while the system gets upgraded. They’re grab-and-go intuitive solutions, automatically rolling out updates to in seconds. And SMBs don’t need to abandon the idea of customization with a SaaS solution.  On the contrary, the flexibility of being available in real-time on the Web makes automation apps like PerfectForms simple to modify to fit any company’s standards.

Choosing between quality and price isn’t a choice – it’s a wholly unnecessary chore. SMBs trying to modernize should make sure the solutions they’re using can grow and scale with them. As the old adage states, the best way to get from point A to point B is a straight line – the same is true when it comes to overcoming the business challenges you face on a daily basis.  Simply ask yourself – would you rather be able to address the challenges you face in real-time with a simple on-demand solution tailored to your specific pain point, or would you rather spend weeks trying to figure out which element of a major enterprise vendor stack solution may (or may not) address your specific issues?

These productivity tips were contributed by guest-blogger Paula Selvidge, Vice President of Products and User Experience, PerfectForms. For more productivity tips, you can check out her blog.

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5 tips to improve time tracking and project management skills

by Yehuda Cagen 19. October 2010 06:09


In a recent post, we offered a few tips and shortcuts to improve office productivity. Many of you may also be aware of the workday productivity training provided by our local Houston computer service experts. You can also improve productivity by improving the tracking and management of your projects.


5 tips to help improve time tracking and project management skills


  1. Track your time immediately, not after the fact. At the end of the day you might not be able to remember how much time you allocated to each task.
  2. When you deal with uncertainty, while estimating projects and activities sometimes it might be useful to use a technique called "Planning Poker", taken right from the Agile methodology of the software development industry. As per this method all team members give their estimation at the same time, therefore eliminating "Anchoring" phenomena. More details available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planning_poker
  3. If any project management software is used, make sure that employee feedback is hardwired into the workflow process. Make sure that who is responsible for a certain task confirms any estimation or deadline associated with that task, accepting the responsibility and control over it. Early involvement between the customer and the integrator is key to the successful adoption and deployment of a collaboration environment. This involvement helps decrease internal resistance to the new system and ensures that the product is properly utilized by the customer from the start.
  4. Every company has its own approach project management and collaboration. With more people exposed to the technology on an everyday basis, these processes become social, more transparent. Technology has played a large role in evolving project management and collaboration by introducing web-based tools and applications quickly replacing the traditional desktop project management software. Web-based systems are very flexible in allowing users to efficiently work together in virtual teams, based anywhere around the world. Technology has shifted project management into a collaborative process. It is important for these tools to be secure in-order to avoid sensitive information leaks. When selecting web-based software, one must review and evaluate such features as user access permissions as well as private and public internet sharing options in order to ensure that data can remain classified within the system environment. The ability to create and set user access permissions, allow your project management and collaboration data to be shared among participating project members while remaining safe.
  5. When purchasing software it is important to remember that you’re purchasing a tool. A tool, which will simplify and support the day-to-day work environment, where people always come first. In order for the software to become successful in the organization, it is important to show its direct benefits to the end-user. Simply put, as long as you can show people what’s in it for them and how it can make their life easier, you can expect them to use this new tool. When a user sees how online collaboration can save time and increase productivity, they will begin using it. Of course, the biggest change needs to happen at the top, because adoption flows downhill. When the employees see management and team leaders using the software, they will be motivated to follow suit.

These five productivity tips have been contributed by Vadim Katcherovski, CEO, Logic Software. For more tips, check out http://blogs.logicsoftware.net/

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Remote PC Access & Creating a Virtual Workplace

by Yehuda Cagen 18. October 2010 08:28



As mobile computer services and remote pc access devices - such as smart phones, iPads and other tablets - proliferate, organizations and their employees are gaining more flexibility.

If you're looking to make your business more flexible, you need tools that will ensure your operations run smoothly in the absence of having staff you can monitor and oversee everyday. Having staff that telecommute as well as a virtual storefront may present unique challenges to the daily management of a virtual company. Here are five free or inexpensive tools you can use that we have found to be extremely helpful in training, management and operations.

1. Yahoo Instant Messenger (IM)

For a virtual company, IM is essential. We use both Yahoo and GTalk (Google) but some small virtual firms like to use Skype or other IM clients. With Yahoo IM, we are able to record and save the IM conversations. In addition, YIM allows you to share files such an jpegs, pdfs and Word docs, directly across the IM network while you chat in real time. IM is also helpful for training especially when it isn't possible for you to phone conference or train in person.

Yahoo PingBox

Along the same lines, Yahoo Pingbox is a chat client that is embeddable on a website or blog. Visitors to your website can chat with you via the embedded chat box. We've found that Pingbox can dramatically improve your website's performance in terms of its conversion rates and the stickiness of a website.

Free Conference Call

FreeConferenceCall.Com offers a powerful conference calling service, all for free. You can record conference calls, play them back at a later date and even have them transcribed into text (for a small fee). Also, the service is nice because it gives you a report of all call participants along with their phone numbers at the end of each call. A must have for virtual teams.

. Phone.com – Automated Phone Answering Service

If you have a virtual team and each member has h/er own phone number, then you know how challenging it can be to make sure all calls to your business are being handled efficiently and expediently. Phone.Com helps to solve this common problem by giving you VoIP (Voice over IP) services. You can record a professional-sounding voicemail by simply typing text in; you don't need a person to speak anything, and the software will convert it to an .mp3 voice message recording. And if a caller leaves a message, you can have the system send the message to you as an .mp3 in an email. Or, have the voicemail transcribed to text and sent via email.

In addition, you can set up sophisticated call handling rules and call forwarding rules. For example, you can have one number, when called, to ring a second line. Phone.Com even offers International Long Distance calling numbers, making international commerce easier. Rates start as low as $6/mo.

MediaWiki As An Intranet

Though it is a bit more complex to install and configure, the MediaWiki open source software is superb for use as an internal company intranet. We use MediaWiki - the same software the runs Wikipedia - for group collaboration, workflow management, standard operating procedures and other important internal documents. With MediaWiki, you can easily allow your staff to upload/download files, edit and contribute to each other's work and keep shared notes on sales prospects.

These five free or inexpensive tools that can really made a difference for your business have been provided by guest-blogger
Eric Bryant, Director - Gnosis Arts Multimedia Communications LLC.

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Quick Productivity Tips & Shortcuts

by Yehuda Cagen 14. October 2010 07:31

Have you ever wanted to just be able to find a definition using Google without having to scroll through a ton of results?

Do you get frustrated when working on multiple emails or documents in Microsoft Office?

Houston IT Consulting expert, Cheryl Smith, has a few shortcuts for Google & Microsoft Office to help you save time and increase productivity.   


Google Search Tips

·         Phone number lookup - Enter a full phone number with area code to display the name and address associated with that phone number.

·         Calculator - Use the Google Search engine as a calculator by typing a math problem in the search. For example, typing: 100 + 500 would display results as 600.

·         Definitions - Pull up the definition of the word by typing define followed by the word you want the definition for. For example, typing: define historical would display the definition of that word.


Keyboard Shortcut Tips

·         F1 - Open “help” for the program you're in.

·         Alt + Tab or Alt + Esc - Quickly switch between open programs.


Outlook Email Shortcut Tips

·         Ctrl & R - will open reply email to selected email

·         Ctrl & N - will open a new email

·         Ctrl & F-  will open a forward of a selected email


Computer Mouse Tip

Many programs that allow you to edit text support the ability to quickly highlight all or portions of text by using the Shift key and the mouse. For example, move the cursor to the beginning of the text you wish to highlight, hold down the shift key, and click at the end of the text you wish to highlight. If supported and done properly this will highlight all text in-between the points you clicked.


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Is Telecommuting the wave of the future?

by Yehuda Cagen 12. October 2010 12:21


While our primary business is IT consulting in Houston, we are heavily involved in helping clients creative a more flexible and efficient workplace through the use of computer services and tele-working, and we have recently recognized for exemplarily workplace practices as an Honorable Mention recipient of the prestigious Alfred P. Sloan Award.

 It doesn’t appear that tele-working will ever fully-replace the conventional office setup. There are just some sectors and circumstances in which it won’t work optimally.

Teleworking is part of today’s business culture

I recall a similar conversation in the mid to late 90s with regard to e-commerce vs. brick-and-mortar. Some “projections” were asserting that brick-and-mortar would dissipate in the wake of the online store. Certainly, it’s revolutionized the way in which we shop, which I’m sure we all anticipated, but not the extent of the “extinction projections”.

There is also a “green” and “workplace morale” element involved in the telecommuting movement. Organizations such as When Work Works and the Flexible Workplace Initiative have worked collaboratively with local officials and business leaders across the US in creating a more flexible workplace environment, thereby reducing traffic and related gas emissions.

So regardless of how short telecommuting fell of expectations and predictions, I do believe that it also enables businesses to attract better talent, retain that talent by working more collaboratively within the employee‘s personal life, create a more efficient work environment, and help an organization’s social reputation by being more “green”.


Can't find a "meeting" email you accepted in Outlook? Quick tip to save your "meeting request" emails

by Yehuda Cagen 6. October 2010 06:43



Have you ever lost a “meeting request” you accepted in Outlook?

You clicked the “Accept” button - and it was gone?

Would you like to keep these meeting requests in your email or subfolder for future reference? Or just keep it in your Inbox until after the meeting actually takes place?

Turn off “default settings” to save your meeting requests

When an appointment is accepted in Outlook, it automatically gets placed onto the calendar and automatically deletes from you Email Inbox.

If you want to keep a copy of the email, the default setting must be changed. Houston IT support expert, Cheryl Smith, shows you how:

1. On the Tools menu
2. Click Options
3. Click E-mail Options
4. Click Advanced E-mail Options.
5. Clear the Check mark from the Delete meeting request from Inbox when responding. 

Now, your meeting will appear on your calendar and stay in your inbox until you decide what action you would like to do next.

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Xvand Technology (Houston IT Consulting) President, Victor Grinshtein, Selected as Panelist for Future of Workplace Flexibility Discussion

by Yehuda Cagen 16. September 2010 04:33




The 2010 Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility recognizes employers across the country that are successfully using flexibility to meet both business and employee goals.


This year, In addition to the luncheon, we will be having an early panel discussion starting at 9:30 am on the "Future of Workplace Flexibility".  


The panel participants will speak on topics of workplace flexibility, such as policy development, IT services, wellness, and implementation and future impacts of flexibility.


Victor Grinshtein, President of Houston computer services company, Xvand Technology, will discuss technology as it relates to workplace flexibility


For more information about the panelists, visit Panelist Information.


For more information on this program, visit http://events.constantcontact.com/register/event?oeidk=a07e2xxsft7da4ba7f4


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Format Cells in Excel More Efficiently

by Yehuda Cagen 2. September 2010 07:46


When typing many words into a single cell in Excel, you might find it looking disorganized.


Or, perhaps when you print an Excel spreadsheet, your cells aren’t wide enough to display all the information it contains?


Houston computer service expert Cheryl Smith shares a few tips on how to format the cells to fit your preferences.


There are several methods, to accomplish this task, but here is one shortcut that works. Using you mouse, click between the two letters of the cells in which you would like to alter.


§         At this point you can either drag the cell to desired width


§         Double click the mouse and Excel will format for you.


Like any function in Excel, there are many ways to do what you would like to accomplish. By going to the Format tab on the toolbar, you also have the ability to change width and height of columns and rows.


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